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Turning Insight into Action
Nearly all who come to therapy voluntarily are seeking enlightenment. They yearn for eureka moments, mental lightbulbs flashing, ah-ha insights that will rock their world. All well and good, as most behavioral changes begin with shifts in thinking. But insights are only the start of a process, not the end, which is purposeful, positive action.
This shift from insight to action comes up frequently in therapy. One phone client shouted in exasperation, “I am so tired of asking why. I don’t care why I eat when I really don’t want food. I want to not do it.” Another lamented, “I understand my childhood, I so get why I’m like I am. Now how can I be different.” Another tearfully asked, “What am I doing wrong? Why aren’t I happy?”
To use an automobile metaphor, insight is like shifting into first gear. It gets you out of your parking space or driveway. It comes from asking why you do this or don’t do that. It’s rooted in questions about your history (yes, including childhood) and about the patterns you’ve developed over time in response to it. Questions asked to gain insight are crucial and pivotal to change. But you can’t keep driving in first gear and get where you want to go very quickly. For that, you need to shift into second gear which is where the action is. At this point, you need to stop asking “why” and start asking “how.” My clients’ comments above are indicative of readiness to move into second gear.
Second gear takes your insights out on the road for a test drive. Say you believe you choose emotionally unavailable romantic partners due to how familiar that feels because your father (or mother) was that way. The next step is to avoid romantic liaisons with people with detached, avoidant partners. This is how change happens. Or, perhaps you leap into relationships, mistaking infatuation for love. Once you have your ah-ha moment that this is the case, the next step is to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n the process. No matter that you’re dying to see someone every night (and text all the day long), refuse to do it. Change your pattern and you’ll improve your chances of finding a suitable date or mate.
What insights do you have about how, when and why you eat that are ready to translate into new behaviors? If you realize that you’re exhausted at day’s end and are drawn to fast food drive-throughs, make plans to ensure that you get home for a healthy meal. If you get that diets and weigh-ins don’t work long-term, find yourself a support group or read books to help you eat intuitively and for health. Once you recognize that when you’re uncertain you ask everyone you know what to do because you’re afraid of failing, don’t ask them but sit with your discomfort. Insight plus action lead to success!