Change is Hard

Filed in Living by on April 21, 2016 2 Comments


Change 1

I have found that one benefit of having a chronic emotional disorder is that you develop a high degree of self-awareness. In an effort to manage my chronic anxiety, I have been through countless hours of psychotherapy and read dozens of self-help books. This has, over several decades, developed in me a keen awareness of my thoughts and behavior.

I have also discovered, though, that while awareness is one thing, change is yet quite another.

As an example, I recently stopped taking an anti-anxiety and anti-obsessional drug I have been taking for several years. My psychiatrist and I decided I should try to discontinue taking it, since I was on such a low dose anyway. He cautioned me, however, that the withdrawal symptoms for this medicine include heightened anxiety, tenseness, and irritability.

So a couple of days ago I was feeling pretty anxious and impatient, and even a little aggressive. I had awareness of this, which I thought should help. Regardless, I had things to do that day, so I headed off to the small gym at our local community center to do my workout. Normally I train at a nearby LA Fitness, but on this day I was a little tight for time and the community center gym is nearer my home.

As soon as I walked into the gym I noticed that this guy was there who has a reputation for being very arrogant and full of himself. He prides himself on doing chin-ups, and that is virtually all he ever does in the gym. He constantly brags about setting a world record for chin-ups for his age (he’s in his 60’s). However, it is common knowledge that he didn’t beat any record because he didn’t do full chin-ups, so no organization would recognize it. The bottom line is I that have gotten along okay with this guy in the past, but there has always been an underlying tension between us.

I immediately identified that seeing this guy on this particular day could be a problem, but I told myself not to engage, because it wouldn’t serve any purpose.

Well, let’s just say that didn’t work so well! He and I ended up getting into a verbal altercation. I don’t know who started it, but it happened.

As I said, awareness is one thing, but changing your behavior in response to that awareness is yet another.

However, let me say there is hope. Later that same day, Elaine and I were discussing a home improvement project we are undertaking. We began to disagree about it and argue a little bit. As was the case earlier in the day, I was immediately aware of my emotional tension and a possible escalation. But in this case, I quickly caught myself and avoided it. I calmed myself, listened to what Elaine had to say, and realized she had some good points. I compromised on some of what I wanted, as did she, and we were able to agree on a plan.

In hindsight, I was probably successful changing and adapting my behavior with Elaine because I love and respect her so much, while I really have no use for the chin-up jackass.

In any case, let’s just say that change is really, really hard. We might see the freight train coming from a mile away, but we often stay fixated and frozen in its tracks nonetheless. It’s hard to figure why, but it’s true.

I believe that in spite of how difficult it is for us to change, we should always at least try. Being a Type A, I know Elaine feels I can sometimes be a bit impatient and hard to handle. But she knows I am aware of this and try to soften my behavior. I may not always succeed, but she knows I care enough about her to always try.

The people close to us recognize our desire and efforts to be better, they deserve it, and they appreciate it. That’s good enough for me, and I hope for you, to continue to work at meaningful change.

About the Author ()

TIM MCINTYRE retired in 2004 from his position as president of Applied Systems after facilitating a successful sale of the company. At only forty-six years old, he made the unusual decision to fully retire to pursue other interests and simply enjoy free time. As a hard-driving Type A personality, this turned out to be a significant challenge for the Notre Dame and University of Chicago-educated MBA, CPA, and Certified Cash Manager.

Comments (2)

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  1. Beth Difrank says:

    Love this post Tim- so honor you for your honesty and candidness .

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