Practicing Presence

by Joanna Kleinman

living34-01I have devoted my life’s work to support people to live lives that they love.  I teach people how to investigate their lives and learn tools for them to be happy, to feel empowered, fulfilled and content.

By age 9, I was already aware that I was struggling to feel more comfortable in my own skin.  I had loving parents, close friends, and yet I struggled with feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and fear.   I suffered feelings of not belonging, and that I was not as well liked as I believed I should have been.

What I didn’t understand at the time, was that my mind was in a constant stream of endless thought.  Experts estimate that the mind thinks between 60,000 – 80,000 thoughts a day. That’s an average of 2,500 – 3,300 thoughts per hour. And these thoughts are automatic, habitually evaluating, judging, and categorizing everyone and everything we encounter.   Our automatic stream of thought is forever searching, but what is it really searching for?  We don’t really even know!   And in our never ending search to find something, we continually end up feeling lost.

In my work with thousands of people, what I constantly keep hearing is how fast the years have gone by, and they really don’t know what they were focusing on for most of that time.  For most of us, we weren’t actually present to our lives.  We used this moment as a stepping stone to get to the next.  And the more we searched, the more exhausted, overwhelmed, and unfulfilled we became.

Harvard researcher Matt Killingsworth conducted a study to answer the question, “What makes us happy?”  In his research, he found that people are least happy when their mind is wandering and most happy when their focus is in the present moment.  In other words, what constitutes the experience of happiness has far less to do with what we are actually doing and more to do with whether we are focusing our attention on the present moment while we are doing it.  Killingsworth further concluded that the average person’s mind is wandering approximately 47% of the day.  That is almost half the day spent focusing on things that are not actually happening in reality!  Our endless stream of automatic thinking traps us into creating a reality that doesn’t actually exist.

So how do we interrupt this automatic and constant compulsive thinking?  The answer is this:  We must practice being present.  And this skill almost never happens by itself.  It takes a willingness to be your own teacher, and the desire to regularly practice this skill in your daily life.

Here are 6 ways to practice presence in your daily life:

1.    Start the day by asking these two questions: “What do I need to let go of right now to be calm?”  In other words, what are the thoughts I am having that are causing stress and write down any responses that come to mind.
2.    Next, ask yourself a second question: “What do I have to be grateful for?”  Set a timer for several minutes and write down whatever comes to mind.  If nothing comes up, make it up!  Anything can belong on that list.
3.    Pay Attention to the sounds around you.  Take a few minutes to turn your attention to all of the sounds that are around you.  Don’t go into an explanation of the sounds, how you feel about them, or why they are occurring.  Just simply listen.
4.    Pay attention to your breath.  Focus on feeling your breath go in and out.  This simple exercise for just two minutes a day is a powerful tool for practicing presence, as well as for relaxing. When your mind wanders, just notice it and say “thinking, thinking.” Then gently return to the breath, and focus completely on your breath.
5.    During the day, when you remember, pay attention to every aspect of whatever you ‘re doing in that moment.  If you are driving, notice the things around you, such as the cars or trees. Notice how your hands feel on the steering wheel.  When we bring mindfulness into our daily routines (dishes, laundry, eating), what we’re doing is bringing more focus to each moment. Always try to notice the thoughts that are there, and gently let them pass, and bring yourself back to your present task.  Just notice your thoughts jumping from one to the next, and lovingly come back to the present.
6.    Release the Tension in the Body. When you are truly aware of your body, you can notice there is usually some tension and stress someplace within it.  Learn how to release it.  Use your breathing.  You can practice relaxation anywhere.  For example, while driving your car, at a red light, notice if there is tension in your body.  If yes, notice where it is in the body and practice releasing the tension that you noticed.

This is hard work at first, as we are constantly forgetting to engage with these practices.  But if you continue to practice presence, your life will change in ways you hadn’t imagined could be possible.

5 Steps to Stop Letting Fear Get in the Way of Life

Model Released. Confused Frightened Young WomanThis past week in my “Dethroning Your Inner Critic” class, we discussed how fear stops us from living the lives that we truly want to live.

Marianne Williamson says, “Love is what we were born with.  Fear is what we learn.”

Fear stops everyone.  Imagine how many opportunities we miss when fear keeps us stuck, and stands in the way of what we most want.

Your Inner Critic, the voice in the mind that speaks to you all day, runs on fear.  This is the voice that tells you that you shouldn’t take risks, because you might fail; that you need to keep yourself safe and protected from the possibility of rejection, inadequacy, vulnerability; that you should not put yourself out there to the world, because what if the the world says “no?”.  This Inner Critic develops in childhood as an attempt to avoid painful feelings, protecting you from feeling hurt in any way. It might sound like, “you should…”, “why didn’t you…?”, “What’s wrong with you?” or “Why can’t you get it together?” It is the Inner Critic that is responsible for keeping you stuck!

You see, it is fear, disguised as your Inner Critic, that slips into your mind, and goes for your weakest spots, which it finds readily.  One moment, life feels good.  You are calm, confident and happy.  And then the next minute, your Inner Critic takes over your mind.  It’s always lurking, ready to pounce on any part of life that doesn’t fit the ideal picture.

It is only fear that has the potential to defeat life.

To get fear out of the driver’s seat of your life, you need to see clearly how often you are operating from fear.  Maybe you are angry because you aren’t getting the love you want in your marriage, but you’re too afraid to give it, because it might not be received.  Maybe you’re afraid that you are failing as a parent, and are so angry at your child for making you feel that way, that you are frequently critical.  Maybe you are staying in a toxic relationship, because you are more afraid of being alone.  We can’t shift something unless we can clearly see it.

Follow these 5 steps to stop acting from fear:

1.     Become the Observer of Your Inner Critic’s Fears.  Eckert Tolle said, “The greater part of human pain is unnecessary.  It is self created as long as the unobserved mind runs your life.” You have to be willing to become the observer of your Inner Critic, rather than blindly listen to it.   Many of us don’t realize it’s presence.  We move through our days living very passively, rarely paying attention to our thoughts.  It is these thoughts, the voice of the Inner Critic, that is responsible for creating all of the fear.  Start to pay attention to all of the fear that your Inner Critic whips up by making a list of your deepest fears.  Be radical in your honesty about what you are really afraid of.

2.    Make a list of all of the ways you are acting out your fears.  When you are gripped by the fear of the Inner Critic, how do you act?  What do you do?  Are you lashing out in anger?  Are you putting up walls to keep others from getting too close?  Are you acting compulsively to self medicate your fear by over eating, shopping, over working, over exercising, or drinking too much?

3.    Notice what are the patterns to your fear.  Have you felt this fear in other times of your life?   Make a list, starting with your earliest memories, of all of the circumstances in which you have felt this fear.  Start to see this fear as a broken record that plays over and over in your mind. Notice that Your Inner Critic is always sucking you in to the same drama.

4.    Have a Dialogue with Your Inner Critic.   Ask your Inner Critic:
•    What are you trying to protect me from?
•    What is it that you don’t want me to feel or experience?
•    Thank your Inner Critic for trying to protect you, but let her know that you don’t need her protection right now.

5.    Practice getting in the present moment throughout the day.  Periodically throughout the day, stop what you are doing and turn your attention towards this very moment.  When you are paying attention to the moment you are in, there is no room for the Inner Critic’s mind chatter.  Use these simple tools as examples, for a minute or two throughout your day, to practice getting present:

  • Focus on your breath.  Pay attention to the air coming in and out through your nose.
  • Practice what I call “driving meditation”.  While you are in your car, say out loud the things that you see, like “tree” “car” “dog”.  Get present to what is around you at that very moment.
  • Sit down with your hands on your lap, and put your attention into your hands.  Try to feel the energy flowing thru them.  Also try the same with other parts of your body.

The bottom line is this:  Fear is nothing more than automatically and habitually listening to your Inner Critic trying to protect you from vulnerability.  When you are willing to take and feel the emotional risks that your Inner Critic is telling you not to, fear will no longer control your everyday life and destiny.

YOUR ARGUING STYLE…AND WHAT IT SAYS

watercolorIf you want to have a healthy, loving relationship, take a look at the way you argue.  Studies show that the way you argue can be a predictor of whether your relationship will last. There are basically two destructive fighting styles:  yelling and screaming, or stonewalling, which is withdrawing emotionally.  

And it doesn’t stop there!  In a new study from UC/Berkeley and Northwestern, researchers were able to accurately predict what type of health problems couples would have based on their fighting styles.  The study found that shutting down emotionally was linked to muscle tension and stiffness, particularly in the back and neck, while patterns of angry outbursts were associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular problems like chest pain and high blood pressure.

So, how do you change the way you argue?  The key to changing the way that you fight is about interrupting where your mind automatically goes.  

When we are in an argument, feeling angry, anxious, or sad, and our emotions are out of control, there is a part of our brain that causes us to react before we are even aware of what we are even doing or saying.  The amygdala are two almond shaped parts of your brain which are the first to react to emotionally significant events.  So, when our emotions are out of control, it is the knee jerk response from this part of our brain that can cause you to over react.

It is this part of the brain that is responsible for our instinctual “Fight-Or-Flight” responses.  So it is also the amygdala that triggers us to either fight by becoming angry, or flight by either withdrawing or leaving the situation.

It is this automatic reaction that people need to learn how to interrupt.  Who is really in control at the moment you are fighting?  Is it YOU or is it your automatic mind that is responding?

When we fight with our spouse, we automatically try to protect ourselves from deeper pain that is triggered, that we are not even aware of.  All human beings have vulnerability at their core.  When our reactions are out of control, it is because our deepest core vulnerability is triggered.  We are triggered into inadequacy, shame, guilt, abandonment, failure.  This is when our defenses are strongest, and the fight or flight response takes over.

You can interrupt the automatic response of the amygdala by learning to re-direct your mind to the pre-frontal regions of the brain, the part of the brain that is responsible for problem solving and processing more complex thoughts.

In other words, you have to consciously use your thoughts to change your behavior.  If you stay triggered in your core vulnerability (inadequacy, shame, guilt, abandonment, failure), you will act out your anger against your partner. If you can consciously remember your commitment to the health of your relationship, and your physical and emotional health and well being, YOU can choose how you will fight, rather than leaving it up to your automatic mind.

Here are 5 Ways to practice interrupting the automatic reactions and change your fighting style:

1.     BECOME THE OBSERVER:  Understand that your reactions are automatic, and become familiar with what you are really feeling when you react automatically.  As soon as you recognize that you are automatically responding to a core vulnerability, you become the observer of your reaction, rather than being lost in it.  Separating yourself from your automatic reaction is the first step in practicing change.
2.    CHOOSE LOVE:  In the moment of observation, the possibility of CHOICE becomes available.  You can choose to be right or you can choose to be connected.  You can choose to continue to stone wall or fight with hostility OR you can choose a different way of being in the argument.
3.    TAKE A TIME OUT:   Taking a time out allows you to cool off and take time to understand your own reactivity then come back to the conversation calmer.
4.    CHOOSE YOUR WORDS:  Think about the words you want to use:  Be responsible for the inflammatory words you use.  Find a different, more effective way to express yourself so that your partner can understand how you feel.
5.     LISTEN FROM A “WIN-WIN” RATHER THAN “ME AGAINST YOU”:  Seek to understand your partner’s perspective in a way that you are able to understand what he or she is really trying to communicate to you.  Repeat back to your partner. “so what I hear you saying is…” and check in with them to see if you got it right!

The bottom line:  Changing your fighting style is all about practicing how to become the observer of your automatic mind.

Who are you really?

wonderAll of us think we have some idea of who we really are. We may be a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend.  We may be a teacher, a doctor, an office worker, or a stay at home mom.  We may have been told that we are fun, funny, a good listener, and kind.  We may have been told that we are cold, selfish, controlling, judgmental.  It runs the gamut.

Where did our sense of self come from?  Primarily from our thinking…a collection of thoughts about our selves.  Our thoughts about ourselves include who we think we are, and what other people tell us. We have developed an identity from our childhood experiences, our ideas from our parents and siblings and from our culture.

What we often fail to realize, is that who we think we are, actually begins when we are first figuring out the world around us, and how people in our world relate to us.  As a child, we don’t have an understanding of how the world works. The beginnings of our sense of who we are, and who we are not, start to take shape when we are about three or four years old.  That’s pretty scary when you think about it!  Our three and four year-old selves are starting to form opinions about how important we are, how loved we are, whether we are smart enough, how much we think we matter to others.  And not only are these beliefs becoming a solid part of our sense of self, but it is these early beliefs that will play a huge role in almost every aspect of our lives, from our self esteem, to the people we choose to be in relationships with!  And it all starts around three years old!!  Yikes!!

Our first sense of who we are is heavily influenced by parents’ attitudes and behavior. When you’re a child, you don’t realize your parents aren’t perfect. You think of your parents as gods—beings with all the authority and omniscience of a deity. And your mom is mad cause you spilled the milk—so that must mean that you are bad. You don’t understand that your mom is mad because she has her own issues she is struggling with.  Maybe she’s over reacting because she had a fight with dad. You think it’s all about you. By the time you are five or six, you’ve got some beliefs about yourself, and they start to influence how you see yourself. It is these childhood beliefs that are the strongest factors in determining who we think we are.

Something simple, like Susie choosing not to play with you on the playground, becomes proof of what you believe. A voice inside your head says, “I told you there was something wrong with you!” It is the safety instinct that kicks in and tries to protect you from that criticism by becoming highly self-critical, and therefore using harshness to make sure that you never get yourself into a situation whereby you could be hurt.  The voice in your mind, that you believe to be you, says “you better figure out a way to make sure you are never criticized ever again!”  Although this demand is completely unattainable, you don’t recognize that.  Instead, you are convinced that there IS actually a way to achieve this!  You try to find a way to keep yourself safe and protected from emotional pain. But sadly, life doesn’t work this way.  It is unavoidable that we will have moments of failure, criticism, and rejection.

But who is really responsible for our interpretations?  It is not actually YOU who is responsible for forming much of who you think you are, but rather it is your Inner Critic:  The voice in your mind that speaks to you all day, every day, and tells you who you need to be, what you need to achieve, where you don’t measure up, what you need to fix, where you are failing, and where you are just not enough. It is our inner critic that ALWAYS has a judgment about something.  She is always looking to answer the fundamental questions: “What’s wrong?” or “What’s missing?”

Whenever life doesn’t fit your inner critic’s picture, you are often convinced that the reason why is because of YOU!  If you would just figure out how to be better, smarter, prettier, funnier, a better person, you won’t be hurt.  Every time you experience pain, this is evidence that YOU really ARE not good enough.  By the time you’re an adult, you’ve gathered enough evidence to make you believe that in some way, you are inadequate or not enough. “What’s wrong with my body?  What’s wrong with my looks?  What’s wrong with the way I am in the world?  Am I smart enough?  Am I accomplished enough?  Am I a good enough wife, mother, daughter, friend?”.

In case you haven’t noticed, our Inner critic ALWAYS has a problem with something.  If you stop and look, you can recognize that there’s always something that’s bothering you.  Today’s judgment may be different from yesterday’s, but once today’s inadequacy is gone, there will always be another inadequacy waiting to take its place. But rather than understanding that this habitual way of thinking is actually our inner critic talking, we think that’s US talking.  What we don’t realize is that our inner critic is contaminating who we think we are.  The habitual thinking of the inner critic is always looking at a question, “what’s wrong here?”  What’s wrong with me, or what’s wrong with it.?  She is always waiting to try to change or fix things, because she thinks that something is always broken or needs perfecting.

In her book “Playing Big”, Tara Mohr describes the Inner Critic by saying, “The inner critic may take inspiration from people in your life who played the role of outer critic. It adapts and expands on their behavior and often exists as a version of their voices inside your head. Listen for echoes of a parent, a sibling, a boss, or the voice of societal institutions or major cultural forces such as your religion, company, or country.”

Who does your Inner Critic sound like? You’ve been listening to a story for your whole life, and you don’t even know it. You have a seven year-old version of the story, a sixteen year-old version, a twenty five year-old version, and you have the version you have now.  You don’t need to have experienced difficult experiences or dysfunction in your childhood to develop a harsh inner critic. Her voice sounds a lot like your own. Listen: “You forgot to pick up the dry cleaning again! You’re an idiot,” she scolds as you walk up to your front door without your clean clothes.

It is this Inner Critic that we have put, without realizing it, in the position of governing our thoughts, our feelings, our beliefs, and virtually all of who we think we are.  It is this Inner Critic that we have symbolically put on the throne.  Dethroning your inner critic (the Center hosts a workshop program by the same name) starts with recognizing the that the voice in your mind is not really you.  Learn to pay attention to how she speaks to you and exactly what she is saying.  Feel what it feels like in your body when she is speaking to you.

When you hear your inner critic talking, ask yourself:

  1. Is she making up worse-case scenarios?
  2. Does she repeat the same story over and over again?
  3. Does she hold you back from making changes in your life?
  4. Does she keep you stuck in fear?
  5. Does listening to this voice make you feel the way you want to feel in your life?
  6. Does it help you reach your goals?  And if so, at what cost?

Learning the difference between YOU and your Inner Critic has the potential to change your whole life.

How the “Inner Critic” Can Take Over Our Sex Life

Psychological issues have a huge impact on a woman’s libido.  Maybe you don’t feel good about your body. Maybe you’re exhausted, because you’re too busy at work and having to take care of the house and kids when you get home.  Maybe you have no energy left to give to your partner.  All of this can contribute to anxiety, depression, stress, poor body image, low self-esteem, relationship issues, and life dissatisfaction.

Dr. Ruth says that the brain is the most erotic organ in the body.  So, the libido is very much influenced by a woman’s thoughts inside her head and her emotional well being.   

libidoThe truth is that the quality of your life is largely governed by your thinking.  Most people think that certain conditions are necessary in order to be happy, and if those conditions aren’t met, they can’t be happy.  In other words, “if I just were able to lose this weight, I would feel better about myself” or “If my spouse would just change his behavior, I would be happier in my relationship.”

You have a voice in your mind, that is constantly judging and evaluating everything about yourself.  It says, “you need to look like this, act like this, have this, do this, BE this.” And if you’re not, there’s something wrong, and you’d better fix it!  I call this voice THE INNER CRITIC, and it is constantly speaking to us from the moment we get up to the moment we go to bed.  It is this voice that robs you of your joy, your aliveness, your self expression, your satisfaction, your contentment, your fulfillment.  It judges and evaluates you, criticizes you, and tells you where you don’t measure up. Given all of this, it’s no wonder that your inner critic can be in the driver’s seat of your libido.  Look at all that you have to overcome in order to feel like having sex!

Your inner critic has been running you for most of your life, and creates most of your sense of self.  You had a 2nd grade version of it, a 10th grade version of it, a young adult version of it, and you struggle with it now. It is constantly and compulsively analyzing, labeling, and interpreting everything about you, your relationship, and your life. Your inner critic compares you to an ideal version of the way you should be, your partner should be, and your life should be.  She is all about perfection. And nothing will measure up to her expectations.

A lot of the suffering women experience comes from expecting that all aspects of life should fit this ideal picture.  And when life doesn’t, this is when women feel an overall sense of inadequacy and dissatisfaction, because their expectation is that it should.  

And instead of dealing with it, women cover it up, keep their true feelings hidden, and suffer with silent shame, because although it appears like they have it all together, deep down they feel miserable.  And this misery definitely impacts not only how they treat themselves, but how they treat the people that they are closest to, mostly affecting their relationships with their partners and children.

Women need to feel emotionally close and connected to their partner in order to have a satisfying sex life. When you don’t have a healthy relationship with yourself first, it becomes harder to have a healthy relationship with anyone else.  When you don’t feel good about yourself, it’s easy to project that outward onto your partner.

We all know how it goes when you try to change your partner!  When men feel criticized, they pull away. The more he pulls away, the angrier we get, and then we become even more angry and try to fix or change them!  This can cause a vicious cycle in your relationship with your spouse, as the more you try to fix and change him, the more he pulls away.

The repetitive lack of connection to your partner, unresolved conflicts and fights, and poor communication between partners can cause chronic unhappiness in the relationship.  Sex is a man’s way of feeling emotionally connected to women.  So, when he feels disconnected, he wants to have sex.   But, we, as women don’t feel like having sex unless we feel emotionally connected.  So, herein lies the vicious cycle.  He wants to have sex to feel connected, and we don’t want to have sex unless we feel connected.  When we are stuck in the vicious cycle, neither partner takes responsibility for the lack of connection, love and affection towards their partner.  Each person justifies his or her actions, and before you know it, it’s like you are two 4 year olds saying, “I’m not going to show love unless HE does!”  “Well, I’m not going to show love unless SHE does!”

So, this overall effect of the vicious cycle can wreak havoc on a woman’s libido.  And, relationship and sexual issues have as much of an emotional impact on men as they do on women. When one partner isn’t happy with their sex life or the quality of the relationship, both partners are deeply impacted, and both partners suffer.

What can also wreak havoc on a woman’s libido is that we live in a culture that places value on youth and beauty.  So many women struggle with feeling good about themselves and their bodies, because they are comparing themselves to an ideal version of how they think they should look.  And there is also a false belief that permeates our culture that as women grow older, their sex life will decline, and they should accept this as part of their reality.  The truth is, this is not the case.  Although hormone imbalances play a role in how a woman feels about sex and her body, you do not have to experience a low sex drive simply because you are a particular age.

So, a key to a better sex life is connected to developing a better sense of self, and experiencing more joy and contentment in your relationship with yourself and your partner.

The road toward more satisfaction with your life is to begin to distinguish the difference between YOU and YOUR INNER CRITIC.  As I stated earlier, your inner critic is the voice in your head that never shuts up, and keeps evaluating, judging and criticizing, in the interest of trying to perfect you.  The irony is that the more that you keep trying to meet the unrealistic expectations of your inner critic, the more you will struggle.  You will never have what you are really looking for:  joy, contentment, satisfaction, true peace and happiness, because you will always be trying to achieve the unachievable.

The goal here is NOT to silence her!  It would be nice, but unfortunately, she isn’t going anywhere!!  The goal here is to regain your power by recognizing that much of what your inner critic says is based on an idealized standard.  Your inner critic keeps raising the bar, no matter how hard you try to meet her expectations.  Today’s perfection, tomorrow, becomes merely yesterday’s news.  When you catch her putting you down and trying to perfect you, your partner, your kids, or some other area of your life, you can short circuit the power that your inner critic has over your emotional well being by recognizing her insatiable appetite for perfection. She can never be satisfied.  You, however, can be, by recognizing your strengths, accepting your weaknesses, and having some self compassion.  Understanding the difference between YOU and the unrealistic demands of the Inner critic, and learning to separate HER from YOU will alter your relationship with yourself.

Once you begin to practice distinguishing yourself from your inner critic, you may find yourself more peaceful, and more content with your life, exactly the way that it is and exactly the way that it is not.  You may even find yourself falling in love with yourself.  Imagine what impact that could have on your libido.

5 Tools To Separate YOU from your “BAD MOM” INNER CRITIC

mom-karma-cardYour inner critic convinces you that you have to keep doing more, being more, knowing more, in order to feel like you are a good mom.  The minute you meet her expectation of who you are supposed to be, that is quickly yesterday’s news, and she is already on to the next problem you have to solve, the next mountain you have to climb, the next milestone you have to make your child reach.

The truth is that the feelings of inner peace, joy and contentment that all moms crave, come from learning how to separate yourself from your inner critic.  It’s about learning the tools to stop giving energy and attention to the critic’s attempts to improve, perfect, fix or change either you or your children.

Here are 5 tools to separate YOU from your “BAD MOM” INNER CRITIC:

1.    What is the story your inner critic has been telling you about the mom that you are?  Pay attention to the areas where you are struggling or suffering the most in being a mom.  What are the beliefs that your inner critic is convincing you are “Truths?” Even though this may feel like the truth, you are identifying with the expectations of your inner critic, who expects you and your life to fit a “perfectionistic” picture.  When life doesn’t fit this picture (which is often the case), your inner critic will convince you that there is something wrong, and it is up to YOU to make it right.  Try catching your inner critic in the act of hustling you into believing her story.  See her story as just that:  A STORY!  You will know when she’s trying to hustle you by watching your suffering, and all the feelings that come along with it.

2.    See your inner critic’s story as repetitive mind chatter.  For example, if you are angry about forgetting about a birthday party your child was invited to, how is your inner critic making you feel about yourself?  Can you identify this feeling at different times throughout your life, even before you became a mother?  The story of the inner critic is repetitive and unchanging.  The inner critic will just keep looking for more evidence to support the story.  That is how a mistake that most parents make, can make you feel like the worst mother in the world.  The same feelings your inner critic creates today, are the same feelings she created when you were 8, 17, and 30!

3.    How is your inner critic trying to control your children?  Your inner critic needs your children to fit her “perfectionistic” idea of who they should be, because if they fall short of her picture, she will convince you it’s YOUR fault!  She will make you feel small, inadequate, and incompetent.  So, to make sure that you don’t feel that emotional pain, she will try to control and fix your kids, so that you can feel like you’re doing a good job.  When your inner critic tries to fix and control your kids, it is the control and criticism that has your kids behave in ways that are the polar opposite of her expectations.  When you can get your inner critic out of your parenting, and let your kids be themselves, they end up being more of the kids that you desire them to be in the first place:  loving, connected, happy kids.

4.    Give your Inner Critic a name that fits her personality.  (Gwendolyn, perhaps?!).  Notice how and when she speaks to you.  Notice the body sensations she evokes in you (shoulders tense, knots in your stomach).  Notice what mood she puts you in.  Notice when you want to eat when you’re not hungry, sleep when you’re not tired, binge watch TV, or worse, is she in the driver’s seat of your life again?  Get her out!  Stop giving her the power to tell you where you’re not enough or how you should live your life!

5.    What unrealistic expectations do I need to let go of so that I can surrender myself from my inner critic’s grip?  When my 15 year-old son leaves a trail of dirty laundry and wet towels from the bathroom to his room yet again, my inner critic will chime in that he is being lazy, selfish, and disrespectful.  If I listened to her, I would blast my son from here to the moon with criticism and anger.  If I can let go of my inner critic, I can remember that my son is acting like a typical teenage boy.  Of course, I will make him accountable for cleaning up his mess. But instead of asking him through my inner critic’s criticism and anger, I can ask him from my calm and centered self.  And I assure you, when I am parenting him instead of my inner critic, my son is a completely different human being!

The bottom line is this:  The only thing that makes you feel like a bad mom, and then try to do more and be more to feel like a “good mom,” is your automatic habit of listening to your Inner Critic, and thinking that it is YOU.

The more you practice separating yourself from the grip of your inner critic, the less crazy you will feel, and maybe you can recognize the mother that you REALLY are .

5 STEPS TO DETHRONE YOUR CRAZY “BAD MOM” INNER CRITIC

bad-moms-2016I have been waiting for the premier of the movie “Bad Moms” all summer long.  I have heard fellow moms talking about it for months, rallying packs of moms together to see this movie.  So, I was so excited when I finally went to see it last week.  I wanted to find out why it is that this movie is resonating with so many women in a way that no movie has done in years.

This movie really hit home for me, as a therapist who has helped thousands of moms struggle with feelings of guilt and inadequacy, and as a mom of three kids.  It also hits home with millions of moms out there who struggle with the feeling that they have no idea what they are doing, and they are not doing a good enough job.

Motherhood has become an all encompassing identity. Moms feel that it is their fundamental role in life to be the “ideal mom”:  To do it all, know it all, BE it all, and make sure your kids turn out the way you want them to!  This role has certainly been exacerbated by social media, which leads moms to feel even more inadequate about the mother that they are, as it certainly appears that all of their friends have the “perfect” family on Facebook!

It’s no wonder that today’s moms feel overstressed and overworked, and feel trapped in a culture of motherhood in which no matter what they are doing as moms, they are not measuring up.  All of this is enough to make moms feel like they are going crazy, and then they beat themselves up for feeling crazy, which makes them feel even crazier!

So, why are we all so friggin’ crazy?  Why is it that we can all relate to Kristin Bell’s character, Kiki, who fantasizes about being in a car accident that’s just enough to put her in the hospital so she can sleep and binge watch TV?  It is because we are ALL overly identified with the voice of our Inner Critic, who is the voice in our mind who is constantly evaluating, judging, comparing, and telling us where we don’t measure up, what we have to fix, change, or perfect, and how we could do things better, and the more we listen to her, the crazier we feel!

Our Inner critic has us convinced that no matter what we have achieved or accomplished as mothers, no matter how much we have done for our kids, we are still not good enough!  As Kiki says in the movie, “In today’s day and age, it’s impossible to be a good mom!”  REALLY??!!

The PTA president, Gwendolyn, is the personification of our Inner Critic.  Her character represents everything that we think we should be.  She’s doing it “right.”  She is the ideal woman.  The epitome of perfection.  And, if we keep listening to her, our inner critic’s advice about how we need to change, fix or perfect ourselves, we can finally get to the point where we feel like we’re doing it right.  Except, no matter what we do and how hard we try as moms, we never, ever reach that arrival point. It’s like we’re all hamsters on the hamster wheel.  Running and running and running, and still, we feel the same.

It’s time to STOP THE INSANITY!  Does that mean you just let everything go, drink yourself into oblivion, slack off and throw wild PTA parties like the “Bad Moms” did?  NO!  It’s about recognizing that you are listening to a crazy person in your mind, thinking that it’s YOU.  It’s about learning the difference between YOU and your crazy, delusional, perfectionistic, Inner Critic, who is the one who is responsible for so much of your suffering in your life, especially when it comes to motherhood.

Your inner critic convinces you that you have to keep doing more, being more, knowing more, in order to feel like you are a good mom.  The minute you meet her expectation of who you are supposed to be, that is quickly yesterday’s news, and she is already on to the next problem you have to solve, the next mountain you have to climb, the next milestone you have to make your child reach.

The truth is that the feelings of inner peace, joy and contentment that all moms crave, come from learning how to separate yourself from your inner critic.  It’s about learning the tools to stop giving energy and attention to her attempts to improve, perfect, fix or change either you or your children.

The bottom line is this:  The only thing that makes you feel like a bad mom, and then try to do more and be more to feel like a good mom, is your automatic habit of listening to your Inner Critic, and thinking that it is YOU.  The more you practice separating yourself from the grip of your inner critic, the less crazy you will feel, and maybe you can recognize the mother that you REALLY are .

The Secret Payoff of Complaining

whinyWe all have areas in our lives that we persistently bitch, moan and complain about.  We say we want these areas to be different (“I  can’t lose these 20 pounds!”  “How come there are no good men out there?”  ”I hate my job!”) But alas, these are the areas of life where we just seem STUCK!  We have all of our reasons for why we can’t find the time to eat right and exercise, why a good relationship is impossible to achieve, and why we need to remain in a job or career that sucks the life out of us.

Consider the possibility that the source of much of your suffering in your life is YOU!  Consider that the reasons you can’t change that which you are chronically complaining about, is because you are buying into a story that your mind convinces you is the TRUTH.  We have a voice in our minds, that I call the Inner Critic, that tells us a story about our lives, but convinces us that the story is real.  This voice says things like, “If I leave my current relationship, I will be alone forever.” Or “I can’t be happy until I find my true calling.”  Not only do we identify with the story of our inner critic, but we also listen to its advice about how to deal with these “truths”.  And, usually the way our inner critic has us deal with it is to play it safe unless there is a guarantee that life will turn out exactly the way you want it to.

According to Margie Warrell of www.Forbes.com, “Advances in brain imaging technology have enabled neuro-scientists to prove that we are wired to over estimate the size of risks and under estimate our ability to handle them. Accordingly, our choices are often driven more by a fear of what we don’t want, than a commitment to what we do.”  We chronically complain, and yet don’t take action to make changes, because we are afraid to take risks.

Most people don’t know that the reason we are afraid to take risks, and hold on to their complaints, is that they are in some way validating the inner critic’s story.  The repetitive, persistent complaints allow you to avoid personal responsibility for some aspect of your life. You get to avoid the uncomfortable, and often scary, work of taking responsibility for why life looks the way that it does.  If you take the leap to start a new career, how will you support yourself?  Better to just stay put, says the inner critic.  To lose those 20 pounds, you might have to look at the emotional reasons why you’re eating in the first place. Better to just keep eating and complaining instead of looking at your pain, says the inner critic.   Making changes and taking risks in life is very scary to many people.  So scary, in fact, that we would rather find justifications and excuses to stay safe and not risk rejection or failure, than to take action and make a change.

Sometimes, persistent complaints are justifications for the inner critic’s story.  For example, if you are someone who has always felt that in some way you are not good enough, then keeping an extra 20 pounds on is a sure-fire way to make sure that you don’t have to risk putting yourself out there with people.  Your inner critic convinces you, “once I lose these 20 pounds, I will feel more comfortable about meeting new people.”  But, the 20 pounds stay on, because it is too scary to talk with new people, because then they will find out “the truth” that you really aren’t very interesting or don’t have a lot to offer.  Or, staying stuck in a safe job, even though it is killing you, seems like a safer idea because, “you really aren’t good enough to be successful anywhere else”, says the inner critic.

Here are 4 steps to break free of your persistent complaints and take action in your life:

1.     Write a list of all of the things you repetitively complain about in your life.
2.    Make a list of the beliefs, or stories, behind the complaints, that keep you stuck in each of these situations.  These stories are part of your identity that comes from the stories that your inner critic has convinced you of for your whole life or what other significant people might have said about you, and you have accepted as the truth.  The inner critic LOVES to strengthen itself by complaining.  All of the “should’s”, “shouldn’ts”, and “what if’s” of life are really stories that your inner critic has been telling you forever.
3.    Catch your inner critic in the act of retelling you your story for the millionth time!  Notice the body sensations, emotions, moods, and behaviors you have when you are, once again, listening to this story.  Recognize the repetitive, habitual mind chatter that you have heard over and over and over.  Pay attention to those thoughts as nothing more than your conditioned, habitual inner critic, who is at it again!
4.    Try to see the circumstances in your life as they REALLY are, not through the story attached to the circumstance.  It is the story that your inner critic convinces you of, that keeps you stuck in the chronic complaints of your life.  The story is NOT THE TRUTH!  Separate the facts from the story.

The bottom line is this:  Don’t let your life be guided by the story of your inner critic, that you have been believing is the TRUTH.  Start noticing where your mind has created fear that keeps you stuck and feeds your chronic, repetitive complaints.

IS THE QUEEN OF CHAOS DRIVING THE BUS?

4 steps to calm your mind and stop the chaos

Do you ever wish that you could just take a vacation from your mind?

Do you wish that you had an “on-off” switch on the side of your head that you could turn off your worry about the future, your regrets of the past, the things you keep telling yourself over and over that you need to work on or change?

notes-allOur mind, the Queen of Chaos, can literally drive us crazy.  We live in a culture that fosters an overactive mind, that creates worry, frustration, dissatisfaction, sleeplessness, and a feeling that no matter what life we have, something (or many things!) about our life needs to be different.  It is as though our minds create a war inside of us, and we think that the way to peace is through continuing to examine what we need to change, how we need to improve, or we fixate on changing or improving someone else, like our spouse or our kids!

The bottom line is this:  We will never feel the content, joy, love and satisfaction that we want to feel in our lives by remaining at war with ourselves.

So, how then do we stop the war?  There is one simple answer:  We have to practice not listening to the chronic chaos of the mind.

Peace will never come from losing those 10, 20 or 50 lbs.  It will never come by finding the perfect mate.  It will never come from finding the perfect career or raising happy kids.  Rather, all of these things that we think will be the key to our peace and contentment, are actually all CAUSED by first and foremost, finding the inner peace and love first.

No matter what life looks like now, and it may look chaotic, the first step always needs to start with ending the war within your mind.  It is only when you learn how to stop beating yourself up for life not looking the way you want it to, that you can actually find some clarity to change what you want to change.

I have had thousands of clients come to me because they want to fix some aspect of themselves, their relationship, or some other chronic issue in their life, hoping that if they fix this part of their life, they will finally feel the way they want to feel.  But, this approach is backwards.  It is only when we recognize that it is the internal response to our life circumstances that determine how we feel and think about ourselves and our lives, not the circumstances themselves.

Just like you brush your teeth twice a day, every day to keep your teeth clean, so too must we have practices every day to keep our minds clean from chaos.  If you miss brushing your teeth even once, the grime starts to grow.  The same goes for the chaos in the mind!  Here are some daily practices to keep the chaos at bay:

1.    The Morning Questions:  Every day, as soon as you wake up, ask yourself this question:  “What do I need to let go of right now to be calm?”  In other words, what are the thoughts I am having that are causing chaos in my mind?  Ask this question over and over for 5 minutes (set a timer on your phone), and write down the responses that come to your mind.

Then ask yourself the second morning question:  “What do I have to be grateful for?”  Set the timer for another 5 minutes and write down the responses.  These 10 minutes have the power to change your whole life!

2.    Be Aware of Your Addiction to Thinking by Noticing Your Body Sensations Throughout the Day:  Every thought that we have creates some sort of physical response in our nervous system, and emotional feeling in our bodies. Yet, we just allow our mind to go wherever it wants to go, and never take control over the direction that it goes in.  The definition of addiction is being enslaved by a habit.  So when we are habitually and unconsciously thinking, we are literally addicted to this pattern of thought.

Start to pay attention to the emotional and physical responses in your body when your mind goes to that habitually negative place it always goes.  Does your neck get tense?  Do you have knots in your stomach?  Do you feel run down?  Cranky?  Pay attention to the physical reactions to your addictive thinking.

3.    Notice Your Attachments to Outcomes:  When we have a strong attachment to producing a particular outcome in our life, we become fixated on trying to control aspects of our lives that we really don’t have any control over.  This causes fear and anxiety, because the more we try to control something that we can’t control, the more out-of-control we feel.  Then in order to try to feel more in control, we try even harder to control what we can’t control in the first place!  Does this sound insane, or what?  Ask yourself who or what you are trying to control, that in truth, you don’t have any control over?

4.    Choose to Let Go:  Sometimes we are afraid to let go of the thoughts that our minds fixate on because our fixations actually become a part of our identity. I often hear my clients say, “I don’t know who I would be if I didn’t keep trying to fix or control that part of my life.”  We focus on past mistakes because we think that if we keep feeling the shame and regret, it will prevent us from making the same mistake again.  We focus on worrying about the future because we think if we spend our energy worrying about it, some how we can control the outcome of our future.  A daily practice of letting go of past regret and future worry, and consciously direct your mind to right here, right now, creates an immediate sense of calm and peace within.

The bottom line to managing your internal chaos and creating a peaceful mind is to PAY ATTENTION!  Pay attention to where your mind automatically goes, and don’t blindly follow it.  Be in the driver’s seat of your mind instead of being a backseat passenger and giving the Queen of Chaos the keys.

5 STEPS TO OVERCOMING BODY IMAGE ISSUES

staying-motivated-to-lose-weightAs a therapist, I work with a lot of people who struggle with compulsive eating and body image issues.   Many of my clients have been on many different diets, and have lost the same 10, 30, 50 lbs. over and over again.

We are a culture that is obsessed with appearance, and many people set out to lose weight so that they can look better.  The diet industry is a $60 billion per year industry because it targets emphasis on food and weight as the problem.  As a result, millions of people are literally at war with themselves, struggling to deal with their food compulsions, beating themselves up on a daily basis for “having no willpower.”  It is this ongoing war, strengthened by images in the media and cultural messages, that produces a culture of self-loathing people.  

For most, the belief behind the war is “once I am thinner, I will feel the way that I want to feel about myself and my life.”  What most people fail to recognize is that our relationship to food and to our bodies is a microcosm of our relationship with ourselves.   To be human is to struggle with some feelings of inadequacy and fears that we are not good enough.  Yet in our culture, we are not taught to examine these deeper feelings.  In fact, most people try to avoid feeling uncomfortable emotions by either attempting to overcompensate for their feelings of inadequacy, or in some way numbing themselves to the feelings.  For many, the choice to numb lies in their relationship to food.  In order to deal with eating and body image issues, one must be willing to directly address their uncomfortable feelings, rather than using food as a way to mask the discomfort. 

Here are 5 steps to help combat eating and body image issues:

1.     Ask yourself What are you really hungry for?  When you sit down to eat anything, get yourself present by taking 5 deep breaths.  When you are present, notice if you are hungry.  If you are not hungry, ask yourself what it is that you are really using food to soothe.  Allow yourself to really look at the answer, even if it is uncomfortable to do so.
2.    Stop punishing yourself:   Over eating can be a way to punish oneself.  Be willing to examine your beliefs about your limitations and inadequacies.  Do you have beliefs about yourself that are keeping you stuck in your life?  Be willing to question the validity of these beliefs.
3.    Stop buying into the belief that you can’t be happy until you reach your goal, whatever that goal may be.  When you are always focused on the future and “getting there”, you miss your actual life, because your life only occurs in the moment you are in.  When you are focused on the past or the future, you are in your mind, not in your life.
4.    Stop focusing on what’s broken:  Everyday we experience aspects of our lives that are not broken, but we are so focused on the parts of our lives that don’t fit our exact picture of the way it should look, that we miss those parts of life that are actually working very well!  Focusing on what is broken causes chaos in our minds, and robs us of the peace and contentment that we crave.
5.    Practice self respect right now!  When you wait until you have reached your goal to show respect to yourself in your thoughts, beliefs and actions, you will never learn to show yourself respect because there will always be the next life goal you need to achieve before you can respect yourself.  Pay attention to your thoughts, beliefs and actions and ask yourself whether they are reflective of being self respectful.  If they’re not, CUT IT OUT!!!

The bottom line here is a willingness to examine your emotional pain, rather than avoiding it, this is the key to coping with overeating and body image issues.