We dream about fabulous things; many great things are within our reach. But lost in dreams, we overlook the necessary steps to actualize those dreams. Sometimes, we escape reality with the dream, lost in spectacular thoughts—a raise, a partner, a sexy body. We hinge our future happiness on a magnificent achievement, entertaining how this momentous change will reconfigure our life. Sometimes significant change may occur transforming everything; but this isn’t common. Even after a momentous change, we often settle back into the previous routines and familiar feelings. Change is difficult; and rarely fulfills the magical escaping thoughts we dreamed would dismiss our pasts. Life continues to be life, with joys and sorrows, gains and losses, friends and foes. By understanding (and accepting) the realities of life, we invite patience to challenge the difficulties of changing trajectories, and creating brighter futures.
Within our bosoms, two warring parties collide, fighting for dominance: The desire to change and demands for security. Laws of motion dictate that travelling in the same direction is easier than altering course. Our histories, whether healthy or destructive, are intricately woven to the present realities of our lives. People, places and patterns are marked with emotions; when an encounter in the present has familiarity, we react (and feel) with a learned response. Experience creates connections—emotional ties to events and people. The mind stubbornly clings to memories, when similar conditions invade, the emotions lurch to action pushing us to act as we did in the past. We might know better, logic recognizes the futility of our actions, but habits interfere with flexibility and demand for sameness. Change requires purposely redirecting learned and habitual actions against the impulses of learned emotions.
Identifying faulty reactions is uncomfortable, often engendering thoughts of incompleteness; we harass our self with brutish judgments of fault. Self-meanness is unnecessary—and detrimental. Our harshness and painful examinations close the self and insights submerge back to the darkness; instead of enlightenment, we invite mental distortions, defensive reactions, and walls of protection. Future faults remain hidden and when unexamined they flourish, harming connections, sabotaging opportunities, and inviting decay.
Change requires compassion with the self, we stand awed by the imperfections of humanity.
"Self-meanness is unnecessary—and detrimental. Our harshness and painful examinations close the self and insights submerge back to the darkness; instead of enlightenment, we invite mental distortions, defensive reactions, and walls of protection."
“…the process of self-observation, reflection, and change is basically a self-loving task. It will not flourish in an atmosphere of terminal seriousness, self-flagellation, or self-blame.” Harriet Lerner
We can intervene and reprogram the mind. Self-modification of feelings is extremely difficult, often demanding assistance. Subjective interpretations, deceptive protections and fears invade, knocking us off course. Frustrated by reality, we give in. “The hell with it,” we return to the security of habits, allowing current trajectories to remain, and seek comfort in magical dreams.
Albert Ellis, father of rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT), after decades of working with struggling patients, understood the difficulties in purposeful change:
“We can realistically say that with the exception of a few individuals who decide to change and then find it rather easy to do so, the great majority of people find it difficult to change and stay changed.”
Ellis identified several factors, that when present, aided motivation for change. These factors are (with my added comments):
A sense of necessity. When change feels necessary to gain or prevent from losing something or someone of importance, we will endure greater difficulties.
Willingness to Experience Anxiety or Difficulty- Successful integration of behavioral change requires awkward stumbling. We are creating new mental maps of triggers, reactions and consequences. Newness of behavior chains involve uncertainty. If we have low frustrations tolerance and limited capacity to soothe emotional disruption we likely will collapse to old routines, although destructive, provide security in their familiarity.
Awareness—if we are lost in defensive perceptions, overlooking personal flaws, we lack clarity of the behavior changes needed. We slip into external blaming, unrealistic dreams, and bitterness. Without a grasp on reality, attempts of change flounder in the sea of chaos.
Willingness to confront the problem—Eventually we must courageously act, working through fears and avoidances.
Effort—trajectories flow effortlessly, creating comfort, if we want change, we must exert tremendous energy to redirect normal reactions into desired outcomes.
Hope—this is where positive psychology has an impact. The mantras, dream boards, and all the connected mind supports to give life to hope—belief in change.
Social Support—small change may be a private affair but when our lives have strayed too far, the journey is too arduous to travel alone. We need friends, family, sponsors and paid professional to keep us on track, honest, and secure.
We can sing the song of hope. Our lives are not hopelessly lost to the perils of the past. We can change. But not without careful and consistent efforts. When stuck we may need to approach the problem from a more basic level; instead of focusing on the end desired behavior, we should focus on the building bricks that proceeds the action, seeking support, encouraging hope, and courageously willing to fight the unseen battles. We should periodically review these characteristics, and sharpen our practice to experience the flourishing we desire. And that, my friends, is the work of a lifetime.