Author: Brittany P. Male LCSW, CADC
The holidays are over, and if you're in the Midwest, the longest part of winter looms ahead of us. Snow covers the ground, chilling cold takes our breath away, and the outside is void of any remaining life. At the time of this blog being posted, Illinois is actually the coldest place on the planet. If we’re lucky, we’re warm inside our homes, under blankets, drinking warm beverages, and dreaming of warmer days. If you’re from the midwest, you’re also aware that although it may feel like this season will last forever---it won’t. We know that daylight will remain with us for longer and we’ll soon be enjoying the warm breeze as we sit outside sipping lemonade. We remain hopeful in winter, knowing that summer will return.
In the “winters” of our lives, it’s harder to remain optimistic. But if we look back at past evidence, we find similarities in these “winters.” Much like the changing seasons, the previous challenges we’ve experienced have passed, too, and we know that our present challenge will do the same. The “winters” of our lives, though they may feel like they last forever, thankfully do not.
The challenge that the winter brings also conditions us to tolerate its harsh conditions. The winter builds resilience in us and so do the challenges we face. The American Psychology Association (APA) defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress” (2019). Going into winter, we’re soft from summer’s sun and relaxing days. But winter hardens our skin and leaves us resilient and able to overcome adversity with greater strength than before. As spring approaches, winter has prepared us for future challenges. Have you ever wondered why when the weather begins to transition to spring we’re quick to forget our jackets and enjoy the sun even though the temperature may still only be in the 30’s? Just a few months prior, we ran back inside to grab our jackets at the same temperature. We gain resilience and determination in the cold. Somewhere between September and April, we find toughness.
Thankfully, everyone is capable of developing resiliency. When it comes to the challenges we face, the APA outlines 10 ways you can build resilience:
So if you’re finding yourself in the season of winter in your life, know that it is temporary. New growth will start, the softness and warmth of summer will soon be upon you and because of the winter, you will be ever more prepared for the next winter. As a bonus, you’ll be able to enjoy summer’s rays even more than you would have without your winter. You’re building resilience through this winter of your life. If you’re finding the present challenge you face, difficult to get through, don’t hesitate to call OakHeart and schedule an appointment to meet with one of our clinicians at (630) 570-0050.
American Psychological Association (APA). 2019. The Road to Resilience. https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx
The beginning of the year always motivates me to be reflective on the past year and motivated to identify the goals I have for myself in the coming year. That said, it may be easy to identify the things we want to change for ourselves, but harder to make those changes a reality. If you're struggling with accomplishing the goals you have for yourself, ask yourself the following questions:
What are the barriers to making this change?
Are there solutions to these barriers?
What will help me stay accountable to these changes?
Who can help me stay accountable to these changes?
For the purpose of moving forward, sometimes we have to take a look at the past. In previous attempts at accomplishing our goals, there may have been barriers that prevented us from accomplishing them or maintaining them. It's important to identify what has gone wrong in the past, when attempting to have a different outcome. Barriers may include a number of things, including our own fear of accomplishing the goal or of failing at accomplishing it. As a therapist, I often see clients scared to fail, and therefor make the sometimes, unconscious decision to not try, or sabotage their success. In our minds, we think that we’re saving ourselves and preventing a failure, but instead we’re only guaranteeing the outcome by not giving ourselves the chance. For example, if you want to begin eating healthier in the new year, but are afraid that you’ll end up picking up your old habits in week two, you may decide to never get started in the first place. So now, you have guaranteed that you won’t be eating healthy. Another example of a barrier, may be that your routine or schedule doesn't allow for the opportunity to work towards the goal. If that is the case, a solution may be that you need to identify where in your schedule or routine you can incorporate working towards the goal you have. Identify at the beginning of the week and block out the time you'd like to dedicate towards working towards that goals.
I have found that the difficulty is not in finding a solution, but instead utilizing the solution. Sometimes we just would prefer the easy way. We would love to say, “I want to stop smoking”, and the next day, stop smoking and never pick up a cigarette again. The reality is that we can not have this be our expectation. To make changes we need to have a plan and prepare for taking action. We don’t have to do it perfectly, but change does require effort despite our preference to simply will it to be so. Desired change does not just happen, we have to make it happen. If you are having trouble finding solutions, ask a friend, family member, find a group of those desiring the same change, or begin seeing a therapist. Brainstorming solutions with others is extremely helpful, because someone else with alternative experiences and ways of thinking may offer ideas you haven't thought of, in addition to being a great source of accountability and encouragement.
A third question to ask yourself towards the pursuit of your goals; is what can I do to help keep myself accountable? These are things that you can do on your own to help yourself be successful. You can create personal accountability in a number of ways depending on what your goal is. These may include: setting alarms on your phone reminding you to work towards your goals or to mentally "check in" with the progress you're making toward the goals, creating a reward systems that you’d actually like to receive, or reminding yourself regularly what the consequence of not changing is. It’s important to find out what works for you when it comes to personal accountability and stick with it. At any point, if you get stuck, go back to the beginning and walk through each question again.
The last thing to consider is who may be able to help hold you accountable. Although we may like to think we're independent and don’t need other people to be successful, the truth is that we do. Simply knowing someone is aware of the goals we've set, can be a powerful motivator. In addition, knowing someone else can be there if you need them to be, is helpful.
From here, I encourage you to take some time to reflect and write down the four questions and begin making steps towards the goals you have for this new year. When you find yourself struggling to make progress towards your goals, simply go back to the questions. Notice how I said, when and not if. It is important to remember that there is almost a guarantee that you'll meet barriers along the way towards change. I want you to normalize barriers. I want you to expect them. If your mindset is that barriers are a part of the journey you will not spend your time trying to pretend barriers aren't there. If you've met a barrier that you can't quite overcome or you're having trouble navigating through these questions, don't hesitate to call and schedule an appointment to meet with one of our trained clinicians today at (630) 570-0050 or email us at Contact.OH@OakHeartCenter.com.