“What is it that you want, I mean really want, from your life?”
For the past 18 years I have spoken to thousands of people and have either directly asked this question or some variation of it. It’s a common question that therapists, counselors, and coaches ask in numerous forms to every client that they encounter. It’s a simple question, yet most people struggle initially to come up with an answer. After a period of time, most clients come up with what they believe to be the goals for their sessions. They leave the counseling room with the best of intentions-they’re going to make that phone call, apply for that job, begin that work out, do their daily meditation, make that list, and follow through. While some actually do follow through, an astonishingly large percentage will not. In follow-up sessions, we explore what their resistance is. Eventually, we get to the bottom of things. In counseling and coaching there are a number of expressions used to describe this client dynamic. Therapists talk about “resistance, self sabotage, and being inauthentic.” I often think that clients need to learn to get out of their own way.
Most times, when someone has a problem getting out of their own way, it’s not that they don’t want this new goal, they don’t know how to attain it. In sessions with the counselor or coach, a fair amount of time is spent examining, planning, and envisioning how someone wants their life to be. In the safe confines of the counseling room, it’s pretty easy to do that. When people get outside, in the real world, things change. Without a lot of insight most will tend to do what they’ve always done when confronted with familiar situations, people, and places. The human brain is wired for consistency and repetition, creating a predictability and safety that is a basic human need. A problem arises when this consistency results in a series of ingrained and destructive behavior patterns. People literally lose sight of what they truly want for themselves and do what they always have done. Quite often people don’t even know or recognize this pattern where there is a disconnect between what they say they want and what they do.
Here’s a few examples that you may be able to relate to:
⦁ An overweight guy decides that he’s going to cut back on his drinking before the summer, but make sure he has a 30 pack of beer in the basement fridge “just in case someone drops by.”
⦁ A woman decides that she is going to “find somebody that I can trust” to have a meaningful relationship with. She frequents bars in order to meet someone, finds few prospects and laments that, “All men care about is a brief fling, drinking, and watching sports on TV.”
⦁ A husband and wife decide that they’re both going to lose weight in order to improve their health. They decide that they will go out to eat at least once a week in expensive and high end restaurants because “That’s what we do for fun.”
⦁ A 50-year-old male decides that he’s going to “get back into shape.” He impulsively buys some overpriced exercise equipment and videos that he sees on an infomercial. He gets badly injured overdoing it in the first week.
⦁ A husband and wife set up a college savings fund for their five-year-old daughter. Within four years they are withdrawing money from it because she simply has to go to gymnastics camp, because that’s the surest way to a college scholarship.
If you look a little closer at your own behavior and that of people around you, you’ll often notice that there is a disconnect between what we say we want and what we do. Goals are not well thought out nor are they analyzed objectively. In each of the above examples you’ll notice that there is a flawed logic, a justification that superficially makes sense in the heat of the moment. People who don’t attain long-term goals tend to make these kinds of impulsive and poorly thought out decisions more often than those who are successful. Getting some coaching or counseling from an objective outsider is by far the best way to overcome this tendency. We tend to get defensive when people that we have an emotional investment with point out the obvious flaws in our logic.It often makes us even more stubborn with our negative behavior because, “Who are they to tell me what to do?”
“Change will lead to insight far more often and insight will lead to change.”-Milton Erickson
There are many reasons why people keep doing the same negative behaviors over and over and have problems getting out of their way. Rather than complicate this, I like to explain it to clients as a metaphor. Doing the same behavior repeatedly creates neuropathways in the brain, hardwiring connections and making it easier for us to perform the same behaviors over and over, even if our conscious minds don’t want us to. These pathways become our go to reactions, we become creatures of habit, and tend to perform the same behaviors consistently. On one level, we want to stop and we want change, but the behavior becomes ingrained, making it hard for us to get out of our own way. I compare it to a path that the kids in the neighborhood wear across your lawn as they cut through your yard day after day. You never see the little buggers because you’re not home, but you know they’re doing it because each day the path gets deeper and deeper and more obvious.
The first step in changing any behavior is to recognize it and accept that you are doing it. Push the denial aside, look at your behavior rather than your logic. I often tell my clients:
“Behavior speaks louder than words.”
A close examination of your own behavior is very hard to do alone. Denial is a go to defense mechanism that most of us throw up a little too quickly. Working with a coach or counselor is the best way to examine the inconsistencies between what we say we want and what we do, but a lot of insight can be developed with a pen, notebook, and some quiet introspective moments. Try to find the gap between what you say you want and what you do. You simply cannot get out of your own way without this insight.
“The first step to success is getting out of your own way.”-Robert Kiyosaki
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