Lesson 1 - Day 1. Fitting Our Work Into Your Life
I want to help you improve your mental and emotional health. I’m going to present you with several easy things to try and some little exercises designed to take no more than a few minutes a day. Most involve you just saying a new thing to yourself—and letting that thought sink in. Of course, there is more to improving your mental and emotional health than that! But you may get some amazing results from what I’m offering.
If you decide to build a house, there is an order to building it. You can’t put the roof on first. There is no such order to improving your emotional health. There is no sequence of 14 steps to follow. Rather, there are simple, sensible, and useful things for you to try, each of which might prove of great value. You could work day 2 of this class or day 7 or day 11 and improve your emotional health. You could work any of these days and improve your life.
That isn’t to say that the order of these lessons is random. I have ordered these 14 days in a certain way that draws on my thirty years of working with clients as a therapist and a coach. For instance, it is hard to do anything that might prove beneficial to you if you are too anxious to try new things or if you find it too difficult to tolerate uncomfortable thoughts. So lessons on anxiety management and tolerating uncomfortable thoughts come early on in our two weeks together.
There is a method to this sequence but you can dip in anywhere and learn something useful and do something beneficial. Each lesson comes with a small exercise. I have made each exercise intentionally as tiny as an exercise can be, usually on the order of, “Today, just try saying the following thing.” Please don’t scorn these exercises because they ask you to do so little. That “little something” is actually huge and will begin to make a real difference in your life!
What do I mean by “mental and emotional health”? There is currently a worldwide debate as to the answer to that question. Professionals are debating what it means to be “normal” or “abnormal,” what it means to “diagnose and treat mental disorders,” and more. Professionals by the thousands are signing petitions disputing one or another facet of current practice. Because of the pressure put on society to “fix things with chemicals” and because the current paradigm of “diagnosing and treating mental disorders” is so entrenched, it is very hard to arrive at a consensus about what an updated definition of “mental health” or “emotional health” might sound like.
So how shall we think of your “mental and emotional health”? I think that the following is easy to embrace and will serve our purposes. I think that you would like to feel less sad, less anxious, and less addicted; that you would like to feel that life is meaningful and that you are living your life purposes; that you would like to feel equal to meeting life’s demands and that you would like to live with as little emotional distress as possible; that you would like to release past trauma, live more fully in the present moment and feel more comfortable in your own skin; and that you wouldn’t mind experiencing a little happiness and feelings like aliveness, joy, enthusiasm, and optimism.
This is reasonable, isn’t it? What you won’t be hearing me using are the mental disorder labels you’re accustomed to encountering—there will be no mention of depression, OCD, ADHD, PTSD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and so on. Their omission isn’t accidental. There is a movement afoot, of which I am a part, which disputes the legitimacy of that labeling enterprise. We do not dispute the reality of human experiences like sadness, anxiety, hearing voices, and so on, that lead to the labeling, only to the labeling process itself, which turns non-medical human experiences into medical-sounding “mental disorders” and “mental diseases.”
Our language will be straightforward, our lessons simple, and our exercises easy. The results, however, may prove spectacular. If, for example, you can actually flip your calmness switch, lighten your heart, recover from sadness, and move forward in the ways I’ll describe, you will change your experience of life and improve your mental health dramatically. I’ve been working with clients for thirty years and I know that even small efforts on a client’s part can produce really dramatic improvements. Give these ideas a try. They are worth your time and attention!
Today I would like you to just do the following. I would like you to make a space for this work. We have two weeks together. Commit to spending fifteen minutes to half an hour with each daily lesson during our two weeks together. Your “work” for today is simply to look at the reality of your next fourteen days and announce to yourself what part of each day you are going to set aside for this “sacred” work. If you find this first task difficult, that may signal how jam-packed, unsettled, over-busy and unruly your life may currently be. This, then, is a first step to settling and calming your life down: mindfully finding the time for this work.
I invite you to calmly take charge of your emotional life. Begin by describing to yourself how you will fit our work together into your life.