By change I mean forward movement in a positive direction of our choice.
Forward movement looks different to all of us, doesn’t it? While in forward movement we have a vision of where we want to go, a picture of who we are at our best. Forward movement doesn’t require figuring out what’s wrong or what needs fixing yet sometimes that’s where we are and what we do.
Forward movement means we’re in the Action Stage according to the Transtheoretical Model (Dr. James Prochaska). There are five stages in this change model and Action is step #4. Step 1 is when someone is saying “I can’t” and/or “I won’t” (precontemplation); Step 2 they’re saying “I might” (contemplation); Step 3 it’s turned into “I will” (preparation); Step 4 is “I am” (action); and step 5 is “I still am” (maintenance).
Forward movement requires a vision of who we are at our best and fulfills a sense of purpose. It depends on honing our strengths and building on what’s already working well. Small attainable goals that build our self efficacy keep us moving forward. Continued forward movement may also include naming and preparing for obstacles that appear and threaten to derail our plans.
For some, the thing we want to change is our eating or exercise habits, giving up cigarettes or alcohol, or fitting into our favorite jeans again. For others, it’s a relationship or career that isn’t supporting our mental and emotional health. Sometimes the thing we’d like to change is to listen to others more than we speak. Or learning mindfulness to appreciate what’s right in front of us, right now. The list of things we’d like to change is endless and unique to us all.
What is it that happens when we try to give up an unhealthy thing and we keep going back to it? Similarly, what happens when we’re doing a new, healthy behavior and we’re tempted to fall back into the old, familiar activity?
For me, meaningful connection with people is what matters most in life. I truly care and am interested in people and their stories. So much so that I have, at times, and on a personal level, shown a lack of respect for my own needs in order to meet the needs of another person.
Forward movement for me means moving toward emotional autonomy. This means honoring the feelings and moods of another person without letting them impact my emotions, personal value, and/or actions. I have been diligently working on this change for close to two years. It has been the most emotionally challenging change I have ever embarked on. I can now say I feel confident and capable of maintaining my emotional autonomy. Yet, just like everyone else that takes on difficult changes, sometimes I come face to face with my kryptonite.
In that moment, I can see the path to emotional strength and yet when I’m faced with the actual choice of autonomy or self defeating connection (which of course doesn’t sound like that in my head or heart at the time), there’s a moment when I have to remind myself where I want to be and what my best self looks and feels like to keep moving in that direction.
I’m curious though, what are the feelings I hope to assuage in consideration of doing the very thing I want not to do? What are the feelings that for one moment will be silenced by doing the exact thing that will bring anxiety and disappointment the moment I realize I’ve just done the thing that causes the anxiety and disappointment? Is that not what I need to recognize, to feel? Is it not sitting in that feeling until it passes (and it will pass, all feelings do) that will bring relief and affirmation? And confidence that I can in fact overcome that which threatens to crumble me?
I can see that I assign meaning, an emotion, to this thing (person). And what are our meanings (interpretations) except our own perceptions projected? We might all have a different experience and assign different meaning to the same person and as different as they all may be, they’re all correct as they are simply our own chosen perception.
I designate positive meaning and emotion to this person (perhaps an object or activity for others) and that illusion of positive emotion draws me to it (him). Simultaneously, I have empowered it (him) with the ability to silence or numb other negative emotions, so now this person has mistakenly become the way out of, or away from, my pain and fear. And perhaps this thing (person) will briefly quiet my demons. However, because it doesn’t actually possess the meaning I’ve assigned it (it’s only my perception, after all), it can’t possibly bring lasting relief.
I’m working on naming these feelings I wish to silence in moments of potential weakness, their names don’t come easily for me. My coach training tells me that picturing what you don’t want only brings more of that very thing, so I cannot say I don’t want anxiety and angst, which are really not specific feelings anyway. I think - correction - I feel, that loss and loneliness are the feelings I wish to numb and avoid by way of this object (person) and that rescue, magical love, and personal value have defined my fantasy object (person). What I want to feel is reliable, consistent, and authentic connection, and emotional autonomy. This is the ball I need to keep my eye on.
So if I do not do the thing that derails my goal for emotional autonomy, if not just this one time, will it not lead me to feel stronger to do the same if the situation is presented again? There are two energetic forces that need recharging every day when taking action to make changes. One is motivation; connecting with your own picture of you at your best, your vision of thriving. The other is confidence; a mind set that supports setting a positive goal for the immediate future that you believe you can achieve.
Every change we want to make takes specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time lined goals. It takes naming and picturing who we want to be at our best. It takes recognizing our strengths and what’s already working well. It takes sitting through and accepting uncomfortable feelings at times. It takes creating strategies for potential obstacles. It takes support by authentic, emotionally present people. And it takes patience, understanding and forgiveness on your own behalf.
So what makes change so difficult?
Change happens when we locate the value and motivation for change within ourselves, decide we’re worth it, are willing to work for it, and no longer accept the alternative.
Learner and sharer of all things healthy, active, esteem building, growth promoting, witty and Hawaiian