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Relationship Coach Tells How To Overcome The Fear Of Change With Experiments

Aug 6, 2008
Is it an overstatement to say that most people recognize that there are changes they need to make in their lives and their relationships? Why then, do so many people put off making those changes, sometimes indefinitely, while maintaining an existence that they find tedious or painful? Is it that people prefer pain or are lazy or dumb? It's none of these things, of course.

Each emotion energizes us toward some action. Anger may drive us to lash out, although we don't have to follow it. Desire energizes us to reach out, though we may suppress it. And fear is the emotion that energizes us to avoid, to run away, to bury our head in the sand. Fear prevents us from taking dangerous actions but fear also prevents us from taking effective actions.

It is fear that whispers in our ear, "It will never work," "It'll only make things worse," What's the point?," and "Don't deal with it today, leave it for some other time." The primary role of your mind is to keep you alive and safe and it will give you whatever message you need in order to avoid new risks. Just as with anger and desire, however, we don't need to give in to our fear.

When you were a child, you also feared change, but you made important changes. How did you do it? Your parents made you. Your parents made you go to school and check under your bed for monsters. These were learning times--experiments that taught you how to grow and not be afraid. You learned that school was not so bad and that there was no monster. These things that seem so simple now were scary then.

Now, we are still afraid of similar issues although in new forms. No longer afraid of being abandoned by our parents, we are now afraid of being abandoned by our partners. No longer afraid of being eaten by a monster, we are afraid of being consumed by loneliness, or humiliation. No longer having parents that can make us do things, we don't find out that we are no longer helpless children. We don't learn that we can stand on our feet even if we are abandoned. That we can make a new friend even if we are rejected by another. That we can recover from humiliation.

To start to make changes on our own and deal with our mind's desire to keep us safe, we need to return to the skills of childhood when our parents told us to, "Just try it. If you don't like it, you don't have to eat it." That broccoli looked pretty scary at the time. Maybe you liked it, maybe you didn't, but you were not injured in the process.

Seeing change as an experiment makes it more palatable. If we think of change as something temporary, that we can stop at any time, it becomes far less intimidating. Counseling or relationship coaching are often perceived as so scary that some people are willing to break up their relationship rather than try it. Some people are so afraid of drowning they won't even step into a lifeboat to leave a sinking ship.

Each of these situations can be made easier by seeing them as experiments. One year of counseling? Forget it. But how about trying one month? With relationship coaching often just one session is enough to see if it is right for you. (Counseling requires more time to evaluate because of the lengthy intake process).
Talking a scared person into a lifeboat is best accomplished by first getting them just to put their hand on the rail or ladder. Then, the other hand. Then their foot. Move a step, and so on. Millions of sinking relationships and floundering lives can be helped by a similar approach.

Very many new and wonderful changes in our life can start as experiments. What's it like to go to church one time? To smile at someone? To call someone by their name? To take a class? To agree with someone instead of argue just one time? What's it like to make a "to do list" for one day? To chat with someone online one time? To buy a few stocks? To drive a different way home from work one time? To post your resume on just one job site? The possibilities are limitless. These are spice in the soup. By making little experiments rather than big commitments, you may find that you change more, more easily, and enjoy the process. "Just try it. If you don't like it, you don't have to eat it."
About the Author
Jack Ito PhD is a licensed psychologist and relationship coach. For 14 years he has helped more than 1000 men and women to have better relationships.
Start your relationship experiment with the Relationship Coach newsletter and a Free Relationship Planning Guide. Visit the Relationship Coach Blog for daily relationship advice.
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