Measure Effort Not Outcome

This past year, 2020, was trying. No matter how together you had your life, in March our whole world changed. As we reflect on how last year went, I want to share with you one of the most impactful things I learned.  

During my class on addiction counseling this past semester, I was assigned a chapter on counselor self-care. Self-care is incredibly important and I have read a ton on the topic, but in this chapter, something stuck out and stuck with me. It discussed how as counselors there is only so much that WE can do. We can provide our clients with all of the tools in the world, however, we are not in control of their recovery and we cannot take a relapse personally. How then do we measure ourselves as practitioners? The answer is we measure our effort, not our outcome!  

What does it mean to measure our effort, not our outcome? We have to understand that in every situation there are elements in which we lack some level of control. We must look, therefore, at those aspects where we do have control and the amount of work or effort we put in in those areas. We need to measure our performance rather than the product.  

I challenge you, as you reflect on 2020, to think about your performance rather than the outcomes or products as there were a lot of variables that added challenges.  

An example of this from my year would be my grades. I worked really hard to try and maintain all A’s this past year. Last semester, however, I failed got a B. At first, I was incredibly frustrated with myself. I should have worked harder, I should have studied more, etc. But when reflecting on my effort, instead of the outcome, I actually became really proud of myself. I selected this master’s program because of the in-person class style it offered and due to the pandemic we were completely remote now, which is a very challenging learning modality for me. I had also lost my part-time income over the summer, thanks to Covid related business closures. This resulted in me taking on a full-time contract, working overnights while taking four graduate-level courses to recover from the financial loss. I was also volunteering as a wellness counselor for the USF Confirmed Covid Counseling Clinic, and as a director for Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife. If you look at the effort I put into growing as an individual and professional I had a very successful year, even though the product was not as I had hoped.  

I encourage you to reflect on your year and praise yourself, not for the outcomes you achieved, but for the effort you put forth. Depending on your circumstances your effort may not look like your usual effort. Majorly modifying your habits and adjusting to the new isolated, remote lifestyle was hard work and few people gave themselves credit for the effort they put into staying safe and healthy this past year. 

What effort are you proud of? Think about an area where you worked hard and deserve to give yourself some credit. Share your effort below so that we can practice praising each other and measuring our success by effort rather than the outcome. 

The Power of Words- Layers of Meaning

“You are overthinking what was said.” If you have heard that line, you are not alone. We’ve all heard “a picture paints a thousand words” and that “actions speak louder then words”. I cringe at how much these sayings discount the power of words.

We often forget that words carry layers of meaning through denotation, or the literal meaning, and connotation, the deeper meaning linked to our thoughts and feelings surrounding the word. Denotation is the meaning that would be found in the dictionary, think of it as the meaning your “brain” interprets. Connotation however, is what your “heart” or “gut” feels and is the key element in “overthinking what was said”. Connotation can elicit positive, negative, and even neutral feelings.

All definitions (denotations) from Merriam-Webster.com

Add to the meanings presented with the words alone the tone in which they are said (by the sender) or read (by the receiver in written messages) and the meaning can become even richer.

Overthinking can occur for a variety of reasons but it tends to be “A NIT”.

*Automatic- seems to just happen unintentionally
*Negative- generally evoke undesirable feelings
*Intrusive- aren’t easily dismissed
*Thoughts- tend to be based on ideas which trigger emotions

Since there thoughts tend to evoke emotions there is a risk that they will influence our behaviors if not kept in check often leading to self-fulfilling or self-sabotaging which reinforces the thought. There are several therapeutic tools and techniques that help address and disrupt this viscous cycle.

In time, I will write individual posts for some of these tools and techniques, however, I strongly recommend working with a licensed professional to learn them.

As we are all senders of messages however, I want you to reflect on they ways in which you say things. If you find that people misread what you say, think about the words you choose and the emotions they may carry with them.

Words are powerful and you have a choice to use them beneficially to have clear communication or haphazardly and risk miscommunications and potentially distress.

PTSD, What is it?

I was recently told, by a journalist, with no credentials related to mental health, that I have PTSD. He had mistakenly and ignorantly diagnosed me based on his lay men knowledge. He assumed that because I have experienced trauma and deal with depression and anxiety that I MUST have PTSD. As I tried to explain to him the differences in diagnoses I realized that too often mental health condition terms get used incorrectly and so casually that some people think they understand, but they don’t.

I could, and will, write an entire post on the how language impacts the stigma related to mental health, but right now I am just going to focus on educating about what PTSD really is.

PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a condition that can be diagnosed at any age and it is listed under Trauma- and Stressor- related disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5). While it can be diagnosed in children under 6, I am going to focus on how it manifests in those 6 years and older (including adults). I urge you to seek professional help if you or someone you know is struggling with mental health and want you to understand the purpose of this post is general education and awareness and should NOT be used to make assumptions about diagnosis.

This first criteria that must be met is experiencing a traumatic event that involves death, potential death severe injury, or violence. This can be an event that happens directly to the person, was witnessed by the person, or occurs vicariously.

While I have met this criteria it does not mean that I will automatically develop PTSD.

The next criteria is that the individual has intrusive symptoms related to the event. This means they may repeatedly have undesirable memories of the event, flashbacks (moments in which they feel as if the event is occurring again/still), or distress triggered by a symbolic cue linked to the event (this distress could be mental or physical). There must also be continued attempts to avoid triggers and or intrusive symptoms.

The next criteria is negative changes in the way the person thinks or their feelings. Some of the ways this is seen is through self-blaming for the event, inability to remember details from the event, constant negative feelings, lack of desire to do things or inability or difficulty with relationships.

The final criteria is considerable changes in behavior around the event. This may look like becoming aggressive, self-harming, participating in risky behaviors, hypervigilance, easily startled, difficulty concentrating, and or troubles related to sleep.

Now it is important to understand that this is not a short-term experience. Acute Stress Disorder is a similar, but brief condition (that I have experienced first hand). PTSD is persistent, lasting more than a month, and significantly impacts the persons ability to function in important areas of life such as socially.

The other thing to remember is that each individual with PTSD is an individual and their experiences will vary. It presents differently in my friend with medical trauma then my friend who is a domestic violence survivor and her differently then my friend who survived a sexual assault, and she differs from my first responder friends, and each veteran friend experiences it differently too.

Those with PTSD can benefit from several different sources of support including counseling. I cannot encourage you enough- if you are effected by PTSD, seek support. Help seeking is courageous, not cowardly and no one should be battling alone.

The Eagle on My Arm

Title: The Eagle on My Arm: How the Wilderness and Birds of Prey Saved a Vietnam Veteran’s Life
Author: Dava Guerin, and Terry Bivens 
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir 
Length: 200 Pages 
Publish Date: 2020
Tags/Triggers: Mental Health, Military Service, Suicidal Ideation, Physical Injury, Sexual Assault, Depression, Animal Death, Death 

For months I have anticipated the release of “The Eagle on My Arm”. I was excited to write a post about this book and bibliotherapy benefits of it. What makes this book so difficult for me to write about is how close to home it hits for me. Actually, it is home for me.

“The Eagle on My Arm” is the memoir of my mentor, Patrick Bradley. Patrick is a Vietnam Veteran with severe PTSD. When he first returned from war however PTSD was not well understood and he was just labeled as aggressive and troubled. Fortunately one of the practitioners at Walter Reed was an advocate for those soldiers who were “damaged goods” and pushed for Patrick to be given an opportunity to reintegrate into the civilian world.

Going directly into the public again was not possible, so instead he spent years in the wilderness studying bald eagles. This time in the wild helped him become grounded and develop coping skills. The impact nature had on his journey to healing wouldn’t be fully appreciated however until years later when his son, Skylar, returned from war with his own demons. Patrick did the only thing he knew of to help his son and got him working with birds. It didn’t take long for Patrick to realize just how powerful reconnecting with nature can be.

This book follows his story and includes part of mine. We hope that through sharing our stories and battles it will help reduce the stigma related to mental health and encourage others to seek treatment as well. It also serves as a preface to our next chapter, where we will be opening an ecotherapy center making services increasingly accessible to those with depression, anxiety, trauma-related disorders and other mental illnesses and disabilities because we believe no one should have to face their demons alone.

The Imposter Inside

Have you ever felt like you were a fraud? Perhaps you questioned your own knowledge in your field or position. Maybe you were anxious that someone would discover that you were just “faking it until you make it.” These are all signs of a phenomenon known as IMPOSTER SYNDROME and you are not alone.

This year has been particularly tough for most people as everyone’s lives changed drastically with the pandemic. This has caused even more people to look critically at themselves. Recently, I myself became nearly paralyzed by imposter syndrome. I started a new, temporary, job in the technical theatre industry, which I haven’t worked in in almost 10 years, launched the internship program at Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife, and continued on my own professional development journey as a graduate student. Up until now, I had felt rather comfortable, confident even, in my decision to leave my career as a classroom teacher to purse my Big Audacious Goal of opening an ecotherapy center. Suddenly, however, I felt like I must have flown under the radar to get accepted into my graduate program and that I had made it this far by a streak of good luck. I was terrified that any day now my luck would run out and someone would realize that they had made a mistake and I would be busted as an imposter!

So why on earth would I turn around and out myself like this?

Last week I had a conversation with some of my peers, turns out this feeling is pretty universal and most people experience it at some point. Through talking about my feelings I was able to process what was going on deeper within and gained a better understanding as to why this common condition was flaring up so viscously for me.

For many years I had a deeply rooted belief that I was worthless, useless, and undeserving. It wasn’t until the last few years that I was able to start to breakdown these beliefs by reframing my thinking (I will do a post in the future explaining what that means). I spent the majority of my life discounting myself and my achievements because I didn’t feel or think I was worthy of success and recognition. This affected me to the point that if you thanked me for something as simple as setting up the desks for class, I would reject your appreciation and tell you why I did it for self-serving reasons. As a result of this constant self-depreciation, I have a skewed view of my qualifications and abilities but I am working on changing that. I realized that I have spent my whole life trying to prove my worth and not spent enough time reflecting on the value of everything I have done, accomplished.

Yes, I could continue to discount myself by measuring myself against everything I haven’t done, but there will always be more to do and no one is a master of all things. I am choosing to focus on what I have done rather then what I haven’t. As for the “streak of good luck”, Seneca said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”. This means that if I hadn’t put in the work upfront I wouldn’t be able to seize the opportunities I have when they present.

The only imposter is the voice inside telling me I am not worthy and its time that voice shuts up. I’m making a commitment to myself to spend time each week reflecting on something I have accomplished and recognizing myself for the hard work I did to do it. Sometimes these accomplishments may be small but I will write them each down and when the imposter inside begins to creep back up I will have a quick reference of the evidence proving to myself that I am not a fraud, I am a badass!

What is something you have accomplished that you should give yourself more credit for? Comment below and let’s practice some praise with each other!

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