The Changing of Seasons
Inspires Personal Changes —
How CASIGYs™ Can Make Desired Changes
Happen in Your Life
The changing of seasons is a perfect time to make other changes in our lives. One of my mentors, Dick Huston, used to say that when the weather made significant shifts from season to season, he’d see people make changes that they had been “sitting on” for a while. I’ve noticed the same thing—both in others, and in myself. In light of this, here I share some insights into the process of change especially for CASIGYs (Creative, Acutely Aware, Super-Sensitive, Intense and/or Gofted You-s). This applies to both adults and children. Whether you’re working on personal changes, or wanting to help your children change their habits, here’s some insights on the process of change and practical ways to use them.
Many people say it takes 21 days to establish a new habit. I disagree. My personal experience and my observations of other CASIGYs, is that we frequently have the ability to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones for much longer than 21 days, so the ‘pushback’ from our comfort zone often doesn’t come until 45 or 60 days into our new practices. Maybe Neurotypical people can establish a habit in 21 days, but for CASIGYs, my observation is that it often takes longer – more like 120 days.
Lasting Change may take longer for CASIGYs because many of us have a stronger ‘Drive’ or internal motivation factor than many people do. This enables us to push ourselves longer and harder than most others. Combine this strong drive with high sensitivity, in which our bodies and psyches react more quickly and more strongly than Neurotypical people’s do, and you have a set-up for a great start toward desired changes. The Shadow side of this is that when the internal negative impact of the changes (sore muscles, doubt, fatigue, etc.) shows up and it is magnified by our sensitivity and intensity, this Great Start can peter out or come to a screeching halt.
Establishing new habits and learning new things have significant similarities. My introduction to this line of thinking came from Claudia Black, addictions and codependency specialist, at a seminar I attended many years ago. She shared with us an aspect of learning theory that helped me understand something about why change is so hard and also what we can do to help ourselves and our children through the tough parts of change. This information has stuck with me all these years and has been helpful to me and also to many of my clients when I have shared it with them.
Claudia showed us how there’s a four stage process in learning anything new. I’m not jazzed about the names of these stages, but since it’s not my theory and I haven’t come up with better names, we’ll use these descriptions.
- The first stage is Unconscious Incompetence. We don’t know what we don’t know. We’re in blissful ignorance. Things may not be going well, but we don’t know any better, so we bump along, not knowing what is wrong, or sometimes that anything is wrong. We don’t have a clue. The best example of this that I know is that of learning to drive a car. Many people have experienced this learning process, so hopefully you can relate to it. When my youngest son was nearing the age that he would be able to get his Learner’s Permit, he began making comments about other people’s driving. He noticed the mistakes they made, and commented profusely on them. The underlying assumption to his comments was, “How could they be so stupid? Learning to drive is a piece of cake!” Easy to say when you’ve never been behind the wheel of a car! This is the classic attitude of stage I, when we are naïve, unaware, uninformed, and/or unskilled. At times, we may go to great lengths to stay naïve, unaware, uninformed, or unskilled. After all, we have been taught to do that since infancy. It is indeed appropriate to protect our young ones and prevent exposure of their developing selves to undue negative influences. It is also difficult as a parent to know how and when to titrate this expansion of awareness as our children and teens grow up, so they will have the skills to deal with it by adulthood. So most of us continue to have difficulty with this even as adults. Another factor in allowing ourselves to expand our awareness is that any time we encounter a situation, event, topic or issue that causes us anxiety, we are likely to leave our newly learned ways of optimal functioning and regress to our more primitive ways of functioning. This is likely to produce a shutdown of our ability to become aware, or to allow ourselves to acknowledge and make use of the awareness that we have. There’s a dance we all do with how much awareness we want and can tolerate. This is greatly influenced by how motivated we are to learn, grow, and move ahead in our lives. For many of us, learning to drive a car is not a negotiable thing, so we endure the pain of the learning process and move forward. In other situations, the pain of the learning/changing/growing process is greater than the hoped for reward, and the process ends right then and there.
- The second stage is Conscious Incompetence, where we begin to be aware of what we don’t’ know, or the skill we don’t have. When my son finally got behind the wheel of the car, he scratched the side of car the first time he pulled out of a gas station after filling it up. He repeatedly killed the engine after starting up from a red light on a hill. He bumped into curbs. He didn’t always find the gear the first time he tried. He soon stopped making comments about other people’s driving. This is a particularly tough stage in learning. Competence is highly valued in any culture. It may be defined differently in different places on the globe, but almost everyone has a great need to be competent and to show themself to be competent. Making mistakes has a negative connotation, and is associated with great pain for most of us. When we hit this stage, it’s very tempting to bail out. This thing we thought we wanted to do or learn or change doesn’t seem that important, after all. We can get very creative inventing reasons why it’s no longer a good thing to do, but is instead very bad and how could we ever have thought we wanted to do it? We easily find emergent, important things that need our attention elsewhere. We often want to run away from the awareness of our pain, back to stage 1, blissful ignorance. But we can’t return to blissful ignorance. Once we know, pretending we don’t know is simply denial. Denial is not blissful ignorance, it is pretense. It is lying to ourselves, to others and to Life. Pretending we don’t know the things we do know also takes great energy, sucking the vitality out of our lives. The more we try to avoid awareness, the more painful our lives often become. Life itself often intervenes and takes us through experiences that challenge us to become aware, to allow ourselves to know what it is that we really do know. What I’ve also observed is that —
- This is often the toughest stage, when things feel worse before they feel better.
- The longer we stay in the mode of pretending to be, do or have what is not real or is not what we want in our lives, the harder this process is.
- The more we shut down our awareness and expression of our internal process, the longer it takes to move through this stage.
- The sooner we can become vulnerable, resilient and flexibly strong enough to stop resisting the process, the easier it becomes.
- The more we open ourselves up on the inside and tolerate the tension of this knowing, the sooner we can move through this stage to the next one.
- Conscious competence. In this stage of learning, we’re putting new skills into action. We pay close attention to the new things we are doing. We still feel awkward and are remain often outside of our comfort zone. A pull toward past old habits which were comfortable continues at times, even though we want to grow beyond them. This is not usually as painful as the previous stage of pulling a snail off its rock and making frequent mistakes, but mistakes still do happen, and we are still out of our comfort zone. This is the stage of getting the gears right AND smooth as we shift the car, being able to start up from a stop on a hill without killing the engine, learning to parallel park, accelerate and decelerate smoothly. There is a mixture of satisfying accomplishments and embarrassing defeats.
- Unconscious Competence. This is when we can drive down the road and not remember the last five blocks or the last five miles, for that matter. This is when we drive and shave or put on our make-up, eat, read a book, you name it; we’ve all seen it happen and sometimes done it ourselves. Unconscious competence is when the “new’ skill has moved through being a habit and into the realm of automatic pilot. What we may wish we could do is to move from stage 1 straight to stage 4, skipping 2 and 3. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. We all have to pass through 2 and 3 to get to 4, and we must do it every time we want to learn something new or change some habit in our lives. Doing it once doesn’t mean we are exempt from ever having to go through it again. Once we dispel that illusion, we can use our experience learning other things to help us move through it more quickly each time, and to reduce unnecessary stress along the way.
How can this information help us CASIGYs to make our desired life changes?
- We can recognize that the discomfort we feel is because we are in the learning process, not because of some intrinsic flaw we carry or because we are incapable of making the desired change(s).
- We can congratulate ourselves that we are in that process, that we have hung in there and not bailed out, instead of criticizing ourselves because we are feeling bad or stressed and haven’t succeeded in making the changes yet.
- We can allow our expanding awareness of what doesn’t work to propel us through the stages instead of impeding our progress.
- We can recognize our mistakes as stepping stones to our goals, rather than signs of defeat.
- We can keep going with our changes rather than stopping, or resume our change if we have stopped.
So take a deep breath and heave a big sign of relief. Have you moved out of Unconscious Incompetence, into Conscious Incompetence, toward your goal and out of your comfort zone into the Never-never-Land of Conscious Competence? Congratulations! You are well on your way to achieving your goal(s), toward reaching a new level of Unconscious Competence!