With the end of another year, many of us employ the New Year’s holiday as an opportunity to evaluate the aspects of our lives that feel in need of change. Whether we seek to exercise more often, organize our closets, or clean up our love life, change is in the air.
Behavioral change is one of the core competencies of good therapy—particularly psychotherapy that goes beyond symptom reduction and focuses on personal growth. Psychotherapists are uniquely positioned to help advance behavioral change. Such growth-oriented therapists have learned from years of clinical practice and research what it takes to help support people in making lasting change.
Change is not a linear process. Our brains and bodies have complex relationships that work together to influence how we act, as well as the choices we make. These complex systems of our bodies can self-organize over time as a result of myriad small, simple changes, with each element helping to support the whole from the bottom up (Hill, 2015). So, while it’s important to have healthier thoughts about how we can change, it’s even more effective to learn how to foster the conditions that can help change happen. This is what good therapy is all about—nurturing a relationship that is built upon advancing the ability to change. Here are some helpful good therapy hints to keep in mind:
1. Embrace the fact you may go back and forth a bit.
One of the fathers of psychotherapy, Sigmund Freud, believed that ambivalence is simply part of the human condition. This means you may have mixed feelings, or sometimes contradictory ideas, around making any new change. Whether it’s about diet, lifestyle, or saving money, your feelings about your self-efficacy may shift from day to day. The key to not letting this keep you stuck is to embrace the fact you might feel mixed about whether such a change is sustainable or even worth it. Rather than pressure yourself into giving up or pushing through how you feel, learn to slow down and be okay with the ebbs and flows of these competing feelings. Know these mixed feelings are a part of the cycle of change.
2. Don’t go it alone.
Motivation is enhanced through connections to healthy others. Change researchers have found that motivation for change is enhanced when it is embedded in a relationship that focuses on empathy and other important relational factors (Miller and Rose, 2009). A trained therapist can support you by helping you gain insight into what may get in the way of you making better choices toward real, measurable progress. Find a highly trained mental health professional to support you in keeping a growth-oriented mind-set. Also, find a supportive community; seek out others who are committed to making a similar difference in their own lives.
Despite what you may have tried in the past, you can achieve a new you in 2018. It requires that you employ a strategy that both embraces and affirms your ability to make change with learned skills and support.
3. Regulating how your body feels fosters the conditions for change.
Research has shown that our emotions are among the primary drivers of our experience. They color our thoughts and experiences and thus can help or hinder our success. Learning to notice the sensations and feelings that are often embedded in our choices can give us a window into making healthier choices. This is often called self-regulation, and can begin by learning to slow down and develop a greater capacity to pay attention to how we’re paying attention to our everyday life.
4. Self-compassion is essential to self-determination.
Discipline is often necessary but insufficient for lasting change. Transformation requires that we be gentle with ourselves and accept where we are as much as where we want to be. So rather than punishing ourselves with self-criticism, we want to cultivate sympathy and kindness in the path to growth, accepting challenge as part of making any commitment to change. Self-compassion, though, is not the same as self-pity or self-esteem—rather, it’s the recognition we are all human beings who deserve understanding and support.
Despite what you may have tried in the past, you can achieve a new you in 2018. It requires that you employ a strategy that both embraces and affirms your ability to make change with learned skills and support. A change-oriented mind-set is one where you know there may be good days and bad, yet with the proper groundwork you will transform into a new you.
- Hill, D. (2015). Affect regulation theory. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.
- McCraty, R., & Tomasino, D. (2006). Stress in health and disease. B. B. Arnetz & R. Ekman (Eds.). Weinheim, Germany, Wiley-VCH: 342-365.
- Miller, W. R., & Rose, G. S. (2009). Toward a theory of motivational interviewing. American Psychologist, 64(6), 527-537.
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