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Personal Change Takes Time

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

woman's reflection

While ‘making change’ from the dollar bill someone has given you takes only a few moments, personal change takes more time – and it’s filled with mistakes and ‘re-dos.’ It requires patience. This is true in whatever you’ve committed yourself to; whether it be losing weight or being kinder to those you love. And, along with patience, change requires that you can forgive yourself. You must find a way to accept that you are merely human, along with the rest of the people on this planet. By doing this, you can use your mistakes as learning experiences along the way, rather than as sledge hammers to beat yourself with.

Personal change is often made possible through self-awareness. By gaining understanding of your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, you can understand why you do what you do. You understand that you eat chocolate or smoke cigarettes as a way to calm yourself because your emotions feel intolerable. You understand that you pick fights with your partner because you learned early in childhood that you will be criticized, and so you also learned to listen for demeaning messages (and sometimes hear them even when they’re not there).

Unfortunately, gaining such insights is not like winning multi-millions in the lottery, changing everything all at once. Rather, they much more frequently seep slowly into your being as you become more aware of your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and behaviors in your daily life. Change often goes from a general knowing; to an awareness after the fact; to seeing yourself in the moment do the things you do not want to do; and finally to acting differently. Eventually, you can even make changes so that you no longer even end up in the same problematic situations. This is portrayed well in the following poem, which you might know – but is still well worth another read.

“Autobiography in Five Short Chapters”

by Portia Nelson, published in her book There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery

Chapter 1

I walk down the street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I fall in.

I am lost… I am helpless.

It isn’t my fault.

It takes forever to find a way out.

 

Chapter 2

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I pretend I don’t see it.

I fall in again.

I can’t believe I am in the same place.

But it isn’t my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.

 

Chapter 3

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it is there.

I still fall in… it’s a habit.

My eyes are open.

I know where I am.

It is my fault.

I get out immediately.

 

Chapter 4

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.

 

Chapter 5

I walk down another street.

 

If you have committed yourself to some personal change and are struggling to make it happen, take heart. You are not alone. Also, remember that failed attempts do not mean failure. They are simply part of the process. Keep trying. Think about your situation. Get to know your thoughts, feelings, and motivations. Practice seeing your struggles in daily life, and look for healthier ways of coping. In the meantime, also give yourself the space to be human – to make mistakes and learn from them. With patience, forgiveness, and persistence, you can create the change you want.

The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.

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