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?”

Something good this way comes: the arrival of autumn and the gratitude it brings

As I sit near the window in my office, I feel the first fall breeze of the year.  Yes, I know it is not yet technically autumn, but it sure is on its way.  September just began, and to me this signifies the blossoming of my favorite season — full of rich smells, pumpkin pies, cinnamon lattes, crunchy auburn leaves, and an array of aspen trees shimmering in color.  I welcome this time of year because it signifies a new chapter…almost a slowing down and relaxing time after a hot and hectic summer.

I am a believer in the visceral and powerful impact of scents.  Have you ever smelled something and were immediately taken back to a childhood memory coupled with an intense emotional feeling?  That is not all in your head; there is evidence that our noses can be directly linked to our memory bank and when we smell a certain scent, we might recollect a memory or an experience that had been long forgotten.  This power is ever-present for me during autumn.  Autumn boasts the richest, most soothing, most affecting smells of all year round.  As the earth prepares for the winter, it offers us in its cool breeze the opportunity to churn our own soil and see what comes up.

What does the arrival of fall signify to you?  To me, autumn produces an abundance of gratitude.  Just one year ago, I was working hard to get my business off the ground.  Now, one year later, my practice is blooming and blossoming and has so much promise still to offer.  I am grateful for the work I have been able to do in the field of eating disorder recovery and counseling with other issues, and cannot wait to experience what this coming year has to offer.  It truly shows me that when you put your heart into something, truly dedicate your passion to your dream, that there is nothing you cannot accomplish.

I came across a quote that aptly described my experience with gratitude this past year:

“Praise the bridge that carried you over.”  ~George Colman

I like this quote because it speaks to building bridges that get you to the destination that you are searching for.  It also reminds us to not forget the steps and trials we have endured to get to that side.  I would like to add that there will always be another bridge to cross and by acknowledging and praising the prior bridges, we can feel empowered to continue building and climbing — even if upcoming bridges are more daunting in structure.

What bridges have you built and crossed in the past year?  Which part of your bridge are you standing on right now?  There is no “should”s in this concept; you are at the point in your journey where you are meant to be.  For me, I have crossed the bridge I built over the first year of starting my practice.  Though I am on the other side of that bridge, I have more designs in my mind that will be built into bridges: workshops, groups, classes, speaking events, seminars — all things that I want to produce or take part in over the next year.  I also know about myself that I can get overwhelmed easily, so I must take care not to build too many bridges at once (or else one might get burned down!).

Another aspect of the quote that speaks out to me is that perhaps, you crossed a bridge that was challenging, in some ways painful, or perhaps damaging.  Can you still praise a bridge such as this?  Perhaps an example of this would be healing from a loss that you experienced over the past year.  Do you wish that you had to endure that loss? Probably not.  But it happened, and what can you take with you about that experience — what did you learn, how did you grow, what can you praise about it?  As difficult as it is to praise painful things, I think that looking at all events in a constructive way (how did they benefit/impact your identity? your life experience?) can be very empowering and healing it is own way.

So, fall arrives, and washes away the heat that has beat down on us for so many days.  With it, autumn brings a new chapter — school starting again, perhaps moving away to college or starting a new job.  While a certain level of anxiety is natural with change, we also are invited to create the new chapter that we desire to enter.  I am looking at this autumn with gratitude for what I have built, and for what I have presently in my life.  I also am using those bridges to reinforce the hard work I still yet have to do in building new bridges.  This is exciting for us all!

Below is a quote that I try to say everyday as a sort of mantra.  Try it out for yourself.  It is full of renewal and inspiration!

“As each day comes to us refreshed and anew, so does my gratitude renew itself daily.  The breaking of the sun over the horizon is my grateful heart dawning upon a blessed world.” ~Terri Guillemets

Graduation and commencement: a time of celebration and renewal!

It is the time of year that brings many fresh starts: the flowers blooming, the grass greening, and the baby birds tweeting from their nests.  It also is a time of change and renewal for those who are graduating from high school, college, and graduate school.  Whether you are a graduate yourself, know a person graduating, or have no connection to a graduation celebration — it’s an opportunity to focus on a new chapter that we can present ourselves with any day of the year.  Working with clients who struggle with issues like addiction and eating disorders, I continuously support them in a reminder: today is a new day.  Today is a new beginning and it’s in your lap to latch onto.  It is so easy to get wrapped up in our daily stress, anxiety, struggles, and worries.  It can seem like the past haunts us every day and that we cannot get a break.  I believe that the chance for recovery and renewal is almost completely determined by our own mindset:  do you believe that you can start anew?  do you have hope for a healthy and happy future?

When I think of graduation, I see it as a time of celebration in recognizing the achievement of hard work and perseverence.  It is when family and friends gather in love and laughter.  It can be a time of excitement as well as anxiety: what’s next?  Where will I go from here?  Who will be there with me on my journey?  Whether you are graduating from an academic institution or perhaps graduating into a new journey of recovery and wellness, there are a myriad of emotions that accompany any type of change.  What comes up for you when you think of change, new beginnings, transitions? 

Therapeutically, a change in a life cycle — such as beginning a new career after graduation or moving onto college — can bring up some feelings or issues that may have been unresolved from previous life cycle transitions.  For example, graduating from high school and planning to move to another state for college can trigger some anxieties or frustrations relating to a family member that are left over from previous transitions.  Perhaps you have a younger sibling and when he or she was born, you felt (consciously or unconsciously) that attention was taken away from you and given to your sibling.  Moving from that major life cycle transition to one such as graduation, you may feel sensitive towards attention at this time in your life — either wanting more or less of it.  Transitions cause us to re-evaluate where we are, what we “have” in terms of an emotional bank account, and where we might have some lingering feelings.  Transitions can also be a time of “leaving things behind”, such as a tumultuous relationship or negative experience.  In this light, the opportunity to move forward is cleansing and cathartic — though for certain there are remnants of what you have learned from past experiences that stay with you always.

In honoring this special time of leaving things behind and moving forward, I encourage you to think of how you would like to greet new transitions in your life.  You hold the power to mold the present moment as well as the future.  What would you like to take with you in your toolbox from the past to help you on your new venture?  What would you like to forget?  I am someone who believes that each of our experiences teach us something that we can use constructively in our lives.  It is our choice whether to do so or not. 

I offer a hearty congratulations to graduates everywhere and on every walk of life — the future is yours and there is so much still left to discover!  Stamp your unique mark forcefully on the world and echo it gracefully and meaningfully in your own life!