Start Small: Steps to Make Lasting Change

My week starts with three new clients interested in counseling.

Sandra wants to lose weight. She’s been 100 pounds overweight for most of her adult life with high blood pressure, asthma, high cholesterol, and pre-diabetic symptoms. From a family that struggles with weight, she’d been through all the diets from paleo to to lemon juice cleanse. She trained for a 5K, hiked high-altitude trails, and experimented with pilates.

Michael wants to stop smoking. He’d started and stopped over the years, first when his kids were born, then during his midlife crisis, and lately with the birth of his first grandchild. He’d tried hypnosis, patches, gum, medication, group therapy, books, and special diets.

Anne and Joe want to improve their marriage. They’ve been together over 20 years, but feel like there are some issues they’ve never really worked out. Now that the kids have moved out and their careers are in a stable place, they’re ready to address communication challenges, an affair, their power dynamic and parenting adult children.

It’s always exciting, these beginning moments in the psychotherapy process. The first step to making changes is always clear seeing: coming out of the fog of denial and seeing our lives for what they are. Sandra visited her grandkids and barely fit in the airplane seat. Michael went to a family reunion and missed his sister’s speech, because he was out back smoking. Anne and Joe’s eldest daughter told them she would never get married because, “I’ve seen you two and I don’t want anything like this in my life.” The second step is asking for help (which they all did by coming in). Third, creating small—very small—steps (no more then 3) to begin to try for 1 week. Sandra: daily journaling of emotions, food intake and exercise. Michael: noticing when, where, and how much he smokes. Anne and Joe: go on one date out of the house where they can’t talk about kids, work or family.

It’s easy to get stuck after admitting you have a problem. Relief floods through and you feel like the battle is almost won! The hard part of change is taking the small steps, every hour of every day, to reach the goal.