Why We Don’t Change for the Better

Okay, this post is probably going to rankle a few people. And that’s okay – the idea here is to open minds and to make folks think a little differently. The goal is to make people change their thought processes, and to make them realize that we can all change things that we may not have thought about changing in the past. 

cold swimming
Stressing our bodies can lead to great successes and better life. Why do so many people put it down as crazy?

As you all know if you’ve been reading lately, I finished a 20-Day cold shower challenge and loved it. It makes me feel great. It’s helped me to get past a fear/aversion that has caused me issues in the past. And it’s preparing me to be a more resilient person. I’ve been continuing this practice and I’m up to a 6-minute 30-second shower under cold water.  And I’m feeling the effects in a big way – cold weather isn’t something that is bothering me, I’ve gone through two bouts of colds and stomach flu in our house and come out without anything notable.

But ironically, I have a co-worker who sits right across from me who was talking to another co-worker about how winter is coming and how she’s “never been good with cold weather.” Having just finished what I did, I wanted to tell her all about that experience and how it’s made cold less of an issue for me. But it occurred to me that such an action would probably be seen as uncaring and unfeeling in today’s world.

It seems that the point of complaining about things like this is to garner support from other people who complain and make all those involved in the complaint-fest feel better. Perhaps a downside of being involved in obstacle course racing, which is all about overcoming challenges and issues, and making yourself a better person, is that it makes us hyper-aware that such behavior is totally asinine.

Here’s another example of the situation: a friend of mine was asking if anyone wanted to run an OCR with her. Of course, I volunteered. But the majority of the respondents were piping in with things like “Not me, it involves two things I hate: running and getting dirty” or “I could never do that.” What? Why would you respond like that?  If you’re not interested, then don’t say anything, right?

But more importantly, why in the world would you not want to overcome your problems and make them go away, we think? Why wouldn’t you want to make yourself better? Why do you allow your problems to rule your life instead of figuring out a way to get past them, defeat them, and make your life more pleasant?

Here’s another example: I was trying out a GoRuck workout a couple of weeks ago for the first time (not the rucking part, but a workout using the ruck as the resistance/weight). And in doing so, I tweaked a muscle between my shoulder-blades. It happens, right? But it occurred to me that perhaps the problem is that I’m not getting enough flexibility work in my routine, and that my muscles are just too tight. So…I looked around for yoga classes to get a regular dose of some good stretching (and a lot of other benefits, before anyone jumps on my with “yoga’s more than just stretching” talk… ). I found one – around the corner from my office at the Downtown YMCA, of which I am a member already so there’s not even any fee. Tuesday and Friday, now, I am doing yoga and have loved it and how it makes me feel. And my back/shoulders feel great.

A lot of people would have just accepted the tweak with “oh, I’m just getting older,” and that would have been the end of their fitness journey. The idea that it wasn’t age-related would have been anathema to a lot of those folks. However, as we’ve pointed out time and again on this site, that is a lot of hogwash.

More examples: I was talking this morning about kicking the coffee habit for a week. I’m on day 3, and apart from a small headache yesterday I am feeling pretty good with it. But then a friend of mine piped in with “I would spontaneously combust.”

Or another friend of mine was talking about cold showers and getting back into the practice of taking them, and his feed on Facebook was filled with “Why would you do that?” and “I couldn’t ever do that.”

Overcome the resistance to change, accept rigor in your life, and get happier! Click To Tweet

It’s hard for people to accept that they can make changes in their lives. Marianne Williamson, an author, speaker, and spiritual teacher, says it this way:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world.

Why would we be afraid to succeed? I can think of a bunch of reasons:

1. We’re afraid of the discomfort of change.

Let’s face it: a lot of folks simply don’t want to undergo discomfort. Changes can be painful, especially when the changes involve the body and how we feel. A coffee abstention can mean headaches or the loss of a habit that we enjoy. Cold showers can really suck for a while. Changing exercise routines means sore muscles. A new diet means not being able to partake in the foods that got us to the place that caused us to need the new diet, and they frequently taste good.

There’s an unfortunate idea in the world that comfort is the ideal, that we should always look for ways to be more comfortable. Scientists and inventors are constantly looking for ways to make things easier and quicker. It’s a concept that seems to be great until we look at the effects it’s having on our society – less resilience, less patience, less health, less happiness.

2. We’re afraid people will expect more of us.

If we show that we can overcome problems, then people might expect more of us in the future. As the oldest grandchild on both sides of my family growing up, I know that problem big time. That’s a scary thing for a lot of people. They may have issues with how people see them and don’t want to let people down. And perhaps others have given them grief or guilt for failing in the past.

3. We don’t want to prove that we were wrong about a belief.

Think of a situation where you may have known what was right, and seen proof that you were wrong, but you were embarrassed or ashamed to admit it. That happens for a lot of people – again, myself included. Heck, our political offices are filled with such folks. Everyone likes to be right, but to admit we’re wrong when

4.  We don’t want to see other people around us get better.

This one is entirely mired in selfishness and/or poor self-esteem. We don’t want the people around us to improve because then it means that they might be moving into a community that we can’t or don’t want to follow them into.  It also means, somehow, that we could make the change but aren’t, for some reason. One of my mentors, JB Glossinger, says it this way: “People want to see you be successful, they just don’t want to see you be more successful than them.”  It’s much easier to pull down the person who’s trying to make the change.  We couch this sort of thing with terms like “elitism,” but it comes down to not wanting to change our state in life for some reason.

5. We’re afraid of losing our community.

If we have to describe one of these as a legitimate concern, then I’d pick this one.  Community is an integral part of being human (and one that is frequently discounted in our individual-based society).

Part of the reason we have the concerns like #3 and #4 above is that we don’t want to have our community upset. Frequently we even find our identity in the communities we belong to – and if we don’t have that identity, who are we?

There is all sorts of research and experiential data out there among the biohacking, rewilding, fitness, and alternative health world about hormesis, and making yourself better by putting yourself through hard experiences. Wim Hof calls it “hard nature,” but it’s something that people actually thrive with. People act like our pre-agricultural nomadic lifestyles must have been horrible experiences, but it’s important to realize that those people weren’t weakened by a lack of these hormetic stressors: cold, exertion, heat, hunger, and more. Things like intermittent fasting, cold exposure, etc. work because (once again) our bodies expect them to happen to us.

And look at the people who do such things: Tony Robbins. Rick Rubin. Tim Ferriss. Ben Greenfield. These are top people in their industries and big achievers who’ve made a huge impact on the world.  They’ve seen the importance of making themselves go through a little physical stress in their lives and how it makes them stronger people in body, mind, and spirit. (Read Tim Ferriss’s book Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performersfor a more complete list of people who use these sorts of stressors to make them more successful and resilient).

There are so many ways to think about how to improve your health and resilience in life. The problem is that you almost have to take some of those methods on to understand them, and getting people to do them is hard because people don’t understand them or the need for them. But let me suggest that people take the example of a group of people that, in the United States at least, is shrinking:  military veterans.

People who’ve been in the military are frequently noted as having less tolerance for complaining and such, because they know and have actually experienced a more rigorous lifestyle for an extended period of time. Even veterans whose most rigorous activity in the military was basic training have undergone more strenuous mental and physical challenges than your average non-veteran.

Frankly, once you become used to a more rigorous lifestyle, you miss it a lot of the time. This is one of the reasons that many veterans have trouble getting used to non-military society again: the lack of rigor in life makes them uncomfortable. I was talking to a friend of mine who has just recently been deployed overseas with his National Guard unit for a year.  He (having been deployed a few times before) was talking about how much he felt back at home in the return to an active-duty type lifestyle. And that’s a common thing I hear from veterans – and a big part of why veterans seem to be drawn to things like OCR, Crossfit, martial arts, and other rigorous activities: it’s a way to experience hardship and rigors again and feel the stimulation to the body that they’ve learned to expect from life.

And that’s one of the big reasons I’m a fan of obstacle course racing. It’s a hardship – not only to run the races, but to train for them. When that sort of hormesis-building activity becomes part of your life, you start to crave it. Your body wants it because it expects it to be a part of your life via your DNA and how we’ve evolved.

I’ve talked before about shucking first-world comforts to make yourself happier and healthier, and this post is more on that topic, but from a broader look. You can make yourself happier, healthier, and more resilient to what the world wants to throw at you by taking on a more rigorous lifestyle.

Start with obstacle course racing. Sign up for the nearest race, and then find a training program and go for it. Find a group to do it with (replace that community that’s keeping you down with a new one!).  And have fun, get healthy, and make yourself a happier person.