The Christmas tree is beginning to show signs of age despite my continuing ritual of emerging from the gloom in the early morning and switching on the fairy lights before the kettle.
As we rose from our heavy festive slumber and returned to work this week my phone and email worked a little harder than usual with messages from people deciding that January requires they get their lives in order.
The gym car parks will be full for the next few weeks, and
everything is going to be different. Until it isn’t.
I’ll never forget hearing another therapist say that when people complain change is hard his most common reply is. “Yes it is, but never forget that you don’t have to do it.”
One of the most valuable lessons I learned after all of the years I spent trying to unsuccessfully change myself was that I didn’t need to do it. Change was not an imperative or a requirement, and thinking of it as such only made it harder to achieve. None of us likes being told what to do, even by ourselves.
In my case what made change become an inevitability was choice. The choice not to change and to live with the consequences of that instead.
I worked with a lot of therapists in the years I spent trying to figure out how to be different but none of them was trying to change me or even pushing me to change. This is the gift of therapy, the privilege of having someone accept you exactly as you are, even if you’re making a massive balls up of your life.
That’s not as bad as it sounds.
Many people openly refuse to change unless they are told how to, but to step in and show someone specifically what to do is to rob them of the responsibility for doing it themselves.
Sustainable change only comes about when we appraise ourselves with honesty and are clear about what we want, not what we should want.
So, truth be told, I was happy in my misery for years. It suited me to be down and defeated. Why? Because at that point in my life I was not sufficiently clear about where I wanted to go next. In a sense there was no point being OK because I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do with that sort of positivity.
So if you’re feeling guilty about not getting out running at 6 in the morning, or changing your diet or fixing your marriage try an alternative to the insistent “I must get my life in order” self talk. Instead remind yourself that you can keep on as you are for as long as you like. Releasing the demand often has a surprising result, and if it doesn’t, you aren’t ready for change anyway.
My mother sometimes left the Christmas tree up into late January and possibly even February for all I can remember. First it would be because “the vicar is coming for dinner on Friday and it will be nice if he sees the tree”. After that it was probably that we just didn’t get around to it and simply got used to it being there.
When I take the decorations down today it won’t be because I’m superstitious or because I have to. It will be because, just like my mother, it’s what I want to do.