Make 2018 the year you finally fix what has been holding you back


As 2017 draws to a close, consider this: Ditch the weight-loss resolution this year and work on something else youíve been putting off for a long time. Change something in your life that has been holding you back, gnawing away at you, showing up every Jan. 1 for ages, despite your annual promise not to be in the same position next year.

Maybe itís the job you hate. A marriage or relationship you know is over. Do you hang with a crowd thatís nothing but trouble? Owe someone a long overdue apology? Is there a health concern youíve been ignoring because if you donít get tested you donít have a problem? Drink, gamble, spend, argue too much? Always wanted to move, own a home, live abroad but canít get beyond dreaming about it? Are you generally unhappy?

Make this the year you finally fix what has been holding you back. Or at least take some significant steps toward resolving it, so that on Jan. 1, 2019, you arenít disappointed again because youíre still ...

The reason youíre probably stuck is complicated. A mix of psychological, emotional, possibly financial factors. But change is possible if youíre willing to acknowledge that it is necessary; that it will come at a cost ó maybe monetary, certainly emotional; and that there may be some risk involved ó nothing life-threatening, but calculated, well-thought-out risk.

But first, why do we get so stuck that we canít move our lives forward? The reason varies from person to person and expert to expert. But one common explanation is that the rut, the negative situation weíre in, holds some emotional meaning for us and the thought of leaving it is almost unbearable. Part of the problem is fear of the unknown, but its frequent companion, anxiety, that uneasy emotion that produces worry, apprehension, nervousness and fear, will keep many people glued in place for years. "One way to avoid anxiety of the unknown is not to make a change," said Rush University Medical Center psychiatrist Dr. Ira Halper. "Superficially, itís like holding on to a stock, watching its value drop and hoping it will turn around, but it never does."

Halper said people stay in situations where they arenít fulfilled or are unhappy for many reasons but they are often based on dysfunctional thinking that usually starts with "Iíll never Ö" Find another job, find another partner/spouse, find love again, be successful, be able to afford. "These dysfunctional thoughts that something catastrophic will happen, that the chances of failure are much higher than they are in reality, magnify the probability of a bad outcome," Halper said. Add to that poor self-confidence, which can keep you from taking risks, and thoughts that you are incompetent, unlovable, incapable of succeeding and you may find yourself stuck for a long time in a major life rut. "All those negative core beliefs about yourself," Halper said, "make it very difficult for you to make changes."

Others canít see or donít believe in the payoff that change may ultimately bring. "They donít see the benefit of change," said BayCare licensed mental health counselor Patsy McLaughlin. "It may help to begin with the end in mind."

McLaughlin suggests imagining how good it will feel once youíve made the change and the process is behind you. The relief and the sense of accomplishment youíll feel may propel you forward. She said it also helps to look at the cost of staying in the same situation. "Until you see that by not changing you lose a chance at making things better or different, you wonít move forward." Another way to think of it, she said, is to ask yourself which situation results in the biggest loss: staying in your rut or making a change?

Some people, with a little help, will be able to get themselves out of dead-end situations. Talking it over with parents, a trusted friend or relative, a school or work-life mentor or member of the clergy may be beneficial. People you look up to and admire can often say just the right things to motivate you to change by offering a different perspective, suggesting alternatives you never considered and reminding you of your abilities and strengths. "Sometimes a counselor or professional life coach can help you focus on the core of who you are, whatís important to you, where you want to be in life," McLaughlin said. "They serve as a mentor, a partner, to help you identify and meet your goals."

Halper adds that self-help books can be a valuable tool for some people, as long as the person turns the advice into action. If you still canít make a necessary life change after reading about the subject and talking to trusted people, you may need to consult a psychologist or psychiatrist. "Some people, because of very negative life experiences, have been programmed to stick with terrible situations, jobs, relationships," Halper said. They may need mental health counseling to get over the psychological roadblocks in their lives. Short-term counseling often helps. Some people may need prescription medication to help with the anxiety and depression holding them back.

Just know that, initially, moving forward will make you feel uncomfortable and you will have to take some calculated risks: put a down payment on a house, see a divorce attorney, look for a new job while youíre still employed; make new friends, learn a new skill, put up with feeling nervous while you call that person to say, "Iím sorry." You may have to plan an exit strategy, you may have to take on extra work to afford making a life change, the process will take time and energy. But you stand to gain something youíve been missing out on for a long time.

Contact Irene Maher at [email protected]