“The only constant is change,
I’m on a personal journey to redefine my life. Since I’m at the age where many people are retiring, I can’t call it a mid-life crisis. It’s not really a crisis at all, rather a personal commitment to live intentionally for the last chapter of my life—however long that is.
Retirement is not an option for me—I’m much too restless and passionate about what I do. I would be one of those people you hear about who drop dead the week after they retire. But after thirty-one years of practicing psychology full-time, I’m ready for it to look different.
Since my second passion is writing, I’m on a mission to create a life where I can write and practice psychology, while ensuring a healthy balance in other areas of my life including relationships and emotional and physical health. All of this reconstruction involves commitment and CHANGE.
Like most people, I wrestle with change. I don’t want the change I don’t want—and I want the change I want. And I don’t always want to let go of what I must in order to have what I want. Part of the premise of the ancient Chinese practice of Feng Shui is letting go of STUFF to free up room for more energy to flow—creating new and BETTER stuff! But also like most people, I need change to create a new, more rewarding life.
So, on New Year’s Day, I ate my traditional Hoppin’ John for good luck—but I let go of another life-long tradition. Every January 1st, I start the year with a fresh new journal in which I list the same stale resolutions. This year, after reflecting on years past, I decided to do it differently. I continued writing in last year’s journal and did not make any new resolutions—which meant NOT being filled with self-loathing three weeks into the New Year if I hadn’t kept my resolutions. (A damn good thing—because I would have already broken all but one on my usual list!).
Even doing that differently was difficult. Rituals are important, but being flexible is critical. Recent studies show that resiliency is the key to survival of severe physical illness, emotional health, and even happiness. Resiliency is the ability to move through the most trying and heartbreaking situations with grace and flexibility—and to move on.
What psychologists call resiliency, comedians call improvisation or improv. Chicago is famous for the improvisational form of comedy based primarily on the premise “Yes, and…” In improv, one person starts a bit then offers it to the next. The rule is that the second person has to say “YES” to what is offered—AND expand on it however they’re inspired. On stage, improv looks like mime with words and sound effects.
A simple skit would be:
Person#1 blows up a balloon, ties it to a string, watches with awe as it floats in the air, then hands the string to person number 2.
Person#2 takes the string and expands on the experience of holding a floating balloon. She might stare up at the balloon with wonder, pretend like the balloon is lifting her up, let go of the string and watch it float away, or pop the balloon and turn the deflated rubber into chewing gum or a condom.
What she could NOT do was say, “I don’t want a balloon, I want a Ferrari!” She had to accept the balloon. Improv is about acceptance, experience, inspiration—then action.
And so it is with our lives. Before we can even begin to make healthy changes, we need to reflect on our lives and our natures—the good and the bad—accept what is real and true, and then take action. Natalie Goldberg says it wonderfully in her book Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within.
“Our task is to say a holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist – the real truth of who we are: several pounds overweight, the gray, cold street outside… We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love the details, and step forward with a yes on our lips…”
How often I’ve counseled my patients to stop expending so much energy trying to be or think or feel something they don’t and say a “holy yes” to what is real. Only then can any of us take effective action. At that point, the rest is up to us!
If now, in the third week of the New Year, you are filled with self-loathing, maybe it’s time to toss out your resolutions and spend some time in reflection. Ask yourself, “What does my life look like? What was successful last year? What didn’t work? What do I want my life to look like?” Then move forward!
Change is inevitable—how we deal with change is key. The most important thing to remember is that we have choices. After we have said “yes” we might decide to keep and enjoy the balloon—or maybe the healthiest decision is to let go of the string.
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