Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
May 2007 - Volume 07, No. 2
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Making a Decision to Change - Part 2: The Choice

It’s frequently said that the only constant in life is change. That’s true at so many levels - change is all around us, as well as within us. Sometimes our hope is that these changes will come too slowly to really effect us - or that we’ll die a natural death before it becomes necessary for us to take them seriously. But there’s another almost constant - and that is the human inclination to resist change. That’s why I speak of making a “decision” to change – it doesn’t come ‘naturally’. If the nature of things forces change on us, at least I can take some charge over that ‘fate’ and choose it.

Many years ago a friend of mine contracted a physical condition that promised the rest of her life would be more much difficult. On one occasion back then, I happened to ask her how she was dealing with it, and she responded, “I decided to choose it.” At first that made no sense to me - but then it did begin to. In that word “choose” she made this handicapping disease a choice of her own - thereby taking it out of fate’s hands, so to speak.

It’s on record that at Auschwitz, on July 19, 1943, twelve prisoners were sentenced to be hung. While the Nazi commandant was reading the pro forma declaration of accusation, one prisoner managed to kick the stool out from under him, hanging himself - thereby choosing his own death as a final defiant declaration of freedom against his oppressors. The act of making a conscious decision is a declaration of human freedom - even when there may be no apparent alternative. Meditate on that for a few moments. (The common alternative is to find somebody else to blame. I’ll talk about that in a future newsletter.)

As I said last month, we often come into therapy to make changes only when our resistance to change stops working for us, or the pain is too great. One fear (or hope) is that we will not come out of it the same person. That alone is a reason to resist. For example, what happens if we stop being unhappy and instead become happy. On the surface that seems a pretty good deal. But our deeper consciousness reminds us that if we’re unhappy, and lose it, then we haven’t lost much. If we become happy, and then lose that, that’s a painful loss. Change involves risk and vulnerability. That’s why so many resist it.

The decision to change should involve a lot of thought. Here are four questions to help determine where you’re at, and if change is something you really want to choose:

1.) What will happen if I change? 2.) What will happen if I don't change?
3.) What won't happen if I change? 4.) What won't happen if I don't change?

Also ask this: Are your reasons to change really motivating on a deep level – such as to fulfill or explore something, or to add more color and depth to your life? Or do you want change for the purpose of instant gratification, where you’re really not thinking about it, but rather letting your mind follow some craving. Like the devil and the angel on our shoulders - one advises us to think carefully, the other tells us to go for it just because we want it. A few years ago a telemarketer (female) was urging me to “just try it, I’m sure you’ll like it.” My response was to ask if she’d give her teenage daughter that same advice.

A final suggestion having to do with change involves asking this question: If you had no constraints in terms of money, location, or relationships, what would you really want to be doing right now? This is different than asking what you’d like to experience (like eating pizza, or premium ice cream, or having mad passionate sex with a particular celebrity person), rather what you’d like to be doing in your life. Also, what really prevents you from doing that - now? What decision would make the difference? (Tough one, isn’t it?)

Then add one more component - how would this contribute to the lives of other people as well? The ethics of change needs always consider the effect on others.

Next time, I’ll finish this series with a look at what happens once we do choose to change. Until then, pay attention!

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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