What I’ve learned and why my life is better for it
By Barbara Pierce
For the new year, I’m offering you the sum total of what I’ve figured out over the years.
Things that I know for sure, lessons I’ve learned the hard way, and countless valuable things I learned from the clients with whom I worked as a psychotherapist.
These are things that have helped me, helped in my relationships with others, and helped me live more comfortably with myself. I’ve lived a good life, a happy life; being guided by these perspectives has made my life work reasonably well most of the time.
May you find here at least one nugget that resonates with you:
— Give up expectations: I believe one of the biggest ways we make ourselves miserable is by having expectations of others or of outcomes. We set ourselves up for disappointment when we expect that people will do what we expect them to do, and expect that things will be the way we expect them to be.
People don’t do what we expect them to do, and then we’re upset, angry or hurt. Things don’t work out the way we expected, and we’re upset, angry or hurt.
When you give up expectations, you will have less anxiety, stress, frustration, anger, depression, and other negative emotions. Give up expecting certain outcomes to live a more contented life.
And expectations of ourselves are equally bad — if we don’t live up to our own expectations for ourselves, we beat ourselves up mentally, feel guilty, and feel badly.
Get out of the habit of expecting things of others or yourself. If you don’t have expectations of yourself or of others, you’ll free yourself of much suffering.
— Trust your gut, listen to your inner voice: Don’t trust the advice of others over your instincts. Trust your gut, your intuition. Intuition is simply knowing something without knowing how you know it. It’s the ability to sense or know something without being able to explain how you know you’re right.
Our intuition sends us messages in a number of ways. Sometimes it hits us with a clear answer; often it comes in symbolic ways, like a dream. Sometimes we get a gradual clarification of a complicated situation as the right answer gradually unfolds.
Cultivate your intuition; learn to trust your instincts, listen to your inner voice. There’s a reason behind every thought and fear, behind every hunch and every gut-level feeling.
All about perspective
— The way we view things is crucial: Of the things I’ve listed here, this is probably the most important. I choose the meaning I give to what’s happening and I choose how I respond to it. It’s not what happens to me, but how I react to it that matters.
“The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitude of mind,” said psychologist William James.
“If you don’t like something, change it. It you can’t change it, change the way you think about it,” said author Maya Angelou.
Do what you can to change the situation. If you can’t change it, leave it or accept it.
Also, accept your mistakes. Consider that there are no mistakes, only learning opportunities. Consider each a challenge that you have something from which to learn.
Accept what happened to you. If you carry a bag of garbage around, you will stink. Consider yourself a survivor, not a victim.
— Take risks for what you have to gain, not what you have to lose: Most of us are afraid to take risks because we’re afraid we’ll fail. Fear is a survival instinct and a reminder that we need a plan for how to gain what we want to gain.
What do you want to gain? What big dreams do you have? What is stopping you? What would be the worst thing that could happen if you failed? The absolute worst? Could you deal with that if it happened? What could you do to prevent that worst thing from happening? What help would you have available?
To avoid taking a risk is the biggest risk of all. You will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than the things you did.
So, say yes to that scary opportunity! Take a risk based on how happy you will be.
Believe this Native American wisdom: “As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm. Jump. It’s not as wide as you think.”
My life is better because I choose to believe these things, and I act on them. Which beliefs make your life better?
As you go forth into another new year, I wish you love, warmth, understanding and that you make all your dreams come true.
• Barbara Pierce is a retired licensed clinical social worker with many years of experience helping people. If you would like to purchase a copy of her book, “When You Come to the Edge: Aging” or if you have questions for her, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.