You have identified the behavior or internal belief system (about yourself or others) you want to change. You have even done the work to unpack those beliefs and patterns- where they came from, what purpose they were perhaps serving you. Now you find yourself wondering how to take this insight and put it into action: to change the way you think about yourself, cope with difficult things, and interact with the world.
I can often tell when a client has gotten to this crossroads- a tell-tale look on their face that says: “Ok, I get it…but now what?”
It is important to note that so much of change comes from awareness. Being aware of how we view ourselves, the various lenses through which we interpret our circumstances, and the behaviors we engage in response is a powerful gift and should not be undervalued. If we can notice ourselves- in the moment especially- thinking a negative thought or tempted to engage a certain behavior it creates a small but significant space for us to recognize what is happening and choose differently. Even that microsecond of time allows us the opportunity to self-reflect, think about where this thought or urge is stemming from, and perhaps pick an alternate route.
When it comes to practical steps to incorporating a new belief or behavior, I recommend “The Four Steps” as a straightforward, effective approach. “The Four Steps” are part of the Restoration Therapy model, which seeks to empower clients to address the beliefs they have about themselves and relationships in efforts to facilitate true and lasting behavioral change. The Four Steps are as follows:
1: State how you feel. This is where you state the core belief that has been triggered- this may look like “Right now I feel not good enough, powerless, inadequate, voiceless, unlovable…”
2: State what you normally do in response to that feeling. What is the coping mechanism you typically engage? Do you withdraw or isolate? Respond defensively or blame shift? Do you shame yourself, or attempt to numb/escape in some way?
3: State the truth. What is the belief that directly counteracts the false core belief you are trying to overcome? For example, “The truth is I am lovable, I do have a voice, or I can be safe now.”
It is important to note that behavior change often includes behaving a certain way before you “feel” or “believe” it to be true. You are in the process of rerouting a neural pathway- a pathway that likely has had years and years to develop and get reinforced. It is not impossible to do- not even close. But it may take some stumbling around as you boost this new muscle. Also keep in mind that the old beliefs and patterns may not completely go away- you may still catch yourself doubting your worth and wanting to avoid, feeling out of control, and wanting to grasp onto that unhealthy behavior as something you can control. But over time, these voices and impulses will get quieter and quieter, and easier and easier to dismiss. And if these thoughts and behaviors are starting to crop back up, all has not been lost! This is information you can use to let you know something is off and needs to be addressed.
4: State what you will do instead. Knowing this truth or set of truths about you (as identified above) how will you respond? Will you set a boundary? Take a step forward in a scary direction? Speak to yourself/your partner with compassion?
Write these on a piece of paper- several even. Place them in your wallet, on your mirror, or on the fridge. Use them on your own, or when tensions are starting to get high between you and your partner. Do not be afraid to say them out loud, either! This way you not only think of and verbalize them, but you also hear them back as you say them to yourself.
For the record, it is unlikely you will be able to catch yourself doing these things (e.g., thinking a negative thought or engaging a maladaptive behavior) “in the moment” right off the bat- this takes time and muscle memory. Taking cues from how your body feels/reacts when a false or harmful core belief has been triggered can be a helpful resource, and so can reflect later about a certain reaction you had in a given situation to better understand what may have gone on for you.
Finally, for more information on Restoration Therapy visit: http://www.restorationtherapytraining.com/
Christian Makenna Clements is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist #111159.