On a recent vacation, I spotted these footprints in the sand along the coast of Lake Michigan. With no other people in sight, I still knew something about the people who left the footprints. They were heading north. Under the overcast sky, I had an epiphany… our choices are like footprints in the sand – they tell a story. And with each choice we make, we move closer to a happier or less happy ending. [Read more…]
Inevitably, as the winter holidays approach, many of us will experience repeated moments of frustration while images of svelte figures, cozy relationships, fat bank accounts, or something else swirl through our heads. As another year winds down, we haven’t lost the desired weight. Our relationships still stink. Our debt has increased. We’re still in dead-end jobs. And we are frustrated…
Our problem is that the change we long for eludes our grasp once again. When this happens, we can feel stuck in discomfort like this: [Read more…]
You know it’s time for change. You’ve set everything up: a new diet or exercise plan, a proposed budget, a schedule of counseling appointments, a new program to discipline your children or spend quality time with your spouse. All your hope is riding on the new plan… [Read more…]
What must I do to change?
When will change begin?
These are tough questions, often heard in counseling rooms and frequently heard in conversations with friends and family. What we so often forget is that change, like a big journey, often begins with small steps.
Change can seem elusive if we’re not mindful of the progress that small steps reveal. This reminds me of a big cross country trip I took years ago with my mother-in-law and two young children. Starting from Northern Virginia, we had to travel more than 2600 miles before we reached our destination of Santa Monica, CA. One SUV. Two kids. Two adults. On the road for seven days. We weren’t out of Prince William County before I heard the first, “How long till we get there?” I would hear variations of that question multiple times a day for the next seven days. By focusing on the final goal, it was easy to become mindless of the current day’s progress. Easy to overlook the wonder of the country through which we were passing. Easy to overlook the fun of sharing Cheese Whiz and crackers while waiting for Gran to check-in at the nightly hotel.
Think about all the things we may want to change. Weight. Anxiety. Depression. Self-esteem. You name it. We may be aware of the big change we want to experience. Shed 30 pounds. Have fewer anxiety attacks. Experience hope. Believe in ourselves. But where does change begin? What can the small steps look like? Maybe today we take a walk or make a healthy eating choice. Maybe we search the internet to locate a therapist or call to ask questions. Maybe we check out a self-help book from the library. These small steps can be evidence of change.
This week’s tip is like a gift: it encourages us to become aware of small steps that reveal change.
Mindful Monday Tip #6: Become Mindful of Small Steps
- Identify one area of your life that you wish to change.
- What small step in the direction of change can you take today?
- Observe what you experience as you take the step.
- Repeat daily.
What small step of change will you mindfully take today?
And what will you experience as a result?
A few days ago, I was reminded of the importance of looking for something new each day. As my 75 pound coonhound, Leroy, pulled me down the driveway for a walk, I spotted several remarkable bursts of color out the corner of my eye. With some degree of effort, dog and human paused to take in the scene: daffodils and crocuses were blooming in the leafy mulch of a generally ignored flowerbed. Yellow, purple, and green colors announced that something different is happening!
It’s not like my visual surprise occurred in a remote corner of our lot – it’s right beside our driveway, easily visible from any front window of our home. And it’s not just that we were still in February. Many years ago I planted all sorts of bulbs in that flowerbed. I dreamed of a profusion of colorful blooms….and, year after year, all I got were green stems of daffodils which never bloomed. I stopped looking for anything of colorful interest until daylilies would bloom in summer. I learned to routinely dismiss a part of my property until summer. I stopped looking for something new.
What else can we routinely dismiss when we forget to look for something new?
Most of us go through each day looking for what we saw yesterday and, not surprisingly, that is what we find. – James A. Kitchens
The inspiration for this post came from an author I’ve never read, but his single sentence, found in a Google search, resonated with me. It prompted a question of which I can’t let go: what do we look for each day?
Think about relationships and consider something most of us have: a problem relative. Let’s call him/her, Pat, and imagine that Pat regularly fails to meet our expectations in some area. Maybe Pat has a history of whining or avoiding responsibility. Each day, we expect Pat to behave as he/she did the day before, and we are rarely surprised. So we daily respond to Pat just as we did the day before. When a change for the better occurs, we don’t believe it is real. We still perceive or look at Pat as having the same historical problem behavior.
Now think about how we look at ourselves. Imagine a woman who is frustrated by a lifelong failure to lose weight and maintain it. She has dieted numerous times, lost the weight, and gained more back too many times to count. So when she starts a new eating/exercise plan, she may expect failure even as she hopes for success. Perhaps her expectation colors the way she responds to inevitable slips: all or nothing thinking causes her to look at each slip as abject failure, and another diet crashes and burns. What would happen if the woman did not look at a slip as ultimate failure?
Maybe we need to experiment with changing the way we look at (think about) others and ourselves.
How might the way we look at things affect our daily experience? How might it help or hinder change?
In 2011, I read many books about managing finances and investments. That’s when I discovered this observation attributed to Warren Buffet: the chains of habit are never experienced as heavy until we try to change. Suddenly I had a metaphor to describe why change is so difficult. Entrenched patterns of living rarely feel burdensome until we attempt to change them – changing lifetime patterns may feel like breaking impossible chains. Yet change is possible – and this is what I think we forget. With each healthier choice we make, chains of habit begin to crack and lasting change is reinforced. The trick is to keep making healthier choices, and to find the support we need to sustain the change. Providing that support is one thing I love about my role as a therapist.
Do you agree with Buffet’s observation? What helps you to make healthier choices? Where might you find the support to change a habit?
My home schooled daughter recently bailed after reading two thirds of Augustine’s Confessions (Chadwick, 2008). Her favorite part of history is the Rockabilly Era, not the Medieval Ages. Similarly, she eschews Geometry (have I mentioned that I have degrees in Mathematics?), and finds little compelling in her Chemistry. Yet she rocks at Latin, taught by her grandmother. Can you guess that I am frequently discontented with my role as a home school mom?
Not one to leave loose ends, I decided to complete Augustine’s autobiography, even as home school discontentment swirled around me. Imagine how my interest piqued as I read Augustine’s declaration to God in Book XIII, “whatever is less than you can never be sufficient to provide itself with the rest of contentment” (p. 277). Apparently Augustine of Hippo learned something that many Christians have not fully accepted: “all [our] abundance which is other than [our] God is mere indigence” (p. 278).
Back to my daughter, an out-of-the-box thinker: I started out chasing the abundant home school models of other parents. I found discontentment, which propelled me toward a higher challenge: truly accepting my unconventional child, and exploring unique ways to facilitate her learning experience. Accepting her as she is, not as I might wish her to be, provides contentment. Yet that acceptance only comes with my belief that she is just as God desires her to be.
Penned in the waning years of the fourth century A.D., I suspect that Augustine’s words could promote healthy discussion for people of all faiths, as well as those with none. What gives us individual contentment? In what instances might we humans chase perceived abundance, only to encounter ultimate poverty?
Chadwick, H. (Trans., 2008). Saint Augustine: Confessions. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Recently, I’ve come to regard attitude as a valuable, but often overlooked commodity. A week ago, the following quote arrived in my inbox via a financial independence newsletter: “The greatest revolution of our generation is the discovery that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives”(William James). A few days ago, my aunt relayed the following story (without providing any attribution):
An old lady woke up one day, looked in the mirror, and saw only three hairs on her head. “I think I’ll braid my hair today, and have a good day”, said the lady, and that’s just what she did. The next day the old lady woke up, looked in the mirror, and saw only two hairs on her head. “I think I’ll part my hair in the middle today, and have a good day”, said the lady, and that’s just what she did. On the third day, the old lady work up, looked in the mirror, and saw NO hairs on her head! She immediately exclaimed, “Oh goody! I don’t have to do my hair anymore, I think I’ll have a great day!”, and that’s just what she did.
In my neck of the woods, anecdotal data suggest that it’s far easier to expend one’s energy attempting to control/influence external realities, while ignoring one’s internal attitude. Could it be that we too easily get the cart before the horse by failing to challenge our attitudes?