Change is difficult. People come to therapy because they want their life to be different, but it can be a struggle to make a change in life. Significant life changes such as relationships, jobs, living situations, school, and a variety of other situations can be a struggle to figure out. As your therapist I cannot make a decision for you, but I can help to guide you through some steps to make that decision and follow through with your plan and work to adjust to the new situation.
Steps to make a change:
1. Work through ambivalence
A definition of ambivalence that I reference is “valuing both.” This definition reminds me to understand the struggle of the decision that someone is presenting with in front of me. If both sides were not valued then the decision would not be difficult. To make a change in life means coping with loss to some degree. Therapy facilitates exploring the loss, emotions and fears which essential in working through ambivalence. It is difficult to embrace a decision when the loss hasn’t been addressed and worked through. Otherwise people could end up with feelings of regret.
One helpful tool is to make a PROS/CONS list as well to assist in exploring the value you place on each situation to help movement in a direction toward a decision.
2. Implementing the change
External focus: Even if the focus of the change isn’t about a relationship itself, often the change involves other people in your life (partner, friends, family, coworker, boss, etc.) Therefore it is important to work on communication skills needed to implement the change. Practicing what you want to say in order to make a change is helpful in order to feel confident about supporting this difficult change in your life. In therapy we will work on role plays and reviewing a variety of situations until you feel confident on how to make the change.
Internal focus: In addition to talking to other people about your life change, It is also important to address your internal dialogue related to the situation. This is important in all situations, but especially if it is more of an internal personality change that doesn’t necessarily have an external focus. This step involves challenging doubts and fears that have been holding you back from making a change. The process involves use of positive self-talk, self reassurance, and confidence building.
Regardless of what change you are making, therapy will focus both on the internal and external processes of change as they are both factors in the change.
3. Following through with the change
This is often where people take a misstep and might go back on their word. If you are struggling with low self-esteem and poor image of yourself, it is easy to go back on your decision if someone objects to it (external) or if negative thoughts resurface (internal).
Ongoing therapy sessions then focus on working through the “second guessing” – the fears that become a reality. Ongoing exploration of emotions, practicing assertive communication, positive self-talk and revisiting the already made decision and why you had determined it to be the best decision, are interventions at this point in how to make a change. With ongoing work on these skills the change, you will be able to move forward with less anxiety and second guessing as we reinforce the changes.
4. Recognizing the positive after you make a change
Once you have made the change and continue to follow through, it is important to reinforce the change by visiting the positive differences that have occurred as a result of the change (reference PROS list). It is important work through any negative consequences of the change (revisiting the losses as they have become a reality) and how to minimize that impact and focus on the positive differences. This will help reinforce the change making it long lasting and reduce any feelings of regret. You spent all this time making a decision and a change, it would be a shame to regret it after all that work!
Good luck in your upcoming life adventures and hopefully this article can help you to make a change in your life that you have been considering and wanting to do. Therapy can help to facilitate that process for you safely and successfully if you are feeling stuck!