We all have something in our life we would like to be different. Be it our child, our sibling, our boss, our spouse, our weight etc we want it to change. One of the most difficult things we have to realize is that for change to happen, be it internal or external, we are the ones that have to change first. I often work with parents of difficult children. When I ask “What are you willing to do to make the situation different?” I hear a variation on the theme of “They need to”. In one of my firsts posts I used one of my favorite quotes. “If you always do what you always did you will always get what you always got”. If I want the world around me to change, I have to change too.
A treatment method I utilize in my practice is Solution Focused Brief Therapy. The primary focus of this therapy is approaching the solution of the problem as though it were already solved. How would you act, treat the person, do for yourself, if the change you wanted already happened? What is one thing you could do that could bring you 1/2 a step closer to your goal of change. The difficulty people have with this is they often find things that the OTHER person is able to do to make things better, and often have little concept of what THEY are able to do to effect change in the situation. People often want the world around them to change, they want the end result without having to do their own work.
For any change to be permanent, our own behavior must change long term as well. If I want to loose weight I CANNOT change my behavior short term only until the weight is lost and return to old habits without expecting to gain the weight back. All parties in the relationship are required to change for the change to be maintained. I cannot expect my child’s behavior to change while I treat him / her the same.
So, since my behavior and responses have to change no matter what, what would happen if I changed them first? If I alter my behavior, the system around me will eventually shift to accommodate that change. In the short term the system, no matter how much it wants that change, will work to maintain the status quo, but long term the system will move.
Say I want my brother to treat me with more respect. Because he does not respect me I do not treat him with respect, and often display passive aggressive behavior toward him reinforcing his disrespectful behavior. If I were to treat him with respect, especially when he isn’t actively disrespecting me (he can’t be disrespectful 24/7, there has to be a moment in time when he is pleasant), after he unconsciously works to maintain the comfortable status quo, he will eventually shift his behaviors. If he DOES shift his behavior and I return to my previous attitudes and behaviors toward him he will not maintain his change. If I don’t change my behaviors when he does show positive behavior toward me I don’t reinforce (training anyone?) his behavior and he won’t be encouraged to continue.
No matter what the problem the first question to ask is “What do I need to do differently to make this change happen”. Willingness to alter my view, perception and behaviors in a situation will not only help my frustration in the situation (I at least know I am doing what I can), but will eventually help to affect change in my environment. It is always better than waiting around for things to change around me.