Sometimes, some of the most profound life improvements come from simple changes. As the saying goes, what you’re looking for might be right in front of you.
There is indeed plenty of value in adding life skills. In therapy, people can learn how to overcome obstacles and improve relationships. However, the main reason I practice solution-focused therapy is it never neglects the strengths and skills a person already possesses.
“But I’m coming to therapy because my strengths and skills aren’t working,” you might protest. “I’ve tried everything I can to fix my situation and I’m stuck in the same place.” Perhaps, but overcoming depression, anxiety, or relationship problems can take a lot of work. It is usually a combination of both significant new skills and small, simple tweaks that effects lasting change. So in order to concentrate on these adjustments, it helps to get out of your own way.
What does it look like to get out of your own way? Start noticing the wonderful, quirky things that make you uniquely you, and start going with them instead of against them.
Maybe you are cranky in the morning, quick to snap at your partner, before you’ve had your coffee. Perhaps you are prone to eating a carton of ice cream in one sitting, which makes you feel bad. Or you might have noticed that you tend to spend all of your money when you go out with a certain friend, which makes you feel guilty.
Are these problems? Not necessarily. But if you are constantly fighting yourself over such situations, or feeling guilty about their outcomes, they can get in your way.
To get out of your own way, accept that, for now—to use the above examples—you need to make coffee as soon as you get up, not keep ice cream in the house, and bring only as much cash as you are comfortable spending when you hang out with your friend.
These are simple changes, but many people disregard the power of simple changes. We have unrealistic expectations of our own willpower, when our willpower isn’t really the issue; the issue is that we haven’t accepted ourselves or opted to work with our vulnerabilities.
It takes a good therapist to help a person decide if a problem is one he or she should address with change or bypass with acceptance.
It takes a good therapist to help a person decide if a problem is one he or she should address with change or bypass with acceptance. For example, therapy can help increase willpower by teaching cognitive therapy skills.
But it also might not be in a person’s best interest to use these skills in every area. Maybe it’s just not a big deal to not buy ice cream anymore. Or maybe it’s not worth feeling bad about eating it all when we do have it.
Seeking professional help can be so important. A therapist will listen carefully to the way a person talks about his or her goals and problems, and pay attention to how the person uses the resources the therapist provides. Some people can benefit from adding tools to their self-care routine. Others sometimes need someone to point out that if they go with their tendencies, they can free up a lot of energy for other things. Even telling ourselves that we are going to postpone working on a problem, or “bookmark” it for later, can make a recurring issue subside.
Life has real complications, and it requires our best effort more often than not. Make it easier for yourself by taking away some of the “shoulds” and embracing more of who you are. If you know you hate going to the gym, don’t buy a membership; choose something else instead. If you are prone to being affected by the nightly news, don’t watch it before bedtime; it will be there in the morning. If you forget about voicemails after listening to them and fail to call people back, listen to voicemails only when you are able to return them.
These are simple solutions, or “hacks,” for unique problems.
Can you think of some opportunities to get out of your own way so you can focus on more important stuff?
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