Girl School for Grownups

Like having a big sister, but better because I can't boss you around!

Reader question: Is change possible?

on March 28, 2015

“Is it possible to change something you really don’t like about yourself?” What a great question. As someone who struggles with habits, there have been times when this question would have sent me straight to bed to pull the covers over my head. This is not one of those times, thank goodness. 🙂 Let’s explore what it takes to change.

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  1. Yes, change is possible. George Eliot said, “You are never too old to be what you might have been.” As a late bloomer in nearly everything, I love this! We have the volition to choose our course, so take comfort in the fact that the future is not set in stone.
  2. Change is really fucking hard, unless it’s easy. My husband has more willpower than almost anyone I know. When he decides to change something, he’s all in and makes progress seem effortless. I love/hate this about him. He’s spent a lifetime developing his discipline muscle. Me? Not so much. So depending on your history with habits and resolutions and the like, changing something can be kinda tricky.
  3. There is always a payoff for what we do. This idea makes me uneasy because it’s absolutely true. You know how you can look at someone and think, “Why the heck would they do that?” Even behavior we don’t understand, in other or in ourselves, comes with some sort of payoff, whether we know it or not. Notice, I didn’t say benefit. A benefit (root bene = good, like beneficial) is something that helps us. A payoff is usually something that confirms a deeply held belief or keeps us in our comfort zone. “Comfort zone” is a misnomer because comfort seems good and comfort zones can be deeply uncomfortable. What’s seductive about a comfort zone is that it is known and familiar, and the pull to stay there can be oh so strong.
  4. Get crystal clear on the why. I was a pack a day smoker in my early 20s. I was both physically and psychologically addicted. Before I quit, I wrote out a list of all the reasons I wanted to quit, including financial benefits, health benefits, my clothes wouldn’t smell benefits, and the one that stood out more than any other. I smoked when I drove, and I would flick the ashes out the car window. Several times my ash flicking didn’t go as planned, and I ended up with little burn holes in my skirt or pants. For some reason this made me feel deeply ashamed and bad. And this was a good “why” to focus on because the emotional impact was so big. (I quit several months later when I got really sick — so sick that I didn’t smoke for 4 days. And I figured that I should keep going. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it was so worth it!)
  5. Tell someone. There are support groups for losing weight and dealing with addictions. There are therapists who can help untangle emotional issues. There are friends who can become accountability buddies, helping you to move towards what you really want. In my experience, a recipe for no change at all is me staying silent and just trying really hard. All that is is exhausting.

For yoga teacher training, we’re reading a wonderful book called “Being of Power: The 9 practices to ignite an empowered life” by Baron Baptiste. One of the practices is titled “let it be.” Here’s part of what Baron has to say:

We all face a paradox. In order to grow, we need to start from total acceptance of where we are and where we’re not, what we have and what’s missing — exactly as it is. Total acceptance doesn’t mean that we’d be okay with something if it were just a little more this or that, or after X or Y happens; it means that we take out the judgement that something is wrong or shouldn’t be and accept it exactly as it is, right here, right now, with no conditions. 

If things are really bad or stuck or aren’t necessarily as we want them to be, then that last sentence can be pretty challenging to consider. I mean, why would anyone choose to be broke, alone, sick, out of shape, or anything else that feels depressing, frustrating or painful? We’ll resist these things at all costs, because we’re afraid that if we don’t, we’ll get stuck with whatever is causing them. But the truth is that if you are not at peace with your current reality — exactly as it is and exactly as it isn’t — then that’s exactly when you will get stuck with it. As the famous line goes, “what you resist persists.” What you resist you empower. Resistance sucks energy and space, which creates contraction, so when you’re spending so much of your precious energy resisting, there is no flow, no life, and definitely no power in that realm.

Deep stuff, right? But it’s the truth. We did an exercise where we had to choose things in our lives that are not as we want them to be and write down “I embrace (blank) exactly as it is and exactly as it isn’t.” Here are some examples from the book:

  • I embrace my mother-in-law exactly as she is and exactly as she isn’t.
  • I embrace my bankruptcy exactly as it is and exactly as it isn’t.
  • I embrace my illness exactly as it is and exactly as it isn’t.

Here’s one more quote from the book:

When we did an exercise similar to this at a workshop in Toronto, a student named Paulina stood up and said that it was her laziness that was presenting the most problems for her. Then she added, “I’m not going to embrace my laziness — no way. I want to overcome it!”

I know we all want to overcome adversity. But remember we don’t overcome anything. That’s a false sense of control. If Paulina could have worked through her laziness, she would have by now. When we let something be, we’re acknowledging it and stepping toward it as a conscious choice. Once we embrace it, we have the freedom to respond to it differently and take a new pathway if that’s what we then decide. What we fully choose and embrace we can fully release. There’s no power in resisting and being half in or half out. Just be 100 percent for it, as it is and as it isn’t without shame, judgement, or complaints, and see what dissolves or arises out of that.

This acceptance of what is really does produce the freedom to change. I’m experiencing it in my own life.

One final thought: I’m reading a new book “Better Than Before” by Gretchen Rubin. In it she explores the subject of habits. I am a creature of few habits, married to a man of many habits. I see the freedom and ease that his habits afford him, and yet I struggle with putting my own good habits into place. I’m hoping Gretchen’s exploration of habits will help me with this.

And so, dear reader, here is your homework assignment, should you want some homework. Do the ” I embrace” exercise regarding what you want to change. Then get clear on the payoffs you get from the behavior, enlist help, and maybe start reading “Better Than Before.” And know that my heart is with you as you move toward what you want most.

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2 responses to “Reader question: Is change possible?

  1. stacy says:

    once again, you are so clear and complete in your thoughts. the idea of embracing something that one doesn’t like about themselves is very very scary, but I’m willing to do the work. so thank you dear friend!!

  2. Cindy says:

    Leslie,

    You remind me of my beloved pastor, as I sit in the pew and listen to his sermons- it feels as though he is speaking to my heart. “How does he know what I am struggling with?”
    I shared your post with my sons and two of my dear friends. My sons are both in their twenties and they are encountering numerous forks in the road. Because of their age, the gift of insight and self knowledge is still to be harnessed.
    For me, your message confirmed that as I encounter the endless challenges and changes that confront us, it is imperative to remember that if we picture a life void of change, where nothing is ever different we rob ourselves of opportunities to grow, to expand our hearts. Change affords us the gift of new experiences and feelings – alternating between “I am it” to “I am shit”.
    Either way we make the choice- be gutted and retreat or get back up and be reborn yet again.

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