Every Moment is an Opportunity to Return to Center: Using compassion to achieve your goals

At the start of a New Year, most people feel the need to mark it with resolutions, goals, behaviors or attitude changes – whatever they want to label it –  because the New year brings about the feeling of a “fresh start”, which humans love. I mean, who wouldn’t? That “begin again” feeling is nice.

But as January ends and the New Year buzz dwindles, life has typically already stomped in and derailed things OR people have built up a lot of pressure around maintaining and sticking to their goals. It’s understandable. Achieving your goals feels great! However, not achieving your goals feels like a moral failing – especially in a society jammed full of “bootstrapping” rhetoric and diet culture (which is built on the American ideal of “bootstrapping”). 

Bootstrapping is the idea that anyone can get into or out of a situation using existing resources. And I  would add another layer to this definition that we have here in America, “good” people bootstrap through anything because they are strong willed, noble, have integrity and “bad” people fail at it because they are weak willed, morally failing and don’t have integrity.

The bootstrapping rhetoric is everywhere. Diet culture, politicians, the educational system, motivational speakers, manifesting gurus all promote the idea that with enough willpower you can do it too (whatever “it” is).

Now, please do not misinterpret this post. Setting goals and working towards them is a beautiful thing. Wanting to grow, change, build more positive habits, take care of yourself and your body better, these are wonderful things and I fully support you!

The point I’m here to make is, the rhetoric that develops due to the American bootstrapping theory, is toxic to your wellbeing. It is narrow minded and lacks compassion. 

The real truth of life is that every moment is a moment to change behavior, adopt a new attitude, practice self care. You don’t need to wait for Monday, a new month or a New Year to get that “fresh start” feeling. You can cultivate that a minute from now. Now, it does take a little practice, but the dividends are exponential. 

The other truth of life is priorities shift. What we want changes or goals we thought were healthy and helpful turn out to be harmful. And sometimes they are just unrealistic or infeasible and we need to adapt and adjust. You’re not “quitting” you’re pivoting and businesses do this all the time and are NEVER seen as a failure, but as agile. 

In my view,  owning and practicing these two truths is true integrity and nobility – to know your worth doesn’t change and that you always have the power to build back better with a compassionate voice at the heart of it. 

Here are some questions to help you practice adding compassion: 

  • “Will pushing myself to do this make me feel better or worse?” 
  • “Is this approach sustainable?”
  • “Is there a way to break this goal into more manageable steps?”
  • “Why are you taking this approach instead of another one?”
  • “Am I attaching judgement or morality to this goal?”
  • “What would it feel like if I didn’t attach judgement or morality to this goal?”
  • “If/When I achieve this goal will it change how I think about my own worth/desirability or deservingness?”
  • “Can I just complete this task tomorrow and support my mental health with more time/sleep/family time/socialization?”

Braving the leap: our motivation for embracing risks and the fear behind avoiding them

It seems that I have been encountering numerous circumstances that involve risk-taking lately, both in my own life and with some of my clients.  This interesting connection is not a coincidence, but, I believe, a necessary sign that risk-taking is a major factor in achieving our goals in life.  Personally, I am currently taking risks that involve my career path, such as donating more time to growing it and pooling many of my own resources so that I can create the fulfilling and vibrant practice of which I dream.  I know that without this dedication and perseverence, my career will not have the foundation to bloom into a lifelong successful practice in which I help clients on every walk of life.

Risk-taking is also a crucial element in finding recovery in eating disorders and other types of complicated issues.  Lately, I have been gently encouraging several clients to look at what types of risks they are currently facing and how they can tackle those opportunities to enhance a life in recovery and wellness.  These parallels between my own path and those of my clients are not surprising or rare; I find often in my therapy practice that experiences from my own life (present-day or in the past) can aid me in empathizing with clients’ stories and showing them that results can be produced by making changes in their lives — and taking risks. 

Where do you take risks in your life — personal, professional, and a combination of both?  What motivates you to take that risk, and what holds you back from leaping?  I would say out of my own experience, fear and anxiety about “what’s going to happen if I jump?” can dictate a course of action (or inaction).  Just like jumping off of a cliff, you do not know where this risk will take you and if you will fall flat on your face or if you will soar to solid ground (the healthy way to look at is is not in extremes but in the balanced middle ground — you may encounter some turbulence along the way).  The push-pull of the decision making process emotionally takes into account past risks that you have (or haven’t) taken and filters them into the present day situation.  It can be overwhelming to combine all of these factors in making a decision and sometimes the adrenaline of embracing a risky situation propels us into leaping without looking where we’re going.

Who’s to say there’s a correct way to evaluate risks?  In many ways, we take risks each and every day that we may not be aware of (if you are prone to paranoia and worrying I would caution you about the next few sentences).  We risk while walking through each street intersection that the stopped cars will not spontaneously lurch forward and hit us or that while driving at high speeds on the highway that the car in the next lane will not suddenly swerve into your car.  We risk that electricity will power our lights each day and that the water will run from our faucets.  We risk that the loved one we sent off to work in the morning will return again in the evening.  Unfortunately, some of these very risks come dreadfully true for unlucky souls.  However, the majority of the time taking these risks does not harm us and in fact pushes us forward on our daily paths.

In eating disorder recovery, we must risk tasting and consuming new foods — a threat to the exact nature of the eating disorder.  What will happen if we do?  We might gain some weight or have an emotional reaction to this risk.  But what can you gain from it (no pun intended)?  Self-confidence, health, and hope for a peaceful and eating disorder-free life.  In recovery from sexual abuse, we must eventually try to form new relationships with members of the sex that assaulted us and left emotional and physical scars.  Trust is a significant aspect of taking risks — we must feel certain that our teammates will be there to catch us when we fall backwards.  Similarly, we must trust that taking the risk to open up to a new partner will not retraumatize us, or that if it does that our partner will support whatever healing process we must embark upon.

As someone who has taken quite a few risks in her life and would like to take a few more, I know that I would not have the awareness, competency, and curiosity that I possess if I had not opened myself to taking several big leaps.  I also know that I have so much more to learn and experience.  If you have a risk or opportunity presenting itself to you — don’t shy away.  Look at it.  What is it whispering to you?  What could you learn from it?  What does it tell you about yourself?  How could it help you color the path toward your dreams?


A new year of hopes and goals: reflections as we step forward into 2011

As I watch the fat white snowflakes gracefully dance in the Denver air, I am reflective of the year 2010 and am eager to set forth into a new year — which will bring new hopes, changes, challenges, and growth.  What are your goals for the new year?  Is there anything that you would like to change?  Or that you would like to build upon and nurture, as you grow deeper roots?  It’s the time of year when we sit down and make those resolutions — some of which we will keep and some of which will slip right out of our consciousness.  What makes a resolution one that we keep and set our minds to in attempts to realize it?  I think that a resolution that poses challenges and changes in our life is one that is both exciting and terrifying to make.  Why? Because it causes us to consider ourselves where we are at this moment in our lives — if we are happy in our career, if we feel healthy and able, if we feel fulfilled in the relationships we have with ourselves and others.  Often, there is room to grow in many of the areas in our lives, giving us a great opportunity to choose our next path.  However, this possibility for growth and renewal may cause feelings of dissatisfaction or disappointment with ourselves as we are right now, in this present moment, and can initiate doubts about our ability to actually achieve that goal we have set.

I want to encourage you to set goals, and to make plans to realize them in steps that are comfortable and realistic.  You may want to try running so that you can compete in a half marathon next year; plan work-outs that start simple and short, and slowly build up.  And let yourself take a break if you need it!  I have a colleague who makes lists of goals and wishes for her life and business every year.  As I was talking to her and asking “did you achieve all of your goals for 2010?”, she said “I’m not sure yet; it’s probably a mixture of achievements and goals-in-progress.  The number of “wins” is not what matters — it is the fact that you believe that your life will be that way in the new year and that positive mentality motivates you to try to improve your life”.    This statement really sticks with me — that you believe your life and yourself have the possibility of making changes, and setting that intention is the most crucial factor of resolutions.  Believing that you can do it — and if you don’t, you may feel that it is a challenge that takes more time and focus, or that it was a goal that might not be as important as you first thought.  But if you believe that you can, then the feelings of guilt and shame that typically accompany a “failure” will not pull any weight with you.  There will be no room for them.

New year’s resolutions can be challenging in ways other than setting the intention to achieve them.  Goals such as going to the gym or buying a piece of exercise equipment require financial investment.  Changing eating patterns or taking up a new hobby also require enough financial comfort to try — and try again.  For many of us, these types of intentions are out of reach for multiple reasons.  This does not need to be a recipe for giving up and feeling defeated.  You can make positive changes in your life with little or no financial cost, though you may need to be a little more creative about it.  Creativity and effort towards reaching your goal will open other doors for you as you may discover a new hobby, book, or activity that you had never tried before. 

Here are a few low or no-cost resolutions for a healthy mind and body that you can make for yourself in the new year:  go to the park and appreciate the season, write a letter to your grandmother or mother (a real letter, not an email!), keep a gratitude journal and record every evening three things for which you are thankful, write a letter to yourself listing the things you hope to change and achieve in the new year, go on a walking or running tour of the city in which you live, think about new hobbies or interests you would like to cultivate and borrow books, cds, audio books, or DVDs from the library.  What other ideas do you have?

Being healthy requires care and attention to your mind and to your body.  They are interconnected, and if there is discomfort or pain in one of them, you will certainly feel it in the other.  Often, one or the other is neglected and we can focus our anxiety or stress intently on the part of ourselves that is not being taken care of.  I encourage you to treat yourself with kindness and respect and hope that you can make that a goal for the new year.  It takes work to do so, as it is not a concrete task…but it will heap many rewards of inner peace and contentment.  We are all capable of turning our awareness to encouraging and enriching tasks and thoughts, and taking the power away from the negative and draining feelings that may plague us by the end of the year (or by the end of January!)  Challenge yourself to do this!  There is always an opportunity to have a fresh start and cultivate a life with mind, body, and spirit in harmony.  You deserve to be the healthiest, happiest, and most balanced version of yourself that you can imagine! 

Peace and health in the new year!  Have a wonderful holiday!