Superhero Therapy: Mindfulness Skills to Help Teens and Young Adults Deal with Anxiety, Depression, and Trauma

Chapter 10

Leveling up in Life

Congratulations! You have completed your training at the Superhero Training Academy. I’m incredibly proud of you and all your hard work. It takes a lot of courage to face our own fears and follow our own valued paths. I therefore now pronounce you a superhero.

As you probably know, superheroing takes a lot of hard work and is a never-ending process. Rather, it is a life-long practice. Let’s spend some time talking about how you can continue superheroing and leveling up in real life.

First, let us take a look at your values again and see if anything has changed. On the next page, you will once again see a picture of the clocks displaying the different values that you might have. Draw in an arrow for each one indicating if you are putting in “too much,” “too little,” “not at all,” or “just the right” amount of time into each of these values. What did you notice? How do they compare to those in chapter 5? Did anything change? What still needs to be worked on?

It is perfectly normal for some values to shift while others might remain the same, or even get worse. Superhero work is a constant adjustment of our steps in order to balance and honor all the meaningful values we have.

Let us review some of the takeaway messages from what you might have learned. First and most important: avoidance almost always feels better in the short term, and almost always leads to worsening symptoms in the long term. Therefore, there is actually a high cost to avoidance: not living your life and allowing the villains to win. Instead, we can utilize some of the skills you learned in this book (and possibly from other sources as well) in order to help you take more superhero steps in your valued direction.

Some of these skills include:

·               • The willingness to experience difficult emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations

·               • Conjuring a defusion charm in order to reduce the believability of our thoughts

·               • Using mindfulness to observe your experiences

·               • Staying true to your superhero self, no matter the situation or environment you are in

·               • Practicing self-compassion (the healing potion), which allows you to be kind to yourself and to realize that you are not alone in your struggle

·               • Identifying your values and taking steps to move in those directions

In fact, I would imagine that you have already begun the process of change. We can take a look at the same survey you initially filled out to assess whether anything has changed. Please answer the following questions and count the number of True and False responses.

1. My symptoms overwhelm me T/F

2. I must get rid of my depression/anxiety/shame/anger T/F

3. I spend most of my time worrying about the future T/F

4. I spend a lot of my time fixating on the past T/F

5. My self-critical thoughts (such as “I’m not good enough” or “I’m not attractive enough”) have become my identity T/F

6. I don’t spend enough time doing things I care about T/F

7. I am unhappy with many aspects of my life T/F

What did you notice? Did anything change? What still needs to be worked on?

Keep in mind that it is perfectly normal to continue to struggle in some areas. In fact, Monica and Neil still struggle with some of their monsters at times, and Katrina does too, but overall they are getting better. It is also normal to have setbacks, especially after a drastic life change. But most people find that once they are able to get back to practicing their skills again, they are able to get back on track faster than they did when they initially began the training.

Problem-solving setbacks: are you expecting too much too soon?

One of the biggest reasons for setbacks has to do with our expectations of quick results. Every major project takes a lot of time and effort, and progress does not always go in a linear fashion. This means that some days we might do better than others, and some days we might struggle with something that was not an issue before. This is where willingness and self-compassion skills are especially important. The more willing we are to experience a setback and the more we can be kind to ourselves, the more likely we are to succeed.

For example, have you ever tried to diet? Have you ever told yourself, “Starting Monday I’m never eating unhealthy sugary foods again and I am going to exercise every day”? If you have, then chances are that such a rigid plan most likely was not successful. Unfortunately, what often happens when we do not succeed is that we become really hard on ourselves and give up trying altogether.

In one research study looking at the effects of self-criticism and rigidity versus self-compassion on healthy eating behaviors, participants, who were on a diet, were asked to eat a doughnut. Half of them were later taught a self-compassion practice: to be kind to themselves as everyone indulges once in a while. The other half of the research participants were not taught to practice self-compassion. All the participants were later asked to participate in a “taste test” where they would be able to eat as many candy pieces as they wished in order to rate them on the different taste properties. What did the researchers find? The participants who were not taught self-compassion ate twice as much candy as the ones who were taught self-compassion. This suggests that when we are able to forgive ourselves for experiencing setbacks, which are inevitable, we are more likely to be able to continue on our heroic journey.

Intention setting and practice

One of the best ways to continue on your superhero quest is to practice daily intention setting. Specifically it means setting one or two small, achievable goals for that day that would be in line with your values. At the end of the day, be sure to celebrate your successes and reevaluate your setbacks.

This is very important: the process of daily evaluations of your successes and setbacks is by no means intended to create self-criticism for what you were unable to achieve. It is painful enough to have a setback, and as we saw from the above-mentioned research, criticism and giving into our Shame monster can actually set us back even more. Instead, look at a setback as an opportunity, a heroic challenge. If every hero accomplished everything he or she wanted with ease and without any struggle, their stories would be boring and we would not enjoy them. Instead, we often see our favorite heroes sometimes unable to initially succeed on a quest, but with continued effort they eventually prevail. This is a similar practice. And in this practice it is as important, if not more important, to celebrate your successes as to note your setbacks.

And with this message, I leave you, my hero. Keep superheroing—you can save the world. I’m proud of you.

Superhero Steps

Here is your last assigned practice. Set aside some time weekly or every few weeks to reread one of the chapters and practice that skill. You can go in order or choose a chapter based on the current need.