Being The Best You Can Be


In her famous Ted Talk on being wrong Kathryn Schulz used the metaphor of the roadrunner who, chased by the coyote, runs off a cliff and keeps on running on air until the moment he realizes he is not on solid ground. Of course at this point he finds himself too far gone, too far from the edge to turn around and has no other choice but to fall. It’s when he realized he is wrong, despite being convinced he was right. Only then does the roadrunner fall.

For months now, I have deconstructed and analyzed my pursuing a PhD with the intention of working in academia; how is it going, how is it not going, the various contradictory feelings and thoughts swirling in my head, all fueled by one single question “Was I wrong?”

The story of the roadrunner has profound meaning, not only for our individual lives but also for the current political state we find ourselves in. As I think about it, I have one nagging thought: How will anyone ever grant a PhD to someone who has to google “how to spell kayotee?!” I am referring to myself. The obsessive self-referring, self-concern, self-promotion, self-protection that we all have, day and night, even in our sleep, never ceases to the detriment of our own happiness and the future of the entire human race.

That’s not an exaggeration.

I entered a PhD program in Counseling 3 years ago with the intention to teach at a university level. At the time, I stopped writing on this blog, stopped running, stopped eating well, sleeping and basically stopped having a semi-normal human existence. Out of frustration and exhaustion, Homeless Jesus was born. I was craving meaning and purpose so much I wanted to be a homeless vegan, visit Canada, grow my own food, go on a climate march (although that came later), the list is long. I actually did some of these things. I have proof.

Except for the homeless part. I now have not one, but two peaceful, beautiful, and blessed homes and I have a feeling I will never be homeless, lonely or hungry ever again.

Was I wrong? To change my life completely in pursuit of a degree in academia? Three years later, looking forward to one more year before graduation, I have come to a conclusion.

I was painfully, utterly, and irrevocably wrong. For the past three years of my life I stubbornly denied this truth but the truth has a way of always shining through.

I viciously bullied the truth about how much I failed but at least now I can humbly accept the truth and honor it by sharing it.

Yes. I just created a paragraph that contains only one sentence. I hope that doesn’t bother you.

I was wrong to think I am a good teacher and people would respect me or get something from my teachings. I am apparently not good enough. Being likable helps. NOT being a pompous a** is essential.

I was wrong. I’m not that good of a writer. I believe there is an expiry date on blaming your poor writing on English as a Second Language. Research is harder than I thought, especially if you want to get published. Scientific rigor is no joke. You can’t take your information from any Joe Schmo on some blog on the internet!

I was wrong. I underestimated the timeline, the fierceness of competition, the jealousy, the inequality, the meaningless, petty drama, even. I have yet to process all of that but I am more interested in learning something wise from it. Like, patience is a virtue, our success depends upon the success of others, rejoicing in other’s good qualities makes our mind peaceful whereas comparison is the killer of joy, the law of karma says no action is wasted, we experience results similar to the cause, and so on. Wisdom is far more valuable than education. 

I was wrong about the physical, emotional, financial and relational effects such an endeavor would have on a single woman in her 30’s with no outside support and no family to turn to on days when all she wanted to do was hide under mom’s dirty laundry (it smells extra mommy-ish in there). Not to mention, there is never enough coffee. *On a side note, I found a Greek cafe in walking distance from my house that makes excellent Turkish coffee. Of course, they call it Greek coffee and I have to remember to order it that way, but let’s face it. It is definitely Turkish, through and through.

coffee

It is difficult to look at all the things I have been wrong about and not conclude that I have failed. Jay Shetty once said “failure is just a sign that we need to widen our scope.” As luck would have it, I happen to be a great teacher in some other circles. And I enjoy it more.

Maybe the goal should be revised. Maybe there is no goal, only experiences that prepare us for our ultimate life purpose. I am sometimes arrogant enough to think that I choose my purpose. I believe we all have choice but we don’t always have an accurate view of reality or of ourselves therefore our choices are ignorant and blind.

So why get so attached to our own choice, view, personality, talents, identities, opinions, goals, dreams, plans and those of others? We could be very wrong. We do not need to grasp at any man-made reality because we can rest assured we are not capable of seeing all the intricacies of luck, chance, intention, causes, conditions, consequences, opportunity, timing, and so on.

I know I’m right about this. Fantastically right.

The key to our happiness and the happiness of others is letting go and opening ourselves up to whatever comes next, embracing everything fully, no matter what.

Everything that appears, positive or negative, can be an opportunity to become a better person. Maybe becoming the best you can be is a good enough goal. Maybe better than good enough; the ultimate goal.


How To Better Tolerate Emotional Pain


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I have had a month of high stress and decreased tolerance to emotional discomfort. It happens. Especially when a lot of what stresses you out is outside of your control. There is a crisis brewing and I need to make sure my emotions are in check. A crisis is a highly emotionally charged situation where a solution is required yet it’s not always available.

Here are some ways in which you can make a crisis worse:

Yelling at someone

Using drugs or alcohol

Overeating

Retail therapy using money you don’t have

Giving up on solving the crisis all together

Let’s talk about this last one for a moment. What happens when a solution is not possible at the moment? What happens when you are faced with something you can not control?

What happens is a phenomenon known as learned helplessness – when you feel you are not in control of your situation you will give up and accept it, no matter how painful. The idea that we would rather stay in a painful situation then make efforts to change it, is completely illogical. But then again, so is gambling.

So what CAN you do?

First, try to look at your situation from a fresh prospective. Even if you can’t control your situation, you can ALWAYS find something you can control. You can control how you view the problem, how you feel about it and what you choose to do. Even the absence of doing is a decision. You have choices.

If nothing else, choose to learn how to increase your distress tolerance – ability to tolerate emotional pain. 

Most people struggle in life not because they are stupid, or bad, or lazy. Most people suffer because they are literally incapable of tolerating distress. When emotional pain hits, they just can’t take it! I would even go so far as to say, this is a national epidemic. This is not for lack of trying. In fact, people will tell me they tolerate distress just fine. However the short-term avoidance or  numbing attempts, have significant, negative, long-term effects. We work very hard to avoid distress. When it naturally hits, we do all we can to numb it with fixes that range from food, bad company, drugs and alcohol, gambling, sex, shopping, etc. These behaviors get us in more trouble. The key to distress tolerance is accepting suffering as part of the human experience without judgment and with a true understanding of the transient nature of emotional states. Pain, just like joy is fleeting. It’s like a wave that you can ride out, knowing you will survive it. You will be in one piece and the world will too. You will not go crazy or die. You will survive.

Distress tolerance is a skill or a toolbox of skills rather. You can learn these skills and perfect them with practice. Here are some of the components:

1. Distractions

Exercise

Talk to someone who isn’t in crisis

Engage in your favorite hobby

Watch a movie

Go to a park

Plant flowers

Help someone less fortunate then you

Bake cookies

Listen to someone else’s problems

Volunteer

Compare down “it could be worse”

Compare your situation to a time in the past you were in crisis and you got through it

Engage in the opposite emotion: If angry, watch a comedy. If sad, listen to upbeat music. If scared, watch someone daring

Imagine putting your problem on a shelf or in a safe

Sing song lyric to a song you don’t quite remember

Do the time tables to a number you have to calculate

Decide what profession everyone on the bus does

2. Self-Soothing with the five senses: Vision, Sound, Smell, Touch, Taste

Imagine decorating your next home

Listen to soothing music

Light a scented candle

Take a lush bubble bath

Cook your favorite childhood comfort food

3. IMPROVE the moment: Imagery, Meaning, Prayer, Relaxation, One thing at a time, Vacation, Encouragement

Imagine a place you feel happy, safe or relaxed like the beach, your favorite hike, the mountain

What can this mean? “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” “This too shall pass”

Connect with your religion or spiritual traditions

Go for a walk, go to a yoga or meditation class

Don’t worry about the future, don’t obsess on the past, focus on what’s happening RIGHT NOW

Take a break, turn your phone off, spend time alone

Be your own cheerleader “I can do it” “I have been through worse”

4. Pros and Cons

I’m making it worse by ________________

I’m tolerating distress by _________________

And of course, write on your blog 🙂

Don’t you feel better already?


The Fundamental Elements of Health


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What do we need to be happy? What are the fundamentals of health, vitality, energy, sanity, happiness? What do we need to fulfill our human potential?

I have searched the answer to this for my own sake and for the sake of being an excellent therapist. Never in a million years would I have imagined to find the answers in a diet book (that is not really a diet book). In The 80/10/10 Diet, Dr. Douglas Graham presents the fundamental elements of health. This is the most comprehensive list to date. Rate yourself from zero to ten on each of the following areas:

____ 1. Clean, fresh air

____ 2. Pure Water

____ 3. Foods for which we are biologically designed (whole, fresh, ripe, organic raw fruits and vegetables)

____ 4. Sufficient sleep

____ 5. Rest and Relaxation

____ 6. Vigorous activity

____ 7. Emotional poise and stability

____ 8. Sunshine and natural light

____ 9. Comfortable temperature

____ 10. Peace, harmony, serenity and tranquility

____ 11. Human touch

____ 12. Thought, cognition and meditation

____ 13. Friendship and companionship

____ 14. Gregariousness (social relationships, community)

____ 15. Love and appreciation

____ 16. Play and recreation

____ 17. Pleasant environment

____ 18. Amusement and entertainment

____ 19. Sense of humor

____ 20. Security of life and it’s means

____ 21. Inspiration, motivation, purpose and commitment

____ 22. Creative, useful work

____ 23. Self-control and self-mastery

____ 24. Individual sovereignty

____ 25. Expression of reproductive instincts

____ 26. Satisfaction of the aesthetic taste

____ 27. Self-confidence

____ 28. Positive self-image and sense of self-worth

____ 29. Internal and external cleanliness

____ 30. Smiles

____ 31. Music and all other arts

____ 32. Biophilia (love of nature)

 

How did you rate? What’s missing in your life and what are you grateful for? What would you add to the this list?

 


How to Face Your Fears.


I was watching Extreme Weight Loss and Chris Powell said something a lot of my clients have heard me say one time or another “You have to run towards your fear not away from it.” Yes, it sounds cliche but I fully believe it. In fact, I have lived most of my life applying this principal on a regular basis. Amazingly, hearing this tonight helped me resolve a recent dilemma I have been struggling with and I think it can help you make important change in your life too.

Your worst enemy is fear.

Fear will keep you stuck because it creates avoidance so you never get a chance to prove yourself wrong. I have always been afraid of snakes so I avoided them which wasn’t hard to do. But now that I’m hiking more I see them on the trail all the time and I think they are afraid of me too. Avoidance is very hard to change because it’s comfortable. That’s why most people don’t change unless they are somewhat forced to.

Unless you learn to befriend your fear.

You can befriend your fear by talking about it. Visualizing it. Giving it a face or an image. But ultimately, the only thing that will help is stopping your avoidance. And that requires doing something new or eliminating an existing behavior. Behavior being the key word. And this happens outside of therapy, in the “real” world, where you may find you are on your own. By avoiding your fear and never trying something new you don’t learn that you can actually do it. This is very important. It is crucial in developing a sense of confidence, esteem and self-efficacy. Which leads me to my next point.

You can do it. You just don’t know it yet.

Most likely, you have very little prior evidence to support this. You also may mistakenly interpret avoidance as lack of ability. You can’t accurately judge whether you are capable of change if you haven’t tried. Numerous times. It’s possible that you will fail. It’s also almost certain that you will make mistakes. But I bet you haven’t considered the possibility that it may be easier than you think and that you might just succeed. Change is hard. But not impossible. Don’t give up.

You need the right tools.

Think of this as developing your own change tool box/kit. The first item in that kit should be information. You can’t change blind. You have to be able to see where you are going. Learn about yourself as much as you possibly can. You will need honesty and courage for this. And leave your Ego out. You won’t need it. Learn about what your challenge really is but also learn about your strengths and skills, successes you’ve had in the past, no matter how small. They have made you who you are. Learn about what scares you. When it faces you, don’t look away. You might find it’s not that scary after all. Ask for help. Seek out support from people who have gone through what you are going through. Make a realistic plan and stick to it. Celebrate accomplishing every single step by setting goals and rewards. Be patient. Practice frustration tolerance. Tell yourself you are OK. Tell yourself you can do it.

Remember to breathe.

facing-our-fears


System Failure.


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I read a blog today on PsychCentral.com on a book titled “The Happiness Choice: The Five Decisions that Take You From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be” by Marilyn Tam. It states:

“There are five decisions we make every day to bring us either more happiness: what we choose to do with, and how we treat our:

  1. Body
  2. Relationships
  3. Money
  4. Spiritual life
  5. Community”

It got me thinking.

I haven’t written in a while. Partly because I have felt uninspired. Not sure why, couldn’t put my finger on it. Until today. The truth is, I love what I do but I have been acutely aware of my limitations lately. You see, we (meaning therapists) like to believe that everything is up to the individual. “You can accomplish anything you put your mind to it” we say and many of us believe it. Generally I would agree.

But what happens when your body, money, relationships, community, etc are largely out of your control? When we talk about individual decisions, are we assuming that problems in each area automatically mean there is something wrong with the individual? Are we carelessly insinuating that unhappy people are inherently broken?

What is the payoff AND cost of such individualistic, narrow-minded, pathologizing point of view?

The pay off is easy to see. It allows us to avoid the heavy burden of thinking about and addressing individual issues systemically. It’s too overwhelming to think about community as everyone’s responsibility. I have met so many perfectly normal, well-adjusted young people who are severely isolated because of the state of our individualistic, extrovert-focused, technology-driven culture. And they all think they are broken.

What happens when your body aches, is malnourished, stagnant, or just simply ignored? Sometimes we do it to ourselves. And we have no one else to blame. But often, the body is simply a powerless victim of our food culture, ignorance, inadequate healthcare, accidents, sedentary work/life environments, etc.

Sometimes seemingly wise money decisions conflict with relationship decisions, or decisions about community and spirituality. What is the impact of financial issues on relationships?

Is it easier to define addiction as an individual problem and avoid the context in which it develops? Is it really surprising that we are largely addicted to prescription pain pills? Our doctors are legal drug dealers who have no consequences for their decisions.  Is sex addiction really just an individual issue? Separate from the technological advances it feeds on and the current state of the marriage institution?

And don’t even get me started on the issue of spirituality!

The cost of blaming individuals for system failures is high. It makes people feel broken. And that is a horrible way to feel.

I’m not saying you are powerless and you can’t make decisions about your body, relationships, money, spirituality and community. You can and you should. In fact, given the right support and guidance you can make incredible changes and dramatically improve your life. I am a witness to this everyday. But I strongly believe that things don’t happen in vacuum. I believe that everything effects everything and we are all connected.

You are not more broken than the system is. Sometimes you can’t change the context in which your problem developed. Sometimes you can. And when you can, you should. I recently found myself coming to the conclusion that advocating for introverts is as important as trying to teach them “social skills”.  Making sense of your reality in all its complexity is sometimes the most important step to change. Acceptance is easiest to achieve when you have knowledge, understanding and empathy.

Sometimes therapy can’t change your reality but it will help you come to a gentle acceptance. You have all the wisdom and the strength you need. But it helps to not be alone.


Hold On To Yourself.


I’ve been thinking lately.

About holding on to oneself. When everything around you seems to spin, how can you possibly hold your ground? It turns out, David Schnarch was right on when he concluded that the four points of balance in a relationship come down to this: holding on to yourself. But aren’t we supposed to seek out our object of attachment, our partners to soothe and comfort us in trying times? Well maybe, just maybe, all we need is to hold on to ourselves and repeat the mantra “this too shall pass.”

I hear a lot of my clients talk about codependency, identify themselves as codependent on their partner and ask “Am I supposed to be with this person? We can’t possibly be right for each other, can we?” I tell them, they are asking the wrong question all along. The question should be “Can I grow through this relationship? Can I hold on and learn to soothe myself? Can I grow with this person and become better for me, them and everyone else?”

I’ve been thinking lately.

The root to most addictions is the opposite of holding on to oneself. Addictions may look different but they are all equivalent to finding a “filler” between now and death. Addictions, may they be to alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, relationships, shopping, food, they serve as fillers for loneliness, substitute for real or desired relationships, default to being alone, bored, insignificant, an antidote to our persistent, underlying sense of mortality.

I’ve been thinking lately.

The only way to be in relationships is to learn how to be alone. The only way to find meaning is by knowing loss and befriending the perpetual feeling of meaninglessness that comes with being a limited, imperfect human being.

I’ve been thinking lately.

The only way to survive is to learn to soothe oneself in a way that does not involve fillers, addictions, or mediocre relationships. In the modern age we live in, the only way to survive the privileged loneliness, nagging boredom and painful emptiness is to give to people less fortunate than us (or procreate), realize that self-reflection (including therapy) has it’s own limitations, acknowledge and accept our own mortality and insignificance and give of ourselves as much as we can to the little/big people and little/big causes we love. Otherwise, we are bound to become a socialized mess of self-centered human beings who are only concerned with soothing basic, mundane needs through “fillers”, bad relationships and addictions of all shapes and forms.

I asked my client today if they could think of one single thing they did ALONE that excited them, made their heart jump, made them feel alive and happy. They couldn’t think of one thing. That was me once. That’s still me on some level. I’ve come a long way. But I have a long ways to go. After all this time, I can honestly say I have not one, or two, or three things I do alone that raise me up. I have a whole list. I’ve traveled far but I have a long ways ahead. As I hike foreign woods, near bodies of water and get lost and found in hiking trails listening to my favorite tunes, I’m exhilarated in my lonesomeness. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

lake

 


Tools for Solutions, Change and Getting Unstuck


Here’s some phrases I use a lot in therapy and how they can help you.

  1. “Don’t hop on that train.” Your thoughts and feelings are like trains at a train station. They come and go. They have a set destination and if you get on them they will take you there. Don’t get on the train. Stand tall and grounded on the platform, recognize your thought train and let it go. Another one will be arriving at the station shortly. And if for some reason you do get on the wrong train don’t take it all the way to the final station. What will your life look like when you no longer give in to your thoughts and feelings impulsively?
  2. “The universe will always seek balance.” If you have been doing too much of one thing, your body and mind will try to slow down or even change direction. This explains how people are able to change naturally, “grow out” of things or phase out of behaviors. This applies to unhealthy and healthy behaviors equally. Balance is the key to happiness. How would you feel if you had more balance in your life?
  3. “Well, that’s just irrational.” I’m sorry if that sounds blunt. It doesn’t mean you’re wrong or bad or crazy. We all have irrational thoughts. Some us give irrational thoughts more power than they should because they confuse thoughts for facts. “If I think it, it exists.” That can’t be further from the truth. You don’t have the power to make things happen with your thoughts. But irrational thoughts will dictate how you feel. If reality cannot be changed, changing your thoughts will change the way you feel. What do you see yourself accomplishing when you start getting control of your thoughts?
  4. “We don’t walk around with a thought bubble.” Just because you think something, does not mean you have to say it.  Just because you have a weird fantasy, a terrifying thought, a morally despicable thought, fantastical hopes and wishes, that does not mean you have to make them public, all the time. Choose wisely who you confide in. Pick and choose the thoughts you want to share. Make sure they are persistent and not fleeting. If you share your thoughts, hopes wishes, dreams they are out there in the world suddenly more real than they will ever be in your own head. You can’t undo speech. Choose your words wisely. What will your relationships look like when you start choosing your words wisely?
  5. “Sit with it.” Humans tend to be self-absorbed and often fail to recognize that the world does not revolve around them. We can be impulsive and self-indulgent. We live in a society where instant gratification is a reality. There isn’t much we desire that we can’t procure. We tend to be spoiled, even ungrateful. There are books and articles and videos on cultivating patience. This is because we lack the opportunity to practice patience. What is required is a practice of sitting with an impulse for some time, until its power has dissipated. Time can be from counting to 10 to a couple of hours. Sitting with it means postponing. The two main weapons against impulsivity are time and intentionally delaying gratification. You possess more self-control than you think you do. How will patience and self-control empower you to achieve your goals?
  6. “Progress not perfection.” Are you setting yourself up to succeed? I am interested to know how you got to failure. Sure that’s an important story. But, I’m more interested in how you are going to move forward towards success and progress. I’m more interested in the solution. Perfectionism will work against you here. So we won’t need it. Leave it at the door with all your “shoulds”. If you look closely, there is a way to set yourself up to achieve success. That might require unpleasant things like, asking for help, quieting your Ego, changing your ways, letting go of need to control, stopping negative self-talk, etc. It also requires a plan, follow-through and accountability. Ask yourself “How will I feel when I achieve this goal? What would it mean? How will it make me feel about myself and others?
  7. “Think rational not positive” I don’t want to tell you your wife and your children will forgive your indiscretions. I don’t want to tell you that your marriage will work or that your father will stop drinking. I can’t tell you that everything will be OK and all will be right with the world. It’s simply not true. If you want to be optimistic go ahead. But keep your feet on the ground. If I sell you BS, you’ll know it. You are smart enough to not buy it. And you shouldn’t. Reality sucks sometimes. Often, there is nothing we can do about some realities other than get to a place of acceptance and surrender. But we can only do that if our thinking is rational and realistic.

What I have found from my experience, is that everyone has the ability and motivation to make the changes they want in life. You possess that wisdom within you, even if you have forgotten or ignored it. Explore your own solutions, use the right tools and get some support along the way.