2020 was a rough year. Everyone has been looking forward to a fresh start. We all love markers and dates that can jump-start us to new, healthy habits. 2021 can be a year of right decisions and positive changes. In my office, when I do training for people and at speaking events around the world, I continue to see people desperate for answers on how they can be healthier, make better decisions and find more peace in life. I believe that part of the problem with solving those questions is that we have to gain insight and emotional intelligence instead of just focusing on behavioral changes.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to know who you are and control how you will respond in emotional situations. The problem is that people don’t realize what emotions they are feeling. In order to control our behavior, we have to be able to go down to the roots of our beliefs about ourselves, God and others. On the surface, it may feel as if you don’t have feelings or that those feelings are simple. When asked how they feel, most people can say “sad” or “angry.” These two emotions are the most commonly expressed that I hear. The problem with this is that they are very surface level emotions. They are secondary to the primary feelings that are deep within. Primary emotions like fear, worry, despair, shame, loneliness, etc.
Another problem in our culture when it comes to emotional intelligence is that we don’t realize that we have been coping to survive, that we didn’t get what we needed or learn how to know ourselves. We were taught that we are responsible for others’ emotions and/or that expressing our feelings would be met with a negative response or nothing. Over time we start to believe that our emotions and feelings don’t matter or that our needs will not be met. This is when the problem truly starts. We start to unconsciously change our view of the world, God and ourselves. We begin to believe lies that distort the truth of our existence.
Our beliefs about those three things shape our thoughts and feelings, shaping our actions, behaviors or symptoms. If we believe that we are unworthy, for example, then we will respond to others’ criticisms without knowing that we are negatively coping. We will act as if we are unworthy and accept and expect negative things from the world. When we do not have a firm foundation and positive view of ourselves, then we yearn for external validation to combat the negative feelings we do not even realize we are having.
How does this relate to a new year, new you? Well, we live in a world that has a faulty presupposition. This world tells us that if we finally lose weight, get that promotion, take control over our addictions, make more money, we will finally be happy. Well, happiness is relative. Research shows that once you make a household income of $75,000 a year, your happiness does not increase. Research also shows that if you were to win the lottery today, you would be more depressed in two months than before you won that billion-dollar Powerball. Fitness models on Instagram and multimillionaires still struggle with depression, anxiety and feelings of not being good enough. Obviously, if you are in poverty and struggling to meet your basic needs, increased income or healthy food does increase your health and happiness. I am talking about the idea that your internal worth and value will also increase by doing so.
I work with people around the world to try to help them be healthier and happier. I do believe that changing our behavior and our level of functioning is important. What I am talking about today is that your worth and value do not rely on where you are in that growth journey. It also cannot be measured against someone else’s journey or success. This is another toxic trait American society and social media have brought into our homes like a plague. Measuring ourselves against someone else’s highlight reel is pointless and destructive. The best thing you can do is measure yourself against who you were yesterday, not against who someone else was yesterday or today.
To have a new year and a new you, you must know who you are. You must do the work to dig into the why’s of your life. Look at your negative behaviors and struggles and find out why you do what you do and when it started. You have to have this knowledge, or the behavioral changes you are working so hard to make will not happen, or if they do, it will be momentary.
If you can find a way to learn to love yourself and accept the grace and love that God has for you, then you will not be reliant on external things to dictate your internal worth and value. You will be at peace with who you are in any given moment. This will allow you to free yourself from the bondage of comparison and perfection. You can learn to accept yourself for who you are and that you are enough. When this happens, you will be able to stay on track with your eating habits, stay in a healthy relationship, be successful in that job, pass that test, or whatever it is that you put your mind to. In 2021 if you want to change your behavior and find success, you have to go back to go forward. You cannot continue to try to modify your behavior without modifying your negative beliefs.
Clint Davis MS, LPC, CCTP, CSAT, CCTP, EMDR provider, director of recovery for the Hub:Urban Ministries. Feel free to give us a call at 318-562-6903, or visit us at www.clintdaviscounseling.com.