Ever been lost on an unfamiliar highway with no road signs in sight? No one direction seems any more right than the others. All you have to go on are your instincts and a 10 year old road map.
Regardless of how determined you are to find your way or how honed your instincts may be, 10 years is a long time. Some of the roads shown on an old map may have washed out years ago. Others may have evolved from two lane highways into eight lane freeways. An outdated map wouldn’t be of much help..
Without knowing the current lay of the land, the likelihood of taking a wrong turn increases exponentially. In turn, the likelihood of actually getting where you want to go plummets.
The same is true of the inner mental maps we carry with us. Our inner maps plot out our well-worn habitual paths of thinking and feeling. We have traveled down these paths many times and think we know, for good or ill, what to expect of them. These are the secure paths to which we automatically turn for answers when faced with a new situation or potential change.
In attempting to navigate new situations, however, we need a mental map that will take into account both our past experiences and our most recent growth. The tried and true must be mixed with the novel and original to give us the widest range of future options. Yet, it’s easy to become complacent in or just comfortable with what we know, whether it gets us where we want to go or not.
Before you embark on any new personal journey, be sure your inner maps can get you there. Here are some suggestions for keeping your mental maps up to date.
First, trust the parts of your inner map that you know are still reliable. Just because you have not found the answers you seek yet, do not assume you’ve learned nothing in the process of trying. Look for landmarks along the way like greater happiness… like a relaxed attitude or greater energy … that show you when you were moving in the right direction.
Second, know and avoid your dead end roads. We all have those diets, resolutions and goals that we go back to time and time again. We don’t keep going back to them because they are worthwhile. We keep going back because we have failed at them repeatedly. The more we fail, the more we convince ourselves that finally accomplishing this thing we have dreaded and hated for years is the only way to be successful.
If you drove down a road and saw a dead end with no signs of houses or human life, you would not stay on the road hoping to find a town. Do in your mental life what you’d no doubt do in the car. Get off the dead end, turn around and go in a different, more helpful direction!
Third, if the path really starts to resemble a maze, just keep making left turns and you’ll get out eventually. We’ve all heard this little bit of folk wisdom applied to physical mazes. But it works for mental mazes as well.
In this case, the left turn indicates a move that is counter to your reflex, knee-jerk responses. Every successful change entails at least a small amount of risk. You may need to begin your journey with a “dip your toe in the pool” level of risk rather than a “naked skydiving” level of risk. But that’s OK.
Start from where you are with small steps. Any time you feel stuck and unable to make further progress, get unstuck making a move you would ordinarily hesitate to make … or even one you are convinced you can’t make. Such little risks will probably not get you 100% of the way to your goal. But they will get you in the habit of acting outside your comfort zone. And that will open up a host of new options for you.
Finally, know where you want to go. Most people would never think of getting in the car and just driving until good fortune lands them in a place they want to be. But this is precisely what many of us do when attempting to change our lives.
We go to the bookstore’s self help section, close our eyes and point. The first random book our fingers touch … or the one with the most intriguing cover art … becomes our written guru for the next few months.
Some of us do a little bit better by getting recommendations from our friends and family. But no matter how well a program, a method or an adviser works for someone else, every person is unique. Choosing your path by chance instead of by choice will can produce only accidental success.
Your change process requires a solution suited to you. Do not just set the goal that you’re “supposed” to set. Take time to decide what you really want from your life. Maybe you don’t really care if you lose 25 pounds, but you do want to feel better when you wake up each morning. Maybe you don’t care if you ever go back to school, but you would like to make more money.
Set goals that are driven by your own personal and specific needs and desires. Even if you end up in a confusing maze of choices along the way to attaining them, you’ll end up in a better place.
Dr. Janice Staab is a philosophical counselor and life coach. For more information on her services or to schedule your free consultation, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also check out her Web site at www.lifesignscoaching.com.