How To Change…By Not Changing At All

By Katie, 5:38 am

“We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.” —Carl Jung

I was in 10th grade when I first started hating my thighs.

I mean really hating my thighs. And I convinced myself that if I just hated them enough, it would motivate me to do something about them. In my bedroom I hung up an unflattering photo of myself – one that clearly displayed my detested thighs – because I believed it would incite me to change.

Well, guess what? Hating my thighs didn’t change them at all. All it did was create a vicious cycle of dieting and bingeing that led to nothing except more thigh-hating.

 (Source)

Eventually I got sick of hating my thighs, and instead began embracing this life-altering idea: if I want to change something, I first need to stop striving to change it. I first need to accept my situation - my thighs, my life, whatever – exactly as it is. I first need to just be.

It sounds a little wishy-washy, I know, but psychologists have actually given it an official name: the paradoxical theory of change. According to the Gestalt Therapy Page, “the premise is that one must stand in one place in order to have firm footing to move, and…it is difficult or impossible to move without that footing.”

In a lot of ways it makes perfect sense; when I hated my body so much that all I did was focus on changing it, it led me to beat myself up in ways that backfired against the intended effect. But when I started accepting my body as is, it allowed me to show my whole self – including my thighs – kindness and love.

Which led to greater self-care, both in body and spirit. Which in turn eventually led to some physical changes, but – more importantly – it led to a total change in perspective that has allowed me to live my life more fully.

If you had told me five years ago that the way to change is by not changing at all – that I couldn’t change a thing until I fully accepted where I already was – I would have looked at you like you had three heads. But today I know better. I know that in my life, change doesn’t come from a place of self-hatred, but rather from a place of self-acceptance.

How has this played out for you?

Do you think long-term changes are more likely to stick if they arise from a place of peace and acceptance, rather than from a place of hatred or frustration?

Don’t forget to send me your thoughts on Authenticity for the Self-Discovery, Word by Word series!

36 Responses to “How To Change…By Not Changing At All”

  1. Karen says:

    I am still on the journey to self-acceptance. I know I will get there, it just takes some time.

  2. Great post, Katie.

    I do think that when we let go of the desire to change things, it opens us up to a space where life flows and change happens automatically. I have seen this play out, not only in my body image/health, but also with relationships, money, etc.

  3. This post addresses the very things I’m working on in my life right now. If anyone told me three years ago that change could happen once I stopped hating the situation, I would have laughed. In fact, I did laugh… a condescending laugh. But then I realized I didn’t have anything else to lose and tried to start incorporating a little compassion for myself. It worked. I have a long way to go. I’m in the midst of learning how to maintain compassion for myself on bad days. I’ve got it down on good days.

    In sum, yes, real change comes when we let go, relax, and act with kindness.

  4. it’s funny, i actually just posted my version of this (my version as in my life :) ) yesterday! i finally got to the point where i needed to live and not care so that i could care in a healthy way

  5. This ‘paradoxical theory of change’ describes exactly the way I’ve recently committed to living my life … although, I hadn’t known there was actually a name for it! :) Thanks for the link, Katie. I’m definitely going to explore this theory and Gestalt Therapy further.

  6. I agree with this. It does seem so paradoxical though. I know the biggest and best changes in my life happened when I stopped pressuring myself so much over them.

  7. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Christie Inge, Katie McLaughlin. Katie McLaughlin said: How To Change…By Not Changing At All http://goo.gl/fb/RHFlN [...]

  8. jessica says:

    I love love love this post! I have been working on self acceptance for a long time and have recently made some HUGE strides. I am finally showing myself love and kindness.

    I could have never imagined that really and truly the first thing that needed to change was my perspective, and then if any other change was truly necessary it would simply fall into place. Ironically once my perspective changed, there was really not a whole lot that I still feel inclined to change. I am good just how I am. I was fighting a losing battle – trying to be perfect.

    So cool when you accept what God has intended for you.

  9. Yes yes yes!

    I subscribe to this theory wholeheartedly. And it isn’t really paradoxical, because change shouldn’t be violent! (which, funnily enough, I wrote about today).

    The thing is, we make better choices that are right for us when we love and accept ourselves. And those choices just happen to create positive change.

    Waaaaaaaaaay better than willpower, if you ask me!

  10. This is so true! I’ve been struggling for years to “change” various things about myself that I thought needed to be change. It turns out that when I just let me be me – love and accept who I truly am – those changes came without me trying. Great post :)

  11. I totally agree with this approach although I admit, it is harder to do when none of your clothes fit (because you’ve gained weight) and you have this constant reminder of the need to change (unless you buy new clothes…). I’ve been a lot more self-accepting the past few weeks and I will say that it has done wonders for my mood AND my actions. I don’t feel like eating well and exercising is a chore/necessity to fit back into my old pants, but rather a way to treat myself right. As always, great post! :D

    • Katie says:

      Thanks, Elina! And I actually AM a big fan of buying new clothes (but not necessarily expensive ones) because otherwise I really struggle to accept where I am at that given moment. For a long time I forced myself to wear clothes that didn’t fit properly hoping it would “motivate” me to lose weight, but in my case that always backfired.

  12. Tamara says:

    Dieting doesn’t always backfire on its own…it seems to me that when I hated myself, if I ever made any changes that could potentially make myself feel better I would sabotage myself /on purpose/. Starving does lead to binging naturally, but my episodes were mostly fueled by self-punishment mixed with rebellion. I would binge to make sure I would always be “fat” so I could keeping hating myself in peace, and never have to make real progress in life. For example: “I’m fat, so that company wouldn’t hire me anyway. I won’t bother applying.” Or, “I’m fat, so boys will never like me. There’s no point in putting myself out there.” It’s no mystery why I binged whenever there were stressors in life that had nothing to do with my weight.

    So it doesn’t seem that paradoxical to me that people have to stop trying to get anywhere. Every time you make a significant change, you have to re-evaluate your self-image, and that’s scary. Sometimes it involves unwinding a whole knot of justifications you’ve cooked up and exposing more flaws than you want to deal with. In the interest of self-preservation, it’s easier to sabotage than to let yourself improve.

    • Katie says:

      Interesting point! I see what you’re saying – that sometimes there’s an element of fear that leads to self-sabotage, which requires a lot of deep digging.

  13. I too have had an ongoing battle with my thighs most of my life. I can remember being on a “diet” when I was in 7th grade. Sad, but true. I work daily with self acceptance, but it is hard to overcome something that runs so deep. Thanks for your words of wisdom and encouragement!

    • Katie says:

      It’s amazing how deep some of this stuff really goes. I’m so glad to hear that you actively pursue a course of self-acceptance!

  14. I didn’t know there was a name for it! Holy moly…this is what’s been at the basis of my blog!! I knew that acceptance would lead to health…as I like to say, “you can’t hate yourself to health (or thinness)”

    • Katie says:

      YES! I thought about you and your blog while I was writing this, actually. “You can’t hate yourself to health.” GENIUS!

  15. This was the perfect post for me today. I’ve struggled with body image since I little and while I can say that I am MUCH MUCH better today, there are still times throughout the year when I slowly see myself falling back in to that self hatred funk.

    It’s the times that I really embrace my body that I FEEL and look the best. I take care of myself instead of abuse it with too much exercise or not enough calories or too many caloires.

    I love that you wrote this post today because it’s exactly what I needed to hear :)

  16. Instead of hanging up a picture of yourself that you hate, hang up a picture of yourself that you love. Visually seeing yourself in a good way instead of a bad way can change everything around. See my past post on this suggestion at http://ihaveabackbone.wordpress.com/2010/11/03/picture-your-future-self

  17. jessica says:

    I really believe this! I think self hate only leads to feelings of inadequacy and low self worth- how can one feel empowered to change with only negative thoughts? Knowing who you are and where you stand is so important in being able to take the steps toward change. Great post!

  18. I felt like I was at war with my body for a very long time. The meaner and more frustrated I became with why my body wasn’t doing what I wanted to do, the more weight I gained and the worse I felt about my body. Once I took that away, I began to feel better about myself and more accepting with what my body wanted and needed.

  19. Lindsey says:

    Lovely post.

    I stopped my battle with disordered eating and thinking when I accepted myself the way that I WAS at that MOMENT. Not what I wished I were…It’s a powerful thing!

  20. Amen! Totally relate to everything you’ve written, from thigh hating to acceptance as the ticket to freedom (or at least to diminish enslavement).

  21. Love this post. Very much resonates with how I think. I even remember thinking my thighs were big in elementary school – crazy! I’ve gotten kinder with my body over the years, but sometimes those old voices will show up unexpected. This is a good reminder to keep those feelings in check. Thanks for posting!

  22. Amen. What a wonderful post. It so resonates with my experiences. I too had a hateful relationship with my thighs. (Of course it doesn’t help to live in a society that is obsessed with 6’2″ 120 pound models)

    I believe change really does begin with self acceptance. There is a wonderful book on this topic called The Gift of Our Compulsions.

    My motto is “What you resist persists.” As I change my focus away from what I hate and toward what I desire (health, happiness, vitality) change happens in a way that seems effortless!

  23. Josie says:

    this is revolutionary for me, Katie. i’ve been thinking about what you wrote here since i read it yesterday. it is becoming that time where i think more about the future and immediately start to worry about all the weight i have to lose and all the stuff i have to do. and, then, i think about how getting that firm footing means stay in one place and accepting myself, and i am suddenly calm!!

  24. Yet again, you have hit the nail on the head. I had to let go of dieting all together and focus all of my attention on self-acceptance (even at 270 lbs.) for an entire year and a half before I got my footing and was able to change. A year later, I am a lot healthier, both physically and mentally. This is an important concept and I am so glad you gave it space on your blog!

    • Katie says:

      And I’m so glad you shared how your personal experience affirms what I’ve said! Thanks for all of your wonderful insights! :)

  25. [...] Negative Thinking: Facts versus Judgments by Katie @ Health for the Whole Self, who also wrote How to Change … By Not Changing at All. This latter post resonated deeply with me, and it brought to my attention Gestalt therapy and the [...]

  26. [...] So in 2011, I hope to be guided – gently and naturally – by the word RELEASE. I want to take a step back and trust my intuition even more than I do now. I want to lean into my gut, tune into my heart, and listen to my God who lives within me. I want to experience change without changing at all. [...]

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