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Why Wanting to Get Better May Do More Harm than Good

From the book, My Reclaimed Life.

Here’s something I finally figured outWanting to quit drinking, smoking, and being overweight and out of shape was no help at all.

Not a bit.

In fact, wanting to do all that probably hurt me.

During my forty-year career as a teacher and school counselor, I met with hundreds of failing students and their parents. In those meetings, the sullen students often sat and said nothing. The common response to any question or comment would be a sarcastic glance at their parents or an absolute refusal to respond at all. For nearly three decades, I told the parents their children had to have at least a tiny bit of “want to” for us to help them get better.

Several years after my last drink I realized I’d been using the wrong word during all those meetings. I know now there’s a huge difference between “want to” and “willingness,’ and willingness is the key to change.

The difference may seem subtle.

It’s not.

Pay close attention to this. It is a very big deal.

Everybody wants to get better—including those kids in our meetings. Once the parents were gone, even the most sullen, passive-aggressive student eventually admitted to wanting to do better. The “want to” is just under the surface, hidden by resentment, fear, and guilt.

The students didn’t lack “want to.”

They lacked the willingness to do what it took to change.

For twenty-five years, I wanted to quit drinking alcohol, quit smoking cigarettes, lose weight, and get in shape. I knew nothing else would happen until I dealt with the alcohol, so I woke up day after day saying to myself, “Today’s a new day ….” I rarely finished the sentence, but the implication was I wouldn’t drink alcohol that day.

Then, each afternoon I would come home, fill the glass with ice and vodka, and repeat all evening.

I had plenty of “want to.” I wasn’t faking or kidding myself. I really did want to change.

Didn’t matter, though.

I didn’t have the willingness to do what it took to act on the “want to.”

People who know my story often ask me how to lose weight. Many are obsessed with the desire. Yet, when leaving the buffet table, their plates are overflowing with fried chicken breasts and mountains of mashed potatoes covered by rich gravy. The “want to” is no problem whatsoever for them. It’s there in abundance. The willingness to pass on the calorie laden and fat enhanced offerings and choose the small slice of plain ham and unadorned broccoli is what’s missing.

In short, wanting to do something has no meaning in real life whatsoever. In fact, “wanting to” might be counterproductive. It makes us feel as if we’re doing something when we’re not. We feel better because at least we have the desire to change. The “want to” allows us to fool ourselves.

Willingness means we’re ready to take action and we do it.

When I finally found willingness, I poured the liquor out, then eventually got in the car and drove to the treatment center. On my way, I was willing to say to myself, “Ed, do whatever they tell you to do.” The treatment center personnel were the experts at getting people sober—I surely wasn’t. The willingness to take direction from those in the know was critical to my sobriety. My willingness to take the suggestions from other alcoholics with long time sobriety has kept me from drinking alcohol again. My willingness to apply those principles to quitting smoking, losing weight, and having a physically healthy body has been critical in being successful in those efforts.

I wanted to get better for years and years and years.

Big hairy deal.

Nothing happened until I had the willingness to listen to those who had long-term success, then change my behavior, whether I wanted to or not.

So, how do you find the willingness to act?

The only thing I know for sure is most of us don’t take action until we’ve hit a bottom that hurts enough. Maybe you’ll be different. Maybe you’ll find a tiny bit of willingness to take the first little baby step toward changing before you hit a bad bottom. Maybe that one little step will feel so good, you’ll take another one.

If not, maybe someday when you’re hurting bad enough, you’ll remember this book on your bookshelf, or on your e-reader, pull it out or turn it on, and read it again.

Perhaps it’ll help you act on your newfound willingness.

See the book, My Reclaimed Life, on Amazon.

Go to www.myreclaimedlife.com

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