Self Care, Self Awareness, and What Separates us from Joy

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I have learned a lot over these past couple years about the importance of self-care. I will say, it did not come natural to me.

Self care isn’t actually hard – it’s just the mental shift of allowing us to care for ourselves that is hard. You have to wrestle through thoughts about it being selfish or self-indulgent.

But as I have allowed and invited more self care into my life, I recognize the huge benefit of inviting it into my life more and tuning into my body more, and asking what it really needs in any given moment.

I would like to share some these practices with you, and invite you to give them a try in your own life.

As for self awareness – that is one I really thought I had down. But there was a large piece of self awareness I was truly missing. Which I will go into later in the article, in case maybe you have some blind spots like I did?

And finally, I will share what I believe separates us from joy. It is one of those things – not easy – but so simple – all at the same time.

Will you join me in in the journey of developing self-care, self awareness, and connecting closer to joy?

 

Developing Self Care as a Habit

As I said, self care did not come natural to me. Engaging in self care felt like laziness and indulgence.

But when I finally gave in and tried it, I realized it was just the opposite.

I was more productive when I engaged in self care. And, I was a better partner, friend, and co-worker.

You can engage in self care in a variety of ways.

It could be getting enough sleep. It could be taking a break or the day off from something. It could be developing an exercise habit. It could be taking walks in nature after work.

It also could be making your work environment a more calming place. This could mean turning off fluorescent lights and using a floor lamp instead. This could mean bringing in a scented candle of your favorite smell – and when you find yourself getting stressed – taking a “mindful minute” and focusing on the scent while taking a few deep breaths. If you love nature as much as me, maybe this means surrounding yourself with photos or artwork of nature.

I have actually been at work before, found myself stressed with a headache, and I would ask myself the question,

What do I need right now?

The answer I got back was “To be somewhere calming. To be in nature.”

When I tuned in and realized this was my answer, I was initially frustrated, because being in nature was not an option in that moment. I think for some, going on a short walk could be a good idea, but for me, I work in the city and a walk right outside my building would NOT be calming.

But instead of remaining frustrated, I asked myself what the closest to nature I could be in this moment was.

And then I decided to start looking through nature photos online. I actually was NOT confident that this would be helpful at all.

But, as I looked through the photos of trees and trails and sunsets and sunrises…I did find that it began to ease my mind. My mind, even if just for a few minutes, was taken out of my office and into calming nature. I could picture myself walking down the trails. I could imagine how the breeze might feel on my skin.

After a couple minutes of looking at the pictures, I was surprised to find, it was almost as if I had gone on a walk. My mind had expanded beyond my office and brought me a bit of clarity I didn’t have only moments ago.

 

Why Self Care & Self Awareness are Connected

I believe self care and self awareness are very connected.

First off, I had to realize I was a “highly sensitive person” – which is a term developed by Dr. Elaine Aron. People who are highly sensitive are not only emotionally sensitive, but also highly impacted by their environments and the people around them. We absorb what is around us in a deep way.

So, in this realization, I realized how important it was for me to give myself a calming and comforting environment. And although I have always enjoyed nature, it was through studying more about the highly sensitive person trait, that I realized how truly important nature was for me as a tool for calming.

The other way I believe that self care and self awareness are connected – is getting connected with what you truly need in a moment, and what your intentions are.

Whenever I feel myself getting frazzled or stressed, I ask myself,

What do I need right now?

Not “What should I need” or judgements about how I shouldn’t be so stressed right now.

But, what do I truly need right now?

The answer always varies, but here are some examples of some answers I have gotten from myself before:

I need to pace myself.

I need to take a moment to pause.

I need to take a walk.

I need a cup of tea.

I need to do something positive, and think about this later.

Or sometimes, I just need to tune in to why I am even feeling so stressed in the first place. But again, there are no judgments allowed.

Why are you feeling stressed right now?

Again, depending on the situation, it is always a variety of answers. Sometimes it is because I am feeling like something has to be perfect and other times it is because I am not pacing, and I am trying to get everything done at once.

Here is one blind spot I had with my self-awareness – I believed I was not impulsive. I am an overthinker, so by nature, you would not think I would be impulsive. So here’s the difference, I was not impulsive externally – but I was impulsive internally.

What I mean by this is, if I began to feel an emotion, I would immediately engage with it, without question. There was not a moment of pause. There was no moment to think through how engaging in this emotion might make me feel worse. I have worked with youth through my career, and taught them anger management skills to decrease verbal altercations and physical fights. It’s all about taking a moment to pause (not being impulsive with your words and actions) and looking at why you are feeling the way you are feeling – because a fight will not solve that problem.

So, the same with the internal. It is about taking a moment to pause – instead of engaging the experience of stress – and simply asking yourself Why am I feeling this way? and What do I need right now?

 

Separating Anxiety from Wisdom

So, another blind spot I had with self awareness was in regard to what was wisdom and what was anxiety.

You may have heard me talk about this in the blog before as intuition and ego. It doesn’t really matter what you call it. However, what I will say is, I was someone who DID NOT believe I was someone that had any issues with my ego. (Huge blind spot!)

The reason for this is probably because when I thought of the word “ego” I more thought of the mainstream use of the word – meaning self righteous or prideful. And ego can mean this. But ego can show up as anxiety too. The ego wants to protect us – but often takes the worst approach imaginable – whether through pride which disconnects us from others or anxiety which causes us to live in fear.

So, once I realized the ego could show up in anxiety too, I soon realized, I had a VERY big ego. Again, not something to judge myself for, just something to gently work on, one step at a time.

The good news is – on the surface, your anxiety might be everywhere. But inside of everyone, is a deep reservoir of wisdom. It is already there. You just need to learn how to better access it.

Like anything else, it just takes practice.

I will give you an example, on how you can work on practicing it.

In my job, I lead groups for my clients. For some reason, this always causes a bit of anxiety in me. But this day in particular, I was having more anxiety than usual as I was planning the group. I felt myself beginning to become stressed.

Before allowing the stress to go too far, I decided it was time for a “mindful pause.”

I grabbed a piece of notebook paper. On the top part I wrote:

ego/anxiety

On the second part I wrote:

intuition/wisdom

And then I filled out each section – identifying first what my ego/anxiety was saying, and second what my intuition/wisdom was saying. It was helpful to be able to separate the two from each other.

Then I asked myself,

What do I need right now? Why am I getting upset? What are my intentions? Am I making this more complicated than it needs to be?

What it came down to, was a very common experience for me, my ego was trying to make something perfect, and in the process was causing me feelings of stress and anxiety.

When I tuned in to my intuition and wisdom – it was much more clear what I needed to do. I was complicating things I didn’t need to. Once I was able to have some clarity around this, I was able to move forward planning the group, without the feelings of stress hovering over me. They still popped up – but I just reminded myself what my inner wisdom had directed me to do.

 

How the Ego Separates us from Joy

I believe the ego separates us from joy. But the more we can move beyond the ego, the more joyful we will become, and the more decisions we will make that will lead us to joyful experiences.

The ego causes us to be too anxious, too embarrassed, and too afraid to live our lives fully. And although the ego will always be there to some degree, we can decide if we want to believe the ego, or if we would rather believe another part of ourselves. You get to decide “who” you trust.

And again, it takes practice. But with a little practice, brings a little progress. And with much practice, brings much progress.

As I have said before, I come from a Christian perspective. I am going to share a bit of my perspective, but please know, these are very helpful practices whether you add spirituality to the mix, or it is simply done as a secular practice. If this part doesn’t resonate with you, that is okay!

For me, I understand God as synonymous with Joy, Peace, and Freedom. I believe to experience Joy is to experience God. I believe that we find Peace, when through God, we are able to trust. And I believe we find freedom, when we allow our minds and lives, to be transformed by God.

So, for me, the ego represents sin. I know “sin” usually is associated with “doing wrong” – but my understanding of sin is a bit different. I believe sin is anything that separates us from God, and in turn, anything that separates us from Joy, Peace, and Freedom. I don’t think we need to be filled with shame for our “sin” – I just think we need to recognize how it is separating us from God, and in turn, an abundant life.

The word “repent” is often associated with a begging for forgiveness of our sins. However, the word actually means to turn and face God. Again, to turn your direction so that you are taking a path that leads to Joy, Peace, and Freedom.

The ego shows up a couple different ways in the Bible. Jesus eats with those of “lowly position” and you see the Pharisees criticizing him – saying things like “Why would you spend time with people like that?” and the Pharisees believing that they are better than them. Although the Pharisees were keeping all the “laws” – they were missing the whole point. They were missing God, because they were “too good” to be where God was.

And then the other side of ego shows up too. Moses doesn’t trust that God could use him for a greater purpose. After all, he is a stutterer – if he can’t even speak well – how could God have any kind of plans for him? Moses’ ego is filled self doubt. And if we let that self doubt get the best of us, we miss out on the abundant life God has for us.

Again, although I am speaking of this spiritually, please know the message is the same, even if you do not identify with Christianity or spirituality at all.

We have fear, anxiety, and self doubt which shows up as our ego. This ego side of us separates us from joy, peace, and freedom. But, we have the choice to turn ourselves toward joy, and we do this by tuning in to the inner wisdom that is already inside of us.

 

Developing a Morning Ritual

I have found it very important to develop a morning ritual for each day to center myself.

Some people call this meditation.

Some people call this prayer.

Some people just call it a “quiet time” before a busy day begins.

You can call it whatever you want.

In Christianity, prayer is considered one of the most important spiritual disciplines. The word discipline comes from the word “disciple” and the word disciple means “to teach.” We must teach our minds how to embrace the world differently – we must spend time training our minds and renewing our minds.

I will be the first to say, I have been guilty of a reading a blog entry or book – becoming very inspired – and then, well, that’s it. I don’t develop any kind of meaningful practice around it that will actually change my life. Don’t get me wrong, inspiration is a wonderful, wonderful thing. But, it really is the small everyday practices that truly change our lives.

Also, it is going to be a lot easier to deal with certain challenges in your day, if you first equip yourself in the morning, before the challenges even arise. Put on you armor, so to speak.

Going full circle, I believe self-care starts in the morning. Are you going to rush out of your house in a frantic state? Or are you going to offer self care by brewing a cup of coffee or tea, sipping slowly, and equipping yourself for the day ahead?

Some ideas for a morning ritual include:

 

Setting your Intentions:

What are your intentions for this day? Who do you want to be in this day?

Developing a Mantra:

Develop a mantra for the day that you will tell yourself when things become stressful.

Record Gratitudes:

Record your gratitudes from the previous day – this will help your mind to remember the positives and be looking for them in the day ahead of you.

Take a Mindful/Meditative Moment:

Close your eyes and quiet your mind. Focus your attention on your breathing. Focus your attention on the sounds around you. Have a candle nearby and focus your mind on the scent. Take a moment to simply be, in the present moment.

Read Something Inspirational:

Read an inspiring book or blog. Take time to reflect or journal on how you would like to embody this in your upcoming day.

 

Conclusion

I hope that some of the ideas and concepts that I discussed in this article, sparked changes of thoughts and ideas of how you could implement your own self care / self awareness practices in your own life, so that you might be able to connect more with joy, peace, and freedom.

Joy, peace, and freedom are already in our midst, we just need to learn how to access them. But through self care, self awareness, an understanding of what separates us (and lots of practice!) – you will find it. Never will things be perfect, but a more joyful, peaceful, and free version of yourself exists – and I encourage you to find her!

 

Take care of yourself. : )

 

Yours,

signaturesmaller

 

 

Journal Questions:

  1. What are your current thoughts on self care? Are you willing to offer yourself more self care? If so, what are some ways you could start doing this?
  2. Look back on your past week – were there any stressful events? Were you able to take a “mindful pause” in these moments? If so, great! How did this help? But if not, how do you think a “mindful pause”might have helped in these moments?
  3. Think about something that is causing you stress or anxiety right now. First, write out the perspective of the ego. Once you’ve done that, write out the perspective of the inner wisdom. Are you willing to trust the inner wisdom over the ego?
  4. How do you see your ego keeping you from joy, peace, or freedom in your life currently? What could be some baby steps in making changes to this?
  5. If you don’t currently have a morning ritual practice, would you be willing to start one? What practices mentioned would you be willing to try out and start using regularly? If you already have a morning practice, how do you notice this practice impacting your days? How would you like to strengthen this practice?

the abundance of flow & the hidden life that was there all along.

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The Veil is Lifted

I used to be anti-going with the flow. Going with the flow meant I could be led in the wrong direction.

I still understand my concern. I don’t want to drift.

But, I have now learned it is a collaborative effort – between flow & me.

I show up as my best self & embrace the flow. I don’t fight it and I don’t force.

But, I do my part – which is the inner work. Finding my values. Finding my intentions. If I don’t do this, then I can’t fully be present for what is flowing toward me.

I am not saying that there is never a time when things need to be changed in your life. There is!

But my problem was, I was missing beautiful things that were already flowing into my life in the present moment.

I didn’t yet have an eye for it. But once the veil was lifted, even just enough to get a glimpse- it all was made clear.

The beauty was everywhere  – in the same old life I had already been living.

There were possibilities and opportunities, that I simply hadn’t seen before.

And there was joy to be experienced – there were wonderful things – already surrounding me.

Reach, dream, and usher in the beautiful future…but please, please do not miss the beauty that is flowing to you right now.

Developing my gratitude practice has been an incredible help in seeing the beauty all around me. I can’t believe I had been missing it for so long.

Sure- maybe I had a frustrating day at work. But how did I miss the gift of creation on my drive home?

The vast blue skies. The sprinkle of white clouds. The vibrant green earth, the golden fields, the sun caressing the world below.

I missed it somehow.

I actually take the back roads home from work now. Because it is so easy to miss the beauty when you are racing home on the highway.

I pull in the driveway to my house. I admire the colors of our garden flowers. And the bumble bees. And the butterflies.

It’s all a gift.

Not only did I used to spend my drive home ruminating on negative thoughts & missing beauty, but I would spend my whole evening that way too.

I would think about my day and how I needed to fix all the problems. I needed a solution and I would wrestle my problems like a difficult math equation.

But problems aren’t always solved that way.

Now, I spend my evenings stepping outside into creation. A couple nights ago I spent my evening walking through nature – admiring the tall grasses that guided my path, the sparkle of water in the pond, and appreciating the deer as they crossed the path ahead.  I had forgotten about my problems of the work day. But when I remembered them again, I intuitively knew exactly what to do about them.

These days, my solutions are found in moments of joy. Not forcing and despair.

I have been thinking a lot lately about what I believe spirituality truly is. I grew up in the protestant Christian tradition. I am still a Christian – but I feel very different from the mainstream understanding of Christianity.

The “God is a genie who grants my wishes” approach never seemed quite right to me. I mean, who doesn’t want their wishes granted? But, it seemed too simplistic, and well, there just was a lot of “wishes” for people that didn’t quite come true.

I now believe that spirituality is a changing of our mind and our inner self. And this changing of our mind and inner self, then, in turn, affects our outer external world.

We change our inner mind to see more beauty and be more kind. And somehow, our outer world, then becomes more beautiful and more kind.

The veil is lifted.

 

The Joy of Flow & Appreciating the Blend

The beauty of flow is that it will take you to places you never thought you would go – in the best kind of way.

It is a more welcoming approach to life.

What is life flowing to me today? A chance to learn a lesson in humility or grace? A journey I didn’t expect? A chance to grow into the best version of myself?

I used to force the same old routine and the same way of doing things, and found myself feeling empty.

But when I live a bit more intuitively, life has a freshness and crispness it didn’t have before.

It has a glow.

It is like the first autumn morning after a warm summer.

You notice the air feels just a little bit different on your skin. You notice the light of the sun shines just a little bit differently through the trees.

You feel the invitation of a new season entering into your life.

You invite it in & you say welcome – I am glad you are here.

Jess Lively, from the Jess Lively Show, talks about the importance of accepting the blending of life, rather than forcing it to be balanced or perfect. She relates it to a spoonful of moose tracks ice cream. Sometimes you’ll get a bit more peanut butter cups, sometimes more chocolate swirl, sometimes more vanilla ice cream.

Each bite is just a little bit different. Enjoy that it is this way.

Don’t force each bite to be exactly the same or exactly like the one before.

Enjoy what is being given to you right now in this moment.

What is life flowing to you right now? How can you embrace this flow? How can you enjoy this flow? How can you get the most out of this flow?

I invite you to taste & enjoy your life right now, as it is.

As I said, dream your future – but know that your live meaningful life starts right now, in this very moment. Don’t wait until things are perfect or every problem is solved. Take a break from your problem and live meaningful, right now, today.

 

Molding your Clay & Trusting the Spirit

You have been given the clay.

How will you mold it?

Will you look at your pile of clay – and curse it?

Will you look at your pile of clay- and wish for someone else’s?

Or will you look at your pile of clay,

and mold it into something beautiful.

We are being molded & we are invited to participate in the molding. Show up for the beauty of work that is taking place inside of you, and all around you.

I have been wondering lately – what God’s relationship to intuition is. It seems a little scary to call intuition God – after all, we are flawed beings. And way too many wars have been started because “God told me to.”

But, I don’t want to throw out the idea altogether, because, doesn’t God divinely live within us?

I think our relationship with God is a collaboration. We are not separate from God – we can access a higher self and a higher understanding, which is divine. But, we are also working within our fallen nature and our humanity – and at times we will be confused and uncertain. But there is a place within all of us – where hope, freedom, peace, and joy can be found. Our ego confuses us, but the divine spirit within us can bring us back to the truth.

And the more you pursue God, the truth, the highest values – the closer you can become and the more clearly you can hear the divine spirit living within you.

We are no longer simply followers of the law. In a literal sense, in a biblical sense, and a figurative sense.

Martin Luther King Jr. was not a follower of the law of this world. He was spirit led.

The rules and the laws have been thrown out. We are a spirit led people now.

Know the principles. Know your values. Fill your mind with truth.

And then allow the spirit to lead.

 

A Few Last Words

When it is asked what the greatest commandment is, it is simple, and not complicated.

Love God and love your neighbor.

Love God by being in awe of creation, in gratitude for the life you have been given, have an appreciation for what is to come, and a listening soul to be guided by truth.

Love others by being kind, offering compassion, and sharing your unique gift and contribution with the world.

There is a beautiful life to be found within the life you are already living. You just need to uncover it. You uncover it, by uncovering the eyes of your soul.

There is beauty all around you.

Once the veil is lifted,

you will find,

although your life is not much different,

your life will be,

so much different.

 

2 Corinthians 3:16-18, The Message Translation

Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face.

They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone.

And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us!

Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face.

And so we are [elevated into something beautiful] much like the Messiah,

our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.

 

May you become beautiful.

 

Yours,

signaturesmaller

 

 

Journal Questions:

  1. What are your thoughts on flow? How can you accept more flow into your life? How can you welcome what is in your life & embrace it?
  2. What practices can you start that will help you “lift the veil” from you eyes? How will you develop more gratitude for what is already around you? How will you look at your life differently & embrace it differently?
  3. Are you cursing the clay you have been given or are you molding it into something beautiful? What could you do differently in your life that would help you mold the clay you already have, into something beautiful?
  4. What are your thoughts on being more spirit led? What would it look like for you to embrace a more spirit led life?
  5. What stood out to you the most while reading this post? What action do you feel led to take based on this? Write out a commitment to taking this step.

 

*I have been highly influenced by Jess Lively’s recent podcasts about flow – if you would like to hear her perspective on flow you can check out her podcasts here.

Developing an Inner Sense of Calm

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This post is for anyone who has a fear based mindset. Anyone who dwells on worst case scenarios and how everything could go wrong. This post is for the person that desires an inner sense of calm, but just isn’t quite sure how to make that happen.

I am writing this with recent events in my own life in mind. These past two weeks have been eventful, to say the least. I want to share how I navigated my fears in an effort to move through them smoothly and gracefully, in hopes that you might be able to do so as well.

I have heard it said, “You can’t control the waves, but you can learn to surf.”

So very true. As a former perfectionist, I tried to control my life so that nothing bad could touch it. But no matter how much you control your life, there will still be waves. You CANNOT control them.

Now don’t get me wrong, be safe. Wear your seat belt. Lock your doors. Take precautions. But just realize even if you do everything perfectly, there still will be waves at times. And that is okay.

Once we learn to surf, the waves will not be nearly as bad.

 

Navigating Stressful Events

So, going along with the surfing analogy – if you fall off your surf board, that’s fine.

Float.

Fighting the waves can lead to drowning. Relaxing and “going with the flow” leads to floating.

I remember hearing author Brene Brown speak on a podcast discussing her realization that stress management was more about changing our perception of the stress, rather than avoiding stress altogether.

Now, just to be clear, decreasing stressful situations in our life is important. Don’t over-stuff your schedule or make decisions that will cause you stress. But, also realize that stress comes when we interpret an event as stressful.

So, I would like to share my stressful events and how I navigated them. In the past two weeks I,

  1. Found out I potentially may have been infected with a deadly disease
  2. Was in a car accident in which a person ran through a red light, hit & totaled my car, and fled the scene immediately

Pretty stressful events, right?

With these events in mind, I cannot encourage you enough to develop your skills of positive self-talk, gratitude, compassion (for self, life, & other), and mindfulness. These practices saved me from a dark spiral. We engage in these practices in our everyday life, so they are available to us when we truly need them the most.

 

Navigating “Worse Case Scenario” Thinking

So, the first event happened to me last week on Tuesday. I work with an at-risk population, but with that being said, I never expected to run into this issue, at least not in modern America.

I was picking up my client from a routine doctor appointment for her pregnancy. She got into the car with me, and we began driving back to the agency I work at, which was just a few minutes away.

As we were driving, she casually remarked,

“I tested positive for Tuberculosis. Is that bad?”

Okay, I thought, maybe she is just confused.

She then handed me paperwork showing that yes, in fact, she had tested positive for Tuberculosis.

If you know anything about Tuberculosis, you may know that it is an airborne disease, meaning that you can be infected by someone else simply by being in a contained area with that person- such as a car. And before this, we had spent an hour in my tiny office together. There was no denying I had been exposed.

I was very confused why the hospital would have released her, because typically someone with TB would be quarantined. I got a hold of her doctor who said they needed to do additional testing to find out if the TB was active or latent. And we may not have an answer for a couple weeks. If it was active, then it was contagious. If it was latent, then there was no risk of infecting others.

This happened in the morning of my work day, so I spent the rest of the day maintaining positive self talk and reminding myself that everything will probably be fine.

However, on the way home from work there was a terrible traffic jam and it literally took me two hours to get home. That gave me WAY too much time to think. I tried to turn on a podcast to help distract me, which was fine at first, until they started talking about how someone was dying of a deadly disease!!

At that point, it was too late. I experienced the “attack of the amygdala” and my fight of flight center had been activated. I was filled with fear.

Once I got home, I told my husband about what happened.

We had plans to go out for dinner with his family. He offered to cancel the plans, but I felt it would be best for me to get out.

As we sat at dinner I laughed and participated in the conversation – on the outside I looked like I was doing just fine. My husband’s parents talked about going on trips and fun things happening in the future. But, all I could think was,

They don’t know I’m about to die… They don’t know I’m about to die…

A little dramatic? Yes. But that is the problem with the “fight or flight” chemicals. Even if it didn’t make sense for me to feel that way, the chemicals made me feel that it was true.

However, although I felt all of these feelings very intensely, because of mindfulness, I was able to have an awareness that these thoughts were not true, and that I would likely be feeling a bit better tomorrow.

And I did feel a bit better the next day. And by the afternoon the next day, I was back to normal.

I still had the concern for the two weeks, but I was able to develop a method for myself that helped me out of worst case scenario thinking. The method was thinking about a spectrum of best case scenario and worst case scenario. This made me realize that there were a lot of possible outcomes, before worst case scenario. And honestly, with modern medicine and a good immune system, the worst case scenario of death was actually very unlikely.

For example, these were the “steps” to worst case scenario,

 

Best Case Scenario:

  • The client could have had a false positive, and she doesn’t actually have tuberculosis at all.

In the middle:

  • The client could be positive for tuberculosis, but it could be latent, and not contagious at all.
  • The client could have active tuberculosis,  and it is contagious, but I did not catch it.
  • I do contract tuberculosis and thanks to modern medicine, go on antibiotics for a couple months and am fine.

Worst Case Scenario:

  • Death!!

 

Thinking about it this way, made me realize how many steps there were to worst case scenario and made me realize just how unlikely it was. If you are facing worst case scenario thinking yourself, I definitely recommend this way of thinking, as I found it to be very helpful.

Now, does worst case scenario ever happen? Yes. But not usually. So it makes way more sense to assume that one of the other four options will happen – these are much more likely. I read a statistic recently that said 86% of our worries have positive or neutral outcomes. So we might as well be positive and optimistic.

So how did my story end?

Best case scenario. My client is fine. I am fine. All is well.

 

Compassion & Gratitude vs. Anger & Despair

So, in the above example, I did fall off the surf board for a bit. My fight or flight system was activated and I was full of fear.

But I floated. I didn’t flail. I recognized I fell…and I let myself float for a bit. Until I made it back to shore.

Next, I will discuss the car accident. Which was a wave I was a bit more successful at “surfing.”

So, I was at an intersection, had the “green arrow,” and began taking my turn. When suddenly a lady runs through the intersection, smashes into my passenger side, continues running into me and scrapes down the side of my car, and takes off my bumper and tail light, and continues driving away so I never get her license plate or info.

I pulled into the nearest gas station. I knew I was “entitled” to anger. I had every “right” to be angry. No one would blame me for being angry – whether at her or the situation itself.

But I knew anger wasn’t a helpful emotion. And I knew feeling sorry for myself wouldn’t be helpful either. Neither of these emotions would make me feel good, they would only make me feel worse.

Instead of allowing this situation to be colored with feelings of anger and despair, I decided to allow it to be colored with feelings of compassion and gratitude.

First, I thought about this lady. I was in a low-income area and wondered if this lady was someone living in poverty. I thought about why she fled the scene, and thought that it might be because she didn’t have car insurance, maybe because she couldn’t afford it. A witness told me she appeared to be in her 60s or older and had a disability sticker on her car. I wondered what her disability was and how it impacts her daily living. I wondered if her life was a stressful and difficult life.

People think of compassion being for the other person, but compassion is as much for ourselves as it is for others. I couldn’t be angry when I thought of the situation this way, which helped me remain calm and collected.

My compassion also led me to gratitude. In thinking about how many resources this lady may have not had, led me to think about how many resources I did have.

I have a supportive husband who met me at the scene. I have the financial resources to invest in a new car. I have supportive parents and in-laws that are willing to loan me a car in the meantime. I have a job that is flexible enough that I could have come in late the next day, or taken the day off to sort things out.

Not to mention, I was not injured in this car accident. And, the fact that this was the first car accident I had ever been in, made me think about how I have taken for granted the safety I have been blessed with in my many years of driving.

As strange as it sounds, getting in the car accident made me realize the abundance I truly do have.

Just to be clear, this is NOT how I would have reacted a couple years ago before my mindfulness practices. It is because of a mental shift that has happened over time, but a mental shift I highly recommend, because it will transform your experience of stressful events. I engage in a gratitude practice daily, and because of this practice, even when a very stressful event happened, my mind was trained to look at what I could be grateful for in the circumstance, rather than dwelling on the negative.

 

Life is Messy & Beautiful

I believe that people face feelings of despair, when they try to force life to be something that it’s not.

Life is not perfect.

If perfect is your expectation for your life, you will have a long miserable life.

But if you embrace your life with curiosity and openness, you will find that life becomes a little bit softer.

When life is wonderful, be thankful, enjoy, and savor it.

When life is difficult, ask – how can I still be grateful in this moment? How can I learn from this? How can I grow from this? How can I struggle gracefully and with ease?

Life is beautiful, but also messy.

But then again, aren’t all amazing things that way?

 

Happy Surfing.

 

Yours,

signaturesmaller

 

 

Journal Questions:

  1. How are you interpreting stressful events in your life? How could you interpret them differently that would lead you to less stressful feelings?
  2. What does “learning to surf” mean to you? How could you get better at “surfing?” What are steps you could take?
  3. What is a worst case scenario situation that is on your mind right now in your life? Write out the best case scenario/worst case scenario method. Try to have at least three steps in between best and worst case scenario. Do you find it helpful to think this way? Remind yourself of the steps every time the worst case scenario comes to mind.
  4. Is there a situation in your life right now that you could look at with gratitude and compassion rather than anger and despair? Write out how you could shift your thoughts.
  5. Do you accept that life is beautiful and messy, or are you trying to force life into being perfect? How could accepting life as beautiful and messy shift your perspective?

The Magic of Mindfulness

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I am not one to throw around the word “magic.” But, honestly, sometimes that is what it feels like.

I was someone who thought I had no choice but to succumb to my thoughts and emotions. I tried every little strategy there was. At first, I would start out hopeful, but soon realize I was stuck in the same patterns I was in before. Nothing had changed.

The first time I came across mindfulness – honestly, I was hesitant.

Probably not for me.

Probably wouldn’t work.

But I tried it. And I practiced it.

And I am forever different, because of it.

 

The Road Less Traveled: Taking a New Neural Pathway

In my husband’s PhD program, he did brain research. He researched how the brain worked, the effects of stress on the brain, and studied medical therapies that could help the brain function more optimally.

I’ve always been fascinated about how our minds work, so we had plenty to talk about and I had lots of questions for him.

I remember one thing that really stood out to me. He told me that when we engage in certain patterns of thinking, it creates grooves in our brains. He told me to think about it like walking on a path in the woods. If a path has been walked on many times, the path is more clear. It is worn because of the frequent travel.

If you want to take a new path that you haven’t taken before, it’s going to take a bit more effort. It won’t be quite as easy as your usual route.

However, the more you choose to take this new path, the more distinct it will become. The more you take it, the more clear the path will be and easier to travel. We take paths that are familiar to us and that is why you may be stuck on negative path. But the more familiar you can make that new path, the more automatic it will be for you to take it.

We can literally rewire our brains. I challenge you to take a new neural pathway.

I challenge you to take the road less traveled – it will make all the difference.

 

Your Thoughts Release Chemicals

I was simply blown away when I realized this. And so much more careful about what I thought too.

Before I talk about this, let me first say, I do not have a specific position when it comes to mental health medication. I think it is a decision that needs to be made personally by the individual. I know some people have stories about how helpful medication has been for them, and others prefer non-medication methods. I think it is dependent on the situation and the person and every person and situation is different.

With that being said, I was amazed when I realized that thoughts actually release chemicals the same way a medication might.

If you have a happy thought – dopamine, the pleasure chemical, is released into the brain. If you have a calming thought, serotonin, the calming chemical, is released into the brain.

And on the reverse, if you have a fearful thought or a stressful thought, the cortisol chemical is released into your brain.

Now, this wouldn’t be such an amazing concept, except the fact that we can we actually control what we think. And when we control what we think, we literally are controlling what chemicals are being released into our brain.

With mindfulness, I have been able to take a step back from my thoughts, and feel that I have more choice about what I think.

A negative thought will pop up – and before I make a decision about if I engage with it – I think,

Do I want to release cortisol into my system right now? Do I want to release the fear, panic, or stress chemicals right now?

If the answer is no, I do not engage the thought.

Or on the reverse, if I start to feel bad about something, I will decide to think a positive thought, and I will literally be able to feel a difference. I can notice the feeling of dopamine being released from the positive thought, or the feeling of serotonin being released from the calming thought.

I know this might sound completely crazy – but this is science.

We truly do have this much power over our minds and how we feel.

 

The Attack of the Amygdala

It is important that the thought is not engaged in right away. If you start to engage the thought, it will be MUCH harder to get out of that mental state. Once the chemicals are released, they are in your system, and it will likely be a while until you can calm down or get out of it.

I have heard it called the “attack of the amygdala.” The Amygdala is the fight or flight center of your brain. Once it is alarmed, it is likely going to act as if there is an emergency. That’s it’s job, really. In evolutionary terms, this is a very helpful system. When humans were living in the wilderness, and saw a predator, the fight or flight chemicals were quite helpful. You gain the adrenaline to fight the predator or you go into a state of fear and run for your life.

Again, helpful back then, not so much now. That situation just isn’t quite as common anymore.

So keep in mind when you run into certain thoughts – ask yourself, will releasing these chemicals help me survive a dangerous situation? Or, would a rational mind be more helpful right now?

Usually, it is the latter.

And remember, if you allow your amygdala to be attacked, it will be A LOT harder to come out of it, than if you never allow it to start.

 

Okay, so how do I become mindful?

So, maybe at this point in the article you are reading this and thinking “Wow, you’ve made it sound so easy and so simple, glad it worked out for you. BUT, in my experience, it is NOT so easy and NOT so simple.”

Trust me, I’ve been there. I really, really have.

It is like anything else. The more you practice, the easier it becomes.

Will you try it today and have it suddenly work for you?

Probably not.

Will you diligently practice it daily for 6 months?

You will see change.

To be mindful is to detach from your thoughts a bit. It is to recognize and acknowledge you are having certain thoughts, but also realize you are not your thoughts. It is to create a distance between you (your higher rational self) and your thoughts. It is having a curiosity to your thoughts, but not an emotional reaction. A simple Oh, I notice I am feeling sad right now. Oh, I notice I am feeling worried. Oh, I notice I am feeling embarrassed.

It is to notice, but not to engage. You say it calmly. You say it gently. There is no judgment around having the thought. You are not trying to stop yourself from having the thought altogether, you are just not allowing yourself to engage with it further.

It is a method of having awareness around you thoughts. You are able to recognize that certain thoughts, if taken further, will put you into a negative emotional state. You develop an awareness around what thoughts will be productive for you to think, and what thoughts will not.

You are compassionate toward yourself. You show yourself kindness. And you encourage yourself. Remember, your negative thoughts may still be automatic, just gently counter them with encouragement.

For example, if you think,

I am not doing a good job.

Counter it with,

You are doing the best that you can, and that is enough.

Notice if you feel any change when you think the encouraging thought. The more you say it, the more likely you will believe it.

So, just to re-cap, the important components of mindfulness are:

  • Noticing Thoughts
  • Not engaging the thoughts
  • Being non-judgmental of thoughts
  • Gently countering negative thoughts with encouraging thoughts
  • Being compassionate toward yourself

Remember, the more you practice, the more worn the pathway will become, and the easier it will be. Even if a negative thought is tempting to engage in, keep in mind the chemicals it will release into your body. And if you allow yourself to engage the thought, your fight or flight center may be activated, which will take much time and effort to calm down.

I have mentioned before that listening to podcasts every morning on my drive in to work helped me to get to a more positive mental space, so this is one option to try.

If you are someone that might benefit from one-on-one work and accountability, I invite you to do coaching with me, as I would love to be part of your mindful journey.

Also, there are many, many articles on mindfulness if you would just like to educate yourself more.

You might notice I don’t have anything cited from what I wrote about in this post. The reason for this is because what I wrote about did not come from one specific source – it is a collection of knowledge gained from my experience working in the mental health field, conversations with my husband and his PhD work, and a wide variety of research, articles, and podcasts. If there is any aspect of this post you would like to dig into further, please let me know, and I will see if I can find a specific article/podcast for you!

 

Magic, Miracles, and Science

I titled this post “The Magic of Mindfulness” because mindfulness truly feels magical and miraculous to me. Not even just in my own life, but how I have heard about it affecting others as well. And how far reaching and life altering its effects are.

Mindfulness has been found to be a very effective treatment for:

Anxiety

Depression

Attention Deficit Disorder

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Chronic Pain

And the list goes on..

 

Maybe you are wondering why I would call something that is scientifically proven to be magic or a miracle?

I remember when my husband and I were first dating – what now feels like many years ago. We were talking about C.S. Lewis’ book Miracles.

I came from a traditional Christian perspective. My husband was also a Christian, but a scientist as well.

We were debating miracles. Are they real? Honestly, I was ready to get mad at him because I felt like his science mind was going to try to talk me out of the idea of miracles. I just figured scientists probably didn’t believe in that kind of thing.

But I will never forget what he said:

Science doesn’t push me away from miracles, science makes me believe in them more. Isn’t it a miracle that there are stars in the sky, that we live on a planet that supports life, that something happened – whether the big bang or something else – that we even exist? Isn’t it a miracle that we are here together having this conversation? Isn’t speech a miracle? Aren’t thoughts a miracle? Aren’t scientific discoveries that heal people and save lives, miracles? Science doesn’t make me believe in miracles less, science makes realize that miracles are all around me. Every movement, every breath – all of it – it is a miracle.

And he was right. Magic and miracles are all around us.

 

I hope you too, can experience the magic of mindfulness.

 

Yours,

signaturesmaller

 

 

Journal Questions:

  • Think about what you read about the neural pathway, the thought chemicals, and the attack of the amygdala. How does this affect how you would like to engage with your negative thoughts in the future? Do you trust that practice will make it easier to take a new neural pathway? Do you think you will be more intentional with thoughts realizing thoughts are releasing chemicals into your mind and body? Will you be more careful to calm the thoughts, before going into the flight or fight mentality? What will you do different because you now have these perspectives?
  • What practical steps will you start taking today to become more mindful and gain better control over your thoughts and emotions? What strategies and suggestions in the “how to” section stood out to you?
  • Write down one commitment / action step you know will keep you in line with your goal of becoming more mindful and give you the extra motivation and support you need to follow through on this goal.

 

3 Little Lessons that made me Happier & Healthier

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1. Lowering my Exercise Standards

I’ve always wanted to be someone that exercised regularly – what I didn’t realize was that it was actually my high standards getting in the way of an exercise practice. I knew cardio was the “best” kind of exercise, and I had decided that to be healthy I needed to do 45 minutes of intense cardio every weekday.

And guess what? I did not follow through on that exercise schedule. I had a day when I was really tired and intense cardio for 45 minutes just was too much for me to handle. So I didn’t do anything. I felt bad for skipping my exercise routine. And I dropped off after that. I stopped exercising altogether because I didn’t feel like I was doing a good job in keeping with it.

I used to think high standards would motivate me to do my best. But really, it just caused black and white thinking. Either I was doing things perfectly…or not at all. And since perfect standards were impossible…not at all was more likely to happen.

So what is my exercise standard now?

Exercise almost every day at any intensity for anywhere from a half hour to an hour.

Maybe this seems too relaxed? Too vague? My standards seem too low? Well – I have exercised more this summer than any summer I can think of.

Sometimes on a beautiful day I go on a two hour hike with my husband in the woods.

And some days it’s raining and I feel sick and I am tired and anything seems hard. A two hour hike definitely seems impossible on these days. But then I think, Could I handle a half hour of listening to one podcast on my phone while walking around inside my house? Yeah…that doesn’t seem so bad.

And as long as I do some form of exercise, I feel good about it, which causes me to stick with the routine. Sometimes the guilt of not doing something perfectly will cause us to quit that thing altogether. I have found it to be important to have realistic standards, and ones you know you can actually follow through with.

This summer I have reached my goal of exercising almost every day at any intensity from a half hour to an hour. Lowering my standards has helped me exercise MUCH more and as a result has helped me become healthier and happier.

In Gretchen Rubin’s book Better than Before, she talks about the importance of doing what works for you. This is what has worked for me for my own exercise habit. If there are habits you are interested in developing in your life, I definitely recommend her book!

 

2. Giving up Planning

When I say “give up planning,” of course, I don’t mean all planning, but as a chronic over-planner, I needed to learn how to allow for spontaneity.

I also thought that planning everything out, would improve experiences, but it often did the opposite. I would make a plan for a Friday evening to do a hike and picnic. I would then come home to a storm and colder temperatures. But my planning mind would hold on to the plan, No we must still follow the plan! Even if the plan didn’t make sense anymore.

Or, I would let go of the plan, but it would be really hard to do so. There would be a strong sense of disappointment that the plan wasn’t happening like I expected.

I think planning can be helpful, but I try to make my plans a little less rigid now, a little more loose and able to be changed. Sometimes I think of them as “maybe plans.” My mind naturally likes to plan things. But now I will think things like, IF the weather is nice, MAYBE we will go for a hike and picnic.

If I come home to a storm, This seems like a really nice night to stay in and read. MAYBE we’ll do a picnic and hike tomorrow.

There has to be room for changes and the unexpected. Not only because these two things are inevitable, but sometimes we miss opportunities because we are so focused on following the plan.

This applies not just to day to day planning, but life planning too.

If we plan out our life so perfectly, we might miss a beautiful opportunity that is outside of our expected plan.

Or, your dream job/spouse/life may actually look a little different than what you expected – you don’t want miss out on an amazing opportunity because of rigid and overly specific planning.

So just to be clear, I still do plan. But I have been so much happier since allowing spontaneity and unexpected changes – it is a much more enjoyable way to live!

 

3. Realizing Fun is a Responsibility

It feels a little funny writing that heading. Probably because it is so different than I used to think.

I’ve always been a pretty responsible person. When I was in school – making sure my school work was done on time. At work – making sure my paperwork is done before deadlines. At home – making sure chores were done before play.

However, I am also a person that has struggled extensively with having low moods in the past. It was only within the past couple years that I realized having fun was a responsibility I needed to have for myself.

It’s easy to write off fun. Many people would not feel comfortable saying that they make fun a priority. In fact, a few years ago, I would probably have judged someone for saying something like that.

But, fun is a priority and responsibility for me now. I am being irresponsible if I am not allowing fun into my life. Because I can be susceptible to low moods and because I can get into overly-responsible mode, it is important for me to make time for fun, as a way of taking care of myself.

How much fun? I make sure I have fun at least once a day, because it is that important. Fun for me could be hiking, going out to eat, or just spending time with my husband. Every person has their own definition of fun – just make sure it is a priority in your life – it truly is important and fundamental for your self-care.

 

These are just a few little lessons that have helped me be a little happier & a little healthier. I hope they inspire a little bit of happy & healthy in your life too!

Wishing you the loveliest of days.

Yours,

signaturesmaller

 

Journal Questions:

  1. In what ways would you like to be happier & healthier? How could you work on developing habits that would help you toward health & happiness?
  2. What is your current relationship with exercise? How would you like it to be different? What is an exercise strategy that might work better than the one you are currently using?
  3. Are there ways in which your planning is not serving you? Do you have difficulty if plans change or things don’t happen as expected? How could you change your relationship with planning? Are you willing to allow for more spontaneity?
  4. Do you make a fun a priority? Would you be willing to shift your perspective into thinking that fun is a responsibility you should have for yourself? How would you make your days different if you embraced this way of thinking more?

The Overthinking Mind: Navigating Decisions, Uncertainty, and Intuition

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The overthinking mind hates uncertainty. This is much of the reason that it overthinks. The mind won’t let go until the perfect solution exists and all the mental calculations add up. Often, the overthinking mind will find itself in an endless loop of thoughts and ideas.

Should you make a move or should you not? Are you in the right job? Are you on the right path? There are so many questions to be answered.

The overthinking mind has an amazing ability to see things from every perspective. And let me be clear, this ability truly has incredible benefits. It is one of your greatest gifts.

However, seeing something from every possible perspective, also makes it incredibly hard to make decisions.

Again, your mind has amazing abilities. But, unfortunately, our minds did not come with training manuals. And, if your mind works a little differently than those around you, you might have made the mistake of using other people’s systems, rather than a system that most suits your thinking style.

I want to offer intuition as a strategy for decision making and a way to feel confident within uncertainty.

Maybe you already use intuition and this is simply a confirmation for you? Great!

Or maybe you reject the idea of intuition? You like rationality and logic. Trust me, I’ve been there. If you are in this second category, I invite you to just hear a bit about my journey with intuition, and open yourself to the idea, just a little.

 

Intuition: Not rational?

It is my opinion, that for the anxious and uncertain heart, intuition is the doorway to calm and comfort.

When “following my intuition” was first suggested to me, it was in a counselor’s office. I was telling her about all the little decisions of life I just couldn’t make, and how they were causing me so much stress.

She asked me how I typically made decisions.

My answer?

Logic. Pros and Cons lists. Intense and thorough evaluation.

Now, if you do not have an overthinking mind, this is a fine way to make decisions. In fact, I work with clients at my job who struggle with impulsivity – we are constantly talking about carefully weighing out the pros and cons.

BUT, if you are an overthinker, pros and cons lists are probably not going to work for you. You can always think of one more pro, and one more con.

I know, the pro and con list is like the #1 way we have been taught to make good decisions. And if it is working for you, keep with it! But, if you are still struggling to make decisions and are overwhelmed with uncertainty, maybe consider another way?

So anyway, I told the counselor I only made decisions with carefully calculated thinking.

She then asked,

Do you ever just use intuition?

I answered back,

No. Never. Intuition is based on feelings and I don’t believe rational answers come from it.

She scribbled in her notebook for a moment. And then nodded, and said “Okay.” And we didn’t talk about intuition again.

 

Intuition: Worth a try?

I didn’t see the counselor for a while after that. Not because I didn’t like her. I just wasn’t sure she could help me. I didn’t spend any time even considering the idea of intuition after the session.

A few weeks later I met my husband after work to decide if we were going out for dinner or heading home. Either way, I was really looking forward to spending time together – just the two of us. It had been a long week. We met up near my work and he immediately informed me he got a text from some of our friends.

They want to hang out tonight! What do you think?

This was absolutely the last thing I wanted to do. I was so tired. So drained.

And then my overthinking kicked in,

But should we? We haven’t seen them in awhile? Maybe it would be a lot of fun? What if we regret not going? But I really don’t want to! But it’s good to push yourself sometimes! Remember that one time you pushed yourself to do that one thing and you were so glad you did? Maybe it’s like that? But how do you know when to push yourself and when not to? There needs to be some kind of rule for this…should it be “always push yourself” or “always do what you want.” Neither of those rules seem good…

And on and on it went.

Suddenly my husband came back into focus and his expression was half “What’s going on right now?” and half “I’m used to this.”

The counselor’s voice popped into my head:  Do you ever just use intuition?

Well, I thought, Now is as good of a time as any.

And as soon as I had decided I was “allowed” to use intuition, I knew exactly what to do.

Do you care either way what we do? I asked my husband.

Doesn’t matter to me! Just as long as I’m with you! He replied.

Okay, let’s go home!

And home we went. And it was a lovely little evening.

And since this day, I have used intuition in my day to day decision making – and am ever grateful. I had not realized how intensely the overthinking weighed me down. It was only once it was lifted, that I experienced a “lightness” that I simply hadn’t felt before.

 

Intuition: Was it right?

I think one of the biggest questions that comes up with intuition is: how do you know it is right?

This is a difficult question. I think intuition is the “most right” decision you are able to make based on everything you know in the present time. Intuition is a quick thinking process that takes all your beliefs/values/desires/past experience/logic – and comes up with the “best” answer based on this.

Some people (including myself in the past) are leery of intuition – because it feels impulsive or feels like it could be emotional based. I would not recommend intuition with the clients I mentioned who struggle with impulsivity. We all need to learn different things. But for the overthinking mind, you are probably FAR from impulsive.

I also worried if I used intuition I would just follow my desires, rather than the actual best choice. But this wasn’t the case. My intuition seemed to know when it was okay to say “no” and rest and when I needed to do the hard work and push myself.

Intuition in small decisions does not necessarily mean everything works out perfectly. My husband and I could have gone home and had a not so great evening that day. Intuition in these small decisions does not necessarily know future outcomes – but it is likely the closest thing to a “right” decision there is.

 

Intuition: Can you trust it for big decisions?

I know that it is scarier to use intuition for big decisions. Small decisions might seem more inconsequential, but big decisions may change your life quite a bit. My argument? All the more reason to trust intuition.

As an overthinker myself, sometimes I want to go with the most logical choice, because it seems the safest. It may be safe…but it may also leave you unfulfilled in your life. I am not arguing for an illogical decision. But intuition can do a good job of taking into account both your need for fulfillment and your need for stability.

With big decisions, sometimes intuition will say YES, this is FOR SURE! and sometimes it will say I’m not sure yet…let’s do baby steps for right now.

When I was in my senior year of high school I remember looking at colleges and each one not seeming quite right. Logically, they seemed like they could be an okay choice – but something told me to keep looking. When I did find my college I ended up attending, it was clear that this was the right choice and there was no doubt in my mind.

However, when I first met my husband, I thought,

He’s really nice. I really enjoy talking to him. Is he the one? I’m not sure yet.

It wasn’t clear. My intuition told me to take baby steps. We were friends for a very long time before we started dating. We dated for a very long time before we got married. Each step felt right, but intuition did not clarify everything from the very beginning for me – it just led me to baby steps.

 

The Role of Action when You are Unsure

I think one of the hardest things about being unsure about something is debating about action versus inaction. If you are stuck in your life in some way you might be thinking, I just need to push myself and make some huge drastic change!

If it feels right with your intuition to make a change like that, then go for it. But maybe you haven’t made a change, because it didn’t quite feel right to do so yet. I don’t think we need to force ourselves to take huge action, if it doesn’t feel right to us. Stay where you are at the moment, and take the baby steps of action as your intuition clarifies your path, slowly but surely.

 

How to Hear from Your Intuition

When it comes to the bigger decisions, the way I have learned to understand intuition, is that it is often the quiet calm voice, rather than the loud voice of anxiety or fear.

Sometimes if I am feeling confused about a decision or a situation that I am in, I will “dialogue with my intuition.” I know it sounds a little strange, but it has helped me find clarity and comfort.

I will open up my laptop and open a blank word document. I type out the question that is concerning me.

For example, I might type:

What should I do about the situation with my job?

First, anxiety will likely start talking and working itself up. Let this pass. Wait for the quiet calm voice. It may not give details, but it will give assurance. When I “hear” the answer I will type it out. It might look something like this,

You should be grateful for the present now, but also be assured that the pieces are coming together for the future. You should be active and also patient. These may seem like small steps you are taking, but rest assured, you are being led somewhere.

Of course, in my ideal world, I would receive specific details and I would suddenly know the future of my entire life. But, this isn’t how it always works. Sometimes intuition will give you the green light to go, and sometimes you will be in a phase of active patience. Throughout the week when I begin to feel uncertain, I remind myself of what I heard from my intuition, and remain confident in my path.

 

A Few Last Thoughts

Some people think intuition is the holy spirit or a spiritual force leading us.

Other people believe it is our inner guidance or our wisdom.

Some people think these are all the same thing.

Regardless of what you think, if you can believe that intuition is worth trusting, my hope is that it will help you make decisions without the clutter of overthinking. Help you feel confident in your choices without second guessing. Feel assured if you need to make a leap of faith (or a baby step of faith). And be able to fully trust that a path is slowly but surely being revealed to you, even if you can’t quite see the whole picture yet.

I am not arguing that following your intuition will be easy right away. You might need to take some time learning to hear it and learning to trust it.

 

Our intuition is like a muscle, we must practice listening to it and trusting its wisdom. When you take the time to ask and keep listening for the answer, being at peace becomes easy. -Lisa Prosen

 

Will you give it a try?

 

Yours,

signaturesmaller

 

Journal Questions:

  1. Why do you get stuck in the overthinking loop? What do you think causes it? How do you get out of it?
  2. What is your current relationship with intuition? Do you trust it? Why or why not?
  3. What is a small decision in your life that you need to make right now that you are overthinking? If you stopped weighing pros and cons and went with intuition – what would your answer be?
  4. What is a bigger decision or situation in your life that you are unsure about? Take some time to listen for the calm quiet voice. Do you need to make a major change right now? Or is it a time of active patience and baby steps?
  5. How could you work on “building the muscle” of using intuition and be more comfortable with it?

 

*For more ideas on following intuition check out podcast episode and intuition mini course by Jess Lively.

Worry & Doubt: When Your Goals Aren’t Happening Quick Enough

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This article is for anyone who is on a mission for self-change and/or life change. You have some definite goals and you are ready to see action. You are ready to see your mental health improve. You are ready for your life to look different and be more fulfilling. Maybe there are moments when you feel like you are making progress…but there are other moments when you feel like you should be much further along by now. Even though you have acknowledged some progress previously, in these moments, you start to question if you have made any progress at all.

If this sounds at all familiar..I have some suggestions to keep in mind in these moments..

 

Positive Self Talk

First, and foremost, is positive self talk.

These are the moments that are going to be really tempting to put yourself down.

Some negative things that might be tempting to say in this moment, are:

 

You are never going to get better.

You are silly for thinking things could ever change.

You will always struggle with the same things forever.

You might as well give up.

 

Do these sound familiar at all? If so, it is time to change these thoughts…and quick!!

Again, I know it is tempting to think the negative thoughts. And they may actually be automatic thoughts at this point. You may not purposely try to think these thoughts – they just pop into your mind in a way that feels out of your control.

Good news: You have control over your thoughts.

Now, if you haven’t had much practice in this area it will take some time before these thoughts stop being automatic. What I suggest is that you simply “hear” the thought and then shift to a different thought that is more encouraging or gives evidence for why your negative thought isn’t true, like giving yourself an example of a time you did succeed at something.

I have spent time practicing having “better thoughts.” With practice, the negative thoughts are not so automatic for me anymore. It feels like I have a moment to choose. Sometimes I imagine that I am at the kitchen cupboard and there is one shelf with a box of cookies and another shelf with a healthy snack. Maybe it feels tempting still to take the cookies, but I now feel like I have a choice with which one I will choose.

Sometimes, when I am feeling my worst, and don’t have time to fully analyze what is going on because I am at work or somewhere else- I just tell myself some simple positive statements:

 

You are doing a good job.

Things will get better.

You are doing your best and that is enough.

 

Maybe it’s hard to say those things to yourself because you don’t yet believe them? Say them more and you will believe them more.

If a child grows up with a verbally abusive parent, they will have a hard time believing anything positive about themselves, even if they eventually get out of the situation. But, if they hear that they are worth something and valuable over and over and over again…it will start to sink in. They will internalize it.

As strange as it sounds, you are a parent to yourself. Don’t be a verbally abusive parent – be a parent that is an encourager that shows love.

Build yourself up rather than tearing yourself down.

Also, just so you know, optimism and positive thoughts are more likely to breed the outcome that you want. When you put yourself down, not only do you make yourself feel bad, but you also make yourself less likely of actually reaching your goals. It is a form of self-sabotage.

 

Live Now, Worry Later

I know this sounds like really bad advice – but if you are a worrier and find yourself constantly obsessing about your problems – it is actually just the advice you need.

Sometimes we sabotage the moments we are in because we are filling them with obsessive thoughts, rumination, and worry. The actual moment you are in, may not be be a bad moment, but you are allowing your obsessive thoughts to take over.

I know the feeling. But if I’m not going to worry about it now, when am I going to worry about it?? I can’t just let it go…

Set aside a “worry time.” Really. I’m not joking.

Maybe it’s Saturday mornings? Find some space in your schedule when you have time to worry.

And whenever you find yourself worrying – just remind yourself that now is not the time, and commit to worry about it at your designated time. If you are afraid that you will forget what you were worrying about, write a quick note to yourself that you can access later at worry time.

And when worry time comes, let yourself worry. Put a time frame on it though. And once you are done worrying, commit that you are not allowed to worry again until next Saturday morning (or whatever day/time you picked).

Believe it or not, this actually works, as long as you don’t allow yourself to worry outside of designated times. It works, because, in those moments the thoughts feel really pressing and urgent. It doesn’t feel right just to let them go. But, if you know that they will be addressed later, you can relax a little, and let them go knowing you will address them at the set time. It allows your mind to be free of worry when you need to be concentrating on other things.

Also, what I have noticed in my “worry time,” is that this worry time is much more productive. Usually, worry is not a productive activity. You know the old saying “Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.”

In your “worry time” you have permission to simply take up time and worry. But, for me, I have made it a habit to take at least one action step during my worry time. Something that feels like I am addressing the worry and taking an action step toward the solution. Not only is this helping toward a solution, but it actually reduces my worry significantly. The worry feels addressed, and I can move on.

Now, of course, a new worry pops up next week. But I kindly inform the worry: “Not right now, we are scheduled for Saturday.” I free my mind for the rest of the week, and then on Saturday I take an action step during worry time.

When worry pops up while we are driving, at work, or in the middle of something else – it may seem really important that you think about it in that moment, BUT it is really unproductive too. There is actually nothing you can do about the worry in that moment. Save your worries for a time you can actually address them and take action.

 

Help Your (future) Past Self

Your future past self is…your current self. But your current self, will one day be your past self.

What am I talking about?

Can you think of a time in your life that you were in a similar situation as you are now? A situation where you weren’t sure how it was going to work out, but it did end up working out positively? A goal you were working toward that you actually reached? Something you thought you would struggle with forever that you actually overcame? Something you were worrying about that you actually didn’t need to be worrying about at all, and wish if only that past version of yourself could have known that it was all going to work out?

What advice would you have given your past self? How would you have encouraged her? What do you wish she would have known in those moments?

I’ll give you an example from my own life, so you have an idea what I am talking about.

After college, in the fall,  I moved out of state to attend another school. I thought it was the right move for me at the time. Even though I liked the school, I became depressed while I was there. My boyfriend (who I thought was going to be my future husband) had just broken up with me. I was living away from my family and missed them. I felt lonely and had at least expected that my boyfriend would be visiting me to keep me company. I questioned why I was there and the degree I was getting, but felt too indecisive and embarrassed to leave. On top of that, I was not making enough money to pay my rent and buy groceries. I felt hopeless and believed I would be sad and lonely forever.

Flash forward to my life right now. I found my husband and we are very happily married.I now live near my family and see them very regularly. I left the school and have found fulfilling pursuits. I have a stable income and don’t worry about groceries or rent. I am not sad and I am not lonely.

Now, of course, my life is not perfect. But my point is, all the fears I had during that time did not actually come true. I would have saved myself a lot of despair if I could have just believed that things would get better, even if I did not yet know how.

So what advice would give my past self?

I would tell her:

I know this is hard, but things will get better. I know, because I have seen it. You will have such joy in the future. Dreams will be fulfilled. Things you imagined struggling with forever, you will no longer struggle with. Hold on to hope, because there is so much for you to hope for!

This letter would not have fixed everything, as it still may have been a difficult time for me. But what made it the hardest, was the lack of hope. The belief that things would not get better. It is much easier to move through difficulty if you truly believe things will get better. But because I lacked hope, I was stuck in a whirlwind of despair.

So, now, I encourage you to do this for yourself. Think about that time in your life. And write yourself a letter or a little note. Or if you don’t have time to write it at this moment, just think about what you would say.

Now read that advice for yourself now – in your current circumstance.

Because, one day, there will be a future self looking at you now, thinking: Oh, if only she could have known just how amazing things would be…

 

Active Patience

I have mentioned the idea of active patience before, because I believe it to be so important.

I know that I have been caught in the mind trap plenty of times of black and white thinking.

All or nothing.

Either I am changing everything right now or I am doing nothing about it at all.

Or, have you ever known anyone on either of these extremes before?

There are the people who use force. And there are the people that are passive.

Neither of these methods really work.

The people who use force try to exert their control over everything. But as much as maybe we would like to, we cannot control everything and everyone. You can’t force a flower to grow. It grows on its own time. You can tend it, care for it, and water it. But you must give it time.

On the flip side, the people who are passive simply hope everything will just happen naturally. Which is great, except that doesn’t always happen either. You must plant the seed, for it to grow. You must water the seed, for it to grow. You must weed, trim, and prune. It requires action.

Have patience that something beautiful is growing in your life right now. But also plant the seed and show up every morning to water it.

 

May the Force be with You

One day I was driving home from work. I was feeling particularly down that day – I had given into the thoughts that things were bad and not getting better. I was trying to exert force and problem solving on my drive home and it definitely wasn’t my worry time. How will I figure this all out? How will I make all the changes? How will I overcome all my challenges?

Just as I was thinking these things I looked up and saw a Star Wars bumper sticker:

May the Force be with You.

And all of the sudden, I felt okay. I breathed a deep sigh of relief, and realized I didn’t have to figure all this out on my own.

Okay – so I know you might be wondering how in the world a Star Wars quote made me feel encouraged. I know it sounds so silly, and I’ve never even seen Star Wars (I know, I’m weird), but a few months ago my pastor had done a sermon about Star Wars and the Force being the Holy Spirit.

But, regardless if you are Christian or not, the idea is that there is a Force that guides us.

There is something beyond us. There is a source where we can draw wisdom and peace and hope and guidance.

You don’t have to do this alone. In fact, you are not doing this alone. There is something else at play here.

And, it is not your job to figure everything out.

In that moment, I realized I could take a break from my consuming thoughts and simply trust.

Again, I still argue for active patience. Do your part. But once you have done your part, relax. You don’t have to “force” anything…because there is a different kind of Force already guiding you.

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You will be given a Counselor.

  This Counselor will guide you to truth,

and give you peace.

Will you have trouble in this world? Yes.

But the Counselor will always be with you.

Take heart,

for Good has already overcome.

(John 16, paraphrased)

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Journal Questions:

  1. How will you switch to more positive self talk? What do you currently tell yourself in times of frustration, worry, or doubt? What are some phrases you would consider telling yourself instead?
  2. Are you willing to embrace the worry later technique? When could you commit to worry so that it does not consume your life? What action steps could you take during your worry time?
  3. Can you think of a time in the past when you thought something wouldn’t work out and it did? What advice would give your past self? Are you willing to take this same advice for yourself now? What would be different if you actually took this advice?
  4. How could you implement active patience into your own life? Do you tend to be passive or do you tend to try and force things? Or bounce back and forth from each extreme? What could you do differently?
  5. Are you willing to believe that there is a Force, beyond yourself, guiding you? What would it look like for you to trust in this Force more?

 

You will do amazing things. I hope you believe this too.

Yours,

signaturesmaller