The biggest impediment to personal change is confusion. Most people fail to make positive changes in their life because they get confused about what they want; they get confused about their entitlement to it; they get confused as to the reason their dissatisfaction exists; they get confused as to whether the changes they want will even work.
People want to be happy, to have a sense of well-being, to be fulfilled in their work and relationships. However, they become mired in confusion regarding how to achieve these things. Figuring out what and how to change can become so difficult. Confusion is created by self-doubt, lack of clarity, having too many goals, or having goals that conflict with one another.
The most common set of conflicting goals are these:
Very often it is not possible to do both. For that reason, people get caught in the middle trying to straddle both. Or else they surrender to the first goal of keeping other people happy, and sacrifice their own well-being.
So if people are conflicted about something as basic as this it is no wonder that they get confused about what they want in life and how to get it. If you want two opposing things simultaneously then you are going to experience stress and distress. At times it is the essence of the conflicts of life – the fact that we are forever at war with ourselves.
So how do you come to terms with this confusion, this shifting landscape of personal needs and goals?
The antidote to confusion is clarity - getting clearer and clearer about what is most important to you. This can only happen if you can prioritise that which needs to change. You get confused because you have so many competing goals in your life.
On Monday the priority in your life might be your relationship while on Tuesday it may be work. On Wednesday it may feel life your personal happiness is most important and then on Thursday it appears that achieving financial security has to take priority; only on Friday you think that the needs of your children are the most important thing; to be changed again on Saturday when you are convinced that everything will depend on your husband changing first. And the merry-go-round of changing goals and priorities continues to spin week after week, year after year, decade after decade.
If you are to change you need to get off the merry-go-round and take a grip of the goals and priorities that you need to attend to and, not only that, you need to find the courage to change yourself. Confusion is your enemy because it inhibits your personal focus and becomes the bed-fellow of apathy.
What breeds more confusion is the belief that you need to do some more thinking. The illusion that you can think our way out of deeply ingrained habits is a myth. To change deeply ingrained habits you have to fight off thought patterns that will inevitably seek to prevent change. Your thinking, very often, is your worst enemy!
So at times of change the best advice can sometimes be: “Don’t listen to yourself”. Listen, instead for a new voice calling you forward.
What is needed is to then make decisions and take action. To decide to change you need to be out-of-character in some way, you need to think and act in a way that is not typical for you because to be the same-old-self you will not want to change. If the truth be known, most people have forgotten what it is like to make a full-blooded decision. They confuse intentions with decisions. A decision is irreversible. An intention paces outside the wall of a decision, wondering its life away.
So if there are things in your life that you need to change, goals you need to pursue, and dreams you need to bring into reality, then work to eliminate confusion. Do that by trying to prioritise what is important. Confusion reigns when you want all your personal goals to be priority number one.
Making substantive changes in your life takes courage and integrity - the courage to change old ways and the integrity to integrate your hidden dreams into the fabric of your life.
Dr. Colm O'Connor is a Cork Psychologist. You can find more articles by Dr. O'Connor in the Evening Echo every Wednesday.