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.
Happiness does not exist, this is because happiness is illusive. What we describe as a happiness is really joy on a daily basis. Such a feat is not possible, specifically we can experience joy but not on a consistent basis. Further evidence of this is documented in neuroscience where the fleeting neurotransmitter associated with happiness is dopamine. Dopamine is naturally released in our system when we accomplish a goal or are rewarded. This is why some people will abuse and get addicted to drugs like cocaine, because cocaine artificially stimulates the release of dopamine and subsequently blocks the re uptake of dopamine, leaving dopamine in the synaptic gap longer. The closest we can come to experiencing the myth of happiness is being at a state of peace and content.
The key to this lies in restriction. It lies in wanting less. The more we seek, the more chaos we bring into our lives. This is because change is a constant due to variables constantly being in flux. The more of anything we seek the more variables we have to keep up with and the more chaotic our lives become.
So if you are going through a period of chaos in your life, practice seeking less of what it is that you want. So if you are dealing with constant conflict with a particular person and all you want is peace with that person, you should accept where you’re in your relationship with that person and engage accordingly. If you are seeking more money in your life, you should do less and increase the quality of the less you do. If you are looking for love, look less and simply focus of being the best person you can be.
This is a counter intuitive approach, that contradicts the idea of doing more which most of us where raised to believe. The reason doing less is more effective than doing more is because peace and content comes from within ourselves. When we engage with people and other things we initially project the peace inside of ourselves unto the people and things we engage with, which is then returned to us. However, when we do more, the quality of our engagement decreases due to our inability to keep up with the changing variables from doing plenty and what gets returned to us is a constant state of chaos, which then becomes the state of our reality.
So how does one transition from hyper engagement with the world around them to reduced but quality engagement? Focus on what you are best at doing, or focus on what you do better than others. For example, in your relationship with others, focus on fostering a relationship with those you have a better relationship with. (An exception would be if you have children.) If you are looking to bring in more income into your life, focus on what you already do, specifically on increasing the value of your work. By focusing on areas you already excel at, you eliminate engagement with people and things that introduce needless chaos in your life. Further, with the people and things you are more adept at dealing with, the chaos presented becomes more manageable, due to your expertise in keeping up with the changing variables presented by those people and things.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach
I recently came across this article on the American Psychology Association website that discussed the pain of rejection. In the article the author discussed research studies that have shown how painful rejection from certain groups and social classes are to people in general.
My response to the article is straight forward, rejection by itself is not painful. What makes rejection painful is our interpretations of rejection. If you are raised to believe that you must always be accepted by others, or that it is bad for others to reject you, then naturally you are going to experience emotional pain whenever you experience rejection because you believe something bad and terrible is happening to you.
What I have found with people who struggle with dealing with rejection is that they usually lack a healthy narrative regarding their sense of identity. Often, the worse the person’s fear of rejection is, the more scarce his or her sense of identity is.
So what do I mean by a sense of identity? A sense of identity can be described as a person’s concept of what beliefs and values he or she adheres to combined with his or her heritage. I have noticed that people who have a solid grasp of what their beliefs and values are have no issues accepting others rejection of them. People who don’t have a solid grasp or understanding of what their beliefs and values are, more likely to give into social pressure to conform to certain trends or fads.
The problem with societal trends, is that in other to fit into that particular group practicing the trend, you have to conform to certain attributes that are our of your control to change and are often based on vanity. So if you find yourself struggling to deal with rejection, there is a high likelihood that you have bought into an artificial narrative created by someones who did not have you in mind. You may have bought into this narrative because you admired the people who practiced the narrative, and there is nothing wrong with that, however in the absence of a solid sense of self, you find yourself dependent on others to define who you are. This is an impossible feat, because the only one who can define and accept you unconditionally is you. This means that in the absence of self acceptance is self rejection, and your experiences of rejection from others will only serve as a reminder of your rejection of self.
When we first come into the world, the first people we socialize with are our parents. Our parents and guardians are tasked with accepting us unconditionally, thereby role modeling for us unconditionally self acceptance, as you can imagine there are a number of things that could go wrong with this process. The reality is that parents who don’t have a strong and healthy sense of self, have very little to teach and pass on to their children in regards to the formation of a healthy identity. I have also noticed that parents who have not passed on a healthy narrative to their children, are often strong advocates for discouraging any and all types of rejection in society.
People who have been fortunate to have developed a healthy sense of identity in their younger years, their experiences of being rejected are not only few and far in between, but not painful. The reason for this is because of the phenomenon that there is someone for everyone. Even when faced as a minority in a certain environments, people who are genuinely accepting of themselves, often will establish relationships with like minded people.
For clients who have had little experience in living out a healthy narrative, I guide them through the formation of healthy narrative that embodies a dignified sense of identity. So what does a healthy narrative look like? In my next post I will discuss what a healthy narrative consists of.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
Which came first the chicken or the egg? This is a question that plagues us in all facets of our lives, and all fields of study notwithstanding. Take for example, the field of psychology. It is not uncommon to read about most medical professionals and biologist identify dopamine, a neurotransmitter produced in the brain as a primary determinant for how motivated a person is. There is truth to this, for example if you used a positron emission tomography (PET) scan to identify and measure dopamine production in the brain of a healthy person, you will find increased dopamine production and activity in response to the anticipation of a reward.
This then raises the question, is motivation based on genetic factors that predispose people to a certain type of chemical disposition, or does experience in a person’s natural environment, or environment of origin influence the chemical disposition of a person’s brain? Consider this study by Vanderbilt University, where researchers using a PET scan, determined that a person’s willingness to work hard was determined by his or her dopamine levels. The problem I have with this study is that the researchers did not go in depth into why the differences in dopamine levels existed in the first place, they simply measured dopamine activity on certain tasks, drew their conclusions and called it a day.
As a clinician who believes in neuroplasticity, (the brains’s ability to rewire itself based on stimuli), I suggest that the brain’s ability to produce certain levels of dopamine is influenced by the beliefs of the participants. For example, people who believe that they are capable of completing a hard task and earning a reward, are probably most likely to have increased dopamine activity as opposed to people who view themselves as incompetent when it comes to completing difficult tasks. Proof of the brain’s ability to rewire itself can be found in this study where, cocaine addiction, followed by chronic relapses was determined to have been caused by cocaine-induced neuroplasticity changes in the brain. Where chronic abuse of cocaine led to the brain to rewire itself to become dependent on cocaine for motivation.
So if neuroplasticity is true, (which it is) how does one increase their level of dopamine production naturally without resorting to unhealthy habits? One technique would be to visualize the outcome of your goals and embrace the process towards realizing these outcomes. Life in the modern world is more complicated than life in the wilderness, which humans beings originally evolved to thrive in. The reason for this is that the process of stalking and hunting game, foraging for food or cultivating food is more linear and straightforward than finding employment in a high salary paying job. With the latter, not only do you have to be qualified for the job, but you also have to have a good relationship with someone high up in the hierarchy in the industry, not to mention experience. So while hunting for game in the wilderness might require patience, it would be fueled by certainty if you have an understanding of the game you are hunting, such as knowing where to find them. With finding a high paying job, despite your qualifications, you may become intimidated if you were not raised in the same socio-economic background as the people you would need to apply to for the job, and this level of intimidation might reduce your dopamine levels, thus reducing your level of motivation in applying for said high salary job.
Personally, I think motivation is relative, which leads me to suggest that dopamine levels are also relative. For example, for experiences in which I have excelled at, my dopamine levels become increased when faced with a goal to accomplish, versus experiences in which I have had little success at, in which my brain responds by producing reduced levels of dopamine. In following through with the technique mentioned in the previous paragraph, if you are faced with a need to follow through on a goal in which you have little experience in, it becomes a matter of recollecting the best of your previous achievements, regardless of how different that goal was, applying the work ethic you used towards your visualization of success with the new and foreign goal, and following through with faith in yourself.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.