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The ACE Blog features articles from the Atlanta Center for Eating Disorders staff to help increase awareness and education about eating disorders and to provide inspirational tips for healthy living year round.
After a fire several years ago in my home, I had to replace my old mattress. My husband and I shopped thoroughly and found a mattress that I fell in love with! At night when I got into bed, I would say out loud “oh, I love this mattress!” I think I said this every single day for at least a year. I was like Mr. Bean in the cartoon. However, as the newness of this wonderful mattress wore off, it eventually became simply my mattress. The value or comfort of the mattress has not decreased, however my appreciation of it had. The luscious feeling of having something that I appreciated and loved had gradually disappeared.
Like driving a new car off the lot, when something becomes yours (even if you’ve longed for it), it often loses value. But we don’t want to miss the good things that we have, focusing instead on the next thing we can get! This leaves us in a deficit mode.
So when I became aware that I had been taking my mattress for granted, I started mindfully noticing it again each night. When something is new, you might not have to remind yourself to notice it, but continuing the practice, makes life so much more satisfying. It’s more important to appreciate what you have than to acquire something new. What do you have?
This quote is from the French movie, The Intouchables, soon to be released in English as The Upside. It is about the unlikely friendship which develops between a wealthy quadriplegic and his ex-con caregiver. Though a comedy, it carries a powerful message as described in the quote about not waiting.
Life is messy! Mine is, yours is, and so is everyone else’s so don’t give yourself the excuse that they have it better. In many ways, what happens in your life tomorrow follows from what you dwell on today. The tough thing is that our brains are wired to focus on the negative more than the positive and can trick us into believing that things are worse than they are.
I find myself playing the waiting game by saying "it'll be better when this project ends" or "that problem goes away". The mindfulness skill of turning my mind to what can be good right now makes my life better - right now. This can be helpful even when you are depressed or going through severe trials. There is good in every day and if you turn your mind to what’s good now, it will grow. Stop right now and notice (even if you have to search) for something good.
You may remember the touching moment when Derek Redmond injured his hamstring and collapsed during the 1992 Olympics. He painfully got up and began hobbling forward. If you aren’t old enough to have been watching, you have probably seen the touching clip of his dad pushing past security and jumping onto the track to help his son cross the finish line long after the last racer had done so. His dad later said that he first tried to stop his son who refused to quit so he shouldered his weight and helped him finish. I don’t remember who won the race that year, but I will never forget that scene.
During his career, Redmond held the British record for the 400 meters sprint, and won gold medals at the World Championships and European Championships. Amazing accomplishments but what makes him famous to me is the race in which he came in last place. It wasn’t the winning but the continuing that was so impressive.
Have you ever had a setback in a goal and then just quit? Maybe you lost momentum or decided it was too hard and not worth it. Even with little things like building a new habit? Too often we focus on the finish line and miss important parts of the process. It is more important and sometimes harder to continue than to finish. Redmond's race in 1992 became more about a parent’s love for his son than who actually won. That was not the goal he had first hoped to achieve. If we focus our attention on continuing rather than finishing we will be successful and the process may even bring surprises along the way.
Last week, I talked about taking responsibility for your problems. Another way that we avoid taking responsibility is through denial. Denial feels good in the moment because it keeps the emotions associated with a problem at bay. But it doesn’t keep the problem at bay. The short term advantage of ignoring a problem will only make the problem increase over time. It will begin to compound daily with interest and sometimes added fees!
Three things to do to ward off denial: 1) Get in the habit of asking for help when needed. Be willing to receive what you need. If this is hard, start small. Even accepting compliments graciously can begin to change the habit of being overly independent.
2) Observe your emotions. They are excellent indicators of when something needs to be attended to. It’s very hard to be in denial when you are mindful of your emotions.
3) And the hardest one for me: Listen to what others are saying about you. Don’t focus on being right. They are probably right at least as often as you are.(It’s easier to see a speck in someone else’s eye, than a log in our own: Mathew 7:4).
That quote might sound harsh... but keep reading. Often times when I am working with people, they seem to get the concepts of blame and responsibility confused. Sometimes people resist therapy because they don’t want to blame others for their problems and others resist therapy because they do blame others. Neither of these stances will lead to resolution. We have all been hurt by others over the course of our lifetime. That is a given. You may feel sad or angry about these offenses which is entirely natural. However, The faster that you take responsibility for yourself regardless of the egregiousness of others behaviors toward you, the faster you will have the life that you would’ve had, had they never hurt you in the first place.
Even if there may be other people who are to blame for some of your problems. you are the only one who is responsible for them. Blame is past tense; responsibility is present tense and it’s only in the present that you have power. This is great news because it gives you back the power over your life. Although it might feel daunting to take on this power, it will be your path to peace.
There is no time like the present to be living in the present! Let go of the past and make 2018 a great year for you. The next few ACEspirations will focus on personal responsibility so that you can have the life you were meant to have. The first step is to raise awareness of what tense your thoughts are in, so to speak. If the thoughts are past tense (I messed up, they hurt me) then you are likely feeling shame, guilt, anger or disappointment. If your thoughts are in the future tense (I won’t be able to do it), you are likely feeling anxious. You only have control and peace when your thoughts are focused on the present. Notice where your thoughts tend to go and then develop the skill of bringing them back to the present. Notice your thought tense several times a day and see what your thought habits are.
Notice the word CHOOSE in this quote. That is the most significant word because all of the actions listed are things that don’t come automatically for most of us. I’ve written before about how our brains are wired to notice the negative more than the positive since there is more survival value in knowing where the bear lives than where the daffodils grow.
I’ve written before about how gratitude is something that takes discipline and focus and it’s the same thing for happiness. We must gaze intently on things that give us even a moment of happiness lest it be washed away by the negative things that grab our attention with such ease. Similarly many of us seldom consider what it means to be kind to ourselves and we are most likely to be kind to others when we aren’t rushing or feeling insecure. Finally, it is very hard in our culture to be truly present, especially during the holidays, but we must be present to notice things which make us grateful, happy or kind.
Therefore when you read this quote, it isn’t enough to agree with it and to want to live that way. You must also CHOOSE with intention to do these things and then remind yourself throughout the day that this is what you are choosing. Only then can you actually have success.
So many things! If you’re a gardener, you may recognize the plant - but I bet you’ve never seen it covered in snow in Georgia! For that matter it’s never bloomed in December beneath Christmas lights in my yard. These are my hostas which have bloomed every summer for the past 20 years. This year, however, summer seemed to go on forever. It was so warm for so long that, a couple of weeks ago, my hostas decided to bloom again! As if that wasn’t strange enough, just as they began to open it snowed! The snow has actually preceded the first measurable snow in traditionally snowy places, including New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston. This never happens!
The environment has certainly thrown some punches to my little hostas. But today they are still standing with their heads held high as the snow slowly melts from their leaves. I had no idea that they would be so robust!
Do you ever feel like life is throwing you punches? Like my hostas, you may be surprised by strengths you never knew you had. Take it one day at a time and be curious about what life is teaching you about yourself that you may otherwise have never learned.
A Message from Dr. B (Linda Paulk Buchanan): Happy Thanksgiving! In the quote by Denzel Washington, he says it is impossible to be hateful and grateful at the same time. Is that true? Well in a very big sense it actually is. When you experience an emotion, there is a complicated chemical change in your body. The following are neurotransmitters (chemicals) which are involved in the production of an emotion: dopamine, serotonin, noradrenaline, acetylcholine and glutamic acid. I know -too much information. But you can see how complicated this process is for your brain. The chemical change then permeates your body and occurs like a wave, receding slowly. It takes a minute for the particular combination of chemicals to dissipate enough to allow a very different emotion to be experienced. So if you practice Thanksgiving this week you will be flooding your system with good feelings which wash out negativity. But notice the word practice; it doesn’t just happen!
A Message from Dr. B (Linda Paulk Buchanan): I saw this quote by Jim Henson ("Life is like a movie, keep writing, keep pretending") and it made me think of the behavioral technique of acting as if. Often times our negative thoughts keep us from positive change. With this technique you identify how a negative thought is making you act and then consider how the exact opposite thought would make you act. Finally you simply pretend that you believe the opposite thought and act it out.
I used this technique in the very first counseling session I ever conducted in graduate school at the age of 23. When I arrived at the center I was told that my family was in the waiting room. It had never occurred to me that my first session would not be with an individual and I began to tell myself "I can't do this, they won't take me seriously." These thoughts naturally led to a strong desire to run back to my car and drive away.
Fortunately, I had just learned of the act as if technique and recognized that I was not going to run back to my car. I then imagined what a much older, seasoned therapist would say and do, how she would look and how she would dress. I then played the role as I interacted with the family.
I was pretending to be something that I was not. Or was I? Acting as if actually enables you to clear anxious thoughts so that you can be and do what you are capable of. It is okay to pretend until you realize the truth.
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