World of Change

Many individuals, families and couples come to therapy because they want to change something, whether it’s a bad habit, a self-
image, or their boyfriend. We then commence on a journey with our clients to thicken our understanding of what this desired change is, where it came from, where they seek to be and how we can help get them there. As a therapist, I believe in change, but what about our clients, friends and family? We might say that those coming to therapy believe in change, even if it’s a 1% belief. But what exactly do our clients believe about change? What do our friends and family believe about change? How does that influence your beliefs about personal change?

Many of my posts talk about change in various forms: altering communication skills, creating personal goals, introducing a new activity into your daily routine, etc. While we live in a constantly changing world, we rarely ever talk about the idea of change in itself.

To be clear, when I say change, I am referring to positive & healthy changes or growth. While both those terms are somewhat objective, I encourage you to be the one to determine what is positive and healthy for you. If the word change feels too drastic for you, think of it as something you’d like to “work on” rather than change.

Some important questions to answer for yourself:

Is change possible? If so, under what circumstances?

Is change good, bad, neither?

How does change happen? Is it the same for everyone?

What do you lose/gain by changing?

Who/what do you change for?

What motivates you to change?

Are you someone who adjusts/adapts easily or is it more difficult for you?

While you are now thinking about your answers to those general questions, I would like to ask you stop reading and take a moment to jot down a few notes:

–       As you are right now in our life, this day, this moment, what are the top things that you would like to work on about yourself/your life/your beliefs?

–       Now cross out all the things that would require other people to make changes. Just as we say in therapy, we cannot do couples or family therapy without the other person in the room.

–       As you are looking at your list, whether it’s 1 item or 10, revisit the important questions above and note your thoughts on changing or working on your particular item(s).

We can talk about change in a general way and what we believe about it, but when we start exploring change in the context of our own goals, hopes and desires for our life it becomes more complicated. Complications arise when fear, emotions and loss come into play. While there are many obstacles to change, I am going to discuss a few. (See references for more information).

Habit

Many of the things we wish to change about ourselves are deeply ingrained habits. Habits develop out of necessity, for protection, and survival. Although at one time useful, these habits may no longer serve you or seem to be getting in the way of a goal, a relationship or the type of person you prefer to be. Habits are similar to outgrowing a pair of pants that you’ve become attached to; they no longer fit.  Our attachment to and reliability on those habits can make it quite difficult to even try on a new pair of pants.

Emotions

Thinking about changing ourselves brings up emotions: why am I changing, what does it mean that I am changing, etc. Fear often enters the conversation, as trying something new or different can be scary. Fear may enter when we think about the process of changing, the possibility that we may not succeed at first, or the fact that there often is no quick fix for change. Regardless of what the emotion is, identify it and explore how it is getting in the way of you achieving what you want.

Loss/Gain

Ask yourself, what do I lose or what would I have to give up by changing or being different? Am I willing to give that up? Similarly ask yourself, what could I gain or achieve by changing? “All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.”- Anatole France

One thing is certain, we cannot avoid change. Adaptation and flexibility are essential for our growth and survival.

Inspiring quotes:

“Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin

“The key to change… is to let go of fear.”- Rosanne Cash

“Life can either be accepted or changed. If it is not accepted, it must be changed. If it cannot be changed, then it must be accepted.”

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Reinhold Niebuhr

“By changing nothing, nothing changes.” -Tony Robbins

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”- Tolstoy

Resources

Carey, T.A., Carey, M., Stalker, K., Mullan, R.J., Murray, L.K. & Spratt, M.B. (2007). Psychological change from the inside looking out: A qualitative investigation. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 7, 178-187.

Psychotherapy Change Project from the Family Institute at Northwestern University

Four Obstacles to Change from Huffington Post Healthy Living

Book: Bringing Psychotherapy Research to Life: Understanding Change Through the Work of Leading Clinical Researchers

Tips on accepting change with mindfulness “Mindful Living: Love & Loss.”

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