"Why the Heck are Y'all Called Three Trees?"
Updated: May 12
"So, why the heck are y'all called 'Three Trees Center for Change?'" This is a question we often get asked and while there are many answers to this question, the main reason is that it explains the ways that we support change in our own lives and in the lives of the people we work with. The Three Trees of Change are helping people (1) Manage their Emotions, (2) Clarify their Thinking Patterns, and (3) Align their Behaviors. These are typically best understood through some examples:
Emotional Resilience: Emotional Resilience just means that when you are experiencing strong emotions, either enjoyable or aversive, that you are able to work with them in non-self destructive ways. Often our behaviors are reactions to how we are feeling rather than based on what we would like to achieve. This reactivity creates a great deal of the stress in our life. Think of a time that you really wanted to be kind and had just bought a t-shirt that says "Kindness is everything." Think about how good you would be feeling with your new purchase and your good intentions. Then, some jerk starts driving really slowly in front of you, and you have just had about enough of this so you decided to teach them a lesson about how to drive on the roads by sprinkling some sentence enhancers (this is what our friend Amine calls profanity) into your verbal interactions with the jerk as you drive by him. All of a sudden, your new purchase and your good intentions have been lost in the swirl of emotional reactivity. Or let's say you just got a promotion and you are feeling really good. You are feeling so good in fact that you forget you are smack in the middle of No Drink November. Go to the bar, to keep the positive emotions rolling. Before you know it, your thinking is impaired and you turn what might have been a night of celebration into a "I cant believe I did that/said that/got that tattoo" kind of evening. Emotions, both enjoyable and aversive, need to be managed skillfully if we are going to create the kind of change we are hoping to in life, and thus working with them in non-reactive ways is one of the Three Trees of Change.
Challenging Thoughts: If you are human, then chances are your thinking patterns are not always aligned with your goals. Our thoughts can be fairly random and are not as consistent or as under our control as we would like them to be. A big part of our work when we embark on change is to become very aware of this discord in our thinking and really start to tackle some of the larger conflicts in our thinking patterns. For example, when I met my wife, I thought I was one heck of a dancer, and it took us only a few dates for her to point out that I was dancing on the off beat and that perhaps I could expand my rhythmic sway beyond the two step. This was very troubling for me as it conflicted with my very strong belief that I was a trend setter in the world of moving one's body to the rhythm and the clash of my thinking errors with reality was painful :-) However, it also allowed me to move through my denial and better align my thinking patterns with reality. If I had stayed in denial, I never could have addressed this and never would have learned how to add a little shoulder bump into my routine. Sometimes though, this cognitive dissonance is not so harmless. For example, if you think you are a good parent, but you are not thoughtful and kind to the person you co parent with, this is a huge discrepancy that needs to be challenged. Once you recognize that being a good parent means also being thoughtful, intentional, and kind to the other co-parent, you can start to get to work on making these changes happen. Otherwise, you run the risk of remaining in denial and never becoming the type of parent you would like to be.
Aligning Behaviors: Once you know how to manage challenging emotions and are starting to see more clearly about how your behaviors are impacting you and other people, you can start working on the third tree of change: aligning your behaviors with your goals. We mentioned in the previous example, the individual who wanted to be a better parent. This means that for them, they would need to really look at the daily habits they were engaging in that would conflict with this goal. Then they would need to replace these harmful habits with healthy habits that were supporting their goals. In doing so, they are going to experience more challenging emotions and more cognitive dissonance as their brain kicks up a fuss at the changes it is having to undergo. But if there is the necessary level of supportive conditions, and if we continue to work with our emotions, our thinking patterns, and our daily habits, we can slowly make the shifts necessary. Hopefully this is helpful, but if not, don't tell me about it, as it would create uncomfortable emotions for me and would conflict with my self awareness; I am not ready to engage in that type of behavior change yet and would just rather remain in denial (see how that works?)