By Brad Hoefs
Recently I ran across the “7 Cardinal Rules for Life” by Stephen Covey. I thought I’d share them in today’s post. There seems to be some wisdom in them for those of us who are learning to live well in spite of having bipolar disorder. Of course, the seven “rules for life” are applicable to everyone whether or not they have a mental health diagnosis. These cardinal rules deal with emotional issues (not brain chemistry issues) and choices that can be made for better emotional health. If you are wondering what I mean by emotional health verses mental-health check out my January 25th, 2015 post entitled “What is Bipolar Disorder Issues Vs. Emotional Issues”.
There’s no doubt that if you or I are not stabilized that makes a list such as these 7 cardinal rules most difficult if not impossible. For instance, if someone were in severe depression working on any of these seven rules for life would be most difficult. However, it does not mean that one couldn’t do the best they can do even in the state of depression. Here they are:
Dr. Stephen Covey’s 7 Cardinal Rules of Life
1) Make peace with your past so it does not spoil your present. Your past does not define your future—your actions and beliefs do.
This is key for moving forward and living well. It is a major issue for those of us who have bipolar disorder due to the impulsive behavior issues that happen when we are not stabilized. These greatly affect our relationships and choices.
Trust me, I know how VERY difficult letting go of your past and forgiving yourself is! Two things were key for me in making peace with my past:
- I had to choose to stop thinking about it.
- I had to decide what caused the issues was the brain-based disorder, called bipolar disorder.
2) What others think of you is none of your business. It is how much you value yourself and how important you think you are.
Yes, there is a time to care about what other people think. The opinion of trusted, caring and safe people in our lives is needed to give us feedback. But, what others think really does not matter; especially the opinions of those who are angry with you or are ignorant regarding bipolar disorder.
What makes you think you can keep everyone around you happy and thinking well of you? You don’t necessarily like everyone you know, do you?
My very manic episode caused many people to have opinions of me that were simply mean-spirited and misinformed. (When a pastor messes up [public manic episode] a LOT of folks talk.) I know how hard it is to believe that what “others” think of you as being none of your business. Two things that helped me with this:
- I chose not to listen to what other people thought nor did I seek out what they thought.
- I consistently reminded myself that I didn’t have positive opinions of others all of the time; so why would how others felt about me be any different?
3) Time heals almost everything. Give time, time. Pain will be less hurting. Scars make us who we are; they explain our life and who we are, they challenge us and force us to be strong.
This is true. Most of the work that you and I need to do in living well after medicine brings about stabilization is grief work. And grief work takes time.
Following my diagnosis some 20 years ago, I thought about and felt the pain of the havoc that bipolar had caused in my life at least 90% of each day. Today, it does not even consume 1% percent of my day.
The only way this happened for me was to simply decide to spend the least amount of time per day thinking about the pain. Day by day I chose to think about those painful things less often. Some days it was easier than others. Plus, I decided that I was going to use the pain to move me where I needed to be in life.
4) No one is the reason for your own happiness, except you yourself. Waste no time and effort searching for peace and contentment and joy in the world outside.
Contrary to what a lot of folks think, antidepressants will not always cause you to become happy. Medicine won’t always cause us to be happy, at peace or content. These things are up to each of us from within and for some of us, within our faith.
5) Don’t compare your life with others; you have no idea what their journey is about. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we would grab ours back as fast as we could.
I’ve been in pastoral ministry for 30 years and have done countless hours of pastoral counseling. Trust me, there are things much worse to “have” in life than bipolar disorder. Truth is, if you think that bipolar is the worst thing that could happen, then that is how your life will be. Change how you look at it and you will change your life.
Is it easy to have bipolar disorder? No, it’s not. But, it could be worse and be thankful that it is not worse.
6) Stop thinking too much.
It’s all right not to know all the answers. Sometimes there is no answer, there’s not going to be any answer, and there never has been an answer. That’s the answer! Just accept it, move on. Next!
7) Sometimes talk-therapy can cause you and me to overthink everything. Sometimes you just have to stop thinking about some things and move on.
Smile—you don’t own all the problems in the world. A smile can brighten the darkest day and make life more beautiful. It is a potential curve to turn a life around and set everything straight.
I know! I know this seems trite and rather simplistic. But, there’s actually research out there that when you choose to smile it actually “tricks” your brain to help your mood. It has to do with your brain knowing that the muscles it takes to smile are connected to happy thoughts. Google it. Try it.
Will this simplistic approach lift clinical depression? Of course, not. But, if you are just in a bad mood or sad mood it will help.
Well, tell me what you think of these “7 Cardinal Rules for Life”. You don’t have to agree with all seven of them to glean some insights for living well. Which one or ones “speak to you” or give you insight? Certainly more could be added—what would you add?