“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek” ~Joseph Campbell
Change is uncomfortable and can be scary. In many situations, it’s much easier to stay with what you know even if it is not aligned with your goals and desires, than to venture out into the unknown.
Possibly you’ve come to the point where the unknown (change) sounds more desirable. Maybe what is currently happening is so painful you’re ready for something different. If so, you’re in the right place.
Last week I shared some tips on how to become mindful and aware of the emotional patterns in your life. If you’re following along, go and grab that list of thoughts and patterns you are starting to notice in your life.
Now that you have some awareness into the patterns, or muscle memory responses, that are in your life…
Let’s create a plan for change!
Reflect on your patterns. Look back over your notes from last week. Did you identify any patterns that are occurring in your life? Are there themes present – for example maybe you noticed you experience XYZ feeling when faced with XYZ situation? Is there anything you learned about yourself in doing this activity?
What is working? Were there patterns you identified that are healthy and adaptive in your life? Patterns that you want to keep? An example of this could be that you realized even when you are stressed and exhausted you general respond well to your children. Or maybe you realized when you are feeling sad you reach out to friends and make plans to get out of the house.
Examine what is working in your life; what patterns, routines, responses fit well and don’t need any adjustment.
What’s not working? Were there patterns you noticed in your behaviors, thoughts, and feelings last week that are not helpful to your life? It takes courage and self-reflection to admit that we are acting or feeling ways that aren’t adaptive to our life. Possibly you noticed that you yell at your loved ones when you are really angry at your boss and stressed over work. Maybe you recognized that you unfairly blame yourself when something doesn’t go right; your initial response is to label yourself as “stupid” or “a failure.” Jot down any patterns you noticed that could use some revision.
Define a goal. For each of the patterns that are on your “not working” list, let’s identify some alternatives that would work better for you. What would you like to happen instead? For example, let’s use the above example of blaming yourself when something doesn’t go right. How would you like to talk with yourself? What about being more gentle and compassionate toward yourself, saying things like “I tried hard” or “That didn’t work like I wanted it to.” Shifting and recognizing what the goal is will help us figure out steps to get there.
Create a plan. Identify three things you can do to create and reinforce this new behavior in your life. It’s best to start with small, manageable changes that you are sure you can implement consistently. Sticking with the same example above, your goal is to speak gentler and more compassionate to yourself. Some ideas of ways you can get there would be to catch yourself when you are speaking unkind and to say something compassionate immediately. You could watch for situations where you find yourself putting yourself down and shift to avoid those situations. You could also ask friends to catch you if they hear you make a negative self-comment and help you reframe your talk. Be creative and open to many different ways. Sometimes it takes trying a few different steps to create change.
Stay in the moment. Using mindfulness to check in with your patterns will help you evaluate how you’re doing with reaching your goal. You will be able to check in with your progress toward the new pattern (and self-correct quicker if you stray) if you’re staying in the moment.
How to pick yourself up when you fall. We all stumble and fall when trying to create change in our lives. It’s ok! Change is hard to create. There will likely come a time where you slip back into old behaviors, old routines. The real challenge in life is how you pick yourself back up from a fall. This is where a solid plan is helpful.
Using the example of negative self-talk from above, let’s say that you were in a work meeting and left feeling deflated. When you return to your office you start berating yourself. “I’m so stupid. I’m such a failure.” When you catch yourself STOP the negative talk and make a change. Immediately tell yourself “Nope, I’m not going to do this, I’m worth more than this. I would never talk to a friend like this, why am I putting myself down like this?” Find something genuine that you can say that’s positive about yourself, maybe “I tried my hardest” or “I know this will get easier the more I try.”
Then try making some other changes: change the music you’re listening to, take a break and go for a walk, change what you’re working on to a different task. Do what it takes for you to get back on track with your goal of increased self-compassion.
Leave the self-judgment at the door. Notice how nowhere in this example was a statement about being self-critical or judging. In fact, you will be more likely to successfully change patterns in your life if you find ways to accept that every once in a while you will fall into that old routine. Recognizing when this happens, changing course and returning to your new pattern, without judging yourself, will help you create that new path.
Each time you successfully practice your new pattern you are strengthening your new path. Pretty soon this new healthier pattern will become muscle memory.
I love helping people create transformation in their lives. If you are ready to break free from old patterns please call me at 916-547-3997 or email at email@example.com to schedule a free no-pressure consultation to see if working together will help you toward your goals. I look forward to hearing from you.
Adriana Joyner, LMFT, is a Sacramento Area therapist who specializes in providing counseling to people healing from trauma and abuse, and those within the LGBTQIA community. Her office is located in Gold River, CA located off Highway 50 at Sunrise Blvd. For more information or to schedule a consultation, please call (916) 547-3997 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.