Thursday, February 26, 2009
I just finished reading Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average by Joseph T. Hallinan. The book is a basic overview of the research from psychology, economics, and neuroscience to shed light on why it is we make errors, large and small. For example, why do we buy annual gym memberships when we end up going very little?
I had an ephiphanous moment this week, which, oddly enough, was then supported by something I read in this book two days after the ephiphany. (I can't tell you how often this happens to me...art imitating life?) A few weeks ago, I taught my first infant development workshop in three years. I blogged about it here. Well, two days ago, I saw my first infant client in three years. It went very well. But that wasn't the triumph for me. Let me explain.
I had scheduled the client for the morning and would then go off to my bookstore job to work a full shift afterwards. This would mean taking the bus to the client, doing the client session, taking the bus from the client and then working an 8 hour shift, walking the bookstore floor serving customers. Now, this might not be a big deal for most people. For me, though, it was causing me a great deal of anxiety. I know my body. And I should have known when I booked the client that packing so much in one day, especially in the Winter, when the Fibromyalgia and fatigue are at their worst, would be ambitious and frankly, stupid.
The day before my client, I realized my error in over-scheduling myself and knew that I would fail to meet all the expectations of the day successfully if I didn't make some changes. I called my brother and arranged for him to drive me to and from the client. This took an enormous amount of stress off of me. It allowed me to see the client and still have time to get home and rest before heading off to the bookstore. By day's end, I had seen my first client, and made it through my full shift selling books. Success!!!
The real triumph though was two-fold:
1. I realized what I would later read about in the Why We Make Mistakes book: we generally tend to be overconfident about our abilities. For me, 20 years with a chronic pain condition has given me enough experience to know that packing more than one major activity into a day, especially in the Winter, is setting myself up for failure. Like the person who buys an annual gym membership rather than just doing pay-as-you-go I was expecting that somehow things would be different this time around, that somehow I would be able to muster the energy to do it all and do it all well. Nope. For 20 years, time and time again, I've set myself up for failure by being overconfident, by not accepting reality and by hoping for things to be different than they are, which leads me to my second light-bulb realization...
2. "Hope impedes adaptation." These are the words of George Loewenstein, Carnegie Mellon professor and researcher, quoted in the Why We Make Mistakes book; his conclusion after studying patients faced with colostomy surgery. The question was whether those with a permanent colostomy or those with a chance of later reversing it would be happier. The colostomies were performed with half of the group being given the possibility of reversing the procedure at some point in the future. For the other half, the surgery was permanent. After six months, the group with the permanent colostomies were happier. "Hope impedes adaptation." When you hope for a different future outcome, you delay adapting to things as they are right now. As Hallinan, the book's author, puts it: "If you're stuck with something, you learn to live with it. And the sooner you learn to live with it, the happier you will be."
This is what I've been doing since my diagnosis of Fibromyalgia/Chronic Fatigue 17 years ago. I've been hoping for a cure. And every moment I've spent hoping, I've delayed adapting and accepting what is really so.
When I left the Jehovah's Witnesses over three years ago, it was a complete mindfuck. You know this if you've read my blog. My whole world crumbled beneath me and I've spent the better part of the last three years attempting to adjust to the real world outside the cult. It was not just the loss of community or the shattering of a belief system, it was the loss of hope. As I've talked about before, giving up the Jehovah's Witness view of the future meant accepting that I had an illness that was not going away. There would be no Jehovah (the JW name for God) coming to rid the Earth of pain and suffering and usher me, pain-free, into eternal life.
This week, I became acutely aware that I am now here for the long haul, with this body, with this mind. And rather feel sad about it, I feel free. I can finally begin to adapt to what is, to accept, rather than rail against, that which isn't going to change. I remember so many days fighting with my body, trying to talk it into doing things it just couldn't do. I felt like I was yelling at an amputated limb to grow back. Futile, to say the least.
I see these epiphanous moments as allowing me to set myself up for success and not failure. I am confident I can do much in this life, be much in this life. It starts with accepting where I'm starting from and moving from there.
And so it is.