Have you ever thought “I’ve been here before. This thing keeps happening to me. Why am I destined to repeat this experience”? Many people looking to change how they behave in the world experience this. It is the impetus for change. That feeling of being stuck and repetitive. The uncomfortable feeling of doing the same thing over and over hoping for different results is often what drives us to change. Ever heard the saying “the pain of staying the same, must be greater than the pain of change”? That is part of why we find ourselves in repetitive situations we do not like. We are getting ready to change.
Everyday I deal with people who want their lives to be different, but cannot figure out necessary steps to get where they want to go. We are all like that, and we all have those experiences. Those times when we want our lives to be different and do not know how to make it happen. It can be one of the most maddening feelings – to know we need to do something different and not know what to do next. It can be hard to ask for help or even find the people we need to guide us well. Many of us do not know who to ask or how. Today take a look at your life and note if you want to change. Below outlines some common experiences and then steps for making change happen in your life.
It can be helpful to understand why we find ourselves in the same sorts of situations over and over. It starts with our culture and our communities. We only know what we are taught and those items come from where we come from (this generation and those past). Everybody’s culture is different. I have road-tripped through most of the lower 48 and although we share the label of being from the United States of America we are so different. We might look alike, but our cultures are different. Within each family system our cultures are different. You might find the family next door does things very different from your family just a house away. Each of us is also influenced by our communities.
Each of us is also influenced by our communities:
- Who is in our peer group?
- What do they focus on?
- What activities do they do?
- What do they value?
Once we have the lenses of personal culture, it is really hard to take them off.
Think about having colored glasses on. When you are wearing yellow lenses it is hard to see yellow things. When you wear red glasses, red items are difficult. This is what it is like to wear the lenses of your culture. You do not know what you are missing because you cannot see what your lenses cover up. It is just the way you have always done things. The way your family is, and this translates into the way the world is … even when it is not. The global leap to “this is the way everybody is, … should be, … does it” gets in our way of relating. We think we know what it is like for other people only to find out it is not the same which is hard for our personal identities.
For example, I like peanuts. I have eaten them many ways throughout my lifetime. Being from the upper midwest I had never encountered boiled peanuts until I was taken to a boiled peanut stand in the backwoods of South Carolina. Everyone raved about how great they were going to be and I had no idea what I was in for. I had no lens to understand boiled peanuts or why you would cook them that way. I had never been exposed to boiling peanuts in the shells and then eating them as though they were a special item. I did not have a lens to understand the reasons, what to expect, or even how to find them – I never would’ve found that shack on my own, even if I did I wouldn’t know why to stop there. I had never tasted boiled peanuts before.
This is why it is so hard to break free from repetitive situations. You have lenses that shape what you know and what you see, therefore you keep finding the same things over and over with no way of knowing what you do not know. I did not know boiled peanuts existed or what they would taste like because I had never been exposed to them before. I never thought of having boiled peanuts, therefore did not even know to look for them.
Lets broaden this out to relationships. Ever wonder why you or someone else continues to pick partners that are similar, even when you have sworn off that type of person forever? It is because the lens you are wearing shapes the people you find. Our exposure to relationships begins with our earliest ones, our primary caregivers. The cultural lenses we were handed are the role models we saw in our first years. How they treated each other, how they treated us, ways they communicated, words they chose to express their connection, what they gave value to and what they ignored all create the foundation for our intimate relationships. We often do not know we wear these lenses, it is just “how marriages are”, “how lovers treat each other”, “what men / women are like”, etc. We speak as though it is always the same, because it is all we know. When we encounter a partner opportunity different than our personal lens we think they are weird or we do not even notice them. Their personal style of dress, hair, stature, way of communicating, interacting, or being does not match our lens so we do not see them as options for us, thus we cannot shift our picks.
Another common area where people struggle is money and work. For many we work in similar jobs and live at a similar social-economic level as our family of origin. We may break out a bit ahead but often we stay stuck at the same levels. This is because the lenses we were shown about work, money, material comforts, location of living, etc. were handed to us by our earliest experiences. Often we are not aware of what those paradigms were or why they existed. We may remember messages about “value of hard work”, “money is the root of all evil”, “poor equals dirty/stupid/lazy/___”, “money equals love” or “nothing easy is worth anything”. We may have been present to arguments or worried conversations our caregivers had about finances and taken information in without awareness. As a result we continue to repeat the patterns with work and money we know. If we felt included in the culture we often find value in being “blue collar”, “redneck”, “high class”, or “well off”and as a result we are likely to repeat them. If we felt discomfort at the lenses we were handed as children we become determined to do it differently, often with gusto. This is the pain of staying the same and it drives us to initiate change.
It can happen externally, like the above example, or this pain can be driven from internal strife. Take the concept of weight management. If you feel uncomfortable enough in your physical body, you will make necessary lifestyle choices to change your current predicament. You go through the process of shifting your lenses for what your weight should be – this may have come from pictures, physical health issues, family or friends who have made a change – and you find people to help you. You might check out a magazine, buy a book, hire a personal trainer, join a gym, enlist a friend, the list goes on for ways we drop our old lenses. Once we drop them we learn how big the world really is. We begin to see how much the world has to offer us in the particular area of interest. We finally begin to see the possibilities and we go after our goals. This is the pain of change. It takes time and often numerous failures before we get it right, but we are learning and expanding our lenses all the way.
So if you are looking around your life and saying it’s like ground hog day – happening again and again and I do not like it – it is time to takes steps to make the change. Here’s how to begin:
- Determine what you want to be different
- Decide what you want it to be like – get specific in your vision of what could be, see it clearly in your head
- Create a goal statement & post it where you can see it everyday, multiple times a day. Make a vision board of pictures and sayings that represent your goal. Hang it where you will see it often.
- Break your goal into smaller chunks using SMART goals
- Timed (when will you complete, how long will you work at it). Change is best done in 10% increments. So just make a SMART goal on the 1st 10% change step. When we complete that we’ll make the next and then the next until you reach the big goal.
- Find a helper. Enlist family, friends, trainers, therapists, coaches to help you get to the next level. Find a couple new friends who are mastering what you want to accomplish, watch videos of people succeeding like you would like to, read about them. Get exposed to what they are doing to have what you want as much as you possibly can.
- Decide how you will reward yourself. Is it praise, a new item, an experience? What is it you want for accomplishing your goal? Find pictures and post them where you will see them often
- Finally, make it social. Tell your family, friends, join a group, hire a coach, see a therapist. Get someone on your side and find support to help you stay on track.