6 Steps to Trusting Yourself

6 Steps to Trusting Yourself

“The suffering itself is not so bad; it’s the resentment against suffering that is the real pain.”
-Allen Ginsberg

 

When I first started my own work with mindfulness and radical acceptance, I found myself saying, “I’ll accept this feeling/ this symptom so that I don’t have to have it anymore.” That’s… not really acceptance but it was the best I could do at the time. Since working with clients around mindfulness and radical acceptance, I have heard this sentiment hundreds of times. It’s hard to get behind the idea that accepting our pain or feelings or aversive experiences has therapeutic value, that it could ever help us to make positive changes. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is driven by just this, accepting the hard-to-accept.

 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy was created by Steven Hayes in the early 1980s and tested by Robert Zettle in the mid-1980s. It is a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and is based on Skinner’s Radical Behaviorism. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy’s (ACT) main objective is to help participants turn toward their feelings and symptoms instead of resisting them. The protocol helps participants learn how not to overreact nor underreact nor altogether avoid the associations with these feelings and symptoms. With ACT, we learn to accept ourselves and the experience we are having in the present moment so that we can commit to a behavior aligned with our values.

 

ACT succinctly describes the change in psychological flexibility in this way:

 

We go from F.E.A.R.

 

F- fusion with our thoughts

E- evaluation of our experience

A- avoidance of our experience

R- reason-giving for our behavior

 

To A.C.T.

 

A-accept our reactions and be present

C- choose a valued direction

T- take action

 

In the book, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: The Process and Practice of Mindful Change by Hayes, Strosahi, and Wilson, we’re given the six core principles to help us develop psychological flexibility:

  1. Cognitive de-fusion: Learning methods to reduce the tendency to reifythoughts, images, emotions, and memories.
  2. Acceptance: Allowing thoughts to come and go without struggling with them.
  3. Contact with the present moment: Awareness of the here and now, experienced with openness, interest, and receptiveness.
  4. Observing the self: Accessing a transcendent sense of self, a continuity of consciousness which is unchanging.
  5. Values: Discovering what is most important to oneself.
  6. Committed action: Setting goals according to values and carrying them out responsibly.

 

ACT emphasizes mindfulness because presence of mind/contact with the present is the only way to change behavior. Now is the only time that we can truly choose a behavior. We miss important external and internal cues to help us determine what is happening in the present moment by thinking about the past or the future. Awareness of the present moment helps us to differentiate between what we are afraid is happening and what is actually happening. It helps us to describe what is happening and then make choices in response. Jon Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

 

The “acceptance” part of ACT is problematic for some. “So then, if I’m supposed to accept my feelings and my experience, does that mean I’m supposed to accept abuse and maltreatment?” The answer to that will always be no. When we accept our feelings and experience, it means we accept the information that we are receiving and can make choices based on that information. It means that we accept that this is how it is right, not that this is how it should continue to be.

 

When we practice acceptance of what’s happening we can mindfully make choices that are in alignment with our values. I like to use this phrasing in my own life and when working with clients: “I’m going to keep choosing the same behavior of ______ because I care about______.” Or “I’m going to change my behavior to ______ because I care about ________.” So, someone might say “I am going to keep choosing the same behavior of confronting people when they treat me with disrespect because I care about my feelings and how I’m treated.” Or “I’m going to change my behavior to respectfully disengaging from an argument when it no longer feels productive because I care about my feelings and this relationship and I know that continuing in unproductive conversation usually leads to hurt feelings and resentment.”

 

Sometimes the choice is hard to make. For instance, “I choose to go to bed earlier so that I can wake up feeling more refreshed” is a great behavior goal. But what if it means sacrificing quality time spent with loved ones? This is where present moment focus and acceptance of your experience comes in handy. You might prefer to spend the time with your loved ones and wake up feeling a little more sluggish.

 

I know it’s hard to identify choices so let’s do it together. If you want to talk more about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, changing behaviors, or anything else, please call or email me.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Can My Relationship Be Saved?

Can My Relationship Be Saved?

Most of us want security in our relationships. We’re wired to be social so, when we feel like our social standing is threatened or that our intimate connections are unreliable, our brains process it as actual danger, and we freak out.

Some of us crave security and validation of our places and safety in our relationships but can’t seem to find partners with whom we get that. We tend to find and are attracted to people who provide us with incredible highs (and incredible lows), drama and a push-pull style of interacting. When we’re in relationships with partners who help us to feel more secure and receive validation of being loved, respected and cared for, we often feel bored. We mistake the tension-relief cycle and the excitement of the highs and lows for love. This type of behavior is common in those of us who have an anxious attachment style. We think we want security (and we do but getting it also stresses us out) and then when we get it we’re not interested.

 

Look at this scenario. Let’s say you are in the middle of a pretty unstable intimate relationship with a partner. To friends and family, the relationship is fraught with various dramas and issues; everyone thinks it’s run its course and just needs to end. You acknowledge that there are problems, but think you can work through them. You might even believe that you can’t live without your partner or that there is no one you could ever love as much. Your partner is ambivalent about your future as a couple which is weird because when you first started dating, they came on strong and made you feel like you were the only person in the world. Now, you’re lucky if you get a text back. Much of the relationship consists of a good couple of months and then a breakup or the threat of a breakup. Even when things are good, there is a lot of discord because you don’t feel prioritized by your partner and they experience you as suffocating. When it’s good, it’s really good, but when it’s bad, you feel like you might lose your mind. When you’re at work or out with friends, you are often distracted and thinking of your partner, waiting for their text or call. If they do contact you, all of your attention is fixed on them. You often threaten to end the relationship, but when an actual breakup happens, it’s either initiated by your partner or because they are the one who follows through on your threat. You think the relationship would be perfect if you partner would make only a few changes to your dynamic. After all, you’ve sacrificed a lot of your expectations and some of your values in a desperate effort to make this relationship work. You often say you’ve never loved anyone so much until now. This is also one of the most unstable relationships you’ve ever had.

 

In this example, you are exhibiting anxious attachment behavior. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have an anxious attachment style. During the course of our lives, we are in relationships with people who might connect us to various styles of attachment. If this relationship is representative of most of your intimate relationships, then it might be more likely that you have an anxious attachment style.

 

People with an anxious attachment style (or who have enough of a propensity for it) feel themselves pulled to people who have an avoidant attachment style. The partner above is a pretty good example of someone who might have an avoidant style of attachment or at the very least displays some features. This is usually pretty rough going because while one partner craves validation and is insecure about space in the relationship, the other partner is looking for more space and is insecure about giving validation.

 

This is a pretty crazy-making, taxing cycle. To add insult to injury, the more we engage in this cycle, the more insecure we become. I know it probably feels like there’s no winning here, that you can either be with someone you love but who can’t give you the security you need or be with someone who can give you that security but not a satisfying connection. I would love to talk with you more about this. Please contact me if you would like support.

 

I recommend reading the book Attached., by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. It’s a great resource for people struggling through these and similar patterns.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

How Do I Know If I Need Therapy?

How Do I Know If I Need Therapy?

“So about how long should it take until I feel better?” “How long do you think I’ll need therapy?” “How many sessions should I expect to attend before my problem is solved?” I have asked all of these questions during time spent on the other side of the couch. I know what it’s like to want concrete answers and expectations met. Everyone wants a sure thing in the face of so much uncertainty.

Therapy is not exactly a sure thing. Surely, it can and does help, but it’s not as simple as basic input of time and results yielded. Results depend on client honesty (with themselves and the therapist), right fit with a therapist, client’s commitment to the work both in and out of the therapy office, and right fit with whatever therapeutic modality is used.

Therapy is almost never a quick fix, but there are quicker-fix type/brief therapeutic modalities available. Whether or not these protocols are right for someone depends on a lot- personality, history, diagnosis, whether or not a person has experienced complex trauma. Even in the best of scenarios, it still requires the practice of skills through time to maintain results.

Under the psychotherapy umbrella, there are five really (really) broad categories we use to organize treatment strategies:

Psychoanalysis and Psychodynamic Therapy:

Makes the unconscious conscious, insight oriented. Emphasis on client-therapist relationship. Brief therapy model (20 session maximum) is not the rule, but is available for single-incident trauma like an attack, rape, catastrophic event, targeting a single life shift.

Examples of Psychodynamic Therapy: Jungian, Dream Work, Attachment-based

Often used for: Increasing self-compassion, improving self-concept, self-actualization, mood disorders, relational problems, trauma, developing insight to identify and manage internal conflict, shifting external locus of control to internal locus of control, couples, families,

*Psychoanalysis: Multiple times per week. The therapist is a blank slate onto which client projects their beliefs and experiences. Relies heavily on free association.

 

Behavior Therapy:

Focuses on conditioning new behavior. Uses brief therapy model.

Examples: Applied Behavioral Analysis, Aversion Therapy, System Desensitization

Often used for: Phobias, Addiction, Anger issues, Impulse control problems, self-injury

 

Cognitive Therapy:

Focuses on changing thought pattern. Uses brief therapy model.

Examples: Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Often used for: Phobias, Addiction, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Suicidal ideation, Anxiety disorders

 

Humanistic Therapy:

Focuses on cultivating personal accountability and reaching highest potential. Emphasis on free will. Uses both brief and long-term therapy models.  

Examples: Gestalt, Client-Centered, Transpersonal, Solution-Focused, Adlerian  

Often used for: Improving self-concept, self-actualization, improving communication with others, cultivating self-awareness, shifting external locus of control to internal locus of control, couples, families, existential crises  

 

Integrative or Holistic Therapy:

Often referred to as “Eclectic Therapy.” (Some practitioners will basically fight to the death in disagreement over whether or not Integrative is also Eclectic.) Uses various modalities depending on what is indicated for each client. One therapeutic modality combines various features of the previous four categories. Uses both brief and long-term therapy models.  

Examples: EMDR, Narrative, Cognitive Behavioral, Dialectical Behavior, Internal Family Systems, Gottman Method, Transactional Analysis

Often used for: All of the above

 

Some people prefer to see the same therapist for various issues they’d like to target while others seek out a different specialist to treat each issue. There’s no right way to do this, just whatever feels like it’s working for the client. Some clients come with an agenda and leave when their goals have been reached. Some stay for a while after because they like having a professional to talk to who’s all about them. Plenty of people try therapy and find it difficult to give themselves over to the process, take a more passive route to treatment, get frustrated and give up. Sometimes this is because traditional psychotherapy is not a good fit for them right now, maybe ever. There are so many other great therapeutic options. Traditional psychotherapy is not the only way to heal or feel better.

 

I know it’s overwhelming to look for a therapist and decide which kind of therapy would be best for you, especially when you’ve been dealing with a problem for years, and you’ve finally decided to take the plunge and ask for help.

 

If you describe the issue and a little bit about yourself, many of us will be able to direct you in the right direction. There are plenty of therapists who won’t do this because they are sure that they can handle it regardless of their training and orientation. While I would like to believe that this is mostly the exception rather than the rule, it happens. If you feel too overwhelmed or busy or exhausted to educate yourself on various therapeutic tools and modalities, remember that you can interview multiple therapists at a time to see who feels like the best fit for you. (You can also do this regardless of your stamina to self-educate.) Once you start seeing a therapist, you can audition us. If you’re not feelin’ it for some reason, you can switch. It’s ok not to like your therapist or to like them, but feel like they’re not actually helping you. Therapy is an investment, and you have the right to switch providers at any time for any reason. If you’re feeling like you need to discontinue treatment, I usually recommend addressing this with the therapist; sometimes it just takes a little direct communication to shift things. Even if you don’t plan on continuing your work with the therapist, honest feedback is good for both sides.

 

If you’d like to talk more about this, please email me or call and I would be happy to answer any questions. This is one of my favorite subjects!

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

If You Want to Be Heard, Start Listening

If You Want to Be Heard, Start Listening

A lot of couples seek therapy looking for help with their communication. They want to feel seen, heard, and understood. Pretty much all of us want to feel this.

 

Often, what ends up happening is a lot of talking and explaining and scrambling but not a lot of listening. We want to be heard before we hear. We want to be seen before we see. It becomes a rigid bartering system with the understanding that “If you listen to me and understand what I’m saying, I’ll listen to you and try to understand what you’re saying.”

 

And it’s understandable. When an intimate relationship is fraught with miscommunication and misunderstanding, there are wounds. There is pain. Most of us don’t know how to navigate our pain and the pain we’ve caused our loved ones. We are defensive when confronted and quick to point out what the other has done to hurt us. It’s hard to forge ahead together with this strategy.

 

If we’re unsure of how to navigate our hurt, we usually use anger as a secondary emotion. During an intense discussion or argument, we become angry enough that we forget we love the other person. Our stance becomes adversarial, and in a minute we say something deliberately hurtful. This kind of defense amplifies our communication problem and is a devastating hit to emotional intimacy.

 

In the heat of the moment, it’s hard to slow down. It goes against everything our nervous systems are telling us to try hear and see the other person’s experience. But if we want to deepen and maintain our bonds, we have to learn how.

 

When we’ve experienced trauma, hearing and seeing while regulating our emotions is especially hard. Fatigue, hunger, and loneliness also stack the odds against us.  There are a million reasons that contribute to the challenge of hearing and seeing. And there is one big reason to keep trying- increased peace and understanding within ourselves and our relationships.

 

To be proficient in inquiry of others’ experience, it’s helpful to start to with ourselves. It’s also helpful to start by being pretty basic about it. Initially, try it when you’re feeling relatively calm. Pause and see what you notice. What’s happening? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you notice in your body? Then, try it when you’re feeling slightly irritated. The more you practice it (or anything), the more available it will be to you when you need it. Eventually, you’ll try this when you are really struggling whether on your own or in relationship. If you’d like to talk more about this or have any questions, feel free to reach out.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Forget Self-Esteem

Forget Self-Esteem

The US went on a real self-esteem rampage starting in the mid to late ‘80s. How-To books were written for parents, leaders, educators, executives, and anyone else who wanted to know how to cultivate high self-esteem in themselves and others. After 30 years or so, we’ve seen the impact of this practice, and it hasn’t delivered what its supporters had hoped. As it turns out, the self-esteem movement helped people approach life with more entitlement and less personal accountability. I get the intention behind the self-esteem movement and support that intention, but based on what we now know about the human brain, the application was doomed from the start.

 

Self-esteem is about confidence in one’s abilities, feeling good about oneself. I might be the most confident about my driving skills but constantly get into fender benders, get pulled over for speeding, and be a general train wreck on the road. Someone else might believe that he is an ace baseball player and yet is consistently overlooked by even the least competitive teams. Anyone can have high self-esteem. It doesn’t mean they’ve earned it. It doesn’t even mean that it’s based in reality. This goes to show that someone might have great self-esteem and a poor self-concept.

 

Self-concept is how we view ourselves, the beliefs we hold about ourselves, and the feedback we get from our environment. We categorize ourselves, then interpret those categorizations.

Part of your self-concept might be that you handle failure well because you learn from it and use failure as a way to learn strategy and increase your drive to get what you want.

 

I’m not saying that plenty of us don’t have faulty self-concepts. Most of us have incommensurate negative or positive self-concepts somewhere in there. I’m saying it’s more skillful to assess self-concept as opposed to self-esteem because it’s not about how confident or insecure we are in our capabilities as it is about looking at the evidence.

 

In sixth grade, I struggled with math. I wasn’t crazy-struggling, but I wanted to enjoy the same confidence in the subject I saw my peers enjoying so, I came to my teacher for help. If she had been concerned about my self-esteem, she would have told me something like, “Oh, Natalie, you’re such a great student! You’re not struggling that badly. Besides, you’re great and look at all the other things you can do!” Luckily, she cared more about my long-term self-concept than my self-esteem and told me something like, “Ok, Natalie, if you want to be better at math let’s look at where your performance is weak. Here’s where you’re doing well and here’s where you need help. Let’s work on it.” (Thanks, Mrs. Roloffs. I owe you.)

 

So, if you’re struggling with insecurity, instead of working on raising your self-esteem, try looking at how you’ve structured your self-concept. You’ll find it’s a much more useful tool than glossing over your experience with an I’m-ok-you’re-ok message.

 

If you want to look more closely at your self-concept, be curious. What are your values? What do you believe about yourself? What is the evidence of how true or false those beliefs are? What are the stories you tell about yourself? How do they play out in your life?

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Get Noticed

Get Noticed

Many creative and content creators have doubted their abilities to share something inventive. They’ve experienced plenty of starts and stops. Self-doubt is often an integral part of the creative process.

 

On some level, most of us experience this. Self-doubt has a way of creeping in through all sorts of corners of our minds when we’re promoting an idea, ourselves, and sharing our perspectives with the world. No matter what field we’re in, as we try to figure out what and how we’d like to contribute we feel overwhelmed by the saturation and think, “What do I have to share that hasn’t already been shared? Can I find an innovative idea to express or even an innovative way to express it?” It’s easy to silence ourselves.

 

I experienced this self-doubt when I first opened my private practice. I looked at how many listings there are for psychotherapists in my city and thought, “What?! How’s this going to work?” I felt this the entire way through building my first website, and I felt it multifold when I decided I was going to keep a blog. And now and then that doubt resurfaces.

 

I’ve been fortunate enough to have surrounded myself with experienced practitioners, mentors, and supervisors who told me different variations of the same thing- There is enough to go around. Don’t let the saturation silence your voice. There are people who need to hear what you have to say in the way you are going to say it.

 

Over the years, as I’ve reflected on their variations of this message I realized they were right. I’ve read books, watched documentaries, and completed trainings that are similar but land with me in different ways depending on the speaker and where I am in my practice and my own life. (And obviously, even this message I have been relying on all these years has been restated by the people whose advice I’ve valued most. It has never lost its impact.)

 

Broadening this perspective, we can see how many voices uttering the same message from slightly different points of view strengthen a movement and a message- Black Lives Matter, LGBT Equality, Women’s Equality, healthcare reform, and so many other critical causes. There is strength in numbers. What’s not powerful about adding to a growing movement?

 

We need to hear from each other. We need to make ourselves visible so that other members of our community see themselves reflected in us. We cannot hear a message about something until it resonates with us and not every voice or every group will resonate with all of us. So we need to hear from Black members of our community, Transgender members of our community, working single moms, upwardly mobile millennials, professional women, the neuroscience community, the spiritual communities, our youth, people with a sense of humor, people who embrace their vulnerability. I might not be able to hear the message that a 67-year-old straight, white man has to say, but I might be able to hear it from a Biracial, Queer, 67-year-old woman. I also might need to hear the same message from people across communities and identities and intersections.

You have a valuable voice and message worth sharing. You don’t have to sound like Audre Lorde or Tony Robbins or June Jordan. Stay authentic. Sound like yourself. There is enough to go around. Don’t let the saturation silence your voice. There are people who need to hear what you have to say in the way you are going to say it.

Say It Better

Say It Better

It occurs to me every so often that my job is instrumental in helping me manage life. I’m really lucky. I get to spend my days learning about what works and what doesn’t and for whom. I get to talk and think all day about the human brain and its connection with the body, what to do when we find ourselves in various pickles, and best practices for increasing our well-being. Sometimes I don’t realize how much I take for granted. Last week, I realized how much I take for granted having a constructive conversation.

 

All the time (and I mean, constantly) I hear people say to one another, “How many more times are we going to have this conversation?” or “How many times do I have to tell you?!” or “How long are we going to have to keep revisiting this subject until you finally get it?” Most of the time the answer to that question is- however many times it takes because we don’t learn from lectures and conversations and words alone. Our most effective preceptor is experience. So, on the one hand, when a need or a goal is really important to us, and we feel it’s not being met, we can definitely count on having multiple conversations about it over and over and over. We might as well make ourselves a little more comfortable and feel a little less crazy by learning how to practice and apply effective conversation skills.

 

You might remember from the 80s, the T.H.I.N.K. method for communication (which I’m not totally sure but I think might have been founded on some Buddhist principles for wise speech).

 

At some point, you probably saw the poster for it in a humanities class, at a presentation given by your Human Resources department, or on a wall in your kindergarten classroom. Decades later, most of us have forgotten the message brought to us by that wise little poster. At any rate, it said:

 

Before you speak,

 

T- is it thoughtful?

H- is it helpful?

I- what is my intention?

N- is it necessary?

K- is it kind?

 

And honestly, it’s a technique that I use every day, both at work and in the rest of life. We cannot underestimate the healing power of deliberate and compassionate communication. I’m going to break it down with some more questions for deeper self-inquiry. The T.H.I.N.K. method is always simple, but it’s not always easy.

 

T- it is thoughtful:

Have I reflected on my experience to optimize this conversation? Am I fully present for this conversation or am I feeling pretty reactive right now? Am I clear on my message, needs, experience, and feelings? Is this a good time for each of us to talk about it?

 

H- is it helpful:

Does this help the other person understand my experience? Does it help me express my feelings and needs? How will it help our connection?

 

I- what is my intention:

What do I want the other person to know about how I am feeling and what I need? What do I need from this interaction?

 

N- is it necessary:

Is what I am about to say critical to my message? Is it essential to understanding my experience?

 

K- is it kind:

Am I approaching this conversation with the utmost dignity, respect, love, and compassion for myself and the other person? If I am feeling reactive, am I trying to hurt the other person so that they feel what I feel? For both of us to get the most out of this, do I need to pause or take a longer break before I continue this discussion?

 

Sometimes it’s not possible to be this thoughtful. We’re people, and we react when we feel strongly about something. Sometimes we act or speak impulsively. And sometimes others can’t or won’t hear us no matter what. And sometimes there just isn’t time and space. Our world moves at hyper speed, and we are pretty consistently pressured by this. But when we can pause for a minute, reflect, and inquire, we give ourselves and others the gift of clarity. Over time and with practice, we find that this quality of communication paves the way a deeper insight. This is crucial for changing behavior and patterns. Go forth and effectively communicate.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Know Your Demons

Know Your Demons

Have you ever watched a thriller about demon possession? Kind of off my usual beaten path, I know, but you’ll see where I’m going with this. I promise. Anyway, I like them sometimes. Every so often, I’ll check around for a good one to watch and see what piques my interest. I’ve found that sometimes I’m drawn to thrillers that make demonic possession of someone their central plot. (Which is surprising to me because I’m not usually interested in seeking out super dark stories about evil, especially when there’s more than enough of it to be found in the news). About once every three or four years, one of these dark plotlines pulls me in and I find myself watching an unsuspecting upstander begin the struggle of (and for) their life.

 

When I find a good possession thriller, I like almost everything about it. I like the journey the character takes from being ok (or pretty ok) to decompensating to being pretty possessed most of the time to being fully possessed all the time to finding progressive healing to being stronger and more conscious than when their story started. I like the tension over “will this character we’ve all come to love make it through this?” I like the research and deep inquiry that the other characters employ in an effort to find out more about the demon that is in possession of the victim.

 

What I am particularly drawn to, what I appreciate most is that there’s always ample time given to the journey taken by the characters in finding out the particular nature of the demon and its name. When the demon is called by name, its possession breaks. The demon always gives clues as to who they are, but they’re usually abstract and steeped in about a million layers of epic composition of poetry and require a doctorate in theology. At some point, to the rest of us, it pretty much seems like a lost cause. Just in the nick of time, someone puts all of the pieces together and discovers the name of the demon. Then we feel that surge of renewed hope.

 

What I’ve noticed is that, in all of the stories that I find most gripping, there are at least five commonalities:

 

  • There is a specific name of the demon, which when finally discovered and uttered face-to-face to the demon is the only defense against it.

 

  • The possessed or loved ones of the possessed enlist help.

 

  • The demon seems to have limitless ways of manifesting itself.

 

  • Someone, whether the possessed or loved ones of the possessed, experiences self-doubt, retreats, somehow finds the motivation to throw themselves into the metaphorical fire of terror and uncertainty, and contacts the demon for a head-on battle.

 

  • The demon never really goes away. It’s still there lurking around, but now the characters have more strength, courage, willingness, and awareness to deal with it.

 

I appreciate the symbolism because darned if that just isn’t that just how life is.

 

Whether it’s depression or anxiety or addiction or a particular pattern of behavior or thought pattern or chronic pain or the fear of fear or general dispiritedness, we all go through periods of life when we feel utterly possessed by pain and completely out of control. And many of us have found release through inquiry about the name of our experience or feeling and asking for help from loved ones, peer groups, and professionals.

 

Many of us have realized that our demons never completely go away, but that our relationship with them changes, and that with each bout with and experience of those demons, we learn to sit with whatever they bring. Through this long, uncomfortable process, we’re learning that our demons have many, many ways of manifesting themselves in our lives. We’re learning to coexist in a world where demons can’t be extinguished but instead faced with self-compassion, willingness, and courage. We’re learning to stop believing the bullshit they spew in an attempt to maintain their control over us. We’re becoming more connected with ourselves and with others, with life.

 

Keep on keepin’ on.

 

Love and Be Loved,

Natalie

Learning to Stay

Learning to Stay

As a species, we’re in for some challenges. Humans have both nervous systems and self-awareness, the awareness of change, loss, and of death. We are aware that situations change and it motivates us to hold onto the situations we like and try to force a shift in situations we don’t like. We’re aware of loss so; we go to great lengths in trying to avoid it. We’re aware of death and generally fear it so, we engage in all sorts of behaviors and thinking in an attempt to gain control over it. Since everything is temporary, all of our grasping and holding and forcing and avoiding is useless. There is no lasting way for us to ever really hold onto something or someone, force a shift, or avoid change, loss, or death. And this creates a pretty uneasy sense of being.

 

Look at some of your own fear-based beliefs for a second. What makes you nervous? What are you believing when you notice the nervousness? What do you dread? What are you believing when you notice the dread?

 

We have an extensive list of strategies that we employ to avoid feeling the discomfort of these beliefs, to avoid feeling our fear of life’s fluidity. We numb. We fight ourselves or others. We seek comfort in addiction.

 

Underneath all of this struggle is the fear that we are not ok.

 

In the mythology of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama’s final challenge before he reached enlightenment was doubt. Mara, the dark deity symbol of humanity’s shadow side, our challenging emotions, appeared to Siddhartha in the form many distractions some of which were fear, pain, and lust. Finally, Mara appeared to him as doubt. Siddhartha experienced the most difficulty and discomfort with this last challenge. Siddhartha put his hand to the ground and felt the earth, calling upon it to ground him and give him strength. He looked up at Mara and said, “I see you, Mara. Come, let’s have tea.”

 

I’m always struck by this story. I find it comforting that Siddhartha, someone who had practiced for years, received years of mentoring and training and support, someone who was so well-resourced still felt the challenge of Mara, of the hard-to-feel, painful human emotions. I also appreciate that working through his last challenge involved asking for help, that he didn’t try to do it alone. And to boot, he invited the damn thing to tea!!

 

Siddhartha didn’t gain freedom from Mara all at once. It took years of practice and training. Gradually, after reaching out for help and engaging his own presence, he extricated himself. He was free.

 

On this quest for our own freedom, we learn of at least two important resources available to us as suggested by the Buddha mythology: 1) to ask for help when dealing with a challenge and 2) to be present with our experience of our process.

 

It’s so hard to keep ourselves from being swept away by the runaway train of our limiting beliefs, beliefs about ourselves and others, about the nature of the world; our fears of unworthiness; our doubt of our own lovability. Sometimes we can see this train coming for us and we freeze, unable to fight it. Sometimes we don’t see it coming; we realize we’re on it and don’t know how it happened. Sometimes we try to outrun it or fight it. One way or another, it picks us up anyway. Most of us are familiar with this cycle. Most of us know exactly what it’s like to be caught in Mara’s grip and to feel utterly helpless.

 

Asking for help is hard enough. Sitting with the discomfort, bringing presence to it is even more challenging. It requires a willing attentiveness, a moment of pause, and gentle inquiry. The sheer thought of asking ourselves gentle, inquiring questions when we’re in the middle of some kind of freak out brings with it its own uncomfortable trials.

 

Something I’ve found helpful both personally and professionally is Byron Katie’s work. It is aptly named “The Work.” She gives us four questions to pose to ourselves when we are facing the underlying doubt of our ok-ness. In those moments, Katie recommends that we ask ourselves:

 

  1. Is it true? We know that the experience of the belief feels real, but is the belief true?
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? What is the indisputable evidence?
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? What happens for you? What is it like for you? What is the impact of this thought or belief on you? On others?
  4. Who would you be without the thought? Can you sense what life would be like, what you would be like if you no longer lived your life by this thought or belief?

 

These four questions get us off to a good start in dismantling maladaptive or limiting thoughts and beliefs, thoughts and beliefs that served us at one time in our lives, but that are now crippling us. If you find it difficult to ask yourself these questions, start with this one: Am I willing to pay attention to what this experience is like for me? We can’t always jump right in so, simply bringing the intention of presence if often a good place to start.

 

I recommend first trying these investigative questions with a shallow or midlevel fear-based belief. Since we are often floating around in the experience of these thoughts and beliefs, identified with them, bringing attention and presence can be really intense. Start slow. If you’d like to apply this approach to deeper fears and beliefs including trauma, I recommend doing so with the help and support of a therapist or healer.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

How to Get SMART About Your Goals

How to Get SMART About Your Goals

Setting goals is fairly easy. Most of us experience times in our lives when we know what we want to accomplish whether it’s buying a home, getting a degree, helping to pass a bill, learning a new method of practice for work, strengthening the upper body, swimming a faster mile, and whatever else. It’s easier to know what we want; it’s almost never easy to plan the steps toward getting there. We get lost in the process, frustrated, and eventually, let it go. (And we often chalk it up to another failed attempt at something which bums us out.)

 

Many psychotherapists use a model to help clients plan and reach their goals using the SMART method. This method is attributed to Peter Drucker, business person and author, and developed by Robert Rubin, organizational psychologist and author. The protocol helps to clarify goals, ensure that they are attainable, and plan alternative strategies if they are in any way unreachable. SMART recommends that each goal we set should be:

 

  • Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
  • Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
  • Achievable (agreed, attainable).
  • Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).
  • Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).

 

Broken down into clarifying questions, each step helps the person identify the goal, plan the strategy, and set up accountability. Since 1981, both psychologists and business people have expanded and improved the SMART method, making it increasingly accessible to anyone. I have collected a lot of their suggestions and plugged them into this post. (If you’d like to read more about the SMART method, go here.)

 

  1. Specific

SMART works best when our goals are specific and easily stated. If they’re too abstract or murky, it will be hard to know where to put our focus, and we will probably lose motivation.

  • What do I want to achieve? What is my goal?
  • Why is this important to me? Why do I care about this?
  • Is this achievable by myself?
  • Who else is involved?
  • What limits my achievement of this goal?
  • What resources are available to me/do I possess that will help me achieve this goal?
  1. Measurable

If we have measurable goals, we can keep track of our progress which will help us to maintain our momentum, especially when the going gets tough. Tracking our progress helps us to stay grounded in our goals and the steps toward meeting them through the process.

Here’s how to make sure our goals are measurable:

  • How much/many?
  • How often?
  • How will I know when it is accomplished?
  1. Achievable

Our goals must be realistic and attainable to ensure true success. We are not looking for an impossible challenge. We are stepping outside our comfort zones to meet a reasonable goal. We must look at our limits and our resources in preparation for the terrain ahead of us.

An achievable goal will usually answer these questions:

  • How can I accomplish my goal?
  • How realistic is the goal based my limits?
  • What are the potential challenges?
  • What or who do I need to enlist to help me meet the challenges?
  • What, if anything, is outside my control that might impact my achievement of my goal?
  1. Relevant

It’s imperative that you have your own buy-in with the goals that you set for yourself; otherwise, you will most likely lose interest and wander off the path you’ve set.

Ask yourself:

  • Does this goal and what it will take to accomplish it seem worthwhile?
  • Is this the right time for me to take on this challenge?
  • If I have enlisted others, does this goal also compliment their needs and abilities?
  • Is this goal realistic for my environment?
  • Is it applicable in the current socio-economic environment?
  1. Time-sensitive

Our goals need a deadline. It’s helpful to know how much time we have to accomplish something so that we have a firm boundary in which to meet all of our deliverables. It’s really easy to get distracted by our everyday routines and to lose focus of our goals. This step will help us bring our focus back to the plan we have carefully implemented.

A time-bound goal answers these questions:

  • When is the reasonable deadline?
  • What can I do six months from now?
  • What can I do six weeks from now?
  • What can I do one week from now?
  • What can I do today?

Setting SMART goals enables us to find out why we want to achieve something and the choices we can make to get there. Often, setting up our SMART goals helps us to see that we need to tweak our expectations, ask for help, or reach a stepping-stone goal before our original goal so that we can lay the necessary groundwork. Try it out. Start with a small goal and see how it feels to use the aid of a well-researched procedure to accomplish your goal. (I use it off and on for personal and professional development goals, and it’s almost like having a little personal assistant.)

 

If you’d like support as you set and plan for a goal, let’s talk.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie