Five simple ways to create real self-change

Five simple ways to create real self-change

Harvard researchers are calling the unknown parts of your brain the “adaptive unconscious.” Simply put, there is just no way that you can know everything that is going on in your own mind at any one time.

Harvard researchers are calling the unknown parts of your brain the “adaptive unconscious.” Simply put, there is just no way that you can know everything that is going on in your own mind at any one time.

by Dr. Claudia Luiz — 

Everybody is feeling overwhelmed, but unlike in the past, nobody is afraid to talk about it. Historically speaking, we are more emotionally sophisticated than ever before. We are highly aware of what we feel, and we are able to discuss it. If we do not feel better, it is only because the methods for dealing with our feelings are still quite antiquated. It is just the same old, same old: Try to be better; get inspired to change. But it does not work.

It is deeply American to work more and try harder. Unfortunately, strong and deep emotions do not respond to common sense. No matter how much we want to be calmer, more organized, get a grip, be patient, loving, healthy, happier and at peace, these good intentions can fly right out the window in the face of emotions. Our ideal picture of leading our best lives disappoints us because it does not penetrate our hearts or simply does not impact our emotions.

When it comes to dealing with deep inner emotions, there is a proven method you can use to change. It starts with five simple steps:

1. Look inward. This does not mean getting stranded in a no-man’s land of navel gazing, replete with endless complaining that alienates everyone around you. Nor do you have to get trapped ruminating, over and over, on how bad you feel or how hard life is. This only leads you down a dismal, depressing dead-end road.

Looking inward means trusting that there is something about yourself that you do not know yet. You may believe that the reason you do not exercise is because you are too tired or lazy, or that you cannot make headway writing that book you have always wanted to write because you are too extended and overworked. But chances are some other reasons exist as to why you do not have the energy for change.

2. Stick with it. Do not just take a quick peek inside yourself, freak out and leave. You have to hang out with your own thoughts for a while, in search of something you do not yet know about yourself. And by the way, there is a lot you do not yet know about yourself.

Harvard researchers are calling the unknown parts of your brain the “adaptive unconscious.” Simply put, there is just no way that you can know everything that is going on in your own mind at any one time. If you have ever scratched your head and wondered why you cannot change, it is because you do not know your whole story yet.

3. Find someone to listen. A good sounding board keeps you moving forward and looking for your unknown thoughts, ideas and feelings. Some people find that they can use a yoga mat, open valley or solitary journey to open themselves up in a new way.

But better yet, find a live person to talk to and not someone who is going to give you more advice to try to move you to a better place. It must be someone who will not judge you, who can tolerate everything you feel and who can ask you questions. In other words, find someone to really hear you.

4. Find strength in being heard. Thoughts and feelings that are hidden from our conscious day-to-day lives are generally strange. On her inward journey, one woman discovered that becoming an adequate person might lead to losing her family. Another man realized that his desire to become a more effective leader came from a desire to hurt people, as he had been hurt as a child.

Our hidden emotions keep us from moving forward, and they stay hidden because they are so quirky, irrational, negative and strange. It takes strength to learn about our inner selves. The good news is that being heard (see #3 above) brings us strength. So keep working on being heard and deeply understood, and the rest should follow.

5. Do not bring your family into this. As much as your partner, your parents and your best friend (who is like family) love you and want the best for you, they are probably the worst people to listen to your emotions. Your pain is their pain. It is much easier for someone to hear you who can be impartial — a clergyperson, a new best friend or a therapist who knows how to ask really good questions.

For this type of work, do not rely on life coaches, behavioral therapists or insight-oriented therapists who will try to move you to a new place and/or otherwise try to create change in you. Remember, you want to get to know yourself, not force more change. This is not about solving; it is about evolving.

Inward journeys, where we connect to unseen parts of ourselves and seek to be heard rather than improved, are deeply rich and unforgettable. Those emotional “aha” moments, when we finally land on what has been holding us back from changing a small habit or realizing a large dream, change us naturally and eternally.

And here is the best part: You finally have a way to use all the most negative, painful ideas and emotions you have been having — even the ones you think have been holding you back the most and the ones you like the least. Instead of pushing them away, start talking — they are your starting point. This is where you can finally take all that sophisticated awareness of what you feel, all that ability to talk about it and now push yourself to ask one little question: Why?

 

Dr. Claudia Sheftel-Luiz, Ed.M., Harvard University, certified psychologist associate and doctor of psychoanalysis, is the author of Where’s My Sanity? Stories That Help. She is the former director of Extension at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis and former co-president of Professionals for Parents and Families. wheresmysanity.com.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 33, Number 3, June/July 2014.

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