By Alan Koenigsberg, M.D.
Ok, so the last few articles have been about listening, speaking, and thinking. Now it’s time to act!
We have varying degrees of what we can control in our lives. Much of our happiness stems from how we manage, adapt and function in response to what life throws at us.
The actions we take are indeed more within our control than other factors. In nature, a large part of life depends on natural consequences; if we didn’t plow and farm our fields on time, we would have starved. When camping, if we don’t prepare proper shelter, we may come to harm.
In our current worlds, we have a more insulated life from the natural world, but the basic ideas and consequences exist.
After having listened to those who are important to us, spoken our minds clearly, put thought into what transpired, it’s time to act. The problems for many of us are that we haven’t been able to make healthy, rational decisions that are fundamental to a healthy life.
Within reason and our abilities, we can decide how hard to work, how much to study, how to behave with others and what actions to take in various situations.
While listening, speaking and thinking are essential, it is our actions that define us. How we behave is what is visible to others, not our intentions, thoughts or feelings.
An example: I choose my words carefully. Given that my profession depends on my skills at listening and speaking, I may put more focus on them than most, but the idea is sound for everyone. I do my best to have my words match up with my actions.
When my children were small and needed a vaccination, if they asked if it would hurt, I would say, yes it will, but only briefly. Afterwards, if I said another situation wouldn’t cause pain, they would tend to trust me.
When asked to do something, if I really don’t want to, I do my best to say no, even though it might upset someone or frustrate them. Then, if at a later date, I agree to do something, they believe I will do it and I do follow through.
Many of us over-commit, become resentful and exhausted and feel guilty and overwhelmed. We need to learn to say no kindly and more often.
It’s important to me that my words and my actions line up; this engenders trust.
As an aside, I recommend not making excuses; just acknowledge if you made a mistake and accept the consequences. We all make mistakes and accepting the consequences is the adult way to go.
If a friend asks me to lunch, and 1 p.m. is possible but I may be late, I don’t just say, OK, let’s meet at 1. I’ll say 1 p.m. sounds good and I’ll do my best, but I may be 10 or 15 minutes late. Being respectful of other people’s time is very important. Don’t make false promises out of guilt.
As humans, we tend to procrastinate when facing unpleasant tasks, like mammograms, colonoscopies, homework, studying, taxes and the like. We don’t want to learn about bad news or do unpleasant tasks. It’s understandable.
However, part of being an adult is making adult choices, taking actions that indicate maturity. So please make those mature decisions, engage those thinking brain cells as best you can and make good choices and good actions!
Alan Koenigsberg, M.D., is a practicing psychiatrist and clinical professor of psychiatry at UTSW Medical School in Dallas.