I've been questioning why I've been able to make enduring changes when I have failed so many times in the past. Previously, I've attributed my success to finally being treated for ADHD, but I'm realizing that my diagnosis was only a partial solution. 

Getting treatment was integral for fully grasping the extent of my situation and maintaining focus on addressing the problem. But the treatment did not magically put the behaviors and thought patterns necessary to make changes into place.

Previously, I spoke about how there were several months between starting ADHD treatment and starting to execute my plan to "bet better." During that time, I was reading self-help books, restructuring my debts to better interest rates, cutting back on lifestyle expenses, and doing a lot of reflection and planning. That time in my life was very anxiety-inducing because, since my debts were not decreasing, I felt like I wasn't "doing" anything.

I've recently realized that that period of "inaction" was the key to building the behaviors that are now carrying me to success. I frequently mention Dr. K. on this blog, and this post will be no different. I was watching Dr. K's video called "I Watch Your Videos But Never Change My Life" and was surprised to find that he was describing exactly how my period of "inaction" was what kickstarted my success. 

In this video, he states that changes in the mind happen without you taking specific action. He mentions that this ok, and even preferable, although this concept feels weird because we often associate change with "doing something." Similar to our misunderstandings of motivation- he states that doing stuff is not how people change, and he says change itself is what precipitates these new behaviors. 

He encourages us to think of "changing" as a synonym for "learning." We already have a conceptual understanding of this, as evidenced by the existence of phrases such as "I didn't learn my lesson" which we intuitively interpret as synonymous with "I didn't change."

So if change is the same as learning, how does one learn to be better?

Dr. K. says we can understand the process through the Stages of Change Model.

Pre-contemplative Stage is when the person is unaware that there's a problem. I spent many years in this stage; I was spending with abandon assuaging myself with the excuse that one day I'll be able to pull it together and pay the money back. 

Dr. K. says the strategy for helping someone in this stage is to challenge assumptions and give information. My assumptions were successfully challenged when I made one last attempt to get a debt consolidation loan. I called a sub-prime lender and asked for a loan to encompass my prior two personal loans plus all the new credit card debt I had racked up since the last time I took a consolidation loan. Although I was frustrated and embarrassed at the time, I am thankful to the loan officer who denied my loan. He rejected my loan but spent time with me to discuss my balances, the amount of interest I was paying every month, and the fact that a consolidation loan had never worked for me in the past. He ended the chat with me by tactfully suggesting that I had a problem with debt that needed to be addressed. 

I was devastated to hear all this, but it challenged me to think of my situation differently and seek other avenues for information and solutions. I finally accepted that I had a problem.

Contemplative Stage is where the person is aware of the problem but feels ambivalent about the issue or doesn't know what to do to change. Dr. K. says the person in this stage is best served by challenging their thoughts and assumptions, learning new information, and reflecting. He says that you shouldn't do anything at this stage.

Why? Essentially because we need to give our Hippocampus enough time to work for us. The Hippocampus is the organ within our brain that converts short-term learning to long-term memory. We need to allow the brain sufficient time to complete the process of learning before we can implement change. 

He argues by rushing to effect change by jumping to the "doing" phase or by consuming too much information at once; we do ourselves a disservice. A person who gets "motivated" to change and wants to do so as quickly as possible will not complete the learning process efficiently. They binge-consume information and potential solutions and rush to implement what they "learned." The issue is that their brain needed time to integrate their learned information into their long-term memory. Rushing through this means much of the information they learned was overwritten or lost due to the brain's limited capacity.

How do we counter this issue? Dr. K. says we need to stay in the contemplative stage longer. He says we must trust and recognize that change will occur without tangible actions. Because most of our problems are internal struggles, we must overcome a problem that lives inside our heads. He encourages looking for helpful information and strategies but says we must never binge-consume self-help media or other sources of information. He recommends that if you find a helpful or meaningful concept, stop reading/watching and take a break. Take this time away from the source to reflect on it. 

Ask yourself: 

  • Why does it feel meaningful to me?
  • What applies to my situation?
  • What does not apply to my situation?
  • How does this strategy/information serve my life?
  • *Insert other relevant reflections here*

He stresses that during reflection, you still don't do anything. He says that this information will be converted to long-term memory over time and become part of your ingrained thought patterns simply through the process of reflection.

He says that one day you will likely wake up and live the change you want because it has become ingrained in your identity. You won't have to try because it has become part of your identity.

This is the process I was undergoing during those months when I wasn't "doing anything." I've also realized that my writings on this blog serve a purpose of reflection that will likely help me implement further change. I am thankful that I learned to slow down and allow myself to soak up and integrate new information. I'm happy that I'm learning to be free of feeling the need to rush implementation only to be disappointed when I fail. Mastering these concepts is why I'm making progress now when I failed so many times. 

 I hope you find this helpful as a strategy because it's an inspiring framework from which to approach self-improvement.