I don’t make resolutions, do you? Goals and plans change, so we have to be flexible. I figure, why attach myself to processes and outcomes when I know the road to get where I want to be will take multiple detours along the way? After all, we’re supposed to enjoy the journey, right?
Don’t get me wrong – planning is good, as are goals and objectives. If you read my last post, you know that I have FIVE (!) big goals for this year. And while they have the power to make a big impact on my life, I know that it’s always one day at a time, no matter what you hope to accomplish.
THE GOALS I SET FOR 2019
This year, I decided to do the following (in no particular order): Lose weight, stay out of the hospital, stay sober, find a steady part-time job, and quit smoking. Now, all of these things are a big deal, and each one has the potential to feed my positive mental (and physical) health. Most of them will also affect my financial health.
These are – what’s the word? – heavy goals. Each one has ramifications in more than one area of my life. It’s important for me to remember that I can’t just state a goal and hope I reach it. Having any goal in life means you have to take the steps to get there. You can’t just will it to happen. (Damn!)
Sometimes, a goal seems kind of nebulous and non-specific, and that can make it hard to make any progress.
Take, for instance, losing weight. I’ve been at my current weight for a while now, give or take a few pounds. To be sure, I’ve tried to lose weight at various times over the last decade or so, and at times I’ve had some success. But, in the end, I’ve always gained it back.
Why does that happen? Is there something wrong with my diet? (Probably.) Is there something wrong with my level of physical activity? (For sure, although that’s a judgment!) Is there something wrong with me?
The real answer is simple. I gave up on myself. I stopped doing what was working.
Actually, I just realized that this is about being perfect. Or, well, not being perfect.
WHAT DOES PERFECTION LOOK LIKE, ANYWAY?
Losing a substantial amount of weight, staying out of the hospital, staying sober, finding employment, and quitting smoking are all honorable goals, I think. Last year, I was able to at least partially accomplish each of them.
Unfortunately, my brain has been trained to see the negatives more than the positives. So, rather than feeling a sense of pride for what I have accomplished, it looks at what I have not accomplished.
Your brain may be a lot like mine – it defaults to harsh judgments of yourself. If your BFF had met (or partially met) a personal goal, you’d be happy for her, right? You would validate her experience, be a pillar of support, and cheer her on. But for ourselves? That’s different. Why?
Because we think the rules don’t apply to us.
I still expect perfection out of myself, even though I *know* there is no such thing as perfect. Talk about setting yourself up for failure, eh? I’m willing to bet that you expect miracles out of yourself, too.
Well, you know what? It’s important to acknowledge, own, and savor every win, no matter how small. Maybe we should remember – and really believe – that every win takes guts, balls, persistence, good decision-making ability, and the willingness to grow. Let’s give ourselves a break.
PERSPECTIVE IS EVERYTHING
Here’s one way I could look at 2018:
- I stayed sober.
- I was not admitted to the hospital for my depression.
- I was able to cut down how much I smoked some of the time.
- At one point, I lost several pounds, which is always a win.
- I was able to work for the first time since 2005!
That’s all good stuff, and it’s all true. If we could focus on the positives like this, we would all be a lot happier. There were certainly days where I felt more positive than others and felt pretty damn good about myself in 2018.
But after decades of dysfunctional and maladaptive thought patterns and no self-esteem, my brain is inevitably attracted to the negatives, like this:
- Staying sober didn’t make me the perfect example of how to deal.
- Yes, I may not have had any hospital admissions for my depression last year, but I did have to spend several hours in the psych ER holding tank because I couldn’t guarantee my own safety.
- I’m still smoking.
- I still weigh way too much.
- I found a job, yes – but it was temporary.
See what I’m saying? I have been so hard on myself all my life that I often discount the little wins – hell, even the medium ones. I don’t give myself credit when I take a step toward my goals; only if I complete the goal does everything count.
That’s so frustrating!
That’s when the shit hits the fan, as far as my brain is concerned. I dismiss the good stuff that’s happening, and then the negatives start yelling at me. If I’m not able to change my thought patterns (remind myself that a thought is just a thought, consciously look on the bright side of a situation, etc.), I run the all-too-real risk of falling into another deep depression.
Funny thing about depressive episodes, for me at least: Though I now know that it’s a gradual descent, it so often seems like it comes “out of nowhere”. My wife will ask me if I know what’s causing me to have a bad day and I will often and honestly say “I don’t know.”
But since I’ve had periods of near-remission during the last three years, it’s getting easier to notice when I start slipping. The problem is, by the time I notice it, I’m already slipping. The slide into hell can be so gradual as to seem negligible. And then, before I know it, I’m well on my way to another deep depression.
Perfection does not exist. When will we learn? Why do we try to be perfect anyway? There is no perfect person, no perfect day, no perfect teacher, no perfect parent, no perfect kid. And yet many of us beat ourselves into the ground trying to reach perfection.
Acknowledging each step you take is one way to keep yourself motivated toward your goals. Screw perfect. All we can do is our best at any given time, and that’s damn good enough. But accepting and believing this takes practice, too.
DBT MADE A BIG DIFFERENCE IN MY LIFE
Things like positive thinking and learning how not to freak out take practice, and practice makes permanent. And before you start rolling your eyes at me, yes, it is actually possible to learn to think positively. It is possible to retrain your brain. I wrote a post about neuroplasticity a couple years ago that might help you believe this is worth considering.
I don’t give it enough credit, but DBT really helped me believe and realize that it was possible for me to feel better. It taught me that I was no longer the helpless victim of a rogue brain, but that I actually had power. I had control over my reaction to any given situation.
The first six months in my DBT program, I was a skeptic, and I let it be known. But then, it started to sink in. I started to feel the possibility of not wigging out every time something unexpected happened. I realized that I really did want what was best for me, even when it seems like I’m sabotaging myself. I learned to stop wallowing in the shit and, instead, focus on a solution.
DBT taught me very specific ways to combat negative thoughts, symptoms of my depression, negative reactions, overreacting, and ruminating, among other things. If you’ve been suffering from depression with no relief, if you’ve gone to psychotherapy or CBT or some other sort of counseling, if you’ve tried multiple medications or TMS or ECT and nothing seems to help? Give DBT a try. It’s different than other therapies. It is focused on being aware of your thoughts, emotions, and reactions and it teaches solutions to so many of the thought patterns that keep us down and doubting and/or hating ourselves.
I’M OKAY, ARE YOU OKAY?
I started off this post intending to talk about how and why it’s so difficult to do the things we know are good for us, whether that’s taking a walk, volunteering, eating right, or whatever. It’s important to keep that momentum going.
And then I had a realization about not being perfect. I really do expect perfection out of myself. How about you? It just makes everything in life so much harder. So much for keeping it simple, eh? LOL
If you’re a perfectionist like me – and there’s a good chance you are, if you’re honest with yourself – your brain finds ways to punish yourself. We are often not even aware of it, but it happens in big ways and in little ways.
Let’s make a vow to try to be imperfect every once in a while this year, okay? I can start you off with one exercise:
- Buy a coloring book.
- Look for a picture you would really like to color.
- Allow yourself to color outside the lines.
Trust me, it’s not as easy as it might sound.
Nonetheless, it’s so important to acknowledge our imperfectionism. Once we become okay with that truth, we free ourselves from such lofty (and impossible) standards. Instead, we finally recognize that it’s okay to relax and put your guard down, even just a tiny bit. With practice, it will get easier and easier until… you realize that you’re enjoying life more often than not.
And isn’t that the ultimate goal?
Rock on, Warriors. And Keep it Real.
This post was previously published on Depression Warrior and is republished here with permission from the author.
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Photo credit: Depression Warrior