As I am writing this, tomorrow (Feb. 28, 2017) happens to be Mardi Gra. The tradition of Mardi Gra is also known as “Carnival” or “Fat Tuesday”. Most folks associate Mardi Gra with New Orleans and it being one big street party with lots of parades, costumes, partying, dancing, and bead throwing. Mardi Gra always occurs the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent in many Christian traditions. Lent, in case you don’t know, are the 40 days leading up to Easter. Lent is a time of fasting, slowing down, and self-reflection. It is interesting is that most religions have similar practices at some level. The tradition of giving up something, or fasting, is pretty universal in most world religions.
My point, with all this is, having rituals or some sort of way to recharge and evaluate, is always a good idea to slow down and evaluate what you are doing and where you are going. In fact, one of the themes you hear over and over from some of the most successful and influential people of the business world, is to learn how to slow-down and stay focused. People like Warren Buffet, Stephen Covey, Gary Keller, and Steve Jobs all talk about the importance of being able to rest, re-evaluate and stay focused on just what matters. Ultimately, it means creating good habits for yourself.
Being Vs. Doing
One of the books that I end up recommending to clients a lot is John Bradshaw’s “Healing the Shame that Binds You”. It was a book written many years ago and is particularly helpful to people dealing with the past trauma of being from families where addiction had a large influence. One of my favorite quotes from that book says, “We are human BEings not human DOings”.
This quote is always a reminder to me to keep my priorities straight when it comes to my private practice and in other aspects of my life. This is especially true when I realize that I am stressed by all that I do and find myself really busy. This quote also reminds me to ground myself in the things that really matter.
As clinicians in the mental health field, or any of the helping professions for that matter, it is very easy to let our own self-care take a back seat. Because most of us are very passionate about what we do, it is easy to internalize and take-on the problems of others and add to our own stress levels. This is why it is so important to focus on self-care and do things to “recharge your battery”.
I like using the metaphor of taking a flight somewhere. Before any flight takes off, the crew goes through a safety routine and instructions. They tell you how to buckle your seat belt, use your seat cushion as a floatation device and where the exits are. They also go through what to do if the cabin were to lose pressure; oxygen masks would be deployed. They always emphasize to put your own mask on first before you try and help anyone else. The point being, if you are not getting oxygen, you will be in no condition to help others!
So, here are some tips for being able to slow-down and re-evaluate:
Know your “why”
If you don’t know where you are going, how are your going to get there. So many times people spend a lot of their time “shooting from the hip” or just reacting to things. It is one of the biggest factors in changing from a “human DOing” to a “human BEing”. When we are grounded in our “why” it gives us a heading to follow and a way to know what is next.
Plan time to plan
Set aside a day or two each month to do nothing but evaluate and plan. Schedule this for yourself. If it is not scheduled, you probably won’t be as likely to do it. Also, it is a good idea to set aside at least 15 minutes each day, either at the beginning or end of the day, to plan out each day. This helps keep the focus.
Spend some time honing your skills
Stephen Covey calls it, “sharpening your saw”. This might be attending a seminar, taking part in consulting, or simply reading on topics about clinical or business matters.
This can look different for different people. One idea is to cut off and get offline at a certain time each day. You might even consider going a whole weekend without electronics…
Spend time outside
For many during the winter months, it is harder to get outside. But, it is so important for our bodies and psyche to get our daylight and “sunshine” time. As most of us know, it just helps with overall mood. Also, along the same lines, spend time thinking “outside the box”. Sometimes our habits keep us in the box. So, get outside, both literally and figuratively.
Evaluate your time, talent, and treasures.
In other words, get your time management in order, know your personal gifts and limitations, and know how to manage your finances well.
With your time management, it is sometimes a good idea to simply do a time study for yourself by tracking how you spend your time. Then, evaluate to see if there are times you can better spend your energy on other things. One adage states that we tend to spend only 20% of our time doing the things that move us forward and are truly productive. So, look at the other 80% to see how you can tweak or change that.
Know your talents
We all have things we are really good at doing and other things that we are not. Talk with friends, colleagues, and family to learn what this is for you, if you do not know already. Then, spend your time honing and continuing to improve those things that you are truly gifted at doing.
Get your finances in order
One of the biggest stressors for people just starting out in private practice is the financial burden they might get themselves in. Learn how to manage you money well. It is such an important piece, both on a business level and on your personal level. Evaluate your relationship with money and learn how to simply manage money well to help ease one of the biggest stressors in many people’s lives.
All of us need the time to slow-down and evaluate what we are doing. It is actually simply essential for becoming more productive. We have to practice good self-care in order to be most effective as therapists. This is true both in private practice and in other practice modes, like agency and group practice work.
The difference between being a “human DOing” versus being a “human BEing” is a matter of setting the right priorities in life. And, the only way I know of doing that is to slow down, evaluate, create new habits, and keep yourself focused on your “why”… Happy Mardi Gra ya’ll!
Gordon is a licensed marital and family therapist in private practice located in Kingsport, TN. He is the owner/president of his group practice Kingsport Counseling Associates, PLLC (www.kingsportcounseling.com). Gordon has been in practice for over 10 years and is also a private practice consultant. His blog and consulting website is www.practiceoftherapy.com. You can also find out more about Gordon at: