The trap of magical thinking and the power of one step

There is some excitement in making resolutions. There is a feeling of new beginning, of this time I will get this done, of I still have half a day before I have to start this but I have a plan etc. We start with energy, savouring the pleasure of opening a new journal, starting a new workout, walking a new path and, if we are real warriors, we get going and start adding up days, pages, kilometers nailing it with a new habit meant to make our lives better. Day one, day two … day ten … and … today I can’t really do this because there is something I need to be doing instead. I will do it tomorrow. Oh, man, I can’t today either, I have to entertain the kids. Oh and tomorrow I have to cook. Ugh, I would totally keep up if I could… . Before we know it … a day turned into a week, a month and one day we remember we had started something good way back when but fell off the wagon. This is when, ashamed and unenergised, we reach the crossroads between the trap of magical thinking and the power of one step.

I call it magical thinking because it pains me greatly to hear people say this is so OCD. But this is, in fact, a type of behavior that is found many times in OCD sufferers – something like, if I step on three identical pavement stones I will have good luck. The trap of thinking well, I missed so many days, I interrupted the habit, nothing I did means anything anymore and nothing new will. Or, well, this would have been useful and would have made a difference only if I had not stopped. I stopped therefore I completely messed it up and I am unredeemable, I should never start anything. And I grab another piece of cake, slouch more into the couch and hit next episode to continue the binge.

Early in my treatment for depression – the real one, not the ones involving herbal remedies, reciting the Our Father prayer twelve times while kneeling, or cold showers – my doctor showed me a graph.

That graph was the one piece of statistics I have ever seen that gave me the most hope. When my doctor showed me this graph, we were discussing the development of the illness in patients with depression and anxiety, as I was completely floored by a relapse I had not expected. To my surprise, the path to better days, as he showed me on the graph, included peaks and valleys, relapses and remissions. They were a given, they were not a maybe. But the two things that blew my mind were the fact that the progression line had an upward trajectory, even while involving the valleys and that each one of the latter was a tiny bit further away from the bottom, the completely dark pit I had started from. And, corny though it may sound, each path upward did start with one tiny dot in that direction.

When we reach the crossroads (this is not an if, it’s a when), let us not believe in the magical thinking of we blew it, it’ll never work anymore. Even though this magical thinking looks like chocolate cake and choosing the power of one step looks like broccoli soup. Let us choose to empower ourselves with one, single step, one less drink today, one cigarette dropped, one phrase written, one! Every single effort we make is one step further from the dark pit. Every single effort we make returns us to the fight a different, stronger human and gets us closer to the outcome we seek.

Photo by Christopher Sardegna on Unsplash

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