Caryn Beth Rosenthal ceremoniously dumped her boyfriend of 10 years on July 5, 2009 — the very same week Maryjane Fahey was dumped by her boyfriend of seven.
On the surface, only one of those scenarios seems like a choice. But as both women will (happily, loudly, hilariously) tell you, the decisions following their breakups are the ones that really count.
"Everything in life is a choice," Rosenthal says. "You can choose to be happy, you can choose to take a proactive stance and get your autonomy back. You are driving the bus."
Rosenthal and Fahey decided to team up and write the newly released "Dumped: A Grown-Up Guide to Gettin' Off Your Ass and Over Your Ex in Record Time" (Sellers Publishing). It's a joyous, raucous pick-me-up filled with reminders that you're better off having moved on.
It's also a not-so-subtle reminder that you may not like what life is dishing up, but you don't have to eat it. (And you certainly don't have to ask for seconds.)
"We talk in the book about exploring what you want in life, as well as who you want," Fahey says. "It's so important to understand that you're a free person."
A bitter breakup may not be in your recent past (or future). But statistically speaking, something is likely to be gnawing at you these days. Forty-seven percent of Americans report experiencing "a lot of happiness and enjoyment without a lot of stress and worry," according to the most recent Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which tracks our well-being via telephone interviews with 1,000 adults. That leaves a majority of us experiencing a little less.
Jonathan Alpert, a New York-based psychotherapist, says that many of his patients believe themselves mired in situations over which they have no control.
"I can't tell you how many clients came to me after they wished and wished for better lives, only to see their lives continually get worse," Alpert says. "Rather than being proactive and taking the initiative, people spend time hoping that the right person will magically walk into their life, that the job promotion will just materialize or that their spouse will suddenly start behaving in a less irritating way."
Setbacks, some of them dire and gut-wrenching, will certainly occur during your lifetime. No amount of good decision-making will protect you from the pain of losing a beloved family member, for example.
But if you feel as if life is handing you a series of lousy breaks, it may be time to take a full accounting of your role in the less-than-ideal outcomes.
"Rather than looking at others as the reason you are stuck or can't accomplish something, you need to look at what is within your control," says Alpert, whose new book, "Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days" (Center Street), suggests a five-step plan to break your stasis. "The blame game is a form of avoidance. The more we focus on others being the reason for our problems, the longer we go without addressing our own issues. Solutions will elude people who look at others as the culprit."
Acknowledging that we have the power to effect change means deciding whether — and how —to wield that power.
"For many, the fear of the unknown is far more daunting than living with the anxiety they know," Alpert says. "We get comfortable being uncomfortable."
So we wait.
"Waiting and wishing for change are two of the biggest things that hold people back from achieving their goals and success. They are about as effective as doing nothing," Alpert says. "If you wait or wish for your dreams to unfold, they will remain dreams. If you take action with a smart and practical plan, then you'll turn your dreams into a reality."
Problem is, a smart and practical plan is no small achievement for those of us who are decision-challenged. Which is to say most of us.
"When you ask most people, 'How do you make big decisions?' they say, 'I go with my gut,'" says Hal Mooz, author of "Make Up Your Mind: A Decision-Making Guide to Thinking Clearly and Choosing Wisely" (Wiley). "Boy, is that risky. You might as well just flip a coin."
By approaching decisions more mindfully — measuring what's at stake, characterizing alternatives, applying appropriate judgment — we can introduce real, positive change in our lives, Mooz argues.
"If you are decision fit, you will naturally be physically fit because you'll be making the right food choices and exercising and taking care of yourself," he says. "Decision fitness makes us good parents, good mates, good at business. It's the most important skill we can hone."
But we often get stuck, Mooz says, in that spot between deciding to make changes and actually making the changes.
"Individuals will usually judge themselves by their best intentions," Mooz writes in "Make Up Your Mind," "even though the intentions may never get implemented by the triggering action."
Conversely, "people will usually judge others by their worst action," he says.
Particularly if we can blame our own problems on someone else's worst actions.
Enough is enough, Alpert says.
"Defy the norm, be curious and don't accept the status quo," he says. "By taking ownership of your life, you'll feel fulfilled, happy and life will have a purpose. Those who do things simply to satisfy others end up feeling resentful or empty at best. Those who establish their own goals based on their own expectations go on to feel accomplished."
You've decided to change. Now what?
Three steps to get that change ball rolling.
Change your self-talk. "Draw a line down the center of a paper," says psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert. "On the left write the negative, self-defeating statements you find yourself thinking. On the right, reframe those thoughts. 'She'll never agree to join me on a date' can be reframed with, 'I don't know if she'll say no or yes to me, and I won't know unless I ask.' Over time, people will start to catch their negative and self-defeating self-talk and will be able to think in a positive and fearless way."
Identify what you can control. "I worked with an actress who blamed others for her not getting picked for parts in movies," Alpert recalls. "I suggested she look at what she can actually control and examine her acting skills. She can control what roles she tries for, and how she studies and prepares to play the characters. The adjustments in how she thought about the problems proved to be a game-changer for her."
Ditch your routine. "I try to do one new thing a day in my hometown," writes Maryjane Fahey, co-author of "Dumped." "It might be as simple as using the gorgeous reading room at the New York Public Library or exploring a different part of the city on my bike or maybe nursing a cocktail at a much-ballyhooed lounge. Be curious!"