In my last post, I talked about the process of change:
Insight – a stage of true understanding
Intention – a stage of choosing, with determination
Iteration – a stage of doing, and doing it again
Integration – a stage of learning a new normal
With this process, it’s important to note that is it our insights that initiate the whole sequence of change in our lives. When our insights are meaningful and seen as important, it’s easier to form a very determined intention to follow through on the new behaviors necessary to make real and permanent change.
There’s a very important point I’d like to make about this first step as it relates to personal growth – that since our insights initiate this whole process, we want to make sure that what we are understanding is actually true. A few years ago, I saw someone for an initial consultation. He stated the purpose of his visit was to get a second opinion because he was frustrated with his current treatment provider regarding the management of his panic attacks. He told me that 8 years ago, he had a series of panic attacks over a span of two weeks, and ever since then, he has been reluctant to have a passenger in his car while he was driving, or refused to be a passenger while someone else was driving. Understandably, these restrictions had created all sorts of inconveniences and challenges in his life over the past 8 years. When I asked him about his more recent experiences with panic attacks, he looked a little puzzled, reiterating that he had already told me about them, 8 years ago. Turns out that he had not had any panic attacks since, but the experience was so disturbing at the time, that he was willing to make drastic changes in his life to avoid having another. So 8 years ago, he formed a belief that driving and panic attacks were somehow related. Determined to not have another, he integrated new behaviors in his driving habits, and ever since then his “new normal” was that he was never in a car with another person. The problem here was that his insight was a false one. Driving was not the cause of his panic attacks. Neither was having a passenger in his car, or being a passenger in someone else’s. But unfortunately for him, this false belief initiated a sequence of change in his life many years ago, that remained very well integrated into his present life.
I mentioned in Part 1 that these stages: insight, intention, iteration and integration, were not a strategy for personal growth, but a description of how we change. In this example, it illustrates that this applies even when the change in life is negative. This is why it’s so important to value truthfulness in our insights, because right or wrong, our insights cause us to initiate change.
I often speak of authenticity as being an integral part of mental healthiness. I see authenticity as being the overlap between the truths of the real world aligned with the beliefs in our inner world. How we experience authenticity is that our perceptions make sense (an appeal to our rational mind), feel right (an appeal to our feelings and experiences), and very importantly – are genuinely true. Relating authenticity to personal growth, it is when we have authentic insights that we have a chance to start a process of healthy growth because where we start is grounded in what is real.
With this one client, he didn’t end up returning for a follow up, so I’m left to guess if our only visit had any impact. But it is my hope that as we discussed his false beliefs about his panic attacks and the fact that he hadn’t had one in years, that a more accurate and truthful insight was gained. An insight that initiated a new process of change where he was able to unlearn his unnecessary habits regarding driving, and was able to develop a different “new normal” without these restrictions.
Here’s an exercise to consider: Take some time to reflect on some of the unhealthier parts of your own life – we all have them, myself included. Try and tell the story (writing this down will help organize your thoughts) of how you got to that place, and take extra care to examine the beginning of that narrative. Looking with a more mindful eye, are there any false beliefs that started you down that path of unhealthiness? What do you know now that helps you see a more accurate truth? If you corrected those inaccurate beliefs, how might your life look different? What would be the best goal if you were motivated to make a change?
We’ll continue to discuss personal growth with its challenges and rewards, to be continued in Part 3.