By Chay Tanchanco, PPS, AMFT
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
- Robert Frost
I have had a few conversations recently with people who seemed to know very clearly that they have a problem and that they need to change. As soon as I even raise an eyebrow at a detail of their cyclic story, they are already sighing “I know, I know,” as they recognize an unhealthy pattern, but seemingly remain stuck in a life that provides only half of the fulfillment they desire.
But we are all “addicted” to our repeated behavior.
Imagine a walking trail that’s been walked hundreds, if not thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of times. The paths are worn, the grass doesn’t even bother to grow there anymore. It’s easy to follow the path that’s been there, that you’ve used millions of times.
Now try to imagine the amount of times you’ve automatically washed your hands, you’ve poured a drink into a cup, you’ve opened a door, you’ve stood up or sat down (or transferred, if you are in a wheelchair, like I used to be!) These are all so common that we never have to think about it. These are the pathways worn deeply into our brains. We don’t refer to it as being “addicted” to opening doors a certain way, we just “know” how to open a door. In fact, if someone struggles with a door, we laugh!
Isn’t it common sense?
But if all the doors suddenly changed to being opened by pushing them up, we would all have a problem. Any of us who couldn’t adjust quickly enough would be diagnosable, simply because we need to open doors in order to live functional lives.
We carry a similar attitude about our social lives. It’s easier to laugh or shake our heads when someone seems to date the same kind of person over and over again, or when a friend finds yet another way to avoid addressing a problem with a coworker, or when someone gets too emotional after a seemingly small confrontation. We should all just “know”, we should all just “deal with it”.
You may not be conscious of it, but these are also learned pathways in a similar way as we learned how to open a door.
If you are struggling to get over an ex, for example, you have walked up and down a pathway of beliefs and values surrounding this person too many times to count. You’ve told yourself that deep down, you need something from this person, or that they need something from you, that you can’t leave them alone because you really care about them, that somehow if you continue to talk to them you’ll find something you’re looking for, or that being angry at them endlessly is the only way to prevent you from being hurt again.
The good news?
There is hope. You can change, you can find a new way of looking at your situation, and you can have a life with the fulfillment you most desire. It starts with noticing yourself, really paying attention to how you think and what you tell yourself about the problem you want to change. And then, interrupt the flow of your repeating pattern.
Do something different, tell yourself something new. If you’ve said to yourself 1000 times, “I can’t change my negative self-image,” what would happen if you said, “I’ll start by saying 1 good thing about myself”.
This can be the shift you need, or you may be more efficient and successful with someone to help guide you. I have high hopes that the work I’ve already seen and done with Foresight promises new paths for the world of therapy; we have trained professionals, digital tracking, and data (which is exciting and new for the therapeutic world) in order to better help you brainstorm and keep you focused on your mental health goals.
But it starts with you, taking a path less traveled.