Reading about how to make New Year’s resolutions to fulfill them and which ones to avoid to avoid disappointment is probably not something anyone wants to do anymore. But how about trying it without resolutions, just a little differently? Allow me to invite you to a little game. Or a bigger one, if you want. It’s not an official therapeutic technique, but in therapies and consultations, we often “play” it. And the great thing is that everyone can apply it to their own life as they like.
Egg or chicken?
The game with words is a game with our own view of the world. In connection with the mystery of cause and effect, we can discuss it. Does our view of a situation, problem, or another person influence our own description of it? Or does our view of situations and others influence how we describe them later? And how much does it really matter whether in this case it’s an egg or a chicken?
Let me give you an example. Lenka sometimes had a sad, melancholic mood. Other times, she would get upset about something. Others would tell her she was moody, and that made her sad. She didn’t know how to change it, and she didn’t want to be called that way. In one conversation, the phrase “emotional flexibility” was mentioned. She found it interesting and realized that being emotionally flexible is not the end of the world. It is something that is part of her personality, of course, with respect to others. And so, when Lenka feels sadness or nervousness now and calls her friend, she just says, “I’m emotionally flexible again.” How does this change her perception of herself? And how does my perception of another person change when I think of them as emotionally flexible? I’m not saying we should accept it when someone behaves badly towards us and excuse it (to ourselves or to them). But I believe that words have great power, and this “game” can help us be more tolerant of mistakes. Our own and those of others.
Who actually influences our emotions?
In therapy, I often work with clients to explore new perspectives on their situation. This adventurous search happens through words. It’s like a never-ending game. And why do I still love it? The answer has to do with our emotions. It’s often said, “follow your feelings.” I agree with that. But what influences my emotions? I think this advice needs a little clarification. Let me explain with an example. In a romantic relationship, I may feel sad because of a fight or because of how my partner behaved. I feel sadness, maybe anger, and I ask myself, “should I listen to my feelings? Should I leave this relationship?” I have another option, which is to think about what caused my emotions. Was it my partner’s behavior? Or is it the way I interpret their behavior with my words? I believe that in this case, there is no right or wrong answer, only different opinions. Playing with words can influence what I think about a situation. And how I explain the situation to myself will also affect my emotions. It’s important to trust my feelings, but with the knowledge that I have the freedom to name a situation or reaction for myself.
We see what we want to see
This game has one more miracle in it, and that’s shifting focus or a different perspective. For example, when a client comes to therapy and says they don’t like their nursing school because they have trouble with morning hygiene for patients. And you go on a journey together, and suddenly, something appears that brings them joy in their work. It’s conversations with others. And they’re thinking about what it could mean for sick and often lonely people in the hospital when even a student on practice asks them how they slept, how they feel, what they’re looking forward to. And on the next session, they come back excitedly talking about how “their” patients are doing and how happy they are to talk to them and listen to them. And they no longer want to drop out of school. They know they have a gift to listen to others and be there for them when they feel abandoned.
Rules of the game
Like every game, this one has its rules. But the most important rule is to create your own. So, just for inspiration:
Try to look at the situation from at least three different angles (at least one of which should be a bit far-fetched, the more the better). Be aware of what really causes your feelings when something unpleasant happens. Is it the way you explain the situation or the person’s reaction to yourself? Try to play detectives in situations that are not to your liking, or with people with whom you have had a conflict. If you could choose (and it’s great that you always can), what would you like to focus on in this situation? Allow yourself to find personal freedom in what you focus on and how you think about disagreements and problem situations. Don’t forget that it’s a game! As already mentioned, create your own rules, because you know you have freedom in this too.
I wish you a lot of joy in the game in 2018. May you find compassion and understanding not only for others but also for yourself.