Ask Dr. Debra
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Dear Dr. Debra
I loved your column from last January and implemented some of
your suggestions for reaching my goals. I feel I have
accomplished so much by following the steps you suggested.
But there are times I am so overwhelmed by everything I have
to do that I still don’t feel I’m reaching my full potential.
I work full time, have two preteen kids, a busy husband, and
I’m also trying to write. How can I fit it all in? And not
just fit it all in, but do it in a way that makes me calm and
not stressed out?
An overworked mother
Thank you so much for the compliment on my column. I’m glad
you found the information useful.
Most of us are so busy with life that it’s hard to focus on
our long-term goals. To reach long-term goals, we need to be
taking steps toward them almost every day, and often we don’t
have the extra time or energy. For example, if one of our
goals is to lose weight, we have to eat wisely and exercise
several times a week. If we don’t do these two things, we
will have a difficult time losing weight and maintaining our
weight loss. Or, in order to buy a new car, you need to cut
expenses and save money. In order to save money, you need to
make choices every day about not spending money and finding
more inexpensive ways to do things.
The thought of achieving a big goal can be overwhelming. A
good way to avoid being overwhelmed is to borrow the “Just
for today” concept from Alcoholics Anonymous. For a
newcomer to the AA program, the concept of never taking
another drink seems impossible. But the idea of not drinking
for one day is achievable. Sometimes the recovering alcoholic
needs to amend the “just for today” concept to “just for the
next hour” or “just for the next ten minutes.” By remaining
sober for ten minutes, then another ten minutes, then another
… a whole, alcohol-free day is achieved. Therefore, one day
at a time, a recovering alcoholic lives a sober life.
If you use the “just for today” concept for an eating plan,
then it’s easier to make healthy food choices. Sometimes, you
might need to change the phrase to “Just for this meal, I can
eat healthfully.” That way you always feel you have a
future choice to overeat or eat carbs and sweets. This
makes you less likely to rebel and sabotage your diet. And as
long as the sweets are in the future, they aren’t in your
Let’s say you are the typical working mother who is a writer.
I don’t know your specific goals, but I’m going to guess your
goals may be (among others) to:
Be a good mother
Lose 10 (or more) pounds
Exercise three (or more) times a week
Write a book in the next year
Have a loving relationship with your husband
The “just for today” slogan will work for these (and other)
areas of your life. Every morning, you start by saying your
“just for today” mantras:
“Just for today, I am a loving and patient mother.”
“Just for today, I eat healthfully.”
“Just for today, I exercise for 30 minutes.”
“Just for today, I write two pages.”
“Just for today, I spend quality time with my husband.”
This is a lot to pack into one day, especially with everything
else you have to do. But if you were to only do it for one
day, then you’d manage. The idea is to get creative.
Everyone can be creative for one day. You might have to
work out or write during your lunch hour. You might need to
write while watching your son’s baseball game. Or you might
get in your exercise by walking laps around the baseball
diamond while you watch his game. By planning and using the
“just for today” concept, you can make it happen.
Here’s how to put the mantra into effect throughout your day:
You start by eating a nutritious breakfast, and later you have
a good lunch. (Just for today, I eat healthfully.)
If your goal is to be a more patient mother, then say to
yourself, “Just for today, I am a patient mother.” When your
kids challenge you to the point you want to yell, smack them,
tear your hair out, give them up for adoption, or murder them,
then you might need to take up the mantra, “Just for the next
five minutes.” “Just for the next five minutes, I will take
deep breaths, speak calmly, and act lovingly. I won’t call
the adoption agency until five minutes have passed.” Then
five minutes later, you do it again. You take another deep
breath and say to yourself, “Just for the next five minutes, I
can be a patient mother...” You keep doing this throughout
the day until your children are tucked in bed sleeping.
After your children are asleep, you congratulate yourself on
remaining patient throughout the day. You have accomplished
something wonderful. You’ve been your best self, even when
challenged. Feel the jolt of self-esteem you receive from
overcoming your difficulties.
Then move on to the next “Just for today” that you haven’t yet
accomplished. If your goal is exercise, then get on the
treadmill or get out the exercise video. (Just for today, I
work out for 30 minutes.) If your goal is writing, then sit
down at the computer. (Just for today, I’ll write two
pages.) If your goal is quality time with your husband, you
make the time for him. (Just for today, I set other
priorities aside to spend an uninterrupted half hour with my
I hope by this time next year, you’ve accomplished your goals
in a healthy and (relatively) stress-free manner.
Happy New Year,
Feel free to
write me with your questions.
Debra Holland, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist
who specializes in relationships and communication techniques.
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