One of the first things I realized when I set out to live intentionally this year was that I had to make some changes in how I live, think, and act. Permanent positive changes, both big and small. On the heels of this realization, came another one. The physical changes that I am embarking on have proven to be easier to implement than some of the mental ones. I can put in sixty minutes of physical exercise and check it off my list with no problem and little resistance on my part, while recognizing and managing the faulty and negative thoughts that cross my mind at various times throughout any given day is an entirely different story altogether. In order for me to succeed this year and every year to follow, I need to wrap my brain around, well, my brain.
As a therapist, self-help junkie, and one who has dealt with bouts of depression and anxiety myself, you would think that changing my thought patterns would come readily to me. You would be wrong. Terribly and unequivocally wrong. Behind my big smile, raucous laughter, and quick wit is a someone who is a loyal cheerleader for everyone else, but who is the greatest adversary for herself. I am adept at saying and doing all of the “right things”, and sometimes, I even feel “right” with myself. That said, beneath the surface, there is that little voice of self-doubt and self-sabotage that fights each day to be heard. This year, I am fighting back, and I have every intention of winning. Once and for all.
2015 was the most challenging and painful year of my entire life. That distinction has been a great motivator for me to take the necessary steps to be happier and healthier this year, no matter what happens. For someone who always waits for the proverbial other shoe to drop in my own life, that is a tall order indeed. And until recently, I was not sure that I could change how I perceive myself and the world around me in a more positive manner, and even if I could, I wasn’t sure what good it would do me. I am in the process of learning that my success depends on my happiness, rather than my happiness depends on my success.
I have lived a maddening dual existence of dreaming big dreams, thinking that genuine happiness would be reached when those dreams became realities, and discounting said big dreams for fear that they would not ever come true and opting instead for mediocrity. No wonder that anxiety and depression come home to roost, at times! The thought of going through the motions and ending 2016 feeling defeated and depleted like I had at the conclusion of 2015 made me more determined than ever to break this cycle. I knew that I could not do this by myself, so, I brought in reinforcements.
In addition to spending time with my dear friend and mentor, Trude, to prep for the new year, I stumbled across a new ally in my quest to live intentionally and happily. As I compulsively performed my end of the year ritual of cleaning and organizing my home, I tackled the task of deleting recorded shows that no longer held my interest. One show had been recorded recently, but I could not remember why I chose to save it. I started to delete it, but for some reason, I spared it. That reason become apparent on New Year’s Day.
As I sipped my hot green tea on the first morning of the year, I found myself with hundreds of channels and nothing to watch, so, I decided to watch the show that I almost deleted. Toward the end of the program, a Harvard graduate appeared on the screen talking about the research he had conducted about happiness and about how it is possible to rewire your brain to be happier and more optimistic. The mention of research made me want to hit the delete button, as it sounded like an academic snooze fest. There was something about this researcher, Shawn Achor, though, that made me want to listen and learn more. So, I did.
As I listened to him share his research and his own story, that included dealing with depression, I was intrigued, yet skeptical. It all sounded too simple, too logical, and all too possible . . . for everyone else. But not for this self-proclaimed pessimistic optimist or optimistic pessimist. No, it would not and could not possibly really work for me. Then, I fast forwarded to January 1, 2017, and thought how I would feel if I were no closer to where I want to be than I am today. It felt awful just thinking about it, much less living it, so, I set aside my doubts and decided to find out more.
Last night, I bought Shawn Achor’s book, The Happiness Advantage”, and even though I wondered if I were throwing away $26.50, I thought that if it helped, it would be well worth the investment. About a quarter of the way through the book, I can tell you that it was money well spent. I won’t go into great detail, as it really needs to be read to be appreciated and understood fully, but I can say that it has challenged my long-held beliefs about myself and my perceptions. It also has offered up some practical actions to take, and I am looking forward to seeing where they take me.
Change, even positive change, is not always easy, but it is always inevitable. So, rather than trying to control every aspect of the upcoming year, then wringing my hands and feeling overwhelmed when my carefully made plans go awry, I decided to shift gears and finally learn how to be happy in the pursuit of my dreams. My way of doing things has not always worked so well, so, let’s see how smart this Harvard guy is.
Just one thing each day . . .
Categories: Just One Thing Each Day