by Thaddeus Camlin, Psy.D.
Turn Resolutions into Lasting Change
Achieving lasting change can be elusive. Whether you make resolutions at the dawn of the New Year or at other times in your life, we all make promises to ourselves to change. However, many times the firm commitments we make to ourselves fade like a sigh within weeks or months. Those who exercise year-round will attest to the inevitability of their fitness centers becoming more crowded in January than during the other 11 months of the year. So what gets in the way of adhering to the promises we make to ourselves? We do.
Significant and lasting behavior change is rarely achieved without also looking inward. Whether you call them your demons, your hang-ups, your vices, your quirks, your outlets, your whatever, nobody ever struggles to answer the question, “Where are you stuck in your life?” However, most people struggle to do what they know will help them become unstuck.
Without looking inward and digging into the old patterns and defenses we all construct to keep ourselves comfortable, safe, and protected, we are doomed to remain enslaved to the familiar, the repetitious, the known. It is important to acknowledge that our old patterns exist because they work – they work so well they now kick in automatically to protect us. We all know someone who gets quiet amidst tense discussion, someone who lashes out, someone who keeps the peace. The automatic activation of defenses often works well, but without conscious effort to identify, explore, and understand our own elaborate system of defenses we end up running on autopilot and permitting our past to dictate our future and run our lives.
Pay keen attention to any of your actions that surprise you. Any time you find yourself thinking, “That’s not like me,” or, “Where did that come from?” you have an opportunity to learn and grow. We all repress desires, uncivilized impulses, morally inferior motives, childish fantasies, resentments – all the aspects of ourselves we are not proud of. But just because we repress, it does not mean we get rid of. Some call the aspects of ourselves that we repress our dark side, others our shadow. Without digging into the unacknowledged personal characteristics of ourselves we are doomed to repeat the old patterns. What we repress and deny to ourselves ends up controlling us. What we resist persists.
Carl Jung challenged us to look at what annoys us about others as an opportunity to understand what we don’t like about ourselves. When we recognize that nothing human is alien to us we take ownership of all the potential within – dark and light. If we resolve to live a healthier lifestyle this year but refuse to explore the sources of our self-destructive patterns, it is only a matter of time until those old, shadowy patterns seep back into our behavior. Jung also reminded us that the shadow is 90% gold, but we must face our fears, our demons, enter into the dark cave, and slay the dragon that sits on our treasure.
We live in an age of immediate results and instant gratification. The brief cognitive-behavioral therapy dominating psychology today aims at targeted, systematic behavior change in six to eight sessions. Confining personal growth solely to surface thoughts and outward behavior insults the true depth of an individual. Strengths-based, positive psychology feeds into the denial and repression of the whole person. If we truly want to understand ourselves we must mine the shadowy corridors of our dreams, our fantasies, all the psychic content available to us, not just the pretty, shiny, comfortable, clean, sugar-pop, designer consciousness sold to us on TV. Until we set out boldly and courageously into our fears and into ourselves, those same old ghosts will continue to sabotage our resolutions to change, grow, and transform further and further towards our greatest potential.