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Willingness to Change

Willingness, behavior change, and hoarding.

A Gaelic proverb states, "Nothing is easy for the unwilling." And if you are unwilling to face your fears and emotions, then forward progress on improving your quality of life will not be easy.

People receiving professional assistance for their hoarding behavior tend to make greater strides when they are willing participants in the treatment. That can probably be said about most treatments. Without true willingness to participate in therapy, the gains will be minimal.

And when I'm talking about willingness, I'm not just talking about signing an informed consent disclaimer document. I mean vesting interest in committing to important actions related to changing behavior in the long run. And even more importantly, people who are willing to feel what they feel, without trying to avoid those anxieties, stressors, and fears, are much more likely to have successful outcomes. Willingness is a stance that a person can take when they are presented with a difficult emotion. When Life asks: "Are you willing to have THIS scariness and THIS difficulty so that you can move forward toward a hight quality of life?," then you should do your best to answer "Yes!" Realizing that there will be discomfort that comes along with doing what you care about is psychologically healthy, and being willing to accept adn embrace that comfort is critical to a life well lived.

Dr. Jennifer Patterson performed a willingness exercise with a client on Hoarding: Buried Alive (Episode: My House Can Kill Me/ January 2012). Dr. Patterson was talking with Hsi Ming, a woman living in Washington who amassed a large quantity of items in her house. Hsi Ming said: "My house is dangerous everywhere," and indicated that she wanted assistance in creating different living conditions for herself. While working together, Dr. Patterson found a few items that Hsi Ming had collected but obviously wasn't using, and asked her if she was willing to part with the items.

Hsi Ming told Dr. Patterson that there was some level of willingness to part with the items; however, Hsi Ming went out looking for the items a few moments later, and seemed to want to reclaim those items. The question is: "Was Hsi Ming truly willing or was she just saying that she was willing to part with the items?" I would invite you to watch the show for yourself on January 11th at 8:00 p.m. or January 12th at 1 a.m. (Eastern Standard Time) on The Learning Channel to make your own assessment.

Keep in mind this important idea: true change requires not only a willingness to commit to new actions, but also the willingness to simply notice your fears without working to get rid of them. There are two sides to willingness, and when they are both in play, your behavior is much more flexible and vital.

More from D.J. Moran Ph.D.
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