We often want to change habits or patterns in our lives that are not serving us well–eat healthier, exercise more, stop smoking, manage stress. There is a lot of information in self help books and online about how we can be successful in establishing healthier habits. In the daily practice of being with my patients, one specific area of this process that fascinates me, is the spirit with which we take these tentative steps towards improving ourselves.
The idea of change, even when self imposed, even when for the purpose of improving ourselves and our lives, can be stressful! The journey forward can be fraught with anxiety or uncertainty. Can I really do it? What if I fail? How will this affect how others see me?
Often our goals for change are fresh, fragile dreams. We need to protect them and handle them with care. Part of respecting our dreams and goals means not resenting where we currently are, or berating ourselves for not moving along quicker, better, stronger than the next person. Treating ourselves in a harsh or self critical way rarely supports forward movement. Rather, it encourages a continued decline of our self worth, which often then leads to unhealthy choices to soothe ourselves.
Whether we are talking about having diet coke for breakfast or weeks without exercise, our old habits likely served some type of need in our lives. A hole of some sort was filled. We need to start by understanding this void. Where does it come from? What do we really need? How does his hole feel in my body? How will my life look different if I can fill this void in a healthier way?
So we start from a place of gentle curiosity about why this change and why this need and why now? Answering these questions in a meaningful way requires us to be still and tune into a voice within, a voice that is letting us know it is time. The challenge is to sit with this voice with compassionate presence and listen fully, openly, and without judgement of ourselves. Perhaps next steps start to reveal themselves now.
Of course it is true that fundamental principles of change apply–small steps, a timeline, accountability, etc, are a critical piece of execution. Can we take these steps with a spirit of playful curiosity and exploration, with joy even? We are choosing dreams! What else is the purpose of change other than greater health, happiness, and satisfaction in our lives? Creating a space for this type of exploration also allows for the unexpected to unfold, rather than imposing our will with rigidity. We can discover how the universe meets us on our path of change, perhaps with an unexpected twist or alternative.
We can’t experience the joy of change if we are so busy doing and criticizing that we cannot create space for wonder and open-ness. We can’t hear the wisdom of our internal voices and the universe around us, if our loud self critical voices drown them out. This journey, this life, is specific to each of us, ours to own. When we feel change calling to us, let us be gentle and joyful in spirit, welcoming the opportunity for growth. Let us be grateful for the process and the destination, the path that led us here and the path onward.