At the dawn of the new year, many of us are considering what changes we can tackle to live happier and healthier. We look back at the last year and try to assess what we leave behind, what stays constant, and what can be improved. But creating profound change often requires that we change our limiting thoughts and behavioral patterns. In this area, although we might have the best resolutions for the upcoming year, one question remains: Can we really transform negative patterns into sustainable ones? And if so, how can we create long-lasting change within ourselves?
The day after I got married, I realized that having children was likely the next step for my husband and me. As I wanted to reduce the risk of passing on my negative patterns to my children, I decided to focus my efforts on getting rid of my childhood traumas before I was to give birth. I started seeing a psychologist to understand why I regularly felt sad, had difficulties speaking my mind, and could be quite harsh in my communication with the people I cared the most about. Although, talking about what I had experienced early on in my life helped me understand what had potentially triggered these behaviors, it didn’t help me to change them.
It’s only when I was diagnosed with stress and ended up enrolling in a Coach Training Program that I was finally able to operate a change in my way of being. The timing was right and the means suited me perfectly. I was aware of what I wanted to change, ready for the change, committed to implementing the change in my life, and very fond of the practical approach coaching had. We were not focusing on the past but on the current situation and what I could do to break free from these patterns.
What I experienced through coaching is that changing a limiting behavior or thought pattern requires will, consciousness, ownership, action and practice.
1. Change requires WILL
We cannot create change if we are not motivated. Our motivation must come from ourselves if it is to work. Getting the motivation to change implies that we are able to see that our current way of reacting to a particular event is not benefting us but rather costing us. For example, it implies realizing that by behaving the way we do, we are causing ourselves or others pain, which we no longer want to do.
2. Change requires CONSCIOUSNESS
Creating long-lasting change requires consciousness. We need to become conscious of the patterns that limit us and what triggers them. We need to find out when we react the way we don’t want to do and understand what triggered such a limiting behavior or thought. We need to ask ourselves: “When do I behave this way? When does it happen?” I realized that I often ended up being sad when I was tired, hadn’t prioritized myself and had overgone my limits. Being aware of your limiting patterns and triggers are important steps to being able to stop and replace these behaviors with new ones.
Also, we need to be aware of what the positive intention was behind that limiting pattern. How did it serve me? What did it help me to achieve? For some, the limiting pattern fulfills a need to feel loved. For others, it is a need to maintain control or protect themselves. In my case, being sad and saying it out loud, was a way for me to get love and comfort from the people around me. There is an ego-payoff for each of the patterns that we have developed and they have all helped us to serve a purpose at some point in time.
But, moving on also requires us to understand what these limiting behaviors or thoughts cost us and what we would gain from replacing them with more positive ones. What did it cost me and how would I benefit from replacing this pattern with a more positive one? The behavior I had displayed clearly cost me a few good friends and may have cost me my marriage if I hadn’t changed this behavior pattern.
Finally, being able to change entails that we understand the fears that are preventing us from taking action and changing our thoughts or behavioral patterns. What am I afraid of? Losing face, losing control or appearing weak? In my case, I became aware that I was afraid of not having the support I needed. I feared being alone, left to myself. It is quite surprising to realize what we are afraid of and that we are actually afraid of something deep within.
3. Change requires OWNERSHIP and ACTION
When we are aware of a limiting pattern that we would like to change and are conscious of when it is triggered and what it costs us to behave the way we do, then we need to realize that we are the only ones that can do something about it. We need to take ownership and take responsibility. We need to take the lead and implement change in our life. We cannot change others, but by changing ourselves we can impact people surrounding us.
First, we need to find out how we would like to react instead when the triggers we have identified are turned on. Today, I am much better at identifying when I have gone beyond my limits and am exhausted, and I know that the best I can do in this case is not to cry on my husband's shoulder but to go to sleep and see how I feel the next morning. So when I feel sad I pause, take a deep breath, acknowledge my feeling, and choose to respond in a more positive manner by going to sleep. 99% of the time I feel much better the day after. And so does my husband, having not spent the whole night worrying about me :-)
When we are aware of what triggers an ill-suited reaction, then we are able to recognize when it happens and to pause to make sure we react in a more positive manner. This way of changing our reaction pattern to an event is called the SPOT, STOP and CHANGE process.
The beauty of coaching is that it smoothly runs through this whole process in a session. Helping you to find the motivation, become more conscious, as well as to identify a new positive pattern that you will be able to implement when you find yourself in a situation that you know would have previously triggered your negative patterns.
4. Change is a PROCESS and requires PRACTICE
Finally, change is a process and training is a prerequisite to its success. When you are aware of the pattern you want to change, able to identify when it is triggered and know how you would prefer to behave, you will need to implement the change in your everyday life. The more you practice, the easier it will become. You might only succeed to spot, stop and change once every five times to start with, but as you keep training, you will slowly be able to completely change the way you react to a trigger. So if you are motivated and committed, then change is possible.
With those words, I wish you all the best in implementing positive change in 2022.