Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Emotional Exercise: Visualizing Your Life Portrait

This past week I went back to the hometown of my youth. Just being in the old places released my memories as I reconnected with people I hadn't seen in years. The experience reminded me of an exercise I want you to know about.

It is an exercise in mindfulness that can help show you the themes of your life and possibly give you some insight into your next set of priorities too.

Where it Came From
At the beginning of my career as a psychotherapist, I counseled residents in nursing homes. Part of our work together was to encourage them to reminisce about their lives to appreciate and summarize their experiences.

I was talking to an elderly woman from Germany and I commented I would like to go there one day. Her response was, "Don't wait too long". That theme of living in the "now" was reinforced by many residents who felt the need to pass this message on.

I liked the message but didn't know how to apply it to daily life. So I got tied up in my own dramas, and generally focused on all the shiny or threatening distractions of life.

And years passed until I recognized this theme forming again.

If you have spent any time wondering about your life course, this exercise might help, if and when you are able to consider it.

Your mood might well dictate the experience, so be sure you are feeling upbeat and peaceful rather than not, when you do it.

One of the keys to a happy life is simply to appreciate your experiences as a whole picture. It allows us to put the questions or doubts aside, and see only what is there. And yes it might take practice with more than one effort.

It might help to look at a wall in your home, or close your eyes and visualize one, and imagine a large painting there. It might be laid out like the Bayeux Tapestry or it might look more like an info graphic arranged by groupings of emotions or specific people you've known, if you like.

It might look like a portrait of your face with each experience being a dab of color similar to the work of the artist, Chuck Close.

Part of the beauty of this exercise is that you can rearrange all the elements of the picture. So you can see your life from a new angle, uncovering the unique views that have always been there.

What to Avoid
If you have a traumatic past, avoid this altogether, unless you have professional guidance. And the same is true if you feel emotionally weakened in any way. Wait for another time.

The first time you do it, you might leave out any negatives, and just see the best parts from your history. Focusing on the negatives is best done only very briefly and if it happens when you don't want it to, stop immediately and wait for a better mood-time to consider it again.

Some part of the canvas will be blank to represent the future you hope to fill in with experiences of the kind you love most, or the people you've yet to meet or those to see again.

What are these experiences for you? Plan to make them happen.
And get started living well. Now.

C. Rich Panther, LCSW

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A personal request from Rich Panther: "Can you help me?"

Hi Everybody,
I need your help. I'm starting to develop webinar-type mini-courses and I'd like to know what your interests are. I have a long list of topics that I've collected from my client sessions. Many are recurring themes that lots of people struggle with.

These topics are important to all of us who want to live well. Some of these include:

-How to be Happy

-How to have a Relationship

-Affairs: why and what next?

-How to be Fulfilled

-How to cope with common issues in Emotional Health

Please help me prioritize my efforts to give you what you want.

What do you want to know about first? Let me know if you have preferences for these or other topics too, via email, comments, or the voice mail feature.

I appreciate your joining me here. Thanks for reading!


Monday, April 14, 2014

How Well Does Your Life "Fit" You?

The path to our destination is not always a straight one. We go down the wrong road, we get lost, we turn back. Maybe it doesn't matter which road we embark on. Maybe what matters is that we embark.
- Barbara Hall

If you've read some of my posts or you've been to Rich Panther.com, you might know that I've worked in the corporate sector for some years. I helped employees fit into their workplace roles more effectively by learning new ways to relate to themselves and others.

We can all get a more objective perspective on our personal lives in the same way by asking ourselves, “does this situation fit me?”.

Occasionally, I would run into someone who did not want to do their job and therefore, they did it poorly. If they had been in another department, perhaps those same people might do this other job very well.

So what was the problem in this situation? it was one of fit. And fit is largely about our own expectations and needs.

By the time I met them, a supervisor had often reached the point of considering this person to be a “bad employee”. In other words, they had the impression that the employee didn't want to work, but wanted to stay in their job to put in their time, and make a paycheck without contributing.

And a small minority truly did not want to work. But the majority of people I saw wanted to do OTHER work. They simply wanted something else.

You can say they did not fit the role of their position or you can say the position did not fit them. Either way, they were unhappy. And people unhappy in their roles do not perform well. Our personal lives work in much the same way.

Having reasonable expectations for ourselves and others is a healthy thing. They provide guidelines to help us gauge how well things are working in our lives.

How do we know if what we want is healthy or just distraction? Because these expectations should be based in our values. That means we should be able to ask ourselves if this or that decision, fits with what we believe is best.

If you find yourself being a reluctant participant in a role that no longer fits you, what are your choices?

First, try to take two steps back from the situation and look at it objectively. Ask someone whose opinion you value, if they can see it objectively and ask them, “what do you see happening here?” Can you make a small change to test your hypothesis? And, if that is helpful, then consider a bigger change.

Second, look for the feeling beneath the feeling. If you find yourself dreading to do something, ask yourself what is the feeling that underlies that dread. Fear of failure or making things worse are common. Make sure that you address underlying concerns and not just the ones on the surface. If the decision fits your values, try to push forward with it.

Make a short list of the top three issues to address and then list three steps for each of them toward getting what you want or improving your situation, and get them done.

Warning signs: If you reach a point where you think it is better to lower your expectations where you believe you will have to settle for less from your most important activities and relationships, Or, if you find yourself drifting toward choices that are on the margins of your values, avoid them.

Acting on distractions can derail you.

This negative process can become increasingly worse when we feel a sense of disillusionment or anger at not getting what we want from our efforts. In the worst case, we can feel that more effort equals getting less of what we want. This is one way to eventually feel bitter, angry, and depressed.

One manageable step at a time will lead us to our goals. Avoid pressuring yourself to move faster or to do more. Clarity is the key, not “working harder” or even doing more. Set a healthy pace for yourself and stick to it and you'll get there and if you want help just ask for it. Choose someone whose judgment and objectivity you trust. And move forward into those choices that fit you best.

Stick with your plan. You can do this!