How many of us want change for ourselves? Could it be simply to live a healthier lifestyle characterized by more consistent exercise and improved nutrition? Or perhaps better reading habits or study habits? What happens when we fail to heed the call of our inner desires? Well, for one, our frustration may increase. Confusion may coincide and suddenly we are looking for the reason why we cannot attain what has become desperately longed for. A change that will make us happier, more complete, more of who we actually want to be.
Whether or not this is currently relatable for you, I think it is important to recognize the natural struggle that is behavioral change. As previously mentioned, it can be very confusing and frustrating to collapse back into to habits we wish to shed. Change can be an annoyingly slow process. It may require nuance even if the solution seems simplistic. Yet, if we view our path to change as full of failure, then our self-compassion may start to slip. It’s quite easy then to point to ourselves as the problem then.
“Why can’t I change!?”
Feeling Like We Are Failing
At this point, if we become overwhelmed at the lack of tangible progress, then it makes sense to diagnose ourselves as the problem. The voice in our head, the one advocating for change may turn bitter and spiteful. Yelling at us, calling us names, and ultimately blaming ourselves resentfully. It can be challenging to still pursue change when we are already discouraged. Trying again could lead to the voice in our head putting us down further. Feelings of guilt and shame accompany a plummet in our self-confidence.
Does this mean that we will never be able to work towards what we want for ourselves? Of course not! In fact, this can be a pinnacle moment of growth. Where we identify ways to continually encourage ourselves instead of beating ourselves up. Highlighting our strengths and our experiences while dropping the detrimental notion that we should be immediately capable and perfect at every new thing.
Getting Back on Track
I would love to share some general strategies that can support us getting back on the horse when we fall off. After all, resilience is continually built upon. What we have already endured cannot be undone and only adds to our wisdom. Let’s take a practical example when thinking about the understandable difficulties it takes to elicit change. A common one I hear is a desire to spend less time on the internet and more time spent reading or building a talent. When it comes to our phones, it can be automatic to pull it out when we begin to feel bored or an absence of direction in the moment. Why wait for the train with only our thoughts when we can check in with the world.
This may have occurred countless times. It’s just what we do after repeatedly interacting and engrossing ourselves into the rabbit hole that is the internet. So, when we choose to do ‘nothing’ at the train platform, it simply doesn’t feel right. A small amount of anxiety is to be expected when we enter unfamiliar territory such as this and anxiety prompts us to react. Trying to replace our phone time with perhaps ‘creative time,’ or something of the like, then anxiety may initially be present to some degree. Thoughts of social media, thoughts of if this new activity is what we actually want, thoughts of wanting an escape from the unfortunate realities that reading, writing, or learning something new is not easy.
Understanding the Nature of Change
It is an effortful process to power through the resistance when we feel stuck or unsure. If we are already used to seeking distraction or avoiding these difficult feelings, then achieving the change we want can be a drawn out, agonizing process. Is there a moment in your own life when you had to push through feelings similar to these? If so, how did you manage to do so? Did you have additional support, family, friends, or maybe a coach that encourage you along the way. As we grow older, it may feel uncomfortable to reach out during times of need. After all, shouldn’t we be expected to manage on our own? But what was it that made us capable of succeeding in the past? Warm support and compassion when progress felt stagnant are factors that could keep us trying.
Even if we truly are on our own to facilitate change these concepts remain the same. We are more likely to succeed when we are feeling encouraged and motivated to overcome the challenges. So, that voice in our heads, the one yelling at us, angry at our lack of immediate progress is not helpful to our cause. It’s impossible however to just think the voice away. When the thoughts appear, letting them exist, but also proposing a positive alternative is a core cognitive-behavioral skill known as thought reframing.
Implementing Strategies and Strengths
When challenging negative thoughts, it can be helpful to know our strengths and values that are driving us for change in the first place. Being able to compassionately reflect on what barriers are present in getting us to reach our ultimate goal. Once we can identify some of these, perhaps goal modification is then needed. Setting smaller, measurable goals that can act as stepping stones can answer the inner-critic within us. We can point to our progress with each goal completed. Maybe we do want to go to the gym four times a week. But if we are starting at zero, then realistically we would need an adjustment period. Going maybe once or twice a week, and then gradually increasing as we become adjusted to the new habit.
Life is full of opportunities for growth and change. Through our struggles, we can begin to view them as opportunities. For knowledge. For strengthening our skills to be a compassionate ally to ourselves. And for making profound change that our inner selves truly desire. If you feel that you are stuck in the change process, our services can be a helpful support to get you on the right track. At the Chicago Counseling Center, we specialize in evidenced-based techniques that can bolster your ability to power through the natural resistance that prevents us from blossoming to our greatest potentials.