Don't wait until crisis point to make changes...but in case you do, let 5 truths help
It is a truth psychologically acknowledged, that I can give you all the tips, tricks, information, support and practical suggestions in the world, but it is only when you need me (usually at the point of crisis), that you’ll seek me out…and not only that but pay for my services.
Why does this happen?
Mental and emotional fitness is not like “fixing a dripping tap” – yes, like the dripping tap you can go and check a YouTube video for it, but unlike “Plumbing 101”, you have to continue to practice what you’ve learned.
Perhaps it’s my mistake, perhaps giving one activity at a time is only useful for trainers – people who want to use the task to apply in their own sessions – and by all means, you are welcome to do that; but even I can – and do – only practice one activity at a time, but I do them all – and new ones when I read about something good. The way I see it, I’ll give anything a go, and if it works, I’ll use it again.
But then, maybe in promoting who I am I’ve forgotten who I was.
Up until 2008 I was in a job, relationship (marriage no less) and even a house I didn’t want. Of course there were good bits and happy times, but ultimately, I felt like I was simply existing for the next “holiday” to escape (as was my strategy) or finding that at least other people’s psychodramas would be a welcome distraction from my own. I wish I could say “all that changed when I…”. Things got better. From 2008 – 2014 I found the strength to leave my job, marriage and by consequence sell my home…I wish I could say it was because I’d started to practice what I preach right now, but that part of my life was still to come. One thing I do always state that was – and remains so – in my favour is my ability to seize and create opportunity – even if I’m not sure of the outcome, because I know that I’m a hard enough worker to reach an endgame, even if it wasn’t the one I’d originally planned.
Truth 1. Recognise the unique strengths that make you you…
Go on, do this right now. Are you a strong networker? A good talker? A diligent worker? Whether you like these traits or not, they are still the basis of what has got you this far – and will be what will help you change, should you decide that is what you want to do.
By 2014 I was beginning to recognise that the payoff of the annual theatre productions was not worth the effort – nor money – I was pouring in…at least not for me. It is certainly my hope that those involved and the causes supported felt otherwise, or I was really labouring under a misapprehension! But as with most people, I wasn’t ready to let go of the side, so while holding onto my safety net of a (teaching) job that I could predict, I started to pull at the threads that had come loose during taking my PhD…I approached publishing houses to see if they’d be interested in my writing.
Truth 2. You don’t always need to wait for an invitation
One reminder I currently use is “If you want to see someone, see them; if you want to do something do it.” Persistence is how I began my relationship with Pearson, for whom I have now written 3 books. But, there’s a downside to being a “go-getter” too, and in my case it’s my own emotional baggage. I have an innate belief that unless I pay someone, or can offer something of value in return no-one would want to spend time with me. This has exhausted me financially and physically – and attracted a few people into my life who validated that belief. I realise now that they are not the people I wanted to keep, and as my wallet closed, so did their diaries.
Truth 3. As some people leave your life, others will enter
“Friends for a reason, friends for a season, friends for life.” stated Ziak Abdelnour of our transient relationships. I am blessed to have kept – and now reaffirmed – a few friends for life. They are childhood pals whom I’ve known for nearing 40 years - the sort who know far too much but will never tell for fear of self-incrimination. But since 2008 friends for a reason have also become friends for life, and all of them remain my greatest source of enrichment and support. BUT in order to ensure I give as much back to them as they to me, I let friends for a season go with my good wishes, we have all served our purpose.
Truth 4. Time and energy is finite – spend wisely
Of course I didn’t used to “let people go with good wishes” – I’d sometimes hold onto the pain if I’d gotten hurt – until I realised that we only have 24 hours in a day, and of those about 6 will be useful, no matter how much we desire to achieve. It doesn’t mean that we won’t get there if we just keep chipping away, but when our minds are cluttered with thoughts of anger and revenge, that’s taking up space we could be using to achieve our goals or seek fulfilment. Until about 2018 I still struggled with channelling my time and energy effectively. Every opinion would sway me – even those I did not solicit, a criticism would set me back rather than being a learning experience, and even when all the evidence said otherwise, I struggled to let things go. Buddhists would say that holding onto revenge is like holding onto a hot stone waiting to throw it – even if you eventually hit the mark, you burn your own hand. Similarly self-doubt and insecurities can create anxiety which could, if we accept it rather than dwell on it, be channelled into taking that chance and seeing what happens – rather than staying passive in our assumptions.
Truth 5. Nothing is wasted
Which brings me to 2020, by which time I’d finally learned exactly how I was going to actively choose to live my life. I’d discovered that when I removed what didn’t serve me, I flourished through what did; when I spent time engaged in things and with people who energised me, I could replenish my resources and so extend them to do more; and a regular practice of gratitude helps keep my “could’ve, would’ve, should’ve” critical voice under control. Not only that but even though it took around 12 years to reach the point I’ve got to now, I’ve made sure nothing is wasted because I use my teaching skills to record my practices in the books I write, as well as offer them as short cuts, in case you don’t have 12 years to evolve.
So when I look back I do wonder, would access to everything I offer now have benefitted me then? Would it have taken me 6 years to get to where I am now instead? Would I have saved myself money in my own therapy and coaching? Perhaps not, but it also wasn’t available to me then. I didn’t have friends or colleagues who were engaging in practical self-care and development that I knew worked, when it came to wellbeing I had the choice of yoga or pop psychology books.
In making positive psychology accessible, I hope to help you recognise that you don’t need to be ill to invest in yourself. Building resilience, mental and emotional strength is not just preventative, but it can even give your life an advantage. Living well is not about getting through the struggle to find what makes you happy – but it can be pro-actively creating the life you desire, or knowing you have a choice. So even if you’re not unhappy, perhaps you have potential to shine even brighter than you do right now and can unlock it, why wait until the point of crisis to live the life you desire?
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; watch her psychology & coaching skill pill on YouTube Or catch her hosting Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV where she and her team discuss how psychology affects our behaviours in the workplace and what we can do about it.
Follow her on Twitter/IG @draudreyt (but she doesn't check it regularly anymore - it stole too much time and energy!)