5 Things We Can Do Less Of (In Order to Get More)

When it comes to our emotional health, there are a variety of things that if we did less of them, we would actually get more in return. From my work with clients, I would say that these are what I would choose as the top 5:

  1. Speak less and listen more. One of the most useful skills I learned in graduate school was how to listen. To listen with the intention of understanding, to get the full picture. We tend to listen with our own emotional filters; coupled with living in a society that teaches us we must have an immediate opinion. By listening to understand, we slow down this process and allow for greater communication.
  2. Get ‘out of our head’ and into our body. From our own critical voice, to rumination, to needless worry – we spend too much time focusing on what’s in the noggin, and not enough time feeling centered and grounded.
  3. Less information and more wisdom. We are on information overload; what our emotional health needs more of is self-reflection – it is here that we gain a greater understanding of ourselves in order to create structural change.
  4. Less negativity and more gratitude. Being aware of our negative bias is crucial to our emotional health. In order to combat the tendency to complain, we can purposely focus on our blessings. Writing them down is especially confirming.
  5. Less rush, more peace. We spend way too much time in the fight-or-flight system – which is easily brought on by a hurried pace of life. By slowing down, focusing on self-care, anchors to our day – we feed our comfort system. And there, we find peace.

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Ways to Feel Empowered

Sometimes life can feel as though you have no control over it. That might come from a sinking feeling of what is happening in the world right now, sometimes it can come from our own circumstances – from being too busy or overwhelmed, from being in a job or a relationship that isn’t working for us anymore, from struggling to manage grief or a mental illness. Here are some ways to feel empowered:

  • Get outside. Put your face to the sun, feel the breeze on your face. Take a deep breath and inhale the wisdom of the earth.
  • Create a goal for the day. It doesn’t have to be a big one – try and have it reflect something that you need right now. It might be to cook a meal for the family, sit down and read for 20 minutes, finish writing that report that has been sitting on your desk.
  • Connect with others. Phone a friend, get together on a patio, write a letter to someone.
  • Tame your critical voice. Talk to yourself as though you would a friend.
  • Be curious. Experiment with ways that you can connect with your center; activities that allow you to feel grounded.
  • Find the quiet. Shut off the phone, close your eyes, sit in silence.
  • Practice gratitude. Look for the blessings in your life; acknowledge them.

These are all small, yet productive ways to feel empowered; with productive being the key word. When we feel stuck, it is the lack of movement that creates anxiety, discomfort. Being able to choose empowerment means choosing movement, purpose and pursuit of joy.

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A Little Acronym About Boundaries

This acronym about boundaries comes to us from Nila Conzen, a holistic psychologist from Germany:

B – Be true to yourself.

O – Only say yes when you mean it.

U – Understand that not everyone will be pleased to hear them.

N – Never feel guilty for speaking your truth.

D – Do not adjust your needs to please others.

A – Ask for what you want. (I don’t know any mind readers out there.)

R – Remember why you set them in the first place.

I – Investigate your own needs.

E – Encourage others to accept your needs.

S – Say no without apologizing. 

A good reminder that when we put boundaries into place, we are honouring our own needs, learning that we can say no politely, and moving from the position of “I am important and so are you.” 

To visit Nila Conzen’s website: https://aboutthegoodlife.me/

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Be Careful When Looking Back

As a therapist, I am always reluctant to agree with the line of thought that encourages anyone to “forget about the past.”

Looking back is an important element in better understanding our story – we often need to understand how something developed, what patterns were created and why we are often governed by certain dynamics or core beliefs as this helps us to accept. It is an important step in giving ourselves permission to move to change.

The amount of “aha moments” that I have been privy to witness as a therapist, has almost always come from exploring the past; it is often how the path to structural change is opened to us.

One word of caution that I will often mention comes when a client begins to blame themselves for “not having known better.” Putting on our hindsight glasses is important, but we must do it with the knowledge of who we were back then, and the circumstances of our lives at the time. When looking back, it is important to enlarge our insight to include these elements, or we run the risk of allowing tunnel vision and self-blame to push objectivity out of the way.

Our goal in looking back isn’t to blame – it is to understand. That’s all. We can’t fix what happened, we can’t change the past, we can’t undo choices. But we can take that information and how it made us feel to move towards changing how we go forward today; to make healthier choices, make repairs if necessary, unlearn old habits, reinforce better ones.

Look back; when we enlarge our insight when doing so, we are being fair to ourselves and others and the process of forgiveness begins. 🙂

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Why is Personal Growth Frightening?

When we are attempting to change something about ourselves, it often carries with it anxious feelings. There are times when the uncertainty that accompanies change will threaten our efforts, sending us back to our comfortable and familiar ways – even if those habits are unhealthy.

Seems disheartening doesn’t it? Here we are, wanting to change something, and we end up feeling anxious, jittery, uncertain. Why is personal growth so frightening?

Dr. Jonice Webb has this to say about the anxiety of personal growth:

“This is one of the most powerful, yet least talked about, forms of anxiety. It’s the anxiety that’s naturally built into virtually every step of emotional or psychological growth that you take in your lifetime. It’s especially intense when you’re trying to give up a coping mechanism that you needed in childhood. This anxiety arises when you’re about to make a healthy change in yourself, and tries to pull you backward.”

Our body and mind love associations. They get formed along the way and through reinforcement, will become hard-wired and automatic.

“I turn to food to comfort me.”

“I hate confrontation and will even avoid stating my opinion about something.”

“I let people walk all over me and I know it.”

Even though our associations seem hard wired, we also know that with the plasticity of our brain and through our own efforts, we can change the pathways to create healthier habits. The trick becomes in pushing past the initial anxiety of trying something new, of tempering that fear with curiosity and faith.

When we understand that the initial fear is simply our body’s way of signalling potential danger, we can use our rational brain to slow down the fear response, opening up a doorway to the meaningful and enriching experience of personal growth.

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Let’s Try and Avoid “Should”

The word should is one that rolls right off the tongue:

“I should exercise more.”

“I should be able to do that.”

“You should take my advice.” 

According to the dictionary,  you use the word should when you are saying what would be the right thing to do or the right state for something to be in. 

The problem with the word is that it goes against our goal to be open minded and flexible. When we hear the word should, it implies rigidity and control; our own critical voice will use it to judge ourselves. It strengthens core beliefs, it will put someone’s back up. It also reinforces our tendency to want to be right about something (as nothing builds our ego more quickly.)

Using it really doesn’t serve us well. We walk away feeling diminished, we make other people feel inferior. Instead, we can make the conscious effort to find alternatives:

“I enjoy walking and am going to try to get out once a day.”

“Maybe I can try it this way and find greater success.”

“I wonder if you tried this, would it help you?”

When we use the word try, we have opened up possibility and potential; we have implied choice. We give ourselves and others permission to be flexible and open to success. We tame criticism and encourage praise and support. Let’s try and avoid “should.” 🙂

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The Importance of Empowerment

An unhealthy relationship will often strip us of our power. Sometimes, that can come from an overtly abusive relationship where the need for control oppresses the other, but it can also come from subtle sources as well.

When we begin to recognize that our self-value has lessened and our self-identity is being affected by being in the relationship, we most likely know, deep down, that the relationship is oppressing us in some way. What results is a prevention of living true to self.

Empowerment becomes the goal when feeling stripped of our identity. Ultimately we have decided to take our power back:

  • Be honest with yourself. Being able to examine what you have tolerated in the relationship, simply to keep it, is the first step in moving into feeling empowered. We can spend a lot of time looking at why our partner’s behaviour has hurt us, but what we tolerated kept us there.
  • Start making decisions. When we know better, we do better – when we make decisions to restore our sense of self, we move to empowerment. This can include setting boundaries, exploring interests outside of the relationship, focusing on balance, and in some cases, ending the relationship.
  • Affirm strengths. When empowering ourselves, we need daily reminders of our strengths. We need to know what we bring to the table in relationships – our qualities, characteristics and values.
  • Seek joy. When we feel oppressed, there is no room for joy. By actively seeking it through friendships, activities and self-interests, we focus on how life can truly be one of contentment and satisfaction. This allows us to recognize that joy can exist in our relationships as well.

Empowerment is the act of taking back power. It is also a way that we strengthen resilience and move to a position in which we can recognize our own importance – it is probably, single-handedly, the best way to ensure that someone else is going to value your importance too. 🙂

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The Importance of Goals in Therapy

An important part of the intake process is the goals section. I often ask clients, “If you could walk out of here after so many sessions having achieved something, what would that be?” Some clients have no trouble defining their goals, others will be stumped by the question. For some people, it comes down to a feeling – “I just want to happy,” or “I want to feel like myself again.”

Having an end goal (or two, three or four) is an important part of therapy. When you come with a problem, you most likely want a solution. Being able to define your goals is the roadway to get there. The importance of goals in therapy can easily be paralleled to our personal goals in life:

  1. Talk it out.  In therapy, you have someone who can draw out exploratory questions which can help you get to the root of the issue. Finding a trusted friend or colleague can be helpful in exploring how you are feeling and what steps you can take to help solve the issue.
  2. Dive a little deeper. Wanting to be happy is a great goal, but what does that really mean? Was there another time in your life in which you felt content and what was different about then versus now? What will your life look like when you are content? (I often use the word content instead of happy as it is more easily defined.)
  3. Define your goals. Setting them is important; a therapist writes them down as part of your treatment plan. You can do the same; breaking them down in steps makes them feel achievable. It also keeps you accountable.
  4. Review your goals. It is always good practice to see where you are in goal achievement. This allows you to gather up the troops and charge back in if things are lagging behind.
  5. Be your own cheerleader. Therapists are part of your cheerleading squad; they help to point out all the good that you are doing to achieve goals – you need to be a part of that too.

We can use these tips when trying to find a solution to a problem as goals are an important part of the equation. If you are struggling to get there yourself, don’t be too proud, shy or worried about seeking therapy. Sometimes a little help can go a long way (if I do say so myself.) 🙂

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Should We Compare Ourselves to Others?

The quick answer? It depends.

We are a relationship species; we seek connection and some of our most valuable experiences are those that are shared. It would be pretty difficult to not compare ourselves to others within our social circle, work place, society. In 1954, psychologist Leon Festinger suggested that people have an innate drive to evaluate themselves, often in comparison to others – he called this Social Comparison Theory. Comparison is often one way that influences our self-worth and it is a common way that we get to know ourselves.

Comparing ourselves to others can be quite positive as it motivates us to achieve. Perhaps we admire the way that someone asserts themselves at work, or a skill that someone else has mastered such as being a good cook or a talented guitar player. Perhaps we appreciate how someone in our life has completed a 5km run and we strive to undertake the same goal for ourselves. In this way, comparison can help us to identify what we deem as important in our lives and we can strive to succeed; fortifying our sense of worth.

Comparison can also prove to be damaging to our self-worth at times as it opens up a doorway to inner criticism and judgement. Think about the unrealistic body images that inundate our social media, for example. Other times, we may compare ourselves to where our peers are at in their lives and ours don’t match – if we fail to recognize that we also need to objectively examine context, we may begin to feel anxious about not being good enough.

And so, I suppose, it comes down to balance. When comparing ourselves to others, it becomes important to recognize our own skills and abilities, reach for what we are capable of, remind ourselves of our blessings, and be kind to ourselves throughout the process.

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The Varying Degrees of Commitment

How do we buy into something, and how do we know when our commitment (or someone else’s) is solid? I suppose one way to know is to examine the varying degrees of commitment.

First we have compliance; defined as the action or fact of complying with a wish or command.  Sometimes compliance simply comes by way of obligations – to our job, to running a household, etc. Sometimes it is met with some resistance – think of our teenager and our requirement that they keep their room clean. Generally speaking, if we comply with something, but don’t really agree with it, it tends to lack buy in and passion.

Next is conditional commitment. This type is defined as made or granted on certain terms. To some degree, our jobs are based on elements of conditional commitment. After all, we agree to work for a company after we know the pay we are to receive, the weeks of holidays included and so forth. Same can be said of our teenager when we say “You can have the car tonight after your room is clean.”

And lastly, we have personal commitment. Defined as the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause or activity, this tends to be the one that we are most likely to feel passionate about as it is tied to our personal values. Our commitment to keeping our relationships healthy, our desire to have a cozy home, our dedication to a cause.

Our lives tend to be governed by choosing behaviours and actions based on all three varying degrees of commitment. The quality of our wellbeing; however rests with having enough personal commitments to keep us feeling good about our lives; thereby bringing meaning, purpose and personal fulfillment to the forefront. 🙂

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