Tag Archives: psychology

Naptime and Growth Spurts

I don’t get a chance to blog as much these days, between mothering a toddler and coaching my clients.  I find that I miss it, though.  So today, as my son naps, I find myself with a precious hour or two.

Time is a hot commodity as a parent.  Whether working out of the home, full time, part time, or stay at home (what a misnomer!), all moms and dads find that there’s a new “normal.”  Yes, we can still carve out time for ourselves, but it’s no easy feat.  It takes compromises, trade-offs, and in many cases, communication with a partner.

For example, my husband often takes our son to the playground before leaving for work, so that I can coach a client without Herbie banging on the door, crying “door, door!”  Parts of daily life such as showers and ample sleep also take communication.  (Honey, remember the time I took a shower without warning you and we found Herbie had climbed onto the dining room table and was going through the mail?)

Point being, when even a shower is not to be taken for granted, there can be a lot of pressure when I find myself with an hour in the middle of the day to spend as I see fit.  I review my options.  I could clean the bathroom (we haven’t hired a house cleaning service, something that I would nonetheless advise ANY new parent to squeeze into a budget).  I could read any of three books that I had optimistically purchased on Amazon.  I could answer overdue emails and texts.

Or I could blog.

We do what we are to feed ourselves.  To remember who we are.  I am a writer who loves psychology and personal growth.  These fields are interwoven for me, personally and professionally.  As an INFJ, I tend to look at the world in terms of where I want to grow.  It’s my idea of fun to jot down goals in each area of my life where I want to focus in the coming week.  I love understanding mental processes, perceptions, and motivations.  This is why I’m a coach.  It’s also a part of parenting that I really love, as well.

So in the context of my new “normal,” I’m okay with a certain degree of clutter in our home.  I’m okay if my exercise is running around the playground and park (believe me, I have the biceps and quads to prove it).  I’m okay if couple time is family time.  There’s a season for everything, and other seasons will circle back around again.  For now, it’s a season of growth:  my growth, my son’s growth, and my clients’ growth.

My son went through three shoe sizes in three months.  I’m ready for new shoes, too.

Choosing Powerfully–In Spite of Fear

As cool fall weather is sweeping in, I’m enjoying seeing all of the yellow, copper, and red leaves, some still on the trees and others that have fallen. I have a lovely view of trees in the park across the street from my house. As I write this, the golden leaves match my living room curtains, making me grateful for both the beauty of nature and the comfort of home.

I used to work at a corporate job in midtown Manhattan and didn’t have very much time to spend at home, especially not in the afternoon. Mid to late afternoon has become one of my favorite times of day, when the sun sweeps across the sky, lights up the living room with its southern exposure, and sets elegantly over the park.

A couple of weeks ago, on an unseasonably warm October day, I took a solitary hike in the Watchung Reservation here in New Jersey, and basked in the beauty of majestically tall trees, sunlight playfully dancing on leaves, and birds singing their avian hearts out.

More time appreciating nature is just one of the rewards of having listened to my heart and followed the path that was right for me–changing careers and stepping into a very different lifestyle than I once knew. It was scary to leave the corporate career that I’d always known. It felt secure, dependable, safe. I was offered a position at the NY Times and had to rely on my coach to help me see that there was something else my heart was calling for. Something less known, but more in line with how I want to express my values today.

Through coaching, music, and preparing to be a mother soon, I’m living some of my deepest values: beauty, creativity, personal growth, curiosity, compassion, caring, health, family, and flexibility. Being rich isn’t on this list. I care about security and frugality, but only in service of my core values. Fear of not having enough no longer rules me.

Life can still be stressful. As I write this, my grandmother is in the hospital after having a stroke. I’m filled both with love and gratittude for my relationship with her–and the good that she has done for so many people in her 95 years–as well as fear and sadness.

This week, I also I went to traffic court. I wrestled with the checkbook to try to make sure I wouldn’t bounce a check. I tracked down electricians and several heating specialists, as part of my responsibilities as a landlady. These are necessary, if frenetic and unpoetic, parts of life. As someone who is an intuitive introvert (to borrow from Myers-Briggs), engaging in a lot of extroverted sensing can feel taxing to me, and takes recovery afterwards.

Yet, my life is essentially exactly as I would wish it, just for today. I have much room for growth, but right now, I’m celebrating what’s good. I’m savoring the fruits of how I’ve chosen to craft my life. My work is deeply meaningful to me–I get to help others be at choice in their own lives. I get to champion them as they create what they want, and celebrate what they’re learning.

I also get to design my own schedule and incorporate self-care. For the first time ever, I get to go to the gym for an hour and take a short nap most afternoons. I alternate between work and my personal life throughout the day, rather than work in an 8 or 9-hour block of time. This may not work for everyone, but it’s ideal for me.

Why can it be terrifying to leave what we know, what has its merits and we consider pretty good, in pursuit of something different, better?

Our saboteurs can be sneaky. I have a “good-enough” saboteur who points out that what I have isn’t bad, so why rock the boat? That belief can literally keep me stuck in a place of dissonance for years. Another saboteur masquerades as trying to protect me: “you’ll get hurt, it’s better not to try.” This often comes from fear of failure or not having enough. It takes good coaching to help me see more resonant perspectives that can move me forward towards what I really want.

Power comes from choosing consciously. My future self is already living her ideal life, fulfilled beyond my wildest dreams. I get to play with discovering what that life is like and who that future self is. Then I get to step into it–again, and again.

The Lure of Fantasy: The Sims and Other Dubious Pleasures

When I was younger, I would play Sim City.  You got to build entire cities, with roads, fire stations, waterfront houses.  Sometimes an earthquake would destroy it all.

In my twenties, my brother gave me The Sims for a birthday.  It was thrilling for nostalgia’s sake, plus it added a new dimension.  I developed my virtual people’s job skills, relationships, and home decor.

I played it ardently.  For a short period of time, I recall, I could easily spend most of the weekend tending to my Sims.  I sent them to work, I brought friends to their houses for parties, I clicked a single button to make them read about cooking and presto, they could whip up a 4-course meal.

Would that life’s returns were that immediate.

The game is alluring because at a click of the mouse, my Sims are off and running, accomplishing great feats.  If I want to learn how to cook, improve job skills or build new friendships, it takes time and consistent effort.  The feedback loop isn’t as immediate.  Rewards take time to reap.  I need to take satisfaction in more gradual changes.

Last weekend, my little sister from Big Brothers Big Sisters told me that you can get The Sims on your iphone.  I told her about my experiences with video games, where they can be fun but it’s hard to turn it off after, say, a half-hour.  Yet armed with this knowledge, when I got home that night I downloaded it on my phone.

The allure of fantasy is strong, the “rewards” immediate–but fleeting.  Once I had my Sims garden to earn money and buy a new stereo, what then?  I was given new “challenges,” but how challenging were they?

Playing The Sims is addictive, but the second I stop, I feel empty, not filled up like when I swim or write a blog post.  It’s like crack cocaine.  I need another fix.

Video games are fun–they’re so fun, in fact, that we can’t handle them.  Much like eating Chewy Chips Ahoy, gambling, and other risky behaviors, human beings aren’t cut out to do them in moderation.  We’ve primed for the quick fix, the sugar high.  This is why I very rarely keep Chips Ahoy in the kitchen.  I’d rather have a nice dessert at a restaurant, anyway.

What’s different when I listen to what my body and mind need?  I feel deeper rewards.  Not the high of the sugar rush or adrenaline rush, but a more sustainable “I’m on the path.  I made this happen.”  Whether it’s getting out of the house early in the morning to go for a swim, or accomplishing a difficult project, the payoff is far more satisfying than the addict’s quick fix.

I recently wrote this blog post about Flannery O’Connor and the power of habit.  O’Connor wrote every morning from 9:00 to noon.  We are the habits we develop.  At a certain point, they become not so much a matter of willpower, as second nature.  Our commitments and persistence make this happen.

How can I solidify this knowledge, make it concrete?  There are a few phrases that come to mind:

1. Smart feet:  put myself where I need to be, and the rest will follow. Convincing myself to get started is always the hardest part!  Once I’m there (whether at the pool or on my website), I know what to do.

2. Focus on what’s in front of me:  I can’t solve something that’s three steps down the road.  I can only take the next right action, and see what its consequences are.

3. Keep my word to myself:  I do this by putting my commitments to myself in Google Calendar.  To keep the same examples, even if it’s swimming and blogging, if I don’t do them I make myself delete them from the calendar, and I hate doing that.  I’d rather show myself that I’m trustworthy by keeping my word, just as I keep it to others.

I’m not quite ready to delete the game from my phone, but maybe I can mention it to my coach.  She would probably ask, “What if you just deleted it?”  In the meantime, I’m cooking a veggie frittata, blogging, and can’t wait to go swim.

How will you keep your word to yourself today?  What are you committed to?  How wil you honor those commitments?

I’d love to hear what you think.  Please leave a comment or send me an email!

Warmly,

Mary

Finding a Peaceful Oasis (or Two)

Last Saturday, my husband and I found an oasis that was new to us.  We drove to the NJ Audubon Society for a hike through the woods along the Passaic River, listening to birdsong.  We spotted a few birds (swallows being the only ones I could confidently identify).  Their music was as resonant as the sighting of them was elusive.  Sometimes I did spot one fluttering, diving or weaving through the treetops, but only a glimpse.

A couple of years ago, we spent a long weekend in Cape May during peak fall migratory season.  Two Audubon guides pointed out egrets, kestrels, and merlins.  They trained us to call out the birds’ location by the hour of the clock, to first look with just our eyes, then to lift our binoculars.

Our leaders may not have been impressed with our bird identification (or lack thereof) if they’d joined our hike on Saturday, but they would have been pleased at how happy we were simply being there, appreciating nature.  It was such a pretty spot: bushes with little white flowers, a plant that looked almost like honeysuckle, so many chipmunks, an occasional bumblebee, and tall, majestic trees that seemed to emanate wisdom.

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On Sunday, we created an oasis in our backyard.  We have had grapevines growing over a pergola, but they rested on low beams.  By raising them onto higher stilts, we created a space under which you can walk or sit, as I’m doing now, while sparrows eagerly hop around exploring the grass.

Why do we need nature to fill us up and restore our wholeness?  Perhaps some of us feel its need more acutely than others, but I would argue that it’s a basic human need.  Even if urbanites fill it by a walk through the park on their way home from work, or by having houseplants or an aquarium, none of us can live happily without nature’s balm.

People and nature are deeply interconnected.  We rely on it for physical, as well as spiritual, sustenance.  Physically, people feel healthier when they eat more whole foods and fewer processed foods.  We live in a natural world, no matter how many steel towers are built to live and work inside.

Spiritually and emotionally, there is something soothing about listening to birds singing, hearing the flapping of wings and watching their trajectory in flight.  It is energizing to walk through the woods, curious about where the path will lead, deciding which twists and turns to explore.  It is meditative to sit by a river, studying the water as it rushes over rocks.

Nature has both stillness and movement.  It exists in the present, yet is always growing and changing.  No tree or river is the same today as it was yesterday, yet they retain their essence.

What an inspiring model for me, as I consider who I am becoming.  I am a writer, coach, musician, wife, nature lover, and play many other important roles, too.  How can I move ever closer to who I am?

Who are you becoming?  What will help take you there?  I would love to hear from you.

Warmly,

Mary

Reaching for the Stars

I have always been an amateur psychology buff.  In college, I had a class in perceptual psychology,  but mostly I have dabbled in it on my own.  It is part of what led me to coaching.  I am endlessly curious about how our minds work, how we see the world and interpret what we see–what information we gather, and what meaning we assign to that information.

Over the years I have taken a few personality surveys.  I have also encouraged my loved ones to take them, with varying responses.  They aren’t for everyone, and that’s OK.  Personally, I find it fascinating to reflect on what drives and motivates us, what makes us flourish.

I find Myers-Briggs (MBTI) to be revealing and mostly on-point.  Like any paradigm, it has its limitations, but most of its insights resonate with me.  I took the MBTI twice, several years apart.  Interestingly, while my overall type hadn’t changed, my Intuition (I) and Judgment (J) factors had both mellowed considerably–allowing more room for their counterparts, Sensing (S) and Perceiving (P).  I believe we have innate preferences, but through our experiences and choices in how to see and engage with the world, we change.

Another survey I like is the VIA Character Strengths Survey, which measures 25 character strengths and lists them in relative proportion.  My top strength was “Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence,” followed by “Gratitude,” “Love,” and “Perspective.”  For me, this test is revelatory because it points to what I need to flourish–where I thrive and what saves me, as it were.  My top strengths remind me that to be happy, and fully myself, I need to seek opportunities to enjoy beauty, to love and be loved, and to practice gratitude.

How do I do this?  For example, taking my top strength, I look for oases of beauty in the drought of what could otherwise be a sterile week:

  • On a lunch break, I find refuge in a park around the corner with a waterfall and yellow hyacinths in bloom.  It truly restores me.
  • I make time to play the piano, organ, and sing.  Even on a busy weeknight, if fills me up and I leave feeling like myself again.
  • I listen to and watch others who are more talented than I am.  It inspires me and makes me feel alive.

Looking at our less-developed strengths is also a good learning opportunity.  One of my “less developed” strengths is “Bravery.”  The creators of the VIA survey write: “Identify an area in which you generally shy away from confrontations.  Practice the phrases, the tones, and the mannerisms that will enable you to effectively confront the situation next time.”

My first reaction to reading that was, “Are you kidding?”  Identifying confrontations is about the last thing I want to do.  My mind isn’t naturally wired for it.  Nonetheless, our minds are pliable–we can actually forge new neural pathways by changing our thoughts and habits.

And thus, we change and grow.

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Coaching asks for openness to seeing ourselves as we are today, seeing ourselves at our most magnificent core, and dedicating ourselves to moving bravely toward our truest self.  It can be a little scary.  At my Fulfillment class at CTI, one of the leaders drew this picture of our comfort zone, with stars outside of it, illustrating that to reach for the stars, we have to step outside our comfort zone.

So, if we’re uncomfortable, we’re doing something right.  Yet we don’t have to be constantly uncomfortable.  We’re allowed to take a step or two forward and stay there–or dance up and down the steps we’re familiar with–till we’ve gathered the resolve to take another step.  We get to be at choice.

CTI led us in a visioning exercise to develop a life purpose, phrased as “I am the ___ that ___.”  I was initially drawn to the image of a lighthouse, that illuminates others’ strengths.  Later, I was drawn to the vision of a lake where I canoed in rural Quebec, out of which came this working life purpose statement: “I am the deep lake that holds beauty within and around it.”

What does it mean and what is its impact?  I can honestly say that I don’t completely know, but that it centers and directs my life journey.  There is something compelling about the beauty of nature, art, music and writing that inhabits me–even simply the appreciation thereof.  What does it mean to hold beauty?  I hold it in my eye, ear, mind, and heart.  How will it impact others?  That story is still unfolding.

What are your top strengths and values, that when engaging in them, you feel the most like yourself?  Who are you at your deepest, most magnificent core?

I’d love to offer a sample phone call to explore your values and what you most want.  What matters?  What are you drawn to?  Call or email me to set up a session to move toward the stars.

“House of Cards”: Netflix and the Flu

My husband and I recently started a free trial month of Netflix.  We have never been big TV watchers; in fact, we don’t even have cable.  Our usual form of entertainment is checking out ’40’s movies from the library.  Once we saw how quickly late fees added up, though, it made sense to look into Netflix.

A week and a half into the experiment, I’m discovering that I have less self-discipline than I’d like to admit.  I’m already an avid watcher of “House of Cards.”  I’d like to be content watching one episode and moving on with my life, but with each show ending with a cliff-hanger and the next show just the click of a button away, it’s all too easy to watch two or three in a row.

Not a problem on the occasional Friday or Saturday night, but even on weeknights, I’ve discovered there seems to be a “casino effect” whereby we absolutely lose track of time.  We would break for a time check and be stunned to see it was 12:30.  At least we didn’t watch an entire season in one weekend like 668,000 other Netflix subscribers did, but still not the healthiest choice.

I found myself getting less than 7 hours of sleep on a couple of nights, and sure enough, before long I picked up the February bug that’s been going around.  Maybe some people can survive on 6 1/2 hours of sleep, but I’m not one of them.  I pick up whatever germs are floating around when I’m sleep-deprived.

We make resolutions during the day that we don’t keep at night.  After floating wisdom to my loved ones like “the trick is to just watch one show then call it a night,” I promptly proceeded to waste away an evening utterly absorbed by the fantasy world in front of me.  When our TV died last night (it was 9 years old), that didn’t stop us–we downloaded the Netflix app on my iPhone.

Do I love it or hate it?  Do I want to keep Netflix or go back to my spartan ways?  I’m not sure.  I do know that intellectually I believe in moderation, but when it comes down to it, I will binge on “House of Cards” as much as anyone.  This is why I don’t keep ice cream in the house.  I would rather have two bites of dark chocolate and a cup of peppermint tea, but if there’s ice cream in the freezer, it will be eaten.

It’s good to know our limits and our temptations.  We will probably keep Netflix, because it sure beats picking up DVD’s from the library, but I am giving serious thought to how I can incorporate it into a balanced life.

In such cases, it can be helpful to think through the consequences of an action fully.  For example, that could mean imagining sleeping 6 hours, waking up feeling groggy, being cranky all day, possibly coming down with a cold or flu, getting behind on work, feeling stressed, and being short with those around me.  If everyone truly went through that process, far fewer of us would stay up till 12:30 watching “House of Cards.”

I honestly haven’t applied that technique to this situation yet, but I’m going public to help me do so.  I’ll give it a shot next time I’m tempted to click the remote to start another late-night episode and report back on the results.

My new goal is to continue to watch, but to do so more mindfully.  My hunch is that I’ll be healthier, better rested, in a better mood…  and perhaps less obsessed with Zoe, Lucas, and the rest of what is, when you come down to it, a fantasy world.

Purpose, Persistence…and Shoveling

In the past week, something like a foot of snow has fallen in the NJ/NYC area.  Probably more, I’ve lost track.  I do know that there are gigantic mounds of snow by the curb where plows have consolidated it, making street parking difficult, and at several intersections.  I have to take running leaps to avoid drenching my boots and socks in soupy slush.

It was so pretty when it was snowing:  big, fluffy flakes, drifting down, blown diagonally, sometimes briefly even lifted straight up.  The park across the street was blanketed in white.  Kids made plump, smiling snowmen that gave me a lift on my walk to the train.

Then came all the shoveling.  Usually my husband takes care of it, but this weekend he’s out of town, so it fell to me.  Frankly, I didn’t really know that I could shovel.  Like parallel parking, my first, knee-jerk reaction is to  assume I can’t do it.  I’m afraid I might hit another car or back into a telephone pole.

I do know, however, that we learn by experiencing life, doing things.  And that includes making mistakes.  My husband has never shown a glimmer of fear about parallel parking, and he actually has backed into a telephone pole.  So why does my mind still want to believe that he’s the expert and I don’t know how to do it?

Since I was nervous about making some egregious shoveling error, or committing a neighborly faux pas, I actually did some online research first.  I read about using the wind to your advantage, and the importance of dressing in layers (10 minutes into it, the exertion makes you rip off outer layers  like an onion).

Finally it was time to actually grab a shovel and dive in.  It had rained, so the snow was slushy and twice as heavy.  The shoveling  doesn’t have to be perfect, but the shoveled walkway does need to be (literally) passable.  I wanted to be considerate to our neighbors and tenants, and didn’t want it to pile up until it had become too much to tackle.  With that in mind, I shoveled twice on Thursday.  I tackled a little at a time, and chipped away at icy spots.

snowI was so happy to come home Friday night and again see the fruits of my labor.  The clear pathway.  The mountain of snow by the street.  No icy or slushy patches to speak of.

My mind often tries to play tricks on me–one of which is the story, “It won’t work out.”  I’m surprised to see, time and again, that with a little grunt work and persistence, I get the results I want.  That “protective” story that things will be very hard and won’t work out in the end, is proven over and over not to be true.  “Hard” is not the same as “can’t do it.”  Do I know everything before I’ve started?  No.  Do I figure things out in the process?  Yes.

Persistence matters.  Most people who are successful got there by chipping away at what they initially didn’t know how to do, bit by bit, like a block of ice.  Backsliding can be a part of the process.  Instead of throwing the shovel down, we take a deep breath, acknowledge our progress, and get back to work.

Results come from breaking down goals into manageable steps and taking action.  But they only happen if we pick up our shovel.

Freedom: Envisioning the Life You Want

In my first post on this blog, “Living Joyfully,” I shared that each year I choose a word to set an intention for my year ahead, and that in 2013 it was “joy.”  What I didn’t share was that in addition to the word I choose for myself, a dear friend and mentor also gives me a word; her word to me was “faith.”  I have been practicing these a day at a time, perfectly imperfectly.

In 2014, my word for myself is “compassion,” both for myself and for others.  I can only be as compassionate with other people as I’m being with myself.  If I’m hard on myself, telling myself that I’m not progressing fast enough on my goals, and using negative self-talk, guess what?  I’m usually hard on others, too.  Whether or not I say so, I can start thinking as if I know what they should be doing, which is always a dangerous place to go.

On the other hand, when I’m gentle with myself, I’m able to be more loving and accepting of others.  Sometimes that means using self-talk as if I were an 8-year-old girl.  If I forget to bring or do something, if my first thought is, “of course you forgot,” I’ll tell myself, “re-do,” as bravery coach Kate Courageous blogs about.  Then I literally tell myself, “it’s okay, sweetie, here we go…”  As ridiculous as it might feel at first to talk to yourself as if you were 8 years old, it’s even more ridiculous to address yourself in a way that’s shaming.  (Brené Brown has written powerfully and prolifically on the impact of shaming language.)

My mentor’s word for me in the coming year is “freedom.”  I probably wouldn’t have chosen this word for myself, which is why she’s my mentor.  We hear a lot about freedom in this country.  The Bill of Rights enumerates several freedoms we possess:  speech, religion, press, assembly, and others.  When I drive on the BQE (Brooklyn Queens Expressway) or take the Staten Island Ferry, I enjoy seeing the Statue of Liberty, that iconic gift of the French to Americans.  We take these political rights for granted today; of course I can write a letter to a newspaper; of course I can go to any church to worship.

Yet what else can freedom represent in my life?  How can I move toward greater freedom, to come more fully into the person I was made to be, so that I can have an amazing life, and be of greater service to others?  What limiting beliefs are stopping me from embracing an even more amazing, truly free life?

In the disciplines of psychology and coaching, much is said of the limiting belief of scarcity:  not having enough, and not being enough.  It seems part of the human condition that these fears rear their ugly heads subconsciously at least some of the time for most of us.  As Brené Brown  identifies, the simple act of articulating our fears or feelings we’re ashamed of having, and particularly sharing them with someone we trust, weakens them.

Once I identified “I won’t have enough” as an under-the-surface limiting belief, I was able to construct a positive belief to replace it:  “everything I need will be provided.”  This lets me choose to focus on a positive, rather than a negative, belief.

There is always presence and absence in our lives.  Our perspectives are simply the result of a decision of where to place our attention.  When we focus on absence, we experience more absence.  If we focus on what is present in our lives, we attract even more abundance and life keeps getting bigger.

What’s a limiting belief that’s holding you back?  How would it feel to counter it with a positive belief?  Please comment and share!