Don't Be Afraid to Embrace Change

Saturday, 02 April 2011 11:14

October 2006

Don't Be Afraid to Embrace Change

With all the self help advice we get now, how is it that we still get stuck in bad relationships, or dreary jobs, live where we don't want to live, do things we know are bad for us, or just feel generally miserable? I meet a great many people who tell me that they've had counselling and they understand much more about themselves but they're still depressed. Why do we get stuck and why can't we change?  

There are two reasons we stay stuck. The first is that we're not prepared to give up a reward, and the second is that we're afraid of change. 

Not Wanting to Give Up a Reward. 

Whenever we do something that causes us nothing but pain we try never to do that thing again. For instance, when we were a small child we put our hand on something that was extremely hot. We felt total pain, and ever since then we've tried to avoid anything that might burn us. At the same time, we might have hated to take the medicine our mother gave us because it was bitter and horrible, but we found that, if we took our medicine nicely, mummy gave us a special hug and kiss, and that made us happy. We learned to put up with something nasty in the hope of some reward. In adult life, if we go on doing something that hurts us, it's because somewhere in it is a reward. A very common example of this is smoking. Everyone knows that smoking causes lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease and, worst of all, it wrinkles and ages your skin, but it does give a reward, a lessening of anxiety and something to do with your hands when you're feeling nervous. So you go on smoking.  

Sometimes the reward you get is knowing that, even though you're suffering, you've a good person. Many women stay in the most abusive relationships because they want to think of themselves as being kind, loving, and sensitive, that is, good, and to leave the relationship they believe they would have to be unkind, unloving and insensitive, that is, bad. In the same way many people go on being depressed because they prefer to be good than happy.

The reward for staying in a dreary job might be that you don't have any responsibilities and thus you don't get blamed for anything. You might be telling yourself that you can't take on responsibilities because you don't have any self-confidence. The great rewards for lacking self-confidence are that other people do things for you, you never lose a competition because you never enter one, and people are always trying to bolster your self-confidence by telling you how wonderful you are. Become self-confident and all these rewards vanish. 

The reward for living somewhere where you don't want to live could be that you feel safe with your family close by, or you stay in a place which is familiar because you're terrified of strangers and strange places. Again your problem is a lack of self-confidence, and your reluctance to overcome this. 

If you want to become unstuck you have to identify what the reward is in your stuck position. Then you have to ask yourself, 'Am I prepared to give up this reward?' If your answer is, 'No,' then you may as well resign yourself to being stuck and stop complaining about it. Don't whinge to yourself like a small child that it's not fair that you can't have everything. Growing up means knowing that you can't have everything, and that you should go for the important rewards and discard the unimportant ones. 

Fear of Change. 

Growing up also means being courageous and knowing how to tolerate uncertainty. Change always involves uncertainty. We map out what we intend to do, and then we discover, as John Lennon said, 'Life is what happens while we're making other plans.' Life never turns out to be what we predict it will be.  

Many people lead dreary, unhappy lives because they fear to change. They think that if they stay as they are they can predict exactly what is going to happen. As the old proverb says, 'Better the devil you know than the devil you don't know.' Unfortunately, the devil you know can always surprise you. You can't avoid change by refusing to change. 

Everything in this world is somehow linked to everything else. Do something, and the ripples - the consequences - spread out in all directions. There is no way of knowing just what all these ripples or consequences are, and we certainly can't control them all. When some people think about what all the possible consequences of some small action might be they feel helpless. Feeling helpless can be frightening, and so many people decide not to act. But deciding not to act is as much a decision as deciding to act. Every decision has consequences, and you can't avoid the consequences. Being brave isn't being without fear. It is acknowledging your fear but still acting in the way you know is right for you. 

At some point in the future you're going to look over your life and assess it.  Do you want to have to say, 'I wasted my life because I was too afraid to take the best opportunities life offered me,' or do you want to be able to say, 'I lived my life to the full. I couldn't take all the opportunities life offered me but I chose the best of the opportunities I had and made the most of them'?