Most people have something they want to change about themselves or the world around them. That's actually the easy part - seeing who you want to be in the future. We visualize a thinner person, more organized surroundings, or someone who regularly goes to bed at 10am just to wake up bright and early to hit the gym before heading off to work. In our mind's eye, it's so clear what change we want to make. And in fact, have the INTENTION to make.

Alas, the PROCESS of change is what we don't like. In November, it's easy to visualize what action we'll take in January. We visualize clearly laid out goals. But somewhere around December 28, the reality sets in that we actually have to implement that plan. Some of us do. Most of us, however, diminish the new actions somewhere around January 15, leaving a feeling of failure.

Change or Die

In fact, studies show that 90% of us won't change when we're given a life-altering ultimatum, including death. In his recent book, Change or Die, Alan Deutschman notes three traditional ways society as a whole tries to enforce change. His case studies range from hardened criminals who, if they don't change will end up in prison for life, to heart patients who are told they must change their lifestyle, or die. By force, fact, or fear we try to get ourselves, others, our jobs and our home lives to change, but ultimately, those tactics just don't work. So, what does?

Google "change my life" on the internet, and you'll get 28 million results from people claiming to help you change (including yours truly)! Most of the ads promise success and are eager to tell the secret method of a happily-ever-after life. But with the statistics at 90% that those changes ultimately WON'T stick, it makes you wonder if change is even possible.

Our most formative years are during early childhood. This is the time when our brains are working overtime connect our neural connections and building new pathways. Those pathways are what eventually become habits.

Habits are like smooth grooves made by slick tires driven down the same dirt road over and over for an extended period of time. At first, the road is just green pasture, in fact, not even a "road." But over time, no grass grows there anymore, and there are grooves where tires snuggly hug the dirt. Eventually, some grooves become deep troughs. And one unexpected day, your car gets stuck in one of those troughs of the dirt road. No backing up and no moving forward - that car's not moving without some new maneuvers. All there is to do is park yourself in the trough, planning your escape.

Neural Troughs

Your brain works just this way. The "neural pathways" we speak of is the "dirt road" you've now created from repeated use. When we travel the same way over and over and over, a new habit has been formed - something you do without even being conscious of it - and a new pathway is created that will take some creative finagling to get out of. The deep troughs are the "stuck" moments of our lives; those times when we have to call on someone else or something else, to help bail us out.

Once you're out of the ditch, consider what you'd think of you were told, "Don't drive down the same road. You have to take a different path because this one has become too dangerous, and you are likely to really mess things up if you continue on the same path." Looking around, all you see is green pasture. You say, "But, there's no road there." I would say, "Create one." Create a new road; create a new neural pathway.

Driving through fresh green pasture seems strange. You have to drive slower, and really think about how you're going to get to the SAME destination, yet drive a new path. 90% of us will end up back on the same dirt road, where the same deep trenches are, just hoping it doesn't overtake our car. We even use our defense systems to obstruct the current state of affairs from our minds, blocking out the true condition of the road. We deny the road is really as bad as it is, saying, "That was just a fluke the day we got stuck." We can intellectualize the state of affairs, thinking, "It's just silly to drive through such lush, green grass and take double the time doing it when there's a perfectly good (denial) road right here!"

The fact is, if we're going to get to the end result we see in our visualizations, we just can't take the same path. We can't drive down the same beat-up road that's going to get us stuck again. It's not the destination that we don't want - the end result - the change. It's the process of getting there we don't want to compromise on. It just doesn't FEEL good.

Alan Deutschman says there are three requirements for change to occur, and I agree with them. We must relate, repeat, and reframe.

Relate = Have new hope

Repeat = Acquire new skills

Reframe = Embrace new thinking

New hope, new skills, and new thinking - that's it! That's all it takes to change.

Have Hope

To have new hope (relate) means to simply meet eye-to-eye with that someone - Counselor, Coach, Mentor, Leader - who instills in us a sense of hope. Someone that says, "I believe in you, you can do this!" This is the very reason therapy WORKS, at least initially (because remember, 90% of those who begin will NOT finish the job.) A Therapist's job is to look a client square in the eye, and empathize with them. A Coach says, with all the warm feelings they can rally, they BELIEVE in them! As a Therapist and Coach, I want, in the depths of my soul, to see this person before me overcome the pain and turmoil they walked in the door with. I have hope for the possibilities of their new life. But that isn't enough...

Walk the Walk

Letting the client know that I have hope for them is only a start. It instills optimism of a better life. But deeply, honestly BEING THERE just will not sustain the relationship between us, and it definitely won't instill change. That comes when new skills are acquired.

I can tell within the first 2 sessions whether a client is truly on board or not. Why? Because they either do the homework I give them, or they don't. When they do the work, and are willing to just put one foot in front of the other no matter what, they're on their way to acquiring new skills. And very quickly, I might add! They aren't using the defense mechanisms that sound like this:

"I just didn't have the time." (You think an hour a week is going to make this thing happen?)

"I went to Barnes and Noble and I couldn't find that book." (Hello, Amazon?)

"I skimmed it." (See above.)

"I tried, but I just couldn't get into it." (Trying isn't doing.)

I could go on and on. In order for real change to occur, we have to walk the walk. We don't have to LIKE the walk; we just have to walk the walk.

Embrace New Thought

Reframing is my favorite. This simply means changing your mind. You have hope for change; you're educating yourself and going through the motions, and over time, your neural pathways (your green pastures) begin to "gel." They become habits. By doing something over and over again, you've now changed your mind - your perception, belief, habit, and conceptual framework (call it what you will).

This is FREEING. Changing your neural pathways doesn't happen overnight. And often, it occurs as you come out of a "fog" one day and think, "Oh, hmm, I'm not in that place anymore. I survived."

When I was pregnant with my twin daughters, I spent two months in the hospital before they arrived. I can still remember the first night, trying to settle into what would be my new home for the next several weeks. I put my clothes in the drawers, set out photos of my husband, strategically placed greenery around the room, and had all my reading at my disposal. I disassociated that entire first day. That is, until my husband left for the night. I held back tears until he walked out and shut the door. Then, I sat on the bed, looked around, and just sobbed. I felt so alone, as if no one in the entire world knew what it was like to have their life halted in the way that mine was now. And how the days would slowly creep by while the world went on without me.

Yesterday, as I sat and watched my year and a half girls running and playing and having a grand old time, I said, as I do very often to no one in particular, "I just can't believe they're mine." I'm in awe of their existence. And my mom said, as she always does, "It was all worth it." What flashes in my mind in the very next moment, is my very own experience of the hospital stay. One that no one else in the room lived, nor understands, nor cares to know about. It was mine. I flash to the time I sat on my bed lonely, sad, alone, and sobbing. I can't imagine that time now. The fog has lifted from my brain, and new pathways have formed. The pain of that time is long gone.

Take Alan Deutschman's advice and use the three steps: relate, repeat, and reframe. One day at a time, one mentor at a time, and one walk at a time; change your neural pathways. Embark down a new path that doesn't look like a path at all, only green pasture. Change will come when you just get moving through the process. Before you know it, your fog will be lifted.

(This article is Part 2 of a 2 part series.)

Your Assignment this Week:

How have you tried to change in the past by facts, force, or fear? Did it work? Now that you know a new way of looking at change - relate, repeat, and reframe, think about how your change efforts will be different. Knowing that you are in the company of many others (90% of all people who attempt change), who ultimately don't change can give you some releif just knowing you aren't alone.

If you realize that the process of change, not the change itself, is what gets most of us stuck in our troughs, then become aware of that fact in your own life. Starting today, view change differently. Use the following questions as your guide

What changes would you like to make in your life?
What has stopped you from following through in the past?
What is your biggest obstacle to change creation right now?
Have you made an innate decision, no matter what, to change?
Have you sought the help of a Counselor, Coach, Mentor or Leader to guide you through the process?
If anything were possible, what would your life look like in one year?
Have you sought the support of a group to hold you accountable?
What are your next steps?
Starting today, think WAY out of the box. Intentionally do everything you can, to be different. If you normally take the stairs, now take the elevator. If you normally have soda for dinner, now have water. If you normally have bathtime for kids at 7:00pm, now have bathtime at 7:30pm. If you normally have eggs and toast, now have oatmeal and bacon.

Challenge yourself to do most everything different in your day, and journal how it makes you feel and what other observations you have. By doing this, you're creating new neural pathways in your brain that say, "Change is ok, and it can be fun, too."

Author's Bio: 

Following her own 7-step model, Jennifer Ryan went from depressed psychotherapist to a recognized leader in the treatment of depression and anxiety using cognitive-behavioral therapy, life coaching, and the Naked Truth System which she co-developed.

Jennifer is the co-founder of I Choose Change and co-founder of the Naked Truth Change System, a hands-on, content-rich 7-step program for spiritually evolved individuals wanting to heighten their personal awareness or develop professionally.

Jennifer is known for her gentle, empathic demeanor who combines a fresh perspective and no-fluff, innovative strategies, to literally guide her clients into a new realm of thinking and being.

Her energetic spirit and no-holds-barred style leaves individuals excited, motivated, and ready for action. Jennifer's consistent stream of compassion filled with goal-driven action items help take participants to the next level.

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