As always, when the new year approaches, we reflect on our progress. We ask ourselves: What could I have done better? What habits do I want to change? What do I want to happen in the next year? However, before addressing these questions it is important to understand the psychology of change.
Acknowledging The Positive
Often we focus all our attention on what we are not doing, or what we could be doing, that we don’t celebrate what we are doing. Life is a celebration. You should act as if everything you do is part of life’s celebration. We beat ourselves up for not doing what we know we should have, and in the process we forget to acknowledge the progress we have made along our path. It is important to celebrate your accomplishments. In essence this celebration of accomplishments is a celebration of your life. If you are having difficulty taking pleasure in what you are doing, how much enjoyment are you really getting from life? This means that you are not living in the moment. If you can’t celebrate the positive, what happiness will you ever attain? Enjoyment from life happens through being present in the moment.
Now that you have taken some time to celebrate your life, let’s look at changing patterns in your life. There is a debate as to whether people can change. If someone has an ingrained pattern of behavior, can they really change it?
Can You Change?
It is important to define (remind) who the “you” is when we ask the question - can you change? You are not your body. You are not your mind. You are a spiritual being, a soul.
The Next Question Is - Does Your Soul Change?
ANYTHING that changes dies: your body changes, your human form dies. Trees, plants, animals, etc change and eventually die. Even things that are non-biological can change and will eventually disintegrate (given enough time plastic will change).
The soul is eternal. It visits this dimension for a period of time through the mind-body vehicle, then it leaves when the human form dies. The fact that the soul doesn’t change is important. Since the soul doesn’t change that means it is already perfect. So what do we refer to when we talk about change, and how do we enact change in our life?
When we talk about change in people we are talking about modifying behavior. Let’s say you go through a period in your life where you lack confidence. You decide that you want to change and begin therapy to work on this issue. After some time you begin to gain confidence: you apply for the job you wanted, ask out the person you have admired from a distance, etcetera. Your behavior has changed.
But if it is just your behavior that has changed why is it so difficult to change it? Your behavior is just a compilation of physical movements. You know the physical movement of walking up to your boss and asking for a raise. Why is it difficult?
When we are talking about change, we are referring to modifying perception: the way that you perceive yourself is what changes. Furthermore, how you see yourself dictates your behavior. If you see yourself as not good enough, then your actions will follow this feeling. When you see yourself as deserving a raise, it isn’t difficult to ask for one. You don’t change what changes is how you see yourself and then you act according to this perception.
We achieve in life what we feel we deserve through our actions, consciously and unconsciously. It is easy to convince your conscious mind that you deserve better, but to believe it unconsciously is more difficult. Many of us aren’t even aware that unconsciously we don’t believe that we deserve better. This is because consciously you make excuses for our life situation. You say, “my job isn’t fulfilling, but the job market isn’t good. I will wait to look for another job.” “My partner/friend/boss doesn’t treat me well, but it’s okay.” “My living situation is okay for now.” What you are really saying is I deserve this situation. Whether it is a relationship, friendship, job, living situation, etcetera – you are saying this is what I deserve. If you really believed you deserved better you would not accept the condition. Look at people who have healthy relationships. What type of behavior do they tolerate? Look at people who have drama filled relationships. What type of behavior do they tolerate? What is the difference between the two types of people? One doesn’t tolerate it and changes the situation immediately, while the other tolerates the situation and participates because they feel that this is what they deserve.
We tolerate what we feel we deserve. Many times we make excuses for our life. When I feel better about myself I will look for another job. This doesn’t work because it is your actions that dictate how you feel about yourself. Wake up early for your daily sadhana. After you are finished, you eat breakfast. How is your breakfast? After waking up early to do yoga, your breakfast is healthy. Now that you started your day with yoga and a healthy breakfast, how do you treat people? One positive action that shows you care about yourself perpetuates other positive actions. Now think of the opposite. You stay up late at night not taking care of yourself, wake up late, don’t do yoga… how is your first meal? Chances are that it is not as healthy as you ate after doing yoga. How do you treat people? Again, one action dictates the actions of the next. If you celebrate your life by doing positive things for yourself, you will be less likely to tolerate poor treatment or unhealthy situations. You will change the situation because you know that you deserve better. If you have drama in your life, or believe that you deserve better, you should ask yourself: why am I tolerating this?
What happens is that your mind plays tricks on you and you allow it. You are identifying with your thoughts. Remember, your thoughts are not you. Your mind tells you (consciously or unconsciously) that you don’t deserve to date that attractive person you see every day at the yoga studio. You say, I’m shy, but shyness is not a reason, it is a behavior. This behavior is your excuse that you use to cover up that you don’t feel you deserve a date with such a beautiful girl. You can change your thinking, but this takes time. You have to be diligent, replacing the negative thoughts with positive. You can also just stop listening to your thoughts, not allowing them to negatively influence your behavior; just because you have a thought doesn’t mean that you have to follow its conclusion. Instead of acting from the mind, act from your soul’s intention; what is in alignment with your soul. Most importantly you can recognize that you – the soul, is already perfect.
Work on the way you see yourself, see your internal beauty. You are already perfect! You do not change. What changes is how you perceive yourself, and then you act according to this perception. See the perfection!
Read more in the second article of this series "How To Change (Part II): The Physicality of Change".