Getting Engaged (to Your Life!)
By Charity Hagains MA LPC-S
Could you make a fresh, life long commitment? Could you stand before all of your beloved friends and family and declare your intentions? Could you get engaged? I’m not talking about the kind of engagement that involves proposals, professions of love, or sparkling diamonds. This type of engagement is far less stressful, but can be even more meaningful.
I’m talking about getting engaged in you life. In each moment, in every conversation and decision, you can become more present, more engaged. A couple of questions come to mind when I think about this type of engagement:
A) Why would I do this? Sorry, but laundry really isn’t a moment I want to be “present” in. There are plenty of meaningless tasks that I am required to perform each day, and being mentally engaged in those sounds awful.
B) How does one go about getting engaged? For arguments sake, let’s say I did want to be more aware in all of life’s moments. How do I do that? I have been comfortably day dreaming in traffic for decades and have very little idea how to even turn that off!
The “why” question is one that always comes up when I talk to people about becoming more engaged in their life. It isn’t an easy endeavor, and intelligent people want to know why they are expected to put such effort into a project. Quite often people have at least a logical understanding of how being more fully present in the moment is helpful, but emotionally, we still prefer our old fall backs of numbing, compartmentalizing, denying, blaming, and the list goes on. While we can say, “I want to be more engaged with my children,” we still struggle to stay present when we feel uncomfortable (embarrassed at their tantrum in the department store, scared by their choices, or angry at their grades). When faced with an uncomfortable situation, the majority of us grab our go-to defense mechanisms and march our thoughts right out of that moment.
By nature, growth is uncomfortable. As children grow they endure “growing pains.” Athletes expect to be sore after a hard workout. In many areas of our lives, we have accepted that a tolerable amount of pain is to be expected and seen as part of the process. Emotions are no different.
A great first step for getting engaged is to begin to see these uncomfortable feelings as part of your growth process. Feelings should be expected to come if you are to grow and transform into the best version of yourself. Rather than avoid these feelings begin to lean into them, like you might lean into a stretch to increase your flexibility.
Which brings us to “how” does one go about getting more engaged. If we are expected to not run from our uncomfortable feelings but lean into them, how can that be achieved? I mean, “lean into it” isn’t very specific.
Take my laundry example from earlier. I hate laundry. It is a boomerang task that is never fully done. On the off chance that all the laundry is done, it will need to be done again 7 days later. It’s tedious, boring, and worst of all, required. Anything I feel forced to do automatically goes into the, “l’d rather be doing anything but this,” category. Interestingly, that’s the exact thing that’s going through my mind as I do the laundry. It isn’t thoughts of gratitude for owning these clothes, or interesting appreciations, or even examination of why I own 4 pairs of black pants. Not a single productive thought is moving through my brain in that moment. It’s all, “I hate this, I hate this, I hate this.” Absolutely zero engagement.
The process of engaging with ourself, our emotions, our thoughts, is very focused on bringing awareness to our inner narrative. It is so impactful and important. That narrative makes up so much of what becomes our core beliefs and gut reactions, yet rarely do we really investigate what it is saying. The first step to becoming more engaged is to listen to your narrative.
The next piece in the puzzle of engagement is to reframe these less helpful messages. While I may never be excited about laundry day, I can be interested. I can be curious about my thoughts and my emotions. I can try to view the process of this mundane task through a more positive lens. I don’t have to BS myself as I do it. Saying, “I love doing this,” isn’t going to make me love it. However, I can move my narrative to one of gratitude. I can tell myself that, “I am grateful to be able to have time to do this task for myself,” or “I’m glad I own these clothes.” Something…anything that will take my thoughts away from how laundry sucks.
This topic is a big one, and I don’t expect my laundry example to give you an automatic understanding. Part of the practice of engaging is to continue to focus on it regularly. To that end this article marks the first in a series of articles exploring how we can more fully engage with ourselves and our lives. May your week be filled with engaging investigation into your narrative!
Ready to take the next step in engaging more fully? Book your appointment today with one of our Counseling Specialists, who is excited to lead you down the path of growth and fulfillment.