We may get knocked down on the outside, but the key to living in victory is to learn how to get up on the inside.” ― Joel Osteen
I had a trainer who periodically decided that the best external indicator of the improvement in my strength was the one rep bench press. This measures the maximum amount of weight that I could lift at one time. For example, if in October I could lift 100 pounds, and in April I could lift 125 pounds, it was clear to him that I was getting stronger. He could take out his excel spreadsheet, look at these two measurements, do some statistical analysis and draw the conclusion that I was indeed stronger.
We use the same statistical measurement in many other areas of life. We can look at the performance of a stock or at the speed of a computer. We can make a determination that the gold standard or benchmark should be this rate of return (stock) or speed (computer). We can then measure other stocks or computers against this benchmark.
Emotions can also have their own benchmarks if we measure them correctly. Our lives are full of tough events that push us into making hard decisions. Our automatic thought is “I can’t handle this, there’s no way I’m going to be able to do this” Some people unfortunately stay in that place and avoid issues–relationship conflicts, financial issues, their own poor self-care etc. The avoidance of the issues only makes them worse and reinforces the “I can’t handle it” approach. This pattern can go on and on and on and on until some crisis occurs. This crisis may mobilize the person’s internal resources in order to deal with the issue. If the crisis is resolved, the person realizes that they can handle stress and crisis and pain. They have just created a benchmark that they can measure other painful events against.
Strength benchmarking can also be used as a challenge to those automatic thoughts. We can ask ourselves “What is the toughest thing that I’ve ever had to deal with?” We can then recollect that situation and the skills and tools that were used to tackle that situation. We then can measure the current situation against the strength benchmark and see how it measures up. Most times, the benchmark will be much greater, giving us confidence that we can handle the new situation. “If I handled losing my job, then paying this bill is much easier”.
Life, however doesn’t always work in positive statistical measures. We may get hit with harder things —a major illness, a significant loss, or infidelity. These issues can be monumental and overwhelming. Strength benchmarking can be helpful in giving us the confidence and tools to handle these difficult issues. “I handled my job loss through exercise, prayer, meditation, and good eating. If I approach this other loss the same way, I know I’ll be working in the right direction”. Positive self-talk, through examination of our past struggles, can give us the confidence that we need to overcome the tough things that life can throw at us.
I no longer have my one rep trainer. His training methods, although statistically significant, produced many trips to physical therapy. I learned in physical therapy about the need to have a balanced core in order to prevent injuries. A balanced core makes you stronger in physical and emotional ways. When you are stronger physically and emotionally, you can handle whatever issues life throws at you. When we are aware our own benchmarks for inner strength, we can handle the weightiest of issues.
As a resident of New Jersey, many of our roadways leave a lot to be desired. Some are constructed with little logic others are just long roadways filled with construction and repair. The worst of these however is the four way dance of hell: Rt 17/ Rt 4/ Garden State Parkway/ Rt 80 intersections around Paramus.
The other day I had the misfortune of driving in this area, but fortunately I had my GPS. I plugged in the address and I was off to my destination. When it said turn left, I turned left. When it said make a right, I followed the command. Blindly trusting my GPS, I followed her every direction and sure enough, in spite of the the tortuous and confusing area, I reached my location. Upon completing my mission, I reflected upon my blind faith of this mechanical device. I made a decision to turned my directionality over to my Garmin. I thought about how interesting this is–many people will trust a machine to make them safe but do not listen to their internal GPSs to help them with important life altering decisions. Why is it that we are so willing to turn left and right on the highway because Garmin says so, but are so unwilling to go left or right in life? Why do we negate our own “gut feeling” and do unhealthy, illogical or irrational actions?
A typical GPS answers the questions:
Where am I ?
How do I get to my destination?
How long will it take to get there?
Many people come into my office asking similar questions. Some of them do not know their “destination”- they just want it to be different from where they are right now. Many of them have been “off course” for many years and have come to therapy for some map guidance. They have been ignoring their own internal GPSs. This has led to issues such as addiction, infidelity, depression or anxiety. Some of them are so lost they cannot make a simple left or right; they are stuck.
How does a person begin the process of using their internal GPS? For many people this will be a hard task. Some people are so distant from their internal mechanisms, that they either do not listen to their inner voice, or the voice they hear is a critical, self-destructive one. They need to change their self- loathing sounds to ones that have positive affirmation and positive self-talk. Other people have GPS settings that are other directed. These people lack confidence in their decision making and need lots of reinforcement and approval from others. They need to work on healthy risk taking and challenging their “catastrophizing what if” thoughts. When people challenge these thoughts, they discover the world hasn’t ended and they are more competent than they initially believed. Regardless of the degree of the issue, the person needs to rediscover their inner self and work on the belief that they are ok. If they develop that inner confidence they can take better care of themselves.
For the sake of my own self care, I’m glad that my excursions to driving hell are minimal. On these occasions, my external GPS gets me to where I need to be. Although working with an internal GPS is not quite as easy as putting in an address, the outcome of getting to where you need to be is quite rewarding. Remember change is possible.
What questions do you get asked over and over again about your practice?
My model of therapy involves having two way conversations. Like most conversations, there are discussions and questions. Some of the questions are logistical—payment, appointments etc, others are more therapeutic. The question that comes up more often is actually not directed towards me. It is a question asked rhetorically by my clients about their right to have their feelings. These are a few samples:
“Why should I be depressed? I have everything that anyone would want.”
“Why should I be upset about my bonus? There are so many people who don’t have jobs? “
“I really shouldn’t be upset about my husband talking to that woman at the party, should I?”
This sample of questions shows that people doubt their self perceptions and right to feel. Self doubts then lead to self loathing about not only feeling these feelings, but having them in the first place. Their self perception is that they are weak, shallow, and ungrateful people. This process of invalidation followed by self loathing becomes a downward spiral of lower self esteem. What a crappy process!!!
How do we change this process? Give myself permission. What does that mean? According to thefreedictionary.com, permission means – approval to do something. When I give myself permission, I am granting myself the approval to have feelings, and feel my feelings. That is powerful permission!! Permission also comes with its own self-talk channel. This “channel” can run in my head at any time and tell me “it’s ok to have these feelings”; “it’s ok to feel these feelings”. This ongoing permissive self-talk gives me the power to own my feelings. They are mine after all!!! Once I start the process of permission, I can then challenge my self doubts and self perceptions and can empower myself to be a more feeling person. If I can own my feelings without the self doubt, I can then work on changing other bad patterns and cycles.
According to scientific research, with commitment and determined effort we can develop habits that help us achieve and maintain higher levels of happiness. Here are 11 such strategies to help you “construct” a happier life.
Count Your Blessings. Keep a “gratitude journal” and once a week list three to five things for which you are thankful—from the mundane (your flowers are finally in bloom) to the magnificent (your child’s first steps). As much as possible, vary the kinds of blessings and how you express them. And in the process, if you name a particular person who has been kind to you or influential in your life, don’t wait to express your appreciation. Write him/her a letter now, or, if possible, visit and thank the person.
Practice Acts of Kindness. These should be varied, and both random (let the dad with the crying baby go ahead of you at the checkout counter) and planned (read a newspaper to an elderly neighbor).
Nurture Optimism. Practice finding the silver lining in negative events, noticing what’s right (rather than what’s wrong) in a given situation, feeling good about the future (your own and the world’s), or simply feeling that you can get through the day.
Learn to Forgive. Write—but don’t send—a letter of forgiveness to a person who has hurt or wronged you. It may help you in letting go of anger, resentment, and feelings of vengeance.
Increase “Flow” Experiences. When you’re so absorbed in what you’re doing that you don’t notice the passage of time, you’re in a state called “flow.” Try to increase the number of flow experiences in your life, whether you’re completing a project at the office, playing with your children, engaging in a temple mitzvah initiative, or enjoying a hobby. Enhance flow by engaging in work and leisure activities that draw upon your skills and expertise.
Invest in Relationships. Having strong personal relationships is one of the major contributing factors to happiness. Put effort into healing, cultivating, and enjoying your relationships with family, friends, and fellow congregants. Act with love, be as kind to the people close to you as you are to strangers, affirm them, share with them, and play together.
Avoid Over-Thinking. Even during trying times, very happy people have the capacity to absorb themselves in an engaging activity. Pick a distracting, attention-grabbing activity that has compelled you in the past and do it whenever you notice yourself obsessing about the bad stuff in your life.
Savor Life’s Joys. Pay close attention to and take delight in momentary pleasures, wonders, and magical moments. Focus on the sweetness of a ripe mango, the aroma of a fresh baked challah, the warmth of the sun when you step out from the shade. Some psychologists suggest taking “mental photographs” of pleasurable moments to review in less happy times.
Take Care of Your Soul. Studies show that religious and spiritual people are happier and healthier than others, perhaps because of the social support of belonging to a close-knit religious group and the sense of meaning and purpose that comes from believing in something greater than yourself. If you haven’t already, join a synagogue or a community center—and become actively involved.
Commit to Your Goals. People who strive for something significant in their pursuits, whether it’s learning a new craft or raising moral children, are far happier than those who don’t have strong dreams or aspirations. Start by taking “baby steps” towards goals that help you accomplish something, nurture relationships, and feel better about yourself.
Use Your Body. Getting plenty of sleep, exercising, stretching, meditating, smiling, and laughing can all enhance your mood in the short term, and promote strong mental health. Practiced regularly, these energizing practices can help make daily life more satisfying and increase long-term happiness.
In hearing this song last night driving home, I was struck by the number people I’ve worked with over the years that this song could apply to. These men or women are in addicted/abusive/unhealthy relationships,and think that they “can’t find a better man”(or woman). These people who like the person in the song “practice their speech”, but rarely say anything to their partner about their needs. Over time, because they haven’t expressed their needs, they don’t have needs, and decide that they “can’t find a betterman, oh”.
How does this happen? In my experience, many of the people I’ve worked with come from families who have the same addiction/abuse/chaos and dysfunction. It’s what they know, so therefore they can’t find that “betterman” because they have no idea what he or she might look like. All they can find is the repeat of their family of origin. They probably have stated at least to themselves, that they hate the behavior of family members (or the family members themselves), and when they get married, there is no way in hell, that they will marry a person who acts this way. When they meet that special one, and decide to cement the partnership, it’s no surprise (to me) that they do exactly the opposite of their goal–they repeat exactly what they hate!!!? Later in the relationship, as the dysfunction grows to be destructive, “she loves him, she don’t want leave this way, she feeds him, that’s why she’ll be back again” is the day to day refrain of the relationship–the person knows nothing else.
With all of this stuck, rigid, predictble day-to-day mess, how does this person end up in my office? This is one of the most exciting and interesting parts of my day. How does the person find the courage to talk about all of this stuff when arguably they’ve never talked to anyone in their life? (“no one else needs to know, she tells herself”) What prompts them to pick up that “10,000 pound phone” and say “I need to make an appointment”? Some people come in because of other issues– anxiety, depression, their own addictive behaviors, others ask a trusted friend, “what should I do?” Some people, miraculously as it seems to me, find their way because they are “sick and tired of being sick and tired”.
The first part of the journey is their own awareness that they don’t have to feel the way they do. They have other options. They can work on having feelings and validating them. They can identify their own personal boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not. They can work on communicating the feelings and the boundaries. They can work on self care!!!–how to care about my needs, my wants, and feel like a real person. This is a long process, but a rather doable one. Each step of the way is highlighted by the person examining their own behaviors, motives, and feelings to “rewire” the dysfunctional family of origin wiring, and replace it with new, healthy, self care wiring. In the end, they can find a betterman(or woman) to complement their own growth,and their own happiness.
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