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Life brings us many unforeseen challenges, as it has with COVID 19. The strength of our mental wellness is critical to help us rise to the occasion. I know from personal experience.
From 2006 – 2010, I experienced a series of traumatic events. My wife had to go through multiple brain surgeries, 400 miles away, while I was running a new business and raising two small children. My father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer and soon passed away. A friend overdosed and died. My brother overdosed and died. Then, we experienced the worst market crash in 80 years. I had to sell my business at a significant loss. I was financially wiped out. I struggled with chronic pain from two herniated discs requiring surgery. Then my wife and I split up.
All these events happened in devastating, rapid succession over just three and a half years. There were times when I wondered if I could catch my breath before the next life-altering challenge befell me.
Here are the five principles I had been putting into practice that allowed me to not only survive life’s tests, but actually rebuild and thrive as a result.
1. Have a definition of the “best version of me”.
When drafting this important definition, it shouldn’t be contingent upon a person, place, thing, or time. If the best version of me requires that I have a certain someone in my life, what happens if they die? Does the best version pass away with them? I don’t want to have the best version of me only show up in specific places or if I have some “thing” in my life. Who am I when those things aren’t present? I will be continuing to work on the best version of me for the rest of my life. I can’t get “there” say in the next 5 years. If I live another 20 years beyond that, are the last two decades of my life truly down hill? It doesn’t have to be. I can continue to mature and evolve for the rest of my life, if I work at it.
I keep the definition simple so it’s easy to remember and use it as my compass point if life tosses me about. The best version of me focuses on growing aspects of my mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing, while minimizing the inevitable decline of physical capabilities due to age. My definition focuses on character traits that I am 100% responsible for and in control of. Although it is aided by outside influences, it is an inside job.
2. Take small steps daily.
I have the definition of the best version of me memorized. I pick one character asset to work on each day that leads me towards my goal. These character assets include building blocks like honesty, hope, faith, courage, integrity, willingness, humility, love, discipline, perseverance, spirituality, and service to others. Whatever my asset is for the day, I do a quick study on it, I watch for its presence in the world and others, and I practice it in all of my affairs for that day.
What is the power of taking small steps for massive results? If you Google “Dave Brailsford” you will learn how he implemented a series of 1% changes over the course of just 5 years that transformed a century-old British cycling legacy of mediocrity into a team the churned out 178 world championship wins, 66 combined Olympic and Paralympic gold medals, and 5 Tour de France victories over the next 10 years. Taking small, disciplined, specific steps produced historic results.
3. Double down when things are going well.
Most people coast when things are going well in their lives. There is an important say to remember, “This too shall pass.” While this can give you hope to persevere when things are challenging and chaotic, as they were for me from 2006 – 2009, it is wise to be aware and accept that this statement holds true for when things are going well, too.
I don’t coast during the good times. I double down on my efforts. When things are in harmony, my energy is up, my focus is on target, my mind is more open, my emotions are stable and strong, and I feel empowered to take healthy risks getting outside of my comfort zone. Then when life inevitably brings me more challenges, I am already accustomed to operating with healthier and stronger mental, emotional and spiritual skills. If I have been coasting, I am at higher risk of turning myself over to panic, fear, anger, resentment and doubt. As a result, instead of dealing with my problems, my problems will be dealing with me.
4. Stay connected to healthy people.
One of the best ways to improve our mental wellness and feel empowered when faced with life’s challenges is to have a healthy support network. There was a mental health study performed on thousands of British children after World War 2. The study separated the children in two groups: those who remained with their families during the war in bomb shelters under relentless pounding by the German Luftwaffe, and those who were sent away from their parents to the relative serenity of the English country-side. The study found surprisingly that the children who stayed with their families under the constant threat of death faired significantly better mentally than the children who had been detached from their parents.
Successful, motivational speaker, Jim Rohn, states, “You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Find healthy people who are working to improve themselves. Stay connected and active with them. Challenge and assist each other with working on “the best version of me”.
5. Get into service of others.
Being of service is an excellent way to hone the character assets mentioned above in the second step. It will minimize getting stuck obsessing over your own perceived dangers. Being of service forces you to practice your healthy principles, remind you that there is something greater than you, and give you the gifts of gratitude, humility and growth when you see someone else rise up with your help.
Do these steps actually work? I know from first-hand experience that they do.
Flash-forward from my past traumas to today. My wife and I reconciled after two and a half years. Our marriage is stronger now than when we both said, “I do.” As a testament to the strength of our renewed vows, in 2014, we adopted a 14 year-old girl. I co-own two substance abuse and mental health facilities: Recovery in the Pines and Spartan Recovery. I love being actively involved in working with our patients and their families. I have owned seven other businesses. I sat on former Prescott Mayor Oberg’s committee for oversight and reduction of the sober living facilities in our town. I am a volunteer at MATFORCE, participating in several committees and speak at schools, businesses and other mental health facilities on the topics of mental wellness and substance abuse. I am currently developing a mental wellness program to teach in high schools, with my first high school coming online in the new school year.
I am passionate about helping people define the best version of them and create the steps to get there. In the last 8 years, I have been blessed to work with over 900 patients who have battled with depression, anxiety, hopelessness, despair, addiction, and self-loathing. I have witnessed these steps, as a part of a treatment plan, and in some cases with the aid of prescribed medications, transform most of their lives into testimonies for success. Unfortunately, not all have been successful, but many have experienced growth, hope and a sense of self-worth.
If you or a loved one are struggling with mental wellness in these disrupted and uncertain times of COVID 19, please seek help. And if you are fortunately to be doing well during these times, don’t coast. Work on these five critical building blocks to continue to strengthen yourself. You may get the opportunity to be of service to someone else.
Doug Dolan is the COO and co-owner of Recovery in the Pines and Spartan Recovery, well-respected substance abuse and mental health facilities located in Prescott, AZ. Additionally, he is a volunteer at MATFORCE, a non-profit dedicated to building healthier communities by striving to eliminate substance abuse and its effects. He is a grateful husband and father.
The MIND BODY SOUL section is made possible by Thumb Butte Medical Center, the Quad Cities only multi-specialty medical clinics with locations in Prescott, Prescott Valley, and Chino Valley, AZ.