Being a psychotherapist and a mediator, I do not usually meet people when they are in good places in their lives. Most are going through painful, personal situations that require compassion and my willingness to work with them through the depths of their sadness, fears, difficult memories and even more difficult choices. Mental health professionals are taught early on to set clear and consistent boundaries with clients, to protect ourselves from “taking it home” or from developing biases and/or personal relationships with those we are helping professionally. I came to realize that I wasn’t always applying this exercise of self-preservation in my personal life. In an effort to "practice what I preach", I began to examine my own level of happiness and what was preventing me from true peace of mind.
I learned to focus on self-reflection, opening myself up to a change of perspective and evaluation of my goals. Most resolutions fail because we “resolve” to change everything ‘bad’ about ourselves without a plan, or even the insight to understand what our personal and emotional challenges even are. I hope the approach to my personal quest for a happier/healthier life inspires you to set some healthy goals of your own.
The Plan: Embracing a ‘New Normal’
The concept of “embracing a new normal” came to me when writing an article on grief. The idea then expanded into a method of problem solving and of moving on from pain. I most often abandon a quest for self improvement because it involves change… and change is sometimes scary! The fear of the unknown enslaves victims of domestic abuse, drug and alcohol abuse and prevents us from moving past our pain. The reality is that change doesn’t happen overnight. It is achieved through personal commitment to make small adjustments over time, even when setbacks happen – and they will. This is all a learning process and will require self confidence and a clear conscience, which brings me to step #1…
I know I am far from perfect, but I have come to trust that I am a good person. I have more than made my fair share of personal and professional mistakes. The way I see it, I have two choices; I could dwell in a cesspool of guilt or I could acknowledge them, learn from them and forgive myself for them. I’ve learned that holding on to guilt and regret serves no useful purpose when in pursuit of happiness. Self-Actualization is earned through our life lessons. If you don’t forgive yourself, why should anyone else?
Step 2: FORGIVE OTHERS
Anger and resentment use up a lot of emotional energy. Yes, maybe sometimes it feels justified… but make the conscious decision to let it go. Harboring anger and negativity doesn’t change the past and prevents us from enjoying the beauty of the ‘here and now’. Sometimes, forgiving others means letting go of certain expectations we have of them and by adjusting the nature of your relationship. As hard as this may be, remember that no one benefits from maintaining an unhealthy relationship when it clearly causes more pain than joy, or more stress than comfort. People change, priorities change… forgive them, but do draw the line. Healthy boundaries are necessary in all relationships.
Step 3: BREAK THE CHAINS THAT BIND YOU.
Give yourself permission to free yourself from what drains you and to focus on the positive influences around you. This is a particularly difficult step for me. Physical and emotional “clutter’” needs to be purged in order to make room for positive change. Chaos in our physical environment and in our personal relationships breeds disharmony and depletes our mental energy. For those who do not usually put themselves first and tend to ‘people please’, this can be a difficult, even heart-breaking process. Simplify! Go through your belongings and clean out your living space. Get rid of the stuff you don’t use or need… Remove anyone or anything that weighs you down and drains your spirit. Allow yourself time to mourn the loss of these influences, but then move on.
Step 4: PUT YOURSELF FIRST.
A tough one, especially for parents and care-givers. Look at it this way, the better you take care of yourself, the better able you are to take care of others. We all need to adopt the habit of practicing consistent self-care. No one can do this for you. We can not expect anyone else to put us first. Carve out time every day/week for yourself… take a walk, take a long bath, get a massage, plant your own garden… feed your own soul. You will find it can be liberating to practice self-fulfillment. Needing others less, allows us to appreciate them more. Think about it…
Step 5: SET SPECIFIC, MEASURABLE AND REALISTIC GOALS
Get a piece of paper. Write down exactly what it is you want to achieve. Define these goals by asking the how’s, what’s and whys about them. Next, determine how you will know when you’ve accomplished your goals. Ask yourself “Is this goal attainable? Should there be a time frame and is this goal realistic?” Create milestones along the way to keep yourself motivated. This is your “Outline for Healthy Change”. It doesn’t look so scary after this step, trust me. As long as you make decisions with a clear conscience and commitment to the greater good, you are on the right track.
Above all, practice active gratitude. Acknowledge the blessings, gifts and special people in your life. Give thanks and have appreciation for the people who love and support you. Things could always be worse… and it is up to you only to create the happiness and peace you are searching for. Good Luck!