Into the Abyss Part III

Step 1: Embracing Small Steps 

Healing our inner and fractured world, and emerging into a freedom from unwanted habits, is a journey with multiple stops. A process that is constantly shifting to the dynamic of our own personal growth and development.  We are the main character in the spiritual odyssey of our lives so, though there  a variety of  motivators behind our desire to grow, at the end of the day we are the focus and the subject. The challenge that this presents, is that our subject or main focus is  Human, fallible and limited.

Firstly, as conscious humanoids we are not static organisms with a fixed growth trajectory. What we think, what we believe and how see things is constantly shifting. The journey of developing our selves will naturally entail adjustments. This process of adaptation means we are not always going to be right in how we choose to approach things. We will need to alter our course at many intervals and the multiplicity of the variables means the journey is one of trial and error.

Yet, there is more.

Aside from working through our shifting consciousness, there is also the fact that we are emotional and ego-centric beings. We have feelings and reactions to the realties of our lives, which impact our attitude and perspective and fuel misbehavior. Our feelings, our emotional self, is a moving target. How we feel shifts based on our maturity, but also reacts to the realities on the ground.

Then, we have the additional challenge of handling the part of us that is mischievous and or contrarian.. We all have a part that resists growth and change, that wants things its own way. This part of us needs to be managed and channeled but cannot be suppressed. Our drive to achieve, to standout, to succeed, to make a difference is also driven by this subtle ego, so removing it completely, even if we could, might be counterproductive.

So, mistakes, momentary lapses of judgment and even willful misbehavior is likely in our future, how then are we to have any success? How can we break free of disappointing and sometimes intolerable patterns?

The key in this process are some very simple perspectives based in an attitude of self acceptance, humility, trust and patience. It relies on the premise that G-d, the one we are ultimately accountable to, understands all of what we described above and is okay with it, to the extent that it was designed that way. That G-d is more invested in seeing us make an earnest effort than expecting an outcome. That G-d knows we are human, that we need to learn and grow, that we have feelings we don’t agree with, which sometimes drive us to behave or act in a way, neither of us like, and that within us is an “I” which drives us to do things our own way. G-d understands, better then we do, that growth is a process, and that change, or perhaps evolution, happens over time.

The foundation of this process will entail developing a sesne of where we are going with a picture eof the steps we will need to take to get there. This begins by visualizing and identifying the small and subtle steps we can take to make the big move toward real growth.

Embracing Small Steps

Often in life we have big ideas, plans and hopes for what we want to do, and where we want to go. When you ask someone to envision what they want for their future it is often much easier to conceptualize dreams that are further away than those that are close. Asking someone, for example, to draw a mental picture of what they want to look like, in five or ten years is often easier for them, than what they need to do in the next three months.

In the past in my clinical practice, I often invited a young man, for example, who felt lost in life, to visualize where they saw themselves in five years. They were usually initially hesitant, but with minimal prodding they reported what was a real picture of their dreams. The type, or luxury level, of a car they are driving, what kind of home they have, sometimes even where that home is, a wife, kids, a career (sometimes specific sometimes more general), a real snapshot of their dreams.

Then, I invited them to explore “the guy in the picture” and separate that from their current self. We asked questions like; “where would that guy be two and a half years before that, not you, that conceptual guy in the picture? What would he be doing, what would he be up to?” It is usually pretty easy to imagine.

Then, we explored further. “What would that guy, the guy two and a half years before, look like fifteen months before that? Where would he be? What would he be doing?” We continued the reflection along this path, cutting each time frame about in half and building a picture of the progression of growth of this conceptual person; “What about 9 months before that? What about six months? What about three months?”

Then there was the kicker. We would take a look at the ‘three months guy’ and ask; “How different are you from him? How far are you from getting there? What steps could you take to generate that kind of growth?”

Without fail the ‘three month guy’ is well within range, and the steps to get there, subtle adjustments and small actions. The individual I was working with often marveled at how close they were to beginning a journey toward their own dreams.

I would then ask them to try and describe what they imagined the ‘five year guy’ feels like; fulfilled, happy, purposeful, confident etc… the answer was always along these lines. “What about the ‘three month guy’, how does he feel?” I would ask “Does he have insecurities and fears. Is he confused in some ways and not sure what will happen?”. I would then ask them “to what degree were you previously expecting to FEEL like the ‘five year guy’, instead of hoping to grow to BE the ‘three month guy’. This was often  a real moment of inflection for them. A realization how unrealistic we can all be in our expectations about how we should feel. No doubt most people don’t expect to have the things the ‘five year guy’ has, but we all often expect to feel like ‘him’, to be ‘him’, just with less stuff, but that’s not how life goes.

When our expectation is to be and feel like the ‘five year guy’ it displays a lack of perspective. In that state we are, unconsciously, constantly strategizing how to BE that future self and scramble to traverse an impossible distance. With this attitude, our next obvious assumption is that we need to make BIG moves if we are going to get BIG results. This never works out, not because making big moves is not a thing, of course it is, and it is  a vital aspect of growth. The issue that emerges is in which big moves we make. Are we making big moves that will take us toward were we want to go, or are we pretending we can will ourselves to be there right away. When our big moves lack perspective they are often delusional, kind of like someone who thinks spending their paycheck on lottery tickets is a big move. The result is of course disappointment because we insist on unreasonable success. Either way you slice it, those kind of Big Moves don’t work out well. When we get what we wanted, we lack the boundaries and experience to maintain our success, and when setbacks occur we end up disempowered, ashamed, angry and stuck.

The first key therefore to success will entail shifting our attitude to embrace small steps. To identify the big moves we can make that will carry us on the journey toward our selves and toward our aspirational dreams. To make big moves toward being the ‘three month guy’ with a radical optimism about our success. This won’t require leaps of action, just leaps of faith, in oursleves, in the process  and in G-d. The key is small steps that carry us to our creators vision for us.

Practical Action: Take a few moments to visualize, and then share with someone, your dreams, your five year vision. Make it concrete, draw a picture in your mind of things that might reflect the life you aspire to; a house, a car, relationships, career etc… After you have conceptualized where you want to go, try to separate your current self form this future vision of you. Try to visualize the trajectory that would have lead your future self there. Move backwards in time visualizing what a progressive process of growth would look like. Reflect on the big moves you might make today toward being your six or three month self.

About the Author
Menachem Poznanski, LCSW is director of The Living Room, a clubhouse for Jewish young adults in recovery from Alcoholism and Addiction. Menachem is co-author of Stepping out of the Abyss: A Jewish guide to the 12 steps (Mosaica, 2017) and the editor of both Consciously and The Light Revealed, two social media initiatives focused on the messages of Jewish recovery and spirituality. Menachem resides in Cedarhurst, NY with his wife Naomi and their children, Zoe and Tani.
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