In my many years of providing counseling services to children, adults and families, sometimes I’ve encountered exasperated clients who are desperate for a quick fix or a solution to their problem at hand. They share their dilemma, and I listen. Then, I might offer a simple strategy in the moment, and they quickly retort, “I’ve tried that, it doesn’t work.”
I empathize! I’ve often felt frustrated with how slow the change process can be. Yet, my work has taught me that shifting habits and changing our responses takes practice. So rather than preaching that practice makes perfect, I help people motivate their methods for change through an activity called, Rule of Thumb. In order for this rule to apply, three things must be in place:
1. You have to actually want the method to work.
If you don’t want something to work, or if you are simply going through the motions, then the rule doesn’t apply. In order to experience a change, you have to believe that it will work.
2. You must be intentional.
I usually give myself a short-term challenge. For seven days I will….For thirty days I will…and I will mark it off on the calendar. When I do parenting work, one of the requirements is to intentionally set aside five minutes a day with your child for some one-on-one time where you practice skills that we have reviewed. Parents must then submit a homework sheet. I’ve found that apart from meeting weekly, homework is the biggest indicator for internalized change. It takes intention.
3. You must be honest.
I tell my clients that I can only act as a guide or a sounding board. I can’t practice with them and it won’t impact my well-being if they practice or not, but it will impact theirs. Be honest with yourself on your level of commitment, frequency of practice, and the barriers to practicing your new habit.
Once these factors are in place, you can then apply the rule of thumb. Here’s how you do it!:
Look at one hand. Start with your pinky and repeat the following while moving across your hand: “It doesn’t work. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t work. It works.”
Just that simple. Until you can move across your hand with consistency, keep on practicing.
To make a change, a healthy choice and to overcome emotional and behavioral hurdles is no easy feat. We require repetition, we need to believe in our efforts, and we need a reminder that practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes better!