If you are like most of us, there are some things you’d like to change in yourself. Perhaps you’ve even made New Years resolutions to change.
This kind of commitment is good. Commitment is one key to losing weight, getting in shape, learning a new skill, finding your soul mate, getting a better job, learning a new language, running a marathon, going back to school, drinking less, spending time with your kids or communicating better with your partner.
Commitment Gets Things Going
You may be one of those people who can commit to personal change and follow through just like the women in the weight-loss adds on TV. If so, congratulations!
Enter Self Sabotage
If you are like most of us and run into problems following through, however, perhaps you are sabotaging your intentions without even realizing it. Does the following example apply to you in any way?
Fred (fictitious name) is an admitted functioning alcoholic. He holds a good job, but although he won’t admit it to anyone, he knows alcohol is taking a toll on his productivity and his health. He spends evenings with his wife and kids, but he’s more present to his glass than he is to them.
Fred has repeatedly tried to cut back on his drinking and occasionally, like for the past month, he has even managed to stop drinking altogether for a time. But every attempt has eventually failed. Repeated failure, of course, does nothing for his self confidence and mental heath. In Fred’s own words,
I have a drink and then I just don’t stop. It starts with a drink with my friends after work. Then I pick up a bottle and take it home so I can have one drink. Then I have two or three. Within a week I’m drinking just as much as I ever did—or more. I can’t seem to change. It’s always the same. It’s just the way I am.
Before you read on, can you spot how Fred is sabotaging his attempts to change? Read what he said again if you need to.
Be Clear about the Remedy
Now, notice how Fred described his alcoholism in the present tense. He quite obviously has been talking about it that way for some time. And he is telling the truth as he sees it. Although Fred had no alcohol for a month, he said,
I have a drink…I don’t stop…I pick up a bottle…I take it home…I have one drink…I have two or three…I’m drinking…I can’t seem to change…It’s always the same…It’s just the way I am.
The problem is that Fred’s truth is about the past, that is, how it has been up to the recent past.
By repeatedly stating his problems in the present tense, he continues to anchor these ‘truths’ in his identity.
The alcoholism has become part of his identity as a human being. It is how he sees himself. It is the message he sends to his subconscious mind and to the universe every day.
If this is his daily message to the universe, how could a mere New Year’s resolution possibly change anything? The answer is, “It can’t!”
Fortunately for the human race there is a way around the problem that allows the desired changes to come about.
The Key: Let the Past Stay in the Past
When you want personal change, talking about the past as if it is the present is a huge form of self sabotage.
Let’s reword what Fred said, putting the past in the past:
When I had a drink, I just didn’t stop. It started with a drink with my friends after work. Then I would pick up a bottle and take it home so I could have one drink. Then I would have two or three. Within a week I was drinking just as much as I ever did—or more. I couldn’t seem to change. It was always the same. It’s just the way I was.
Can you see and feel the difference? Read the two versions out loud if you need to.
Get this: If you want to clear the way for the new to emerge, never use the present tense to describe what was true of your life in the past.
Try it Right Now with Your Own Wants
Think of three things you want to change, and write them down in the past tense. Now for each one use the present tense to write down what you want the change to look like and read these out loud a few times.
Change is an exercise in allowing things to happen, but you have to get out of the way.