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Lost and Found and the Space Between

The Challenges of Meeting Your Goals

It’s January. A new year. “The joke is over.  I have to do something about my lifestyle.  I must face the problem, make the plan, find the discipline, do the hard work and get ‘er done.  I am determined.  No problem.  Empty the fridge. Fill it with yogurt and watermelon, fish and tomatoes.  Out with the brownies. Unearth the book on salads.  At the pub, no to the beer on tap, Yes to the cranberry cocktail.“

Or “ I’ve decided that I am tired of always doing what other people want me to do and not  what I want to do. What about my needs? I’m going to turn over a new tree!   I’ll speak my mind.  Say NO.   Resign as chair of the task group I am sick of.  Refuse to help one more friend force an immovable sofa into a UHaul moving van.  Enough already!”

Taking a highly moral and often judgmental tone with ourselves, we buckle down and put our shoulders to the wheel  and uproot whatever we suddenly disapprove of. Our weight. Our substances, our over-accommodation.  We set ourselves bold standards and prepare the criticism for faltering.

We focus on what must be lost. As we cut our way through this new  path, we tire. Our old familiar rut  is what beckons. Then the first slide. “Well, I can’t insult the host, so I’ll have a second tart to show my appreciation. …Fries are a must  with steak. ….. I’ll only drink on weekends or when I am with others in a pub….”  Or “Well, I’ll just keep on with this task group until they find someone to replace me, which will be difficult. ….Patrick can’t afford movers and it is only going to be for a morning. ….I’d say no to my mother but it isn’t worth the hassle this time.”

By degrees we slip shame-faced into our old patterns.  We lose our way for two reasons. First because in focusing on what is to be lost, we have not taken the time to really experience the “found”.  If we can project ourselves into a future in which a realistic goal has been achieved we may be truly surprised.  For inspiration perhaps.  While I am paying off my Visa bill I can imagine myself debt -free.  If I talk about the debt, I give it more substance and a lot of negative energy. If I say that I am on my way to being debt-free I can almost feel it in my body as my shoulders lighten.  If I resign from the task group i might imagine myself with Tuesday afternoon free with any number of choices.

Sometimes by experiencing a new self we discover that it is really challenging to be there.  If I lose a hundred pounds and am suddenly attractive , people will come on to me and what would I do?  If I am sober I will have to find a new place in my family of origin. If I am not in the moving van I may lose friends and feel selfish.

By taking time to see how our old patterns may have served us in some way, we can find reassurance as we plan for what new challenges will accompany healthier choices.  From this imagined perspective we can look back with kindness at ourselves at the beginning of the year, recognize the task ahead and foster patience and company along the way.

The second reason we may fail is that we underestimate how deep and seductive is the rut.  If we travel alone the slip is easy, the slope slippery.  If we have a guardrail we have a better chance. This means that we need support. And that means that we have to reveal our goal and ask for help !! The first new behaviour for most of us!  Travelling along a road with a clear guardrail takes our focus off the deep drop on the side of the road. Between lost and found is the space between. If we can clearly confront the badlands, we can put in place the relationships, expertise, resources, mentors and companions to make it a satisfying trip each step of the way. It is a long way to the “found”. Good company is mutually encouraging.

Once, some time ago,  a new member came into a residential retreat.  She began the five days by sharing her shame at her 150 pounds of overweight that impeded her walking and prevented some life-giving surgery on her knees.  In self-judgment she was resigned to facing a regimen of self-denial in order to attack the weight.  She was discouraged.  On day 3, in a meditation, she found herself above her body looking down and she suddenly saw a young and lovely woman locked inside that body, waiting to be freed.  Her whole demeanour changed. She saw each choice to eat carefully as a step to freeing this lovely woman locked in a body that had been a real protection to her for years. Most telling was her compassion for herself and patience on the road ahead, mirroring the affection and support of the group. The courage to dream, the commitment to find support, and gentle persistence with ourselves each step of the way may be the keys to the journey from lost to found.

Elizabeth White, M.Ed. T.E.P is a psychodramatist in independent practice, author of Still Life: A Therapist's Response to the Challenge of Change.  lizwhiteinaction.com