Personal Change is paradoxical.
You might think that the more you hate the way you are, the quicker and easier it will be to change. Not so. The more we disapprove of ourselves and beat ourselves up, the less motivation and energy we have – for everything, including personal change. And without positive motivation our change efforts would have to depend on willpower alone, at the very time we feel depleted in energy and passion – and consequently, willpower.
So, the Paradox of Change is that we tend to be more successful in making change when we can accept that we are perfectly O.K. just the way we are.
This might seem odd, but when you think about tackling change from the opposite perspective – how easy would it be to make desired changes, and how successful would we be if we start out with the belief and feeling that we are inadequate or not good enough. We would be embarking on our change project feeling depleted of worth and consequently depleted of energy, positivity and passion.
“But”, you may say, “I will be more motivated to change if I tell myself how bad things are, and how much worse they will get if I don’t change.” While it may intuitively feel helpful to use a stick for motivation instead of a carrot, it just doesn’t work that well for most people. Many people who use this method to motivate themselves do so because it’s the only method they know. If that is the case for you, learning new ways to approach change may be very liberating for you.
I’m not talking about some ‘rosey-coloured glasses’ approach her. Clearly it is impossible to make a plan for change that has any chance of success without realistically assessing your starting point. The most obvious reason is that you need to know your starting point to know what route to take. This requires us to be objective and realistic in order that we can plan achievable steps towards our goal.
But we also need to achieve acceptance of where we are at in the sense of being compassionate and non-judgmental. If I feel bad or wrong about where I currently am in my life, this will affect my ability to maintain my motivation and my optimism. It may also affect my ability to believe that I deserve this change, and that positive life-enhancing changes are a natural part of my birthright.
Carrot Or Stick / Cheer-leader Or Bully
As I said, many people feel that they will be more motivated if they make themselves ‘face reality’ of just how bad or lazy or undisciplined or whatever that they are, then they will be motivated to quickly change. This doesn’t work. Just think about how you feel if some-one else tells you what an awful person you are. My guess is that this would make you feel smaller and less powerful to change things in your life. On the other hand, think about people who recognize your strengths and positive personal qualities, and are also really supportive when you are wanting to learn new skills or make changes either in your work-life or outside of work life. Most people find positive ‘cheer-leading’ style of support more helpful than ongoing criticism. And if you have ever trained a puppy, you will perhaps be aware that puppies respond better to kindness and rewards for good behavior than harshness and punishment for bad. Perhaps we are all puppies at heart.
What Do You Want, Really Really Want?
So being kind and compassionate towards ourselves about where we are now will help us to change. An important point is that we are talking about ‘where you are now’ not making an excuse and ‘accepting’ that it is OK to stay in this place. If I want to be slimmer or fitter, I need to accept, both in the sense of ‘getting real’ about my current weight and fitness level and also in the sense of accepting that I am a ‘perfectly OK’ person just the way I am – who is currently carrying more weight or is at a lower fitness level than I would like. From this starting point, I am in a good position to make a plan. And focusing on what we want e.g. “I want to be slimmer” or “I want to be fitter” is more helpful than focusing on what we don’t want e.g. “I don’t want to be as heavy and overweight as I am now” or “I don’t want to be as unfit as I am now” can be a lot more motivating. Having got clear about the direction we want to head in (as opposed to the direction we want to head away from) we can then start fleshing out the details of our goal, followed by developing a plan with clear and achievable steps.
Developing Self-compassion And Acceptance – And Making The Changes You Want To Make
For many people, being accepting of themselves, exactly as they are right now is easier said than done. If you are in the habit of constant self-criticism, developing the ability to see yourself ‘through a compassionate set of eyes’ is extremely important to improving personal wellbeing. A very useful tool as you take steps on this journey is Mindfulness. One of the main pillars of Mindfulness is compassion – for ourselves and for others. An attitude of compassion permeates Mindfulness meditation of all kinds, and is a particular focus of practices such as Loving Kindness Meditation. And as we become more aware, through practising mindfulness regularly, we more quickly notice self-critical thoughts and are able to interrupt them and move to a more compassionate focus.
The Change Academy approach is two-pronged – to encourage change, and help you to make the changes that will increase your sense of wellbeing and satisfaction with your life, and to encourage self-acceptance, helping you to develop your acceptance of yourself and your life, and to be able to notice and celebrate the many gifts, strengths, talents or qualities that you have.
Through fully embracing your strengths, you will have more to contribute to the world, and will experience a greater sense of satisfaction with your life.
A penny for your thoughts … (not literally, but you know what we mean – we’d love to hear from you)
I’d love to hear your opinion and learn about your experiences: Please add your comment/s below.
While we approach some changes with a positive motivation, often we are motivated to change by some ‘pain’ or dissatisfaction. Something has happened that has forced us to face up to a situation which we have chosen to ignore – or ignore the implications of. And in these circumstances it can be much more challenging to be accepting of our short-comings and limitations. Can you think of situations in your life where focussing on self-acceptance has helped you to move forward in some area? Of have you helped some-one else to reach a point of self-acceptance that has enabled them to move forward. If so, please share your words of wisdom and tips. (Please respect confidentiality and be careful not to share details of other people’s situations, just the tips, tools and resources that helped them to move forward).
Any and all comments welcome – whether or not you agree with what I’ve written.