I’ve had several clients lately that have done great work in therapy. They are having great insights and are learning the tools to help make them successful outside of the therapy office. But each week they come back in and say things haven’t really changed “out in the wild.” In one form or another they have said the same thing…they expected that doing the new behavior, the one that caused fear or anxiety or discomfort, would suddenly feel easy to do, that there would be no fear or anxiety or discomfort. But when they went to try the new behavior, or sometimes when they even thought about it, the fear, anxiety and discomfort were still there.
They took this reaction to mean that they weren’t ready or that they weren’t changing. After all, wasn’t the goal to want to do the new behavior? As a result they didn’t try the new behavior. On the surface this may seem logical. But the reality is that this is just not the way it works.
Let me use this analogy. If we put a person that has never skydived in a plane, take-off, open the door and tell them to jump out, I think we can all agree that they would likely feel fearful and anxious about doing it. After all, they haven’t been taught how to do it safely. Since we didn’t give them a parachute they don’t have the tools they need to do it safely. There is just no way anyone would feel comfortable.
Now let’s say we send them to skydiving school and give them all of the knowledge they need to do it safely. We give them a top of the line parachute. They now have the knowledge and tools they need to jump out of the plane safely. So when they step up to the door for their first ever jump, is the fear, anxiety and discomfort gone? No…they still are apprehensive and nervous. Because what they don’t have is the personal experience to tell them that they personally can do this and survive. They may know that others have done it, but they don’t have any direct evidence that they can do it themselves.
What they do have is the logical ability to decide there is enough evidence to be willing to challenge the fear. They can choose to act despite the fear. They know they have knowledge and tools. They know that many others have done this many times and survived. They can acknowledge their emotions but not let their emotions dictate their actions. In other words, they can be brave. Bravery isn’t about not being afraid but rather it is about choosing to act in the face of fear.
If our novice skydiver makes their first jump and survives and then does it again and again, their fear and discomfort will decrease. They now have direct evidence that they can survive doing something that was scary and uncomfortable. The fear and anxiety and discomfort may never totally go away but each time they become smaller and less formidable.
That is how change happens. We arm ourselves with new knowledge and new tools. But we don’t wait for our fear and anxiety and discomfort to disappear. Instead, we take those skills and act bravely. We undertake to do the new behavior knowing we are well equipped. And then each time we do the new behavior those fears and anxiety get smaller and smaller until it doing the behavior is no longer so strange and uncomfortable. So when you set out to make changes, equip yourself well. Don’t wait for it to feel easy or comfortable or safe. Just trust your preparations and take the leap…