Anyone who’s ever tried to lose weight, curb their temper, quit smoking, or alter any other habit in their lives knows that personal change is hard. Really hard.

Most self-help books out there treat people like machines, blitzing past this difficulty and offering mechanical 5-step formulas for changing your life.

My guest today says such simplified solutions hugely miss the mark. He argues that if you ever want to change, it’s more fruitful to understand why you don’t, than figure why you do, and to understand that, you’ve got to go deeper, existential even.

His name is Dr. Ross Ellenhorn, and he’s spent his career facilitating the recovery of individuals diagnosed with psychiatric and substance abuse issues. In his latest book, How We Change (And Ten Reasons Why We Don’t), he’s taken what he’s learned in his work and applied it to anyone trying to change their lives.

Ross and I begin our conversation with some of those reasons we don’t change, including the existential pressure of feeling like you’re solely in charge of making change happen, a dizzying amount of freedom and number of options for what to do with your life, and day-to-day factors which influence our level of motivation. From there we turn to the role of hope and faith in psychology, and how these forces can both boost and restrain your ability to change. We discuss the way a fear of hope can constrain your life, why you sometimes need to embrace staying the same in order to ever change, and the difference between good faith and bad faith. We then discuss the idea that you don’t develop hope, but can develop faith, and how you build your faith in yourself through embracing humility and taking small steps. Ross then explains why he doesn’t really give advice on how to change, beyond finding the good in a bad habit, but how patience and your social environment can also help.

This show’s got some counterintuitive advice that will help you see your struggles differently

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Show Highlights

Why is it so hard to make long-lasting personal changes?Why hope can be both positive and restrictive What is faith? Why is it important for all people, and not just the religious?How we go overboard in protecting ourselves Good faith vs. bad faithThe extraordinary power of expectations The ways in which fear torpedoes our attempts at change Filling the gap between where you are and where you want to be The need for patience in our lives Why you need to surround yourself with supportive people 

Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast

AoM archives on habitsLimiting Your Choices“We Shall Fight On the Beaches” by Winston ChurchillSelf-Efficacy and the Art of Doing ThingsThe Psychology of HopeHow Exercise Helps Us Find Hope, Connection, and CourageThe Tiny Habits That Change EverythingAoM series on overprotective parentingDance Like Zorba the Greek

Connect With Ross

Ross’s website

Ross on Twitter

Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)