The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
So far, in this informal series about the principles of change navigation, we've walked through the first three principles, which are:
Which brings us to Principle 4: The Clint Eastwood Principle of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
Photo by Alberto Bigoni on Unsplash
An epic Spaghetti Western film from 1966 has wormed its way into standard recovery jargon - not at all for the plotline, but because of its title.
Clint Eastwood starred in the third and final installment of the Dollars Trilogy, directed by Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is credited with firmly entrenching Clint Eastwood into super-stardom in Hollywood.
The film's title has also become a standard for how those of us who practice the 12 steps of recovery should approach our "fearless and searching moral inventories" of Step 4.
Too often, Step 4 becomes a laundry list of the bad things we've done - and the ugly things that have happened to us.
Invoking the name of this Spaghetti Western reminds us to list the good in our lives as well.
Whether or not you're a practitioner of recovery, the good, the bad, and the ugly is a solid formula for learning about yourself, your relationships to others, and to the world.
In fact, it's an excellent method for evaluating your self-talk.
What is it that you're saying to yourself in your own head or out loud when no one's around?
What are you saying to others about yourself?
My most frequently declared self-deprecating line is, "I'm terrible at math."
And I am.
But there's a better way of saying so - and only when I must.
When there's minor math to be done in a group setting, what's wrong with me taking out my phone and saying, "If you'll give me those numbers again, I'll see if my calculator and I can't come up with a solution."
See what I mean?
Because saying, "I'm terrible at math!" gives me no room to demonstrate to myself that I am useful in lots of other ways.
Here's the thing about what happens when we begin using the Clint Eastwood formula of telling ourselves the truth about us and our lives - the ugly and the bad (which are pretty easy most of the time, right?) AND the good.
We begin to separate truth from lies.
The lies we tell ourselves.
The lies others have told us over and over that we have begun to believe.
Even the lies we've believed about the world and the people around us.
When we take a close look at the bad, the ugly, and the good, we begin to untangle facts, feelings, and thoughts.
We begin to tell ourselves the truth about our fears, our hurts, the good things we've done, and the gifts we've been given.
So what's the best way to start untangling lies from truth, facts from feelings, and thoughts from actions?
Start keeping a journal.
Grab a notebook or the Notes app on your phone.
You can write with a fancy pen, dictate a few thoughts into a device, or use your daily planner to simply jot down a few things about what's in your head.
The idea is to capture the emotion or the thought, put some distance between you and the thought, and then evaluate it later.
There are as many ways to keep a journal as there are humans keeping journals.
Last summer, I produced a series of podcast interviews with people who keep journals.
One of my favorites is with productivity expert Mike Vardy.
Mike spends just a few minutes a day capturing photos and dictating a quick line or two. Then he blocks out some time every couple of weeks to dig into those entries and make adjustments based on what he sees and hears about his "two weeks younger self."
I told you there are a ton of ways to log your thoughts and feelings.
The important thing is to actually do it.
The problem is rarely time.
Most of the time, we're avoiding free moments because we don't want to address our thoughts and feelings.
It's easier to scroll through our social media feeds aghast at the things other people say or do than to confront the good, the bad, and the ugly of our own actions.
No one can stick you with an IV and drip the desire to change in your veins.
It's just not possible.
In his book Tiny Habits, BJ Fogg addresses the reality that motivation is fickle.
He teaches habit design that helps us build new habits no matter where our motivation lies in the moment of decision.
This principle of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is where it's really easy to walk away from the process of getting better at navigating change.
Embracing this principle requires courage - to change the things we can.
I can't change you.
I have enough trouble day to day changing me in the ways I want to go.
Only you can change you.
Perhaps you don't have the time to listen to the interviews about how people journal.
Here's a journaling prompt that helped me change the chemistry in my head so that anxiety stopped ruling my world.
I had some help from a solid medical and mental health team, in addition to some prescriptions for awhile.
But this daily 3- to 4-minute habit pulled everything together for me.
Thanks to John Baker at Saddleback Church for the teaching.
How to do a HEART Check
It's pretty simple.
Every afternoon - at my most stressful time of day - I'd ask myself five questions.
I had an action plan for what to do in each of the following instances:
(It's been a while, but it went something like this)
- If I said yes to 2 questions: Deep breaths, prayer
- If I said yes to 3 questions: add text my accountability group to the previous steps
- If I said yes to 4 questions: take a walk and call my sponsor
And if I said yes to 2 to 4 questions for a few days in a row, that was a warning sign that my emotional wellbeing was headed in the wrong direction.
That meant it was time to set a meeting with my sponsor or therapist to try to figure out what was triggering me externally or internally.
Eventually, I realized that I was - consistently - only saying yes to one or two questions occasionally.
Then my job became much less stressful because my position was eliminated.
In the three years since I began working for myself, I've utilized the HEART Check method for a week or so at a time when I sense my anxiety levels are creeping up (restlessness, lack of sleep, lethargy, or outbursts of anger are among my warning signs).
For me, this system was instrumental (along with drugs, counseling, and working the 12 steps of recovery) in breaking the cycle of overloaded cortisol levels because:
- I was forced to stop and take account of how I felt in five areas.
- I had made a commitment to my accountability team, to be honest with myself and with them about how I was feeling.
- I shared my results when appropriate. It felt ridiculous the first dozen or so times I reached out, but then it was a huge relief to know I didn't need to carry the burdens alone. I was loved and accepted, even celebrated because I was being honest and working hard to get better.
- Tracking my responses, talking through my thoughts and feelings, and recognizing patterns helped me understand many of the root causes of my anxiety and to either eliminate them or neutralize them.
- Ultimately, the cortisol levels in my brain started to normalize (I presume because I don't have data to support this) through drug therapy and behavior modifications (think, less sugar, more exercise) and changes in my relationship with the world (letting go of resentments, accepting that the world is - at best - indifferent to me), and my relationship to my Creator (God loves me as I am).
Will this work if I try this alone?
Maybe. I'm not sure. I've never used this quick journaling method without an action plan for what to do when I hit the HEART Check YES Danger Zone.
Tracy from six years ago, would be shocked to hear her future self say this, but I think the most important components of this exercise are the accountability measures that serve as bookends to this exercise.
Decide - with someone you trust - what constitutes a warning sign. Is it two yesses in a day? Three?
What's an action plan that will help calm you?
That's up to you and a friend or professional counselor with whom you feel safe.
We may think we know ourselves well enough to decide this - and maybe you do. But, frankly, I doubt it.
Trying to do fear and anxiety alone - in my personal experience - is incredibly dangerous.
The other end of the bookend for this rapid journaling exercise is to take action based on the plan you develop, and to admit when, where, and how you're struggling.
Again, I think the most liberating part of this process is finally figuring out I didn't need to navigate my emotions and fears alone.
I had the people in place to help me - therapist, psychiatrist, minister, physician, and family - but until I was able to get out of my own head and to share my burdens, none of that was making a dent in my anxiety.
Building a habit designed to change the tapes we play in our heads about us is a freakishly powerful method for creating clarity.
How about you?
Do you keep a journal? What's holding you back?
Is your motivation to get better at navigating change waning? Let's talk. I'll be glad to listen.
Interested in more ideas like this?
I typically post a few times a week.
Thanks for reading.