What’s holding you back from (Really!) changing?

I was seething mad at my brother, who also happens to be my work colleague. We were voting on the name of a new product. It was my project from the start and the other names the team came up with were rejected and so, we were trying for the umph-teenth time to settle on a name. Finally, I came up with P___ and got a good reception. It was now down to just two names, mine and one other. I sent my brother a text. “Could you please support the brand name P_____ when we vote? It would mean a lot to me.” Two product names of equal value. Please just pick mine. That’s all I asked. When we voted, he chose the other name. Are you kidding me?! I immediately picked up my phone and typed “Asshole. Thanks for nothing.” I hovered over the send button. I hovered even longer. Just send it. Let him know how you feel.

I didn’t do it.

I then proceeded to go onto social media and post an article about how to deal with workplace assholes (“Keep an asshole diary — carefully document what the jerk does and when it happens,”). While I knew this would be completely passive aggressive, I didn’t care. Again, I was a ball of raw emotions, filled with anger, and desperately wanted to attack back. I copied and pasted the link onto my newsfeed. I typed, “Asshole alert!” I hovered, again, over the share button. I hovered longer.

Again, I stopped myself and deleted the draft. I walked away from my computer, breathed, huffed, puffed, and then came back, sat down, and began to write this entry.

Changing our toxic behaviors is hard. We tend to keep repeating the same faulty patterns. We date the same type of “avoidants,” we go after the same type of unavailable partners, we bring the same neurosis and anger and mistrust and pain to the table and yet, we expect different results.

For years I dated guys who were either unavailable, avoidant or love addicted. I would fling myself into relationships rather quickly, all the while telling myself I was being super selective. We would rush forward with intense emotions, lock ourselves into a committed relationships and without fail, six months later, one of two things would happen: the guy would start becoming distant and emotionally unavailable, or I would. And then, the inevitable break up, which was never clean, by the way. I would typically break up (“You’re not giving me what I want.”) and then, I would think, “What have I done?!” and I would run back. I repeated this pattern over and over and over again. I became more predictable than the seasons.

Also without fail was the self-shaming that always followed. Why do I keep attracting the same guys? Why can’t I change? What is wrong with me?

It took years to figure out what needed to happen in order for real change to take effect. Throughout most of my life, I depended a great deal on reading self-help books, searching for answers. And, of course, I waited for someone different to come along. If only someone different would come along things would change, I thought. But what I realized was that I had to change first. And in order to change, I had to do only two things:

1.) learn new behavior, and

2.) put new behavior into action.

Easy, right? Nope.

For years, I focused on the first part of that equation. I read so many books on how to love yourself, and care for yourself, and how to say no, and make different choices, and how to demand respect that I really had all the answers. It was the second part “Put new behavior into action” where I failed miserably. Whether I was lazy or irresponsible or immature, I just don’t know. But I just didn’t GET that action is the key to change. And not just taking action once, but many times. So many times that you create healthier behavior to replace toxic behavior.

The other thing I realized is that two chronic behaviors of mine kept me from taking right action: my impulsivity, and my negative thinking. On the surface, I would think, “I deserve better,” but, in the deeper realm of consciousness my belief of myself was incredibly negative. “You’re such a loser.” “This is all you deserve.”  “You’re no-one special.” “All men are avoidant.” “I’m doomed to repeat this pattern.” “I’m worthless.”

These negative beliefs subconsciously drove my impulsivity. My deeper, animal brain took over and I would throw everything I learned into the garbage bin and do something stupid. I.e. I would repeat the toxic pattern.

Change is almost impossible if you are anchored to your toxic, negative beliefs. And because your impulses arise from your subconscious, you will inevitably continue to “act out” in unworthy ways if your subconscious mind believes you are unworthy.

So? How do you change? You repeat and repeat and repeat healthy behavioral actions that serve you. This partly means that you spend time getting to know yourself, finding out who you are and what you like.

But it also means this (read this part carefully and over and over again): if you believe you are worthy of dignity and respect, then you must make dignified, respectful choices. If you say you want a guy who respects you, but then you go out to bars and get completely intoxicated, night after night, suffering the shame of your behavior, and the after effects of your hangover, this is not exactly conducive to a respectful life. Where is your own self respect of your body? Of your mind? If you say you want a relationship with someone who values getting to know you and values who you are on the inside versus just the physical, but then you sleep with him on the first date (second, third or fourth…), where are your boundaries that protect your values? What choices are you making to communicate your value? People don’t sell real diamonds for dollars and pennies. And likewise, you cannot call yourself a diamond, expect to be treated like a diamond, but then give yourself away for a fraction of your worth.

This is the key to change. When your actions are in alignment with your words, with what you say change can occur. And the more you work towards this alignment of words and actions, the more your subconscious starts to reconfigure its negative beliefs of who you are. Positive beliefs cause positive change.

It took a lifetime to be able to put down my cellphone and not send an angry text. My impulses clearly had other plans. But consciously, I don’t want to be an angry person. I don’t want to lash out at people. And I don’t want to hurt others, even if they hurt me. Whether that’s right or wrong, doesn’t matter. What matters is that that’s my value. What matters is that I have assigned great importance to non-impulsive behavior and I stuck to it. And the more I practice doing it consciously, the quicker my subconscious mind will learn healthy ways of driving my behavior.

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