Growth is a decision

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I was listening to a CD by Texas Enneagram teacher Suzanne Stabile and she made the above statement. I think it’s particularly relevant as the new year approaches and many of us aspire to changing our lives in 2012. As a psychotherapist to the GLBT community for many years now, I’ve observed a few developmental growth patterns in our community:

Age 18-27: I like being young, cute and desirable. I’m experimenting and exploring and getting a sense of who I am. On the outside, it looks like I’m having a lot of fun, but, on the inside, I often feel insecure and hide it really well.

Age 27-35: I am beginning to have a more solid sense of myself. I may even try meditating, yoga or something like that. I am still young and cute, but I am leaving my twink identity behind, which is both sad and a big relief. I’m starting to make more money, and this feels good.

Age 35-45: My young and cute phase is ending; I may start buying anti-wrinkle products from Nordstrom and asking my hair stylist about “color” to hide my gray. I’m considering settling down with one partner and one career, for a while, anyway.

Age 45-55: Panic: omigod, I’m really getting older. I’m halfway through life and the first half wasn’t so great. What do I want the second half to be? I want to make some changes, but I don’t know how to do it. I don’t want to have a Midlife Crisis, but I think I’m having one anyway.

Age 55-65: Well, here I am. I’m older. How do I feel about it? What can I do about it? I have too many wrinkles to fight, too much gray hair to dye and my stomach will probably never be flat again. Can I make peace with all of this, or am I going to fight tooth-and-nail?

Age 65 and over: Do I want to retire? How am I going to spend my time? I’m facing some physical challenges: how do I live in this aging body when it won’t do what I want it to? I may be lonelier than when I was younger: I often feel invisible in the LGBT world.

These are generalizations, of course, but can you relate? As we age, we are given new gifts, talents and opportunities. Growth never ends and a new year often brings a desire to change things. But, do you really expect that a “new” year is going to change your life? When I have a new client who says, “I want to change so many things in my life, but how do I start?” I encourage him or her to do the following: Make a list of all the things that bother you and rate these problems (on a scale of 1 to 10) by how much pain each one brings you.

For example, “I hate my job” is a 7, “I feel so lonely” is a 9, “I don’t like my body” is a 3. Start to work on the most painful stuff first, focusing on one problem at a time, breaking it down into small, do-able action steps. For example, saying “I hate my job” over-and-over is only going to bring you misery. Instead, ask yourself questions like: “What about my job bothers me the most? What do I like about it?”

Any seemingly unsolvable problem can be broken down into a series of “smaller”, more easily solved problems. Want to really speed the change process up? Be kinder to yourself starting right now. This may sound counter-intuitive if you want to change, but it isn’t. Most of us have beaten ourselves up mentally for years; has this gotten us where we want to be? That’s not the way to do it.

To help yourself, try this: Make a list of 10 ways that you can be kinder to yourself. It doesn’t matter how “big” or “small” your kindnesses are, write ‘em down. Beginning today, start to do some of them. I recommend you start with three a day and see how that goes. You can always add to your list.  I guarantee you that by being kinder to yourself, any changes you want to make in your life will happen more quickly and painlessly. I wish you a 2012 full of conscious, joy-producing changes!