One Step at a Time

Rocks on a Hawaiian BeachWhen it comes to personal growth, you have three options: take a step forward, take a step back, or stay in the present moment.

One of the easiest traps to fall into when you first begin therapy is to get stuck on what it’s going to be like in the future when things have changed. But when my clients get upset and angry about how long it takes to work on themselves and feel better, I tell them it takes “one step at a time.”  You wouldn’t start kindergarten and expect to be promoted to fifth grade at the end of the year. It takes time, patience and staying in the present moment as much as you can. Thinking about your future and not paying attention to your present moment is not going to get you anywhere!

Once you’ve taken that trip to the future to see what you think life will be like, come back to the present moment and set it into motion by making a plan. But you can’t just think about it, you have to take daily steps to do it. But you also have to be aware of those daily steps to make it stick.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I often have clients that say to me “This is hard work. I don’t want to get better; I was doing just fine doing what I was doing,” or “I fixed the problem I am okay now; I don’t need to work on me anymore.”

That is like deciding to just keep wearing the same shoes you wore in third grade, even though your feet have grown since then. You can’t go back again after you have begun to change your thoughts, your perspective, and your life. You’ll always feel unhappy and out of sorts. Just like wearing those tiny shoes.

Once you get started and you are serious about change, learning to stay in the present moment and taking each day as it comes with your new tools becomes so much easier. It’s okay to take baby steps. Life has its’ moments when things aren’t so great, but if you take one step at a time and practice what you’ve learned in therapy it is so much more fun!

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Paddling Against the Current

Standup paddleboarderWhen you change your life’s pattern for the good, it can feel like you are moving against everyone else. That’s because you are adjusting to new patterns, new ways of thinking, maybe even different ways of dressing, eating, or speaking and not everyone is moving in the same new direction as you.

You might find it harder to express your ideas or thoughts because those around you who used to understand you, no longer do. They may give you a hard time, or get frustrated because they can’t fathom why you would want to change. Like paddling against the current, you may feel like you’re not getting anywhere.

Don’t worry. This is just a temporary state and as you as you adjust to the new pattern, things will begin to fall into place. It’s sort of like moving the furniture around in a room. At first it looks like a jumbled mess, but then you move the couch, vacuum under the rug, put the books back on the bookshelves, and buy new pillows for the couch. Before you know it, you have a new living room. Even though no one else could understand why you were rearranging a perfectly fine living room, you knew things needed to change so you did it!

Making life changes is sort of like that. And once it’s been changed, there’s no going back to the way the furniture was before you switched it around. Old patterns, habits, and sometimes even friends, no longer fit into your life.

It’s okay. Change is good and personal growth, moving forward on our path is the ultimate goal in life – even if it is an upstream struggle.

So don’t listen to that little voice in your head that’s says to go back……Listen to your heart. It will always help you move forward.

Change is Subtle

Purple ButterflyChange comes about as millions of tiny little acts that seem totally insignificant. Knowing this we shouldn’t  be so afraid to act.

But we are, right? Sometimes even taking the tiniest, teensiest, baby steps, feels more like scaling the Grand Canyon than making a small change. We get sidetracked by the overall goal and forget to honor ourselves for the little things we do everyday to affect change.

The trick here is to focus on one step at a time and not get overwhelmed with all the details, possible outcomes, and expectations.

But it’s not so easy, is it?

When I say, “focus on one step at a time,” what I mean is, devote your full attention to the current (tiny) task at hand. Let’s say you have a really hard time saving money but you want to take a vacation that will cost $5000. Instead of focusing on the total amount you wish to save – which can be totally overwhelming – and the fact that you are “horrible at saving money,” just start by placing whatever cash you have in your purse, wallet, or pocket every Friday in a jar or envelope. (I actually like to use an old Altoids tin.) Don’t count it, just put it in. At the end of each month, allow yourself a few minutes to calculate how much you’ve saved. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done and then move on. You’ll find that without focusing on the goal, you will eventually get there – probably quicker than if you had obsessed about it every day and done nothing but focus on your poor saving skills. You may even find that you put money in on Wednesday, too.

Because that one act of putting a dollar in an envelope reinforces your desire to save money and reminds the Universe that you are willing to change which then attracts positive energy and support for the change you are trying to make which then makes it even easier to change.

Phew! That’s a mind-bender. But I hope you can see my point.

The same advice is true whether you are trying to get sober, heal from an abusive relationship, or become a more confident person. It’s all the tiny little actions that add up to the major change.

Don’t be afraid. You can do it!