Monday, September 23, 2013

The Luxury of Disconnecting

Last week, I met up with a friend who had lost her cell phone by leaving it in a cab while out of town recently. While it was frustrating, she found the few days without a phone actually also very relaxing. It's a little luxury we can each afford, to make private time either with loved ones or friends, or by yourself, truly uninterrupted.

It turns out that setting up sanctuary time zones that are free of cellphones, email access, and social media  is trending. In today's edition of the New York Times, Caroline Tell has an interesting article titled "Step Away From the Phone" that describes how many people are setting some technology limits. AOL reported this past week on the concept of "Serenity Saturdays" with suggestions for limiting technology use that day and a suggested playlist of relaxing music to download and destress yourself.

In Tell's New York Times article, she shares that many families are using a special place in the kitchen, like a fishbowl or bowl, to deposit all cell phones during dinner time. Anybody who checks their phone can be given an extra task as a consequence, such as doing the dishes. This activity teaches everyone---adults and children---- to protect family time by becoming fully present and undistracted.

When friends or families are out for dinner or drinks, they can play "stack 'em up," where each person in the group adds their cell phone to the stack of them on the table. Anyone who peeks at theirs has to pay the check!

It's great role-modeling for parents to turn off or put away their phones when there are opportunities to play with the children, engage in family activities, or be present with each other.

You might consider a time at which you turn your phone off or put it away for the evening, as well as the computer and iPad. Add the television to the early turn off program, and you just might sleep better, interact more with those you live with, and feel more relaxed. Just because you can be available 24/7 doesn't mean you should be.

Tell also notes an increase in social invitations that are being issued with the directive NOT to bring your cell phone, or Instagram photos from the event, with signs reinforcing the policy at the door when you arrive.

Apparently, as cell phone use has reached an all-time high, it's now becoming more cool to be unavailable at times. Multi-tasking all day and evening takes a subtle toll on us. It's time to give ourselves a delicious luxury that is ours for the taking: being off-duty, and having private time to restore and recharge.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Go For The Brass Ring (Don't Settle)

I like to see people go for it. I hate to see people settle. It doesn't tend to make people happy in either their professional or personal life to do so. I encourage my counseling and coaching clients of all ages not to. There are key moments in each of  our lives where we need a gentle nudge to step up to becoming a better version of ourselves. Less complacent and comfy perhaps, but reaching and stretching out of our comfort zone. Don't give upon what you REALLY, REALLY want.

In our work life, I like people to go to work happy. I often ask my coaching clients how they feel each day when they are driving to work. Are you excited to get started, or do you dread getting there? Do you wish you could drive someplace else? Since most of us are going to be living longer, and working longer than our parents did, we really need to begin to think differently about work. More of us will have portfolio careers, with different chapters of our work life. It's almost never too late to retrain, rethink and regroup for another chapter.

If you aren't that crazy about your work, you are part of the majority. It's normal to not like your work, but why be normal? Many people kind of passively "fall" into something work-wise, rather than choose a goal and go for it. You my start by remembering what you liked to play when you were a child. You may want to get some career testing done to identify your strengths, career preferences, and help you consider what kind of work environment would be the best match for you.

Even Sigmund Freud felt that we all need two things in life: work and love. It's wonderful if you can invest in yourself enough to find work that uses your gifts and strengths. Now, how about going for it in your personal life?

I see too many people settling for mediocre marriages and love relationships. Life is too short. Step it up. Have an honest conversation with your partner about what you could do to be a better partner for them, and vice versa. Marriage is a lot like an empty box you need to fill with good things and experiences, not just unpack it, and be mad the box is empty. Don't settle for a mediocre relationship: instead, be a leader making things better.

When you are considering a life partner, make sure it is someone you find interesting enough to have as a forever dinner date. I think people know on a deep level if they are settling, or if they are with a partner who makes them come fully alive. It's helpful if you have chemistry, because I find it hard to help a couple create later if they never had it.

It's also important to choose a partner who shares your values, that you share some fun, companionate activities, and have similar life goals.Are they somebody who you can trust? Be yourself with? Do they inspire you to be your best? What is your positive influence on encouraging them?

How are you doing as a parent? If your children are school-age or older you can actually check with your child directly and ask them. Find out if you are giving them the support, time, and kinds of attention they need now. You can ask them the best ways to connect with them, and what you may be doing that annoys them. When do they feel closest to you? Never settle for being a mediocre parent when you are capable of doing better.

People settle for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes it's because it's easier and doesn't require leaving the comfort zone.We can be fearful of being alone, risking failure, or looking defeated to others. We may feel pressure directly or indirectly to please others. We may need more information.  Change can be hard or anxiety producing, but change is sometimes a necessary condition for growing. Ignoring boredom or the feeling of settling either at work or in your personal life can actually make you anxious or depressed.

Go for the brass ring in your life. Why would you settle for anything less? You'd be shortchanging yourself and others, and missing out on your own growth from REALLY going for it. Go with courage towards your dreams.

"We are the ones we have been waiting for."
---Hopi Indian Elders' Prophecy

"Be yourself; no base imitator of another, but your best self. There is something which you can do better than another. Listen to the inward voice and bravely obey that. Do the things at which you are great."
----Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.
Life is beauty, admire it.
Life is a dream, realize it.
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a duty, complete it.
Life is a game, play it.
Life is a promise, fulfill it."
 -----Mother Teresa

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Short Term 12

I saw a great psychologically-minded movie recently that really made you think about teens and some of the struggles they have and the support they so badly need from the adults around them. Short Term 12  is about a  fictional short-term foster care facility, and the young residents and the staff who care about them.

The writer-director, Destin Daniel Cretton worked at such a facility, which really shows in the film's honesty. The characters feel complex enough to be real. Cretton effectively captures the improvisational feel and emotional intelligence that is necessary to be effective in good treatment.

Each teen has their own story. Behind their quietness or their acting out, they are trying to cope with unstable, abusive and neglectful parents, loss, self-esteem, and change. It's hard enough to be a teen in a stable home with all the pressure from peers, self-consciousness, body image concerns, hormonal changes, mood swings, and  the search for an identity. Just imagine having to do that when your parents are damaged themselves, chemically dependent, abusive, or absent entirely.

The teens in the film have a hard time trusting, and understandably so. Sometimes the teens just runaway from the facility, and the staff go running to encourage them to return. It reminded me about that old saying about the impact of teachers: It doesn't matter how much they know until you know how much they care. There are some beautiful sequences in the film where a young staff person chases and follows one of the residents and demonstrates how much they care about them.

There is also a storyline about a romance between two of the young staffers that is interesting. Grace (Brie Larson) is superb as the senior staff person, who understands the kind of pain many of the teens are going through in a deeply personal way. Larson gives a strong and vulnerable performance as she tries to open up and risk letting people close, not too differently from the teen residents she watches over. Several of the staff give great performances, demonstrating how parallel play, like drawing with a teen who draws or performing music with a teen whose language is music, can be a powerful unspoken language of connection and joining.

The movie Short Term 12 is well worth seeing. There is pain, but also profound hope. It makes you see how much all teens need love, consistent limits, the ability to test those limits, and adults around them (related or not) who truly care about them. I always think we could change the world if every child and teen had at least one adult who really listened from the heart, and tried to join and connect with them. Bruising happens, but healing is always a possibility as long as we are alive.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Words We Choose

I started college as an English major, so I am always very interested in word choice, either in the written word or in conversation. As a therapist these last 25 years, I'm curious about what people's word choice means about their relationships and their world view.

What does it imply when one partner describes their home as "my house," their financial resources as "my money," or their shared child as "my child?" There are underlying power dynamics in most human relationships. I often stop couples when they do this, and ask them to reframe their statement.

Words can heal and also have the power to hurt. Children think that as parents, we know everything. (Then as teens, they often find out we don't.) The words a parent says get imprinted on a child's developing core self. I often ask people in individual therapy how their parents viewed them in the family. Were you told you were the smart one or the pretty one? Could you never measure up in your parents eyes to a sibling? Were you told you weren't an athlete, weren't a good student, or couldn't be something you wanted to be?

Clearing up some of those old messages that were imprinted on you by your parents is liberating. Maybe your parents were human, and not clairvoyant or all-knowing. Perhaps it is time to update your own view of yourself, and watch what you say to yourself. Self-talk is powerful. Why can't you feel, think, and be who you'd like to be already?

In your relationships, watch what words you use. Create joining and union with your partner. Focus on we, not I. Share the power, share the ownership, and lean into your closest relationship. You won't believe the difference.