When you’re living courageously and choosing to practice courage, it’s inevitable that you’re going to run across things that you want to change about your life. Perhaps you’ll make your stop doing list or perhaps you’ll decide that you want to manifest a big dream.
Either way, this involves change–how do we change habits? More importantly, how do we make them stick?
Truth? Making a real, lasting change in life has to do with everything outside of the actual actions taken to implement the change.
When we change the resistance that we have to making a change, that’s when there’s room for real change to happen.
How I Learned to Love the Gym
Let me illustrate this with a short example.
A few years ago, I hated gyms. I hated being stuck indoors on machines. I hated the clanking of weights. I hated how I felt like an old fart because the internal monologue in my head was chattering away at how “those crazy kids” running the gym had that “darn music up too loud.”
I had signed up for yet another gym membership, though, and kept forcing myself to go, because I was paying for it, and because I am a runner and needed a place to go when the weather was bad. Winters in the Bay Area are known as “the rainy season,” and the only thing I hated more than the gym was running outside in cold, windy, wet rain.
I had decided that I was going to change a habit and become someone who exercised regularly. I had all of these visions and fantasies of what it would look like to wake up, roll out of bed, and go to the gym to get my cardio on.
But really, all I wanted to do when I woke up in the morning was sleep longer, or wake up and lounge around in my pj’s reading and eating breakfast before starting my workday. I tried pushing the gym off to afternoons or evenings, but I could always rationalize not going then, either.
Then one day, after waking up in the morning and doing the usual dance in my head about whether or not I would force myself to go to the gym, something snapped. This time, I was angry–at the idea of going to the gym, at myself for not going to the gym, at the resistance that seemed to plague me.
I was furious at this “will I, won’t I?” dance that I engaged in every morning, before finally “forcing myself” to do something that I clearly did NOT want to do.
So here’s where I went: “Fuck it. I am NOT going to the gym. In fact, I am not going to the gym again, ever, until I actually WANT to go.”
For the next two and a half months, I woke up every single morning and asked myself, “Do you feel like going to the gym, today?”
I never did, so I wouldn’t go.
And then, at about the two month mark of asking myself this day after day, I suddenly noticed that I kind of felt like going to the gym. It kind of interested me. It kind of sounded like a good idea.
Because I didn’t “want” to go or “desire” to go, I continued with my regular morning routine and avoided the gym. I was not yet an “authentic yes” to going.
And then, one day I went to the gym in the morning. It wasn’t so bad. I even kind of liked it.
I’ve been a gym fanatic, ever since.
The Work That Comes Before The Work
Typically, when we’re trying to change a pattern, all of the focus is on how to put the new steps in motion. What will you stop doing? What will you make time for? What new system will be put in place?
And, of course, the ever-present question: How will I continue to make this change, even when the going gets tough and I don’t feel like it, anymore? What will I do when I encounter resistance to change?
I’m a big believer in working with our natural inclinations and tendencies, while applying presence. We notice where we’re naturally inclined, AND we practice the presence it takes to see clearly, so that if we’re participating in a habit or way of being that is not helpful, we are willing to see it, so that right action can be taken.
The critical difference in my last approach to going to the gym was that I saw my resistance really clearly, and I kept checking back in on it. I didn’t make myself bad or wrong. I knew what I was looking for: a genuine desire to go to the gym, not one that was predicated on body shame, or “have to,” or anything else.
If you really want to make a change and make it stick, it’s critical that you look at and deal with your resistance.
(Click to tweet: http://clicktotweet.com/tYR1w )
Resistance, by the way, is just one of many costumes worn by fear. We resist the things that bring up fear within us, even if the fear is as simple as the fear that we’ll try to do something and not see it through, and then feel bad about ourselves for that.
Working with Resistance
If you really want to make a change stick, look at the resistance factor before you go buy a new time management system or set a million alarm-clock reminders or make a long to-do list.
Note: Check out The Courageous Living Program to get an entire *program* in creating powerful and lasting life changes.
The Authentic Yes
Even after I started going to the gym, again, I used the same tool of asking myself, each morning, what I wanted to do.
Did I authentically want to go to the gym? Was I an authentic yes?
Simply leaving the door open for saying “no,” seemed to shift something. I went from “have to” to “get to.”
As long as I was boxing myself in around change– “You’re going to do it differently, and that’s that!” — so much energy was tied up in the struggle to make myself do something, whether I liked it or not.
Sometimes, our souls just need to, like…breathe. Your soul is already telling you what it is that you really want. You can listen, or not.
As I write this, it occurs to me that someone might say that this doesn’t apply when someone has an addiction; that with addiction, it’s necessary to just get a grip and force yourself to stop doing something.
While I’m grateful every time a judge orders a repeat drunk driver into a rehab program and gets them off the road, I also think these are valuable questions to ask even with addiction.
Because really–who among us is not addicted to something?
In my case, with going or not going to the gym, I was addicted to control. I wanted to control my mornings. I didn’t want any “rules.” I can even see how other things in my life at the time were promoting a sort of child-like resistance to someone telling me “what to do,” even if the person doing the telling was me, myself, and I.
Even with addiction, the work is not necessarily not picking up that drink, it’s actually having a desire to stop the pattern of addiction. Until someone has a desire to stop a pattern, all the rehab programs in the world won’t do a lot of good.
So ask yourself: when you want to make a change, and you can’t seem to make it stick, what’s motivating the change? What’s your resistance? How might you work through that resistance?
For some people, they’ll work with someone one-on-one, others will turn to guided resources, and still others will look to spirit or a workshop or retreat or the simple quiet of their dining room table with a journal and a cup of tea.
Instead of aiming for change that sticks, aim for your “authentic yes.”
Trust me–it won’t fail you.
In the moments after I opened the letter with my blood work results and diagnosis, I burst into tears and my hand instinctively went to my throat, over the area where the thyroid is located.
I re-read the letter a few times, my hand petting my throat as if to soothe it.
“…this is a common condition where, for some reason, the body’s immune system begins to attack the thyroid.”
Attack? That word. Attack.
I felt a hole of sudden grief, of despair, that there would be any part of my body or being that would “attack” itself.
I spent the next few months trying to find some alternative approach to dealing with this, and along the way, feeling the feelings that have come with it. In my work, we don’t try to cling to happiness if that’s not real and true. Feel the feelings, feel the sadness, anger and disappointment, all of it. Feel it so that it’s not stuck inside, and because that’s honest, and then work with it.
I’ve needed to be with the truth of what I felt until I was ready to feel something else.
When we are ready to transform something, it transforms.
I’m ready to stop being resentful of the “what-is-ness” of my life, in this area. I’m ready to dismantle the entire belief system of resentment, which is a belief system of “attack.”
I’m ready to love even illness, even this.
What is it to “Attack”?
Here’s what I already understand about when we attack:
Attacking in Life
We attack when we’re impatient and snap at the people that we love.
We attack when we are defensive against someone’s feedback.
We attack when we push against what-is, declaring what-is to be wrong.
We attack when we judge others, play the comparisons game, or decide that we are better than.
We attack when we don’t forgive.
We attack when we do not love ourselves, believe that we are enough, or see ourselves as worthy.
I can even see how I attack when I resist what I know I need to do. In those cases, the “attack” is the entire mental game that I play of knowing I need to do it, resisting/justifying not doing it, and then darting back to how I know I need to do it.
And on, and on, and on.
Nothing in me wants to admit publicly that I’m human, that I do these things, too.
Sometimes I feel as if I need to remind myself as much as everyone else that the backbone of my core philosophy is that we are all human, all un-peeling one layer at a time, and that I’m not exempt from that category just because I’ve internalized a life lesson or two in one area of my life.
So–there’s the resistance, the resistance to admitting that I can see the places where I “attack” in my life.
The comforting thought in this is that if I can see clearly where I’ve internalized lessons of loving, and being with, and accepting even those things that are hard in one area of my life, I can practice that in another.
The deepest lessons we learn in life are wholly transferrable.
If courage is feeling the fear, diving in anyway, and transforming, then loving this thyroid condition–casting love upon it–is…
…appreciating it for the gifts that it brings (just like fear brings gifts);
…seeing it as the call to rise (just as fear sounds that call);
…a greater commitment to ending suffering in the world (when we fight anything, we contribute to the madness, and fighting fear/illness is a contribution to madness);
…not inflating it to be the Big Bad Thyroid Condition (instead just seeing it as…what it is; confused cells);
When It’s Ready
I couldn’t have said any of this six months ago, or even six weeks ago. I was too angry. I was resistant to releasing any of the anger. I was resentful.
And then, one day last week while sitting on my couch, I realized that I no longer felt like being angry about this, anymore.
Just like that, I was ready.
Preparing to Be Ready
Getting ready for transformation works something like this:
Lather, rinse, repeat. Perhaps for days, perhaps for years. Again and again, like a meditation, coming back to the breath.
It isn’t sexy. It often has a “crawling out of your skin” feeling to it, because it’s so contrary to all of our conditioning to start accepting things, to learn to be with discomfort.
How it looks for you will be somewhat different because you’re you, but this is the skeletal framework of how it looks.
Especially the part where you repeat, and repeat, and repeat.
I understand that all of this might seem really, really difficult. It has helped me immensely to see this as “choosing sanity.”
It’s choosing sanity when I choose to practice a tool rather than go with the habituated response.
It’s choosing sanity when I choose what I know to be true about life over what seems true in moments when I’m triggered and upset.
It’s choosing sanity to see, very clearly, the insanity of doing anything that keeps us from the truth.
Truth? I/you/me/we want to live happy lives. When we’re not happy, we can conjure up any number of distractions and indulge in addictions untold. The conjuring up is a dysfunction.
It’s choosing sanity to ask: How big can I love? Am I willing to extend love, even to this? Even to that which confuses me? Even to that which I do not understand?
Choosing sanity is the functional thing to do, for the health of the organism.
I choose love/health, and I already know what that looks like–I just need to be willing to choose it. How about you?
If you were to look at something in your life that you have difficulty with, and if you were already choosing sanity in that place, what actions would you be taking? What beliefs would you adopt? What would you do differently?