Celebrate Small Wins

I just read a short but valuable article on the TED blog, titled “How to make your small wins work for you”. What Mehrnaz Bassiri says in these couple of paragraphs is so true:

“The problem, says Bassiri, doesn’t lie in the puniness of our accomplishments but in the outsized nature of our expectations. Whether in the news media or in our friends’ and family members’ social media posts, we’ve gotten habituated to seeing major successes — the video from an unknown musician that goes viral and scores them a spot on Beyonce’s tour, the unhealthy person who loses half their body weight and completes the Ironman, the company started by college students in a garage that gets sold for an eye-watering amount.

These stories “have programmed our thoughts and desires to want and expect the same kind of results in our own lives,” says Bassiri. “We’ve started to measure our progress on an oversized scale.” So instead of recognizing our small triumphs for what they are, we view them as failures.”

If we set goals for ourselves, instead of only recognizing our progress when crossing a specific point, or after a major “win” (which sometimes feels like it will never come), we should rather celebrate the small milestones we make along the way. Because it’s those small milestones or steps toward our goals or dreams that take us closer to them.

I’m most certainly one of those with super high expectations of myself, and get discouraged quickly and easily if I don’t see any major progress in a goal, project or  change I want to make. I become blind to the small bits of progress I do make, because it’s just “not good enough”, or “it doesn’t count”. But it is good enough. It does count. And I’m going to take note of all my smalls wins, as the article suggests.

I highly recommend giving this a read:
https://ideas.ted.com/how-to-make-your-small-wins-work-for-you/

Small Steps Towards Healthy Boundaries

Today was a good day. I managed to do a few things that I wanted to, and my mood has been relatively stable. I wasn’t happy, but I also wasn’t depressed or sad. Not empty either. Just normal. I can’t remember ever feeling like this. Perhaps the mood stabilizer is finally working. Whatever it is, after the depression that has been hanging around for the past month or so, this is a welcome relief. And I’m so incredibly grateful for it.

In my New Year post, I mentioned my goals for 2017. And today I’ve been thinking about my goal of setting healthy boundaries.

Boundaries have always been hard for me. I didn’t realize just how much, until I started therapy. At first, the boundaries in the therapeutic relationship made me feel hurt, angry and confused. But through the months, I’ve found that they provide me with a sense of safety and structure. My therapist knows I can cope with my emotions, and that I can deal with things that come up in my life. Hell, I’ve gotten through 32 years without her. Through some of the worst and most traumatic moments of my life, with little or no support. So I don’t need her to constantly be there for me. Besides, If I start to rely on her all the time, I’ll eventually stop putting in the effort of caring for myself. That being said, I still sometimes get annoyed with the boundaries, but those moments are few and far between. So this is an example of me needing to be respectful of other people’s boundaries. Which I’ve become quite good at. It’s not perfect, but still a big improvement.

Then there are my personal boundaries. And this is where I struggle the most. I’ve been trying to become aware of my limits. What makes me feel uncomfortable and unsafe. I’m still in the learning stage. But we have to start somewhere right? I need to start putting myself first more often. One of my current problems is discovering a boundary I need to set, but then being unable to fully implement it. I feel bad and guilty about having that boundary up. If someone pushes a little, I cave. But I can’t expect myself to become perfect at setting and sticking to them overnight. So I’m not going to be too hard on myself.

I came across this inspiring Ted talk today. It was just what I needed to hear.

Making Progress Even When You Can’t See It

A few sessions ago, I told my therapist that I finally felt like I was making progress. That therapy is finally helping me. She jokingly asked me if I was saying that therapy hasn’t helped me before that? I told her that the seeds had been there all along, but I just hadn’t been aware of the growth until now.

Often, we don’t see the progress we have made. Hell, we may even feel like we’re just moving backward. And sometimes that’s the truth. We take a step forward, only to move two steps back. But that’s okay. That’s the thing with mental illness. There are no quick fixes. The road to recovery isn’t straight and easy. It takes a lot of work, and there will be relapses and set backs. It’s completely normal, even though it can be extremely frustrating.

When I do something different to how I would have done it in the past, Therapist will point it out and tell me to look at the growth I’ve made, and how far I’ve come. Most of the time I don’t even see what’s right in front of me, due to the negative way I tend to see myself. Other times when she points these things out to me, it fills me with a sense of pride. Because at that moment, I can see it. All the little things I do differently. All the ways in which I have improved. They’re there. I just need to open up my eyes.

If you feel like you’re not making any progress, take a look back, and you might be surprised to find that you have indeed made progress. Small steps in the right direction. When I’m in crisis, and I feel I’m getting worse or therapy isn’t working, and I just want to give up, I like using the DBT skills from the Distress Tolerance (Crisis Survival Skills) module. The Distract Skill, which is broken down into ACCEPTS as follows:

Activities – Find an activity you can get lost in.
Contribute – Help someone else. Contribute in any way you can, such as smiling at a stranger.
Compare – Compare your past self with your present self.
Emotions – Try to find a way to switch into a different emotion. Through music for example.
Pushing Away – If you can’t solve a problem right then and there, pick that problem up and imagine putting it into a box. Place it on a shelf until you’re in a better space to deal with it.
Thoughts – Name things around you. Or breathe in a word, and choose another word for the out breath.
Sensations – An ice cold shower, or lying on cold tiles seems to do the trick for me. Or if it’s raining, I stand in the rain until I’m shivering. Eat or drink something bitter or sweet. Anything that engages one or more of your senses is helpful.

I use the ‘Compare’ part quite often now. Looking at my past self, and comparing that to how I am now. It’s a very good way to see the little bits of progress I have made. It helps get me out of that crisis state, and into what Marsha Linehan (the creator of DBT) calls Wise Mind. Writing down all the improvements. It’s not easy in those moments of intensity, in the midst of the emotional storm, but once started, and written down, I usually find that storm start to slowly die down a little. Because then my mind is engaged in the current task. A positive task. Something that isn’t harming me.

Just as a side note. Using these skills in the heat of an emotional storm is difficult. Mostly because you won’t always remember them. At least that’s the case with me. So it’s important to write these skills down, along with a list of what you feel would help you in each of those ‘catagories’ during these difficult moments.

Right now, I’m treating myself to a delicious, creamy mug of hot chocolate to celebrate the ways in which I have grown over these past few months. It’s my special treat for a job well done. And even though I still have a long way to go, that doesn’t mean that I can’t celebrate the little steps I have already made.

So go on and treat yourself to something you enjoy, or that warms your heart. You deserve it.

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