Using Focusing to unpack your feelings

Focusing is a simple approach developed by Eugene Gendlin for uncovering the meaning behind subtle feelings and emotions. Use it to increase your self-awareness.

Check out this short video and use Focusing to understand your subtle gut feelings and build sensitivity and wisdom!

Transform your Inner Critic into an Inner Coach!

 

When you build a more accepting internal attitude, everything else is easier.  Too many people have an internal relationship characterized by scorn and harshness.  Through practice, it is possible to change this.

We speak of having an “Inner Critic” who treats us with scorn. This sub-personality observes our behavior, and offers comments about how we should act.  It has wonderful 20/20 hindsight and is great at pointing out what we should have done. Often this is done in a shaming way that undermines our self-esteem.

To change, start by honoring the purpose of the Critic (to monitor and improve your performance) and preserve much of his/her skills of observation and analysis.  What needs to be updated is the delivery.  An Inner Coach makes comments on the same things that the Critic might, but the delivery is empowering rather than shaming.

You can begin making this change by simply affirming that you love and accept yourself despite the flaws noticed by the Critic.  For example, you notice that you forgot an important object at home when you left for work this morning.  The Critic starts to attack you for being absent-minded.  As soon as you notice your internal self-criticism, soften towards yourself. Affirm either silently or aloud, “I deeply love and accept myself even though part of me is absent-minded.” Or, “even though part of me is berating myself.”  Using an affirmation with these words will reconnect you to your self-acceptance while at the same time reminding you that this flaw is only a part of you.  Once you have softened in this way, bring the Coach in to notice what you might have done differently and brainstorm how to wire the new pattern in.

It can be a stretch to love yourself during your self-criticism. Even if it feels awkward or contrived at first, give yourself whatever self-understanding and support you can to become your own inspiring Coach.

Playing with this correction requires some vigilance both to notice your Critic when it shows up and to persevere with changing it.  This blog and other reminders are very helpful.  It is not so much that the ideas are new, but that we forget to do these simple practices. Rather than expecting to notice and remember every time, anticipate becoming distracted and forgetting.  What might be some reminders that would help you remember to be self-compassionate?  Some people leave themselves notes, some find journaling exercises a useful tool, or you may have some religious images that might help.  Personally, I find images of Buddha to be very useful reminders to be mindful and self-compassionate.

One of the things to keep in mind here is that you are changing a long held habit.  As with any other habit, you have to notice that you are doing it, stop, and then replace it with a more desirable behavior.  And you have to do that again and again until you have a new habit.  The sooner you start and the more persistent you are, the sooner you will have an inspiring Inner Coach rather than an Inner Critic.

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If you are ready to transform your Inner Critic into an Inner Coach, buy my workbook of the same title or contact me for some personal coaching!

Becoming Your Own Best Friend

The most important and intimate relationship you will ever have is the one you have with yourself. It is possible to have a self-relationship that is marked by love, compassion, appreciation and patience.  The best investment you can make in creating a wonderful life is working through whatever the issues are that have prevented you from having this kind of relationship in the past and practicing treating yourself well now and in the future.

Have you ever longed for a strong and reliable advocate?  For a steady source of wisdom and inspiration?  For someone who would truly have your best interests at heart?  Seek no further than your own self.

Let’s be honest about this.  Unless you create a relationship with an enlightened saint, no one else will ever truly understand your situation.  You will probably never receive consistent unconditional love from another.  Everyone else is more concerned with themselves and their own challenges than they are with you.  Others may love you and at times offer you care, compassion, kindness and guidance, but they will always be on the outside.  If their own life becomes sufficiently challenging, they will no longer be available to support you.
The sooner you face this reality, the sooner you will be able to organize your life based on the truth.  If you wait for someone else to rescue you or tell you what to do, you will become dependent on someone else and their agenda.

There is only one reliable source of wisdom, power and inspiration in your life and that is through yourself.

Connecting with your own source requires that you understand that you are a complicated being, composed of many different parts.  I liken this to a soccer team, where the ball represents what you ­do, and where the team functions best if all the players agree on the rules and the goals of the game.  The team captain or coach keeps the players working together and makes sure that everyone is treated with respect.

Ideally, the inner coach is the manifestation of your wisest and best, your “higher self”.

You may have encountered the idea of “connecting to your highe
r self” in the past.  In contrast, I encourage you to identify with your higher self – recognize that you are that, do not just connect with it.

Most people, when they feel emotional – particularly angry, sad or scared –  identify with the part of themselves that is feeling this way.  This dooms them to either managing the problem from that upset place or hoping that another person will help them.

An alternative is to remain firmly identified with your wisest and best, and from that position to offer comfort, perspective and wisdom to your more emotional and vulnerable parts.  Doing this requires practice.

Practice remaining identified with your highest understanding of the nature of the universe in the face of difficulties and emotional distress.  This is a common goal in spiritual practice – to remain centered and peaceful, to maintain the correct view, to have faith.  But what does one do to make this come about?

Using the soccer team metaphor, when upsetting things happen, the upset team member tries to steal the ball and pursue his own agenda.  He forgets the rules and goal of the game and forgets his team members and his coach.  In that moment, he is a team of one.  When a person in this condition reflects, and asks, “Who am I?” The answer is, “This upset team member”.   Instead we want the answer to that question to be, “My higher self managing and soothing this upset team member.”

In this situation, don’t be like most people and either get lost identifying with the upset or use distraction and denial to not feel.  Instead, act deliberately in a self-soothing way (with intentionally soothing internal dialog and images, and calming emotions and sensations).  It might feel odd or be difficult, but no one starts out being any
good at this.  Some people start practicing young, but no matter when you start, practice builds the skill of self-soothing and being your own best friend.

Your relationship with yourself is the only relationship you can count on to be with you to the grave. It is possible to identify with your higher self and to have a relationship from that space with the troubled human that you are channeling through. Those who have the most effective and satisfying lives pay attention to improving this relationship and maintaining their identification with their highest and best no matter what happens.

Want some help with this?  Contact me today!

And now, put your hand on your heart area. Feel the warmth of your hand on your chest, and the warmth of your chest on your hand.  Acknowledge whatever you are thinking and feeling and whatever is going on in your life.  Validate yourself; “It makes sense that you are feeling the way that you are”.  Deliberately give yourself some compassion and acceptance.  Breathe that in to your heart and carry it with you through the rest of your day!

Three key areas of psychological health

Most psychological difficulties are in three areas: Issues with your past, Poor relationship with yourself, and Poor relationship skills with others. Often my clients and I assess these three areas of personal development and psychological health together to decide where to start.

Past issues:
Most people have an unconscious that is like a huge cluttered back room. This is where we throw all the stuff we do not know what else to do with. Some of it is new, some of it hasn’t been touched for decades. Buried at the bottom of the mess is the rule book we live by and a ledger of beliefs we have about ourselves and the world. Stacked on top like layers of sediment are all the events we have been unable or unwilling to organize. This may include traumatic memories as well as unaccepted or unprocessed emotions or thoughts. Many people have so much stuff in their back room that it effectively runs their lives.

One of the first steps in psychological healing is to clean up and organize this mess. We want to start with the freshest stuff nearest the door and slowly work our way down until we find the rule book. As we pick up and identify each piece of debris we want to put it where it belongs and retrieve any emotional aliveness that may be stuck to it. Gradually the room gets tidier. We put things in labeled boxes, drawers and filing cabinets. We no longer have to be afraid of the mess from our past spilling out into our current life.
Once we find the rule book and the belief ledger, we can shake the dust off and update things.
This gives us more control over our lives.

It is common in my business to work with a person who seems to have his or her life together and yet has a persistent low level anxiety from the mess in their back room. For individuals with more traumatic histories, the mess may spill out into their lives as unusual symptoms or as out of control behavior.

Poor relationship with ourselves:
The next general area is that of how you treat yourself. Most of us are aware of the “inner committee” nature of the mind that shows up when we have to make a difficult decision. The quandary brings to light the chorus of different voices and perspectives within each of us. Most people are not aware of these “subpersonalities” on a regular basis. And yet this is really the nature of the mind. Some of these subpersonalities are named in popular culture – so we speak of the “inner critic” or the “inner child”. The reality is that each of us have a myriad of different parts. Health in these terms is where 1) we admit this 2) we observe our different parts in action without getting too identified with one or another and 3) we cultivate an internal attitude of mutual respect and compassion. Having an internal committee which is feuding, snide or judgmental is a very painful way to live. Developing internal loving kindness and respect is a crucial part of a joyful life.

Poor relationship skills with others:
Lastly are our interpersonal relationships and the ability to create and sustain intimacy with others. A healthy person in the first two areas may still be dreadfully lonely if he or she has not developed these skills as well. Really satisfying relationships are built on communication skills. These are skills around boundaries, expressing emotion, conflict resolution, knowing how to love, listening, and others.

Unlike the first two areas that require a great deal of introspection and emotional processing, developing and honing these skills is refreshingly straightforward. As with any other skill, if you practice these intelligently, you will improve. Doing this requires that you make it a priority and then get a clear idea of how to proceed. Groups, classes, books and honest feedback from friends and family can be invaluable in this process.

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We can all benefit from working in each of these three areas, but some people have glaring weaknesses in one area or another. How do you assess yourself in this regard? What would your friends say about you? The primary benefit of this sort of map is to help you determine where you are, and what area would be most rewarding to work on. To get the most bang for your effort, work in your weak areas – generally we have already played from our strengths.

Working on any of these areas is much more likely to lead to having a happy life than many of the other things we spend time on. If you want ideas on how to proceed, just let me know. If you are putting it off, what are you waiting for?

Each of us deserves a truly joyful life. Go for it!

Become Happier By Practicing Gratitude!

Cultivating an attitude of ongoing gratitude for the blessings in your life has been clinically proven to increase happiness, improve sleep and strengthen the immune system.  Robert Emmons, author of Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, shows that simply keeping a gratitude journal of brief thankful notes can significantly increase well-being and life satisfaction.

“It is through gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up”. – Eckhart Tolle

If you are like me, however, grumbling about life’s challenges often drowns out appreciation for the gifts of the day.  Deliberately practicing gratitude helps me stay more balanced and positive.

How can you develop a practice of daily gratitude?   The key is to have a variety of approaches and to cycle through them so that nothing gets stale.  Here are some ideas:

  • Keep a gratitude journal – Use this to bring your attention to the gifts of the day and of your life.  Do this at the same time each day (just before bed?) keep it simple, unique to the day and make your entries brief.  Look for new things to be grateful for each day to keep your brain fresh.
  • Keep a gratitude jar for really special events – Write down the blessing, put it in the jar, and at the end of the year, read through these!
  • Speak your gratitude about something to a friend.
  • Share a gratitude on social media.
  • Write a gratitude letter to someone to whom you have never adequately expressed your thanks.
  • Let a loved one know how grateful you are for them.
  • Give special thanks to another for their service.

Keep mixing it up so that you keep a fresh eye out for the blessings in your life and enjoy the benefits!

6 Steps to Manage Your Bad Moods and Reduce Suffering

 

Bad moods are the result of holding painful emotions over time.  Your emotions are messages that inform you that you either are, or are not, getting what you want.  Painful emotions like anger, sadness, fear, shame and loneliness indicate that you are not getting what you want.

If you do not respond to your emotions, you will continue to stew in them and they will become moods.  Bad moods create a great deal of suffering and are rarely useful.  Here are 7 steps to follow to manage bad moods and reduce the amount of time you spend in a funk.

1) Admit that it is happening.  Practice your self-awareness and internally directed compassion; notice when you are feeling bad.

2) Usually the information that underlies the bad mood is useful – there is something that you want that you are not getting.  The information is valid, but ask yourself, “Is the energetic impact useful?”

3) If not, resolve to change your mood.

4) Courageously feel the mood as physical sensation (which is often on your midline in the torso).  Breathe deeply to allow the physical sensation to be there without energetic or postural collapse.

5) The mood is about what you do not want.  Keep breathing and think about what you do want. Honor your desire and make it vivid in your mind.

6) Give yourself a pep talk about the steps you have been, and plan on taking to make what you want a reality.

This process is useful in reducing the intensity and pain of most bad moods.  It can also be of value to acknowledge that you have been actively doing something to perpetuate the mood.  Most people create bad moods by mentally reviewing the cause of their original painful emotion and build a case for why it is appropriate for them to feel bad.  “I can’t believe that she lied to me!  I am just so outraged and offended!  I just can’t trust her about anything! And on..”  How could you feel good with this kind of negative internal dialogue going on?

If you are able to notice how exactly you are perpetuating a given mood, you might consider replacing that behavior with something more uplifting.

Managing your emotions and moods is essential to staying centered and having a happy life.  If you would like more tools for doing this, consider contacting me and doing some personal work on these skills!

 

 

 

Empowering Differences Between Emotions and Moods

Emotions are often called “feelings” because they create characteristic patterns of tension and sensation in the body.  They are usually the motivating energy behind what you do.  Emotions held over time are called “moods” and gaining influence over your moods is extremely useful.

An interesting experiment was done where volunteers had their brains briefly electro-stimulated in certain areas.  In some areas, the stimulation would immediately bring up an emotion – perhaps anger or grief.  Once the stimulation stopped, the emotion would also stop.  If the stimulation was maintained, however, soon the person’s biochemistry would start to change and their physical body would take on the tension patterns of the emotion as well.

Emotions can begin as purely mental events.  They might arise and dissipate with the speed of thought.  In the brain, these are electrical events.  Feelings (the biochemistry and tension patterns created by emotions), however, take awhile to show up in the body.  As a consequence, when you have a feeling (a tension pattern) you know that the emotion causing it is not a fleeting thing.

Emotions occur with or without self-awareness – in fact, identifying the emotions underlying your physical feelings is a learned skill.  We are not born knowing how to do this and many people never learn how to put names on their feelings.  Those who do not have a habit of paying attention to their physical sensations will generally not know what they are feeling emotionally either.  We say these folks “live in their heads”.

As mental events, emotions are designed to arise and dissolve relatively quickly.  Fundamentally, they are valuable messengers telling you whether you are having the experience you want or not. There is always a need, desire or preference beneath the emotion that either is, or is not, being met.  For example, I might notice that I am feeling tight in my body in a way that is typical of anger.  If I pause and introspect about that, I might discover that I am grumpy with my wife.  If I persist, I might also discover that I wanted some kind of attention from her and am grumpy because I’m not getting it.  In this way, introspection leads to awareness of my unmet desire. Identifying it will predictably allow my anger to soften and I might choose to ask my wife directly for what I want rather than stewing in poorly understood grumpiness.

As in this example, once the message has been received and used to inform your behavior, often the emotion will just melt away.  When you do not listen to the messengers of emotion, however, they may try getting louder or persist as moods.  Emotions usually change over a couple minutes if you pay attention to them.  If you perpetuate them, the biochemical consequences will become stronger and they will become a longer lasting mood. Moods generally indicate you are not paying attention to (or taking action on) your emotional responses.  In this way, for example, anger will turn into the mood of resentment, fear into anxiety, and sadness into depression.

Emotions, even emotions that feel bad, contain useful information.  If you want more information about your experience, then pay more attention to your emotions, even if they are “negative” or are subtle.  Bad moods, on the other hand, are rarely useful and are caused by you not paying attention and acting upon the information from your emotions.

Imagine two people, Jane and Jo: they both want appreciation from their partner for spending an hour cleaning up the kitchen.  Unfortunately, their partner is oblivious.  Both feel disappointed and frustrated because they are not getting what they want.  In Jane’s world, the disappointment and frustration messenger rings her door bell but she doesn’t answer.  Jane has learned to ignore and avoid her painful feelings.  The emotion tries to get the message across by increasing her physical discomfort – “maybe a migraine will help” or perhaps the messenger (emotion) just stews on the doorstep outraged that Jane’s not answering and creates a really crappy mood and negative thoughts about her partner.

Jo, on the other hand, applies the material in this blog.  She pays attention when frustration and disappointment ring her bell!  She takes a moment of introspection, understands what she’s not getting and asks her partner directly for some appreciation.  Her partner is embarrassed for not noticing, asks her forgiveness and expresses his appreciation with a 10 minute shoulder massage.

Which person would you like to be?

Summary Ideas: Emotions arise as messengers to inform you that your needs and preferences either are, or are not, being met.  If emotions endure for some time they will change your biochemistry, and create tension patterns.  Pay attention to your physical feelings as information. Identify and advocate for your unmet needs, desires and preferences to avoid being trapped in uncomfortable moods.

 

 

Reduce Distresss and Reconnect with the Best in Yourself Fast!

Here is an easy method for reducing distress and reconnecting with the best in yourself.  Everyone should have a rich toolkit of these sorts of techniques.

  1. Notice that you are having an internal experience that you would like to change.  Cues might be physical tension, stress, boredom, spaciness or something else.
  2. Make a sincere effort to shift your focus from your mind or emotions to the area around your heart.  If it works in the situation, actually put a hand gently on your heart area.  Feel the warmth there and pretend you are breathing through your heart to help you keep your attention there.  Keep that up for 10 seconds or more.
  3. Recall a positive, fun feeling or experience you have had in your life and attempt to re-experience it.
  4. Now using intuition, common sense and sincerity, ask your heart for any advice on dealing with the stress, letting go of the past pain or reconnecting with the best in yourself.
  5. Listen with gratitude to your inner wisdom and resolve to act upon it.

This is a skill, so you will get better with practice.  Practice right now!

This pattern is based on the Freeze-Frame process developed by HeartMath.  They have done some great research on stress, heart rate variability and heart and breath rhythm coherence, check ’em out!

7 Ways To Stay Centered In These Difficult Times

I am dismayed at the political state of the United States.  Many of my clients feel scared, sad and hopeless about it.  How do we remain emotionally centered and resilient in these difficult times?  I know that I am most effective in whatever I am doing when I am in a good emotional space.  Allowing external circumstances to drag me down is only going to undermine my value to others and drain my energy for doing the work that is necessary.  So how do we remain hopeful and optimistic despite the discouraging news?

Here are some approaches to use.  An important part of these is to recognize that paying attention to nourishing input deliberately does not require pretending that painful events do not exist.  In a rose garden, smelling the roses does not require denying the existence of the thorns or the manure.  Your day to day experience is like that – spending your time smelling the manure is an option, but not required!  Even if you decide to work with the manure you do not have to stick your nose in it.

7 approaches for remaining centered in difficult times:

Recommit to your self-care.  Most people allow their self-care to deteriorate under stress.  Don’t.  In fact, to make yourself more resilient, notch up the quality of your life-style 10%.  Look at your patterns with diet, exercise and sleep.  How can you improve them?  How can you reduce your reliance on distractions with an addictive quality such as drugs, alcohol, or internet?

Maintain the long view. This country has gone through very trying times in the past.  Despite this, we have been able to create positive institutions, great works of art and loving relationships.  Humanity in general is maturing and behaviors that were socially acceptable in the past have become widely unacceptable.  Persistent effort by people of goodwill makes a difference.

Think in context. Humans have gone through ordeals far more difficult than the one we are facing.  Recall Nazi Germany, recall the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.  What frame of mind did members of the French Resistance have to maintain during the Nazi occupation?

Control your thinking by controlling your input.  Be aware of what experiences lift your spirits and which drain them.  For instance, watching the news obsessively every day is a sure way to tax your resilience.  Allowing yourself to express your outrage and upset daily or listening to your friends express theirs will connect you powerfully to energy draining emotions.  I am not advocating denial, but be cautious about what you let in.  The deliberately spend time in activities that leave you happy and optimistic.  Play games with friends, laugh, watch comedies, listen to uplifting talks and podcasts, spend time with animals and in nature.

Strengthen your social network. Spend time with people doing things that are uplifting.  Reach out with kindness to strangers, and explore new friendships.  Join a new group, meet-up or group. Create time to really listen to others.  We are all in this together, and each of us needs support.

Create and act on a plan. It is essential that good people stay committed to acts of kindness and service.  These may be of a political nature, but they may also be volunteering at your local food bank.  What are you going to do over the next 4 years to make the world a better place?  Use your distress over the present to commit to making a more positive future.  Deliberate and effective action is the best antidote to hopelessness and despair.

Set time aside to deeply relax and be in the moment. Despite challenging external events, the present moment is usually still a safe refuge.  Create or find a nourishing external environment and relax into the world of your five senses.  Savor warm tea, good food, lovely natural scenes, yummy scents, great music, or the warmth of a hug.  Let yourself stay with the sensations for 10% longer than you might otherwise..

Staying centered in these times is paddling upstream.  Admitting that, how do you want to feel?  You have more power over this than it may seem.  Looking back over this list, what are you willing to change to be more centered?  Commit and make progress towards that today!

If you need some additional support, feel welcome to contact me!