Learning Points: There is no straight road to becoming a hero

Learning Points: There is no straight road to becoming a hero

There is this idea in Jungian psychology known as the circumambulation, and it refers to the notion of how we move towards reaching full potential.

I find myself talking about this theory a lot in my practice over this month, because clients often seek out therapy after they have launched, unsuccessfully, into another new years resolution.

The reason I mention circumambulation is because Jung believed that development doesn’t occur in a straight line. In fact, he stated that; ‘there is no linear evolution, there is only a circumambulation of the self.’

This means that development and reaching potential isn’t going to be a perfect adventure and those failures are there to teach us something on the way to meaningful growth. So, we have to be kinder to ourselves when we come a little undone in our planning and execution of a goal.

If we think about the archetypal hero’s journey it illuminates Jung’s concept clearly. The hero doesn’t get there without difficulty, he/she doesn’t become the saviour without losing or failing along the way. It is in these failures that the hero becomes something truly great because he/she has gained the important insight that falling short is part of becoming great.

We must all come to that understanding about ourselves and our aspirations to improve. People put themselves under incredible pressure to be perfect and to meet every goal they set for themselves. These are the clients I meet this time of year. Only a couple of days into the New Year and they feel like they have failed already.

They come into the session visibly deflated; shoulders shrugged and head down, they look beaten. The year hasn’t yet started and they believe they have failed. The question I get asked a lot this time of year is; how do I change my behaviour?

That is a very important question. Lets just say you are trying to give up smoking or drinking.

Firstly, a little pet hate of mine is dry January. What I find with this type of approach is that behaviour is not being modified at all, it is only being put on hold for a month and then generally the behaviour resumes again with gusto or in some cases even increases because the person is trying to make up for lost time. You have to ask yourself; why am I giving up in January?

Is it for health reasons, to lose weight or save money? A much better and healthier approach would be to cut down consumption throughout the year rather than zero in take for one month.

In the 1980s two professors from Rode Island University devised a six-stage theoretical model for changing and modifying behaviour. Remember, all behaviour can be changed.

There is no doubt about it, habits form easily and can be very tricky to break but they can be broken with the right approach. The stages are as follows:

Pre contemplation: This is the unconscious moments before we realise we need to change. We are active in the behaviour.

Contemplation: We begin to realise we need to change. So, lets just say you’re not happy with the scales or the amount of cigarettes you are smoking, you’re now in the contemplation stage.

Most of us are there at this time of year.

Preparation: This is a very important stage. I had a client recently come to me about his smoking habit. His 8-year-old daughter had come to him and asked him to stop smoking.

He knew he needed to stop but had failed so many times before he was terrified he would let her down. We talked about circumambulation and the notion of these failed attempts teaching him something, and we planned that he would have to replace smoking with something more positive and healthy. He joined his local tennis club. There was a lot of preparation before he began to stop smoking.

Action: This is when the habit is stopped.

Maintenance: In the example above, going to the tennis club was how he maintained his life free from smoking.

Relapse: When I tell clients that there may be moments of relapse and not to fear them they become relieved.

I bring in Jungian psychology again here and describe the hero’s journey; it’s not a straight line. Generally clients who relapse either go back to the first stage and stay there or move directly into stage four and five again.

We are prisoners to our patterns of behaviour as long as we do not see them. Once we have glimpsed it and realise we need to change we must plan and prepare for the action phase.

But remember, as this year unfolds in front of you, change is not about being perfect.

In fact, real growth comes from those moments of falling short but we must not allow that failure to stop us in our journey to becoming the hero in our life.

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