Sunday, July 29, 2007

Quick Fixes

Don't you love the idea of a quick fix? What could be better?

You're tired: This amazing blend of nutrients takes two minutes to gulp down and you're energized.

You stressed, traumatized, anxious: This fantastic creme will restore just the right sense of balance and calm and takes less than two minutes to apply.

You don't have enough endurance: This energy drink will get you through whatever you need to get through, even when dieting.

You can't sleep: This little pill will help you get to sleep and stay asleep all nigh giving you the restorative rest you need.

I could go on to include products to eliminate toxins from you body, increase your youthfulness and make you feel whole.

Reading through one of the magazines in which I often find useful articles, I was astounded by the number of these ads. I guess you can tell where I'm going with this.

Naturally, I cannot argue with the benefits of energy, calm, endurance and sleep. Toxins I'm not quite sure about, and I'd like to see the product that can make us more youthful or whole. Yes, some medications are helpful for insomnia taken for short periods of time under the proper supervision.

But honestly, can we get real with all this? It takes effort to change any lifestyle that results in fatigue, anxiety, lack of energy and insomnia. And that's what's needed. A lifestyle overhaul. A change in direction and focus. A study of how to achieve a health lifestyle for yourself. It will be different for everyone, but it will always include a two pronged attack. The physical aspects of well-being and the psychological aspects must be included in your new life plan.

This probably won't be a quick fix, but it will be a lasting fix.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Change (or, how to stop smoking)

I think a lot about change. How does it happen? What makes it happen for some and not others? Why does tragedy become the watershed event leading to greater happiness and fulfillment in the lives of some, and a dead end for others?

The other day my son asked me how I stopped smoking. I just stopped. I'd struggled for years, had stopped for two whole years before, and had greatly decreased my dependence. I didn't want him to see me smoking and I knew he was getting to an age where I would soon be unable to hide it. I decided that when he "graduated" from kindergarten, I'd stop. And I did.

I suggest to people that they pick certain times, places or situations in which they smoke, and just stop in those certain times, places, etc. Often I get "oh I can't do that." Why not? That's the thing, isn't it, sometimes you just have to suck it up and get with the program.

I love to see people make these choices and make change happen in their lives. Nobody said it would be easy. Or fun. Or painless. It sucks to have nicotine withdrawal. But the alternatives are bleak: stagnation, dissatisfaction, stinky clothes, cancer. These are not fun either. It's so difficult to choose the unknown, even when the known isn't all that great. It's also liberating and exhilarating at times. Go for it. PS You find you have a tremendous amount of extra time when you quit smoking.

Monday, July 23, 2007

To Balance or Not to Balance

We all strive for life balance. I offer help to achieve life balance. People come saying they want more life balance. So what's the problem, right?

Secretly, I wonder if it is always the best course. The issue is simple: if high achievers who make major contributions to the universe tend to be highly focused in one area of excellence, what sense does it make to try to get them, or others, more balanced?

Take your most brilliant professor, coach, team leader, etc. Were they well-rounded individuals who spent time in their busy weeks on physical activities, personal development, relationship nurturing, fun activities, family activities, socially conscious contributions AND work? Or did they spend a lot of time on work and some small amount of time on the rest?

As usual, I conclude that what might work for me might not work for you, and vice versa. One tip I've found useful is the idea that we must focus mindfully on what we're doing at any given time. If you're spending family time, spend the time with family. Don't spent the family time on your cell phone or lap top multi-tasking.

And I don't mean a rigid adherence to these separations, necessarily. But in general, be where you are, not one foot in and one foot out. It's always interesting to me when a friend has to take a cell call during my lunch with them. I find that most "emergencies" can wait an hour until I finish what I'm doing.

Give it a try. Be in the moment. Put 100% on what you're doing or who you're with. Then, when it's time to shift, put 100 into the next endeavor. You might find that each experience is enhanced the more attention you can shine on it. So I say, to balance by being in each moment is the way to go.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

What Strengths?

It's a tough one for most people. What are you good at? What do you love? What are you good at that you love? Herein lie your strengths.

In "Now, Discover your Strengths," Buckingham and Clifton say the following: "Our talents come so easily to us that we acquire a false sense of security...Doesn't everyone want to avoid conflict...Can't everyone see the obstacles lying in wait..."

No, not everyone wants to avoid conflict. No, everyone cannot see the obstacles lying in wait.

My son says stuff like this all the time. How was the test, I ask? I did really was easy. I ask, did everyone do really well? No, he says. Well, then it couldn't have been that easy, could it?
I explain, it was easy because you knew it by way of your natural abilities, understood it through your history of hard work on the subject, or studied and learned it by putting in a lot of sweat and perseverance.

This propensity of many of us to explain away our successes--it was easy, they were just being nice to me--takes away our power. But a's a whole different story. Then we're stupid, will never get it or can never do it. It's a lose-lose analysis.

It's not conceited or narcissistic to acknowledge our strengths and consciously try to use those strengths. It's undermining and self-sabotaging when we minimize our abilities and fail to capitalize on our strengths.

Just try it. Relish your success. Savor it like a great piece of chocolate (okay, or a fine wine or cigar). Milk it for all it's worth.

Yeah, we fail too. Analyze it, learn from it and move on. Take divorce, one of the great equalizers and most humbling of experiences. Speaking as an expert in this matter, I know more women (moi included), who have taken the divorce experience and moved their lives forward in remarkable ways. The ability to bounce back is a personal strength. If you've got it, bravo. If not, figure out what you can use to move yourself ahead. It's worth the trip.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Disaster Junkie

My colleague is a disaster junkie. The sweet, baby-faced cherub of a social worker loves getting down and dirty helping people recover from life's worst nightmares: hurricanes, tornadoes, plane crashes. Why does the family-first mother of 2 who cooks Thanksgiving dinner for 40, makes fruitcake for all her colleagues and loves red hat luncheons with the girls, don her hiking boots, slicker and ball cap to spend 2 weeks a year without electricity and clean running water?

Having observed Eva (name changed to protect the innocent) for 10 years, I'd have to say it's her personal strengths that bring her to disaster sites, family trips and her career as a social worker.

She's first and foremost a people-person. Eva loves her alone time for reading and other solitary endeavors, but her main passion is people. She loves one and all. You don't hear Eva say a bad word about anyone but she isn't a Pollyanna. She loves adventure and novelty, but isn't a thrill seeker. Her passion for the new is modulated by a powerful sense of what's important in life. She loves learning--her reading and travel to new places feed the passion to find out more about people and places.

How can you pour your passion into your career, leisure time activities and life? Take the VIA strengths survey at It's cool and fun.

I took a class in positive psychology and read, read, read. I worked up a presentation to give to local school counselors. Have I mentioned I'm a bit of a ham? Voila, I'm enjoying it all because it capitalizes on things I love to do: learn, share, perform. OK, maybe I don't love to perform, but I can get a real buzz off it.

Think about this: How can I use my top strengths in new ways? Run with it. Try something new.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Be the Relationship

I've often tried to think of a useful way to frame this concept for clients and other consumers of psychotherapy: it's not something that I do "to you," it's a relationship. In that relationship you can change and grow, or you can remain the same, untouched, immobile.

It's like any relationship. Do you consider the ideas of others? Can you try them on for size and see how they fit? Have you opened your mind to something different that isn't exactly what you expected?

A client I hadn't seen in four years called. I remembered her easily--she was so difficult to work with. She arrived with a long track record of failed therapies: psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors. All had tried to help her and failed miserably. For some she had angry words, for others, merely indifference.

I thought my attempts to engage her as a unique human being failed miserably when she cancelled our 8th appointment and never returned.

Four years later, out of the blue, she appeared. I was the only one whose opinion she respected, she told me. What should she do? She was still having the same problems. Therapy and medications had failed. I asked about self-help books and the internet. All useless. I patiently explained that these were all the options I knew. She had called me, so perhaps psychotherapy was worth a try now. Sometimes we're able to use things at one point in our lives from which we could not benefit earlier.

I don't know the ending to the story, but it reminded me again how important it is to be present in your therapy, coaching, in your life. Don't just go through the motions; be there. All of you--heart and mind have to be present for change and growth to occur.