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We all say we want to change.
But what happens when we get stuck trying to get to the starting gate?
I was looking forward to seeing a new client. She had recently experienced traumatic domestic violence, and photos of her were consistent with those of a heavy drug user. She said she couldn’t find herself any more.
I was all about helping women find themselves, and I was excited to see how we would work together.
But the night before our appointment, she cancelled, saying she was feeling bad, but that in general she really wanted to work with me. So we rescheduled for a few days later. And then that day, she flaked altogether. Three hours later, she messaged: she had been having a panic attack and had been smoking a lot of dope lately, which made her even more anxious (and yet couldn’t conceive of cutting back on the dope). Then, she spiraled into a sort of trance monologue about everything she didn’t want, and became deaf to the rest of the world.
It’s easy to get stuck in our negative echo chambers. It’s easy to get swallowed up by our fears. It’s easy to drown in the comfortable sea of lacking.
It is hard to step out of what we know and allow ourselves to begin to inhabit a new universe whose rules and inhabitants we don’t yet know.
Even if we know that outside of our comfort zone is where the magic happens, even if we are sick of the way things are and yearn for a healthy new life, even if we are so hungry for change we could taste it—sometimes we still get stuck even marching up to the beginning.
So what then?
Things to try when you want to change but get stuck before you can start:
Do a body check-in.
How are you standing or sitting right now? How does the ground feel under your feet? How does the chair feel under your butt? Are you leaning more on one side or another? What does the fabric of your clothes feel like on your skin? Are you warm or cool?
What else are you feeling in your body right now?
Where do you feel your breath? Where don’t you feel your breath? What would happen if you invited some breath into those spaces?
Think about what it’s like to be stuck when you want to change. Where do you feel the “stuck” in your body? Just noticing it is enough for now.
Are you comfortable the way you’re sitting right now? Is there something you could shift to make yourself feel more comfortable? What if you had permission to make yourself feel all the way comfortable, what would that look like?
Figure out what’s already working.
When we mire ourselves in miserable situations, they’re often situations that are useful to us. Something about them is working for us. Some need of ours is getting fulfilled. After the first moments of, “Not in my situation—I hate this, it’s dreadful, and you don’t understand,” subside, ask yourself: what about this crappy situation is secretly useful and wonderful? What fabulous service is it providing in my life? If I didn’t have this dark but fantastic thing going for me, what would I lose about how I define my life?
And it’s okay—acknowledging it is only happening in your thoughts. Nobody is going to overhear your secret answer. This is just for you to notice for yourself. And since you’re all alone and it’s a safe place, go ahead and really dig. Get dark and nasty: “I could never tell this to other people because then they’d think I’m a freak, but actually, this situation is really working great for me. If it were different, I would lose out on a lot.”
Verbalise what’s working, to yourself, as specifically as you can. Then verbalise it to yourself even more specifically.
Love the hot mess.
Nobody is selling spectator tickets to your subconscious. In the secret chambers of your own mind, you are allowed to notice whatever you want, and think whatever you want, and get as crazy, as naughty, and as counterculture as you want.
And this is what you must do if you really want to leave a dysfunctional pattern behind and step forward into a new chapter of your life.
Check in with the dark corners of yourself and here, in the quiet of your own safe room, go ahead and love your own hot mess. Love the part of you that nerds out on continuing whatever cycle you want to change. Find the part of you that most drives you nuts and that you think is the least you part of you, and grab it, and love it, and hug it, and roll around in it, and hold it to you, and nuzzle your cheek against it.
Because this part, this warty, dark, rat-encrusted part of you is your ticket into your next chapter. This unlikely suspect is the exact and precise power that is going to catapult you into your new life. But it can’t do it until you recognize and embrace it.
So go ahead and visualise that part of yourself. What does it look like? Does it look like Maurice Sendak’s wild thing? Does it look like the Mouse King in The Nutcracker? Does it look like a “Ghostbusters” ghost?
Whatever it is, make it as as specific and unsavoury as you want, see it in front of you, and then see how you might go about making friends with this being. Because there is something about it that will be incredibly interesting to you.
Scale it way back.
What if you almost made it to the start, but just couldn’t quite. You were so close, and then the hand of God reached down, seized you, and set you back four paces?
It can be super tempting to beat yourself up when this happens. However, this is not a productive solution. What if, instead, you scaled it way back?
Is this a change you can make in teeny increments? What if you took baby steps and made a huge deal out of congratulating yourself at every tiny step? And if you fall down, you just start over, and that’s fine, and you keep on making a huge deal out of congratulating yourself at every tiny step?
My bank said they had an urgent letter waiting for me that they couldn’t email and I had to read online. But every time I opened the browser to read the email, I had a panic attack. So I scaled it way back.
First, I took a couple days getting myself out of trigger mode, and I gave myself a mental parade for this. Then I practiced just opening a new tab on my browser, and then closing it. I did this for a while, giving myself gigantic gold stars and endless praise each time. Over time, I calmed myself down and was able to open and read the letter, and everything was fine. But going “overboard” and really congratulating the bejeezus out of myself for tiny incremental achievements was key.
Baby steps. Love yourself as you are. And then you can get where you’re going.
Be present with what is.
Lastly, have a look at the whole situation, and just sit with it.
You were back there, but now you’re here, balancing between an old chapter and beginning a new chapter. And next, you want to be over there. You have dark and light, things that hold you back and things that push you forward, and they’re all critical tools in your toolbox. They are all here to help you evolve into your new you, even though they all work differently.
Your subconscious is your most powerful self, chewing away at growing into your healthiest iteration of yourself. Forces from the past pull you one way, your desire to change pulls you another, and that’s cool. That’s interesting.
Take the pressure off, sit back, breathe, be in your body, and see if you can just sit with that interesting balance of forces, and just be really curious about it. See this balancing act as a work of art, the work of this moment. Admire it from all angles, without thinking of changing it. Let it impress you.
And then…the change has already begun!