New habits take repetition and patience to develop.
Any time we begin something new, especially if we don’t get started until later in life, our first efforts can be clunky and unskilled. Remember the first time you went out for a run (or took up any other new endeavor)? I do. For my first runs, I wore cotton sweats and baggy t-shirts and felt sure that everyone who drove by me was sneering at how I was so obviously NOT a real runner.
I remember, too, my first days as an intern therapist. My first client was a woman who poured out her soul to me, really entrusting me with her troubled history and her heartbreak. As I listened to her trauma and her list of depressive symptoms, it was on the tip of my tongue to say, “You know, I think you should go see a therapist.” I caught my advice before it came out. I was the therapist! Or at least I was pretending to be one at that point (thank goodness for supervision).
We often begin new roles or habits with a sense of being an imposter. But the more we practice, the more authentic we feel. For me, after years of running, I no longer feel like a bumbling pretender when I stand at a marathon starting line. And after many years in the counseling business, I no longer feel like a fake therapist when a client enters my office for an intake session.
What has lead to my sense of mastery in both of these areas?
Training and repetition! They can’t be underestimated.
When you start running, for example, you begin by running from here to that telephone pole. When you get there, you walk until you catch your breath, and then you run to the next telephone pole. When you finish that first run, you’re sore and tired, but the next day it’s a little easier. Soon enough, you’re up to a mile, then two, then ten–if you keep at it. One day you look around and realize you’ve turned yourself into runner.
It’s the same process as you develop new boundaries or communication patterns. You’ll be messy and awkward at first, but it’ll get easier.
A dear friend of mine is trying to create boundaries with her sister. She wants to begin to make decisions on her own without the weight of her sister’s opinions as the most pressing guiding factor in her mind. I encouraged her to remember that the first time she draws a line in the sand, it may be ugly–because she’s unpracticed at it.
I also suggested she prepare her sister for her new resolve by having a conversation that goes something like this: “You know, sis, I’m trying to develop a sense of efficacy and strength for myself. As much as I love you, I need to start telling you when I’d rather not have your opinion. I’m going to try and be as gracious and kind as I can in my communication, but this is new for me, so I hope you’ll forgive me when I do it messily. I hope you’ll give me time to learn to create boundaries more smoothly.”
What new patterns are you trying to create at this point in your life? Are you trying to speak your truth to important others? Are you adding vegetables to your diet? Asking your partner for what you need from him/her? Creating a schedule that allows for balance in your life? Or maybe you’re training for a literal marathon.
Whatever you’re training for, whatever new thing you’re trying to implement:
- Keep doing it, even when your first many attempts are clunky.
- Tell those involved what you’re up to so they can be prepared for the unfamiliar.
- Get support from neutral parties (friends, therapist, support group).
- Forgive your own missteps and be patient with the process. Old habits die hard, but new habits feel great!
Great book on changing your habits: Changing for Good by Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClemente