Knowing how your mind works and how to find your own path is very important, but it isn’t enough.
I’ve seen it happen far too often - therapists help their clients find happiness, but don’t teach them how to hang onto that success. To truly help someone find happiness is to teach them how to find that happiness in the future. I want to train my own clients so well that they no longer need me, even if that takes a long time. I don’t want to set you up for failure either.
In my earlier years of practice, I admit that I treated clients in a way that required them to keep coming back. I didn’t mean to do this, but that was how I was practicing. I was good at getting them to a good place, but bad at helping them understand how to stay there. Six to twelve weeks later, my client would return in frustration. Not only did they need to come back for more treatment, but they came back with a feeling of failure because they felt it was their fault for letting their happiness slip away. This was a terrible thing to do to my clients and I didn’t even realize I was doing it.
I think of the old adage, “Give a man to fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” That’s what this chapter is all about: I want to teach you to fish.
Learning long-term happiness means you need to know how the mind works in the long-term. Up to this point, you’ve learned a lot about how the processes connect and what causes happiness or unhappiness. Now, I need to teach you about making lasting change. This is where habits come into the equation.
I define habits as any thought or behavior that takes place without choice. You’ve lived your life for so long with bad habits that you started when you were young. Learning how to make changes isn’t enough to keep those habits away. While you’ve been in this program and working through these self-discovery tasks, you’re able to keep control because you’ve been actively practicing self-awareness. But, as you get back into your daily routine, you’ll slowly get away from paying so much attention. Over time, old habits have a tendency to come back. Your old ways of thinking and behaving might rear their heads. Until you’ve replaced those old habits with new ones, you’re in danger of reverting back to the unhappiness.
To overcome your negative habits takes at least 90 days of constant effort. Then, the new habits can start to take place and it becomes easier to do them.
No quick fixes when it comes to mental health. Do the work to improve, that’s the first step. The next and usually more difficult task is keeping it up, every day, for 90 days in a row.
Written by Brad Messenger, LMSW.