I have worked with so many people that have an idea of a change they need to make, but they can’t bring themselves to start. Often times, the change seems daunting and overwhelming and we end up in a repetitive pattern of avoiding the task we believe will be helpful. When we continue to avoid the task, we increase our anxiety and stress around the task, making it more difficult to reach our own goal. When we can’t reach our own goal, our negative self-talk spikes. When negative self-talk spikes, we feel even worse than we did to begin with. It’s a vicious cycle.
The bad news - in order to break the cycle, we must start facing our fears, doing what’s difficult, and experiencing the uncomfortable. The good news - it won’t feel this way forever.
As many of my clients have said (and I believe to be true) - nothing changes in your comfort zone.
So…. the question is, where do you begin?
1. Start small
If your goal was to hike Mount Everest, you wouldn’t set foot the day you decided to hike it. Or maybe you would. But, you would likely end up exhausted, overwhelmed, frustrated, and possibly in some serious trouble. You would likely need to turn back and end up beating yourself up for starting an “impossible task”. To start a big task or pursue a goal, make a list of steps and cross off the easiest ones first! If you start with small steps building up to the final big task, you are more likely to learn what you need to know and build confidence accomplishing your goal.
2. Get support
Let’s go back to the Mount Everest example. If you were start this hike this without doing some google searches, asking others who have climbed it, or getting set up with a guide, it would likely be pretty tough and also lonely. Finding support can mean asking someone who’s been through something similar, reaching out to someone who cares about you or meeting with a professional. Support groups can also be helpful so that you can find others who are experiencing similar challenges. If you have never called 211, it’s a great resource to be aware of that can hook you up to many other resources in the community.
3. Acknowledge strides
Many of us have a strong negative mental filter (AKA - we only notice the negatives of a situation and filter out the positives). If this rings true for you, it will be extremely important to take time noticing how far you’ve come. We are all constantly changing and evolving. How have you evolved? What have you made it through? What are your accomplishments? This does not have to be nobel prize worthy. What can you do today that you couldn’t do yesterday, last week, or last year? Spend some time with this. Meditate on it. Journal about. Talk about it with someone.
4. Practice compassion
Change is REALLY hard. Ask people around you about changes they have overcome. We all have wanted to change things in our life and some things are harder or easier than others. If you are trying to make a change, remember how long you have lived the way that you are. If you have been living with anxiety for 1, 2, 5, 10, 25 years, then it probably won’t change over night. Be easy on yourself.
5. Begin again
I have found that it can be easy to give up on our goals when we do not see them “working” fast enough. For example, if you are trying to quit drinking and have a slip up, maybe you feel like it’s a waste of time. It can be helpful to remember that change is not a straight line. It is up and down and all around. Remember that every day, every hour, and every minute we have the option to begin again. If you slipped up today, start again tomorrow.
“Real change is difficult at the beginning. Without the familiar to rely upon, you may not be in as much command as you had once been. When things are not going your way, you will start doubting yourself. Stay positive, keep the faith, and keep moving forward – your breakthrough may be just around the corner.”
― Roy T. Bennett