One person’s story
I worked with a man who was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He had a long history with the mental health system and had been used to being treated as “just another case”. He did not feel respected or valued. He admitted that he felt hopeless and could “never have anything”.
Our program was a little different from a lot of other programs. We worked one on one with people in the community, not expecting them to come into the program but going out to wherever they were.
As we worked together, over time, this man started to become more optimistic. He began to have some hope for the future. He was still poor and housed in a rundown board and care but he was happier.
He had said initially that he wanted a computer more than anything else so he could “get things done”. His willingness to go along with the staff to go shopping made it possible for the program to buy him a used laptop. His beliefs that he would always be treated disrespectfully and could “never have anything” were fundamentally changed. This was only due to the fact that he made a small shift in his attitude to allow himself to be helped.
This man eventually went on to give speeches to other providers and clients about his experiences in the mental health system. He became an advocate for fundamental change in how mental health providers work with clients. He had many setbacks but, for as long as I knew him, he never lost his hope that things could get better.
Beliefs are fundamental to who we are. We conduct our lives based upon what we believe in. Of course this works great when our beliefs can lead to thoughts and actions that get us to some place we want to be. It does not work well when our beliefs lead to negative outcomes.
In addition, our beliefs may not be congruent or useful as we age. Some of the beliefs that suited us well when we were 20 can be as unbecoming as a mini dress at 60. We have to adapt and change as our circumstances do especially if we are unhappy about how things have turned out for us.
Attitude for belief change
Usually our first thought is that to change we have to change our circumstances. It’s easier to see things as an outside job. But really, we can’t change things unless we change our attitude. It really is amazing how this works.
There is a paradox here however because, most often, when we change our attitude the circumstances do not change right away. The difficulty is in maintaining the belief that things can change but accepting that it will not be on our schedule. A true change in belief is accomplished by maintaining a good attitude in the face of obstacles when there may be no change in circumstances at all. As we continue to maintain a positive outlook we are then open to the possibilities for change that we would have been closed to otherwise.
How can we keep on track?
To maintain a positive attitude in the midst of experiencing setbacks requires work on our part. Starting the day with meditation, setting an intention, creating our own unique daily affirmation and taking time throughout the day to be mindful or grateful are all great ways to maintain our faith in change. Sometimes we also need the assistance of someone else who can be in our corner to keep us on track like a friend, coach, therapist or spiritual counselor.
We can do little things that add up to big changes if we stay joyfully focused on the possibilities even when things do not go our way.