What images come to your mind when you read the word “symbol”?
I think of things like wedding rings, business logos, zebra crossings.
Symbols are visual stimuli that we attribute meaning to. A lot of symbols are handed to us by our parents or by society, but today I want to talk to you about choosing your own symbols, and using them to ensure you succeed in your objectives.
When two people get married, they typically wear wedding rings. I’ve worn mine constantly since the day I got married. My wedding ring is a symbol of a transition I’ve made; a choice and a commitment that changes my life in some ways. It’s more than just a piece of jewellery that lets others know that I’m married. My wedding ring has an impact on my sense of self. It reminds me of the vows I made to my husband; to be supportive, to be understanding, to put our relationship first. Wearing my ring, helps me to stick to these promises. Shifting your mind-frame from single to married isn’t something that happens overnight. It takes time to integrate this new persona. To wake up every morning and recite my vows to make this happen, would be kind of weird. But wearing my ring, symbolises my vows and reinforces the shift.
Not everyone needs to wear something to make a transition. But most people do like to mark meaningful moments in their lives with some form of a symbol, whether this be a tattoo, a certificate, or a uniform. I believe the most important thing when choosing a symbol, is to choose a symbol that you can relate to.
These are some symbols that I’ve chosen to help me succeed in meaningful transitions:
A symbol that helps me succeed in my profession
Like suddenly becoming a married person, beginning a new career can make you feel uneasy. It can feel weird to introduce yourself in your new role, “I’m a therapist”, “I’m a blogger”, “I’m a DJ”. It can take some time for you to believe it. Priests wear robes. Doctors have stethoscopes. Being a therapist, I don’t wear a uniform or use any freaky devices, I just have myself. A form of assessment in Gestalt psychotherapy is to observe how the client relates to you during the course of the appointment. This includes being aware of the time. Does the client show up on time/early/late? Do they spend most of the time talking about frivolous things or do they enter your door crying? For this reason, when I began training as a therapist, I chose my own “uniform” to help me feel grounded in this role. The symbol I chose was my watch. I found a watch I like – one that goes with my personal sense of style, and wore it as a symbol of my new profession.
I still wear it. I look at this symbol as encompassing all that is included in my role as therapist. It tells me: it’s time to be empathic, open, non-judgemental. It’s time for me to provide a safe space for my client, to stay grounded with whatever they bring to therapy, and to guide the session. If at any point during a session, I doubt myself and wonder if I am good enough to do this job, my watch quickly reminds me that I have worked hard for a long time to become a psychotherapist, my mentors have given me their blessing to be in this role, and I know what I’m doing. My watch quickly gets me back in touch with my competence and I am able to stay focused and with my client.
A symbol that helps me succeed in sticking to a new practice
I bought this necklace in July, when I decided to begin yoga as part of my treatment for fibromyalgia. Up until then, I had been doing physiotherapy. Now it was time for me to find a method of exercise that I could relate to, and that I could continue on my own. After a few sessions of yoga, I felt I wanted something to represent my new-found practice, and more importantly, I wanted to solidify my commitment to it. I found this necklace at I am. Putting on the necklace reminds me of my mission to improve my health and the work that I need to put in to get there. It reminds me that to feel grounded, like the tree trunk, and to connect to my higher purpose, like the branches, I need to take care of myself.
A symbol that helps me succeed in having a positive state of mind
For those of you who haven’t seen this already, this frame is in my living room/workspace. I put it there as a reminder to stay grateful. Whenever I feel my mood dipping, I look at the frame and it acts as a cue to switch my perspective. There are times, when things start to annoy me. The other day, for example, I realised that my husband hadn’t taken the trash out (it’s his chore). Then I noticed that instead of putting some things away, he just moved them to another area, and these two things led me to think of other ways that he was being a “bad husband”; i.e. not doing his part in keeping our home a tidy space. I could have easily gotten upset if I wanted to. I could have decided he was lazy and that he doesn’t care about our home. But, I decided not to go there. I know it’s not the truth anyway. I looked over to my gratitude frame and I shifted my perspective: My husband is a good guy, he’s been very busy lately and sometimes when things get busy, we let less urgent things slide. He will catch up with stuff when he can. In the meantime, I am grateful that I married a man who is passionate about his business and works hard to keep us comfortable.
Just like that, my mood returned to peaceful and I avoided an argument with my husband that would have ruined my evening. I know this is a tiny issue, but gratitude symbols are helpful in much more serious situations as well!
What are some of your goals? And what kind of symbols could you use to help you succeed?