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Writing and Healing: Expressive Writing and Letting Go

Writing and Healing: Expressive Writing and Letting Go

Each of us carries stories of our past with us, even if they may not be consciously at the surface. Those stories often replay in our mind over and over, and the new stories that we write in our mind about our past can shape the future, even if we aren’t consciously aware of the process. What I’ve discovered in my own experience is that the process of putting the story down, whether on paper or in a computer, creates a moldable object that can be used to evaluate the past and used to shape the future.

My first formal exposure to expressive writing came in a class on writing memoir and personal essay. It was also my first graduate level course, which I took it as an elective because I had the idea to create a family history from my own perspective. Genealogy research is great for the forensic study of the past, who came from who and when, but it’s less helpful in understanding the individuality of those people. Memoir offers an opportunity to recreate some of those personalities in a similar way that writers create vivid characters in first-person fiction.

That journey of creating characters of family members inspired thoughts about my own past as a story and its relation to my own experience. Sometimes that story was positive and encouraging, but often it created limitations. It occurred to me my own story was a living organism that I wrote every day with each thought and action. Changing one action today can change tomorrow’s results, allowing me to reshape those stories in order to change the direction of the future.

Our lives unfold much like a story. In fiction, we follow from beginning to end, but our own life stories are often much more complicated and usually have fewer clearly marked events that obviously shift the future, especially when we’re so close to the story. Generally speaking, it’s usually easier to identify key turning points when we read about the life experience of others. Mary Karr, in the preface of The Art of Memoirsays of this genre, “These books are held together by happenstance, theme, and (most powerfully) the sheer, convincing poetry of a single person trying to make sense of the past.” (2016, preface) A memoir is a dedicated and long journey of expressive writing meant to share with the audience of the world. But what if we could break some of those big stories down into smaller segments and use them to direct the future? And what if memoir wasn’t the only option for examining one’s life experience?

The journey of exploration can be scary, and we worry about unearthing artifacts of memories better left buried below the surface. Karr validates this point, “At unexpected points in life, everyone gets waylaid by the colossal force of recollection. One minute, you’re a grown-ass woman, then a whiff of cumin conjures your dad’s curry, and whole door to the past blows open, ushering in uncanny detail.” (2016, 1) Whether we realize it or not, this fear may be what causes us to shy away from exploring the past in detail, much less writing about it. The past seems to be fixed back there where it belongs, but with the right frame of mind, we can observe it safely from a distance, much like exhibits in a museum or animals at the zoo. We can learn to see it honestly, understand it, and use it as a tool to understand current circumstances. We may also discover that it’s not as fixed as we thought. What we once thought as adversity, we might discover was actually the engine of determination that moved us forward through all difficult times.

Karr says “A psychological self-awareness and faith in the power of truth gives you courage to reveal whatever you unearth, whether you come out looking vain or conniving or hateful or not.” (2016, 151). Looking at yourself as you truly are, not as you wish you were, is the key to creating a resource to facilitate change. It’s the soft clay from which to mold the future story. If you try to change something that doesn’t actually exist, the results will be unexpected. Karr continues, “False choices based on who you wish you were will result in places where the voice goes awry or the details chosen ring false.” (2016, 151) As expressive writing is used as a way to heal past wounds and write the future, it’s critical to be honest and authentic, even if that is uncomfortable at times. Whether this creative work evolves into a bestselling memoir or not, it’s important to remember that there is no rule that expressive writing mustbe shared. Our intimate thoughts are just that – ours. While it might be a dream for some aspiring writers to have a published memoir, simply writing it all down can have its own healing properties. When exploring the nature of healing, Louise DeSalvo shares that “…the positive effects of writing did not depend upon getting any feedback on the writing or even upon anyone reading what was written.” (2006, 26) Sharing is always optional.

Some people may have experienced writing as a form of venting, or a way to deal with stressful situations. The unsent letter, the angry e-mail to the boss composed but never sent, the story about a nemesis falling off the edge of a cliff, all of these are forms of expressive writing, and just about everyone has probably done at least one of those. However, those forms of expressive writing are just the first step. DeSalvo advises that “We cannot simply use writing as a catharsis. Nor can we use it only as a record of what we’ve experienced. We must write in a way that links detailed descriptions of what happened with feelings – then and now – about what happened.” (2006, 25) While writing is cathartic in its own right, that’s only just scratching the surface of its true power. DeSalvo advises that “Both thinking and feeling are involved. Linking them is critical.” (2006, 25) Get the feelings out, but then understand what they mean in relation to a past experience, and then link them to present circumstances.

Some of that past experience may be grounded in fears or beliefs learned from family or culture. Whether that’s fear of water, flying, or having peacock feathers indoors, each of us carries some background information about things to be fearful of or to gravitate to. Family legends or preferences most assuredly can affect our behavior, whether we are aware of it or not. In my own experience, figuring out what beliefs were mine from personal experience, and which were mine from family legend, has helped understand beliefs about topics that I had not developed myself, freeing me to form my own judgements. In some cases, my personal experience didn’t match what I thought I knew, and it’s this analysis and linking that has provided an opportunity to change behavior.

World famous author and motivational speaker Anthony Robbins features the power of story as a key way of changing behavior. When speaking of the stories in our mind, Robbins says “Thus it’s critical that – on a daily basis – we stand guard at the door of our mind, that we know how we are consistently representing things to ourselves. We must daily weed our garden.” (1997, 45) Expressive writing provides just the tool to do the daily weeding of our garden that Robbins suggests. It’s how we can keep track of the thoughts that move through us and impact the decisions that we make on a daily basis, even if those decisions are made on auto-pilot. We discover them when we become aware of them.

However, weeding that garden requires that we get into the dirt and find each and every one. We may know there is a particularly sticky or thorny one that we need to remove, but we avoid it and work all around that one so that it doesn’t injure us. According to DeSalvo “A healing narrative renders our experience concretely, authentically, explicitly, and with a richness of detail.” (2006, 57) It’s important to be authentic and honest in our representation of just what exact weeds need attention. With the proper equipment, we can remove even the thorniest of weeds. DeSalvo continues, “Research has demonstrated that depressed and suicidal people are much less likely to report memories or happenings in an extremely specific way.” (2006, 57) This importance of detail seems to correspond to Karr’s assertion about its significance in teasing out feelings. We may discover that what we thought were thorns really aren’t that sharp after all.

Through the process of exploring feelings, difficult experiences are almost an inevitability. This can be an uncomfortable experience and many experts in the field of expressive writing as a form of therapy encourage writers to have access to professional counseling expertise available if they anticipate strong emotions from traumatic experiences in the past. Other techniques for managing stress that have been helpful for me, and will be explored in more detail later in this work.

According to DeSalvo, “Ultimately, then, writing about difficulties enables us to discover the wholeness of things, the connectedness of human experience.” (2006, 43) As anyone who struggles with wave after wave of thoughts understands, it’s often difficult to find the meaning in the chaos, and even more difficult understanding how those relate to our daily lives. If those thoughts can be put down on paper, even in a chaotic format as they come up, upon reflection, a writer can usually see patterns or some meaning. It may also provide some recognition of what’s really happening behind all the thoughts. Jacobs suggests “By turning language into a product, we create a vital partner to our own processing of reality.” (2018, xv) Capturing the recurring thoughts may also make them stop once they’ve been acknowledged and heard.

In my own experience, a structured approach has proven to be the most helpful in exploring expressive writing. DeSalvo says that “Whatever we choose to do in the way of writing, I believe that it shouldn’t be haphazard – that we should write according to a directed plan, though our plans may, of course, may change as we work.” (2006, 72-73) Having a loose form for the writing to work offers many writers the framework needed to show up every day, or at least on a regular basis, for expressive writing. It’s this consistent action that seems to be a key component in successful writing. DeSalvo adds that “When we begin to write regularly, letting the process be our guide, everything will take care of itself. Show up at the desk regularly and with commitment. That’s really all you have to do.” (2006, 79) Action is also at the heart of Anthony Robbins’ method of success, as he teaches “Action is what unites every great success. Action is what produces results. Knowledge is only potential power until it comes into the hands of someone who knows how to get himself to take effective action.” (1997, 7) In the context of expressive writing, actions don’t just speak louder than words; instead actions work in concert to set into motion the words that may lead to a breakthrough.

However, action can often be the point of most struggle for potential writers. For some, a systematic approach to writing of any kind might be helpful. It was for this reason that I searched for a method that would include some meditative practices with expressive writing. I discovered A Buddhist Journalby Beth Jacobs that was a practical handbook for combining mindful meditation techniques with a journal writing process. Jacobs begins the guided workbook with the insight that “Writing turns language into a quiet experience for the recipient, and the experience is different for each reader and each reading.” (2018, xv) That quiet experience may be the first step in getting out of a thought storm and into a way of appreciating our mind for the powerful problem-solving tool that it is.

Jacobs says that “These practices put our experience in context, instead of allowing us to feel like we are our experiences, and this loosens the strict divisions between subject and object. Both meditation and expressive writing are grounds for intent as opposed to attainment.” (2018, 4) Through a series of exercises, Jacobs first guides the writer through exercises to cultivate a practice of meditation as it relates to writing in a journal. She begins with a “free write” in two parts. In the first part, the writer is encouraged to just write whatever comes to mind, even if all the writer puts on paper is “I don’t know what I’m doing” over and over until something shows up. (2018, 5) She then guides the writer through a simple breathing meditation. After that exercise is when the second “free write” begins. The writer is encouraged to predict beforehand any differences, then exploring the writing afterward to see what knowledge can be gleaned from them. Jacobs says, “Both writing and sitting meditation have ways of clearing the dross from the surface mind and promoting a deepening and broadening of experience.” (2018, 9) The combination of writing and meditation are natural allies in healing, focus, and clarity.

Jacobs continues her book with four sections, each containing ten exercises that help the writer develop mindful practices, as well as cultivate a habitual writing practice. In the postscript, Jacobs shares that “The nature of the practice matters less than the intent to be authentic and open, receptive to whatever happens.” (2018, 143) Again, authenticity emerges as a vital element in the process. I would assert that authenticity is the cornerstone of honestly understanding ourselves and who we are, what we believe, and why. The challenge in this is that sometimes cracking the nut of authenticity means first getting through a shell of pain or trauma.

Still, the expressive writing and the creative process generally allows us to work through past traumatic experiences from a safe distance. Many times, we hold on to these memories of trauma or pain as all we know. After all, it’s from our direct experience, and what’s more authentic than that? We may even get comfort from their consistency, and to let go of these would mean letting go of a piece of our identity. It’s that symbolic death of part of our self that can be an obstacle to change. According to DeSalvo, “Through writing, we allow ourselves to move through the most important aspects of mourning, but at a safe and symbolic distance.” (2006, 56) Even though our story may be littered with pain or loss, it’s still our story, and we must let go of what no longer serves us in order to move forward.

The internal story may even present itself in physical ailments. This mind-body connection is beginning to be understood, and I can attest to its existence in my own experience. Dr. Joseph Mercola explains that “While the mechanics of these mind-body links are still being unraveled, what is known is that your brain, and consequently, your thoughts and emotions, do play a role in your experience of physical pain, and can play a significant role in the development of chronic disease.” (2014) Expressive writing can help channel these thoughts into a useful and healing resource. From this understanding, we can grow and mindful understanding of how our thoughts affect our physical body.

Robbins also uses a method of exploring pain as a tool for teaching. He says, “If pain is sending you important signals about something you need to change in your body, then unless you address that need, the pain will most likely come back because it is serving you in an important way.” (1997, 111) Our natural instinct is to avoid stress and pain. Dr. Joseph Mercola says “When you’re stressed, your body releases stress hormones like cortisol, which prepare your body to fight or flee the stressful event.” (2014) Stress is not just something that keeps you up at night, it generates an actual physical response in the body. Mercola continues that “When stress becomes chronic, your immune system becomes increasingly desensitized to cortisol, and since inflammation is partly regulated by this hormone, this decreased sensitivity heightens the inflammatory response and allows inflammation to run rampant.” (2014) Chronic stress can and does affect the physical body.

Emotional paralysis by this constant stress may be contributing factor that hinders even beginning to work in expressive writing, or it may be something that happens after an expressive writing experience. Unexpected feelings can be a blessing or a curse, much like the smell of curry that Karr mentioned.

Mercola confirms this, by saying “It’s interesting to note that certain emotions are known to be associated with pain in certain regions of your body, even though science cannot give an explanation why.” (2014) The act of creation can help reveal this connection, even though it’s something that may seem difficult to understand. Mercola addresses this by saying “Many in the primarily left-brained field of science are still reluctant to embrace the mind-body paradigm however, and one of the factors holding them back is the fact that you cannot see or measure emotions inside your body.” (2014) We know that our feelings affect us – powerfully at times – even though we can’t point to a spot on our body where fear, anger, sadness or stress originates.

Through a series of events connected to the writing of this paper, I discovered “tapping,” or, as it’s officially known, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). Mercola provides many guided sessions and introductions to EFT on his website at http://eft.mercola.com. Mercola also wrote the introduction to the book Freedom at Your Fingertips: Get Rapid Physical and Emotional Relief with the Breakthrough System of Tapping, which is filled with methods from various EFT practitioners for dealing with all manner of emotional stress.In this introduction about the techniques discovered by Dr. Roger Callahan and developed by Gary Craig, he shares that “When one carefully analyzes the various healing models in a non-biased manner, it becomes clear that energy psychology tools are one of the most powerful healing modalities available.” (2011, Loc 109) EFT falls squarely in the realm of energy psychology, utilizing ancient points on the body called meridians. “Several thousand years ago, the Chinese discovered a complex system of energy circuits, called energy meridians, running throughout the body.” (Ball 2011, Loc 192) These meridians can be used to resolve issues surrounding writing itself, to help heal trauma, and to be another means of coping with stress related to feelings unearthed in the expressive writing process, or preventing a writer from the journey of expressive writing.

The tapping technique is simple and easy to learn, utilizing a map of meridians throughout the body. “There are 361 traditional Chinese acupressure points in the body. EFT uses meridian points.” (Ball 2011, Loc 314) These points are located at the crown of the head, the beginning of the eyebrows, sides of the eyes, under the eyes, under the nose, the chin, the beginning of the collarbone, under the breast point, under the arm, and at the underside of the hands, often called the karate chop. Tapping is done “…with one to three fingers, 7-10 times on each of the points in a way that’s most comfortable to you.” (Ball 2001, Loc 321) This process varies by method and practitioner, but “…the tapping points go down the body. Each tapping point is below the next one.” (Ball 2011, Loc 255) There are various “recipes” for tapping techniques, varying by time and subject, but each share similar processes. “Some practitioners do EFT differently because EFT is as much an art as a science.” (Ball 2011, Loc 321) This art form, like the mindful and meditative practices, is a natural complement to the art of expressive writing.

“Even though other cultures in the world have been working with energy meridians and similar techniques for centuries, the idea of tapping on acupressure points can seem illogical or absurd at first.” (Ball 2011, Loc 364) I have found in my own experience that tapping works both before writing and after writing. If I’m struggling with a problem, often the tapping sequence will allow it to become clear and the writing to come easier. On the other side of writing, if something shows up there that is stressful or that reveals some experience that I want healing from, tapping has provided calming and clarity.

For many years, writing has been a healing experience for me. Through the material discussed here, I have discovered ways to enhance this healing on a daily basis. Writing as a tool for exploration is ideal, “…when we deal with unassimilated events, when we tell our stories and describe our feelings and integrate them into our sense of self, we must no longer work at inhibition. (DeSalvo 2006, 24) The challenge with confronting our stories and associated feelings about them is that it can, at times, be quite uncomfortable. However, by avoiding that moment of uncomfortable analysis, some of our stories and feelings can become chains that keep us tethered to a story that’s no longer appropriate for growth. Using mindful techniques, expressive writing, and EFT, I believe that we truly can heal from any past experience and become the best possible version of our self.


References

Ball, Ron, ed. Freedom at Your Fingertips: Get Rapid Physical and Emotional Relief with the Breakthrough System of Tapping: The Ultimate Question and Answer Guidebook for Using Emotional Freedom Techniques to Feel More Energized and Alive. Fredericksburg, VA: Inroads Publishing, 2011.

DeSalvo, Louise A. 2006. Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives. Boston: Beacon Press.

Jacobs, Beth. 2018. A Buddhist Journal: Guided Practices for Writers and Meditators. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Karr, Mary. 2016. The Art of Memoir. New York: Harper Perennial.

Mercola, Joseph. “Mapping How Emotions Manifest in Your Body | EFT Benefits.” Mercola.com. January 30, 2014. Accessed November 4, 2018. https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/01/30/eft-mapping-emotions.aspx.

Robbins, Anthony. 1997. Unlimited Power: The New Science of Personal Achievement. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Five Steps for Making a Life Change

Five Steps for Making a Life Change

These five steps are a simple and effective strategy that can be implemented quickly to help you make a change. I have personally used this strategy when I have found myself stuck in a rut. It does not require any specialized skills, does not cost any money, and can be started as soon as you are done reading. It is by no means the only way to change, and it is certainly something that you can adapt or modify for your own purpose.

1. Decide to Make A Change

It sounds simple, but just the act of making a decision is the essential first step to any change. The problem is that sometimes knowing what you want to change can even be an overwhelming task all by itself. It might be that you know you want somethingto change, but you don’t even know where to start. What change should you make? What if your decision is the wrong one and makes everything worse?

These questions are a natural part of the process, and often stop the process of change when no answer presents itself. However, it is important to understand that not making a decision is also a decision: it is a decision to continue on the same path.

If you find yourself struggling to start because you’re not sure what to choose, there are some simple steps to help. While it’s not completely foolproof, using a systematic approach to decision making can help overcome the fear and choose something different. The other great thing about decisions is that you can make them over and over. If you’re not happy with the outcome of one decision, just make a different one.

First, think about what you want the end result to be. Will it be a new job? Will it be a better approach to dealing with conflict? Will it be starting a new business? Less anxiety? The key is to have a goal or an idea of what you want to have at the end of your process.

Next, try to understand why you are making this decision. Is it for more money? Is it for a change of environment? Are you bored or unhappy? Spend some time to figure out what is behind your decision and don’t be afraid to be honest with yourself.

Once you have decided what you want, and some reasons behind why you want it, then you have to start thinking about a plan to make the change. Don’t get too caught up in the specifics, just think of some action items that you can do right away, even if they seem small or insignificant.

Let’s use a woman named Brenda as an example. Brenda was unhappy with her job and her boss had unreasonable expectations and pressured her to work nights and weekends. If she made a mistake, her boss berated and belittled her. Long story short, her work day was miserable. She didn’t think she could afford to quit or that she was qualified for any other job that would pay her as much. Her emotions went back and forth between depression and anger and she withdrew from friends and family. She was stressed out at work and isolated from loved ones, and her health started to decline. She ate junk food and spent her free time in front of the television or on social media. She told herself that this must the best she could do and began to accept her current situation as just the way it was going to be forever. One day after a meeting with her boss, she decided that enough was enough and she would no longer be miserable because of her job. She told herself that she deserved more from life than just getting through the days. In that moment, Brenda made the critical decision to change and opened up a window of opportunity for herself.

You may find yourself right on the brink of making a similar decision. You might also have said “enough is enough” several times before. But for some reason, things never change, and you go back to your old habits and ways of behaving that make you unhappy. The reason that things never change is because the next step after such a decision is taking action. That moment of inspiration that comes with a statement like “enough is enough” creates an opportunity, but action must follow for change to happen. It doesn’t have to be dramatic action; even small actions done repeatedly can snowball into large and lasting changes.

The most important thing to do is start at whatever point you find yourself and keep your goals within reach. Lofty goals are fantastic, and it’s important to have long-term goals. However, to start the process, think of short-term and attainable steps that you can start today or tomorrow at the latest. Short-term goals become the focus and can become stepping stones to larger, long-term goals

2. Write it Down

Making a list is like creating action items for you to do each day. It may sound silly, but there is something magical that happens when you write things down. It moves that idea out of just the voice in your head and breathes life into it. Keep it simple.

The very first item at the top of this list should be a summary of what you’ve decided to change. Just a sentence or two will do. Once you have your decision written out, make a list of no more than three items you want to change to help you toward the end result of your decision. In particular, look for areas that will require you to step outside of your comfort zone and that will require some work. If you have more than three, you may become overwhelmed by the list and settle back in to old routines. If three is too much, just do one at a time. If you choose more than one thing at a time, try to make them related as much as you can.

Under each of the to-do items, write down one thing you can do each day to take action to change. Again, the key is in taking action. Action is also the scariest part of the whole process because it requires stepping out to that scary place on the edge of our comfort zone and deciding to move further into it.

Brenda’s list might look something like this:

I have decided that I will no longer be unhappy and unhealthy because life is too short to just survive.

 To Do:

  1. Find a new job
    1. Update resume and apply for one job per week
  2. Get in better shape
    1. Take a 30-minute walk after work every day.
  3. Get more sleep at night.
    1. Go to bed by 10:00 every night.

The most important element about a written list is that it’s like having a recipe as you create your change. Keep in mind that the list is not carved in stone. As you begin to work through your list, you’ll find that you may have more clarity about your decision or what brought you to it in the first place. It may also turn out that there is something else in your life that is making you unhappy that is different than what you originally thought. Maybe it’s not the job after all, maybe it’s just a strained relationship with the boss or coworker. Perhaps just a discussion with him or her about how you feel might resolve the situation. The key to discovery is being open to what you find along your journey and to be honest with yourself and those around you. 

3. Take Action

Everything is set in motion when you start to take action. If you’ve written down your decision and to do list, you’ve already taken action, so keep it going! Action is what will make or break your decision to change.

My motto when working toward a goal is “forward movement every day.” This means that I am going to do somethingevery day toward my goal. For example, if I have a goal of finding a new job, I’m going to make a task to check job postings every day. If I don’t check job postings, or if nothing shows up, I’ll research other places for finding jobs. Maybe even look for a career fair or a networking event. If none of those are possible, then I might instead take a moment to learn something new or improve a skill that might help me in the future. The point is that I’m taking action toward my goal every day. Making excuses for not doing it today, or telling myself that I’ll do it after watching Netflix, is not action.

In Brenda’s example, one of her to-do items was to update her resume and apply for one job per week. Even though she might not find the job of her dreams every week, she applied for it because that’s the commitment she made to herself. Maybe the hours were better, but the pay was less and she decided that it might be an acceptable tradeoff. After all, if she isn’t working every evening and on weekends, so she will have more time to reconnect with her friends and family or even work on that consulting business she wanted to start. Even if she applied, interviewed and is ultimately offered a job, she’s not required to take it. People turn down jobs every day, but at least there is a choice that wasn’t there before. If nothing else, it’s great practice at interviewing and it will strengthen her interview skills for the dream job that may be just around the corner.

4. Monitor and Revise Your List

Put the list somewhere you will see it every day. Smart phone apps for taking notes are an ideal tool for this. You can also tape it to your refrigerator, your bedroom door, or your bathroom mirror. The point is that you need to look at your list at least once every day. Review your decision. Say it out loud if that helps. Whenever you are in the situation that you’ve decided to change, remember your decision.

Using Brenda’s as an example, she was committed to the process and worked through her list almost every day. However, life happens and she didn’t have action every single day. Some days at work were harder than others. Wind and rain kept her from her walk a few times. If she didn’t take action, she forgave herself and promised herself that tomorrow as another day. After she revised her resume, she decided that she could probably apply for at least two jobs a week in her field. She revised her list and set a new goal to apply for two jobs instead of just one. She also found that after only a couple of weeks the habit of taking a walk after work was fully developed and she didn’t need to refer to her list as a reminder. When she got home from work, she changed clothes and went out for her walk out of habit. It even started to become something she looked forward to each day. She also noticed that she had lost a couple of pounds and she was starting to make different decisions about her eating habits. She decided that since the walks were working, she was going to revise that item on her list. She replaced the daily walk with a task of eating a lighter lunch every day.

The list should evolve as you make progress toward making your decision a reality. If something on your list doesn’t work, try something else. It doesn’t mean that you have failed. You may have realized that you need to take smaller steps at first. You don’t jump to the top of a ladder, you climb up one rung at a time. It’s the same thing with taking action.

5. Hold Yourself Accountable (But Don’t Beat Yourself Up)

This may be a new way of making change, so don’t get upset with yourself if you lose sight of your decision in the beginning. It doesn’t mean that you will never achieve it, it just means that you need to work on your focus. Remember that the easiest way forward is to continue on the same path. It’s known and it’s predictable. Making changes is difficult and is very often surrounded by fear. It’s tempting – and perfectly natural – to think that you may have made the wrong decision.

If you look at the list every day and fail to take action on your action items, nothing will change. As you start to take action, you may find that you are overwhelmed by fear or doubt. If that’s the case, maybe start with a smaller goal first. This is especially true if you have had a long period of not taking action. Change can be hard, even for people who are used to it. It doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you or that you don’t deserve to change your situation. Commit to yourself that you’re going to make the change. Repeat as many times as you need until you are doing it. Once you begin, it gets much easier.

In Brenda’s example, she began to apply for two jobs per week. She had an interview here and there. Her daily walking habit was now established, rain or shine, and she started having a salad for lunch instead of fast food. However, she struggled with the bedtime. She found that she stayed up until 10:30 or later every night, even though she had an action plan for herself to go to bed by 10:00. She tried hard to meet that goal, but it didn’t work. She thought about revising her bedtime to 10:30 since she couldn’t get everything done before bedtime. It seemed like a good solution, and she tried it for a week. However, she realized that she spent about 30 minutes every night watching TV in bed, which she really enjoyed and helped her unwind from her day. She decided to adjust the time back to 9:30 so she could have her 30 minutes of TV. She had to adjust other parts of her evening to accomplish this, but it began to become a habit as well.

If you are not taking action, be honest with yourself about why not. Is it just fear that’s stopping you, or something else? If it’s fear, what are you afraid of? Failure? Success? If it’s not fear, then what is it? It’s important to examine what might be causing you to not take action and go back to your list and make adjustments to take smaller steps if you need to. This might require some soul searching and feeling uncomfortable. Be honest with yourself, but don’t take the opportunity to criticize yourself.

Final Thought

I think change is like driving a car at night. When you’re on auto pilot and going through your day, it’s like driving your neighborhood with streetlights to help. The world around you is partially lit, but it’s still familiar and you could probably even get through your own neighborhood without using your headlights. However, when you decide to make a change, it’s like driving out into an unpopulated area. There are no streetlights, and the only thing you can see is what is lit by the headlights directly in front of you. It will probably require that you slow down and make some adjustments. The road might become narrow, or you might even find that you took a wrong turn and need to completely change course. The most important thing to do is pay attention and not get overwhelmed by fear of the unfamiliar territory. Your list is your map. Pull over and take a look at it if it seems like you’re lost.

Your behavior is also going to change because you’re working toward making your life better. As a result, people are going to notice that something is different about you. Hopefully you are blessed with understanding and supportive people around you, but sometimes people can be threatened by this change. If you are suddenly happy and moving ahead in your life, some may worry that there is no place in your life for them. Sometimes changes in attitude require changes in your surroundings. This can sometimes lead to the need to reconsider how you spend your free time. For example, Brenda used to spend her lunch break complaining about her boss with some of her coworkers. However, she found that it only brought her down and reminded her of everything that was wrong in her job. She felt drained by her break instead of recharged. She tried to help her coworkers by talking about positive parts of their workplace, even though it was sometimes hard to find. Eventually, she was faced with the difficult decision of leaving these behaviors behind, and, in some way, abandoning people who are stuck where they are. She chose to take her lunch break at a different time and listen to music while she ate lunch.

Remember that you cannot change other people, but you are free to change your perspective. You can invite others to come along with you, but sometimes people aren’t ready for change. There’s nothing wrong with that, everyone finds the desire to change in their own time.

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