Saturday, December 31, 2011

Same Old Lang Syne

2012. I really couldn’t even fathom such a date when I was a kid. Yet here we are. I’ve heard a lot this week about resolutions and change and starting over, and I always wish people well when they make these promises to themselves. Change is perhaps the most mysterious force in the universe. We vigorously fight it and resist it while also craving it desperately. Either way it happens though. Everything is in a state of renewal and decay. Particularly we humans.  As R.D. Lange once said, “Life is a sexually transmitted disease and the mortality rate is one hundred percent.”

It seems to me that although we all talk about embracing change, mostly what we are talking about are the changes it is that we want. It’s the other kind that terrifies us. A change that we didn’t plan for or expect often induces a much different kind of feeling.  This is the kind that makes us adapt and adjust and step out of our comfort zones and places of safety. This is the hard part. In the words of Tom Robbins, “Real courage is risking something that might force you to rethink your thoughts and suffer change and stretch consciousness. Real courage is risking one's clichés.” 

So as a therapist who bears witness on a daily basis to these struggles with change, I’ve come to a kind of a realization. Lasting changes in one’s life are not evidenced by being 20 pounds lighter, or a new gym membership, or an exciting new relationship, although all these things certainly make us feel good. For a while.. I have however found our brains have this unsettling tendency towards slippage. Slowly and insidiously we give back the gains we make, and settle back into our old selves. Anyone who doubts this should check out a gym the first week in January. It’s packed. Then come back in April. You’ll see what I mean.

The takeaway is that change is not about resolutions and promises, but rather those small, internal moments when we realize that all of the choices and externalities of our larger world stem from the little thoughts that originate in our own minds. When we’ve compiled enough evidence about what doesn’t work, and come to a place where we understand that we are the architects of our own lives, finally, we can begin to take the reins and confront our own way of thinking. This involves risking our clichés and altering our belief structure, and this is often extremely uncomfortable. Our minds become comfortably habituated to all of our personal little opinions and beliefs, and will quickly slip back into these old ways of thinking without sustained vigilance. But there’s a choice. As Victor Frankl puts it,
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

So in my own life I vow to work on myself in this manner over the coming year. A wise man once told me that it was the job of the therapist to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, and right now I fall l into the second category. I will not lose weight this year, but change the way I think about health, hedonism, and how my choices are all affecting my future self. I won’t just make more money, but pursue ways to be happy in my working life without tying it exclusively to financial gains. I will try and confront my own pessimism, cynicism, and fatalism. I will take more chances in love, career, and health, and when I fail, I will think about what it all has to do with my own thinking rather than blaming it on timing or laziness or someone else. I will risk my clichés..

I did rejoin a gym though.. Hope to see you there in April… 


Anonymous said...

Well said, Joe. I enjoy reading your notes, as you have something to say and are not just saying something.

Dr. Joe Guse said...

Thank you! It always makes my day to know people read these. I appreciate it..

dusty howard said...

Well stated, for me, I try to treat every day as if it were new years. With that said, discouragement, setbacks and those surprise changes seem to get in the way.of my plans, ahh, but tis life isn't it.