Michael J Formica MS, MA, EdM

Enlightened Living

Empowering Your Willingness to Change

When perceived benefit outweighs negative consequence

Posted Jun 30, 2016

Empowerment isn’t something we feel, it’s something we do. It is a reflection of our increased sense of personal value and self-worth that comes out of taking the circumstances of our lives in hand. When talking about creating change, empowerment quite literally means doing something—specifically doing something differently.

One of the challenges around creating change is how we experience the value of whatever behavior or pattern of thinking we’re engaging in. If what we’re getting out of a situation outweighs the consequences of us engaging in it, we aren’t likely to change what we’re doing. When this balance of consequences shifts, and we begin to experience the consequence as outweighing the benefit, we then open up the potential for change.

One of the reasons we stay stuck in these kinds of unproductive patterns of thought and behavior is that we simply don’t recognize what we’re doing. After all, a fish doesn’t know that he’s wet. Taking that perspective, when we’re in the middle of our normal, to us it will seem, well, normal. We are getting what we perceive as a benefit. Another reason we stay stuck is that we perceive these patterns as validating. As a result, we don’t immediately see them as negative; in fact, often quite the contrary.

If, for example, we have a core belief that we are dependable and we show up for the people in our lives, sometimes at our own expense, then we are validating our belief. The funny little twist comes in the form of the “at our own expense.” We perceive ourselves as being validated, and, because of this, we may not—and likely will not—even recognize we are distorting ourselves to accommodate someone else’s needs. In layman’s terms we’d call that “people pleasing”. In more clinical terms, we would view that choice as having passed through the filter of a rather unhealthy co-dependence

So, how do we get unstuck? First, we need to become aware of what we’re doing, and that usually comes in the form of some kind of internal distress. In other words, the balance of consequences changes and we begin to see that what we’re getting is no longer outweighing our outcomes. This might come in the form of something tangible, like a DUI or getting fired from a job, or it might be something more subtle, like a falling out with a friend or conflict with our partner.

Secondly, we need to change what we’re doing. In the case of our example above, that might mean setting boundaries or learning to say, “No.” The bottom line is empowering ourselves by doing something differently. It takes some work and real intention, because there is always an initial tendency to fall back into old patterns. Eventually, changes in our thought and behavior will create new, hopefully more productive, patterns, freeing us from the burden we foisted upon ourselves in the first place. 

© 2016 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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