3.5 Steps to Lasting Personal Change

Over the past few months, this blog has explored the roles, rules and characteristics of children raised in emotionally barren families.  We’ve talked about your personal lives, families, friends and characters.  But one constant has been the question: “Okay, that’s how I am, so how do I change myself?”

Psychologists seem to agree that change follows a specific process which I’ve outlined here.  And they’re right.  But there’s a simpler way to consider the process of change.  A 3 1/2 step methodology to change your life.  The simple process of change:

1.  Awareness.  We can’t change what we’re not consciously aware of. Do you know someone who lies compulsively?  Or uses drugs and alcohol?  Or works night and day? If they don’t see their behavior as a problem, it isn’t going to change.

So often in my work with wives of addicts, I hear a long list of things they’ve done to try to convince their partner to quit using.  The irony is that, for the addict (likely the rebel) using  is the solution to their living problems.  So when anyone tries to talk them out of it, to explain why they should change, to show them the futility of their behavior, the rebel sees that as being asked to give up something that helps them make sense of life.

For the hero, all their praise comes from their accomplishments.  Who would willingly give that up?  Even if it’s causing health problems, alienating friends and/or families, or leaving you exhausted.  Whenever we frame our behavior as the solution it becomes desirable. We won’t change it.

This is part of the underlying theory of the show ‘Intervention‘. The expert coordinates the effort of the family to show  the addict the costs of their behavior.  Hopefully, the addict will become aware and be willing to go into treatment, where the real healing can begin.

Image courtesy of Microsoft Office Images

This is also why car manufacturers put a light on our dash: to make us aware that we’re low on fuel. Relying solely on the fuel indicator is an easy way to run out of gas, because it becomes part of the ‘normal’ dashboard and we don’t notice that which is normal.  Ergo, the light.

2. Acceptance Once we are aware of the need to change, we have to accept that there is work to be done. Every dictionary, online and paper, including this site defines acceptance as “the mental attitude that something is believable and should be accepted as true.”

Once we see that the words of our friends could be true or that perhaps the outcome of what has been ‘fun’ (like hangovers) may not be as great as we thought, then we have are on our way to acceptance.

When you think about it, what is possible without acceptance?  Nothing.

I was driving to work today and my fuel light came on.  I accept that my little yellow light means I can drive about 50 kilometers (thirty miles) before I run out of gas. Most days, this is no big deal, but this morning I was driving to a meeting out of the city.  I had passed the last gas station and they were 40 kilometers apart.  Believe me, I was very aware of my location and fuel situation.

The other part of acceptance is knowing that only we can solve our problem.  This means getting beyond blaming others (it’s dad’s fault or my bad luck, or….).  Acceptance means we know that we are responsible and we have to own the consequences of our choices.

3. Action: The last step is the call to action. Once we know there is a problem and accept that only we can solve it, then we have to do something. We can take any number of actions, but we have to do something.  Only when we start to move toward a solution, do we start to find peace and ease about the problem that started this whole process.

Action can be many things.  If you’re trying to quit smoking, it may involve many attempts to put the weed down.  During that process, we can focus on the failures or we can focus on our success and the next beginning.  The latter is more conducive to resolving a problem. Action may be a course, therapy or reading a self-help book. It may involve admitting the problem to others.  But always it starts with change.

The major criteria in the third step is  honesty.  If we accept the existence of a problem, and know that  our choices are the reason for the problem, then it is important to examine our desire to change this behavior.  The depth of our desire will determine the action we take and it’s probable success.

This morning, I watched the gas gage very carefully. (We all know that watching the gage will prevent the motor from stopping.) At the first sign of a gas station, I turned in and filled up.  It didn’t matter to me that this station didn’t offer airmiles or loyalty points.  Or that it was a truck stop.  All I wanted was to fill up my gas tank and then get to my meeting on time.

I became aware of the problem, owned it (since I’m the only one who drives the car, it’s obviously my responsibility) and took action to solve it.  I was determined to solve my immediate problem, regardless of all other factors.  Problem resolution is that simple – we have to become willing to take the action to make the change.  Regardless

3.5.  Repeat the above The action step will need to be repeated over and over and over again.  Some people have a spiritual experience and are cured of their problem, but most of us have to work on the new us.  I quit smoking for the first time about 20 years ago.  I got a year off the weed but went back.  I did that a few times and then managed 3 years and went back. Then 7 and…yeah I went back.  This time I have almost 15 years off cigarettes.  And I think I’ve got them licked.

What’s different?  I knew cigarettes were deadly, but I was willing to risk death for the supposed relaxation they gave me.  Now I accept that it is only me who puts cigarettes in my mouth. My decision is the only thing that will take me back to cigarettes.  I know today, that anytime I start fantasizing about the pleasure of cigarettes I need to take action and give Louise a reality check.

For children born in emotionally barren homes, these 3.5 steps are difficult, particularly the first one, because they live their roles. They don’t know anything else. Their behavior within the role is their coping mechanism for a stressful home environment. It’s not their problem, it’s their solution – even when it’s not working.

Have you made major changes in your life? What worked for you?  How did you do it?  Conversely, have you tried to explain to another or help another change their life?  Did it work?  What did you do?

About Louise Behiel

Author, coach, therapist, mother and grandmother. I'm on a spiritual journey and consciously work to grow every day.
This entry was posted in ACOA, healing, Louise Behiel, recovery, self help and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

44 Responses to 3.5 Steps to Lasting Personal Change

  1. forestfae says:

    Hi Louise,

    I have found your blog through Riversurfer.

    Not going to go into details right now, but I have read through about three of your posts now, and every one of them rang true to me for obvious reasons as I lived much of what you described myself, as a child, therefore I see much in myself in how you describe these children.

    What a blessing to have find this insightfull blog of yours, keep up the good work.

    Take care,

  2. authortamaraward says:

    Thanks, Louise! Great post.

  3. emmaburcart says:

    Thank you! I love that you give us concrete steps to take. I agree that seeing the problem is the harderst step. When you grow up a certain way you just see yourself as normal. You don’t see the problems, it’s just what it. It has taken me years to realize that the roles and rules of my childhood are not normal or healthy. Now I just have to keep taking the action over and over again. Thanks for the action plan!

    • Isn’t it ironic that it’s so hard to see the problems in our lives? I know they’ve been there forever but I used to think they’d be easy to see and solve. Now, I know they’re not and am more willing to cut some slack for others. thanks for stopping by.

  4. Thanks for this, Louise. Since I’m an “accomplishment” type and very goal oriented, many of these strategies are ones I use daily. They do work, when we actually do them. The biggest disconnect for me is finding the line between persistence and new direction. In other words, most change is a process of trial and error until I find something that gives me the result I’m seeking, similar to your smoking example. But when do we know that it’s time to change the goal instead of doggedly pursuing?

    • That is such a good question, Diane. I have a couple of criteria. If I’m trying to change a behavior that is harming me, then there’s never an end. LIke my smoking example, I just keep working on it. But when it’s a goal…hmm I have to ask myself if the pursuit of the goal enriching my life or detracting from it. Since I’m a Type A Hero, chasing the dream is normal…to exhaustion and burn out. I’ve learned to ask myself these questions before I’m so tired I go on rote.

  5. prudencemacleod says:

    Love this post. Yes, I have used this type of technique to make lasting changes in my life many times, and I still am. This is a well expressed post, a great how-to.

  6. Coleen Patrick says:

    I think action is the biggest step for me. Fear often slows me down. I always say baby steps, but wonder if that can also be an excuse.
    More great info Louise!

    • Yes, fear does slow us all down, Coleen. That’s why the half step is there…because it takes what it takes. But isn’t it wonderful to know you’re afraid? that means I can celebrate small successes and the accomplishment of baby steps. I don’t think it’s an excuse, although you will know better than I. I think it’s better to take permanent small steps, than big flashy leaps and then fall back. thanks

    • I don’t think there’s anything wrong with baby steps as long as they’re part of the bigger picture. As Louise’s log line so aptly puts it, “the journey of a thousand miles..” One step at a time.

  7. Congrats on kicking the smoking habit. I know that’s a hard one to break.

    I think these steps are hard for anyone. Making the decision can be easy, but follow-through is tough. I’m trying to eat healthier this year and it’s surprisingly difficult! I’ll do really well, eating lots of healthy snacks and meals and then all of a sudden, it’s back to my old ways again.

    • You’re absolutely right, Janelle. We easily fall back into old patterns because they’re normal for us – it’s how we’ve lived. That’s why the half step: pick yourself up, dust yourself off, congratulate yourself for recognizing you’ve fallen off the wagon and go forward again.

      smoking was hard to kick but I’m very clear that I’m one drag away from starting again. So I don’t take that drag and i”m fine. THat’s my half step around this addiction for today.

  8. DL Snow says:

    I don’t think there is a single person who could not apply these steps to their own life. Thank you for yet another wonderfully insightful blog post.

  9. Jennette Marie Powell says:

    LOL my low fuel light came on while I drove to work this morning, too! Luckily gas is a little closer.

    I can sure relate to this in regards to eating more healthy foods and staying in a regular exercise routine. My husband quit smoking a couple months ago. He’s quit several times before, only to go back to it. When that happens, I try not to give him a hard time, as it has to be his decision to stay smoke-free, and when he makes another try, I try to be encourafing Hopefully it’ll stick this time.

    • Jennette Marie Powell says:

      Arrgh, stupid smart phone! That should be encouraging. Thanks for another insightful post!

    • wise woman. Nagging someone does nothing to get them on track or keep them on track. and if they become defensive, they are likely to more deeply commit to the ‘rightness’ of their behavior. Aren’t smart phones just the cat’s meow? Sometimes mine makes me swear. Thanks for stopping by.

  10. Oh Louise I’m so glad you kicked the smoking habit. That is a nasty one. Good for you!!!

    And I know what you mean about repeating until you’re successful. I always joke that quitting (insert whatever) is easy – I’ve done it lots of time.

    But seriously, about 20 years ago, I had a spiritual experience (in more ways than one) that altered my life for the better. I was raised in an extremely rigid religion and when I removed myself from that experience and my parents who forced it upon me, I felt so free and happy for the first time in my life. I experienced things in my thirties that most people experience as teen-agers or young adults. I wasn’t allowed to do just about anything. It was liberating. I feel so much stronger now, mentally, emotionally, even physically. And, believe it or not, I actually feel closer to God, than I did during my youth when religion was forced upon me. I don’t live in fear every day of disappointing anyone or under such strict rules that I feel smothered. Life is soooooo good!

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    • What a powerful testament to the ability to change. well done. Religiously intolerant homes can be emotionally barren. You saw the conflict and got out. Well done. I too had a spiritual experience (mine was at 30) and it changed my life. BEgan the path to freedom from many things: limiting beliefs, a judging God, addictions, like smoking and food, and eventually an empty marriage.

      it’s all good. thanks for sharing.

  11. iamnotshe says:

    Yes. 3.5 is important … and over and over and over again.

    I’d like to see “normal” people take a look at their “stuff”, no? xo Melis

    Thanks again for the important (and organized!!!, bravo) info.

  12. ah yes, wouldn’t that be a miracle? i have some bosses too that i’d like to recommend the process to…LOL

  13. I’ve never thought of myself making changes in these terms, but I guess in my own way, that’s kind of what I do. When I decide I don’t want to do something (or DO want to do something), I go for it. Depending on what it is, the failure rate can be astronomical. But if my stubbornness kicks in, I’m good to go.

    Like you, I tried to stop smoking numerous times. Usually I never made it past a week. Then I decided to start a stop smoking support group. Three people joined, started smoking within days of the first class and all I could think was, hmm. This was announced in the paper..and I’m NOT going to fail. That’s the first time I ever succeeded. It lasted two or three years, until my car accident in 2008. Then I started with the electronic cigarettes…and you know I just stopped those a week or so ago. I just decided I was finished. And I’ve had to make that decision a few times since then in order to remain off them, but mostly it’s not too bad….because I made up my mind to quit.

    For me it just takes realization that I need to make a change, and then determination and a big dose of stubborn. 🙂

  14. I love that it’s 3.5 steps, especially since it’s the most important! All your posts are so thought provoking.

    • Thank you Karen. I’m glad you’re enjoying. The .5 is in recognition that it’s about re-starting the action step and not starting over from step 1. thanks for stopping by

  15. Fantastic insight we can apply to our lives no matter where we are. Thanks so much, Louise. Your posts flat out rock.

  16. Thank you kindly, Louse, for following my blog. I am touched and tears welled up. I respect, admire, and appreciate your blog SO much there just aren’t words to describe. Thank you for being here and sharing your incredible gifts with the world. Your knowledge, insights, and perspective always give me much to think about and is written in such a positive, attainalble manner I can see the healing. I am grateful.

    Blessings, Love & Peace,

  17. I really appreciate that you have a step 3.5 because I find that, even once I’ve gone through the first three, a bad habit can be hard to change. I often forget I decided to change and slip back into my old ways, only to start the process all over again. Thankfully, each round through the steps gets easier.

    • I totally agree: change is hard, Marcy. I always think it should be easy. NOT. so that’s why I put in 3.5 steps – as a reminder that we need to work on it and work on it and work on it. change is hard. have a great weekend.

      • dogear6 says:

        I agree with Marcy – I think point 3.5 is probably the most important – keep on it and pick yourself up when you fail. Try again. Do it more. That’s the secret to just about anything we do in life.

        • you are absolutely right and that’s why I wrote it this way. Too often books or experts give us the steps and leave us with the assumption that once through the steps and we’re cured forever. that’s not been my experience.

  18. Joan Leacott says:

    You said: “Whenever we frame our behavior as the solution it becomes desirable.” I’ve never viewed bad habits from this insidious perspective before. Now you’ve provoked into asking myself “What’s this getting me?” Excellent posts, Louise. Thank you!

  19. Karen McFarland says:

    Congratulations to you Louise for both your new book release and this series! I love that you didn’t say three steps, but used the term three and a half, meaning we’re not perfect and rigid. That we all will need to work on some of these stages maybe more than once if we slip back, which more than likely we will. And acceptance is HUGE in all of this. We all struggle with certain issues and your advice is inspirational Louise. Thank you! 🙂

    • Karen, seeing you here has made my day. I’ve missed you my friend. I value your feedback and treasure our friendship. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed this series. I’ve never been able to do something perfectly the first time, so 3.5 steps seemed appropriate. take care and stay well


  20. Kourtney Heintz says:

    Love step 3.5. It’s so hard to change behavior. It takes constant work and repeated actions to make it stick. 🙂

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