I'm working on being less vulgar in my blog posts. Therefore it seemed like "Effing Up" was a good alternative title to what I really wanted to say. (Which was "cock blocking", but shhh... don't tell anyone!)
Alright, now that I got that out of the way, let's get back to the real point of this post.
As a therapist, it’s my job to help you try on new ways of being. New ways of operating. New ways of seeing things.
But as a person, I, much like you, resist whatever feels foreign to me. Which usually means resisting new ways of being. New ways of operating. New ways of seeing things.
Hmm… well ain’t that a bitch? Our brain’s natural tendency towards resistance gets in the way of personal growth. We are hardwired to give the middle finger to transformational thoughts and behaviors that clash with our current thoughts and behaviors.
And this, my friends, is what’s known as cognitive dissonance. Which is when your brain is like, “Uhhh.. this new information doesn’t fit my pre-existing beliefs, so back off the f*%& off! It’s making me too uncomfortable!”
And a more appropriate, less cuss-wordy definition is “the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values” (thanks Wikipedia!)
This helps explain why we are so quick to give up self-help strategies we read about, or recommendations your therapist gives you. And it is why we feel so disappointed and ineffectual when change starts to feel so out of reach.
It’s why we believe that if something doesn’t feel right, then it must be wrong.
And you know what? Sometimes new ways of seeing things or behaving are a poor fit for us in the long run. Not everyone will find happiness through a daily yoga or meditation routine. Not everyone will reach salvation through journaling. Not everyone will become the best version of themselves by reciting affirmations.
But you know what? Everyone... I repeat, EVERYONE will benefit from attempting to do something different, something challenging, something that asks their brain to suspend disbelief and allow curiosity to triumph over dogma.
Ya see… what your therapist knows is that it’s not so much about a specific new behavior or thinking pattern being the answer that will lead to guaranteed happiness. We’re not assuming that a certain technique or strategy will be the magic pill.
Rather, it’s about the sheer process of trying something different. It’s about training your brain to see that it’s feasible to actually operate differently. Your brain needs to know that, despite the initial resistance you feel, you’re able to indulge this new information for a bit in order to see if it might change things up.
I always laugh to myself when, after mentioning the idea of meditation to a client, they say, “Ohhh, I couldn’t be a person who meditates. My mind is way too active to do that!”
Personal disclosure here -- I don’t have a meditation practice (GASP! A therapist who has a mindfulness-based approach to therapy yet doesn’t sit and meditate?!) But ya know what? I’ve done it before. And I’ve done it for extended periods of time in order to see what I could learn from it.
And guess what? My willingness to try something that initially felt foreign, fad-like, boring, and challenging has helped me become a more mindful person in my daily life, even if I no longer keep up the habit of meditation.
So I’m not saying everyone has to go meditate. Or journal. Or do yoga. Or get off their cell phone. Or take nature walks. Or recite affirmations. Or sacrifice their first born to Zeus ( ← OK, that was a weird one.)
But I am saying that if you want to experience life in a different way, you HAVE to be willing to let your brain know that new information isn’t so dangerous after all. That trying out different behaviors is not a threat to self. That trying to see things in a new way won't destroy your life.
When looking at your own life, notice the things you resist. Notice how this resistance might be blocking you from personal growth. And maybe, just maybe be willing to give the middle finger to cognitive dissonance from time to time.