How to Be Different: The Paradoxical Theory of Change

Image Credit: Geran de Klerk on Unsplash

I've been absent lately on the writing front because I'm working on a new project.

Well, I'm trying to work on it, but it feels scary and emotionally overwhelming.

I don't know exactly why though.

The thing is, I've spent a lot of my life trying to find the reasons WHY behind my fears, but finding the answers has never actually created change.

The conclusion I've come to is that most of the weird adult shit we deal with is due to some weird childhood shit that our parents, siblings or peers foisted upon us. That's almost always the root of the WHY.

Sure sometimes it's weird brain chemistry, or some other sort of personality disorder, but as the saying goes "when you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras."

(That's something that doctors learn in medical school to teach them that when diagnosing a patient, they should consider the most likely possibilities first (horses) instead of immediately assuming some rare medical anomaly (zebras).)

After a lifetime of self-analysis, I've found the same to be true about our adult fears and foibles - "You struggle with - fill in the blank - ? Oh that's probably just some weird childhood shit right there."

Now, just because the WHY doesn't ultimately matter, that doesn't meant there's zero value in discovering it. It's beneficial and even necessary to tell your story; to say out loud what you may never have been allowed to say because the people who raised you were gaslighters who completely denied your reality in order to maintain their own illusions about themselves.

But once you've told your story enough times to the right people ('right' meaning people who believe you and will validate you), then you need to move on.

Because here's what I know for sure after spending the bulk of my adult years analyzing the WHY of my own fears, foibles and insecurities: understanding the WHY generally isn't a catalyst for change.

The only thing that can cause a person to change their behaviour is their own desire to change. Knowing WHY you are the way you are doesn't provoke change.

So how do you change?

By owning who you are currently - right now - and working within those confines.

Wait, what?

This is called the "Paradoxical Theory of Change" - briefly stated: "Change occurs when one becomes what he is, not when he tries to become what he is not. Change does not take place through a coercive attempt by the individual or by another person to change him, but it does take place if one takes the time and effort to be what he is - to be fully invested in his current positions."

What does that look like in real life?

Personal Example: I'm currently working on launching this new venture. It's emotionally frightening for me.

Why is it scary?

Childhood shit. My family taught me to think small, not to reach too far or too high, not to think too well of myself, blah, blah, blah.

My new venture requires me to see myself differently. And I must see myself differently in order to take the action steps necessary to get the venture off the ground.

Image Credit: Paul Skorupskas on Unsplash

And that's why when I evaluate all the things I need to do for this project, it becomes emotionally overwhelming because it requires me to see myself so very differently that it causes me to freeze and not do anything.

See? The WHY doesn't really matter. It's just there, existing. I know why I'm frozen and procrastinating (a.k.a. weird childhood shit), but being aware of the why doesn't help me move my ass.

So what's the solution here?

The "Paradoxical Theory of Change" - change will occur when I own that I'm scared to think better of myself, instead of denying that I am or wishing that I didn't feel this way.

I've wasted a lot of my life shaking my fist at the WHY and thinking "If only I hadn't grown up in an environment that gave me this awful view of myself - this unhelpful WHY!"

But that has literally never helped.

So my strategy now, in trying to launch this new venture, is to own my fear. To say to myself "Yes, this is emotionally frightening, and I will work with that fear so that it doesn't become overwhelming."

How will I do that?

I will commit to working on my new venture for only 10-minutes per day. I can work on it longer if I want, but I am never obliged to do more than that.

Just 10-minutes doesn't feel overwhelming.

The only way I can become a person who thinks bigger and believes herself capable of doing the things I know in my heart that I want to do, is by changing the actions that I take.

But changing actions doesn't happen overnight. It happens over time, in small incremental steps.

I can't change the way I see myself and my actions from one day to the next; I can only chip away at it in a way that feels emotionally manageable to me.

Some people who didn't have the childhood I had (the childhood you had?) might think the baby steps are silly.

That's ok. They're working within the confines of who they are.

But we have to work from within the confines of who we are. Each of us.

I really want to create this venture, and I can only do that if I own and fully acknowledge who I am. Because I have the past I have, I need a certain process in order to feel emotionally safe moving forward.

If I try to do this the way that someone who hasn't had my trauma does, I will fail because it will be so emotionally frightening that I will completely fail to launch.

We change not by trying to be different than we are, we change by fully owning who we are and working from there.

Denying our reality is not the path to lasting change.

So the WHY behind why we are the way we are - although it might be interesting and offer up explanations - is not on its own a catalyst for change.

For change to happen, we have to be brutally honest about who we are and our current situation, and then outline the next most manageable step based on that.

The next right thing is always and only based on who you know yourself to be.

That is all you ever have to figure out: the next right thing based on WHO YOU ARE.

Image Credit: Josh Hild on Unsplash

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