It has often been said that the greatest battles we face are the battles within our own mind. Today’s tip is a simple one, but can make a tremendous difference in combating this war with a simple tool I call the thought check.
The thought check is a quick and effective exercise in gaging how we are treating ourselves. Here is how it works: you simply imagine your best friend committing the same error that you have. How would you respond to them?
For instance, you are late for an important meeting or for picking up carpool. What would you tell your friend if they were to relay to you that they were late for an important meeting or picking up carpool? Would you berate them or attack their character with phrases like, “You are such an idiot and are so unreliable.” “Why can’t you get your act together?” No, that would be absolutely crazy. While the fact they were late doesn’t change, you would probably be empathetic to their plight and express that this does not define their character and maybe you would offer some perspective or advice–“Everybody’s late sometimes. Maybe next time you could try taking a different route–that freeway is so backed up at that hour.” “I know that you are feeling embarrassed right now. This isn’t you. They will get to know that you will be there next time on time. Everything is going to be okay. “
You then repeat those phrases to yourself that you would tell your best friend rather than the internal negative dialogue that we often berate ourselves with. This tool allows yourself the grace and room to acknowledge weaknesses and shortcomings but from a place of love and growth that allow you to become better. So the next time you recognize a mistake and the negative inner dialogue you tell yourself, simply stop and tell your mind to do a “Thought Check”. Become your own best friend. We all spend a lot of time in our own heads– make it a place where you would want to be.
Currently, Hurricane Dorian is extending its path of destruction from the Bahamas where 110 mph winds have decimated islands, and is heading towards Florida. Despite having more technological advances than any time in history and even with all of the scientific resources, there is still no controlling the weather. Storms are a part of life. While not everyone in this life will experience a hurricane, everyone as part of life is going to experience internal storms of life–each as unique as the individual experiencing them. Every storm is different and the reactions to the storms are as unique as the storms themselves but there is one key that will help no matter what the storm you are facing in this life. What is the key to facing storms? The key to making it through the storms of life is to find meaning in the storms.
Legendary Psychiatrist and Holocaust Survivor, Viktor Frankl, details his experiences and his findings of being a psychiatrist in concentration camps in his book, “A Man’s Search For Meaning.” Frankl gave up a chance to immigrate to the United States and instead opted to stay in Vienna with his parents. In 1941, he met and married the love of his life, Tilly, and shortly after they were forced to abort their unborn child as Jews were forbidden to have children. Frankl, his parents and his wife were arrested in September 1942 and sent to Theresienstadt where his Dad passed away a few months later. Soon after, Frankl was separated from his mother and wife, and was forced to dig barefoot in the snow injured and starving. Frankl describes how simply imagining the face of his wife became a radiant sun that kept him warm. Although during this time Frankl battled his own depression, he offered therapy to his fellow inmates. He urged them to to sing and replay cherished memories to remind them of a life worth living and found that those who survived had a deeper purpose in life. Frankl was determined to be reunited with his wife and endured over 3 years of malnutrition, cruel beatings, and living in unimaginable conditions. He was liberated from the concentration camp by Allied Troops in 1945 only to find that his brother, mother were murdered in Auschwitz and his beloved 24 year old wife passed away at Bergen-Belsen a few months earlier in 1944. While in this state of despair, Frankl wrote, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” When asked why he chose to share his story in his book, Frankl responded, “…to convey that life holds potential meaning under any conditions, even the most miserable ones.” For Frankl, finding meaning was the only way out of suffering. Having a meaning or a purpose was the key to weathering the storms.
This life was never meant to be smooth sailing. In fact, there is an african proverb that says, “Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.” Developing character and virtues like patience, diligence, humility and faith often are the pearls that come from adversity. Facing difficult challenges teaches us that we can do hard things. There are a few things that are helpful to remember while we are in the midst of a storm and can help us find meaning and purpose in them.
Everything can– and will– change. Storms do end.
You’ve overcome challenges before. Remember past storms that you have experienced and reflect on the what you learned about yourself having gone through them.
Being kind to yourself is the best medicine. You spend a lot of time in your head, so make it a pleasant place to be. Allow yourself to learn and grow from mistakes.
Although trials and storms are difficult it is important to remember that we are never left alone to face them. Surround yourself with people who truly care. Even if you feel that no one understands, it is important to know that God does and that He is omniscient–or all knowing. He knows, he hears and answers prayers.
Storms will come and go and we cannot control the weather but we can become master sailors and find meaning in them. As Victor Frankl said, “Man’s main concern is not to gain pleasure or avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in his life.”
Truth! This actually holds true whether you are talking about your relationship with a partner or spouse, your relationships with your kids, a relationship with a friend or coworker and even your relationship with yourself.
With a Spouse
It is the small things done often that make the biggest difference in relationships. These small things, are referred to as “bids”, which are really opportunities to pay attention to the small ways in which your partner reaches for you and attempts to connect. When you turn towards your partner in a response to an emotional bid, you are making an investment in your relationship that deepens your relationship in a way that a grandiose gesture never can. These responses to the small everyday bids are the key to connection and satisfaction in marriage. World renowned researcher, John Gottman, PHd, refers to this as emotional bank accounts, where turning towards each other’s bids results in a deposit in the account. On the other hand, turning away from each other’s attempts at connection will result in an withdrawl from the account. After a six year research study on newlyweds, Dr. Gottman discovered that couples who stayed together turned toward each other’s emotional bids 86 percent of the time, while those who went on to divorce turned toward each other’s bids only 33 percent of the time. By turning toward your partner’s emotional bids, you safeguard your relationship against disrepair and deepen the love you share.
This doesn’t only apply to marital relationships but even to relationships with our kids, our friends and ourselves.
With Your Kids
As luck would have it, we live close enough to the elementary school that our kids attend that they do not have a bus and so I have the opportunity to pick them up after school a lot. So, I am there with a lot of parents and have witnessed this interaction too many times to count and I am sure I have been guilty as well. It usually goes like this: the child comes up to the parent waving with anticipation a piece of paper. Once they get to the parent, they begin an animated dialogue about that piece of paper in their hand to suddenly stop and go quiet as their parent has taken the paper and without a glance or with a passing glance put the paper in their bag or just holds it to their side as they rush to get their child home. This crushing moment happens so quickly but it sends a message to the child in their first interaction with their parent, that they aren’t important. Now let’s be honest, time doesn’t always allow you in the moment to engage in a dialogue about each paper your child brings to show you but you can acknowledge that it is important to them and you want to be able to hear about it and then give them a time. “when we get home”, “after dinner”, “after we get out of the middle of the carpool line”. This is still a deposit and then keeping our word and returning to listen when we are capable becomes an additional deposit. You are teaching them that they matter to you and that they are important. This makes deeper and harder conversations much easier to have because you have created the ritual of listening to the small ones. The small things carry more weight than you think.
There is really no one who could say it better than Mother Teresa who simply stated: “Do Small Things With Great Love.” Sometimes when the emotions are so high or the event so large that we don’t know what to do, we simply do nothing. We get lost in intentions of doing something big or waiting to figure out a way that would adequately show how much we really care.
My friend, Liz, just rang the now famous bell having completed her 8th round of chemo today. This is a moment that is absolutely huge and is a glimpse into the strong, determined character she has developed as her body is fighting breast cancer. However, I would say that an even bigger moment was a post that she shared in part after completing her 7th round of chemo. She reflected on what having cancer has taught her and one thing that she learned is that people will show up. She went on to mention the myriad of little things that those that love her have done for her since she was diagnosed ranging from meals, to errands run on her behalf, those who watched her 3 children, prayed, sent gifts, cards, cash, thoughtful check ins and phone calls. With her permission, I will share a few quotes: “What may have felt like a small sacrifice to them has made a huge impact on my soul. I am forever changed from the love and care I have been shown.”
Liz went on to give powerful advice she learned from being on the other side as the patient of cancer:
” • show up for the people you love so they know how much you care • check in so they know you haven’t forgotten that life will never be the same • show up but don’t be offended if they can’t answer the door/phone that day • go to the funeral • offer to help in various ways and follow through when you can • sit and listen • drop by just for a hug • send flowers • love on their kids • try to be sensitive about the words you speak • be grateful for your own parents, children and good health • whatever you do, just don’t do nothing. doing the wrong thing is better than not reaching out at all. “
Small and simple acts are more powerful than we realize.
This may seem strange to include ourselves here but there is more power in your relationship with yourself than you realize. In fact, if you don’t take care of yourself, you limit the gift you are and the ability to share that gift with others. There are a million different things you can do for the now well coined phrase, “Self-Care”, so I will not mention them all but I do want to emphasize the simple power of consistent, small actions. Listening to your body–identifying thoughts and feelings— and acknowledging them with a small and simple act— from simply making a circular motion with your shoulders when you are feelings stressed or getting up and taking a drink of water— they are the key to being able to truly progress and to take care of the gift that you are.
What is the most powerful question that you can ask yourself? That question is this: What is it that you hope for? And the follow up question: What are you doing to make that a reality? Hope is a universal necessity that is essential for everyone regardless of your age, gender or socio-economic status. Hope is the true and basic desires of your heart and it is what propels us forward even when we can’t see the finish line. So what can you do to key into the power of hope? Simply write out your hopes and dreams on paper. Writing down hopes and dreams allows your mind and heart to be on the same page working together.
There is a power in being honest with yourself in writing down and working towards what your hopes and dreams are. If you are hesitant to write them down, start with spending a few moments pondering the reason(s) why. Are you worried if you fail what that would mean? Are you not able to see the end result and therefore feel a little it is a daunting dream to write down a goal that seems out of reach? Are you not sure what control you have over the situation and therefore are uncertain about stating a goal that is outside of your complete control? Are you worried about the reactions of others to your goal and so the vulnerability required to acknowledge a dream seems too difficult? Are you unsure about how to go about reaching your dream and so it seems easier to daydream instead of actively pursue it? Whatever your reasons, my hope is that you will take a step of faith and allow the power of hope to work in your life. Key into the power of hope and let that be your guiding force as you work towards your dreams and goals. There really isn’t a more powerful force or motivation.
It is important, whether it is in your job, in your marriage, or with your children, that you are able to find joy in the process, not just in the outcome. The thought, “I’ll be happy when…” is the robber of many moments of happiness and joy. The key is to learn to celebrate the everyday small things.
It has been said that Rome was not built in a day. Neither are your relationships with your spouse or your children. In fact, most of the success comes in the small everyday actions that build cities, individuals and families. It is important to look for, recognize and celebrate those small moments that contribute to the process and find joy in them.
This is something that I strive to do and I make an honest effort to catch my children doing something good and I will make a mention of the impact of that effort. Many times they are unable to see how their actions whether they are positive or negative impact the world around them. Just yesterday, I accompanied my daughter’s 4th grade class on their field trip to visit the State Capitol building and I brought my 6 year-old son and my 4 year-old daughter. As we went to enter the building, my son, on his own accord, opened the door and then held that door open for the classes to enter. I mentioned what a thoughtful idea that was and how much he helped using his strength and hard work and how everyone was able to enter the building faster especially the students carrying the lunch bucket. Little did I realize the impact of that compliment and how many doors are part of the tour of the Capitol building ;). It became his mission to open the door whenever he could and to hold it open until he was the last one in the room. It was a small token of kindness but one that brought joy to many and helped him to develop hard work, think of others rather than himself and to be kind. Watching him became a moment of joy in the process of parenting for me.
It is easy to get caught up in the celebrations that are celebrated by others in the world–the valedictorian or the talented athlete. It takes thought and effort to find reasons and ways to celebrate character traits that are not measured by a GPA or a high vertical jump. While excelling in school or on the field are accomplishments from months and years of training, the true joy lies not in the outcome but the process.
I once watched an olympic athlete who placed second celebrate more than I have ever seen- in fact–I would go as far as to say that they outwardly celebrated more than the person who placed first by hundreds of a second. It could have been really easy to focus on those hundreds of a second that cost them the gold medal, but that outcome wasn’t their focus.
At my son’s T-Ball game a few weeks ago I was able to watch that same reaction by an opposing player who had some delays that affected his physical body but not his heart. After swinging and missing a dozen or so pitches, they brought out the Tee for him to hit off which in the Rookie little league is sometimes a fate worse than death. However, this boy appeared unaffected by this “plight” and then swung with all his might and after a few swings and misses from the tee, managed to hit the tee and the ball so that the ball was knocked off the tee and traveled maybe two feet before it rolled to a stop. That young man ran to 1st base pumping his arms in the air like he had hit a homerun in the world series. How amazing would it be if we all celebrated the small meaningful moments like him.
So, look for ways to highlight the small, everyday moments. You’ll be amazed at the joy you can discover there.
Truth! Professor, Researcher and 2016 Psychologist of the Year, Dr. Susan Johnson actually created a research study to determine the power of a simple touch. While in an MRI machine, participants were told that when an “X” flashed on the screen, they may or not receive a slight shock on their ankle. Participants were recorded alone, with a stranger holding their hand and with their spouse holding their hand. The results were the beginning of a whole new way at looking at love, attachment and emotional bonding. They discovered that the same location that signals physical pain to the brain registers emotional hurt and that in this experiment, when experiencing the shock, the participants would report the shock as “uncomfortable” when they were holding a loved one’s hand whereas alone or with a stranger the shock was registered as painful. Dr. Johnson determined that, “Love is a safety cue that literally calms and comforts the neurons in our brains.” The studies show that just holding your loved one’s hand can calm your brain and shut down fear.
In another recent study conducted by The Center for Humanizing Care of 14 hospitals with intensive care units(ICU), 90% of the 125 clinicians surveyed said that family presence during a procedure is a generally positive experience. They found that having someone there to hold the hand of a patient during a procedure can also be beneficial to the doctors as the patients require less restraints and/or calming medications due to the comfort provided by their loved one. Instead of restricting visiting hours at these ICUs, now family members do not necessarily have to leave when doctors are performing invasive or potentially traumatic procedures like an intubation, placing a central intravenous line, inserting a chest tube or even resuscitation a patient.
Research has also shown that having family in the ICU with a patient can help them all deal with the depression and anxiety that often follows a stay in the ICU, called post-intensive care syndrome, even reducing the impact of it long-term.
So, the next time you have a difficult discussion with your spouse or your child or notice that your emotions are starting to escalate, reach for their hand. Emotional connection is more powerful than you realize and that simple act of touch has the ability to calm emotions and situations quicker than you can like this post.
Truth! Society often portrays being vulnerable as the opposite of courage—that if you are vulnerable that you are weak. You need to be invincible and so we seek to try and control as much of the outcomes that we can. However, the truth is that courage and vulnerability work hand in hand and it takes vulnerability to be courageous. The truth is that it takes courage to be the first to say that you are sorry and that takes being vulnerable. It takes courage to bring a child in this world and that means being vulnerable realizing you don’t know how to be a parent. It takes courage to put yourself out there in the dating world and risk rejection and that requires being vulnerable.
Brene Brown, the vulnerability guru, emphasizes this truth about courage and vulnerability describing a visit to Fort Bragg (the largest military base in the world—and where my brother-in-law and his family will be stationed in a few months):
“I was recently at Fort Bragg speaking to soldiers and joint special operations. It’s a hard group to talk about vulnerability with, because in a combat situation vulnerability equals death, and their job is to minimize vulnerability. So I asked them to come up with an example of courage that they’ve witnessed that wasn’t completely defined by a willingness to be vulnerable, a willingness to engage in risk, uncertainty, and emotional exposure. And no one could come up with an example.”
So take the leap of faith and have the courage it takes to be vulnerable. Vulnerability holds a lot of power. When you risk and reach out, that is where the magic happens, where connections are made and strengthened. As Brene Brown says: “Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage. Tell me how vulnerable someone is willing to be, and I’ll tell you how brave they’re willing to be.” Be Brave!
There is a natural tendency that we all have to compare. Even a two year-old is capable of quickly recognizing if they have less fruit snacks than their siblings. Comparing in of itself is not wrong and can be a valuable skill set—for example– comparison shopping can allow you to get the best deal on your new phone, car or groceries. However, we often have a tendency of comparing apples to oranges. We will look at our weaknesses and compare them to the strengths of others. We will stand in awe of the woman who obviously makes it to the gym in the morning when we are struggling to get our kids to school on time. We will focus on something we are struggling with and then notice the person who seems to excel in that area and this usually does not foster positive feelings towards that person. This usually leads in the direction of self-loathing and being critical of our ourselves and our weaknesses or to feelings of envy and jealousy of the person we view as successful in an area we are lacking in. However, there is one characteristic that everyone can develop that will directly counter these outcomes of our natural tendency to compare: humility.
One: Being humble is a way that you can still recognize your own weaknesses and the strengths of another without the overwhelming negative feelings. Humility allows you to recognize and remember that we all have strengths and we all have weaknesses that we can improve. Humility allows us know that there is room for growth in all of us for a reason. We can focus on our own self-improvement and look of ways to work on and get better and allow others the same opportunity.
Two: Being humble also helps us to be kind to ourselves. When my mom is overwhelmed, she often says, “I am only one person.” It is helpful to remember this and that we are not meant to be more than just one person–a person who will make mistakes–a person with flaws but a person who is learning. We are one person but we make a huge difference.
Three: Being humble allows us to create true connections. It does not mean being weak nor that we should allow ourselves to be at the dictates of someone else. Recognizing that we have weaknesses does not mean that we negate our strengths. In fact, it helps us relate and connect more to others realizing that we all have strengths and things that we offer to this world that make a difference. Humility allows for us to reach out for help when we need it and creates connections with others which is the strongest predictor of happiness. (truth-or-myth-connection-is-the-strongest-predictor-of-happiness)
Four: Being humble also allows us to remember that everything we have–our time, our talents and skills, our health and energy, even our very lives come as free gifts from God. When you recognize that you have been given talents and gifts, it makes it much easier to share them.
Five: Being humble means being teachable. We can seek to learn from those that have strengths in areas that we might be lacking. We are not meant to know everything but we are meant be be able to learn. Being humble is what makes the true difference in learning. My daughter was having a difficult time with a particular subject in math. I can remember this feeling as I was in math class in high school. Math had been pretty simple for me growing up and then for some reason geometry happened and I can remember looking around in class thinking I was the only person who just wasn’t getting it. My counsel for my daughter was the same counsel I would have given my 9th grade self–raise your hand. Acknowledge if something is hard for you to understand. Your teacher does understand it and can help you. When you acknowledge what you don’t know, you allow your mind to focus on learning that exact information. Humility is the key to learning.
So, the next time you recognize the feelings of envy that are derived from comparing, give yourself a dose of humility. Refocus your energy on ways in which you can use the talents that you have been given and look to learn from those around you. Being humble makes a real difference.
Forgiveness is not easy. However, there are a few key myths that make it so forgiveness is even harder than it needs to be. One of the most perpetuated myths is that “You Forgive and You Forget.” Forgiveness does not mean amnesia. We are not meant to have a “Skip That Chapter” mindset in order to forgive. In fact, if you forget there were atrocities, we are likely to repeat those atrocities and if we don’t deal with our past adequately, it will return to haunt us. From an evolutionary standpoint, our brains are wired to remember negative events so that we don’t get bitten by the saber tooth tiger twice.
Forgiveness is not forgetting or pretending that things happened differently than they did. Forgiveness is knowing and believing that chapters in a book are simply that- chapters and not the end. It is the ability to know that you have the power to move forward and write the next chapter without holding onto the anger and the hurt. Forgiveness is the way for you to have a path to move forward to write your story. It does not mean that restitution or justice should not be required or that in order to completely forgive that they need to be a part of your life. Clear boundaries are an actually an essential part of the forgiveness process.
My favorite way to understand forgiveness is a quote by Paul Coleman, a licensed therapist and contributing author to the book, “Exploring Forgiveness”:
“When you forgive, you do not forget the season of cold completely, but neither do you shiver in its memory.”
Forgiveness does not mean that we need to forget but through the process of forgiveness the emotions and feelings–that at the time were so intense and had the power if left there to fester to write a different ending for ourselves– those feelings will dwindle and diminish. Forgiveness does not mean that anger or hurt vanishes immediately but it will wither in time. Despite genuine efforts to forgive, some remnants of the old hurt may remain but they will remind us of that cold season and how far we now have come and how those feelings do not have the power to continue to be the focus of our lives and write our stories. There is no greater gift that you can give to yourself than forgiveness which allows you to flip the page and begin again.
Myth! The truth is that just like in any profession, there are those that are good at their jobs and there are those that are not. Sadly, therapists are no different and they are not created the same. Just as you wouldn’t want to take your car to just any mechanic but would search out for one that was qualified and able to address the needs of your car, you are going to want to invest in finding a therapist is qualified and will be able to address your needs or the needs (or the needs of a loved one) as well. It is a very difficult road to come to the decision to seek out a therapist and often because it is a hard decision, many enter the search to find a therapist under duress and will often see the first person they can get into. When you are at the crossroads of looking for a therapist, it is important to know that finding the right therapist is essential in order to get the outcome that you are looking for. Here are five tips to finding the right therapist for you.