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Insights: Change and Relapse
November 11, 2008

Change... and Relapse

"May you live in interesting times"…

…reads the English version of the reputedly ancient Chinese proverb and curse.

Interestingly, the Chinese language original has apparently never been found, although some say that the proverb was based on another that reads:

"It's better to be a dog in a peaceful time than be
a man in a chaotic period."

Either way, the meaning is clear. To live in a period of rapid change, like we’re witnessing today, takes real courage and an ability to ‘roll with the punches’.

Being involved in the life coaching industry is a privilege and – for most parts – a wonderful thing. The personal development that one witnesses as a result of the efforts of good coaches is nothing short of brilliant. And the realization that we are all so wonderfully endowed with abilities and potential - if only we will stop being so self-critical, stop comparing ourselves with others and start listening to our inner voices – is a magical revelation that plays out again and again in this business.

The necessity of change

To cope with - and flourish - in times of change (‘chaos’, if you prefer the more dramatic) it is essential for us to change too. Those who cannot change become stuck in a rut, becoming ever more fearful as the world around them changes, leaving them to contemplate “what on earth happened?”

Life coaches are skilled in helping people change for the better. Very often coaching interventions will result in dramatic, transformational changes for those that are ready, willing and able to change.

And the inevitability of relapse!

But the truth is that no matter how modest or profound the transformation that people may be fortunate to experience in life, it is almost always accompanied by some form, or period, of ‘relapse’. And, if we’re not taught to accept it and how to deal with it, it can be quite devastating.

What do I mean by ‘relapse’?

I mean a tendency to regress (or ‘slip back’) from the state of transformation that has occurred, towards the prior state or condition.

Think about this for a minute…

Do you know anyone – perhaps yourself - who has made life changing decisions? Can you think of people who have turned their lives around, done things that you would never have thought them capable of, people who have taken on substantial change, people who have gone from the ordinary to the extraordinary?

Even if you’re not thinking of yourself right now (and, if you try, I’m sure you will think of a good example involving you) I’m quite sure you are thinking of someone you know.

Now let me ask you this…

Did that change just happen miraculously overnight, like a seamless transition from life at one level to life at a higher level, with no looking back, no hiccups, no regression?

My guess is you answered “No”.

And if you answered “Yes”, it’s probably because you were looking at the external manifestations of the change and not the unseen internal effects or emotions that were experienced along the way.

Change is messy!

That’s because change is, like my HR lecturer at university used to say “a little messy”!

Put it this way... If you were to represent change accurately on a graph, you would be best to do it while in the back of a bus on a bumpy road, without the aid of a ruler!

You see, those of us who experience great change in our lives almost always have to deal with some form of regression or relapse at some point in the journey.


An issue of conditioning

Because we have been conditioned to act and think a certain way over many years and it’s natural and instinctive for our conscious minds to want to return us to the position of relative security and comfort that we ‘enjoyed’ prior to the change.

Change usually means unfamiliar territory and having to behave in a more courageous, adventurous and proactive manner.

Order and disorder

I remember studying a concept called ‘entropy’ in physics and if my memory serves me correctly entropy refers to the level or degree of disorder that exists. In nature, believe it or not, things tend naturally to a state of disorder (a kinder word might be randomness). That’s why you won’t see trees growing naturally in straight rows or rocks on the beach forming orderly patterns. Nature will always try its best to undo any attempts at orderliness!

Now, the interesting thing is that humans are the exact opposite – we tend towards greater order. We don’t like randomness. So it’s in our conscious nature to take shelter in the more structured, more ordered, more certain things that life can offer and to resist, or shy away from change that inevitably promises more of the unknown.

Dealing with relapse

OK, so now we understand that it’s natural for us to relapse, regress or backtrack during or after transformational change. How, then, do we deal with it?

The key is to realize that in having the courage to transform our life, we’ve ‘let the genie out the bottle’. What I mean is that we will never be the same again, no matter how badly the relapse we experience. We will never ‘return to square one’.

The other thing to appreciate is that we’re our own worst enemies – nobody is as harsh on you as you!

So here, in a nutshell, is the advice I would give to anyone who is going through change and has suffered - or is suffering - a relapse.

1. It’s quite normal. It happens to the best of us. It’s the desire for certainty and order kicking in. It’s to be expected.

2. Don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s tough enough dealing with change and then regression without having your harshest critic dump on you! Find support.

3. No matter how badly you think you’ve slipped back, you’ll never return to where you were before. You’ve changed forever.

4. Now, dust yourself off, pat yourself on the back for having had the courage to make fundamental change in your life, look at this setback as a bumpy patch in the road and remember that just up ahead the road has been resurfaced.

5. Get back on track and make this change work for you.
You deserve it! ☺

What's your calling?

Perhaps you have a calling to work with people, guiding them to confront change and become all they can and want to be?

If so, I invite you to consider a career, either part or full-time, in life coaching. It has to be one of the most fulfilling and rewarding ways to make a living available today.

If you have a passion for people and for improving people’s lives, the New Insights Life Coaching Skills Training Programme is everything you need to become a certified, practising life coach. You study in your time when it suits you.

Our programme is powerful, flexible and affordable – and beware – it’ll change you forever!!

If you’re interested I’d love to hear from you.

To contact me simply click here

With warm regards


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