“A leopard never changes its spots.”
Gosh, I hate that saying. I hate it because it’s nonsense. I’ve changed my spots many times. They’re changing right now, as a matter of fact. And I know many, many people who have drastically and dramatically changed themselves at the very core. Change happens.
But what about when it doesn’t? As a Life Coach who specializes in supporting people as they make lasting change in their lives, I’ve also seen plenty of stuckness. I’ve also been stuck.
What does it mean when you want to change, but no matter how or what you try, the change just doesn’t last? The new habits never gel. The old mindset won’t let go.
First things first, if you’re finding this to be the case in your life, there is nothing wrong with you.
I’ve become bona fide allergic to any form of thinking or self-reference that implies you are broken, damaged or “ruined”. In fact, the most damaging thing about thinking you are damaged is the thinking-you-are-damaged part. Our thoughts and beliefs are more powerful than we’ll ever know.
Tattoo this backwards on your forehead so every time you look in the mirror, you will read it: There is nothing wrong with me.
In a self-help society that profits from our damaged self-concept, it’s hard sometimes to buy this. But you can. Owning that there is nothing wrong with you is an act of civil disobedience. Rebel!
“Be full of yourself. You are good. You are very good.” – Patricia Lynn Reilly
Yet, while we strive to improve ourselves and step into our greatness by manifesting powerful changes in our lives, our habits, our ways of doing life, sometimes we just can’t even.
We may make some progress. One step forward, two steps back.
We may sabotage our own efforts.
We may not even be able to take the first step, but oh, we can talk about it so much we get sick of the sound of our own voices, saying the same thing over and over about what we need to do, month after month, year after year, about what we will do, someday… while we stay stuck.
Why? Why is being “well-meaning” so irrelevant to making lasting change?
Why is the road to hell paved with good intentions?
I have a few theories of my own, and they all involve letting yourself off the hook, for now. You ready?
* There is still juice in the old way. You haven’t made sustaining change in that area because you still have learning to do, you’re still growing, the lesson hasn’t rooted, or there is still some pay-off that you are getting that outweighs the risk, pain, danger or loss that making the change brings with it.
Ask yourself what you are still getting from not making the change.
Ask yourself what you are willing to learn in order to move on. Evaluate, compassionately, and know that there may be very important reasons under the surface, in spite of your seemingly compelling desire.
* You are fighting natural life cycles and authentic timing. When I was a little kid, I found a cocoon and thought I would help the butterfly out by slicing open the cocoon to set it free. You can guess how this story ends. A dead, black undeveloped cluster of goo. I killed it because it just wasn’t time.
Can you allow yourself the possibility that it’s just not time? Trust me, when natural timing of change is aligned and calibrated, the change happens, momentum is possible, efforts finally stick. Nature is wiser than we are.
* The change you are striving for on the outside is not in alignment with who you truly are. Perhaps you are trying to change because your partner wants you to, or you want to fit in, or stand out, or you are trying to change to keep up with what you think you’re supposed to be. True change must be rooted in truth.
Who are you, really? Who are you emerging into? Is the change you’re trying to create really all that important to you? Whose dream is this? Get clear and get honest.
* There’s a deeper, truer belief that needs to be addressed. Repeatedly running into the same old slips and relapses and repeats and redundancies means there is a deeper truth in conflict with your desire and there is still healing to do before real, true change can finally take root. Debbie Ford called these truths “Underlying Commitments.”
When the change you desire is consistently sabotaged by conflicting choices or behaviors, there quite often is a deeper desire, a deeper commitment or belief that won’t let go until we heal it. For many, that belief is “I don’t deserve true success.” Or “I will always be a screw-up.” Or “I am committed to playing small.” So guess what our actions will support?
Our actions are always a reflection of our true commitments and beliefs, even before we discover what those deeply-rooted commitments and beliefs are.
Instead of relentlessly beating yourself up because the change you are trying to make just won’t stick, what if you turned within, with compassion and kindness and explored what might be keeping you stuck?
What if you dared to trust that true change happens when the timing is right, when the healing is complete, when the leopard is truly ready to change its spots?
Until then, go easy on yourself. Be gentle. Be kind. Be present.
And dare to trust in Life’s wisdom, and the natural nature of your life’s own unique and perfect evolution.
“Nothing happens, and nothing happens, and then everything happens.”– Fay Weldon