After multiple triggers at the end of the day, it can be very difficult to maintain the kinds of habits or routines that help move us in the right direction. There is something called decision fatigue that can result in poor decision-making. And when we string together more than one decision that hinders rather than helps our healing, things get tangled up and it becomes harder and harder to dig ourselves out of a deep hole. When we are that exhausted, it can help to focus on our #onenextstep. Leverage the POWER of one.
Decision Fatigue is when the brain gets exhausted from making decisions. You may have heard of the study where judges make better parole decisions at the start of the day and after lunch. They calculated that the later you were in the day prior to a rest, the more likely the answer would be ‘no’. It’s a lot easy to play it safe and say no rather than go through the difficult process of weighing all the information and balancing the arguments for and against. You may also have heard about the reason people like Bill Gates wears the same clothing over and over again? It’s to reduce the number of decisions his brain has to make to reserve the energy for more important decisions. Our brain can only focus on one thing at a time. So we need to leverage the Power of One.
Why is that so important for parents suffering from CPTSD to understand? It means that oftentimes not only do you have a work job that you are trying to maintain, but you also have a parenting job that takes up the morning before you go to work and the evening when you get home from work. Your brain never takes the time to recover from decision-making all day long.
CPtsd survivors often struggle with decision fatigue because we get thrown so many difficult choices due to coping mechanisms that once helped us survive, but now hinder our ability to be ‘normal’. On top of that, having CPSTD makes relationships difficult and steady careers near impossible. It means we have to work extra hard just to keep our heads above water.
Let me reiterate that: YOU ARE MAKING MULTIPLE DIFFICULT DECISIONS EVERY DAY. THIS SAPS THE ENERGY OUT OF YOU, WHICH MAKES GOOD QUALITY DECISION-MAKING HARDER AND WILL POWER ALMOST NONEXISTENT.
The One Push Up Strategy
My therapist used storytelling to plant seeds in my head. She knew that I had a knee-jerk reaction to rebel against good advice and that if she just told me to “do it”, the critical voices in my head probably would have some excuse why it wouldn’t work. So she casually told me about another client of hers whose depression and anxiety completely paralyzed him.
My therapist told him not to judge himself (of course) but that exercise is definitely one natural way to get some serotonin back into the brain. So she told him to do one pushup day. He only had to commit to doing one push up. If he did anymore, that would be a bonus, but he really didn’t have to.
The guy replied that he could commit to one pushup, because it was easy and it took literally 1 second to do. So the next day, he got up and did one push up. But he did not stop at one push up. He did another and ended up doing 10 more! Every day, he told himself that he was committed to do one push up. No pressure, no judgment, just a commitment to that ONE thing. However, he never once only did one push up. He always did more; he might as well have, since he got himself changed into gym clothes and was already in push up position. Each day, he would increase his total by 10 push ups until he was easily doing 8 sets of 20.
This man went on to get back in shape, back to the gym, and eventually running as part of his exercise regime. It took him a few months to get there, but “all it took” was a commitment to One Push Up. For this guy, his #onenextstep to getting into exercise was one push up.
What is your #onenextstep? How can you use the power of one?
Break It Down
The problem with a frazzled Complex Ptsd brain is that we need the strategy to be simple. We really, really need it to be broken down into the tiniest tasks so that each task is doable, understandable, and related to the goal. But it can be hard to know when something isn’t broken down enough and it can be heartbreakingly defeating when we blame ourselves for being too [insert nasty adjective] when unable to accomplish our goals.
The Power of One can change that for us. It reminds us to focus on one thing at a time and slowly build it up until we own it.
The POWER of One
P – PICK
PICK one goal to focus on at any moment in time.
Do not get distracted by the many competing priorities, shoulda woulda couldas. Do not jump from one goal to another. Focus on one goal at a time.
O – ONE
Keep breaking it down until you reduce it to ONE tiny step and commit to it. This is your #onenextstep.
Make sure that it is small enough for you to say, yes, I can do this. And I will commit to it, because it’s easy. If it’s not small enough, break it down even more. Break it down until it becomes one thing you know you can do without fighting yourself. Ensure that one task does not involve any decision-making that gives you an out. In other words, MAKE IT AS EASY AS POSSIBLE FOR YOU TO DO WHAT YOU COMMITTED YOURSELF TO DOING.
W – WIN
When you complete it, check it off and count it as a WIN.
In the beginning, it may be helpful to write it down and check it off. Sometimes the act of checking something off can help us feel productive.
On the flip side, for Complex Ptsd suffers, we need to make sure that we do not count anything as a failure. If it didn’t happen, don’t be so quick to beat yourself up. Just rethink the step. It’s okay that it wasn’t the right one step. Go to the next step to evolve it.
E – EVOLVE
Be open to EVOLVING it, depending on your resources at the moment (energy, circumstances, etc.).
Do not compromise that it has to get done, but shift it harder and easier as you need to. Just commit to getting it done.
Each time you go through the POWER steps, you can adjust the routine or change your #onestepnext to the next step.
R – REPEAT
REPEAT it and build it into your daily ROUTINE.
Commit to doing it everyday, evolve the what, where, when, and how until it becomes second nature to you. Don’t worry about how good or bad it is, just do it. If it is too easy and you are up for more, do more. If you don’t think you can do more, do the most basic version of it. But just don’t compromise that it gets done.
Application: Daily Exercise
There’s nothing more depressing than looking at our body and hating it or getting so stressed out by not doing any exercise that we binge eat or hide out in bed for a week because we just cannot get out. That is all normal. It’s what our brains do. But what if we could work with our brain rather than against it?
Pick one goal: Example – Daily Exercise
This goal can be easy for some people or a monumental ginormous mountain to overcome. If daily exercise sounds too big, break it down. How about: Go for a 30 minute walk? Still too big? Put on shoes and get myself to the other side of the one door. Can you do that? If not, keep going until you find something you can do. Examples: one push up, 5 minute walk around the block, or 5,000 steps.
Commit to One: Example – 5,000 Steps
Once you commit to it, you figure out what you need to do to get that done every single day. If 5,000 steps is too much, adjust it to 3,000. If after 3,000 steps, your body wants more, go ahead and do more, but no pressure. Just find what that one thing is and commit to it.
Check off the Win: Keeping Track
Do not use this step to judge yourself. This is not an exercise in making yourself feel bad. It’s an exercise to give you information about whether or not this one thing is the right one for you. You are doing research. Make it as easy as possible to keep track. Use apps like Health on your smartphone or a notebook. You need to be able to check off the win or figure out what went wrong. I started by using Google Keep, then an Excel sheet, then Basic Ops. I kept trying until I found something that worked for me. You can too!
Evolve the Goal: Figure Out How to Fit It in Your Life
Walking initially was a solitary thing for me, where I got alone time to think and wander around my neighbourhood. Then I added a friend where we walked together once a week. Then another friend another day of the week. And now I’ve added a third. I still enjoy walking by myself, but as I started getting better at all the other things (relationships, commitment, managing triggers around friends), walks with friends became more healing at many levels.
Repeat: Make It into a Routine
Start building it into your routine. Where do you need to do it so that you don’t resist it getting done? When should you do it so that it doesn’t compete with someone else that you would rather to? What can you tie it to that you DO like so that you can look forward to it? Be careful not to make yourself hate the thing you actually love instead!
How can you do this so that it feels easy? Repeat it every day. Think about it before you go to bed. Get it done. Check it off. Pat yourself on the back. Think about how it’s the first step to getting better. Adjust anything that will make it easier. For me, it was making sure that I had the right clothing and shoes to get into quickly and easily and comfortably.
- Start with ‘one small space’, like your desk or the kitchen table and commit to having that be the way you want it and ‘make it so’ every day. Just make sure that your one small space is up to your standards. Then slowly expand it as you feel appropriate. But just commit to that one space first.
- Start with ‘find a task management application I like to use’ and try out different ones until one works for you where you can list out things you want to get done and then check them off. But don’t start adding a bunch of things that won’t get done. Just add a thing or two and check them off as they get done until you using the task manager starts working for you. Then play with it. For me, I kept getting caught with things that were one-off tasks and things that were bigger and were actually projects. That’s why I ended up using Basic Ops. It took me a few months, but now I used it whenever something needs to get done.
Getting back to reading:
- If your brain is as chaotic as mine was, you probably find reading very difficult. I could no longer absorb anything I read. So pick a book you’ve always wanted to read and break it down into the smallest chunk that still makes sense. Like 5 minutes or 10 pages. And don’t worry about the quality of the reading, just do the reading. And check it off each day. If you want to do a bit more because you got into it, go for it, but don’t do less. The first time I did this, I found the first few chapters difficult to get through. But because I ‘had to check it off’ I did it and two chapters into the book, I found myself liking it a lot more. And I finished the book! It was the start of my return to reading. I had stopped reading for 20 years!
Stop yelling at kids:
- This one is a huge one and probably needs a separate article for it, but using the POWER of One works too if you really want to do it. Start by taking the tiniest step, like ‘notice when I’m over-reacting’ or ‘stop in mid-sentence if I am yelling and over-reacting then say sorry right away’.
You Can Do This
You can do this, but the healing process takes a long time. It is not a One and Done thing, as much as we desperately want it to be. And healing from Complex Ptsd involves learning how to feel safe and understanding what it feels like to interact with people without constant fear of getting hurt. It also means receiving affirmation from other people and ourselves. I found that being in a group with other like-minded people who were going through similar recovery journeys helped a lot.
When I took a step forward, they celebrated it with me and if I failed or had a very bad day, they commiserated with me.
Try out the POWER of One with a small goal and then come join us in the Facebook Community to share how it went!
Let’s heal together!