Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? I do believe I have been changed for the better.”
In the Broadway musical Wicked, two unlikely friends Glinda, the good witch, and Elphaba, the green witch, sing their farewell duet, For Good, in which they tell each other that because of their relationship they have each been changed for the better.
Why is it so hard to change for the better?
It seems like I can easily make changes for the NOT better. I can Not stick to a budget. I can Not maintain a healthy diet. I can Not choose to be patient, loving and kind with my family members.
Long lasting positive change is hard.
A story goes that two elderly gentlemen were sitting in rocking chairs on a porch with an old hound dog whimpering in between them. One man says to the other with a spit, “Why’s yer dog whining?” and the other replies, “He’s a layin’ on a tack. He’ll move when he hurts bad enough.”
That is just it. We often wait to make the changes we need to make in life until it hurts too badly not to change.
John Townsend, the author of Boundaries and the Entitlement Cure, says that we can either live life the hard way or the harder way. We can make the hard changes in life so that life in the long run goes a little smoother, or we can go along procrastinating and putting off needed changes until the point of no return which causes much pain to ourselves and others along the way.
Change for the better almost always starts with a decision. Most of us want to have healthier lives and healthier relationships. We can easily decide we want to change, but something happens in between the decision and the outcome. Something seems to derail the best intentions and execution of change.
I think that often times we get derailed from our good intentions because we are looking to others to change first. “If my spouse would get home on time, I wouldn’t be so irritable.” “ I wouldn’t have to yell if my kids would listen.”
Father Jonathon Morris puts it this way in his book The Way of Serenity. “You and I are part of the problem. And maybe you and I could be a bigger part of the solution than we are right now.” He goes on to say, “good change is a movement toward our best selves. “ A great upside is that when we make changes to become our best selves those we live with and work with might also begin making changes for the better.
Positive change is contagious.
It has been my experience personally and clinically that personal change happens in three basic ways.
- Change the way you think. What story are you telling yourself in any given moment? Are all your interactions affected by a basic belief that you are not good enough or lovable? It is hard to change for the better if your perception of yourself is distorted or skewed.
- Manage your emotions. Feelings are not good or bad. They just are. They can be great indicators of what we are believing in the moment. If I believe that interactions with my spouse are positive then the corresponding emotions might be happy or peaceful. On the other hand if I believe that interactions with my spouse are judgmental or disappointing I can quickly go to feeling anxious or angry. How I respond to these emotions will greatly determine how an interaction will go in any moment. I can fly off the handle, or I can see my emotions for the indicators that they are. I can ask myself what is going on here? Is there any truth to what I am believing? How do I best need to manage my anxiety? How can I effectively communicate my frustration?
- Intentionally choose different behaviors. We are not at the mercy of our thoughts or our feelings. We can choose to behave in loving, respectful, and responsible ways in spite of how we think or feel. Most of us act in positive ways in spite of the way we feel or what we momentarily believe all of the time. I exercise even when I don’t “feel” like it. I still go to work on days that I firmly believe I can be most effective sitting in my favorite chair with a cup of coffee all day. When we intentionally choose to be different in our relationships, our relationships change.
I have found that addressing all three of these areas in parallel is a path to the most effective and quickest changes in my own life and in the lives of the people I work and live with.
Your relationships especially your committed relationships will often times provide the motivation and the opportunity to try out and practice all three areas of change in your life.
To quote one of my favorite professors, Take Yourself On!
Make changes in yourself for the better, and I believe you will find that you have influenced your relationships for the good.
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