October 1, 2020


          In his book Happier, Harvard professor Tal Ben-Shahar writes about the insights of people with terminal cancer:

An open confrontation with death allows many patients to move into a mode of existence that is richer than the one they experienced prior to their illness. Many patients report dramatic shifts in life perspective.  They are able to trivialize the trivial, to assume a sense of control, to stop doing things they do not wish to do, to communicate more openly with families and friends, and to live entirely in the present rather than in the future or the past. As one’s focus turns from the trivial diversions of life, a fuller appreciation of the elemental factors in existence emerge: the changing seasons, the falling leaves, the last spring, and especially, the loving of others. Over and over they say, “Why did we have to wait until now to learn how to value and appreciate life.”

          The answer, of course, is that they didn’t.  It was simply that their shift in perspective made them acutely aware of what they knew all along.  They had within them the knowledge of how they should live life.  They had been ignoring the knowledge or unconscious of it.

          We are living in a crisis time.  Multiple social, political, and health factors have disrupted the familiar routines that we had learned to count on.  Now we will decide whether to remain in a bruised, numb, pitiful condition or to shift our perspective about our existence. If, indeed, we have the knowledge that we need, then now is a good time to use it.

          William Glasser, originator of choice theory and reality therapy, said there are steps to addressing a problem.  When we look at them, we probably say, “Well, sure, everybody knows that!”  What everybody doesn’t do is apply the steps to situations that are disrupting our lives. I am suggesting that we access the knowledge that we already have to help ourselves.

Step 1: Identify and Describe the Problem

All  of us are trying to make sure we meet five basic needs.

  • Survival, or the comfort of knowing that our basic physical needs met
  • Love and belonging, or being part of a family or community of loved ones
  • Power, or a sense of self-worth and achievement
  • Freedom, or independence
  • Fun, which includes a sense of satisfaction or pleasure

When one or more of these needs go unfilled, we feel it in the here and now. So, the first step in helping yourself is to identify where you are feeling deprived. 

If more than one unmet need is bothering you, then each one should be met separately. 

Step 2: Make a Plan

The plan should address only one problem at a time.  Wishing the problem will go away is not a plan. Be practical about your capabilities and resources.

Including other people in the plan, as advisors and helpers, is acceptable.

Step 3: Work the Plan

Follow through on the plan enough that you give it a chance to work.

Step 4: Evaluate the Plan

Did the plan work as hoped? Did you work the plan?

Step 5: Revise the Plan

If the plan did not gain desired results, what changes could be made?  If you did not work the plan, what incentives can motivate you more?

Step 6: Repeat the Cycle

Thought Starters Questions:

Can I clearly identify and describe what is bothering me?

If several things are, then what is bothering me the most?

How effective was I at making a plan?

To what extent did I involve other people as advisors or helpers?

How carefully did I follow your plan?

What affected my application of the plan?

What aspects of the plan need changing?

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