Usher in the Change You Want in 2015

This week we ring in the New Year, and declare, “Out with the old!” and, “In with the new!” The New Year makes people welcome change. We make resolutions defining what will better about our lives in the coming year.  We vow to improve. Those resolutions are supposed to help us stick with the changes we want to make because change is hard.

In truth, many of us won’t follow through on the changes we resolve to make. Our new will simply be a repeat of the old, not a beginning for anything truly new. People get uncomfortable when things change, especially if we venture into unfamiliar territory. Change is a common trigger for fear, worry, anxiety, and ultimately distress. We imagine, like a horror movie in our minds, the terror that awaits us in the unknown. But change doesn’t have to be scary.

5 Ways to Welcome the Change You Want in 2015

Stop Focusing on the Fear
    Rather than keeping your attention on how scared you’re feeling, refocus your mind on what you want to be different in 2015 and why. Planning to start a new business, but afraid it could create too much stress? Ask yourself why the new business is inspiring. Do you want to change an unhealthy relationship in the coming year? Focus on why the change is important instead of how hard it’s going to be.

Write It Down
    Writing down your plan for change can help you organize your thoughts and gain courage. Spell out in detail what changes you’re planning to make. Problem solve what’s unrealistic. Were you planning to wake up early every day to start a workout program, but can’t coax yourself out of bed at the regular time now? Maybe your goal will be achieved more effectively if your workout schedule reflects your lifestyle.

Tell Friends and Family
    If you keep your change-plan a secret, no one will know if you let fear sink your ship before it sets sail. Talk up your dreams and goals. Let people know if you plan to save more money in 2015, or if you want to take a cooking class, or if you want to write poetry and submit it to a magazine contest. Your loved ones will support you and help you move forward.

Create an Accountability Plan
    If you’re serious about making a big change, you’ll probably need to answer to someone. Maybe you have a friend who shares your goal for 2015. Or, maybe your spouse has a goal of his or her own. Pair up and decide how you’ll monitor your progress and keep each other accountable. If you don’t have a change-buddy, consider making a schedule and try to keep yourself on track as you move toward your goals.

Take Baby Steps
    Deciding to change is the first step, but have you broken your change down into manageable steps? Big, overarching goals can feel too daunting. Planning to become an expert tennis player this year? First, perhaps, schedule some time with a pro. Fitness goal? Maybe find a personal trainer. Whatever your goal, you’ll be more likely to achieve it if you start with a simple tasks and work through a series of baby steps.


Posted on December 29, 2014 .

13 Ways to Stop Being Part of the Problem This Holiday

Nearly everybody travels to see family for the holidays or hosts guests at home. Whether your family is nearby or far, far; getting together with family is tradition. Mental health professionals spend weeks leading up to these visits and then weeks afterward hearing about the struggles of family drama. Playing host can be stressful, (but at least you get to sleep in your own bed). Traveling over the river and through the woods can be overwhelming, (or seem easier than welcoming a house full of guests). Whatever your stressor, it might be worthwhile to stop honing in on everyone else’s shortcomings and instead think about your own. Maybe you can do better, and maybe your can improve the holiday stress for the whole family.

Shift your attention to these 13 areas of self-management and enjoy a brighter holiday:

1. Treat difficult family members the way you believe people ought to treat others-instead of acting on your emotions or treating them the way it seems they “deserve” to be treated. Unpleasant behavior just makes things worse for everyone, deserved or otherwise.

2. Focus on the positives. Everyone has something good to offer. Instead of spending your time thinking about what everyone is doing wrong, stop and consider how hard they are working to get some things right. Notice when your brother bites his tongue at an offensive remark, or when your cousin stays longer to appease grandma instead of sneaking off to see her friends. Appreciate these little attempts to create harmony.

3. Adapt to the traditions. Maybe you wish things could be more like the good ole days, or maybe your in-laws have some strange customs. No matter what feels out of place, adjust your expectations to make it work. Adopt new traditions. Be flexible.

4. Say no. If you’re feeling too overwhelmed or annoyed to participate in one more game of canasta, or if you just cannot stomach another trip to the mall, speak up and opt out. Saying yes to activities that make you grouchy or tap your energies will not add joy to the season. Overwhelming yourself can lead to bad behavior later.

5. Be present. Put down your cell phone for a little while. Stop daydreaming. Tune-in to what’s right in front of you and notice all the little joys of family members. Staying mindfully present staves off the grumpies by keeping you from fantasizing about being somewhere else- somewhere quieter, with cooler family members. 

6. Rest. Sleep in. Nothing contributes to the stress of the holidays more universally than fatigue. Flying in causes jet lag, driving long distances hurts your back and tires you out, and even just keeping pace with all the activities can drain your energies. So, head to bed early or catch an afternoon nap. You’ll be better company.

7. Play. Laugh. Build a Lego project with the kids. Toss around a football or make paper airplanes. Be a kid again, not just a sullen grown-up. Holiday gatherings should be fun. Have a little.
8. Sneak off for a little alone time now and then. Take a walk outside, or make a run for some last minute stocking stuffers, do whatever is necessary to take care of yourself. Don’t push yourself to overdo together time. Take a break when you need one.

9. Entertain yourself. Don’t expect your host or hostess to keep you happy during the stay, bring something to do for yourself. Whether it’s a crafting project or settling down with a good book, have an activity you can use to get out of the way or recharge your batteries.

10. Look for family friendly activities that include the whole bunch, whatever the ages. Board games, card games, or traditional holiday movies can be fun ways for the family to connect. You’re gathering to make memories. Make some good ones.

11. Help out. If someone else is doing the cooking, offer to run to the grocery store for forgotten items, or help set the table or wash the dishes afterward. The best guests are the helpful ones, so hop up and offer a hand!

12. Say please and thank you. Even if you’re visiting your parents, remember they’ve worked hard to make the festivities come together for the family this holiday. Be a gracious houseguest or host. When you want something from the fridge or help with a task, ask nicely. Don’t be bossy or ungrateful.

13. Cut down on the booze. Many a family meltdown has begun because of holiday spirits. Drinking alcohol leads to a release of the inhibitions. And, even if you’re the jovial drinker, alcohol disrupts sleep quality and can lead to fatigue, impatience, and the eventual loss of control. Do yourself a favor and don’t overdo the holiday drink.

13. Let go of your expectations. Your biggest enemy this holiday may be the images you’re carrying around in your mind of something better. You get what you get when it comes to family. Don’t complain; just accept the family, the customs, the accommodations, and the whole package. 

Posted on December 22, 2014 .

Let’s Say No, Because We Love Our Kids Too Much To Screw Them Up

Why do people have such a hard time saying no? Do you?

Have you ever met a person who had difficulty saying no- to friends, to significant others, to bosses? Or worse, have you seen parents who have trouble saying “no” to their kids? If you’re a therapist or otherwise work with families, you may suspect that parents who fail to say “no” represent a disproportionate percentage of those in family counseling. Saying “no” is vital to raising well-adjusted kids, but for some parents, it seems impossible.

Parents acquiesce to their kids. It appears as if the parents feel “forced” to comply with demanding kids. But then won’t those kids grow up to become demanding adults? And how will parents change the rules when those kids are adults? Will parents be held hostage to demands with no end? Will parents resort to cutting off communication entirely because they were unable to say, “No!”?

How can someone believe that their child, or even adult child, “makes” them do something, like give money they don’t really want to give, because the child would have thrown a tantrum if they had said no? 

The parents who struggle to say no to their kids have kids who struggle later on. Jack comes to mind. He is a graduate of a prestigious design program, but he doesn’t have a job. It’s been over a year since graduation, and he is dragging his feet about finding a professional job. He works in a restaurant, the same job he had during school, but he cannot afford his apartment without his parents help. So month after month, they send him money. And month after month, they threaten to cut off the funds. They tell him he needs to update his resume and send it out so he can find himself a proper job. Jack is a kind-hearted young man; he probably feels guilty for requiring assistance. But finding a job is overwhelming and keeping to the status quo with his parents is easy.

Jack’s parents say, “Well, what choice do we have? He doesn’t have a job!” They feel trapped, unable to change things.

Maybe people like Jack’s parents equate saying no with blurting out every frustration or resentment they have ever had against their loved one. Maybe they haven’t learned to say, “I love you too much to agree to something that could mess up our relationship, or your future.”

As parents, I think we should all rehearse that line. “I love you too much to agree to something that could mess up our relationship.” Or “I love you too much to be a crutch and allow you to avoid facing your problems.” Or “I love you too much to interfere with normal life lessons.” Or “I love you too much to pretend this is okay.”

Because in the end, we do love them too much to be part of their problems, right? And isn’t loving them, and demonstrating it through action, our job description as a mom or dad?

Posted on December 8, 2014 .