There was a major life change, but I seem incapable of re-tooling myself
November 22, 2022 8:44 AM   Subscribe

I had a large change in my personal life.

Especially looking back, I can see how so many habits, reactions, words, responses, learned over years need no longer apply, are not helpful anymore (if they EVER were). Like an accumulation of items that seemed to serve a purpose, but now might be debris and even destructive.
If they had been hand-picked, one by one, examined and bought, then I might be in a position to look at each now and decide whether to discard. But most weren't so consciously chosen. And many seem to be actually part of my body/muscle memory.
But I did purchase them, they came with a price. I am trying to add that up now.
How can I shed mental, emotional attitudes and machinery that seems so ingrained?
posted by ebesan to Human Relations (10 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I know this is almost a freebie/obvious answer, but therapy. My experience has been that finding a good therapist who works well with you is not a one-and-done process, but it's worth doing. Beyond that, we're going to need some more concrete details to say anything useful, I think.
posted by Alterscape at 8:54 AM on November 22 [6 favorites]

When my grandpop was alive, he would steal my grandmom's dark chocolate. So she hid it. After he died, she still had the habit of hiding her dark chocolate. She just accepted that. It didn't really matter that she kept her chocolate in her sock drawer.

I think it could help to start by picking just a few of the habits that would be the most meaningful to change.
posted by aniola at 9:17 AM on November 22 [6 favorites]

You could start with the habits that will be easiest to change

OR start with changing one habit where changing the habit will save you a lot of money or time or mental energy or physical energy.
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries at 9:24 AM on November 22

Don't try to change all the things at once.
What's the one thing that weighs on you most heavily? What's the first step in making a long-term change about it?

Like for me, I've always been a messy person. My two biggest bad habits are misplacing my keys and leaving clothes all over the place.

So, I put a basket near the door to put my keys and other things that are in my pockets so I don't leave them lying around. The basket I initially chose was big and it ended up gathering more clutter. So I got a smaller basket.

I try to keep a laundry bag in the bathroom so I have somewhere to put my dirty clothes instead of keeping them piled on the floor. I also have a special basket where clothes I've worn but aren't ready to be washed yet go. Does this prevent me from leaving clothes lying around? Not yet, but this morning I put the flannel I left near the couch last night into that basket.

Also, be kind to yourself when making changes you know you need to make.
posted by luckynerd at 9:29 AM on November 22 [7 favorites]

Well, sometimes if you have a house that’s too full of stuff you’ve accumulated over the years, it’s helpful to have someone objective help you sort it out, like a professional organizer. I think brains and behavioral patterns are the same, and can benefit from some outside help, whether that’s individual or group therapy or a support group like Al-Anon, etc.
posted by stellaluna at 10:01 AM on November 22 [2 favorites]

Sometimes the best way to change a habit is to focus on building new ones. You might be interested in reading Alan Morinis's Everyday Holiness. It is based on the Jewish practices of musar but the basic idea can be used by anyone. The book describes a process for establishing a daily practice of reflection, action and accountability that rotates among a set of 18 values such truth, enthusiasm, generosity. You can focus on the ones that balance out the habits you are trying to change. The description of the book sounds very spiritual and the examples are all drawn from traditional Jewish sources but it is a very useful way to make the deeper changes that help you to be a better person, step by step.
posted by metahawk at 11:18 AM on November 22 [1 favorite]

“How can I shed mental, emotional attitudes and machinery that seems so ingrained?”

One thought at a time. And you're already doing it by noticing your thoughts and wanting to change them. You can take it further by recognising that your thoughts are varied, fleeting and most importantly, optional. The more you raise your awareness about your own thought patterns — with curiosity instead of judgement — the easier it is to start shifting them.

Just observe and even if they're strong thoughts or opinions, try to hold them lightly. Then when you feel ready, you can practice agreeing with the thoughts you want and shedding the ones you don't. It can be something like telling yourself, “huh, that's interesting that thought popped up. Nahhh, not going to go with that.”

One practice I find that helps is to come up with 3 counter-but-productive thoughts to an unhelpful one.

For example, let's say someone doesn't show up to a meeting and I'm thinking, “They must have seen my latest post and think I'm a pretentious idiot”. I may notice this and challenge myself to come up with 3 more useful thoughts, such as:

“I'm feeling sensitive about the fact that I don't have as much information as I'd like from them (how my posts are received, why they didn't show, etc.), but that's ok; I'll be ok. I can ask them later. Now what can I do with this unexpected free time?”
“I recall them saying how they liked that other post so there must be some perfectly good reason that they didn't show.”
“Let's assume this has nothing to do with me. Wonder what's going on with them?”

I don't have to do anything with these thoughts. Just coming up with 3x more productive thoughts means I get very practiced at creating healthier mental attitudes, rationales, and beliefs. This 3:1 regrooves the thought pathways with greater “traffic” in a more desirable direction. That compounds.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:09 PM on November 22 [6 favorites]

Definitely don't try to change everything at once. Look into "habit stacking".
posted by kinddieserzeit at 5:47 PM on November 22

You don't actually have to audit the prices to the penny right now.

When you have routine behaviors rooted in trauma or survival or landscape-navigation of various kinds, of course we realize we started doing them because *gestures at some situation* but you don't actually need to "solve" the past to change the now. It is therapeutically legitimate to just say something like: I do X today and I don't like Y consequences, I want to formulate ways to start doing Z instead.

Yeah, that may mean minor grappling, like for now you might say you know you're reluctant to speak up at work because you're afraid of some consequences/outcomes you learned from some specific shit in the past, but you can come up with a plan to start voicing your ideas more firmly starting tomorrow and trusting you can handle the outcome without actually fully unpacking that thing that used to happen. The big Idea Meeting is coming up in a few weeks, you are looking to change the behavior now and delve more deeply into the issues with your dad over the years to come.

Step one is simply noticing when X happens and what the circumstances are that lead up to it. Step two is figuring out what things you can do instead of X that get you closer to your ideal Z. Step three is practicing those things until they become tools you can reach for without really thinking. Congratulations, you have now achieved a bit of redirection! It's not going to come all at once, but you can make little changes that add up to big changes.

A lot of us talk here about framing our behavior in terms of Future Me, and treating Future Me like a good and also understanding friend. If I do a load of laundry today, Future Me won't have to scramble for a clean shirt for that event two days from now. If I defend my ideas in a convincing way now, Future Me may get to work on some more interesting projects. The only real Past Me involved her is the one Future Me is depending on - the Me right now, not the Me from some other time and place.

Yeah, eventually, you probably will have to spelunk around in your psyche to really fully resolve some discomforts. But you'd be surprised how much just changing the behaviors sucks some of the poison out of those old things. When you're living in a now where you fight for your good ideas because you've learned to appreciate their value, it takes some of the power away from whoever or whatever it was that originally told you it wasn't possible for you to have good ideas.

But if you are still standing more or less in the blast radius of your major life change, I will advise that all you can really change at first is going to be closer to just survival shit until you have recovered from the shock of the change. It's very tempting to stand there with the smoke still clearing and say "Ah, yes, all this occurred because I'm the worst and if I just change everything about me this will be fine", but that is not your most objective time for truth. Get your oxygen mask on, practice feeling deep compassion for yourself even if you have to force it at first, while you get to a safe and stable starting place.

Let yourself daydream a little too, about the person you'd like to be without pre-convincing yourself it's too daunting or that you're too terrible/wrong/broken. While capital-C Change IS hard and humans hate and resist it, some changes aren't, actually, and will sometimes even be really satisfying and not particularly hard because you were more than ready already. Sometimes just calling them out and figuring out a plan to do it differently really does work! Not every step of this is a slog, and even some steps that require lots of tiny changes over time - becoming a tidier or more organized person, for example, is a whole-life process for some of us, but every little bit of progress is itself a nice payoff - and is a good way to develop an appreciation that lots of things in this life are long-game projects, not one-and-dones.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:59 PM on November 22 [1 favorite]

I find it so helpful to get a change of scenery, pace of life and the changed habits that come with that. To change my thoughts, change where I am. Have different conversations and meet people who don't expect the same things from you. Encounter different limits and learn how you respond. It's like a shortcut. Then I can bring some of those back to my day-to-day life. Some options for short term immersive experiences — WOOF, a pilgrimage like the Camino de Santiago, home-swapping (even in your city), joining a local volunteer program or course...
posted by rockyraccoon at 1:30 PM on November 23 [2 favorites]

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