Most of us can look at ourselves and see aspects we would like to improve upon. We have little difficulty identifying areas of growth i.e. we know we could be kinder, healthier, more compassionate, more grounded, more at peace. Yet, close to the same amount of us have much trouble effecting those changes. We rationally know what to do but that rational understanding does not lead to change. If rational understanding were enough, many more people would be closer to their best selves, and the world would correspondingly improve.
So, identifying the needed change is not enough. Still, working in the field of change, the most common approach appears to be along these lines. "If I can just get this person to see that they need to be more compassionate, studious, respectful, mature, responsible, etc., they would then make the change and be so." But, since most people generally know what changes need to take place, most of us struggle with the process. "Why can't I change though it's clear that I need to change? I should exercise more. Eat better. Drink alcohol less." More than rational understanding needs to happen. Something deeper needs to take place for the change to happen.
A common example would be the fear of flying. One could throw all sorts of statistics at an individual, for instance, to try to help the individual develop a better understanding of the risks. But, most often, that information is not nearly enough or even helpful to a significant degree. The aviophobe (definitely had to goggle that one) needs to "feel" that flying is safe and, though the rational mind is one way to cultivate that feeling, actually experiencing that safety usually is a much better job of getting to that innate trust of flight. So, a therapist might introduce systematic desensitization to carefully expose the client to the feeling of being in flight. Talk about flying in the safety of an office, show pictures of flying, watch clips, imagine flying, sit on an actual airplane, etc
An example that might hit home a bit more for most of us - definitely for me - would be a fear of snakes, ophidiophobia (another google search on this one). Flying I have little fear of, but if a snake is anywhere in the vicinity, I'm going to hightail it out of there. And, I'm not talking about some type of venomous snake like a viper or a cobra but even a garter snake elicits a visceral fear reaction from me. Assuming I want to get over my fear of snakes, my best bet would be do as much as possible to be around snakes and experience safety. I then could get to the point where that feeling of fear is much diminished.
Snakes are not the best example, because the payoff of getting over that fear is pretty small. We have little incentive to do so, since being around snakes doesn't provide much in the way of rewards for most of us. On the other hand, take an anxiety around social situations. Being comfortable in and enjoying social situations have significant benefit - friendships, connection, support, networking, laughs - to name a few. But, some people have (or have developed) significant fear around those situations. Overcoming that fear ultimately comes in the form of being in social situations and experiencing calm or positive outcomes. Just as people can rarely (if ever) be talked out of a fear of snakes or airplanes, neither can one be talked out of social anxiety. At most one can be convinced to experience the anxiety-provoking situations enough times to allow the brain to adapt.
Social anxiety is much more complicated than fear of snakes or airplanes. I'll address the nuances of dealing with social anxiety in my next post.