Gifts to myself…perfect “fits.”

giftsAs another holiday season winds down, an inevitable truth remains – nobody got everything they wanted. You need only look at the crowds in the stores to see the high rate of exchanges of those gifts that didn’t fit right, didn’t look right, or were simply so off-the-mark that even using them for next year’s White Elephant parties seems questionable. And I, like everyone I know, was left a little underwhelmed by my holiday haul. Year in and year out. What am I to do? Gifts to myself…that’s the answer!

Years ago I started a tradition of giving myself one Christmas gift: a nice Swiss watch. I did this because it’s not an item I cannot reasonably expect others to buy for me, and I’m assured to get exactly what I want. I love watches. The mechanics. The design. The style. The symbolism. The race against time. And Swiss watches are the best, at least in my not-so-humble opinion as someone who used to sell timepieces. This is the first year I did not reward myself with a new bauble. Try as I might, every time I tried a watch on I kept thinking something was wrong or that I was missing out on something better. After reflection, I decided to give myself several gifts. There was no need to wrap them. None of them were found in a store. Instead, these gifts are ideals and goals. Somewhat lofty perhaps, but they fit me perfectly and there is no need for exchanges. And already I’m more excited than I ever was with a watch. Perhaps something on this list would be a good gift for you, too?

perfect

  • Forgiveness. We all do wrong. We all are wronged. There is no perfect person among us, and there is no way we can ever be perfect in all that we do. And focusing on forgiveness helps me remember that. Not just forgiving others who offend me or slight me. This is about forgiving myself for all of my shortcomings. Not being nice enough. Not being charitable enough. Not making enough money. Not spending enough time caring for myself. Not learning a foreign language. Not learning to play the piano. Not keeping the “ideal” weight. With so many opportunities to be hard on myself, it would be all too easy to be my own worst enemy and hold myself back. Instead, I’m giving myself the gift of forgiveness. As long as I’m living my best life and trying to leave the world better than I found it, it’s more than enough.
  • Patience. I want it all. Right now. Actually two minutes ago. Or an hour before that. I am so impatient with life goals and ambitions. I used to think there was a timeline for everything. Graduating school. Internship. Private practice. Children. Cabin in the woods. Million-dollar retirement account. Boy have I made myself crazy trying to live my life on an arbitrary patiencetimeline versus letting life unfold. My practice will grow just as it should so long as I continue to do my best work. I’ll retire when I’m no longer capable for working, not when my IRA’s and 401k’s have the “right” balance. Family will happen when it happens. In fact, it’s all going to happen when it happens and I’m going to be okay with that. I do not have to micromanage every detail of my life. Sure, I will work towards the things I want but I refuse to see my efforts as any semblance of failing just because the timing might not be what I’m told it should be.
  • Charity. That watch I wanted all year and got so excited about buying? I gave that money away to charity. I can’t wear it on my wrist. I can’t show it off at parties. Nobody will be impressed or envious. Many will not understand. That’s okay. Others got hot meals, gifts for their children, places to sleep, and affordable or free therapy. I have no idea where it all went or how it was dispersed, much less the ultimate trickle down effects as one person helps another help another, but I know it was a far better use of my resources than another possession I did not need. This year I will focus more on what I call the “give back.” I maintain a certain amount of slots for free or low-cost therapy for those who cannot afford quality care. And yes, despite the growing push for national health care there are still too many people who are uninsured or even with insurance cannot afford to get help. I can afford to do more. We all can.
  • Boundaries. I discuss this with all of my clients. Boundaries are very good things. In addition to avoiding offense and maintaining prosocial ties of equitable benefit, boundaries allow us to be “us” in the face of all those day in and day out boundariesrequests for our time and support. How many times has a friend called in “crisis” and you leapt to their side to be supportive, only to kick yourself later because it’s just another in a series of “drama queen” moments that you find humorously pointless? Or all those invitations for dinner or drinks or parties or celebrations that create more stress than joy for you? If you’re that stressed out around the people who are supposed to be your circle of support, where is the benefit? This year I’m giving myself the gift of “no.” I will remain social and engaged. I will strengthen ties with those  important to me. But I will also have no problem saying “no” and investing time taking care of myself. I deserve that. My clients deserve that. My family deserves that. My friends deserve that. And did I mention that I deserve that?
  • Goals. There are so many things I want to do with myself, and if I can do all of the things above than I will have opportunities to set goals and achieve them. I won’t share all that I want to do, but I will say one of my big goals is to write a book and this year I will start that process. Will it ever be published? Probably not, but that’s not what matters. The point is that it’s something I want to do for me, and I’m giving myself the gift of this goal and I am going to enjoy my efforts. It’s a big goal to be sure, but it’s hits all the hallmarks therapists encourage for their clients for “SMART” goals. Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Relevant. Time-bound.

zenIf you could give yourself any non-material gifts to improve your life, what would they be? What is missing that would make you happier and allow you to better love yourself and those around you? What would you add to your life to accomplish your goals? Make a list. Be detailed in why you want it and how you will use it. Then share it with those closest to you. In fact, maybe turn it into a group activity and hold each other accountable to make sure you truly cherish the gifts you’re giving yourself. I suspect if we spent a little less time focusing on material giving to others and more time focusing what matters in life, we would be happier and healthier.

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Small Town Surprise

grooms cakeLast week I was fortunate enough to serve witness at a wedding. A gay wedding. In Oklahoma. A small town in Oklahoma. Initially I was surprised that the grooms, who live in the Dallas area, chose Oklahoma; however, one of them graduated college there and had an affinity for that area. And given the still-limited number of places where they could get married, I suppose Oklahoma is as good as any.

But I’m going to be honest about this…I was dreading it. Not because it was a gay wedding. I’m not a hypocrite. Rather, I was dreading a gay wedding in small town Durant. Should you ever need to know, it’s pronounced “doo-rant” and not “dur-unt.” I was corrected several times by the locals. The same locals I was sure meant to do us harm.

You see, I grew up in a small town. Well, I grew up outside the capital of Arkansas and then graduated high school in a town of 4,455 with only one flashing red four-way stop at that time. So I have some understanding of the small town mentality. I was quite fearful of what we might find in Durant. As we crossed the state line and entered the sleepy little town, it was very much like my adolescence all over again. Rural area. Lots of wide open spaces. Traffic crawling slowly enough to pass on a bicycle. People congregating to talk about passerby and clearly unknown cars. Felt like home, and not in the best of ways.

When we arrived at the courthouse to retrieve the license, my fears were palpable. We entered through the doorway for marriages, and there was a big, burly backwoods bubba of a guard talking to a woman who looked like a regular customer on “Breaking Bad.” They sized us up, and saw one female in our party of four. The guard asked who was getting married, and the two grooms proudly raised their hands and declared it was their big day. Without missing a beat, the guard asked if they would be using the gazebo outside facing the main street. He explained that jurors from a trial gathered there to smoke and could sometimes get unruly. And then he gave an instruction that caught me entirely off guard. He said that if anybody gave us any problems we were to immediate find him because he was our “problem solver” that day. Then he offered hearty congratulations, which was quickly followed by his conversation companion with a big smile. Needless to say, I was flummoxed.

This only continued when we went to the clerk’s office and watched them all conference in hopes of solving a computer problem and not delay the “handsome” grooms on their special day. And then, again, when I met the man who would serve as the officiant and his lovely wife, both whom I have now connected with via social media. And lastly during the ceremony itself, which was held on a particularly popular and picturesque walking bridge on the college campus. Passersby would smile and wave and apologize for intruding. Very friendly.

This was not at all what I expected. I was ready for a rumble. In my mind, I was there to witness an exchange of vows and declaration of love, but also to be there for my boys in case there was any trouble. I sure did feel foolish. mob

You see, what happened was a common psychological phenomenon known as cognitive thinking errors. We all do them, and quite frequently. It really is part of our everyday experience. Left unchecked, though, they can become quite problematic and lead to all kinds of craziness. I spent the drive home reflecting on my errors. There was mind reading, where I assumed I knew what others were thinking without having any real evidence of their thoughts. I sure was catastrophizing, or having a very firm belief that something bad or even unbearable was sure to happen. And lets not forget one of my favorites, overgeneralization. You know that one…we perceive a global pattern of negatives based on limited events. In my case, I falsely assumed that all the backwoods citizens of Durant (overgeneralization) would absolutely hate us on site (mind reading) and possibly come after us with lynches and torches while wearing white sheets (catastrophizing), or at the very least prevent the wedding through some nonviolent means (catastrophizing) because they firmly disapprove of or outright hate the LBGT population (mind reading).brain gears

I’m not alone here. You do it too. We all do it. And I promise that is not an overgeneralization. It’s back of the human experience and a natural part of our self-preservation instinct. But it sure can get out of hand and make life miserable for you and those around you. Think about someone you know who is depressed and views the entire world through a negative filter. Or the overly anxious person always waiting for doom and gloom. Two examples of what it’s like when it gets out of control.

But what about lesser variants that may be just as toxic? Look at what I did! I’m a therapist and I engaged in distorted thinking to the point I was ready to fight an imaginary angry mob. In fact, there were several times I kept looking around and over my shoulder waiting for something that never happened. To be sure, I did not let it impact my day or cast any negative light on my friends’ big day. Thank goodness for an implacable poker face. But you see my point? Even on a smaller scale thinking errors can have a big impact. It’s good to have checks and balances. That day, my friends were my checks and balances. I shared my thoughts, which were not unlike their own actually, and we were able to laugh about it and enjoy way too much fudge from a local shop on the drive out of town. Checks and balances are important. They keep us on track. They refine our perspective. Therapy is absolutely a great place for this, but never underestimate the power of what I call “social therapy” in sharing with your friends and experiencing their views as well.