Monday, December 15, 2014

My change isn't your change

At various moments during my adult life, I have retrospected on my identitymy past, who I would like to be, the major epiphanies of my personality, and the lessons I've learned. As an effort to grow as a person, I have come to believe strongly in the very real changes that can occur when you swallow your ego and face your shortcomings head-on.

Since my early 20s when I really began quieting down and looking inward, a lot has happened. The first few years were a fast progression of positive change, and then things slowed down and fell into a pattern of cycles.

Epiphany, introspection, personal challenge, work work work, rinse, repeat.

This cycle has become a part of my life. I'll admit that the hardest part is that initial realization of unhappiness on some fundamental level. Often it comes on the heels of some upsetting event and I decide I need to reevaluate my life and my state of mind. I'll save you the suspense and tell you that most of my biggest problems exist as a result of how my mind is working (how I process information; how I react to life events; how I interpret social situations, etc.).

It's taken a lot of years of humble honesty (accentuated with some counseling and behavioral cognitive lessons on changing how I think) to fully accept that the only way to fix what's broken is to acknowledge that something is broken at all.

One of the unfortunate by-products of this cycle hits during the 'work' phase. This phase is difficult for a number of reasons, but without getting into the dirty details of why it's hard for me, I want to talk about why this is hard for those in my life and those who care about me.

Just like it's hard to concentrate on inner dialog in a room full of loud people, it's nearly impossible to be really introspective if you're surrounded by people asking you how you're doing; why you're behaving a certain way, etc.. How I've learned to face this is by going into what I call my autopilot mode. My routines are maintained (work, chores, eat, distractions, etc.) but all else takes a backseat while I reroute all my internal energies into sorting through whatever is causing me distress.

Over the years I've made tweaks to this process here and there. I've begun to allow certain types of social interactions with some people who I know won't sabotage my work, and I've gotten better about communicating what's going on and why I'm withdrawn. If nothing else, I'm able to tell people that I'm trying to work through some things and that I need some time alone. It's often hard while it's happening to really articulate what it is that's upsetting me, why I think it's happening and how I think I can fix it.

Change is hard, though. It's a lot of work, it's humbling, it can be painful and it can effect relationships in big ways. But it's possible. From the vantage point of my admittedly biased armchair, I am able to confidently say that real change is possible. Despite popular denials and despite all of your experience with people who simply dig in their heels and choose stagnancy; changing how you think, how you behave, and how you react is possible.

I've had a lot of difficult conversations when people offer advice. I understand the inclination to offer advice, help, support, empathy and understanding. While I appreciate every time someone takes the time to try and help me, often that advice simply can't work for me. A major benefit of those quiet times alone with my thoughts is how well I have gotten to know myself and how I tick. I know my limits and I know how to break them. I know what works and what doesn't for me. I know why I think the things I do and what causes those thoughts.

I think the key message to remember about change is that how you make changes in your life isn't necessarily how someone else might. There is no one catch-all solution to change and growth and progress.  It is only you who can work to identify what is effective for you. I encourage you to explore the possibility of real fundamental change within yourself on a regular basis. If for no other reason than simply growing as a human being.

We might all be on this rock together, but we are very much leading our own battles in our lives. Accept each others' differences and move forward alongside those in your life you care about with positivity and an encouraging word.

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