Preparing for Change
Human beings are complex. Many times we want things, but are not aware of the implications of getting them. As a professional counselor working with often tough to treat issues like addiction, mood problems and other chronic health conditions, we are aware that the changes that people want to have happen tend to involve making a variety of changes for which they may have not bargained. This can be off-putting and frightening for people as they embark on the process of change – an opening of Pandora’s Box. If changes are not contemplated and understood goals are likely to be abandoned, only to leave the person feeling disempowered, stuck and negative-minded, making things worse.
The first step in making any change is to contemplate the desired change and to determine why the change is needed or wanted, to sift through expectations and ideas about the impact of the change, and to determine what will be needed to succeed. Planning is often missing when change goes awry. We see this often with diets, exercise and new interests. This can happen in counseling too; if the process is not discussed up front with time spent fostering willingness and motivation to move through the process. It is normal that we want and need to have a general idea of how a process will go and what to expect.
Inner vs External Motivation: The Importance of Knowing the Difference
Motivation is the inner power that pushes us toward taking action and toward achievements, whether they are personal; or professional. Motivation is powered by desire and ambition, and therefore, if they are absent, motivation is absent too.
Our past experiences, moods, distorted perceptions and negative self-concepts can get in the way of our ability to ignite motivation and to move forward. We are often blind to our fears and they continue to dictate our lives and the possibilities that we see for ourselves. We need to be aware of these internal dynamics as they will affect our ability to complete what we set out to do – they are “de-motivators” and can take the “push” out of motivation. When we don’t address them they gain immense power and bring about much misery. They create fear and dependency on external conditions prompting us to be more externally motivated and lose touch with our inner sense of what is right for us – impairing the compass that guides us through life.
Fostering inner motivation requires us to sort through what is important to us – to understand our values and to develop the willingness to accept the reality of what is actually happening in our lives. This means to be able to identify the pros and cons of the behaviors we choose and how they affect us, others and the long-term. When we get clear we start to develop a more mature relationship between need vs. want. We start to want what we need! This is inner motivation – making non-mood dependent decisions – creating the conditions for change inside vs. waiting for specific conditions on the outside.
Necessary Ingredients to Ignite and Sustain Motivation
- Lack of behavioral control and self-discipline. Self-discipline means deliberately aligning our energy and focus with our values and priorities. Through mental practice we focus in on a task before us and let other temptations and distractions pass us by. Self-discipline requires that we endure frustration, disappointment, and pain in the service of a higher goal. This means that we need to be willing to be uncomfortable in the interest of growing and moving forward. At times we need to push ourselves to the limits of our will and endurance if that is what is needed to reach our goals.
- Resilience and positive-self talk. Psychological resilience is an individual’s tendency to cope with stress and adversity. It is our ability to “bounce back” to a previous state of normal functioning, or simply not showing negative effects. Essentially, set backs are dealt with, processed, learned from and then the person moves onward. Learning a lifestyle of coping is a key life skill to be learned. When we are effective at coping, set backs are not viewed as crisis or deterrents and we can continue to stay on course.
Being our own cheerleader is of key importance in developing resiliency, it includes being aware of negative messages we send to ourselves and replacing them with an encouraging and compassionate inner dialogue. If we get quiet and listen deeply we can identify how we really talk with and motivate ourselves. This dialogue is what is running our lives.
- Positive conditions and supports. None of us does anything alone – really. Think about it. Most of our efforts involve others in one way or another. For instance, when a person has been in rehab and gets sober for the first time, the conditions of their relationships and home environment will affect their success in staying sober over the long-term. Or, the diabetic who needs to make lifestyle changes involving food, eating and exercise will be affected by the spouse or parents which impact the development of habits and routines or there will be life-threatening consequences.
Thinking through the conditions which will impact our ability to succeed in making the changes we want and need to make is necessary in order to plan for outcomes. Yields little results are affected by others – That’s how we are built. Sometimes our goals need to be discussed with the people in our lives – not asking permission but to inform and to request support. If support cannot be attained then other strategies or decisions may need to be made.
Changing Behavior – A Little at a Time
All behavior is purposeful – meaning that we are always trying to accomplish something with the behaviors that we are implementing whether we are aware of it or not. Sometimes in order to become more aware of the purpose of our behavior we need to first implement a change in our behavior. This is counter to what we are taught in that we need to change inside first – that takes longer and yields few “quick wins” which tend to keep us motivated.
Behavior shaping involves breaking things down – targeting desired behavior and all the smaller behaviors which add up to the target, then implementing change around the smaller behaviors to disempower the larger unproductive behavior. None of us can take on a change, for instance diet in one fell swoop. Eating healthier and losing weight involves becoming more educated about health, food, and long-term impact of choices. Education cannot be rushed – it needs to be developed and thought through in order to set the foreground for meaningful change. One’s behavior, moods and habits need to be identified and understood in order to move forward. If not, the process becomes confusing, frustrating and unstructured with no positive return.
Healthy lasting behavior takes time and understanding in order to fully integrate new changes as habits vs. initial adaptations. Behavior shaping is like sculpting – you keep chipping away until you have the end result that may look unique to you, but it also works for you given who and how you are. That’s one of the beauties of behavior shaping is that it is customized – allowing for long-term effectiveness and manageability.