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The first step is the hardest

Psychiatrist Thomas Harris learned from his clients three situations that had prompted them to change for the better.

“One is that they hurt sufficiently. They have beaten their heads against the same wall so long that they decide they have had enough. They have invested in the same slot machines without a pay-off for so long that they finally are willing either to stop playing or to move on to others. Their migraines hurt; their ulcers bleed.”

Second is a slow death called ennui, the French word for boredom. Poet C. P. Cavafy wrote, “One monotonous day follows another / identically monotonous. The same things / will happen to us again and again / the same moments come and go.” One modern translation of Ecclesiastes 1:2 reads, “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” Those experiencing ennui feel at a deep level that nothing is interesting or fulfilling. I think of the lyric Buddy Holly composed after breaking up with a girlfriend, “I guess it doesn’t matter anymore.”

A third is a sudden discovery that they can change. I’ve known a few individuals who made a dramatic career change in mid-life, from attorney to school teacher, veterinarian to computer programmer, architect to priest. Some found their courage to change in a support group; some, bolstered by a book.

Two other dynamics sometimes helped them jumpstart getting unstuck:

1. They successfully eliminated one habit that contributed to their stuckness, like bingeing on TV programs that accentuate the underbelly of human behavior or spending hours on social media where others’ lives are ridiculously glamorized.

2. They stepped out of their comfort zone and successfully started a brand new habit, like taking a brisk daily walk or doing something kind for somebody else on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The first step was the hardest.

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