'By changing nothing, nothing changes... '(Tony Robbins)
I really like this quote- it is so simple and obvious- yet so accurate. It is something we all probably know in our hearts is the truth, yet we commonly spend more time avoiding this truth than living by it. The fact is; that we must action our way out of problems, and that change produces change!
Obvious as it may be; spend a second or so reflecting on it and then ask yourselves if you can honestly say that you adhere to this simple formula.
Find below a few scenarios just to give you a few different contexts that you may well have come across that suggests otherwise…
Ø The depressive and negative person that keeps complaining…’my job is so boring’ ‘I’m so overweight’ ‘everyone else is having a better time’. Yet when you, as their good friend, point out that they could change jobs, try a new sport, engage in a hobby etc - all you get is their resistance and their excuses.
Ø The addict who is not only in denial about their using to their friends and family, but also manages to fool him/herself a lot of the time while entertaining excuses such as ' well I can only quit if my partner was more supportive..' ' no way is this a good month to quit drinking - its Christmas for goodness sakes' 'yes but if I stopped that would mean not being able to go to bars with my best friends and clearly that would be bad for my mood'
Ø The perpetual procrastinator who keeps saying they are going to do x,y, z and even enthusiastically believe it will happen. But every time they sit down to do it - distractions are sought out or there just so happens to be more pressing things coming up in between. Week.. after month …after year go past and rather than acknowledging the blatant facts; that the time will never COME to them- the excuses keep raining in and status quo is achieved at the cost of no progression.
For those of you who feel like I am stating the obvious, the point I am trying to make is this;
Often, we know very well that doing something in a situation would be the best for us long term, but we simply cannot mobilise ourselves to do it. One of the troubles in life is that we cannot always rely on our motivation, or our feelings in general, to give us the prompt we may need to make positive changes in our lives. Sometimes we have to commit to make them anyway! Needless to say- that is a lot harder. As a Psychologists these are questions you are often presented with from clients who have sought you out because they really do wish to change….
‘why do things never change for me’
‘why is this relationship still not living up to my expectations’
‘this job is still not filling my needs – only everyone else keeps getting promoted’
‘why do I continue to lose when I gamble- surely at some point the luck should turn’
‘I cannot believe I have not seen any results even if I keep going on diets’
Let us handle them all collectively- because they are all connecting back to the same thing.
The common denominator is that the person is not changing anything themselves on a behavioural level. They are either waiting for a situation to change; so that emotional change can be achieved, or they are waiting for their ‘emotional winds’ to turn in their favour so that they can then act themselves out of their situation. The trouble with this attitude is that you are leaving the control over your life and your changes to external sources. When we fail to see your own involvement in our own problems, regardless of how unfair it might feel for us to have them, we end up relinquishing our power over changing a situation to someone/something else. This will typically generate even more negative feelings and a sense of having no control. This vicious cycle can just keep spinning. Less control------ less confidence things can change- demotivated--- less action…- repeat.
As time progresses and things continue not to change, we also end up losing trust and faith in ourselves – making it even less likely that we will get ourselves together to do something about a problem.
Habit can also be partially to blame in these situations, as we may get so used to executing things in a particular fashion that we fail to see that if we changed something in the way that we approach the situation – we would actually be getting a different outcome.
The trouble of indecision
If you have a problem, do recognise that you need to look at that problem with no filters of illusion, without telling yourself lies, without denying bits of the reality and also recognising where the thoughts starts to lead us astray ad keep us stuck in thinking mode. When all we do is great thinking without acting – you will find that nothing actually changes. We have to ACT when we have a problem. Actual changes in behaviours is the way to progress when we have problems. There are a number of situations where you see people ending up stuck during their recoveries- be it from addictions, anxiety disorders, relationship breakdowns or depression. Another common one is indecision. During a state of indecision we might obsess about the ‘right’ course of action, often with an assumption that there is only ONE PERFECT way forward. Instead of moving forward and taking action in any way at all – these situations can bring people into a state of stuck-ness that only appears to get worse as time passes by. This is another example of when action is the only thing that will help
But why is it so hard?
And why do we sometimes do almost anything to avoid taking constructive action when faced with a situation?
At least part of the reason is that it is hard to be real and truthful with ourselves. Hard to be honest and to own our problems. It requires the sufferer to have enough emotional maturity to take personal responsibility for a problem and identify the steps involved with making those changes. It also involves finally making those changes even if short term this often involves the increased discomfort and uncertainty involved with leaving the comfort zone. It is always easier to hold someone else or an external force responsible for our ‘stuckness’ and a lot of comfort can also be derived from not having to make the effort to change anything in ourselves.
So how do we break out of this pattern?
Here are 3 helpful questions to ask yourself so that you can begin to identify the CHANGE that you can do for yourself that will produce a different outcome:
# Am I believing I can cherry pick which part of REALITY I look at- and be in denial about the rest? (Am I actually weighing in all the parts of the current story and focusing on what is rather than what should be…?)
If I was presented with a description of my situation as if it was not my own; what possible SOLUTIONS would I see for the problem? Let’s put this into some context. If for example you are trying to lose some weight. Every week you get ready on the Sunday with a fresh batch of costly diet drinks that you bought while thinking ‘if I pay this much at least I have no choice but to commit myself once and for all’. A few weeks later you identify a particular pattern; that you stick with the drinks properly for 1-3 days but without fail by the end of the week there are binges and ‘cheating’ behaviour going on. You tell yourself that it will work ‘if only..’ you do it properly next week. Because for the days when it works – it actually worked well and felt good. It’s just that you keep falling off the wagon all the time. So..your thinking goes; if you stop falling off the wagon and just stick with it – then naturally and logically it should work- right?
Can you see what is wrong with this reasoning?
Let’s apply some sound logic to the situation for a minute. Even if it is indeed reasonable to believe that you should be able to keep the diet going for longer the point you are ignoring is this; that reality has proven itself to be different to that. Turn the situation around and ask yourself -how many times do you need to try the same scenario and fall at the same hurdle before you accept that you are not able to sustain the diet?
The solution here is to carefully monitor and simultaneously accept what reality is showing you is the most likely outcome. This in for you to figure out what to change in your strategy of how you approach the situation. The only reason you would continue going with the same old approach is by allowing yourself to be fooled by the illusion that something works – because you saw it work short term. You can apply this to gambling, to bad relationships, a terrible work situation or to alcoholism or whatever other area that applies to you and you might be able to find what denial you are engaging in while you are still trying to get the same strategy to yield a different outcome. .
# Are you looking for a solution to your problem or are you fixated on the obstacles in order to excuse yourself from changing? One of the things that my clients frequently do is trying to focus on why they need to stay in the comfort zone rather than having to be pro-active and change something. This is understandable. Even the most painful day-to-day situations can become ‘the comfort we know’ which often is preferred to making changes that would be potentially uncomfortable short-term; even when the long-term is clearly going to allow for a better solution. Common examples of this would be in individuals in toxic relationships who keep hoping that their partner will change and is arguing with reality about whether or not their partner is actually going to ever take those steps to change. In these situations, the logical thing to do is of course to accept the partner for who he/she is; even if that person is NOT who you actually would like them to be. And when you see them clearly – you make a decision as to whether you can ever be comfortable with who they actually are. Rather than spending all your time wishing, hoping and living in a delusional expectation that they will change. Apply this type of reasoning to an addiction; and you will see a very similar series of events unfolding. Someone who might be desperate to give up on their behaviour (be it drinking, gambling, porn watching etc) but rather than actually agreeing with the behavioural steps necessary to achieve change, they are coming up with ideas for how they might be able to get around the traditional route of recovery and somehow fast-track themselves into recovered status without taking the actual steps to get there.
#Am I worrying myself into paralysis instead of taking actual steps to resolve a situation? One of the great things about being human is that we are able to think and reflect about stuff. We can consider our actions both before and after we take them and of course with this learn from experience. It may be of interest to hear that Rats is one of the few animals that apparently has this ability too! This is fundamentally a great feature, and one that was once necessary on a daily basis for our survival. In the present society it would be fair to say that our thoughts easily go into some overdrive. Not only might we end up spending far too much energy and time overthinking an action before we take it, but we also have the time on our hands to sit around and break down and overanalyse it after. Something that frequently leads to feelings of regret, shame and fear.
What we want to do is capitalise on our ability to think, without getting stuck in just thinking!
Worrying and rumination are two common thought patterns we easily get stuck in as human beings, and often without noticing we may end up wasting enormous amounts of energy, with no other payoff than feeling more justifiably stuck.
How can you check if you are ruminating/worrying or actually doing what we feel better doing- ie. Problem solving?
- Ask yourself if there is anything you can actually DO (constructively) about the thing you are worrying/ruminating about. This will naturally gear your thoughts towards an actual solution, or action point rather than enabling further overthinking from taking place.
- If you discovered that there was something that you can do, try and actually to it instead and/or plan for future action steps.
- If on the other hand there was nothing that you identified could be done about your worrying/rumination – topic ( e.g. this might be the case when you are struggling with a situation that has already occurred or battling with worries about a situation in the future over which you have no control) - then try and accept that your overthinking will do nothing for you except continue to keep you stuck in paralysis!
# What would happen if we only took action when we feel right and motivated to do so? Most of us are in positions where we don’t freely manage our schedule. Work, studies, family commitments etc are likely to assist in creating a certain structure for us. Since many of us are so used to having some kind of structure, we might not realise how critical that is for making us function even at times when we our feelings are working in our favour. Who would agree that not all days when the alarm clock rings does it feel great to leave the bed and start the day? Or what happens if we wait until after work in the evening to ‘check and see’ if it would be good to exercise that evening? If we await our motivation to peak before we take action, we will be in for a bumpy ride as far as productivity goes. Irrespective of external conditions, we can some weeks have great levels of motivation, feel deeply inspired and be very productive. All while experiencing a sense of ease and flow. Other days, however, those same tasks might feel like impossible chores and our motivation to do them just is not there no matter how much we try and inspire ourselves. It is in those cases we must recognise that taking action, even if it is minor action- is the best thing we can do for ourselves. Mark Manson- an American blogger and the author of the book ‘the Subtle art of not giving a f**’ talks about the idea of ‘just doing something’ in situations where motivation is particularly low. I like this. Sometimes just doing something is all we need to do to get ourselves going. When you start you overcome a hurdle and push through some of your often ‘built up’ dread and reluctance, before you know it those action steps have actually contributed to more motivation. Try it!