Why the small things matter
The release is in the act.
This article is cross-posted from my weekly newsletter, The Sunday Soother, a newsletter about modern spirituality and useful tips for creating more meaning in your life that goes out every Sunday morning. To get more content about how to infuse your life with thoughtfulness, reflection, and meaning, subscribe here.
Happy Sunday, friends. I’ve talked in this newsletter before about how I’m in (and have found great benefit from) therapy, but I don’t believe I’ve mentioned that I’ve been in group therapy for years as well. The group I’m in (which is run by my therapist) brings together several people to discuss and work on overcoming issues with each other in real time. For example, if a presenting issue of mine is wanting to speak up, I may work at “talking back” to a group member who rubs me the wrong way. Or if I want to be more vulnerable, some work may be to cry in front of the other group members, and so on and so forth. (I’m imagining how many of you out there are thinking “That sounds literally like my nightmare,” and, well, yes, but it’s been extremely valuable.)
One evening I was sitting in a chair closest to the wall, where another therapist’s office is, and she had a very loud patient that was distracting me that I could hear through the wall. I complained about it offhandedly a little bit to the whole group, and another member on the other end of the room immediately offered to switch seats. Out of habit more than anything else I demurred and said it was totally fine, but thanks.
My therapist cocked her head towards me. “Catherine, you were really quick to turn down his offer of help right there,” she noted. “Why didn’t you accept?”
I laughed, because she was observant and right — a classic issue of mine that I’m still working on is asking for and accepting help. But I thought with that observation and my laughing and agreeing that I need to be better at accepting help, she was done.
But no. My therapist is never goddamn done. “Catherine,” she said gently. “I think you should take the offer and switch seats.”
Every instinct inside of me welled up in annoyance, discomfort, and righteousness. Like, I KNOW I’m bad at accepting help, and we had just talked about it. It seemed utterly stupid to do a useless move like actually get up and switch seats when I had already declined, I understand my issue at hand, and it didn’t really matter.
But one thing I’ve learned over the years is that it can often pay off for me to walk through the door that my therapist is opening. So I nodded. “B,” she asked, “would you make your offer of help again?”
Quite gently, my group member once again offered to switch seats with me. I gulped, nodded, gathered my stuff, and switched seats with him. And as soon as I sat down in the new seat, I burst into tears.
Reader… it turned out it mattered.
I think we’ve done a really good job convincing ourselves that small actions or words don’t matter. I was thinking about this in regards to how I cried when I actually fully accepted a small offer of help, and I thought about it the other day when I was clearing out some stuff and came across an old gift from an old boyfriend. The gift was like, seven years old, and I’d never thrown it out. The relationship was quite old and well over, and there are no lingering feelings there, but there was something about that gift that convinced me I shouldn’t toss it, and what did it matter, anyways, it was just a thing? Well, I tossed it — and immediately felt lighter.
I thought about this again a couple months ago when I was writing out a “word” for my year in 2019. “It seems kind of dumb to think naming a word for your year can make any difference,” I thought cynically. But it turns out it has; that word has imbued my actions fully the last month.
Finally, I thought about this one more time in terms of saying something out loud. I had a wish for this year but couldn’t say it to anybody else… and then, I spoke it out loud to a friend, and immediately felt powerful and like I could really achieve it.
There are small things that we lock up in our bodies and our minds and we tell ourselves that saying them out loud, or acting them in our bodies, doesn’t really matter, because spinning them around in our minds and thinking them and knowing them ourselves is enough.
I no longer believe that in the slightest.
If you have a secret wish or goal, see if you can say it out loud to just yourself. Then say if you can say it out loud to a friend. Then say if you can write on it for several minutes, and how it will feel.
If you need to get better at asking for help, see if there’s a small ask you can email to a friend. If you’re scared of new experiences, tell somebody that. If you have a wish, write it on a slip of paper.
Say your power into the world. Take that offer of help. Let your friend switch seats with you when he’s trying to be kind.
It means more than you might think — and I bet you’ll be surprised at the results.