Friday, April 20, 2012

Marking Milestones

It seems to be practically instinctive, the marking of milestones. From birth, our parents note our first step, first tooth, first word, first day of school. We learn to do the same, remembering our first kiss, first car, first day of a new job...etc. It's not just "firsts," though. Sometimes milestones are best (or worst) performances, such as athletes' "personal bests." Milestones can also be momentous occasions or achievements, such as graduations, weddings, baptisms and bar mitzvahs, among other events. Finally, milestones can be "lasts" - for example, the last day of school, the last time/place we saw someone, or the last time we did something we've now given up (like one's last drink in AA).

We mark milestones in all sorts of ways. This topic came to me as I followed news coverage of a milestone in my native Red Sox Nation: today is the 100th anniversary of the very first game ever played in Fenway Park. Now, that may or may not be of any interest to you whatsoever. However, it is interesting to note how that milestone has been celebrated. The two teams who played 100 years ago are playing again today...dressed in reproduction 1912 uniforms no less. Everyone alive who's ever been part of the Red Sox organization has been invited back to the park to participate in festivities, and some of the favorites are throwing out ceremonial first pitches. A special fanfare was commissioned to be composed, and is being performed by the Boston Pops. And of course, everyone is telling all of their most memorable Fenway stories.

I think we mark our own milestones in ways that are less sensational, but none-the-less similar. We remember the stories on anniversaries. We use objects as tangible reminders or symbols. Maybe we even try to recreate the experience. All of these acts serve the psychological purpose of meaning making - they help us make sense of our lives, and life in general. They help us see how far we've come, to keep us motivated to keep going. They connect us with one another through time and space.

Similarly, marking milestones can be useful in therapy. Celebrations of important achievements, symbols of where clients have been or where they're going, and markers of baby steps along the way - like chips in AA to mark 24 hours, 30 days, 90 days, 1 year sober - create a trajectory of growth and development that clients can look back on. In doing so, they can better recognize progress that may otherwise be hidden by the tumult of the path, and they continue to "re-author preferred narratives" of their lives.

How do you mark milestones in your own life? How do you incorporate awareness of milestones into therapy?

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