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.
Imagine if all of your life to present you were promised a prize. Let’s say that in order to gain access to this prize that there are certain things you have to accomplish, certain challenges you have to overcome.
So through great pains and effort, you take on the challenges and overcome them, one by one. Until after years of hard work, it came time for you to receive your prize, only to be told that there was never any prize.
This hypothetical scenario can easily be applied to any number of stories where people have been let down. For some people there is nothing more hurtful than investing into an experience with the expectation of a reward for your efforts only to be disappointed.
One of the chief feelings that gets in the way of getting past grief stemming from disappointment is the idea that you have been deceived, cheated or wasted your time and energy.
What if you came to learn that getting past disappointment is easier that you realize? When we experience disappointment, what keeps us emotionally stuck in the grief of disappointment is the context we use to frame the experience.
If you think back to the last time you struggled in getting past your grief from disappointment, you will probably agree it’s because you invested a lot of time in the experience, with the expectation of an outcome, and because you believed that the route you took to achieve the desired outcome was the “only” route you or any one could have taken to achieve the desired outcome. Furthermore you probably also believed that the desired outcome was the “ultimate” outcome you or anyone could ever archive to accomplish any a sense of happiness and fulfillment to varying degrees.
This linear style of thinking is what keeps us stuck in grieving what we believed could have been. Take for example, two months ago my son’s school threw a Halloween party, one of the highlights of the evening was walking through a haunted house. The school library had been converted into a haunted house and we got the thrill of going through a door, and traveling from one partitioned room to the next, while staff and students took turns in giving us their best fright, from hidden and unsuspecting places. The experience of traveling through the make shift haunted house was a linear experience from start to finish, because we transitioned from room A to room B to room C to room D before we finally existed the haunted house.
With this scenario in mind, imagine how frustrated it would have been if we entered room A, then went to room B only to be told that we could not gain access to room C? This would mean that without accessing room C we would not be able to access room D. This is why people either get depressed or angry over their feelings of disappointment. They feel there is no other way to get to the next level and beyond, if their travel path has become blocked.
Here is a visual representation of my explanation of a linear style of thinking;
Now imagine thinking in a multi verse context. To further explain, I will share another story. In my village, my father’s immediate younger brother built a home on the other side of the street from my parent’s home. While my parents built a two story home, my uncle built a one story home, with roughly the same number of rooms as my parents’ two story home. How did he manage this? Rather than stack rooms one on top the other as my father had done, my uncle designed his house in a circular pattern. With a courtyard in the middle of the structure, surrounded by all the rooms of the home. This meant that from the courtyard, you could simply turn and walk towards any room of your choice, versus my parents’ home where you had enter the front door into a greeting room, into a hallway, into the stairway, etc. I would say that my parents’ home was linearish in design, while my uncle’s home was multi verse-ish in design.
Using the ABC model to represent the multi verse style of thinking, it would look something like this diagram.
With multi verse thinking, a set back or disappointment becomes an opportunity to embark on another experience. If a desired goal or outcome is not realized it is interpreted as there being another bigger and more fulfilling outcome waiting for you to define and realize. This means that the time spent in pursuing an outcome not realized is seen as experience gained to be used as leverage for another challenge instead of time squandered.
When we come to realize that our path to happiness and fulfillment comes from within, only then will we acknowledge that our thoughts do indeed create our realities.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.
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.