ParentTip: Close the Compassion Gap

What is the compassion gap you ask? Well, it describes the difference in the support we give ourselves versus the support we give others. Ever noticed how easy it is to reassure a friend or loved one when they’re facing a challenge? You may help them consider outside factors, remind them of their positive qualities and encourage them to keep trying. But then when you’re faced with the same challenge, you tell yourself you’re a failure, that it’s all your fault, and that you’ll never get another opportunity to succeed. Why is it we can show such empathy to others but be so cruel to ourselves?

Why don’t we all do ourselves a favor and close the compassion gap?!? You can start by reminding yourself to be your own best friend. Treat yourself like you would a dear friend or family member when you fall short. Don’t attribute failure solely to your personal qualities and shortcomings. And the great news is you can teach your children self-compassion too! GoZen has a great guide to helping your children close the compassion gap:

Be Your Own Best Friend

  1. Ask your child to tell you about a recent challenge they went through or are currently experiencing. Let’s say, for example, they say they’re really worried about a science test coming up–they think they might fail.
  2. Now, grab a stuffed animal to represent your child’s best friend. Tell your child their best friend is going through the exact same issue. For example, you might say, “Let’s pretend this toy is Julie, your best friend. Julie’s really worried because she thinks she’s going to do poorly on the next science test. Can you talk to her to make her feel better?”
  3. Next, explain to your child that the way they talk to Julie is the same way they need to talk to themselves when they face a challenge. Let them know a great way to do this is by standing in front of a mirror and have a conversation with themselves out loud.
  4. Have your child stand in front of a mirror and start giving themselves advice. Depending on your child’s age, guide them along and give them suggestions.

And remember parents, the best way to teach self-compassion to your children is to lead by example. You can’t expect them to love themselves if they see you constantly being hard on yourself. Thankfully, self-compassion can be learned at any age!

LifeTip: Words Hurt

Sad pup.jpg

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me”.  Is this right, though?  Do words truly never hurt us?  Well of course they do and they can cut deep.  Sometimes it would be easier to deal with a broken bone or a scraped knee than to try and mend the emotional wounds inflicted by words.

Invalidation is what prompts our feelings of hurt for we begin to feel that the other person’s thoughts/feelings/values are not in line with our own.  This invalidation quickly lands us in the seat of the emotional rollercoaster where we grab onto any and everything that we can to shield us from the pain.  These things that we grasp for are defense mechanisms – ways in which we can minimize or hide away from the yuck.  The most common defense mechanisms are:

  • Avoidance:  steering clear of anything that will cause any potential pain or discomfort
  • Denial:  trying to believe that nothing is wrong and that nothing has happened
  • Repression:  pushing those negative feelings deep down inside in hopes that they’ll never rear their head again
  • Displacement:  taking all of our hurt feelings and lashing out at or dumping them on someone else
  • Rationalization:  convincing yourself that the words behind that invalidation are actually true

We can reduce these yucky feelings and increase our ability to fight off the hurt by having the right tools at hand.  In developing a greater understanding of what is really going on with our authentic self when we encounter these harmful words, we can minimize the sadness/anxiety/and/or anger that is often prompted by invalidating words.

Check out my latest blog to read more about the power of words and how they impact us all.

 

LifeTip: How to Show Your Body Some Love

Happy New Year! I hope everyone has had a great start to 2018. With everyone creating resolutions or intentions, I hear people talking about losing weight or getting into shape, which I want to say if that's something that brings you joy, it's for a medical reason, or you just simply want to, all the love and support to you! I do want to throw this in there too for everyone-- wherever you are on your journey with your body, please try to practice loving your body for all that it is in this moment. Your body whatever the size, condition, shape, etc... it is yours* and it has been on a journey with you through good times and bad. It has experienced everything right alongside you; it's your constant in life. Whether you feel like it's failed you at times or caused you pain, loving your body can be a beautiful practice of unconditional love.

I want to provide a little yoga/meditative practice to help you love your body a little more: Sit, stand or lie down, close your eyes (if that's comfortable), and picture your body in this moment. Starting from the tips of your toes and moving to the top of your head, say to yourself, "Thank you/I love you, *insert body part you are picturing*" Be specific! "Thank you, left big toe" or "I love you, right thigh." Please try to do this with intention and without judgment. It may feel silly or weird at first, but please try it. If going body part by body part feels too difficult, you can state, "Thank you, body" or "I love my body" a few times until you feel ready to go body part by part. It may be the next day or many months down the line; there is no rush in this process. If working on loving the outside body feels difficult or uncomfortable, go ahead and shift your focus to the inside, such as to your muscles, bones, lungs, heart, brain, etc… they are all apart of your physical body and need some love and acknowledgment too! Practice this every day if you can and take notice of how you feel about yourself. 

Wherever you are with your relationship to your body, I support you. You are amazing! So much metta to you all!

*I want to speak to those individuals who may feel like they were born with a body that does not feel like their own. I honor and respect your journey. I acknowledge this exercise may or may not be helpful. Please follow the path that feels right for you. 

Intentions over Resolutions (And Book Inspo!)

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Unsplash

As 2017 draws to a close, I’m feeling reflective and hopeful. There’s a simultaneous sense of looking back and looking ahead, trying to stay present while also taking stock of another year in the life, all while preparing for what’s in store in the new year. We hear so much talk about resolutions this time of year. There’s a sense of “not good enough” that always comes up for me when I think about resolutions. This idea that we have to give something up, be better, be more disciplined, lose more weight, make more money, do more, have more, be more. But more isn’t what I’m feeling right now. Yes, there are things I want more of. But they aren’t really about things, or even really goal-oriented at the moment. They aren’t things I can pass or fail at, and they aren’t about discipline and control.

Enter intention. Intention is a practice, much like mindfulness. It is about the process and the journey rather than the outcome and destination. For so many of us, resolutions have us kicking off the new year in a burst of energy, willpower, and drive, and often end in a month or two in disappointment, self-recrimination and shame. Intention is all about self-compassion, gratitude, resilience and presence. When I think of what I want more of in 2018, it’s all of those things.

There are a few books I’ve read this year that have tended the embers of these intentions, and some that I offer to you as a way to light your own path away from burdensome resolutions and towards a new way of being with yourself and your loved ones. Shauna Niequist’s Present Over Perfect, Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness, Amy Johnson’s Little Book of Big Change, Rebecca Scritchfield’s Body Kindness come to mind. I have Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, Shonda Rhimes’ The Year of Yes, Jen Sincero’s You are a Badass and Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck all queued up on my bookshelf. Are you sensing a theme?

My work this year with Rachel Madorsky of The Coaching Therapist Institute (Tracy and I both became Certified Transformational Coaching Method Practitioners) has helped me shift gears internally and in my work, and I’ll let you in on a little secret: my intention for 2018 is to allow myself a lot more grace, a lot more room to fail, and a daily practice of slowing down, staying present, letting go of what doesn’t serve me, and honoring my own work/life alignment by focusing on self-compassion, gratitude, resilience and presence. What will your intention be today?

LoveTip: How to Be Silly (and How to Become a Rockstar Romantic Partner)

Photo by sept commercial on Unsplash

Have you ever witnessed children in play? How easy it is for them to laugh, dance, sing, use silly voices, imagine they are dinosaurs, play dress up with their friends for hours? Children are so natural at play because they lack the restrictions and limitations that get layered on as life happens. But what happens when you grow up? Play becomes so much harder. We have work and find ourselves dealing with relationship and financial issues, and then we have to get the kids to school, soccer practice, ballet class, etc.

Much of the work I do with couples in couples therapy and parents in my parent coaching sessions is focused around learning how to be your true self around your partner, and how to be more spontaneous and silly as a couple. Being silly creates connection which cultivates intimacy, which generates trust. It’s a circular thing, because you have to trust your partner to be silly with them, and you have to feel safe that if you try out a silly or playful activity, they will respond with warmth and care. You could set the stage by speaking with your partner before these activities and say something like, “I love being silly! I think it might make us more connected, will you try out some of these things with me?” (Be brave here! Your inner heart might be saying, “I’m scared he/she won’t respond and he/she will think I’m weird” - but, remember, I’m weird. You’re weird. We’re all weird, and it’s so important to keep trying to stay connected to your partner). See how your partner responds.

10 ways to be silly with your partner:

  1. Spoil your dinner with ice cream. Talk about your favorite ice cream, and try out each other’s favorite.
  2. Buy temporary color hair spray and try out rainbow hair. Surprise each other with a new hairdo!
  3. Talk in a silly voice and make up a secret, inside joke that only the two of you know.
  4. Do artwork together and put it up on your fridge.
  5. Build a blanket fort and drink hot chocolate together.
  6. Make giant bubble solution and blow bubbles together (it’s relaxing!)
  7. Cut snowflakes together and hang them up on the windows in your bedroom.
  8. Play a couples version of Pictionary. Draw things that are special and unique to your relationship history - see if your partner can guess what you are drawing! The sillier the drawing better.
  9. Plan an activity with your partner that feels kid-like: go to the zoo, or climb trees, or to a kid’s movie! It can feel so nice to be reminded of our childhood experiences, and when we do this with our partners, it expands our interpersonal connection in a deep and meaningful way.
  10. Sing a song to your partner, even if you don’t like your voice. Ask them to sing one to you back. Oh, and dance. Dance to your favorite song.

Some things to remember are that not everyone responds to playfulness in the same way, and a lot of people need a bit of time to get comfortable with the outside-the-box activities. Try one activity, and then go onto the next one, if the first one doesn’t work! Give space to your partner if they don’t respond right away. And, don’t forget to say thank you to your partner for experiencing your activity. Verbal appreciation can be very helpful in reinforcing what we want to happen again.

As we move into the new year from this holiday season, it can be stressful to think about expectations related to your relationship and the ever important, “date night.”  But, try sitting down with your partner and taking just 10 minutes together to plan out some playful moments of connection, which don’t have to be limited to one specific night!  I would love to hear about your silliest moments with your partner. Share below!  

 

LifeTip: Decisions! Decisions! Oh My!

abigail-keenan-27295.jpg

This time of year is fraught with decisions and not just what gifts to buy, who to have holiday meals with, or how to reconcile the year-end bookkeeping. Underneath all the minutia of details is often an undercurrent of deeper questions connected to that nagging sense of knowing the new year is ever so close and hoping that THIS year is THE year . . . the year to conquer all those habits that keep you from living the life you’ve imagined. Many of us start the year off strong, determined, and resolute in our goals, only to find our hopes dashed as the realities of life creep back in and resolutions fall to the side. I think it’s probably safe to say this has happened to all of us, at least once!

I think it’s a conundrum. The new year represents this major launching pad for intentional renewal and transformation but in reality is usurped by the hectic happenings that are so part of the end of the year.  Knee deep in holiday shopping, traffic, parties, family drama, and the like we hastily declare resolutions that in the end don’t even begin to reflect who we are, what we really want, or what we could reasonably achieve. Often they reflect culture, family, or what our best friend or romantic partner is doing. It’s as if all the chaos of the end of the year robs us of the chance to tune into those deeper currents of what could be (for the next year) that are rumbling within.

How do we deal with this conundrum, especially given the fact we are already in the frenzy of the holidays? How can we get tuned in so we can make more meaningful decisions/resolutions that stand the test of time? Following is a short but useful exercise to help you get in touch with your core values. Core values are deeply held beliefs that represent the essence of who we are, the truth of that inner being within. We each have our own unique set and while many may have a vague sense of what they are, clarifying and naming them can have a profound effect on decision-making. Decisions made through the lens of core values will naturally be more in line with the inner you. And, being more in line with the inner and real you brings about a more centered and happier you. It just makes sense, right?!

Try the short exercise below. Identify your core values. And, with your next dilemma, whether it’s how and who to celebrate the holidays with or a potential life-changing resolution ask yourself if it supports or goes against one of your core values. Try letting your core values act as a roadmap to guide and resolve both internal and external conflict. Experiment. Have fun with it! Even if you have to make a less favorable decision you will likely find meaning in that decision, making it, perhaps, a little more bearable. Many of my clients find that it works.

Happy Holidays and Happy 2018!

LifeTip: Who Has Your Power?

Power Stick.jpeg

Many of the folks that come into counseling, tell me that they’re feeling sad, depressed, anxious, defeated, or have lost their self-confidence and want to know why.  “Am I crazy?  Have I lost it? Am I too broken to be fixed?”  No, no, and NO!  There has been a theft and the thing that’s been stolen is power.

We all come into this world with our own power; something that is ours and only ours.  This power is a valuable resource and something that everyone wants more of.  As we grow up, we’re taught how to add and multiply, recite the pledge of allegiance, ride a bike, and tie our shoes, but we’re never taught the lesson of how to protect our power.  Being a visual person, I like to think of power as a stick (wand, sword, lightsaber, you choose the form…) that we each hold.  Every day, someone is vying for that stick, trying to break off pieces to add to their own.  Often, we are unaware that the theft is even happening.  Phrases like:  “You can’t do that”, “You’ll never be good enough for that”, “You’re wasting your time”, “Hopefully you’ll grow out of your ugly phase”, etc., all take a chunk out of our power stick.  Without the tools to fight this, we’re eventually left with a tiny little nub of a stick leaving us feeling defeated, self-conscious, depressed, and expecting failure out of life.  But this doesn’t have to continue.  We can take back our power stick and start to expect success – more importantly, we can begin to truly love who we are and recognize the phenomenal power that we possess.

So now what?  Maybe you’re thinking, “thanks, Justin, you’ve been able to point out that I’m feeling pretty low, but what in the heck do I do now?”  Let me first ask you to sit there and truly embrace the feelings that you’re experiencing.  Put a name to it.  What color is it?  Where in your body are you feeling it?  Is your stomach in knots?  Is your heart beating fast?  Are you feeling hot in the face?  Recognize those feelings and say to yourself, “enough is enough!”  This is your body, your mind, and your power.  It’s time for you to take that power back!!

Society teaches us the importance of being kind to others and treat others with compassion and love, but we rarely hear about the importance of loving ourselves.  If anything, we learn that loving ourselves equates to selfishness and self-centeredness.  I want you to hear me say that this is wrong!!!  You are worthy.  You are special.  You do deserve to be loved.  You do deserve respect.  You are strong.  You are powerful.  The time is now to rebuild that power stick and fall back in love with yourself.

Navigating through these feelings and emotions can be tricky and feel super uncomfortable.  The discomfort can often cause us to shut back up that door to our authenticity room thereby protecting us from having any more power taken away.  This is where therapy comes in.  Your therapist’s goal is to support you as you rebuild your power stick and re-ignite that internal fire.  Yes, you can do this.  Even though you may feel defeated as the world has tried to put out your flame, you do have the power to stoke back up that fire and let that light shine bright!

Your new journey is waiting.  Let’s get on the road and take back that power that was once stolen!

TeenTip: 8 Ways to Become Friends With Your Food on Thanksgiving

Photo by Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash

“Hello, Thanksgiving. Hello, anxiety. Hello, fear foods. I will make friends with you so that I can become the rockin’ girl boss that I know I am inside!” (this is literally what I have written to myself on little post-it notes around my kitchen this Thanksgiving because that’s how I do it in my world). I make friends with fear foods, I say nice things to them, I welcome them into my life and into my fridge, because that’s the only way I can gain mastery over my worry thoughts. You could try this too.

Holidays that center around food can be a stressful time for anyone struggling with or working on recovery from an eating disorder. Here are a few tried and true tips for getting through the holidays:

  1. Check in with your therapist or a trusted friend before, during and after the holiday event. Don’t be afraid to text them what you are afraid of, and reach out for the support you need.
  2. Communicate about your triggers with your family. Remember that your family cannot read your mind, and they need tips on the types of comments that are unhelpful to you, as well as what is helpful for you. Remind family that comments about weight and appearance are not the best, and a good way to re-frame is to say something like “I’m glad to see you! How have you been doing? Watch any good Netflix recently?” - always a good conversation starter!  
  3. Go into holiday meals and events with a plan in place. What time will you leave? Who will be there? Can you plan your meal out ahead of time? Could be helpful to your treatment provider, dietician or parent.  (*You might say, “but Jules, there are a million parties at Thanksgiving, what if I can’t plan my meals out?” To that, I would say that you may not always be able to plan out your meal ahead of time, but working on flexibility is always useful, and can provide you with a way to challenge yourself.)
  4. Treat yo’ self. Leave time to take a bubble bath with a bath bomb, take a slow walk outside and look at the leaves (well, it’s Austin, so maybe not the leaves here…), paint your nails, start a knitting project, watch your favorite show. Taking care of yourself will make the extra stress that can arise feel more manageable.
  5. Distract, distract, distract! Play games with your younger siblings, cuddle your pets, talk to your grandparents, watch a few episodes of Stranger Things - your negative thoughts become less scary if you have people around to distract you.
  6. Try to celebrate small accomplishments. Did you try a few bites more than you were planning on? Did you engage socially when you could have isolated? That’s progress to be celebrated!
  7. Give yourself permission to eat the food you love. I’m going to write that again. In bold because I mean it. Give yourself permission to eat the food you love. Trust that your body will know when it is full.
  8. Take breaks from your family or friends when you need to. You will know when you need to, believe me. Listen to your instincts about needing some downtime, and remember that it’s ok to need a little quiet space to reflect or do some deep breathing.

Managing anything difficult during the holidays requires some extra self-compassion and understanding. A great website for more information is the National Eating Disorders Association. You’ve got this. Lean on anybody and anything that makes you feel comfy, cozy, strong, and connected.  I encourage you to leave open the possibility that it could be a great holiday!

LifeTip: Can Taking the Time to Be Mindful Actually Free Up Time?

Photo by Harry Sandhu on Unsplash

Photo by Harry Sandhu on Unsplash

Mindfulness is the intentional and active state of being aware and present – basically it’s getting out of your head and into the moment.  It’s about connecting to yourself, others, and the world around you. At heart it’s about cultivating consciousness through the use of the very thing that keeps us alive, the breath. I avoided it for years, thinking I had to be Buddha like to succeed! The very notion of mindfulness sounded not only impossible but also grueling and certainly I didn’t have the time for it. What I discovered, though, is that mindfulness can be done anywhere, in your car, on the bus, on your daily run or walk, even while eating or talking with a friend. And, it can look however you want it to look, eyes open or closed, standing, moving, or sitting in lotus position cross-legged on a mat . . . your choice. The idea is to begin in a way that is comfortable for you, just not so comfortable that you fall asleep!  

While the formal practice of mindfulness, mindfulness meditation with eyes closed in lotus position, is considered the optimal posture it can be excruciating and intolerable for some, so much so that one might quit before ever really starting. In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Mindfulness is not about getting anywhere else — it’s about being where you are and knowing it.” So why not set yourself up for success and do what works for you by starting right where you are.  It does take practice and time but let’s look at that a little more closely.  You might just find that it’s worth your time.

So, what’s the big deal? Why practice mindfulness, you may ask? You may resist, like I did. But here’s the bottom line - it’s a paradox - taking time to be mindful can actually free up time. Absurd, right? How can adding something to your already overscheduled day create that illusive thing we all yearn for, more time?  It makes sense, though, when you consider what neuroscience tells us about mindfulness and the brain. What studies show is that mindfulness literally rewires the brain. And, it rewires it in a way that improves focus, memory, clarity of thinking, and the ability to manage emotions. It has the capacity to decrease stress, anxiety, and depression. Even more compelling is that findings show mindfulness can enhance happiness and overall well-being, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

So, imagine just for a moment how much time you might free up if you were less stressed, anxious, and/or engulfed by the blues.  Imagine, too, how your use of time might look were you focused and better able to regulate the ups and downs of life. Study after study shows that the health benefits gained from mindfulness abound. Perhaps more time, not to mention quality time, is yet another reward?

Curious to know more? Check out these videos. Be ‘mindful’ of the fact that there really is no one definition or one way to cultivate mindfulness.  See what resonates with you in this very moment!

The powerful secret of your breath -- Romila “Dr. Romie” Mushtaq, MD

Dan Harris: Hack Your Brain's Default Mode with Meditation

Meditation 101: A Beginner's Guide Animation

Pico Iyer, The Art of Stillness

Andy Puddicombe, All it takes is 10 mindful minutes

For practical steps check out Mayo Clinic’s guide to simple meditation here.

 

LifeTip: Time, Is There Ever Enough?

Pocket watch.jpg

Time – that never-ending beast that we seem to fight against each and every day.  Between work, grocery shopping, walking the dog, and getting that overdue oil change done, we seem to find ourselves in this strange game of time manipulation.  As tough is the game can be, we always seem to find a way to make it all work out and get our relegated tasks complete.  Often, though, we tend to leave out one of the most important tasks.  We find ourselves grumpy and tense wondering “what is it that I forgot to do?”  The checklists are complete, the laundry has been folded, dry cleaning has been picked up, and the gas tank is filled…what could possibly be left unfinished?  Well, that unfinished task is you.  Take two seconds and ask yourself, “when was the last time I spent quality time with myself?”

If you’re anything like me, you may be feeling a little bit of anxiety just thinking about trying to fit one more thing into your day.  What happens to us, though, if we don’t take that extra time for ourselves?  Perhaps we start to feel cranky, unappreciated, overwhelmed, tired, burnt out, complacent, and edgy.  That fire that used to burn brightly within us has started to die out and the excitement that we used to have has morphed into resentment.  We all keep doing our own version of the hokey pokey, but is this really what it’s all about?

The answer is no.  Life is meant to be lived and not merely survived.  We tend to spend so much time and energy in taking care of other people and other things, that we neglect the most important person that we know – ourselves.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were able to re-ignite that passion and zest for life and not feel so bogged down by the daily grind?  That fire can be re-lit and the person holding that matchstick is you.  You are the person that needs the attention, compassion, and nurturing.  It is through this continued act of self-love and self-care that we can refuel our gas tanks and regain that passion.

Below are a few easy yet effective ways of giving back to yourself:

  • Go for a walk
  • Make yourself a nice meal
  • Take yourself to the movies
  • Enjoy a nice latte at your favorite coffee shop
  • Set aside your phone, iPad, computer, etc. and pick up your favorite book
  • Journal – take 10 minutes every day and just write.  Put pen to paper and just let your thoughts flow.
  • Open up that sketch pad and let your creativity fly.
  • Put on your favorite music, snuggle up on the couch in your coziest blanket, and just take in the serenity.
  • Go in the backyard and play fetch with Fido.
  • Take in a yoga class
  • Treat yourself to a relaxing mani/pedi
  • Find a relaxing spot in the park, sit down, close your eyes, and just breathe

No matter how simple or mundane you may think the activity is, it is essential that you take that time for yourself.  Self-care is kind of like the airplane emergency concept.  We’ve got to make sure that the oxygen mask is secured on ourselves before we can try to take care of anyone else.  The concept of time doesn’t have to be a beast to be conquered.  If we can work our own self-care into our daily schedules we can quickly find that life is truly meant to be lived and not just survived.

Love yourself.  You are the most important person that you know.