Updated: Feb 11, 2019
February is upon us and this is about the time when those resolutions everyone made last month are either going really well or we are about to give up completely! What were your goals for this year? One of my goals for 2019 has been to be more present in my own personal life. This is something I have been aware of and struggled with for years now. It is so easy for some of us to get caught up in the auto-pilot routine of daily chores and lists of things to be done. It takes some serious intentionality and hard work to overcome patterns that we are so used to.
As I’ve begun this journey and really invested in making change, I have gained an even deeper understanding of just how difficult this is for me. I can multi-task: I can do 8,000 things at once, and often do them all quite well. Being present on a regular basis in my normal daily grind though, this is something that is SO HARD for me. As expected I get frustrated and discouraged and then consider that maybe this just isn’t something I can do. Maybe it’s just not my thing. But I ask myself: What do I know? What would I tell someone else struggling with the same issue? Is this time, effort, and frustration worth it to improve my life in this way and am I making change toward the person I want to be?
Here is what I know: Our minds operate much like the other muscles in our body. If we lift the same weight with the same arm in the same way over and over again all day it becomes easier over time, more natural. I once heard someone speak about neuroplasticity, which is our brain’s ability to grow and change over time and is fascinating, in the following way. When you first approach a jungle you find trees and vines and plants, growth of all sorts, overgrown and present a kind of wall. As you begin to make your way through this jungle you take your machete and chop away just enough to get through, forming a sort of path. If you return to this same spot the next day, the jungle is still overgrown but you may be able to tell where you began your journey the day before. You find that spot and start again, following the same steps you did before.
If you do this each day for a year, your path will be well worn, clearer, easier to spot and the path easier to navigate. It will require less work, less focus, less intention to get from point A to point B on this path. Our minds work in a similar fashion. We have habits, patterns, ways of doing things, and our minds send signals and fire in a certain way related to these things. Over time it becomes more natural and eventually we may not even think about it much. However, as we begin a new pattern or practice, we are forging a new path. It takes TIME and EFFORT, more chopping and cutting, and when we enter the jungle our old path is much more obvious, clearer, and easier to navigate.
Taking the old path is tempting, because it is familiar. It’s already cleared, it’s normal for us, we know the way. If we want to make a new path however, we must CHOOSE to take the less obvious, more difficult path. There will be days that we are tired, or busy, or life happens, and we just don’t feel up to it. If over time though, we continue to be consistent, continue to persevere, work on the new path and CHOOSE to go that way, it will become smoother, clearer, more natural and known, more comfortable than the old. The old will simultaneously fill in, become more overgrown, and eventually will no longer look like a path. At this point you’ve accomplished your goal and replaced an old habit or pattern with a new one.
Maybe your goals right now are similar, maybe they’re completely different. The message and lesson however is the same. Making change of any kind in our lives is usually difficult. We have lived in our ways of thinking and being for so long that doing things in a new way seems so, so, hard, even impossible at times. I encourage you to keep trying. You will have days of victory and days of failure. You will learn what is helpful, what works, and what doesn’t. Keep trying. Jungles aren’t formed overnight and new paths take time and effort to create. So don’t give up. Be intentional. Choose to be who you want to be. Allow yourself grace and acknowledge your growth. Persist and persist consistently.
Bethany Schaefer, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Leah McDill, PhD, LPC-S
512-238-1700 x 313