Wednesday, January 9, 2013

2013: The Year of Risks

Happy New Year...a little late.

During the holidays, I had all of these blog posts swirling around in my head: 

"The Sadness of Christmas: Coping Skills for Dealing with Holidays"
"How to Avoid Setting Yourself Up for Failure with New Year's Resolutions"
"Who Cares if You Gained Five Pounds Over the Holidays?"

You  know, all of that redundant baloney about how stressful that time of year is and how pressured we are to start anew January 1st with righteous goals about becoming some amazing person in 2013.

But I never typed anything.  Part of that was pure laziness - when I shut my office door on December 21st, I literally didn't open it again for ten days.  I took a break from counseling to focus on being with my family and friends.  But also, I have nothing new to add on those subjects.  I am just as guilty as everyone else of opening that fresh calendar with a little skip in my heartbeat, excited at the chance to do things differently, and much better than last year. 

The theme that comes back to me again and again when I think of personal improvements is from a teacher I had in graduate school - Dr. Jane Myers.  I took a summer school class called "Habit Change," in which we had five weeks to come up with something we wanted to change in our lives.  We came up with SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely) goals and designed how we might accomplish the goal and why it was important to even make that change in the first place.  At the end of the course, we assessed our progress towards our goals and noted, if any, barriers that stood in the way of meeting our goals.  We also gave Dr. Myers a self-addressed, stamped envelope with a letter to ourselves inside, reflecting on the experience.  A year later, she mailed our letters to us so we could measure any continued work on that goal within that year. 

Some people made goals like flossing their teeth nightly or drinking 100 ounces of water a day or exercising five times a week for 30 minutes.  My goal was to be more social.  Just to set the stage, I was in my mid-20s, living by myself, and feeling lonely for a special person in my life.  I was in a rut of going to school and coming home, hanging out with my dog and my family, running, reading, and being pretty solitary.  I knew that Prince Charming wasn't going to come knocking on my door so I needed to get out there.  The ultimate goal was to make more friends with the added bonus of meeting someone I might want to date.  Long story short, after those five weeks, I not only had joined some social groups around town which I am still a part of ten years later, but I had also gotten up the nerve to approach a handsome runner I would see around the neighborhood.  We went out on a date, and now we've been together for over a decade.

Risks.  This is what I am talking about.  Fear is our obstacle, again and again.  We worry too much about screwing up, about pleasing other people, and that things might not pan out the way we hoped.  This year, I am encouraging my patients to take risks.  To step out of their safe place and do something daring.

To my client with restrictive anorexia - to take a risk and throw away her scale
To my client with depression - to make one phone call a week to a friend, even though it is sometimes almost physically painful to even pick up the phone
To my client with anxiety - to go to a yoga class and learn to breathe deeply (yes, it actually works!)
To my client who is paralyzed with grief - to let herself be vulnerable and honestly say, "THIS SUCKS" when someone asks how she is doing
To my client who just cannot let go of the past - volunteer at least monthly for an organization which helps other people - perspective is an awesome teacher
To my client who feels overwhelmed and frazzled - to regularly say NO to commitments

These are just examples of small risks that can be life changing.  We get caught up in thinking that we have to set huge goals for ourselves for all the world to see like losing 25 pounds or writing The Great American Novel or climbing Mount Everest, but truly just making a small, but tough, change can be enough to cause a domino effect.  Remember how my goal of doing something socially once a week turned into decade-long community involvement and a husband?  Now, I can't promise miracles or marriage, but I do know that if there is some small risk you can take, your world will open up.

So maybe I DID have something to say on the topic!

Wishing you all a happy, and RISKY, 2013.

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