Though I started seeing a counselor or therapist in 2010 I feel like I’m just starting to get my act together. I have read so many self-help books and learned about so many techniques it could make your head swim. Really, I love them and I am making small changes to improve my life. And while it makes me feel better to understand what I am going through I feel like I haven’t made the big changes I need to make. Yet.
Intellectually I understand what I am going through, how I process information, and how my old beliefs continue to guide my decisions and behavior. What I don’t understand, or what I can’t seem to change, is how I can replace my old habits and beliefs with more helpful ones. Or at least how to stop doing the same old things.
In many ways I feel confident and have a high self-esteem, but I suffer from low self esteem and confidence in many situations. As a people pleaser I get my esteem from others and am only confident when I am successful at maintaining a low conflict environment. Because this is impossible, I feel like I have failed most of the time. So with my family and friends, in my social life, I struggle with self-esteem. But when I’m all alone in my head I feel confident and secure. So weird.
So that juxtaposition sets up a conflict between my intellectual and physical selves where I can’t behave in the ways that I want to. And aren’t we ‘set up’ to do this? To understand that we need to change but then to be unable to do so? Is this a tenant of self-help that guarantees repeat customers? Is this why you can read the same stuff in so many different places? Is it all a scam?
Of course I don’t think it’s a scam, but I think helping people execute the tenets of personal growth is the challenge we need to meet. More often we read about WHAT to do and not so much the HOW. And the HOW requires ACTION.
For myself, I have spent seven years thinking about stuff more than acting on it. I have changed a lot of behaviors including working out more, journaling, and being mindful but It takes a lot more effort (and a lot of time) to replace the old beliefs.
Therein lies the real challenge. To truly change I, we, need to replace the old outdated beliefs with new ones. That means we need to reinforce the new beliefs by thinking, acting, and REPEATING such that we build a database of enough information to challenge the pile of data supporting the old belief. Think about it, even though we may have been wrong we have been collecting data through life experience that supposedly supports old ideas about how the world should work. Whether the evidence really supported them or not, we chose to find support and thus reinforced a belief and made it stronger. That’s a huge pile of undoing right there.
And it’s unfair to lie to ourselves and decide that an old habit was beneficial when it really wasn’t. Sure, we may not have understood so at the time, but it’s hard to undo! Just because I now understand that trying to make people feel good is not the reason people like me, I spent nearly 40 years telling myself that was true and piecing together cause and effect in all aspects of my life. Now that I challenge that and say, I don’t have to behave in such a way that I think it will please people, I’m sort of naked and vulnerable and ignorant about how to behave.
So, yeah, it isn’t about trying to create enough evidence to challenge the piles of data generated from our lives, it is about getting to the source. And what is that, exactly? Can we instead discover the ‘real’ issue, deal with it, and have everything else fall into place? We surely are told that, and I believe it, but don’t exactly know what it looks like.
From what I can tell it boils down to mindfulness. Perhaps in maintaining a state of beginners mind we ignore the old beliefs and create room to build new ones. But the added challenge is that our old beliefs continually try to reinsert themselves into the game. They are a strong force with a high degree of self-preservation. For some reason. The beliefs don’t know they’re alive – how can they desire to live on?
For myself, I feel like I have automatic thoughts and behaviors related to my old beliefs that immediately insert themselves and thus perpetuate. I don’t always have time to be aware of what’s happening before it’s too late. In this manner the old beliefs perpetuate.
So, yeah, mindful efforts to be aware of those exchanges could possibly be the most likely mechanism of change. In meditation you learn to be aware of thoughts and to let them go. I think that’s exactly what needs to happen here. I need to be aware that I will have automatic thoughts constantly throughout the day that will perpetuate my old habits, beliefs, and feelings. In order to change the way I feel or act I need to intercept these thoughts and do something with them. Maybe let them go, maybe rethink them, maybe challenge them. But if I don’t catch them the autopilot mode will continue.
Is it that easy? Well, given how hard it is to maintain awareness of my thoughts it’s truly hard, but is will that simple effort and technique be effective?