Resolution Time?

Posted on January 1, 2015

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“The tension is here between who you are and who you could be, between how it is and how it should be.”  Jon Foreman (Dare You To Move)

“And it gets harder as you get older.” Stephen Stills (See the Changes)

“One day you’ll wake up in the present day, a million generations removed from expectations of being who you really want to be.”  Ian Anderson (Skating Away On the Thin Ice of a New Day)

Well, 2014 is over and I never did entirely figure out what it feel like to be a room without a roof or why that should be such a joyful experience.  A friend of mine told me that his son had lamented about the number of Frozen-themed birthday parties.  My friend told him to “Let it Go.”[1]

Welcome to 2015.

I was in the gym this week and commented to a friend that it was not very crowded.  He remarked that in was the calm before the storm as the next two weeks would be very crowded before settling back down to normal.  He was, of course, referring to the flood of those who would make New Year’s resolutions and only keep them for a short time.  Making and not keeping New Year’s resolutions is an ongoing cliché.  It is almost expected that one will make resolutions and subsequently not keep them.

I believe in change.  If I didn’t, I would surely be in a different line of work.  But it’s hard to change.  There are reasons we do what we do even if those things are not helpful to us.  It takes courage and commitment to make real change in your life.

When therapists talk to each other, we sometimes talk about the difference between first and second order change.  When talking about systems, the first order change means making a change that still leaves the system operating the same way.  Second order change involves an actual change to the system and how it operates.  In families and marriages, this is the difference between just achieving a peace and actually learning how to interact and support each other in more productive and satisfying ways.

For an individual the difference between first and second order change usually involves dealing with the underlying source of the pain rather than just stopping the counterproductive or damaging behavior.  For example, it is not enough just to get an addict to quit their behavior without addressing underlying issues.  If you only address the behavior, it is like the old “whack-a-mole” arcade game.  You can beat it down in one place, but it will only pop up in another.

But back to the New Year’s resolutions… In life, there is usually some amount of gap between how things are and how we would have them to be, as well as a gap between who we are as individuals and who we really want to be.  You will never fully eliminate that gap, but you can work on shrinking it.  New Year’s resolutions should therefore focus on your part in closing the gap between how your life is and how you want it to be (or feel it should be).  Focusing on your part means identifying those things within your control while accepting as given those things which you cannot control.

When you are a therapist (and sometimes when you are not), people will say to you that so-and-so needs therapy.  So-and-so may in fact benefit from therapy, but there are some factors that must exist before therapy is likely to happen.  First, the gap between how things are and how they could be has to be creating enough pain in the person’s life, that they are ready to do something about it.  Sometimes this is brought about by a crisis.  You could save yourself some pain by dealing with the issues before the crisis, but they often have not achieved critical mass to motivate change until the crisis happens.  Second, it really helps if you believe that there is something that you can do to reduce the gap or at least reduce the pain caused by the gap as a motivation to seek help.  You are not entirely the master of your own destiny, but you are not a helpless puppet in it either.  Third, you need some belief that therapy might actually be helpful to you.  If you don’t, it is unlikely that you would seek therapy.

Why do we celebrate New Year’s?  Why do we make resolutions?  Hope springs eternal.  There is always hope in the promise of a new year that things can be better.  Let’s work to make it so.

[1] If you missed both of those references, you must have slept through 2014.

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Posted in: Change, Therapy