I take pride in this column.
Every Wednesday for eight years, I plant myself at my computer and conjure up what I hope is the best way to utilize the power of 600 words. Sometimes, ideas explode forth with volcanic fury and I cannot keep up. Oft times, I rearrange the pixels on my screen for the better part of a day. However, I trudge on until I am satisfied enough to forward it with pride to the editors who so graciously publish and post it.
What astounds me is which pieces get the most, or least, feedback.
Articles I’m convinced will generate a firestorm sometimes barely ignite a spark, whereby those I presumed would simply cause quiet contemplation will produce a flood of reactions via email, phone calls, and strangers approaching me to continue the discussion. Last week’s column (Practical, simple advice to feel better quickly) was of the latter category. I was pleasantly stunned with the number of comments about its practicality and helpfulness. Therefore, I will take it deeper.
What I did not have room for in that piece was the preliminary step, even prior to changing one’s ideas and behaviors. Preceding the rearrangement of one’s routines, one must query of himself: “Why am I going to change this?” Whether the topic is diet, relationships, finance, or attitude; this question is essential as it establishes motive, which affects the likelihood of success — or failure.
The answer will fall into one of three main categories:
- I want to live a better, happier, or healthier life
- I need to change or things will get worse
- I should do it (or I’ve been told I should do it)
With dedication, planning, and patience, the odds of success from number one or two is strong. This is so because the drive is internally motivated. Contrarily, if the inner voice replies with should, the results — if any — will be short-lived.
“Should” is the word used by the invisible committee of “they” to run our lives.
We all know who “they” are: the voices who tell us we’re not smart enough, or thin enough, or rich enough. “They” complain about how we raise our children or tell us we’re unsuccessful. In the parlance of therapy, “should” is the word used by our critical parent to manipulate us. It does this by applying guilt or shame, which — if they were motivational — would cause us ALL to be happier, healthier, and more successful. It obviously doesn’t work, as we can see by looking at its past results. The reason? The natural response to a critical parent is a rebellious child.
“I’ll show you who’s boss!” we proclaim (usually with an emotional one-finger salute). “No one tells me what I can or cannot do!” Ever try and control an incensed kid? How’d that work? It’s not going to work any differently here.
If you’re sincere about changing, self-analysis, and even a touch of selfishness, is mandatory.
We must identify:
- What’s in it for ME?
- How will I feel better?
- Will I be happier or will MY life run more smoothly?”
It’s a definite bonus when our goal of self-improvement spills over to enhance the lives of those we care about. However, if our sole motivation is to make someone else happy, we’ll be resentful and they’ll be more miserable. You might as well stick with what you’ve got – which is exactly that but without having to be frustrated to get there.