Wednesday, May 27, 2015

More Than Enough

As you probably already know I have two small dogs that rule my world.  One thing I’ve noticed (since this is the first time I’ve had 2 dogs at the same time) is that they’re terribly jealous and competitive.  It seems whatever one has; the other decides they need (even if they’d had access to it before and never wanted it).  Despite the fact that I consistently give them the same treats, attention, etc. they continue to act as if they’re at risk of being “cheated”, constantly monitoring me to ensure things are being distributed equitably. 

What I wish the pups understood is that when I love on one of them, it doesn’t mean I love the other one any less or that because I gave one attention that means I have less to give to the other.   I call this behavior the “attitude of scarcity” – the feeling that whatever it is, there might not be enough of it.  I remember growing up when there were hurricanes; you could witness this in “panic shopping”.  You’d see people buying up groceries with the fear we might not have access to the grocery store but it wasn’t always rational.  People would buy up enough food for a month where the reality was we’d never need to have that much food stored up.  While storing up canned peaches or tuna with the fear of not having enough might be harmless, having this same "attitude of scarcity" about things like joy, love, patience, forgiveness, etc. can have very negative consequences.   We can find ourselves limiting what we’re willing to give with the fear being we have a limited supply or we get jealous when we see someone else receiving these things with the false belief that because they got it, it limits our ability to receive it also.   

I have had people tell me things like “things have been going great so something terrible must be around the corner”.  This implies that the universe has a quota on happiness so that if something good happens that has reduced your quota.  Or I’ve heard, "I’ve met someone who seems great but nothing lasts so I’m sure we’ll break up".  It’s like all the beautiful things in life like love and joy are measured in a cup and anytime we feel it, we lose a little bit out of the cup.  With that thought comes the belief that eventually the cup will be empty.  I challenge that the cup is never ending.  It’s not running out, it’s running over.  We can’t use it up fast enough.  You can’t love too much, laugh too hard, or have too much joy.

So, today smile and give someone a compliment.  Tell the people you love that you love them.  Forgive anyone that has caused you pain.  Not because it will benefit them, but because your cup is overflowing.  Now I’ve got some puppy bellies to rub simultaneously because my two pups don’t understand that I’ll always have more than enough love for both of them.  

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Everything Is Better With Cheese

I love food.  Love to eat it, read about it, study it, etc.   I recently was watching a documentary about the famous Italian chef Massimo Bottura.   (He currently has the 3rd highest rated restaurant in the world).  That’s where I heard for the first time the story of how he saved his community with a recipe using cheese.

Evidently in 2012 his small city of Modena, Italy was hit by an earthquake.  Huge storage buildings used to house parmesan  were collapsed and the cheese wheels were broken.  Worried no one would buy the broken pieces of cheese, local jobs and the town’s economy was at risk.   Massimo came up with the idea of promoting a recipe that called for the small pieces of Modena parmesan cheese.  The recipe (Risotto Cacio e Pepe) was promoted all over the world and the parmesan cheese sold so quickly that the town was able to sell their cheese, maintaining jobs and preserving their beautiful craft of parmesan cheese making.

What does parmesan have to do with positive living besides the fact that everything is better with cheese?  Because while Massimo might be a positive thinker, when disaster stuck he didn't just say “let’s think positive”.  He used positive thinking to lead to problem solving.   Not only problem solving, but problem solving using his own personal strengths and resources he already had available to him.

How many times do we think about our problems and think “if only______”.  If only I had more money, then I could solve this.  If only I had a supportive spouse, then I could overcome this.  If only I could go back in time or forward in time, then everything would be OK.  Instead, if we shift to:  What skills do I have to solve this?  What resources are available to me today?  What can I do that’s within my own power to make things better?   When we shift to thinking in the present based on what we have, we feel more empowered and in control.  Massimo didn’t think about earthquake engineering or economic planning, he thought about his own skill set (cooking) and how he could use his skills to help.

I don’t know about you, but I think I’ll think differently every time I reach for the parmesan cheese now.  Now instead of just a delicious topping for spaghetti, it will be a reminder to tap into my own strength and resources to problem solve.  Arrivederci!  

(Picture below of 2012 earthquake damage to cheese wheels).

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Child's Advice: "When I do bad, I feel bad"

One of the many aspects of my job that I enjoy is that I have the opportunity to work with a wide range of ages.  I have clients as young as 6 years old all the way up to senior citizens planning their “second half”.  Along the way, I’ve learned a tremendous amount from all of them but this quote from one of my 9 year old clients has stuck with me.  “When I do bad, I feel bad.  When I do good, I feel good”.  Sounds simple but I’d challenge if we all went by this motto, we’d be much better off.  

The kiddo who originally said this was confessing about some things he’d done behind his mom’s back.  My job as a therapist sometimes feels a little like a priest at confession time.  We all make mistakes and there is some biology behind some mental illness, but in general feeling depressed or anxious can be a direct result of how we’re acting, the choices we make, and how we think about ourselves and others.  

I recently found trash in my outside bin that wasn’t mine.  I immediately (in my mind) blamed a neighbor and came up with a million very negative thoughts about them and the situation (they’re lazy; they’re cheap and trying to fill my bin versus theirs, etc.).  Later I found out that the trash was my dear mothers who had selflessly been at my house taking care of my dogs and home.  Now all of a sudden the trash was no bother at all.  Lesson….my thoughts…all the blaming and labeling….made me feel crappy.  The trash was the same; it was my attitude and thoughts that had changed.  Even if the trash had been someone else’s….my thoughts, actions, choices determined how I felt about it.  Bottom line, when I think positive thoughts, when I’m kind and compassionate, when I choose to do the right thing…I feel good.   When I don’t, I feel bad.  

A great teacher once said “Keep your circle positive.  Say good words.  Think good thoughts.  Do good deeds”, but I think my nine year old client says it just as well.  “When we do bad, we feel bad.  When we do good, we feel good”.  By the way, the same client also said my hair looked “old” so I think it’s time for a fresh dye job.  Got to love kids!


Friday, March 13, 2015

4 Life Lessons I Learned From My Dogs

As most of you know I’m terribly attached to my two little dogs.  I’m one of those obnoxious people that take my dogs in the car, to outdoor restaurants, they sleep with me at night and I have even been known to dress them in clothes.  With that said, I really do believe I have learned some great life lessons from them.  Here they are:
Attitude is everything.  OK, so both my dogs are small but they have very big spirits.  One of mine did all the training with me while I was getting ready to hike in Peru.  She (at only 9 pounds) hiked every week with my hiking club (sometimes twice a week) over 10 miles at a time.  She not only hiked, she would wade in the creeks, dig holes, chase squirrels, etc. meaning she actually hiked twice as much as I did.  I think she was able to do it because there were much bigger stronger dogs in the group and she saw them do it and assumed she could to.  No one told her she couldn’t or treated her any differently so there she went.  A lot of times our thoughts about our abilities (not our abilities themselves) is what limits us.  How much more would we attempt if we assumed we could accomplish it?
Have a zest for life.   Have you ever seen a dog go outside to play after being cooped up for a couple of days?  It’s amazing – they run, jump, sniff everything, dig, and roll in the grass.  We recently had a couple of rainy days and after being in doors most of the time I let mine outside to play.  I thought with the cold temperature and wet grass they’d quickly want back in.  No…in fact, it seemed they were never happier.  They made the best of the situation.   Sometimes our circumstances are not the best.  We all face difficult situations at some point in our life.  The goal is not to avoid difficult situations but to not let those situations limit of enjoyment of life.
Be brave.  Even though they’re small, both my dogs are really gutsy.  If a piece of food falls on the ground, they grab it up quick.  If they don’t like it they’ll spit it out but they don’t want to risk missing out.  If there’s a toy they want, they go for it.  They would never let a bigger dog bully them at the dog park.  If there is some unknown object in the yard, they don’t run or hide – they go explore and seek it out.  Sometimes our fears limit our choices – we only want what is predictable or safe when there are great things out there that just require us to be brave to reach them. 
Only trust people worth trusting.  It’s a little sad but one of my pups will still flinch if I make a move towards her too quickly.  (They’re both rescues).  Even though I’ve never done anything scary of hurtful to her, she learned early on in her life some people aren’t trustworthy.  It’s not cowardly to make people earn our trust, it’s smart.  It’s a gift to open up and be vulnerable to someone – we have to make sure they deserve it.  We also have to be trustworthy to those we love.  I have to work every day to prove to her that I’m trustworthy and would never hurt her.
(My two pups even like selfies - both rescue pups - adopted through AustinPetsAlive)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Contentment Versus Competition Scuba Style

Last year my son and I decided to take scuba lessons.   In our class were a father (who promptly felt the need to tell all of us about his past military experience and what a strong swimmer he was), his teen age son (who made it clear he didn’t want to be there), his younger son (who look terrified), myself and my son.  This class was going to be challenging and choosing to do it in open ocean (versus in a pool) added to the difficulty.  To make matters worse, it soon became very apparent that the father of the other group planned to make everything a competition.

Unfortunately pretty quickly our little group began is crumble under the stress of the open ocean training.  The little guy was the first to quit.  He had about a 30 minute crying spell the first time salt water got in his mask and it quickly went downhill from there.   The dad in all his wisdom tried to beg, plead, guilt trip, etc. with no avail.  Mom was called in and the little fellow was out of the program.  The dad was not happy.

Next came the open water swim.  The other  teenager about half way through the swim, announced he thought “something was in the water” – my guess he’s right – a lot of fish – and he was out.  Now the dad was really frustrated.  If this had been a competition (and there was no reason for it to be) he was losing to a middle aged, fairly out of shape woman and her teenager.

For the last activity of the day, our instructor made it a little game where we were going to see who used the least oxygen (indicating slowest breathing – a good thing in scuba).   At the end, who used the least……me (it’s all that meditation).  I’m not saying that to brag, but to explain why at that point the father lost it.  He got very frustrated, complained his gage wasn’t working right, etc.  Was he really mad about the last silly test?  No, he was mad because his two sons both quit and he was out a lot of money due to rest of his party not completing.  But, I’d challenge his biggest frustration was he went in with the perception that this was a competition and he was going to win.

The point of all this is that competition is a fine emotion.  It pushes us to do well, think creatively, learn new skills, etc.  But when competition became a barrier instead of a benefit (preventing him from identifying when things were getting too tough for his youngest son or that he’d over-estimated his teen son’s desire to participate)it went from beneficial to a deterrent.  We were in beautiful water experiencing the opportunity of a life time and instead of enjoying it, he was angry and bitter. 

I’ve always said our circumstances don’t determine our well-being.  How we think about our circumstances, our perceptions and how we manage those perceptions and thoughts determine our happiness.  He could have chosen at any time to think differently about the situation, adapt to the new circumstances but instead kept on the same course and missed an opportunity to just enjoy what was.  Meanwhile, I’m happy to report we both got certified and are planning our first dive trip over spring break.

“Happiness is a choice, not a result” ~ Ralph Marslo

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

An Object In Motion Stays In Motion

I’ve been told I say a number of quirky southern sayings.  Some are not to be said in good company.  Hopefully they’re inspiring or meaningful in some way.  I’ve also learned a number of sayings from my clients.  One of my clients often says “an object in motion stays in motion” meaning whatever they’re working towards; they’re not going to stop pursuing it.

I thought of that saying this weekend as I participated in a fun run with my sister.  I’m not really a runner but I enjoy the comradery of a fun run and I love spending time with my sister (who unlike me is an avid runner).  Along the route they offer water, Gatorade or even better (since this one was the hot chocolate fun run) candy.  Even though stopping seemed like a good idea, it was much more difficult to get back on track after stopping.  Where I hadn’t noticed as much before, after stopping I felt the soreness in my legs and the fatigue throughout my body.  A trainer once told me, if you feel like you can’t run any further, swing your arms and your legs will follow.   Guess he was also a believer in the “object in motion stays in motion” theory.

I think this idea of movement creating movement is a great one for our personal development as well.  If we’ve set a goal for ourselves and we’re always pushing forward, even if we’re not always successful,  just by continuing to move forward we’re much more likely to be triumphant than if we stop. 

Is there something you want to change?  Some goal you were pursuing and have given up on?  Maybe what you need is some movement.   Are there some things you could do (however small) to start working towards that change?  A few action steps that you could incorporate into your schedule?  I  know for me one goal I have is to do a little more training so these fun runs are more fun and less work.   Good luck in your goals and keep moving!   (Picture of my sister and I, 2015 Hot Chocolate Fun Run, Dallas TX)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A Chef's Guide To The New Year

Many of you may not know but several years ago I took a sabbatical and left the mental health field.  While most people use a year off to travel or take on a journey of self-discovery, I enrolled in the patisserie and baking program at Le Cordon Bleu.  It was an experience I will never forget and even though I now only bake for fun, I learned some lessons that are still applicable today.

If you have any romantic visions of what culinary study looks like, let me dispel them.  It sometimes felt as if I spent as much time scrubbing floors, washing dishes, and treating burns as I did baking.  The foundation of our training was “mise en place” which in French means “everything in its place”.    Culinary students tended to be more creative and artistic than the average person so our lean was to create, not plan, prepare, and clean.  Our chef instructors quickly corrected that (hell kitchen is more realistic than I’d like to think).   We were judged not just on our dish, but on our organization and cleanliness of our work station.   From this experience, I discovered three aspects to mise en place that can apply to our everyday lives.

  1.  Prepare - before you start, have a vision (recipe) of where you want to go.  Have a goal, a clear vision of what you want the end product to look like.  Decide what tools or support you might need to get there.   In class we’d have to submit a drawing or written description of what we were going to create before we even started.   What is your goal for the year?  How do you want things to be different?   What do you need to put in place to reach your goals?
  2. Create – even if you’ve gathered all the ingredients, the meal isn’t going to cook itself.  We have to do the work.  Sometimes we have to be creative, adapt, be flexible but we can’t give up.  In school, we had to present something.  If you made a cake and it totally fell, you had to get up in front of the whole class and present a fallen cake.  There was no out, no do-over.  Life is that way.  We have one go around, one opportunity to create the life we want.   
  3. Clean As You Go- While creating, we make a mess.  We have things that didn’t work out, tools we needed at one point but no longer need.  If we don’t clean as we go, the dirty dishes and tools get in the way of our new project.  Our past is that way.  Keep the memories and lessons that are helpful moving forward and get rid of the ones that are just getting in the way.

So, for this New Year, get everything in its place and make it the best year yet!  Happy new years from me and my family to you and yours.