(Due to Hurricane Sandy, we are re-running a letter that was published earlier in this column.)
Dear Dr. Norquist:
Three or four years ago, I had a lot of stress in my work, and it was creating havoc in my life. I had chronic neck pain from muscle tension. I had headaches regularly. I had trouble sleeping through the night. I was irritable with friends and just miserable in general. I was also chronically tired and low in energy. I had to do something to help myself, so I took up meditation. I started meditating for 20 minutes every morning, and I have to say, it worked wonders. About a month later I was more relaxed, free of headaches, sleeping better and in general much better company for others to be around.
I lost touch with meditation over the past year or two, since I was doing OK. Lately, my stress problems have returned. It’s about as bad as it was four years ago. Now I know how to help myself, but I just can't seem to get myself to do it. The alarm goes off, and I just stay in bed, glad to catch a few more moments of sleep. My question is, how can I motivate myself to do what I know I need to do to help myself feel better?
Dr. Norquist responds:
Humans are complicated, conflicted, non-logical beings. If we could all just go ahead and do what needs to be done, for ourselves, our families, our work and our communities, without any resistance, this world would be quite a different place. If this were the case, therapy would only require two or three sessions, mostly educational in nature. Sometimes this is the case. But it is by far the exception. If this were the way humans always functioned, no one would be struggling with needing to lose weight or to stop smoking. They would just do it. No one would have a problem with addictions either.
At any given moment, each of us is a mixture of life affirming, growth enhancing tendencies, and tendencies that pull us towards entropy, disorder, stagnation and a deadening of ourselves and our abilities. One pull is positive and empowering, the other negative and disempowering. In each moment we make decisions (usually unconsciously) about which force will dominate. In deciding to stay in bed, when you know that getting up to meditate will enhance your life, you are in that moment, allowing the negative disempowering force to dominate. Part of being human is having the ability to choose between positive and negative. Most of us do not take this responsibility to heart. Who you are (in essence), who you become, and how you move through your day is totally up to you. To uplift yourself from your current stressful state, you must make decisions moment to moment that are life affirming, and empowering. Some people are not comfortable embracing this much power and responsibility. The state of entropy – a gradual movement toward disorganization and death – is quite tempting. It’s easy, because it doesn’t require any energy output. Growth and development require that we bring forth something from inside of ourselves, something that resists the pull to stay the same. It requires a conscious decision to put in the effort. From this perspective, it’s a choice between life and death. No one can make you make this choice (or any other). It is yours to make or not make. You will reap the natural consequences of whatever choices you make. This is part of the nature of being human. You must decide for yourself, moment to moment, which force will dominate in your life.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.)
Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2012 Chaitanya Counseling Services