Why You Change, and Why You Don’t

I was having coffee with a friend of mine today, sharing with him some of the ways that I believe I need to change myself.

I was telling him how due to some recent difficult lessons, that I needed to adjust my behavior. This was going to be tough to do, I rationalized, because I had acted a certain way for a long time.

He listened for a few minutes, then he said something profound to me. “You’ll only change when what you’re doing stops working for you.”

When he said this, it was like a lightning bolt had hit me. It was one of the most simple, yet accurate explanations of why people change I’ve ever heard. I spent the rest of today thinking about it.

The truth is we do what we do in our lives because on some level it is working for us. It may not be working in an obvious way, but somehow it is working. In psychology this is often called the ‘payoff’. It’s the real reason behind why we do what we do.
The payoff sometimes flies in direct opposition to what we think we want to do, be or have. Very often it is driven by habit or suppressed needs rather than by conscious choice.


When the payoff stops working, then – and only then – will we seek a new way. That is when real change happens.

(Thank you Chuck Schwartz.)

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