"So how to deal differently with the unruly passengers on your bus? You notice them, thank them for their input, and drive the bus towards your values anyway." Katie Read
How to Break Old Habits and Start Doing the Things You Value Most
by Katie Read, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
If you’re—well, human—chances are you’ve got a few places in
your life where you’re perpetually stuck.
These are those habits you just can’t seem to change, or those dreams
you haven’t made a start on after all these years.
There is a
fantastic metaphor to help unstick, and it’s probably one of the most-used
tools to emerge from Acceptance and
Commitment Therapy, or ACT.
metaphor is called Passengers on the Bus. Let me talk you through it using a totally
imaginary client, Katie Smead. Katie obviously has no connection whatsoever to
yours truly. None. At all.
has always enjoyed creative writing, but she hasn’t done much of it for several
years. Why? Her mind happily spits out all the usual
reasons. Not enough time, not enough
energy, what’s the point anyway, she’ll never be a full-time author, there aren’t
enough hours in the day, the closets haven’t been cleaned in ages, she’s not
that great of a writer anyway, etc., etc.
So, all of
these are thoughts. And in our metaphor, these thoughts are the passengers on
the bus of life that Katie is currently driving. All of our buses fill up with passengers over
a lifetime. Some are great! Some are happy thoughts, happy memories, the
positive parts of our psyches that give us strength through the tough times.
as you might have guessed, are unruly, nasty passengers. These are the passengers who berate us as we
drive. They tell us all the things we’re
doing wrong, and all the reasons we’ll never succeed when trying something new. Their goal is to keep us driving the same
route, never taking a chance or altering the status quo.
So how do
we handle these passengers? Well, most
of us make a little deal with them.
Katie Smead did! She said, “Fine,
I will not change. I will not make time
for creative writing, if you’ll just sit down and be quiet. Don’t yell in my ear anymore, and I won’t
attempt this change.” And so in effect
the passengers are driving the bus of Katie’s life, and this makes them happy,
so they sit back down.
And most of
us let them do this for years. We have a
secret contract with all those negative thoughts. I’ll do
what you say if you’ll just stay quiet.
You can choose which direction my life goes, because that’s easier than
listening to you. And so we stop
taking chances, stop moving towards our values, and get away from the lives we
truly want to live.
So how to
deal differently with the unruly passengers on your bus?
them, thank them for their input, and drive the bus towards your values
anyway. We will probably never find a
switch that makes our brain shut off these unhelpful thoughts for good. The
trick is to accept that we have them, but
not let them drive our bus. We are
in charge of our values. We are in
charge of which direction we move. The
most successful people do not have an absence of negative thoughts—they have
simply learned to notice them gently and move on anyway. They show up at the page, or the painting, or
the new job, and don’t let these thoughts determine their ultimate happiness or
direction in life.
you, where do the negative thoughts get loudest? Keep in mind, when you’ve lived with them for
many years, you often don’t even recognize them as thoughts—they simply sound
to you like the truth. “But I’m not a good writer. But I won’t
find a better job. But taking that
class is a waste of money.” The passenger’s job is to convince you, in
louder and louder tones, that they are right and true and you’d better listen
to them. Watch the
short video at the top of this article and decide—what valued choices are your
thoughts keeping you from making?
Katie Read, MFT provides mental health therapy and counseling in Roseville and Granite Bay, CA. She loves working with individuals and couples. Please visit her at www.katiereadtherapy.com.
Labels: Habits, Katie Read, Stuck