Granted – it can feel reassuring to try and determine a reason why we or other people behave in certain ways. However, just having insight and knowing (or thinking that we know) the reason underlying people’s motivations does not always lead to taking effective action regarding the situation. While, to quote Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living”, it’s important to also translate our heightened understanding into constructive change in our actions and our attitude.
Most of us have spent a lot of time and energy attempting to understand the origin of our and other people’s issues. Consequently, we may discover that, for example, our anxiety may be rooted in a fear of rejection, perfectionistic tendencies, a domineering parent, or a traumatic experience. This information can be very helpful.
However, one difference between people who grow in emotional and spiritual levels and people who stay stuck in a rut often seems in the willingness (or unwillingness) to tolerate the short-term discomfort inherent in trying out new ways of thinking and acting – even if we haven’t figured out the reasons underlying our current and past behavior and beliefs.
It is by moving beyond our self-conceived limits and comfort zone that meaningful growth takes place. As the saying goes, “You can’t think your way into right acting, but you can act your way into right thinking.” Frequently it’s by trying new behaviors and learning from our experience that our thinking finally undergoes significant change.
When you were a child, there were numerous things you had to learn from the ground up, possibly accompanied by a healthy dose of anxiety. First you mastered crawling, followed by standing, and then walking. You probably fell down a lot during the process, too. If your parents cheered you on, this may have helped you to learn that often the only way to reduce our anxiety is to do the thing that scares us, tolerate our feelings, and discover that we can live through the experience. The combination of accepting that we feel scared and having the courage to make changes despite our fear is often the way to recovery, rather than the procrastination and paralysis that can result from ruminating about the reasons we are the way we are.
Let’s say that you understand logically that people at a party probably aren’t all whispering behind your back. Instead, they’re most likely talking about other topics. All the same, since you have a long-standing pattern of believing that people make fun of you, you avoid social events whenever possible. As a result, you feel isolated and lonely.
You decide to enter into psychotherapy, where your therapist treats you with unconditional acceptance and empathy (or so one would hope). In the process of discussing the origins of your anxiety, you develop some alternative explanations as to why people might glance your way. Rather than thinking, “She told one look at me, labeled me a loser, and looked away”, you might tell yourself, “She looked at me and is probably shy. I could introduce myself, ask her name, and engage in some small talk. She might appreciate my making the overture.”
The next task involves taking these new concepts into an actual social event and behaving in a friendlier and more approachable manner – the action step. The good news is that by doing so you’ll begin to create new neural pathways in your brain, which will tend to make this new behavior a bit easier the next time around, and even easier the third time around. The not-such-good news is that you’ll probably feel all sorts of emotions, and not all of them pleasant, when trying out a new behavior. This is where it can feel tempting to revert back to your old habits, which at least feel familiar to you (and thus, in the short run, easier).
And this is where you choose between courage and comfort. Some quotes on courage which may inspire you to take the courageous road:
“We don’t develop courage by being happy every day. We develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.” (Barbara De Angelis)
“Strength doesn’t come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn’t.” (Rikki Rogers)
“Remember that nothing would get done at all if a person waited until he could it so well that no one could find fault with it.” (Sheila Waters)
“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” (Thich Nhat Hanh)
“One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.” (Abraham Maslow)
“Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new. “ (Brian Tracy)
“Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.” (Winston Churchill)
“Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours. “(Richard Bach)
“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.” (Brene Brown)
When getting out there and experimenting with new ways of being, have patience with yourself. Keep in mind that making adjustments usually involves growing pains. It can help to be accountable to someone, such as a trusted friend or therapist, about the steps you plan to take, and to follow up with that person once you’ve taken your planned actions. Do remember, though, that as Rumi said, “It’s your road, and yours alone. Others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you.” However strong your support system is, ultimately you are the one responsible for your choices and evolution.