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.
I once worked with a client, who upon anticipating that she was about to lose her job, started putting money away, payed her car notes and rent six months the in advance, and then mentally prepared herself for the storm to come.
In fairness, she had good reason to suspect she might lose her job, and all indications suggested that she was a very competent professional. I then introduced her to an exercise, in which she used her imagination to prepare for a positive experience. For example, a new job she better enjoyed with much better pay. While this exercise caught her off guard, she pleasantly surprised herself in learning that the steps she would take to prepare for this opportunity, where realistic and beneficial towards getting that job she wanted.
It is easy to focus on our daily struggles or major events in our lives not going our way, and it may seem like the right thing to do. “I have this problem, so therefore, if I focus on how best to deal with the problem it will go away.” But this doesn’t work like that, focusing on a problem only turns your attention to more of the problem, which only makes the problem more of your everyday life. The solution is the focus more on the opposite of the problem, or more specifically a desired outcome you wish to experience, followed by realistic measures by which to realize that desire.
Take for example, you live on island A, you are sick and tired of living on island A, so you go into a travel agent’s office and you inform said agent that you are sick and tired of living on island A and you want out. Naturally, the travel agent is going to ask you; “where would you like to go?” Instead of giving a desired destination, you shrug your shoulders and state, I don’t know, and continue your rant about how much you are done living on island A.
Then consider the second scenario, where you walk into the travel agent’s office, with the intent of removing yourself from island A. However, instead of lamenting how much you don’t like living on island A, you ask specifically for a plane or ship ticket to island B. Out of curiosity, the travel agent may ask you why you want to travel to island B, and you respond that you have heard so much good things about island B that you want to go and experience these good things for yourself.
This is how best to approach your problems, acknowledge them for what they are, and identify a realistic alternative to the experience. Then come up with a plan to realize this new experience. With this technique, you are not and never will be in denial about things not going your way, you will simply be taking radical steps in your life to surround yourself with the preferred reality you wish to experience.
This morning I came across a news feed on my YouTube feed it was by The Young Turks and it was focused on CEO pay, specifically the disparity between CEO pay and the pay of the average worker. The commentary in the news video was focused on how unfair the disparity of the average CEO pay was from the average worker pay. Here is the problem I have with the video, am I to imply that in the event the average pay for CEO is reduced significantly that this would improve the average pay of workers?
Most people who are asked this question would answer no, this is because subscribing to the belief that the success or failure of others affects my success taps into a primitive mindset which desires to relieve me of any and all responsibility for any unfavorable conditions I find myself in. The problem with not seeing myself as responsible for my circumstances, is that it leads me into seeing myself as powerless to change my condition.
One Size Does not Fit All.
I enjoy playing puzzle games and the thing with what makes a really good puzzle game, is that there are more than one way to solve the puzzle. This rule also applies to our everyday lives. If I were to engage the hosts of the above-mentioned video about why I disagree with their stance, they would immediately point to the number of reasons why the average worker is unable to get a chance to achieve economic freedom. They will say things like, “not everyone can go to college” (this is true), or that minimum wage is not a livable wage (also true). However if I were to retort with the statement that there is no problem we cannot work through, I will be accused of living in la, la, land. However the reality is that not all paths towards success is the same, as a matter of fact success means completely different things for different people. Most people have been brought up to believe in a one size fits all paradigm, starting in the home and reinforced through institutions of learning. Most people do not know themselves, most people have a poorly defined sense of identity and as a result will continue to hold unto a beliefs and values that do not truly define who they are. In truth, no arguments can solidly be made to support the notion that only way to economic achievement is through college. Generally speaking, there are multiple paths to multiple goals, and every goal has more to one path towards reaching it.
You Have More Power Than You Think.
As children, our powers are limited. It has been hard wired into our brains that fitting in with the beliefs and values of our immediate family followed by our community will increase our chances of survival. As adults we become solely responsible for what we choose to believe and keep believing. While it is true that there are a number of unpleasant things that could happen to us, likewise there are also a number pleasant things that could happen to us. The reality is that the number of pleasant things that could possibly happen to us are increased three fold when we actually take steps to make our desires a reality. When we focus on other people having things we desire, which we do not have, we become susceptible towards buying into beliefs that limit our potential to excel.
So the next time you come across any bit of news information that tells you how unfair life is, and how others have more leverage than you, ask yourself one question; “how does this help you?” If it is more income you are trying to bring into your life, your efforts would be best spent looking up information that tells you specifically how to bring in more income into your life. Or, how to retire in x amount of years, or how to fund your child’s education and so on and so forth. A video on how unfair life is, is not really telling you anything new, instead it is keeping you grounded in old thinking that has most likely not worked out for you to date.
So here’s wishing you live your life to the best of your potential.
Our thought carry more weight than we them credit. Positive thoughts give us the confidence and courage to address and tackle problems in our lives, while negative thoughts take away from our ability to have confidence and practice courage in our daily affairs. For years I have heard terms such as magical thinking and placebo effects. Terminologies that have suggested that our beliefs by themselves had no effect on our lives. In the years since I have practiced psychotherapy, primarily through the modality of cognitive behavioral therapy, I have come to realize that our beliefs are fundamental the most important and potent aspect of our existence.
It’s complicated, because sometimes we are lead to believe one thing which we believe benefits us as people, however said belief only serves to hinder us. While some beliefs that we are taught to not take seriously, actually provide us with a lot of benefits when we adhere to the principles of such beliefs.
In this video I discuss the power of our thoughts, using a research study the on effectiveness of antidepressants and the phenomenon of the placebo effect. I will be speaking more on this issue in the future.
Recently I was speaking with a client of mine who expressed feeling handicapped with her feelings of fear. She is in the process of leaving a corporate job she works for, with plans to open up a small retail business. She reported being terrified of failing at her small business, more specifically she was frightened about what others would think about her if she was not successful with her business. Then she asked for suggestions about what to do about her fear.
I responded by asking her why she was leaving her corporate job, and after a few minutes of pondering, she stated that she feared spending the best years of her life working for a company that she disliked, in a position she found utterly miserable. She further stated that she feared becoming an older woman like some of her coworkers, having given the best years of her life to a company with very little to show for her years of hard work.
I then asked her which of the two fears she had identified, she feared the most. The one where she fails at her business and gets looked down upon by her family and friends, or the other where she gives away her youthful energy to her employer and matures into an older woman with having accomplished very little in her career.
Without hesitation she stated that remaining stuck with her employer was her biggest fear. I then informed her to use this fear as her fuel for motivation. So every time she finds herself fearing possible failure in her business, she considers the alternative, which is to remain with her employer. The idea is that she would be so motivated to not find herself in that predicament, that coping with her fear of failing at her business would become relatively easier.
This was part one for how to deal with fear. The second part is to practice positive thinking. We attract what we think, so instead of worrying about how her business could fail, I asked her to focus on how her business could succeed. In doing so she would pay more attention to how people in her niche have succeeded with their businesses, and incorporate their strategies for success into hers. This would then increase the likelihood of her business succeeding, thus leading to a positive self fulfilling prophecy.
While on the topic of positive thinking, you should really get a copy of Pam Grout’s E-Squared. The title is a play on Einstein’s theory of relativity and features nine do it yourself experiments that prove your thoughts really do create your reality.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.