After working with people over the years, helping them pick it and kick it, I have seen them approach change from three distinct mindset styles. Some people want the support of a team of people who know what they’re doing and are a part of their process. They tell everyone within their social network, co-workers and even complete strangers what they intend to do and how they intend to do it and often enlist their help. These people depend a lot upon their environment and begin by removing obstacles or triggers from the places and spaces that they inhabit.
When they are confronted by situations that they do not have control over, they depend a lot upon their support system of people to help them resist habitual responses. They either join established groups that meet physically or sign up for on-line services that are ‘community’ based. Family and friends become involved and the person depends upon them for support and guidance, but also to hold them accountable. This person may sometimes make the people in their lives so much a part of the process that they expect them to change their own behavior, especially when in their presence.
These people can become dependent on others to police them and keep them in line. Often, they will give explicit instructions to those appointed to support them such as, “don’t let me eat cake” if attending a birthday party. They will clear their personal space of anything they have considered to be detrimental to their progress and anyone who shares that space will be expected to keep it out of sight and eliminate it from their lives too.
If you are living with someone who has enlisted you to support them in their quest to change a habit or behavior, such as one with dietary restraints, you are probably living with a pantry void of cookies and a fridge full of green stuff and are hoping this ‘phase’ wears off soon. If the person making the change never holds themselves accountable and depends too much and for too long on their support system, resentment may cause the net work to break down and eventually disband, leaving the ‘changeling’ alone to rely upon themselves. This often results in returning to old patterns and blaming their support system for abandoning them.
The second type is the ‘lone Wolf’ who prefers to battle their demons personally and privately. You will never know that they are trying to quit smoking, lose weight, or stop dropping the ‘F bomb’ in polite company. These are the sort who will ‘just do it’ and you are not expected to be a participant in the process or even notice the change and praise them. In fact, they will often try to deflect any attention that may arise as a result of the change and hope that no one mentions it.
They will not expect the rest of the world to change with them and even those who live with them may not realize that this process is in motion. The pantry contains cookies and your fridge does not resemble a Rabbit hutch. Even though the person making the change may not have cookie breath and may be seen chomping on a carrot instead, chances are you may not notice and this is exactly what this type wants. The less attention paid to the difference, the better.
This type of person just wants the exchange of old habit to new to blend seamlessly into their lives. Any effort taken to make the exchange is kept under their control and theirs alone. They feel that being self-reliant is necessary for them to make a change and shun any attempt on the part of others to ‘help’. Their mantra is, “I have to do this alone”.
They celebrate their victories quietly and in ways that are meaningful and personal. Carefully setting up their own system of reward and punishment, they will never have to answer to anyone but themselves. In reality, they tend to be a lot harder on themselves and less forgiving than a whole squad of enlisted cheerleaders.
Perhaps, it’s the fact that this battle is more internal than external and not dependent upon public environment that seems to make the new pattern stick more readily. Once the war is won, it’s over.
The third example of those who choose their battles and fight them is the type who combines aspects of the two. They may share the experience with those in their immediate social circle who will be part of the process, but, like a secret shared with a best friend, you may be asked to not tell anyone else. They may appoint just one person to ‘sponsor’ them and hold them accountable and a close bond will develop.
If you are the one chosen to serve as mentor and coach, you will need to accept or decline after careful consideration because you will essentially become responsible for another person and this will alter your life in unison with the person changing. You will need to develop your empathic skills and extend your threshold of patience. Don’t accept this position unless you are up to the task because dropping your rapier mid fight may have some dreadful repercussions.
It’s like being the parent of a kid in dance class. You will be expected to be in the audience to start the standing ovation and you will need to be available to swoop in when they fall on stage or vomit on the Nutcracker. You’re required to dry tears and have a ‘you can do it’ speech prepared to prevent giving up and assurance that they need to get back out there. All that is needed is a little more practice and the next audition is in the bag.
The rest of their social circle will need to be aware and be supportive, but not too invasive. Some times they will need to intervene and at others they will be told, “I got this, I’m fine”, and will need to back off and watch from a distance, ready to jump in if needed.
However someone decides to face a challenge and either enlist support or go it alone is up to the individual. One approach may work from start to finish or another may need to be considered and tried. One thing I know for sure, is that the past does not equal the future. Every second offers a new opportunity to reinvent and redesign. Every attempt serves a purpose and there is no expiration date stamped on the ticket to success.