Tag Archive | mental health

For Big Change, Think Small

It’s the end of another year (how is that possible?). The time when we reflect on the past 365 days, take stock of where we are, and decide the path of our life moving forward. We make a list of things we want to change and create resolutions to get the job done. We start the year off with a bang moving full force in the new direction, and then boom… a different bang, we hit a wall. Everything we strive to accomplish with such passion slides to the side and we fall back into the routine of the behavior we know so well.

There’s a familiarity about the promises we make to ourselves each year. You can easily ask yourself: Didn’t I make those self-same promises last year? And maybe even the year before?

So why, if we are so determined to make change, do we fall short of our goals?

According to experts, one of the main reasons New Year’s resolutions are so hard to maintain is because the thing we want to change is a habit – behavior that comes from the subconscious part of our brain that is done automatically, without conscious thought.

Typical resolutions like eating healthy, quitting smoking or drinking, increasing physical activity, or spending more time with loved ones, are designed to change routines that have been around for many years. While it’s easy to assume that we should be able to willfully make long-term changes to established patterns, desire alone is usually not enough.

According to Charles Duhigg, in his book, The Power of Habit, there is a three step loop that occurs: A cue or trigger, which tells your brain to go into automatic mode. The routine, which can be physical, mental or emotional. And the reward, which helps your brain determine if this loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop becomes more and more automatic.

While wanting to change is the first step, experts say that the key to enacting lasting change is understanding the process and identifying your triggers. For example, if you want to quit smoking, you can quit cold turkey, but understanding what triggered your smoking will give you a greater chance of success. When you recognize what situations trigger your current habit – having a morning cup of coffee, stress, drinking alcohol, going out with friends, driving, etc. – you can create a positive habit that you are going to do instead.

So, when you wake in the morning and have coffee, instead of smoking, what will you do? If you’re stressed or out with friends, what will you do? Replace the old habit with a positive one. Be mindful and consistent. Create the new routine that results from the trigger and your brain learns the new reward.

Don’t try to change your life all at once. Some people decide that they are going to lose weight, exercise every day, quit smoking, get a new job, and spend more time with family. A complete overhaul will lead to overload and you will give up. Work on one habit at a time and take baby steps. Lean in gently. If you usually leave work at 7 pm and want to spend more time with family, go home at 6:30 pm for a few weeks or even months. Then gradually make it earlier. Once that becomes a new habit, work on something else.

Lasting change won’t happen overnight. But with mindfulness, determination, consistency, and patience, you can achieve any goal you desire. Remember for big change, think small. As Mark Twain said, “Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.”

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Do You Know When You’re Happy?

“If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands, if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands, if you’re happy and you know it and you really want to show it if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands”

Thinking about this song brings back joyous memories of dancing around my family room singing it with my children and perhaps, even having it sung to me as a child. The lyrics are simple and yet so profound – if you’re happy and you know it, show it (feel it, live it, experience it).

This past weekend I tried something that I had never done before. One of my friends invited me to a Tarot card party where an expert would offer private readings. Intrigued, I agreed to attend. During my reading, the woman said something that really struck a nerve with me; she told me that I don’t know when I’m happy.

Interestingly, this thought has been on my mind in recent weeks, ever since I interviewed Dr. Rick Hanson, the author of Hardwiring Happiness. As a result of our discussion, I have been contemplating whether or not I truly feel happiness. Dr. Hanson spoke with me about how we let life pass us by, never realizing the joy of our experiences, thus allowing peace and happiness to elude us. He explained that when we feel pleasure, really let it sink in and focus on it, we are not only happier people in the moment, but we change our brain chemistry resetting it back to its natural resting state – its responsive mode – which refuels and repairs the body, makes us feel peaceful, happy, and loved, and helps us to act with confidence and compassion.

I don’t know when I’m happy. Boy was she right. Even though I know better, I still expend energy reminiscing about family members that have passed on, a marriage that fell apart, betrayals, missed opportunities, time I believe to have been wasted. I rush through my days barely picking my head up to notice all the blessings that have been bestowed upon me, not allowing myself to be content. Then I wonder why I have moments when I feel sad, unfulfilled, lonely, anxious, and depressed. It’s an inside job!

How about you? Do you let yourself feel joy and gratitude or do the good times pass you by? Do you see the blessings in your life or do you ruminate constantly about what’s missing, what you wish you had?

Dr. Rick Hanson’s advice? Spend a few extra seconds concentrating on something happy and joyful. Let the experience linger. Really notice it. Appreciate it. Be grateful for it. If you see a beautiful flower, look at it a few extra seconds. Don’t just glimpse at it and move on to the next thing. Savor pleasant experiences and make this become a daily practice. According to Dr. Hanson, this is all it takes to make a dramatic change in your brain and in your life.

So, next time, when you’re happy, KNOW it, FEEL it, SHOW it and remember to clap your hands, stomp your feet, shout hooray!

Do You Want To Be Great?

I recently heard about the passing of a man to whom I was introduced to a few years ago. We met when I had just created the CYACYL brand and I was unsure about how I would proceed. He had media experience and professional contacts and offered advice and support. He even introduced me to a few people that later went on to become guests of the show.

I was not what one would consider to be a close friend of this man and our contact was limited to sporadic phone calls or periodic emails and Facebook messages, but when we were in communication, he always made me feel like I could accomplish anything. His words were so kind and reassuring and he had such a gentle nature about him that one couldn’t help but be drawn to him.

When I heard that he passed away, and at a young age, I was heartbroken. I couldn’t understand why his death had such a deep impact on me, after all, we weren’t particularly close. Then I realized that he approached life with love and kindness and an open heart. He would do anything he could to help another person, even an acquaintance. He looked for the upside of life and really seemed to savor the moment. He was grateful for what he had and treasured his family and friends. Even during his physical challenges and progressing illness, he was faithful to God. Every time I was around him, even briefly, I left a better person. He made me feel special. I would miss that.

Perhaps Maya Angelou summed it up best when she said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Often we touch others in ways we will never know. A smile, an extended hand, a kind word or gesture, support, an invitation. Simple things in life, that we take for granted, that can mean the world to someone else.

We all have tremendous power over one another. Our words and actions can reinforce the courage to press on or provide one more reason to give up. We can extinguish the flame of pain and suffering or be the one to add another log to the fire. We can offer light in a time of darkness or build another layer to a wall of isolation.

When your life comes to an end, how do you want to be remembered? Me? I want to be remembered as being GREAT because as Mark Twain said, “Really GREAT people make you feel that you, too, can become great.

If You Have Nothing Nice To Say…

If you have nothing nice to say don’t say anything at all. Ah… a mother’s wisdom. I’m sure most of us have been told this many, many times. But, how many of us actually follow this sage advice?

Words are a powerful force and the powerful effects of negative words cannot be underestimated. Words are remembered long after they are spoken. They have the power to destroy one’s self-esteem and self-confidence, making someone feel less than adequate and fearful. Words leave invisible bruises that can last a lifetime.

Most of us understand that negative words hurt, and yet, how many of us actually stop and think BEFORE making a negative or disparaging comment? Do we ever think about the impact our message has on the recipient or is it so important for our opinion to be heard that the consequences are insignificant to  us?

And it is not only personal comments from others that can be damaging.  Being in the company of people who frequently complain or see the bad in everything can be just as emotionally detrimental.  Such people project a negative energy that soon infiltrates everything and everyone around them.

Case in point. My 18-year-old son recently completed a certification course at our local fire academy and is currently working toward becoming a fireman. This is his dream and he is taking the appropriate steps to that end. He is attending college to earn a degree. He has been a volunteer for two years. He strives to learn everything about his chosen profession. After he completed the certification test, I posted on my personal Facebook page about his status. Someone immediately commented that her son took the test a few years back and is number 5,000 waiting for a job. She went on to say that it is impossible to get a job and anyone who goes into the profession is crazy.

I’m not sure why she made that post. Perhaps she was trying to relay information. Maybe she is upset about the fact that her son has not been hired. Maybe she was having a bad day. I don’t know her motive, but I do know that a comment like that has the power to cast doubt in a young man’s mind, cause him to question his direction, and possibly even shatter his dream.  Once a statement like that gets planted in someone’s thoughts, it’s more difficult to stay on course. How often does this happen to you? How often are you the one making this type of comment or how often are you the recipient?

A new year is approaching and this is a time when many self reflect and try to enact positive change. I encourage you to become more cognizant of what you say. Stop and think BEFORE the words come out. You have the power to impact another positively or negatively. You have the power to be a mentor or cheerleader of a dream, or the destroyer. Remember that mother always knows best and if you have nothing nice to say, pray one of my favorite prayers: “Lord, put your arm on my shoulder and your hand over my mouth.”

You Are What You Think

“You’re fat!” “You’re stupid!” “You don’t have the right education!” “You’ll never be able to get the promotion!” “No man will ever want you!” “You’re old!” “She doesn’t like you!” “You’re ugly!” “You can’t do anything right!”

Do any of these words sound familiar? While most people would never consider speaking to another with such negative, degrading words, we have no problem saying these things to ourselves. The rant of self-abusive language runs rampant for most on any given day.

It is estimated that the average person has approximately 60,000 thoughts per day, 80% of which are negative (and this is a conservative estimate). Imagine 48,000 negative thoughts running through your mind every day of every week, of every month, of every year – year after year! It’s no wonder we feel beaten up, insecure, fearful, and anxious. No one could survive that abuse unscathed.

You’ve heard the expression, “You are what you eat.” Well, just as important, “You are what you think.” Your thoughts influence your outlook on life, your attitude toward yourself, and they have a profound impact on your physical and emotional health.

So, how can you eliminate negative self-talk, especially when you may not even be aware that it’s happening? The following exercise is designed to help you recognize your thoughts and learn to replace the negative with a more positive, self-affirming thought.

  1. Get a notebook or journal and create four columns on each page. Label the top of each column, “Thought”, “Location”, “Activity”, “New Thought”. For one to two weeks, write down your negative thoughts and where you were and what you were doing at the time. Every time a negative thought comes into your head, write it down. Note where you were at the time and what you were doing. Leave column four blank. If you can’t write down all of your negative thoughts, make a commitment to jot down at least five to 10 per day. Do not evaluate during this period.
  2. Reread your journal after the one to two weeks. Determine what underlying themes or messages are behind your negative thoughts. What were some of the triggers? What activities or people triggered negative thoughts?
  3. Evaluate the validity of the thoughts. Ask yourself if there is any truth to what you’re thinking. Are there things you can change? Which thoughts are garbage that must be deleted?  Now work on deleting them.
  4. Ask yourself how can you change the negative thought to a positive one. Instead of looking at situations in the worst light, try to find the positive aspects and focus on them. For instance, if you worry about the results of a test and start thinking of the negative consequences, such as failing a class, turn it around. Focus on the fact that whether you pass or not, you did your best and learned important information. Avoid thinking about the worst-case scenarios. They usually never happen. Write down the “new thought” in the fourth column.
  5. Monitor your thoughts. When you are thinking negatively, stop yourself as soon as you realize it and replace the negative thought with your “new thought”. Even though negative thoughts will always come up, the perseverance you develop will keep you going and after time the old thoughts will be replaced with the new ones.

To hear this subject and exercise discussed in depth listen to my coaching class with Hay House author, Michelle Phillips: CLICK HERE

The Music Comes On And the Dance Begins

One of the questions that I am often asked by email, via Facebook, or during my lectures, is how to permanently end a relationship with someone that is a negative force in a person’s life. I have heard many terms to describe these types of people, but one of my favorites is energy vampire, because they zap the life out of you.

A relationship doesn’t have to be romantic to fall into the toxic category.

Ending a relationship can be one of life’s greatest challenges. We all have a few people in our lives that we allow to treat us in a manner less than we deserve. Cognitively we know that if we don’t change something, the result will be the same, but once that music starts, we jump right into the same old dance.

Often we have spent many years with these people and the thought of letting go is frightening, so we hold on, even when the relationship no longer serves us well. We take the abuse, we allow ourselves to feel bad, and we compromise our self-esteem. It takes a tremendous amount of strength to release a person from our lives because in the process we encounter  many emotions: guilt at not being a compassionate, forgiving person; fear of being alone; the belief that we’re supposed to take care of others; feelings of inadequacy and of being unlovable.

Relationships should always be treasured and they should not be taken lightly, but after years of the same dance, for the sake of our physical and emotional health, we must recogize when it’s time to change the music and begin a different dance.

Ask yourself these questions: Do I feel energized or drained after being with this person? Do I look forward to spending time together? Do I keep looking for a response or change that I never get? Do I really like this person? Log your responses and emotions.

If you determine the relationship to be harmful then it’s time to end all contact with this person. This may be more difficult if children are involved, however, there are certain behaviors you can stop. Don’t Facebook stalk, drive past the person’s house, or find reasons to maintain contact. Every time you do, you reopen the wounds and make it difficult to move on.

Fill the hole. Find ways to stay busy. Join clubs, exercise, volunteer, or spend time with friends. Do whatever it takes to fill the time that would have been spent with the person.

Surround yourself with positive people. Be around people that support you, lift you up, and reenergize you.

Get help. Seek spiritual or mental health guidance. Join a support group – just make sure it is a positive group and not a bunch of people getting together to complain.

Give yourself a break. If in your heart you believe that you have done all you can to sustain the relationship, it’s time to release it. Don’t blame yourself. Learn from the experience, and wish the person well. You can’t make another person change.

Don’t wallow in hatred or negative feelings. Remember the saying, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

You are a child of God, a wonderful gift to this world. Don’t allow anyone to disrespect you or diminish your self-esteem. You have that power!

Live It, Feel It, Believe It

Napoleon Hill once said, “We become what we think about.”

It’s that time of year again when we sit down, pen and paper in hand and make a list of all the things we resolve to change. When we create our list, we are motivated and sure that this will be the year that we will achieve our goals.

“This year I resolve to lose 20 lbs.” “I will stop smoking.” “I am going to exercise every day.” “I will eat healthy food.”

These are noble decisions and we start off with a bang. But sometimes life gets in the way, and our decisions become our burdens. We slip back into our old patterns and what we set out to accomplish gets pushed to the side. We then feel guilty for not being able to achieve our goals, and thoughts of failure set in.

The problem with our resolutions is that they are usually made in response to something negative, such as a bad habit, or poor physical condition, and it is difficult to change a negative into a positive without a strong commitment and determination. It is much easier to move toward something than away from something.

This year, instead of making your usual resolutions, why not try positive affirmations? An affirmation is a positive statement or declaration of the truth or existence of something. Affirmations psychologically condition through repetitive, consistent self-talk. By repeating a positive affirmation over and over, you train your subconscious mind to turn the thoughts into realities. Make affirmations about yourself that will reinforce your intentions and better prepare you to accomplish your goals.

For an affirmation to be effective, it needs to be in the present tense, positive, personal and specific. “I am capable of accomplishing any goal I set for myself,”  “I am feeling more peaceful every day,”  “I am learning from my mistakes,” “I eat healthy, nutritious food every day,” are examples of positive affirmations.

Here are a some tips on how to make affirmations:

Determine what you want to improve. Be clear about your goals. Figure out what’s important to you and get to the heart of what you want to create in your life.

Create statements. Put your ideas into a few simple statements that reflect what you want to create. Phrase the statements as if they are already true, not that you would like them to be true. Tell your mind that your desire is actually already the reality. You are programming your subconscious to believe the statements; you’re not trying to want something, you’re trying to make it so.  If you use words like “I will” or “I am going to,” then what you are really doing is postponing the attainment of your goal.

Keep the affirmation focused and realistic. Don’t stretch the idea too far. If you make it too unrealistic your “inner judge” will step in and negate the affirmations.

Keep it positive. Say what you want, not what you don’t want.

Repeat affirmations daily. Say affirmations out loud, in front of a mirror. Write them down and refer to them often. Keep them in a visible place.

My challenge to you is to think about your new year resolution as positive affirmations throughout the year. If you want to lose weight, create affirmations that support weight loss.  If you want to lose 20 pounds and you now weigh 150 pounds, say “I weigh 130 pounds.”  Supplement with affirmations such as “I enjoy eating healthy foods,” “I can sense when I am full and I stop eating,” or “I enjoy walking two miles three times per week.”

In addition, visualize the positive thoughts as if they are already happening. How will you look and feel after losing 20 lbs?  Live it. Feel it. Believe it. You will be surprised how quickly you bring about true change in your life using the power of affirmations.

Happy New Year!