Creating change

In my private practice, a lot of clients come to me and complain about disappointment, especially around a major birthday (30, 40, 50) or some other important life marker. It's not surprising: at the beginning of a new year, people have high expectations "Hey, it's a new year, I'm gonna change my life". But, by the middle of January, they typically feel bummed out and majorly disappointed. I hear clients say: "I thought it was gonna be so great, but it's the same old crap as last year." We want to work with these difficult emotions, but it just feels impossible to really make any headway. What to do?

Whether it's January or June, most of us can only sustain our intentions to change for about three days max. After that, we fall back into the same old patterns. What's the big surprise? We've had years to develop these emotional patterns, yet we expect in three days we can undo the cumulative damage of decades. What a set-up for failurre. New Year's Resolutions rarely work; nothing "magically" changes just because it's a new year. If we want things to change, we need to behave and think differently. Let's examine some obstacles that may be in the way of creating meaningful change.

Here are tfour that may be familiar:

You aren't willing to do the work: If you just wait for happiness (more money, a new lover, a better job) to come to you, what do you think will happen? Likely, nothing! New results require new thoughts, actions, speech, and intentions. Before giving up on your resolutions (tempting, isn't it?) look past the obvious and dig deeper. For example: if you want a boyfriend, what for? If it's to stop feeling lonely, then a boyfriend may not fix your problem. Your loneliness is the real problem. If you think you need a new job, what for? Do you want to leave your current job because you find some of the people difficult? Guess what? There are usually difficult people at every job. Rather than running away, set your intention to learn how to deal with difficult people. See what I mean about digging deeper? A recent client told me he wanted to look like a particular very handsome movie star. I asked him why. He said, "because then I'll feel sexy and confident." I suggested we work on how he can feel that way WITHOUT looking like someone else.

You're too impatient: How many of us feel impatient about change and don't want to wait forever to become happier? After all, we deserve to be happy, don't we? Look at how long we're suffered already. This kind of logic may work for a TV commercial ("because you're worth it") but it doesn't work in real life. If you've spent 25, 35 or 45 years feeling you're not worthy of a good job/man/house/whatever, do you really expect to easily and quickly change that? When my clients want to take on big psychological "makeovers", I encourage them to take it slowly. We can't sustain major change when we try to do it dramatically and quickly. I know it isn't as exciting - it wouldn't make good TV - but lasting change in our lives comes gradually, step-by-step.

You feel overwhelmed: When I have a new client who says, "I have so many problems, I don't know where to start", I encourage him or her to do the following: Make a list of all the things that bother you and rate these problems (on a scale of 1 to 10) by how much pain each one brings them. For example, "I hate my job" is a 7, "I feel so lonely" is a 9, "I don't like my body" is a 3. We then start to work on the most painful stuff first and we focus on one problem at a time, breaking it down into small, do-able action steps. For example, saying "I hate my job" over-and-over is only going to bring you misery. Instead, ask yourself questions like: "What about my job bothers me the most? What do I like about it?" Any seemingly unsolvable problem can be broken down into a series of "smaller", more easily solved problems.

You're too hard on yourself: Want to really speed the change process up? Try this: be kinder to yourself starting right now. This may sound counter-intuitive if you want to change, but it isn't. Most of us have beaten ourselves up mentally for years; has this gotten us where we want to be? That's not the way to do it. To help yourself, try this: Make a list of 10 ways that you can be kinder to yourself and start to do some of them. I guarantee you that by being kinder to yourself, any changes you want to make in your life will happen more quickly and painlessly.

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