When we find the causes of our problems, we don’t find “sick” inner parts; we find old assumptions, old beliefs, old expectations, old commitments, or old goals that we now see as limited. We feel excited about finally finding the inner sources of our problems, and we want to change these old parts of ourselves. The result of self-exploration is not horror at what we find, but relief that it is not nearly as bad as we feared–and peace at discovering the truth.
I love to watch good mysteries. Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot is one of my favorite detectives. Sometimes, I think of psychotherapy as Poirot finding clues to discover “who dunnit.” Instead of thinking of self-exploration as a search for inner monsters, think of it in terms of your favorite discovery metaphor. Think of self-exploration as being the detective in an exciting mystery movie. Or, think of self-exploration as if you are a scientist trying to discover a major new insight into human nature. Learn to replace those old fears of looking inward with a sense of adventure, curiosity, and excitement.
The process of self-exploration is not like looking for an inner monster, it’s like looking for buried treasure. You may find inner roadblocks you didn’t know about; but you will find at your core that you care about yourself and others. You will find you care about many higher values such as truth and beauty. You will find new sources of interest, competence, inner strength, and motivation. You will find that you have more potential for success and happiness than you ever realized.
If you want a better life and to get what you deserve, you have to want it, and badly. The desire to change exists below your fears, deep down in your soul. It’s that part of you that longs to say, “I’m tired of this and I’m not going to take it anymore.” When you feel this strongly, all you need is a bit of guidance and encouragement. Wanting to change doesn’t mean that you must do it right away. It’s your choice to move slowly, moderately, or quickly, based on circumstances and personal preference. And it’s best to tackle one problem area at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed. This is your first official act of rebellion against the voices that dictate your most private choices. Put yourself in control. Here are your options:
Small steps. This involves a commitment to change by staying focused on your needs. These are actions you take daily, choices that may seem insignificant individually. For example, reading this article is an action of intent that shows you want a more productive life. Small steps can also make your life and relationships more rewarding while reducing the resistance you might encounter. Let’s say you’re constantly chauffeuring your teenage daughter around; maybe you’re not ready to refuse her request, but you can simply not offer to drive.
Longer strides. This requires a commitment to action by finding a middle road of compromise. Longer strides lead to intentional actions, setting boundaries, and holding your bottom line. For instance, you might tell your daughter that you intend to limit the number of times you’ll act as her driver and ask her to come up with a new arrangement that would fulfill both your needs. At times, longer strides may lead to a rocky path of confrontation and opposition. This is the choice of the truly frustrated; sometimes brave and often desperate.
Life-changing leaps. This involves making unilateral decisions and acting on your own behalf without the input of others. Life-changing leaps are reserved for people who feel they have no other choice. Although quick, profound change can be exhilarating, it can be followed by self-doubt and fear of repercussions. For example, you might place strict limits on the number of times you’ll act as driver for your daughter, along with requirements regarding how much advance notice you’ll need. Then, if you weren’t given enough notice, you’d refuse the request even if your daughter responds with threats or temper tantrums.
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