I recently read an article on self-help tips, by the former editor-in-chief of The Oprah Magazine, Amy Gross (no relation). She had been asked for advice on maintaining calm in the face of change. The person asking was not interested in trying the usual recommended strategies since they had been tried and failed. Amy’s response was to compare that to trying to stay fit without exercising. This reminded me of the struggle faced by many others in overcoming obstacles, either with interpersonal relations or for self-improvement, that often bring one to counseling.
Self-help tips are wonderful ways to jump-start your personal improvement project. There are plenty of articles written in popular magazines and newspapers filled with self-help tips on how to de-stress your life, de-clutter your closets, lose weight, stay happy, or raise perfect children. And with New Year’s Eve right around the corner, resolution time brings new promises for some type of change. Most of us will start off on the right foot and have some degree of success, only to give up at the first obstacle encountered, thus derailing the entire effort. Excuses often used include, “It’s too cold to go to the gym”, “The kids just have too much energy and I don’t have time”; “New TV shows make it hard to get off the couch”, etc…
Every good self-help tip requires willpower to maintain when what is really needed is a mindset change. Willpower requires lots of energy while habits and unhealthy habitual reactions are difficult to change. We need to acknowledge that. It is important to forgive ourselves for the small slip ups and not give up the whole ship just because there is a repairable leak in the boat. If perfection is the only acceptable outcome, it will always be out of grasp. Often, an all or none mentality undermines the small successes. What is needed is to acknowledge what works and then to do more of it. At some point it is important to embrace consistent efforts as “good enough”. The most helpful mindset is often one of “trying and practice” which, through prayer and meditation, is possible to achieve.
So, this year, my resolution is just to practice. Practice calm. Practice love. Practice forgiveness. Practice kindness and generosity. Practice ethical behavior. Practice compassion to achieve understanding and tolerance. Practice good health habits. And practice patience. If I keep directing the calm, love, forgiveness, compassion, tolerance and patience to my self as well as to others, many of the obstacles to self improvement may disappear.
Anita Gross, MA, LLPC