The Paradox of Change Work: How to Change for the Better by Accepting Yourself

Boaz Fox_1536x1536_Original
The paradoxical theory of change says people change by becoming more fully what they are, rather than by trying to become something or someone they are not. / McKinsey

When I was five, my parents got divorced. This was the first time I saw a therapist.

Years and several moves later, I remember having one of the most profound conversations of my young life. Coincidentally, I was sitting across from a different therapist named Amy.

Amy was this incredibly outrageous figure in my eleven-year-old life. She cursed, she wore her shoes on the sofa, she offered me candy at odd hours. She was a master at building the type of rebel culture a Type A++ girl like me needed to explore what was going on in my overly orderly brain. She provided for me what some young people find in an athletic coach or a mentor program.

That day, as I explained to her how overwhelmed I felt at the thought of being so behind in school coming from Oklahoma where computer lab at the time consisted of pressing enter and spacebar to entering a school where kids my age knew Microsoft Suite, she said something that stopped me in my tracks.

When I asked her what I could do to control my anxiety, what techniques I needed to employ, what workbooks I should be doing at home, she asked me what it would look like to embrace my anxiety. I could see the word bubbles hanging in the air between us.

She then asked me:

“What could it feel like to stop working so hard to change myself and instead to embrace who I am now?”

I was without words.

Twenty-ish years later, I am still not sure if I am fully clear on this answer, but what I do know with confidence is that embracing myself is a whole lot easier and more productive than rejecting.  

Until years later, I had not a clue that Amy did not simply have a really great insight when encouraging me to embrace my true self in order to yield better results.

This concept is in fact Gestalt’s Theory of Change — known as the Paradoxical Theory of Change. This thinking explores the idea that people change by becoming more fully what they are, rather than by trying to become something or someone they are not.

In a way, this seems so obvious, doesn’t it?

Going Your Own Way on Blackboard
What qualities of yourself do you consider flaws that need “fixing”?  Can you begin to acknowledge and accept them instead? / Digital Leadership Associates

As I sat down to think about 2019 and all its pending hopes and promises, I had not really given thought to this day with Amy. But, as I hear talk of resolutions, ads for gym memberships and think of my own goals and visions (I do not personally do new year’s resolutions), I cannot help but wonder about paradox and acceptance.

So often I find myself paralyzed by the need to make a plan that I am prevented from starting. How many times do you see folks gorge themselves because their diet starts tomorrow? Ever heard a smoker mutter the words, “last one?” How about other excuses – anything from money, to time, to other people’s disappointments? All of these procrastinations are holding us back from taking risks that will allow those trips, jobs, relationships, or whatever else to happen. Or, in some cases, to end.

Beneath this resistance is fear in some form. Fear of uncertainty. Fear of change. What if it doesn’t work out? Ah, and what if it does?! Loneliness, starting over, being without a plan, being a success, admitting we need help, admitting we don’t need help, changing our mind, establishing boundaries.

My mom had us all at her house for Christmas this year. This was something she really wanted for a long time. Once it happened, it wasn’t how she imagined, and she had to cope with disappointment. This happened because the only constant is change, and her expectations did not match reality. They rarely do.

Imagine how much more enjoyable the experience would have been if she embraced the time as it unfolded in front of her, rather than comparing it to what it could have been in her mind, or worse: telling me how she planned to change her ways to get things right next year.

If we remain unattached, embrace what is and dare to fail, we can simply start by starting.

I have several intentions for 2019 but all of them relate back to my overall theme for the year: Simplify and Fail Better.

What aspects of your personality have you been conditioned to work AGAINST? How might you instead EMBRACE those parts of yourself?

What qualities of yourself do you consider flaws that need “fixing”?  Can you begin to acknowledge and accept them instead?

If you were to imagine one thing you want to be toasting as you ring in the new year 2020, what might that be? What is ONE step you can take this very moment to get closer to that vision? 

What might you be working hard to change that is actually harming your vision?

Do you have a word (or theme) that can serve as an anchor for you as you boldly greet 2019?


Whatever you are looking to change (or maintain) this year, this day or this moment, I wish you good health and a joyous New Year.

Please know that if you are seeking a partner to fail better alongside in 2019, it would be my honor to explore with you.

As you think about your plans — both at work and at home — for the new year, I invite you to learn more about Graymake, LLC and the opportunities we have available for you and your employees.  To set up a 30-minute phone chat with a member of our team, sign up here or email

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