Changing for the better:
Why others notice it before you.
We’d only been away for a week but I could see the garden had grown unexpectedly well as we pulled back onto the drive. Despite the UK heat-wave whilst we were gone, the lawn still needed mowing. Round the back, there were now peas to pick, tomatoes beginning to ripen and weeds in full invasion mode. Nothing unusual was going on, it was just a bit of a surprise seeing it after a week away. Sometimes you have to step back for a while to notice how much things change, even when they’re changing for the better.
Why’s it like this, though? Stuff changes all the time. Why is it that some changes go completely unnoticed whilst others stand and wave at you as soon as they happen?
It’s all down to the sheer wealth of information your brain has to process every second of every day. That 1 kilo of neurological marvel inside your head is way more powerful than the most powerful supercomputer. Even so, it has to take shortcuts to meet its primary objective of getting you safely into tomorrow.
It uses previously programmed algorithms, (rough & ready rules-of-thumb if you like), to decide what to focus its attention on.
One of these rules of thumb is to make big assumptions about what’s going on. As soon as your mind thinks it knows what’s happening, it stops processing new data and shows you what was there last time. (It’s one of the glitches that magicians exploit to completely befuddle you..).
It’s also at play in everyday life. When the changes are small enough, your brain just doesn’t bother to update the picture it shows you. Your mind sees what it expects to see.
Why does this matter?
In therapy not everyone notices that they’re changing for the better, even though they actually are.
Don’t get me wrong, clients often experience dramatic improvements when their ‘problem’ gets solved in one big shift. It’s such a big change that it’s highly noticeable & their mind spots it straight away.
But for many clients change is much more subtle. So subtle in fact, it goes unnoticed.
Well, not entirely.
Here’s what I mean.
If people don’t notice small changes, how do they know therapy’s working? Interestingly, progress is often reflected back by people you know, like friends, family & colleagues.
You see, they only meet you every now & then. They’re in a prime position to notice the accumulation of those subtle changes, a bit like those time-lapse sequences David Attenborough’s so fond of.
They see the change before you do. I often ask clients to look out for what other people say and do. It’s surprising how often clients tell me that someone said they seem ‘quite chirpy today’ or a colleague congratulated them on how smoothly a presentation went.
It’s also why I use a mood-levels questionnaire at each session. It helps clients objectively measure how they’re really changing for the better.
It can come as quite a surprise, finding out how good their current scores have become. Big differences can build up day by without clients noticing.
What about wanting help in the first place?
It works the other way around too. Often the difference between ‘coping’ and ‘needing help’ goes unnoticed too. A gradual worsening that stays hidden until you look objectively.
If you’d like to check out how you’d score currently, just try this online anxiety quiz now. If I think you’d benefit from some help, I’ll let you know. And if all’s OK for now, I’ll tell you that too!
In a way, that’s what this blog’s for. Hints, tips and self-help exercises that can keep you in the OK-for-now zone. Alternatively, you might come to the conclusion that it’s time to seek some professional advice, either for you or someone you know.
In the meantime, take care and do read more of this blog. There’s a wealth of help and information in it for you.
If you’d like to have a chat about how I can help, get in touch here.
I share hints & tips on twitter too. You can follow me here: @TBtalks