Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Coping Strategies – Stop Using Habits as Excuses and Start Using Them as Reasons…

…to DO what you KNOW needs to be done – FOR YOU!

You’ve probably heard or even repeated any of the following excuses: 

“I have to keep eating sweets. It’s the only thing keeping me sane.”

“I can’t quit smoking now. Too much stuff is going on in my life.”

“I have too much stress in my life to stop drinking now.”

“If I gamble just one more time, I’ll pay up all my debts.”

Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.


We ALL have challenges! Some of us think we have it worse than everybody else does, but not everyone speaks about their challenges. One of us may have just buried a loved one, another may be trying to work through a devastatingly fatal medical diagnosis, and still another may be coping with physical abuse or financial loss or an ill child. Whatever we go through, the one thing that separates us from people who go through life seemingly unaffected by their challenges is our inability to cope with our challenges. 

If I could grade myself as a parent who was successful in teaching her children coping strategies, I would have to fail myself. I never learned how to cope with challenges – how could I teach my children how to cope with theirs? And yet coping strategies are the most pivotal tool children require in order to lead successful lives. Why am I just now learning how to cope with adversity?

Sadly, too many people, unable or unwilling to find appropriate ways of dealing with their problems, resort to drugs, alcohol, gambling, prostitution, or any number of destructive ways to cope with their challenges. And they use excuses to explain their behavior.

Frustration at not knowing what to do when we are presented with challenges gives some of us permission to take the lazy way out. We KNOW that smoking is bad for us, we KNOW that drinking is bad for us, we KNOW we shouldn’t prostitute ourselves for money, but we CHOOSE to engage in exactly those types of behaviors because we see only what is in front of us. We don’t explore other options. We limit our own choices, because we’re “too tired,” or “too upset,” or “too whatever” to put any energy into improving our situations. Rather than work on making life better for ourselves, we take the lazy way out – “it’s hopeless” – and we give up.

How can we afford to go back to school, for instance, provide daycare for our kids, and still afford a home with all its accompanying expenses if we have no money? How can we get to work or school if we don’t have a car and no access to public transportation? And even if we figure out how to handle these challenges because we found the courage to contact a local college financial aid counselor and a self-help group in our neighborhood, the minute we take care of one problem, we’re confronted with ten more.

We say we want to quit the habits we know are hurting us, but just as we’re getting through a bad divorce, one of the kids comes down with a debilitating illness, we find out one of our parents is dying, we just lost our job, etc., so how can we quit now?

But NOW is exactly the time to quit destructive habits! 

We need to understand something about ourselves – the time will never be right for us to quit our unhealthy habits, because life always throws obstacles in our way that we can use either as an excuse to continue the habit that will cause us ruin or as an impetus – or reason – to change. 

Change requires commitment – commitment to adhere to the decisions we make. WE make our own choices and we need to stop excusing our behaviors and start finding resources to help us make the right decisions. In other words, we need to learn how to ask for help and stop thinking we can solely handle everything that comes our way.

We live in a world filled with people who want to help us succeed. But we are too negative in our thinking to believe that anybody would want to help us. Many of us also suffer from a god-complex. Throwing ourselves a pity party, putting ourselves on our own pedestal, far above those wretched souls below us who could care less, because nobody is as good as we are, we provide examples for ourselves that nobody cares – we are in this world alone, fending for ourselves. We allow ourselves to believe that we are good, kind, generous, and helpful, and we can’t depend on anyone else, because we are the only people in the world who care about anything. 

How presumptuous of us, don’t you think? When did we give ourselves permission to be gods and dismiss the fact that others in this world are as kind, friendly, and generous as we are?

It’s time we started thinking more positively about our challenges and stopped looking upon them as roadblocks to our success. Any number of things can inspire us to move forward. Meditation, prayer, faith, and paying attention to somebody we perceive as experiencing worse problems than we have, who know how to cope with those problems in ways that defy our understanding. If we resort to drugs, alcohol, gambling, or any other addictive behavior, we have not learned to successfully cope with stress. Maybe it’s time to start investigating the coping strategies of successful individuals who cope well with adversity.

The Semel Institute at UCLA offers advice on coping. Rather than resort to negative ways of solving our problems, such as using denial and self-blame, successful copers tackle their challenges by using humor or seeking support. They try relaxation, recreation, or problem solving techniques.

For those of us with poor coping skills, it’s time we dealt with our stressors in more positive ways and exchanged our maladaptive behaviors with healthy alternatives.

EVERYTHING we do we do because we CHOOSE to do it. We cannot control what others do to us, but we can control our response to those situations. Instinctively we know the consequences and rewards for whatever behavior we decide to use to conduct ourselves. We say we don’t have a choice, but we always do. “I have to go to work,” you say, but you really don’t. You choose to go to work, because you want to get paid and you don’t want to get fired. “I have to wake up at 5 a.m. if I want to get to work on time.” Again, you choose to wake up at 5 a.m., because you want to keep your job.

You can always look for another job. “I don’t have time to look for another job.” And now you’re creating excuses. We are all very good at creating excuses for why we do or don’t do certain things. And we use those excuses as justifications to stagnate. Ten years from now, one of three things will occur – you will retain your addictive behaviors, because the time was never right, you will challenge yourself to be courageous enough to approach your problems with dignity and strength, or you will die. Unless the world ends, 2025 will arrive. If you plan on being around in ten years you owe it to yourself to find the courage now to face your challenges and to rise above them so that by 2025, if you’re still here, you can celebrate your victories and actually enjoy your life.

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