Every action we take serves us in some way: everything we say yes, no or maybe to serves something in us – be it something we want or something we fear.
It’s important, as a therapist, to understand that clients won’t change behaviors that cause pain unless they recognize what the current behavior serves and what change would serve. Avoidance of pain is rarely a reason to change a behavior. (Though this is not logical, it’s true. People are more comfortable with pain they know over pain they don’t; and all change brings pain in some form.)
I find this a useful tool in all my dealings. I apply it to coffee shops and restaurants to get them to switch to loose teas – I need to explain how this will serve their bottom line. I apply it to massage situations – I explain how sitting up instead of slouching will lead to better long term posture avoiding that awful hump in old age, which serves their ego.
And when I find myself engaging in behavior that doesn’t ring true with my Rules of Happiness or my true self, I have to really stop and ask, “how does this serve?”
2009 was a really rough year for me, on every level. (Something I’m sure many of you can identify with.) Financially, personally, and in business I felt challenged, pushed and prodded in a million different directions and rarely did they feel good. 2009 was a year of change and it was painful in the process.
During the weeks I prepped my new office at Area15, I spent a lot of time thinking and sorting through how many of my actions were serving me. It’s not the worlds most pleasant time to be stuck alone in a room with yourself, a pile of questionable choices, a cold cement floor, buckets of paint and endless hours of work ahead. It was like a prison, and I was in solitary confinement – by choice.
I spent a lot of time while pushing a paint brush being brutally honest with myself. This was part of my 100 Things I Fear Challenge, where I looked really hard at my own choices, questioned whether they were really making me happy, examined how they served me, and whether that was a good service. (Actions can serve both good and bad impulses inside us. It’s important to recognize which are in play and decide on change to move things towards the positive.)
I recognized that there was a fair amount of drama in my personal life (a problem I knew how to prevent and didn’t). I recognized too what that was serving and, let’s just say, it wasn’t a good thing. I came to terms with the fact that some painful things that had happened earlier in the year could have been avoided if I’d been willing to stick to my guns and own my own happiness. And that rather then accepting that, when things came painfully, wickedly and horrendously crashing down, I responded by serving the pain – rather then the true happiness I should have served in the first place.
I did things that, in retrospect, I regret. I failed myself and others, personally and professionally, and I feel pretty awful about it. I hurt some people, disappointed a couple others, and managed to mislead some folks about what I really wanted. I didn’t live up to my own expectations for myself, let alone anyone else’s.
I’ve been working pretty hard for the last few weeks to rectify this. Some things were dealt with by owning up to my mistakes, other’s by making amends, and some can only be dealt with in time and showing that my behaviors have changed.
I feel better already.
I am being true to myself and my long term dreams and the relationships I cherish the most. I’ve chosen to take the pain I feel over my mistakes, the regrets I’m going to have to live with, and use them to serve me in a new way – to prevent such mistakes in the future by making better choices going forward.
By examining my choices I am more likely to keep in line with my real desires, and be less distracted by short term impulses or short lived gratification. More often my answer is “by moving you toward your goals” or “respecting your own needs and health” in place of the old negative answers.
How do your actions serve you? Are you being true to yourself and the positive things you want in life or are you feeding negative feelings, impulses and old hurts? Are you brave enought to ask yourself about your work, your relationships, your new years resolutions and even the blogs in your RSS reader, “how does this serve me?” and dare to be honest with yourself?