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The Willingness Factor

By Mary Ann Bailey

What are your dreams? What would you love to do if you could find the courage to step outside the parameters of your current life and pursue the visions that keep dancing around in your head?

Do you want to start your own business? Do you want to travel to Africa to work with AIDS orphans? Maybe you want to take a class in photography or creative writing or maybe train for a triathlon. Or maybe your dream is to move to the country and grow organic fruits and vegetables for the local farmers' market. Whatever your dreams may be, they are part of what makes you so unique. Your dreams are a gift to all of us; and if they are lost, the world shines a little less brightly.

But it can be difficult to take the dreams that are living in our head and make them a reality because making any kind of change in our life creates resistance, fear and doubt. Sometimes this toxic trio can seem like too great an obstacle to overcome. Yet, there are many people who do realize their dreams. How do they do it? What special talents and skills do they possess that help them to persevere in the face of these obstacles? Are they smarter? Do they have better problem solving skills? Have they read a better variety of self-help books?

The answer to all these questions is a resounding "No". It doesn't take any special innate talents to live your dreams. There is no secret formula or process to follow that will guarantee your success. There is only one thing you need and it is something that we can all access. The best predictor of someone's ability to successfully achieve their dreams is their level of willingness.

Willingness is the key to successful and sustainable change; for without being willing to take risks, face obstacles, or try new things, there is no space for the change process to take place. Yet, willingness can be a fickle entity. We always seem to be able to muster it up at the onset of idea; however, as the change process unfolds and obstacles appear, our willingness often disappears into myriad of excuses we come up with as to why this idea is actually not so great.

To be successful, our willingness must be unconditional from beginning to end. We must be willing to take risks and try new things, to trust in the process of change, and to believe in ourselves and our ability to achieve our dreams. If we give up in any of these areas, our likelihood of success drops dramatically.

1. Willingness to Take Risks and Try New Things
Making any kind of change in our lives is going to require us to try new things. That is the very nature of change. We are going to have to learn new skills, try out new ideas, and practice new behaviors. Our safety zone, that place where we feel comfortable and secure, will need to expand to include these new ways of being. And we must be willing to embrace these new experiences even when we feel afraid or uncertain.

Working towards making the changes that will improve our lives can be very exhilarating. But it also can be scary and difficult. We know all systems abhor change, and our body's system is no exception. It will try to do everything it can to talk us out of taking risks and trying new behaviors. We will hear voices telling us how hard this is going to be and that we are not strong enough for the challenge. We will feel our muscles tense up, our stress level will rise, and there will be a very strong urge to give up and return to the safety of our old way of being.

It is at this point, when fear and resistance begin to challenge our decision to make a change that we can lose touch with the willingness that we had at the beginning of the process. When this happens, it is important that we focus on reconnecting with the part of us who originally wanted make the change - the part who is excited about learning new things, facing new challenges, and bringing more joy and fulfillment to our life. If we can stay connected to that place where our willingness resides, we can then use its positive energy to overcome the doubt and fear and keep moving forward toward our goal.

2. Willingness to Trust in the Change Process
We live in a culture that demands instant gratification. If we want something, we buy it. If we don't feel well, we take a pill. We have gotten used to not having to wait very long to get our needs met.

Unfortunately however, the change process doesn't work that way. It is not fast and it is not linear, often taking its own circuitous route to reach the goal. There are also parts of the change process over which we will have little or no control. And it is this combination of having little control and the slow, tortoise-like pace of change which can be extremely uncomfortable for many of us to tolerate.

It is at this point that we need to be extra willing to allow the change process to unfold naturally so that we will be able to reach the goals we set for ourselves. We have let go our desire for speed and control and trust that the change will happen. Although the process may seem awkward and cumbersome to us, it does work. And if we try and fight it, we will lose. But if we willingly follow its lead, we will meet with success.

3. Willingness to Believe That You Can Be Successful
The last and most important factor in reaching our goals is our willingness to believe in our ability to succeed. Although this may sound obvious, there are many places along the way where our willingness to believe in ourselves can get sidetracked.

First, we have to deal with the critical voices inside us that constantly remind us that there is no need for this change and that things are just fine the way they are.

Second, we have to deal with the ups and downs and the slow pace of the change. The light at the end of the tunnel is not always visible and it can be tempting to let fear and doubt take over, disempowering us and leading us to think maybe we don't have what it takes to make this change.

And last, we have to deal with friends and family members who keep asking us what we are doing and why we are doing it. Making a change in our life has a ripple effect on those around us. Their systems will sense our change and will go on alert. People we thought of as supportive are now challenging our decision and questioning our ability to actually go through with it. It is not that they are really against us. It is just that they don't like their systems being out of sorts.

The journey of change is not without its obstacles. But it is also a journey that is full of rewards. The key to reaping the rewards and minimizing the breakdowns is to lead with your heart, not your head. Your heart is where you will find your willingness. Your head is where you will find resistance and fear.

Copyright © 2009 Mary Ann Bailey. All rights reserved.
Mary Ann Bailey, MC, is a life coach who specializes in helping professional women successfully navigate the challenges of midlife career transitions.
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