When you’re quitting a bad habit, sometimes the biggest obstacle isn’t you â€” it’s the people around you.
The opposition can come in many forms:
- Your spouse/partner feels threatened by this new change you’re making and seems to resent it. Perhaps you both drink alcohol or smoke together and you’re trying to quit, or you both enjoy eating pizza together and you’re trying to eat healthier.
- Your friends give you a hard time because you’re not joining them in something you usually do.
- Your family thinks it’s weird that you’re changing like this, and feels defensive because it seems like your change is a criticism of their lifestyle (if you’re become vegetarian and they eat meat, for example).
- You might feel left out if you don’t join people in the things you normally do, or feel like an outsider.
- You might hear complaints, get into arguments, get the silent treatment, hear sighs or see the rolling of eyes.
I’ve experienced all of these, and I’m sure most of you have as well. Change is hard, including on those around us.
So how do we deal with this obstacle?
I don’t have any easy answers, unfortunately. What we have to realize is that the responses and feelings of other people are out of our control … you can’t make people support you.
Instead, you can focus on what’s under your control:
- You can have compassion for their difficulty to deal with change.
- You can have a conversation with them, to try to help them understand … and not be attached to the outcome of them actually understanding.
- You can change what’s under your own control.
- You can find others who will support you, or who are going through similar changes.
I’ve found these all to be great approaches for dealing with the opposition of others in my life to the changes I’m making.
1. Compassion for their difficulty
Have you ever had a hard time with someone you love changing something you shared together? Have you ever had difficulty with change? Chances are, we have all struggled with these issues. We know what it’s like to deal with loss â€” in this case, the loss of the life you’re used to, when someone in your life is changing.
It’s very helpful to try to understand the feelings that the people around you are going through, as you make your change. You might wish they could just understand and be supportive, but the truth is that they’re going through their own experience here, and they have legitimate feelings about the changes you’re making. Try to understand what those feelings might be. Ask them, if you have to.
When you think you know what those feelings are, remember a time when you’ve had similar feelings. It might not have been pleasant, right? How do you feel about someone you know and love going through these feelings?
Just this step can often be enough â€” to understand the other people in your life, to go from “I wish they’d support me” to “I wish an end to their difficulties”. This helps you, and might soften you to them.
2. Have a conversation
Once you’re in a place of compassion, you might try to talk to the people in your life who are having difficulties with your change. Tell them you understand they have trouble with your change, and ask about their feelings. See if you can hear where they’re coming from, before you start to defend or explain yourself. Seek to understand first.
Most likely, the first conversation you have with them won’t convert them to your side. Don’t be attached to that outcome. Share what motivates you, what inspires you, to make this change. What benefits do you hope to get?
Talk about their objections, and how you had the same worries too, and then share what helped you overcome those worries.
Ask if they’re willing to support you, but be prepared to be OK if they’re not.
Finally, realize that this is a process. You went through a process to decide to make a change, and you can’t expect everyone else to instantly understand. They need to go through their own process too, and it might take longer for them. You don’t control it, and you can practice being happy with what you can control â€” your own thoughts and actions.
3. Change what’s under your control
So if you can’t control others, what can you do? There are some things you can focus on instead:
- Practice mindfulness, noticing your breath, how your body feels, what the feelings are like, as you practice your habit change, and as you talk to others.
- Learn to see the ideals that are causing your frustrations â€” ideals that you’ll be a more perfect habit changer, ideals that others will support you more fully. These ideals aren’t real, and they are causing you to be unhappy. Try letting go of them and accepting the reality in front of you.
- Find things to be grateful about, in the moment of your habit change, in the moment you’re talking with others. Be grateful there are other people in your life to cause frustrations and complications!
- Practice understanding the others in your life better, even if they aren’t good at understanding you.
These are just a few examples, but you can see how a focus on these things that are under you control might be more helpful than being frustrated by the things out of your control.
4. Find others to support you
If your spouse or other loved ones won’t support you, you might find others who can meet that need. There are great online communities, from Sea Change to people who are quitting smoking, drugs, porn and more. People who are starting to run, to do yoga, to meditate.
Find these people, and say hello. Be bold, and jump in! Get to know them, share a bit about yourself. Be helpful, polite, kind, and friendly.
You might even be able to find people to support you in the real world â€”Â other friends, coworkers, people at running groups or classes or meetups in your city. It can be awesome to connect in person with others who are going through similar things.
The support you get from people online or in the real world can make all the difference in the world. You can create the support you need, instead of being unhappy with what you’re not getting.