Thoughts on My Will (With a Capital W)

My psychodynamic therapy journey has focused a lot on my Will. Will is defined, by my therapist, as what I want, but in a way that truly benefits me. It’s not just doing whatever I feel like; it’s doing what’s best for me personally and what matches my true self.

Through a process of questioning, we came to the hard-to-hear conclusion that most of the things that I do, I do to please my abusers. Of course, I don’t do everything my parents would want, to the letter. (After all, I am transgender– my parents are definitely weird about that.)

But yes, this includes my getting better journey. I go to therapy and try my damnedest because I know my parents want me to be more functional and “normal.” (But what kind of a goal is that?)

After therapy, I was given the homework of listening to my body for when it says “yes” to something. It doesn’t happen super often, and my “no” is much louder, but it did happen a few times over the course of the week.

One of the rather strange things I discovered is that I want to do witchcraft relating to bees. I love bees, guys!

This whole thing is actually great news to me. Now that I’ve realized I do so many things in service to my parents, I can start figuring out what I truly want. I am excited to discover more about myself!

How to Self-Study DBT (or Anything Else!)

DBT, or Dialectical Behavior Therapy, is a set of skills ordinarily taught to people with Borderline Personality Disorder or other similar emotion regulation problems. If your emotions rule your life, DBT is for you!

DBT is usually taught through an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), but many people find this hard to access for a variety of reasons. Maybe you work full time, or maybe your insurance won’t cover it. Either way, there are significant reasons why people who can’t access a formal training program may want to self-study DBT.

A note: I am not the expert on self-studying DBT. I am still in the process myself, and often forget to apply skills when I need them. However, this is what I’ve learned about self-studying DBT, and self-studying in general, so far!

Here’s some basic tips on how to self-study DBT:

Get clear on your goals and motivations.

Experts say that it’s important to set goals for self-study. Your goal is probably to learn how to apply DBT skills in your daily life— that’s pretty clear.

In my opinion, motivations are more important for this one. Maybe you feel motivated to learn DBT skills by thinking about all the times you yelled at your spouse when you were frustrated. Maybe you want to be happier and less moody.

Write these down somewhere so you can keep them in mind when studying gets tough!

Learn how you learn best.

Everyone has a different learning style. Some people prefer learning via video, while others like to read. Almost everyone learns quite well by practicing skills themselves and being allowed to make, and account for, mistakes. Reflect on your learning style and what has worked for you in the past (or take a quiz online!) and then remember to apply your learning style throughout your learning journey.

Read about the skills, one at a time.

Reading about the individual skills in the DBT repertoire may provide a helpful introduction, regardless of your learning style. and are both helpful if you’re looking to read about DBT.

Next, watch videos.

Once you’ve zoomed in on the skill you’re going to learn today or this week, watch some YouTube videos on the subject. While there didn’t used to be a ton of DBT video content, there is now! Videos might have helpful asides and tangents that you might not get from a straight-forward reading, and learning from different sources can provide different points of view that you may not have thought of.

Get the workbook.

The DBT workbook, also known as the Green Book, is super great for learning DBT, especially if your learning style is more experiential. The Green Book takes you through activities that will help you learn and apply DBT skills, while also making them personal to YOU.

Get the DBT card deck.

This is another purchase that may help you significantly when it comes to learning DBT skills. Made by the same people as the Green Book, this set of 52 cards can help you nail down your knowledge. Every day (or week!), shuffle the deck and draw a card. This is your DBT skill to focus on. I find the cards helpful because not only can they provide insight that you hadn’t thought of (like applying a certain skill to a certain situation that may not be intuitive) but they help you cut down on the overwhelm of trying to remember and apply so many skills at the same time. One day, one skill. That’s it.

If you can’t get the official DBT cards, you could make your own! These could be similar to the original deck, with one skill per card that you draw when you need help, or they could be like flashcards.

Find a group to discuss DBT concepts with.

If there are other people in your life who want to learn DBT, make a DBT study group and learn together! The DBT self help subreddit might help if there’s no one in your life who is also interested in DBT.

Explain DBT to trusted loved ones as you go.

You may not be able to find someone who wants to learn alongside you, but explaining what you’ve learned to someone you trust to listen can be very helpful! Allow them to ask questions to really test your knowledge.

Quiz yourself.

Quizzing yourself is a classic learning method that really holds up. This method requires you to recall information as you learn it, encouraging the routes in your brain to form in useful ways.

You can use physical flashcards or digital flashcard resources like the Anki app. The Anki app has the advantage of automatically practicing with “spaced repetition,” which is a method that helps you cement your learning by practicing trickier questions over the course of your learning journey.

Journal about your progress.

It’s important to reflect on your learning journey, both for deeper understanding of the subjects you’re learning about, and because it can help you remember what you’ve learned.

This could be digital or on paper.

Ask yourself questions like:

-What did I learn today?

-How do I feel about what I learned?

-What does this new information remind me of?

-What questions do I have for future research?

-How did I apply what I learned today?

-How can I apply what I learned today in the future?

-How did I apply what I’ve learned so far on my learning journey?

Try to remain consistent in your efforts.

If you watch 12 hours of DBT videos in one day, you probably won’t retain any information. Likewise, if you don’t practice for weeks, you might lose any progress you’ve already made. You may want to schedule self-directed “class” time every week, or simply plan out what you’re going to study for the next month or so.

Good luck studying!

How To Improve Yourself

So you’ve decided your life isn’t working for you and you want to make changes.

Go to therapy.

Yes, you can go to therapy even if you’re not mentally ill. A good therapist will be able to help you in all your self-improvement endeavors and be by your side as you decide what exactly you want to improve. It’s great knowing someone is always on your team!

Set goals and intentions.

Maybe you already have ideas of what you want to improve about yourself. That’s great! Make them formal by writing them down. Give yourself half an hour and a blank sheet of paper and write down absolutely anything you can think of that you would want to improve!

If you don’t have any ideas yet, identify your goals and intentions by identifying your problems first. Maybe you don’t feel great about your appearance, or you find yourself acting like an asshole in your closest relationships. Then, brainstorm (mind map?) solutions.

To me, goals are measurable, while intentions are not. There’s a lot of focus on goals, but intentions can still be useful— by reminding you of an attitude you want to embody or something you want to prioritize that isn’t measurable, like quality time with your family.

Journal with purpose.

Journals can be a lot of things. Many people use them to simply record life events, but journaling with the express purpose of self-improvement can be a lot more useful.

You can look up daily prompts to use to reflect on themes in your life as a whole, or you can log what you did to improve yourself each day. Of course, you can mix the two. Writing about your self-improvement wins may encourage you to keep going!

Also: keep a list of your goals and intentions from the previous step IN your journal for frequent perusal.

Rethink your relationships.

Obviously, we cannot change anyone. What we can do is decide if certain relationships belong in our life or not.

If you have someone in your life that isn’t making you happy, I recommend gently talking out your problems with this person first. (You may want to journal-brainstorm what those problems are before this conversation.) Give them a chance to improve themselves and then re-evaluate.

If you’ve already tried to work things out with someone who isn’t making an effort to change, it may be time to step back.

On the other hand, YOU may be the problem in certain relationships. In that case, it is still important to have a conversation with the other person. Be honest with yourself and them about what you need to improve, and then make a genuine effort. Check in frequently about how they feel about your effort.

Take care of your physical health.

I don’t mean that you need to run a marathon. I do mean taking walks as per your ability, eating reasonably, staying hydrated, and going to the doctor if you can. You will feel better, and be better able to show up to your life’s responsibilities.

Figure out what you care about and do it.

Everyone human (and most pets too) needs to have a role to play to feel fulfilled. This could be related to a full-time career or it could be as simple as watering and taking care of your plants.

Make another brainstorming page in your journal and write down what you care about most. This doesn’t have to be extensive— maybe you only truly care about a few people, activities, or causes.

Maybe your career isn’t something you care about anymore. Do you want to change careers or do you want to keep your “day job” and do something you care about on the side? It’s up to you.

Whatever you decide you care about, make a plan for fitting it into your day.

Learn about privilege.

Part of improving yourself is improving the world around you, and learning about how you play into systems of oppression can do just that.

It can be really hurtful and hard to realize that you’ve been unintentionally harming people, but this is an exercise in empathy and de-centering your own experience. We all have blind spots.

Start small— decide to read one book about systemic oppression, or follow some social justice activists who are different from you on social media. Take up an attitude of gentle curiosity, even if you’re feeling resistant to what you read.

Expect this to be a lifetime endeavor.

To avoid overwhelming yourself when carrying out any of these steps, remind yourself that progress is incremental. This might be hard to hear, but improving yourself never really ends. You might reach a lot of your goals but you will always have something else to work on. That might be hard to hear, but it can also be really fun to keep experimenting and find what works for you!

The Points System for Motivation

I am always trying to hack my own brain and figure out how to motivate myself to accomplish tasks when I would rather be decomposing in bed, so I recently instated a points system. Each “productive” activity (which is, admittedly, kind of a subjective category) gets a value of 1-5 points based on how many spoons/how much effort they take. For example, laundry is 3 points, a doctor’s visit is 4 points, and brushing my teeth is 1 point. My current goal is 5 points per day, but I plan on gradually increasing that goal as I build mastery. So far, it’s going really well!

I also instated a reward, which is kind of a contentious subject for me. (I think many rewards are stuff like food/treats/rest/relaxation, which we should be giving to ourselves anyway.) My reward for hitting 5 points is being able to open a particular mobile game that is my current special interest. If I don’t hit 5 points, or haven’t yet, I am still allowed to play other video games or watch TV or lay in bed if I need to chill, but playing this game is only for after I hit 5 points. This reward is motivating enough to make me want to accomplish things, without preventing me from doing the things that help me recharge over the course of the day.

This system has the advantage of being flexible. For example, yesterday I started out with a plan to do laundry, but I really didn’t feel like it, so I did other activities that equaled the same amount of points. Instead of feeling guilty that I didn’t do what I planned to do, I just accepted that I earned my 5 points and moved on to playing Hearthstone.

Not only is it helping me get things done in a flexible way, the points system is helping me REST. Once I hit the relatively achievable/slightly challenging 5 points goal, I can do whatever I want without feeling guilty. It’s absolutely amazing to not sit around just thinking of all the productive stuff I could be doing and hating myself for not being able to do it.

In the words of Marsha Linehan, “I am doing my best and I can do better!”

If you would like to formulate your own similar points system, all you really need is a notes app or a piece of paper for keeping track of how many points an activity is worth, and then a way of keeping track of your tasks.