The Happiness Trap – Week 7 – SMART Goals (ugh)

So I set (and meet) goals all the time. This week the Happiness Trap wanted me to think about SMART goals, and I (and every other corporate employee in America collectively) cringed.

For those who don’t know, SMART goals (“Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely”) are how your company decides you’re not good enough to get a raise. If you meet all of your SMART goals, you are rated “achieved expectations” and get no raise or bonus. You see – in order to make sure nobody gets raises or bonuses, they changed the criteria, so that just “is really great at your job” isn’t enough, and now neither is “is really great at your job and also achieves related non-job electives”. You have to be really super amazingly awesometastic and probably save your company millions of dollars to rank “exceeds expectations” on anything, and often companies literally will not let bosses give out that rating at all. Because they don’t want to give you a raise or a bonus.

So when my therapy/life-skills/etc program starts talking about SMART goals, I start telling the program to go fuck itself.

But in the interest of completing the program, I decided to listen to the videos at least, and it turns out that Dr. Russ Harris did some creative modification to the acronym, and it’s a little less horrible.

From an ACT perspective, a SMART goal instead is Specific, Motivated by Values, Adaptable, Realistic, and Timely. So we kept “be specific” and “have a time frame” and threw out all the rest of it, which frankly makes this really confusing from a re-learn the thing standpoint, but also I think I can work with this?

Because if my goal setting is based on my values, adapts to my life situation, and has to be realistic for me and where I am – that all just sounds like good sense with making goals, and doesn’t sound like I need to make goals like “lose X number of pounds” or “be able to meditate for one hour” in order for it to be fucking Measurable. 

Anyway. I did the exercises, and came up with a goal for myself, set specifically by my life domain of spirituality, and motivated by my value of pursuing knowledge and personal growth, that I would read for at least 20 minutes every night before bed (if not longer), something that was nourishing to my spirit.

That’s a specific action, within a specific time frame, it’s motivated by values, I can adapt it as necessary (I don’t have to be reading heavy lifting, I can read a lighthearted book, or even reread a book I know I love), and that’s usually time I would spend dicking around on my phone, so I’m replacing something that’s not necessarily helpful with something that will be more in line with what I want to do.

It’ll also help me get through the backlist of books I have waiting on me!

I still kind of hate formalized goal setting, and as someone who usually gets a lot done, I don’t know how much I’ll use this in the future, but for a one week exercise and an attempt to build a better before-bed habit, I’m fine with it. 

I really do wish he’d chosen another acronym though. As it is, having two different systems using SMART goals just means people are going to misunderstand him when he talks about them in a therapy context, especially people in the US in the corporate world, and it’s going to make them hostile to his messaging. 

CAT NEWS DAILY – May 16

Max and Charlie both cooperated for the administration of the good drugs this morning (which is amazing – normally I can’t medicate Charlie and he’d just have to grin and bear it). Max also got an anti-inflammatory (by which point Charlie had already fled to the depths of the closet, so he did not get one). 

I have witnessed both cats eating today, both wet and dry food. They really seem to like the new special Kidney Support diet food, which is good, because it turns out the dry food I’d been feeding previously was actually pretty high in some of the minerals that can make Chronic Kidney Disease worse. I’ll be pitching the old food, and ordering a bigger bag of the new. Ideally Charlie will continue to eat the wet food primarily, since he also gets urinary crystals and needs the extra fluids. 

Max has been in my lap, asking for pets and chin scritches, even though he’s very loopy. We have resumed purring, but not jumping up on things (too dizzy), so I’ve moved the water fountain down to the floor so they can drink.

I need to go to OfficeThing and scan in the RX for Max’s new food and the RX for the sub-q fluid bags, which I will need to figure out how to order and then how to administer (it’s not hard, they showed me at the vet, I just need something to hang the IV bag fluid from).

My leg is VERY asleep, but I don’t want to dump Max on the floor, so I am grinning and bearing it.

Vet Update: Max and Charlie, May 2019

So Max and Charlie haven’t been to the vet since Dec 2017, and at that time I was broke and couldn’t afford to schedule them for the teeth cleaning that the vet recommended for both of them. Also at that time, Max’s bloodwork came back with his kidney function as “slightly out of normal” – which the vet said wasn’t something to panic about, but was probably the early stages of kidney failure for him.

Today I took them both in (I wish they gave me a volume discount) to get annual exams, bloodwork, and dental cleanings. Max also needed a chest x-ray to see if the histoplasmosis in his lungs was still controlled.

I just got off the phone with the vet, and she had good news and bad news.

I don’t always eat kibble…

Charlie: his bloodwork looks perfect, health looks perfect, had three teeth that were questionable, but they were small teeth up front, so they’ve been removed. He now only has one lower canine, so he’ll be lopsided. He’ll need pain meds for 3-4 days, and be good to go. Charlie is back in his cat carrier already, because he is ANGRY AF.

Charlie can’t go to the vet without being sedated, so ANGRY AF is expected. He’ll be pissy with me for a few days, but otherwise I’m not too worried about him.

OHAI

Max: Histoplasmosis in his lungs has cleared up a bunch (yay), but is still showing on the X-ray in places. Kidney function has gone from “slightly out of normal” to “chronic kidney disease”, and he’ll be going on special vet-ordered kibble (see: $$$$$) and getting sub-cutaneous fluids once a week for the next three months, and then we have to check him again. If he’s improved, he’ll move to bloodwork and vet checks every 6 months, if not… well. If not we’ll figure out what to do in three months. He’s in good bodily condition (13 lbs even), healthy otherwise, and has great quality of life right now, but he’s definitely on borrowed time at this point. Mostly it’s “supportive care” for his kidneys and continuing the histoplasmosis treatment (and knowing that he could have easily died from that in 2015).

Max had only one tooth that was questionable, and shouldn’t need pain meds after today. Because he’s immunocompromised, he’s got a 2 week antibiotic shot to keep him from getting any infections. Max is recovering on IV fluids, and I get to learn how to give him sub-q fluids from the vet when I go pick them both up at 4 today.

I’m trying to be positive, because so much of this IS positive, but it’s going to get expensive around here for all this vet care and special food and ordering the fluids and needles to give him the fluids. Get to learn some new things when I go back, and hopefully in three months he’ll have gotten his kidney function a little better supported. I can feed him expensive kibble, and I can do sub-q fluids, but Exam+Bloodwork every three months is going to get expensive, especially if there’s not much we can do for him.

Mostly I’m also just really glad I’m bringing both cats home today. Anaesthesia on 13 year old cats is always risky, and I’m glad they both did well. I think they both will get some tuna as a treat tonight. 

Social Media Slime

I have been thinking about social media a lot lately. About how it’s not what it was in the early days – about how we’re all now just commodities trading our information for advertising. How all of these “free” services we use like Facebook and Twitter are really places where WE are the product being sold to advertising and marketing and data manipulation companies. I don’t watch TV, and I have ad-free YouTube, but the advertising is still there.

Like slime, all over all of our connections and conversations. There is still some good I think, on the internet, but social media reminds me more and more of the Frank Zappa song “I am the Slime”. (Which, by the way, I can quote in its entirety, having memorized it as a child. I have no idea why I memorized THIS song, but I can still quote it.)

I am gross and perverted
I’m obsessed ‘n deranged
I have existed for years
But very little has changed

I’m the tool of the Government
And industry too
For I am destined to rule
And regulate you

I may be vile and pernicious
But you can’t look away
I make you think I’m delicious
With the stuff that I say

I’m the best you can get
Have you guessed me yet?
I’m the slime oozin’ out
From your TV set

You will obey me while I lead you
And eat the garbage that I feed you
Until the day that we don’t need you
Don’t go for help . . . no one will heed you

Your mind is totally controlled
It has been stuffed into my mold
And you will do as you are told
Until the rights to you are sold

That’s right, folks . . .
Don’t touch that dial

I’m pretty sure at this point the rights to all of us have long been sold. And yet… I still check twitter whenever I have downtime. I still post and curate on Facebook, and my grove advertises there. I page through Instagram before bed, looking at pretty pictures of fat activists, plus size yogi/nis, cosplayers, witches, pagans, and SCA folks. 

Slime, indeed. 

Therapy in 2019

My therapy appointment this week consisted of talking about:

  • how fucked we are by climate change
  • how infuriating it is that we’ve known that this was coming since the 70’s and nobody did anything about it except kick the can down the road until we’re so fucked that we can’t stop
  • how infuriating it is that the world wants to say “turn up your AC and recycle” as if 90% of carbon emissions didn’t come from big businesses and not personal consumption
  • how fucked the news and political climate is
  • how it’s impossible to plan for anything because nothing is normal right now
  • how powerless we are to make any kind of change
  • how paralyzing it is to be in a position where your life and livelihood are in danger and you have only the barest hint of influence as to whether or not you can continue to live
  • what I will do when the American economy collapses enough that I can no longer get my psych meds that keep my mood stable enough for me to be able to hold down a job
  • how do we live our values in a way that is consistent with our higher selves when we are essentially complicit in so much abject horror – even if we are “doing the right things” and writing our congresscritters and calling and phone banking
  • how long it will take for the forced-birth movement to take hold in Texas, and whether I’ll be able to get another IUD when I turn 44 or if I’ll have to hope I’m living somewhere else
  • that maybe my persistent suicidal ideation and anxiety issues are because human brains aren’t designed to deal with this level of meta-crisis that’s been steadily increasing

ACT and thinking about Values

So for the last six weeks or so I’ve been working through the ACT introductory program by Russ Harris called The Happiness Trap (note that it’s on sale right now, so if you’ve wanted to do this program, now’s a good time to snap it up). It’s a purchase that allows you six months access to all of the video content, but it’s designed to be an 8 week course – 8 modules that lead you through the basics of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. It also comes with large swaths of downloadable PDFs and .mp3 files that you can continue to use even after your six months of access to the video format has expired.

What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy? Here, from the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science:

Developed within a coherent theoretical and philosophical framework, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a unique empirically based psychological intervention that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies, together with commitment and behavior change strategies, to increase psychological flexibility. Psychological flexibility means contacting the present moment fully as a conscious human being, and based on what the situation affords, changing or persisting in behavior in the service of chosen values.

In short, it’s a new form of therapy that stems out of other types of CBT that focuses on mindfulness, acceptance, and defining and acting in ways that reflect your values instead of working extensively on ‘retraining your mind’ or ‘changing your thoughts’.

I was intrigued by this when it was introduced to me by a friend (who is an ACT trained psychotherapist doing a psychology doctorate), and sought out resources to get some additional “boost” because traditional CBT and talk therapy hadn’t done well for me in terms of helping me deal with specifically my anxiety. I do well most of the time at managing my bipolar, but my PTSD and anxiety have run me ragged for the last two years and I was tired of it.

So I enrolled in the course – which is not really therapy? It’s certainly not geared towards someone as mentally ill as I am (and it often is very negative about psych meds, which I find really to be the biggest disappointment and detractor from the program), but I figured I could learn something and so I’ve worked through the first five modules over the last six weeks.

Modules 1-4 worked on grounding, centering, and detaching from unhelpful (not negative, but unhelpful) thoughts. It introduced the idea of the choice point – a point where you’re making decisions that either lead you towards the life you want (towards moves) or away from it (away moves) and helped contextualize even small decisions in light of living a better life even if you’re still having a lot of unhelpful thoughts. This was useful, but harder for me – but the practice has been helpful, especially the idea of “anchoring” – which is a grounding and centering practice – you’d think with all my years of doing energy work I’d have come across this before, but I really like it. 

Anyway, module 5 introduced Values – the idea that each of us has values that we want to cultivate in our lives. Not goals – things that we accomplish – but actual values that define who we are and how we want to act. I’ve done a lot of work with this in my ADF work and because it’s hard not to take a look at what you value and who you want to be when you go through a massive life upheaval like a divorce, but I still found it valuable (hur hur) as the exercises helped me put my values into basically four buckets:

  • Kindness/Compassion/Lovingkindness – I value being kind and compassionate. I value self-care, and care of others. I value listening and asking questions and being in support of others, as well as being and living in support of my own needs. 
  • Honesty/Integrity/Right Relationship – I value being trustworthy and fair, and living with integrity. I strive to remove my own intrinsic biases and to always live with a strong relationship to my own truth.
  • Ambition/Pursuit of Knowledge/Pursuit of Growth – I value always striving to be better, to know and do more, to grow and change and adapt. I especially value learning new things.
  • Spirituality/Animism/Right Relationship – I value my spiritual life, and moving through the world as a spiritually aware person, who lives in right relationship to the world and to the Spirits. I value the world – persons both human and non human. 

Going through the exercises helped me realize just how much I’m already doing in my life that lets me express those values. It also surprised me that – though fitness and physical health values were shown as exemplars – my physical health didn’t show up at all, except as the value of self-care. I take that as a huge step – that I didn’t have a value of “fitness” – not that fitness isn’t important, but I especially didn’t think in the context of the questions asked (things like “when you are 80, what will you wish you had done more of) that I was going to think “I wish I’d spent more time going to the gym” or whatever. Like – I adore my yoga practice, and I go as often as I can, because it’s good for me physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. It fits with many of my values. 

Anyway, it was an interesting set of exercises, and I’m finding that it stuck with me enough that I wanted to talk to my mentor at work about it. Of course, she’s out of the office for two weeks, but I still sent her an email (giving her a bit of context) about how we could work on ways for me to live out these values – especially my value on ambition and the pursuit of knowledge and expertise – in the context of my job.

In short, Module 5 was really profound, even though it wasn’t totally new information for me, and I highly recommend The Happiness Trap for people who want to live a more examined life, or who are struggling with finding ways to live their best life in the face of depression, anxiety, or other negative thought patterns that disrupt their choices. It’s built on the previous weeks very nicely, but I still use the choice point ALL THE TIME – I don’t usually actually write one down, but as I sit at my desk, I think to myself “okay, so I’m at a choice point where my brain is telling me I can’t focus or can’t move forward or don’t know what to do. Thanks brain, I know you’re looking out for me. Right now I want to move towards (X thing) – what’s the smallest step I can take in that direction”. And then I try to do that smallest step. Sometimes it’s “Go take your meds that you forgot to take at lunch”. Sometimes it’s “open the spreadsheet and set up the data so that you can begin to analyse it”. Sometimes it’s “Pull up all of the accounts in SalesForce so you can at least see if they’re there to start the process”. 

And I often find that taking a small step leads to other small steps, and that’s led me to getting more done, in spite or (or despite) the anxiety that is still lingering and still hanging around and tugging at my brain.

So that’s what I’ve been up to, alongside my weekly talk therapy sessions (which have been ACT focused as well, but not following a specific program, as well as focusing on bodywork as a healing modality for PTSD… but that’s a whole nother blog post). I’ll do a full review of The Happiness Trap once I’ve finished the program – I may go through the modules twice before I decide to be “done”, but so far I’m really appreciating the work I’ve done with it.

I will say though – you need to be able to set aside about 90mins to two hours each week for the modules if you plan on actually working through the exercises. I do it all in one sitting (usually on Monday night), but it’s VERY easy to break each week into smaller chunks – they’re already split up into modules that can be done independently. 

Good luck, and happy thinking!