Monday, April 30, 2007

If it is to be, it is up to me.


And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
-Anais Nin

When we consider how we might have developed our styles of living, we have to wonder how much we do is related to habit, and how much is due to conscious thought and decision-making.

Living an Insightful Life is easy to avoid. We can use any number of strategies to distract ourselves from a painful reality. Excuses can be built into our feelings about ourselves, our actions, the people around us, and our environments.

These excuses that we say to ourselves, help us cope, at least up to a point. If we use them too often or too long, they sometimes lose their effectiveness. This can leave us feeling vulnerable, angry, or just unhappy.

How does hopeful change happen? We simply have to recognize that we are dissatisfied with things as they are. We can then evaluate the situation to determine if they are important enough for us to devote the time and energy to improving.

If we choose to do something, then we must decide how to go forward. Talking with someone you trust is one of the best ways of sorting your feelings out. Friends, family, or anyone who understands your concerns and will be non-judgemental, can be helpful to you.

Many times the people around us (work, family, friends) have unrealistic expectations for us. They might not like the idea of our changing. It can be seen (and felt) as destabilizing. If this is your situation, use the professional help that is available to you.

Make a small commitment to yourself to do something you have wanted to do. Don't make a big change right off but do something meaningful to you.

You can start by setting aside some time in your daily routine to think about the questions you have in mind. If you only have 10 minutes for it, that's fine. For that 10 minutes really focus on the questions.

This small and simple act represents a change of direction in your life as well as a recognition that you are in charge of your happiness. You will have made yourself a priority.

Take the time to consider what you want and if you are on your way to getting it. No one else can do it for you.

Live Well.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Your Good Relationship- part 2

Dwell as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Good relationships are made up of many elements. In our series on maintaining wellness in our relationships, we identify those small parts that add up to the satisfying whole. The series is based on the 20 Basic Rules for a Happy Marriage but they apply to most of our intimate relationships as well.

People often describe having fallen into a rut with their partners. There is a feeling of dull sameness to the relationship and maybe even a lack of interest in one another.

We all like satisfying patterns in our lives, but we have to decide if we have drifted into a limiting rut or simply developed a comfortable rhythm.

The key is to keep the relationship dynamic. We are not necessarily referring to wild excitement here. But, we have to balance our need for relaxing time together (and apart) with our need to keep life interesting for ourselves as a couple.

A dynamic relationship has something interesting going on that stimulates the couple, enriching their lives together. The activity provides an opportunity to build a shared sense of satisfaction, support and accomplishment. And just as important, it can promote having fun together.

Try to always have a project going as a couple. Collecting, gardening, regular exercise, weight loss program, dancing, making new friends, etc.

Avoid making an unhealthy activity "our time" together. Going to bars, watching TV, or any activity that doesn't fit your idea of healthy, is unlikely to have a positive effect on your relationship.

Make it a fun thing just to be looking for new activities. You don't have to do them all but the process of searching can be fun in itself.

Plan a vacation that you both would enjoy and go.

Include your kids as much as you can but set aside some time that focuses on your partner exclusively as well.

Make it a regular weekly event like an end-of-the-week massage night, movie night, dinner outing, or local trip to a favorite location.

Developing interests together as a couple can be fun in itself. If it turns to drudgery to search out new activities, take a week off and start again, maybe on a smaller, less regimented scale. Maintaining your good relationships is worth the effort.

Live Well.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Keeping Secrets?

Many of us were raised to keep secrets. They have often served to keep us safe in some way. Over time they can become a growing burden.

What is the big deal about secrets? We all have them, right?

If we were afraid of the alcoholic, or drug addict, violent or hyper-critical person, in our home we developed survival strategies to cope. Our painful feelings of fear, shame, or low self-worth, can contribute to our developing and maintaining protective secrets.

The secrets that can be damaging are those that we keep because they say something about ourselves that we don't like. We believe that others would not like us if they knew about them. At some point they can even prevent us from moving ahead with our lives.

Only you can know if you have damaging secrets. They can sap your energy, discourage or immobilize you, and keep you stuck in destructive patterns.

Notice when you have strong reactions to something or someone. Anger, frustration, irritability, substance abuse, overindulgence, and even relationship conflicts can all have roots in a damaging secret.

Make a decision to do something about it. Talk to others you trust about how you feel. Make the changes you need to have a better quality of life without the burden of secrets.

Live Well.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Overindulgence- Dieting and more

A goal without a plan is just a wish.
-Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Dieting can be seen as an effort to reset the body's balance to a healthier weight. Yet the effort to establish a new weight can make us feel off-balance or even deprived.

Our current methods of maintaining ourselves have worked, at least to some degree. Changing those methods is inherently stressful. If we don't find ways to deal with that stress, our frustration will continue to build.

If we let our frustration continue to build, we make ourselves susceptible to an impulsive decision that takes us off our planned course. Depending on the scale and duration of it, you can call this an overindulgence, a binge, a relapse or just a poor decision.

Make a list of all the reasons why you want to lose weight. List the ways you can deal with uncomfortable feelings; call a friend, take a walk, etc. List the resources you have to help you (including Insight Associates). Look at these frequently, and use them, to help you avoid feeling deprived of what you want in terms of food.

Plan to reward yourself when you achieve important milestones; this can help limit your feeling deprived.

If an incident happens, stop as soon as you are aware of what you are doing.

Talk to someone who can support you as you get back on track.

Don't beat yourself up with guilt.

Return to your plan immediately.

Start to deal with your underlying frustration next.

Look out for food substitutes like overspending, alcohol or drug use, gambling, etc.

Make a plan to help you work out the situations that caused the frustration.

Ask for the help you need.

Recognizing this simple process can help you cope with overindulgence incidents quickly and effectively. Talk with friends and participate in local programs that will help you to be successful.

Live Well.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Your Good Relationship-Part 1

A good marriage is like a handshake...there is no upper hand.
-Unknown

People often ask about what they can do to maintain a good relationship with their partner. We'll identify some of these here and in future postings as well. They are not necessarily in order but this one is fundamental.

First, do no harm. Agree to never hurt one another intentionally. Of course, avoiding physical abuse at all costs should be a given for both individuals. Attempting to deliberately harm the other emotionally, needs to be equally unacceptable.

Most relationships that don't learn this don't survive for long. If they do survive they can be miserable.

We all know how to "push the buttons" of our partners. Make a commitment to yourself and each other not to do it; even if you believe it would allow you to get what you want or to win an argument.

Agree that your disagreements should be efforts to identify a compromise rather as a win-lose contest of wills. It sounds straight forward, but many of us don't learn the importance of this concept until after damage is done.

Have a discussion with your partner that identifies what each of you considers "the limit" for yourselves. Knowing what we can say and not say, helps to avoid an escalation in frustration and anger. Some couples learn this by a painful process of trial and error. Better to discuss it and agree.

Take a time-out if your discussions become too heated or are unproductive for too long a time. The first one who calls the time-out needs to have their feelings respected; let them go. Agree to meet in an hour or a day, what ever time is appropriate, to follow up.

Also important, discuss and agree on what you can each do to make the other feel "cherished & adored" according to relationship expert, Pat Love. Start with efforts you can do frequently and easily and become more creative from there. The benefits for your relationship will be well worth the effort.

Live Well.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Counseling, Psychotherapy and Coaching

We are all in the process of becoming.
-Sigmund Freud

We are often asked about the differences between counseling, psychotherapy and coaching. There is some overlap in techniques used in sessions but the three have different goals.

Counseling is primarily concerned with developing and implementing problem-solving strategies that allow you to effectively deal with your daily life. The interaction between you and your therapist helps you identify and cope with emotional or behavioral problems that complicate your life and limit your satisfaction.

Psychotherapy uses a therapeutic relationship to help you modify self-defeating or limiting thoughts, emotions and behaviors. It promotes personal growth and development by improving knowledge of our selves and our patterns of dealing with our internal and external environments.

Coaching is intended to deal with the here-and-now attainment of goals. It is a process that helps clarify what the goal is (if vague or unknown), and how to best attain it. A strategy is developed with successive steps that lead toward the goal. The coaching process continues to provide feedback, encouragement, and course-correction until the goal is attained.

Which of these approaches is most appropriate for you depends on your individual needs and goals; these are decided early in the partnership with your therapist or coach. Discuss your questions and concerns thoroughly to ensure you get what you want out of your efforts. Most of all, get started.

Live Well.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Friendship and Wellness

The only way to have a friend, is to be one.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Healthy friendships are a great benefit to us. They help provide the emotional safety net we need in difficult times. In good times, they provide acceptance and stimulation that enrich our lives.

The numbers of people who say they have no friends might be more than you would expect. Both men and women report similar reasons for their lack of friends.

Some might not trust others enough to have close friendships. Others feel that they would "burden" others with their concerns and so they maintain a distance. Still other people say they have no opportunity to meet others or the time to spend with them to build friendships.

Consider these ideas:

Make an effort to make new friendships. Look for opportunities to meet others and communicate with them.

Broaden you perspective with the type of friend you can have. Different age groups, different backgrounds; consider those you might not have considered before.

Get involved in activities that put you closer to others. Sports, church, civic groups, where ever there are people getting together.

Take a risk. Be the first one to make an offer to get together for lunch, coffee, or just to "stop by sometime" to watch a sports game on TV.

Don't beat yourself up if it doesn't work out. Try to accept that some people will not prefer our company. It works that way for all of us. That's okay.

Give it time. Building the trust it takes to be friends can't be rushed. Some take longer than others.

You don't have to evaluate someone for "best friend" status. Take them for who they are. A special purpose friend, like a fishing buddy, is fine.

We tend to like people who like us. Be friendly. This should be a number one priority.

Start close to home and work out from there. We probably already have close contact with neighbors and co-workers. Take the next step.

We tend to be friends with others we see often. These are ready-made opportunities.

Put in the time it takes to be friends. Make them a priority when available to you.

We can do these things at any time, regardless of our past track record. Recognize the need for more friendships and make the effort. Having more friends is like having money in the bank; you can't have too many or too much.

Live Well.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Set Your Own Pace

The system always taxes its elements.
-Unknown

Multi-tasking is the term used to describe the juggling of multiple priorities. We can learn techniques and strategies to work more quickly and efficiently. This is very helpful in getting a lot of work done in a short time.

Our juggling skills might be rewarded by our supervisor at work for having a high level of productivity. We feel good to check things off of our "To Do" list. We can adopt this pace as our default state.

But, we need to know when to use it and when to turn it off.

Problems can develop when we try to live our personal lives by continually doing more and more. Our inability to keep up with an unreasonable pace can result in frustration, conflicts, and over time, erosion of our self-esteem.

What do we do?

Slow down. Develop a pace for your life that is based on human speed. This is closer to walking to the mailbox than tapping on a keyboard.

Practice focusing on one thing at a time.

Make an effort to do less, not more.

Set aside time to do only one thing.

Accept that some things won't get done on time.

Look at your schedule of work, family, and individual commitments and ask your self if they are reasonable. Reschedule things until they fit comfortably.

Recognize activities that "speed you up" (driving in traffic, watching TV, phone calls, email) and activities that help slow you down (hot tub, massage, meditation, nap). Ask your self if you are doing too much of one and not enough of the other.

Practice your"refusal skills"; say no to taking on too much.

Easier said than done, it's true. Some things are out of our control. At least we can make a conscious decision to get back on track as soon as possible.

Since there is always too much to do and not enough time to do it, we must learn to set a sustainable pace for ourselves. Life is more like a marathon than a sprint. Set your own pace and stick to it.
Live Well.

Dealing with the "Slips" in our Dietary Goals.

Mistakes are the portals of discovery.
-James Joyce

Setting goals for ourselves is the basis for making positive changes in our lives. A good goal leads us in our chosen direction and is reasonable and attainable. But having reasonable expectations for ourselves can be a challenge.

If we believe we should always be perfect then we are setting ourselves up to fail. We follow our plans carefully to reach our goals but we have to allow for some imperfect moments.

Slips, backslides, and relapses, are all part of the learning process. We can become angry, frustrated, and demoralized by our mistakes. These feelings can further distract us from getting back on track quickly to keep moving forward.

So what do we do to help maintain balance between our goals and our actions?
  • Follow your plan closely, but don't expect perfection.
  • Don't give in to negative self-talk that might derail your efforts.
  • Use positive self-talk to counter the negative.
  • If you are fixated on your efforts to the point of frustration, then take a planned break from your regimen with a small (not overly-indulgent) reward for what you have accomplished. Then immediately get back on track.
  • Recognize what you need and ask for it. Others want you to do well and they want to help.
  • Vent your concerns and get the support you need.
  • Don't quit. The only real mistake is in not trying.

Remember that one of the keys to living well is Balance. Sustainable lifestyle changes are measured over time, not by one meal or one incident. Pace yourself in your efforts. You can do it.

Live Well.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Self-Honesty

Sometimes people carry to such perfection the mask they have assumed that in due course they actually become the person they seem.
-W. Somerset Maugham

Being honest with ourselves can sometimes be a challenge. We have lots to juggle on a daily basis. That momentum can keep us focused on getting things done rather than taking care of ourselves. Balancing both takes a conscious effort.

Some of us have an amazing ability to live in difficult circumstances by convincing ourselves that "it's really not that bad". This can be a valuable skill. It is very useful for getting through a short-term crisis. The problem really occurs when someone uses this denial process as a way to live daily life.

Recognizing our desires, hopes, and limitations, gets us on the path of conscious decision-making. That allows us to make choices and solve problems that give us the life we want. Listing our options, and the pros & cons of each, is a useful tool for prioritizing things.

Live Well.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Managing Stress

We can be sure that the greatest hope for maintaining equilibrium in the face of any situation rests within ourselves.
-Francis J. Braceland

The topic of stress is one that we are all familiar with. Stress is inevitable and not necessarily a problem in daily life. It motivates us to do what we need to do in order to survive and thrive.

It contributes to the quality of our lives if it occurs in manageable levels. We refer to stress that has begun to move beyond a manageable level as being "distress". That level is different for each of us.

Several things can happen that can make stress turn in to distress. Basically, if we have too many demands, that are too big, in too short a time, stress can overwhelm us. We are especially at risk if we are already tired, worried, sick, or otherwise overburdened.

We need to actively do something to help ourselves immediately if this situation occurs.

Some simple "Stress Busters" can help keep us resilient enough to better tolerate and cope with stress. They also help keep stress from becoming damaging distress.

Eat your breakfast. Every engine needs fuel and your body is no exception. Our ability to concentrate and cope with challenges, is improved by simply eating those foods that fit our dietary needs.

Get a good nights sleep. Sleep helps our bodies and minds recover from the damage of daily life. Sleep restores the body systems and provides rejuvenation. Make sleep a priority by having a regular schedule of going to bed and getting up at a set time daily.

Severely limit the amount of conflict in your life. Make a rule in your household that no heated debates, arguments, or discussions occur after dinner, or what ever time you choose. Save emotionally charged topics for earlier in the day.

Taper your activities so that you are less stimulated as the day and evening progress. This includes not only direct contact with others but also what you read, and what you watch on television or Internet before bedtime.

Schedule relaxation time into your day. Most of us have had the experience of being so busy during a given day that we forgot about lunch or even limited our trips to the restroom. Sounds crazy right? It is.

Give yourself more time between commitments in your schedule. If you are lucky enough (or purposeful enough) to have some "free time", use it to relax with exercise, music, or other soothing activities.

And of course, get professional help before a distress crisis develops.

If we are not willing to take care of ourselves, other demands will intrude on us. We can help others, contribute to our community, and generally get things done, only by making ourselves a priority. We then have the desire and motivation to do the rest.

Live Well.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Spirituality and Wellness

The best and safest thing is to keep a balance in your life, acknowledge the great powers around us and in us. If you can do that, and live that way, you are really a wise man.
-Euripides

What do you do to feel closer to something bigger, greater, or more than yourself? Does it interest you at all?

The role of spirituality in our lives is a certainty for many. The question is to what degree it influences our beliefs. As we noted previously, our beliefs affect our thoughts and experiences and therefore the quality of our lives.

We are defining spirituality in the broadest terms here. It refers to our level of "connectedness" to everything else.

Spirituality provides meaning and purpose beyond mere physical survival. It provides a context for understanding. This framework can help us maintain balance, hope, and even optimism, in challenging circumstances.

Some people focus on God, others on nature, others on tradition or religion. Even those who say they have no sense of spirituality in their lives still must use something as a basis for their beliefs. Scientific facts form the belief system for many of those who say this.

It is important to consider how our beliefs affect our thoughts and the quality of our lives. Clarifying these issues, regardless of the outcome, helps us to understand ourselves and our priorities.

Live Well.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Role of Self-Awareness

I was always looking outside myself for strength and confidence, but it comes from within. It is there all the time.
-Anna Freud

The concept of self-awareness, or insight, is not one that all of us are familiar with. These terms refer to our understanding of our own internal mental processes. These processes in turn, determine what decisions we make and what actions we take to deal with our lives.

Many of us were raised to ignore our distressing feelings if we had no control over our life circumstances. Before modern times, this would have been a viable survival strategy. Now, this strategy can prevent us from considering other options or taking action to improve our situations.

So what do we do? As always we must start from where we are.

We need to begin to recognize our own thoughts are an important piece of the equation. The experiences we have daily, result in thoughts and feelings that lead us to take certain actions in response to those experiences.

Ask yourself if your thoughts, feelings, and actions tend to lead you toward more satisfaction in your life or less.

Understanding how we operate as thinking, emotional beings is the best way to greater life satisfaction. Think about how you view things and why; discuss this with people you trust and write your observations in a journal to look for patterns in your thoughts, feelings, and actions.

The process of gaining self-awareness cannot be avoided if we are to make choices that improve our lives. Our options are either to understand a little or to understand a lot. Either way the information is largely within us.
Live well.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Power of Choice

The strongest principle of growth lies in human choice.
-George Eliot

Many people think that happiness is like an object to be found; they only need to look long enough to get it. In a worse case scenario, some might wait for the "right situation" to come to them. This can be in the form of money, a love interest, a job, or just plain good luck. Years can pass while we wait for things to go our way.

In reality, happiness is a by-product of who we are and what we do. It's true that bad things sometimes happen to good people, but we can still make choices, based on our beliefs, in the worst of circumstances.

Who we are is, in large part, all that we believe about ourselves and what we believe about everything else. This is why examining our thoughts is so important to improve our lives. They come from what we believe and they are reinforced by what we say to ourselves about our life experiences.

We all know someone who never seems to get what they want. Things somehow don't work out for them very often. Sometimes they make efforts to do something about the state of their lives and other times they just keep doing what they have always done. Most often, their core beliefs about themselves and the world don't change.

In daily life we can practice a technique to help us examine our thoughts, beliefs, and actions. Next time you feel a distressing thought, ask yourself what is at the center of it.

For example, if I say "hello" to someone who doesn't respond in kind, I can think, "What is your problem", or "maybe they didn't hear me" or even "they must not like me". Some or none of these might be true. All of these self-statements are attempts at explaining an experience to ourselves.

Make a conscious choice to believe the least irritating version.

No, this doesn't change the reality of the situation but it can change your experience of it. Actively avoid making the most painful or angry choice.

This is only a portion of the process. By itself, it might look like self-delusion. It is actually part of a coordinated effort to change beliefs, expectations, and our life experiences.

The greatest tool to improve our lives is already within us; it is the power of choice.

Live Well.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Maintaining Emotional Health

Maintaining your emotional health is a big subject. We will begin to identify some elements of self-care over time but we will start with the basics here.

The level of influence our genetics has over our health is well-established. In general, our genes have tremendous importance, but our behaviors are what we can control.

All of us know we should do those things our Physicians has always espoused; eat right, get enough rest, exercise regularly, don't smoke, avoid high-risk behaviors. You can't argue with good advice.

In addition, to these physical elements of maintaining health, we also need to be aware of those elements that positively and negatively affect our emotional health.

A study put out last year said that generally people are happier if they do more of what makes them happy. Why didn't we think of that! It's so obvious many of us overlook it.

List those things you like to do or used to like to do and start to make time for them in your life. Try to work up to doing something everyday that you find enjoyable. This simple element of good health is missing from the daily life of many people.

What is the number one reason why people don't fit enjoyment into daily life. Time. Most folks complain that finding time for hobbies, exercise, and other activities is impossible due to time constraints. Lots of us feel that we work so much with job and family that there is nothing else. This often (not always) results over time in increased frustration, irritability, and sadness.

Yes, this is oversimplifying the situation, but we have to start somewhere. Start doing more of what you want to do (as long as they are healthy activities) and less of what you don't to begin living a better life.

Lots of these future topics overlap and intertwine to form our outlook on life. We don't have to wait to fidure it all out before we do something. The important thing is to get started. Live well.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Early Detection

A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.
-Confucious

The most important thing we can do to improve our lives is to get started on a better path.

The concept of "early detection" is common in the medical realm but it is rarely applied to peoples emotional lives. It means that we take responsibility for our own health by closely monitoring ourselves.

If we use the concept of early detection to monitor our emotional lives, what would we be looking for to indicate that we might benefit from assistance?

The symptoms of emotional issues are numerous and varied. They can be physical (headaches, stomach problems, etc.) or emotional (worry, sadness, irritability, etc.). What they have in common is that they are distressing to us. They get in the way of our enjoyment of life; they occupy our thoughts when we try to forget them.

The age-old tradition of enduring emotional distress is largely based on the fact that there was nothing else to be done in the past. Now that we have services to assist us, our expectations for ourselves have yet to catch up.

The irony is that oftentimes we are the only one in the way of living a better life. Our beliefs that we should be able to handle things alone, or that we should be able to tolerate more distress, hold us back and keep us from moving forward.

Our pride or fear shouldn't keep us from going to see our Physician if we have physical pain. We also go to the Dentist or Optometrist for check-ups to find problems early. We expect to do these things to care for ourselves.

Yet our ability to enjoy our lives by maintaining our emotional health is often neglected. If we work to maintain good physical health, we have to consider that our good emotional health is equally important and deserves that same effort.

Live Well.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Insight Associates

Welcome to the first posting of the Insightfullife.com weblog. We wanted to create a venue for discussion that contributes to the understanding and enrichment of our internal (emotional/ mental) and external lives. This blog will be updated frequently. Feel free to contribute any questions or comments to the discussion. We want to hear from you! Be sure to review our website at insightfullife.com. We are looking forward to having this direct line of communication with you. Thanks for joining us.

Live Well.