Doing the Work: Not Just for the New Year

It’s the first Monday of the new year and the end of last week was full of promises. Were you ready? For the onslaught of New Year’s Eve posts, vowing to change, to improve, to pick up better habits? Everyone is full of motivation and drunk off the “New year, new you” mentality. But what do we know about gym memberships a few months after New Year’s?


A large number of then are no longer in use. Many people can’t keep up with the intense and sometimes unachievable goals they’ve set. That’s because we put so much pressure on immediate change and instant gratification. We set goals as if they were a simple list of errands and begin climbs towards them that are unsustainable. We imagine there will be no obstacles to overcome, we imagine it will be as easy as deciding to do it.


The new year should not be about radical change. It should be about a slow but steady shift, a process, an opportunity for growth. But most importantly, it should be about ongoing commitment and continued determination. Sudden change because of an arbitrary day on a calendar will not stick but a determined and committed path, despite obstacles, despite hurdles, will lead us where we want to go.


I’m often asked what “doing the work” means. This is it. This is what it means. Growth, learning, commitment, awareness, love, empathy. That is the work. It may sound overly simple but in the end, those are the things to aspire too and the change we can effect in our lives.


Many people ask me about “the work” with regard to mental illness but it can apply to anyone’s life. Here are some of the way to “do the work” and what is important when managing our mental health, whether we have a diagnosis or not.


Practice mindfulness:

Be present. Concentrate on the moment to help you manage your reactions and be more effective, as well as to truly enjoy, absorb and benefit.


Practice gratitude:

Express it to those in your life when appropriate. Find gratitude for yourself, for what you are capable of, for your healthy and body, for the positive in who you are.


Find self-awareness:

Learn your unhealthy and ineffective behaviours so you can understand what they are and how they came about. It is very important to understand what emotions these behaviours bring up and what need they fulfill. Reflect on what has caused you hurt or affected your personality and temperament to create these behaviours.


Unlearn these behaviours:

Create new pathways in your brain by directing your reactions and thoughts towards what is healthy, effective and makes you happy. This will take effort and determination at first but will become easier with practice until it becomes natural. The types of behaviours and thoughts that should be worked on can be the following:


· Manipulative behaviours: Manipulation can be an unhealthy way to ask for a need to be filled that is not necessarily done out of malicious intent. Reflect in the moments when this behaviour comes up on what need you are requiring to fill and find a healthier way to communicate this need.

· Anger: Learn what methods help you manage it best, whether it be taking space, talking to someone outside the situation, journaling. It can mean finding out what is causing the anger and working on that connection.

· Intolerant and racist thoughts and actions: Read, listen and educate yourself on how you actions and lifestyle may affect others, even if there is no ill-intent. Unlearn the system you live within that has caused these tendencies. Listen more than you talk to the people you are affecting.

· Medication Compliance: if you do have a diagnosis and are on medication ensure to be compliant with your doses and to focus on you diet as well.


If what you’re doing feels difficult, if it’s exhausting, if you’re confronting parts of yourself that are uncomfortable or scary, if you often want to throw in the towel, then you are doing the work. Keep going, keep pushing, you won’t regret it.

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© 2020 Valéry Brosseau, Toronto, Ontario

Which stands on the traditional territory of the Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee, and Anishinabek Nations, and the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation.