It’s that time of year again when we pledge to be the better selves that we have been aspiring to be for (sometimes) many years. We promise ourselves more happiness, money, love, health, success…some even promise themselves more sex, if the past year has been somewhat of a ‘drought’ in that department ;). All in all, many of us gear up to make a more concerted effort to achieve the things we feel or think (or someone has told/complained to us about) we have been lacking in previous years.
That new diet, gym membership (did you know that gym memberships increase significantly in January of each year!), to be in touch with family or friends more, to leave that job that no longer ‘floats our boat’, to seek that soul mate that has been alluding us (the guy that showed up mid last year but didn’t make the grade doesn’t count) etc. etc.….[fill in your own promises to ‘self’ here]. When you call the yoga instructor to ask about her schedules for the New Year and her response starts with “Just as I told you last year…” (true story), that is a sign.
But before we pressure ourselves to stick to new regimens, maintain progressive mindsets, stop eating the food we love most (chocolate excluded), let me suggest that we step back a little, do a reality check and explore this annual human ritual. Firstly, how much of our resolution is about pleasing ‘self’ and how much is about conforming to societal, parental, spousal, cultural or even global expectations? Why is it that by February, the obstacles to our reaching the gym three times per week have become insurmountable? That diet was going fine until we got the invitation to the banquet or birthday party, so now we will have to start again on ‘Monday’ (you know the Monday that keeps representing itself like a perpetual restart date throughout the year?). Anyway, this is not about us beating ourselves up, so put away the metaphoric mental boxing gloves. The reality that many resolutions fall by the wayside as the gusto and enthusiasm of a fresh New Year fades, is not unique to you. By default, we revert to old habits and behaviours. That’s just how we humans are wired. Why is this? Are we so fickle, weak-willed, un-determined? Here are my thoughts, based on my understanding of this matter.
STUCK IN THE MUD (RUT)
Imagine the habit you are trying to change has been part of your consciousness for many years, like a car wheel stuck in the mud, that keeps turning and digging a deeper groove as time passes. You get the visual, right? Well just as you would need to apply a robust, effective and NEW strategy to get your vehicle out of the mud, the same principle applies to our well entrenched habits/behaviours. Simply saying we are going to change them is not going to get us out of the mud. It’s a good start, as there are many that don’t even realise they are stuck in mud; but it’s going take a little follow up action to bring about the desired/required change. Like stepping out of the vehicle/stilling your thoughts momentarily and taking a fresh look/perspective at the situation/yourself. You might just see the required strategy to reach your destination/goal more clearly when you stop and take stock…from a fresh vantage point.
A LITTLE BEHAVIOURAL BRAIN SCIENCE
It is said (not exactly sure by which psychologist or great thinker) that it takes 28 days of practicing a new behavior for a LASTING change to be effected in the mind of the behave-ee. Just this morning, however, I read that…’A University College London study reveals it takes 66 days to form a new habit. Not the 21-days or the 30-days we have been and are still being sold by self-help gurus’. Regardless of the duration, you literally have to create new neural networks/connections that the brain now recognises as the ‘new normal’ behaviour and will then revert to by default. Otherwise, the default setting is the longer established ‘stuck in the mud’ behaviour, that you are hoping to change. I don’t want to get too technical, as your interest in neuroscience may not match my intense fascination, so suffice to say, you have to do IT long enough for IT to become the new habit. Like riding a bike. The brain will remember and revert without much thought or pressure, once sufficient repetition has it locked!
Now, what if it’s a personality trait that you wish to change? What if someone (or many persons over the years) have hinted, complained of, or at the extreme, cussed you out for being too …………..? [Again, I will leave you to fill in the blank]. Well, we have the options of denial, (passive) aggressive defense or acceptance of the third party perception of who we are. The bigger question, which I have ‘resoluted’ to introduce during my upcoming Psychodrama Lab Workshop series this year, is how do you perceive/see yourself?
Don’t laugh, but in a recent ‘aha moment’, the gravity of realising that how I see myself could vary greatly from the way others perceive me, hit me for the first time! The gravity because I’m not quite a 16yrs old and a fresh work in progress!!! It came out of a recent conversation with a dear friend of many years, who revealed to me that recently, on his conscious journey of self-discovery, he was shocked to have realized that how he ‘thought’ he looked all these years, even how heavy he perceived himself to be, did not equate to the reality of what he NOW perceived. Sound complex? Let me try to explain, because it blew my mind too! Since his youth, my friend had been called mawga (skinny) and small. He built up a self- image that matched other people’s description of him which became his habitual perception of himself. His reality. Follow me now. The scale of his smallness had become etched in his mind…like the tyre in the mud…and had blocked/clouded his ability to ‘see’ himself, despite growing to nigh 6ft tall. Even in relation to others that were smaller than himself, his self-image always made him appear smaller (in his mind). When I asked him if he had not seen himself in the mirror over the years, or next to others of equal height and stature to correct his (false) perception, his response was that his deep rooted childhood perception of himself had clearly overridden the ‘truth’ of what his eyes were telling him. Deep, don’t? This sounded bizzare to me too, but there was my very intelligent, wise and sane bredren telling me something that I, up to now had taken for granted. We assume that people see themselves, physically at least, as we see them and it was a revelation for me to understand that there can be such gross disparities in the perceptions of the see-er and the see-ee!
We never really know how others see us and even when the world tells us certain things about who/how we are, we often default either the positive or negative things we have been ‘trained’ to believe about our ‘self’. So, this year. 2017. I have pledged to explore MY SELF, accepting that I am a work in progress. Flawed, yet brilliant. Imperfect, yet magnificent. Truly listening to what the world perceives me to be and reconciling it with my view of myself. Only when we take a realistic, honest and healthy stock of ourselves, can we make any meaningful steps to make adjustments to become a new improved version. Once we ‘know how we stay’…we then have the choice to stay in our old groove (mud) or to take conscious, concerted steps to make lasting adjustments. If ten people have told you that you are ‘mean’…there might just be some semblance of truth to their interpretation of that aspect of you. Saying, defensively, “I’m not mean, I’m prudent’ will only serve to satisfy your sanitized perception and make you feel good. Step back. Ask your-self…”Self, am I mean?”…then, without self-judgement, enjoy the journey of discovering that, “mi mean fi true”. Smile with self. Then decide (if you choose) to adjust behaviours that have fed that perceived reality, or simply stay mean same way! The freedom and joy comes from knowing that you are now in the driving seat of your personal evolution. Your journey is your own and whichever behaviours, habits or traits that exist within you are simply that. They pave the road to your journey. No matter your age or station in life, you may still choose to change the paving for a smoother trod…or not. Bottom line. It’s your unique life. Live it as you choose, but be clear that your thoughts and actions will create the future you either desire or fear, because, either way, your actions are fed by your thoughts. Yes, you are THAT powerful!
A realistic resolution? “I will seek to be consciously aware of, accept and be true to who I am in every given moment; changing what I choose, how I can, while enjoying my unique Work In Progress self”
In the meantime…Love YOU just the way you are!
SELF DISCOVERY THROUGH ROLE PLAY
How on earth can I identify, undo and re-invent myself after so many years in the mud? Thanks for asking!
Hmmmm, I envisage myself conducting (and benefiting from) Psychodrama sessions that will factor in role playing exercises to explore this phenomenon of healthy introspection and self-discovery. The sessions will also go deep into exploring the ‘multiple selves’ that make up each of our personas. Now that is another revelation-filled area of self-exploration!
Want to join a Psychodrama Lab Workshop for 2017? Let me know. In addition to some safe self-discovery, you will also help me fulfil one of my resolutions! To use the gifts I was given or trained for! [To Self: Why did I train as Psychodrama Therapist, if I wasn’t going to practice my skills?].
OH, WHAT IS PSYCHODRAMA?
According to Wikipedia…
‘Psychodrama is an action method, often used as a psychotherapy, in which clients use spontaneous dramatization, role playing, and dramatic self-presentation to investigate and gain insight into their lives’.
I can testify that Psychodrama really creates constructive changes in the lives of those participating. As I simply put it, “You get to see IT and act IT out before going forward to apply IT in your real life”. From forgiveness, blockage removal, identity issues, past traumas or simply sticking to your New Year resolutions…Psychodrama provides the creative forum for issues to be worked through and out.
Wishing you all an exciting journey of Self-Exploration…during 2017 and beyond! From one Work in Progress to another.