NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Making Changes One Step at at Time

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." said the Chinese sage, Lao-tzu.

Making Changes One Step at a Time

One of the major obstacles for people who want to make major changes in their lives, but who don't, is that they think about everything that they would need to do to make the change and they become overwhelmed and discouraged before they even start.

Change is a Process
While it's important to know the process and the steps that we need to take to make changes in our lives, often, if we focus on the entire process at once, it can seem too daunting to accomplish. For major transitions that might take months or even years, it's usually so much more beneficial to think about the change in terms of incremental steps. 

Breaking down a major transition into a step-by-step process is a lot less stressful than focusing on everything at once from beginning to end. Focusing on one step at a time also provides us with markers along the way where we can see progress. Usually, seeing incremental progress along the way gives us the incentive to keep going to the next step.

For example, as a psychotherapist, I've seen many clients who have considered either going back to college or graduate school to complete their degrees, often after having been out of college for many years. 

For most of these clients, furthering their education would mean maintaining a full time job and taking classes at night, which is no easy task. For most of them, the usual reaction to considering such an endeavor is something along the lines of, "I would love to go to graduate school and get my Masters degree. It would really open doors for me in my career. But when I think about working full time and taking classes at night, I feel too overwhelmed."

I empathize with these feelings because I attended most of my college classes at night while maintaining a full time job. I also worked full time while getting my graduate degree and postgraduate training. Anyone who has ever worked and taken classes at night knows that it can be challenging on so many levels. 

However, the long-term rewards can be tremendous. The other comment that clients often make in this type of situation is, "But I'll be 45 by the time I complete my degree in three years" to which I usually respond, "But you'll be 45 any way in three years, either with or without your degree."

In the above example, what if instead of focusing all at once on the three years of working full time and going to classes at night, the client were to break down the process into manageable steps? So the steps might be: get the college brochure, find out what would be required, enroll in one class and see how that goes, etc. At each step along the way, there is a decision point as to whether or not to continue.

Making Changes: Along the Way You Have Choices
It's important to realize that at any step along the way you can stop and decide whether to go to the next step. The alternative, feeling that once you start it will be like a runaway train that keeps going, does make it all seem too daunting. 

More importantly, it's not the reality of the situation and these feelings are often fueled by anxiety. For most people that I have helped with this issue and similar issues, they enjoy each step along the way, which encourages them to decide to take the next step. Then, before they realize it, time has passed, they've accomplished what they set out to do, they feel proud of themselves, and new opportunities become available to them.

The same principal would apply to changing certain habits or addictive behavior. As a hypnotherapist, I help clients to stop smoking. I also help clients with alcohol abuse, eating disorders, sexual addiction and other addictive behaviors. 

It's not unusual for clients to tell me, "When I think about not drinking for the rest of my life, it's too overwhelming. I don't think I can do it" to which I often respond, "So, what if you didn't think of it like that? What if you took it one day [or one step] at a time? " For most people, it's such a relief not to have to focus that far ahead. Then, as days, weeks, months and years pass, they build a sense of competence in themselves. The cravings often subside and, over time, they usually realize that they're able to do it, day by day.

Are There Changes You Would Like to Make?
Are there changes that you'd like to make in your life, but you feel too overwhelmed to even start? If so, you could benefit from working with a psychotherapist who is able to help you to break down your goals into manageable steps and provide you with the tools you need to succeed.

About Me

I'm a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.   

I have helped many individual adults and couples to overcome obstacles that have kept them from accomplishing their goals.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, please call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.