- Have appropriate expectations of how change comes about.
Humans are not hard-wired to change quickly. If we did that, things would become so chaotic society wouldn’t survive. So expect change to be a process that takes time, effort and practice. Do you remember what it was like learning to ride a bike, or drive a car? Making personal changes follows a similar pattern of planning, followed by trial and error practice, until you’ve built a lot of “muscle memory” and the new habit is well established.
- Target the right behaviors to change
If you don’t like how things are going, what change do you need to make to fix the situation? Forget about blaming others or wishing others would change. The only one you truly have control over is yourself.
- Confront your fears of changing
Much as we wish for change, making it happen can feel scary. What if I try and it doesn’t work? What if others don’t approve? What if I look foolish? What if I can’t stand the tension it causes? Imagining something catastrophically awful makes you avoid change. Most of the time there is no basis in reality for such catastrophic thinking. That means you need to face the fact that you’re scaring yourself with outsized fears about highly unlikely outcomes.
- Learn how to deal with emotional resistance to change. Resistance is normal, so expect it.
This is the secret I mentioned in the title of this blog. Feelings are powerful forces, and often following your feelings is very helpful. But when your feelings hold you back from pursuing your goals, you need to go against those feelings and move in the opposite direction. Going against your own feelings is a challenge. It may even feel dangerous. But it really isn’t dangerous, and you can safely do it. It helps to understand that the feelings that hold you back and keep you repeating old bad habits, are not facts. And though defying such feeling may feel risky, the sky will not fall if you defy your feelings and change your behavior. To help you move forward with change, even when your feelings are trying to hold you back, there are any number of techniques, (for example mental imagery and mindfulness training) that you can learn and apply on your own.
- Develop a carefully sequenced plan
Put some time into thinking through all the steps that are involved in getting from where you are now to fulfilling your New Year’s resolution. What specific steps do you need to take? What thinking do you need to change to help you take those steps? What obstacles can you anticipate and how do you plan to cope with each of them? What support can you get from other people to keep you motivated? Keep reminding yourself that breaking old patterns and replacing them with new ones is a process that takes time, effort and practice. Don’t expect perfection as you work on it, and keep your sense of humor.
Practice (dress rehearsals)
No actor would dream of going to opening night without having rehearsed his or her scenes over and over. Well, neither should you. Develop a sharp mental picture of yourself behaving as you would like to act. Get the details down pat. If it involves another person, what do you want to say? What do your body language and tone of voice need to look like to give your message impact? If your desired change only involves you, picture what you need to do in detail and see yourself doing it. Once you’ve got a clear picture, role play with a friend, talk into the mirror, or audio or video tape yourself. Don’t expect it all to go perfectly. Just practice over and over, getting feedback from others or from yourself after each round of practice to improve the next round. When you feel reasonably well rehearsed in your new behaviors, you’re ready to try it out for real.
- Take your show on the road.
When you’ve done enough rehearsing in private, start applying your new behavior in real life situations. Remember, this is a learning experience, so at first you most likely won’t be as good at it as you wish, but hey, that’s normal. Just keep learning from each attempt and improving as you go. Give yourself feedback or get it from others and keep fine tuning your performance. As you progress, your confidence level will increase and your behavioral efforts will improve.
- Get support from others
Sad to say, but sometimes you may have people in your life who don’t want you to change, no matter how good the change would be for you. Maybe it inconveniences them. Worse, maybe they feel threatened by the prospect of you improving yourself. In the worst case scenario, someone who’s supposed to want the best for you may even try to sabotage your effort to change. But even without active sabotage, don’t look for support from people who are not in your corner. Instead, reach out to friends and family who do want the best for you, tell them what you’re up to, and ask for their encouragement and help.
As the title of my book (Take-Charge Living: How to Recast Your Role in Life…On Scene At a Time) says, taking charge of how you live is your choice, your option. I hope you’ll take that option and start living your life on your own terms. Being in the director’s chair when it comes to running your life is so empowering. So step up and make the choice to get started.
If you have any questions about this blog, you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wishing you a Happy New Year and great success in moving your life forward.
Many thanks too for your interest in the Laguna Beach Community Clinic and the wonderful work it does for our town and the broader community.
Best of holiday wishes,
Marion K. Jacobs, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Adjunct Professor Emerita, UCLA