The Art of Personal Change
So, it’s January, and that’s the time when a lot of folks (but not all!) are thinking about changes. I’m going to jump on that bandwagon, not just because it’s January, but because I think mid-life women are constantly grappling with change. Some of what we can look at is the science, but I’m far more interested in the art of personal change. How we dance the dance to get somewhere new in our lives.
There is the science:
- Developing a new habit takes more than 21 days. It takes the amount of time needed to integrate the habit, and this may be weeks or months or years.
- We need to believe that we can make the change, that we are capable.
- We need to have the desire to change. Sometimes desire to change comes from hope of the new, and sometimes it comes from the potential consequences of not changing.
- We need both internal and external motivation. For some folks (true rebels) neither of these works; they need a particular kind of internal motivation. (We’ll talk about this in a bit!)
- Change requires adequate resources and support. If you want to exercise, you probably need a pair of sport shoes. But ‘resources’ also includes enough physical and psychological energy (i.e. sleep and space in your head).
And this is true of more than our January-based “New year, new me!” desires. There are some unique changes that mid-life may thrust upon us. The ones I most often see are:
- Coming to a new understanding of self due to hormonal changes
- Issues with children, parents, and partner that require new perspectives and tools.
- Unexpected changes in work, partnership, health.
- Healing internal demons and wanting to ‘clean out the attic’ of our mind.
These are things that can find us at any time of the year, not just January. And, they require not just the science, but also a gentle kind of artistry to survive the journey that these changes ask of us.
I believe that the ‘art’ of personal change lies in having the courage to honestly look at what our intentions were versus what our behaviors were- and what the gap between those two things is. If I want to deal better with my teenage son, but I continue to use yelling as my primary communication tool, there is a gap between intention and follow-through. I would do well to research some other tools and try to use them! If we’re not reaching our goals, the gap between the intention and the follow-through probably feels large.
The work of keeping our behaviors in line with our intentions can be exhausting- and that’s why lots of folks (including me!) don’t make their goals happen. This is not a judgment- it’s just a fact.
- We don’t have the time to dedicate to change, and that’s okay. If you’re working two jobs, it’s really hard to change yourself.
- We may be unable to secure resources that would support the change.
- Our motivation can change like the ocean- totally huge and ready to make an impact one day and tiny little ripples of ‘meh’ the next.
- Sometimes, there are underlying issues- anxiety, depression, chronic illness- that can be huge hurdles to integrating change.
- There are also hidden stories we tell ourselves (“I’m not good at art…” “I don’t like vegetables..”)
- And, very often, we have subconscious patterns we may not be aware of that sabotage our steps forward.
And, if any of these things are happening, it’s going to make reaching our goals tougher, because they widen the gap between goals and actually changing our behavior.
The key to making a change happen is getting curious about what is happening in the gap between our intentions and our actual choices and behaviors. And getting honest about whether we want to deal with them or not.
Three months ago I said I was going to go from sending monthly newsletters to twice-monthly newsletters. And then I dropped off the face of the newsletter Earth entirely. (For which I owe you all a big apology- I’m very sorry!) This was partly because I was still mentally exhausted from starting back at full time work. It took me four months to finally feel like I had the physical and mental energy to have that intention. But I didn’t follow through because I was still mentally exhausted and have only really felt ‘normal’ in the last month- six months after starting my job!
The other piece of the newsletter falling apart is that I am, in the study of Gretchen Rubin and her Four Tendencies, a Rebel. And Rebels do not like anything imposed on them, even from themselves. So, I made the mistake of giving myself more responsibility- which Rebels hate! – and so I rebelled against myself. And totally sabotaged my intentions. (Her book, The Four Tendencies is fascinating and worth your time.) Two psychological reasons kept the gap between my intention and my goal too wide to cross. And it took royally fucking it up to make me start investigating why and how that gap existed.
During the Sex Surge®, I didn’t have a lot of the tools I needed to take care of myself and my need for sexual expression in a healthy way. It was a gap in resources: information, tools, and practice. I often felt guilty for having so much sexual energy during that phase until I figured out how I could use it. I had to admit I didn’t know some stuff about hormones, addiction, and relationships. I had to go looking for answers to uncomfortable questions. And I had to be willing to try new things in order to change my life. (Which, honestly, is a handy skill for all life changes!)
The ‘art’ of change in these cases was being willing to look at why I wasn’t living up to my intentions. To begin asking questions about why I was doing (or not doing) things. What my true motivations were. What I really cared about. And also looking at what, within me, was sabotaging my efforts. And then beginning to address those things- because they directly impacted my ability to change. We can throw a lot of science at our efforts to change, but it’s really about how we, as unique women, work with change and integrate it into our lives. It’s a dance of mind, body, and spirit. And it takes time. As you grapple with changes in your life- this month, this year, this decade – remember that change isn’t simply about motivation. Change is about awareness and practice and forgiveness. As always, be gentle with yourselves.
Big love from hormone central,
Joanna :: xoxo