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Change is a conscious choice that often times is conquered by unconscious baggage. Take smokers for example. Most people who smoke cigarettes know that they will eventually kill them and want to “quit”, but can’t. Why? Because there are underlying conflicts that keep the person “hooked” and any change is experienced as terrifying. Yep, that’s right. Change is terrifying even if it’s in the best interest of the person. This is because the unknown is just that. Unknown. Based on each person’s experiences, the future may be bright or dark. People with a generally positive attitude manage change better than those who have had their hard knocks. Either way, change is a wrench in the spokes of a person’s daily homeostasis.
So, change involves conscious choice and focusing on something new, something different. Something uncomfortable. Most people seem to live in the past or the future. The intention of this is predictability which is in a way adaptive. Past experiences give a person some sort of a road map which reduces anxiety on the one hand but then biases the person to look at new situations as just that, new. Living in the future once again is a mental attempt to gain some sort of control. The problem however, is that if you don’t have a crystal ball, you are 50% likely at to predict the wrong outcome. But, then again predicting is an attempt to control. Living in the past tends to make most people feel sad or unfulfilled. Living in the unpredicted future usually makes a person feel anxious. Living now is just that.
Here is where change fits in. Not going backwards or forwards often leaves a person feeling “strange”. Painfully not going backwards or forwards is painful. Habitually, people go one way or the other. Stopping that pattern is painful. But, when one experiences the mastery of the present, they feel better. They feel stronger. In fact, they are more attentive to the task at hand. Managing what is the immediate quest alleviates anxiety and also promotes self esteem. When I treat kids with ADHD and I can get them to stay present, they overcome their anxiety which is at the root of their inattention.
Change is painful but necessary. Growth is based on overcoming the hurtles of life. But, when a person jumps that hurtle and focuses on the next one, they get faster and stronger. So, put the past behind you and stop trying to predict the future. Change is now. It may be painfully unfamiliar, but worth it.
Dr. Keith Kanner is a Licensed and Board Certified Clinical Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychologist and Psychoanalyst. In addition to a full-time private practice in Rancho Santa Fe, California, he is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine at the University of California San Diego where he teaches both human development and also trains medical students how to better understand and relate to their patients. He also serves as the Director of Clinical Counseling for La Jolla Country Day School in La Jolla, California, and is a Clinical Professor at The San Diego Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. Dr. Kanner also sits on the National Board of Directors for Kids Korps USA, which is the largest organization in the country that teaches children and adolescents the importance of volunteering to help the community at large. As a father of three children, he is also a dedicated baseball, football, and soccer coach.