LA MESA — Charles Dickens' Pip isn't the only one with great expectations.
Most of us have them, says Dr. Allan J. Adler, medical director of Alvarado Parkway Institute and current president of the San Diego Society of Psychiatric Physicians.
Most of us use them like a club, he said.
Great expectations fly under many banners: "Career goals," "corporate objectives" and that annual favorite . . .
New Year's Resolutions!
As a psychiatrist who spends five hours a week seeing patients in private practice (in addition to other roles), Adler hears a lot about New Year's resolutions. He has to wonder if maybe they're a curse yearning to be a blessing.
Most take the form of needing to lose 15 pounds or more (as common a hope as the fat they wish to annihilate); needing to work, say, 15 hours a week more; needing to be more loving to spouse or children; needing to rid oneself of annoying debts--needing to, needing to, needing to.
Never have need-to's, plan-to's, should-have's and will-do's fought aging and time so aggressively--and so utterly unsuccessfully. People are hard on themselves, Adler said. New Year's resolutions often end up as battering rams for egos already made fragile by the crush of modern coping.
What's a well-meaning achiever to do?
They can stop taking themselves so seriously, Adler said.
He conceded that middle- to upper-middle-class Americans are more likely to make New Year's resolutions than someone struggling for survival (a street person, a starving Ethiopian, et al ).
"In a society where your main worries are survival, shelter, food, you don't have much time to worry about jogging," Adler said. "In a society where so much is taken for granted, you tend to focus a lot on bonus points (jogging, wanting to do more macrame, writing letters more often, etc.). The problem is, bonus points can become your entire focus."
Adler grew up as a Jew in Soviet Russia. As a child, he remembers his family having to hide, as potential victims of the Holocaust. Now 46, he runs a large medical institute--Alvarado Parkway--where he says resolutions sometimes obscure the commendable strides already made.
He suggests that few of us take the time to reward our achievements, let alone smell the roses along the pathways of life. We just keep resolving, he said. We keep wanting to achieve without realizing that in many ways we already have.
He sees great expectations as ultimately self-defeating, which is, of course, their biggest rub.
"So many times, New Year's resolutions end up being all-or-nothing propositions," he said. "Saying it's all or nothing is audacious, overambitious. It sets up a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. You often end up doing the opposite of what you intended."
You might gain 25 pounds instead of losing 15--if so, you set your goals too high; defeat gave way to surrender. Adler's advice: Be a clunker.
Chip away one step at a time, rather than playing the whole season in a single stroke. Be happy with each inch of progress--whether it's a waistline or a sonnet. He followed with a sports analogy.
When the San Diego Padres trailed the Chicago Cubs two games to zero in the 1984 National League playoffs, they adopted the viewpoint of needing to win one game, then the next one, then maybe the last one.
Rather than aiming for three at once, the Padres' one-at-a-time strategy proved successful. They ousted the Cubs, three games to two, and captured the pennant.
Adler sometimes sees patients who talk hopefully of losing weight, writing a book, working harder, loving harder, playing harder--all at the same time, with equally lavish results. They end up feeling guilty and defeated, and wonder what happened to rejuvenated and richly rewarded, lost adjectives for the Type A generation.
As T.S. Eliot once wrote: "Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the shadow."
Some people, Adler said, are lost in the shadows.
Work, love and play are the three essential components of life, he noted. Each must remain in balance for harmony to flow throughout a "well-adjusted" individual.
"If you say you want to work 25 hours a week more, and do, what happens to the rest of your life?" he asked. "Unilateral goals almost never succeed.
"If you say you want to play racquetball every day during work, what does that do to your job? Maybe you should play once or twice a week to start with, instead of doing it all at once and end up not playing at all, and then gaining weight.
"For the person who wants to write, why not a short story instead of a book? That's a metaphor that fits a lot of endeavors quite nicely."
So, crawl before you walk. Do a little before struggling to do a lot, and risk . . . doing nothing.
On the other hand, Adler said, resolving to make no New Year's resolutions might be the best idea of all.