How to change?

Clients will regularly ask me “so how to change that about myself? How do I stop feeling guilty, how do I stop being so negative, pessimistic and critical, how do I stop being so impatient and frustrated?”

I think the more appropriate question should be, “how do I get motivated to change?”

So how do we get motivated to change?  This is where suffering comes in handy, and not just because it keeps me in business .  As humans, we are creatures of habit and given half a chance we will not change our ways.  We don’t change until we are forced to change, until we get fired, abandoned or get out of control.  People don’t come to counseling because it’s fun.  They come because the suffering is unmanageable.  Until then we are okay to tolerate the status quo because it’s familiar and in some way comforting – even though we don’t necessarily get the outcome we wish for.

How to change?

Change requires above all that we use our will.  What does that mean?  You use your will when you decide you will do a good job at your work, when you stretch yourself in your fitness routine, when you dedicate yourself to being a good parent, when you decide to complete a degree.  All of these are instances where you “choose” to exercise your will towards a goal that has value and meaning to you.

This same power and strength you must apply to change yourself. This is an important key in how to change.

As a species, not only do we not like change, but we are afraid of change because it’s the unknown.  “Who will I be if I’m not like this?  How will others treat me? Show me in advance the results, so I can be comfortable in changing .”

The more fearful you are of change on the outside (e.g. moving cities, changing jobs, driving different routes) the more resistant you will be to changing yourself on the inside. But make no mistake, it’s not our insecurities and fears that stop us from changing, it’s our attachment to doing what brings instant gratification and the need to have things our way that stops us.

We’re actually okay being critical of others, frustrated at our kids, being intimidating to others or passive aggressive. It gives an immediate (and illusory) sense of power and control we don’t want to give up, certainly not for the unknown!

How to change?

Don’t worry about ‘why’ you are the way you are or ‘why’ you are holding on to this.  Knowing ‘why’ never changes anything.  More often than not it simply serves to provide ammunition to beat yourself or another up.  “I want to know why she does that….so I can tell her how ridiculous that is”.

If you’re really serious about changing some of your ways, you must first introspect and be honest about what behaviours are unproductive, even harmful to yourself or others.

“For example, you may want to be more patient, less frustrated, more generous, kinder, more understanding. Once you have identified these internal goals, pick one at a time and work on it patiently, consistently and with the same perseverance that was required to achieve your external goals, like earning your degree, starting your business or getting fit.”

Keep a daily diary.  And I mean daily. Every morning when you wake up sit on the side of your bed and remind yourself of that aspect you are trying to improve upon. “Today I will practice being more patient with my child.”

At night, record in you diary how well you did.  Write down the moments you succeeded and the moments you didn’t.  And examine what you could have done differently to succeed.  Notice where you fell short and take steps so this doesn’t keep happening.  Focus on practice and persistence not perfection!

Work on this one aspect for at least one month, maybe 3, possibly 12.  If it’s a difficult and long standing trait, give yourself time.  After all, how many years have you been automatically rehearsing this negative habit!

Be sure not to get critical of yourself when you introspect and analyze yourself at night.  If you set standards of perfection, then you are setting yourself up to be discouraged and you will stop all your attempts.

Counselling can play a few key roles in helping you in this process of how to change. First, for many it’s a way to get started on the road to personal transformation. Secondly, the process of therapy offers information, understanding and a sense of direction, of what needs to happen for change to be effective. Thirdly, through specific techniques and strategies it can help offload some of the heavier burden from past traumatic experiences that makes it hard to move forward.  And finally, it provides the support and encouragement we all need on the journey.

Therapy is like a road map.  It shows you an overview of the plan and which route to take, but ultimately you must be the one to drive or walk down that route.  No one can do that for you.

I chuckle when I hear some people say to me “I’ve been to counseling and it didn’t do anything for me!”   When it comes to our mental health, there seems to be this interesting misconception, that somehow, something other than myself, like a pill, a CD or a therapist will be responsible for the change.

Only your willingness, strong determination, sincere effort and ‘will’ can change you.  Nothing and no one else can be inside your being to experience what you do with your thoughts and your actions. It’s really no different than a fitness coach.  He might show you a fitness routine, but you must be the one to get on that treadmill.

Let me assure you however, personal change is the most difficult work we can ever do in our life, but the most worthy and rewarding.  Unfortunately it’s also the least popular!

And the last point. After giving it your best effort, then there’s grace.  We make the effort, and the divine chooses the way of the reward.  As the saying goes “do your best, and let God do the rest”.  Let go of any expectations of when and how change ‘should’ happen.  Learn to trust that the powers that created you will work to support you.

Our only task is to apply ourselves in living our life in alignment with a sense of morality and dignity. Those changes are what builds our sense of self esteem and self worth.  Not status, money or degrees. Put your focus where change matters, in the essence of who you are as a person.  No one else can give you that!

Written by;

Claire Maisonneuve, Registered Clinical Counsellor,

Director, Alpine Anxiety and Stress Relief Clinic

Written by:

Claire Maisonneuve, MA.

Registered Clinical Counsellor
Director of the Alpine Clinic