New Years Resolution Time
A friend recently asked me what my New Year's goals were. I replied that I didn't much like the act of writing down goals, and I considered my own thoughts of how they can often be setting you up for disappointment. She responded that she enjoyed the practice of writing things down and keeping track of her progress.
She raises a valid point. It's not that I haven't given this idea any thought, it's that it has been ever-evolving. I don't like setting myself up for failure, nor do I like to do so with clients. This being said, there is enormous power in mindfully dedicating your time for your life pursuits. If I want something in my own life to take place that is new, challenging, and out of the usual routine, it must be written down, given the time to grow and bloom, and it must be regularly revisited for attention of nourishment. This thought was further emphasized as I sat down to write this blog post.
Just a few minutes into writing, I overheard my husband pick up his phone in the neighboring room. I could tell from the way he answered it that it was not from someone he knew, and he soon began apologizing for having forgotten a commitment. He came in to talk to me briefly and explained we had missed an appointment with a school that we set only at the end of last week. Facepalm!
My mind immediately jumps to problem solving to try to undo the mistake. Really, this was an honest mistake, school closure/delayed start, and one that was ultimately born of not writing it down. It wasn't even on our radar! Without a reminder, I couldn't engage with the commitment and reinforce our goal with action.
So first, write it down. Those behaviors that help reinforce the goals are though and action-based: reflecting on the commitment, taking action to prepare for it, and executing the plan. The simple, mindful act of writing it down (and setting a reminder on my phone, in my case) is powerful and lends to our accountability.
We are in the process of considering language immersion programs for my almost-5 year old (this is the bigger picture goal). With a slew of events and ultimately, the fact that an appointment we set with one of the schools was not written down, we missed an appointment with one of the schools (action step). There will be multiple appointments/open-houses to attend in the near future. Our success at meeting our own goals regarding determining information about these schools based on visiting interest meetings is going to be determined by careful planning, preparation, and execution of a schedule.
As I have fleshed out the new-year's-goal thinking I've carried on from previous times, I realize some of it is helpful and a bit of it is not-so-much. There is power in writing down and committing to something of value. I am easily able to give myself excuses for why I haven't done something, but with a written commitment it is that much more likely to be seen through, and when I have a regular check-in about it, it is even more likely to be accomplished.
The New Year came and went without a formal act of writing down the pieces in my heart that I want to realize this year so I am going to mindfully consider, write down, reflect on, and revisit these answers to these questions, and I invite you to do the same. Because resolution is really just the resolve to focus on activities that will bring you fulfillment and joy- furthering that goal of living your best life. Take a nice cool, clean breath, close your eyes for a moment and consider these questions:
I am also resolved to revisit these goals myself. If you feel you could benefit from a regular check-in on your personal goals, schedule an appointment. Let's see how we can help you move towards more full-hearted, purposeful living.
It's pretty awesome that we have a national holiday to celebrate gratitude and collaboration. The practice of giving thanks is one that benefits us in many facets of our life including interpersonally and in an over-all sense of well-being. Today is a fantastic time to get in the habit of giving thanks.
The winter holidays are fast approaching, and with them can come the desire to buy/have move than we need. We hear "comparison is the thief of joy," and it can become that in the next month or so (not to mention all the rest of the year). These thoughts and feelings can become overwhelming, increasing our overall sense of being anxious and depressed. As we watch our mind doing what minds do, thinking and processing, we can return to what gives life meaning- our relationships and life pursuits, and consciously decide we want more of that in our lives and determine ways we can do it.
Even when our mind initially wants to go to a less-healthy place, this time is one where we can practice the connection, peace, joy, and hope that we proclaim in the coming month
Again, Happy Thanksgiving, and if you like, take a look at this great resource from the Greater Good Institute on the practice of gratitude journaling.
Greater Goodness Institute: Gratitude Journal
Climbing as Present Moment Awareness
"I’m an avid rock climber. I’m a day trip away from Red River Gorge in KY, some of the best climbing in the country. The silence I seek there isn’t a physical silence, although there is plenty of that there as well. I seek mental silence. When you’re climbing, your mind is focused entirely on the body. All the screaming anxieties and mental jabbering that goes on in my head is all washed away as I find myself 100% in that exact moment as I try to navigate my way safely up a vertical rock face. I always leave physically exhausted but mentally reinvigorated."
As an infrequent climber, but lover of it nevertheless, I can attest to the benefits of focusing on ascending a staggering rock face. Your other thoughts and concerns just drift away. They aren't even relevant in the moment because you're doing a puzzle that involves all of you. You focus on the grip your hand makes, or your footing to hoist yourself up another few inches, the encouragement from your climbing partner(s), the sun warming your skin, and how small you are compared with this vast world. It's thrilling. For me, there's nothing quite like it.
The total immersion in an activity isn't unique to climbing. You may find this to be true in other activities you do. Perhaps it's playing music, running, basketball, or painting. There are endless possibilities, but the important thing is- they bring you joy and sense of accomplishment in doing it. A natural biproduct is that you get to turn off the constant mind chatter and just be and do.
Find an activity that does this for you, and if you haven't identified one then work on finding one, because the benefits are really impressive. We'll talk more about generalizing this to everyday tasks in another post.
Until then, I hope you full-heartedly embark on an activity that is meaningful and fulfilling to you.
Self-Compassion and a Tea Kettle
Lately, I've been thinking about loving and appreciating yourselves (and how very difficult it can be)! The cold months are upon us here in the DMV (District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia), and this image of a tea kettle seems very fitting for the months ahead.
Enjoying a cup of tea is not something we can do haphazardly. When we're in the thick of mental fog caused by stress, to-do lists, franticly trying to get from point A to point B, it's hard to slow down and detach from the go-go-go mentality. When we're in this state, we can't enjoy a cup of tea. We'll get burned! We really have to slow down, experience the warmth, the flavors diffused into our hot water, the moment of pause and rest. This enjoyment of a cup of tea (and sharing it with someone else) is very much like self-compassion.
Dr. Kristin Neff is an expert on self-compassion. She describes it as being three things:
2) Common humanity
1) Think of self-kindness as turning the warm regard you feel for your best friend or a loved one inward. It's turning ON the positivity you give to others when they have failures.
2) Remembering that "to err is human." A significant part of life is making mistakes and learning from those mistakes. This is something we share with each and everyone of us. You're not alone in your experiences and your feelings. While your situation is unique, you share so much with your neighbors. When we share our lives with our friends, we realize how similar some of our experiences are and also the empathy they feel when we have difficult times. We also need to remember this with friends as well as alone.
3) Mindfulness refers to awareness of what's going on in our head. Thoughts are thoughts. When we begin to identify thoughts, we can do so non-judgmentally, and help extract our values. Mindfulness also allows us to lessen our grip on the thoughts that don't help us pursue our values. Think of mindfulness as a self-check-in on how we are doing and the content of our minds. There's no shame in thinking or feeling. When we practice mindfulness, we become observers of our experience rather than caught up in the mental tornado that is sometimes our mind.
As I look at this tea kettle I am reminded of the warmth, relaxation, and comfort of sitting down for a cup of tea. It can be enjoyed entirely alone or with friends. In either event, we are having our very own experience in the moment we sip from our cup (mindfulness). When we share a cup of tea with a friend, we are giving of ourselves and our resources (common humanity) in warmth and love (kindness). Sometimes we need a little catch up in our own lives, to enjoy the cup of tea and remember that warm regard we have for others, is also something we can experience toward ourselves.
Heather Astill, MSW, LSCSW, LCSW-C