The Worst Motive for Change
“Love yourself.” -Jesus
I sat with a man last week who is trying to get out of debt. He’s got the usual sort of stuff—a bit of credit card debt, school loans, and a new car. It totals around $80k. That’s a lot of money. But he’s got his plan. The old Dave Ramsey gazelle-like intensity deal.
It seems to be working well for him. With budgeting and such, he’s able to pay off $3k a month. I got excited for him when he said this. I even raised my hands in the air to celebrate, thinking he’d join right in.
He didn’t raise his hands. He didn’t even smile. In fact, he furrowed his brow.
I slowly lowered my arms. “So you’re not happy about this?”
“No,” he said. “I mean, I feel like I need to be doing more. I feel like I should be doing some extra projects at night after the kids go to bed.”
Something seemed up with this. It sounds sorta good, maybe noble, certainly gazelle-like. But $3k didn’t even register on his excitement meter.
I said, “I don’t get that. You’ll have to help me understand what all this pressure is to get it done faster.”
He sat back, searching his heart, unsure himself. “Well, I just feel like I made some dumb mistakes.”
And the story came spilling out. He bought a car in the middle of a crisis. Actually, he bought two cars because the first one didn’t fit their needs after they moved. So they had to turn it in to buy another.
“I just can’t get over the fact that a big chunk of that debt was my mistake. I should have kept our original car and saved myself about $10k in debt.”
The Worst Motive for Change
Did you hear it?
His real motive for wanting to pay debt off faster was his anger with himself. A self-imposed punishment. That’s what those nights up were about. He was making himself pay for his mistakes.
Lets just call it what it is: self-hatred. And he was using it as his energy for change.
He is not alone. We all have things like this. The stuff we regret. The mistakes we wince at every time we think of them. The “why did I do that?” face palm that fuels our frustration with ourselves. And we think, what could be a better motive for change than hating what we’ve done? Surely our regret is good for something, we think.
But it just never ever works. Oh, maybe for a little while. But like drinking a red bull, the energy falls off pretty quickly.
Self-loathing never produces the kind of change we crave.
I’ve done workouts at the gym that were so fueled with anger at myself, they could hardly be called exercise. I’ve injured myself this way. Shin splints from running too long and a pulled back from lifting too much. But who has time to listen to his body when he’s trying to work off his mistakes?
I know men who are driven toward success, fueled to never be the failure their fathers said they would be. Trying to prove dear old dad wrong. But who pays in the end? The guy with a great 401k and an empty heart, that’s who.
People base their entire spiritual lives on this kind of stuff. Being driven by what they think is just “guilt” or “gratitude.” And yet the obsession with busy spiritual practice chokes out the desperate need just to sit and enjoy being loved and forgiven by God.
None of this is good. It’s never going to get you what you want.
What Change Really Requires
We’ve passed through Resolution season and we are now well into Blow-Your-Resolution season. And maybe there’s something really good about that. We probably didn’t have the right motives anyway. I dare say most of these resolutions lacked the one ingredient we all need to change.
Kindness. Self-compassion. Yep, that’s the only way you can change. We all need a baseline level of kindness for ourselves before we change in order to change. Because no one changes in a continuous straight upward path. Change always involves stumbling and failing and just outright blowing it. And therefore, change requires immense kindness and grace. If we have no compassion for ourselves, we simply cannot muster the energy needed to get back up and keep going.
You need patience to get out of debt. That’s a form of kindness. So is listening to your body while you’re working out to get in shape. Diet changes require a thousand good decisions over years to truly change our habits. Change by brute force is not going to get us there.
Let me say it again: Friends, hatred is never, ever a good motivator. Where you loathe yourself is where you will stay stuck. Hate evil. Don’t hate anything God has created. Especially yourself.
Editors note: to read more from Sam Jolman check out his blog samjolman.com