ACA Blog

Pete Saunders
Mar 01, 2011

Opportunity Cost

My wife wants to become a vegetarian and then a vegan. She feels that the benefits of lowered cholesterol, lessened chances of developing diabetes and cancer are convincing enough to switch to this new lifestyle. The challenge is that she is not yet willing to give up certain things, primarily chicken and turkey. I must admit that this stance, while not uncommon, has arrested my interest. I think about the man who loves his teenage daughter but does not have a relationship with her because, as he puts it, she is stubborn, self-centered, and does not appreciate being disciplined. Almost sounds like a normal teenager to me. I also consider the person who is persistently late for appointments and comes across as not being respectful of other people’s time. I mull over what keeps a husband unfaithful to his wife, especially when he wants to remain committed. So I wonder, why is positive change so hard to achieve?

Allen Wheelis, in his book How People Change, stated that, “We are what we do and may do what we choose. Actions which defines a man, describes his character, is action which has been repeated over and over and so has come in time to be a coherent and relatively independent mode of behavior.” Despite this, there is hope according to Wheelis. He continued, “The identity defined by action is not, therefore, the whole person. Within us lies the potentiality for change, the freedom to choose other courses.” I noticed, of course, that having the freedom to choose does not guarantee change. My wife believes that giving up chicken and turkey has to be a gradual process. The father believes his relationship with his daughter will change only if she does and comes to recognize the error in her ways. The husband, despite his love for his wife, does not believe he has the power to resist other women. Yet others in those same situations have changed. Why? How?

Let me first admit that I recognize that even with positive change, one has to do more than just make a decision to change. However, that is where it starts – with a choice. The individual certainly has to also replace the old habit with things associated with the new. If they know and keep in the forefront of their mind the necessity of practicing this new habit and the unpleasantness or danger in practicing the old, one can remain changed. That is, of course, unless the new habit now becomes bad.

I dare propose that to the individual who finds it difficult to change, that the outcome of change is not appealing enough and also that the current way of doing things is viewed as a necessity, not an option. For these individuals, the cost to embrace this new healthy lifestyle and improved relationships might seem to be too great. The proposition is that they begin to view positive change as the new necessity before it can become a reality. The thing that is likely to be gained from changing must be seen as more valuable, more important than what is being given up. For example, take this scene from the 1971 movie, Dirty Harry:

Doctor: Sure, Harry. We can save the leg. (The doctor takes out a pair of scissors).
Harry: What are you going to do with that?
Doctor: I’m going to cut your pants off.
Harry: No! I’ll take them off
Doctor: But that’s gonna hurt
Harry: These pants are $29.95. Let it hurt.

In this scene from Dirty Harry, Harry obviously evaluated the replacement cost of his pants against the pain he would endure in order to save them. Harry determined that he was willing to sacrifice and put up with the pain if it means he would not have to shell out another @29.95 to buy a new pair of pants. Even though I would hope no pain is involved, an individual must view the pain or any other inconvenience as worth the change. I believe it is our duty as counselors to reveal to them what they stand to gain from embracing positive change.

Pete Saunders is a counselor in training at Capella University. He also writes a weekly blog and conducts a weekly video interview on manhood at

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