Your life is a metaphor. If you don’t like what it says, how things are going, you can change your situation. And whether the things you don’t like about your life are rather small pet peeves, or huge and horrific, whether the discomfort seems to come from within or clearly comes from other people, this can all change.
Step Zero: Make The Decision
This is the prerequisite to positive change, even when Step Zero is done unconsciously or subconsciously. It’s still important, and it’s the reason why no one will change unless they actually want to. (My mother always said you couldn’t change other people. She was right. You can only change yourself.)
So you’ve decided that you’re not going to tolerate the way things have been going in the past, and you’re finally ready to experience something quite different, and preferably quite nicer. Maybe you have a solid idea of what that nicer situation is. Maybe you don’t. Doesn’t matter! As wise as we think we are, as much as we suppose we understand ourselves and the world, not even the wisest among us don’t really see things clearly – so the issue you don’t like about your life situation might just be the tip of the iceberg. The good news is, once you start tackling the tip of the iceberg (and the rest of the iceberg begins to make itself known), you’ll have enough momentum to make some really stellar, really positive change in your life. And you know what? the tip of the iceberg is where you’re supposed to begin. Why? Because it’s the part you can actually see. Always start with the obvious.
But first, you’ve got to get to the place where you just can’t stand the current situation any more.
Step One: Accept The Morass
Alright – I just said start with the obvious, and yet Step One is counter-intuitive. That’s okay, because this counter intuitive bit is going to make the rest a whole lot easier.
So you’ve got Step Zero under your belt: you can’t stand your current situation and you are suitably motivated to try and change things. This might mean that you’re quite upset. Anger, after all, can be quite the motivator. But changes made in anger rarely turn out well for long term functioning. So now that you’ve gotten angry or frustrated enough to admit that your situation is really not acceptable, it’s time to accept it.
But I just used that same word in two different ways. The kind of acceptance you need to do in Step One is to simply accept that your current situation seems to actually be happening to you. That’s all. If you can manage to let go of the intense resistance to the situation while still acknowledging that you’d prefer something else, and that you’re going to work toward something else, the transition will be smother. This doesn’t mean that you have to suddenly start loving your situation. Rather, it means that you stop taking it personally.
Step Two: Ask For Help
I’m an American and a piece of my cultural identity as an American is fierce independence, so this bit was rather tough for me when I first started. Whether or not you’re an American, this could be an issue for you, too, and if a strain of independence is a part of your nature, you really need to get over it and ask for help. We’re social creatures and we weren’t meant to do everything on our own, nor bear our pain and suffering on our own.
Who to ask for help? First, ask the help of your Higher Power. Your request will be answered immediately, even if you can’t hear it or understand it right now. Second, pick a trusted friend, your therapist, a counselor, or your spiritual director/pastor and ask them for help. They might be able to render it themselves, or refer you to a great person to talk to about your situation. And if they do refer you, or strongly advise you to find a good therapist – please, please take their suggestion seriously. (It doesn’t mean you have to do it, it just means you have to take it seriously and honestly consider it.) The people you trust know you and your situation better than any blogger on the topic.
And in the meantime, between asking God for help and making that coffee date with a friend or appointment with a therapist, hop on to Step Three…
Step Three: Start Now
There’s no time like the present. You want change in your life? Make a little change right now. This can be a small change, a metaphorical change or a large and compassionate decision, but take this whole ‘change’ thing out for a spin!
What’s a Small Change? A small change is a change in your habit, your routine. Usually go straight home after work? Stop at a coffee shop and do fifteen minutes of pleasure reading. Usually take the same route to the grocery store, or to work? Leave fifteen minutes early and get off one exit earlier or later than usual, or take the scenic route. Go talk a walk in a beautiful neighborhood you’ve only driven through. If you like animals, go to a store, or a shelter and cuddle the kittens. These are very small changes, indeed, but if you’re not used to doing them, they’ll feel huge. And if you can’t tolerate a small change, how are you going to manage the big ones? Practice now!
What’s a Metaphorical Change? A metaphorical change is when you say to yourself, “I want to clean out the closets of my WHOLE LIFE!” and then you go and clean out your actual closet. You go and clear out the old so you have space to welcome in the new. And it could be a closet, or your office, or your inbox, or your living room. Cleaning, clearing and organizing – tidying things up – is a great way to prepare for big change.
What’s a Large & Compassionate Decision? A large and compassionate decision is usually something that starts to chisel away at the top of that iceberg. It’s not necessarily something that you’ve done in consultation with other people, and it’s always a purely positive action. A decision like, ‘I’m not going to complain anymore,’ or ,’I’m not going to gossip anymore,’ or ‘I’m not going to argue and try to be right all the time,’ are all large and compassionate decisions. At first they may seem fairly small and of no great significance, and yet when we start enacting them in our lives, we can sometimes realize what a huge role they’ve played in the past. If we feel moved to make such a decision, it’s usually something that will end up hitting right at the heart of that iceberg, a watershed moment that we’ll be able to look back on and say, ‘that’s when it all started changing for me’.
So, get going and good luck!