Tuesday, December 31, 2013

How To Make New Year's Resolutions You Can Achieve: Guaranteed!

Yes.  Seriously.  Guaranteed.  Well, almost guaranteed.  I certainly don't have any say about what your New Year's Resolutions are, how you go about achieving them, and how serious you really are about achieving them; but, what I can offer is a way to approach your Resolutions so your chance of success is much greater than it would be otherwise - practically guaranteed!  And, as an added bonus, they are more likely to reflect who you truly are and will therefore be Self Strong New Year's Resolutions!

Some people declare New Year's Resolutions because "everyone else does" and they kinda think they have to have one but don't really care either way.  Some people declare their New Year's Resolutions because they really want to have one and they really want to achieve it.  Still others are ambivalent about whether or not to declare one and if they do, whether or not they want to achieve it.

Do you know which one you are?  If you want to set and achieve a New Year's Resolution, even a little bit, then this post is for you.  If you don't want to declare a New Year's Resolution because they've never "worked" in the past - this post is for you too.

New Year's Resolutions often reflect our hope for the future.  We hope to be better in some way, or to make the world a better place.  Basically, the idea behind New Year's Resolutions is that we can leave behind what we didn't like about the previous year(s) and embark on a path that will lead to greater happiness and overall satisfaction.  Philosophically, New Year's Resolutions are a really nice idea.  The problem is most of us make really bad New Year's Resolutions.  I don't mean to suggest that what you are striving for is "bad" but the way in which you declare your Resolution almost guarantees you won't reach it.

Despite the pomp and circumstance, and lore surrounding New Year's Resolutions they are nothing more than goals.  Yup.  Your New Year's Resolutions are goals and most of us embark on our New Year's Goals on January 1st with hope but not much else.  What follows is a description of how to set effective goals.  I'll keep it in the language of New Year's Resolutions, but make no mistake, we're talking about goal setting and there is much the field of psychology (and in particular sport psychology) knows about setting effective goals.  So, if you'd rather keep your New Year's Resolutions in the realm of the ethereal, it's probably not a good idea to read any further.  I'm going to pull back the curtain, take away the mystery and awe, and provide step by step instructions on setting effective New Year's Resolutions Goals.

So, how do you set achievable New Year's Resolutions?  They need to be SMART.  Nope.  I'm not yelling at you.  "SMART" is an acronym to remember several important elements in setting effective goals.  So to begin...what is your New Year's Resolution?  It is useful to have your Resolution in mind as we go through this.  If you're not yet sure, come back to this post when you have decided on your Resolution and go through these steps to make sure your Resolution is a SMART one.

Making SMART New Year's Resolutions

1. Specific.  Your New Year's Resolution needs to be specific.
It is common for people to declare Resolutions that are murky, muddled and non-specific.  While Resolutions like "Lose Weight" or "Study Harder" or "Be a Better Person" sound specific, they are not.  This criteria will help recraft your Resolution so you can achieve it this year.  The "Specific" step encompasses much of what will follow with the other four criteria, but considering these things up front will help as you hone your Resolution throughout the remaining steps.

When crafting Specific Resolutions, it is useful to consider the questions that often show up on party invitations (and a few that don't):

     Who?  Does your Resolution only involve you?  Does it require anyone else?  Or do you
     need help/support from anyone else to help you achieve your Resolution?  Do you need a
     Resolution buddy - someone with a similar Resolution and/or who can be a cheerleader for 
     What?  What, specifically, do you want to accomplish with your Resolution?  Do you just
     want to put in more hours studying or do you hope to earn a specific GPA? 
     Where?  Okay, yes, on earth.  But where, specifically?  Does working toward your
     Resolution only occur at home, at work, at the mall, all of the above?  Knowing this can help 
     you plan and adjust when necessary.
     When?  I don't think most people think in terms of "over what period of time" their Resolution
     will take place but it is useful to do so.  Is this an ongoing Resolution - i.e., does "becoming
     a better person" go on forever?  Or, is your Resolution achievable in a specified period of
     time - i.e., 2 weeks?  3 months?  A few days?  Establishing the time-line is critical to setting
     effective Resolutions.
     Why?  Why this particular Resolution?  Why is it important to you?  The "Why" question gets
     at your motivation for the Resolution.  As you think about your answer(s) to this question, you 
     may find that your reason(s) for setting your particular Resolution are not sustainable, 
     especially if your reason(s) have to do with someone else - i.e., to get someone else's 
     attention, to make someone do or be something different.  Be sure your Resolution is
     something truly meaningful to you and something you really want to achieve.

2. Measurable.  Your New Year's Resolution needs to be Measurable.
When something is measurable it means that you can quantify it in some way.  Being able to measure your Resolution allows you to know when a change has been made - and ultimately, when your Resolution has been achieved.  This part of SMART Resolution building means that you need concrete criteria for how you're going to measure your progress.  

Saying that you want "more" or "less" of something, or to be "better" at something is not measurable (nor is it specific for that matter).  More or less than what?  Better than what?  How will you know when to stop?  Or when you're better enough?  For example, a common New Year's Resolution is to "Lose Weight" (I'm not a fan of this one for a multitude of reasons, but it is a common one nonetheless.).  How much?  You'll know when you lose weight, but will you know when to stop?  How will you measure this?  By a number on a scale?  By how your clothes fit?  Which clothes?  When are you trying them on or when are you weighing yourself (our weight fluctuates throughout the day)?  Regardless of what your Resolution is, you need to figure out how you're going to measure it so you have a clear picture of your progress.

Having a concrete way to measure your Resolution helps to guarantee that you'll not only know whether or not you're headed in the right direction, but when you've achieved what you Resolved to achieve.

3. Attainable.  Your Resolution must be something you can Attain.
There is some overlap between this one and the next; however, this one captures the notion of "how."  How are you going to achieve your Resolution?  What steps do you have to take to achieve it.  So you want to "Study Harder."  That's nice.  How are you going to go about doing that?  Do you need to attend class more frequently?  Read the book and complete the assignments?  Find a more quiet place to study?  Are these and other things you are willing to do?  If not, your Resolution is not achievable or attainable.

4. Realistic.  Is your Resolution Realistic for you?  
Have you set a Resolution that is realistic for you?  Are you able to do what needs to be done in order to achieve your Resolution?  This criteria focuses on your capacity to reach the Resolution you've declared.  Do you have the skills and abilities to achieve your Resolution?  Have you set a time frame (see #5 below) that is realistic for you to achieve your Resolution?  This criteria may require some brutal honesty from you or someone else you trust.  If you have never earned an A in a class in your life, is it realistic to Resolve to get a 4.0 for the semester?  Maybe it genuinely is a realistic Resolution - only you know know that.  Maybe you know you've never taken your studies seriously and have never put in the time and effort to reach your fullest potential in this way.  On the other hand, if you have consistently worked really hard in your studies and have never earned an A, it is likely that a 4.0 is not realistic...but another GPA might be.

Take stock of who you are and what skills and abilities you have.  Check these out with someone else who cares about you and whom you trust.  See if they agree that you are capable of achieving your Resolution.  If they hesitate - enlist their help for how you might make it more realistic.  The cool thing is, if you change your Resolution to something seemingly more realistic and you find along the way that the original Resolution is in fact achievable...you can change back to that one (see Final Thoughts below)!

5. Timely.  Your New Year's Resolution should be Timely or have a Time frame.
Your Resolution needs a time frame.  How much time do you need - overall and for each step (see #3 above) along the way?  Not giving yourself a specific time or date of completion allows for procrastination.  You can just keep putting it off until it is "too late" (not sure when things really are too late but it can feel that way).  This criteria can also help you determine how Realistic your Resolution is.  Sometimes we bite off more than we can chew when it comes to setting due dates for ourselves.  We mean well, but haven't really thought through if we can realistically accomplish what we think we can given everything else going on in our lives.  If you know something requires 40 hours to complete and you think "That's like a work week.  I have a week off from work right now.  I can make that happen."  Really?  Is that what you want to do during that week.  Were you hoping for more down time?  Will your kids/spouse/friends/family support this?  Perhaps it is realistic; but, again it is important to be honest with yourself about your time frame and due dates.

Final Thoughts About Making Achievable New Year's Resolutions

SMART Resolutions are not nearly as exciting as setting Resolutions the good old fashioned way.  Setting Resolutions like you're used to is a lot playing craps.  You declare your Resolution then roll the dice and see what happens.  Maybe you'll achieve it.  Maybe you won't.  That can be kind of exciting.  You don't know what will happen.  But if you want to have a better chance of predicting success, work your Resolutions in a SMART way.  

Two final thoughts that are not directly a part of SMART goal setting but are also important: 1) The Wording of Your Resolution and 2) Flexibility.

     The Wording of your Resolution
     Goals and Resolutions tend to be more effective (i.e., achievable) when they are worded in
     the affirmative.  That is, worded in terms of what you want do rather than what you don't
     want to do.  Saying what you don't want to do sets a more negative tone and depending on 
     the Resolution can immediately set up a sense of deprivation - "I am not allowed to do this 
     any more" - which usually does not feel good.  So instead of "I am no longer going to eat
     any chips or sweets" (that one is a recipe for disaster anyway) a more effective Resolution 
     would be "I want to eat more fruits, vegetables and lean meats."  Note that the word "more" 
     needs to be defined so it is Specific and Measurable.

     If you, in good, faith work with your New Year's Resolution to make it a SMART one and you 
     find that it is not working out, you can change it!  We so often think, although I don't know 
     why, that Goals and Resolutions are set in stone.  What if you learned something about
     yourself or your situation that you didn't know up front (or couldn't face)?  Why should you
     torture yourself by spinning your wheels trying to achieve a Resolution you now know you
     can't realistically achieve, or don't have what you need right now in order to achieve it?  Or
     what if your Resolution wasn't challenging enough?  You thought it was, but found that you 
     want to push yourself further.  There is no reason you cannot change your Resolution 
     to reflect the current reality of your life.

So there you have it.  A 5 step process and a couple of additional pointers to help you set Self Strong New Year's Resolutions you can achieve (almost) guaranteed!  Here's to your SMART Resolutions.  And Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Do You Hate People?

So.  Do you hate people?  This question is one that is often asked of introverts.  And the assumption by others, often extraverts, is that they do hate people.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

So, what we're talking about here is a set of concepts (introversion and extraversion) developed by Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung.  Jung suggested that many of us are aligned with one or the other, but that ideally we'd be able to live comfortably as either/or.  That is, that at times we'd need and want to express our extraversion and at times our introversion.

So what do these two things mean?  They refer to the ways in which we are oriented to the world around us or to our inner worlds.  And, they refer to the ways in which we are energized or become recharged.  Extraverts are oriented to the world around them.  They thrive when they are able to interact with people and situations around them.  Introverts on the other hand are oriented to their inner world and thrive when they are able to direct their energy to their thoughts and ideas.  Practically what this means is that introverts need time alone.  They do not do well when they are around people consistently.  They are drained mentally and physically.  The fix?  Time alone to read, think, meditate, whatever.  But the key is that they take time to be alone with their thoughts.  There are other features that characterize introverts and extraverts which you can find here.  

Introverts are often misunderstood creatures.  Since somewhere in the neighborhood of 75% of the population are extraverts and much of our daily lives revolves around interacting with others, there is often confusion on both ends of the spectrum on why being alone is preferred or even necessary.  So when introverts close their doors, leave the room, or directly ask for time alone the reaction often is something along the lines of:

     "What's wrong?  Is everything okay?"  or
     "Are you mad at me?"  or
     "Why don't you like people?  Do you hate them?"

Since extraverts can't fathom the appeal of time alone (because time alone with their thoughts and feelings is as equally draining as time around people is to an introvert), they often think something is wrong.  And because introverts might not understand what's going on, they often think something is wrong too.  Thus, introverts can be left feeling confused, like there must be something wrong, and wonder if they really do hate people.  So in the spirit of clearing things up, let me provide the answers to all of those questions above:

     "Nothing is wrong.  I'm fine.  I just need some time alone."  and
     "No I'm not mad at you.  I just need some time alone."  and
     "I do like people.  I just need some time alone."

How do I know so much about this?  Well, I've studied it, I teach it...and...I'm an introvert.  It took me some time to fully understand that what I was experiencing was introversion, and that it is okay.  I'm okay.  Prior to that, I pretty consistently thought there was something wrong with me because I really didn't want to be around people as much as my friends seemed to.  Somewhere in my late twenties/early thirties I more fully understood what being an introvert meant and that it is just different than being an extravert.  Not worse or better than being an extravert.  Just different.

I work with people in my private practice who think about this like I used to.  They think there is something wrong with them and are relieved when they are told that what they need (i.e., time by themselves) is normal.  The hard part can be convincing others in their life that it is normal and that time alone is not a rejection of the other person, nor is it an indication that something is wrong.  Being alone in this way is not about kicking people out of our lives.  It is simply about recharging our batteries so we have the energy to be the quirky person you know and love.

Although my husband says he believes he's become more of an introvert over the years (yes it is possible to "switch sides" and in fact Jung suggested being able to engage fully with one's external and internal worlds is ideal) it took us some time to work out how I expressed my introvert needs, and how he understood them.  We had our fair share of arguments that went something like:
     Me: <heading to a room where I could be alone>
     My husband: "Is something wrong?  Are you okay?"
     Me: "I'm fine."
     My husband: "Are you sure?"
     Me: <starting to feel angry at being asked again> "Yes, I'm sure."

Now, when this conversation happens, I can say something like: "Something's about to be wrong if you keep asking me!"  We both smile and laugh a little and he knows what I need is my "introvert time."  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  But critical to my well being.

So, introverts:
     Learn to recognize when you are close to being overwhelmed by others.
     Learn to ask for time alone.
     Learn how much time alone you realistically need.
     Learn how to negotiate this especially if you have small children who require A LOT of time.

And, extraverts:
     Respect  your introvert's need to have time alone.
     Learn how to not take this personally by telling yourself it is not personal.
     Help negotiate how their time alone can be managed given the realities and demands of
     your life together.
     If you feel like your introvert is taking too much time alone (i.e., you miss them) learn how to 
     respectfully ask if more time with them is possible (and introvert...be honest with yourself and
     your extravert).

Introverts and extraverts can peacefully coexist.  It just takes understanding one another, and honesty about each needs.  And, in my opinion, the most important thing to remember is that neither is better than the other.  These are just two different ways of interacting with the world and ourselves - there are pros and cons for both.

Coming Next: "Making New Year's Resolutions You Can Achieve: Guaranteed!"

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Journey - A poem by Mary Oliver

The poem below by Mary Oliver is one I hadn't seen before.  It was published today in the Writer's Almanac and sent to me.  I will not attempt to offer a description, explanation, or anything else that may fall woefully short of Ms. Oliver's poignant words.

The Journey

One day you finally knew 
what you had to do, and began, 
though the voices around you 
kept shouting 
their bad advice—
though the whole house 
began to tremble 
and you felt the old tug 
at your ankles. 
"Mend my life!" 
each voice cried. 
But you didn't stop. 
You knew what you had to do, 
though the wind pried 
with its stiff fingers 
at the very foundations, 
though their melancholy 
was terrible. 
It was already late 
enough, and a wild night, 
and the road full of fallen 
branches and stones. 
But little by little, 
as you left their voices behind, 
the stars began to burn 
through the sheets of clouds, 
and there was a new voice 
which you slowly 
recognized as your own, 
that kept you company 
as you strode deeper and deeper 
into the world 
determined to do 
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

"The Journey," by Mary Oliver, from Dreamwork. © Grove Atlantic, 1996. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Self-Strong Lyrics

Greeting faithful readers.  It has been over a month since I've posted anything.  The month of November was simply more chaotic than I anticipated.  I believe I'm back on track to being able to post more regularly!

I have been thinking about a number of post topics including things like introverted and extraverted people, ways to remain Self Strong this holiday season, and the differences between "cat people" and "dog people."  Another one that had been rolling around in my head for quite some time are song lyrics that reflect Self Strength.

Music can be quite powerful.  Music preferences, however, are decidedly individualistic and quite personal.  What moves one person emotionally to tears might evoke anger in another because they can't stand the melody or the sound of the performer's voice.  What may be more universal, however, are the lyrics.  One of the newer songs to make it to the radio (although I think has been out for a month or more by now) is "Demons" by Imagine Dragons.  The lyrics to this song paired with the melody (and the video is quite powerful too) usually leaves me tearful.  The lyrics remind me of the transformation that began within me when I was an undergraduate student and the poignant realization that there are some not so great things that reside in me; things I have endeavored to extinguish altogether, or things that I've recognized can be tamed and lived with. 

There are other songs that seem more oriented to Self Strength specifically.  Some of these songs are joyful, whereas others are defiant and angry.  Below are the lyric to three such songs.  They are listed here because they are on my play list (which means I also like the melody) but are, by no means the only songs that inspire one to be one's self - no matter what that is, and no matter what other's may say.

"The Middle" by Jimmy Eats World

Hey, don't write yourself off yet

It's only in your head you feel left out or looked down on.
Just try your best, try everything you can.
And don't you worry what they tell themselves when you're away.

It just takes some time, little girl you're in the middle of the ride.
Everything (everything) will be just fine, everything (everything) will be alright (alright).

Hey, you know they're all the same.
You know you're doing better on your own, so don't buy in.
Live right now.
Yeah, just be yourself.
It doesn't matter if it's good enough for someone else.

It just takes some time, little girl you're in the middle of the ride.
Everything (everything) will be just fine, everything (everything) will be alright (alright).
It just takes some time, little girl you're in the middle of the ride.
Everything (everything) will be just fine, everything (everything) will be alright (alright).

Hey, don't write yourself off yet.
It's only in your head you feel left out or looked down on.
Just do your best, do everything you can.
And don't you worry what the bitter hearts are gonna say.

It just takes some time, little girl you're in the middle of the ride.
Everything (everything) will be just fine, everything (everything) will be alright (alright).
It just takes some time, little girl you're in the middle of the ride.
Everything (everything) will be just fine, everything (everything) will be alright (alright).

"Numb" by Linkin Park

I'm tired of being what you want me to be
Feeling so faithless lost under the surface
Don't know what you're expecting of me
Put under the pressure of walking in your shoes
(Caught in the undertow just caught in the undertone)
Every step that I take is another mistake to you
(Caught in the undertow just caught in the undertone)

I've become so numb I can't feel you there
Become so tired so much more aware
I'm becoming this all I want to do
Is be more like me and be less like you

Can't you see that you're smothering me
Holding too tightly afraid to lose control
Cause everything that you thought I would be
Has fallen apart right in front of you
(Caught in the undertow just caught in the undertone)
Every step that I take is another mistake to you
(Caught in the undertow just caught in the undertone)
And every second I waste is more than I can take

I've become so numb I can't feel you there
Become so tired so much more aware
I'm becoming this all I want to do
Is be more like me and be less like you

And I know
I may end up failing too
But I know
You were just like me with someone disappointed in you

I've become so numb I can't feel you there
Become so tired so much more aware
I'm becoming this all I want to do
Is be more like me and be less like you

I've become so numb I can't feel you there
I'm tired of being what you want me to be
I've become so numb I can't feel you there
I'm tired of being what you want me to be

"Brave" by Sara Bareilles

You can be amazing

You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug
You can be the outcast
Or be the backlash of somebody’s lack of love
Or you can start speaking up
Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do
When they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave

Everybody’s been there,
Everybody’s been stared down by the enemy
Fallen for the fear
And done some disappearing,
Bow down to the mighty
Don’t run, just stop holding your tongue
Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

And since your history of silence
Won’t do you any good,
Did you think it would?
Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave

I'd love to hear in the comment the names of songs you find inspiring on your journey to Self Strength.  Please list lyrics, parts of lyrics, song titles, performer names, or a description of any other art form that captures the spirit of living authentically.  

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Dance Like Nobody's Watching!

***The link that I originally included no longer works.  I've updated the post to include a working link to the video.  Enjoy!

Holy smokes!  If you haven't seen this video yet you are in for a treat!  I've watched it several times since it came across my feed on a social network yesterday.  I smile and laugh out loud every time.  This little girl seems to be having a blast expressing herself.  And, she's not following the prescribed routine...at all!  Well, maybe a little bit, but she's dressed it up with her own flavor.

At any rate, I count her among the seriously Self Strong and hope she does not lose her uniqueness and joy in expressing herself just as she is!

Hope you enjoy this video as much as I have.  And hope you can think of ways to dance like nobody's watching in your life!

(Just in case the video didn't load for you, here's the direct link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXowYIZpYpo

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Monday, October 21, 2013

What Language Does Your True Self Speak?

The following is a quote from a NY Times blog post published on-line:

"How is one to know which aspect of a person counts as that person’s true self?" 
(here's a link to the article http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/05/in-search-of-the-true-self/?_r=0).

This is an interesting question.  How do you know?  How do you know when you declare something out loud or to yourself that you have expressed a part of your true, authentic self?  How do you know when you dive into a pursuit of any kind that you are on an authentic path?  

If you've been socialized in the way that most of us have been, it may be very difficult to know for certain what is truly you and what is what other's expect of you.  If that's the case then your True Self is likely buried under layers of expectations, "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts", and "what will others think?" 

What I mean by all that is from a very early age many of us were taught to keep our feelings to ourselves, especially if they might hurt someone else's feelings.  Think about it.  How many times have you seen/heard a kid do or say something that was an honest-to-goodness authentic expression of who they were, what they were feeling, or what they were thinking only to be told by an adult something like "You don't mean that" or "That's not okay.  Take that back" or "You should be ashamed of yourself."  I'm sure many of you can make a rational argument for when these comments may be appropriate; however, what I'm referring to are the times when what was said by a child simply made an adult uncomfortable.  There was nothing really wrong with what the child said or did but it caused discomfort in someone else - and that is what was deemed to be not okay.  Instead of teaching the child how to say what they were thinking or feeling in a way that is more kind (or tactful), or letting them know that perhaps that is something that is better kept to themselves (i.e., not EVERYTHING has to be said out loud for goodness sake!) the child is told that their experience is not okay.  

At this point kids do some pretty complex psychological arithmetic.

If that was what I was really feeling.  And I was told that what I was feeling is not okay.  Then, it's not okay that I was feeling that.  Which means I'm not okay.  

Yup.  Kids really do that.  Not quite that deliberately or consciously.  But kids have a knack for seriously personalizing most things.

Throw on top of that your very typical (and seemingly innocuous) admonitions like: 

          "Put a coat on, it's cold outside."
          "But I'm not cold."
          "Yes you are, put a coat on." or "I don't care, put one on anyway."

and, thus, begins the questioning and second-guessing of our authentic experiences and the beginnings of the disconnect from our True Selves.  

Lest I get annihilated by parent readers, let me say that I am a parent of two boys.  I'd love to say that I am the first in the history of parents to be a perfect one...but, alas, I am not.  

*Moment of silence.*  

I imagine I'm messing up my kids in ways I can't see right now, but one of the things I have been seriously sensitive to is what their experiences are.  We have had really interesting discussions around the dinner table about things as simple as food preferences and that we all have different ones.  That doesn't make us weird or strange...just different from one another.  I think my kids are tired of hearing it from me, but they are now pretty fluent in the idea that different does not mean anything other than different.  Not better or worse...just different.  So when my kid says "I'm not cold" as he's running around the house in shorts and no shirt during the winter and I'm wrapped up in a sweater and an afghan, I assume he is in tune with his body and knows exactly how it feels - because I've tried my best to not interfere with his interpretation of what his body is telling him.  And btw...when my boys were younger and insisted they didn't need a coat to go outside in 40 degree weather, out they went coatless only to come back inside 5 minutes later asking for their coat.  I never said anything other than - "Here it is honey." 

So...back to the original question.  How do you know when you've landed on something about yourself that is truly a reflection of your True Self rather than a creation of someone else's idea of who you should be?  In my opinion comfort and contentment meters are excellent barometers of true self expression.

My kids and their coatless adventures quickly resulted in discomfort from the cold.  Their bodies told them what they needed and so they fixed it.  They didn't need me to tell them.  This is precisely what I try to do for myself.  I'm pretty much all set with the coat thing, but when it comes to other matters like: What do I want to do with my day?  What path do I want my career to take?  Do I really want to start a blog?  I try my best to anticipate what my realistic options are and contemplate what each one might feel like.

Granted I can't base all my decisions on how I feel - there's a lot of necessary stuff that wouldn't get done if I did.  But, my feelings and preferences are absolutely an important part of the equation.  I'm still trying to figure out all of the nuances of how to spend my time each day such as: Do I sleep in or get up and exercise?  Do I grade these papers now or watch my favorite show?  What I have come to realize about myself is that I like how I feel when I'm fit so I try to maintain a regular exercise routine.  I also like to not have grading hanging over my head day after day so I try to get it done as soon as I can.  I'm not always successful at these things.  And when I'm really unsuccessful at them I'm reminded why what I'm doing isn't so great and is therefore not a good fit for me.  I feel less energized and sluggish when my body is out of shape, or I feel the constant stress that comes from having a stack of papers that have gone ungraded for days or weeks.  

Both my body and my mind know when they're uncomfortable and when they're content.  It is my job to listen.  They're both really pretty smart.  They've both got a lot to say if I just listen.  At times, though, I'm pretty sure one or both are speaking French.  I know a little bit of French but I am far from fluent.  I get bits and pieces but can miss huge chunks of the message.  So I have tried my very best to learn the language that my body and my mind are speaking.  That can take an enormous amount of time and energy.  Sometimes I really feel like I don't have it.  But when I do, I dive in and try to decipher what they are trying to tell me.  And when I really listen, and understand the language they are speaking I hear loud and clear that they are telling me precisely what I need to know in order to live a happy and contented life; a life that is authentic and that reflects my True Self.

I really do, after all, know exactly what is best for me.  I've just got to listen.

What language is your True Self speaking?  Are you already fluent, or do you need lessons?    

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Are You Hearing Voices?

I've blogged a bit about how others in our lives may have a negative effect on our comfort with expressing who we truly are.  But what about ourselves?  How much do we get in our own way?  How much time and energy do we spend talking ourselves out of being who we truly are?  How effectively do we weaken our resolve to be Self Strong?

What I'm referring to is "self-talk."  Self-talk is the voice inside our heads.  The voice is our own, but can certainly be mimicking what we've heard other's say.  It can be positive, negative and sometimes neutral.  It is a running commentary on how we're doing.  Sometimes the self-talk thoughts we have get uttered out loud.  As a sport psychologist this is something that I address with athletes who are struggling to perform at their very best.  If you watch any sports at all, especially televised sports, you will often see athletes or coaches utter something to themselves after a play.  Even if you can't hear what they've said you can often tell if the self-talk was positive or negative by their body language.

Self-talk is also an issue, however, for most of us just trying to live our lives as productively and satisfactorily as possible.  The most damaging and defeating type of self-talk is, of course, of the negative variety.  When I work with people in my practice as a psychologist I often ask about what they are thinking - in that particular moment or at the time something else happened.  Sometimes my patients will tell me that they don't know what they are thinking or that they aren't thinking anything.  Although I typically take what my patients say at face value, this is one of those instances where I wonder if they are right.  I believe that they are absolutely telling me the truth of their conscious perception of the situation (i.e., what they are aware of); however, I also think there is a good chance that their self-talk has been going on so long it is now like background or "white" noise.  It has been tuned out - as if it is not happening.  They no longer "hear" it.

I usually call attention to the idea that they may not know what they are thinking because the thoughts are automatic, repetitive, and they are so used to the thoughts they don't know it when the self-talk starts up.  I also suggest that I could be wrong, but encourage them to see if they can catch any of the thoughts the next time a particular situation occurs.

More often than not, a patient will tell me that they hadn't realized how much they were thinking.  And, unfortunately, many of those patients also say something like "I had no idea how negative my thoughts are.  I'm really hard on myself."   We then discuss the nature of the negative thoughts.  For example are the thoughts negative because they are intended to motivate?  If so I ask if the patient feels motivated as a result of the thoughts.  Usually the answer is "No."  An alternative to negative thoughts intended to motivate are negative thoughts intended to berate and ridicule.  This type is seriously damaging.  I usually ask for specific examples of what they tell themselves to get a sense of just how nasty their thoughts are.  Usually, they are pretty nasty. 

At some point we discuss whether or not these are things they would EVER say to someone they care about.  One hundred percent of the time the answer has been "No."  When I broach the idea that they may not, then, care about themselves, a common response is a justification why the berating is necessary and that they shouldn't care about themselves as long as ______ (fill in the blank) is going on.  

My next tact is to ask them to imagine themselves as the 5-year old version of themselves.  Sometimes they close their eyes and picture themselves exactly as they were at 5-years old.  Then I tell them to imagine saying to their 5-year old self exactly what they are saying to themselves now.  This usually results in a welling of emotions.  I then ask: "Does (s)he deserve that?"  One hundred percent of the time the answer has been "No."  

In my opinion, it is certainly okay to question our behaviors and even to wonder "What on earth was I thinking when I did/said that?"  But I've yet to hear of a situation that requires being nasty and cruel to one's self when a mistake has been made.  If we make mistakes When we make mistakes, it is useful to consider what we would have liked to have done differently.  We can learn from that and work on finding ways to remember our new strategy the next time around.

We will keep making mistakes.  Kinda the nature of being a human being.  In my opinion it really isn't about the making of mistakes as it is whether or not you recognize them when they happen and fix them or repair the aftermath.  As a parent I think the single most powerful thing I can do with my children is to acknowledge when I've made a mistake and to apologize to them for having done so.  My apology does not negate their behavior.  If they did something that requires a consequence then they still need to have a consequence.  But if I doled a punishment in a way that was disrespectful or that was too punitive I admit my error and correct my mistake.  And I apologize.

We can apologize to ourselves too.  There are a fair number of memes going around social media that have to do with apologizing to ourselves for how we're treating ourselves.  It is worth considering if you owe yourself an apology.  If so, for what?  Can you write the apology out in a letter to yourself?  Can you look at yourself in the mirror (looking yourself in the eyes is expert level btw!) and tell yourself that you're sorry for the way you've treated yourself and the things you've said?  

How liberated will you feel to say:

          "I'm sorry I've been so mean to you.  I'll do my best to be more encouraging and 
          supportive.  You're pretty amazing - no matter what I've been telling you." 

How Self Strong would this make you? 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Be Your Own Minister of Magic

Someone recently contacted me to ask how I decided to settle on "Self Strong" as the tag line for my blog.  There are a couple of reasons.

First of all, when I was thinking about this blog and on what I wanted to focus, I knew I wanted to talk about ideas related to the self and identity.  It didn't take too long for me to get to the importance of being authentic.  The problem with using "authentic" or "authenticity" as a part of my primary tag line is that use of those words is not always done in the context of who we are as individuals.  I wanted to be certain that those who came across my blog knew that I was talking about identity and the self.

As I thought more about what comes to mind when I think of someone who is authentic I thought things like: "They really know who they are." "They aren't afraid to show who they are."  "They're proud of who they are."  "They will protect who they are."  Etcetera.  In other words their self is solid, strong.  

The other thing that was going on as I was developing this blog is that I was re-watching some of the Harry Potter movies.  I know a lot of people really don't care for the books and/or the movies; however, what I really like about the stories is the character development.  The main characters are complex and evolve in really psychologically interesting ways throughout the stories.  

In my conversations with my husband, who is also a psychologist, he said that he thought the entire story is a metaphor for the self and that Harry Potter (and all those on the "good" side) struggle against powerful forces that try to annihilate them.  Of course in real life we don't deal with that kind of annihilation, but we do regularly deal with forces around us that seek to crush our sense of self.  Advertisers do an excellent job reminding us that if we don't use their products we aren't good enough.  Some of the people with whom we directly interact subtly and not so subtly let us know when we're okay and when we're not.

So whether you agree with that analysis of the Harry Potter stories or not, it was the opening scene of the Deathly Hallows, Part I that solidified for me the idea of strength of self and being Self Strong.  

The scene itself, indeed the movie itself, begins with an extreme closeup of Rufus Scrimgeour, Minister of Magic, who is addressing the evil that is growing and how they will take care of it.  Here's a link to that opening scene:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnwO9fZaNo0

Here is the transcript of that scene:

      "These are dark times, there is no denying. Our world has, perhaps, faced no greater    
      threat than it does today. But I say this to our citizenry: we, ever your servants, will 
      continue to defend your liberty and repel the forces that seek to take it from you! Your 
      Ministry… remains… strong!

When I listen to that scene now and with the idea of being Self Strong in mind, this is how I would translate that scene: 

      "These are dark times, there is no denying.  Your Self has, perhaps, faced no greater 
      threat than it does today.  But I say this to your True Self; I, ever your servant, will  
      continue to defend who you truly are and repel the forces that seek to take your True Self 
      from you.  Your Self...remains...strong!"

(Spoiler Alert!)  Yeah, I know this Minister of Magic gets killed.  Perhaps it is a bit of a stretch to translate that scene into the language of being Self Strong; however, the conviction of that speech is what really fits.  He is pledging to do whatever it takes to protect that which is good and to destroy evil.  He, without equivocation, says that those who are in a position to do that kind of protecting are strong and will get the job done.

That is what it means to be Self Strong.  You know what is good for you (people and situations that allow you to self-activate and are supportive of you when you do).  You know what is bad or evil for you (people and situations that do not allow you to self-activate and that may try to destroy your self when you do).  You will do whatever you need to in order to protect your self.

None of that is easy to figure out.  None of that is necessarily easy to accomplish.  But the fight is worth fighting.  You are worth fighting for.  You deserve to have the kind of forces within you that have courage of conviction and some measure of strength to defend who you truly are.  You deserve to be Self Strong.

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Saturday, October 12, 2013

Self-Awareness + Choice = Happiness

One of the benefits of developing self-awareness is the availability of self-honoring choice.  Self-awareness in and of itself does not guarantee happiness or contentment; however, implementing what you know about yourself just might.  Self-awareness will allow you to choose or make decisions that accurately reflect you, who you are, what you value, what you want.

When we do not know who we are or what we want for ourselves we either avoid making choices altogether or decide what we'll do based on the expectations of others.  Neither of these options typically leads to happiness or contentment.  We end up acting in ways that are best for others - not ourselves.

Of course it is just as possible for us, despite our self-awareness, to make choices that do not reflect our true selves.  We may deny ourselves and our desires for fear of the consequences we believe may be waiting for us: being ridiculed, ignored, shunned, even oppressed.  If we've self-activated (i.e., make choices based on who we really are) and were ever ridiculed, ignored, shunned or oppressed as a result then the consequences we fear aren't simply imagined.  They really happened.  That can certainly make it more difficult for us to take a deep breath and forge ahead with expressing our authentic selves.

Part of the journey, then, is to learn when it is safe to self-activate.  Literally, when.  But also around whom - mostly that.  Even if you pick an inopportune moment to self-activate if you do so around those who appreciate you they'll have your back - or at least won't throw you under the proverbial bus.

I'm fairly certain that the process I went through to reach my current version of being as authentic as I can, is similar to that which I recommend to those who are working with me in my role as a psychologist.  When we find those whom we want to let into our lives, we should do so slowly and with small, less important, parts of who we are.  That way if that part of us is rejected it won't be nearly as painful as if we had expressed larger parts of ourselves.  Each of us alone can decide what are the "big" things and what are the "little" things.  But often our preferences for things like music, food, movies, favorite colors, etc. may be a place to start.  If we reveal our preferences in these areas and are ridiculed or rejected, we can be pretty sure that more important, sacred parts of ourselves may not be treated with respect either.

If, on the other hand, our preferences are accepted for what they are - our preferences - then we can share more important parts of ourselves with that person and see what kind of reception we get.  Still accepted, or something else?

When we express our real selves and not the version of us we think others want to see, we can be more certain that those who accept us truly accept WHO WE ARE rather than some facade we've created.  If on the other hand we've only shown them a gilded version of ourselves then what?  It becomes even more scary to reveal our true selves.  What if they don't like the REAL me?

We make choices nearly every moment of every day.  How often are the choices you make a reflection of who you truly are?  If you are not deciding/acting authentically, do you know why?  Is it that you don't really know who you are?  Or is it because you don't trust those around whom you spend most of your time.

There are only a select few people in my life who really know who I am.  Others don't necessarily get a gilded version of me, but they don't get a truly authentic version of me either.  Why?  Because I know I can't trust them, I don't need them in my life, or I don't know them well enough yet to let them in.

Most of my decisions about what I do and how I act are on purpose.  Not ALL of my decisions, but most!  I'm a happier person because if it.  Happy all the time?  No.  But what I do know is that I decide if I reveal who I really am.  And I decide when not to reveal my true self because I'm protecting myself.  Either way, I'm being true to myself.

Maybe I'm talking in circles at this point (it all makes sense in my head!) but I hope you get the gist of all this which is: develop your self-awareness so that you can consciously and authentically make decisions that are best for you.  You'll be happier for it!

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