January 2021 — I recall attaining a major goal and the urge to run into the street screaming and flailing my arms. Fortunately, reality tapped me on the shoulder immediately. Achievement feels good and even more so when someone acknowledges our effort. Recognition gives us the energy and enthusiasm of boosted self-confidence for the next step of the journey. And away we go, having lunged into our goal or milestone, we are off to the next without so much as checking to see if our shoelaces are still tied. Over time we wear down, feeling overwhelmed, burnt out, and ineffective. The “new and exciting” activities of going after our vision become tedious chores. We ask ourselves, “Why am I doing this? It’s all so pointless. Nobody else will even care.” Mistakes, inevitable though they are, become shrouds of failure. When we live with one or more mental health diagnoses, both the pleasant and the unpleasant of successful living may bat us back and forth like a ping pong ball. One way to help ease the anxiety and balance our experiences is self-celebration.
Self-celebration gets you off the gerbil wheel for a while. You exhale the tension of focused striving. You catch your breath and let it come naturally. You inhale the next breath for strength to grab the baton and begin the next leg of the journey. With that new, raw energy comes increased belief in yourself and what you are setting out to do. When you celebrate yourself—who you are, what you have endured, your achievements, and what you have overcome—you make a profound statement to yourself that you are valuable unconditionally because of your existence. Celebration sets you up for an amazing range of feelings and physical responses. Joy. Delight. Awe. Wonder. Giggles. Laughter. Grins. Smirks. Amusement. And even eye rolling. People who are particularly body-sensitive may feel their body “laughing or singing, or other sensations.”
Self-celebration makes you your Number One Fan. You are a priceless synergy of traits, skills, and wisdom. Your unique quirkiness makes you who you are. You enrich the world with all you do. When you are joyful, you infuse your life with magnetic cheer, and you spread it to those around you. Joy is free. Joy is contagious. Joy is an expression of profound gratitude. Abilities are common in three forms: innate, learned through deliberate study, and acquired through experience—think of the wisdom and insight you have gained in the School of Life. Ironically, your most emotionally painful experiences contain the richest wisdom. They illuminate your courage, resourcefulness, and resilience, Celebrate them.
Early on in self-celebration you may worry about sounding arrogant and unappreciative. You may have learned, as I did, at a young age bragging is a bad practice to start, so bad you could get “the look” or dispatched upstairs to clean your room. However, when you embark on a new endeavor which requires the approval of others, you receive a set of “have tos. ”You have to sell yourself. You have to toot your own horn. You have to convince ‘them’ you are the best.” These instructions, while meant to encourage you, can confuse you about when you can be proud of yourself and when it is not a good idea.
When sharing your good news invite others in by leading with your feelings, such as, “I have great news to share with you,” or “I am so happy. I can hardly wait to tell you…” or “I did it! I finally made it. ”Share the spotlight if someone helped you. Consider the people you trust. You may need to share with different people in a revved up or subdued manner. If your sister is your number one fan, pour on the exuberance. If your neighbor frowns on everything you do, approach sharing the news with a little caution, if telling the person is necessary.
So, what do you do? First, remember you are the ONLY person with you 24/7. So, you are the only person who truly knows the intensity of your efforts. Waiting for someone else to congratulate you may take a long time, or not come at all. While this can be hurtful, you can celebrate yourself and even invite others to join you. Get ready for self-celebration by engaging a conscious awareness of activities you enjoy and/or do well and your achievements. I have a running list of my accomplishments to which I add as needed. The notebook pages are made from stone paper—that’s right, paper made from stone! I titled the notebook “Etched in Stone” to help me remember my ability to contribute to my dreams and to the world in which I live. Self-celebration is a gift to yourself you can enjoy regardless of the presence of others.
Sometimes, you may have to shut down the critical voices yammering at you whether the person(s) is(are) sitting in the same room with you or the voice is from a memory. If self-celebration is daunting for you, talk to someone you trust—therapist, primary care provider, religious leader, spiritual director, friend, or family member. Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center is here for you. Clinicians offering a vast array of support and guidance welcome you. To begin your journey toward healing, click here. See my article, “How To Choose A Therapist” (August, 2020)
I usually emphasize that a fancy journal is unnecessary. For self-celebration, however, I encourage you to find a journal that makes you smile and want to snuggle or that makes you feel powerful. It does not matter if you purchase your journal at a dollar store or at a bookstore in the mall. Or, if you are crafty, create a journal and embellish the cover and give your journal a name or title. The importance is in how the journal makes you feel each time you write. Stock up on colorful ink pens, pencils, and highlighters, and glitter. Use whatever color fits your mood at the time or color-code your entries.
Several years ago, I bought a charming journal based entirely on its visual appeal: a top-down image of a dragonfly set against a multi-color background. The nubby-textured brown-gray cover welcomed the dragonfly in without swallowing it. I liked the satiny feel of the muted green-grey pages, with a dragonfly in an upper corner of each page, perfect for brown ink. If you have not tried brown ink, I encourage you to do so. The journal lay in a drawer with other to-be-used-one-of-these-days companions while I waited for the “perfect” theme, that moment of worthiness of such a delightful book.
On June 9, 2020, I wrote the first entry: to dedicate my Dragonfly Journal to my emotional health and evolution. I claimed my dignity as a human being, proud of my abilities, innate as well as learned. I declared my intention to write only good stuff—Gifts of the Day, affirmations, mantras. Envision gratitude on steroids with lots of friends. All entries are positive words. Such as, “I safely arrived to and from all my destinations today,” rather than, “I didn’t have any traffic or shopping problems.” This was a bit tricky at first. The exercise helped me redefine my experiences and self-messages. I had to create a new vocabulary.
Here are some tips for Celebrating Wonderful You every day.
- Use your celebration journal ONLY for the good stuff—unexpected acts of generosity, great parking spaces, getting home fifteen minutes before the thunderstorm rumbled overhead, a medical appointment with good news. Use your regular journal for working through experiences, problem-solving, and exploring your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
- Write a list of everything you do well or love doing—from “I like the way I fold bath towels to I am an accomplished, respected astrophysicist with twenty years of experience”. Or, perhaps, you were present for a friend or completed an intense training. Be sure to number them so you can see the magnitude of your achievements, in quality as well as quantity.
- Pause at least ten seconds between each item—set a timer if necessary—and sink into the pleasure of the moment.
- Write just enough description that you will fully recall the experience when you reread the entry.
- Each day, write at least one entry that expresses a minimum of five Gifts of the Day–more powerful than “Things I’m grateful for.” You will have so many Gifts on some days, remembering them all will be a challenge. That’s a good thing, a very good thing. Carry a small notebook with you always.
- Use your social media or videoconferencing platform if you deem it appropriate.
- If you have a videoconferencing account open a meeting and host a one-on-one session with yourself, with or without the video feature on.
- Celebrate yourself as often as you want, anytime, anywhere. You do not have to say a word out loud, but I encourage you to do so. Hearing praise directed at you in your own voice can be quite powerful. Record it on your phone or computer and replay it whenever you need a boost
- Celebrate your achievement repeatedly for as long as you like—just a smile is a celebration, an affirmation, a statement of enjoyment, about yourself. Sometimes, an inner smile is all you need.
- Apply the wisdom of reaching your goal to the rest of your life.
- Revisit your entries when you need a boost of confidence and say, “Wow, I rock!”
We continually seek meaning and fulfillment from our experiences. The achieving can sometimes overshadow the achievement. When we take time to be mindful and appreciative of the journey on our way to the destination, we invite meaning and fulfillment into the doing, which slows down the frenetic pace and sets us on a path of discovery as we achieve. In this respect, the journey is the goal as much as the destination. We do not have to be shy or embarrassed about who we are and what we do to live our life in fullness and contribute to the world in which we live, whatever that looks like for each of us.
Achieve. Enjoy. Celebrate. Repeat.