Lucy was drawing to a close in her counseling work with me when she said, “You know, this isn’t how I thought I would feel.”
“What do you mean?” I asked her.
“When I started counseling,” she said, “I thought I’d have to become a completely different person in order to be happier. That I had to fix a deficiency in some way that seemed impossible and overwhelming. But it turns out that this feeling I have now — of lightness, of possibility, of more confidence and trust in myself — I just needed to lean into that more. Asking myself ‘in the moment’ if something is right for me is not selfish, but is actually kinder to others as well as me. I’m pleasantly surprised and so relieved that I didn’t need to transform into someone else to be more content.”
It’s a common misconception: That in order to be happier and love ourselves more we need to change to become someone more lovable. We need to transform.
The problem with that thinking is this:
When does it stop?
When will you ever be “enough?”
The truth is, it actually works more the other way around.
Whenever we try and make a big change — in how we behave or in a significant part of our life that is unsatisfactory (a job, a relationship) — we often wait for that magical moment when it will all ‘fall into place.’ We’re looking for a catalyst, a sign that ‘this is the right time.’
What you really need is to decide that THIS is the right time to dig out of a personal hole, and then practice.
Here are four steps to help you get there:
- Really spend some time thinking about what it is you would like to be different. Go deeper than “I don’t like my job” or “I wish I was more confident.” Ask yourself WHY you don’t like your job, or what it is you believe more confidence would bring you. Check in with your deeper feelings: perhaps it’s not more confidence, but actually it’s that people seem to ignore you and you would like to be seen more. What would ‘being seen’ actually be and feel like to you? Keep going until you really have a good, solid understanding of what you would like to change.
- Give a name to this thing you would like to change, and then take a position on it. This may sound obvious, but saying out loud, “I definitely 100% want to be seen and validated in the workplace by my colleagues and seniors,” can make a huge difference in your attitude. If you feel hesitant, then you may need to go back to step one. Reaching a firm position in which you will no longer will tolerate this situation will help you be more committed. If you find the questions aren’t helping, get in touch with your values. Often when our lives are at odds with our values we experience discontent and unhappiness. Writing down what it is you value in life (and then how you are hoping to live by those values and pass them onwards) can be an enormous wake up call.
- Start noticing yourself in situations that trigger the feelings of pain or frustration that made you want to change something in the first place. Watching yourself from the outside doing the ‘same old thing’ can be incredibly irritating and this is when most people give up. Don’t give up! We are creatures of habit and changing anything is extremely hard. Simply noticing yourself and using a little compassionate self-talk is key here: “Hey, I’m glad I mentally caught myself going down that rabbit hole again, I’m really starting to understand this problem more and more.”
- Eventually, if you are paying attention, you will begin to notice some small changes. Perhaps you actioned something you wouldn’t have six months ago, or are simply feeling a little lighter, or less overwhelmed by the problems getting in the way of your life. It is crucial at this time that you can begin to acknowledge when you are feeling a little different and being more like your preferred self. Ask someone close to you to help you do this, because we are notoriously terrible at giving ourselves credit for the good stuff (and notoriously great at beating ourselves up when we think we’ve “got it wrong”). Reflect back over the time since you really committed to making a change in your life and allow yourself to feel good about any differences, even if they’re seemingly unrelated to the specific change you set out to make. There is often a domino effect when we commit to a process of caring about ourselves more, positively affecting all areas of our life.
That’s the secret really, to making changes we desire. They don’t come from a place of self-hate or a need to change for someone else, or to be better (be quiet that relentless voice saying you must always be better!).
Changes settle in much more frequently when they come from a place of self-compassion, when we can take some form of pleasure and maybe even a little pride in the ways we are living more like our preferred selves, and when we can experience time that is passing as a necessary part of the journey.
*Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.