This has to be one of the hardest things to do ever. Why is it so hard?
I’m certainly not qualified to answer this question, but since I’m a 100+ blogger – hey, I’ll give anything a shot, right? My short answer is that I believe we get into bad emotional habits which are hard to recognize because they’ve become unconscious and ingrained. We get stuck because we have not developed new, healthier habits or new tools to replace them. You know the saying, “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Maybe that hammer has served us well for so many years, but at some point we may want, I don’t know, a wrench? We may also keep defending our ability to get by with that hammer until reality finally breaks through that wall of denial.
Some changes were so hard, and my denial so deep, I had to hit rock bottom to really make the change. Rock bottom produced an acute awareness of my raw feelings, the painful truth throbbing in my chest, and as a result, an acceptance of my new, unvarnished reality. “Need is the mother of invention”; when you realize you have to change, you will. The other good thing about rock bottom and change is that once you do it, it gets easier each time because you start to wonder what you were so afraid of.
If you haven’t hit rock bottom, perhaps you can avoid going there. Yes, be smarter than me! These strategies have helped me convert what I know (in my head) into what I believe (in my heart) to make a meaningful change. When our heart knows the truth, then we can make that change that our head has been lecturing us about.
Anticipate hitting rock bottom. Go there virtually and in great detail in your mind so you can feel it. Afraid of having a heart attack because of your lifestyle? Envision actually having a heart attack, from the physical pain of the event, to the feeling of being close to death, to actually dying and leaving behind your loved ones. Or maybe you survive but are severely disabled. Include in the consequences how you’ll feel in twenty years when you look back upon your decision to preserve the status quo, where you knowingly accepted this tragic and inevitable outcome.
Feel every bit of the pain. If you can do it without getting defensive or explaining, just listen to those who are impacted by your behavior. After a heart attack, how will it make them feel to be left behind or left with an invalid? What are the real world consequences? Excavate all the consequences – financial, emotional, personal, and professional. Don’t intellectualize, feel every bit of it.
Consider the consequences of making the change. This is the same envision exercise as the above, but envision actually making the change. Feel the satisfaction, the success, the health, the empowerment of taking charge of your life. Some of the consequences of making the change may be negative. What is the worst case scenario (be realistic here)? How does it compare to preserving the status quo? How will it feel when you look back in twenty years on this decision? Whenever I have needed to make a decision about a relationship, when I realized I was better off alone (worst case scenario) than staying in the relationship, then I knew it was time to go.
Do some soul-searching to discover your inner truth. Turn off the brain and search for answers with your heart. If you can’t turn off your brain, then you’re not exercising your inner wisdom/heart/right brain enough. When I shut off my thoughts, I can find clarity about my values, beliefs, and feelings, and then apply to the situation in a calm, logical manner. When I’m clear about my values, I usually decide that I would rather live with the worst case scenario of doing what I need to do, than living by values I can’t abide by.
Recognize what isn’t working and try something different. Accept that the hammer isn’t working, hasn’t worked, and won’t work. Brainstorm and think outside your usual box. What new tools can you use or find? You have many more than you think. It may take some research (why I love self-help books). You have to be calm and not-freaked-out to do this well (see above). For example, deciding I will stop arguing means that the other arguer will now have no one to argue with. Du-uh.
Get a fresh perspective or help from a wise friend to find a different point of view. Distance yourself emotionally during this exercise and imagine yourself on a balcony or as an impartial third person observing yourself and/or your life. What can you see when you look at your situation dispassionately? This strategy allows me to see how ridiculous my behavior can be, all justified by… who can remember?
Consider changing your story (Byron Katie). For every difficult thought you are feeling, flip it 180 degrees and find the truth in the resulting statement. For example, “Joe is mean to me.” Now say, “Joe is not mean to me,” “Joe is kind to me,” or “I am mean to Joe” and explore the truth of those statements. You may surprise yourself if you do this exercise with complete honesty. Recently, I was feeling unappreciated, and when I flipped it 180 degrees and examined where I actually was appreciated, I felt so much better. Our truth is relative, so we don’t necessarily have to keep believing what we’ve been thinking.
Convert a negative goal (I want to stop doing X) to a positive goal (I will start doing Y). Then go do it. And do it some more. For example, “I want to stop trying to control Joe,” to “I will focus on my own problems.”
Finally, remember that we often magnify the negative consequences of the unknown a la “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.” This may not be true. You might find an angel on the other side. Go find out. She may just give you a bunch of power tools.