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A Proactive Life



I talk to my mom every week on the phone and we talk about the challenges I face in my life and the strategies I'm adopting to face them. We also talk about her life, her challenges, and the things she knows she shouldn't do if she is going to change her situation. I've continued along this path with her for a long time now, and only this week realized exactly what it meant.


There's a difference between us. In addition to having a skewed Locus of Control (see Changing My Locus of Control) she has not adopted a proactive approach to life. She knows she needs to change, but she hasn't adopted the basic attitude that she is capable of making those changes and decided to make the effort to make them.


A case in point.


This week we spoke about her health, how there were several things that she couldn't eat because they caused her pain or affected her in certain negative ways. She complained about the lists of food for each condition that she couldn't eat and how they severely limited her options. I have recently been eating quinoa on a regular basis as a meal and suggested she try it herself as it is an insoluble fiber and a healthy grain solution that is not on lists of foods to avoid for her health conditions. Her response was that there was a cereal at Costco that had quinoa in it but that she couldn't go to Costco until she got her second vaccine shot. Not realizing what this meant at the time, I let it pass.


Contrast that with the event that triggered my realization of our different approaches. Over the last few days, I've experienced neck pain from activities that normally don't cause a problem--like laying in bed reading. I've tried to avoid certain positions as a result, but today I decided to do something proactive. I looked up exercises for strengthening the neck and found some isotonic exercises which I can do without having any equipment. I then proceeded to do them. Already my neck feels better.


This is, perhaps, an extreme example, but over the last year as I went through cognitive behavioral therapy to address issues raised by my mental health I've changed more than just my ability to cope with my schizoaffective disorder. I've changed my locus of control and I've developed the ability to proactively seek out ways to change my situation. An event can happen which causes an objectively negative effect on me. Previously, I would have assumed it was negative and that I had to learn to live with it and change my behavior to deal with it. Now I understand that I can do things to change my behavior to not just cope, but conquer. I can make an active and positive move, a reaction for improvement, rather than a negative retreat.



I don't bring this up to criticize my mother. Quite the opposite. She has faced difficulties with her health, with the early loss of my father, with her finances and living situation. But she has also focused on those things as the cause of her problems and seeks not to change her behavior now, but to deal with the things that were done to her in the past. This is the difference between Freudian and modern psychology. Whereas Freud sought to find explanations for behaviors, modern psychology and specifically cognitive behavioral therapy, seeks to change behaviors in the present. If that means tangentially dealing with past trauma then that happens, but the focus is less on understanding the past and more on changing the future by what one does in the present.


This is something my mother hasn't had the chance to experience. I am writing before I've had the chance to talk with her--something I'm going to do as soon as she wakes up--but I share all of this because I think it is a new direction she can look to in hopes of actual change. I am going to have this difficult conversation with her because I love her. I also write to celebrate my own progress. For not so long ago I was in a very similar place myself. Writing this I am reminded of what Victor, my therapist, said when he suggested that once we fix ourselves we want to help others do the same. I suppose that's true. I've made tremendous progress and now I want to see someone I love enjoy the same benefits.


Update


I spoke with her as I said, and it turns out my perceptions were not entirely on point. She has, in fact, begun working to change her situation, adopting a more rigid sleep schedule, adjusting her diet, trying to be more social. But she also understands that there are certain attitude adjustments that would help her more effectively change herself and her situation, something that cognitive-behavioralhappier therapy can support through changing the way she thinks about events. She agreed to start therapy and I believe she will find a great deal of change in her life, a change that will help her be more happy and more successful. I'm glad to know she has decided to improve and to take some steps to change her life for the better.


On another note, I discovered that my neck pain was caused by the way I sit at work. While I bought an ergonomic chair I was still forcing my head forward and not using the headrest. The chair isn't quite perfect for someone as big as me and I need a bit of extra support to be able to use it. I am now adjusting between a pillow and a towel to find the best position for my neck so I can get through the day without any issues. It's promising and I'm hopeful that this coming week I'll find the perfect solution.


The benefits of proactively seeking to change.



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