Take Care ~ Part 2 / by Michelle Cowan

As promised, I continue with the take-care-of-yourself theme, moving on to the idea of preference. Defining my preferences (as ever-changing as they may, in fact, be) involves looking at choices I make and the reasons I make those choices. Investigating the motives behind these decisions illuminates my needs/wants and the most fulfilling ways of responding to them.

The idea of having preferences was so revolutionary when it was first introduced to me, it stayed on my mind for days. I always thought less of myself if I didn’t accept a certain situation, food, person, or feeling as readily as another. I thought that if I didn’t like a certain restaurant, I was being too picky. Or if I didn’t like going to a certain sporting event, I lacked a fun-loving spirit. Not the case! I simply like some things better than others. And that’s just fine. Now, I am in the process of examining the things I say I like and don’t like so that I can determine whether I truly dislike certain things or am just afraid of them. It’s all about why I choose to do the things I do, eat the things I eat, and live the way I live. Brief summary:

Preference = Because I like this one best, I choose it.
Fear = Because I fear this most, I do not choose it.

For many years, and still, I made decisions based on fear. We are taught to use the process of elimination when making tough decisions, but this technique, while valid and helpful, tends to shift attention away from and discount legitimate desire, instead focusing on negatives and anxiety. When fear is my decision-making tool, whatever frightens me most is either the thing to avoid or the thing to tackle. Never mind asking myself which thing I want to do the most.

In the past, I thought that identifying a “want” was impossible. I always more readily accessed what I did NOT want than what I did. When choosing a restaurant, I could name a score of places I would not select but come up empty on positive suggestions. I knew all the things I didn’t want to study and all the places I didn’t think I would like to live…but why? And what qualities would make something appeal to me instead of turn me off? Could some attractive qualities be added to a choice to make it a feasible option? Those questions were never asked.

Now, I am developing preferences, not fears. When I go to a restaurant, I am learning to select my meal based on the options that sound good to me instead of by eliminating dishes with ingredients I fear. By trying new foods, I can determine whether I truly dislike something or if I just fear it. Many foods have been reincorporated into my diet simply by tasting them and realizing that I truly do enjoy them. As I eat them more often, the fear that once surrounded those formerly dismissed foods dissipates. And of course, there are some foods that I honestly dislike. That’s okay, too. I don’t fear those foods. I simply don’t like them.

This concept applies to all other decisions I make in life. It is confining to not do something because I’m afraid of it. On the other hand, deciding that I don’t like an option and therefore selecting another liberates me.

For instance, I prefer one-on-one engagements to large parties. I will play card games, but they aren’t my favorite things. I would rather go to the movies or have coffee with someone. So, say my friends are putting together a huge poker tournament on a Friday evening with 20 people. Even though the more “exciting” option might be the poker tournament, I can choose to invite a friend to dinner and a movie instead. Of course, in that situation, I want to look at the options and see if I’m afraid of the large-scale social contact. If so, I may want to brave it, provided I feel strong enough, so that I can perhaps grow a bit. But if I’ve had a long week filled with social activity, it might be wiser to go with my preference by bowing out and going out to dinner. That’s how I care for myself. I stretch myself and challenge fears but also reward and indulge myself with things I know I enjoy.

The key is learning what I enjoy, what I want. I like having a cache of ideas ready when I’m feeling low, so that I can pull one out quickly to build myself up. Some examples include:

-Good books – Sitting and reading in my chair or bed for long periods of time.

-Journaling – Especially before bed. I feel grounded and whole.

-Home-cooked meals – Sitting down and enjoying something truly scrumptious. I also enjoy cooking a fabulous meal with the finest colors and tastes available. The methodical process of creating that meal and then the bliss of sitting down quietly, especially with a good friend or family member, is completely enjoyable.

-Trying new things/foods – I will go anywhere to try a new restaurant or go to a new museum exhibit. I will try new sports, if only once. I will see different comics, different poets, and different sites. I even love a simple drive to new surroundings, no matter how unexotic. Reading something different or trying to paint a picture both intrigue me.

Someone recently told me that scientific research proves that people who live a more varied life, trying new things, maintain memory and other brain function better than those with more routine lifestyles. Routine keeps me sane. Trying new things keeps me energized.

-Playing music – To sit at the piano and sing is pure bliss for me. Figuring out chords on my guitar and writing songs takes me to new regions of fun.

-Driving – The sharper the corners, the better! Speed it up! I love to drive or ride with people who drive as crazily as I do. And I really don’t get too frustrated in slow traffic anymore thanks to recovery and a collection of great music I keep handy.

-Moving my body – Any way I can move, especially swimming, dancing, and cycling, helps me feel fabulous. As long as I honestly want to move and I don’t get bored with the activity, I know I’m not overdoing it. The moment I start dreading it or it feels like a drudgery, I know it’s time to take a break from that activity and either rest or find a new one for a while. I find that I can usually go back to things later with increased enthusiasm after a few weeks of break.

-Going out to the movies – I adore sitting in a pitch black theater, completely surrounded by sound and new visual stimuli. I get completely wrapped up in the story and become the characters. If it’s funny, I laugh out loud. If it’s more serious, I’m completely drawn in. If I connect deeply with a certain character, it takes a few hours for me to stop pretending I am that person.

-Talking to friends one-on-one – If I have an opportunity to have coffee or a meal or just a sit-down with another person, I will grab it. I have difficulty concentrating in large-scale gatherings and tend to try to be more of an entertainer in those scenarios. I love situations that encourage deeper connection. That’s where I thrive.

By participating in these activities, I nourish my soul. It’s also handy to know this because I can combine something I enjoy with something I fear to lessen the fearful feelings. If I’m afraid to try a new bike trail (because I’m afraid I’ll get injured, I don’t want to look silly or inexperienced, or I just don’t like getting dirty), I can choose to go with one other person instead of a huge group. I can choose to limit the time to only a few hours. I can also make sure I’m doing something else particularly nourishing that day. I can also suggest that we go to breakfast or lunch before or after the ride so that I have something I know I’ll look forward to in combination with the difficult ride.

For me, I often have to do this when invited to go shopping with other people. I hate shopping with others, but I like the social camaraderie. Sometimes, it’s a great experience. Other times, I leave feeling drained and irritated. As long as I make sure I am nourished outside of that experience, I can deal with whatever happens. I make sure I have a good lunch, make sure I get enough sleep, make sure I save time for actual conversation with the people I’m with. (I get particularly frustrated when I spend a full day with someone and we never talk about what’s really going on in our lives.)

I can do things that are not on my list of preferences, and I will enjoy them more if I can incorporate things I like into that activity or option. I can choose to do things that I fear because I am fully grounded in who I am and what I enjoy. Work, errands, relationships, and home life can all be enhanced by making sure I’m giving myself enough of what I need. I will no longer choose something because it is the lesser of two evils. I will choose the option I like. And if I don’t like any of the options, I will search for a way to make one of them acceptable. This may not always be possible, but I find a way to do it more often than not. Creativity abounds during this process!

I could elaborate for days on this, it is such an exciting part of life. But this will be the end of what turned out to be only a two-part series. Oh well, let's not waste space.

Defining preferences and giving myself what I need lead to a deeper understanding of my identity and my connectedness with the world. Have fun doing it, y’all! And share a little bit about who you are with someone else today!

Best wishes…