Entering Week 2 of 2018, I’m thinking more concretely about specific resolutions for the year (if you didn’t see my Slow Down Sunday FB Live last Sunday, you can check it out here, where I talk about the need to take weeks of January to determine resolutions, not just one sitting on Jan 1st!). (I also wrote NYR Part 1 last week, about doing what loves you).
As my thinking develops, so do my conversations with people about my own, and their, resolutions.
And as those conversations develop, I’m also seeing more clearly why people don’t get the things they say they really want, whether or not they make a resolution to attain them. And it comes down to this:
Being Willing To Change
Day Dreaming of Change
It seems obvious, in a discussion about resolution making, that wanting to change in some way could be taken as “assumed”. And to a degree, that’s right.
We all want to change our bodies to be leaner or healthier or pain-free, we want to change our bank account to have a higher balance and our credit card to have a lower one, we all want to change the number of books we read or live bands we’ve seen in the year, or even to change our overall attitude to be more grateful or positive.
These are common ways we want to change…..or more accurately, we want the outcome of change.
When it comes to changing what actually needs to change to achieve those outcomes, however, we’re not nearly as willing.
What Really Needs To Change?
It’s the reason so many resolutions die before mid-January….we want the outcome of change but not the slow and uncomfortable journey of making changes.
Why is that? We want a thinner body, but choosing a salad over fries is NOT easy! But we’re already doing easy and the result of easy is where we currently are. We have to walk through the boundaries of easy, into uncomfortable, scary, deep and fuller desire. It’s hard.
It’s hard because what really needs to change are our core, and often unconscious, beliefs. And that equals a much more fundamental change to how we find a sense of security, hope and ourselves.
I have an acquaintance who has many chronic conditions that cause her pain and discomfort – fibromyalgia, IBS, depression, overweight, reflux, migraines, poor sleep, sinus problems, hair loss….the list is long, the conditions are worsening and new ones are always on the horizon.
Needless to say, she wants to be well, pain free, healthy, happy, energetic and rested. Of course she does.
But she simply is not willing to change.
Every year, well-meaning friends (I’ve been one in the past) have given her books, ideas, meditations and more, that focus on her making small, often easy, changes….changes that have successfully eased one or more of her conditions for others.
She is never willing to try these things.
I believe she isn’t willing to try because each one of these things involves her actually doing something – taking deliberate action to affect her own outcomes.
And that threatens her core belief that she is a victim and has no power over what happens to her. This is a deeply held belief, often unconscious for her, and one that was instilled by a stressful childhood with numerous events of trauma over which she literally did have no control. The only love and care she ever felt, as a child, came from pity and the kindness of others in the face of such trauma.
Without the trauma, she didn’t feel loved. Therefore, to this day, hard thing “must” happen, and that will ensure she receives love.
It’s a complicated, messy landscape of emotions that is wreaking havoc on her body.
It’s not a surprise that she isn’t willing to try taking things into her own hands – that equates to losing love, security and survival.
What she will try is yet another drug, supplement or medical test, that cost her money and time and effort, and (in my opinion) cause more problems even if they do offer some relief to existing ones.
It suits her just fine to perceive the only power as being in the hands of medical practitioners, who admit they can’t cure her illnesses and don’t understand what causes them…..it’s a culturally approved, non-belief threatening approach that, conveniently, wont cure anything so she’ll never be without love, security and survival.
But until she does the internal work to develop the strength to change her beliefs, she will not get well. In fact, she will get worse.
Not Being Willing To Change Will Cause Things to Worsen
When we hold a belief that is not true (such as the woman I’ve described above and her “I am powerless” belief) we are actually choosing to believe a lie.
The body responds to lies by triggering the stress response, in the first instance. Over time, constant triggering of the stress response results in the body breaking down, developing chronic conditions with no cause or cure, such as the ones the woman above lives with.
This is the fundamental principle on which all the work I do is based. And it continues to ring true, the more I study chronic conditions, experience in my own health and work with clients with these conditions.
The core beliefs we hold that are not true create stress that will eventually cause our bodies to break down.
(In case you’re wondering how that connection works, it’s this: when the stress response is triggered, the immune system is suppressed as the body diverts all energy to fight or flight needs. This is fine, for short, intense bursts of stress – think a prey animal being chased by a hungry predator….the chase ends quickly in death or the death of another animal, at which point the threat disappears and the prey animal returns to rest. Chronic activation of the stress response, such as when we live with core beliefs that are not true, causes the immune system to be chronically suppressed, meaning a whole suite of necessary healing and repair doesn’t happen, and eventually body breakdown is virtually inevitable. This is compounded by a whole lot of other things the stress response does, like affecting digestion, sleep, reproduction, alertness etc, all of which reduce health as well).
In short, the longer we continue to hold core beliefs that are not true, the worse our chronic physical conditions will get.
No Blame, Just Opportunity for Change
When people hear this kind of explanation for illness, they can quickly jump to a defensive stance saying “You can’t blame people for their illness, that’s not fair.”
My initial response to this is that our bodies being subject to random, debilitating illness no one can control is also not fair. But what my approach offers is agency and power to do something about it.
When people change their internal world, giving their body the environment it needs to heal itself, their chance of actually getting better increases.
There’s nothing fairer than giving someone back their ability to do something about the situation they’re in.
When we assume giving someone that power must also mean we blame them (by which we usually mean shaming them or being unsympathetic to their suffering) we are wrong. We can still hold a deeply compassionate and empathetic approach to suffering….after all, the woman in my example, above, is suffering on a deep level, with a fear of losing love, security and survival – that suffering is so great she’ll endure major physical pain to maintain what little love, security and poor quality of survival she has.
Toward that level of suffering I am deeply, deeply compassionate. She’s clinging to the only things she believes she has, doing the best she can.
Everyone I have ever met who lives with chronic illness, specially painful ones, deserves compassion and empathy.
In fact, almost always, chronic illness sufferers are deeply unable to give themselves those very things – compassion and empathy. It’s a core part of my work with such clients, to teach them to offer their body deep care, kindness, softness, compassion and empathy.
So yes, we very much can hold both a compassionate response to any life situation someone finds themselves in, while at the same time believing that the individual has the power to alleviate that same suffering.
Being Willing To Change
We are all holding beliefs that cause us to suffer in some way….I believe it’s part of the human journey to identify them and learn to change them.
So how do we become willing to change?
The key is being OK with admitting we were wrong.
We’ve held a belief, perhaps we’ve defended it, even preached that belief to others, so if we’re called to admit that belief is wrong, it can be really hard.
That’s a threat to our ego, and a challenge to our pride.
But it also makes it incredibly freeing to give up. When maintaining a belief is attached to our ego and pride, it takes a lot of energy to continue to hold it, defend it and justify it. That’s exhausting and traps us into it.
To help us be less attached to the right-ness of our beliefs, I suggest beginning with self talk that specifically addresses our being ok, even if we were mistakenly believing something wrong.
Most of us equate believing something wrong with being wrong. This gives rise to shame, embarrassment and lessened self value. So it’s important to find our value and sense of credibility outside of beliefs.
Make a habit of saying to yourself things like “You’re doing so well, you’re a good person, you’re moving in the right direction. If you’re wrong, that’s ok. Every human is just fumbling through life doing the best they know how, responding to fear to keep themselves safe. But you’re ok. I’m here with you, I know you’re good and caring and loving and I know you can grow and change too. You don’t need to be right, you need to be real, open, true and loving. You can do this.”
Learning to gain your sense of value from your good qualities, not your beliefs or from being right, will help you have the courage to examine your beliefs and question them.
How To Question Beliefs
Whenever you are unhappy, hurting, wanting things to be different etc, you know somewhere within you’re believing a lie.
Start to write down what’s making you unhappy, hurt, wanting something different. Start to identify beliefs.
EXAMPLE: The woman I describe above might say something like “I’m unhappy because my body hurts too much”.
With this belief having been stated, she can use the Byron Katie method called The Work to question her beliefs. Basically that means asking a few key questions:
- Is it true?
Is it true that her body hurts too much? She might answer “yes, everyday I’m in pain even with medication!”
- Is it really true?
This question forces a deeper look at what’s being asked and what’s being stated in your belief. Is it really true that her body hurts too much? How much hurt would be “just right” or “not enough”? Should her body hurt less when it’s got so many problems? Isn’t it appropriate to hurt when something is wrong? Is the hurting out of proportion to the problems? You can see that the original belief may not be really true. It may be a subtle difference or perspective change, but this is important.
- Who are you when you believe it?
My guess is, when this woman believes “My body hurts too much” it depresses her, she feels powerless, she hates her body, feels like her body is against her, this likely makes the pain worse as she sends negative energy to it, focusing even more on the pain. This will further embed her in the cycle of negativity and hopelessness. She will do less, achieve less, have less friends and a less fulfilling life because she believes this thought. It clearly isn’t going to make her feel very good at all.
- Who would you be if you could not believe it?
This is a tricky one to answer. You must sit a few minutes, close your eyes and imagine not being able to believe this thought. I like to say “imagine God gets a divine eraser and rubs out this belief in your mind so you literally can’t even think it anymore”. While this can be hard, once you tap into what it would be like to not have that belief, and how that would change you, it always makes your body and mind feel different. I imagine, the woman in this example would suddenly feel more energised, freer in thinking and movement, unburdened, more able to do things, less pain and greater love for self, others and life. It’s a powerful question to answer and I highly recommend the time and effort it can sometimes take.
From just these four questions, you can begin to see how this belief, in and of itself, is affecting your thinking, your behaviour, your body and your emotions. And these all affect your overall life.
From here, the process is simple and fun. Come up with three “turn arounds” to your original belief, and for each of these, come up with three reasons why that “turnaround” is true.
For instance, using the example “My body hurts too much”. Turnarounds might be:
Turnaround: “My body doesn’t hurt enough”
This might be true because (1) it’s not hurting enough for her to try the alternative approaches to healing that her friends have found, (2) her body has so many disorders it should be hurting a lot more than it does, (3) her medication is numbing out some of the pain so her body is currently not hurting to its full extent
Turnaround: “I’m hurting my body too much”
This might be true because (1) she’s just seen how her belief creates more pain than if she could not belief it, (2) because she’s taking meds to numb pain instead of listening to it, (3) because even when she’s in pain, she doesn’t show her body care or kindness but instead, pushes and speaks negatively to her body (think how she’d treat her child if that child was hurting this much – tenderness, caressing, letting them rest, speaking kindly etc).
Turnaround: (this is a good one to throw in to every Inquiry process) “My thinking is hurting me too much”
This might be true because (1) we’ve just seen how beliefs can create or remove at least some of the pain, (2) her thinking is lying to her, saying she has no power when she might actually have a lot of power to improve her illnesses, and (3) because her thinking says she “shouldn’t” be in pain and that her body is letting her down – her thinking is a mean bully!
New Year’s Resolutions and Being Willing to Change
When it comes to setting resolutions, I’m a great believer in recognising that while I may find a million outcomes of change that I want, the real key is admitting what and where I’m really willing to change.
Digging out my thinking and questioning the beliefs around the things I want is work – it takes time and commitment and often there are deep emotions involved that need to be felt, cried through and let go. That’s hard.
Therefore, the resolutions I do end up committing to are things that I know I’m willing to work for, outcomes I am ready to be wrong for, ready to feel uncomfortable for, and for which I am ready to dig deeper than I am yet aware I’ll need to.
Now THAT’S a resolution worth making.
Need help setting a resolution, digging through beliefs, questioning them and letting them go, and finding truer ones? Why not book a complimentary session with me to see whether my method can help you create a life that feels beautiful to live.http://www.naomicraincoaching.com/start-whole-session/