If you ever saw the classic 1987 movie ‘The Princess Bride’, you probably remember Vizzini as the short Sicilian man whose plots to kidnap the princess were disrupted by the ‘inconceivable’. In his last scene, as he engages the Man in Black in a battle of wits, he tells Wesley that he fell victim to a classic blunder, “The most famous of which is ‘never get involved in a land war in Asia.'” Although you should ‘Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line’, Vizzini was being honest about land wars in Asia, with the lesson being that without inexhaustible resources, you can’t fight on all fronts.
This can also be said of our fights for emotional and mental health. It is often the case that when we engage one issue, over time we notice that other issues arise. For instance, when we begin working on changing some sort of addictive behavior- be it the overuse of drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping, food- we typically end up losing momentum on other issues we’re dealing with, such as parenting, anxiety, work, romance, etc. The key to staying engaged while ‘fighting’ on various fronts has to do with your resources. If you only increase your responsibility as you engage an issue, without increasing your resources to coincide, chances are you won’t get the change you desire. Think of it this way:
Responsibility + Resources = Change.
Below are some tips to help you engage issues in as healthy a way as possible, so that you won’t find yourself just replacing one issue with another.
1. Community – Quite possibly the most essential resource to have while engaging an issue is a supportive group around you. This may be family, friends, church, co-workers, a 12-step program, or group therapy. The point is, you need some people you trust and who know your struggle to stay engaged in the ‘fight’ with you. This may involve calling certain people on a daily basis, meeting for meals or coffee, consistent emails or texts, or going to frequent group meetings. You need some ‘truth-tellers’ that can speak honesty into your situation. I cannot overstate how essential being connected to others is for the longevity of your emotional health.
2. Individual Care – Although it’s great to have peers who can help you stay engaged, it’s also important to have those who can lead you through your particular issue. Often, this can look like a therapist, coach, pastor, or even a program. I always envision working on hard issues as analogous to being lost in the woods. Just having a group behind you and with you isn’t going to suffice. Rather, you need someone who knows those woods (that issue) and who can lead you out to where you want to be. As a side note, just having someone who will give you a bunch of answers isn’t good enough, after all, what good is a map when you don’t know where you are.
3. Your Physical Body – Let me first state that I’m not a health nut. I love a bowl of ice cream more than most. At the same time, I have first hand experience of how getting physically in shape impacts my emotional health. There is a great sense that the two go hand in hand. If I’m not emotionally healthy, I most likely won’t be physically healthy – just as if I’m not physically healthy, I most likely won’t be emotionally healthy. I would encourage you to think through a few small adjustments to make to your physical health as you engage an emotional issue, such as daily walks, cutting back on certain foods, increasing fruit and vegetable intake, better sleep, or changing soft drinks to water. The greatest tool you have is your self, so it makes sense to try and manage it for the most efficient use.
4. Prayer & Meditation – This is cornerstone to any 12-step program. Simply put, you may not ever be able to gain balance in life, but you can become centered. Every morning I start with a simple meditation and prayer. This prompts me to remember my need to be connected to a source greater than myself. If you think about working a 12-step program, some good resources for this are ‘24 Hours a Day‘ or ‘Daily Reflections‘.
5. One Day at a Time – It’s easy to say ‘Don’t get overwhelmed’, and it’s an entirely other thing to try and not do so. Above all, remember that as you engage an issue all you have to do is engage it for that day. Jesus spoke to this is Matthew 6:34, ‘Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.’ Take it one day at a time, one hour at a time, or even one moment at a time. It is impossible for anyone to try and engage an issue in the present while they put all their thoughts and energies into changing the issue in their past or future.
While this list is not exhaustive, I hope it is helpful. When you take responsibility to engage an issue, make sure you increase your resources as well, so that you don’t end up merely replacing one issue for another.