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Why We Need The Happiness Advantage

By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services

We all go through points in our lives where we feel a bit stagnant. This might come just a few times for some people; for others, it may feel like a permanent state – always looking ahead, wondering what’s over the horizon, and hoping that the next change in our lives will bring about a feeling that often escapes us: happiness.

In this Ted Talk, Shawn Achor explains with humor and well-researched data the problem that happens when we fall into the habit of romanticizing the “happiness horizon.” Take a look – when you come back, we’ll talk about the key points from this speech and how we can use this information to improve our own moods and productivity.

In this talk, Shawn emphasizes the importance of embracing happiness in the moment – not allowing a promise of happiness to motivate us, but using this feeling in the present. He backs up this assertion not just with the reassurance that being happy feels better, but with facts supporting the notion that our brain is more effective when we are happy. Instead of treating happiness like something we must strive for, a feeling that is contingent on our success, we can achieve success more readily by feeling happy now and using that feeling to empower our own triumphs in life.

As with most things, it isn’t enough for us to say, “Okay, so if happiness is better for me, that’s what I will choose to feel today.” (Actually, while this shouldn’t be the only thing we do, this kind of verbalization CAN be effective in helping us to feel more happy). But what else should we keep in mind if we want to start living with the happiness advantage versus seeking out the happiness horizon?

  • Build daily rituals that support happiness: These involve spending just a few minutes engaging in activity each day that boosts our mood and encourages happier thinking, like exercise, meditation, and acts of kindness. How often do you do these things? How can you work their presence into your daily activities?
  • Share gratitudes: This might seem like a small thing, but it’s -one of the most effective techniques for “looking on the bright side,” boosting your mood, and connecting with others in a positive way. Every day, as often as you can, share with others the things that make you grateful for them. Tell your partner how grateful you are for their support, your co-workers for their assistance on projects, your children for how hard they try in school. This doesn’t just leave others with a positive impact on their own day, but it begins to switch your own thinking as well – instead of looking for what others are doing wrong, we instead see the ways that others leave a positive impact on our lives.
  • Shift to positive thinking:  While this is a difficult task, it isn’t that complicated. It means catching our thoughts when we engage in negative thinking, and switching our brains to processing events in a positive light. It means seeing the joy in our daily lives and focusing less on what could or has gone wrong. If you are living in a cycle of negative thinking, start by journaling each day – record your thoughts and feelings, without judging or filtering as you write. After a few days, look back at your entries – for those that emanate negativity, challenge yourself to see the positive and reframe. Once you’ve had some practice, try doing this in the moment – catching yourself with a negative thought and reframing as you experience it.

We are all capable of taking small actions to rewire our brains into thinking within a positive framework. By understanding the benefits and importance of this, we can commit ourselves to taking action that helps us feel better in the moment and more productive in the long-term.

 

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The Negative Impacts of Stress… and What We Can Do About Them

While there really isn’t a lot of debate on this issue  – most people know and understand that high levels of chronic stress are bad for them – this knowledge doesn’t seem to have much impact on our day to day behavior. Despite knowing that stress isn’t a healthy thing to live with, and that there are concrete actions we can take to reduce our stress levels and improve our mental well-being, many of us continue to avoid doing so.

In this article, we feature a video from Bill Cunningham that we hope will help push those who continue to live with chronic stress into a deeper understanding of the long-term health impacts this can have. Go ahead and take a look below – when you return, we’ll be talking about what we can do with this knowledge.

To reiterate the key point of this video, we need to remember that the negative impacts of stress aren’t just limited to feeling uncomfortable and less productive in the short-term. In fact, brain research has shown us that stress has chronic and lasting impacts on our mental functioning, including an increased inability to manage stress, increased fear, decreased mental functioning, and higher risk of mental impairments. While it may be easy to put off dealing with stress (after all, we’re so busy, right?), the truth is that we must start taking steps NOW to make a change. Let’s take a look below at some basic keys to stress management that you can easily work into your schedule and start reducing your stress levels today:

  • Pay attention to your body as you live your day: What are some of the mental and physical cues that indicate you are feeling stress? What are you thinking? How does your body react?
  • Once you know your cues, apply to those to thinking actively about what is causing you stress: When you notice a stress reaction in yourself, take the time to think about what caused it. Is it something in your control? Something that isn’t? Try to pick apart what is creating the stress response and let go of what you can’t change.
  • Use basic stress management techniques: While the video suggests exercise and meditation for these, there are a number of other things you can do, especially when feeling an “in-the-moment” stressor. These include things like deep breathing, writing down your thoughts, or simply walking away from the stressful event (if possible) to give yourself space. The important thing about stress management is that once you know what causes you stress, that you have a technique for each of those things that is effective in lowering your stress response.

Our final tip: Make stress management a priority. It’s a lot easier to say you’ll start doing things differently tomorrow, or next week. But this issue is so detrimental, so embedded in our day-today lives, that unless we commit to change and start immediately, we won’t break our stress habit. Take the time to understand and deal with your stress – your health, and your ability to cope, will thank you.

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Commitment in Modern Relationships

By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services

With all of the benefits of technology, the ways in which we can meet others and remain connected to those we care about, we still face the negatives – the instant gratification, the temptation of considering what else might be out there in terms of romantic partnerships. In this video, we see this negative in action and what it means in terms of commitment when we have so much access to what might be on the other side of the fence.

When we use technology to build relationships with others, we need to understand that it empowers us to find and meet people for as long as we continue to use it. In terms of commitment, it means that once we’ve started developing a relationship with a partner, we will never really be able to fully dedicate ourselves to investing in that relationship until we set boundaries around our use of technology. In practical terms, it means we need to assess the commitment we want and that our partner wants and come to agreement around how we should or should not continue to use social media.

For yourself, consider the following questions for your own relationship, whether or not this partnership started through social media or otherwise:

  • How much time do both of you spend using social media? Have you discussed together the boundaries you should set around this usage, especially for apps or sites specifically dedicated to matching people for romantic partnerships? Both partners need to agree to and abide by these boundaries, or there won’t be any real way to build trust.
  • How much time and energy do you spend investing in your current partnership? When you start to see the imperfections of your partner, are you at a place where you are committed to working through these? Or do you turn back to “grass is always greener” thinking? How can you force yourself to remember that no one is perfect, especially those we might match with on social media?
  • When you and your partner have committed to a dedicated and monogamous relationship, how do you hold yourself accountable to avoiding the temptation of social media? Have you deleted or frozen your accounts on these websites and apps? If not, what is holding you back from doing so? The answer is often that we’ve still left one foot out the door, holding onto the desire to keep ourselves available should a “better” match appear. If this is the case, how can we really be present in our own partnership if we are still on the look-out for someone who comes along and appears to be a better potential partner?

Without stepping back from social media and stepping into commitment, it’s impossible to truly develop the lasting connection needed for a meaningful partnership. As you look at your own circumstances, reflect deeply on your reasons for continuing to use social media. And remember this key point from the video – the other fish in the sea? They’re only showing their best selves. Once we get to know someone, imperfections become clear. Unless we accept this truth and the reality of who our partner is, we will always be on the search for a perfection that simply does not exist.

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When We Blame First: How Do We Let Go of This?

By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services

When we experience a negative event in our lives, how many of us find ourselves reacting immediately with placing blame on others? Why do we do this and what are the negative impacts of this on ourselves and our relationships? In this post, we’ll be exploring the blame process and why this reaction comes so easily for people, the detrimental impacts of this, and what we can do to shut this reaction down more readily over time.

To understand why we blame others, let’s take a look at this brief video featuring Brene Brown. Here, she openly shares her own struggles with blaming and provides valuable insight as to why we do this.

From this, we see two important points about why we blame:

  1. It is a way that we attempt to find some reason for why something unexpected happens; therefore, we are creating a semblance of control for our minds in uncontrollable circumstances.
  2. It is a projection of our anger and pain, a quick way of expressing these emotions without the trouble of holding ourselves or someone else accountable.

There are a few problems with the “quick-to-blame” mentality. First, we aren’t addressing the root of our problem – by first blaming others when something bad happens, we are putting a stopper on reasonable and effective communication. Second, we put others in the position of dealing with the mental hurdles that we’ve navigated to place blame on them, hurdles that may not make sense to anyone but ourselves. When we don’t clearly explain why we are upset about something, and instead point fingers at our loved ones for things seemingly out of their control, we further reinforce the walls we have in our relationships. Both of these things have the potential to contribute to more and more relationship problems, such as stonewalling, anger, and a refusal to hear our partner’s side of things.

If you find yourself jumping to blame first, consider the following strategies to prevent this reaction:

  • Stop and breathe: When something unexpected happens, take a moment to process before saying anything. Analyze your thoughts. Are you already starting to place blame? Is the blame process logical or rooted in a place of anger and frustration?
  • Consider the source: If blame is coming from a place of anger, what caused this anger in the first place? For example, in Brene’s scenario, it wasn’t the spilled coffee – it was that her partner was late to return home. What might be happening in your relationship that’s causing negative feelings that you haven’t shared?
  • Discuss how you feel: While it may not be productive or enjoyable to feel the need to blame, it is a sign that there is something bothering you that you haven’t communicated. When this happens, take the time to engage in self-reflection and figure out what you need to communicate; then, do it without placing blame. Try to hold yourself accountable to holding others accountable in a respectful and empathetic way.

Through the need to blame, we are given the opportunity to peek into the issues facing our relationship – while letting go of blame, let’s commit to working towards more effective ways of communicating out needs and feelings with our partners.

 

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The Gifts of Self-Discipline

By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services

We’re ready to make a change. We’ve set a goal, or at least have thought deeply about what our goal might look like. So what’s holding us back? Why does the barrier of taking the steps needed to achieve our goals seem so impenetrable at times?

The answer is self-discipline, the key to taking what we know about goal attainment and making change in our lives and activating it for ourselves. It’s the idea that we are capable of doing what we should do, even when we don’t feel like doing it. For example, if you have a goal of exercising every morning, but wake up and can’t seem to get the energy to go for your daily walk, you aren’t working to achieve your goal. But if you make yourself do what you don’t want to do, you are showing enormous self-discipline – you’ve looked past your current feelings on the matter and are making a choice to forego what you want to do with respect for what you must do.

Now, self-discipline isn’t something we develop overnight. It’s a skill that’s cultivated over years with lots of trial and error. To learn more about developing this skill, take a moment to look at this video from Daily Discipline to learn how some of the most preeminent motivational speakers from around the country developed their own capacities for self-discipline.

This video has some wonderful points about things we can actually do each day to build up our self-discipline. Let’s review and reflect on some of the main takeaways from this below:

  • Are you giving yourself at least 10 minutes of uninterrupted time each morning (or night) to meditate and reflect? If so, what do you spend this time thinking about?
  • Tony Robbins describes a 3-step process towards more effective meditation: Thinking about gratitude, “3 to Thrive” (the three goals most important to you over the next 6 – 12 months), and loving more effectively. Try this during your own morning meditation – does this leave you feeling more energized and empowered to focus your actions of the day on the things that are most important to you?
  • Brian Tracy describes some of the best habits to have in order to achieve self-discipline. How well do you think you focus your daily thoughts on the following? Goals, results, people, health, honesty, and evaluation of your own self-discipline. When you feel yourself wandering away from these priorities throughout your day, how do you realign back? If these themes aren’t something you currently focus on, what could you do to hold yourself accountable to thinking about them?
  • How do you give back each day? What sort of returns do you hope for from this intelligent self-interest? How do you orient yourself to the “give first” mentality?

When we achieve self-discipline, we find ourselves at a tipping point in which we see how the goals we have set actually become achievable. This doesn’t just have an impact on our own self-actualization – through meeting the goals we have set, if we do so through the lens of positivity and giving, we are capable of making not just our own life better, but leaving a wonderful impact on the world and those we care about.

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The 5 Second Rule for Activating Change In Your Life

There’s no doubt about it – change is hard. And it isn’t hard because we don’t know what to do to achieve our goals. If we want to be healthier, we know this means being more active, making better choices in our diet, and giving up sedentary and unhealthy habits. If we want to spend more meaningful time with family, we know this means having “no-screen” time and planning out things we can do with our loved ones to build stronger connections and memories. But even with this knowledge of what to do, actually making change – or at least, making a change that lasts – is something that many of us struggle with. But why is this the case?

In this video, speaker Mel Robbins shares with us the neuroscience of change, why making change is a challenge for most, and simple tips for making change successfully. Watch the video, then read below for some of the key takeaways from this talk.

As I watched this speech, there were some definite “ah-ha!” moments that I’d like to share with you here. As you review, consider the questions asked and how you can use this information to build up your capacity for success in making change happen.

  • There are three obstacles that we all face when attempting to make a change. Our brains, our success, and our fear. This video really focuses on the brain and what we can do to combat this barrier; however, success and fear are also important to keep in mind. How has your own success contributed to a lack of willingness to change? How can you push the fear of the unknown away so that you are able to take the risk of making a change?
  • As Mel explains in this video, we used to believe that our brains stopped growing in our mid-twenties. We now know that our brains are actually always growing, which is good news for those of us seeking to make a change for the better in our lives. Because of the concept of neuro-plasticity, all of us have the power to embed new behaviors and routines into the pathways of our minds. This doesn’t come easily and requires active attention to making the change, but with repetition and dedication, we can slowly start moving change from an active process to something that our brains do while working on auto-pilot.
  • Before every new behavior we engage in, every move from stasis, our minds and bodies require energy to push us through the moment of hesitation. This applies when we get out of bed each day, when we stop ourselves from grabbing an unhealthy but loved snack, and when we actively engage in our new choice. This means that change IS hard – it requires us to commit to providing ourselves the energy to push through these moments without doing what comes more naturally.
  • We only do anything three reasons: We are paid to do it, we have to do it, or we are deeply committed to the action. Although she doesn’t dive into these concepts too deeply, we can further extrapolate some additional ideas for making change. For every new change or routine you are attempting, consider how you can use these facts to help you: How can you build incentives for yourself for engaging in the new behavior? Who will hold you accountable for the change? How can you remind yourself of the benefits of making the change, thereby building your passion for maintaining it?
  • Finally, Mel provides a simple exercise that can help us through the moment of hesitation – the 5 second rule. This is the window of time where we are most open to making steps towards change once we’ve made a decision to do so. How can we use this window to actually embed change though? Mel suggests writing down an idea, connecting with another person, or doing something that requires a bit of physical or mental effort that can keep us attuned to the motivator we have to change, to just do it. By doing this, we are leaving an impression on our brain – creating the first image of what change may look like, and give our brains an outline to follow that we can continue to fill with additional actions.

Think about a change you are trying to make in your own life – how can you use what you’ve learned to make this change a success? Leave your first impression by writing down your answer right now.

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Be Patient: Learning to Wait For Perspective in Life

As a counselor, one of the things I deal with daily is working with people who are experiencing negative life events, crisis, grief, or any other thing that is causing them emotional discomfort and pain. These events can be extremely traumatic – dealing with loss, death, divorce, long-buried trauma. As a counselor, my role is to help people understand, reframe, and cope with these feelings.

When I found this video, I felt like it wasn’t just an inspirational story – it really described the frame of mind that is most helpful for those who show enormous resilience in the face of adversity and strength when times aren’t going as well as they might like. Take a look below:

The lesson of this video, which I think is beautifully put, is this: It doesn’t benefit us to place judgement on any situation we experience by naming something as “good” or “bad.” Does that mean we shouldn’t have feelings about the things we experience? Absolutely not! When something painful occurs in your life, it’s normal to feel grief, sadness, and anger. When something positive happens, we should feel joy, pride, and relief.

But when we start naming these events as “good” or “bad,” when we place a fundamental value of the event within the trajectory of our life, we start internalizing. Instead of things that happen to us, these events become part of the story of who we are. And when we feel like many “bad” things are happening, it can be easy to start turning the blame for that onto ourselves or the people around us, instead of recognizing these as simply things we are living through.

That’s the power of “maybe” – having the wisdom to know that the tides of life are ever-changing, that the things that happen to us are just that – passing moments. Without the ability to predict how an event might actually shape the course of our life, how can we assign value to it? Everything we experience, both positive and painful, sends us down a journey that we cannot know. Peace is understanding that we will not understand our path until we complete it, and being open to the twists and turns as they appear before us.

As you reflect on this video and article, I encourage you to think about and journal on the following:

  • What would you say were the best and worst moments of your life? Why do you feel this way?
  • From these moments, how did the path of your life change?
  • What lessons did these moments teach you?
  • Were there “bad” moments that ended up changing your life for the better? Were there “good” moments that had unforeseen consequences?
  • How can you hold yourself accountable to sticking with “maybe” in your moments moving forward? How would this benefit you and your loved ones?

As a final exercise, journal for a few days on your initial reactions to events in your life. Note how often you are placing a value judgement on these events. Once you’re done, reflect on this list and consider what impact placing value had on your mood and attitude the remaining part of the day. Then, for a few more days, do the same journaling, but force yourself to stay in the “maybe” mind frame. How does this change your mood and attitude? See what works for you in maintaining this approach versus assigning judgement in the long-term.

The Gifts Imparted from Fathers

By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services

Happy Father’s Day from me to you! As I was reflecting on this day and considering the special role of fathers in children’s lives, I found myself circling back to the idea of the gifts fathers impart. No matter who served the father role for us, whether that was a biological parent, a step-parent, or other friend or family member, I think we all know the moments of most importance from childhood: The ones in which that person, our father, took the time to make us feel loved, to teach us a skill or lesson that we still carry with us, or to ensure we had the self-confidence to march proudly through life.

When I work with fathers, I sometimes hear this discomfort about their role – with all of the pressures and stress of life, it can be easy to feel guilty or worry that we’re not spending enough of our time or giving enough to our children. That’s why I love this video – what a simple but impactful way to spend a few minutes with a child and give them a solid foundation of values and self-esteem without hardly any investment. Take a look below:

I’ve written on the power of affirmations before and the ways in which we can use them as adults to boost our own feelings of self-worth and confidence. But what an amazing tool – to use affirmations as a bonding experience between father and child, to instill confidence, to teach values. I love this video because it illustrates how the simple presence of a father, or either parent, spent in ways that builds children up, not only benefits them, but allows us to feel a more complete connection to our role as parent.

To those reading this who are parents, or are planning on becoming parents, consider the following:

  • Who was your own father figure? What sort of impacts did they have on your life?
  • What lessons from your father do you wish to instill with your own children?
  • What are the times you feel the strongest connection with your children? How often do you make this activity part of your routine with your children?
  • What are the values you feel are most important to pass along to your children? How have or will you work to embed these in your children?

By thinking about the role of the father and how you fill it, it becomes much easier to feel confident in successfully parenting children (and reducing relationship tension with a partner along the way). I hope that you have had a wonderful Father’s day, and know that your role as a father, while it may seem intimidating, is one that leaves immeasurable impacts on your child for years to come and a layer of self-fulfillment that is unknowable until you’ve achieved this.

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Self-Worth: What is This and What Power Does it Have?

By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services

One of the most essentials keys to happiness and having the ability to have introspection into ourselves is having a solid foundation of self-worth. This is the idea that no matter what we are experiencing or what trials we face in life, that there is within us a clear understanding of who we are. Further, not only do we know who we are, but we also value who we are – we believe ourselves worthy, good, and deserving.

When someone has a healthy level of self-worth, it means they are capable of staying resilient when times are tough; that they don’t allow the opinions or ideas of others to negatively influence their behaviors or beliefs about who they are; and, they can feel safe in thinking critically about who they are and what motivates their own choices, forgiving themselves for mistakes, and believing they are capable of change if this is needed. Take a look at this video from Meir Kay for a great visual of this in action:

Consider the following – what is your own understanding and acceptance of your self-worth? Is this something you feel is a strength, or something that you are struggling with? If you are struggling with this, what might be the reasons why you lack self-worth?

To accept that we are fully deserving of love, we must first love ourselves. That is why having self-worth is so important – it isn’t just about getting through the hard times. It’s about welcoming the good and being able to allow a connection between ourselves and our partners. Without this essential trait, we are left vulnerable and isolated. If a lack of self-worth is something that you’re struggling with, this should certainly be explored in a therapeutic setting so that you can safely examine the causes of this issue and learn techniques for learning to love who you are again.

 

 

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Bringing Home Baby: Easing This Transition for Couples

By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services

It’s hard to describe what bringing home a baby means to new parents – until you’ve experienced this transition, it seems impossible to really understand the changes your life undergoes, from long-term plans to the daily routines you’ve had. When parents bring home a baby for the first time, it can be a time of overwhelming joy – but with any new change, stress and feelings of disconnection can also be present. Without understanding what a new baby can do to a relationship, this can be an especially vulnerable time for marital discord. We love this article from Women’s Health Mag – it’s such an honest look at the most common relationship troubles during this transition. Take a look – when you come back, we’ll explore some questions to ask before you bring baby home that can help avoid these issues.

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The good news is that these issues can mitigated with some honest and thoughtful conversations with your partner. Ideally these would happen before discussing having a baby (or at least before the baby is born), but if these are things you are struggling with in your own relationship, start the conversation as soon as possible.

  • What role expectations do you both have regarding child-rearing, especially at the newborn phase? How do you expect your partner to support you? How will you communicate when you need more help or when you are feeling overwhelmed? If you are planning on returning to work, how will these roles shift at that time? What additional supports would you consider to help mitigate the stress of working and raising a child?
  • How prepared do you both feel to provide daily care to a newborn? How can you communicate with one another if you are concerned about the care provided by your partner to the baby? What are your expectations for care and are these realistic things to expect from your partner all of the time?
  • Your body will need time to recover after child-birth, regardless of yours or his sex drive. How can you embed intimacy during this time? How will you make time for this even after your body is healed? How would you prefer to communicate about feeling dissatisfied with the amount of intimacy during this time if it becomes an issue?
  • Do you and your partner spend quality time together now? How will you hold yourselves accountable to scheduling this time after the baby comes? What supports do you have that will allow one-on-one time without bringing baby along?
  • What are each of your parenting styles and philosophies? How were each of you raised, and how is that influencing how you intend to parent your child? When baby comes, how will you discuss parenting differences as they arise in a respectful way?

While these are a lot of things to consider before having a baby, they are essential to making this transition successful. Without having a conversation around these issues, problems like resentment, stress, and isolation can arise – things that quickly drive deep wedges in relationships. Above all, remember that effective communication, the willingness to be flexible and insightful, and placing your commitment to your family above all else is what powers couples through the new baby stage.