fightfairFor many of us, a major birthday (30, 40, 50 or 60) brings great hope for change. We expect things will be better.  However, just because we’re another year older, nothing really changes. As a psychotherapist, I notice that expecting things to get better – without taking any action –  usually brings up a lot of discontent in my clients’ lives.  They want things to be different, but don’t know how to make it happen.

Discontent doesn’t feel good, but it’s a necessary part of growing wiser. It pushes us to clearly see what we’ve done so far – the joys and sorrows, successes and failures – and that if we keep going the same way, nothing’s going to change.  Sometimes we even feel “trapped” in a life where change seems impossible.

We are never trapped, but we often believe that we are.

Discontent is healthy: it pushes us to change…and change takes work.  Unfortunately, few of us (myself included) are encouraged to change when life is easy. No, it takes some thumps upside the head to get us to examine what we’re doing and consider doing things differently.

How can you use your discontent constructively?

One way is to consider counseling. There are many ways to make this birthday year better last year, and most of them involve reflection: going inward.  Many of us don’t want to do this; we avoid it at all costs. We are afraid that if we look inside our minds we’ll discover a horrible person lurking in there.

This is where counseling can be helpful. Psychotherapy encourages us to go inward, where we often find our unconscious beliefs and childhood fears running the show. If you are wondering why you can’t stop doing something that you know is bad for you, I guarantee you that your conscious mind is not in charge.

Your conscious mind knows what would be good for you, but it is often overruled by your unconscious mind.  Your unconscious mind is all that stuff just below the surface of daily life, and it goes way, way back.

It’s like you’re carrying around a 8-year-old version of yourself who is – unconsciously – running your life.  If you ever find yourself saying, “I know this isn’t good for me, but I just can’t stop doing it”, know that your unconscious is in control.

But you can change this.

When you work out at the gym and hit a plateau, if you’re smart, you stop doing the same old unproductive routine and get a trainer to help you move to the next level.  A good psychotherapist does the same thing for your mental state: when you’re “stuck” and can’t progress mentally, you need help.  Friends, relatives and lovers can be helpful, but they have neither the training nor the objectivity and confidentiality of a good psychotherapist.

If you want this birthday year to be better than your last, consider getting some expert assistance.  You could celebrate your birthday by making a conscious effort to change your life and then taking action to create change.

Above all, don’t find yourself at your news birthday saying, “Is that all there is?”