We live in a world of constant change. Technology is advancing at an unprecedented rate. Globalisation means a competitive business environment that requires us to be flexible in order to keep up. Economic and job uncertainty means that we can’t expect to be able to do the same job with the same skill set throughout our life.

So why do we find it so hard to change?

First of all; we all have something called an ego. Our ego is our sense of identity. It represents who we think we are. Our ego is born in childhood and over the years it develops through our life experiences. Every memory that we have, good or bad, goes into our ego. Our ego becomes our best friend, and also our worst enemy, as it learns behaviours that help us survive in this world. The problem is that as we grow older the behaviours that once helped us become less useful, and even trip us up on occasion. But because our ego has invested so much in these behaviours it struggles to let them go.

Being told we need to change does not help.

Our ego sees this as an attack on our identity. So its initial response is to resist. Being put under more pressure to change means that the ego will simply resist even more. The ego has to see the value of changing in order to let go of past behaviours. But even then this does not mean that the person will change. Changing well-worn behaviours is like putting on a brand-new pair of shoes. At first they will be nowhere near as comfortable as your old pair, and they may even hurt like hell. As soon as the ego experiences this pain the chances are that it will reject the change and go back to its old, comfortable ways.

How to engage with an ego?

People may not be aware of their ego. How many of us stop to think on a daily basis about our thoughts and feelings and where they are coming from? How many of us notice the chatter going on in our minds? So the first stage in engaging with an ego is to become aware of it. That means noticing every time we have a strong emotional reaction to something. And starting to observe what we are thinking about and how those thoughts are affecting us.

The Headspace app has a good way of describing this. It asks you to imagine you are sat beside a busy road. The traffic on the road represents your thoughts and feelings. What happens is that most of us spend our lives running out into the road, disrupting the traffic, causing accidents and chasing after cars. Headspace encourages us to learn to sit by the side of the road and just watch the traffic going past.

This does not mean that you should suppress all your thoughts and feelings. In fact the opposite is true. Allowing whatever feelings to come up to flow through your body and expressing them in a safe environment means that they won’t hang around and add to what Eckhart Tolle calls the “pain-body”. I prefer to call it the “pain-baby” because if we bury our feelings then they tend to respond like an abandoned baby. We may think we have them under control but in reality they are screaming. The more we ignore them the louder they scream. We may not be conscious of their impact in the same way a crying baby is not conscious of its impact on the people around it, but you can bet that others will notice.

Noticing our thoughts and feelings means that we become more consciously aware of ourselves. This awareness gives us greater choice and flexibility over how to behave. Now we can stop reacting to situations in our habitual way, and choose other methods. Or if we choose to react how we have always reacted then at least now we are doing so consciously, and recognising that there are alternatives.

That’s not all

In fact it’s just the beginning. We still have to work through a decision-making process of whether or not to change. That’s the subject of another blog. We also have to recognise that we do not exist as individuals in a vacuum. Each one of us is an integral part of systems that influence us on an unconscious level. These systems include our family system, our organisation’s system and we can even add in the community system where we live. Understanding and revealing the hidden forces that operate in a system will also help unblock the resistance to change. Again, that is the subject of another blog.