The Best Attitude for Change

The Best Attitude for Change

If you are thinking about changing a behavior pattern (like overeating, smoking, spending too much money, drinking too much etc), it can be helpful to take stock of your attitude as you approach the problem.

What do we mean by attitude? Our attitudes predispose us to respond positively or negatively toward certain people, issues, objects or events. They are learned through experience and/or direct observation and they influence our choices and how we respond to challenges.

If you are someone who has struggle with a compulsive behavior issue, it’s likely that you may approach the change process with an attitude of pessimism. While this is understandable, as you may have had difficult changing in the past, it is in fact not a helpful attitude to have as you try again (or try for the first time). Another attitude that is not particularly helpful, but again completely understandable, is fearfulness or resistance to trying new things. It may be that you are reluctant to give up the behavior, even if it is causing you problems, because the benefits of it feel really compelling (e.g., “how can I possibly manage social situations without a drink?”). If you step back and consider your attitude about making changes you may find that it is pretty negative. If that is the case, it’s highly likely that you will feel closed and less likely to approach change.

The Best Attitude for Change

Research has shown that we can shift our attitudes and that doing so has an impact on our behavior choices. As you consider change, try to let yourself be hopeful that you will succeed. Try to open to new things and cultivate an attitude of “willingness”. These are attitudes that if they can be maintained will improve your chances of successfully identifying and trying new behaviors that can replace the ones you are trying to avoid.

When you try to give up a behavior, you need to replace it with another or tolerate it’s absence. In this process you will have to learn new behaviors and ways to manage how you feel and that will require that you take risks and be flexible in how you approach problems. You will have to try a variety of new behaviors, and not all of them will work. You have to be willing to change course and open to alternatives if your first attempts do not work out like you want. For example, if you have the goal of moderating you drinking, you may have to change lots of different things in your life to achieve that goal, like how you spend your time, who you spend it with, how you manage feelings like anxiety or loneliness, how much sleep you get, what you eat and when….and the list goes on. You may also have to be open to taking a break from drinking altogether. Approaching all these decisions with an attitude of “I can’t” or “it’s won’t work out so why bother”, will reduce your chance of succeeding. Approaching these decisions with an attitude of “this might be hard, but I’m going to keep trying” or “‘I’m scared but open to doing everything I need to sort this out” will keep you moving forward and learning new things.

The process of making significant life changes can be overwhelming and causes many people to feel frightened, insecure and out of control. Unfortunately, many forget that we can control our attitude. We can remain open, not closed. We can be open to struggling and feeling awkward and uncomfortable as we try new things. If you stay with it, new behaviors will eventually become as routine as the ones you are trying to give up or reduce. Simply accepting that you will feel these feelings of discomfort can help you TOLERATE the process of change.

About the Author:

Carrie Wilkens, PhD

Carrie Wilkens, PhD, is the Co-Founder and Clinical Director of the Center for Motivation and Change in NYC and in the Berkshires. She co-authored an award-winning book, Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change with Drs. Foote and Kosanke. Together they also contributed to a user-friendly workbook for parents: The 20 Minute Guide: A Guide for Parents about How to Help their Child Change their Substance Use. In collaboration with the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, Dr. Wilkens and the CMC team is developing a national parent training program (the Parent Support Network) to provide parent coaches to families in need of support through a free hotline. Prior to these ventures, Dr. Wilkens was the Project Director on a large federally-funded Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grant examining the effectiveness of motivational interventions in addressing the problems associated with binge drinking among college students. She is regularly sought out by the media to discuss issues related to substance use disorders and has been on the CBS Morning Show, Katie Couric Show, and Fox News as well as a variety of radio shows including frequent NPR segments such as the People’s Pharmacy and The Diane Rehm Show.