Pathway to Happiness: A Wellness Tool Kit Chapter 1
I love my life!
I love my life! It is filled with joy and satisfaction. There is peace in my heart and prosperity in my soul. I love spending time with my family and I love finding opportunities to serve and lift others. I see beauty all around me. It is a pleasure to wake up each morning and greet a new day.
I like myself. I feel like I belong and that I am loved. I feel useful and successful. I feel valued and appreciated. My life is good. It is very good.
It wasn’t always this way
I feel so very different than I did a year ago as I sat on my couch sobbing with the desperate desire to cease existing. I wanted to disappear completely. I wanted the pain to end. I couldn’t even imagine feeling loved, valued, or appreciated. I couldn’t imagine feeling happy. I felt trapped and powerless to do anything about it. I felt hopeless. I hated myself. I hated my existence.
It is interesting that nothing tangible has changed over the course of the past year. I’m married to the same person, have the same kids, live in the same house with the same yard. I’m the same dress size with the same amount of money in my bank account (or lack thereof) and the same amount of success (or lack thereof). Yet I am so different.
What has changed? Not my circumstances, they are the same. The only thing that changed was me. And that has made all the difference.
How did this change take place? I believe the first step was an invitation and an awakening to the possibility that healing was possible. When I was in that dark place, I felt trapped. I can’t find words adequate to express the depth of despair and utter hopelessness. My sister said there were tools to help me become happy and she could teach how to use them. I didn’t believe her, but for the first time in a long time I had a glimmer of hope that there might possibly be a way out.
A glimmer of hope?
I allowed that tiny hope to pull me off the couch and into my sister’s classroom. I felt uncomfortable and vulnerable, but I listened and took notes. I didn’t like what I heard. She wanted me to take action steps. She wanted me to do something to change myself. It required work and effort. I didn’t like the accountability that she wanted me to accept. I felt powerless and unable to accept responsibility. I felt hopeless that my actions would make any difference anyway, after all, I had failed so many times before. And yet, what if she was right? Something in her words rang true.
I allowed my sister, my friend, to become my mentor. She gave me assignments to sing a song each morning and say positive things about myself. Then she expected me to send her a text each day to report that I did it. Often I did what she asked only because I knew I had to report back, not because I wanted to do it. We met weekly and she gave me new assignments. Over the course of a few months I slowly progressed. There were setbacks and failures and a desire to sink back into that despair that was so familiar. Change is scary. I often felt more comfortable in my familiar misery than this new uncertain change. It is strange that we crave the familiar. Familiar feels safe even when what is familiar is not good.
I found another mentor who could help me progress. She also gave me assignments and had me report to her on a weekly basis. She asked me to organize my closet and clean my house. Through these assignments I gained confidence that I did have control over things in my life. I could make things better.
Change is gradual
Change takes place little by little, so that you may not even notice that things are changing at all until you remember what it was like before. Today feels pretty much like yesterday, which seemed pretty much like the day before, but when I compare where I was a year ago to where I am today it is a difference as obvious as night and day. The new day didn’t come by flipping on a light switch, it progressed gradually like a sunrise, but oh, what a glorious day!
I invite you to love your life. I invite you to like yourself. I invite you to feel loved, valued and appreciated. I invite you to become happy. I invite you to resume control over your life. I know from personal experience that it is possible. I know from personal experience that it is worth the effort invested.
Come on in, the water’s fine.
What do you want?
What would you like your life to be like a year from today? How would you like to feel about yourself? How would you like to feel about your life? Some physicians believe that depression arises from a belief that we’re powerless to solve our problems, therefore the single most effective means to resolve feelings of depression is to find a way to tap into our own immense power to solve problems and these tools are intended to do just that.
Caveat about this Wellness Tool Kit
Tools, by themselves, do nothing but perhaps take up space and collect dust. However, when they are utilized, they can empower a person to repair and build. This Wellness Tool Kit gives suggestions for many effective healing tools and the worksheets encourage and support you to actually use those tools. It is in applying the tools that healing takes place. This workbook also contains a series of self-evaluations to help you measure your progress. It works. It really works. But only if you do it.
When learning to use a new tool, it is normal to be awkward, clumsy, uncomfortable, or frustratingly ineffective; yet with continued practice, skills naturally increase and with those improved skills the results are better and progress comes faster.
This book may be read from front to back in the traditional reading style or, if you prefer, you may simply skip to the end of the book and peruse the “Tools by Topics” section and read only those sections that apply to what you want right now.
What do you want to improve?
What is it that you want to build or improve upon? There is a list of possible tools that might be helpful to help meet a particular objective. What do you need the most right now? What tool will best help you achieve it?
Like any tool kit, this booklet probably contains items that don’t apply to your situation and that’s okay. If there is a tool or technique that you don’t like or doesn’t fit your needs, please feel free to ignore it or even cross out that page. Nothing contained in this book is intended to judge or condemn any person for any reason, nor does it claim to have tools to solve every situation. Different tools work for different people. Because the root causes of anxiety, depression and other mental and emotional issues vary from person to person, it is not surprising that there isn’t a single solution. Having an open mind enlarges the possibility of finding the right set of solutions for you or your loved one.
Perhaps you have heard of “SMART” goals? SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. This is supposed to be a standard for goal setting to achieve success. I agree with this partially, but not entirely.
Most things we want don’t fit into these categories. I want to be happy. I want to like myself. I want to feel confident. I want to feel connected. I want to love and be loved. I want to experience joy and satisfaction in my relationships. I want to love my life. I want to have energy and feel good. None of those things qualify as “SMART” goals, but they’re all excellent goals.
I believe that long term goals can be whatever you truly desire; they don’t need to be measurable or fit in a certain timeframe. Think about what you want your life to be like. What does it look like? What does it feel like? Is there a picture that represents what you’d like to become? Are there words to describe it? These could go on a vision board. You can even create an audio recording of an “after story” of what your life is like. Tell your story in the present tense as if it’s already true rather in the future tense as if you’re merely hoping that it will be true. Listen to your recording often. Make a picture in your mind through images and words and refer to it frequently to remember what you’re working towards. It helps to keep the end in mind.
As most people know, simply wishing something is true does not make it happen. There is a path to follow in order to become as you’d like to become and to have what you’d like to have. That path is lined with stepping stones of smaller intermediate goals. As we experience success in achieving those small intermediate goals we get nearer to our ultimate goal of happiness, self-confidence, etc. Also as we progress, we begin to awaken a sense of control in our lives which overcomes feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Furthermore, as our confidence grows we begin to tap into our own immense power to solve problems. We become empowered.
These smaller intermediate stepping stone goals need to be simple and achievable. They need to be SMART goals.
SMART stepping stone goals
So how do I create SMART stepping stone goals to help me get closer to my ultimate goal? That’s an excellent question. There are many ways to do this right so we’ll give some examples to see how this might work.
Jill wants to like herself. She wants to improve her relationship with herself. That doesn’t fit in the category of SMART goals because it’s broad and difficult to measure, but it’s an excellent and worthwhile objective. She notices that there’s a “Tools by Topics” list in back of this wellness toolkit and reads through the tools under the heading “Building self-esteem/ improving and strengthening.” There’s another heading that says “Overcoming negative self-talk/ relationship with self” with another list of suggested tools. Both of these seem like they might be useful in trying to like herself. She reviews the list of tools under those headings and selects a few that she likes. She reviews those sections in the book to remind her what they mean and how to do them.
She kind of likes the idea of positive affirmations and declarations; self talk; 2 minute distraction; success lists; calibrate your body; smiling – even if you don’t feel like it; embrace what you love; and service and compassion. Those things seem like something she could do, but she doesn’t want to feel overwhelmed by doing too many new things at once. Since she’s just starting, she just chooses positive affirmations for her first SMART stepping stone goal. During the first week she will choose 5 positive affirmation statements. That goal is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.
Breaking it down into action steps
In order to achieve a SMART goal, we need to break it down into SMART action steps. Choose up to 5 action steps to achieve your goal. If the goal isn’t completed in a week, no worries, just work on it again the following week. In our example Jill chooses 4 action steps: she will read through the list of affirmations in the wellness toolkit, she will look online for other affirmation examples, she will try making up a few herself, and finally she will choose 5 that she likes and that seem to apply to her situation. Does that sound easy? Good. It’s supposed to be.
Morning routine and evening routine
In addition to working on a weekly SMART stepping stone goal, the plan is to create a morning and evening routine that you do at least 5 days a week. The items on the morning and evening routine need to be simple things that you can already do, but perhaps need a reminder to actually do them. This is also an opportunity to give yourself credit for the good things you are already doing.
Depending on where you’re at emotionally, just getting out of bed in the morning can be a challenge. In our example, we’ll say that Jill is in a rough spot and getting out of bed and getting dressed and ready for the day are a challenge for her, but she’s doing it. Those are excellent items to put on her morning routine list and celebrate those daily successes. She also chooses to calibrate her body by standing tall with her chin up, smile on, shoulders back, hands relaxed at her side, and feet facing forward. She will hold that pose for 60 seconds then go about her day. Morning routine complete.
For her evening routine, Jill chooses to brush her teeth, write 2 sentences (or more) in her journal, and take 5 slow, deep breaths before going to bed. She feels confident that she can do these things consistently.
The following page is a copy of Jill’s weekly progress chartSample Weekly Plan
Give yourself some wiggle room – we don’t need perfection, just progress
Even though this plan seemed easy enough, Jill found that in the day to day application, she didn’t do a perfect job. Sometimes she forgot, sometimes she just didn’t feel like it, but she really did try to do it most of the time. As she looked at her chart at the end of the week she saw a lot of check marks, but she also saw some empty spaces where she didn’t do it. In the past, she might have berated herself for those empty spaces and given up, but as she marked the “Measuring weekly success” section at the bottom of the page, she found that although she didn’t follow through perfectly, she really did a good job and she had a lot of success.
Please notice that you don’t need to be perfect, just progressing. It’s okay to forget to do those morning and evening routine a couple times. Just keep trying to do it at least 5 days a week. If you didn’t accomplish your goal, don’t worry about it, just put it as the goal for next week and try again. This is about building on success. It’s time to notice and give yourself credit for the things you’re doing right.
For the following week, Jill now has a new tool that she can use for her morning routine. She now has a list of 5 positive affirmation statements because she successfully created one last week. She chooses to add that to her morning routine in place of “getting out of bed.” She also chooses to add that to her evening routine in place of “brushing teeth.” The rest of the morning and evening routine items she keeps the same.
Creating SMART goals
For the new weekly goal, she goes back to that list she made earlier and looks at the other tools that might help her in her quest to like herself. She chooses to work on her self-talk. If she just writes “work on self-talk” as her goal, there is going to be a problem. Chances are that she will not eliminate all negative self-talk within a week and might get frustrated and want to give up. It needs to be re-written as a SMART goal that has some aspect that is achievable this week.
It needs to be written in a way that leads to success, not failure. She thinks of a way it might be measurable and successful. She chooses to write the goal this way: I will use tools to combat negative self-talk at least 5 times during the week. That is both measurable and achievable. Even if she isn’t perfect at eliminating all negative self-talk, at least she was able to win that battle 5 times during the week and she can build on that success.
For the action steps to achieve that goal she lists various things she can try to distract herself for at least 2 minutes to stop the cycle of ruminating negative self-talk. She lists options of singing a song, reading through the “I am” statements in the book, repeating positive affirmations, and calibrating her body by standing up straight with chin held high, smile on, shoulders back, hands relaxed at her sides, and feet facing forward and holding that pose for 60 seconds. She’ll try different things to see what is the most effective for her. Even if the tools she tried didn’t work in breaking the cycle of rumination, she can still successfully complete her goal because the goal was to use the tools 5 times. Her goal was to try. If something didn’t work, she can try again or try a different tactic next time.
What if I don’t know where to start?
If you don’t know where to start, the best place is to begin with something physical. Either your physical self or the physical world around you. Review the section under the heading “Physical wellbeing” or choose an area in your home, car or office to clean and organize. Start with something small like a nightstand table or a single drawer. Select something that can be reasonably completed within a week taking into consideration all your regular daily activities and obligations. A physical goal might be to go for a walk 3 times during the week or learn a 2 minute tai chi form or drink 8 glasses of water each day for 5 days during the week.
Always make sure to give yourself wiggle room. Don’t set a goal that requires more than 5 days during a week. We don’t want to feel overwhelmed and we’re not looking for perfection; we’re just looking for progress. Progress equals success.
If you’re not succeeding in your goals, it’s probably because they are either too large or they haven’t been translated into a SMART form. Shake it off and try again. With practice it will become easier.
Another way to select the next goal is to look around you for unfinished projects. Is there something that you started, but haven’t completed? When projects are big, set an amount of time to work on the project for the weekly goal rather than setting a goal to complete the project. For example, “I will work on _________ for an hour this week.” And break the goal down further into action steps. If the goal is to work on the project for an hour, you could create 4 action steps like this, “I will work on ________ for 15 minutes.” Keep it simple and achievable. We want progress and success. If the project isn’t finished in a week, simply roll over the goal to the next week.
Long term goals can be whatever you truly want. Weekly stepping stone goals should be written in a SMART format so that they are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. They should also be small and shouldn’t take a long time to accomplish. Later on you can choose larger goals that require multiple weeks and simply roll over the goal from week to week, but to start out choose goals that can be accomplished in a day or at most a week.
Break the weekly stepping stone goal down into action steps (up to 5). Allow yourself wiggle room, don’t choose something that you have to do perfectly every day in order to achieve a goal. No more than 5 action steps and no more than 5 days per week should be required to call it a success.
Items in the morning and evening routine should be easy for you to accomplish. You can even include things that you’re already doing and give yourself credit for the good things you’re already doing. As you gain in confidence, you can upgrade your choices for morning and evening routine to be something new, but still easy to achieve. Consistency is a key to success. If it’s too hard, takes too much time, or you don’t like it, you won’t want to do it. There are so many options, there’s no need to do something that makes you miserable. Choose things that will not only make you better, but that you also enjoy.
Improve your chance of success by 85% with this simple tool
In order to improve your chance of success by 85%, you will be selecting an accountability partner, coach, or mentor to whom you will return and report on a regular basis (either daily or weekly).
Enlist the help of a professional, trusted friend, or family member as an accountability partner or mentor. Pick someone you can trust to hold you to your very highest standard. Set a designated time to return and report to each other. Allow this mentor to help you make a plan of action steps and follow up by returning and reporting to your mentor on a regular basis (daily or weekly) through texting, email, phone call, or visit.
A note to mentors:
The time commitment for an accountability coach or mentor is a few seconds a day and/or a few minutes a week. A mentor does not accept responsibility for another person’s emotional state or for their decisions. A mentor is not a pseudo professional. An accountability partner or mentor’s job is simply to provide regular accountability and follow up. A mentor should not ask, “How can I make you get better?” or “How can I solve your problems?” A mentor should ask, “How can I support you as you work towards your goals?”
Joe is struggling with depression and wants to do something about it. Joe decided that he’d like to make his bed, say positive affirmation statements and go for a walk each morning. Then in the evening before bed he wants to repeat his positive affirmation statements, write down 5 things he’s grateful for, and meditate for 10 minutes. He also sets a goal of cleaning off a nightstand next to his bed. He figures he can spend 15 minutes a day on the project until it’s completed. Joe has a chart to mark down whether or not he’s done these things, but he knows that having another layer of accountability will help him stay on track.
Joe has a friend named Mark that he trusts. Joe shares his goals with Mark and asks if he’s willing to help him be accountable. Together they decide that the best plan for their busy schedules is for Joe to send a text saying “I did it” to Mark each night at 9PM to say he completed his goals for the day. Mark responds with a simple thumbs up or comment like “good job, keep up the good work.” Because Mark really cares about Joe, he also offers to help Joe re-evaluate his progress and action steps once a month.
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