How Change Really Happens
Excerpted with permission from A Little Peace of Mind by Nicola Bird, ©2019
“Every human being is sitting in the middle of mental health – they just don’t know it.”
If we think that circumstances, people and places determine – or even have the ability to influence – the way we feel, then the only way change can happen is to alter those circumstances or those people, or go to more places that ‘make us feel good’ and avoid places that ‘make us feel bad’.
So if we’re unhappy and we want to be happy, we might buy nicer clothes, get a more interesting job, try to improve our partner, spend more (or less) time with our kids, earn more money to go on nice holidays, etc. If we’re anxious and we don’t want to be, we might leave our jobs, divorce our partner or move to a new house.
At some point, usually after trying a few of these strategies, it occurs to us that even though we’ve divorced our partner, we’re still feeling anxious about being in a relationship. Even though we’ve made a pile of money, we’re still anxious about money and we still seem to be worrying – even when we’re sitting on a sun lounger on a tropical beach.
And then we start to realize that maybe it’s an inner game. So, we set about trying to change ourselves through willpower, attempt to use positive thinking, buy self‐help books and try any number of tools and techniques to ‘fix’ ourselves.
You won’t find a single tool or technique in this book to help you to manage your anxiety because:
- Anxiety isn’t a ‘thing’ that actually exists; and
- When you understand more about the nature of thought and who we are before anxiety, you won’t need to.
Instead, here follows how change really happens:
Imagine you only have one leg; let’s say it’s the right one. Hopping is what you do to get around. Obviously. You learned all about hopping in school; in fact, you had to attend many classes on the subject and you got pretty good at it. You hopped to work, you hopped down the aisle, you hopped to the park with your kids. It was pretty hard physically, but really, what choice did you have when you only had one leg? The answer was to get fitter so you could hop faster.
As you got older, you started to feel like your hopping wasn’t working so well for you. You didn’t seem to be doing as well as other people, and something seemed to be missing. So you bought a book on how to hop better, and you learned a whole heap of hopping exercises that seemed to help a little, but only if you remembered to do them every day. The key seemed to be getting the game of hopping right, so you went to see hopping specialists and bought all the latest books, because if you could just hop a little faster, then you could relax and enjoy your life.
Then, one day, you meet someone who says something strange: ‘Do you see you have a left leg?’
You take a quick look. ‘Nope. I can’t see one,’ you reply. ‘But I’m an expert on hopping and how it works – that’s what I’m interested in. How do I hop faster?’
Then you take a closer look at the person in front of you. Sure enough, they seem to have an additional leg. They seem to have something you don’t. And they’re not hopping. They’re just… walking. They point again to you. ‘You have a left leg too, can’t you see?’
It seems really obvious to them, but you can’t see it. ‘No, I really can’t, but I’m fascinated by the fact you keep saying this and you seem to be doing this walking thing. Can you teach me how to walk even though I only have one leg?’
‘Well, it doesn’t really work that way, but why don’t we keep talking?’
And something keeps you showing up at the door of this strange two‐legged person. They tell you stories, they keep pointing at this mythical left leg and then, one day, you look down and you see you have a left leg, too.
You see it for yourself.
In just one second, with that simple insight, you realize you were born with a left leg. It’s always been there. It’s never gone anywhere, you’d just fallen asleep to the fact it was there. And in that moment, you take a step. And another and another. You don’t hop – why would you? You’ve realized what’s always been available to you and it’s changed everything.
All you had to do was see it for yourself.
Until that moment all you could do was hop. And then you had an insight. You saw something to be true that you’d never seen before.
You didn’t need to create affirmations and stick them on your mirror to remind you: Do not hop, you are a walker now. You didn’t need to practise walking. All those how‐to‐hop‐faster books on your shelf look unnecessary and you feel compassion for those you see around you hopping, doing the best they can with no idea that there’s any such thing as a left leg.
Do you forget and find yourself hopping from time to time? Sure. Me, too. But once we see there’s a left leg we never truly forget, and we wake up to the fact of what’s true faster and faster each time.
In other words, change happens through insight, through seeing something that we’ve never thought before. Through realization, something becomes real for you.
The idea that you don’t have to think anything about anything is a neat idea. But when you have an insight, and see the truth of it for yourself, that realization changes everything.
You know that moment when you realized that Santa didn’t exist? One day you just knew. You’d heard rumours, your older brother had told you over and over again and, although you suspected he might be right, you still weren’t sure. And then one day, you probably can’t even remember when, you just realized the truth.
There wasn’t necessarily anything you did, you just realized. And the next year, you didn’t put carrots out for the reindeer or a glass of whisky for Santa; you found yourself sleeping through on Christmas Eve instead of staying up all night hoping to catch a peek. You didn’t have to white‐knuckle your way through that night, you didn’t have to examine your past or practise any positive affirmations – you realized the truth and your behaviour just changed all on its own. A shift upstream that changes everything downstream.