I’ve led hundreds of workshops on stress management over the years, and many of the participants have wanted to change elements of their lives that get in the way of their happiness.
I initially thought that the information I was sharing could move heaven and earth. After all, I had studied the subject for years and was privileged to know and have learned from brilliant researchers.
I was in for a rude awakening, however. Trying to get people to change behaviors is akin to yelling “stop it” at a dripping faucet. If you don’t try to find the source, it isn’t going to stop. We often have a great deal of trouble finding the source of our problems, because finding it would necessitate confronting ourselves instead of trying to fix someone or something else. It’s hard to acknowledge that we are part of the problem.
Some of us have been victimized and have legitimate reasons to point the finger. However, in the everyday of life, we often forget that we make choices about how to live our lives. We become habituated to our beliefs about our situations, and it becomes harder and harder to extract ourselves from them.
For years, I stayed in a marriage that literally made me sick, because I was afraid of being alone. The ultimate irony was that I was already alone. I had to change my story and realize that I would be much healthier and happier if I was by myself. My decision to leave the relationship ended up being the best thing I ever did.
The following poem by Portia Nelson has always been one of my favorite analogies as to how changing our lives is difficult but doable.
“A Biography in Five Chapters”
Chapter One: I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost. …I am helpless. It isn’t my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.
Chapter Two: I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I’m in this same place. But it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.
Chapter Three: I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it there. I fall in. …It’s a habit … but my eyes are open. I know where I am. I get out immediately.
Chapter Four: I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.
Chapter Five: I walk down a different street.