The Art of Self-Improvement: How to Deal with Others’ Resistance to our Changes

When we begin to move ourselves toward a positive direction, we are immediately faced with a counter force. Most of the time, this force comes from people who are most close to us.  If we want our life to be a never-ending journey to a better self, we need to know how to tackle this never-ending force.

In June 2014, I decided to stop drinking. I knew it was the time to abstain from alcohol completely, not only hard liquor but also cocktail or wine. My body had sent me this message for a while; I’d ignored it long enough.

I disliked the effects alcohol had on my body and mind. I noticed that I drunk mainly because of peer pressure, social politeness, the need to escape reality, and the short-lived gratification. Besides, my drunk self did things that made me feel guilty the day after. So I was determined to let go of alcohol, for good.


At that time I was living and working with a wonderful group of friends – bright, driven, and good young people. As lucky as I was, the counter force still hit me. “C'mon! Just have a beer!” My friend said in office Happy Hour every Friday – to which I gently smiled and said no. Some was shocked by my decision: “Quit alcohol completely?! Really?!” Their reactions were  innocent and unintentional, but enough to give me some setbacks. In one retreat, one of my friends blurted out: “C'mon, Milena! Have a life!” My heart sunk. I was trying to have a life. A good life for me is a life freed from the delusional effects of alcohol and the need to escape from reality. But some couldn’t understand.

Somehow, others’ reactions emboldened me. My system has been completely cleansed of alcohol, and the need for it. I have been sober ever since, and I know this sobriety is bound to last. 

My abstinence from alcohol is only one among the many “personal improvement projects” I’ve carried out. They are important to me. Because raising myself to my highest potentials is my way to say thanks to this world. 


Through these projects I learned that our personal change isn’t always be showered with encouragement by others. Don’t expect your drinking friends to celebrate your sobriety. Don’t expect your cynical colleagues to celebrate your positive state of mind. Don’t expect your out-of-shape family to celebrate your healthy eating and exercising regime. How can they while they are clinging onto the old life?

If they don’t find your change disturbing, you should already feel lucky. Unfortunately, they often do. Those who actively contributed to your old way of being, now feel threatened and abandoned as you are leaving their world – the world they are taking great comfort in.

“C'mon! Just this time, for the team!” Someone raises the toast and guilt-trip you for being so selfish to care about your own well-being. “Alright, just this time!” And you break the promise you make to yourself. The next thing you know, you are back in the drinking game.   

“Don’t you feel rude when rejecting someone’s invitation for a toast?” I was asked by a timid friend who also wanted to quit drinking.

“Don’t they feel rude when forcing you to drink when you don’t want?” I replied. “My rule is: if I don’t force you to stop drinking, you don’t force me to start drinking.”

“It’s so true!” She exclaimed. We both laughed. 


Those who take comfort in the stagnancy of self-development will find your change unsettling. Your improvement raises the stomach-churning possibility that they, too, can improve; that life can be different; that it’s time to break down the fortress they’ve built to hide away the risk of changing, of becoming more, of being alive.

They fear the revelation of how much of life has been squandered, and the possibility that they’ve gotten it wrong all along. These cold facts are too cold to face. And for many, the desire to be right dominates the desire to be better.

They can be your parents, close friends, colleagues, lover. You can choose to leave them, or take a break from your relationships with them. But you don’t have to. Understand that each person lives in his or her own world, you can make yourself immune to all discouragements, contempt, ridicules from others. Don’t take anything personally. 

During a Café Talk, a colleague student asked me how to handle people who stand in way of everything we do. I told her to “acknowledge their existence, gently put them aside, and keep walking.”

Be it a stranger, your nemesis, your mother, best friend, or lover; if a person is standing in your way to come alive, he or she is there for a reason: to test the strength of your conviction. If you firmly believe in the change you’ve chosen, you don’t need to explain or justify yourself to, or ask for permission from anyone. You simply do it. Like a lily doesn’t explain why or ask for permission to bloom.


This morning I read a notable quote from Alvin Toffler on ChangeGym:

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.

How true! Those who stop changing start dying. They exist all around us. They may be very capable, intelligent, sweet, and inherently good. But for most of them, the big righteous egos are standing in their ways, blocking their vision to other possibilities, robbing away their ability to unlearn. So watch them, hear them out, but take nothing personally.

I believe that many people exist to show us how things should not be done. The best thing you can do to yourself is to live differently. The best thing you can do to them and this world is be an example through your growth. Keep walking.