Moving Beyond Words

Civil discourse is important, but we have to move beyond words and into a place of empathy and compassion for each other. We have to move away from the criticism and contempt. We have to start listening to each other.  Given our current political climate this becomes more important now than ever. The divisiveness in our country reminds me of couples who are in distress that come to therapy for help.  We need to start responding to each from a place of love and really try to understand what is at the heart of the matter for the other person. Give this TED talk a listen. Perhaps if we change our language we can begin to connect with each other and they can feel heard and then be more willing to listen.  I don't think we are as far apart on issues as we think we are. 

Unknown Stories

My grandmother, aunt, mother, sister, and I had fled Vietnam during the war and ended up in America as refugees.  I met my father for the first time when I was 20.   I found that it was more than the war and geography that separated my father and I on my subsequent visits.  There was language, culture, and age as barriers.  I grew up on a single story of my father, a romanticized vision.  He was prince charming. The reality is something I will never truly get to know, but I know there is more to him than the ideal that he is a knight in shining armour.  With all of the turmoil that faces us in the media these days, I want to remind you that there is more than one story, you just have to be willing to see it and to hear it. We have depth and dimension and I would encourage you to discover it about each other.  I try to listen for the unspoken stories and to know my clients beyond what is initially presented. I believe that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explains the danger of a single story well in her TED Talk. 

On being different

I don't know if I would describe myself as a misfit, but I have frequently felt like I was different. I have been in any number of social situations in which I did not feel that I could connect with others.  I think we all feel this way from time to time.  I think learning to be comfortable in our own skins is the true challenge of adulthood. It's about recognizing that we all belong in the room.  If you have time, listen to Linda Yuknavitch's TED Talk about being a misfit. 

 

The Four Rs

Summer is quite possibly my favorite season of the year, not because I like the weather so much, but because it reminds me of a time long gone.  As the sun rises earlier and the days stretch out before me, I am filled with the optimism of my childhood.  I have that sense of being carefree and filled with possibility and adventure. 

Vacation is defined as an extended period of relaxation and yet it seems that for many of us it has become a period of time off that leaves us exhausted by demands that we feel unable to refuse and activities that stress us out rather than rejuvenate us. How many of you have come home from a vacation and stated that you needed a vacation from your vacation?  The sweetness of vacation leaves many with a bitter taste in their mouths. 

For many people today a long vacation of 2 weeks is out of the question for myriad reasons. The question for many of us is how do we get that sense of freedom, rejuvenation, and relaxation when we are confined by limited resources and far too many obligations?  In my practice I often talk about finding balance through the four Rs.  No, I'm not talking about reading, writing, and arithmetic.  Rather finding balance through rest, relaxation, recreation, and relationships. 

Rest and relaxation need to be a part of our daily practice of living just as eating and exercising are.  When we get into a habit of something it becomes easier. As a culture we would benefit from cultivating the habit of resting and relaxing.  It is essential to our well-being and will actually increase our productivity.  Take a moment to breath during your day and to let go of the stress and tension that have been building up in your body.  Using your breath is a good way to reset physically and mentally. Start with two minutes.  No one is so busy that they cannot spare two minutes to breathe. 

The other two Rs: recreation and relationships usually go hand in hand.  Take time to spend with family and friends.  Go do something with the people you love.  We get so caught up with "doing" that we often stop living our lives and our values.  Ask yourself what is most important to you and if you are making choices that reflect those values. Take a break from the daily grind to do something fun, to laugh, to sing, to dance, to create, to build, to play. 

Create balance in your life so there is less desperation for that long vacation. When you go on vacation, hopefully the daily and weekly practice of rest, relaxation, recreation and relationships will prepare you for what vacations are really meant to be. Take a break today and practice one of the four Rs. 

 

Habit Creation

"The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken."   ~ Samuel Johnson.

In about an hour I'll be giving a talk at the YMCA in Kailua about creating habits. Breaking bad habits and creating good ones is perhaps easier than we think it is. Everyone has set a New Year' resolution only to find that by the end of winter or early spring it has fallen by the wayside. Many of us think that the goal itself isn't hard and often we already know how to do it and yet success seems just out of reach. We can even identify all the things that get in the way of our success. We just can't quite get the momentum we need. So here are some tips for creating habits.  

1.  Break the habit or goal down into smaller, teenie, tiny steps or micro-habits. No step is too small in this case. Let's say you want to get in the habit of practicing yoga every day. Begin with taking out your yoga mat and setting it up. Nothing else. Do this every day and when it becomes automatic move on to the next associated habit for yoga. 

2.  Pair micro-habit with a trigger. In this case a trigger can be anything you already do automatically in your day. The trigger should be something you do daily and consistently. For example, when clients struggle with remembering to take medications at night I will have them pair it with brushing their teeth or flossing if that is something they already do each night. After a time the brushing or flossing becomes a trigger for taking the medications. 

3.  Reward yourself for the progress you make and for completing each step. 

4.  Evaluate your progress over time. A good example of this is measuring weight loss. We don't get on the scale multiple times a day to see if we are losing weight. We do it once a week at the same time to see what the net gains and losses are. Have realistic self-talk when you are evaluating your goals. Don't beat yourself up if you missed a day or your performance wasn't perfect. 

5.  Set lifelines for yourself. If you don't know what lifelines are, then read my first blog post which is on this topic of setting goals. 

6. Repeat these steps over and over and over. Keep in mind that the practice of is often more important than the habit itself. An old runners trick is to just put our shoes on and see how it feels, then saying we will walk down the street or around the block, eventually we end up running, but of course the first step was to put on the shoes. So as in step one of this list, if you want to be a runner, just start by putting on your shoes every day. 

There is an old saying that it takes 21 days to create a habit and maybe that is true, but I think we can also build long term success in smaller steps with micro-habits that can lead to lifelong changes.  What tiny thing will you start working on today?

Play with Me

“The playing adult steps sideward into another reality; the playing child advances forward to new stages of mastery.” – Erik H. Erikson

Play is how children make sense of the world and of their experiences in it.   It helps them to learn, discover new things, master skills, and process emotional upset.  Play lets children be the master of their own universe where they are in charge, competent, and can do anything.  It lets them recover from stress and challenges they may face in school or other areas of their lives.  For adults play gives us a reprieve from the fast paced demands of our work and family lives. Play is way to connect with our children, to strengthen bonds, or to reconnect after a period of separation.   Play allows us to build intimacy and closeness in our relationships. Opportunities for play surround us everywhere and can be done at any time.  Instead of nagging at our children to comply with our requests or getting frustrated with them when they aren’t listening try making the situation playful to engage them. You are more likely to get your child to engage when they think it is play than when they think of it as a chore.  Remember that “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

When your child asks you to play, say yes and then become a part of their world.  Get down on their level and see the world as they see it.  Suspend belief and embrace joy of playing.  Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It is a happy talent to know how to play.”   It is one we all have, yet many adults have forgotten how to play along the road to adulthood.  Let your children remind you how to play because your life will be better for it. Your relationships will be better for it and so will your mood.   Your kids don’t care what kind of day you had at work or what is still on your to-do list.  They just want to spend time with you and be close to you.  And if all this weren’t enough here are some more reasons to play:

1.       Play teaches us to use our imagination

2.       Play decreases stress and frustration

3.       Play can help us solve problems

4.       Play improves cognitive functioning

5.       Play increases social awareness and cooperation.

Whatever else you do today, I want to challenge each of you to take a moment to indulge your inner child or the very real child in front of  you who is asking to play.  It costs you nothing and can yield so much benefit.  Go ahead and laugh and sing and dance and imagine and create. 

21 Day Challenge

As I log on to Facebook this month, I notice that many of my friends are posting about things for which they are grateful. Some are doing it each day. I realize that much of it is stimulated by our favorite food holiday that is approaching. I think it is great, but what I would challenge everyone to do it to be mindful of what your blessings are everyday of the year. It's easy to tell someone to count their blessings each day and on some level we all know that it's good, but I want to take a moment to really tell you why.  

Negativity is easy.  We don't have to think about it.  It's like weeds in a garden. They spring up effortlessly. Being grateful takes deliberate effort.  It's like planting flowers or vegetables in your garden. You have to decide what to plant and then you have to water and feed them for them to flourish. So while it is important to weed out the negativity, particularly if you are prone to depression, planting the positive is equally, if not more important. 

So how do we plant the positive?  I often challenge clients to identify three things they are grateful for each day.  It's about cultivating a perspective, establishing a mindset, and creating a filter with which you view the world.  It's no easy task, which is why I suggest identifying three things to get your brains thinking about what is positive.  It helps to elevate mood, but more importantly it is about changing your automatic thoughts. I want clients to see the ordinary in new ways and to be able to appreciate small things.  Being grateful for family, friends, health, jobs, for the big stuff is easy. Being grateful for the ordinary is harder.  It's harder to see the beauty in the ordinary, in the everyday things, the small things we take for granted. Finding ways to be grateful for the technology, the conveniences, the raw beauty that surrounds us everyday is just as important as being grateful for the big stuff.  When we can wake up each day grateful, regardless of weather, of our health, or the challenges ahead of us, then we know we have been successful at truly cultivating gratitude.

Research tells us that people who take the time to identify what they are grateful for are happier than those that don't.  And who couldn't use a little more happiness in their life?  It takes 21 days to create a new habit and gratitude seems to be a habit worth cultivating. I challenge you to cultivate a mindset of gratitude such that your default setting is to look for the good and appreciate the positive in every situation.  I challenge you to do this everyday of your life, not just in November.  Happiness is a skill that can be cultivated. What will you plant in your garden?

Lifelines

I read a lot, some is for pleasure, but most is out of necessity.  Sometimes I read things that cause a seismic shift in the way I think.  I was reading about setting goals not to long ago and how people who set goals are happier. Have you ever set a goal you didn't want to reach?  The idea is that a goal is something we either want or need to achieve and if this is the case, then reaching said goal should further our lives, increase our happiness, or perhaps decrease our pain.  

As I read on the author talked about how we set deadlines to motivate ourselves to met those goals.  The argument was that the concept of a deadline was good, but that the word didn't really fit. So why then do we use the word deadline? Deadlines themselves, can spur us into action by creating tension, but for many they inspire dread and anxiety that mounts each day as the time approaches when one must evaluate if he or she has been successful. For others deadlines often come and go without a second thought.

Perhaps it is time to reconceptualize the idea of deadlines and rename them lifelines as this author proposed. Lifelines are designed to move us in the direction of our goals and increase our joy and help us to focus on the beauty of being in the moment and working hard on something we want.  I have embraced this concept and have started setting lifelines for myself.  When I think of a lifeline I want to move toward it. As much as deadlines have kept me on track, lifelines imbue me with a sense of optimism, of not only achieving the goal I have set for myself, but it frames the journey as one of joy.  I see lifelines as threads that create a new fabric in my life, one that is softer, more comforting and more joyful and less demanding than that looming deadline of the past.  One of the first lifelines I set for myself was getting this website up and writing this blog.  While I didn't meet the lifeline i set for myself with respect to this blog, I  realize that by calling it a lifeline there was also less guilt and shame when I did not succeed on the date I had set for myself.  Not having to carry around negative feelings also left more room for my day to day experience to be filled with joy and the recognition that I was still moving in the direction of my dreams. What lifeline will you set for yourself today?