Okay, it’s the beginning of the new year and many folks are energized and filled with lots of good ideas and resolutions to improve their lives. Numerous studies show that despite good intensions, most plans for change fall apart in the first week .
Don’t get me wrong; I believe that dramatic change is possible and worth the effort. But, from my 40 years of experience helping people to change, I have learned that a number of important factors must be present for important breakthroughs and transformation to take place. The simple notion of having enough will-power is insufficient to explain what it takes to break bad habits or sustain new and healthy ones.
One way to conceptualize a resolution, like losing weight, for example, is to think of it as an iceberg. There is much more to the problem than what is above the surface. Thus, it is necessary to look beneath the surface to fully understand the complicated reasons why efforts fail.
Since many people attempt to make changes with an inadequate understanding of the problems involved and without it is no wonder the success rate is so low. Here are some important questions which will help you peek below the surface if you want to increase your odds of succeeding:
- Do you really want to change ? Seriously, I know that you’ve been told or you feel that you should make an important change but … do you really want to ? Just because a person understands that making a change would be a good idea or perhaps is even necessary does not mean that the person really wants to change. And here is the thing. Trying to force yourself to do something that you really don’t want to do doesn’t work. Further, it could cause resentment which could even make the issue that you’re trying to deal with worse . So, before beginning to make the effort, be honest with yourself. Pay attention to and address any conflicted or negative feelings you may have. We often try do things with which we are not completely on board with, however, if the reservation is significant, it must be addressed or it will sabotage your best efforts.
- Is this a good time to make a major change in your life ? Just because a person wants to change doesn’t mean that all of the stars are properly aligned to do so. Timing is very important when making major life changes and, apart from individual desire, there are other factors such as time, money , health etc. which are also critical to success. Having the patience to wait for the right time is an important factor when making major life changes. Real progress is rarely the result of an impulsive action or simply feeling in the mood. Instead it is rather the result of sustained behavior over a long period of time.
- Are there significant unresolved obstacles which block making changes ? Apart from motivation and good timing another important factor are unresolved psychological problems which might obstruct or make serious change more difficult. For example, the steps to breaking old bad habits or sustaining new, good ones are simple and rational. Implementing them, however, is not. It is important to understand and address the irrational obstacles that frustrate your goals . For example if a person wants to lose weight , the solution is obvious, eat less and exercise more. But if a person uses food to calm him/herself, before attempting to lose some pounds, s/he must first figure out another way to deal with his/her anxiety or all of her/his efforts will be for naught.
- How strong is your support network ? Major changes in lifestyle are rarely accomplished in isolation. Everyone needs support and encouragement. Doing it all by yourself rarely works. Thus, before beginning, make sure that your partner, friends and family as well as a counselor, doctor or other helping professionals are in place to help you along the way.
Seeing people significantly change and improve their lives is a source of great satisfaction for me as a therapist. It is important to understand that the desired behavioral change is just the tip of iceberg. Understanding and dealing with the complex labyrinth of issues which lies beneath the surface is the key to meaningful and lasting change.
Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC, Fellow AAPC 1/ 2/ 2018