Therapist's Note: One of the most common phrases I hear from clients is: "I am so mad at myself for not getting started on this earlier." It's an incredibly common phenomenon that people consider starting therapy for months or even years before they find their way through the door. If you're frustrated with yourself for letting your relationship reach this level of conflict or for allowing anxiety to have a voice in your life for this long or for putting off making a change you knew would improve your life: you're in good company. And while in theory in would have been nice to get started sooner, you're hard at work now--and that's what matters most.
Just one at first.
I'll get to it tomorrow.
I'll get to it next week.
Then dozens and dozens more.
Really, I will this time.
Don't worry, I'm not talking about you, I'm talking about me. You see, this year I put off weeding the flower beds in front of my home for...quite a bit longer than I wish I had done.
When I first started to notice the weeds, I wasn't worried about them. They were small in size, few in number. I would be able to get to it soon enough and take care of it then (so I thought). There was no urgency to make my garden a priority (just yet).
But then, as happens here in Indiana, the rains came down and the sun came up. And all the weeds started growing and multiplying as if they had nothing else in the world better to do with their time.
Now the weeds had my attention.
As I finally began uprooting the prickly weeds with my hands (and, occasionally, a shovel), I thought to myself how it might be wise to simply release my flower beds to the wild (surely, I was fighting a losing battle). I grumbled a bit at my month-ago-self. Why hadn't I started with weed number one?
But then, I remembered: the weeds were small then.
Other priorities had distracted me. Life had carried on, without pausing, while the eager weeds commenced their hostile take-over of my unsuspecting garden.
This same process plays out over and over again: in my own life, in my office, in the world. When discomfort first shows up, it tends to feel small, isolated, and quite manageable. We assume there will be time to take care of it later, when we aren't so busy. It usually takes that discomfort growing and multiplying for some time before it finally has our attention.
If you are in the process of change, you might at this moment be looking around at all the weedy discomfort that has commenced a hostile take-over in your life. You might be fantasizing about releasing your life back to the wild. You may be grumbling at one-month-ago-you, or one-year-ago-you, or ten-years-ago-you. Why didn't I start with discomfort number one?
So I want you to remember: the discomfort was small then. Other priorities distracted you. Life carried on, without pausing.
Yes, it would have been nice if you had been able to get started back then, but you just didn't get around to it. And that's okay. Because guess what?
The work can still be done.
It's going to feel overwhelming at first. It will be a challenge to know where to start. And it's going to feel frustratingly slow. You might work a whole day in the garden, step back, and wonder if you made any progress at all.
So, while you're at it, remember this, too: it took time for the weeds to grow, it's going to take time to pull them out.
Thank goodness that right now the ground is soft and warm from last night's summer rain. The sun is not yet overhead and a cool, refreshing breeze is visiting. In this perfect moment, with your hands (and, occasionally, a shovel) you can pull those pesky weeds up and away...
until all that remains in your garden is room for beautiful things to grow.
For further reflection: If you were to come up with the most forgiving explanation possible, what is one of the best reasons you had for waiting to start the process of change?
Therapist's Note: By the time clients find their way to me, they have usually done tremendous amounts of thinking and analyzing about the problems they face. Once we get to work in counseling, we often find that some of those ways of thinking and analyzing have actually created new problems on top of the old ones. Part of my role is to help clients move from "paralysis of analysis" into action by encouraging a shift in focus: away from efforts to think perfectly towards efforts to do something different imperfectly.
Do you hear it?
The geese have arrived in droves.
Crossing the street.
Guiding little goslings along the banks of the canal.
Even waddling through my front yard.
I find them endearingly obnoxious. Or perhaps obnoxiously endearing.
Either way, geese impress me with their tenacious ability to get to wherever it is that they need to be.
Geese don't study maps.
Or list the pros and cons of various destinations.
Or analyze or assess or overthink.
Geese don't have a clue as to why they are going where they are going or how precisely they are going to get there.
They just do their goose-thing.
They simply GO.
And somehow, it all works out.
When it comes to the process of making change, I find it helpful to look to these loud-mouthed fowl for inspiration. As humans, our great gift of intellect can also be our downfall. We can become so enamored with our ability to think-things-through that we can forget to check in with our (so-called) baser instincts.
While we'd like to believe that we can find the best direction using our high-powered brains, the truth is we can never fully anticipate, predict, and plan how to get to where we want to be.
No matter how smart we are, our imagination is often limited by our past experiences. We cultivate a lifetime of familiar patterns of thought, intended to help us function in our normal day-to-day existence. As helpful and efficient as they are under ordinary circumstances, these same patterns of thought are typically too restrictive to fully envision the vast realm of alternative possibilities waiting to greet us.
Fortunately, our thoughts aren't our only form of guidance. We also have emotions, gut feelings, and intuition. Our instincts can lead the way when logic falls short, if our minds are willing to relax and quiet down for a moment.
If you want to something in your life to be different, take a cue from the geese.
Just look within.
If you had to choose your path, without answering any of the "whys"...
where do you FEEL you truly want to go?
Take a deep breath.
Spread your wings.
Take flight (as best you can).
And somehow, it will all work out.
For further reflection: Instead of something to think about, let's take a risk to do something different. Get some crayons and draw a picture of a bird in flight, going with the first images and instincts that come to mind as you create. That's it. You're done. Really.
Therapist's Note: Getting started on the process of making change is often an underestimated task. It takes a lot of courage to enter into the uncertainty of something new. By the time a client finds their way to me, they've done a lot of work laying the foundation for change just in all the work they did to decide it was okay to contact me about counseling. If you're thinking about making a change, like reducing anxiety or improving your relationship or finally listening to that nagging sense that something in your life isn't quite right, this post can help you name and overcome the fears you have around getting started.
Here I go.
I am starting.
Have you ever watched a fresh, tiny infant?
A baby newly born moves in unusual, awkward ways. For so long, she was accustomed to the tight quarters of the womb that held her movements in check. She could flail, kick, and punch--but only so far before her fists, elbows, and feet would meet the solid walls of her protective, cozy habitat. Now, living in the expansive, wide open world, baby's arms and legs move with wild abandon in ways she is not expecting.
A baby newly born startles easily in this strange new context. She inadvertently bumps into her own face. Or, just as alarming, she bumps into absolutely nothing at all.
I imagine it must feel a bit like absentmindedly walking down a set of stairs, expecting another step beneath you only to strike level ground. For a brief moment, your mind and body are thrown into confusion. You shake it off, regain your balance, and are less likely to be thrown off the next trip.
When we begin to make change, we are babies newly born. Our efforts are sweet and precious, worthy of watching with a sense of wonder, but also...startlingly awkward.
We flail. We accidentally bump into our own face.
A baby newly born loves to be snuggled up, tightly enclosed and pressed up against the warmth of a caregiver. There are no unusual, awkward movements--nothing that can startle--when nestled inside a womb-like embrace.
Yet a baby also needs room to stretch and begin to make sense of her own muscles in the real world.
When we begin to make change, we are newly born babies. We need people and places that feel familiar, that hold us close, that nurture us and snuggle us tight.
And, we need room to stretch. Room to exercise new parts of ourselves. Room to make mistakes.
I pondered writing this first entry for quite some time. I wanted to get it exactly right. To start off on the perfect note. Be graceful.
But then I realized that starting this blog is just like starting anything new. If we wait until we can do it exactly right, with no clumsiness, without the possibility of being startled--if we wait until that time...well, we'll never get started.
Nothing new is graceful in the beginning. And that truth, in and of itself, is a form of grace. Permission to be messy. Permission to get startled. Permission to feel confused.
So here I am, emerging from the safety of the womb, flailing out into the world.
I hope you'll join me.
Be a baby.
For further reflection: If there was no possibility of failure, what one change in your life would you want to make first?
Here you will find metaphors, images, reflections, and inspiration on the change process. Psychotherapy intersects with creativity, nature, and spirituality on these pages. You can start anywhere you'd like. You'll find a note on my thoughts as a therapist as well as a prompt for your own reflection at the beginning and end of each entry.
I'm a licensed therapist in private practice in Indianapolis who provides counseling to individuals and couples, particularly around issues of anxiety, adjustment, and relationship wellness.