Courage to Change
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | September 2018
Most of us want a little better. Our lives are in motion, moving towards a destination. If the direction we are traveling isn't where we want to go, we must intervene, force change and correct our actions.
Engrained thought patterns and subsequent emotions stubbornly intrude on our lives. Early beginnings (biological sensitivities and childhood experience), like an avalanche, gain momentum, defining new experience and creating felt reality. Stepping away from these trajectories is difficult—rolling stones want to keep rolling. But feeling affects that drive action are changeable; but only with skilled persistence—a fleeting impulse to change is insufficient. Automatic responses (trigger, affect, conceptual evaluation, emotion, and behavior) unconsciously interact, intertwining, and then unfolding in with a logical (but often misguided) explanation. We don’t see reactions as incompetent and destructive (some aren’t), we view them as appropriate conscious responses. But we often feel and react before conscious evaluation enters the arena. Our explanations often intervene as a cover for stupidness, soothing our ego, and making sense of the insensible.
Bad things happen—to all of us. For the ego, worse than the damaging blow of misfortune, is the realization we created our own misery. When hurt is a consequence of personal action; we are subject to blame. We fear, unconsciously, that others will detect our inadequacy, expose our shame, and ruthlessly humiliate our attempts at living.
Organisms avoid pain. Yet, the inherited distaste for displeasure in a complex world of trade-offs and ambiguous rewards provides inexact guidance. Many long-term gains require short-term discomfort. And short-term pleasure often has long-term costs.
"When hurt is a consequence of personal action; we are subject to blame. We fear, unconsciously, that others will detect our inadequacy, expose our shame, and ruthlessly humiliate our attempts at living."
When we embark on an arduous task of change, we feel discomfort, life no longer flows automatically, we must apply the mental brakes slowing action and opening to vulnerability. The discomforts squash the enthusiasm; we may question whether our efforts are worth the promised rewards? Change is a battle that many shy away from fighting. They desire the rewards but wish the world to graciously serve them while they anxiously sit, postponing essential action. Either lazily waiting for a rush of courage (that never comes) or manufacturing excuses to explain the procrastination; both paths missing opportunities and adding to the dreadful pile of regret.
Personal growth is achieved through conquering difficulties, not from easy victories. There’s no other way. Courage doesn’t banish fear but lives with it, motivating action in the face of fear. Our accomplishments reward courage, reminding that failures are only temporary. Our slips and falls don’t define character; our failing to try does. Failure accompanies unfamiliar action. We venture into new territories, and stumble with new and strange engagements; there is risk, no guaranteed success. We must consciously work through the newness. But these courageous journeys reward us with increased skills, knowledge and wisdom, creating a stronger foundation.
By avoiding challenges, fearing failures, the obstacles appear immovable. They essential are to the fearful admirer of their breadth and height. Obstacles always appear smaller when we are moving, not standing still staring up at them.
Habits of avoidance and blame interfere with effective action to change. These unhealthy adaptations continue to haunt, disrupting and sabotaging efforts. Without courageous acknowledgement, we continue to do as we always have—trapped in cycles of disappointments. Avoidance may protect the delicate ego from the hurt of imperfections, lapses and shortcomings. But the unbruised ego is costly—opportunities missed, and unhealthy patterns established.
Skeptically examine your life, root out avoiding behaviors, embrace the aliveness of experience, and search for wisdom. Once feelings are discovered, exposed and examined, mindfully act in ways that lead to long-term intentions. We stop the rolling failures of the past only when we intentionally intervene, courageously work through the obstacles and willingly experience both the joys and sorrows of change.
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