The Great Instead

For many of us, we realize it’s time to reach out for professional support when our problems become a bit more than we think we can handle.

Before this, we do our best to manage on our own. We know that something isn’t right and it’s often quite unsettling. Almost naturally, we analyze and strive to understand the problems we face. We notice when our problems are triggered. We become all-too-familiar with the feelings associated, the impact on our actions, and the effects on our relationships and work. We might reach out to a trusted friend or family member. We do all the things that normally make us feel good or distract from what bothers us. Some of us might even draw connections to events from our past that we believe might have led to our problems.

We’ve often worked really, really hard on knowing and developing a keen awareness of the problems we face. We know what’s not working. We know what we don’t want. We know what we want to be rid of. Yet, why is it that we don’t feel better?

Not quite as natural as scrutinizing our problems, but just as important, is considering what we would want instead.

Of course, part of that instead is for our problems to go away. However, to really consider the instead in its fullness is a bit more. It’s a bit more than to say, we don’t want to be depressed, stressed, anxious, or angry anymore. It’s taking time to ask what we’d want to be instead, even if the circumstances of our lives haven’t yet changed. It’s about being content, confident, peaceful, or compassionate. It’s the feelings, thoughts, responses, and actions we’d hope to have in the face of the challenging situations we might encounter on a daily basis. It’s envisioning the presence of something different in us, rather than solely the absence of our problems.

Considering this perspective is the beginning of The Great Instead.

By considering what we want for ourselves instead of our problems, we open ourselves to possibility. We introduce the prospect of taking meaningful steps in the direction of how we want to feel, think, respond, and act. We invite a vision for a future in which we aren’t just free of our problems, but living in a way that is more fulfilling and in line with a best version of ourselves. We provide ourselves an opportunity to consider what we want to move toward in our lives, rather than what we want to move away from. We open ourselves to connections between changes we want and moments from the past that have resembled those changes. We set the stage for who we want to be and the life we want to be living, without having to settle for a life of coping with or managing our problems.

By considering our instead, we open up the opportunity to use our time in therapy differently. Articulating our instead allows us to collaborate with our therapist in identifying meaningful, concrete action toward what we’d like to create for, rather than eliminate from, our lives.

Scott Ziemba, MS, IMFT