My aunt and I had lunch the other day. We were discussing weight loss and I mentioned my fear of regaining the forty pounds I have worked so hard to lose when she said, “It’s easy to lose weight; the hard part is keeping it off.”

In my many years as an addictions nurse, I have always said that the hardest thing to do is to GET clean – to make the change and give up an addiction – and that it is much EASIER to maintain the change by staying clean one day at a time.

So which is harder – making a change or sustaining the change?


Making a change is H.A.R.D. because we have HABITS, ATTACHMENTS, RESISTANCE and we get DISCOURAGED. These are the ways in which our mind works to maintain the status quo and prevent change from occurring.

HABITS are how we can learn to drive or type and not have to focus our attention on the actual task any longer. This is how we are able to do more than one thing at a time like drive and listen to the radio or focus on where we are going rather than how to actually operate the car.

We are ATTACHED to people, places and things. When we make a change, everything else changes too. Relationships change. We must let go of ‘how things were’ and we often struggle because we want things or other people to make the change too. It doesn’t work that way. We want things to be different than reality actually is. And this causes us pain.

We feel loss and may experience mourning. We become fearful which causes us to experience anxiety, releasing adrenaline causing the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response. We freeze. RESISTANCE is fear. Resistance can show up as self-doubt, judgment or procrastination. We may make excuses and justify or rationalize that things should stay the same despite how damaging it is to our wellbeing.

Then, even when we do make an attempt to change, we get DISCOURAGED. We don’t progress as quickly as we like. It takes too long. The old habits hold us back. We miss certain things. And we succumb to the ease of keeping things as is. We cannot sustain the attention required long enough to create new habits and produce the results we want.

This is why change is H.A.R.D.

But, with commitment and vision, a supportive community, a strong internal motivation and a positive belief in the possibility for success, by taking lots of baby steps and acknowledging your success along the way, you can and will change. You’ve done it in the past.

That’s not so hard.

What makes SUSTAINING THE CHANGE hard is that we forget; we slip back into old habits; we stop being vigilant, we start revisiting the old stomping grounds. Before you know it, you’ve returned to your old ways. You regained the weight. You began smoking again. You’ve picked up the drink or drug. And you’re right back where you started.


THE KEY TO SUCCESS is to never forget what is important to you. If you value being healthy and fit, then focus on that – you can no longer eat like you used to. If you value being clean and sober, then you must live a clean and sober life every day. If you value your loving relationship, then you must nurture that by living in loving ways every day. What does this mean for you? Whatever your change, you must identify the KEY BEHAVIORS and ATTITUDES that are necessary to keep you on this new path.

COMMITMENT to change means you commit NOT ONLY to making the change but to sustaining the change. There is no such thing as ‘accidental’ slips. There is a component missing from your change – either you lack commitment to the new life or you have not yet adopted the characteristics required for success.

A yo-yo dieter has not yet committed to being thin. An addict who picks up again has not yet committed to a sober lifestyle. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep trying; but focus on committing and on becoming a NEW PERSON. This new person is different than the ‘OLD YOU’. Your self-image much change as you do. Change does not only entail what you do but also who you become in the process. Someone who values health and fitness will not only lose weight but will maintain a healthy lifestyle through nutrition and activity that will sustain the change.

So which is harder: making the change or sustaining it? I guess it depends upon your perspective. People who are truly ready for change make it happen. You’ve done it yourself and it’s been quite easy. Think about your life. Remember when you moved away from your parents or got married, decided to have kids or changed jobs when you really wanted to make this change? It was easy, right? And you had no trouble moving on and never looking back.

So why is it hard sometimes and not others?

Change is hard and sustaining it can be hard too; however, once you succeed at making a significant change, often you find that you are so committed to your new path there really is no looking back. You’ve become a new person and the old person you were has essentially ‘died’. You are not that person anymore. You are not a smoker; you’re a nonsmoker. You’re not obese; you’re healthy and fit. You’re not single; you’re in love and happily so. When you change your self-image and your personal identity, it becomes quite easy to sustain the change. You have a new life. You’re a new person. It was hard to get here.

Which is harder? Decide for yourself. I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories of change. Send an email to

Author's Bio: 

Julie Donley knows firsthand what it means to conquer adversity. Having overcome addiction, a grave illness, divorce, single parenthood, obesity, indebtedness and being laid-off three times, Julie brings a wealth of personal experience to her work. Julie has worked in psychiatric nursing since 1993 and founded her company, Nurturing Your Success, in 2001 to assist people in achieving their goals and working through change. She is the author of several books including Does Change have to be so H.A.R.D.? and The Journey Called YOU: A Roadmap to Self-Discovery and Acceptance. Learn more at Contact Julie at to have her speak at your next meeting or conference.