Determined to make a personal change? Maybe, but it’s also likely true that you are not 100 percent in. That’s just the way it is with people. Whether you are deciding that you want to exercise more, eat less, or learn to maintain a Zen-like composure, you are doing so because you are on a different course that you think is headed the wrong way. So deciding to change direction creates an inner tension between what you have been doing and what you want to be doing. Failure to acknowledge – and effectively work with – this inner tension is a key reason that so many people fail at their efforts in personal development.
To improve your chances of making the change you want, pay attention to your inner conflict and learn to harness your inner drive for a better you. You can do this by following these four steps:
Make note of your inner conflict. You may not even be aware of having an inner conflict if the change you want to make seems obvious to you. For example, if you yearn to advance in your career and know you need an advanced degree do it, you may feel certain of your decision to return to school. Then when you don’t look into programs, you might feel confused by or angry about your inaction. Similarly, you might have difficulty with knowing you need to lose weight, but not taking serious action. With a little introspection, you might gain clarity about having mixed feelings – such as being scared about investing so much time and money into school or realizing that you sometimes feel like you need to eat as a way to cope with stress.
Once you are aware of your ambivalence, you can look more closely at it. You can assess your investments of time and money into school along with the likely eventual payoff. Even if this doesn’t leave you with a definite decision, it will at least help you to understand the roadblocks to continuing your education. Then you can continue to work on that goal. Similarly, if you want to shed some pounds, the awareness that you rely on eating to manage your stress is essential. It lets you know that developing new stress management skills will be essential to losing weight.
Use greater self-awareness to reduce self-criticism and make strides toward your goal. Rather than beating yourself up for not enrolling in school or for not maintaining a diet, focus on understanding the problem and really “get it” – in other words, to have more empathy for your dilemma. To help yourself do this, look at yourself in this situation as you would look at a friend. Feel how difficult it is. Be open to feeling the wish to make it better for yourself. This wish is a feeling of compassion, and it will help to calm you enough to let go of your harsh self-criticism. You will be freer to refocus on the problem and decide the best way to proceed.
Work to increase your motivation. Pay attention to the negatives of continuing as you are. Not continuing in school means you will probably just stay in your current job. And not changing your eating habits means you will not lose weight… and may even gain more weight. Also, be aware of the positive reasons for changing. Think about how you will feel better about yourself and will have better job prospects if you return to school. Or, think about how you will be healthier and feel better about yourself if you lose weight. You might find it helpful to write out the negative effects of not changing and the positive reasons for changing.
When it comes to making personal changes, greater self-awareness can be your greatest ally. The more aware you are of the behavior you want to change and the reasons you want to change it, the more likely you will change it. So, rather than jumping right into doing a new behavior, such as enrolling in school or beginning a diet, start with reflecting on what makes you want to make this change. Then, with the help of this reflection, it’s time to continue the path toward an improved you!
Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset in Somerville, NJ. She is also a regular contributor for the WebMD blog Relationships and is the relationship expert on WebMD’s Relationships Message Board.
Dr. Becker-Phelps is also the author of Insecure in Love.
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Making Change blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional assistance.
Personal change through compassionate self-awareness