There are new beginnings! Even when life feels like it is in a rut, new beginnings are also there. Each day has new beginnings, this newsletter has new beginnings, and even our life stresses have new beginnings. It is healthy to learn to live each day, even each minute, as a new, fresh opportunity to experience life. One image is that of a new gift, which is wrapped and can be opened, filling us with expectancy and curiosity.
Yet for as hopeful and positive those words are, the reality of life is that it often feels old and we think that we already know what is going to happen. Some of this is wisdom as we learn from what we have already experienced. However, some of this is old life experience robbing us of the new joys of discovery. Mental health, as opposed to mental hurt, can be characterized by the ability to flexibly use our mind in ways that help us live meaningful lives according to our values.
One evidence-based therapy model that describes this is from 3rd-wave CBT, called DNA-V. As you read about DNA-V, think about which modes you tend to go into the most. Again, many people are healthiest when they can switch between modes as needed. One common sign of poor mental health is when adults overly use the “A-Advisor.” Read below to see if you think that might be you.
The “D” in DNA-V stands for “Discoverer.” The discoverer (D) brain skill helps us to broaden our abilities and make new connections. We use our discoverer brain when we try new things, build our strengths, and jump into an experience (even before you are confident). The noticer brain skill helps us to be aware of signals. It helps us to watch our thoughts and feelings while also being aware of our bodies. By stepping back and noticing, we can then decide what to respond to (and what to let go of). The advisor brain skill is our self-talk. We all have an inner voice who is talking to us and giving us tips and tricks. Unfortunately, it can also be pretty judgy, make negative predictions, and be guilt-inducing. When healthy, we listen to the helpful tips from our advisor and defuse from the unhelpful tips. We also learn to know what is helpful and unhelpful.
But what’s the point of having these different brain skills? Living more fully! The “V” is for values. When we are using the DNA skills in a healthy way, it sets us up to live, to learn, and to be courageous. The hope is that you can use these skills to get back into life and more fully experience and live into what you care about most.
Now that you have read about the D, the N, and the A, which do you think you use the most? Which brain mode could use strengthening? Choose your weakest letter and make a plan to use one quick tip for strengthening yourself:
Discoverer strengthening: Know that our thoughts and feelings are different than our experiences. Many times we need to try something in order to learn from it. Act, then reflect. Do not just reflect and then wait to act. So go be curious and explore! After you try something, ask yourself, “What happened when I did that?”
Noticer strengthening: Many of us are weak in our “N” because we avoid and distract ourselves so much. Instead, take a breath and watch. It may be overwhelming for a bit, but it will eventually feel easier as you build the skill. You can watch by: scanning your body and noticing what it is feeling, naming the sensations in your body right now as you read this sentence, or pausing and journaling thoughts/feelings, one at a time, as you experience them.
Advisor strengthening: Not fighting with your advisor is an important, difficult first step. We default to fighting with our self-talk, but it is unhelpful. Our advisor is like a superpower, one that we must use wisely as it can hurt or help. Remember that the advisor is trying to be helpful and protect us, but not all of its tips are actually good. Start by frequently filling in the blank, “I’m having the thought that_________.” You are not your thoughts. When you step back and look at them, you will be able to better decide how to respond to your thoughts.
Finally, do not forget that you can also strengthen your values! Psychology has historically been less helpful in this area, but in the last few decades, researchers have finally realized that we should not just focus on our problems but also focus on what makes life meaningful. Unfortunately, we do not ask that question often enough. Spend some time reflecting on the following questions, if you want to strengthen your value muscle: What did you love most today? What was the hardest thing? In ten years, if your loved ones threw you a party and were giving toasts about you, what would you want them to say? Or perhaps it would be good to ponder the broad question - what does it mean to live a meaningful/purposeful life?
As you build these skills, we hope that you will be able to experience more freshness and vitality, seeing the new beginnings that are constantly in front of you. While it is up to you to own the process, it is best to do this in community, as we are wired for connection as we make meaning in our lives. Talk with a friend, open up to your parents, or process with a counselor. Perhaps then you can live into what Bruce Lee says, “The meaning of life is that it is to be lived!”