On Making Change Happen [version 2.0]
Awareness, Acceptance, Action
Version 2.0 of this post, as been published on the site Fabulous Mondays — thank you Maria Stenvinkel for all your support...
Let’s face it, change is tough.
It’s uncomfortable, inconvenient and just an all-around pain in the ass. No matter the magnitude of the change to be made, it never seems to get much easier.
I stayed at a job I hated, in an environment that I despised, for nearly 12 years. It took all that time, all that misery and stress, before I finally realized that I was not the victim, I was the architect — and as long as I kept making the same choices, nothing would ever change.
Eventually, I left that job. I finally managed to alter my mindset and start making different choices. It was not easy. I was plagued with fear, self-doubt, and insecurity. Panic attacks were frequent.
What ultimately helped me change was a process introduced to me by a mentor: awareness, acceptance, and action. I’ve applied this sequence to everything from major life changes like quitting my job, to smaller lifestyle shifts such as losing weight and altering my sleep schedule. While each struggle is different, the process for resolving each is exactly the same.
Here’s how it works:
When faced with circumstances or a problem I wish to change, I need to first be aware that there is an issue which can or must be changed. I need to admit to myself that I am struggling and then work to see my part in the situation.
My former job is a perfect example. I complained, resented and whined through 12 years of circumstances I could have changed at any time. What kept me there was a combination of fear and denial; it was just too hard for me to look at things honestly. I blamed my employer for my misery, blind to the fact that it was up to me make a difference.
It’s not easy to admit defeat or acknowledge accountability for a difficult situation; it takes honesty and courage and sometimes a long bout of suffering before anything changes. But the day finally came when I was able to change my perspective, to admit that I had been acting terribly, and not taking responsibility for my own actions and behavior. That was the day my momentum changed and I started moving forward.
Practicing acceptance might seem like the easy part, yet I find this step to be the most difficult of all. It’s very easy to tell myself that I have accepted something, but saying I accept something doesn’t make it true. Words are meaningless if nothing is backing them up.
When I was still working at that old job, I spent plenty of time believing I was in the acceptance phase because I had already taken the step of recognizing my part in the problem. In reality, I was shaming myself about the years I had already spent staying put, and beating myself up for remaining someplace that brought me such unhappiness.
You see, if I claim to accept something, but I spend my time blaming and shaming myself, then I’m demonstrating that I don’t believe anything will ever change and that there’s nothing to be done. This is a clear sign that I am not in acceptance.
The key is recognizing the consequences of my choices and make the best of them instead of fighting them. If I truly accept something, then I can clearly see the choices I have made and I have faith that there are different choices I can make in the future. I can be comfortable where I am in the process because I believe in my heart there is a better way and that I will get there when I’m ready.
This place of acceptance is tricky because it involves being comfortable with the uncomfortable. While at my job I had to learn to embrace the discomfort of showing up on a daily basis, but once I did then it became so much easier. My days became more relaxed and happier because I wasn’t so consumed with the stress. I was free once I accepted the situation exactly as it was because it meant that I knew something else was possible.
In terms of making a change on a smaller scale to something like a bad habit, a handy trick I’ve found is embrace the discomfort even further and overindulge in the behavior involved. For instance, if I’m struggling to eat better, I then make a point of eating as badly as possible.
Sounds crazy right?
Let me explain. It’s really just another way of demonstrating belief that things can and will change. If I believe that in the future I can make healthy food choices then I might as well go ahead and eat way too much of the most delicious junk foods while I still can.
There really is too much of a good thing and not only will the payoff get smaller and smaller every time, it will also get boring. Eventually, the joy I get from indulging myself will become diminished to the point where it no longer justifies the discomfort of eating food that most likely makes me feel tired, slow and like my jeans are too tight. Once that happens, I will naturally become ready and willing to behave differently.
Acceptance is demonstrated by action so it’s pretty easy to recognize this stage, it begins the moment I start making better choices and taking action. This phase is the sweet spot of the process and once I am in it, then I am well on my way to real change.
At this point, I’ve had time to get comfortable with exactly where I am, I’ve let go of shame and judgment, and I recognize that anything I do or don’t do, is entirely up to me. If I still find myself blaming and shaming then that means I have more work to do in the acceptance department, even if I’m starting to make act differently.
When I am able to stop pressuring and judging myself, I basically create the perfect breeding ground for activity. I naturally begin taking actions in support of my goals and change. I quit the job, eat better, move more; I do the things which express the experience of becoming aware and practicing acceptance.
The action part of this process can go on indefinitely; generally, for however long it takes me to feel satisfied and accomplished. It can absolutely turn into a total lifestyle change if that’s what I want, the choice is up to me.
Allowing the Process to Work
These three steps are simple, but they are not necessarily easy. Making change happen can be some of the most difficult work, but it is never impossible.
I have found that by looking at a situation through the lens of this process, I am able to break anything down into manageable parts. I become less overwhelmed and gradually more at ease with myself and my circumstances; I become willing to open my hands and receive the next possible thing instead of clinging to the past.
Simply, I become capable of making change happen.
The old version can be found here if you're interested...