Why Is Changing So Difficult – Even When Members Really Want It?

Dec 31, 2017

Today is New Year's Eve, so of course, people are getting all reflective and many are doing some sort of dreaming, visioning, planning about the year ahead.

It's like seeing yesterday's footsteps get filled in with fallen snow. You awaken to the opportunity to create new footsteps along the same path… OR you can set out in a completely different direction entirely. The choice is yours.

The truth is that MOST New Year’s resolutions are abandoned within a week. If change were easy, we’d all be wealthy, fit, and happy. It’s frustrating when you know what you want to do, but you can’t get yourself to do it consistently. If the new behavior would obviously be of benefit, why isn’t that change easy to make?

For those of us who want our membership programs to be transformational, it’s reasonable to ask how we can expect members to achieve change when it’s so darn hard to do!

Change is challenging for several reasons:

1. Habits are strong and pervasive. The average person has far more habits than they realize. Each morning, you wake up and follow the same routine. You take the same path to work. You think the same thoughts as you did the day before. Much of your day and night is a repeat of the last 500.

  • When you feel bored, you soothe yourself in the same 2-3 ways each time. You only eat a few foods regularly. You talk to the same people.
  • Habits avoid thinking. They’re done automatically. Anything that minimizes thinking seems to be your brain’s preference. The fewer decisions, the better.
  • To change, you must be certain that change is in your best interest. Otherwise, your habits will always win.

2. Change is hard because it’s uncomfortable. You already know how to lose 25 pounds or how to find a better job. But the thought of taking the actions necessary to accomplish those goals creates discomfort.

3. What you’re doing is already working, sort of. Your brain is preoccupied with your survival. Our brains are programmed to resist change, because what you’re doing is allowing you to live. Any change could potentially lead to death. You might be unhappy today, but you’re still alive!

4. You’ve tried to change in the past and failed. You’re no dummy. If you’ve tried to change several times and failed, part of you says, “Obviously, I can’t change. What’s the use in trying?”
It isn’t easy to change, but change is possible. The primary issue keeping you from following through on your plan to change is attempting to change too much, too soon. Smaller changes are easier to accomplish and to maintain.

How you can help members (and yourself) create a desired change

Change is possible with an effective approach:

1. Be prepared. Expect that change will be challenging. Your odds of success improve if you’re prepared. Have a plan. Help members create a vision for what they want and a plan to get there.

2. Start small. To minimize the discomfort that change creates, only change a little each week. Meditating for two minutes each day is easier than starting with 60 minutes. The key is to get in the habit of doing the new behavior each day. What can members do that moves them in small ways toward their goal?

3. Have patience. It can take months to make a change permanent. It’s often quoted that a new habit requires 30 days to instill. That’s not true. Studies show that it can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on the habit and the person. Sprinkle in a few quick wins along the way to keep things motivating!

4. Prepare for consequences. Sometimes creating change is like playing the “Whack-A-Mole” Game at a carnival. You bop one challenge down and up pops another one in a different place. Accept that this happens and know that it doesn’t mean that the original change isn’t worth it.

Helping members plan for, and work toward incremental change, is the key to long-term success and raving fans about the transformational experience that they’ve achieved by participating in your membership. This is universally true whether you are an entrepreneur with a service-based business, a nonprofit gathering people to work on a community issue, or a trade association elevating an entire profession.

I’ll end this just one final thought… since I started this post talking about fallen snow, let me remind you that snow melts at 33 degrees Fahrenheit, but NOT at 32, or 31, or 30. Help your members make change happen just one degree at a time… and at some point, transformation will become magically noticeable.



Joy Duling is Founder and CEO of The Joy of Membership.  Since 2005, Joy and her team have helped associations, trade groups and membership-based nonprofits run their programs more easily and deliver exceptional member care.

You can find FREE tools, tips and training to help you run and grow your membership organization in The Joy of Membership Help Hub.


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Hey there.  I’m Joy Duling, Founder and CEO of The Joy of Membership.

Clients hire me to help them design and deliver exceptional member experiences. If you lead an association, trade group, or membership-based nonprofit, you can find FREE resources to help you run and grow your membership organization by visiting here: http://joyofmembership.com/help

I look forward to connecting with you there.