Change your mind, change your life
You’ve probably heard this old joke:
Q: How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Only one, but the light bulb has got to want to change.
It’s a glib quickie that trivializes something that happens to be completely true. Change only comes from within, and it only happens once you decide that you absolutely want it to. Anything else is coercion, and there’s one thing that most people hate: being forced to do something by somebody else. Nothing will make a human being resist and fight back faster than that, especially in terms of lifestyle changes not related to addiction.
When it comes to people involved in addiction recovery, though, there’s still a lot of disagreement on the best way to approach treatment — voluntary or forced. The two extremes of the argument are summarized this way in a 2015 New York Times series on the subject. Robert L. DuPont, President of the Institute for Behavior and Health, Inc., believes that “Programs with effective coercion and serious consequences… often produce excellent outcomes for most participants.” Meanwhile, author and journalist Maia Szalavitz states that, “It’s hard to create the warm atmosphere necessary for addiction treatment if participants are legally mandated to be there… To improve both addiction treatment access and success, we need less coercion, not more.”
The hardest decision a person can make is the one to change — especially when they don’t think there’s a problem. Remember what I mentioned previously, about my attitude even as my health was failing? I didn’t think it was really serious and I was sure I was going to get better on my own, until someone else flat-out told me I was going to die if I didn’t do something.
But this wasn’t a case of someone telling me I had to change and I complied. I’d heard that advice many times before, but had chosen to ignore it. Often times, it had to do with how that message was delivered. True story: A few years ago, a doctor took my blood pressure and it was ridiculously high. His response was to give me a dirty look and practically shout in my face, “There is something seriously wrong with you!”
Gee, thanks, doc. Mind telling me what that is?
But do you think that I did anything about it then? Nope. All I was thinking in my mind was, “Well, doc, there’s something seriously wrong with you, too.” Not the best way to foster communication and healing, now is it?
What was different this time was, first, that the prognosis was delivered non-judgmentally by my doctors. It was given as a simple statement of fact. This made it a lot easier to not only accept that advice, but to finally make the decision to make the necessary changes in my life.
So the question is this: How do we wind up in that place where it’s easier not to make a positive change? It’s a process that practically begins at birth, it’s happening all around us, and it’s very easy to not see it because it’s so prevalent.
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