“Swap Not Drop” Why Change Is About Alternatives Not Vacuums

Ever given up on trying to change something you’d promised yourself wasn’t good for you? Did old habits creep back in once you’d lost the first flush of the rush for change?

 Ask yourself a simple question… Did you drop or swap?

 Having been a counsellor since 2011 I’ve found that I increasingly disappoint clients when they ask how counselling works by saying 4 things:

1 “It’s hard work.”

2 “It’s not for free.”

3 “Battling anxiety is like Prince Charming chopping through the wall of thorns with a great machete to get to Sleeping Beauty – except every time he chops they grow back… so he has to keep chopping.”

4 “Imagine every cell of your body wants to go back to the comfort of your old ‘normal’ even though you’ve made the big and brave decision to change.”


Feeling gloomy? Clients come to counselling to improve their lives, with hope that things can get better and sometimes under the illusion that we might be able to wield a magic wand, not for a barrage of bleak ‘reality’ requiring hard work when they’re already exhausted. Don’t loose heart. There is a way forward. Change requires a precise understanding of what it is we want to drop and an equally precise plan of what we want to swap it for. Where we often go wrong is to make a change by trying to NOT DO something, without planning exactly what we are going to DO instead.

Developing a deep understanding of how and why our habits and patterns of behaviour (conscious, and sub-conscious as far as we can get hold of them) evolved is the key to deciding what the most effective choices for lasting change should be. As we grow our lives develop their own logic and argument based on our experiences and emotional reactions to them. To change we must construct an insightful counter-argument which understands what we have lived through and proposes a way of moving forward which takes our frailties and resistance into consideration, understands our support networks and is realistic about how much we can achieve and how quickly we can do it. We’re looking for a series of carefully constructed baby steps not a great leap into the vacuum of the unknown.


Once a client has constructed their own counter-argument, decided what they can change and their way of doing it I’ve found myself saying another 4 things:

1 “Swap not drop.”

2 “Throw a dose of love in. We respond to encouragement not critical judgement.”

3 “The octopus’ tentacles of your old behaviour will pull you back every now and again. Expect it. It’s not failure. It’s a blip.”

4 “Just keep swimming.”


Just like Dory in “Finding Nemo”, if we can “just keep swimming” we will get nearer and nearer to where we planned to be. There will be blips and set-backs on the way and sometimes we’ll feel disgruntled and tired. It’s not a magic wand but I believe a precise, loving and realistic swap protects us from the overwhelming vacuum of a well-intentioned drop.