The last year has been one of tremendous growth, change and defining who I am as a person, mother, wife, daughter, friend and practitioner. I’ve had the opportunity to try many new things and work out where I fit in grand schemes. Most importantly – I’ve had the opportunity to work out where I DON’T fit!
The example that jumps straight to mind is that of a group practice that I joined. I was full of enthusiasm and energy about working in a great space with wonderful people. On the surface, it seemed like this was where I was supposed to be! Unfortunately, as time went on it became obvious to me that it wasn’t the right fit. It was just little things at first, but it was more and more clear that what I considered crucial to effective therapy was not the same as what management considered important. I was faced with a tough decision – change the way I worked to fit the mould of the group practice, try to continue to work in my own way and never mind how others worked, or accept that sometimes it’s just not going to happen and there are surely other places that will fit better.
In the end, I chose the last option – I couldn’t see myself changing my practice style when this is what I was good at and what achieved good results. I know that in the past, I would likely have tried to change myself in a desperate attempt to fit in with my surroundings, but not anymore. Now I look for surroundings that fit me – not the other way around. It’s not always going to be perfect, but much like finding the right pair of shoes, there’s no point hurting yourself if it’s just the wrong fit.
As it turned out, while that practice was not the right fit for me, it did give me the opportunity to meet some fantastic people and opened doors that I would otherwise have not even known existed. As such, there is value in a ‘wrong fit’, as long as you can see where you are and where you need to go.
Going through those periods of ‘wrong fit’ is unpleasant at the time, but they are absolutely invaluable when it comes to learning about yourself. Reframing negative experiences to move from being angry or upset about what’s happened to being able to see the lessons therein can be difficult, but it is certainly worthwhile. I’ll write about reframing next month, but this month let’s just look at where we are and whether you’re giving yourself blisters by staying in a situation that definitely is a poor fit for you!
I made a big move this month – literally! For the last two years I’ve been building my practice in Logan in a *ahem* cosy room with a variety of other individuals. I enjoyed working with the other people there and I liked the routine I had, however we were all in the same boat. We weren’t getting very far, but we were comfortable in our ruts and routines – they were familiar and felt safe.
There was no risk.
There was no uncertainty.
And there was no growth.
There comes a point for every person when they need to evaluate their current situation and think about whether it is the best place for them. This can be in relation to their physical location, their career path, their relationships or even their own personality. Making that kind of evaluation, however, takes a certain brutal honesty. You really need to look at the reality of your situation and think about whether this is the best you can be, or whether you are just cruising along comfortably without any real change. This point may come after a traumatic event or after a period of calm – there is no right or wrong time, however it is important that it comes.
True growth can only happen with change, but as we all know – change is hard. Change is scary. Change is risky. Change is uncertain. Change is necessary. Look at how babies change with every passing week and grow into delightful little children, then challenging adolescents, then wonderful adults. Babies don’t worry about the changes in their lives – they simply accept them, learn as they go and grow into their next stage. As we get older, we become more set in our ways and change becomes harder, but perhaps if we looked at change simply as a way to move onto the next stage it would be less stressful. There is still uncertainty and risk, but the stress that comes with it could be mitigated.
Right up until I moved all my furniture into my room (and even bought two plush red armchairs!), I was uncertain that I was doing the right thing. My room is huge, but I’m alone. Was I making a terrible mistake? Should I have just stayed where I was, comfortable in my tiny room with barely enough room for two adults?
I am comforted by the thought that change leads to growth and growth leads to change – I am embracing the uncertainty and grabbing the opportunity to launch into my next stage with both hands…. …and a fast beating heart!
“Hi, how are you?”
“Great! I’ve been so busy! You?”
“Oh yeah, I’ve been so busy, but I’ve been good. So tired, though…”
“Yeah, I get that. I need a holiday, but it’s just too busy at work and everyone needs a piece of me…”
How many conversations have you had like this? How many times have you equated being busy with being successful? How many times have you sat down to take a breath, then quietly castigated yourself for wasting time, doing nothing or being unproductive?
I recently had a conversation about productivity, taking time to do nothing, the very finite number of hours in a day and how we live in a society that rewards us for simply spending time at work rather than necessarily being productive at work. We are praised for ‘putting in the hours’, but not necessarily recognised for the actual output of those hours. More than that, as a society we look down on time spent doing nothing or time spent on the self and call it wasted. This couldn’t be further from the truth in my mind – time spent on the self is incredibly important.
I find myself repeating to people that self care is not a luxury – it’s a necessity. This means that time spent on the self if certainly not wasted – it’s essential for all aspects of health. Physical, mental and spiritual health all rely of having time available for rest and personal development. When that time is restricted, when we are encouraged to spend close to half our day at work, the opportunity for personal growth, proper rest and true health are severely restricted as well.
I’d love to see a time when a better work-life balance is truly attainable for the majority of people, when time spent on the self is seen as valuable and necessary. I think that will be a time when mental and physical health improves for all.
Raise your hand if you made a new years’ resolution on Dec 31st?
Keep your hand raised if you’re still sticking with it……. good work!!! Go enjoy your reward and see you next month!
Now, for the rest of us… what happened?
Many people make resolutions in the hope that the new year will fill them with some amazing new sense of motivation and will that allows them to hit the gym five days per week, or completely give up sugar or alcohol, or make sure they check off their lists each day to keep on top of their life. And it works for a little while! But sadly, the ticking over of a giant clock on a tower doesn’t imbue us with any new magic – we’re still the same people we were at one minute to midnight as we are at one minute after midnight. So how can we change that person into someone who enjoys 5am runs or completely abstains from coffee and cake?
The sort answer is: with great difficulty.
You can change your habits, but you need to know WHY you want to change them. For change to stick, the reason behind it has to be truly valid for you, otherwise excuses start to creep in and it all starts to crumble.
For example, say you want to start going to the gym more often. On the surface you may just want to lose weight, but that’s the kind of reason that is quickly toppled by excuses (it’s raining! it’s cold! I’m tired! I’m hungover!). If your reason for losing weight carries more weight, however, those excuses seem more flimsy by comparison and are less likely to work. Reasons such as preventing heart disease which might run in your family or wanting to be able to engage with your kids for more than 3min at a time tend to be the reasons that keep people on the right track far more effectively than a vague sense of wanting to weigh less than they do now.
Finding someone to help you work out the ‘why’ of your habit change can help make that change achievable long term. Sometimes it will simply be a matter of spending an hour or two hashing out what’s really important to you, where your priorities lie, what you’re willing to give up or put on the backburner and what you truly want to achieve.
Once you have that worked out, you’ll be better able to plan your changes and set yourself up for success, rather than setting yourself up for failure.
I was consulting with a patient when she mentioned she is working on herself to be more patient with others. That she often finds it difficult to work with people who she feels are wrong or who insist on completing tasks in a way she views as incorrect. That she has trouble tolerating the idiotsyncracies of others.
It was an accidental word, a slip of the tongue and the mind, but I loved it. She had meant to simply say ‘idiosyncracies’, but I think she actually wanted to say ‘idiots’. The result was a beautiful word that describes exactly what she feels she needs to tolerate in her life: the idiosyncrasies of idiots.
At this time of year especially, everyone can become a little unreasonable, irrational and downright ridiculous. The end of the year often spells increased pressure for people to finish things off, plan for the coming year, spend a lot of time and money doing things they may not really want to, all whilst dealing with temperature extremes (it’s been incredibly hot and stormy here, which I’m sure doesn’t help with rational thought!) and diets that have probably been filled with Christmas party staples and champagne.
Perhaps if we stopped and took a moment to consider the idiotsyncracies of others, we would be better able to handle some of these pressures. If we acknowledged that yes, we think other people are idiots – they are irrational, stupid, demanding, unreasonable, or any other term that fits our feelings about them – but they are still human. As such we need to also acknowledge their idiosyncracies – they are probably also innovative, enthusiastic, creative, industrious, big picture people who just do things differently to us or need a different routine to what we need.
By taking into account that others simply have different needs and requirements to get through their day, while acknowledging and allowing for that pang of pride in our own rational and superior selves, perhaps we’d all find ourselves getting along with less stress and more happiness in our lives.
Unless they’re driving in front of me ……….. in which case, did that idiot get their license out of a cereal box???
I’ve had this conversation six times this week with various people and each time there has been a pause, a moment of silence, then a slow nod of understanding. The conversation was about regular psychologist appointments as part of preventative medicine for good mental health.
All too often, we look at therapy as a band-aid solution to a crisis – something we do when things have gotten beyond our control and we’re absolutely, positively not coping. This is how we are expected to deal with significant unanticipated events, such as grief following a sudden and unexpected loss or other trauma, but what about all the little things in our lives that add up to tremendous stress and trauma that doesn’t seem so bad, but might be a growing issue?
I see patients come into my practice with a focus on looking after their bodies – the exercise, they eat well, they want to keep their heart, liver, kidneys, uterus and skin healthy. They want to do whatever they can to protect their body from future damage and are already putting in the hard work now to prevent problems down the line.
Except for their brains, of course. Sadly, the brain (the most important organ of all!) is often forgotten among the other aspect of what is seen as ‘healthy’ living. We often don’t think about how to protect or recharge the brain, how to prevent problems of the mind down the line.
This past week I’ve been speaking about the analogy of seeing a psychologist as a last resort as being similar to major surgery – it’s done when absolutely necessary in unforgiving circumstances. An amputation or stent placement – a last resort in dire circumstances. We don’t think of needing anything for a paper cut. Or two. Or three. Or even ten. But what about a hundred paper cuts? A thousand? How many of these tiny, seemingly insignificant events would it take before we’re bled dry? And how many should we endure before seeing help?
When I suggest regular therapy as part of a preventative health routine, I’m suggesting that a regular debrief or feedback session is a way of dealing with those thousand paper cuts so they don’t end up becoming critical. Therapy can reinforce coping techniques or give a safe space to explore potentially difficult feelings and conversations.
If everyone went to therapy regularly for those mundane events, I feel there would be far less need for crisis therapy when those same mundane events overwhelm us.