Between The Tigers: Finding Your Sweet SpotAugust 1, 2022
Between The Tigers: Finding Your Sweet Spot: Mental health is often confused with mental illness. This is a failure of both the limitations of language, but also a tradition of focusing on what goes wrong in the body and in life. Mental health, or wellbeing, is really about maintaining balance in a challenging and difficult modern world. We are all humans with a biology, sense of self, and social connection; we are becoming and unfolding within the context of the different cultures that surround us.
The modern world is full of stressors that our ancestors couldn’t even dream of: text and email notifications, traffic, calls, bills, large scale social issues, isolation, 24-hour news cycles, and being constantly marketed to – to name a few.
Along with an active fight or flight mechanism, humans are also finely tuned to find more negative than positive in the environment. We are always sensitive to issues of uncertainty, loss, and difficulty – and we experience those every day. Most people have to actually work, on purpose, to recognize the positives in their lives and balance themselves out. Think about that – we have to work to see the positive in our lives. There is an old parable that illustrates this human condition.
A Traveler Came Across A Tiger
“A traveler walking through a field came across a tiger. Alarmed, she ran and the tiger gave chase. Coming to a cliff, she grabbed the root of a thick vine and swung down over the edge. The tiger sniffed and drooled at her from above. The traveler looked down to see that, below, another tiger hungrily started up at her. Only the vine sustained her safely between the two tigers. [a predicament!]
Two mice scampered onto the vine and started to gnaw away at it. [An inevitability!] The traveler saw a ripe strawberry growing out of the cliffside. She reached out with one hand, plucked the strawberry, and ate it. How delicious it tasted!”
The tigers can represent the uncertainty, difficulty, and loss inherent in life – the regrets of the past and the anxieties of the future. The mice can represent time and inevitability. We all have a limited amount of time and what are we doing with it? The strawberry is often presented as looking, on purpose, at the reality of positive things in our daily lives and not just the negative. Both exist, but the negative naturally and more easily calls our attention. This is survival mode, but survival mode does not lend to a rich and meaningful life. We need strawberries for that.
Finding Your Sweet Spot
The strawberry can also represent finding opportunities, on purpose, to act on our values and make them real in moment-to-moment life – despite the stressors of life! Values are different from goals. Goals and objectives are things you can check off a list when completed (e.g., “Today, I will eat more vegetables.”). Goals and objectives are things to DO. These are very important in moving us in the direction we want to go. Values are the direction we want to go (e.g., “Being a healthy person is important to me.”). Values are ways of BEING. Values act like a compass, pointing us to our true north and alerting us when we are going astray. We can always look at what we are doing in any given moment and ask if our current behavior supports our valued direction or is taking us off path. For example, which option supports a value of being a healthy person – deep fried or air fried?
As we all dangle on the vine of our lives with the mice munching away, which is the human condition, the key, powerful questions to ask ourselves and act on daily are:
In the face of these Tigers (uncertainty, loss, or difficulty in job, economy, relationship, habit, health, world events, etc.) – Who do I want to be (kind, fair, ethical, forgiving, healthy in habits, assertive, loving, compassionate)? What Strawberry can I pluck right now?
K. A. Plouffe, LCPC has worked in the mental health field for over 30 years and is a licensed clinical counselor. He is the author of two journal articles on trauma and a trauma recovery themed novel, Annie’s Odyssey.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
K. A. Plouffe is a retired U.S. Air Force member who served in security and mental health positions with assignments at the Air Force Survival School and at Cuban refugee camps in Panama. He holds M.S. degrees in Psychology and Mental Health Counseling. He has worked in the mental health field for over 30 years and is a licensed clinical counselor. He is the author of two journal articles on trauma and a trauma recovery themed novel, Annie’s Odyssey. He currently practices in Maine.