Freedom. Countless people have valued it, fought for it and even gave their life for it. Why? Why do people place such importance on the concept of having the ability to follow there hearts, honor their own beliefs and pursue their own happiness without being told by others what happiness means?The need for freedom seems fundamental to peoples sense of happiness. We do not like to be told how we should live our lives. On a global and sociopolitical scale, the quest for freedom seems to cross culture and time. But, on a more personal level, the quest for freedom from our own insecurities and self-doubt also seems to be universal.The question to consider is this what would I be willing to do to have independence from the thoughts, feelings and actions that hold me back from my ultimate happiness? On a personal level, this battle from within is what separates those who are able to fulfill their dreams and goals of happiness from those who continue to oppress themselves with their own negative thinking and self-defeating actions. In order to answer this question, we first need to be aware of the things that we do that stand in our own way and prevent happiness. By learning our own patterns of self-oppression, we can choose to fight to free ourselves from these patterns and allow the ultimate realization of our personally defined happiness. From there, it takes courage, persistence and a little creativity to create the happiness that you want.So, to ask a simple (but not easy) question, are you truly able to celebrate your personal Independence Day this year?
For those who have seen me recently, you know that there’s a lot of that going on in my work life. The new office came with a beautiful view and a few surprises. The building has been under construction and has looked more like a “war zone” than an office building. But still, despite all the chaos of moving and of moving into a building under construction, I have found myself at peace with the process.
This has gotten me thinking about the process of change and how it can be both the most exciting and the most stressful experience. And, this has gotten me thinking about that old cliché, “sometimes things have to get worse before they get better.”
So many times, people have said to me, “Dr. Irene, I know I came to see you because I needed to make some important changes in my life. But, now that I’ve started to make those changes, I almost feel worse. I’m not sure if this is worth it.”
Whenever we make changes in our lives, both major and minor ones, we create a new sensation in our body, our mind and our spirit. In our body, this sensation can present itself as increased heart rate, tightness in the chest or muscles, and a sense of a different kind of energy in our body. In the mind, this sensation can present itself as “obsessing” over ever thought or decision about the event, difficulty concentrating on other things, and changes in mood. In the spirit, this can lead to feelings of uncertainty and discomfort.
What fascinates me most is that these sensations can be interpreted as either anxiety or excitement. In fact, the primary difference in the experience of anxiety or excitement is in whether you see the situation for its potential good outcomes or for all the things that could go wrong.
This is where that old cliché comes in. In that moment of time when we don’t quite know what to make of the situation, our experience is that the process of making the change is more uncomfortable than the situation we wanted to change. We want to know how things will end. It’s like we’re watching a suspenseful thriller of a movie and all of a sudden there’s a break, leaving us uncomfortably yelling at the TV while we have to watch some ridiculous commercial and wonder what happens next. That moment is very uncomfortable.
But, once we begin to formulate an opinion about how things are going – do they seem to be going well or do they seem be going not so well – and, we communicate that opinion to our body, mind and spirit, the situation begins to change. The sensations begin to make sense. We begin to see things for the beauty of their potential.
So, I guess what I’m suggesting is, before you start panicking about the process of the change, the construction of your future if you will, give yourself some time to unfold the progress and make sense of the outcome. Once the dust clears and you begin to see the potential of the situation, things can look rather exciting.
I recently had a conversation with someone that began, “I’m not going to do that anymore.” Being the action-oriented person that I am, I asked, “That’s great! How are you going to pull that off?” The person on the receiving end of the question took a moment and said, “I don’t really know…just not do it I guess.” Suddenly, I found myself concerned for her ability to be successful in meeting her goal. For something so important, that answer left a lot of reassurance to be desired.
My next question was, “If I wanted to give you directions to get somewhere, would you be able to get there if the only thing I told you was ‘don’t turn right’?” At that moment a light came on for both of us. When we focus on what we’re not going to do, that simply does not give us enough information. To travel a path, we need an active set of directions.
It is a fundamental law of nature that two mutually exclusive events cannot take place at the same time. It is also a fundamental law of behavior that people act in the positive, not the negative. Meaning, when we are not doing something (the negative) we are by definition doing something else (the positive). So, to harness the power of the laws of nature and behavior, if we want to create success, we must focus on creating the mutually exclusive event.
For example, if you think “I don’t want to be a couch potato anymore”, how about making a commitment to go for a 20 minute walk after dinner every night? How many walking couch potatoes do you know? Or, if you don’t want to have stress headaches, how about choosing a stress management technique (yoga, meditation, acupuncture, exercise, etc) and sticking with it for a month? Or, if you don’t want to continue the same negative relationship patterns, how about identifying specifics actions you can take to attract the person or relationship you want?
The important point here is you can give yourself a road map to your goals by focusing on giving yourself point-by-point directions rather than relying on the “don’t turn right” approach. With an active road map, you can get anywhere you can imagine.
1) Remember that you love this person! – Your mission in the argument is to express your point of view – not to hurt the other person’s feelings or attack them. Hurting someone’s feelings pretty much insures that they will not listen to what you have to say.
2) Use “I” statements. For example, “I feel _______ when you …” – “I” statements help keep you focused on what it is you are trying to say about how you feel. They also help you avoid attacking the other person and cue the other person in to what you are trying to communicate.
3) Watch your tone of voice – The louder you yell, the less the other person can hear you! If you notice your voice getting louder, STOP and take a deep breathe before going on in a lower tone.
4) If you can’t say something constructive, don’t say anything at all – It is better to walk away from an argument than to let it escalate when you feel you can’t control yourself. Give yourself and your partner room to breathe and cool off!
5) Before arguing about it, ask yourself “how important is this really?” – Rule of thumb: If you won’t care about it in 2 days it probably isn’t worth arguing about. Another rule of thumb: If in the middle of the argument you can’t remember what you are arguing about, it’s probably not worth arguing about.
6) Stick to the CURRENT point – If you must bring up a past argument or situation, specifically point out the connection between that event and the current argument. Warn your partner that you are bringing this up in context not content.
7) Own up to your part – Try to stop and think about what part you are playing in the conflict. What can you do to tone things down and move the communication from argument to conversation? For example, sometimes you need to admit that you are being irrational, sarcastic, or cranky.
8) Identify an acceptable outcome – In every interaction, there is an ideal outcome and an acceptable outcome. You may not get your ideal outcome (“I promise honey I will always clean up after myself “)…what would you be willing to accept (“I will go do the laundry right now.”)
9) Paraphrase to make sure you are hearing each other correctly – Repeat in your own words what you just heard your partner say. Make sure you are responding to what they are saying and not what you think you heard!
10) Peace offerings and Making up – Remember that the argument must end. When it is all over, remind your partner that you love them even when you argue.
It seems like a simple question but it’s not one that we tend to think about often. We may think about why we can’t seem to get what we want. We may think about why we can’t seem to do what we think we “should” do. We may think about what’s standing in our way of success. But, we don’t often stop to think about how much we value ourselves and how much we can appreciate our own strengths and gifts. Ironically, as a result, we often can’t seem to find satisfying answers to the other questions.
This insight first came to me one early morning while I was walking my dog. Unfortunately, that setting led to this concept being known to me as The Dog Poop Theory [If you are the creative type and can come up with another name for it, please let me know.] Being a responsible dog owner and neighbor, I found myself one morning walking through the neighborhood carrying a bag of, you guessed it, dog poop. I remember thinking to myself, “I wish I could just get rid of this dog poop. I wish I could give to someone, or leave it on the curb, or just throw it out. I’d do anything to get rid of it.” So far, not great insight, just plain old common sense. Being half awake and slightly delirious, I remember my next thought being, “I wish this was a bag of gold or jewels instead. Then, it would be really valuable. I wouldn’t even dream of getting rid of it or letting someone take it away from me. I’d probably do everything I can to protect it.”
Later on in the morning, when I was fully awake and able to reflect on what I had thought, I realized the true implications of my half-awake meditations. When we find something valuable and important, we will do whatever we can to protect it and keep it safe. We will take full responsibility of keeping it in our possession. We would be willing to fight to keep it; we would cherish it and protect it. But, if we find something worthless or even offensive, then not only are we not likely to protect it and cherish it, but we are likely to be careless with it and wish for it’s destruction.
If you find yourself valuable, you are likely to do what you can to take responsibility for your well-being and promote yourself in any way possible. You are likely to go that extra mile and even do things that aren’t easy just to protect something that you would not dream of letting anyone damage or take away from you. If you don’t value yourself, then you are likely to be reckless and careless with yourself, your body-mind-spirit, your amibitions and your dreams. Not only are you not likely to put forward effort to protect and promote yourself, you are in fact likely to actively be self-destructive.
Taking this theory one step further, if you are treating yourself with respect and courtesy, then you are sending yourself the message that you are valuable and further efforts to promote your well-being are necessary at any cost. if you are treating yourself with disrespect and doing things that you know are hurtful to yourself, then you are sending yourself the message that you are not worth protecting and, in fact, are worth destroying. You are treating yourself like dog poop.
So, the decision is yours. Are you gold or are you dog poop? Your future depends on the answer.
We often have good intentions to make healthy life decisions and stick with them. Often, it seems like “things just get in the way” and we find ourselves saying, “if only this were different, I would be successful.” What we don’t realize is that the thing that needs to be different is our own inner voice.
The “inner critic” demands either perfection or surrender. We’re very familiar with that little voice that nags us into believing that anything other than a perfect success rate is not worth trying. It points out our previous “failures” and tells us that other things will stand in the way of getting what we want. In a word, it sabotages our efforts.
The “inner coach” supports our efforts, motivates us to keep trying even when we’re not 100% successful, keeps us practicing for success, and helps us figure out what we’re doing that could be standing in the way of our performance. Think of it as a personal trainer for your attitude!
Enhancing Your Inner Coach
Step 1: Figure out what you want to accomplish
This may seem self-explanatory but sometimes the reason we don’t notice our success is because we don’t have clear goals. Saying, “I want to lose weight” is a big task! Telling yourself, “I wan t to stick to the diet I choose for one month” or “I want to lose 5 pounds” gives us a finish-line.
Step 2: Set yourself up to meet your goal
Think about what you would need to do to accomplish the task. Break the goal up into smaller steps that lead you in the right direction. That way you know when you’re on the right track. For example, want a new job? How about updating your resume, registering with an online classified service, researching the industry in your area, contacting prospective employers? Along the way, you can see your progress and redirect yourself from going off-track.
Step 3: Remove obstacles and problem solve
Pay attention to the things in your life that could stand in your way. Most of the time, with some planning and problem-solving, an obstacle can be removed or, at least, set aside for a while. You may have to ask others to help. A coach isn’t much good without a team! Some things to look out for include making excuses for why you can’t follow through, scheduling too many things for the same time, and making decisions that bring you further from your goal.
Step 4: Reward your success.
Give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back for progress made. Remember you are shooting for progress, not perfection! The bigger the success, the bigger the reward should be.
Simple Questions for Quieting Your Inner Critic
Am I taking an “all-or-nothing” point of view?
Am I demanding perfection instead of rewarding progress?
Am I exaggerating the challenges or making excuses for why I can’t possibly succeed?
Am I hungry, angry, lonely or tired? Is this interfering in my ability to make sound decisions?
Is this line of thinking going to help me or discourage me?
If I wanted to be more positive, what would I say to myself?
Research on human behavior suggests that there are 5 stages of preparing to make a change in your life. Your intentions, motivations and actions will differ depending on which stage you are in at the time.
There is nothing “bad” about being in any of these stages. It is simply important to understand which stage you are in at the moment so that you can have realistic expectations of yourself and a clear understanding of the consequences of making the choices you are making. Trying to force yourself into something you are not ready for can lead to frustration, anger, resentment, guilt and feeling badly about yourself. This is the breeding ground for “shoulds.” [If you don’t know what I mean by that, it may be time for a refresher session 🙂 ] At the same time, if you are ready to make a change, you can harness that energy into taking actions that will lead you in the right direction and inspire you to succeed. And most importantly, if you have already made an important change, if you skip the last step, you may find yourself back at square one.
According to psychology researchers Prochaska and DiClemente, these are the stages that we all must go through in order to be capable of change in our lives:
Precontemplation is the stage at which there is no intention to change behavior in the foreseeable future. “Pre” meaning before and “Contemplation” meaning thinking about it. Many individuals in this stage are unaware or under-aware of their problems. Because of this, they haven’t even started thinking about the situation as something that needs to be changed. Depending on what the situation is, staying in precontemplation too long can have serious negative consequences. This may be stage when others have noticed the need for change and are starting to bring it to your attention.
Contemplation is the stage in which people are aware that a change is necessary and are seriously thinking about it but have not yet made a commitment to take action. The individual at this stage is willing to think about making changes or may even be willing to plan to make a change “some day.” However, the individual at this stage is not motivated enough to take the necessary steps at this point in time. Expecting behaviors to change at this stage would be unrealistic. This could set you up for frustration or, worse yet, a feeling that you just can’t do it. The truth is – you’re just not yet ready to do it.
Preparation is a stage that combines intention and changes in behaviors. Individuals in this stage are intending to take action in the next month or so. They might start making small changes in an effort to get started. An individual in this stage is actively making plans, has a clear understanding of what they need to do and why they need to do it, and might be testing out small changes. But, it would be unrealistic to expect at this stage that the person would be consistent in action or fully committed to making necessary changes. You might call this the trial-and-error phase.
Action is the stage in which individuals modify their actions, experiences, or environment in order to achieve their goal. Action requires considerable commitment of time and energy. Planning and structure are an important part of taking motivation and turning it into changes in actions. This is where the good stuff happens!
Maintenance is the stage in which people work to prevent going back to old habits and focus on staying on track for the long haul. For some, this is the hardest stage of all. Some people will slip back into preparation at times or falter in their resolve to action. At this stage, it is critical to have a solid plan for staying on track or, at least, not slipping back past preparation.
Think about something that you have been wanting to change or something that other’s have been suggesting you change. Think about what you would need to do if you, hypothetically, decided to put effort into making it happen. Then, think about each one of those tasks and identify for yourself – are you thinking about it? making small changes in trying to get started? fully committed to it? or, working on keeping it up?
Success is not just in the completion of the change…success lies in doing the best you can at the stage you are in and being aware of what comes next.
It’s common sense that we all need to manage our stress. But, did you know that managing stress effectively is a matter of health?
The Stress Response is a series of biochemical events in the human body designed to help a person respond to some sense of danger in the environment. This reaction is intended to help mobilize the body to respond to the danger through either Fight or Flight. While this response serves us well when we are in immediate danger (like when a car is coming straight at us and we need to get out of the way quickly), it has significant negative effects on health when it happens frequently and over a long period of time.
Prolonged exposure to the stress response creates and/or aggrevates many health conditions. Heart conditions, muscular pain, gastrointestinal illness, dysfunctions of the reproductive system, breathing difficulties, skin problems and immune system functions are all negatively impacted by chronic stress.
That’s the bad news….the good news is that active relaxation for a mere 10-15 minutes a day can reduce the negative impact of stress and create a positive Relaxation Response that will reduce blood pressure, slow breathing rate and increase blood flow to muscles (i.e. reduce muscular pain). Relaxation and meditation can also reduce the symptoms of pre-existing medical conditions, such as fatigue, depression, anxiety, and muscular pain.
Here’s an easy way to start increasing your relaxation today.
Do this exercise for 5 minutes 2-3 times throughout your day:
1. Select a comfortable sitting position.
2. Close your eyes and direct your attention to your own breathing process.
3. Put your thumb on your navel and lower the palm of your hand down onto your belly. Breathe into your nose as if you are smelling flowers. You will notice your belly rise as you breathe in. Breathe out as if you were blowing out birthday candles. You will notice your belly fall as you breathe out.
4. Focus on your breathing. Notice the cool air as it enters your nose and the warm air as it leaves your mouth. If thoughts come, notice them briefly and then redirect your attention to your breath. Imagine your thoughts floating away on a cloud and know that you can always get back to them later.
5. After 5 minutes, stand and stretch before proceeding with your day.
The take home message:
We plan for every situation – we have a financial plan, a home emergency plan, a vacation plan, a health insurance plan – Make sure to have a self-care plan! If you plan to care for your health and manage your stress level now, you will save yourself much distress later.
Would you like help creating a self-care plan? Do you think you could benefit from relaxation training? Call Dr. Irene at (954) 692-3570 or e-mail your questions.
Its that time of year Graduation time! The walk across the stage is a time of excitement and a time to take pride in all your hard work. Congratulations to all the graduates for your accomplishments and commitment to your education!!
Having been in several graduations while becoming a psychologist, I remember thinking, Now that I have all this knowledge, what direction do I go? And the irony was it happened every time when I graduated high school, when I completed my undergraduate degree and even when I received my doctorate.
Formal education teaches us to discover our interests and, if were lucky, set goals. Setting goals is an important first step to turning our interests into careers that bring us feelings of satisfaction (and, in most cases, income). But, setting goals is not enough. Turning those goals into realities takes focus, planning, problem-solving, creativity, motivation and perseverance. Getting all those things to come together can be a real challenge. And, when they dont, the frustration is like no other. That frustration can then stand in the way of continuing to work towards a dream or, worse yet, from believing in yourself.
In the years of helping myself and others achieve goals, here are some helpful hints to get you started:
- Acknowledge accomplishments To be successful, you have to believe in yourself. What better proof of your abilities than your past track record! Taking the time to acknowledge your past successes emphasizes that future success is possible.
- Be specific The road to success must be well-paved. The more specific you are, the more likely you are to keep going until you realize your dream.
- Break it up To help you stay motivated, break the goal down into smaller, more quickly achievable parts. That way you get rewarded at each step with a sense of accomplishment.
- Ask for directions Guidance and support from friends and family is critical. Staying focused and energized in the pursuit of a goal is hard enough without having to do it all alone. The biggest leaders of industry all had a mentor at some point.
- Learn from the pros – A qualified solution-focused therapist or life coach can help you clarify your goals, plan for their success, stay motivated and focused despite lifes distractions and help problem-solve the plan if things go off course. Not sure about your goal? Career counseling can guide you in exploring opportunities. In most cases, a few sessions over a short period of time can help move you towards realizing your ultimate success. This as an investment in your future. Dont believe this can be helpful? Do some research! Many of the most influential and successful people in leading industries work with professional coaches to achieve results.
So, hats off graduates and families! You have now proven that you can complete a goal once you set your mind to it. Now, your future is only limited by your next goal!
Stress. We hear about it everyday. We know it happens to the best of us. We may not be able to define it but we know it when we see it. Usually, when we think about it, thoughts of hectic schedules, frantic days, unpaid bills, and unreturned phone calls come flooding our minds and start flutters in the stomach. And, frankly, were not that surprised. With today’s busy lives, we have come to understand that stress is an unavoidable part of our day. We learn to live around it, manage it to the best of our ability, try to relax, and move on.
But, once in a while, stress throws us for a loop. In times when we think we are happy and excited about things going on in our world, times that we have been looking forward to for ages like weddings, graduations, upcoming vacations, retirement times when we wouldnt expect to have those now-familiar headaches or upset stomachs there it is. Out of the blue. Causing tightness in the neck, a churning of the stomach, and edginess in our mood that we just cant seem to understand. At this point, human nature in response to things that we werent expecting to happen is to either over-analyze it (and consequently get more anxious about it) or ignore it. And, so, we either steal our own joy by worrying about why we are worrying or we continue to allow stress to impact our bodies and our minds.
Well, what if I told you that positive stress is just as common and expectable as the stress that we usually think about. Positive stress is a normal stress reaction in the body in response to things that are going on in our lives that are good but, nonetheless, anxiety provoking. Like everything else, with good comes bad. As we think about the wedding being planned, we may also think about the change in our lives or relationships it might bring. As we prepare for a graduation or a retirement, we may think about what happens next or what happens if I dont like it. As we pack for that much awaited vacation, thoughts of unfinished business or being away from loved ones may float through our heads.
Whatever the stressful thought, the effect this thought will have on physical and psychological well-being is about the same. Stress causes decreased immune function, headaches, increased blood pressure, increased risk for stress-related illnesses, decreased ability to cope with life situations, and decreased relationship satisfaction. Psychologically, stress can lead to anxiety, agitation, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and compulsive behaviors (such as over spending, over eating, or over drinking). Positive stress also has the unfortunate effect of not allowing us to fully enjoy the happy moments of our lives.
So, if it makes you happy, can it be that bad? Yes, if you dont take the time to acknowledge that happy moments in life also have stressful components. If you expect and accept that even in positive situations there is stress and take the time to take care of yourself then you can minimize your positive stress and maximize your ability to participate fully and joyfully in the things that make life worth living.
Developing a Self-Care Plan can help with managing both positive and negative stress:
1. Practice relaxation techniques to decrease body tension and manage stress (go for a walk or exercise, read an interesting book, journal) take time for yourself in the midst of whatever you are planning.
2. Reach out for your family and friends for relief, distraction and pleasure.
3. Get it off your shoulders and on to paper keep a journal of thoughts, feelings, and things to do.
4. Get enough rest and sleep.
5. Smile! Dont forget to make time for play and enjoyment of the moment.
6. If you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired HALT before you make any decisions and think things through.
7. Dont be your worst critic.
8. If things feel simply overwhelming, consider contacting a professional to help you refocus and problem-solve.
The outcome of an effective self-care plan is improved health and sense of well-being, increased self-care behaviors, higher productivity, efficiency and effectiveness in achieving goals, improved communication and improved satisfaction.
The bottom line is: There is no such thing as Stress Elimination Training there is only Stress Management Training. If we can expect it and accept it as a normal part of what is happening in our lives, we can understand it (and avoid over-analyzing it) and respond to it (instead of ignore it) in such a way that will improve our experience and our health.