When you think about what it means to be a hero, what values come to mind? After voters chose Patty O’Neil as “The Hero” on TNT’s show with the same name, she wrapped it up with one word: willing.
Meet local heroes. They are your neighbors, your salesmen, your restaurant managers, your parents. They are the people you talk to each day who struggle and who are willing to consider a way out.
Willingness is a key part in what acceptance and commitment therapy, an evidence-based approach to life change. A.C.T. incorporates steps toward willingness to allow space for uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. It does not mean we want them, like them or agree with our struggles. Willingness to allow and tolerate the struggle within ourselves is step one while taking actions that reflect what matters to us.
Many of us don’t find willingness because we think we have to wait for wantingness to show up first.
These people have realized the secret key to being a hero in our community because they didn’t wait to want to change, they exercised willingness to change while taking a step toward something different.
Consider the restaurant manager in her 20s, a mom and loving wife, waiting for her spouse’s immigration status change to allow them to be reunited as a family. She is willing to accept stress by working overtime and staying true to her values of kindness with every customer she meets. With her free time she is willing to practice her Rosetta Stone English lessons despite her worries and uneasiness to find better work.
A local Naperville salesman in his 60s, after feeling down in life, found willingness. After focusing on his values and finding what matters most to him, he found willingness to trust his body, grab a yoga mat and for the first time in his life take a yoga class. After many minutes of meditating and 20 pounds lighter, his goal was to show willingness to try something different to get unstuck so that he could live a more meaningful life. Now he is doing just that while still selling cars.
A couple in the area who after 20-plus years of being together found themselves in a place of gridlock despite their intense love for one another. For them willingness looked like practicing listening to one another, taking regular date nights and willingness to find new ways to connect again. Now they miss each other when one goes out to play soccer and can’t stop smiling when together in the same room.
Why are these people heroes? Because their ability to manage stress is no different than you or I. The difference is they are willing to allow uncomfortable thoughts and feelings to come and go while not avoiding the areas of their lives that are meaningful.
How do your actions, not just in front of others but when no one is watching, reflect what matters most to you? In the spirit of the mindful café, contact me and let me know who are your heroes so that we can share their willingness and commitment with others.
Stephanie Willis is president of Willis Counseling & Consulting, a private group therapy practice in Naperville and Chicago. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 630-481-6463.