Staying with Change

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It is easy to begin something new, especially when it is self-motivated. What is less easy is keeping at it when challenges come up that make keeping to our new resolution hard.

In truth, starting something new and bumping along the road a little to start is completely normal. Trying to instil a new habit takes time, focus and effort whereas reverting to old habits is easy. The thing that makes a new habit an old habit is practice. What I have noticed, with adults particularly, is that we often expect ourselves to know how to do something, even if we haven’t actually done it before. And when we can’t do it as easily as we expected a negative and critical inner voice tends to emerge. It will look and sound different depending on your interior state. It comes in the forms of excuses, blame or self-criticism. Our levels of personal responsibility affect how we react to ourselves in these circumstances. Some will blame the external environment for their inability to make a new habit stick and some turn their blame inwards. Their inner conversation is critical and judgmental of themselves. What is interesting about this behaviour is that is distracts us from what we are actually trying to do, learn and keep a new habit.

When we fall, and we will, the key is to work out how to get back up. We know that blaming the environment and criticizing others or ourselves is not the real truth or particularly helpful.

When putting new behaviour into action you will get feedback from yourself. You will be able to tell if you are getting closer to your goal or not because you will feel different. You might be thinking more creatively, feeling healthier in your body or happier in your relationships. When you slip back into an old pattern you will also get feedback from that behaviour. Slipping is not the place to get stuck. We are human and we all have days and moments when it is hard to keep the promises we make to ourselves. The skill that matters here is getting back on the track of building a new habit.

How do you bring yourself back to where you would like to be? Pema Chodron recommends the combination of honesty and kindness. She says that, ‘unconditional joy comes about when we allow ourselves to see clearly what we do with great honesty, combined with a tremendous kindness and gentleness.’ So when you slip, be honest with yourself about what caused you to slip, and with tremendous kindness to your struggling self get back on your new track.

Focus

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The topic of focus came up today and it fits into the theme of change from my previous posts this month. When we are trying to break a habit or create a new one the skill of focus is required. When we have developed a habit we act without thinking. In order to change that habitual action we have to be aware of what needs to change and have the focus to keep us on the new path. It reminds me of a saying I heard once that ‘energy flows where your focus goes’. Read more

Acceptance

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Last week the focus was on resolutions and the role that change plays in our lives. This week I am going to focus on another aspect of working with change; the concept of acceptance. The reason I think it is necessary to bring acceptance into the conversation is because it is a highly resourceful place from which to begin a process of change.

It is easy to look for things that aren’t right or need changing. While this in itself is not wrong; stepping towards change from a position of acceptance is a far stronger basis from which to begin a journey of change.

The research is very clear, we are wired to notice fault and negativity. If someone praises you for what you did well five times and tells you what you did badly once, you will hear it in a ratio of 1:1. If we are not aware of this, we can fall into the habit of criticism towards others and ourselves. Criticism seems to be under pinned by the idea that there is some perfect ideal that we are striving towards, and to get there, it is necessary to have the imperfections pointed out to us. Criticism is very different from feedback. Feedback is a perspective that is requested or offered from the outside world that broadens our view of how things are. It can be extremely helpful if requested and received from an appropriate source. The way to tell the difference is that, unlike criticism, feedback does not leave you feeling diminished or bad about yourself. Feedback can help us build our ability to practice acceptance.

It is not impossible to implement change from a place of discontent and criticism. The main issue is that discontent and criticism come with strong emotional content that can be distracting and detrimental to our efforts for true change. If we start by feeling bad about ourselves it can make us defensive which closes us down and isolates us from others when we most need their support in our quest for change.

Acceptance is entirely different. It is the ability to identify and be with what is actually happening without assessing it as right or wrong. It does not insist that we like what we see or feel. It simply asks us to see it as it is. There is something grace–filled about achieving this state. It is not judgmental. It requires observation and awareness. This creates curiosity and when we are curious it is much easier to see what else is possible. Criticism holds judgment as the antidote to change; acceptance holds awareness as this driver.

So as you move into the second week of implementing your resolutions spend a few minutes assessing where your desire for change is coming from. Are you standing in criticism of yourself, which holds that where you are is bad and you need to be somewhere else to be a better person. Or are you coming from the position of acceptance? Are you able to observe what your current reality is and be curious about how it could be different? If the basis of your resolutions were negative, I would encourage you to give the practice of acceptance a go and see what happens in your quest for change.

Resolutions

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There is a love hate relationship with people and resolutions at this time of year. A year ending and a new year beginning always sparks a time of deeper reflection for me. The outcome of reflection is insight and insight brings awareness and the seeds for resolution. The fun for me is working out how to bring a resolution to life. A resolution, at its heart, is a wish for change.

How we perceive change influences our ability to engage with it. What I know is that having skills to manage change makes me more resourceful in a world that is constantly changing and being able to engage with change in an accepting way increases my sense of inner peace and personal power. The word acceptance is not suggesting you have to like the change. Sometimes we have to adapt to horrible things. To resist what changes is to reject what is. This keeps us trapped in a place that is not here, now; and when we are not present, we cannot change anything. That means that we set ourselves up to the experience of being constantly in something what we don’t want. The practice of resistance keeps the negative cycle going. The practice of acceptance allows for something new to emerge. The resolutions born out of acceptance are more likely to become real and lasting.

I see resolutions as ideas about how to change my experience of life for the better so I don’t restrict them to once a year. When I recognize something has changed in the world that I would like to adapt to better or when I want to change something specifically to improve my personal experience that’s the time for resolutions.

The way resolutions come to me is through observation. If my observation leads to an “aha” I start to think about what my world would look or feel like if I was able to change. If that new world is compelling to me then I start exploring the steps I think would get me to there. Then I begin. It is always an experiment and unexpected results occur which makes the journey interesting. And if it stops being interesting you can change direction exactly the same way.

I believe that good resolutions come from good observations. To be an observer of life requires the spirit of curiosity and to be a successful resolver requires the spirit of adventure. Change is constant so being able to manage it in a proactive way gives us the opportunity to enjoy life more or to accept what is with the knowledge that things will change.

Some useful things to remember when making resolutions:

1. You can only change yourself
2. Don’t change for anyone except yourself
3. Change requires action and the first step will always be uncomfortable because it’s new
4. Resolutions are personal, what you find difficult someone else might find easy, don’t compare yourself to others
5. When you fall, don’t give up, get back on track

May you be present, curious and courageous in the quest for fulfilling your personal resolutions.

The Source of Scarcity

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In December 2008 an ‘Economist’ was published, entitled ‘where have all your savings gone?’1. In the leader the author wrote the following, “For American and European savers, it has been a lost decade. After two booms and two busts, stock markets have earned them nothing, or less, in the past 10 years. Low interest rates have made bonds and bank deposits unrewarding too. Were it not for the tax relief they receive, contributors to personal pension plans would have been better off keeping their money under their mattresses.” No wonder people are shocked, depressed and afraid. Only it’s not just the people close to the crisis that are shocked, depressed and afraid, like a virulent contagion it is spreading prolifically across the world.

The idea that your thoughts create your experiences is not new. The Biblical book of Proverbs words it beautifully, “as you think so shall you be.” If our thoughts create our reality then it follows that a recession must be the result of more people thinking and acting in ways that do not build true wealth. With this  in mind I started to contemplate the nature of this phenomenon called recession and the scarcity of cash.

What is scarcity? In my opinion it is a belief that there is not enough to go around, born of the idea that the pie is only so big and if I want more I have to take it from someone else. With the creation of the internet this idea has surely been challenged and exploded. In the past having information gave you power or differentiation. Now information is ubiquitous. How you use this information is what creates power and differentiation today. The internet is abundant, it expands as ideas, concepts and information expands. It is probably infinite. Jeff Bizos2, CEO of Amazon, said in a talk on TED in 2007 that he believes our current use of the internet is as limited as our use of electricity in 1908. In other words there is much more to come!

So what is abundance? Abundance is the belief that there is enough for everyone. The pie is infinitely large. This idea may be a distinct mind shift for some, but it is such an exciting concept as it opens up opportunity to all. However, the catch is, that I need to believe in it. I need to believe that I deserve abundance and that I can create it for myself even if I have never had it before.

The author of the Economist leader went on to say “If savers treated financial assets as they do goods, they would sell them when they are expensive and buy them when they are cheap. Actually they do the opposite. They piled into the market in 1999-2000, at the peak, and are piling out of it now.” So if we look at peoples’ actions in the current world market we start to see a different picture. The prevalent emotion is fear. What drives fear? I think a belief in scarcity drives this fear. In the same article The Economist concludes, “inadequate savings, badly invested, are a problem for individuals and the economy cautious savers are putting their money in banks; banks that are reluctant to lend; companies therefore find it hard to both borrow money and to raise equity capital. This timidity hurts companies and, in the long term, savers. Implausible as it may sound, right now equities and corporate bonds are a better long-term bet than cash.” If a belief in scarcity drives fearful action then it follows that to create abundance, we will require courage.

Obviously the rub in a recession is availability of cash, so how do we break the cycle we are in? My advice would be one conscious step at a time. There are clear rules that govern the creation of abundance. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as; “Plenty, more than enough, affluence, wealth” Dictionary.com introduces another definition; overflowing fullness. In his book, A New Earth3, Eckhart Tolle, suggests that we will never be rich if we work as a means to an end. So that means if we are not giving the task our all then it cannot return it’s all to us. This is radical stuff. If too many of us have been working as a means to an end for too long there is bound to be scarcity at the end of that rainbow. If too many of us have been on the treadmill of life, is it not possible that we have created this recession through thinking there wasn’t enough to go round?

So where to from here? The moment to dig deep for the courage and wisdom is now. You will have moments of fear but as Franklin Delano Roosevelt said ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself’. This from the man who led the world out of the 1929 Depression.

Sources:

1. The Economist Dec 6th 2008

2. http://www.ted.com/index.php/speakers/jeff_bezos.html

3. Tolle E, 2008 “A New Earth”