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Like clouds in the sky…

One way to consider emotions is that they are like clouds.  Do you remember the “old school” weather channel weather maps that would evolve and change every few minutes? You could see the cloud cover shifting (usually to the east) on the map.

This is how I consider emotions.  The reality is that you have never had an emotion that did not change.  You make have emotions that come back frequently (ie: if you are an anxious person) or you may have big emotions that hang around for longer than you’d like (ie: an episode of depression). You have never had one that did not change.

What you need to be able to do is SEE IT (which requires mindful awareness), NAME IT and recognize that it is going to shift.

intense weather map

This type of weather map would feel intense and scary. When you look around, you cannot see anything besides the emotion.  Have faith though! It is a stormy time and it will change. You will feel differently in a few hours or days.

clear weather map

This type of weather map might feel GREAT! I still encourage you not to be naïve because it too will pass! You will have rough days and you must guard yourself against that by taking care of your physical self (ie: sleeping on a schedule, eating healthy, and not isolating).

Consider using this visual for your emotions! Do you think it could ease your fears of intense emotions?

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But How?

Most people I talk to about the mental health ideas presented in this blog DO agree with the suggestions (healthy diet, exercise, early to bed, have time with friends, etc).  AND they almost always ask the inevitable question: “Yea, but how…?”

This is a valid question.

How do you get yourself to start a new habit? I have some steps that I tend to implement:

  1. I identify the gap and what new habit do I think will fix it? (Ie: I am not achieving my fitness goals through exercise alone. I think using a personal trainer or altering my diet might help).
  2. I research it…a lot.  I am a factual person.  I need to see the numbers, statistics and hear the logical arguments on why other people believe in the habit.  This includes watching YouTube videos, reading blogs, research studies and books, and talking to professionals.
  3. I ponder it…a lot.  I need to feel like I fully understand why this change would be beneficial.  I want to be able to defend the decision to myself on the days when I “don’t wanna”.  I want to be able to defend the decision and hopefully recruit friends to join me.
  4. I set SMALL Goals.  If it were easy to make radical lifestyle changes…we would all do it! I set SMALL goals (and larger goals).  I then start taking steps toward the small steps, fully realizing that the habit is likely self-reinforcing and I will often take larger steps than I planned.  (example: I want to go to the gym 4x/week. I set a goal of going once a week.  I end up going an average of 2.5 times per week for the first month!).
  5. I reward myself! This includes positive self talk and praise.  This includes items that purchase for myself (in the appropriate category). (ie.  a new water bottle if I am trying to drink more water or a new journal if I am trying to get more organized).
  6. Keep with it an allow for the ebb and flow.  This means I EXPECT to fail some weeks and I do not beat myself up over it.  If I realize I am back sliding, I just go back to one of the lower steps and re-start there.
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Unpolished Conference 2017 Take Away Points

Unpolished is a yearly conference in Cincinnati, Ohio for entrepreneurs, highlighting the intersection of work and faith.  I attended last week and found great motivation and new sparks for my own ideas.  I wanted to share with you some of my take away notes from the many keynote speakers as I hope they resonate with you too.  The name in parentheses is the name of the speaker who made the point.

  1. The point is to enjoy the process of creating and serving others; NOT to define yourself by the product or numbers (Brian Tome – Crossroads Church)
  2. Be a servant leader, not a selfish leader (Mark Whitacre – Corporate Whistleblower)
  3. Listen to the NEED of employees just as much as, or more than customers (Mary Miller – Jancoa)
  4. Believe in your ideas even when others don’t (Clifton Taulbert – author)
  5. Shift your thinking, accelerate your imagination (Clifton Taulbert – author)
  6. Your work matters (you spend half of your life working) – make sure you have purpose (Romans 9:17) (David Roth – Work Matters)
  7. Be all in. (Steve Toth – Tango Press)
  8. Discover your purpose, it is more important than money (Ann Beiler – Auntie Anne’s Pretzels) 
  9. Don’t be mediocre. That is when you give up before God gives up. Don’t give up half way up the mountain. Brilliance demands discipline.  Brilliance demands bravery. Spend time with people who will push you and not let you hide.  (Todd Henry – The Accidental Creative)
  10. “Life is about making mistakes. Really successful people learn from them and don’t repeat them” (Jeff Berding  – FC Cincinnati)
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Mindfulness

Mindfulness is not a new concept in the world of DBT® and it is certainly not foreign in pop-culture.  Mindfulness is presented in all therapies and all organized religions.  The only problem is that upon mentioning mindfulness, I tend to get resistance and people let their eyes glaze over while their ears close.  Please don’t do that! Mindfulness is THE key to freedom!

Mindfulness is when you decide what you will focus your attention on, with a curious openness and a sense of non-attachment.  This means that you stop letting your thoughts boss you around! When you notice you are ruminating or focusing on negatives, you have a CHOICE! You can say to yourself “I notice that my mind has gone down that path again.  I am going to bring my attention back to this moment, back to my breath”.  When you are “down that path” again (whatever that path may be), you are suffering.  Suffering can be as simple as trying to plan your day while brushing your teeth or it can be utter panic while you are trying to function at work, in that way, suffering is relative to the one moment you are in.  Mindfulness lets you know that you do not have to suffer. We (therapists) frequently mention focusing on your breath.  The idea behind this is that if you are conscious/alive/awake, your breath is with you.  This may be grim; however, if we instruct you to focus your attention on your pinky finger and then it gets cut off, you are back at square one! If we tell you that you can only calm down while looking at a fish in a fish tank, what are you supposed to do while panicking at the grocery store?  If you are training yourself that you can only be calm with your teddy bear, what will you do at work?  The fact that we must accept is that nothing is guaranteed to be accessible to us in a moment of crisis, except for our breathing.

A simple way to practice mindfulness is to sit in what I refer to as “wide awake posture” (sitting upright, if in a chair place both feet on the floor, shoulders relaxed and pleasant facial expression) and take 10 slow deep breaths.  In those few minutes, all I want you to focus on is what it feels like for the breath to come into your nostrils, fill your lungs and diaphragm, and then slowly exit your body.  Do this twice per day until it comes naturally.  After time, simply breathing will become a calming and centering activity (when you choose to focus on your breath).  In that way, you will habituate yourself to get the same result from one breath or ten breaths.

If you need other mindfulness ideas, there are an infinite number on the internet and there are a plethora of books on the topic.  All religions incorporate mindfulness (be it through praying a rosary, reflective silence, worship music, or chanting) and most therapy tasks are intended to be done as a mindfulness practice.  Common therapy recommendations for mindfulness include: hiking, exercising, drinking hot tea, meditating, or listening to guided imagery. Remember, these things only count as a mindfulness practice if you do them with your full attention.  When your mind wanders (and it will), you simply acknowledge that it has wandered and bring it back.  It really is that simple, unfortunately it isn’t always that easy.  Here is a time where doing the hard work pays off.  Let me share a real example from my life.  A cohort of mine always shared how mindful hand washing was something that he had trained his body to use as a way to find his center.  It sounded overly simple to me; however, as I will not preach what I do not practice, I decided to give it a try.  It probably took me a month to remember to mindfully wash my hands.  I would enter the bathroom with every intention of being fully present with the experience of hand washing…and then as I was drying my hands, I would realize I forgot to pay attention!  After I finally got myself to pay attention, I practiced really noticing the sensation of the slippery soap as I washed my hands.  I did this for about a month and I was really noticing that every time I washed my hands, my attention was PULLED toward noticing the soap and it was such a centering and calming experience.  Fast forward another few weeks and I was navigating the hallways of the hospital toward the NICU to pick up my two-week-old five-pound daughter.  I was a mess of emotions! I promise that zero percent of my attention was thinking about mindfulness.  As I lugged the diaper bag, car seat and my rubbery body though the first set of NICU doors, I remembered that I couldn’t go through the second set of doors until I washed my hands in the supervised sink.  Again, zero percent of me was thinking about mindfulness.  And yet, I cannot put words to the sense of calm that came over me as I rubbed the soap between my hands! I was instantly calm and had a sense of clarity.  I attribute that to the fact that I had done the hard work to condition myself to experience a sense of calm balance every time I washed my hands.  I could have just given up that first month when I couldn’t seem to remember to wash them mindfully.  I could have said “it doesn’t work” but I didn’t! To say it didn’t work would have been a fallacy as the only reason it didn’t work in that first month was because I wasn’t doing it! Please remember this story as you have urges to give up on mindfulness.  It is the foundation of all skills because all skills must be done mindfully if you want them to work.

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What does it mean to be “dialectical”? (How to stop arguing)

Dialectical refers to the concept that two ideas that oppose one another can both contain truth! This is EARTHSHATTERING once your wrap your head around it.  We have to stop playing tug-of-war with oak trees (i.e. our stubborn loved ones, when we are just as stubborn)! What I often see in families/marriages is frequent fights and bickering over NOTHING of significance which leads to fights of great significance.  For example:

 

Person 1: “where do you want to go to dinner?”

      Person 2: “um…how about Italian? Eggplant parmesan sounds SO GOOD!”

      Person 1: “ugh…no…I want a burger”

      Person 2: “Well then why did you even ask me?”

      Person 1: “What’s your problem? I was just talking out loud, whatever…fine…we can get Italian”

      Person 2: “Forget it. I’m staying home”

 

Sound familiar? What we teach in DBT® is how to see the commonalities and work WITH the other person, rather than against them.  We must learn to validate any and all parts of the other person’s point of view.  This will immediately reduce their emotional reaction!   One commonality in this example is that both person one and person two are hungry.  Another is that they are both motivated to go out to a restaurant.  In my example, pay attention to person one.  Instead of perceiving an argument/threat, person one tries to validate and join with person two.  Let’s start there…

 

Person 1: “where do you want to go to dinner?”

      Person 2: “Oooh…good idea! I AM hungry!”

      Person 1: “Me too…I was thinking we should go out somewhere for comfort food, you?”

      Person 2: “I can get behind that idea! I am tired and don’t want to do dishes.  Are you up for Italian, American, Mexican…?”

      Person 1: “I hear ya, we have had a long week! For some reason…a burger sounds good to me.  Would you be ok with that?”

      Person 2: “For sure, I am not craving anything specific…I am sure I can find something good on the menu, let’s go!”

 

Look at the difference there.  Just by joining with and validating the other person the conversation goes so much smoother.  We encourage mindful communication in DBT®, which means engaging non-judgmentally and curiously into the conversation, slowing down so that both people are heard, and really participating in the conversation – rather than clinging to your side so rigidly.

Dialectics can be applied in all arenas of your life.  In order to be dialectical, I strongly encourage you to work on being curious.  Having curiosity about another person’s opinions can be a great tool as you will be naturally less judgmental and more open to seeing why they have that view.  Dialectical thinking will make people flock to you because it permits you to be a more easygoing friend; everyone wants to talk to/spend time with someone who is open to new ideas!

Dialectical dilemmas also happen internally.  I will admit, these can get a bit tricky.  An internal dialectical dilemma is when you are at war with yourself, ceaselessly arguing your emotional mind with your logical mind.  These dilemmas are exhausting and also make you less fun to be around as you will be a bit on edge.  As an anxious person myself, I often get into dialectical arguments with myself over whether to attend a social event or whether to stay home.

When you find yourself in these battles, internally or externally, the trick is to notice it and work on finding the synthesis.

A dialectical dilemma is when you are experiencing the impasse associated with clinging to your strongly held belief, while blocking any understanding of the other person’s point of view.  These can also happen internally, when you are arguing with yourself over the best course of action. Dialectical dilemmas also occur between yourself and your environment.  Sometimes this is you vs a peer, sometimes it is you vs and organizational rule, sometimes it is your vs your family.  Dialectical dilemmas that include another person, include at least twice the emotion!

A step-by-step guide:

Step one:  The first step is to identify and fill in the opposing thoughts. This can take some practice, be patient with yourself!

Step two: Drop the stubbornness and curiously explore each side.  This means you have to breathe and stop clinging to the side that you feel more passionately about RIGHT NOW. This requires you to have compassion with yourself and your thoughts.

Step three: Begin a list under each thought of what makes sense about that point of view. You must come up with answers under each thought, even if they seem silly or you have judgments about writing them down.  If you block your thoughts, they will only fester.  You may need to ask others for help here or take breaks and come back to it. Questions to ask yourself are:

  1. Why is this thought/point of view valid?
  2. What would I or do I want to achieve if I take this position?

Step four: Work on coming up with syntheses.  These are win-win ideas in which you meet at least one goal from the list on each side. It won’t always be 50/50; however, you will feel less frustration and more peace with the decision as you honored BOTH sides!

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Productivity and Self-Encouragement

How many of you have sat, paralyzed, ruminating about your to-do list? Have you found yourself being so overwhelmed that you cannot possibly even think though what the first step could be?

I call this “Analysis-paralysis”

When your productivity is stalled, your self-esteem typically tanks.  When your self-esteem tanks, your productively will plummet. When your productivity plummets, you are likely to experience depression and/or anxiety.  I think we can see the problem here.

My goal at Your Mental Restoration is to help the average person optimize their mental health by targeting the underlying hang-ups we all have in an effort to optimize mental health.  DBT teaches a skill called IMPROVE which is an acronym to help you cope with distress.  IMPROVE stands for:

Imagery

(find) Meaning

Prayer

Relaxing actions

One in the moment

(mini) Vacation

(self) Encouragement

 

I want you to focus on the self-encouragement portion of this skill, which I can assure you is crucial for your mental health.  The way you speak to yourself will either improve your emotional wellbeing or cause you to spiral downward. Self-encouragement means that you speak to yourself as you would speak to a friend, to a child, to a loved one.  If you make a mistake (as you will), you say to yourself “that’s ok, I have learned from this and now I know how to do it different next time” or “just because I made a mistake, does not make me a mistake” or “mistakes happen and are a part of growth.  I am so proud of my effort and courage to try”.

Self-encouragement means that you STOP judging yourself and start forgiving yourself.

How does this relate to productivity? See paragraph one.  When you find yourself overwhelmed by your to-do list, encouraging and being kind to yourself can free you the cycle of rumination.  What I suggest is that you start each day with some positive affirmations. Before you get out of bed, tell yourself that you believe in yourself, that you believe you are worthy, and that you have faith in yourself.  Make a Pinterest board of encouraging quotes that can be your reminders. Write these quotes on your bathroom mirrors.  Purchase some items that have encouraging statements on them. Surround yourself with uplifting messages!