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Throughout my work day I hear people’s concerns that are basically the same things. After thirty years of listening to such, I find I give out the same pseudo-sage advice. They seem cliche, but they are truthful and they are practical. Folks tell me they are useful and they help. I sometimes think to myself I should just write them all down onto a sheet of paper (suitable for framing) and give a copy to everyone who comes in as a fabulous parting gift. Last Friday, when I should have been paying attention to a patient telling me for the umpteenth time how much a bum is her spouse*, it dawned on my to scribble down these tips once and for all. Rather than distribute them to the patients I would post them here.

Pay attention; people pay me big bucks for this sort of stuff. Spo

Urspo’s 10 tips for better living.

1- Learn to say no and say it often. This is especially true for the gals who are more often than the men-folk to automatically say ‘yes’ to things lest they be seen as not nice. I sometimes advice as an exercise to not say ‘yes’ to anything for a week, even if it is a mawkish thing such as ‘do you want fries with that?” to discover people don’t hate you for saying no to them. Another tip is to say to the person asking you to volunteer to be in charge of the church rummage sale: “(after a pause) Let me get back to you on that”. Then give them a time, say a day, you will do so. This gives you space to develop a ‘no’ answer or perhaps a ‘yes’ with limitations and conditions. I’ve learned to say a simple ‘no’ has saved me from countless regrettable actions.

2- Pause before action. I wish I had a shilling for each time I have given the advice to find some way to prolong the time between feeling something (anger/rage/panic) and reacting to it. Count to ten; take five deep breaths; remember what happened last time you ‘popped off like this one’. Just enough delay to hopefully thwart action you will lately regret.

3- I can think; I can wait; I can fast. I forget which divine sage said this (Buddha?) but is summarizes nicely one’s assets. I can think: I won’t let emotions dominate my actions. I can wait: before I rush into something I have patience to think it through for the right time for action. I can fast: I can go without this, that, or the other for now.

4- Be curious. “Nothing in life is to be feared, but understood” Marie Curie. So much anxiety, so much avoidance, and so much grief would be thwarted if we took the approach of curiosity to our fears. What is this? Why is it happening? Can I learn about it to better cope with it? I go so far as to define a ‘good life’ as having nonstop curiosity about the self, others, the world. I plan to write an entire entry on this one.

5- Genetics is not destiny. Many patients assume that if something ‘runs in the family’ they are destined to get it and unable to prevent it or do anything about it – so they don’t try. I point out on average only 40% of most conditions is genetic; the other 60% is something we can do something about. A crude metaphor I use is you may have inherited the family gun but you determine to buy and put in the bullets. Yes, you have depression/blood pressure/migraines like your mother, but YOU ARE NOT YOUR MOTHER. You can do something.

6- Do something. When feeling helpless and hopeless we often shut down, crawl into a hole, throw up our hands. To these states of emotions I say ‘do something’. ‘Do what?’ they tell me. ‘Something, anything so long as it is not nothing.’ Gandhi, Dr. King, Luther, Milk – all the great movers of history – they didn’t start with massive revolution, they started by doing something. Even if it is a concrete concern like cleaning out the Aegean stable of a garage. Rather than see it as an all or nothing project, everyday for 5 minutes (preferably at the same time) go there and throw out something. If you want to keep going, do so. Iin time the garage project is done. “But that will take a long time!” True, but it is less time than doing nothing.

7- Do not confuse causation with correlation. This sound scientific approach is worthwhile to apply to ourselves and to others. Many things are associated but not necessarily cause and effect. It allows us to look for other reason(s) for what’s going on.

8- Choose the positive. In all bad scenarios there is the ability to learn, to grow, to better yourself. By searching for it and nurturing it this doesn’t deny the awfulness of the situation. It makes the event something more than meaningless sorrow. The habit of choosing the positive builds resilience. It can make a trauma less likely to become PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and more like to PTGD (post traumatic growth development).

9- Accept ambivalence. One of my professors defined mental health as the acceptance or ambivalence, meaning in all relationships and situations we will have mixed feelings. Getting married has some doubt; having a baby has some regret/unhappiness about it; the death of a loved one has relief as well as sorrow. Even in a fight when we are very angry at someone we still love them. The ability to allow mixed feelings to co-exist and not let one deny the other makes for stable Self and stable relationships.

10 – Avoid curried snacks. OK, I don’t tell patients this one. I tell Spo-fans rather. It couldn’t hurt to do so.

*Every three months for the past ten years or so Patient X comes in for a med-check. The meds are reported as OK/no matters with them. I ask (as is my wont) what’s news in her life. She replies (as is her wont) how her no-good husband fails to do this, that, or the other, and she has to do everything and this makes her miserable. Every once in a while, I mistakenly break from this agreed-upon ritual and suggest ways for her to change the situation, including getting out. She looks at me aghast, as if I asked her to grow wings and fly to the moon. I usually say something along the line of ‘dear me!’ and see you in another three months.

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