cartoon of drill sergeant yelling at viewer

Creating the best conditions for positive change

Image credit: © 2011 KoiQuestion, from Flickr | used via CC-BY-SA licensing


If New Year’s Day is the traditional time for making new resolutions and setting new goals, the rest of January seems to be the traditional season for beating ourselves up for not keeping those resolutions or meeting those goals.

That also means that our usual beating up of ourselves can expand into whole new levels of ugliness right about now.

If your self-talk even vaguely resembles what goes in my head, you likely don’t stop at noticing where you’ve fallen short of the goals you set for yourself. You’ve probably moved right on into full character assassination.

I bet that drill sergeant in your head doesn’t hesitate to tell you just how worthless, lazy, broken, ugly, and unlovable you are. It takes great delight in calling you a complete failure as a person (and a parent and an employee and a spouse and a friend and … ).

Listening to that tirade is no fun, of course, but we all know that it’s absolutely necessary if we hope to improve ourselves, right? Without that torrent of self-abuse, how will we ever be motivated to make any changes?

The ineffective drill sergeant

But here’s the really odd thing about that little piece of “common wisdom,” it just doesn’t work. (At least not for the vast majority of us.)

Yes, it might help us push ourselves into doing whatever it is we think we “should” be doing a time or two, but it is stunningly ineffective at creating lasting change.

I’ve spent some time observing my own efforts at change and the efforts of people around me, and it turns out that those who are most committed to beating themselves into changing seem to be the least likely to make the changes they want to make in any kind of lasting way.

So does that mean that lasting change is impossible?

Not at all! It just means that the way most of us are approaching it isn’t working well for us.

A better approach

When I think about the times that I’ve been most effective at creating change, it’s always been because I was in a place, time, or relationship that made me feel loved and valued enough that I was inspired to aim for better things for myself and for those in relationship with me.

Not because I felt like a failure or like I wasn’t good enough, but because I felt so empowered by other people’s love and respect for me that I wanted to live up to their view of me!

Successful changes came from a place of feeling like I deserved something better for my life, not from feeling like I was a failure!

When I’ve been in places, times, or relationships where I constantly felt criticized, unappreciated, or unvalued, my response is inevitably one of defensiveness. I may make some changes to lessen the attacks on me, but they are temporary and surface-level only because I’m too busy defending myself (at least internally) to expand into a better version of who I can be.

Change of any kind is a risk, and feeling loved and valued creates the sense of safety needed to make real change happen.

If that’s true in my relationships with others, how much more true will it be in my relationship with myself and the ever-present stream of self-talk going in my head?

As I have shifted my focus in making changes away from using my inner drill sergeant to heap abuse on myself to move toward loving myself into expanding and growing into all that I am capable of being, I’ve found myself making changes much more easily and gracefully than I ever imagined possible. Even changes that I had failed at making time and time and time again.

If you’ve been trying the drill sergeant approach without success, I challenge you to consider approaching your desired changes from a stance of self-love and kindness. You just might be surprised at how much difference it makes!

I’ll share more in the next few weeks about what this looks like for me on a practical level. I hope you’ll join me and share what works (or doesn’t work) for you!

Questions to ponder

How well has the inner drill sergeant approach worked for you in the past? How successful has it been in creating a supporting lasting change in your life?

Think about the times when you have been most successful at making desired changes. What was different about those times?

What relationships have been most helpful in inspiring you to make lasting changes in your life? What was the nature of those relationships?

How might you form that kind of relationship with yourself to help you make any changes you want to make?


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