The concept of change has many aspects and directions to it. The instrumental part? Starting! The key concept in change? Clarity.
Sure, we have had those moments when we have thought about change, maybe we even started planning. Perhaps made an appointment, did some research, and maybe we even kicked in and did a few repetitions on this thing we were changing. The trouble? Keeping up with it, making it stick. See, change is tough, or isn’t that what we tell ourselves? Well….it feels tough at first. It’s new; its uncomfortable; it’s an awakening, and our mind and body don’t really want to change. They are used to doing what we do; they are used to the same old stuff. This brings about fear, and the realization that either I am going to have to actually utilize effort to make progress, or wow….what if this change doesn’t work? What if I put effort into something and in the end, it doesn’t pan out? See…that is the crux of it. “What if in the long run, it doesn’t pan out?” This fear paralyzes us from progress, because we would rather stay where we are, where we know what to expect instead of doing something different. Why put work and effort in and then end up disappointed because we cannot change anyways? That is why we not only have to change what we do when we want to acquire a new behavior; we have to think differently. I see this frequently in work with clients with addictions, but the cool thing about changing the way you think, is it is helpful for anyone.
In our work with clients with an addiction, we use the stages of change model to describe the change process. Addiction.org describes the Stages of Change as:
Precontemplation (Not yet acknowledging that there is a problem behavior that needs to be changed)
Contemplation (Acknowledging that there is a problem but not yet ready or sure of wanting to make a change)
Preparation (Getting ready to change, thinking about what you may have to do to change)
Action (Changing behavior)
Maintenance (Maintaining the behavior change, changing your lifestyle) and
Relapse (Returning to older behaviors and abandoning the new changes)
One important concept in understanding change is that it is fluid, it is constantly moving. So, if there comes a time when you “relapse” or go back to your old behaviors, no need for disappointment and self-depracation….just get back in and start your planning and action. Now that you have a better understanding of how the change process works, let’s look at how we change our brains.
We have to clearly see and envision the thing we want to change. We have to see the other end of it, the light at the end of the tunnel so to speak. It’s not just the light at the end of the tunnel, its seeing yourself there, enjoying this new life and feeling the emotion that comes to mind when you reach the result of your change. My Site Supervisor learned this cool way of thinking this through. It is not about positive thinking, but it is about being clear with your brain so it knows which direction to go. The brain doesn’t understand negations, so be clear about what you want, without negations. For example, instead of, “I want to stop feeling bad” or “improve health”, try “I want to feel calm and peaceful”, or “I want to feel at ease.” There are three things to consider and think through when envisioning this change.
First (1) be clear about what you want. Second (2) be specific. Third (3) make it appealing and envision yourself doing what you want. Think of this last part as though you are looking through a photo album of you living your life with this new change or behavior. You see yourself in this new way, living and interacting with others. What does it feel like? What thoughts and emotions come to mind when you see yourself living in this new way? What words would you use to describe this to others? Here is an example (previously known as lose weight):
(1) be lighter and more agile
(2) I see myself running a marathon
(3) I have completed the marathon, I have a huge smile, and I feel happy, excited and proud of my accomplishment. My body feels good. Strong. And more agile.
The next piece is vital. You let it go. What happens is when you show this image to your brain, it begins to focus around this image unconsciously. Again, this is NOT what is called “positive thinking.” This is about being very clear so that your brain receives focused signals that allow your subconscious to naturally flow in the direction into which you have navigated. What happens many times though is we don’t let it go. We focus on the things we do not want instead of focusing on what we do want. This sends mixed signals to our brain, and it latches on to the thing that is most prevalent. So, if we say I am on a diet, I can’t eat sweets. Why is it that all we want is to eat sweets? This is because our brain gets confused and thinks we need sweets since we have so much focus on it. The idea is to show the brain what you want, be clear and specific and then envision an appealing result of that change.
We do this exercise with our clients, and the thing that trips folks up sometimes is the need to overcomplicate the process. For example, we have them write a mission statement for their life. Instead of it being simple and clear, it ends up being this long story about all the things they “hope or should or will do.” We are so trained to negate staements and overcomplicate plans for our future, so clearing those habits can take some time. One tool I use is a role play. This helps people say it out loud, make it intentional and speak as though the life they want is already happening. Again, clear…. specific….and appealing. So, we use the example of running into them 6 months from now, and they tell us what is going on in their life. They are instructed to tell us as though they are currently in the life they have envisioned. This seems to break down some of the barriers and make it much more simplistic.