Imagine if you sought to lose a significant amount of weight, and you decided to pursue the traditional route of adhering to strict diet and exercising. How long do you think it will take you to lose the weight? Well, consider this, the average person who rigorously pursues this type of change is going to experience noticeable results in three months, from there on it takes an additional six to nine months before he gets closer to his goal.
This is an analogy for transitioning from an undesired state to a desired state. Now that the public has begun to catch up with new knowledge attained in neuroscience, regarding positive thinking and feeling being an effective conduit for achieving positive change in a person’s life, there seems a new cliché regarding the importance of positivity. Specifically regarding, thinking, feeling and doing. There just seems to be this message that if you think positively everything is going to be alright.
To be fair, the proponents of positivity and optimistic thinking are fundamentally right. However, change takes time. Just like someone who has been over weight for a long time, it becomes unrealistic for anyone to expect them to drop pounds overnight, likewise people who have struggled with anxiety and depressive symptoms are going to have a difficult time adopting a new mindset overnight.
The information out there on the power of our beliefs and feelings is optimistic, and inspirational, but the process of change is a gradual one. It must be, otherwise the person is going to become frustrated, and wonder why they keep reverting to old patterns of thinking, feeling and doing, then give up. This is especially true for people whose behavioral issues are neurologically based, such as persons diagnosed with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) or Asperger syndrome.
Change take time, even for those who experience a faster process, it is still a significant amount of time. In the nearly sixteen years I have practiced psychotherapy I have come to learn that there are five stages a person goes through the process of change to successfully achieve the change they desire.
These stages are as follows:
In the stage of shock, the person who has lived in ignorant bliss for quite some time experiences a rude awakening regarding the true state of his or her situation. From the student who has procrastinated all semester, who finally sees his grades, to the addict who comes to the realization that he has burned several bridges through his addiction, the moment of realization can be a traumatic experience for some people.
It is at this stage; the person finds himself at a cross road. On one hand, he could take a path that leads to more despair and suffering, or he could take another path that leads to the change that he desires. The path he takes, depends on how he has processed his initial shock. Albeit, the better he has processed the shock, the easier it is for him to transition to the next stage.
Serendipitously, those who transition out of the stage of initial shock, often, (if not always) find the information they are looking for. They are excited, they are full of energy and they are inspired about the idea of changing their lives for the better. At this stage, they soak in stories about others who have been in a predicament like theirs and how they changed for the better. At this stage, they take in all the information they can, to begin their journey of change.
Resistance is the most difficult stage in the journey of change. This is where people begin practicing the actionable steps for achieving their desired goal. Often, these actionable steps require them to let go of behaviors they engaged in, in which they found comfort in. A significant amount of people will find it too much of an inconvenience to change their lifestyle and quit. For those who quit, depending on the severity of their situation, they will often restart the process from the inspirational stage. For those who do move on to the next stage, this is the slowest and most difficult path of the journey for them.
For this who reach this stage, after the difficult time they experienced with resisting the changes they needed to make, they make bargains with themselves. To control factors beyond their control, they tell themselves that they will continue to engage in their newly learned behaviors under specific circumstances, so long as things go their way.
Usually at the bargaining stage, the person has experienced mixed results, with the changes they have practiced to date. Naturally, they are looking for guarantees for the happiness they seek, as motivation to give it their all. For this who are successful with this stage, they realize that the mixed results they are experiencing come from not fully practicing the change of thinking, feeling and doing for the healthier. For those who are not successful with this stage, they slowly revert into their old life style.
This is the final stage of the process of change. It is at this stage that the person commits to fully practicing his newly adopted ways of thinking, feeling and doing, regardless of the outcome. People at this stage have usually come to a second awakening, regarding how much is beyond their control. They have decided not to fight the process any longer, but take things slowly, one day at a time, while striving to be a better person. Most importantly, they have decided that their practice of change is more important than their desired goal.
The irony about the stage of surrendering is that it is at this stage where people experience the most success in achieving their desires. The very stage when they care the least about their desires.
While most people follow this path towards change, there are a fee who skip stages and transition straight into surrendering. These people are few and far between. Regardless, people change for the better faster, when they move at a slow and steady pace.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
If life where an onion and you peeled it down to its last layer, what you come to is choices. Life is about the choices we make, while the meanings we ascribe to these choices are secondary. A sense of hopelessness arises when we encounter pain and difficulties based on a series of choices we made and we have come to believe that there are no alternatives.
Perhaps we believed that these choices would lead us down a path of happiness (as is often the case) perhaps we have come to believe that these choices which led us to our current predicament, are the only path we could have taken to fulfill happiness. The latter is a primary and recurring cause for feeling hopeless.
Consider another analogy, you are traveling down a path in a cave, and you come to a dead end. There is no where else to go, there is a slab of rock in front of you, to the left of you, to the right of you and behind you. Such a scenario is highly improbable, (except if you fell into a deep hole in a cave) which most people (if not all) in that scenario would feel hopeless. Yet, this is the illusion people create in their heads that results in the feelings of hopelessness. There are three reasons for this, and they are as follows:
Believing Your Choices are Your Identity.
While the choices you make in your life, definitely influence whom you are as a person, they are certainly not you. So a doctor, a boxer, an engineer, an uncle, etc. are nouns used to describe persons who engage in certain professions, and relationships. They are under no circumstances genuine descriptors of a person’s identity. When people become enmeshed in certain choices they have made, be it a profession or a relationship, they often resort to a sense of hopelessness when things in regards to their choices don’t work out. This is because this choice has become (falsely) an integral part of their identity, making it difficult for them to thoroughly consider other options.
Social Status and Pressure.
Then there are others, who have done a good job of separating the choices they have made from whom they are. However even when they find themselves thoroughly unhappy with a life decision, they remain hesitant to change due to social pressure and perceived status they have earned from adhering to certain norms via the choices they have made. In these situations, it is not the specific choice the person has made that keeps him miserable, it is the choice to give into social pressure that keeps him miserable. Further, as long as he continues to hold unto the beliefs that encourage the pursuit of status, when faced with life changing decisions he will see no options better that the choice he made, which he is currently unhappy with.
Lack of Knowledge.
The third reason some people struggle with hopelessness is simply a lack of knowing. In worse cases, the person may not even have a clue that a better life awaits him or her other than the life he or she is currently experiencing. This third reason is the most predominant when it comes to feelings of hopelessness, because until we know what we don’t know, our frames of references will remain limited.
When I work with clients who struggle with depression, I always encourage them to consider that there is a brighter alternative to the path they are currently taking. Further, in order to consider this brighter alternative they have to practice keeping an open mind and taking accountability for unhealthy thoughts which create fears for them and keep them stuck.
At the end of the day, we are our own prisoners and consequently our own liberators.
From blog posts, video logs to headlines news stories, most of us as inundated with stories about “bad” people and how these people affect our lives. The idea of someone or a group of people doing bad things to us can be emotionally triggering, to the point where you can lose yourself playing the role of the victim. You then find other people who can either relate to your story of victim-hood or at least sympathize with you on how you have been victimized.
The problem with this mindset is that, if you are indeed experiencing any degree of victimization at the hands of another person or group of people, you will continue to be victimized until you recognize your role in the story. While it is true that good people from time to time do experience bad experiences and sometimes at the hands of other people, a majority of the time when we have recurring bad experiences it is a result of the role we have unintentionally played in keeping the bad experience alive and well.
The ego can be fragile, it is an instinctual source we turn to, to find a sense of confidence in regards to how we navigate through life. However primary reliance on the ego to get you through challenges in life is a mistake. You need to be able to identify your flaws and weakness and the role they play in your recurring bad experiences or victim-hood, specifically in your relationships with others.
From personal to formal relationships in order to change our daily experiences for the better, we need to recognize the bad things we ourselves do and change them for the better. Seldom can you truly be absolved of all guilt during conflicts with others. In cognitive behavioral therapy, the client is introduced to the standard format of experience + behavioral response = natural and logical consequences. With the behavioral response being the most important variable in that simple equation. This is because, while you cannot control what other people do to you to include other experiences caused by other sources, your response to your experiences determines just how manageable your life is going to be.
In short, worrying too much about what others might do, does nothing to facilitate growth in our lives.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC.
The number one obstacle for people accomplishing any measure of change in their lives is the belief that they should be comfortable. The problem with always feeling comfortable is that it takes away your will to strive for any measure of accomplishment, in getting your needs and values met. When you are comfortable, you no longer have a sense of urgency to address challenges in your life and make the necessary changes. This is not to suggest that you must always be in a state of urgency to accomplish change in your life, but it does mean that if there any changes you want to make in your life, it is a mistake to wait to get to a state of comfort before you begin practicing change. If you wait to get to a place of comfort, you will simply revert back to old behaviors.
Feelings of discomfort are actually an evolution advantage; in that they motivate us towards taking action. For example, a hungry stomach will motivate you to get some food for yourself, however if you are surrounded by delicious junk food which influences your health for the worse, once you have satisfied your hunger with the junk food, you become less motivated towards acquiring and preparing for yourself healthier foods that will benefit your health. This is because the latter is more time consuming and requires significant effort.
In order to exercise the change, you need in your life, you will need to adopt a mindset where you come to appreciate all feelings and sensations as helpful. This means that even when you experience feelings of discomfort, you come to see these feelings as messages from your brain and body. These messages can be about things either going your way or things not going your way. When greeted with feelings that communicate any measure or severity of discomfort, ask yourself why you feel this way and then make a commitment to attend to the message without seeking to alleviate yourself from the discomfort. Often times this commitment can be made in writings. Over time, you will become more tolerable of uncomfortable feelings and more skilled at attending to the daily challenges in your life which require you to exercise change.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC.
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
It is not uncommon for me to run into a potential client who is seeking to change a detrimental habit. The habit can range anywhere from issues with procrastination to substance abuse. In the process of gathering more information from the client. I encounter a pattern of unhealthy thinking and behaving that is prevalent in all areas of the clients’ life.
Upon bringing this to the attention of the client, I receive a response that the only thing he or she wants to work on is changing the specific habit they complained about, and nothing else. Well, this is a problem, because everything about us is interwoven. This means that while we are working on cognitive strategies to change thoughts and behaviors regarding the identified behavior, the client continues to engage in his established pattern of thinking and behaving in other areas of his life, which only reinforces the bad habit he wants to change.
The idea that we can departmentalize our behaviors is a misunderstanding, A misunderstanding because some people experience significant success in some areas of their lives than other areas of their lives. The simple reason for this is because in the areas they have experienced more success, they invested more time. Regardless, if you are experiencing negative consequences due to chronic detrimental behavior you engage in, it is based on your mindset, or simply put, an unhealthy mindset you adhere to. This means that for people who struggle with unhealthy behaviors, while simultaneously experiencing success in another area of their life, then they have experienced that success in spite of their unhealthy mindset. Furthermore, in the absence of the identified unhealthy mindset, they would achieve even more success in the area or areas they are already excelling in.
Ultimately, the ability to identify a need to change, and the preference to cherry pick what type of change will occur, is a primitive instinct. Meaning that we want to experience positive changes in our lives with little cost or sacrifice.
It is also important to note, that for those who embrace focusing on the whole versus the parts, the process of changing your entire life is counter intuitive in that you only focus on your mindset and become cognizant on when and how you practice change in all areas of your life.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC.
I once worked with a client who came into work one day and found himself out of a job. The reason? Two co workers he did not get along with, had fabricated a story about him to their office manager and on a knee jerk, the office manager cleaned out his desk, and had my client greeted by security the following morning.
He was confused about the incident for some time until he received a letter of termination in the mail explaining why he had been terminated. It was only after he hired a lawyer to take his company to task that he was rehired along with an apology letter. What brought my client into my office where his mixed feelings about returning to work, especially since the co workers who had made the false allegations about him where still working for the company.
I began by asking him why he was returning to work for the company, a question he could not answer. I then asked him why he would return to an environment where he was obviously poorly regarded. Obviously poorly regarded because if management was willing to fire him over the words of two people, why would they keep those two persons on staff, after it was discovered that they deliberately given false information?
My client then shot back at me about the need to forgive others and move on with one’s life. No doubt this was an auto pilot response, ingrained into his psyche and reinforced throughout his life. Which led to me have a conversation with my client about the true meaning of forgiveness.
Most people believe that forgiveness is about giving someone who has wronged you in some way shape or form, a “free pass”. Nothing could be further from the truth, forgiveness is about not taking things personal. For example, if I get stung by a bee, it would be silly of me to hold grudges against bees, after all the bee was simply following it’s biological directive in response to a stimulus. My choice to not hold a grudge against bees or the specific hive from which the bee came from, doesn’t mean that I am going to take passive stance towards bees, the next time I come into contact with one again. For example, I would educate myself on how to conduct myself around bees in the future and if I found a nest in my home, I would hire a bee expert to come and remove the nest.
In regards to my fellow human beings, when I encounter people who in some way shape or form visit wrong doing unto me, without provocation, to the best extent possibly, I hold them to account for their actions and terminate any personal relationships I have with them.
Most people will claim to forgive if they believe themselves helpless in being able to hold the person to account for their actions or terminate the relationship for their peace of mind. In the case of my client, he felt tethered to the job, because he was not confident in his ability to find employment elsewhere. While he also felt betrayed by his employers and deeply resentful towards his co workers who lied about him. He desperately wanted to be at a place of peace with the incident, but he was torn inside with his refusal to be honest with himself. Instead of admitting his fear of being unemployed, he tried to convince himself that he should forgive his coworkers, which led him to my office.
Regardless of the types of conflicts we experience, it all comes down to ourselves. How willing are we to be honest with ourselves? How willing are we to engage consistently in the difficult task of practicing self discipline? How willing are we to take adopt to changes in our environment, take on necessary risks and live fearlessly?
The more we live up towards becoming the best version of ourselves, the easier it becomes to let go of grudges and resentments.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
Driving to my office this morning, I listened to some broadcast information, I found disturbing. A happiness guru was giving giving advice on how to be happy.
He started out with an example of a retail worker, who was not happy with her job, and went to detail how she could immediately begin experiencing happiness, simply by changing her perceptions. Listening further, he appeared to state that she would be able to experience happiness by practicing a number of cognitive exercises simply geared towards looking at her situation in a different light. The problem I had with his message was that the change in perceptions where not tied to any follow through actions.
That line of thinking is based on the old glass half full or half empty analogy. That is to say, that you can either see a half glass of water as either half full or half empty. The issue I have with messages like these is that they are based on half truths. It is true that your thoughts influence your level of happiness, however if you find yourself experiencing unhappiness, who is to say that your thoughts are wrong? Take again the glass half empty or half full analogy, in reality a glass of water at any level is either on it’s way to being emptied or filled. It all depends on what decisions you intend on following through on. Are you going to empty the glass or refill it? Perhaps both.
Let’s explore a concrete example using the story of the retail worker who is unhappy with her job. What if she does not earn enough wages to get her basic needs met? Yet she believes that there are no immediate opportunities she can pursue where she is generating sufficient income. Telling someone in this situation to think happy thoughts is deceitful and insulting. It reminds me of a high school English teacher I was working with, who stated, “thank God I don’t live in India”. As she said this, I couldn’t help but notice the gaping hole in her right worn tennis shoe. I am not one to be materialistic, but I decided that based on her statement, her daily appearance was not one of self imposed frugality but one of impoverishment. Further, her comparison of her current situation at the time, to her perception of life in India, was meant to generate feelings of happiness about her situation. Which amounted to nothing but a false positive.
Back to our fictional retailer, if I knew someone in that situation, I would immediately share with that person that her unhappiness made sense. Further I would share with her that her feelings of unhappiness was her brains’ way of informing her that her current line of employment isn’t working out. If so, what is a retailer to do? I would introduce the retailer to cognitive exercises meant for her to brainstorm realistic alternatives for generating income. From my experience, such a process usually leads the person to come face to face with her fears generated by unhealthy beliefs she developed during her early life experiences.
At this point the goal would be in assisting the retailer to discard her old unhealthy beliefs and adopt new beliefs that steer her in the direction of practicing the courage to pursue her passions. So it is just not enough to think happy thoughts, instead happy thoughts are generated by decisions we make and intend to follow through on in either pursuing meaningful change in our lives or continue practicing habits to maintain a meaningful and fulfilling life style we are already living.
In my opinion, the key to happiness is the practice of courage. I will write more on this on the next post.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and a life coach.
During our first five years of life, our right hemisphere develops a narrative in accordance to what we have experienced in our immediate environment so far. This means that if our experiences so far have involved safety, compassion and affection, we develop core beliefs to reflect these narratives. If our experiences so far have evolved a scarcity of affection and compassion and a lack of safety, we develop core beliefs which prepare us to survive in a rough world. This is because on a primitive level we are hard wired to survive at all costs. An example of an unsafe environment would include physical abuse in which a person’s existence is threatened, or humiliation as a result of being on the receiving end of chronic emotional abuse. When these incidences occur during a person’s early life experience, it will most likely lead to the development of core beliefs which reside in his subconsciousness, beliefs which are geared towards protecting him from similar incidences in the future, and beliefs which habitually influence his decision making.
For example, when a child is habitually physically or emotionally abused, the child grows up to develop a sub conscious belief in which his safety and/standing with the community or any community is always at risk of being compromised. These beliefs leads to feelings of hyper arousal, where the person is subconsciously constantly on the look out of trouble, as a result everything he does will be limited by his threatening beliefs.
I once had a client who was struggling with his studies, he was a freshman at the University of Arizona and he was on the verge of dropping out of school. The primary reason for his failing grades was that he was simply not doing the work. My client would later reveal his struggle with a learning disability and the habitual shaming language he received from his parents at home in regards to their fears that he would amount to nothing. During our course of treatment, we determined that at his core, he believed himself to be worthless, and lived in fear of being discovered by others, so throughout his life, he would perform the bare minimum and avoid engaging in challenging work in the presence of others, least he was “discovered”.
Consider another story, of a client raised by a single mother, he shared that she was emotionally abusive towards him and some of her male partners were just as abusive. As a teenager, when my client finally demanded to be informed about whom his father was, his mother sent him to go live with his father for the summer. His father whom he had not had contact with since his second birthday, was now married with three children. My client reported that both his father and step mother where physically abusive towards him, and that he and his siblings struggled to get along. It was at this time he fell into a deep depression as he had always romanticized reuniting with his father and being rescued from his mother.
Fast forward to his mid thirties, where he experiences high stress and conflict in his relationships with others. He feels bullied by the mother of his child, he feels bullied by his supervisor at work and by another co worker. His response to these incidents of bullying is to become extra accommodating to the people he is experiencing conflicts with. The typical response to his accommodating behavior is that the bullying he is receiving from others becomes worse, leading him to experience bouts of panic attacks as a result of his feelings of being emotionally stuck.
Treatment for both clients were successful in which they were both able to develop new narratives to begin the process of replacing their core beliefs. These were accomplished through the process and combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and eye movement desensitization reprocessing. My first client transitioned from an academic probation status, to thriving in his studies during his second year at the University, while my second client reported how his practice of assertiveness had led to favorably changes in his relationships with others.
Our core beliefs resides in our subconsciousness and were formed during our early life experiences to meet the demands of our immediate and respective environments. However, given that change is constant, in the event we find ourselves in a new environment or competence enough to put ourselves in a new environment, it is important to know that we are fully capable of change.
We are the authors of our future.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
In the early two thousands, I worked for a residential treatment program. This program provided treatment services for youth offenders who had been convicted for various offenses through the juvenile courts. One day the program director, summoned me into his office, he was making me a job offer, specifically, he wanted me to take over the resident director’s job. I found two problems with this offer, this first was that the resident director was still in that position, the second was that it was not a therapeutic position. My primary issue with the offer, was that he had just had a heated disagreement with the resident director, in front of witnesses and his gesture in offering me the job was a power move. I knew that he would be offended if I did not accept the offer, and that he might see it as a political strategy of sorts on my part. Perhaps he would think I was aligning myself with the resident director against him. I simply did not want the job, because I enjoyed being a therapist and I also considered it immoral to accept a job position that was already filled. I did not want to walk around the facility engaging with the resident director, knowing that he was soon going to be fired and that I would take his place. I also did not want to lose my job.
So I took a deep breath, said a short prayer in my mind and politely declined the offer. To no surprise he gave me a look of surprise and annoyance. I happened to understand that if he could so easily throw the resident director under the bus, my acceptance or decline of the offer would not protect me from similar treatment.
This is my understanding of what courage is, understanding that there are no guarantees or shortcuts in life. Courage isn’t necessarily about sacrifice, this is because without realizing it, most human being put their lives on the line in certain everyday activities. Most notably would be driving. Courage is the recognition that challenges or struggles in our everyday lives are inevitable and that avoiding them or putting them off only makes these challenges more difficult to overcome in the long run.
Most of us have been led on to believe that if only we would submit to some type of lifestyle or entity that everything will end up being okay. From cultural beliefs, attending institutions of higher learning to being employed by certain employers. We surrender beliefs in our personal powers to buy into the illusion of an easier life, all the while failing to recognize the role we play in maintaining the illusion.
As a therapist, when working with clients who have difficulty in making what may seem as a risky or out of the ordinary courageous decision; I guide them through an exercise designed to help them recognize how much of their personal power goes into maintaining the current situation that they are currently unhappy with. It is after they have come to understand and accept this revelation that the conversation shifts into how they can use their personal power into creating the new type of life they desire and deserve.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor Frankl
As a soldier, my company commander upon learning that I had studied psychology in college, demanded to know if I could read his thoughts. He then followed up by asking if I had studied psychology to find out what was wrong with me. This scenario underlies the attitude most people have towards psychotherapy and the field of psychology in general. Given that the origins of psychology came from the medical disease model, most people feel that any recommendation they receive for therapy means that something is wrong with them.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Counseling is a process where you transition from a place of being emotionally stuck to a place of wellness and thriving. Life is a transitional process, cognitive strategies that worked for us in the past, typically no longer apply in the present. While this phenomenon is nothing new to us, what happens when we experience an event which we were not prepared for? An event for which we don’t have a script or blueprint to even make sense of.
The answer is we get stuck, this is because when we experience new challenges for which we were not prepared for, our instinct is to resort to old strategies that have worked for us in other and different situations. Which some times leads to Einstein’s definition of insanity. Which leads to mental health issues such as poor anger management, depression and anxiety. Through therapy, we can come to understand ourselves thoroughly, by examining our beliefs and values. Particularly those instilled in us during our formative years.
We can come to learn about which irrational beliefs hinder our personal happiness, and practice cognitive behavioral strategies for embracing new beliefs and values that help us experience true happiness and thrive.
So it’s not a matter of something being wrong with you to begin with, it a matter of correcting a misunderstanding between you and the your life experiences.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.