Think about a big change that you’ve attempted in your life: it may be a diet, or giving up an addiction, or leaving a toxic relationship, or accomplishing a big goal.
How did you break through? How did you finally pull the trigger, make the decision to start, get up off your butt and start moving?
More likely than not, it was some form of pain. You looked in the mirror and were just disgusted with how much weight you had put on. You had a huge fight with your partner and decided it was the last straw. You saw someone else get a big promotion and finally decided you weren’t going to get left behind.
In order to overcome inertia, in order to actually break your life out of a rut, requires new energy and effort, and usually it is a feeling of pain— be it fear, anger, guilt, shame, or frustration— that provides the fuel.
It would be nice to think we could use something more light-hearted and cheery to initiate change, but the reality of human nature is that pain is the often the only energy strong enough for that initial “fight or flight” “I just can’t take it anymore” decision that you’ve got to do something different in your life.
But the fuel that is ideal to start change in your life isn’t always the best fuel to sustain that change long-term. Energy powered by negative emotions is indeed powerful but it’s also often only temporary and can even be toxic if you stay in it too long.
I’ve been examining this interplay of energies in my own life with my writing. When I first restarted writing about a year ago it was frankly due to feeling a sense of guilt and duty to use my gifts, to not waste my talents, to make an impact with my life. And it worked. I broke through my inertia and fear and misgivings and started writing again.
But eventually, I started tailing off again, not writing as much. And honestly, I’ve realized it was because that negative energy of duty and guilt, while effective at initiating change, will only get you so far. The same thing has happened before in my life with things like exercise and diet— I’ll feel bad in some way, that will motivate me to do something different, but the bad feeling will eventually burn out, and my life change will burn out too.
So, what do you do, when guilt (or anger, or fear) will only get you so far? In addition to the pain as a motivator, you have to find a pleasure. You find joy. You find peace. You find love.
You find the joy of moving your body every day instead of laying on the couch. You find the peace of not being in a toxic relationship, no matter how strongly it pulls you back. You find the love of healthy food. You find satisfaction and pride of accomplishing something new in your life.
So I’m continuing my journey of writing and teaching, but I’m reminding myself that it’s not a have-to, not a duty, but a want-to, a get-to, something that brings me great satisfaction, joy, and pride.
Guilt will only get you so far. If there’s a change that you’ve been needing to make in your life, by all means reach down and find that anger, that guilt, that fear— that powerful energy that will help you start on your new path. But be sure you also find positive energy. Find the joy that will ensure that you make it to the finish line.