By Michelle Doerr, PPC Advanced Adler member
The concept of accepting your imperfect self as normal is difficult for most people. Many see “normal” as a magical, unattainable state, a place where people are perfect and happy— other people, not them. Yet it’s interesting that no one can really describe that magical place. Why? Because normal isn’t a fixed place and it’s not perfect. It is a place everyone experiences to different degrees. And I’ve found that it is a place you can visit more and more, a place that will make you happier. I’m working on it, and you can too.
This isn’t a conclusion I’ve come to on my own. I’m part of a group of amazing women who came together last year to study the individual psychology of Alfred Adler taught by John Reardon at Phoenix Process Consultants. Our group comes from all walks of life; art, science, medicine, journalism and business. We have various levels of education and experience. What we have in common is that our study of Adler’s psychology of social inclusion has shown us the path to summon courage and strength to handle our work and personal difficulties in a new, productive way. We have found that our struggles are common to everyone (we’re all normal!)
We consider ourselves para-professionals who spread the word that you can make your life happier, permanently, with the tools you already possess. We have learned that we’re all normal, but have times when we falter. Contentment is a matter of how we behave as we face our struggles. Yep, we all have those struggles.
I find this knowledge both comforting and terrifying. I am normal because I’ve overcome significant challenges in my life. At times, I’ve also behaved strangely as a result of mistaken beliefs that I developed early in life. Yep, you did that too. But I am learning to celebrate my resiliency, uncover my mistaken beliefs and make decisions that aren’t influenced by my outdated beliefs. And I am happier as a result!
“What is Normal?”
Our paraprofessional group developed a list of “What is Normal?” as a place to begin. We identified “normal” as a place of struggle; it’s normal to struggle. The belief that happiness is lack of struggle is foolish. Happiness is finding meaning in life, and to find meaning is to recover from struggle.
•Being free to be imperfect. No one is perfect.
•Willingness to struggle. We all struggle.
•Accepting and taking responsibility for choices.
•An openness to vulnerability.
•Being open to and giving constructive criticism (keyword—constructive).
•Both/and thinking (instead of either/or).
•Asking for help or counsel.
•Encouraging, not discouraging.
•Assuming everyone else is normal.
An Exercise in Normal
Here’s an exercise to help you understand that we all are very much normal and atypical. Divide a piece of paper into two columns. On the left column write the word “Normal.” On the right column, write “Problem behavior.” Now think of some ways you behave normally and write them in the left column. I go to work each day. I eat a healthy breakfast. I tell my family I love them. I give to charity. I keep my house clean. On the right side, write down the stuff that you complain about but don’t take action to fix. I often miss deadlines at work so I get in conflict with coworkers. I complain about my weight but continue to eat at the buffet or only exercise once per week. I snap at my teenage child for every small mistake even though I know it’s dividing us.
This exercise is meant for you to recognize that you have both, lots of both. Understand that you behave normally at times (or even have moments of excellence) and “abnormally” at times. The thing is, so does everyone else. The great thing is, you can increase your normal behaviors, and this will increase your happiness.
Identify. Plan. Act.
We’ve learned in my paraprofessional group that if we encourage good behavior in ourselves, we’ll be happier. We must also use what we already do well to move the bad behaviors around. Take a look at what you’ve written on the left-hand side of the paper and think about ways you can use that trait to improve something on the right. For instance:
•How can I use my ability to keep my house clean to improve my ability to manage deadlines at work? I put all of my deadlines on my calendar and then reached out to negotiate the deadlines I knew I couldn’t make. For the most part, my coworkers adjusted and I have a better sense of my priorities. I will set time each Monday to review and track progress on my deadlines.
•How can I use my ability to eat a healthy breakfast to improve my junk eating or overeating the rest of the day? We often eat at buffets for lunch so I will suggest another location or commit to walking during the lunch hour at least three times per week. Maybe even get those same coworkers to join you.
•How can I use my ability to tell my family I love them every day to work to become more patient with mistakes made by my child? I can change my snap judgments to something like “because I love you and want you to succeed, I want to help you correct your mistakes. How can I help you so the mistake doesn’t happen again?
A Continuous and Magical Process
Once you take small steps to change, you’ll gain the courage to take bigger steps. I continue to work toward making my life happier and am at peace knowing that I’m not alone in facing challenges and in struggling.
“I am not very creative,” I said once as our group was talking about writing this article. “That’s a little neurotic,” one of the other gals said. “What about those cute [creative holiday] ornaments you gave us in December?” We all laughed. I’d been busted and vowed to use my creativity toward this writing.
We’ve started to catch each other making these useless statements about ourselves and are starting to see how some of them really are counter-productive. We’re learning to claim our inferiorities and work to change and be happier.
Wouldn’t your life be a lot more magical if you did the same?