I had an interesting conversation with a guy I know at a bicycle shop the other day. We started talking about my bicycle seat options and what might be more comfortable for me, so I asked him if it makes a difference that my pelvis healed into an uneven position after a car accident about 20 years ago. This led to a further discussion of lower back issues…neck and shoulder tightness, and he asked me if I have any chronic pain as a result of my injuries. I hadn’t really considered this in a while, so I shared with him that I had been a chiropractic patient for nearly two decades, visiting several times a year, anytime I felt a flare-up in my back, neck, or shoulders. However, I have been able to stay out of the chiropractor’s office for about the past two years, despite doing more physical activity such as cycling, which can exacerbate back problems.
“How do you explain that?” he asked. The answer was easy, “I practice yoga.” He agreed that yoga is extremely helpful in developing what people need to stay active – balance, strength, and flexibility – and as a trainer he recommends it to nearly all his serious cyclists, but added that most people just won’t take the time to practice it. Hmmm…so this made me think.
In my work with clients, we quite often discuss ways that they can feel better – coping skills that they can use when they feel distressed, instead of returning to their old patterns of using food, alcohol, sex, self-injury, isolation, purging, or any other maladaptive trick that they have tried. The problem with these patterns is that, although they may temporarily “numb” us from feeling what is causing emotional pain, they end up causing harm and making things worse. So, like I tell my clients, when you take what you have been using away, you must learn to replace it with something that works…and here is where many people have a problem. Although we make a list of many other ideas that they can try when they start to feel uncomfortable, and they even admit that the new coping skills actually work, they fail to practice the willingness to continue to do what they know will help them…so why is that?
In our DBT groups, we learn about willingness vs. willfulness, and specifically how these concepts help or hurt us. Willingness is when we know what will help us feel and function better without making things worse in the long run, and we actually put those skills into practice in our daily lives. Willfulness, on the other hand, is when we know what would be the most effective way to handle a situation, what would work the best for us, and we choose not to do it.
There are many reasons why a person willfully chooses not to do what he knows will work. Sometimes people are familiar with and comfortable being in a constant state of chaos, and don’t believe they deserve anything better or different. Other times the pain of the harm they are doing is not enough to motivate them to change. Until that balance shifts and their suffering becomes worse than the discomfort associated with doing something new, many people won’t make the effort to help themselves.
In my own life, self-care is something I must stay willing to practice in order to be the best mom, daughter, friend, and therapist that I can be. It’s often difficult for me to carve out time to practice yoga, ride my bike, spend time with friends, read, and pray/meditate, on top of all my other responsibilities. But I have found that the more demanding my schedule is, or the more stressors I am experiencing, the more imperative it is that I take care of myself by doing all those things. It requires willingness on my part to make the effort, and the results are worth it in my happiness, stability, and peace of mind. I know what makes me feel better, so it’s my fault if I choose not to do those things.
Ask yourself today, “If I am unhappy with the way things are in my life, am I willing to do what it takes for me to feel better?” If your answer is Yes, and you need some guidance in figuring out what might work for you, schedule an appointment at Southlake Counseling and take the first step toward being in charge of your own happiness.
In good health,