See the Mountain – Mindset Monday

See the Mountain – Mindset Monday

See the mountain once a day; then focus on the trail in front of you.

Eagle Point at Grand Canyon West, Photo by Anne Weil

I don’t know about you, but I tend to overwhelm myself when I get into a big project.  I make two equal, yet differing mistakes.  First, I think too hard about the end result and plotting the perfect course that I often fail to take the first steps needed to make it to the top of the mountain.  Then, once I finally get to work, I plot a timeline/schedule for my perfect course, but it’s a breakneck pace that’s only possible if I can work through the schedule perfectly every day without interruptions.  Brilliant, right?

Many moons ago I suckered my best friend into training for a triathlon with me.  We worked really hard, and we planned a trail run/walk as a fun training day.  We were very smart and packed a fabulous picnic lunch, which we put in a cooler in one of our cars at the top of the mountain trail we were going to tackle.  We drove in the other car down to the trailhead to begin.  We had even studied the trail maps for the park and picked the one that was closest to our distance goal.  Brilliant, right?

The trail was beautiful and shady enough that we didn’t feel like dying in the Alabama heat and humidity, and we were making great time, maybe even running ahead of schedule based on our goal pace.  And then we came to the end of the marked trail we had planned to follow.  There was no parking lot with our parked lunch cooler car.  Instead, there was more mountain to hike and a sign pointing to another trail that would take us to the lunch cooler car.  And we had no idea how long the new trail would be because we thought we had already accounted for that distance.  Brilliant, right?

We were somewhere between trailheads with no plan because our perfect lunch plan had just been obliterated by this sign and the new colored trail marks it told us to follow.  We had to decide if it was better to keep going up, or turn around and go back to where we started.  We took a look up the mountain, and we decided to go for it.  If we had focused on the fact that the map was weirdly drawn and had delayed our lunch by at least another two miles uphill, that mountain would have taken forever to hike because our attitude would have made things miserable.  We focused on the trail markers and where we were headed, and those extra miles weren’t so bad.

Photo from Pexels.com

Long story, short: It’s easy to get discouraged when you see how much mountain you still have to climb to get to the top, no matter how brilliant your plan was to begin with.  By concentrating on the next step that’s directly in front of you, you’ll be able to feel less pressure from the enormity of the overall goal and focus on the task at hand.  You still need to see the big picture, but it doesn’t need to hang over you like an oppressive shadow.  Let it be motivation to keep moving and a reminder of why you’re taking this particular trail.  Don’t let it scare you into never leaving the parking lot.

Additional moral to the story: sometimes you have to change plans mid-trail, or maybe you have to find the next trail when the one you just finished didn’t get you all the way to the endpoint you wanted.  That’s not failure.  That’s being resilient and adapting to the situation on the ground.  That’s a solid marker of mental health, and it’s a good thing.

What mountain are you planning to climb?  What does the trail look like that puts you on a path to accomplishing that goal?  How can you narrow your focus to just that trail in front of you?

Reframe

“My art is largely made up of my pain; re-framed, redesigned and re-purposed. It’s a mutually beneficial experience for both the creator and the beholder. Transformative healing is a beautiful process.”
Jaeda DeWalt

1-Reframe PhotoOver and over the last few weeks, the tiny human and I have both been dealing with frustrations and quick tempers.  This morning, one of the dogs stole her cookie, and she completely fell apart.  I grabbed the box of cookies and tried to get her to keep moving to the car.  But she couldn’t yet.  She was slumped on the top porch step and bawling.  I couldn’t sit down to hug and cuddle because I was holding all of the things, and we had to get her to school and me to work.

I try to give her space to feel her feelings and then talk about them so she can learn how to accept the emotions but deal with them in truth rather than let them stand as truth.  I also recognize that there is a time and a place for everything, so we both need resiliency to be able to handle some emotional moments quickly in order to deal with the task at hand.  In this morning’s example, I had already provided a replacement cookie. (Breakfast of champions – some days we eat a healthy morning meal, some days we skip it, and some days a cookie is acceptable if it gets us out the door.  You may be a responsible adult with all your crap together, but this is reality in my life: some days you have it together, and some days you can’t find it with GPS and a homing beacon.)  I had already expressed empathy and solidarity that dogs should not steal cookies, but she was still crushed.

I responded as any mature adult would and continued down the stairs to put everything in the car, preparing to forcibly lift the tiny human and put her in the car if it came to that, muttering under my breath the whole way and questioning why God would let this happen on a morning that had otherwise been smooth sailing.  This day had tight parameters on time and things that needed to get accomplished, and I was watching it explode before it even got moving.

My counseling work of late has been about framing problems and things I want to improve in statements that are positive.  “I am stressed about work” becomes “Take a deep breath, focus, and work on the task at hand.”  I am always telling the tiny human when she gets angry and frustrated by failing to do something in her first try to slow down, take a few breaths, and try again; you have to try at least three times before you can quit.

This morning, as I finished loading the car, she stood up and started down the stairs, still crying, but moving.  I told her that it’s fine to be mad at the dog, but she’d miss out on the replacement cookie – worse, she’d choke on it – if she kept up the dramatic crying (it was no longer real despair, and I call her out on fake crying).  I told her we needed to rethink the problem with the dog stealing her food so we could solve the problem, and we could talk about it after school.

“But we can’t solve the problem – she already stole my cookie and ate it!”  The tiny human was still stuck.  How many times have I refused to reevaluate an issue because the situation has already spun out of control or because I don’t want to accept the facts on the ground not matching up with my expectations.

“You’re right.  We can’t fix that, but we can replace the lost cookie and then make a plan to keep the dog from stealing your food again.  We can solve the problem by making sure it doesn’t happen again.”  And then God pointed at that spot in my brain that gets stuck on past failures and said, “You see it, right?”

I’m trying to teach my child resiliency that I don’t always have a grasp on.  I’m doing the work, and I’m getting better at it, too, but I’d be a hypocrite of the worst order to tell you “this is how it’s done” after I stomped and muttered and railed at God over the tiny human’s railing at a lost cookie unless I admit that I am a work in progress.

Some days depression brain wins, some days I’m healthy and firing on all cylinders, and most days I’m somewhere in between, arguing with both truth and depression brain.  I have the most success when I reframe my thoughts.  The brilliant pattern in only using positive statements is they leave no room for the negative thought.

You are actively replacing the potential guilt/shame spiral with an affirmative.  You push out the negative by filling the space in your head with a positive action plan.

This is not the same thing as avoidance; you don’t avoid the emotional response to your circumstances.  You acknowledge the feelings, and then you apply truth and use the emotion as a cue to implement your reframing tool.  It takes repetition and practice (and SOOOOO much prayer) to make this tool a habit.  But it can become a habit and a powerful weapon in our arsenals to defeat depression brain when we keep practicing.

Another beautiful thing about reframing is that it perfectly exemplifies God’s grace.  Of course we have failed (and will continue to fail as long as we are human), but grace is forgiveness and the opportunity to try again.  Grace is room to grow.

Reframe those doubts and the thoughts of despair.  What does God really say to us about them?  Don’t settle for what the serpent would whisper in your ear and find some truth in the Bible.  Reframe the lies with his perfect love.  Reframe the pain into something beautiful.

“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” 2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT