Thoughts from the Therapy Chair with Joe Martino: Three Keys to Emotional Growth in 2021

Can you believe January is almost over? I feel like we were just talking about 2020 coming to an end.

And we’ve had quite a start to this year. Civil unrest. Friendships lost over politics. More shutdowns and loss. Truly an astounding start.

How are we to respond? How are we to be healthy? I want to suggest three things to help you navigate whatever this next year has to throw at you.

Examine and adjust your mindset accordingly.

Our mindset is one of the most important tools we have in our toolbox regarding how we approach life. And yet, it is one of the tools that I think people understand the least. Our satisfaction with life is primed by our expectations. And our expectations are set by, you guessed it, our mindset.

Our mindset helps us to make sense of our world. If you expect life to be fair, you’re going to be disappointed quite a bit. If you expect that life shouldn’t be hard, you’re going to struggle when it is hard. If you expect everyone to like you, and no one to hurt your feelings, life will be exponentially more difficult than it needs to be.

On the other hand, if you embrace that life is hard, your life will be different not because it’s magically easier but because embracing the expectation that life is hard helps us transcend the hardness of life. For an excellent treatise on this idea, read M. Scott Peck’s seminal work, The Road Less Travelled.

If we are going to be healthy adults, we must continuously be scanning our mindset and making necessary adjustments. We must deeply examine our mindset for areas where we focus more on things outside of our control than on the things under our control. Then we will need to adjust the ones that are looking outside. We need a mindset that focuses on our response to the things happening to us, not only the things that are happening.

We need a learning mindset. When new things happen, how do you respond? Do you shut down, respond with intensity, or do you embrace the change? There are very few people I know who genuinely enjoy change. Healthy adults seek to foster a learning mindset that looks at change and failure as learning opportunities. This is a learning mindset.

We need an open mindset. When failure forces its way into your life, do you see that as an opportunity to learn and grow? Most people avoid the risk of failure, which leads to a closed mindset. They can’t learn because they won’t risk new experiences, which could lead to failure. Their closed mindset keeps them from growing. This can also happen to people who have found success in certain areas of life. They become afraid of learning new things because that would force them to let go of past successes.

Fill your life with quality people only. Guard your time.

If we are going to be healthy adults, we must fill our lives with healthy and quality people only. This does not mean we should not be actively helping people improve their own mindsets and health as we are able. It does mean that we make sure the people who are getting the majority of our time, are healthy and quality people. We will become the sum of the friends we hang out with. To this end, be very picky about who you interact with as friends. Be meticulously choosey about who you let speak into your life. I have people who I interact with weekly in a mentoring role. In some I am the mentor, and in some I am the one being mentored. I utilize different criteria for how I enter into those relationships and for how I measure the value of them. I don’t allow whiners or complainers to speak into my life.  If we are going to be healthy, we need to be intentional about where our energy goes in relationships and what energy we fuel our lives with.

If you have toxic people in your life, you must develop a plan to either remove them from your life or mitigate the amount of time they get in your life. You have to guard your time. It’s one of the few commodities we get that once spent, we never get back. How much time is getting spent doing things that don’t matter? How much time do you spend watching or streaming entertainment? How much time do you spend arguing with people you don’t even know on Facebook or other social media platforms? How much value is that adding to your life?

Stop it.

Seriously, just stop doing that. Healthy people engage in relaxing activities because our bodies are designed to need recharging. But when those hobbies become overly consuming, they lose their value.

Fill your life with quality people and activities. When you do, you’ll find that the time you have for those people or activities that take energy out of your life will naturally extinguish and go away. Live intentionally.

Practice Kindness.

Kindness is not the same as niceness. Niceness is concerned only with a person’s feelings about what you are saying. Kindness calls people to be the best version of themselves that they can be. One dictionary defines kindness as, “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.” This means that we give up part of ourselves to help everyone we meet be the best that they can be. We utilize these qualities to help them improve.

Kindness might be a simple greeting or a wishing for a good weekend. It might be a rigid boundary being drawn about not allowing the person to be involved in your life until they can improve and not be toxic. Kindness might be telling a manipulator that until they can interact without manipulating, they are not allowed to take time out of your life.

Kindness is not mean, but it doesn’t value non-hurt feelings above all else. Kindness can be rebuffed because many of the people we interact with daily are not ready to change. They feel that the price of change is higher than the cost of staying the same. Therefore, when they are called to be better (kindness), they are angry. This is not the concern of the healthy person.

I hope you find these three tools to be helpful as you lean into the days before you.

Joe Martino is a counselor with Joe Martino Counseling Network.  He has locations in Lowell, Grand Rapids, Greenville, and Grandville.  For more information about Joe and his business, check their website or Facebook page.  He and the rest of the counselors and staff are eager to help those in need.  

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