Which Stage of Change Are You In?

Can you identify which stage of change you are in? Can you hold space for yourself with grace and compassion as you work to change your behavior, thoughts, perceptions, and attitudes? Can you be kind to others as they work the change process in their own lives?

Pre-contemplation – I am not thinking about changing at all, I see no problems, and I do not need to change anything right now.

Contemplation – something needs to shift, I might not know exactly what or how to make it happen but I know I need to do something. 

Preparation – I know what needs to change and I know what I need to do to get things started. I am seeking support and the items I need to be successful in my new change (i.e. getting the gym membership and new shoes, buying the right foods for my meal plan, finding a 12-step sponsor)

Action – I’m working on taking the steps that need to change. I am in the grind of changing my life for the better. I am focused on the daily steps to make my goal come true. 

Maintenance  – I’m doing it! I have changed my behavior, perspective, and my life. Now it is about sticking to my goals and keeping my eye on the prize for the long term. 

Sometimes relapse back to our old behaviors and attitudes happens. Work to get back on track as quickly as possible. It is not in never having a relapse but in how quickly we return to our more healthy focus that we want to measure our success. How quick do we recognize, stop the old behavior or thoughts, and return to the path of our goal? That’s the true measure of success for us. 

Overall, remember that change is hard. It can be challenging and moment to moment changes on the path. Your goal is to keep your eye on the prize!

Need more? Read Monday’s article on 3 steps to making change happen in your life here.

Photo credit: Social Work Tech

Working with Ambivalence … the parts of you that want to change & the parts that don’t.

Ever wonder why it is so hard to make big changes … or even small ones for that matter? It is often because we have what is known as ambivalence. This concept that part of us wants to change and part of us does not. We have a small war going on inside ourselves between the factions of staying the same and playing it safe and the part of us that wants something new and different … aka not as safe. Below are 3 ways to work with your own ambivalence and get those changes to take hold for good.

As you consider what you would like to change in your life, pay attention to what you do not like, what you want to be different, allow yourself time to reflect and feel into the changes, then take informed and inspired action. Read on to work on finding the next right step for you.

Stage 1:

When we consider making changes it is important to think about what we do not like, however not dwell here. This stage is just about getting clear about what we do want. This stages sets the scene for us to find what we do want by examining what we do not want. When we are in this stage we often do not feel comfortable, we may feel like we are the victim, that we are on the wrong path, or just bored and tired of the same ol’ same old thing. This stage is an opportunity to decide. It is the point that we begin to see what is not working. 

It is here that we might find it is time to stop drinking/using substances or other unhealthy coping skill because we feel so awful after a night or two of our use. It is here that we might feel uncomfortable thinking, talking, acting like our “old” self because we have new knowledge, insight, or awareness. It is here that we realize that working out was giving us more than just weight loss because we missed the emotional high by missing our movement practice this morning. 

This video explains how to work with ambivalence using the Trans-theoretical Model of Change and stages of change.

Action point for this stage – Get clear on what you do not like. Reflect on why you do not like it – not to judge and keep yourself down, but to objectively determine what is not working for you. You might see that your behavior is not the kind of person you want to be any more. I see this a lot with people who used to use racist or sexist jokes without realizing the impact. Now they know the impact and do not want to be that kind of person any more, but are working to figure out how to engage people with different humor. From this point of knowing what we do not want we can begin to decide what we do want. 

Stage 2:

Now that you have a clear picture about what you do not want any longer, it is time to vision what you do want. This is a very important stage. It is here that you actually make things happen. So many people want to brush past this stage in effort of action, because action feels better, yet action too quickly can create more work in the end. In this stage spend some time developing what you do want. 

As you get clear on what you do not want – usually does not take us too long to do – we want to get very clear on what we do want. Why do we want to quit using substances? What is the benefit of a new eating plan? Why behave differently? As you vision your new life options, it is important to feel how you will feel when you get the new life you want. In this stage, do not worry about how you will get it. Just feel how good it will feel when you are successful. Drink in the sweet feelings of your goals, successes, and dreams. 

Many people feel this is so whoo – whoo, but here is what is behind it. Science. We are chemical (hormones / neurotransmitters), electrical (heart rate, facia, brain, neuron communications) , vibrational beings (atoms and molecular structure). Every thought, emotion, and action we have creates a change in those 3 things. As those changes take place – yes through your thinking and feeling and eventually doing – you are changing the way your cells communicate with each other. Our cells use proteins to adapt to the environment around us and are always changing. As these proteins shift and change we have a different experience. Experiences change our brain structures and impact other physical structures like organs, tissues, and internal communication patterns. These changes create our internal environment. This can be helpful and supportive or hostile and forbidding. 

For example as you consider a stressful event your inflammation rate rises, your breathing may shift into more upper lobe exposure, less deep breathing, and your heart rate will then quicken. This change in what is known as your heart rate variability (HRV) is tied to your nervous system. 

As your HRV quickens, your sympathetic nervous system revs up, getting ready for a fight, to flee, or go into hypo arousal and keep you alive. All this, just while you think about that fight with your partner, that near miss car accident, the trauma you lived through as a kid, or your big work project. These thoughts are impacting how your body responds. This is not just about the way you think. It is also about the way you feel, as your emotions and actions also create changes in the physical body. It does not matter where you enter the square, everything is always impacting everything. We are holistic systems, not linear cause and effect systems. 

Overlapping Psychological and Locomotor Development
This is a model of the holistic nature of our experiences I created for a presentation I gave on the overlapping nature of our psychological and physical systems.

Whether is psychological or physical they impact each other. It does not matter where we start the process – in our minds or in our bodies – we cannot pull apart the intersecting experience. The heart rate variability is the link between the mental and physical world. we can control it to change our perception of our experiences. (Reuille-Dupont, 2018)

Now that you have a better understanding of why thinking and feeling matter to the physical structure of you, it is time to make action happen. 

Action Step for This Stage: Create a vision board, write a story about the new you/life/dream as though it has already happened, and mediate, mediate, mediate. Mediation shifts our brain waves and allows us to be more receptive to solutions and next steps we need to take. We have to let go of our own thinking and doing around the change before we can get really clear about what we need to do next. Mediation clears that space for us in as little as 5, 10, 15 minutes a day. Do not skip this activity. Read more on the importance of reflective time and accomplishing goals.

Stage 3:

Hopefully, you have spent some time sitting with what you do not like, then working on what you do want. Now it is time to act. It is important to take INFORMED action. This is something I see go sideways in lots of folks, myself included – they get antsy for action and impulsively move instead of be deliberate about the next steps. This means they often miss the most simple option and skip around … leading to longer accomplishment timing. 

Ambivalence in change is uncomfortable. It is hard to sit with. There is a part of you so sure of the changes you want to make, yet there is also a part of you so scared about the changes you are about to make. There is part of you that can see clearly how much better the new way will be, and there is a part of you sad to let the old way go. As we honor both of those spaces we want to make sure we allow both to be true. This helps settle our discomfort. Once we can process our struggle we are often ready for action.

For example, the change may be quit using substances, yet your culture is full of people using your substance of choice. It may not be easy to leave them all behind today or even completely quit your substance today (sometimes this is even dangerous), but it might be doable to find a 12-step group, reach out to a sober friend, see your therapist or get one, get to the hospital, or buy a book/find an online community to help you stick to your goal of being sober (or more sober) today. We are just looking for the next step right now. Once that one is taken, we can take the next one, and the next, and next until you have multiple days, months, years sober from that substance. 

Stage 3 Action Step: Since you have already set up so much and gotten so ready by creating a vision for your future self, feeling your success and accomplishment as though it has already happened, and mediated to get clear about what you next step needs to be … just take that step. Just the next one to be most effective. It does not have be big, does not have to accomplish the end goal completely yet, you are in process, and it does not have to be overwhelming. It just has to be the next right step for this moment. The one we are in, not the one you wish you were in, want to be in, or would rather be in. Just the one you are really in. Informed action makes each moment easier and they build upon each other, little by little, like building blocks building the tower … one at a time, step by step. 

Skip the Caffeine … Laugh Instead

Laughter is fantastic medicine. It changes our chemistry and opens our soul.

Need a pick me up? Laughter is as fast as caffeine without all the side effects. Laugh hard, laugh often

Crack a Smile … it’ll make you feel better.

#fitnesspsychologist #laughteristhebestmedicine #smilemore

25 Ways to Take a Vacation: The importance of taking breaks.

So many of us feel like we need a break but do not take one. You could go all out and take the full on beach or mountain vacation or you could stay home and have a stay-cation. It doesn’t matter as long as you are taking a break.

In honor of my own spring break trip, this week we are going to look at the need to take a break. Many people talk about how much they need a break, yet many struggle to take one. In a culture that values output, taking a break can feel like laziness or missing out. 

There is a natural need to take a break. Sammonds, Mansfield, and Fray (2017) found that drivers in a simulated experiment showed increasing discomfort as drive time increased and decreased discomfort following the break. A break serves to help us reset our attention and allow us to reconnect with ourselves. By taking advantage of the break we are more energized, productive, and happy in our work (Steinborn & Huestegge, 2016). 

Now lets talk about taking a longer break, a vacation (and vacation workouts). So many people never take all their vacation time each year. This is detrimental to our health. In my research I studied the impact of chronic psychological stress states on the physical body. There is a cascading effect of the endocrine  system when one is under too much stress for too long. During periods of chronic stress the body pumps out a number of hormones and neurotransmitters. When these chemicals are not metabolized in the system they wreck havoc on physical structures. The impact is things like; chronic pain, joint pain, cardiovascular issues, difficulty sleeping, concentration troubles, sexual problems, obesity, and decrease in skin/hair, nail health to name a few. When we do not get a break to re-set and recharge our physical system our health suffers. 

A vacation does not have to be lengthy or costly. You can practice “vacationing” on a regular basis to help yourself reset your system. You can do the traditional holiday and plan a  get away for a few weeks or a month, or you can take 5 minutes and “go away” in your office. The benefits of each are different, however both are helpful.

Here are 25 ideas to get you started taking your next break. 

The Traditional Ideas: 

  1. The beach, mountains, forest, or desert
  2. Road trip for distance and enjoy the small towns along the way
  3. National or state park tour
  4. Bike touring
  5. Backpacking & Hiking
  6. All inclusive resorts
  7. Explore an exotic locale like a local 
  8. Camping
  9. Hut / cabin trips
  10. Sailing / boating 

Closer to Home:

  1. Get a screensaver that helps you visualize yourself on a vacation
  2. Find an app that has guided meditations about locations you would like to visit
  3. Home spa stay – pick a few treatments you can do at home and plan a relaxing few days in the comfort of your own home
  4. Enjoy your home town like a visitor
  5. Sit and enjoy the outdoors
  6. Explore a new section of town / class / landmark / shop you’ve never been too. Take your time and enjoy the adventure of finding something new
  7. Enjoy a local sporting event – even if thats on TV at the new locale from #6
  8. Take in a theater production, symphony, or concert close to home
  9. Enjoy a really nice dinner – either prepared at home with friends or out on the town
  10. Road trip to the nearest cool town you want to explore

The Hard Part: No matter where your vacation takes you (far from home or just lying down for a unusual nap at home) the trick to taking a break is to really shift your mind away from all the things you have to do, all the chores that have not been completed, and all obligations you have for yourself. Here are some ways to help yourself shift (and stay shifted) away from all those mental actions.

  1. Write a list of all the things you have to do and give them a date of completion or timeline so you can rest knowing you have already planned for those tasks. You may need to break it into smaller tasks to be effective.
  2. Recognize that you cannot complete everything before you rest. There will always be more to do. Honor the struggle of chores and be present to the moment you are in, not the one with everything complete and prefect. 
  3. Use headphones to help yourself control stimulation and outside noise while you meditate or rest. It can help you learn to tune out things you do not need to focus on for the moment. 
  4. Learn to follow your breath. The breath is the easiest way into your nervous system. This is because the breath connects you to your heart rate, heart rate signals the brain – rest or run. As you pay attention to your breath, allow yourself to sink into the support you are using. This allows your body to rest as well as your mind. 
  5. Focus on the people you are with, the experiences you are having, and the things you are seeing. As you commit to be present to what you are really doing (not your deadlines and to lists, heaping laundry pile, or the toilet that needs scrubbing), you learn how to shift your attention in the moment, moment by moment, to your experience. This experience becomes embodied and you become more grounded. This translates to more effectiveness in your everyday life and an ability to shift more easily toward resting more often. 

Today give yourself the gift of “getting away” – even if only for 5 minutes. Take a break and be present. 

References: 

Steinborn, M. B., & Huestegge, L. (2016). A walk down the lane gives wings to your brain. restorative benefits of rest breaks on cognition and self‐control. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 30(5), 795-805. doi:http://dx.doi.org.tcsedsystem.idm.oclc.org/10.1002/acp.3255

Sammonds, G.M., Mansfield, N.J., and Fray, M. (2017). Improving long term driving comfort by taking breaks: How break activity affects effectiveness. Applied Ergonomics, 65, 81-89. 

3 Steps to Overcoming Difficult Times and Increasing Your Joy

Life is full of setbacks and hard times. It’s not about avoiding the experiences. Instead focus on living fully and navigating the difficult times by cultivating resiliency in these 3 steps.

As we continue to turn around the sun and move closer to the spring equinox the natural light continues to lengthen each day. Metaphorically we can capitalize on this concept and work to increase the “light” in our own lives. 

Finding the light in our own lives requires that we practice activities we enjoy. This can be difficult during hard times and many struggle to allow themselves to feel joy at all. Joy can be the hardest emotion to feel because people worry “this good thing” will end. As a result they cap the enjoyment they can feel. They fear the pain of disappointment so much they contain joy. Doesn’t that sound awful … but most of us do it. 

I have worked with so many people who work to never feel sadness and disappointment. They have been operating in a numbed existence, the middle between joy and sadness, “to be safe” and “not get their hopes up” thus making sure they are protected. Problem … by protecting themselves from the pain of sadness and disappointment they are also protecting themselves from the full feelings of joy. Life becomes mundane, lackluster, and boring. The fix? Stop being afraid of engaging fully – in every emotion that shows up. 

Sadness and disappointment are about losing. They help us see how much we cared, what we value, and as a result add richness to our lives. This is why life becomes lackluster when we cap them off. We lose the vibrancy all experiences can provide by holding back full emotional engagement

Joy, different than happiness, comes from within. By cultivating practices we enjoy we build a deep wellspring of contentment and joy bubbles up. We begin to find small things that contribute to “living the good life”. We find pieces of each experience, no matter how painful, that bring lessons and some good (even if tiny) into our lives. Happiness follows as we continue to engage in activities where we find positive aspects. Happiness tends to be fleeting based on external factors and experiences we are engaged in. When we cultivate the activities that bring us joy and work to find the positive in every situation happiness follows regularly. 

eMeals

Now let’s talk about when awful things happen. So many people I work with and see in my office are going through difficult times. Something has happened, they grew up in difficult situations, or have been taught to negate good in their lives. Over time this leads to feelings of despair and thoughts like “what’s the point anyway” and “it’ll never work out the way I want it to”. Soon they are repeating the mantra of “play it safe” directly and/or indirectly. As outlined above this just decreases the ability to feel joy and find vibrant exciting experiences in life. They hunker down and just get through it. 

Some people struggle here because they are going through a very difficult experience that has shook the core of who they think they are and how they view the world. Thus making it hard to focus on anything good happening right now, and forcing them into the pain of loss and disappointment. Although, not easy, these experiences offer rich ground to work with joy, sadness, disappointment, expectations, and personal empowerment.

When something difficult strikes it is important to honor how you feel. Maybe you are angry, sad, guilty, disbelieving, or feeling shameful about the situation. Honor those difficult feelings and allow yourself to feel them. They exist to tell you this is important and you need to pay attention. Maybe a loss has shown you that you need to pay more attention to the relationships you are currently involved in. Maybe your guilt is telling you never to behave like that again. Shame is harder as it involves a belief system that you are “bad” and often comes as a result of external factors (childhood emotional trauma, emotional neglect, social system paradigms, etc) and may need therapy to help shift old messages about what is right, wrong, good, and bad as they relate to your personhood. Disbelief is part of the grief cycle and can shake our sense of safety and reality in the world while we go through the grief cycle itself. 

As you work with the situation at hand, the first step is to honor where you are, then accept the situation as it is. this is very difficult and many struggle with this step. Often the situation is not one they wanted, expectations shattered, future plans destroyed, however it is important to work on accepting to the best of your ability. Once you can accept the situation as it is, right now, right here, you have more choice on how to deal with it. Again, you do not have to like the situation, want it, agree with it, or approve of it, you just have to accept it. 

The position of acceptance creates room to respond in the most healthy way you can muster. This creates a sense of personal empowerment and taking steps with empowerment builds self esteem and confidence. As you build self esteem and confidence you build your ability to deal with difficult situations. The cycle becomes a positive one to help you deal with life on life’s terms in the most healthy ways possible right now. 

This week, while we move toward longer days of light, work on cultivating your joy. Work to build activities into your life you enjoy. Then allow yourself to fully and wholeheartedly enjoy them. If you are going through something difficult work on honoring, accepting, and turning toward choices that empower you to move through in the most healthy way you can. Whatever your situation right now, work to be fully in it, without capping it off to “play it safe” and avoid negative feelings. Allow yourself the gift of vibrant and intense human experience. 

Friday Flow: Road Trip Conversations

Ever had that road trip where all you heard was “how much longer”? Today work on flipping how you interact in the car. Use this time to connect and get to know each other better.

I’m road trippin’ today in one of my many forays following my kids (or taxiing them) around for sporting events. We are working to beat the next snow storm headed into the Rockies. Since we are on the topic of communication this week, let’s talk about the beauty of being present to people in the car with you, because that is not always easy.

There is something pretty special about these private spaces for developing relationship and working through aspects of personal communication, building deeper knowledge of each other, and finding new music to jam to in between random topics that arise as a result of exploring the world from behind a windshield. Here are some of the fun topics that have arisen within my vehicle as the miles pass by:

  • What beef jerky is the best & why
  • Books we are currently reading
  • Levels of snowfall
  • Tiny homes
  • Salt lakes
  • Music choices
  • Work tasks
  • Dinner options 
  • Finding friends
  • Places to visit when the kids move out
  • Ways to do said travel – RVs vs Camper Vans vs Air BnB, & which countries
  • The benefits of shaving with shaving cream
  • And … How much tea is left & where to get more ice

Of course you can always engage in a variety of other road trip activities. I’ve scrapbooked, we’ve enjoyed a variety of movies, coloring, playing I Spy, and my personal favorite … the license plate game. One time I got all but one state. That was a long ride and quite the accomplishment … I still hold the family title, and I do not think they’ll ever beat me.

Good Leaders Are Kind …

Afraid if you are not “tough” enough people will not follow? Being tough does not mean dominating or bullying. The most effective leaders are those who express compassion. They just know sometimes compassion looks like “no”. They do not berate, belittle, steal ideas, or micromanage their team. They trust them. They get quality followers because they are a quality leader. Go be a great leader today.

13 Ways to Give … The Spiritual Side of Service

Want to know the secret to happiness? Get outside of yourself. When we reach out to others and help make someone else’s life better we actually help ourselves. Acts of service help you stay healthy – mentally and physically. Get out there and help today.

Many religious and spiritual practices speak of service. Service is a key piece of 12 step programs and many say they didn’t really get sober until they were able to give back. It was the act of service that helped them realize the bigger picture and reason for sobriety. Most of us talk a good game regarding service, however many of us do not perform much service.

One reason we do not offer acts of service as much as we might like is because we haven’t set our lives up to give back. It takes time more than anything and it’s much easier to write a check than it is to spend the day working with someone who needs help. Work to structure time to give back into your life. It will make your life more purposeful and help fight diseases, depression, anxiety, and stress in your own life.

Another reason we skip the service aspect is because we do not know what to do. We feel that it must be BIG to be any good, and the opposite is really true. It is the small, everyday acts of grace and kindness that make the greatest differences in our lives and those we reach out to. These small acts help us realize we are not alone. They help us feel connected and part of something larger than ourselves. Again, keeping us more healthy over the long haul.

Today challenge yourself to perform as many acts of service to another as you can. A little secret is … when you work to make others happy, you actually make yourself happy. The Dali Lama says “if you want others to be happy, be compassionate. If you want to be happy, be compassionate”. Today make your goal to give as much as you can. See how happy you can make yourself by helping others. Notice how doing nice things for other people changes you, gives you different perspective, or helps you see something you hadn’t noticed before. When we give to others we begin to see how similar we are, not how different. We are more the same than not. It’s hard to hate others when you realize this. When you hate less or fear others ideas, actions, and motivations less your life gets better. You start to see the beauty that surrounds you instead of all the things you negatively judge.

Here are some ideas to get out there, get connected, and offer help:

  1. Hold the door open for someone
  2. Smile at everyone you meet
  3. Give the driver in front of you the benefit of the doubt.
  4. Listen. Really listen as your partner, kids, or co-worker talks to you – without coming up with your response while they speak.
  5. Shovel, cut the grass, rake, sweep the sidewalk for your neighbor. You are already doing your own, just go a little farther.
  6. Teach something to someone who wants to learn what you already know how to do. Be patient and let them learn at their own pace. Work to enjoy watching their progress as a support person not the director.
  7. Play with your dog, your kid, your friend … go out have a good time and laugh and laugh and laugh.
  8. Tell your family and friends how much they mean to you. Maybe even send them a handwritten note, flowers, or let them know in another way that would be special to them.
  9. Offer to help with the car pool, cleaning, cooking, laundry, etc for a group you are a part of, a friend, neighbor, or your family member who usually does those tasks.
  10. Read to someone – a kid, a person who can no longer read for themselves due to failing eyesight or other disease, or someone who never learned to read.
  11. Volunteer in your community. Many communities have a volunteer listing where organizations list what they need help with. Look it up and volunteer your skill set to help them out.
  12. Help set up a fundraising event for a group you are interested in. Big commitment, but it sure feels good when you come together with a team of people and accomplish something for the greater good.
  13. Do something nice for yourself. You can’t take care of anyone, if you haven’t taken care of you first. Make sure to include yourself on your acts of service list. It helps you be a better person, less stressed, and ready to help others if you have been taken care of too. Do not forget about you.