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This article offers perspective on the two-level process of personal change. Thanks to Gregory Bateson, Don Jackson, Dr. Paul Watzlawick, et. al. for
this important idea.
This brief YouTube
video previews what you'll read in this article.
The video mentions eight self-improvement lessons in this site - I've reduced
that to seven.
All animals, including
humans, are ceaselessly motivated to reduce current or future
discomforts (needs) and increase pleasures. Both of these involve
changing something. A common vexation for many people is trying to
change a "bad habit" - e.g. to stop using tobacco or alcohol, overeating,
gambling, biting our nails, etc. - and failing. A similar vexation occurs
when we try to change another person's attitude, perception, opinion, and/or
behavior - and fail. Why do we (you) fail?
Premises About Change
many of these ideas you agree with:
Adults and kids
change some of their beliefs, attitudes, values, and behaviors suddenly or
over time. They (you) do so because their knowledge, needs, and environments
continually change as they age and the world evolves.
can be chosen or imposed. Voluntary (intentional) changes usually aim to reduce or
prevent discomfort and/or to gain short or long-term security and/or pleasure.
unconsciously resist personal and environmental change
because it causes anxiety ("worry") about the safety and comfort of
the post-change world. The degree and duration of anxiety depends in part on
whether a person learned self-confidence and trust as a young child.
Even planned change breeds
temporary anxiety and uncertainty ("stress"). Sudden or gradual unplanned
change can breed more stress longer.
different people differently, because of age, gender, values, personality, and prior experience. Some subselves and people can adapt to
change (resume their balance) faster than others. This implies that successful change-management
requires you to identify the slowest adapter among all affected subselves or
adjust your pace to suit them,
without resentment or blame. Do you know who among your inner and outer
families takes the longest to
adapt to changes?
Some changes require grieving, and others don't. The former involve losing physical or
invisible things to which you've
attached. Can you
think of things you've changed that didn't "bother you" much? Too many
losses at once can overwhelm even
the most resilient, grounded child or adult. The moral: as you adapt
to losses (changes) personally and as a family, help each
other identify what you each need to grieve, and use self-improvement
Lesson 3 ("good grief")
The key indicators of reaction to inner and outer change are your emotions and
related bodily feelings and functions (e.g. sleep, digestion, and
elimination). As you monitor yourself and other family members for their
change-comfort, discern between "calmness" due to emotional
and/or numbing (protective
false-self strategies), and true psychological-mental-spiritual acceptance and
Some changes occur suddenly, and others slowly. Some are foreseen, and others come
without warning. Your family members have a better chance of adjusting
to local and environmental changes if they know (a) what's going to change in advance
and (b) how those changes will affect them and those they care about.
suggests the value of planning voluntary changes and discussing the plan with all affected
occur in clusters, and others happen alone. Buying a new car or TV has
far fewer family-wide effects than wedding, moving in together, conceiving a
baby, moving to a new home or location, or changing jobs or careers.
Adults and kids are at the highest risk of significant stress if they make
too many major changes without planning. or allowing time to adapt and stabilize.
Option - categorize changes
as minor,moderate, and major to
help you discuss and plan for them,
Invisible changes can cause just as much stress as physical ones.
concurrent changes (or losses) can be just a stressful as a major shift.
The effectsof personal and family changes vary between predictable and
effects of unexpected shifts (like a vehicle wreck) usually take longer to adapt
to than foreseen changes like choosing a new school or family church. This
is partly because adapting can start before the actual change.
Note the difference between changes that are freely
chosen, vs. those that are imposed by others. The latter can add hurt,resentment, and anger to the normal mix of change emotions that need
to be felt, expressed, and released.
Pause and notice what you're thinking and feeling now. Have you ever seen
premises about human change like these before?
With these ideas in mind - have you ever tried to break (change) "a bad
habit" like smoking, using drugs, overeating, nail biting, or "shading the
truth"? If you didn't succeed, do you know why?
It is not
because of a lack of "will power"! See how you feel about this explanation:
Two Levels of Change
Premise - there are two levels of personal change:
superficial (behavioral) changes
("I'm working to improve my eye contact"), and underlying attitude changes
("I'm working to improve my self respect"). Do you know how and when to
distinguish these levels?
Superficial changes are
shifts that don't permanently achieve a desired result.Examples
abound: diets that "don't work" over time, addiction relapses,
persistent lateness, forgetting important names and dates, avoiding exercise
or medical checkups, - i.e. broken New Years' resolutions.
(Any bells ringing?). These problems (discomforts) keep returning because we
shift our behaviors but not the core values or attitudes causing the behaviors.
some therapy, counseling, and mediation is unsuccessful long-term is
that clients and professionals aren't aware of this distinction and what
causes it - so they unconsciously aim for superficial
behavioral changes. Most
marital and parent-child conflict is ultimately fruitless battling over
(needs) and demanding or
expecting superficial changes - e.g. "I need you to listen to me more
often" instead of "I need you to
want to listen to me."
Core attitude changes are permanent
value-shifts that cause new behaviors.The trigger
problem stays gone, and is not replaced by a new version (like giving
up alcohol and starting a nicotine or work addiction). Non-voters become political activists. Atheists "come to believe" in a
Higher Power. Workaholics become Zen masters. Criminals become
peace-enforcement professionals. Hostile ex mates change to see each other
unaware, not bad.
Scrooge becomes a jolly holiday benefactor of the poor Cratchit family.
Attitude changes really happen!
The Real Problem
The idea above raises two questions -
"Can people change their core
attitudes by willpower alone? If not - why not?" Sometimes they can if they
have a compelling new experience - like quitting a nicotine addiction because of a
lung-cancer diagnosis. Other times, willpower and logic don't work for long. The
idea that normal personalities
are composed of
many subselves provides a credible explanation.
If you're skeptical
about this, read this memo and try
this safe, interesting exercise after you finish
If you or
someone you care about wrestle with "habits I can't break,"
unhealthy compulsions, or "problems that
keep coming back," you
or they are
probably controlled by several conflicted
personality subselves. One says "Change (whatever)!", and the
other says "NO - Don't change!"Making a permanent attitude
requires your resident
true Self mediating between the opposed
This two-level premise suggests several things...
Asking, expecting, or demanding that you or someone else want
to change an irritating or unhealthy behavior will probably result in...
the person changing against their will,
and feeling resentful and frustrated; or...
the person agreeing to change and being
unable to do so, causing confusion, frustration, guilt, and
Have you experienced each of
Asking ordemanding an addict to stop their self-medicating
compulsion ("get sober") will neverwork, until they hit bottom on their own and change their attitude about their health and
Shaming and/or punishing children for not being able to
correct "bad behavior" is
abuse. Using force or punishment may stop the behavior, but at the huge
price of lost respect, trust, security, and self-esteem. A better way is to
calmly declare and enforce respectful limits and to allow painful
natural consequences within reason. ("Alex, I warned you that leaving your
bike outside would get it stolen, and it was. I guess you'll have to earn
enough to buy a new one.")
Feeling guilty and
ashamed for not being able to change a personal attitude or behavior is self abuse.
Instead, use an inability to change (the surface problem) as
validation that your
Self is disabled (the real problem), and you
need to want to
reduce psychological wounds (Lesson 1) to achieve
permanent attitude changes.
A final implication
of superficial vs. attitude changes is...
Solving relationship problems requires someone to change something.
When problems recur, consider that the original "solution" probably was
a behavioral (superficial) change caused by a disabled true Self.
people are unaware of this, and focus fruitlessly on trying to "fix"
surface problems rather than on
and filling the
causing them. Do you do that? See this
example of identifying primary needs, after you finish here.
Option - to get a sense of whether your true Self is often disabled,
identify any "bad habits" you've not been able to let go. Then spend a few
undistracted moments reviewing this comparison and this
worksheet after you finish this article. Keep in
mind that false selves are experts at distorting (e.g. denying) reality to
avoid scary changes and the unknown!
This article offers perspective on "changing," and an explanation for why
many attempts to change a "bad habit" fail. It proposes that people often
focus on trying to change a behavior (like overeating), rather than changing
the need or attitude that causes the behavior.
The article suggests that
it's rarely possible to change
underlying needs or attitudes by willpower alone, because doing
so requires a permanent shift in some key personality subselves.
That requires (a) acceptance (vs. denial) of such
subselves, and (b) knowing how to negotiate desired changes with them.
Lesson 1 and its related guidebook provide a practical way to do this.
Pause, breathe, and recall why you used this worksheet. Did you get what
you needed? If so, what do you need now? If not - what
do you need? Who's answering these
questions - your wise resident
true Self, or