Seeing Change

In around 500 B.C. the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus wrote “All things change; nothing abides; into the same river you cannot step twice”.
Of course, this is an analogy for the belief that everything is constantly occurring and when you take a moment to consider the merit of this statement, then you’ll probably concur that everything is in fact always changing. Sometimes quickly and sometimes almost indiscernibly.

Unfortunately, for some people it can be hard to see change when our outlook on life is clouded through depression or perhaps when we are gripped by an unrelenting habit or unhelpful thought pattern. It can be all too easy to surrender to the belief that things will always be this way, permanent and unending and that change won’t come. Thinking in this way can lead to a loss of hope and ultimately despair, for some this will prove to be too much.

“All things change; nothing abides; into the same river you cannot step twice”

Heraclitus 500 B.C.

If change is all around and a constant, then sometimes why can’t we see it?

The answer is simple, we are not looking out for change, that’s not where our focus is. Often, when we suffer, we can be consumed with the problem itself and this tends to have an effect of blocking out other stimuli which may signify the occurrence or presence of change. At other times it’s only when we take a reflective step back, that we can see and appreciate that change has happened.

Change in action

I once worked with a client who I will call Dave (not his real name) who was practically at the end of his tether. When I first met Dave, he was very problem focused and claimed that he had been depressed since the 1980’s when he’d lost his mother. There was no doubt in mind that Dave was very depressed. He had lost interest in doing many of the things that used to bring him pleasure, had a number of failed relationships and his social life was practically non-existent. He resorted to spending much of the day asleep and much of the night worrying about the past and future. My job was not to diagnose this but rather to help him see and make change.

Early on in our sessions together, Dave and I talked about what had been better in between sessions. Dave found it hard to find anything that had been better and often descended into what is called ‘problem talk’. Whilst it’s fine to take a moment or two to offload, we know that we cannot find solutions in ‘problem talk’ and therefore it can be counterproductive to dwell on this but equally it was important that Dave could be heard, for him the problem was at the centre of his life.

Dave repeatedly said he could not remember a time when he felt happy and not depressed. For me this was an exciting challenge because although I didn’t doubt what Dave was saying, I also believed that Dave was unable to see change and that I could help him with that. As we talked more about what had gone on in the previous week, we began to uncover exceptions, moments when Dave wasn’t feeling so depressed, when he felt that he was doing something worthwhile and productive. It was during these moments when Dave’s attention was focused on something else and not his problems, that an exception was created and change had occurred. When this happens it’s necessary to capitalise on it to keep the momentum going.

Exceptions create a pathway for change but we need to be consciously aware of their existence in order to benefit from them and make change. It’s necessary to really examine what was occurring at those moments and to look at ways that more exceptions can be created, perhaps by repeating what precipitated the exception. Eventually the exceptions reinforce the change process, provide positive feedback that change is possible and that we are not always stuck in our problems. With motivation and persistence, the exceptions can become the norm.

Dave understood this and began noticing that change was in fact happening, pretty much all of the time. This was an exciting period for him and eventually he was able to shed the overcoat of depression that had been wearing him down for so long. His life moved on and he was able to make many further changes that lead him to enjoy a life that he always wanted.

Making change can be difficult but for many people, as exceptions are noticed, it can be an epiphany to realise that change is already there and happening.

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