Some people just lack confidence that they can change. They feel that their problems are either too difficult or too deep, or they are disappointed with the approaches they already tried. Even more often, they are inclined to lose motivation if a dramatic change does not occur in a month or two; sometimes they are even aware that they did not really invest much effort into self-improvement, or that they did not practice the things they learned.
Very often, people practice exercises and techniques irregularly, e.g., just a few times in a week. After a few months, they usually decide that they are not satisfied with the results, as if the results can come just from theoretical knowledge of a method. On the other hand, people who really invest effort into using newly learned skills, sometimes expect too large a change in a short period of time, and if this does not happen, their motivation quickly diminishes.
One of the most important things I can say about personal development is: give yourself time! Emotional problems are often created at the very beginning of our lives, when the personality is still developing, and then are usually reinforced for decades. From a neurological point of view, repeated behaviors – including repetitive thinking patterns - create neurological connections, which consequently make it easier to keep on repeating the same thinking habits. It takes time and perseverance for new neurological links to be shaped and new habits of thinking adopted.
As when losing weight or learning new skills – playing a musical instrument, combat skills, creative writing or anything else, if you set a target date just few weeks or months ahead, not only will you be dissatisfied with the results but also with the process itself. Premature deadlines create pressure and feelings of failure and insufficiency, and - as with rapid diets – you soon return to old habits and old problems. It is much wiser to give yourself six months, a year or two, or more, depending on the problem, and to establish a regular routine. Create habits that are easier to maintain, perhaps even enjoy – for extended periods, even for a lifetime.
While working with clients, I noticed that change is especially difficult for people whose parents did not want them to be born. They did not experience basic acceptance or welcome into this world, thus the very foundations of their self-image can be negative.
Similarly, some parents are disappointed with the gender of their child. Such children often carry feelings of rejection and guilt, not because of their behavior, which could be changed, but because of who they are. Such people need to practice extended and intense support and love for themselves, to change these deeply imprinted images.
My experience in working individually with such people is that they usually notice big changes in toxic beliefs, or to emotions like guilt, anger or fear in specific contexts. However, for existential goals, like significant changes in personality, work or partnership, they need to change many deep convictions and emotional reactions - not just a few, as people usually hope. People with difficult pasts built such complexes during repeated trauma and unhealthy relationships. Healing requires more intense work.
A woman I will call Laura worked with me on her partnership issues, like feeling hurt by some details of her partner's behavior, occasional jealousy, suffering in times of separation etc. At first, we met twice a month, and later once a month. In the meantime, she worked alone with guided exercises.
Very soon, she started to notice increased self-confidence and no longer felt dependent on her partner's behavior. After a while, she started feeling less interested to continue that relationship, as she felt that her important wishes and needs were not fulfilled. Still, she decided not to force a break up, but to stay in the relationship as long as she felt a need for it, using that time to work on every emotional problem that would come out.
As time passed, she would often tell me that attraction was diminishing and that she was no longer sure how long her relationship might last. Soon after, she met another man with whom she was able to create a relationship that she describes as true intimacy and partnership, everyday magic, an experience that is almost hard to believe.
This is a beautiful – and realistic! – example of what can be achieved through long-term continuous work and sincerity to yourself. This approach requires more time and effort than some “magic pill” methods, but in this way problems can be resolved at their roots, on the level of causes and not effects - just like losing weight cannot be achieved with lotions and pills, but by changing unhealthy habits.
Permanent and significant results come through a combination of working with causes of issues, developing new levels of consciousness and perception, creating new emotional experiences and practicing new habits in everyday situations.
Some people tell me that their starting positions are far more difficult and complicated than most. They expect that I might have trouble understanding them, since I don't know exactly how they feel. If I talk about my current self, it is true that I have a positive attitude about myself. However, when I started working on my personal development, this was not true. When I look back at my past, I would say that my history was rather average, if I compare myself to other people. (Some people hardly believe me when I tell them how I perceived myself when I was a teenager.) However, my challenges motivated me to grow and learn. Considering that you are reading this article now, this is probably true for you, too.
Human psychological structures change slowly; most people need a sense of continuity, gradual transition from the known to the unknown, instead of dramatic changes. Some people consciously fear change, although many more people carry this fear on an unconscious level.
Our personalities consist of many parts, often called sub-personalities. Some of them are more and some less active, and some are hidden most of the time. Those parts of us also need time to reorganize and adjust to change. Some of them might resist change due to a fear of “ego-death”, a fear that the current personality might be damaged or destroyed. For a similar reason – fear of losing the sense of identity we are used to – we might be afraid of spiritual experiences and intense intimacy with others.
I have tried and tested many personal development techniques and met quite a few people doing the same. In spite of all promises and glorious marketing, I do not know anyone who achieved a dramatic change in a short time. Sometimes external circumstances change or temporary ecstatic states are achieved, but our basic sense of who we are in this world changes at a much slower pace.
People I worked with often tell me that their lives have fundamentally changed, but never after a few days or even weeks. Yet when they look back and remember the way they felt months before, they see significant changes. This goal is achievable, very inspiring and motivating, if we were not so used to our consumer society, with everything in instant packages, and if we were willing to invest our time and effort into personal change. Instead, most people try to use external means to achieve inner changes. Character development can only be achieved through effort and experience.
From time to time, “leaps” in improvement are possible, including important positive changes within short periods of time, but those are, in my opinion, the results of previous efforts which created the conditions for subsequent changes.
Sometimes, true and full confrontation with an external situation can bring many liberating insights and changes in perspective, so that some emotional problems may spontaneously heal and with them any need to create similar situations. For example, I have experienced that if I said aloud my opinion to people whose reactions I feared, I felt enormous relief and freedom to speak up. However, to do that, I needed to be aware of my emotions, true to myself and I needed to learn how to better react to external challenges. Thus, this kind of healing is also a result of long-term effort.
Results come easier and faster when we work with our unpleasant emotions before confronting real-life situations, but one without the other is not enough. Healing emotional patterns without checking the results in real life, or trying to change external circumstances without changing the deep beliefs that originally helped creating them, will rarely provide lasting results.
As with losing weight, accepting the fact that we cannot be liberated of our imperfections overnight is a key to true freedom. Just like in choosing a profession or a hobby, it is important to find satisfaction in the chosen method of personal development itself, not only in the result. It is an opportunity to practice enjoying the present moment and to love ourselves the way we are.
Allow changes to happen gradually, step by step, layer after layer, yet persistently, for permanent results. A year of patience and discipline can often save a decade of useless effort. As some of my clients said: “I can hardly recognize the person I used to be!“
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