Real Change – Should It Feel This Uncomfortable?

“Tension and discomfort are necessary feelings in the process of achieving your goal. In fact, if you do not experience them then the goal is not important or not what you really want.” Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Avy Joseph (p114)
Marines train their minds to over-ride the pain impulses of their bodies. They can survive under torture, and out in harsh terrain in ways that would kill the rest of us.
People have willingly died for their beliefs – and survived because of them.
real_changeVictor Frankel got through a German concentration camp in horrific conditions because he believed there was something worth living for on the other side. He faced beatings, starvation and disease to extremes we can barely imagine.
This means that pain can be experienced to an outrageous degree but the people involved managed to live, get through it, and do what they needed to do to achieve their mission, or make it to the end of their confinement.
We in the West live in a society where life is ‘easy’ compared to most of the rest of the world. We medicate ourselves every time we feel a twinge, and dose ourselves with food, sex, drugs, and entertainment whenever we feel unhappy.
We run away from discomfort and tell ourselves we can’t stand the problems in our lives. See the examples above. As if we really know what ‘problems’ are!
As Avy Joseph says in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy:
“We all experience problems in many areas of our lives but don’t always realise that our minds and bodies respond to how we rate them. Evaluating a difficulty as unbearable is not only flawed but it also triggers images and feeling that fight against goal achievement (p31)”
I think we think we ‘shouldn’t have to experience ‘pain’ on the way to our success. Think again!
If you’ve ever watched the violent and satirical sci-fi film Starship Troopers you’ll see the drill sergeant spear a recruit’s hand with a knife and then announce (as the recruit screams) : “PAIN – is in your mind.” I think it probably felt quite real to the person with the knife through his hand!
Nevertheless, the idea is that it’s not just the feeling but what you tell yourself about it that determines whether you’ll get through it. In other words, it’s the meanings we choose to give to our ‘discomfort’.

Why we don’t stick with change

They tell themselves that they can’t stand the feelings that come with it as if the feelings shouldn’t be there. I know. I did this for years.
Here’s a revelation I had which is changing my life:
  • those ‘feelings’ are completely normal. Yes, completely.
  • They are as normal as hunger when you haven’t eaten, sadness when you loose something valuable to you, and breathing hard if you’ve run a lot. They are as part of you as sexual desire (although we don’t usually enjoy them as much!)
  • They’re hot-wired into your mind-body system so they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.
All this time you may have been rejecting the natural tensions that come along with changing the status quo. Isn’t that kind of like hating yourself for breathing?
This is partly why Susan Jeffers said :”Feel the fear and do it Anyway” because fear seemslike a stop sign but is actually just neurological-kinaesthetic information reporting to you how your perceptions are measuring the gap between what you have, and what you want.
But the experts say we are engineered for change? So why do we feel tense and uncomfortable?
Well, the simple explanation is this. Your mind is designed to reinforce what you alreadybelieve. It has too, or you could not live a life where you doubted every element of your existence. If you did, you could not function. You’d be too scared to step out of bed in the morning in case the floor ate you. Or the bed!
So when you attempt to change your mind and body resists. It sends out waves of discomfort. It ‘says’ Stop! The status quo is under threat. This, is completely natural.
And maybe you have stopped. Too often?
But now you KNOW those feelings are natural, they’re just part of the process of change where old beliefs fight for their existence, you have the first piece of what you need. I don’t deny that this is a hard piece of truth. But it is true.
If you believe that God made you, then you believe that every part of you that is made is ‘good for purpose’, even if we don’t always use/feel it so. If you believe you just evolved, then these signals are simply that – signals from a body and mind about itself and its environment. They’re not instructions, and I genuinely don’t think they’re an infallible guidance system as some personal develop writers suggest. If they are, mine must be broken…!
So if we are often going to feel uncomfortable with the process of change (and I acknowledge there are plenty of times when change is fun) then what will help us stick with it until the change is made?
  • A goal we want
  • Healthy beliefs
  • Healthy self-talk
  • Reasons to persevere

Exercise

So what is the thing you want to change? What will the outcome be when you have got it?
What difference is the change going to make in the ‘real’ world that is worth fighting for? How will I know I am different when I have made the change? What will be the improvements in my attitude and performance.
Grab a piece of paper write it down.
Now ask yourself what you currently think about making that change. Write down all the worries, fears, griped and ‘I can’t’ statements.
The next thing to do is to create a healthy belief about these feelings. It helps to write out a paragraph of what you want to believe instead.
Avy Joseph says a healthy belief = what you want + keeping it real (p98) unlike an unhealthy belief that usually demands the world ‘must’ and ‘should’ conform to its demands.
Let’s say that you were struggling to overcome your feelings. Let’s say your goal is to experience the remote control of power within you. Why a remote control? Well, if you hold it – no-one can push your buttons! You have some idea of what it will be like to see, hear and feel that.
After writing your negative thoughts, you might come up with something like this for a healthy belief:
“Labelling emotions as unbearable, too difficult, cannot override them, feel helpless in the presence of them, is definitely going to fail because of them are all ways of giving commands to your nervous system to create goal avoidance and away from motivation. (1)Removing these labels and downgrading them to ‘don’t love but can stand’, uncomfortable, I have the power to choose etc really helps me.
I can totally refuse (2) to use those labels and instead replacing them with ‘perhaps difficult but not unbearable’ or ‘in a different category to the comfortable emotions’ or even ‘all emotions are useful’ and ‘usefully produce discomfort in their message’ or ‘discomfortable messengers to prod me to alertness or to pay attention to something in my experience’. “
What I have done here is given new meanings to the feelings I had (1) and used statements where I acknowledge my ownership and control of the meanings I use (2)
Next, you will need to make a list of what you’ll get if you use the healthy belief as a reminder to push through the uncomfortable feelings – until they change.
Write out as many benefits as possible.
I’ll be more in control.
I’ll feel more empowered
I’ll be able to go on that date, ask that owner for referrals etc.
I’ll have more peace.
Etc
Now, you are armed and ready to go. You can repeat and affirm to yourself your new belief in the mirror. Claude Hopkins in the Magic of Believing recommends this.  When you feel like you need reasons to go on, read your reasons to go on!
When you’re self talk criticises you, take it down pro-wrestling style! Albert Ellis in his wonderful book: How to Stubbornly Refuse to make yourself Miserable about anything ever again – yes anything!” says you really need to passionately and aggressively dispute your inner talk.
“Really?
According to WHO?
You and whose army?
Oh! So I have to feel helpless. Who decided that? Me. Well, I can decide OTHERWISE can’t I?”
Think about a couple having a humdinger of an argument. Then have it with your self-talk.
I like to think of changing the things that make us stuck as ‘psychological knots’. To undo a really gnarly knot my involve a lot of huffing, puffing, walking away in disgust and coming back again with a renewed determination. Changing your meanings and beliefs can sometimes be like this.
But persevere and you’ll get there.