Welcoming Change

 
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Hello and Happy September! Now that the summer is coming to a close I’m back to writing a weekly blog. I hope you had a great summer and that you are ready to dive into the fall and to begin (re)focusing on your commitment to your overall health and wellbeing.

As we welcome a new month and a new season, we need to be prepared to welcome change. Change can be tricky for some, uncomfortable for most, and we all tend to resist change in one way or another. Why is that? I have a few ideas… Over the next several weeks I’ll be writing about change and how to embrace it with grace, preparation and even some positivity.

Positive psychology is a whole branch of psychology dedicated to the science of happiness. You know science-y people, they love a formula and measurements and outcomes in order to create “evidence-based practices” that you can engage in for a specific desired result. I don’t think mental/physical/emotional wellbeing can be achieved through an exact formula and replicated for each individual person. However, this branch of psychology has some very useful tools you can integrate in your own way. I am more of a practice person and I like to study and learn about it all— but really I feel that I need to experience something before making a decision about its efficacy. Positive psychology offers a system of practices that help build awareness and development of your internal strengths and then using these strengths to weather the inevitable storms in life. The focus is more on utilizing and knowing and accessing your personal values and inner strength within, in order to create a more peaceful inner state and overall wellbeing.

Over then next several posts I’ll be talking about resistance to change, how to approach change and using themes and offerings from positive psychology that offer useful, practical and doable tools to manage any challenges (like fear and resistance) to change. I do know that wellness is a wholistic state and a wholistic practice. Wellness is not only about eating well, exercising, self-care and sleep. While those are all super valuable components to be, feel and live well, if our minds aren’t right it’s tough to engage in these wellness practices consistently. Positive psychology offers solutions and anecdotes to some of the challenges, anxieties and stressors presented inevitably by life and specifically in response to change.

Some themes you can expect to learn more about here (with encouragement and ideas to practice them!) are elements such as:

  • Mindfulness (yeah I know, I talk about mindfulness A LOT, but it’s super central to feeling good & overall wellbeing!)

  • Solution-focused problem solving

  • Savoring

  • Gratitude

  • Hope

  • Equanimity

  • Balance

  • Living in flow

  • Contentment

  • Positive thinking/challenging & understanding the origins of negative thoughts

  • Identify, building and using your inner strength

  • Aligning with you personal values

  • Optimism

  • Creating your own personal definition of happiness

So here’s to a new season, welcoming the changes that are to come and building on your internal resources to roll with these changes in order to grow, evolve and create a an opportunity to up-level your life!

I’ll leave you, for now, with this wisdom to contemplate throughout the week:

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world.

Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
― Rumi

The Health Benefits of Taking on New Challenges

 
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Taking on new challenges and remaining open to life-long learning is yet another way to remain healthy and vital throughout your lifespan. While taking on new challenges when you are out of school, such as starting a new job, training, or moving into a promotion may feel exciting, what about taking on a new challenge after your career is well established and you are settled into the routine of your life?

Last week we looked at the health benefits of being curious and open-minded throughout your life, which is also about life-long personal growth and learning. Taking on new challenges may have a similar feel, however, one of the main elements of taking on a new challenge is that it requires that you confront some of your personal fears. Let’s say you take on the challenge of learning a new instrument, a fear might be, “what if I am no good at it” or “what if it’s too hard” and so on. These fear-based thoughts will prevent you from taking action and enriching your life. Taking on a new challenge and continued learning could be so many different things. It could be moving to a new home or city, learning to rock climb, learning a new language, instrument or skill.

Whatever challenge you choose, the most important aspect of allowing yourself to grow is both that you do it at all and how you approach it. Learning to combat the fear-based negative thoughts will be the first challenge you will have to address. So, let’s look at how to approach those thoughts as a part of this vitality and wellbeing creating process.

Negative, fear-based thoughts are a pattern of conditioning that often begin quite young. You may have battled many thoughts that hold you back in life, or you may be a victim to them right this very moment. Either way, the first step is always awareness. When you notice that these thoughts in fact exist and are having an impact on your life, this will help you make a choice on how to respond to them. The second step is recognizing that these thoughts are just thoughts. These thoughts are not you and they do not define you. Know that you do not have to believe everything you think.

Once you have these first two steps underway, the third step is knowing what to do with the thought. In this step you can ask yourself, “is this a true thought?” Let’s use the example of a fear thought based on your desire to learn a new instrument: “what if it’s too hard?” Now, is this a true thought? Well no it’s not because you haven’t even tried yet. Then, ask yourself, “is this a useful thought?” With this same example of learning a new instrument, no it’s not useful. This thought is not helping you move in the direction of taking on a new challenge that can open you up to living a life of vitality and wellbeing. Do you see how this one, maybe even seemingly reasonable, thought is limiting your ability to take action on learning a new instrument (or any other challenge?) I can guarantee you that these thoughts are not true and most certainly are not useful.

Once you’ve been able to determine this, you can take action on creating a reality based thought, something like this, “although I have some fears about not being good at a new instrument, I am going to choose to try, practice and enjoy the process of learning.” This is called reframing. Reframing allows you to live in a space of reality and empowerment rather than in a space of undetermined fear and placing limits on your life because of these fears.

So, what would you like to learn? What’s a new challenge you’d like to take on no matter what stage of life you may be? Today is just the right day to take action. When you challenge yourself, you build up your self-esteem and your self-worth. When you learn and grow, you continue to build a life for yourself that you are excited to live. Allow yourself this opportunity to expand. This keeps your brain active and reduces stress, a perfect combination for longevity and vitality! Take on a new challenge and expand your knowledge and your personal power beginning today.

Not sure what challenge and new learning to take on? Here are some ideas on where to spark your interest:

-       Do challenging word and number puzzles

-       Take or audit a class that interests you at a local community college

-       Write down five areas that interest you that are outside of your area of career/work

-       Research books and/or classes about those topics

-       Read one book on this topic, and then another and another

-       Sign up for a class on this topic

-       Learn a new language

-       Learn to play an instrument

-       Learn to knit

-       Take an art class

-       Take a workshop

-       Join a book club

-       Go to a museum

-       Join a community sports league

- Take a new class at a gym/yoga studio/recreation center

When you begin the process, be sure to check in with and challenge any limiting thoughts and beliefs that hold you back. Notice the impact on your life when you allow yourself this freedom to live a life of progression and growth for years to come.

The Health Benefits of Remaining Curious and Open-Minded Throughout Your Life

 
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Being curious and open minded is yet another wellness essential that supports living a long, healthy, happy life of vitality. While it may seem obvious that eating well, exercising, restful sleep and even sound relationships improve longevity and wellbeing, keeping your mind curious and open may not be as obviously linked to wellbeing. When you consider the mind-body connection, yes, reduced stress is a primary focus which can be supported through maintaining a sharp, active, curious mind. Flexibility in your viewpoints and perspectives allows for longevity and vitality as well.

When you spend time with a child who is just beginning to learn about the world, they ask a million questions. Then those questions are followed up with “why?” At some point we stop asking why and just respond to life based on what we think we know. Being curious and asking why can increase your learning and personal growth and wellbeing.

When you are considering a viewpoint contradictory to your own in a curious and open-minded way, rather than becoming defensive and possessive of your views, you maintain lower stress levels because the defensiveness causes your stress levels to rise. You also create more awareness and understanding of the other person or groups viewpoint which allowing for less of a sense of “us against them” which also is associated with stress. Knowing that we can improve our wellbeing by moving from a fixed, negative world view to a more positive, flexible one allows for personal growth by increasing kindness, tolerance and acceptance.

Life can become rudimentary and mundane so easily. Becoming entrenched in a certain routine and way of being and not creating the energy or time to expand your mind can happen without even noticing it. Life is busy and these days can get filled up with a lot of seemingly important tasks. When was the last time you asked why?

The first 20-25 years of our lives are often dedicated to learning and expanding our minds. Beginning a career requires new learning until the skills are mastered and then we just kinda settle in and cruise for a while. This is where life can get filled up and your time gets taken over by daily chores and responsibilities. The next thing you know you surround yourself with people with similar viewpoints that you have and your work and/or family life and remain tightly bound in that bubble. If you are ready to get back to curiosity, growing your mind and increasing your vitality through the process of expanding your awareness here are some ideas:

 -       Ask questions and listen to the answers without offering your own opinion on a topic, keep asking questions until you feel you have a solid take on the other persons opinion. Only offer your own if asked, and if then, remain non-defensive, have a conversation about expanding your viewpoint rather than trying to convince another person to take yours as their own

-       Talk to someone from a different cultural background than your own and be curious about how their culture impacted their personal experience, viewpoint and life in a way that is different from your own

-       Volunteer at a community recreational center, after school program or anywhere with those with less fortunate financial means than your own

-       Go to an art museum

- Go to a science museum

-       Go to a musical event that you might not normally attend

- Take a class

-       If you go to a house of worship, try a different one from a different denomination or if you are comfortable with it, even a different faith than your own and talk to at least one person from that new environment. Listen only, be curious and open to hearing about someone else’s experience, viewpoint and lifestyle. Try not to judge, remain curious and open to understanding another person’s perspective.

-       Learn a new skill in an area of interest (art, craft, new instrument, sport, cooking, technology…)

-       Read anything

-       Watch a sunrise and/or sunset

- Never stop asking why?!

This is a short list of ways to begin thinking about how to remain curious, open-minded, interested and engaged with the mysteries of life and a worldview beyond your own. When you think about traditional learning, it was to master a skill or get a certain grade in order to achieve something else, not necessarily just for the sake of learning or growing. This is a new way to approach learning—simply for the sake of expanding your mind and intellect and sense of being a human. Just listening to and being curious about someone else’s view of life and overall perspective can be amazingly expansive.

For the past 18 years I have worked as a therapist in several different capacities, from a homeless shelter in Brooklyn, to working with at-risk youth from the inner city and outer counties of Richmond Virginia, to people of all walks of life who desire to decrease their emotional distress, heal their relationship with food, themselves and others and feel more confident and well. One thing I know for sure is that we have way more alike than we have differences and yet culturally we are set up to feel that any difference is a potential threat to us.

When you expand on this personal level, your mind naturally begins to open and create less anxiety and fear surrounding others. With this you create less internal struggle which only enhances you life and helps you grow in your vitality.