Ask Yourself Questions and Change Your Life: part 3

In the first part of Chapter 1, “What Do I Know About the Process of Change?” Learn how to discard beliefs that hold you captive to the past and allow your true self to guide you along the way.

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Ask Yourself Questions and Change Your LifeOver the next few months, the Support4Change Blog will post the book, Ask Yourself Questions and Change Your Life in it’s entirety.
You can access the already published posts here.
The weekly installments will appear each Monday. If you like what you read here, and would like to purchase the print or ebook, please visit the Support4Change store.

CHAPTER ONE
What Do I Know About
the Process of Change?

Nothing in the natural world remains the same from one moment to the next. everything is dynamic, continually changing whether we want it to or not, whether we are a willing participant or not. We are part of that world, and our lives can expand in response to the changing moods of each season, or we can contract by resisting the change we have been invited to make.

Three Paths to Change

Our lives change for three reasons.

The first, which we experience from time to time through- out our lives, comes from being pulled by the invisible force of biology and life-cycle stages to be a different person than we were before. A baby learns to crawl, walk, and run because she is hard-wired to move through those stages. in adolescence we couldn’t ignore our hormones and the changes they bring if we wanted to. And the inevitable act of falling in love dramatically expands our view of life in ways we could not know without that experience. Courtship, marriage, birth of children, the launching of grown children, and the on- set of old age each present us with different opportunities to evolve, grow and develop.

ASK YOURSELF
ABOUT CHANGE

What is the most significant change I have made in my life?
Did the impetus for that change come from a push from someone or the
pull of inspiration and developmental change? Or was it the result of emotional and/or physical pain?

Not infrequently, when we have been inspired by a new vision of who we can grow to be, and what the world can become through our efforts, we are pulled to change. For instance, it is hard to read Paradigm Found without feeling compelled to make a genuine difference in the world by following our passion, just as the author, Anne Firth Murray, did when she founded The Global fund for Women.

Sometimes, though very seldom, we change because we are pushed by someone to become a different per- son than we’ve been. if that person is our boss, and our job depends on changing some habit or characteristic of our personality, the odds that we’ll modify our behavior are fairly good, provided we’re not asked to make too significant of a shift in how we see ourselves. in some cases, it may be easier to find another job than change long-ingrained patterns of behavior.

Think about it for a minute. How often have you been successful in causing another person to change through nagging, pleading, cajoling, demanding, beseeching, and otherwise shoving that person in the direction of change you wanted him or her to make? Not often, I would guess. I’ve certainly done my share of nagging, and even though i’m convinced the changes i want others to make would be good for them — and would definitely make my life easier — they resist. I’ve tried the push approach. It seldom works.

What does work is the third reason we change, pain. Both psychological and physical pain encourage us to work toward relieving our discomfort and can come from many sources. Your factory is outsourced and takes your job with it. Your spouse announces he is leaving for someone else. You’ve been given a diagnosis of a serious illness. Your business partner’s drinking has escalated. in all of these cases, it’s no longer possible to continue living as you have been.

Some of us are very good in putting on blinders, of course, and in ignoring a situation that would drive someone else up the wall. Yet we all have a breaking point. That’s why the questions in this book are designed to help you no matter whether you are pulled or pushed to change direction, or whether discomfort you have tolerated until now has become too painful to ignore.

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The Chemistry of Change

All change takes place in the brain, a soft four-pound organ that is the control center for how you live. it is the most complex machine in the universe with an incredibly linked network of 20 billion neurons connected to an average of 10,000 other neurons. if you could take it apart, you’d see an amazingly intricate network of trillions of synapses, or neuronal connections, that looks not unlike some vast multi- level spider web. it is estimated that the possible number of on/ off firing patterns, as chemicals are passed through synapses between one neuron and another, is ten times ten one million times, or ten to the millionth power!

We only use a small fraction of those potential connections, of course. in fact, we tend to use the same groups of neurons over and over, routing old thoughts, behaviors, attitudes, emotional reactions, and beliefs back and forth within the same pathways.

This coordinated pattern allows us to make sense of the thousands of experiences we’ve had over the years. if every single thing that happened, every word we heard, every picture we saw, every body sensation had to be analyzed and processed from scratch in order to understand it, that would take a very long time, even given the speed with which neurons fire. it’s much more efficient for the brain to assign meaning to an experience and create a belief or filter through which the next experience can be accepted or rejected as true and valid.

Soon our beliefs (the thoughts we experience when certain neurons are “turned on”) cause us to act (the body’s response in word and behavior caused by the firing of other neurons connected to our “belief neurons”) in ways that give us consequences we have come to expect (and which we then interpret in ways that reinforce our beliefs!).

ASK YOURSELF ABOUT YOUR BELIEFS AND OPINIONS
• Do I believe that what I know now is all I need to know to live my life well? Why?
• If I believe there is more for me to learn, am I willing to find a way to
learn it?
•Do I often believe I am “right” and want others to know that I am “right?” Why?
• If someone believes deeply in something that is much different from my version of “truth,” how willing am I to consider the possibility that he or she might know something I could learn?
• Am I willing to question my most cherished opinions?

However, what happens if the “consequences” resulting from our actions are not consistent with our beliefs? unfortunately, most of us, in order to maintain our internal status quo, tend to interpret what we experience in ways that correspond most closely to our beliefs. Since we all wear colored glasses (some darker than others), it is not surprising that the world appears tinged with the same hue.

Unfortunately, the cyclical reasoning of “belief-actions- consequences-belief” leaves little room for maneuvering or being open to new beliefs, which results in the creation of a “comfort zone” in which we operate on autopilot. This allows the brain to do what it’s always done, sending the same, or similar, thoughts down the same pathways. True, the cycle keeps us on a merry-go-round, but it’s the merry-go-round with which we are most familiar. As long as things are sailing along smoothly, we don’t see reason to get off.

However, when we’re in pain, or when we’ve been pushed or pulled in such a way that we feel we must change our lives, the brain will need to switch off some of the connections it’s been using to keep old pathways functioning and build new ones. When we can turn off enough of the old connections tied to old beliefs, we allow new neurons to fire, which allows the brain to switch on its “genetic machinery” (the ability of the body to create proteins for building new neurons), which causes the brain to change internal connections. Through this turn-off-old and build-new process, our brain’s biochemical environment builds new interconnected pathways.

IMITATE A CAMERA
Become an objective observer of what is, just as a camera sees without making a judgment that what it sees is “good” or “bad.” Practiced frequently, this perspective can help you see things in a new light and open you to new beliefs. Further, it can give you an inner peace that is hard to achieve when you are constantly judging and evaluating everything you say and do—and everything others are saying and doing.

The willingness to see things in a different way (to try on a new, clearer set of glasses, if you will) “turns-on” neurons that can allow us to interpret our experiences in new ways (i.e., create a new belief about life), which then allows us to act in a way in which we expect to get different results and, not surprisingly, discover they are different. over time, we change our lives by changing the chemical functioning in our brains.

Fortunately, one way you can influence the formation of new pathways is to ask yourself questions. As i noted in the introduction, questions require you to shift from a passive mode to an active mode of thinking. if your brain needs to answer a question that lies outside its normal reasoning path, it can’t continue using synaptic connections along the old paths, as it does when we operate on autopilot and the road to new ideas is blocked. By asking yourself the questions in this book, you are giving your brain new experiences. True, the questions themselves may not be earth-shattering, but in attempting to answer them, you are giving your brain permission to switch off autopilot thinking and lay down new neuronal connections that will, step-by-step, lead to the change you want in your life.

This gradual building of new pathways, leading to new beliefs, leading to new behavior, leading to new results is the consequence of what some people call “Kaizen” steps. Kaizen is a Japanese word that comes from two ideographs, the first of which represents change and the second goodness or virtue. The word is based on the observation that, with few exceptions, great inventions and great change don’t arise suddenly out of thin air. rather, they are the consequence of many quite minor steps that, added together, achieve an impressive goal. You can think of these Kaizen steps as small “first-order changes” that incrementally move you toward a significant goal.


Ask Yourself Questions and Change Your Life is reprinted here by permission. If you would like to purchase your own copy of this book, please visit the Support4Change store.

Ask Yourself Questions and Change Your Life: part 2

In the second installment of Ask Yourself Questions and Change Your Life, arlene harder shares what this book offers to a person who is ready for ch7ange.

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Ask Yourself Questions and Change Your LifeOver the next few months, the Support4Change Blog will post the book, Ask Yourself Questions and Change Your Life in it’s entirety.
You can access the already published posts here.
The weekly installments will appear each Monday. If you like what you read here, and would like to purchase the print or ebook, please visit the Support4Change store.

INTRODUCTION

Where am I? Who am I?
How did I come to be here?
What is this thing called the world? How did I come into the world?
Why was I not consulted?
And if I am compelled to take part in it, Where is the director?
I want to see him.
—Soren Kierkegaard

This is a different kind of self-help book. Here you won’t find an expert telling you what you need to do to change your life. You won’t find three, four, five, or more “easy” steps to success. instead, you’ll find lots of questions.

However, by the time you have finished this book, I believe you will have discovered how important the questions are — and that you already have more answers inside of you than you could ever imagine.

There is no doubt that people have achieved success, or some degree of improvement in their circumstances, by using suggestions offered by success “experts.” The problem is that strategies that may have worked for others — like the secretary who scaled the corporate ladder to become CEO, the injured runner who won an Olympic gold medal, the renowned scientist who holds fifty patents, or the couple who resolved deep differences and lived happily ever after — may not work for you. There’s a good chance that your temperament, motivation, circumstances, relationships, opportunities, education and world view are not the same as these super achievers. You may need other strategies if you are to be successful.

You may also have a slight problem with self-sabotage, for we all carry with us an invisible, expandable “backpack” filled with resentments, grudges, unexamined beliefs, fears, and the minutiae of a lifetime. If you can’t extricate yourself from the past, it’s hard to apply the “secrets of success” that always seem to elude your grasp.

Who are these experts who have the answer to your life? Chellie Campbell, author of Zero to Zillionaire, says you can always identify them because they claim that only they have the answer to your problems. She calls them “sharks” and if you don’t have a strong sense of self, you feel inferior in their presence. Sharks feed on “tuna.” These are the legions of people who are sure someone else has the answer for how to live their lives. So you’ll often see tuna hurrying from seminar to seminar and buying book after book in the belief that the answer to their lives lies somewhere out “there,” any place but within themselves. Being in their presence can be exhausting with their pleas for others to tell them what to do, and their cries of blame when they aren’t satisfied with the answers.

Then there are the “dolphins.” They may also attend workshops, buy CDs, and read self-help books. But their focus is on learning how they can draw upon their own knowledge to meet their needs. Dolphins enjoy playing with other dolphins and helping one another grow. You know when you’re in their presence: You feel good about yourself. May this book help you be more like a dolphin and less like a tuna.

Listening to what others have done to achieve success may be inspirational, of course, but as a recovering perfectionist who’s taken a lifetime to manage the impulse to control almost every situation, I know well that reaching goals isn’t straightforward. it is only in retrospect that change seems easy and quick. Those who are going through a transformative process, if they are honest, will tell you it isn’t simple. Changing a long-troublesome habit, getting a degree, healing strained relationships, or eliminating persistent negative self-talk takes a lot of time, a lot of effort, and often a lot of money.

If change were as simple as many claim it is, we could all accomplish our dreams with ease and live in a world of peace. We’d all be millionaires and have perfect relationships. There wouldn’t be a need for therapists, personal coaches, and mentors. We’d merely follow the “simple” path that would assure success.

Questions as Catalysts of Change

If trying to follow the steps to success that others have taken hasn’t worked for you, I suggest you try another way — understanding yourself better. With self-awareness, together with a little inspiration and perhaps a few suggestions from others, you have an excellent chance of choosing and reaching goals that meet your needs.

How can you better understand yourself? Ask yourself questions!

Our brains are programmed to be hooked by questions, like the ones in this book. They are the same questions I’ve raised with many of my clients who wanted to — change something they didn’t like either in themselves, or in the circumstances in which they found themselves. As they considered a question, I could almost see a light bulb go off over their heads and watch their tension fall away as their answers allowed them to see things from a new angle. Whether or not they acted on that insight was another matter, but at least they had an additional piece for the puzzle in their lives.

Unfortunately, there is a good chance that you weren’t taught to ask questions of yourself. from nursery school through graduate school you tried to give the “correct” answers on tests. While those answers may have validity, if they are the only things you learn, your life is limited to what someone else decides you should know or think. When you learn to ask questions, you expand the world beyond school and the limited experience of family and friends.

Most of all, questions that change your life are particularly potent when you switch the pronoun from “you” to “I.” for example, imagine i tell you, “I like the shape of the leaves of the tallest tree on your block.” If you hadn’t particularly thought about it before, what I think doesn’t affect you one way or the other. on the other hand, suppose I ask, “Have you noticed the shape of the leaves on the tallest tree on your block?” Your brain perks up a bit. it becomes curious. You are being asked something you hadn’t thought about before. So when you next leave your house, there’s a good chance you’ll check to see which is the tallest tree and pay attention to the leaves.

However, you are even more likely to notice the leaves if you change the pronouns in the question. instead of me asking the question, “Do you notice…?,” turn the question around and ask “Do I notice…?” That is why the questions you will encounter in this book are written as though you are asking them of yourself, for all change comes only from a personal engagement in the process of change. You don’t change because you read about or watch people change their lives. You have to find a way to make a shift within yourself for change to occur in your life.

How to Use This Book

There are several ways in which questions are presented in this book. each chapter title is a question, with the contents of the chapter explaining why that question is important if you want to change your life. Within the chapters are sidebars for additional questions that reinforce the basic questions, as well as suggestions for “taking action.”

The questions you will encounter cover a broad range of topics, beginning with chapter one, in which you explore what you already know about the process through which we all go when making a change in our lives. Then you ask yourself questions about who you are today, because that’s where you have to start. Since who we are today is influenced by where we’ve been, you’ll have a chance to delve a little into questions that allow you to discover in your past both strengths and stumbling blocks to change. Next, you will ask yourself several questions to help clarify what it is in your life you’d like to change and why you want that to happen.

Other questions encourage you to explore the barriers that keep you from moving forward, identify your skills and inner resources, and recognize the qualities you will need as you work toward a particular goal. With other questions, you will be able to test your willingness to reach your goal and discover how to find support when you get stuck. finally, you will discover that by responding to these questions you can not only change yourself, you can make a real contribution to changing the world as well.

it doesn’t matter whether or not you write down your answers. Personally, i’m not a journal writer, unless i’m required to do so as an exercise in a workshop. However, if you come to a question that seems particularly apropos, and if you think writing would help, then write as much as you’d like.

In any case, whether you write the answers or only consider them in your heart, don’t expect an easy answer for most of them. To go beyond the boundaries within which you ordinarily operate, you will need to move out of your comfort zone, which means you may find resistance in even considering the questions.

If you reflect on the questions in this book with genuine curiosity and thoroughness, it will take time. You’re unlikely to know all the answers when you first encounter a question, although you may want to skim the chapters to get an idea of what lies ahead. I suggest you notice your reaction to questions that spark your interest — or, equally important, those that appear “unnecessary” or make you uncomfortable. These may be the very ones that can lead to something important for you to understand.

Rainer Maria Rilke expresses this well in Letters to a Young Poet:

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.

Most importantly, remember that behind every question you answer there will be a reason why you answered that question the way you did. in fact, it is “why” and “how” we have reached our conclusions that determine whether one person puts effort into reaching one goal and another person strives just as hard for something quite different. understanding the “whys” and “hows” of your life can yield important insights.

Just as questions cause your mind to shift a little from automatic pilot, metaphors draw upon different parts of the brain and allow you to see things in a different way than you normally would. So you’ll find a number of metaphors that describe the process of change.

I have included several stories to illustrate how answering questions can lead to the eventual achievement of a goal. With the exception of Patricia, a friend, I have used a composite of clients to present several aspects of the journey to change.

In the appendix you will find a questionnaire on perfectionism. I have added this because it was not until I acknowledged that by trying to be perfect (or close to it) I accomplished less than I do now that my standards are not out of reach.

If you are unhappy with your life — or simply suspect things could be a whole lot better — and if you haven’t gotten very far when trying to follow the advice of experts, become an expert on yourself. i am sure you will discover what a wonderfully capable person you are, and that you have the ability to become even more capable, lovable, and self-confident.

I invite you to begin your journey of achieving your next goal with questions.

Arlene Harder, MFT
January 2008


Ask Yourself Questions and Change Your Life is reprinted here by permission. If you would like to purchase your own copy of this book, please visit the Support4Change store.

Ask Yourself Questions and Change Your Life: part 1

In the first installment of Ask Yourself Questions and Change Your Life, Lynne Goldklang Introduces Arlene, and the kinds of questions she will help you explore.

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Ask Yourself Questions and Change Your LifeOver the next few months, the Support4Change Blog will post the book, Ask Yourself Questions and Change Your Life in it’s entirety.
The weekly installments will appear each Monday. If you like what you read here, and would like to purchase the print or ebook, please visit the Support4Change store.

PREFACE

If you are interested in self-improvement, you are probably not a stranger to questions. Your days are most likely filled with questions. unfortunately, many of those questions are not worded and delivered in ways that foster your progress. They are the nagging voice of the critic — said from you to you with anger, contempt or deep regret. These familiar questions include the following: Why did you do that? Why didn’t you do that? What were you thinking? How could you be so stupid? Why are you so lazy? Why can’t you be successful (or any other word that would fit here) like your friends? What’s wrong with you? Why are you so weak? Don’t you have any will power?

This is a small sampling of how questions are often used to stop us from going forward with confidence or looking backward with compassion so we can understand and learn from past choices. Continue reading

Remember Your Safety Belt When You Are Under Stress

Create a symbol that will keep you from being tossed and turned
and thrown off balance when life presents you with a bumpy road

"Always fasten safety belt" - NARA - 513785You wear a seat belt in a car or on a plane for good reasons. They provide protection when you’re in an accident or when you hit turbulence that would otherwise toss you around. In the same way, if you’re walking on a narrow bridge over a rushing stream, it helps to have a safety net in case you fall.

You use this protection even though you may not need it. Why take the chance? You also buy insurance just in case you need it. It is also wise to be able to rely on this kind of protection when you hit unexpected potholes in the road of life.

So today I bring you an exercise I created several years ago for creating symbols of support — before you may actually need them. Then they can come in handy when difficult situations might derail you on a path you want to travel with confidence and peace.

First, before you even notice a bump in the road, make a list of all the hard-earned lessons you’ve learned over the years. Here are just a few that you most likely already know:

  • I am loved and love others, which is the strongest support of all, even though I alone must walk through trials I have been given.
  • I am neither as good nor as bad as I once thought I was.
  • I don’t need to be perfect.
  • None of us gets through life without pain, so I’m not being singled out when I get my share.
  • We all do our best, even when our best isn’t good enough.
  • Nothing is constant, so whatever my situation is at the moment—whether good, bad, or neutral—it too shall pass.
  • If something goes wrong in one part of my life, there are lots of other things that are going right.
  • There’s always tomorrow.

Imagine in your mind’s eye that you can weave these lessons into very strong and sturdy fibers that can be fashioned into a symbolic seat belt or safety net.

The next time you’re going through a particularly rough time, get out your list and read it. Then sit quietly in a chair and imagine as clearly as you can that you are held firmly in place with an imaginary belt made from those lessons. Allow them to remind you that you won’t be thrown off your chair — and that you can work through your challenging time with confidence that you’ve been through tough times before. You’ll get through this as well.


Here are a some related posts and articles from Support4Change:

Helping One Another When Life Gets Tough—February 11, 2010

Women, Stress, and Friendship

My Special List of Friends

Can You Unlearn How to Ride a Bicycle?

This video offers a thought provoking illustration of
what can happen when we change of our typical behaviors

You learned to ride a bike by moving the handle bars to the left in order to turn left and moving the handle bars to the right in order to turn right.

You will never forget how to ride a bike designed like that.

But what happens if someone redesigns a bike in such a way that the bicycle steers in the opposite direction of normal bikes; that is, you have to steer left to go right and right to go left?

This is what happened to Destin Sandlin, a rocket engineer, who produces an educational video series called “Smarter Every Day.”

In this video, he explores how, once you have a rigid way of thinking in your head, sometimes you cannot change that, even if you want to.

However, after practicing five minutes a day for eight months with the new bike, he said that one day he couldn’t ride the bike, and the next day he could. It was as though he could feel some kind of pathway in his brain was now unlocked.

Then, when he tried to ride a regular bike, it took him some time to remember how to ride it!!

This short video offers a most interesting illustration of how our opinions easily float along pathways that feel so “natural” that we assume they must be the right way to think.

It’s not surprising that we don’t challenge our strongly held opinions; It’s not easy to change them, especially if we have been attached to them for many years.