The Trap of Powerlessness

My mind is racing. I can’t focus on anything. I’m exhausted. I can’t handle what I have on my plate right now. I can’t even start or finish anything. My relationships are being affected. I’m anxious about everything. I cry. I’m not myself anymore. I need help.

Maybe you can relate to these thoughts. If you have ever experienced this type of despair, feeling as if your life and emotions are out of your control, you know how powerless it makes you feel. Persistent stress can lead to this sense of powerlessness. All you want to do is avoid the tasks before you because of the fear you will fail or become overwhelmed in the process.

What could you do if you feel powerless?

Powerlessness is a belief that you do not have the authority to act or that you lack power to change. When you have a stressful work environment, family situation or health problem, it’s normal to feel and believe that you do not have the power to act. You may not have control over your work situation, family issues or health problems. That reality can be very overwhelming. That is why the first step towards regaining a sense of power is to accept the things you cannot control and the negative feelings that come with that reality.

Easier said than done. To feel powerless or out of control can be very difficult to accept. But start there and do not allow your thoughts to lead you to shame. When you recognize the things you cannot control, you may feel a sense of shame because of the expectation that you “should” be able to handle everything that comes your way. A person with a perfectionistic view of themselves and the world may struggle with this step. But allow yourself to sit with the thought that there are things you cannot control and refrain from any attempt to get away from it. Mindfulness meditation is a great practice to help get into this mindset (refer to my previous post, The Beauty of Mindfulness). Observe the thoughts that arise and write them down. This step can be very powerful if you have never acknowledged your limitations.

The next step is to observe the feeling of powerlessness as a feeling that you are experiencing. Powerlessness is not who you are, rather it’s how you feel. When you view your feelings as something you are experiencing, you are able to defuse from that emotion. But if you are fused to powerlessness, you will see your life from that perspective. This fusing can lead to lower confidence in your ability to cope with stressors you may face in the future. This step helps you answer the question: how true is your powerlessness? Are you really devoid of any power to act? Allow the reality of your limitations to fuel you to be proactive with what you can control – yourself!

Start by assessing what is important in your life. What have you avoided that is actually important to you? What do you value most? Family? Spirituality? Health? Career? Relationships?

Now explore how you can live out these values to feel more like yourself again. Make small goals and follow the SMART goals model. Specific-Measurable-Attainable-Realistic-Time bound. Don’t set yourself up for failure by setting vague or unrealistic goals. How would you know you accomplished the goal? Examples of SMART goals are:

  • Call a friend to get coffee this week.
  • Go to church.
  • Pray for 5 minutes.
  • Make a list of things you’re grateful for.
  • Sit in silence for 5 minutes.
  • Practice Mindfulness for 5 minutes.
  • Read one chapter of an enjoyable book.
  • Disconnect from your phone for 1 hour.
  • Go to the doctor.
  • Go for a 30-minute walk once a week.

Try to accomplish one item from your goal list each week. As you live out your values, you will feel like you regained the power you believed you lost. If you can’t even get out of bed to begin regaining your strength and power, then seek support from friends or family. Pick up the phone and ask for help or schedule an appointment with a therapist. Don’t dwell on the things that are out of your control. The way to get out of a powerless mindset is to make small, healthy choices towards a healthier more fulfilling life, despite your circumstances.

You’re Not Stuck!

As I was flipping through channels on a lazy afternoon, I happened across one of the movies that I can watch over and over and over again: The Devil Wears Prada. I’m not sure what it is about this movie that sucks me into watching it but I couldn’t help but watch it again.

Ok, so spoiler alert. If you haven’t seen this movie, you weren’t going to anyway so I’m going to spoil it for you. The movie is about a girl who lands a job that she hates. That’s basically the plot, but in between the storyline are a lot of great clothes, shoes and purses. Of course, some of my favorite scenes are the ones that showcase the high fashion clothes. Hey, I’m a girl, I can’t help it.

This time watching it, there was one scene that I’ve never really noticed that stuck out to me. The scene where Anne Hathaway’s character, Andy, confides in her co-worker that her private life was suffering. The coworker said “Let me know when your life is going up in smoke. That means it’s time for a promotion.” Depressing to think about, but a reality for many. That balance between work and life can seem impossible.

Work-life balance. Ugh. It sounds like one of those aspirations that we all hope for yet in the back of our minds, we don’t believe that we can actually achieve it. How can I be a great dad but still put in the 80hrs/week? How can I climb up the corporate ladder and still maintain my marriage? How can I have a social life and continue to be an excellent employee?

Easy, do what Andy did. After realizing that her job was infiltrating every aspect in her life in a negative way, she decided to quit. It’s just that easy. Actually, it wasn’t easy for her to walk away; it took the whole movie before she decided to! And it won’t be that easy for you to walk away, or do something different than what you’re doing now. But if something needs to change then it has to start with you.

Disclaimer: I am not advising that you quit your job! However, I am aspiring to help you see that you don’t have to be stuck in a situation or environment that is bad for you. Maybe you can’t quit your job, and that’s your reality. In that case, a life change may require a bit of creative brainstorming. Maybe you can quit your job but you don’t believe you can. Maybe you have no clue how to change your current situation.

The first step toward change is believing that you can do something different, then being intentional about doing something different. Also, seek out help. This is actually a common reason to seek out counseling. Whether it’s getting help with achieving your goals, or help with figuring out what your goals are and how your goals match up with your value set, a counselor can be a great resource for you in this area.

In doing so, you could end up like Andy: relationship with boyfriend restored and getting a great job doing exactly what she wants to do. If Andy can do it, why not you?

Identifying Passions, Behaviors, Motivations and Interests

The holiday season is typically NOT a time where we allow ourselves the “space” to sit back and think. Why do we do the things we do?  What makes my child behave that way? What motivates my colleague? What interests me enough to pursue it as a hobby, college major, or job. NOPE. It’s the time where we push all  of these questions to the back burner of our minds and think, “I’ll deal with that when I have time.”  Newsflash: two weeks off from school, a couple days away from work, and a more flexible schedule (that is, when you’re not traveling!) is exactly the time to consider these things.  This year, I’m offering some office hours for feedback sessions during the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s  to accommodate people who’d like to come in to receive their feedback while they’re away from work or school.

It may seem like a daunting task to approach questions like those above.  Five years ago, I was faced with some tough questions regarding myself: where to work, who to marry, and how to interact with my family.  Then the Birkman…

Oh, the Birkman (short for Birkman Method assessment).  It’s a  298 question (250 true-false, 48 multi-choice) that you take online whenever you’d like (home, office, vacation, etc) and should take about 30 minutes to complete. The results available immediately after completion and are then sent to me for report preparation. The questionnaire is translated into over 20 languages and, yes, we offer Skype sessions for feedback. There are dozens of report formats for individuals, pairs, and groups. These options make the Birkman a great tool for exploring a college major, switching careers, pre-marital or marital counseling, family counseling, and “figuring out” what makes your relationship with your teenager or spouse thrive or plumit.

What I once thought was just a couple of pieces of paper telling me more about my personality has turned out to be so much more.  I’ve utilized my own results to land a stable career at Heritage Behavioral Health Consultants, marry a man who I can communicate and be vulnerable with, and connect with my sister in a way I never thought possible. If you’re willing to make the time to invest in this tool, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Call us today (713-365-9015) to receive a quote for your assessment and schedule a feedback session. Spots for the holiday weeks are limited.

Behavior Therapy 101: How to achieve positive behavioral changes with your children

If you have kids (or pets, for that matter) then chances are that you have used some behavioral therapy techniques on them. Behavior therapy involves the use of reinforcement and/or punishment to increase a desired behavior or extinguish an unwanted behavior. Here are some practical pointers on using positive reinforcement (praise and point charts in particular) with your children. Much of this information was gleaned from Dr. Alan Kazdin (you can check out more of his materials here).

Changes in Behavior Occur When…

  1. The reinforcers increase the strength of the positive behavior. If they do not, you may need to choose different reinforcers.
  1. The reinforcer should occur immediately after the positive behavior.
  1. Your child must perform the desired behavior before receiving any reinforcers.
  1. For new behaviors to occur, the reinforcer needs to follow the behavior every time.

Four Types of Reinforcers

  1. Material Reinforcers: Tangible items such as toys, clothes, and candy.
  1. Privileges of Activity Reinforcers: Time together with the parent, slumber party, staying up late, chore done by the parent.
  1. Social Reinforcers: Your approval! A smile, a wink, a hug, and praise.
  1. Token Reinforcers: Items given to your child that can be exchanged for more valuable reinforcers.

How to Make Your Praise Most Effective

  1. Deliver praise when you are near your child. When you are close to your child, you can be sure that the behavior you are praising is taking place. Also, when you are close, your child is more likely to pay attention to what you are saying.
  1. Use a sincere, enthusiastic tone of voice. You don’t need to be loud, but make sure that you sound thrilled about what your child is doing.
  1. Use nonverbal reinforcers. Show your child you are pleased by smiling, winking, or touching. Hug your child, high five him, or pat him on the back.
  1. Be specific. When praising your child, say exactly what behavior you approve of. “Wow, thank you so much for picking up your shoes and putting them in the closet.” You want to be specific.

Helpful Hints to Make the Point Chart Work

  1. Remember to praise and give points immediately after the desired behavior.
  1. Review the chart with your child at the end of every day. This gives you a chance to praise the number of points accumulated that day and review all the positive things your child has don’t to earn the points. Also, when few points have been earned, it gives you a chance to handle it neutrally and encourage your child to earn more the next day.
  1. Have some of the rewards available every day.
  1. Give rewards as agreed. Once your child has earned enough points to buy a reward, he should be allowed to receive it regardless of anything else that may have happened that day.
  1. Encourage your child to buy rewards each time. Remember, it is an opportunity to reinforce the behavior you are working on.
  1. Bring the point chart to our sessions each week whether or not it is completed. That way we can track your child’s progress.

 

Points Chart

Am I Addicted to Social Media?

When standing in the grocery store line turns into a opportunity to check your Facebook messages or waiting in the doctor’s office is the perfect chance to scroll through your Instagram posts…you might need to pause and consider the impact social media is making on your life.

First, let’s make sure we’re all operating on a similar definition of social media. For the purposes of this casual article, we’ll consider social media as interaction among people in which they create, share or exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks.

So what social media outlets are you engaged in?  Facebook, Twiiter, Instagram, Vine, SnapChat, MySpace, blogs, Linked In, etc? They are avenues to interaction with other people…or are they?  Many people will unashamedly admit that they spend more time on social media, email, and texts than they actually spend talking to another human being WITH THEIR VOICE (i.e., face to face conversations, phone calls, meetings, dates, etc.)  Now before you think this is turning into an article about how to teach the younger generation how to learn people skills, keep reading.

I’m not suggesting that social media is wrong, immature, or mentally numbing. There are great things that come from social media: job interviews, connections with friends who live in other cities, product marketing…BUT I am proposing that we have to be careful how much, when, and why we take part in social media.

A few months ago, I found myself intrigued with an article in the January 2014 edition of Real Simple magazine all about this topic. They surveyed women to discover how they report feeling when they use social media: 19% reported that they feel “connected”, 19% entertained, 19% informed, 8% bored, 7% inspired, 7% overwhelmed, 6% relaxed, 5% inadequate, 4% jealous and 3% isolate. Wow! The effects of social media are definitely mixed…but did you notice that half of these reported feelings are emotions that people usually don’t want  to feel (bored, overwhelmed, inadequate, jealous, isolated). So why do we do this to ourselves?  What’s the gain?

While it definitely helps us to feel a sense of connection with friends, family, or long-lost school-mates, some might argue this is a false sense of connection.  Why false? Glad you asked.  When you are “connecting” (e.g., tweeting, posting, pinning, and vining), do you ever put the hard stuff out there…you know: the picture of yourself when you roll of out bed, the kids screaming at each other during mid-afternoon meltdowns, an image of your computer screen during another mundane day at work, or the pile of laundry that needs to get done. If you answer “no” to this, then you’re amongst the majority. So here’s the catch: we spend hours looking at or reading about each other’s pleasurable moments: the summer vacation scenes, the posed family pics, the new baby sleeping, or someone’s new house… but we don’t know what’s really  happening in their lives. Maybe the family on vacation had a horrible fight over dinner. Perhaps the new baby sleeping is one born to parents after multiple miscarriages. What if the new house is full of dishes to still get washed or laundry to be done.  You get it yet? To really connect with someone requires us to see the whole picture.  Otherwise, we might be tempted to compare our not-so-pitcture-perfect lives with someone else’s and wonder how we get there.  I’m NOT suggesting that you get off of social media…unless that would be a healthy experiment for you. I AM proposing that we use it wisely: considering our motives, it’s effects, and the reality behind it.  Also, I’m recommending that we see it for what it is: an avenue towards real relationships but not a substitute for them.

So maybe you’re like me and you notice that you have a tendency towards social media addiction. What do we do about it? Digging deeper into the practical implications of the Real Simple January 2014 magazine article, I followed a link to one author’s recommendations. She had several recommendations for people who are looking for ways to reduce the allure of social media in their lives.  A full list of her ideas can be found here  Amongst my favorite, practical ideas were these:

 Sign Off for a Weekend. A two-day respite isn’t enough to cure you of your habit. You’ll still be anxious when you return to the onslaught of electronic messages, says Larry Rosen, Ph.D., the author of iDisorder ($16, amazon.com). But a little time away from the screen reminds you how nice life is sans status updates.

Check With Purpose. Most of us wander onto social media aimlessly—usually when we’re bored. To cut back, set a higher bar for logging on. Ask yourself, Do I have a specific, positive reason for this? If you can’t come up with one (say, wanting to see a relative’s wedding photos), resist the urge and do something that will boost your mood, like calling a friend or diving into an engaging book.

Be a Tough Editor. Before you post a status update or a photo, question your motive: Are you just trying to prove that you’re having a good time? Is this the fourteenth picture of your baby that you’ve posted this week? If the answer is yes, try chatting with a friend or texting the picture to your mom. You could also jot down your thoughts in a notebook, or if you’re somewhere lovely, sketch the spot….Posting a photo has the opposite effect: You stop thinking about your experience and start contemplating other people’s responses to it.

I’ll add one to the list that has been useful for me.

 Choose a time and set a timer. Decide when you’d like to take some time to engage in social media and then set an alarm clock on your phone or computer to limit the endless online wandering.  I’ve found that I’m more intentional about what I am looking at and which social media avenue I’m on when I know that my “time” will be up in five or ten minutes. This way, I still get the pleasure of “catching up” on people’s lives but I’m not wasting hours perusing photos of people I haven’t talked to in years. It also frees us up to be present in real-life social situations. Just last month I found myself actually having a conversation with a woman in the waiting room because I wasn’t staring at my phone. I found it refreshing to sit and talk!

Fall Into Flavor NOT Fads

Butternut Squash Soup

Pictured above: a Thanksgiving meal including the (top right) Roasted Butternut Squash soup and (top middle) Wild Rice and Chestnut stuffing. See recipes below. 

I’m a sucker for the fall season. All it takes is one unusual Houston cold-front in early October and I’m smitten. I pull out my boots from the back of the closet, start making hot-teas throughout the day, open all the windows in our house and at the office, and then start scouring my cookbooks for recipes that offer a soup or squash in their content! My next endeavor this fall is to use this website http://www.pickyourown.org/TXhouston.htm to find some local farms within a day-trip driving distance to go and pick my own produce which may just inspire some new recipes. Beyond new recipes, cool weather, and looking forward to some time reading a good book… something else happens about this time of year…

Just this week, I had a conversation with a colleague regarding fall weather and how it seems to elicit thoughts, memories, and cravings for delicious holiday foods and treats. When I hear people talk about this, it seems like there’s a sense of dread. Almost a statement of, “Here it comes: the ruin of any goals I had for healthy eating because _______ just tastes so good!” This makes me wonder how we have come so far in thinking that fall, winter, and holiday eating MUST be unhealthy to be enjoyable. Folks think that you have to stick to some fad diet for the entire holiday season to prevent weight gain. Wrong! The key is to focus on maintaining flavor in your food while eliminating the traditionally processed ingredients commonly found in our favorite recipes for stuffings, appetizers, desserts, soups, and stews this time of year. Don’t believe me? Try a few of the following recipes and see if their flavors are as enticing as some of those fad-diets can be.

SMOKY BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP

My brother-in-law made this for our Thanksgiving meal appetizer last year and it is now a family favorite. We also made this for a cooking demonstration at Heritage last holiday season and the class participants were surprised at the complex flavors of the simple ingredients.

Ingredients for 4 large (1 cup) or 8 small (1/2 cup) servings:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

One 3-pound butternut squash, peeled and diced (8 cups)

1 small canned chipotle in adobo, chopped

7 cups chicken or turkey stock or low-sodium broth

2 tablespoons honey

Salt

1 cup crème fraîche (or 0% plain/unflavored Greek yogurt for a lower fat version)

1/4 cup finely chopped chives, plus more for garnish

Directions:

In a large pot, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until softened. Stir in the squash and chipotle and cook for 1 minute. Add the stock and honey and bring to a boil. Simmer until the squash is tender, about 30 minutes.

Puree the soup until smooth; season with salt.

In a small microwave-safe bowl, stir the crème fraîche or Greek yogurt with the 1/4 cup of chives. Microwave until just melted, 30 seconds. Serve the soup with a swirl of chive cream/yogurt and a sprinkling of chives.

SEASONED KALE CHIPS

I’m shocked at how much it costs to purchase pre-packaged kale chips at the store when they are SO easy and inexpensive to make yourself. We usually make a batch of these before dinner parties for people to snack on while the main course is being prepared. Men and women alike say they are shocked at how kale can taste so good. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch organic kale, any variety
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt

Yield 8 cups

Directions:

Remove the center ribs and stems from 1 bunch kale.  Tear the leaves into 3-to-4-inch pieces. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Spread on 2 baking sheets coated with olive or canola oil cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees F until browned around the edges and crisp, 12 to 15 minutes.

WILD RICE AND CHESTNUT STUFFING

Here is a beautiful holiday stove-top stuffing dotted with ruby-red cranberries (or cherries, depending on your preference). Good-quality wild rice triples in volume as it absorbs a rich wild mushroom broth, offering an elegant contrast to the puffy nuggets of chestnut.

To reduce prep time, you can use bottled or vacuum-packed cooked chestnuts, but truth be told, they don’t taste as good as freshly roasted.

Yield: 6-8 servings

Ingredients:

1 ounce (about 1 cup loosely packed) dried porcini or other dried mushrooms

1 cup wild rice, rinsed

30 fresh chestnuts

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 ½ cups chopped leeks (white and light green parts)

1 cup finely diced celery

1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage, plus more for garnish (or use ½ to ¾ teaspoon dried rubbed sage)

1 tablespoon dry sherry

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

¼ cup unsweetened dried cranberries or unsweetened dried cherries

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Soak the mushrooms in 3 ½ cups of hot water until they are soft, 15 minutes or longer. Strain and reserve the mushroom liquid. Coarsely chop any large pieces of mushrooms. Set aside.

In a heavy 2-quart Dutch oven or saucepan, bring the mushroom liquid and wild rice to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat, and cook at a gentle boil, stirring occasionally, until some of the grains have “butterflied” open and curled up, and the rice tastes tender, 45 to 65 minutes (depending upon storage conditions and age).

If you’re not using canned or bottled roasted chestnuts, while the rice is cooking, roast the chestnuts: Set a rack in the center and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

With the tip of a paring knife, cut an X on the flat side of each chestnut. Set, cut side up, on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast the chestnuts until the X puffs open, 20 to 25 minutes. Wrap the chestnuts in a kitchen towel for a few minutes. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the shells and use the towel to rub off the thin brown skins. Discard any chestnuts that are moldy.

Heat the oil and butter in a large, deep skillet or saucepan. Add the leeks, celery, and dried sage (if using) and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the sherry, balsamic vinegar, and cranberries, and cook uncovered for a few minutes. Stir in the chestnuts and soak mushrooms. Cover and set aside until the rice is done.

Stir the rice (including any unabsorbed cooking liquid) and fresh sage (if using) to taste into the leek mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer until the celery and leeks are tender and the flavors have mingled, about 5 minutes. Add a little water during this time if the mixture becomes dry. Garnish with additional sage, if using fresh. 

The Freedom of Authentic Living

There is SO much freedom in living authentically.  What does it mean to live authentically, you may ask?  Being real with yourself is hard, but necessary if you are going to live authentically.  We have to be honest with ourselves first; and then with others, as appropriate.  Living from the core of who you are requires spending some time with yourself to really KNOW who you are and what makes you tick.  These ten guidelines will help you begin your journey toward experiencing the FREEDOM that comes with living a more authentic life.

Know your purpose.   Do you sometimes feel like you are wandering rather aimlessly through life, wondering at times what your purpose is—hoping that you’ll be lucky enough to stumble upon happiness, health and prosperity?  Identify your life purpose or mission statement, and you’ll have your own unique compass that will lead you to your true north every time.   For example, “I believe I was created according to a Divine design, with a combination of strengths and quirks, to accomplish something for the greater good.”

Know your values.  
What do you value most?  Make a list of your top 5 values.  Some examples are security, freedom, family, spiritual development, or learning.  As you set your goals for the next phase of your life—check your goals against your values. If the goal doesn’t align with any of your top five values, you may want to reconsider or revise it.

Acknowledge your needs. 
 Unmet needs can keep you from living authentically.  Take care of yourself.  Choose not to cling to people, projects, or things that are holding you back or causing you to lose your balance.

Be aware of your self-talk.
  Are you blocking your potential?  Check out your first thoughts when you wake in the morning.  Are they supportive, encouraging or positive? Listen to the chatter that goes on in your mind.  Pay attention to the negative messages and turn them into positive statements.

Live your passions. 
 Honor those things that make your heart sing.  Whatever it is, do more of it.

Live from the inside out.  Tap into your inner awareness by regularly reflecting in silence.  Breathe deeply to quiet your distracted mind.  Meditate or pray. Try to manage your life from the inside out, focusing on “clean living” and nurturing the relationships that are closest to you first.

Honor your strengths. 
 What are your positive traits?  What special talents do you have?  List three—if you get stuck, ask those closest to you to help identify them.  Are you imaginative, witty, good with your hands?  Find ways to express your authentic self through your strengths.

Take time to play. 
 Give yourself time to recharge doing things you love to do or by just doing nothing.

Count your blessings.   Write down everything you are thankful for, keep your list in a journal or post it where you can see it for a little more inspiration.  Don’t edit the list!!  Include EVERYTHING you can think of, both big and small.

Prioritize relationships.  When you are true to who you are, living your purpose and giving of your talents to the world around you, you give back in service what you came to share with others—your spirit—the very core of who you are.

Choosing Life Without Regrets

There was a time in my career when I worked in a medical hospital with patients who were facing death.  Though people develop differing attitudes when they know that their death is imminent, many express feelings of regret.

In the hope of encouraging you to consider living life in ways to avoid these, here is what a lot of people say they regret.

1.  Choosing not to live their lives in ways that they really wanted, but how they were expected to live them.

These are the people who discovered their passions but did not pursue them.  They had dreams but never acted on them.  They let the opinions of others or culture dictate their decisions.  What they chose wasn’t necessarily bad, but wasn’t as fulfilling as what might have been.  Frequently their sadness at life’s end is around the pursuit of money and “things” instead of relationships and their own true preferences.

2.  Working much and living little.

They worked instead of being involved in the lives of their children, whether it was their sports involvements, recitals, plays, or even homework.  They didn’t spend enough time just enjoying the relationship and “playing” with their spouse.

They worked hard to create a “lifestyle” instead of making a living so they could savor life.  There seems to be a movement recently to simplify in order to satisfy.  It’s difficult in our “get all you can get” culture to choose to downsize lifestyle and enlarge living, but the needed perspective and painful regret appear when health is lost.  Then it is too late.  Some of the most painful statements start with “I wish I had/hadn’t…”  At the end, newer, bigger, better, and more don’t mean much.

3.  Fearing to break the silence and speak the truth.

People often express regret at not having had the courage to appropriately express their true feelings.  The usual result is thinking less of themselves for keeping quiet instead of being pleased with themselves for speaking their truth and running the risk of “upsetting someone else, hurting their feelings, avoiding conflict” or whatever excuse they used to support their fearful silence.

Over time, bottling negative feelings creates resentment and bitterness toward others AND toward the one whose voice is silent by choice.  Bottling the positive feelings leads to sadness from missed opportunities and relationships not beginning or being nourished.

Speaking your truth with courage can add to the depth of a healthy relationship or the end of an unhealthy one.  That’s seems like a win-win to me.

4.  Neglecting to maintain and to nurture valued friendships of old.

The usual reason given is simply choosing to be busy with things that are now seen (with the benefit of hindsight and impending death) as far less important than those wonderful, rewarding, and rare relationships.

Realizing that loving relationships are the most valuable commodity human beings can possess comes too late when you only have weeks or days to live.  If nurturing them over time and benefiting from them for years has been missed, they will also be missed as special support during those last days.

They will be missed, not because of preoccupation, but because of the absence of intending to pay attention to those we truly value.

5.  Failing to CHOOSE to be happy.

Huh?  Yes, happiness is a choice.  We can consciously choose to focus on being positive, using language “in our head” that gets us out of the rut of familiarity, frees us from unhealthy or unpleasurable behavioral patterns, overcomes our fear of change, relieves us of the weight of pretending to be satisfied with our lives, allows us to laugh more and be serious less, and encourages more smiles than looks of fatigue, boredom, and sadness.  We can do this consciously and intentionally.

If you don’t know what it would take for you to be successful at achieving this goal, give it some serious thought, talk about it with someone you love, go to a comedy club, rent a funny movie, or call a therapist.

Like Nike said, “Just do it!”, before it’s too late.

Beauty, Brains, and Cash… We Want MORE!

Is it better to have more or less?  This is the newest marketing ploy presented by AT&T.  The commercials take place in elementary school classrooms.  In one particular scene the adult asks the question, “Who thinks more is better than less?”  The young girl finishes her answer with, “We want more, we want more, like, you really like it, you want more.”  It’s not complicated, says AT&T, “more is better.”

Though this is a brilliant marketing tool and the commercials are adorable, I have to disagree.  These marketers are capitalizing on the fact that the desire for MORE is the very thing that drives our society.  However, it is also the very thing that often leaves us unfulfilled, unhappy, and wondering what happened to the enjoyable life we used to know.  I would have to argue that more is NOT always better.

Here’s the tricky part.  More usually feels better in the moment.  It feels good and provides instant gratification but it doesn’t always last.  You know the saying, “I’ll feel better when…”  We’ve all said it.  This is how marketers keep us coming back for the next gadget or the newest upgrade and why most Americans spend life hopping on and off the hamster wheel, running at a very fast pace, looking for more.  We want more money, more technological devices, more clothes, more success, more dates, a bigger house, a fancier car, to lose more weight, and the list goes on and on, and we are never content.

However, what these marketing ploys and our society in general seem to be missing is that, at our core, human beings are relational people.  We were created to relate, connect, and love one another.  In the quest for more, the things that each individual person values the most get pushed aside.  Leaving us with a society in which external feedback is the source of esteem.  We look for affirmation from others, job promotions, more Facebook friends, or comments about how smart or impressive our kids are to fill our sense of self.  The hamster wheel does not allow time for a meaningful conversation with a friend or a quiet read on a beautiful day.

Sadly, our children are being born in to a society in which the idea that “more is better” is a way of life.  They won’t even have the understanding that at one point there was a society in which wanting more was not the norm.  What are we to do, you ask?   As parents and leaders of the younger generation, we have the opportunity to make a change and it starts by transforming our perspective and our behavior.  It starts when we get off of the hamster wheel ourselves and let them follow our lead.  Here’s an idea of a place to start:

  • Get to know yourself again.  The part of you that doesn’t need goggles and rain gear to protect you from all the debris that flies your way as you continuously spin through life.   I bet that person remembers the very values that were pushed aside when society told you to jump on this wheel and leave everything behind.
  • Identify the values you discover in this process.  Write them down.  Own them.
  • Create goals that will allow you to honor these valuesPick a value that ranks at the top of your list.  Identify a plan to honor that value and follow through.  Example:  I value the opportunity to be creative. To honor this value, I will dedicate a 2- hour period every Thursday morning to work on the poetry I love to write.

As you begin to live more congruently with your value system, your esteem will naturally build and you will find you have everything you need within yourself.  You won’t need more in order to be fulfilled.

New Year Bandit

The fireworks pop. The confetti sparkles. The New Year is here and ready to take over. The Christmas decorations and holiday music took us by surprise when they appeared this year before Halloween. Watch out folks. Christmas has nothing on the New Year. Before the last ornament is back in the box and the final Christmas hymn is sung, the New Year comes in like a thief, grabbing us by the horns, flinging us back to the chaos and rush.

Don’t let the fact that January 1st has passed steal your calm, your chance to reflect, plan, and consider new changes, new goals for a great year to come. Turn off the technology, take a deep breath, and nuzzle in to a quiet spot. Write it, draw it, talk it out with a friend or call your counselor. Do whatever it takes but do not let the moment get swept away or placed on the to-do list for another day.

Where do I start?  Consider these five areas of your being:

  • Emotional
  • Spiritual
  • Physical
  • Intellectual
  • Social

What do you value in each of these areas? Over the past year, were you able to balance and acknowledge your needs in each area or did you find yourself immersed in only one and ignoring the others? If you felt overworked, stretched thin, or that something was missing last year, you might have been putting too many eggs in one of these baskets, leaving yourself empty and unfulfilled in the others.

Consider this example as you reflect and develop goals for change in each area:

Spiritual: It is important to me that I share a Christian example with others. To do this, I would like to be a more loving person. My spiritual goal is to act in a more loving way. What will this look like? One example is that I will consciously choose to act in a more loving way by being aware of how I drive on the freeway. I will drive with more consideration for others and exemplify less rage and frustration. Another example of living out this goal to act in a loving way is by taking my family to serve at the homeless shelter and pick a person whom I can treat, anonymously, with a random act of kindness.

Dedicating the time to reflect on the important changes you would like to see in each of these areas of life, developing the action plan, and defining how you will know you are working towards that goal will help keep your feet on the ground and your base strong when the daily grind of another year tries to sabotage your goals.