Thursday, February 24, 2011

Keeping it Happy Post-Divorce

I like to say, and I truly believe, that every run brings new experiences. You just don't know what they might be until you actually do the run. That's one of my major reasons for pushing out the front door as often as I do—the adventure of it all. Amby Burfoot, Editor at Large, Runner’s World

This quote struck me, since I just blogged about sustaining happiness last night. In that context I also opined that every run is different, even if it’s on the same path. Or perhaps that makes it a different path? The point being it made me think more about the principles for sustaining happiness and I started to wonder how to apply them post-divorce.

You might want to start with believing that you can be happy post-divorce. You have to recognize that it’s something you may have to put effort into, in a way you didn’t have to when you were married. You’ll have to make a commitment to doing whatever it’s going to take to get there. Sometimes you have to push yourself to get going. As I tell people when it comes to dieting, or changing eating habits, this is a lifetime commitment if you want to keep off the weight. It’s the same for happiness activities, especially if you’re in a bit of a rut. Divorce’ll do that to you.

Support from friends or family help us stick to the program, especially if it’s a new program. One my post-divorce goals (meeting goals you set increases happiness) was to take more photos, and my son kindly reminded me when he saw a photo op (generally to take pictures of him). Getting family on board with schedule changes you may have to make is also important. Post-divorce kids, in particular, often like to know the schedule and when they do they can be more supportive.

It’s relatively easy to push yourself to try various happiness activities post-divorce. Sure you can perform a random act of kindness occasionally, give up drinking for 3 days, or pray once a month when you’re feeling particularly down. But try to amp up your happiness efforts with some of these strategies and you’re more likely to keep your happiness level higher. Did I mention you have to think it’s possible? That is, you have to think it’s possible to be happy post-divorce.

The Book: The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky
To get in the mood: Brand New Day, Sting

Sunday, February 20, 2011

You are Your Own Worst Enemy Post-Divorce

In a chapter about negative self-talk, aptly entitled, The Enemy Inside, Susan Pease Gadoua talks about how to change the negative to positive self-talk. Her book, Stronger Day by Day, Reflections for Healing & Rebuilding after Divorce, provides loads of short chapters that address many of the vagaries of divorce.

Gadoua gives us a description of the problem, and then how to fix it. For example, in the enemy inside, she points out that that negative thinking in the form of regrets may be accurate, but dwelling in that house of pain serves no one. Each chapter has some combination of affirmation, journaling suggestion and meditation. The affirmation is: I will have only constructive thoughts about my marriage and myself. I know, I know. Good luck with that, right? But think of it as aspirational. The journaling suggestion is to write about what you will commit to do differently in the future. In the Planting Seeds chapter about the future, the meditation suggestion is to spend some time envisioning how your new life will feel.

I firmly believe that we each go through the post-divorce period in our own unique way and on our own schedule. I like the idea of having a book that brings together lots of different suggestions and addresses lots of issues so that you can pick and choose what you need at any given time. If you don’t know what you need at any given moment, you just read a chapter and see if you can use it. The book is all about doing, which is a really useful way to become your own best friend.

Just for grins: Me, Myself and I, Beyonce

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Eternal Sunshine of the Post-Divorced Mind

How about a machine that erases all memory of a former lover? The plot of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which I loved but many didn’t, is about just that. It was brought to mind last night by a Radiolab show discussing erasing the memories of rats. Seriously. It’s been done.

It was valentine’s day, so I suppose it clicked for that reason as well. So would you? If you could? Completey erase your memory of a love lost? You’re no longer divorced. You were never married to begin with.

What do you get from the memory of the love, the loss, the pain?

First off, how do you ever figure out relationships if you don’t learn from the ones that have failed? Once you’ve gotten past the initial hurt, loss, guilt, elation, or all of the above, what can you learn? What can you take away and use to grow? How can you be better? How can you avoid the same problems?

Next, if you erased those memories, how would you be you, the person you really are? Part of the way you understand the world is through your own experiences. It’s so idiosyncratic that it makes each of us the wacky, wonderful, unique beings that we are. And let’s face it, nobody can be you as well as you.

Finally, as I’ve been saying of late, whatever doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. How can you be stronger if you don’t remember what almost killed you? It’s part of the fabric of who you’ve become. It gives you strength and power. You become a post-divorce survivor.

Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime, Korgis

Monday, February 7, 2011

66 Days to Change Your Habits Post-Divorce

If it really takes an average of 66 days to learn a new habit, is it possible that’s about how long it can take to learn to be divorced? Alright, the study shows it can actually take between 18 and 254 days. I’ve previously predicted 208 days.

How habits work. Habits are behaviors that are performed automatically (without thought), because they have been performed repeatedly over time. There is a trigger or cue in the environment. For example, it’s lunchtime. When we encounter that trigger or cue, we display the behavior without thinking about it. For example, it’s lunchtime so I’m going to have some fruit and yogurt (instead of a big mac, the habit). You have to be clear about what you want to do in a particular situation and then do it each time you encounter that situation. Over time, it becomes increasingly easy and automatic.

How habits work post-divorce. When you’re with someone a long time, you learn a bunch of habits. Post-divorce, these must change. There are overt behaviors we have to change. Instead of calling my once-significant other when I’m in a fix (the trigger), I have to call someone else…or figure it out myself (the habit). There are covert behaviors we have to change. Instead of thinking about how terrible it is that I’m in a fix and can’t call my once-significant other, I must think about how good it is that I’m going to be able to handle this mouse in the house by calling a friend, or an exterminator, or getting some cheese and a mousetrap (sorry if that’s PI).

Really, all change is about changing behaviors and ways of thinking at approximately the same time. There’s always a chicken and egg question. Did I think I can get rid of the mouse and then get rid of it? Or, did I get rid of the mouse and then think I’m able to get rid of mice? Really, it doesn’t matter.

The trick is to decide you want to change the habit, figure out the triggers or cues in the environment and change your response, the habit, when you encounter those triggers or cues. Start thinking you can change things in 66 days, and worry about the chicken-egg question later. What’s the first habit you want to change?

More about the habit change study.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Sometimes it seems like things are never going to get better post-divorce. I started reading memoirs as a way of trying to understand how some people are able to move on in life, while others get stuck. The scientist in me knows that one case does not a finding make, but the creative in me believes that one can learn so much from a single example. I’m so encouraged by people who are able to overcome the extremes of suffering and loss. I loved An Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination¸ Elizabeth McCracken’s brilliant memoir of loss and recovery. Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking, is another example.

What can you do? If you can’t see the light:

Read a memoir.
Read a novel (old, Anna Karenina or new, One Day).
Read self-help (old, Reinventing your Life, or new, The How of Happiness).
Confide in a close friend.
Confide in a not so close friend.
Go to a museum.
Watch a funny movie (old, Groundhog Day, new, Date Night).
Watch an action movie (old, The Terminator, new, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).
Watch a movie sadder than your life (old, Saving Private Ryan, new, The Reader).
Write a novel,a blog, a journal or your memoir.
Come up with something that fits you and leave a comment about it below.

Just don’t join the hoards of people who curl up and give up. Instead, look for that light at the end of the tunnel. If you need help, get a coach or a therapist. Or…

Contact me to attend a free 2-session teleseminar, Move Into Post-Divorce Life. Enjoy the Journey.