You are unique. Your challenges are unique. But, fortunately, becoming closer to your ideal self does not need to be a unique, trial-and-error process. You can use known and effective ways of meeting your goals. This is true for almost all personal changes, such as becoming more assertive, losing weight, getting physically fit, or finally being on time to appointments. Most importantly, rather than trying to just force yourself to act differently–an effort often destined to fail–you can learn to access motivation from deep inside.
In my last article, Prepare Yourself for Change in 4 Basic Steps, I addressed how to identify and overcome reservations you have about changing. Once you are ready to fully commit to your goals, you next step is to increase your self-awareness. If you want to grow or change, you must have a good grip on what you have been doing until now and what you want to be doing in the future. Think about it this way:
Imagine you get terribly lost in the woods while looking for a particular scenic view. You desperately want to return home and are grateful that you somehow manage to find your way back before getting eaten by a bear. The very next week, you agree to do the same hike again with a friend–though you think you might be crazy for entertaining the idea. This time, however, you decide to do it differently. You pay attention to the position of the sun, make note of landmarks as you pass them, and remember the old adage that moss grows on the north side of trees (though Google tells me that this is only true in the northern hemisphere). By using these “tools” on your next hike, you are much more likely to keep yourself on the correct path–and finally see that majestic view you missed the previous week.
The lesson? Pay better attention to your surroundings and you’ll find your way. This same logic can also work well with your internal landscape. To reach your personal goals, you must know something about how you tend to lose your way and what you can do to stay on a better path.
You can develop this richer self-awareness by working on it daily. Throughout each day, repeatedly check in with yourself on at least one of the following domains of self-awareness: Sensations, Thoughts, Emotions, Actions, and Mentalizing (which is explained below)–or STEAM. For example, if you want to be more assertive, you might focus on:
Sensations: When you think about speaking up, ask yourself, What do I feel in my body? To answer this question, you might choose to scan your body from your feet up to the top of your head. Then ask, What happens when I pause to give my undivided attention to particular sensations? (especially ones that seem especially strong or to be signaling something is wrong)
Thoughts: Consider what your thoughts and beliefs are related to speaking your mind. For instance, you might think that others don’t respect you or that others will reject you if you disagree with them.
Emotions: As you pay attention to your emotions when you want to be more assertive, you might notice that you feel inferior and afraid of rejection.
Actions: Observe how your actions affect you and others. When you stay quiet, people might assume you are okay with their decisions or actions. You might also note how your lack of speaking up reinforces your difficulty with being assertive.
Mentalizing: This is the ability to understand and relate to what it is to be human. When you can mentalize, you understand the motivations for people’s actions (including yours). You can practice m mentalizing by building on the other areas of self-awareness. You might think about how your fear of rejection leads to your lack of assertiveness, and how it makes sense given your sense of feeling inferior or inadequate. When faced with an opportunity at work that would require you to speak your mind – but you are afraid to do this – your self-awareness might help you empathize with your dilemma. But then, perhaps, you can respond by asking yourself what the wise decision would be (not what you want or what you fear, but what would be the best choice).
As you gain STEAM, you will be able to connect all of the domains of awareness to form a richer understanding of yourself. As a result, you will have greater empathy for your struggle. Your passive wish to be different will transform into an active desire and intent to remain persistent in helping yourself, even through difficult times and setbacks. Rather than just wishing you were different, you will finally change your life by affirming I will do what it takes to meet my goals.
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