Personally and professionally, I have put tremendous time and thought into helping those who successfully make lasting changes in their lives. I often hear of people who have sought help to make one change or another, yet they have not been able to make much headway. What traits do people who overcome anxiety, depression or OCD possess over those who don’t recover? What personal qualities and actions lead some to overcome substance use disorders while others sadly perish? Below are my observations of and experiences with people who make meaningful changes and live new, healthier lives as a result.
In my experience, people who have the courage to walk into my office and get entirely honest about their struggles, are open to help and are willing to do the work, achieve the greatest changes. I refer to this group as the “Real Deal.” They are experiencing great pain which raises their incentive to engage in treatment. Sometimes this process happens quickly and sometimes it happens slowly. Sometimes people are not even sure what their problem is, but they recognize that they need help.
Some of those who are suffering may face great obstacles in their lives that create barriers to recovery. Others are at a place where they will go to any length to get help in making change. It means week after week of showing up at every appointment, not a moment late and even when snowflakes fall from the sky. These people may be parents who prioritize therapy for their kids or themselves around insane family and work schedules. These people make getting well the top priority and often greatly inconvenience themselves by driving long distances from work, school, or a sport in awful traffic. They make significant time and emotional investments, recognizing the promise of the long-term benefits. They take ownership and accountability and work at change in all aspects of their lives. The “Real” refuse to succumb to compulsions, isolate due to depression and take a drink or drug no matter the circumstances. They face their fears head on, ask for help and gradually learn from their shortcomings. Many who are not quite there yet, may get there after addressing obstacles to treatment.
The “Real” who are making and sustaining change can appreciate paradoxical experiences. They recognize what they once believed to be their greatest strength may have actually been their biggest liability. It’s “Opposite Day” for many. They know what it’s like to feel their feelings, good and bad, all the way to their inner-most core. They can agree with scary thoughts rather than debate them. They no longer live in fear or make choices based on fear. They can breathe in their own skin and deal with “life” problems of sickness or loss, financial stress or family issues. They accomplish the once inconceivable, win against all odds, work through various life experiences and heal along the way.
- You must go all in on change. A 100 percent commitment is needed to change completely. If you are not there yet, take a look at what may be holding you back. Even at 100 percent, change takes time. Most people who successfully change do so gradually over time.
- Embrace the struggle and don’t settle for less than your best. Those who successfully change accept challenge and all the lessons offered by both success and failure. No risk, no reward.
- Honesty starts with you acknowledging your problems. If you can’t be honest with yourself, you won’t ever be able to be honest with others. You can’t change if you deny there is a problem.You are only as sick as your secrets.
- Learn to laugh with others. Learn to laugh at yourself and at your mistakes. Laugh at your successes. But don’t laugh at your efforts. Your hard work is no laughing matter.
- The truth doesn’t have versions. There is just one. Learning how to tell on yourself and be honest is vital for a corrective experience to occur when you have “slips” along the way. There is no perfect change.
- You can’t always think yourself into the right actions. Sometimes you must act your way into the right kind of thinking. Take the actions then the correct thoughts and feelings will follow.
- Strive to do the right thing. Doing what’s right and doing what’s easy requires different investments. Doing what’s easy has a much lower rate of return in the change market. Doing what’s right may be much more demanding, but the outcomes in change are priceless.
- Change is like a computer. People can return to default settings quickly. Change needs periodic maintenance to endure. Part of your recovery plan should include occasional check-ins with yourself to make sure you are continuing to engage in the habits that led to your recovery.
I hope the advice above provides something that you can take away and apply to yourself or share with someone you know. It’s important to know what factors have helped people make successful changes in their lives. Perhaps these tips will serve to inspire anyone considering change.
As I reflect on my life and changes I have made, I can hardly believe how far I have come. Many years ago I gave all I had for my early recovery journey. I went “all in,” went to meetings every day, built a support network and re-evaluated all aspects of my life and choices. I now have the fruits of long-term recovery. My change brought me freedom, a life of meaning and purpose and quality relationships with my wife and child. My change resulted in a state of feeling and a way of living that I could not even conceptualize when I was a young adult. I did the work, felt the feelings, hid nothing and earned every inch. It didn’t come easily or free of pain, but I found what worked for me, and I follow a maintenance plan. I still work, every day. Some days are harder than others, but the change has only continued for the better.