This year, Blue Monday* – reportedly the most depressing day of the year – occurs on 16 January. But for a moment, I’m not thinking about why, for so many people, things might get so rotten early in the year. In fact, I’m thinking back to a workshop I ran for therapists who came a from wide variety of theoretical backgrounds, and the theoretical approach I’m particularly reminded of as I write this blog is Winnicott’s ‘good enough mother’.**
Beyond the technical details of theory, there is something almost magical about the simple phrase ‘good enough mother’ – especially if seen as a contrast to the idea of the ‘perfect mother’. I often find the same sort of clarity when I examine the word ‘acceptance’, because both the idea of ‘good enough’ and ‘acceptance’ offer us the chance of freedom or liberation from expectation.
As Blue Monday approaches, imagine how quickly you could realign some of the simple hurdles you have already erected in 2017 if you begin to use the ideas of being ‘good enough’ or ‘acceptance’ rather than seeking unobtainable standards.
Reportedly, more than 30 per cent of people will have broken their New Year’s resolutions by the end of the second week of January. So, I wonder how useful the concepts of ‘good enough’ or ‘acceptance’ might be in helping people to continue with the positive changes commonly set around 1 January each year.
Imagine your resolution is to run regularly. At a packed party on 31 December you announced enthusiastically and publically at the stroke of midnight that you’d run a marathon before the end of 2017. On 14 January, as you put on your running shoes and realise how dark and cold it is outside, you notice your determination and enthusiasm shrinking. Despite wanting to save face, you throw in the towel and return to your sofa – crisps and beer in hand. At some point later, you beat yourself up for being weak-willed or lacking commitment.
But what if you take the option to reframe? Drawing from the ‘good enough’ idea, how would it be if you simply decide that enjoying a bit of running could be good enough? In the following days and weeks, you might discover that 1 kilometre turns into 2km, then 5km, then 10km. It turns out that you can accept where you find yourself right here and now and allow your ability to grow naturally, rather than demand of yourself that you adhere to the unrealistic goal you first chose.
Similarly, if you set yourself the task of losing weight – a popular New Year’s resolution – then be realistic. Don’t set your goal at a huge weight loss in an impossible period of time. At least at first, just try to lose something each week – which is actually going to be ‘good enough’ until you have firmly built the habit. If you focus on the small, the sizeable will quickly grow from it. You will then have a much better chance of embedding the change in your life long term; it will become achievable and, therefore, much more likely to improve, rather than knock, your self-esteem.
As you begin to succeed, come from your continued acceptance of the here-and-now ‘good enough’ perspective. This will undoubtedly create chances for you to grow more, but without that demanding self-expectation.
Let me wish you a happy, ‘accepting’ and ‘good enough’ 2017!
*The concept of Blue Monday, the point at which we are supposedly at our most melancholy, was first proposed by psychologist Dr Cliff Arnall as part of a 2005 press release from holiday company Sky Travel. It is claimed that the date was calculated using the equation: [W+(D-d)]xTQ/MxNA – W is weather, D is debt, d monthly salary, T time since Christmas, Q time since failure of attempt to give something up, M low motivational level and NA the need to take action. See: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/blue-monday-the-science-behind-the-most-miserable-day-of-the-year-a6816926.html
**Donald Winnicott (1896–1971), a British paediatrician and child psychoanalyst, was the original proposer of the ‘good enough mother’.
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