Fixing Families

Tools for walking the intergenerational tightrope

Don't Change, Be Curious

A gentler, sideways approach to change

 It’s time to finally do this – to get in shape, go to bed earlier, cut back on drinking, save money, get more friends, control your temper. Time to buckle down, pump yourself up, get disciplined, be determined, take on the challenge, achieve that goal!

Yo, relax.

While this going-into-batlle type of thinking may initially be inspiring, it can also quickly become overwhelming, hard to keep up, and gives change a bad name. Rather than making change so big and weighty, so success or failure driven, lighten it up. Take some of the weight out of all this by taking a stance of experimentation and curiosity. Rather than a forced march towards outcome, take it down a few notches. Instead think of process -- make change a verb not a noun -- focus on how you do things, rather than what you gotta do. Look at breaking patterns rather than do-or-die achievement. 

Instead of the man vs. bad habit contest, try adopting an attitude of curiosity and experimentation – a gentler, sideways approach to change: Doing something different just to see what it feels like, patting yourself on the back for the effort, and not worrying about the outcome.

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Here are some tips to get you started: 

Building positive habits. So you want to get in shape, want to get more sleep, save more money? Great. Go for a short walk after dinner one evening just to see what it feels like. Try going to bed a half hour earlier one night this week and see what it is like. Put a dollar in an envelope and put it under your mattress. Be curious, not driven. Throw in another walk, another half hour, another dollar the following week. Or experiment with riding a bike one night instead or sleeping in late on Saturday, or opening a saving account at the bank and just see what you think about that. Keep it light, keep it playful. 

Dealing with dependent / addictive behaviors. Here's where the "it's going down, we're done with this" mentality can really kick and sometimes that's exactly what you need to turn things around. But if that seems too overwhelming, try the lighter touch – one less cigarette, one less glass of wine, one less half hour on the internet, one day for a few weeks, then at some point try maybe two days. No crash courses, Pat yourself on the back for effort, for not going on autopilot. See what it feels like, brainstorm what next steps might be.

What also helps with dislodging such pervasive patterns is having a replacement behavior on board ahead of time. So if you want to pull yourself off the internet sooner, know before your sit down at the computer what you are doing to do when you turn it off. If you're used to having that cigarette break at work, figure out before you get to work, what you’re going to do during your break-time instead. If you don’t have a plan in place, the anxiety about shutting the computer off or not having the cigarette will push you to keep doing it. 

Emotional changes. If you want to control your anger better, start by checking in with yourself once an hour and rate your mood on a 1-10 scale. If it starts to get up to a 5, slow it down, see if you can figure out what is going on, do some deep breathing to calm yourself. Do it for a week and see what you notice.

Similarly if you want to have more friends but are socially anxious, experiment with small steps outside your comfort zone. Smile at 3 people on one day. Say hello to someone new. Go to a party you normally wouldn’t go to and experiment with staying for 20 minutes. Again see what it feels like, have no expectations, be curious. 

You get the idea. Don't worry about changing it, but you changing your patterns and with that your brain. Be playful, step out, start slow, be patient, realize that anything you do is more that you did before. Don’t worry about outcome but the simple doing and seeing what happens. 

And don’t forget the high fives all around.

 

Bob Taibbi, L.C.S.W. has 40 years of clinical experience. He is author of 6 books and over 300 articles and provides training nationally and internationally.

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