In the Driver’s Seat

When we think about our sense of psychological well-being, what often comes to mind is how we rate the general satisfaction of our lives. How good do we feel about our lives in general? How content are we?

If we sat and thought about the elements that contribute to either a valued sense of well-being or a poor one, we would most likely come up with many factors such as the strength of our support system, our job satisfaction, our financial state, the condition of our health and so forth. Interestingly enough, while all of these factors can certainly affect our sense of well-being, what comes up as the number one reason we feel good about our lives is the amount of personal control we have within them.

It becomes about a feeling that despite the challenges that come our way, of which are often not in our control, we can still have a sense of agency in our own lives. Knowing that we have some ability to make decisions and have choices within the confines of our difficulty, allows us to move to a place of feeling more settled again in our sense of who we are; giving us the courage perhaps to say “Move over please, I’m driving.”

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@timberfoster

 

The Rational Brain

When I was a little girl I can remember being very fascinated by the moon. If we were traveling home anytime at night, I believed the moon was following me home. I even recall telling my mom that once and although she kindly told me that it “just felt that way”, I can also distinctly remember thinking that she was wrong. 🙂

When we are children we have a lot of magical thinking; it is why we can tell our kids that a big, jolly man comes down the chimney at Christmas and leaves presents by the fireplace. Our four year old may, in fact, question how Santa comes down the chimney, but because the rational part of their brain (before the age of seven) is very underdeveloped, all we have to tell them is that “Santa uses reindeer dust” and they are wondrously back to believing in the magic of Christmas.

Our rational brain is found in the prefrontal cortex and is involved in planning complex cognitive behavior, decision making, and mitigating social behaviour. It is not fully formed until we are in our early twenties. This is important knowledge in helping to inform us when it comes to working with and understanding our teenage children. Interpreting reality is dependent on a fully functioning prefrontal cortex, as is feeling guilt or remorse. It is often why we, as parents, feel as though we need to be the rational voice to our teenagers ~because in many ways we are. The trick I suppose is being able to do so with an open mind to their own process, so as to allow enough freedom for their growing need to make decisions while conscious of having to protect them at times.

And although we need a fully formed rational brain, I am also quite happy that the magical part of our brain does not fully go away; it is what allows us to believe in the possibility of fairies and hobbits, of the imaginable world of the Velveteen Rabbit and the ability to walk into the gates of Disney World and still feel enchanted. 🙂

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@jplenio

 

 

Setting Work Boundaries

There are times when we reflect upon our work schedule and know that it is off balance. Sometimes this may come from a difficulty in saying no, a strong work ethic, a heavy caseload, the need to achieve. In any case, we are not doing ourselves any favours by ignoring the importance of setting personal work boundaries – ones that are created with self-care in mind.

  • Book end your day. Have a start time and an end time that is reasonable and achievable. Not sticking to this daily schedule should be the exception, not the rule.
  • Reset at lunch. I have noticed that if I don’t get outside for even a 15 minute walk around the block at lunch, my afternoon feels longer. A bit of fresh air and knowing I have set aside time for myself at lunch resets my energy for the afternoon.
  • Let work stay at work. Turn off the email notifications on your phone, let work phone calls go to voicemail. Technology has allowed us to send messages along to people when we are thinking about it – that doesn’t mean it can’t wait to be answered during business hours.
  • Create a weekend. Two days a week should be off limits to work; spending time instead on what brings us joy. Some of us have Monday to Friday jobs and we can honour the no-work-weekend rule, for others who work shifts, it will be important to create a weekend.
  • Only take on what you can handle. It’s really okay to say no. When you take on everything that is expected of you, a precedent is set. Knowing and expressing your limits will help to keep your work from spilling into your personal time.
  • Create an inviting work space. Your work area can be a reflection of your personality; keeping it neat will help.
  • Pace and timing is everything. Take a break to make yourself a tea, close the door if you really need to concentrate, remember that not everything has to be done in a mad rush. When we have a balanced pace to our day, we are feeding our comfort system. It is possible to have a reasonable work day.

Keeping these tips in mind will help in creating a work day that is balanced and productive. When we keep our self-care in mind, we are allowing for a greater, richer performance. After all, as the Chinese proverb goes “We can’t pour from an empty cup.”

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@domenicoloia

A Myth That Needs Our Attention

Perhaps one of the biggest myths that society continues to reinforce is the notion that “the more I have, the happier I’ll be.” We see it in the shows we watch, the advertisements on TV, the influence that we place on celebrities. Social media has exploded the pressure that young people feel to get ‘likes’ or followers – most often tied to their appearance. The myth that the more we have the happier we’ll be gets tied to material possessions and the notion that happiness is found out there. And as soon as we begin to believe this myth, the “if only’s set in.”

“If only I could be a smaller size, have a different body shape, be shorter/taller….”

“If only I could find love/ fame/ fortune….”

“If only I had a bigger house/ a fancy car/ the latest toy….”

“If only, if only, if only.”

The moment we get trapped in this loop, we will be chasing happiness. We will achieve the ‘if only’ just to then replace it with the next one. We are much better served to seek the feeling of contentment. To understand that joy is a feeling that can’t be chased, but rather felt in the here and now. It comes from within. When we actively seek joy in every day living, when we can feel content in the ordinary, that is when we no longer believe what society tells us. We can enjoy what life brings us (which may include the fancy car), but it doesn’t come as an expense to our sense of self. Instead, it is tied to what we already know – that joy comes from the inside out.

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@jayicastor

The Four Agreements; Post 4

In our last post on “The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom” by Don Miguel Ruiz, we explore the fourth and final agreement:

  • “Always do your best. Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best and you will avoid self-judgement, self-abuse and regret.” – Don Miguel Ruiz.

If you were lucky to grow up hearing “Just try your best,” you learned a very valuable lesson about success and failure. When we put our effort into something and we focus on that effort versus the final grade, goal scored or professional accolade, we help to build our value structure. Having that internal sense of accomplishment and faith will help support us in times when we are affected by a circumstance in our life. It also helps to lessen our tendency to stand in judgment of ourselves when we land short of what society might deem as success. Always doing our best promotes humility and grace under fire; both valuable skills when roadblocks get in the way.

The Four Agreements: “Be impeccable with your word. Don’t take anything personally. Don’t make assumptions. Always do your best.” I would say that becomes a very good mantra; indeed. 🙂

To visit The Four Agreements website: https://www.thefouragreements.com/

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@acfb5071

 

The Four Agreements; Post 3

Moving right along in our series on “The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom” by Don Miguel Ruiz, today we explore the third agreement:

  • “Don’t make assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.” – Don Miguel Ruiz

Making assumptions is something we all do. Sometimes it is because we are afraid to ask; others times it may be that we assume how someone is feeling by their non-verbal cues. In either case, if we catch ourselves guessing, we are best served to gather up our courage and ask what is going on. This can be done without judgement or the assumption that it must have to do with us (as the last agreement taught us.)

We have all learned communication habits from our childhood homes and the people that raised and influenced us – sometimes those are great communication habits and sometimes, not so much. It is up to us as adults to learn the skills that are going to allow us to push past our communication comfort zone and move from the position of promoting open communication. It is here that we learn if we are reacting or responding, being in a reactive position or a pro-active one. As Ruiz mentioned, this can be a transformative process.

To visit The Four Agreements website: https://www.thefouragreements.com/

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@garybpt

The Four Agreements; Post 2

Yesterday’s post featured one of four agreements featured in Don Miguel Ruiz’s book entitled “The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom.” Today’s post features the second agreement:

  • Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.” – Don Miguel Ruiz

I can’t begin to tell you how many times in therapy I have explored with a client the question, “How much is this situation really about you?” It is our natural tendency to internalize our experiences; we often need to mull them around in order to figure out what effect they are going to have on us and what possible direction we will take as a result. Ruiz reminds us that we are responsible for our choices and our actions – as is everyone else. People move by their own accord; they make choices based on their own patterns, dynamics, learned behaviours, defenses.

In order to truly allow someone else’s experience integrate into our own story in such a way as to promote understanding and healing, it first comes with the knowledge that we can separate ourselves from the opinions and actions of others. When we work towards not taking things personally, we remove the roadblock of our own self-doubt, our own hurt feelings and instead come to the conclusion more quickly that the only person we can really change or control is ourselves.

To visit The Four Agreements website: https://www.thefouragreements.com/

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@mrrrk_smith

 

The Four Agreements; Post 1

In 1997, “The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom” by Don Miguel Ruiz was published. Based on ancient Toltec wisdom, Ruiz offers a code of conduct, known as the Four Agreements that promote a life of peace and contentedness. The next few posts will feature Ruiz’s teachings; today’s post is about the first agreement:

  • Be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.” – Don Miguel Ruiz

We all know the value of giving someone our word. It can be as a promise, it can be spoken out loud or implied. It is often a felt response. This agreement reminds us that when we are speaking badly about ourselves or others, we fail to be impeccable with our word – instead, we move ourselves into a category where the standards perhaps aren’t where they need to be in order to feel good about our choices. It reminds us that we can decide to tame that critical voice, and to work more diligently to not become tempted by the tantalizing effects of gossip.

The first agreement also reminds us what we have all most likely heard at some point in our lives – “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Using our words with the intention to create an environment that is truthful yet gentle, kind yet authentic, allows us to have faith that when we give someone our word, we mean it.

To visit The Four Agreements website: https://www.thefouragreements.com/

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@amandagraphc

2 Truths in Life

There are two truths in life that continue to show us that we are better served to accept them than to rail against them:

  1. We cannot get through life without challenges. As much as we may focus on living a life to the fullest, there will always be times when we are faced with challenges that we will need to overcome. A relationship may end, we may experience a job change, a friendship may shift, we may lose a loved one, something occurs completely out of our control. Sometimes we can see a challenge coming; other times we can be blindsided by them. Accepting that life won’t always be a smooth ride will help us when we are faced with a challenge as we spend less time in “Why me?” mode and more time asking ourselves “What do I need to do to get through this?”
  2. There are times when our questions go unaswered. It is inevitable when facing a challenge that we don’t spend some time wondering why this is happening to us. Sometimes we get an answer to that question, and sometimes we don’t. When we know that we may live with some unresolved understanding as to the existential ‘why,’ we can focus instead on strengthening our resovlve, increasing our resiliency, and having faith that things will work out as they are meant to.

Leaning into these two truths as part of emotional wellness will help us in the long run to accept and then get to the healing. 🙂

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@markuswinkler

Four Statements that Lead to Wisdom

I was sitting once in a colleague’s office and I noticed a poster she had on the wall and it made me think about how we attain wisdom. We certainly see our elders as wiser than us, but does it just come from the process of maturation? So I looked up the the definition of wisdom in  Webster’s Dictionary and I especially appreciated reading: intelligence drawing on experience and governed by prudence. 

The poster quoted:

Four Statements that Lead to Wisdom:

  • “I don’t know”
  • “I’m sorry”
  • “I need help”
  • “I was wrong”

When we can find a place of humility, it will almost always carry with it the opportunity for creating wisdom as it allows the process of learning from our experiences to integrate and hopefully contribute to our worldliness. When we can admit that we might have been wrong or feel regretful, we strengthen our relationship wisdom. When we can concede to the fact that we are always learning, we open ourselves to a landscape filled with opportunities to grow.

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@squareddesign