Under New Management

There comes a time in many of our lives where we sit up and say, something’s got to change. Sometimes this realization hits us like a thunderbolt and for others it’s like a reverse-dimmer switch, a gradual wakening.

We may find ourself in a life crisis, a life transition, dealing with a difficult situation, a repeat pattern, a health event or another significant issue. For me it was grief; some of you know that it took the passing away of my father in 2008—the realization that time on this earth is limited— to wake me up to start Willow Tree Counselling and drum up the courage to do the counselling work I really wanted to do!

I recently heard someone using the term ‘under new management’ to reflect the idea of doing life differently—in new and healthier ways. I liked that because to me, this term encapsulates the ideas that:

  • Change is always possible
  • We can shed old roles and constraints and try new strategies
  • The “self” need not be fixed and can evolve and grow
  • We can take initiative and responsibility for our own wellbeing
  • There is room for innovation and creativity

Change is Always Possible

Change can be small or large and doesn’t necessarily follow any rules, except to be a change you want to make. To me, the most powerful changes are self-motivated.

While financial resources can certainly assist with some changes, personal change is not necessarily dependant on it. Change can include things like a commitment to smile more, complain less (a favourite of mine), do something fun, self-honouring or different. You may want to change a little or a lot or maybe even just think about change without taking any specific steps yet.

For those of us who are very discouraged and believe that change is not possible, this is a serious situation! Please reach out now for professional mental health help, whether that be a family doctor, counsellor, local crisis line (here in BC, 1-800-SUICIDE) an assessment centre or hospital emergency department.

Shedding Old Roles and Trying New Strategies

Sometimes we unconsciously limit ourselves and our change-potential by self-labelling or forming hardened opinions about ourselves. Thoughts like “I am X kind of person,” “I always…” and “I never…” can be self limiting, although in some situations, a clear self-concept is very important, particularly when we need to ensure our safety!

Frequently when we categorize ourselves in particular ways we restrict our choices and behaviours and shy away from new or different experiences that do not fit into such categories. For example, when we tell ourselves that we’re “not athletic,” as I did for years, we may never consider skating on a frozen pond, helping with a sports event or taking charge of our physical fitness. Even a crack in our self-labelling may be just enough to get a foot in the door toward changing behaviour and mindset.

Sometimes we might find ourselves at a loss when it comes to knowing who we are and how we want to change. Counselling can be a first step to helping clarify these questions, although for some counselling is not a draw and there may be other, preferred options.

The Flexible Self

Despite the long-touted view that personality and “the self” is fixed in psychology, I take a more modified perspective. While, for example, I believe that I will never be an extrovert, I have changed from a withdrawn, introverted child to an adult who truly enjoys connecting with others. The best way I know of evolving the self is to take reasonable risks that take us out of our comfort zones—not so much as to overwhelm us, but enough to put us on a path to change.

One of my favourite exercises is to look at myself X years back and to see how my self-concept has in some ways shifted, as have some perspectives, coping skills or strategies! It can be very enlightening!

Taking Charge

Sometimes our views of ourselves can affect whether or not we employ a more active, or conversely, more passive approach to change. Again, relaying a personal example, when I was younger I would commonly think that on principle, it should be person X that needed to change and not me, because this was what I considered fair. Today, I am as passionate about social justice as I ever was, however, I have become more eager to take an active role in my personal development. Previously, waiting for others to change or make a situation better would often leave me feeling disempowered, angry and resentful. Today, I can still maintain my beliefs about justice AND decide to act in ways that free me, not limit me.

Innovate, Create!

Sometimes we associate change with drudgery, particularly if it’s something we don’t want to do. It’s even worse if someone else is putting the screws on us, as, for example, can often happen when someone else wants us to go counselling and we’re just not interested.

But change doesn’t have to be awful. Sometimes we find meaning in the change process: challenging ourselves and expanding our skill set, delighting in our own awesomeness for trying something new, reconnecting with experiences that we haven’t partaken of in a while and seeing positive results can be very rewarding! Some of the best change is serendipitous and self-honouring.

Go for it!