Change is hard. Self-awareness can help.

Like many of us, you want to make a change in your life. Maybe you'd like to take better care of yourself, develop healthier relationships, or experience a greater sense of well-being. Humans are creatures of habit, though, and making long-lasting change can feel daunting. You might have already tried to change, but you keep finding yourself stuck. You're discouraged, and you wonder how you can move forward. Self-awareness is one of the most powerful tools you have to manifest the life you desire. In a previous post, I described self-awareness and identified some ways to practice it, including art. In this post, I want to share one of my favorite examples of self-awareness-related artwork, because it demonstrates the strong connection between change and self-awareness. 

Please note, the poet uses the word "fault" to indicate personal accountability in her life; I recognize that word might feel blaming or shaming for some readers. I invite you to reflect on your experience of that word in the context of the whole poem and decide for yourself how you'd like to define it.

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters by Portia Nelson

Chapter One

I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost .... I am helpless. It isn't my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter Two

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don't see it. I fall in again. I can't believe I am in this same place. But, it isn't my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter Three

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it there. I still fall in ... it's a habit ... but, my eyes are open. I know where I am. It is myfault. I get out immediately.

Chapter Four

I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.

Chapter Five

I walk down another street.

That last line really hits home when you consider the poet's journey. Walking down another street highlights her willingness and courage to take ownership of her life. As you know, breaking a habit is no easy feat! The poem shows how it takes time to develop insight into your patterns and to understand fully what keeps them in place.

Change is not linear.

As your self-awareness grows, you might still make the same mistakes over and over again. Behavioral change and healthier choices will come, but they often involve setbacks and struggle. Each chapter of the poem reflects on that process of "one step forward, one step back," which is common and should be expected when you are trying to implement change.

Self-awareness leads to mindful decision-making, which reinforces change.

Of course, it can feel defeating to end up in the same old place again. But if your eyes are open, if you're paying attention to how you got there, you can empower yourself to implement one small change to alter the ultimate outcome. You can pull yourself out and reflect on how to course-correct for next time. You can extricate yourself from the problem a little bit faster. You can minimize the damage. Developing self-awareness leads you to these incremental changes by shedding light on your experience. You're no longer walking in the dark, so you can begin to anticipate falling into your old habits.

Change requires appreciation, which requires self-awareness.

Even baby steps are steps forward, so be sure to celebrate the small victories along your path. Bring awareness to the efforts you're making to build a better life for yourself. Offer yourself compassion when you falter and encourage yourself to keep going. Don't get caught up in self-criticism over how far you still have to go. Instead, recognize how far you've come each and every step of the way. When you slow down to notice the improvements you're making, you punctuate the moment and allow positive feelings to amplify. The fulfillment that you experience each time you give yourself credit for your efforts can be just as impactful as making the change itself. Conscious appreciation fuels motivation to keep working hard toward your goals.

Maintaining change with self-awareness.

Once you attain the change you desire, you have to find a way to keep it going. When you practice conscious awareness of your experience, you can recognize the signals that you're falling back into old habits. When you continue to reflect on your journey, you'll continue to feel grateful for the positive impact that your efforts have had on you. The more time you make for gratitude, the more motivated you will feel to put energy into sustaining your new way of being in the world. This is how you create your "Chapter Six," the one where change becomes normal, and self-awareness becomes natural. The one where you continue to evolve into the best and most authentic version of yourself.