Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
When you have one of those moments when you take a long look at yourself and where you are in life—like maybe this morning in the bathroom mirror—chances are that a couple more questions are going to pop up. Something like: Where am I headed in life? And what do I want?
Whether a new year or a new chapter in your life, it’s hard to move forward if don’t know what you’re moving toward. Like a vision for what you want your life to look like.
Here’s how to use positive intentions to help create your vision for the future:
Get specific with yourself. You may have a general idea of what you would like to have more of in your life, such as “to take better care of myself” or “to be happier.” That’s a start, but it doesn’t give you a lot to work with when it comes to creating a vision that you can start taking concrete steps toward. So don’t let yourself off the hook too easily.
For example, what does taking care of yourself mean? Diet? More activity? Compliance with your treatment regimen? And what about being happy? Does that mean more rest? More fun? A better relationship with someone close to you? The more specific you are, the more likely you will be to succeed.
Make a picture. You might want to consider creating a vision board. This is like a collage. Go through some magazines and choose pictures that illustrate your vision for yourself. Include pictures that symbolize how you want to feel, the things you want to be doing, the people you want in your life. Keep it someplace where you can look at it during those times when you feel like you have lost sight of your vision for the future or when you need some inspiration.
Act! Don’t wait to feel like it. I often tell my clients that if they want to feel like taking action before they actually start taking action in their lives, the two of us might be sitting for a long time. How trying the opposite approach: take action and let the feelings catch up. Take a step, even a small step. Make a commitment, try something new, give yourself a push. Taking positive action creates more positive action.
Look at what’s been holding you back. As you get focused on what you want to add to your life, and take a few steps in that direction, chances are you will also become more aware of what holds you back in life, in case you weren’t aware already.
Some of these barriers may be internal, and some of them may be in your environment. Negative self-image? Finances? Lack of time? Unsupportive people? What can you do to change these factors? And if you can't change them, can you figure out a way to deal with them?
Get help. You may have a strong sense of what you need to do to overcome some of the barriers that are getting in the way of your vision, but you don't need to overcome them on your own. So consider what help you need and who can help you, such as a trusted advisor. This might be the time to reach out to a mental health professional for some guidance. Don’t go it alone when someone might be standing by, and even eager, to give you a hand.
Watch your self-talk. Human beings spend their waking hours in an ongoing conversation with themselves. What’s going in on yours? If you are constantly telling yourself how bad things are and what you can’t do, then your positive intentions are mostly going to get pushed around by the voice of the big bully in your brain.
When you find yourself going negative, using words like “can’t,” “won’t,” and “never,” that’s a sign that the bully is talking. Turn the negatives and the “yes, but,” into a “yes, and.” Remind yourself of what you can do. Review your strengths. Look for alternatives. Expect the unexpected. And don’t be afraid to tell the bully to shut up.
Watch what you say to others. It’s easy to get caught up in the limitations and negativity of other people who, when they complain about how hard their lives are, they remind you of how hard yours is. It can feel good to complain and commiserate, temporarily, but be careful about letting your vent session turn into a prediction of eternal gloom and doom.
While you’re telling yourself what’s possible, do the same with others. Give voice to your positive intentions, and mean what you say!
Build in some accountability. No, I am not suggesting you need to be scolded like a child (though I have to admit, it was effective at times). What I am suggesting is that you find someone to “answer to” in some way, who you can check in with periodically on your progress or lack of progress, who can listen and even give you some coaching when you need it.
This might be a friend, a family member, or a healthcare professional. Accountability gives you an additional incentive as well as encouragement. And being accountable is a way of affirming that you are serious.
But what about my diabetes?
Having a vision for your future is not the same as denying that you are living with a chronic condition. No, I am not forgetting you are facing the challenges of living with a chronic condition and promising you pie in the sky. I am not saying that wanting something causes it to magically appear.
How about this: Accept your limitations and work with them, not against them. Grab onto a vision of yourself as someone who has positive intentions for the future by focusing on what’s possible instead of what’s doesn’t seem possible. Keep nudging yourself toward the plus column.
Your vision is a work in process. Visualize your future. Get on the path and move forward with positive intentions. Sure, brace yourself for some detours. But keep an eye out for the pleasant surprises along the way.