Change is cyclical. As people grow and evolve, we learn the same lessons over and over again, but our understandings shift and deepen as we go along, in a continuous, spiral process. This idea is reflected in 12-step recovery programs. Recovering addicts always maintain that they are still addicts, but that they are continually choosing sobriety. This is because they have seen how easy it is to forget and revert to old habits and understandings. Change is not like a light switch. It is a continuous process involving self-reflection, open-mindedness and determination.
As I have gone through the process of growing and changing, and watched others do the same, I have identified certain themes that seem to guide the way. In this column, I will explore many topics, but these ideas are like the lighthouse that guides the way. They ensure that we stay on the right path, and allow ourselves to be fully open as we work through issues in ourselves and in our family systems. We should never focus on problems and blame. Instead, we need to keep our focus trained on gratitude and positivity for the things, opportunities, and people in our lives. And as we walk toward the optimism and possibilities that this opens up for us, we look at ourselves, and what we can do to get there, overcoming the adversity and hardship that happens along the way.
The first theme that I focus on is positivity. I have found that the quickest way to fail at something is to focus on the negative and doubt ourselves. We are surrounded in so much negativity, and many people have even started to view everything that they encounter through this filter. Their life becomes like a conveyer belt of victimization and misery. But that same person, by choosing to focus on gratitude, compassion, and positivity, can watch their whole life transform. Life is much more about how you choose to view and interpret things than what is actually happening to you. Happiness is truly a choice, and I am always searching for things that help us consistently make that choice.
My second theme is being open-minded, looking inside, and accepting responsibility for ourselves and our actions. When we blame others or our circumstances, we simultaneously slam shut the very doors that will release us from the things that are upsetting us. In every situation, all that we can affect and change is ourselves, and that is what we have to do.
Trying to change and persuade others doesn’t work, and the more of our own intentions we have in mind when we communicate with people, the less receptive they will be to our words. Accepting responsibility is not the same thing as allowing others to walk all over us. It is the ultimate form of self-empowerment, and it will completely transform our lives.
When we take responsibility for ourselves and accept others exactly as they are without asking them to change, we can evaluate for ourselves whether or not we want to be around those people. It is not our job to change them or fix things. Our job is to create a life for ourselves that we love, and that is authentic and meaningful.
This brings me to my third theme. Once we decide to see the world as a beautiful opportunity to fully realize our dreams, we need to make sure that we know how to make the most of that. This involves discovering and reaching for our inner passions.
It is about finding the things that motivate and inspire us as individuals, and making choices that take us there. It is a process of relearning how to listen to and follow our hearts and spirits, and tune out the interference caused by negative thoughts and what other people try to choose for us along the way.
Now that we are confidently striding toward our goals and dreams, we need to start preparing ourselves for the serious road blocks that we are going to encounter along the way. No matter who you are or what you are trying to do, life will throw obstacles at you. But if you know this, and you decide that you are going to meet these hardships with determination, you will push through.
This fourth theme is about never giving up, and continuously overcoming adversity. As you grow your endurance and tolerance, and begin to see things in a more positive light, it can even feel good to overcome these things. When we see all hardships as just a small challenge to our mindsets and actions, it becomes exhilarating to watch ourselves soar to new heights of success that our defeatist attitudes have never allowed us to reach in the past.
The last thing I have noticed about this process is how much of it is really about acceptance and letting go. Almost everything that makes us unhappy is something that we are not allowing or accepting. When life does not feel smooth, it is because we are trying to resist, control, or force something. And if we are really honest with ourselves, we will see that life is really never going to just be comfortable and easy like we try so hard to make it.
By clinging to the illusion that it will one day be this way, we give away a lot of our happiness and power. We have to learn to accept life as it is, and to let go of trying to will things into being the way we think they should. This goes for people too.
When we can really understand these themes and follow them in our lives, that is when we will see startling transformations occur. As I mentioned in the beginning, however, improving our lives is a continuous, cycling process, with ups and downs. There seems to be an unspoken myth in our culture that change is a one-time decision that only involves willpower.
Few people seem to acknowledge the complicated factors involved in making real changes. No matter how long you do something, or how good you get at it, it still involves practice, effort, and motivation.
Losing weight is a good example of this. People who lose weight and get fit don’t just flip some switch inside of themselves to become a new person with new tastes and habits. Instead, they continually start to make better choices, one after another, along with bad days, hard times, and lots of mistakes. But they stick with it, keep their positive goals in mind, and continually accept where they are, accept those mistakes, and keep making the choices that bring them results. But at any point they can still give up or fall back into their old patterns.
The myth of everything becoming effortless, or the idea of “happily ever after” just does not exist in reality.
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