Harnessing the Courage to Act
Change can be a long time coming and the journey can be marked by periods of doubt, discomfort and frustration along the way. The good news is, there comes a time when the realisation finally dawns; the time to act is now.
The impetus for making change is a growing awareness that something in our life is out of balance, a need to be honest and authentic with ourselves. It may be that we’ve become so sick and tired of being sick and tired, or a persistent low-level niggling discontent eats away at us, becoming more uncomfortable than the prospect of not knowing what lies ahead. The overwhelming need to take action by showing up, being authentic and living in a manner consistent with our core values is like a call to arms.
Working as a psychologist in the mental health space has repeatedly challenged me to reconcile my work with my core values. It has meant finding the courage to address discontent and frustration with the pervading paradigm in the field. I’ve had to step into the ring to explore a more integrated and empowering response to the challenge of dis-ease and well-being. Of course, faced with the daunting prospect of change, it is tempting to keep doing what is familiar to us, as we tend to grow kind of comfortable. However, there comes a time when ‘more of the same’ becomes untenable, and as much as I tried to make adjustments it was the equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The internal struggle was taking me down.
The predominant mental health paradigm is at odds with my values and attempting to reconcile this disconnect has been torturous at times. A lack of authenticity and feeling complicit in diagnosing and pathologising human diversity and adaptive responses, has weighed heavily. Emotional distress and discomfort often arise from real lived experience and it is unhelpful to pathologise or dismiss these. Rather than building a sense of belonging and meaningful connection, some practices risk isolating and segregating.
“Intervention and treatment can be dominated by a focus on changing individuals rather than recognising their presentation may be an indicator of something going awry in their environment and the world they inhabit.”
Change is a necessity
It is confronting to recognise a change is necessary, but at the same time it is also empowering. Afterall, if we are aware of our internal navigation system (our values) and recognise when we are off course, we are uniquely empowered to make changes to heal and live well. This is preferable to outsourcing our well-being to someone else.
Studies reveal when we persistently act counter to our values it gives rise to an internal conflict. Left unchecked, there will be a price to pay and the cost of value-incongruent behaviour reveals itself eventually. In contrast, authenticity breeds connection, so it is hardly surprising we are predisposed to seek it out and find it attractive in others. Our lives revolve around relationships; with ourselves, others and the world around us, and the more we act in line with our values, the better the quality of those relationships will be, and the more enjoyable and rewarding our life will be.
Remember, you are the driver
It can be tempting to blame others when we are not taking action in line with our values, but this is a dangerous precedent. When we fail to take responsibility we are giving away power, and it is important for our sense of self to find ways to take action, rather than wallow amongst elements we perceive as beyond our control.
It is helpful to check who is in the driver\’s seat – there will always be noisy passengers on board as we journey through life (some of those ‘passengers’ might be unhelpful thoughts, feelings, beliefs, unhealthy relationships with others). We can keep heading in the right direction (the direction our values indicate) if we remain in the driver\’s seat and keep taking the next step to move us in the direction we wish to travel. Knowing the steps we are taking are consistent with what is most important to us, allows us to harness the courage to act.
“Fear and challenge show up not to break or defeat us, but to allow us to grow, and we are all either growing or we are dying. “
If we can see challenges through this growth mindset, we build resilience and empowerment rather than diminish and withdraw. Taking action despite the fears arising is true courage. Our values can guide and steady us during turbulent times.
With all of this in mind, I am taking the steps to align my practice with my values. With the anchor of our internal navigation system our goals are more authentic. Success is not about achieving a particular end point or reaching a certain measure. It is being courageous, showing up, and living a life that is meaningful to you. For me, this means embracing the combined power of the human body, mind and environment to bring a more integrated, respectful and empowering approach to human distress and diversity. That is good news for me and all those I work with.
We often go about things without questioning the ‘why’ behind our actions. It is useful to discern whether the decisions we are making and the actions we are taking are due to unquestioned habits, or if they come from a place of choice and authenticity.
Consider the path that is right for you. Do not be afraid to make mistakes or admit that something is not right. Move beyond fear and consider the personal qualities, strengths and skills you want to bring to your work/your family/relationships with others.
What is one small thing you can do immediately that is consistent with your values?
Mindfulness can help bring awareness to our words and actions supporting us to question our choices. When we act out of habit and notice this, we can ask ourselves, does this choice feel right? and if not, why am I making it?
This awareness and inquiry can lead to changing the simplest things, from our routines to our diet, to more significant changes like our occupation, our relationship, or our values. The more we understand what drives our choices and beliefs, the more authentic we become.