Transformation is a sexy word. It is used to sell products under the pretence of lifestyle change as an aid for the journey of achieving our “best self”. The reality, however, can be quite a different picture. What the quick ‘before and after’ pictures fail to present is the internal questioning, self-doubt and the difficulties of birthing a new neurological (and behavioural) pattern of change.
When we sign up for “change”, we don’t think about the process because we become fixated on the outcome. This naive thinking pattern ultimately sets us up for failure. We aren’t mentally primed for the tumultuous dance between who we once were and what we have set ourselves out to become. Our understanding of chrysalis is incomplete, we forget the whole part of breaking through a messy barrier. This oversight pulls us back into our cocoon and a lot of the time we end up going back to being stuck in our rut. However, having forethought on the stages and in understanding the essence of change, we are able to navigate through the chapters with much more ease and can continue down a path of self-discovery. The fulfilment comes from knowing the horizon has both ups and downs. Change is a process, not a verbal antidote to our current reality.
The first truth is that change happens in steps. Transformation is a process, not merely a before and after picture. Once a person makes the commitment to change; when a patient says ‘I don’t want to feel lonely anymore’, ‘I’m tired of fighting with my partner’, ‘I don’t want to settle anymore’, only then can the work begin. Appreciating that there are stages (in no particular order) of acknowledgement, action, revision, reaction, plateau and reflection can help when you feel like you have put in hard work, time and dedication but nothing appears to be going anywhere. It is important to remember that patience is an essential part of the process.
The second truth of change is that sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better. Contrary to popular belief, change (like many things) isn’t linear. It is important to understand that behavioural change is neurological change. The study of epigenetics shows our behaviour rewires our brain, it is how we interact with the environment that creates neurological patterns. The more we engage in a behaviour, the stronger this pattern becomes. However, cognition exists on a different plane. So we can have an awareness of how we want to act, but a neurological pattern which is stronger than our awareness. This disconnect easily leads to shame, judgement and regret. It is important when going through chapters of change, when you tell yourself “I should have known better”, knowing that is sometimes enough. The judgement is useful but not a place to linger for too long, it’s time to get back to reinforcing your neurological change. Neural plasticity is a beautiful thing but it needs to be practised.
The third truth of change is that we get to change our mind. Sometimes we are seduced by fleeting ideas and well-curated images of the person we think we need to be. The reality of change is, you don’t know how you’re going to feel when you start doing the new behaviour, job or relationship. As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20. It is okay to try something and realise that it wasn’t for you, it wasn’t ‘change’ that you needed but rather a deeper dive into your belief system about who you thought you wanted to be.