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Three Percent Better

Matthew Cuddeback LCSW

One of the most common difficulties that clients bring up is just a general low mood, maybe you call it being in a funk, maybe sadness, maybe depression. Whatever you want to call it, people often report just not feeling very happy for an extended period and of course are looking for an answer for how to feel better. First it is okay to feel sad and not feel great all the time, it is important to feel this and understand this, but we also of course want to feel better too. There are many possible solutions to this problem, the one that I always bring up is the idea of “three percent better.”

We should not undervalue the fact that it is okay to not feel okay all the time, it is important to feel these feelings and understand them, which frankly is a whole other blog itself. Once you have done some of that important work then I suggest something that can be frustrating to hear at first but is also crucial to understanding how best to navigate such a low mood. There is likely no answer that makes you feel all better right away. It’s tough to hear this because it is such a difficult, painful place to be, but more dangerous is believing there is a magic answer to make you feel better. But and this is crucial, instead what you get is perhaps slower, but even more lasting change. The reason looking for big solutions, fast answers, or generally that magic answer is dangerous is because it rarely works, if it does it isn’t usually long lasting, and most of all, it can be profoundly damaging if the thing you think is supposed to make you feel better, doesn’t. 

So, what is this “three percent better” business, and how is that going to help? Let’s look at an example. Let’s say you have been in a funk, maybe depressed, struggling to find energy, the first step is to try something that will help. Yes, that is super vague, but that is definitely the point. Maybe you should order a meal that you particularly enjoy, maybe you should watch that goofy movie that usually makes you laugh, maybe you should go for a walk or a run. Now, this is not so different from the standard response you hear to how to try to feel better, but there is a key difference here. Let’s say the idea is to go for a run. And let’s say it didn’t really do that much for you. That can be so disheartening, especially since the often-used advice just didn’t fix the problem. Here’s the thing… that is okay. Of course, going for a run didn’t cure your depression. Maybe it was awful, you were sore, tired, you were frustrated it didn’t work. But, first, it is always a good idea to give your body what it needs. Second, maybe, just maybe, you felt just a bit better. Maybe it wasn’t because fitness is life, but maybe it’s because when you went for that run you liked how you looked in your new workout clothes or maybe when you were running a cute puppy ran up to you and was so excited to meet you. You scratched their ears, and they were so happy to have run into you. Now, that of course doesn’t cure your depression either, but it maybe made you feel a little better for a few minutes. That is where you got your three percent better.

So, what happens if that run made you feel three percent better, and that dorky movie you watched made you feel three percent better too, and talking to your best friend made you feel ten percent better, well now you are at sixteen percent better. That is not nothing. Or maybe it doesn’t, maybe that didn’t work. That’s okay, because you learned a lot of valuable information from the experience, which means you are not in the same difficult place you were prior to trying. The idea is that nothing is just going to fix everything, and as mentioned before, it is also okay to not feel greet all the time, there is a reason for it so in combination with doing things that help a bit, you should also spend timing feeling your feelings and understanding them. But feeling three percent is better than nothing and it brings with it a new perspective or view about what you are struggling with. So, next time you are not feeling well, maybe feeling depressed, try spending time understanding those feelings and then start looking for something that will make you feel three percent better.

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