By David Joel Miller.
Planning the destination for your life’s journey.
We are now into the new year.
Some of you made resolutions for New Years and some of you didn’t.
Either way, these first breaths of the new year are a good time to take a look at yourself, your life and what you want it to be.
A first place to start is to take a hard look at ourselves. Most of us are used to muddling along, trying to remember those directions in our head but never really putting them down on paper and being sure of the direction we need to take. Now is a time to change that.
We have talked about happiness and over this year defining happiness and finding ways to get there are high on our agenda. But you can’t start any journey until you know where you are. In twelve-step terms, this is called an inventory and there are specific directions in the books on how to do this. In the language of therapy, we might call this an assessment.
I am not suggesting that you need to become an expert on diagnosis to move to happiness. Guess what? There are counselors who are not happy. The precise definition of your issue is not as important as your own appraisal of where you have been and how can you move forward from that place. We will break this process up into some steps.
One way to begin work on this life improvement project would be to begin creating a manual for your life. While we are all willing to contribute to this work, you as the expert on your life need to do the work of assembling this manual. Personally, I use a loose leaf binder and paper to keep this record. This allows me to make lists, revise them and move them around. This is sometimes called a sectional journal.
Some of the things you will have thought about so far are:
1. What will make you really truly happy?
This is all about finding real lasting happiness. As you will probably soon find, this is not about taking shortcuts and momentary pleasures. Your life journey should include some of those “right now” fun times, but it needs a longer range goal to give it meaning and purpose.
2. What does success mean to you?
Lots of us find we are taking someone else’s journey and therefore never get where we wanted to go. You need to decide for yourself what would make you happy and what success means to you. That is the destination part of the process.
You may begin by deciding to do something that you have never done before. For some people, they will find they have never finished a project they started, never completed school. They will decide that is where they need to go – for now. You may decide to finish your high school diploma or get a GED.
Later, once you get to this destination, it does not mean the journey is over. In life, we keep reevaluating and then setting new goals.
3. How will you know if your life changes?
Therapists call this the “miracle question.” If one morning a miracle was to occur and your life’s problems were all solved, how would we know this? What would be different?
All last year we talked about diseases and disorders, the problems of living. Maybe for a good part of your life, you have had nothing but struggles. So my asking you to imagine a happy successful life, that may be a bit of a stretch.
Give it a try anyway.
Make up a list of things that would be different. Write this list down if it is safe to do so. If you don’t feel safe in making lists and writing them down, then tackling that lack of safety is the first thing you need to do.
Is this fear about you or about them? If it is only about you then take a chance, write down anything. It does not need to be complete or even right. It just needs to reflect how you feel right now. Tomorrow is a new day and you can revise these lists at any point.
If you find that the fear is about them, the others in your life, then you either need to reword the things you write so you will not care if they read them or you may really need to consider if this is such a bad relationship that you need to run not walk away. In that case, reach out for professional help.
So you write down that first provisional list. Things that I would like to be different in my life. Try to keep that list between 3 and 10 things. If it gets longer than that take the list and save it but makeup draft number two by combining things down.
Say you list came up with 8 bills you want to pay off and 3 things you would like to replace you might simplify this by saying 1. Reduce my bills 2. Save up enough money to replace some things. Now you have two doable goals.
There may be some other things that some of you need to do.
One thing that would be wise to do is think about these goals. Will accomplishing them really take you to a place of happiness? We should talk soon about values. These goals of you happy life should be consistent with your values, religious and spiritual as well as material. It won’t do to achieve your happy life goals only to find that to reach them you needed to turn into a person even you don’t like.
By now most of you who are reading this have lived a while. You may have a lot of pain from your life so far. In popular language, you may have some baggage that will hold you back on this happy life journey. We will need to talk about how to leave some baggage behind and how to unpack some to lighten the load.
So let’s go there next.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books