Our last few blogs have concentrated on ways to establish and nurture deep connection within our families. Now let’s take the time to review our efforts and identify the changes that have resulted. (Notice I did not say “if” any change occurred; I presupposed that change happened which means I will be zealous in my effort to spot it.) Our presuppositions strongly influence what we allow our brains to see.
It takes determination and persistence to upend the status quo. When change does not come rapidly, it is easy for discouragement to overtake our intention. Too often surrender quickly follows. Our goal to build healthy, enduring, and dynamic bonds within our families is far too important to allow failure. How can we prevent that?
Since we know the slow pace of change often contributes to the abandonment of the effort to improve, let’s address that. One important strategy is to ensure that every shift in behavior is noticed—even the tiniest advancement. Any change is worthy of notice. The first element of our working strategy is to amplify our noticing.
Our attention is important currency in the context of human relationships. Human beings thrive in the glow of attention.
When we set the intention to be on the lookout for evidence of change, this “noticing” lens influences what we see, just like when we adjust a camera it frames the picture with an intended point of view. If we focus on the mountains, the flower-filled meadow in the foreground becomes blurred.
While it is important to keep our eyes on our big goal, remember to notice the incremental changes accomplished on the way. This helps us avoid discouragement, spurs appreciation for effort, and recognizes that change is a process that includes progress as well as occasional backsliding.
As always, we want to bring an attitude of neutral curiosity to the scrutiny of our progress. Once we notice, we want to find out why and how we succeeded. Let’s find the aspects that encouraged progress towards our ultimate goal as well as those factors that distracted us or challenged us or actually were counterproductive. All the data is valuable.
At the risk of stating the obvious, we want to continue to do the things that advanced our goal and we want to eliminate any obstacles that got into our way.
Next, let’s commit to another priority: acknowledge progress. This crediting process must include acknowledging ourselves as well as each family member. Sure, people may often brush off the compliments which we expressed.
The important thing is, they have been heard. Once heard they cannot be unheard. This might be judged a silly observation. But consider how often you replay dialogue between friends, family, and coworkers. Whether it's an argument, and intimate moment, or a laugh human beings love to replay our audio tapes. Let’s commit to saying something that will warm their spirits when they replay it.
Updating our observations is important for another reason. It keeps us within the realm of reality. It also reminds us we don't want to operate from an all or nothing mindset which tricks us into believing unless everything changes, we’ve failed. Any change regardless of size has value. As long as we have breath, we have the opportunity to keep plugging away.
In addition to noticing with our eye, we must also see with our inner awareness. It will need updating as well. We must regularly update our inner templates of how we think of our children within our memory, our hearts and, our minds.
Otherwise, our familiar “box” that defines how our child or spouse behaves will blind us to the new person whom they have become. When we continue to live as if nothing has changed, the newly-born change will wither and die. Instead of thinking Johnny never or Johnny always... pause to remember in recent weeks when he broke the pattern—once, maybe twice, or more. What we expect to see influences what we allow ourselves to see. We must not allow habituated thinking patterns to override emerging change. It is essential that we live in the realm of reality not in the realm of assumption, especially when those assumptions keep us boxed into old behaviors and identities. We must not imprison people in “boxes” from which we never release them.
Since noticing and updating serve such pivotal roles, how can we improve these skills?
When thinking about a family member, pause to ask ourselves: Is this thought based on who they were or who they are? Then consider how they also might benefit from updating their template of Who and How you are. Discuss this idea as a family and begin making it part of a regular practice of acknowledging one another.