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  • Gonzalo Laje

The Connection Between Noticing and Change

One of my favorite moments to witness in therapy is when folks realize that life doesn’t 100% happen to them, rather, they have some agency. They can’t control everything, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do anything, either. Wow. It’s a game changer, that understanding. It’s beautiful to see the light bulbs go on, the spark of hope and FIGHT in their eyes. Often, this aha moment is followed by the question, “Okay, but what do I DO?”.

I think my answer underwhelms people. I get the sense that people expect an action plan that is regimented and rigorous and probably has multiple subsections. But my recommendation is one of those suggestions that is simultaneously simple and difficult: notice. Notice how you’re feeling (emotions). Notice how you’re feeling (bodily sensations). Notice what thoughts pop up. Notice the anxious voice. Notice the doubting voice. Notice the shaming voice. Notice what burns you out. Notice what doesn’t sit right. Notice what gives you energy. Notice what elicits joy. Notice where you feel genuine. Notice what makes you feel connected. Notice what makes you feel loved. Notice what types of conflict resolution feel more or less comfortable. Notice, notice, notice.

See, here's the thing about action: if you charge into a change without first noticing, you’re effectively building a house without any blueprints and hoping for the best. And while spontaneity can be a beautiful thing, it’s been my experience that when people act without noticing first, that’s not spontaneity at its best, that’s setting oneself up to adopt a far more self-blaming, hopeless, and imprecise narrative. In those moments, I hear, “It didn’t work because I’m lazy and broken; it’s impossible. It’s never going to work”, which OUCH and also, not super helpful. Noticing is the skill that helps us develop the palette of tools that create a workable next step. When people notice, I hear statements such as, “I planned to do my grounding exercise in the morning, so I could check it off my to-do list and get that sense of satisfaction, but then I had a really hard time getting out of bed 5 minutes earlier.” Ahh! Now we can get into a conversation about whether it makes sense to move the grounding exercise to a different part of the day or discuss ways to get to bed earlier or even whether to put this idea on the back burner for now. 

Part of why I’m not a fan of super in-depth plans when people are ready to change is because I know what change looks like in the brain and I want to set people up for success. Our brains work to be efficient–whatever we typically do becomes the default response, even on a neurological level. When we try a new approach–be it adding in a self-compassion practice or getting more sleep or initiating uncomfortable conversations–we’re making a change. We’re deviating from the default response. Our brains are highly protective of us–change (even positive, desired change!) can be perceived by our brain as a threat, so enduring change requires that our brain get cues of safety while doing something new. This is often why we’re able to follow biiiiiig new year’s resolutions for a few days and then they fall to the wayside. Part of helping our brains be brave (read: experience something new/different as safe/not a threat) is by titrating the amount of change. Often noticing is the “just right” dose of change. And when we notice, not only do we execute change at a more optimal rate for our brain, we also gain usable information as we continue to craft our next steps.

So. The next time you realize your own agency and are ready to make a change, remember a few things:

  • Notice your experience.

  • Use your observations to inform pacing and next steps.

  • You’re doing a big thing. Respect yourself and the process.


Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor

Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor


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