Thursday, January 12, 2012

Bad Habits: 5 Things I Need to Stop Doing to Myself

I recently received an email from my brother Alexi, who I believe had sent it to everyone in his address book, with a link to an article titled "30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself." In the 15 seconds it took me to read the title and save the email (which I'm glad I did), three thoughts ran through my head.

The first one: Thank God, Facebook has more or less done away with "forwards." Remember "forwards," those annoying emails that we all used to get from friends (always the same ones) who seemed to have nothing better to do than share unfunny jokes or cliched pearls of wisdom with their entire social network? Now they can just post that stuff on their Facebook walls, leaving us free to ignore it, or read/watch it and roll our eyes. Moving right along. (Props to Facebook, by the way, for allowing me to post links to my blog posts and not having to email them to everyone I know, which I would never do!)

My second thought: Here we go again. More often-repeated health advice like "stop skipping breakfast," "stop binge drinking," and "stop touching your face." Good luck!

Third: More advice for the mentally unsound. What do I need with that? I suffer from occasional bouts of depression, but doesn't everyone? I've been diagnosed with panic disorder, but hasn't everyone? My mind is safe and sound!

I must have been having a bad day. Normally, I'd have more faith in my brother, who would never share an article stating the obvious or the over-stated. Today as I was cleaning out my Hotmail inbox and going through old emails, I finally clicked on that link and what I found were 30 excellent life lessons, rules to live by. (Thanks for sharing, Alexi.)

At least five times, I felt like the author had been eavesdropping on my private thoughts, chiding me for tendencies that were harmful to my mental health. The highlights (i.e., the ones that seemed to be speaking directly to me):

No. 4) Stop putting your own needs on the backburner.

Several years ago, I spent a summer in therapy, and at the end of the first month, my shrink made his first diagnosis: I was a card-carrying people pleaser. Yes, it was very Oprah Winfrey of him, but after weeks of hearing myself go on and on about my toxic relationships, I realized he had a point. And many people probably still would have called me a selfish bastard. Which goes to show you, the old saying is right: You can't please everyone -- and that includes anyone!

No. 10) Stop exclusively looking to others for happiness.

"Why does our happiness always seem to depend on other people?" I recently asked my best friend Lori. "Why do we give them so much power?" As someone who has what some might consider to be an unhealthy independent streak and love of solitude, I have my weak moments, too, when I invest way too much in the opinions of others and how they see me. "I don't care what anyone thinks of me," we often hear people say, as if that were possible, or even healthy. I think some awareness and concern over how we come off in other people's eyes is a good thing (that "exclusively" in the No. 10 tip is key), but we should all strive to get to the point where no one's opinion of us, or treatment of us, will determine whether we get out of bed in the morning.

No. 15) Stop trying to compete against everyone else.

Years ago, when I was much more ambitious and competitive, I used to stack up my accomplishments against those of other people who were around my age. Did I measure up? I was usually comparing myself to celebrities, so I generally didn't, but somewhere around 30 I started to break the habit. Unfortunately, Facebook has brought it back in near-full force, only now I'm pitting myself against my non-famous "friends." Admit it, you do it, too. We read status updates -- the baby news, the job news, the romantic news, the travel news -- and our day (if we're lucky) or our lives (if we're not) starts/start to look a little drearier. A friend of mine recently closed his Facebook account because he just couldn't handle it anymore. I wouldn't go that far, mostly because I'm slowly but surely learning that you can't believe everything you read on Facebook.

No. 22) Stop overlooking the beauty of small moments.

Make life imitate art.
The other day as I was walking from the supermarket to my apartment, I actually stopped to admire some flowers. If that's not progress, I don't know what is. Alas, I still haven't mastered the art of not dwelling on the big picture. But even when what's on the oversize canvas is colorful and vibrant, isn't God still in the details? Think of life in terms of pointillism, or Seurat's A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. The painting, one of my favorites, is magnificent when viewed from a distance of several meters, but in the end, it's all about those glorious dots of color, each individual one.

No. 28) Stop worrying so much.

Easier said than done. I like to blame my panic disorder and my fitful sleep on my inclination to overthink pretty much everything and dwell on every possible outcome. It probably goes a little deeper than that, but I am trying to curb my enthusiasm for worrying and, as the old AA cliche goes, live one day at a time. Who knows? Maybe one of those days, I'll write a blog post with the Dr. Strangelove-inspired title "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" and actually mean it.


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