Learn from the Caterpillar
When you try to change a behavior that feels out of control or is causing you harm, does it seem impossible? Let’s say you are frustrated that your knees and ankles give you problems from the extra weight you put on. Or perhaps you keep returning to certain ‘comfort’ foods when you feel upset. Or you watch ‘just one more show’ and then realize you have been sitting in front of the screen for 4 hours. Or maybe you wake up with a splitting headache and grumble at yourself for drinking way more than you intended at the beginning of the night. You’ve hit a point where you want to make a significant change.
But why is it so HARD?
It’s a Process
Typically a behavior doesn’t start out with so many negative results but the side affects build up over time and many repetitions. Our patterns are deeply entrenched in our brain. A common approach to making a change is to CUT OUT your current habit “cold turkey” and expect (or hope) for instant change.
The problem with this drastic approach is it leaves a gaping hole that the negative behavior once filled. Now you are alone with the remaining “ick”. We typically adopt many of our addictive and compulsive behaviors because they hold out a promise of bringing us comfort or escape from very painful feelings and states of mind. In order to make changes that last we need to come to terms with change as a complex process.
It helps to honor each step along the way…
Don’t Skip the Steps of Letting Go
I recently had the pleasure of witnessing the process of caterpillars transforming into monarch butterflies. After learning more about their process of change I found that most parts of the caterpillar dissolve into a kind of soup- how scary is that! But the process doesn’t happen without some resistance to this major change. When the caterpillar forms the chrysalis, pieces from their DNA called “imaginal discs” begin forming. At first, the caterpillar’s immune system tries to fight off these “intruders”. Eventually enough of the imaginal discs gather to overcome the caterpillar’s resistance to change. The discs become “imaginal cells” which are the building blocks of the butterfly.
What strikes me is that even within the natural world, there is some built in resistance to big changes. Just because we feel resistance to doing something differently, maybe it doesn’t mean STOP, but rather, REFLECT and PERSIST. What would it be like to be more mindful of the change process you want to take on?
- Can you feel part of yourself resisting the change that another aspect of you so desires to make?
- What are the scariest parts of your change?
- Are you trying to skip a step that sounds too hard?
- How might you give yourself more compassion to ease your transition?
- What positive behaviors can you identify and bring into your life to help fill the gaping hole left after stopping a long held addictive behavior?
- Who can you ask to help you move through this transition?
Imagine Your “New” Life
If You Truly Drop This Behavior
Before you stop the behavior that is causing you trouble, try adding the essential step of seeing new possibilities for you. How could a round, crawling caterpillar transform into a fluttery flying insect without the imaginal cells providing a framework for a new way of being?
- Set aside reflection time: be mindful or meditate over several days on the question of how your life could change in ways that you would like after you let this old behavior go.
- Go beyond general notions and try imagining specific possibilities.
- Try not to limit yourself to how you have always been. Dr. Dan Siegel talks about a practice called the “wheel of awareness” where we may integrate things we know through our senses with the interior "hub" where all things are possible.
Have patience with yourself.
Remember, it took many repetitions for an old behavior to become so deeply ingrained; it may take many repetitions to settle into the new as well.