Most of us grow up exposed to the habits and beliefs of our families of origin. We learn from them the way to do things and the way to think about and see things. Most of our beliefs come directly from them. It is common to adopt those beliefs or rebel and do the opposite of what we were taught. Neither is the best approach to life. Most of us grow up limited in our exposure to the variety of options available to us. My experience with clients and people entering a recovery process is the common view of seeing things in black and white.
Black and white and all or nothing thinking can cause people problems and inhibit their ability to solve problems and succeed in life. Many of us go through life unaware of how limited we are by our inability to recognize all the choices we have and choices we never consider as options. We have the beliefs we learn as children and carry with us into adulthood. Many of those beliefs do not apply to our adult lives. We have many choices for how we interpret the world around us. Keep this in mind. Many things mean many different things to many different people.
Most people tend to do what they are in the habit of doing and what is most comfortable for them. If we have not be raised in an environment of exploration and being open to new ideas it is difficult to go out of our comfort zone. We have to learn to think outside the box and explore all possible option in order to make better decisions and have a more fulfilling life. It is important to avoid black and white thinking and be able to see all the shades of grey.
I have been working in the mental health/addictions/human sexuality for field for over 20 years. I have counseled hundreds of individuals and couples, as well as facilitated hundreds of groups. For nearly 10 years prior to this I was in my own process of learning, growing, and overcoming many years of depression and low self-esteem. I worked with counselors, attended 12 step and support groups, kept a journal, and read many self-help books. Am I cured or immune from all my old thinking, beliefs, and behaviors? No I am not. Am I much better at maintaining a more positive and realistic frame of mind? I certainly am.
During the past couple of years I have posted many helpful ways of looking at life and managing feelings and the events we encounter. I hope this information has helped the thousands of people who have viewed my blog. But, offering this information and making suggestions is much easier that applying these things to my own life. I do a pretty good job for the most part maintaining balance in my life and my emotions. Am I able to apply these each and every day to each and every hurdle I encounter? The truth is that sometimes it isn’t so easy to reach into my bag of tricks and I experience the anxiety, anger, and depression that we all do. I don’t always remember the things I know. I have human experiences just like everyone else.
One way I benefit from all the work I’ve done on myself is that any emotional upheaval I experience is not as deep or long lasting as it once was. It is much easier to find my center once again. The things I suggest in my blog as well as ways to see the world which make it easier to manage are things I apply in my own life. Many people I know and many of my clients use what they have learned working with me. I have seen amazing changes in my life and in the lives of many others over the years. It took applying what we have learned consistently and being persistent. If you have the desire to improve and change your life you can. It takes time to change.
It is important to understand that our perception of reality becomes our reality. In many cases our perceptions have become distorted based on beliefs we developed early in life. Therefore, just because we perceive something to be true it might not be the case. Using the example of a person who is bitten by a dog; some people develop a fear of all dogs. Most dogs are not likely to bite us and we approach all dogs with the same fear. The fact is that only a small percentage of dog bite people so fearing all dogs is a perception not based in the truth.
Avoid thinking in absolutes or all or nothing. The concepts of always and never are invariably the result of faulty and distorted thinking. Also, it is not helpful to think that you should have done “this” or shouldn’t have done “that.” Regrets for previous actions are not helpful in improving mood and moving forward in our lives.
Identify the thoughts or beliefs that are faulty, erroneous, or self-destructive. Find alternative thoughts and beliefs. The next step I call “catch and correct.” Every time you “catch” yourself engaged in faulty thinking replace that thought with one that is more helpful. That way you are “correcting” your old patterns of thinking. This requires increased awareness of your thoughts and vigilance. It also required you to be persistent in your effort. This process will take time in order to change old automatic thinking to a new way of thinking. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of keeping a journal to record your thoughts and feelings. This strategy works for depression, anxiety, other fears, and self-esteem issues.
Most of all be gentle and kind toward yourself. No one does it perfectly and neither will you.
If you only read self-help books or articles by many pop-psychologists, you would likely believe that changing how you think, feel, and behave is a relatively easy process once you decide to do so. Many people write in such a way that leads you to believe it should be as easy as deciding to change and instant change occurs. Deciding to change is only the first of many steps toward the attainment of lasting and permanent change. It will require a commitment of your time and effort to reach your desired goal.
The first thing you must understand is that most of your thoughts and behaviors are not done in a conscious manner. They are mostly automatic and are habits you have developed over time. We all have a set of beliefs that determine how we see things and, therefore, determine what we think and what we do. This ultimately determines how we feel. In making the changes that will ultimately improve our mood, self-esteem, and our lives we are changing habits. Habits take time and effort to change.
We all have this conversation going on in our heads (self talk) that determines our reactions to events. I suggest that you start a journal and write about how you experience life. This will help you to identify faulty or distorted thinking that negatively affects your life. The next step is to explore alternative thoughts and behaviors to replace those that do not work. Having someone to share your thoughts and feelings with as well as exploring alternatives is extremely helpful. The support and encouragement from a trusted relative, friend, or counselor increases the likelihood of a successful outcome.
I will continue to discuss the process for change in my next post.
Change will happen with or without you. The only constant in life is change. If you fight or resist it, you will only become anxious, angry, and depressed. It is important to accept change and even welcome it.
One of my wife’s favorite tv shows is the “Biggest Loser” and I watch it when I can. If you are not familiar with the show I will give you a brief overview:
The contestants are all morbidly obese and range in age from late teens to sixties. They are divided between two personal trainers and spend most days in the gym working out extremely hard. They learn how to eat in a healthy way and live a healthy lifestyle. A contestant is eliminated each week until the finale. The is when the Biggest Loser is decided. The contestant with the highest percentage of weight loss is the biggest loser and wins the grand prize.
The contestants go through an incredible physical transformation as they lose the weight. Some have lost over half of their body weight by the finale. Another even more remarkable thing takes place. In order to make the commitment to work as hard as it takes to compete, many of the contestants work through the emotional issues that contributed to low self-esteem as well as the obesity. The life issues they face vary. But the result of working through the issues and taking off the weight changes them on the inside as well. You can actually see the internal changes take hold (better self-esteem, more content, a positive outlook on life).
They face all types of challenges and find they can overcome them. In going through the personal transformation that you want to achieve, it has to include your mind and body. You cant’t really be healthy emotionally if you are not working to improve yourself physically. People who feel good about themselves tend to take better care of themselves. The mind and body are connected. As you work on overcoming your issues you should work on making your body healthier as well.
One question I am asked on a pretty regular basis is whether it is possible to change things about ourselves. The answer is “Yes” we are capable of changing how we act, think, and feel. Much of what we do and think are the ways we learned to and these have become habits. The next question is normally is: How do I do that?
The first step is to identify what it is you want to change. What behavior or way of acting causes you problems? What way of thinking do you wish to change? You need to start by increasing your awareness in order to start changing. You will also need to find out what you will replace those thoughts or behaviors.
The next step I call catch and correct. Every time you catch yourself thinking or doing what you want to change, you correct your behavior or thinking to what you would rather it be. This takes vigilance and persistence. It takes time to break habits and establish new ones. It will take time.
Some counselors make it seem so easy. These are simple steps. But changing isn’t so simple and easy. Give yourself time and be gentle with yourself. You can do it!!!!!