new year

Self-Care Saturdays: Know Where You're Going

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As we approach the new year, this is the time when we think about New Years’ resolutions.  What do you want to be different in your life this year?  Do you want to lose 15 pounds?  Invest more in your marriage?  Discipline your kids better? 

Unfortunately, the problem with these resolutions is that they’re usually thought up on a whim.  We could have just looked in the mirror two days before January 1st and decided we wanted to lose weight, or had a particularly hurtful argument with our teenager the night before.  If we want to make lasting resolutions that aren’t just forgotten by the end of January, we need to set reasonable goals that fit within a larger version of our future.

In short, we need to understand our why.  Why do we want to lose weight?  Why do we want to stop our bad habits?  We need to create a vision or mission for our lives if we expect to follow through on any of these goals.  This is a form of self-care because as you begin to know yourself and your greater vision, you are able to make choices in alignment with your desires for your future.  It can help you leave behind the pressure of the urgent in favor of prioritizing what’s important.

Why is purpose important?

In Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, he coins a phrase called the Stocksdale Paradox, informed by a conversation he had with Admiral Stocksdale, who was a prisoner of war in the Vietnam War.  When asked how he survived the prison camps for seven years, he answered that he had to both face the reality of the situation he was in, and also hold that in tension with hope and vision that he would overcome.

Similarly, Victor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, speaks about how he survived the concentration camps in World War II.  He names that those who were most likely to survive were those who had a purpose to move toward.

When life gets difficult, it can be easy to lose sight of our vision for the future.  This lack of purpose can lead to hopelessness or apathy about what’s yet to come, which can easily morph into depression.  Alternatively, when you are living out your purpose, you can find yourself in a state referred to as flow by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi.  You might recognize flow by feeling "in the zone".  When you find yourself in this state, you can find hope and connect to something greater than yourself.

How can I find my purpose?

For most of us, we aren’t born knowing our purpose for our life.  This develops over time as we discover our passions and our gifts.  But what might be some ways to facilitate that exploration and understanding?

Imagine your funeral.

Okay, so this one might be a little bit morbid.  Imagine that you’re at your funeral.  What do you hope people are saying about you?  Make a list of the qualities you’d hope to have describe you, and think about how your life reflects those current values.  As you uncover what you truly desire to be remembered about you, the values important to you become clear.

List your gifts, talents, and skills.

What are you good at?  What do you enjoy?  What have others indicated are your gifts?  What skills do you have?  The place where your greatest passion and talents meet is where you will find your purpose.  These give us a sense of intrinsic motivation, where we do work that we love just for the sake of it.  This intrinsic motivation drives goals more than external motivations, and it also improves our mental health.

Prioritize.

The reality is, you can’t tackle all of your goals at once.  If I could, I’d be a master baker, a proficient knitter and crocheter, and a sewing maven.  Sadly, I am none of those things.  But I am becoming an increasingly skilled therapist by working on that particular area because I know it is a priority for me.  Choose one area to focus on, perhaps that has to do with your vocation or your most important value.

Start big and then narrow down.

I’m a big culprit of losing the forest for the trees, so it’s helpful for me to think about my life in terms of a long-term vision, then narrowing it back to the present day.  Start with goals you hope to achieve five years from now.  Then ask yourself: what can I do in the next year to prepare for that five-year goal?  Once you’ve identified that, look at what you can do this month to meet the yearly goal, and what you can do this week to meet the monthly goal. 

For example, let’s say you want to run a marathon in the next five years.  Maybe that means at the end of this year you want to run a 10k.  This month you want to be up to running 2 miles straight without walking.  This week you need to go out for two 1-mile runs.

Studies show that depression leads to setting vague goals that are difficult to follow through on, which feeds back into the depression.  Breaking these goals into smaller chunks makes them more manageable.  Find that first small step you can take to move toward your goal.  Each step you take can help you to gain momentum.

Create a routine that implements some of these goals.

Schedule these goals in to your calendar!  Adding these activities to your schedule makes you more likely to carry them out.  If you struggle with depression this can be a great way for you to break out of the funk.  As you begin to achieve more simple activities that move you toward your larger life goals, you will feel a sense of agency and control over your future. 

Check in with yourself on a regular basis to make sure you’re living into your goals.

How many times have you set goals for yourself and then immediately forgotten about them?  Instead, display them somewhere prominent where you will see them on a daily basis.  Set an appointment with yourself to review these major goals each week or month.  Do a quick assessment each month to see where you’ve done well with your goals and what changes you could make to improve.

Have patience and don’t beat yourself up!

Change in habits to align with our values is a slow, long-term process.  Cultivate patience with yourself to prevent spiraling down into depression if your goals go unmet.  Give yourself grace to make mistakes, and use that as an opportunity to troubleshoot and see what’s in the way of your goals.

Stay accountable with a friend.

Do you have a friend who’s hoping to change some of their habits this year?  Use this person as a resource and hold one another accountable for exploring your purpose for the future.  Talk with them about your vision.  Discuss your weekly review of your goals or your monthly assessment with them.  Having a friend to talk about it with can make all the difference!

 

My hope is that as you set this intention and begin to make changes to align your life with your values, you’ll experience a sense of achievement and purpose that you wouldn’t have felt otherwise.

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Do you struggle to keep to your resolutions?  Maybe you feel purposeless, or like you don’t really know what you’re doing with your life.  If you’re looking for more clarity and hope about your vision for the future, we’d love to help.  Restored Hope is a therapy office serving the Novi and Ann Arbor areas of Michigan, and we offer counseling services that help you sort through some of those messy questions in life.  Give us a call at 734.656.8191 today or fill out our form to schedule your first appointment.

5 Ways to Be Kind to Yourself in the New Year

It’s here: the new year.  For some of you, it feels like a fresh start full of new opportunities and hope for the future.  You may just want to leave 2016 behind and forget it ever happened.  For others, it might feel like time is passing too quickly, you’re disappointed in the past year, or you’re not sure what to hope for in 2017.

When you look back at 2016, what stands out to you personally?  Do you have hope for 2017?  If so, what are you hoping for?  Maybe you’ve made some resolutions or goals for the year and you’ve already broken them - I know I have.  It can be easy to blame ourselves or feel disheartened as we see dreams or desires not come to fruition.

How can we look back at the last year with kind eyes?  What do we do when our resolutions start to fall through, 2017 looks discouraging, or change isn’t happening as quickly as we’d like?

Here are some tips on how to be kind to yourself as you look back over the past year and plan for the new.

Celebrate the good from this past year.

If you’re facing depression or anxiety, it can be more natural to focus on the negative from the past year.  We can get hung up on things we did wrong, dreams we didn’t accomplish, goals gone unmet, desires left unfulfilled.  Instead, take a moment to look back on the year and make a list of things for which you can be grateful.  Give yourself credit for successes, no matter how small.  Celebrate by creating a symbol of those memories: it could be a collection of photos, a quote or verse that sums up the year for you, or a theme word or phrase.

Accept the things that have remained the same.

I’m a big journaler – it provides a release for me, but it’s also a helpful tool for reflection.  This New Year’s Day, I opened one of my journals from the beginning of 2016 to review the year and realized that I had written down almost the same disappointments and desires for change this year as I had the previous year.  My perfectionist self was unhappy. I could (and almost did) believe that nothing would ever change.  Instead, I had to choose to see myself as an imperfect person.  I needed to accept the ways in which I hadn’t changed this past year and know that I will be okay, even if I am not perfect.

I may always tend to experience life in a certain way due to my unique personality and emotions.  But instead of feeling worse by trying to fit the mold of what I “should” be experiencing, it is important accept both the gifts and the drawbacks of that personality trait and love myself through it.

Grieve the losses you’ve experienced.

Many of us have likely experienced loss in the past year.  It could’ve appeared in many ways: the death of a relative, a divorce, friendships coming to a close.  Loss can also come with positive changes, like a new job or a move to a new city.  Any of these could have made 2016 feel tinged with sorrow and sadness.  It could be easy to close the door on the year and choose never to think of those things again.  But pain can fester and affect us if we don’t give ourselves time and space to grieve the losses we experience.  Allow yourself to experience the sadness that may come, and seek out safe people to talk to and help you through your grief.

Set one small goal.

Set yourself up for success!  Resolutions can tend to be a bunch of vague goals, like “lose weight, exercise more, organize my house, be a better parent/spouse/friend.”  No wonder no one keeps resolutions like that – they’re overwhelming!  And since they aren’t particularly specific, it can be hard to find a next step to take for them.  This year, choose one small goal that has a baby step you can take in the first week of the year.  Make sure your goal SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound), as that means you’re more likely to make it happen!  Better yet, choose something that you’ll find fun or enjoyable – the more you like doing something, the more likely you’ll be to keep doing it.

Choose one value to focus on in the year ahead.

There is a practice that some people take toward the new year where they name a word or short phrase that they want to be their focus for the upcoming year. Maybe you’d like to experience more calm, hope, or adventure in your life.  This can be a helpful tool to narrow down your vision for the year to just one item. Choose a value in which you desire to grow, and allow your choices for the year to be defined by that core value.

This year, instead of beating yourself down into the ground with those failed resolutions and negative views of the past year, use these ideas to both celebrate the year that’s gone by and create a rewarding 2017!

For some of you, it might be difficult to reflect back on the past year and experience hope in 2017.  Maybe this past year has left you in a place of hopelessness, depression, worry, or grief.  If you’re experiencing overwhelming emotions and desiring relief from the pain, we're here to help.  Contact our Ann Arbor or Novi therapy offices to talk to someone at 734.656.8191, or fill out the form at the link here.