I think about change for a living.
Psychotherapy is an interpersonal process meant to help people achieve personal goals. It’s a form of reflective conversation. Clients talk; I ask questions, make observations, teach them models that describe their experience. Our sessions remind them they are not alone in their private pain or struggle, and that some real things can be done about it.
It’s an assumption in my field that people can’t change until they are ready. Until, (in my theory of change), they feel enough pain that they are ready to move away from the familiar and attempt something different.
That’s why most New Year’s Resolutions fail. Most of us who make these promises haven’t really reached that critical change place of too much pain. Those who do, who have prepared themselves with reflection, remorse, planning, and hopefulness may be successful. They will be the ones who used the calendar to prepare themselves for the new behavior, thinking and emotion that change requires.
The rest of us will fizzle out in a day, a week, a month. Frustrated, chagrined, shrugging off another attempt at New Year resolutions without much thought.
If you are interested, like I am, in how human beings change, I recommend a book to you: Changing for Good, by James Prochaska. Prochaska has studied how people change themselves, such as quitting smoking or drinking cold turkey. He has found a common change process that we can duplicate when we are seriously interested in making changes
in ourselves, or helping others do that for themselves.
As for me, I have personal goals, but I try not to link them to the calendar. I try to pay attention to the level of distress I feel before I attempt change, knowing that I will probably fail if I keep sliding into acceptance or denial. There is a level of comfort in ourselves that keeps us stuck. Turn up the heat a bit, and we will feel the interior pressure more vividly, making us more willing to create change.
Best wishes to you for turning up your internal “heat” as you look to 2010. What kind of change are you pushing yourself toward this year?