The Lure of Sameness
Sorrows During Change
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | January 2019 (edited 9-10-2021)
Even good changes leave a hole, aching to be filled. Yet, the hated old habit brings us right back to where we desperately wanted to escape.
Every once in a while an event pokes us to our sensibilities. We see the wrong in our ways and want change. We recognize the mess and begin the work of cleaning up. But our momentary forays into the unknown are fraught with sorrow, we long for the past, the ease of following a comforting pattern, without the nasty interferences of forced change. We long for sameness.
Sameness Beckons ; We Submit
Past habits beckon, even beg, for our return. They are the natural flow to life. We respond with ease when we do what we always have done. Our brains evolved to adapt and then settle. Shaking these patterns strikes hard, disrupting normal comforts, and inviting new uncertainties. This is called growth.
Just like a gangly tall fifteen year old kid is trying to grow into his body, we must also disavow the lures of sameness and grow into healthy changes.
Ego Depletion and Returns to Sameness
Change is demanding. Acting different than the same comforting routines requires attention and effort. Life giving energy is a finite resource that depletes. We predict, budget and use this energy to succeed. The more our lives glide on automatic, the easier the budgeting is of this resource.
Change throws uncertainty into the normal programming. Our predictions fail, not yet refined to meet the new demands. The active suppressing normal responses draws and depletes limited supplies of energy. In psychology this s referred to as ego depletion. Ego depletion leads to failures. From a depleted state, we can't resist the beckoning of sameness. We tire and return to the past that we enthusiastically vowed to abandon.
See Ego Depletion for more on this topic
David K Reynolds in his classic work Constructive Living (Reynolds, 2012) wrote, “We need to use our energy and attention sensibly without wasting resources trying to do the impossible.”
Failure and Defense Mechanisms
Lapses blasts the ego, diminishing trust in our ability to change. Depressed and discouraged we're enticed to give in, lay down and accept our lot, remaining in the comfort of sameness. Our mind is a master of justifying failure, explaining away the failed attempt with well-constructed rationalizations.
Our eloquent justifications are words of a fool, moving us down the same painful path we desired to change.
Managing the Discomfort
We must manage discomforting feelings during change. The adjustments are demanding and uncomfortable. We want change but shouldn't expect joyful transitions.
Sadness is part of the journey. We experience loss. We tell ourselves that new changes feel great, when underneath, we are struggling. We explain to friends and family how energized we feel, but inside, we struggle. We have yet to grow into our change. We long for sameness.
"Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up." Anne Lamott
Longing for Sameness is Okay
It’s okay to feel sad when leaving something unhealthy. Any significant change momentarily feels bad, leaving an empty space in our soul. We can’t force positive feelings to mask the emptiness. Thin layers of paint only accent the crumbling emotional walls. We don’t heal through denial.
When feeling sad, lonely, worried, embarrassed or generally beaten down by life, you cannot sit down and will yourself to happiness. Trying to make yourself feel what you are not feeling is foolishness. The power of positive thinking is bunk if it pretends to create joy where no joy is found.
However, we don’t need to endlessly grovel in the loss. There is plenty we can do to move forward, back to the warmness of happiness and hope. We must redirect the self-pity. Ruminating on the past only distracts us from what is realistically changeable and controllable: Our Behavior. (Reynolds, 2012).
We must refocus, moving attention to the desired future rather than the sorrowful sameness of the past. By refocusing, we re-energize our commitment, giving our purpose a boost.
Addictions are adopted to escape—an unhealthy adaptation to stress. We habitually return to them when overburdened or fearful. Naturally, when working to abandon life-destructive habits, we encounter frightening emotional monsters. Monsters addictions were previously adopted to combat. We now must face them differently. Terrifying.
Self-confidence is the reward for discovering strength and wisdom. Our ultimate success relies on budgeting sources of energy and drawing from new wells for support and power.
Instead of fighting old enemies with the same tactics, we must adopt new strategies. We learn to duck where we once stood tall, we jive where we once proceeded straight. The ducks and jives are marks of wisdom. We can’t draw strength from a reservoir that has proven inadequate. We must blaze an easier path where the old path has failed.
See Easing the Path for more on this topic
When fitness goals to workout before work have repeatedly failed, perhaps, we need to schedule a different time for our exercise. If leaving an abuser, to only return after a week of solitude has continually failed, the plan must be altered, and additional support secured.
“This time will be different,” is a precursor to failure. Wisdom from the past hasn’t work. The failure often is not just not enough effort but an inadequate plan to deal with the sorrow and difficulty of change. We long for change, until of course, change hurts; then we long for the sameness of old routines, old sorrows, and old comforts.
Successful changes are within reach. Our success, however, require doing something different, confronting failures with new plans. We must look at the process. We can escape disappointing sameness. We can emerge victors, climbing to new heights, new opportunities, and a new sameness that we will eventually outgrow.
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Reynolds, D. K. (2012) Constructive Living. Kindle Edition