self compassion, growth, change

It’s Time to Change Your Approach to Making Changes…So They Last

Tis the season of new year’s resolutions.  And if you’re like most people, you set goals or intentions that end up abandoned a few weeks or months into the new year.  Then you carry around this guilt of failing yet again to make whatever changes you had sought.  Or you might have such little faith you’ll follow through with resolutions that you don’t even bother setting a goal.

But maybe the problem isn’t YOU…maybe the problem is how you go about making change.

The Real Reason Resolutions Fail

Most people approach personal change from the perspective that they are somehow flawed, broken, or defective.  We don’t like a part of ourselves, whether it’s our weight, our habits, or our feelings.  And we treat ourselves as problems to be fixed.  We think that beating ourselves up for all of our shortcomings will somehow motivate us toward self-improvement.

The trouble with this approach is that it is rooted in self-criticism.  This results in very black and white or all or nothing thinking.  We view ourselves as either on track as healthy, successful people or we’re off track as broken losers.  We see each struggle along the path toward change as a personal failing.  When we don’t accomplish our goals (goals which are often unrealistic or overly rigid), we call ourselves weak.  We say we lack the willpower or resolve needed to sustain steady progress.  This is a set up for failure.  Lasting change does not come from a place of self-disdain nor is it a straight line of progress. 

Begin with Self-Compassion

Imagine if you could love and accept yourself just the way you are.  Imagine talking to yourself like someone you love.  It is possible to both love yourself AND challenge yourself to grow.  In fact, you’re more likely to create lasting change from a place of self-compassion.  This is because when you begin from a place of loving and accepting yourself, your focus is on feeding your self-worth rather than diminishing it.  You cheer yourself on and highlight your wins rather than beat yourself up and dwell on your struggles.  Compassion helps to sustain your progress during the inevitable tough times.  You forgive yourself the minor missteps and allow yourself to try and try again. And it that is this ability to recover and persevere that is the foundation of success.

Many people have deeply imbedded messages about themselves as unworthy in some way.  And this can create a destructive cycle of negative self-talk that is difficult to break.  Understanding the origins of these messages can be a helpful step toward challenging them.  You might ask yourself where your own messages about unworthiness come from.  Who taught you that you are unworthy?  And ask yourself how well this message is working for you now.  What would be a healthier, more loving, more encouraging way to think about yourself?  Feed and grow that message for a change.

Change as a Process

Meaningful personal change is a process.  There are natural peaks and valleys along the way.  There is no straight pathway toward lasting change.  When we can accept ourselves in the process of change, we can more effectively learn from the struggles.  Each experience in the process becomes an opportunity to shift and focus our efforts more productively.  There are no failures when we keep learning and growing.  We fine tune our approach rather than admonish ourselves for struggling.

The better we understand ourselves and the change process, the better equipped we are to create a practice of enduring personal growth.  You likely already know your typical pitfalls and barriers to progress.  Maybe you’re someone who does best with accountability or maybe you get too wrapped up in tracking and data so that you end up feeling worse instead of better.  You may find it helpful to set aside time to reflect on your progress to learn more about yourself and the approach to change that works for you.  Acknowledge your own style and continue to alter your approach to change so that it maximizes your strengths.

Remember, YOU are not the problem.  You are more than your strengths or your struggles.  You don’t need to take on any one else’s project.  And you’re certainly not a project for someone else.  As long as you are committed to the process of personal growth, you can keep shifting your approach in ways that work for you for now.

Seek Support

Personal change and growth can sometimes feel like a lonely journey.  A little feedback and support can be helpful in staying motivated.  Wisely choose the people in your life who will positively encourage you.  You may need to seek out a new community of like-minded people who can exchange support and goodwill.  Give yourself permission to distance yourself from people who judge, criticize, or otherwise bring you down.  And seek professional support when needed.  Sometimes it is not until we try making changes on our own that we realize outside guidance is needed.  So when even your best efforts seem to make no progress, consider it an act of self-compassion to recognize your own limits and reach out for help.

Written by Suzanne Smith, Ph.D. for the Lakefront Psychology Blog.  If you are interested in more original articles about mental health, postpartum issues, wellness, relationships, or parenting, please subscribe to the blog using the button below.  If you are interested in scheduling an appointment with Dr. Smith, please contact Lakefront Psychology at 216-870-9816.

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