Understanding Major Life Changes and Identifying Areas of Needed Change
Change is the most natural part of life, and all life changes can present us with both challenges and opportunities. Sometimes changes happen TO us, and other times happen BECAUSE of us. We have all been there, something major happens, and in a matter of seconds our world has been tossed upside down and nothing is the same anymore. But events don’t need to be major and catastrophic to help us make major changes in ourselves and our lives. Sometimes it’s the small quiet moments that can build into tidal waves. Moments where we may decide inside of ourselves to make a choice, to pick up a phone (or hang one up), or even to make an appointment we have been avoiding.
Starting counseling in itself can trigger another major change sequence in your life. It can be a major resource to you in creating positive and sustainable shifts in your life. But to get the most benefits out of counseling, it is important to identify and focus on the areas of your life in which changes are most needed. This week’s blog is to help you gain clarity and focus on the aspects of your life that are in the most need of transformation so that your therapist can help you take the most impactful steps forward.
Use Self-Reflection and Awareness.
We all need undistracted time to work through our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Time that is not shared with helping others or checking things off of a to do list. I usually have at least 10 to do lists going at any one time, so not judging lists here, but they bring with them a sense of pressure that pulls us away from whatever is happening in the moment. When trying to assess areas in the most need of change and focus in your life, it becomes even more important for you to ensure you are giving yourself enough ‘downtime’ to really see how you think and feel without worrying about what you are doing next, or the cost of your downtime to your sense of accomplishment.
Carve out quiet time. It can help to find a peaceful and uninterrupted space to engage in self-reflection. Turn off your cell phone, smart watch, and any other alerts or potential distractions while you are there. Give yourself at least 20 min to get lost in your own thoughts and feelings without feeling ‘on alert’ to other people, tasks or things. Don’t have 20 min? You would still benefit from a 2 min time out, learn about that in our Self-Care Timeout blog here.
Journaling. Write down your thoughts, feelings, and aspirations to gain deeper insights into your emotions and needs. It doesn’t have to be perfect, grammar doesn’t matter, and its ok to scribble things out and start over. You can EVEN use more than one-color pen on a page. I have so many people that have scrapped whole journals because the pen didn’t match, DON’T DO THAT!! Check out our blog on journaling to help you learn how to get the most benefit out of this. Regardless of the style in which you use, writing things down helps the brainstorming process and can really clarify things for you in a way that simply thinking it through cannot.
Assessing your emotions. Focus on recurring emotions or patterns. It can help to start a list of ‘themes’ (what are your triggers or connections that keep repeating). Assess any that may show areas of discomfort or distress, as well as those that signal joy and contentment. Make notes and bring them to your counseling appointments. Also make sure to schedule more of the ones that trigger those positives into your daily routines. It is amazing how often we skip the things that make us feel whole or good but surround ourselves with the crap that stresses us out and makes our anxiety want to run for the hills.
Define Your Goals and Desires
Visualizing your ideal life. Create an image of how you would like your life to be in 1 month, 6 months, 1 year, and 5 years. Considering various areas such as relationships, career, health, and personal growth. Doing a vision board is a great exercise: cut out pictures of what you want in different areas and paste it all together to hang in front of you. It seems childish but it can build motivation and direction.
Setting specific targets. Break down your vision into specific areas and identify steps that will lead you towards your desired outcomes. Remember to not focus only on the ending result but explore what may have to happen first to get you there.
If your goal is to be independent. Then your steppingstones may include.
- getting out of an unhealthy relationship,
- finding a steady source of income,
- and/or picking a new apartment, home or place to live.
Prioritize. Determine which goals are the most significant right now, and that will have the most immediate and needed impact. You will likely need to move in stages so organizing them in the most logical order of events can help keep motivation going. You cannot change everything all at once. If you try you will likely become overwhelmed and are more likely to give up on something important.
Remember, how does a mouse eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Identify where you can sink your teeth in and what may take some time to get to. You don’t need to swallow it all at once.
Seeking External Feedback and Support
Engage in open conversations with your positive supports. Talk to close friends, family members, or mentors about your concerns, aspirations and potential areas of change. Take care to choose those that you feel emotionally safe with and that have shown the ability to be supportive and encouraging in the past.
Seeking professional guidance. Consider seeking support from a counselor or formal support group to gain objective insights and guidance on identifying areas of growth and a plan on how to get there. Therapists have the major benefit of being outside of your circle and circumstance. They can help you identify patterns and routines that you may overlook and that may be preventing you from meeting your goals. Remember to be open to their feedback. This is NOT a place where you need to put their walls up. They are not there to judge you but to help you judge what is and is not working for you in your life. They can help you see how certain elements may be triggering your anxiety and leading you to miss out on some of those major life goals and help you with a plan on overcoming it.
Identifying Patterns and Limiting Beliefs
Examine past experiences. Reflect on past challenges and successes to identify any recurring patterns that may hinder progress.
Recognizing limiting beliefs. Be aware of negative self-talk or beliefs that may be holding you back from embracing change.
Assessing Personal Values and Priorities
Defining core values. Identify the values that are most important to you and align them with your desired changes. Your goals have to be based around what YOU hold as important and true inside of you. Not what someone else does.
Evaluating current priorities. Assess whether your current lifestyle and choices align with your core values and if any adjustments are needed.
Considering the Impact on Others
Recognizing interconnectedness. Acknowledge how your personal growth and changes may impact your relationships. Consider the well-being of others involved, It is a reality that others have gotten used to you being and acting in a certain way and they may not adjust well when that changes. It can even be very common to have someone tell you that you need to make a plethora of changes but not know how to maintain that relationship once those changes are made. This can be hard. It can be sad. But but do not stall out your own progress just because it may make someone else uncomfortable.
Open communication. Engage in honest and compassionate conversations with supportive loved ones about your journey. Involve them in the process when and where appropriate and comfortable. Other people may not be ready for you to change and push back. That does not mean you are obligated to stay the same. Their journey does not matter anymore than yours.
Creating an Action Plan
Breaking down goals into actionable steps. Divide your prioritized goals into manageable and achievable action items. In the above example of gaining independence, we listed finding a steady source of income. Action items for this may be to take a class, practice a skill, update your resume, put in a set number of applications, etc.
Setting realistic timelines. Establish timeframes for each step to track progress and maintain motivation. In the therapy process we review your treatment plan at a minimum of every 120 days. This timeframe is enough time for change to happen, but not too much where goals and objectives are forgotten about during treatment. It can feel annoying to be going back through those plans over and over again, but it is a key part of keeping things on track.
Be adaptable: Embrace the possibility of adjusting your plan as you learn and grow throughout the process. Oftentimes what we think we want, or need can look very different from what we really do need or want in the end. As you create changes in and around you, you are constantly changing your landscape and expectations, and this is ok!
Empower Your Transformational Journey with Therapy and CBT Techniques
By following these steps, you can gain a deeper understanding of the areas in your life that are in the most need of change. You will also create a solid game plan to help you get there. Add in the life changing power of utilizing therapy in the process and you can juice up your progress. Your therapist is likely to use some form of cognitive-behavioral therapy and its techniques to help you really sculpt into that life you envisioned in step one.
Remember, your journey of self-discovery is an opportunity for positive change and growth. You are in the driver’s seat, but it can be a long journey so remember to slow down, fuel up, and check the map every once in a while. If you are ready to start shaping out your goals and begin the counseling process reach out to us at Angelus today. With offices in New Castle and Hermitage, we are here to help and looking forward to helping you along your journey. Not located in Pennslyvannia? Psychology Today is a great place to search for therapists available in your area, they let you narrow down by what is bringing you into counseling, what insurance you have, and other criteria to ensure you find a good match!