Licensed Psychologist in Washington, DC
A New Groove
by Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D.
"I keep doing the same thing, over and over, even though I want to behave differently. Maybe this is just who I am."
Jason* is discouraged because he would like to stop snapping at his wife whenever he's stressed out. But somehow, when he's had a rough day, he frequently finds himself taking it out on Julie, who is now considering leaving the marriage.
"I'd like to be sober, but it's really, really difficult. I'll have a few days clean and then I'm out one night with my friends....the next thing I know, I've had six drinks. Maybe I can't get better."
Martin is discouraged because he doesn't seem able to follow his plan to stop drinking, although heavy alcohol use is threatening his health and career.
"I want to talk to my partner about what I think is wrong with our relationship. I'm feeing so isolated and cut off because I don't. But every time I try, I get anxious and l literally can't open my mouth. Maybe I can't do this."
Lauren is discouraged because her anxiety keeps getting in the way of an important conversation she wants to have.
"I hate my job, but I'm scared to leave it. After all, I've got a steady paycheck, and that's pretty rare these days. And what if I liked my new job even less?"
Cathy wants to make an important change in her life, but is afraid to. She doesn't want to be paralyzed by fear but doubts she can break out of it.
Do any of these stories resonate with you? If so, you are not alone. Many clients come to me in the same predicament: Feeling stuck, miserable, and wanting to shift. But somehow, unable to get out of the same old groove. And wondering: Is it really possible to do anything different?
Here's great news: You are not permanently stuck. You definitely can create new grooves in your brain, so that you can live differently, and think differently about yourself and your life. But doing so will require effort.
Here's what you must do:
- Cultivate ongoing awareness of your behavior, meaning that you are always monitoring how you are behaving, rather than being on automatic pilot.
- Set the ongoing intention to make the changes you want to make, so that you are always pushing yourself in the direction that you want to go.
How this works: Have you ever gone for a walk in the woods, and strayed off the main path? Then you know how difficult it can be to walk through heavy underbrush or high grass.
But suppose you go for the same walk the next day. There will still be a trace of your footsteps from the previous day, making your way a bit less difficult.
And if you take that same walk every day for a month, you'll have created a new path that is relatively easy to follow.
Now suppose you take that same walk several times every day. The new path will quickly become wide and smooth.
This is how your brain works. This is how you develop new grooves of thought and behavior. Your awareness and your intention, focused on the changes you would like to make, are the footsteps that create new pathways in your brain. New ways of thinking actually generate new physical connections in your brain that make it easier to keep thinking in those new ways; and make it easier to follow new courses of behavior.
But if you want those new paths to last and deepen, you must diligently keep your focus. If you stop taking the new path through the forest, it will quickly return to its natural state. And if you take your awareness and your intention off the changes you want to make, you will quickly find yourself stuck back on the superhighway of your old thought patterns and behaviors.
Awareness and intention are the basic requirements for establishing and deepening new grooves in your brain; necessary, but not always sufficient. You will also need:
- A clear vision of the change you want to make.
- Ways to calm yourself when, inevitably, you get anxious about changing.
- Support from others to help you stay your new course.
If you are feeling stuck, but don't know how to change or don't seem able to, feel free to give me a call. I'll be glad to help you develop the vision, strategies, support, and dedicated focus that you need to shift your life into a new groove.
*All names and identifying details changed.
Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D.
~ 20 years experience ~
"I help clients create strong relationships and fulfilling lives."
3000 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 137
Washington, DC 20008
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