By Daniela Stark, April 15, 2019

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Supporting Change and Growth: Environment

Part 1 of 3

We all have made, at a certain moment, a significant change in our lives. Enrolling for further education; a dramatic career change; moving to another city or country; buying a house; getting married; adopting a child; ending unhealthy relationships; quitting smoking, drinking, or using drugs; losing weight; bringing more fun into our lives etc.

For some of us, the personal transformation was the objective in itself: we wanted to become braver, kinder, more honest, more generous, altruistic.

At every given moment, we still have things that we would like to change about ourselves and in our lives: our beliefs, relationships, career, health, finance, habits, or develop new leisure time activities or skills (writing, assertiveness, clear communication, leadership, conflict resolution, playing an instrument, photography, decluttering, cooking etc.).

But change and growth require stepping out from our comfort zone and making some effort (when it’s so nice to be lazy or to have a lot of fun); to be resilient in the face of frustration, failure, sacrifice, pain etc.

Because it is so difficult, we need to be in an environment (or to create an environment) that encourages and nurtures change; we need to have a mindset that helps us start and continue the journey; and we have to be prepared with some strategies. We will discuss those one by one, beginning in this article with environment.

We are motivated to start a changing process when we are in a situation where we feel both discomfort and some comfort (even though the comfort might be only a very small hope). And we’ll have the best environment for continuing the process of change if we keep things in balance: we are kind with ourselves while stretching ourselves a bit; we work hard and after that we reward ourselves with some things what will bring us more energy; we accept our setbacks or unproductive days without dwelling in self-pity or self-criticism.

Discomfort is the unpleasant feeling of being in an undesirable place where we realize we are stuck in bad behaviors, our potential is not fulfilled, our skills are not well developed, we don’t do the things that will bring us joy, or we don’t have the things we want. And in order to start moving, we have to evaluate the present situation as being more costly than the price we will pay to make the change.  When we perceive the discomfort of remaining where we are is bigger than the discomfort of making the effort to change, we are ready for the journey.

For example, when we don’t speak up to communicate what we need, we can feel frustration, depression or guilt. When these feelings result in more pain than the fear of rejection and the effort to learn new skills, then we “dare” to be assertive.

This is the reason coaches might ask their clients: “Why do you want to do this now?” When we answer this question, we see more clearly the price we’ll pay for remaining in the same situation.

But it is very hard to change and develop when we experience only unpleasant feelings and emotions because while they might offer an impulse, they also take away so much of our energy. So, in order to be able to make a change in our life, we also need comfortable feelings, a stable ground.

First, we need to have some hope that we can achieve our goals. Usually, creating an inspiring vision and being aware of the resources and opportunities we have, will increase our hope. Many times, our hope is strengthened through faith that God can help us achieve more that we can believe and pray for. Like King David’s prayer in Psalm 62:1 “lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”

Other comfortable emotions and feelings that provide us with a good environment for change are: self-acceptance (I’m here now and it is OK to start or restart from here), self-forgiveness (because if you are in a self-punishment state for past mistakes, it is hard to “reward” yourself with a more satisfying life), gratitude, acceptance, appreciation, love, trust. Depending on our personality, our situation, our goal, we will need less or more of these in order to succeed. Personally, sometimes I need a lot of encouragement and help, but other times I have enough “support” from others if they do not criticize or discourage me.

Finally, the most important element of a growth environment is courage. No matter how much positiveness surrounds us, we will never feel ready enough, good enough, prepared enough - fears are always with us in the great adventures of our lives. Courage is a way of life. And it doesn’t mean we don’t experience fear; it means we are acting despite fear.

I like this metaphor that many coaches use (and my clients in coaching have found very helpful): fears are our guardians. They want to protect us from failure, rejection, being less than perfect etc. Realizing this helps us a lot because it’s easier to talk to a friend than to an enemy. The problem is that these guardians try to protect us so strongly that if we listen to them, we will protect ourselves from life itself. So, we need to answer our fears, to remind them of past success and the abilities and knowledge we have; to tell them that failure is temporary; and that self-confidence is not required at the outset but it develops during the journey. 

An illustration I can give about how environment supports change is from a former job I had at a dental clinic for children in Bucharest. I worked there as a clinical psychologist and it was one of the most rewarding and fun jobs I’ve ever had. I helped my patients take the journey from being (very) afraid of the dentist to becoming brave patients.

The discomfort that made them start the process of change was tooth pain or the bad look of their teeth or the fear that cavities will make them suffer soon.

The comforting feelings the children received from their dentist and from me were, from the very beginning, normalization and understanding – no judgment. They heard the message “Yes, fear is normal. Almost all of us had fear of dentist at the very beginning.”

Another thing they received was trust – the dentists trusted the patients that they could make progress (and this was the reason they sent them to work with me and didn’t schedule them for general anesthesia or laughing gas). The parents trusted their children, too. I also trusted all my patients, and I encouraged and supported them all the way. To boost their courage, I developed their trust in their dentist and we played together including role-play until they felt comfortable enough to go for the dental treatment. And I was there with them for their first appointment in the dental office to remind them how brave they were and to celebrate with them. The patients who forgot my name called me “the nice lady” – and this name still sounds so sweet to my ears.

For sure, it was more than the environment that helped my patients succeed, but we will talk about mindset and strategies in the next two articles.

 

Questions:

  • What discomfort(s) do you have in your life now?

  • What are the disadvantages of remaining in your current situation(s)?

  • What are the benefits of changing?

  • What are your fears telling you and how can you reply to them?

  • What are the comforts you already have and the ones you can bring so you can create the environment to help you start and continue the process of change?

  • Who can be the “nice lady” – the supportive person – in your changing process?

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Playing and role-playing helped my little patients to overcome their fears. This picture was taken by the father who was happy that his son was now comfortable to sit in the dental chair and play with some instruments.

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