I’m sure you’ve heard of affirmations and positive self-talk by now. I am sure you know that on some level, they are useful tools to build your self-worth and self-esteem; however, I am also sure that there are times in which the statements are too much of a stretch for you. If the gap between your current mentality and the positive affirmation is too wide, you are likely to give up and avoid practicing. So, what’s the answer???
The answer is “what if”.
What if you believed them. What if you added “what if” to the beginning of the affirmation as a bridge to cross the wide gap? Take a look at the affirmations below and I’ll show you below how to implement the “what if” strategy!
You may struggle to believe “I have the power to control my thoughts”, especially if you struggle with anxiety and rumination. If it feels like Susie Sunshine is harassing you in reading that first affirmation, try reading git like this:
“What if I have the power to control my thoughts?” …does that feel any more realistic? I feel like it can make a huge difference in the choices you make because if there is a chance that you DO have power and control over your thoughts, you might be less likely to give into your next impulsive urge!
Let’s look at the last one on the pink page for a second example: “I am worthy of good things”. If you are struggling with that idea, try stating internally “what if I am worthy of good things?” and let your day unfold from there!
What do you think…are you more likely to use affirmations if you could add “what if” as the bridge?
I cannot express enough, the power and efficacy of progressive muscle relaxation. By and large, it is one of the best treatments for stress and anxiety. For my clients struggling with chronic anxiety, difficulty falling asleep, and the stress of a chaotic lifestyle, I routinely recommend this type of meditation. I encourage you to utilize this video as a way to sink into a calm mental place and enjoy the peace it brings.
If you tend to be an anxious person, progressive muscle relaxation is a simple and easy tool that can take your baseline from an 8/10 to a 5/10 which will improve focus, improve sleep, decrease racing thoughts, release muscle tension…all for free!
Modern technology is quite a blessing in this regard. Gone are the days when you would have to purchase relaxation CD’s…using YouTube, it’s quite simple to find a guided meditation that works for you and your style. Consider searching terms such as “progressive muscle relaxation”, “paced breathing”, loving kindness, and/or relaxation meditation.
I have found that most of us do not want to do the hard work. We are impatient and want instant gratification. We want the quick fix and as soon as our symptoms of distress are alleviated, we regress right back to what we were previously doing…despite evidence to the contrary, despite knowing what got us in over our head in the first place.
Take some examples:
How many of you take your antibiotic prescription AS PRESCRIBED for the entirety of the recommended prescription? A lot of people quit taking it about 75% of the way through the recommended course. A large percentage of these people also get mad when their symptoms return (with vengeance) and they need another doctor appointment and stronger medications the second time around. Furthermore, not taking antibiotics as prescribed is one of the top 5 causes of the antibiotic resistance we are seeing in the medical field.
How many of you like commercial breaks? I remember when commercials would come on network TV during childhood (before DVR!!!) and it was NO.BIG.DEAL. Yet now…how infuriating are the 30 second ads on Youtube or Hulu! We can’t handle having to wait. Fun fact: a study by Nielson found that 45% of DVR recorded commercials are still watched.
How many of you would say you were a good driver when you started out? Always vowing to fill the car with gas when it hit ¼ of a tank, always wearing your seatbelt, never texting when driving, always abiding by the speed limit? And on how many of those things have you slid back from? According to the Center for Disease Control, the number of deaths from distracted driving has been steadily increasing, up to over 3400 in 2015.
How many of us have a “bedtime”, a “diet plan”, a “workout routine” …and how many of us keep them? The amount American’s spend on dieting each year continues to rise, up to $65 Billion in 2010 and 90-95% of dieters regain all of their weight. We reach for and pay for a marketed quick fix and (shocker) it doesn’t actually work, we never change our core habits related to our physical health and thus end up on a viscous cycle. If you actually want physical health, you have to live a physically healthy lifestyle every day.
As a culture, we have grown pretty lazy and entitled! We want all the results without the hard work! We want what we want, when we want it! Part of real therapy (the kind where you truly get better) is a willingness to do the hard work and a willingness to hear the hard stuff from your therapist without heading for the door. I am asking your, begging you rather, to do some self-exploration on this topic. Are you willing to delay gratification and learn to tolerate being uncomfortable for the betterment of your future?
GOALS THAT ARE WORTH REACHING TAKE WORK. HARD WORK.
I personally love to hike. I hike alone (with no head phones) …just me and nature. I also try to instill a love of hiking to my girls; taking short and fun hikes with them a few times a month! Hiking has always provided me with a sense of peace and for some reason a greater ability to solve problems. It’s a pastime that my mom encouraged from a very young age. I don’t remember a vacation that didn’t contain walking explorations, be it mountains, caves or beach. I always joke that when I am stressed out, I need to get out into the woods and according to recent research, I was onto something!
A research study from Stanford found a clear and measurable connection between hiking and reduced depression. One of the best parts of this study is that it found that walking in a nature setting vs an urban setting resulted in BRAIN changes that are in line with decreased depression, anxiety, rumination, and improved memory. They are finding that 50% of human population lives in urban settings (which is set to rise) along with that statistic, there has been a continued rise in anxiety and depressive disorders!
We also know that in the last 20 years, there has been an increased amount of people playing videogames. This includes kids as young as toddlers and the video games are getting more and more realistic, fast paced, and violent! Now add in the fact that most school districts are now forcing the students to do much of their work on laptops or tablets, as young as kindergarten. We have a generation of kids who spend ALL DAY looking at screens. In 2005, Richard Louv wrote a book called Last Child In The Woods in which he coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder. He proposes that children are spending less and less time in nature, causing more and more behavioral problems.
I agree, not only for kids though…adults too…
I think what we NEED to do is clear. Think about it.
Mindfulness is not only a hot topic in our culture today; it is a fantastic tool that anyone can utilize to gain immeasurable benefits. Many people equate mindfulness to meditation. This is accurate and inaccurate at the same time. Mindfulness is a large umbrella concept, meditation does fall under the umbrella; however so do many other techniques. Mindfulness is merely choosing to focus all of your attention on one thing, one task, or one thought.
Under the mindfulness umbrella, there are two main techniques:
Focusing your attention ON something or some task.
Clearing your mind
Frequent feedback that I get is that the first type of mindfulness is easier. In our culture, focusing on something is much more acceptable than focusing on nothing. There is a judgment that focusing on something is still accomplishing something, while clearing your mind is a “waste of time”.
Focusing on SOMETHIING can take almost any form: purposeful conversations with eye contact and no cell phones, choosing to read a book with limited distractions, painting, doing a puzzle, breathing techniques, body scan, yoga, fully throwing yourself into a sport or exercise etc. The goal is that you control your attention as opposed to blowing through the breeze at its mercy. When being mindful, you may notice distracting thoughts or urges; however you choose to let them pass.
Clearing your mind may indeed be more difficult; however the benefits are life changing. What I hear most often is that it’s weird or the people don’t “know how” to do it. Clearing you mind can happen in many forms. Zen mindfulness suggests sitting upright and comfortable in a meditation position. The only goal is to sit upright and still. Thoughts will rise and fall, we don’t judge or cling to them if possible. Sitting periods can be anywhere from 60 seconds to hours at a time. There are of course other ways to meditate: prayer, reciting mantras, contemplating an issue, chanting, listening to classical or calming music etc.
So why should you buy into this? Because it works! I will admit I was a skeptic at first. I thought people would make fun of me or judge me (and perhaps they do…). I didn’t think I could “make time”…I was too busy! I began practicing as to not be a hypocrite. The benefits I experienced are right in line with the numerous studies out there and include: boosted mood, mental clarity, improved ability to problem solve, increased feeling of connection, increased wisdom, improved productivity, optimism, and confidence to name a few.
I urge you to give it a try. Start with stopping several times per day to intentionally focus your attention on the task at hand. If you are walking, walk. Feel the knee swing through, the weight transfer from foot to foot, and stop ruminating. If you are working, work. Stop multi-tasking, pay attention to the ink on the paper, to your fingers on the keyboard, to the voice on the phone. If you are watching TV, watch TV. Stop eating, stop folding laundry, put your phone down and just watch TV.
Once you feel confident in your ability to control your attention in those ways, begin several times per day to stop and breathe. Just stop what you are doing and take 10 deep, slow breaths. Center yourself, and then carry on with the task at hand.
Finally, intentionally choose to block out time in your day to practice a formal sitting meditation practice. Whether 5 minutes or 50 minutes, just take time to sit and be still. What have you got to lose?
No really …stop being overly apologetic! We live in a culture that expects constant apologies, which leads to a nation of people who struggle with establishing boundaries. I wonder, if you take a moment to reflect, how many relationships you can come up with that feel unbalanced: work, in-laws, friends, neighbors, siblings, parents, etc.
Consider the examples:
“I’m sorry to be annoying, I was just wondering if you could take out the trash”
“Sorry I’m late! Traffic was a mess!”
“Hey, I’m sorry to bug you…but when you finish your homework can you come help me watch your sister so I can run to the grocery?”
“I’m sorry, I know you’re busy but I was wondering if you had time to meet with me today?”
“I feel terrible for asking but is there any way you could call that client for me?”
“Sorry I wasn’t here for that meeting, my kids were sick and I had to stay home from school with them.”
(You accidentally bump into someone and they aren’t mad) “I’m so sorry! I lost my balance.”
“I’m sorry to be a bother but do you have the time?”
“Sorry! I didn’t know you were sitting there; I would have never invaded your space like that.”
Can you see what all of these statements have in common? Yes they all start with an apology. But also notice how common they are…AND they are also all scenarios that do not require an apology! Think of the purpose of an apology: to convey to another person the guilt that you feel as a result of an action you chose to make. I hesitate to think that anyone should be made to feel guilty in any of the above scenarios. Guilt is only justified if your own behavior violates your own morals or values. Examples being if you have harmed another person or you damage another person’s property. Missing work as a result of caring for your child, having to ask a stranger for the time, asking a person to do something that falls within their job description, and requesting the help of a family member are all appropriate actions that should not make you feel guilt.
I offer you a suggestion, say “thank you” whenever you want to say “I’m sorry”. I realize this sounds strange; however consider the same scenarios in reverse:
“Can you take out the trash?” (after they do) “Thank you”
“Traffic was really stressful, thanks so much for being patient”
“When you finish your homework I would appreciate if you could come help me by watching your sister so I can run to the grocery”
“I was wondering if you had time to meet with me today?” (if/when they do, say you appreciate them taking time out of their day for you)
“At some point today, I need _____ called. Thanks, you’re awesome!”
“It means a lot to me that I was able to stay home since my kids were sick, thank you.”
(You accidentally bump into someone and they aren’t mad) Laugh it off and strike up a conversation.
“Do you have the time?” (When they tell you the time, thank them)
“I didn’t know you were sitting there. Let me slide down and make room”…then introduce yourself and exchange pleasantries.
Even imagining the second set of situations, I feel a calmness and lightness in the air. I feel we have become so apologetic and so fearful in our culture, that we lose out on opportunities to chat with strangers/neighbors/coworkers. In the workplace, people villainize upper management and don’t share their personal lives at all which makes the job feel cold and impersonal. And in the home, resentments build because there is a lack of teamwork. If we can begin to share ourselves emotionally, connect with those around us and work together, I believe we could experience a much greater enjoyment in life.
THANK YOU for taking time to read this! Try putting it into practice this week and keep an eye out for how frequently you end up apologizing to others.
Mindfulness is about being fully present, in what is happening, TODAY. Mindfulness is choosing to pay attention in life, to fire your auto-pilot and really wake up to your experiences and interactions with the world, without judgment. We, as a culture, tend to be very roped into seeking the “next best thing”. Think about it…we want the next smartphone before we even figure out how to work the one we have, there are dating apps that make small talk and polite conversation irrelevant and take you straight to the bedroom, there is a drive-thru or mobile ordering app for darn near everything you could want! We live on fast forward. It doesn’t work and it is causing a decline in life satisfaction and relationship satisfaction, all the while creating an increase in depression, divorce and suicide rates.
The anthesis of mindfulness is living in anxiety. I am wondering why we are we so obsessed with the post-apocalyptic worlds that we think would be generated after the fall of our modern civilization? They all have something in common: NO technology and a “takes a village” mentality. Ironically two of the tenants of our current society that we say we like (our tech toys and our individualism).
The Walking Dead, The Hunger Games, Divergent, 2012, Lost, Jericho, The Book of Eli, World World Z…the list is really quite expansive. And yet, we continue to live IN our phones and in isolation from one another. I do wonder if one purpose of these shows, aside from entertainment, is to warn us/show us what COULD happen if we do not change our ways…and yet…
Take a moment to read this age-old fable:
The Fox and the Goat (Aesop’s Fables)
A Fox one day fell into a deep well and could find no means of escape. A Goat, overcome with thirst, came to the same well, and seeing the Fox, inquired if the water was good. Concealing his sad plight under a merry guise, the Fox indulged in a lavish praise of the water, saying it was excellent beyond measure, and encouraging him to descend. The Goat, mindful only of his thirst, thoughtlessly jumped down, but just as he drank, the Fox informed him of the difficulty they were both in and suggested a scheme for their common escape. “If,” said he, “you will place your forefeet upon the wall and bend your head, I will run up your back and escape, and will help you out afterwards.” The Goat readily assented and the Fox leaped upon his back. Steadying himself with the Goat’s horns, he safely reached the mouth of the well and made off as fast as he could. When the Goat upbraided him for breaking his promise, he turned around and cried out, “You foolish old fellow! If you had as many brains in your head as you have hairs in your beard, you would never have gone down before you had inspected the way up, nor have exposed yourself to dangers from which you had no means of escape.”
Look before you leap.
Perhaps mindfulness could remind us to look before we leap. Look at the data trends before you buy your 4 year old an IPAD, do some research the health risks/benefits of a product before jumping on the bandwagon just because it’s “trending”, look at these movies as more than just random entertainment…see them as a warning as what could happen if we don’t change! Dare to be different. Dare NOT to download every popular app. Dare NOT to give into every urge you have for instant gratification. Dare NOT to pay hundreds of dollars for the “cool” shoes/boots. Dare NOT to pay $5 for the logo on your coffee mug when you could put that money away for a rainy day. Dare to have an opinion that is DIFFERENT than the masses…afterall, isn’t that what Catniss did? And she became a hero…
It is no secret that the American culture seems to put more weight on being “busy” than being happy. When you ask someone how they are, there are a handful of socially acceptable answers that you are likely to hear:
“So busy”, “CRAZY busy”, “working a ton”, “work is non-stop”, “good, keeping busy”, “always on the run”…Etcetera, so forth and so on…
There is a (false) illusion that by insisting you are busy, people will hear that you are important. A recent study published in the Harvard Business Review in which they confirm the busyness trend and it has been found that when you are in the busyness “tunnel”, your IQ goes down an average of 13 points! In order to fight against this harmful trend, researchers suggest that we all need to be more open with our free time (such as lunch breaks, self care time, vacation, etc.) both in our discussions, on shared calendars and on social media.
It seems to be increasingly more common for employees to be available 24/7…with multiple cell phones and e-mail being delivered around the clock…. personal time has taken on a negative connotation. COVID quarantine of 2020 allowed more flexibility and allowed people to work from home which was great AND it also reinforced the idea that employees are available around the clock. We get a sense of validity from being able to say we are in demand at all hours of the day and night. We live in a world that seems to suggest that taking personal time is a failure. We live in a time frame in which we’ve internalized the belief that saying “no” or “I cannot do that right now” are grounds for being fired! What we are turning a blind eye to (as a culture) is that the problem of “being busy” is typically serving the purpose of masking anxieties and feelings of inequality and is a recipe for complete burnout!
The pressure to be busy starts at earlier and earlier ages. So many parents that I have encountered discuss the pressure to have their children in multiple activities starting in infancy! It seems that kids are in private lessons, select sports and working with private coaches at younger and younger ages. What’s wrong with a kid being good at…one thing? Or even nothing?! (GASP!!!)
What is wrong with being “okay” with the life that we have…to be proud of our NORMALCY and average-ness?
I must say, I too fall into the urge to tell everyone just HOW busy/chaotic/rushed my life is. When asked, there is a push pull between the truth (I am content…) and the desire to exaggerate. We need downtime for our sanity, this is nothing to be ashamed of! I hope that one day we can adopt the Italian mindset that downtime indicates a higher status lifestyle!
Call to action:
Can you schedule some down time with no goals and no expectations?
Can you be present enough to find gratitude for your normal-ness?
Make a social media post about how grateful you are for the day-to-day aspects of your life.
Social media may seem unavoidable in the 21st century. I want to show you how you can use it for mental HEALTH instead of mental anguish. There is an analogy that everyone has a good and a bad dog within them (although I dislike the judgments there). This is similar to the angel/devil on your shoulder analogy…however take a moment to consider which dog you feed more often? If they are your pets, which one do you spend more time nurturing?
Social media can be used for both good or evil. You can subscribe to blogs that fixate on negativity, make you feel worse, and fuel your pity party or you can subscribe to those that are POSITIVE!
As a challenge, on all sites you are on, I want you to intentionally follow pages, hashtags, and topics that uplift you:
On all networking sites, the users and topics that you search, subscribe to, and follow are up to you. Try following inspiration, funny pictures, cute animals, users that make a point of being encouraging, and/or appropriate family members. There is even a sub-network called “Fitspo” which is a type of posts that are fitness inspiration, these would be an example of something great to follow. Most sites even give you the option of “blocking” other users or “hiding” them so you don’t have to worry about hurting their feelings. A big NO-NO here is following triggering topics, users that bring you down, encourage behavior you are trying to stop doing, or highly judgmental users, and topics that normalize behavior you don’t want to continue. If a user or topic makes your conscious put up a red flag or if it’s something you feel ashamed to follow…REMOVE It!!
*these statements are made after my own investigation and use of each site. This may or may not be the policy of each website and/or app.