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If You Really Want to Change, Stop Trying So Hard

08/27/2014 01:20 pm ET | Updated Oct 27, 2014

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We've all heard the old adage spoken by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, "The only thing that is constant is change." Yeah, we know, everything changes all the time, can't count on anything, stability is an impossible goal, if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans, blah blah blah. So why, then, does it seem next to impossible to improve our own actions, behaviors, and thoughts when we actually do try? I suspect it's because we're trying too hard.

The things beyond our immediate control -- other people, job stress, the weather, kids, cars, bills -- constantly surprise the heck out of us because our expectations (or rather our wants) rarely align with the way things play out. They change when we least expect it, so why can't we change us when we really and truly make an effort? Eastern philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti wrote, "If you begin to understand what you are without trying to change it, then what you are undergoes a transformation." This follows the concept that every action has a reaction, so when you attempt to force a behavior or situation to change according to your will, you experience an opposite resistance that makes it that much more challenging. So is the answer to sit back and do nothing? Yes and no.

Krishnamurti also said, "One is never afraid of the unknown; one is afraid of the known coming to an end." Essentially, he meant that while we can genuinely want to be different in our conscious mind, our subconscious is extremely fond of the way things are right now. We are pre-programmed to resist change and hold tight to our patterns of thinking and behaving. So while you may not be ecstatic about the color of your outdated wallpaper, you make no effort to renovate because it's comfortably familiar. Fortunately, we can use this nugget of awareness to overcome our resistance to change. In his teachings, Krishnamurti encouraged his audience to "die to everything of yesterday, so that your mind is always fresh, always young, innocent, full of vigor and passion." So what you're left with is acceptance of who you are with the understanding that transformation will occur when you can truly let the past go, including perceptions of who you think you should be.

There are many schools of thought that promote sitting still as the catalyst for change. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way, says that, "Through meditation, we acquire and eventually acknowledge our connection to an inner power source that has the ability to transform our outer world."

Now I'm not suggesting that you simply meditate, will yourself to change and forget about the effort part. After all, Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business said, "It is facile to imply that smoking, alcoholism, overeating, or other ingrained patters can be upended without real effort. Genuine change requires work and self-understanding of the cravings driving behaviors."

But he also says that "...hiding what you know is sometimes as important as knowing it," which I translate to mean "fake it 'til you make it." So you can practice forgetting that you get an adrenaline rush from procrastination and pretend that you are an ultra-productive individual until you actually become one. I know, easier said than done.

I tend to favor a combination of the above ideas that equates to directing extreme focus to your passions and letting change occur naturally. Steven Pressfield, author of my favorite handbook on killing resistance, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Creative Battles, put it aptly when he wrote, "The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a byproduct of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like."

I also favor the theory that positive change is not necessarily an evolution or a remodeling of our consciousness, but rather a return to our true selves. As Mr. Pressfield penned, "Our job in this life is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it."

Another way you can practice not trying is to visualize yourself existing in this world as a person who has the qualities you aspire to integrate. And generate enthusiasm for tomorrow as part of the law of attraction. Existentialist Simone de Beauvoir said, "... those interested in perpetuating present conditions are always in tears about the marvelous past that is about to disappear, without having so much as a smile for the young future." Celebrate the person you are in the process of becoming, practice believing that change is possible, and exercise your will to follow those things that truly give you joy and see what happens.

To quote just one more of my favorite sages, Yoda, "Do. Or do not. There is no try."