Time for a Paradigm Shift, and Perhaps even New Wineskins

At the start of a new year, we are likely filled with a mixture of emotions and thoughts as we do what so readily comes to mind when one thing ends, and another thing begins – reflect. We reflect on the previous year, on significant “wins” and difficult losses. We reflect on the quality of our relationships. We reflect on choices we have made and their impact on our lives. Depending on what our experiences have been, we may feel accordingly.

It goes without saying that 2020 followed by 2021 have been two challenging years, and for many, even devastating. Many people have reported feeling unbalanced and uncertain about what the future holds in ways that have never been expected, including how they view their ability to engage in the world around them.

At the outset of this new year, it is important to reflect on the realities of not just the negatives, but also the positives and even the neutrals of the previous year(s). Reflection is one way to engage the paradigm shift. As defined in the Oxford Advanced English Dictionary, a paradigm shift is “a great and important change in the way something is done or thought about.” In other words, it is something that requires an ability to make a shift in perspective. While we may not always be able to access the broader picture of our challenges right away, or even while we are journeying through them, it is vital to allow ourselves the chance to do so.

I consider the words of my father who used to tell me at key times throughout my life that, “the Kimberly of today is not the Kimberly of yesterday, and she will not be the Kimberly of tomorrow,” and who always encouraged me to find the vision for what the “Kimberly of tomorrow” was to look like. Whether a positive or negative experience, this idiomatic expression stresses that the experience was not the end of who I was, and therefore, I should not grow comfortable in that identity. In other words, we are in a dynamic experience that allows for our continued growth, if we can find that perspective and allow it to shape our next step.

The truth is that we can all long for an ‘arrival’ that allows us to stay comfortable where we are. Said another way, we are all looking for equilibrium. Lisa Najavits, PhD., developer of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy [CBT] manualized treatment approach for people diagnosed with comorbid substance abuse and trauma known as Seeking Safety, and director of Treatment Innovation and adjunct professor at UMASS, describes the process of finding safety after experiencing a trauma to be scary and difficult. This is because change is required, and the process of change (and changing) remains mysterious – there is no set answer to what will bring a person to place of readiness for change, only that we know we need to keep trying things until we find our catalyst.

Ways to ‘shift’, or develop new wineskins

It is clear that we have been through a global trauma that has impacted every person on an individual level. Our beliefs about our safety and the world we once knew has shifted, and in order to find wellness and wholeness, we need to be able to shift with it. We need a paradigm shift. We are all capable of developing a new perspective, even if we don’t think we are, initially. Here are a few ways to consider doing so, should you desire to give it a try:

  1. Identify your biases – What are your beliefs about your ability to change, and where did they develop? Cognitive biases are systematic errors in thinking that occur when we are processing information due to problems with attention, memory, attributions, etc. They are different than logical fallacies, which stem from logic errors in an argument. The problem with cognitive biases is that they are so connected to our experience in the world that they can seem like “truths” or “facts,” but they are more accurately our own derivation of a truth or fact. They impact our beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world around us. The bad news? We all have them, and they are influencing every judgment and choice we make, and some are not always for the good. The good news? We can work to become aware of them through reflection and more intentional decision-making. With practice, we can make a change toward positive habits and ways of thinking that help us to move forward. As has been said, “Practice makes better, and makes our better, best.” See this fun video for more on cognitive biases and their power to keep us stuck:  https://youtu.be/MFzDaBzBlL0
  2.  Do Something New – Our brains actually crave novelty experiences, and they are an important way we can manage our moods. I think of a someone I have worked with, an incredible woman of valor in her 60’s, who has made it her new year’s motto to, “Do-Something-New-in-2022.” The very act of doing something different or new creates significant irrefutable evidence against our beliefs that might be telling us that “Nothing will really be enjoyable,” or “I can’t do that new thing.”
  3. Do anything you used to enjoy doing, but that you have stopped doing because of the pandemic – Behavioral activation helps us to decrease avoidance and isolation, two behaviors which can increase our experience of negative, anxious and depressive thoughts. When we get up and get moving, we are engaging the world around us, which again, gives us vital evidence that we can experience a shift in mood and, therefore, a shift in perspective. When feeling depressed and anxious, we tend to stop engaging in the activities that we would normally do, especially those that we used to enjoy doing. During the pandemic, we have gone through varying degrees of reduction of freedoms and, in essence, were forced to stop doing the things that we enjoy(ed). By resuming some, if not all, of these activities, even if not on the scale that they used to be, we begin to experience a lift in our mood. When our mood is improved, our experience of ourselves, the world around us, and our future is improved. And this allows us to make the next step forward.

Happy New Year, all. And may your pursuit of a new, healthy perspective be fruitful.

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