Self-Care

Mastering the Art of Play

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When we were kids, our main objective in the world was to play.  We could spend hours traipsing through the outdoors, creating our own games and imagining stories we’d act out with our friends.  But somewhere along the line, that sense of play was slowly overtaken by work –schoolwork, university, careers, and family life.

According to the Google, the verb “play” is defined as “engaging in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.”  As adults, this time can feel wasted or pointless because nothing is accomplished. 

But we need to bring play back into our lives.  There’s a simplicity to the idea of play that is missing from adult life.  When we were children at play, we weren’t worried about anything other than the game or the imagined story in which we found ourselves.

There is an inherent value to engaging in play.  Play is an expression of freedom where I choose what I want to do right now and stop my play when it is no longer fun or enjoyable.  In this freedom, we experience greater creativity.  Children are encouraged to engage in play as a therapeutic technique to help them process pain and trauma they’ve experienced.

Oftentimes, play gets confused with leisure time, defined by distraction, disengagement, and emotional disconnection.  This is a sign that we’re using our leisure time to escape instead of rest.  In contrast, when you watch a child at play, you can see how engaged and curious they become in whatever exists around them, even if it seems trivial or unimportant.

Here are a few ideas to get you started on how to incorporate play in your life.

Remind yourself of how you used to play.

Over the course of time, we can lose touch with the playful spirit we had as children.  Dan Allender, in a series of podcasts on play, names a few questions to consider when you think about this topic.  What games do you enjoy playing?  What activities do you engage in that bring a sense of joy?  What did you used to play as a child that you enjoyed?

Be a kid on summer vacation again.

Think about all the ways you used to play in the summertime as a child.  What were some of the activities you loved?  Playgrounds and swings?  Exploring in the woods?  Schoolyard games?  Swimming in the lake?  Drawing with chalk?  Flying a kite?  Playing pick-up soccer or football?  Spend an afternoon doing some of these things!

Go to a museum or park designed for children and explore.

Some of my favorite memories of class field trips or family day trips involved visiting a zoo or a children’s science museum.  There was always so much to see and do, and I’d always learn something new.  Visit one of these parks or museums that you loved as a child with a curious and playful attitude.

Do a summer reading challenge.

As a lifelong book nerd, I always loved tearing through books as a kid to win a prize at our local library for amount of books read.  Many libraries have now extended the fun for adults and have broadened the ways you can earn points to include exploring the library buildings themselves, writing reviews for books, or attending library events.  I’ve joined in on the Ann Arbor District Library summer game for the past few years, which has plenty of options for fun and encourages me to attend community events I may not know about otherwise.

Throw a kid-themed party!

Friends’ birthday parties were always some of the highlights of the summer growing up.  Typically these parties involved themes, games, favors, and all the candy you could eat.  Invite your friends to a party and have a water balloon or water gun fight, get a piñata, or play children’s games like pin the tail on the donkey.

Learn from a child in your life.

Spend a day with a toddler or kid in your life, whether it’s your own child, a niece or nephew, or a friend’s child.  As you interact with them throughout the day, pay attention to how they view the world around them with curiosity and a sense of play.  Find ways to imitate that childlike spirit in your own life.

 

As you start to incorporate play into your life, pay attention to what emotions you feel.  You might find yourself distracted by embarrassment or shame.  You might feel silly or childish.  This is normal, especially at first, because play isn’t always encouraged in our day to day.  Observe your emotions, give yourself space to feel them, and know that the more you practice play, the more natural it becomes.

How will you begin to play this week?

This article was originally posted on June 24, 2017.

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Having a playful spirit can seem difficult when you are struggling with anxiety, depression, or trauma in your life.  When these issues are present, self-care is one of the most important things you can do, but it can also be the hardest thing to practice.  I’d love to provide support for you on your journey of self-care and health.  Restored Hope is an Ann Arbor-based counseling office where I focus on helping you experience freedom from patterns that prevent you from living a wholehearted life.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to hear how I can help.

How Focus on the Essential Could Save Your Life

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When you wake up in the morning, are you overwhelmed with the many tasks on your to-do list?  Maybe you’re a parent who feels stretched too thin between caring for children and keeping up with work tasks.  Or perhaps you feel under the thumb of the “tyranny of the urgent,” where every task seems to be top priority.  Maybe the things that really matter to you are slipping through the cracks.

How freeing might it be to focus on just one thing at a time?

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown* is a slim volume that helps you focus on one priority at a time instead of trying to spread your time and energy over too many tasks.  He helps you hone in on what’s important instead of what’s urgent.  He encourages trimming down on non-essential tasks in order to focus on what is truly vital to your well-being and your values.  He offers practical steps on how to define your priority, or “essential intent,” cut down on extra tasks, and create time to do what’s most important to you.

If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.
— Greg McKeown

Impacts from Essentialism

He shatters the expectation of multiple “priorities.”

McKeown talks about the history of how we view the word “priority.”  In the past, calling something a priority meant it was the number one thing in your life at the top of the list.

But now the meaning of the word has changed.  We have “priorities” in the plural.  When we spread our priorities over multiple areas, then everything becomes a top priority and you can’t juggle it all.  You end up failing in some areas, struggling with decision fatigue from the weight of choices between priorities, and feeling less satisfied.

Instead, McKeown suggests focusing on one “essential intent” as a top value, truly making it your top priority.  This makes decisions easier as you hold up this top priority as the main factor in making deliberate decisions.

You don’t have to do it all.

Focusing on one essential intent takes you out of the trap of “I have to do it all” and allows you to make choices that support what you value.  It can be easy to fall victim to outside circumstances or urgent tasks.  You can feel out of control and powerless to change.

In truth, you do have a choice.  You can choose to respond to that “urgent” request or stay late at work to catch up, or you can choose an alternative behavior that supports your values.  When you frame decisions as choices, you’re more likely to feel more power and control over your life.  Choices can be hard, but they put you back in the driver’s seat of your own life.

You have permission to say “no.”

It can be difficult to say “no” to urgent tasks, especially when they feel constant and demanding.  Not only does McKeown encourage you to say “no: in order to make your essential intent most important, but he also gives practical, step-by-step advice on how to say “no.” Realizing you cannot do everything and being willing to say “no: allows you to give others the opportunity to step in and showcase their own strengths or abilities. 

I can do anything but not everything.
— Greg McKeown

Your “no” can still be hard.

What makes saying “no” more difficult is that it involves a trade-off.  Typically we are saying “no” to something that is good in order to say “yes” to the best.  Acknowledging the reality of the trade-offs and the potential for missing out or feeling disappointed allows you to accept those feelings as normal.

How to Apply Essentialism in Daily Life

Discover what you value.

Find a time and space where you can reflect without distractions or interruptions.  Get out a journal or a pad of paper and write down a list your priorities and values.  Look through this list and identify which of those values leads you to feel truly alive.  Clarify your vision as a way to identify your essential intent.

Choose one priority to focus on for the next week.

As you reflect on this list, choose your essential intent for the upcoming week.  Let it guide your decisions.  When you’re called on to make a choice, pause and ask whether or not it supports your priority.  You might focus on family, mental health, friendships, taking care of your body, an aspect of your work – you name it.  Whichever goal you focus on, allow your decisions to reflect what will best contribute to that goal. 

Identify your obstacle.

What is most likely going to get in the way of you sticking to your essential intent?  A demanding boss?  A tantrum-throwing toddler?  An unsupportive spouse?  Endless lists of work tasks?  Plan ahead for these obstacles and seek to address them in advance.  This preventative approach will save you from reacting in the moment to urgent interruptions. Create a routine that will help you avoid doubt or questioning your priority.

Pause before saying “yes.”

When someone makes a request of you, don’t automatically say “yes.”  This automatic response feels polite and avoids conflict, but you may regret it later.  Either tell the person you’ll get back to them or take 24 hours before you respond.  During that time, consider whether saying “yes” will support your essential intent for the week.  After some time has passed, if your response is not a 100% “yes” and in alignment with your essential intent, then the answer is no.

Give a clear “no.”

While it can be difficult to say “no,” communicating that no is more effective than a noncommittal yes where you will avoid or have difficulty with completing the task.  McKeown offers several ways to say “no” in the book, some of which involve suggesting another person who could complete the task, creating a compromise, or using humor.  Regardless, know that saying “no” will feel awkward and uncomfortable at first, but with practice, it becomes easier. 

Celebrate.

Any change you make toward creating your one essential priority is worth celebrating, even if it feels tiny.  Find a way to celebrate the small victories.  Using this form of positive reinforcement helps you give yourself credit for changes you make.  If you deal with anxiety or depression, giving yourself credit as an important part of overcoming the negative messages you repeat to yourself.  Allow yourself to feel happy and enjoy the feeling of making a change.

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Do you feel as though you are spread too thin?  Is it difficult for you to tune out the urgent requests that come across your table?  Do you have a hard time setting boundaries and saying “no”?  Are you dealing with symptoms of depression or anxiety as a result?  At Restored Hope, I help you quiet your negative self-talk and approach yourself with kindness, guiding you in focusing on what’s most important to you.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to schedule your first appointment.

*These are Amazon affiliate links.  Click here to read more about Restored Hope’s Amazon local associates policy.

Finding Your Power Center: How To Leave Victimhood Behind and Own Your Power

If you’ve been on the receiving end of a spouse’s betrayal through an affair or sex and love addiction, there are times when you feel completely powerless and out of control.  Your partner’s behaviors and decisions baffle you.  Oftentimes the behaviors affect you directly, and it can be maddening to feel out of control.

Moments like these lead you to feel like the victim of someone else’s chaos or poor decision-making.  You may feel trapped, angry, or afraid of confrontation or change.  You’re probably also exhausted from trying to manage the emotional upheaval from dealing with the fallout of someone else’s actions, questioning whether or not you can trust them, and doubting your own self-worth.

How do I know I’m not in my power center?

When someone else’s actions or the circumstances around you leave you feeling like a victim, here are some symptoms you might notice:

  • Reacting rather than responding

  • Feeling trapped and stuck: “I just have to sit down and take it.”

  • Intense and overwhelming emotions, such as fear, anxiety, or anger

  • A sense of hopelessness: “Things will never change.”

  • Powerlessness: “There’s nothing I can do about this.”

If you’re dealing with a partner’s sex and love addiction, here might be some other symptoms you notice:

  • Denying or ignoring your partner’s addiction

  • Avoiding signs that addiction is continuing

  • Obsessively checking on your partner’s whereabouts and actions

  • Enabling addictive behaviors by taking ownership/blaming yourself

  • Attempting to control the addict’s behaviors

  • Feeling like you’re the addict’s parent rather than partner

How do I reclaim my power center?

The biggest shift needed to reclaim your power is defining yourself as someone capable of creating change, rather than a victim.  This is difficult because it may be true that there are things outside your control.  The actions, thoughts, and decisions of others are not something you have the power to control.  However, you can choose how you think and act in response to these behaviors and meet your personal needs within difficult circumstances. 

Vicki Tidwell Palmer, in her book Moving Beyond Betrayal*, does a great job of outlining how to find your authentic personal power by moving from victim to victorious. She invites you to take a step back from chaotic situations to identify what you need and choose appropriate steps to get those needs met.  Be kind to yourself in this process, and don’t heap shame on yourself when you find yourself feeling like a victim again. Instead, feel empowered to make a different choice rather than feeling like your emotions are taking over.

At times, taking back power can be as simple as naming that you are powerless.  In the Twelve Steps, Step One involves admitting that you are powerless over the addictive behavior.  In truth, you are powerless over your partner’s behaviors, and admitting this truth frees you to make decisions that are best for your well-being.  This process can teach you to meet needs through supportive relationships and friendships, self-care, and spirituality.

In particular with addicts who are either in denial or in active addiction, it can be easy to get caught up in the cycle of feeling like a victim or enabling their behavior.  Instead, admit that you are powerless over the denial itself.  While you can communicate the effect your partner’s behaviors have on you, you will need to support yourself with appropriate boundaries.  Setting boundaries to protect yourself and meet needs in healthy ways will allow you to reclaim power over your own life.

Practical Next Steps

Practice grounding exercises when you’re experiencing intense emotional responses.

Grounding exercises are a way that you can reconnect with the present moment when your emotions threaten to take over.  Sit in a comfortable spot and pay attention to your breathing.  Place your feet flat on the ground and notice the sensation of the ground beneath your feet.  Hold an object that has a unique texture, such as a smooth rock or a soft toy and connect with your sense of touch.  Practice the 5-4-3-2-1 breathing exercise (outlined in this article) where you connect deep breathing with noticing sensory information around you.

Pay attention to your body to identify what you need.

Check in with yourself emotionally by noticing the physical sensations in your body.  Identify previous times you have felt those physical sensations.  Ask yourself about those memories: what did you need at that time?  Safety?  Comfort?  Time alone?  Love?

Journal and reflect on these needs and identify healthy ways you can meet each of them.  For example, you might give yourself safety by removing yourself from situations that feel unsafe.  You can find comfort by calling or visiting a friend and talking with them about your experience.  You can feel love by spending time with a beloved pet or practicing self-love through kindness toward yourself.

Set a boundary or Make a request to move closer to what you need.

Some needs aren’t as easy to meet on your own.  In that case, you can make a request of your partner or others in order to get that need met.  Keep in mind that this request needs to be made with acceptance of the other’s response.  They have the right to say yes or no, and you will need to prepare for how you will respond in either case.

Setting boundaries is a helpful way to practice self-care or self-protection.  Boundaries are not meant to be a weapon or a punishment.  Instead, they are a tool by which you increase feelings of safety and stability in your life and relationships.  For example, if your spouse tends to raise his or her voice while having an argument, you might set a boundary that when he or she raises their voice, you will walk away from the conversation.  Or if your spouse continues sexually acting out, you may set a boundary of sleeping in separate bedrooms to help you feel safe.

Make agreements with your partner about supporting one another’s boundaries and needs.

Work together with your spouse to find compromise about current needs you each have in the relationship, especially in light of any addictive issues at play.  Identify the needs you listed above and come up with several possible solutions of how to resolve them.  Have a discussion with your partner about those needs and come to a place of compromise where you can both be satisfied with your agreement.  This conversation is likely best done in the context of a couples therapy session, if your partner is willing.   

When you’ve gotten to a place of compromise, write down the actions to which you and your partner have committed and sign them as agreements, giving a sense of gravity to the document.  If these agreements are not being honored by one or both of you, you have this physical document to revisit and have additional conversations about what might have caused the agreement to be broken.

Have you felt out of control with your emotions after discovering your partner’s betrayal?  Do you struggle to set boundaries or know what you need?  Are you afraid of confronting your loved one’s addictive behavior for fear that you will lose the relationship?  At Restored Hope, I offer compassionate counseling and care as you walk through these difficult life circumstances and seek to regain a sense of power and control over your life.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to set up an appointment at my Novi or Ann Arbor counseling offices.

*These are Amazon affiliate links.  Click here to read more about Restored Hope’s Amazon local associates policy.

An Attitude of Gratitude

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A regular practice of gratitude has been shown to inspire health benefits including increased exercise, optimism, and reduced physical pain.  Gratitude has a multitude of mental health benefits as well, such as better sleep, reduced depression, and reduced stress.  Studies by the National Institute of Health indicate that gratitude can increase dopamine in your brain, which serves as a “reward” hormone to make you feel good.

Gratitude also has spiritual benefits.  When we thank God for the gifts He has given us, we are then better able to receive those gifts with gratitude rather than continuing to demand more.  Psalm 23:1 says, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I have all that I need.”  Meditating on this verse helps me to be aware of all the needs I have that are being met, rather than comparing my current status with what I wish I had.

Oftentimes, if we struggle with depression or anxiety, gratitude isn’t our first response.  Instead, we face hopelessness about our life circumstances.  We can have a thought pattern of only seeing the negative in our lives, without taking the time or energy to appreciate the good things we experience.  I personally can tend to default to a more “glass half empty” frame of mind.

But what if, instead of only looking at the bad, we chose to see all the good in our lives?  Have you heard of the difference between the “scarcity mentality” and the “abundance mentality”? The scarcity mentality says, “I’ll never have enough/what I want,” while the abundance mentality comes from the perspective of “I have all that I need.”  How might it feel if you chose gratitude for the abundance in your life rather than focusing on things you lack? 

Here are some ways you can practice gratitude in your daily life. 

Keep a gratitude journal.

Each night before bed, or each morning when you wake up, take some time to write out a list of things you are grateful for in a journal designated for just that purpose.  You could take Ann Voskamp’s approach and write a list of three different things you’re grateful for on a daily basis, culminating in over 1000 different things to be grateful for in one year.  In the past, I’ve combined this practice with the practice of an examen to reflect on my day and the good and bad that happened throughout.  Looking back over this journal, it is easy to see how full our lives are of good things, and to experience joy at the gifts we have. 

Practice gratitude in your relationships.

We often become so accustomed to loved ones in our lives that we begin to lose sight of the ways they love or serve us.  This is a particular problem in marriages, where the praise and appreciation that are so prevalent at first tend to taper as you spend more and more time together.  Sit down with your partner or with a close friend today and share with them ways that you are grateful for who they are and what influence they’ve had on your life.

Sit in nature and write lists of all the things you see around you for which you are thankful.

Have you ever watched the TV show Planet Earth?  Whenever I flip on an episode of this or any other nature show, I'm fascinated by the creatures and landscapes that exist in this world and their beauty.  When we take the time to sit outside and look at the world around us (even in the winter!), we can connect with a world that is much bigger than we are.  We can also experience more peace and calm as a result.

Pray.

At times in the past, my gratitude journal has taken the form of a prayer journal, where I spend time thanking God for the blessings in my life.  Whether this takes the form of a nightly ritual or an extended conversation with God, it can be a refreshing and renewing practice for my faith and to remind myself that God has provided all that I need.  Sometimes combining prayer with a walk can be helpful, as it allows space to be in nature as well.  Another area we can practice gratitude in prayer is paying attention to answered prayers: what have you been praying for where God has provided an answer? 

Write a thank-you note!

We’re taught as children to write thank you notes for the gifts we get at parties, and we often continue that practice with other special events in our lives, like weddings and baby showers.  While this custom tied to formal events can feel rote and like a chore, what would it feel like for you to write a thank you note to a friend…just because?  Try sending a thank-you card to a friend or family member for no reason other than to practice gratitude for the ways they’ve been present in your life.

Stop comparing yourself to others!

This is a big one, and I can often be the #1 culprit.  When we compare ourselves to others, even if we do so in order to view ourselves more favorably, that is not gratitude.  In fact, when we do it, it often leaves us with kind of an icky feeling.  Gratitude is about finding the things that are positive in your own life, without comparing to anyone else.

What step will you take this week to practice gratitude in your life?

This article was originally posted on March 25, 2017.

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Are you having a hard time finding anything to feel grateful about?  Maybe you relate to the idea of the scarcity mentality, where you feel hopeless and unhappy with your current life circumstances.  Here at Restored Hope, we’d love to help you on your journey to change your circumstances and your outlook  to live a happy and fulfilled life.  Contact us at our Ann Arbor and Novi therapy offices to hear more about how you can find support and help to live more wholeheartedly.  Call us at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to reach us

Why We Need People: How Friendships Help You Live Longer

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On any given day, how many people do you interact with?  Take a day this week and count the number of people with whom you have a social interaction, whether they be friends, family, baristas, or coworkers. 

In the past, face-to-face social interactions were more common.  Whether it was a spouse, family member, friend, coworker, or even just a cashier or postal worker, you would have some form of social contact on a daily basis.

Yet in a world where we are more connected through texting, social media, and FaceTime, that face-to-face contact is becoming less frequent.  It’s easier to purchase items online, use the self-checkout at the grocery store, text a friend rather than setting up a meeting, or work from home. 

While the advances in technology that allow us to do these things are convenient and useful, they have the potential to create a roadblock to relationships.

Now, social isolation is the public health risk of our time.
— Susan Pinker

As a therapist working with sex and love addicts, I often emphasize how important relationships are to my clients.  Yes, involvement in support groups and one-on-one relationships foster accountability from destructive behaviors.  But more than that, they provide healing to relational wounds that often form the foundation of the addiction.

Susan Pinker, in her TED talk, shares research she’s discovered about the roles of social contact and friendships in longevity and other health benefits.  She traveled to Sardinia’s Blue Zone, which has the largest concentration of adults over the age of 100 in the world.  Find out what she learned from these interviews in her talk.

What surprised you about this video?  Here were some helpful insights I gained:

People who have more social interactions live longer.

While Susan Pinker was interviewing the centenarians in the Blue Zone, she continually came into contact with family members and friends of these individuals who would stop by to say hello.  Their caregivers felt privileged and grateful to care for their loved ones.  Research about protective factors in relationships reinforces the influence of extended family, friends, neighbors, and daily interactions on longevity.

Online interactions do not have the same impact as face-to-face conversations.

Technology continues to develop to create closer imitations to face-to-face meetings, allowing for a greater sense of connection.  However, in the research on neuroscience cited by Pinker, she notes that oxytocin and dopamine were noticed in higher levels when individuals had face-to-face discussions as compared to viewing a video of a similar discussion.  Oxytocin and dopamine are two neurochemicals involved in the addictive patterns of sex and love addiction, further reinforcing the power of relationships for healing from addiction.

Building your village…and sustaining it is a matter of life and death.
— Susan Pinker

A factor in women’s longer lifespans may be their number of social contacts.

Anthropological research Pinker quoted indicates that research on baboons showed that females were more likely to prioritize social relationships.  Women tend to be more relational and social than men, and the ease with which women are able to maintain social connections may be a significant contributor to their life span.

Social relationships offer health benefits stronger than some medications or other treatment.

Research on support group interventions for breast cancer, chronic illness, or heart disease are shown to create a significant difference in treatment outcomes than those who simply use medication.  This indicates that having social support allows the body to function more effectively and bolsters the immune system.

What are ways to gain more social support?

Make an intentional effort to talk to people on a daily basis.

If you tend to isolate or find that you can make it for days at a time without having any meaningful social interaction, make a purposeful choice to change that pattern.  Choose the checkout line with a cashier at the grocery store.  Say hello to your neighbors the next time you see them.  Chat with your coworkers over lunch rather than eating at your desk.  This may be difficult, especially if you are introverted, struggle with social anxiety, or are simply out of practice.  Regardless, this intentional effort will make a difference over time.

Find a class or group that focuses on a special interest of yours.

What are the things you enjoy in your free time?  Maybe you’re athletic and love to play sports, or you like to read and talk about books.  Perhaps you love to knit or crochet, or you like fantasy football.  Search websites like meetup.com to find groups of people who share your interests.  Join a book club at your local bookstore or library, a club sports league, or a service organization and create relationships with the people you meet there.

Join a support group.

If you’re currently in therapy for sex and love addiction, support group involvement is a crucial step in healing.  Having the support of others through your stages of growth and freedom from addiction is a game-changer.  Sex and love addiction is an intimacy disorder usually stemming from childhood trauma, and healing trauma that comes from relationships requires positive, supportive relationships.  You can find support groups for sex and love addiction at Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) or Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA).

If you’re in therapy for another addiction mental health issue, you’ve experienced grief or a significant loss, you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness, or you’re just looking for support, join a support group at local church, hospital, or community center that focuses on a topic relevant to you.  Connecting with others who are struggling helps you not to feel alone and provides an extra boost to your immune system. 

Get involved at a church through small groups or Sunday school classes.

If you are a Christian, it can be easy to become so busy with work, family obligations, and other responsibilities that getting involved in church events outside of Sunday services can feel like a burden.  But finding other individuals to support you on your journey of becoming more like Christ can be revolutionary not only in your faith, but also in your friendships.  Seek out a way to get involved with others in your church community through a small group, care group, or Sunday school class and begin to forge relationships based on a common ground of faith. 

Do you struggle with feelings of loneliness?  Is it difficult for you to connect with others due to social anxiety?  Are you struggling with sex and love addiction or another mental health issue that is causing you to feel isolated and alone?  It is essential to have social support through relationships, and at Restored Hope, I’ll help you discover ways to connect with others that work for you.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to schedule your first appointment at my Novi or Ann Arbor offices.

Self-Care Saturdays: Revitalize Your Relationship With God

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In light of Easter this past weekend, I’ve been reflecting on my personal experience of fostering relationship with God the past several years.  I’ve walked spiritual ruts and struggled to find the motivation or energy to connect with God.  I’ve had moments of joy and delight in my spiritual life as well.  As we know from Steps Two and Three in 12 Step recovery, relationship with God is a crucial component of healing and redemption.

What does relationship with God look like for you?

I love the terminology of relationship with God. I worry that others might see my faith as a type of religious exercise: I go to church, read my Bible, and “do the right thing.”  It feels like a checklist of what being religious means.  Sadly, it’s easy to miss the depth of my relationship with God, which is infinitely more valuable and motivating than any dry list of rules.

When I put my spiritual life in the context of relationship rather than rules, it takes on an entirely different flavor.  Relationship with God makes Him real to me.  I can grow closer to Him, learn more about Him, share my hopes and dreams, and feel comforted and cared for by Him.  In the Bible, God personifies Himself and uses relationships on earth as examples of His relationship with us. 

In moments when I am struggling with anxiety or depression, it isn’t a set of rules or following a religious structure that keeps me sane.  It’s trusting in a God who I know loves me and desires good for me, even when the good He gives doesn’t always match up with what I want.  It is a God who sees me, hears me, knows me, and provides for me as He says in Scripture.  When I open my eyes up to that God, I truly want to get to know Him better.

How do I get to know God in this way?

There have been books upon books written about spiritual disciplines, or ways that we can attempt to know God more fully.  (The Celebration of Discipline* by Richard Foster and Discovering Our Spiritual Identity* by Trevor Hudson are two personal favorites of mine.) I am certainly no expert on spiritual disciplines, but I can share ideas to jump start your relationship with God.

Identify what’s in the way of relating to God and submit it to Him.

What do you put in the place of God in your life?  What are the areas of your life that give you value, identity, or worth?  What, if taken away from you, would devastate you to the point where you wouldn’t feel like you could go on?  We all have a tendency to put things before God in our lives.  Timothy Keller calls this tendency idolatry, defining it by saying “it means turning a good thing into an ultimate thing.”

When I realize my heart's tendency to drift away from God toward other sources of identity or purpose, I can tell I’m moving toward idolatry.  When money, power, comfort, success, relationships, or any other area of my life becomes a higher priority than my relationship with God, I know I need to take a step back.  I need to acknowledge that each of those areas is a gift and a blessing from God, and not worship it in place of God.  I need to know that my value comes from my relationship with God alone, not from these areas.  An impactful resource in realizing my own struggles in this area has been the book Idol Lies* by Dee Brestin. 

Interact with the Word of God.

In order for us to have a relationship with God, we need to know Him.  The most straightforward way God has revealed Himself to us is through His word.  Bible study and reading is a regular way to get to know God.  But sometimes, reading the Bible can feel like a chore.

To break out of that rut, I’ve enjoyed reading the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) as if I’m getting to know the person of Jesus.  Take some time to imagine yourself in the scenes: what would it feel like to watch the crowds gathering around Jesus?  What would go through your mind when you saw him give blind men their sight, or heal the crippled?  Would you try to get close to Him?  What would you say to Him, if you could?

Meditating on Scripture can be another great practice to help you engage with the Bible.  Choose a passage or verse that speaks to you, and reflect on it in prayer.  Journal about it.  Practice lectio divina, a reflection practice walking through stages of engaging with Scripture.

Pick up a reading plan that works for you.  The Bible app has plenty of resources, but I also have recently been loving the First 5 app.  This resource provides studies and teachings specific to certain books of the Bible, and I appreciate the mix of Bible study and devotional.  I’ve also heard great things about The Bible Project, where each book of the Bible has an illustrated summary video to help you visualize the story in a new way.

Set aside time to rest and be with God, thanking Him and sharing your heart with Him.

Make space in your schedule to pursue relationship with God.  For some, this may look like a daily time set aside for prayer, journaling, and reading Scripture.  For others, this might look like an hour or two on a weekend spent with Jesus.  Maybe you can devote an entire Sabbath day to spend with the Lord.  Set aside time for “dates with Jesus” and spend time doing date-like activities with the Lord.

Prayer is an excellent way to communicate with God, but it doesn’t have to be kneeling down in a pew and saying the Lord’s Prayer.  Talk to God in the way you would talk to your best friend.  Journaling prayers is helpful if your mind tends to drift.  If the weather is nice, go outside and take a prayer walk, thanking God for the beauty of nature around you.

One aspect of prayer that has become more and more vital in my spiritual life has been gratitude.  Expressing gratitude to God for the gifts He’s given to me immediately puts perspective on difficult situations I’m facing or ways I feel unhappy about my life.  Keeping a gratitude journal is a great way to foster this awareness of gratitude: no matter how difficult my life circumstance is, I can always make a list of 10 things I am grateful for.

Sacrifice generously to remind yourself that all is a gift.

We live in a world and a culture where we have more at our fingertips than at any time in the past.  Americans are in the upper tier of wealth in the world.  I tend to forget these facts when I’m worried about money or complaining about what I don’t have.  But if I can choose to use my privilege for the good of others through giving generously of my time, talents, and finances, I am reminded of how much I have and how it is all a gift from God.

Another way to access this awareness and gratitude for what we have is through fasting.  I’m not particularly fond of fasting from food: some people can do it well, but my blood sugar tanks and I feel terrible if I don’t eat.  But I can still choose to fast from other things, like coffee, TV, movies, restaurants…you name it.  I can use the time I would normally spend in these areas to spend with God and connect with Him. 

Seek out community with other Christians.

Connecting with other people who are curious about God and desiring to grow spiritually can be an immensely helpful way to build up your spiritual life.  The first step toward community is attending a local church and getting to know the members through volunteering or joining a Bible study.  As you begin to forge relationships with these other believers, you are able to see unique ways God is reflected in them.

As you build these relationships, you can have open and honest conversations with others about relationship with God.  You can share meals together, help one another in times of need, and receive support when you’re going through difficulties.  You can laugh together, cry together, and forge deep relationships that demonstrate the nature of relationship with God.

Invite God into your daily life.

Look for moments throughout your day when you can connect with God.  Maybe you can pray at the same time as completing a routine, mindless daily task, like brushing your teeth or waiting for your coffee to brew.  You can incorporate worship music into your daily commute or workout.  You can listen to sermons while doing busy work or cleaning.  Look for ways in which you can engage with God while you’re doing other tasks.

 

As a warning: if any of these spiritual practices begin to feel like rules rather than a way to grow closer to God, give them a rest for a time.  Remind yourself that God is the one drawing you to relationship with Him, and that you aren’t responsible for making it happen.  There is nothing that you can do that will make God love you more - these are simply practices intended to lead to to greater awareness of His presence and felt closeness to Him.

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Are you struggling to relate to God?  Do you have a hard time seeing God in a personal way?  Are you tired of going through the motions of religious practices, but not feeling any connection to God?  I believe that fostering growth in relationship with God is a crucial aspect of self-care.  At Restored Hope, I offer counseling services in Novi and Ann Arbor to heal from sex and love addiction, depression, anxiety, and stress. I believe your spiritual life is an important part of healing from these areas of pain in your life.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to hear more about how I can support you.

 

 

*This is an Amazon affiliate link.  Click here to read more about Restored Hope’s Amazon local  associates policy.

Self-Care Saturdays: Living In Tune with Your Desire and Passion

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Welcome to Self-Care Saturdays, a series of bonus blog posts that will be released on the last Saturday of each month.  In a world where we are constantly faced with demands on our time and energy, it can feel impossible to slow down enough to pay attention to our own needs and take steps to care for them.  These articles are meant to get you thinking about one small step you can take today to practice kindness and care for yourself. 

What is the thing you desire most in the world?  What gets you out of bed in the morning?  What events or experiences lead to the most anticipation in you?  The most excitement?  What do you enjoy doing above all else?  What do you feel called to do?  What are you made for?

When we think about desire and passion, it can lead to happiness and daydreaming about what you want your future to look like.  Or it may stir up painful emotions.  You might not be able to answer the questions, or you feel that your current life does not reflect your desires and passions.

How do we define desire and passion?

Merriam Webster defines passion as ardent affection; a strong liking or desire or devotion to some activity, object or concept; sexual desire; or an object of desire or deep interest.  On a different vein, desire is defined as a conscious impulse toward something that promises enjoyment or satisfaction in its attainment; something longed or hoped for.

It is interesting that both desire and passion are connected to sexuality or intimacy.  Our sexuality is linked the core of who we are as human beings, to our identity.  Therefore, these passions and desires link into the core of our beings.  However, desire and passion often become warped when they involve constantly searching and striving for that which we desire, just to find that it is disappointing.  Desire and passion need to be tempered so that they do not transform into an addiction to the desired object.

We might respond to the awakening of desire in ourselves negatively, fearing the potential outcomes.  Avoidance and numbness soon follow, but the desires don’t disappear.  Instead, they demand to be expressed, often in the form of addictions.  This addiction numbs and gets rid of the longing, but is only a temporary fix, and the desires rear their heads again soon after.  When we truly get in touch with our desires, we actually protect ourselves from the ways in which that hunger can spill out sideways into addictive behaviors.

Developing desire will be a painful process.  Connecting with our desires and passion can lead to longing and grief as we realize areas where we haven’t been able to experience their fulfillment.  This is why we tend to avoid and numb out when we feel desire come up.  But ultimately, living into our desires gives us a deeper and more meaningful life.

How do I cultivate a life filled with passion and desire?

Identify the moments throughout your life when you’ve felt most alive.

Look for the moments of wonder or awe you’ve experienced in your life.  Pay attention to experiences at work or at play where you’ve felt the power of flow.  Imagine yourself stepping back into memories of feeling alive.  What happened?  How did you feel?  Who was there?  Reflect about moments in your memory of vivid happiness as a child: what images, experiences, or times do you remember most vividly?  Where have you felt an unexpected surge of emotion, maybe while watching a film or reading a novel?  Out in nature?  Sitting across from a friend over coffee?

Consider the moments in your life when you’ve felt the most numb.

Identifying the moments when our hearts have felt dead can actually provide a window into desire.  We avoid desire and dilute our passion by numbing because of the pain that comes with desires.  Where are the areas in which you have numbed yourself to what is good?  Where have you looked at a beautiful sunset or a mountainous landscape and felt nothing?  Answers to these questions can hint at the areas that are closest to your heart.  What is your go-to numbing strategy?  Where do you dissociate? Pay attention to moments when you’ve felt apathetic.

List the losses you’ve experienced that have been the most painful.

These losses could include the death of a loved one, the ending of a relationship or marriage, or the loss of a job or dream.  What did you desire to have happen in those times?  What do you regret, or wish you could go back and change?  Where have you felt disappointed?  Where has hope felt lost?  The people, experiences, or things that are valuable to us are often the most painful to lose.  As we pay attention to these losses, we can become more aware of areas of desire.

Listen to what you want.

Often, we weren’t given the freedom to be able to have what we want.  Maybe you grew up with strict parents or teachers, or had financial limitations that prevented you from attending the school you wanted.  When we experience disappointment of our desires and feel numb as a result, we can become comfortable in doing what is “right” or what is expected of us.  This can lead into the trap of perfectionism.  Instead, pay attention to the things you truly want to do.

Write about the live you wish you could live.

We often dream about a different career or become interested in a new skill or hobby that may or may not have anything to do with our present career or vocation.  What is your dream job?  Is it where you work, or elsewhere?  If you could have a do-over in life, what would look different?  What do you feel called to do?  What are you made for?  Write a story, a journal entry, or even just a list of what you wish your life could look like.  Are you able to take steps to make that dream a reality?

Step outside of the daily grind and into an area of passion.

The drudgery of day to day life drags us down and tells us that we can never truly have what we desire.  It is so easy for our passion to be dulled and numbed as face responsibilities.  To find the passion again, we have to be intentional about eliminating busy-ness and avoiding situations in which we feel we have to do something for performance’s sake or because it is “right.”  Maybe even things you enjoyed at one time have begun to feel like a burden or chore.  As you begin to say “no” or give up those areas more and more, you’ll be able to find the enjoyment anew in those activities.  As you release the control that comes with perfectionism, you’re able to trust.

Finally, cultivate patience.

Desire and passion stir up a longing for what is not yet here, and may or may not come.  No wonder it is scary to go there!  As you begin to become aware of these desires, step into what it might feel like to wait.  Yes, it is painful.  No, it is not easy.  But being aware of our desires and willing to walk into the potential pain of not yet receiving them brings us a sense of life and authentic joy.

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Are you consumed by desires that feel so big and powerful that you can’t control them?  Or are you caught in a pattern of avoidance and feeling numb?  Do you even know what you desire or are passionate about?  At Restored Hope, I offer counseling services in Novi and Ann Arbor to help you listen to your life in a way that allows you to recognize your desire and begin to create space for passion in your life.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to hear more about how I can help. 

Self-Care Saturdays: Take a Mindful Moment

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Welcome to Self-Care Saturdays!.  In a world where we are constantly faced with demands on our time and energy, it can feel impossible to slow down enough to pay attention to our own needs and take steps to care for them.  These articles are meant to get you thinking about one small step you can take today to practice kindness and care for yourself. 

Mindfulness is a trendy topic mentioned often by psychologists these days.  Over the past few years my curiosity about mindfulness has been peaked, and I’ve tried out meditation, yoga, and other stress-relieving activities to see what all the buzz is about.

And I’ve found that the reason mindfulness is so popular is that it works.

As I’ve been growing my counseling private practice and seeking to achieve balance between my business schedule and personal commitments, I’ve realized that stress is a common factor in my daily life.  Since research has shown that mindfulness benefits healthcare professionals, I thought I’d give it a go.

I picked up a month-long yoga practice this past month on Yoga with Adriene, and I truly believe it has changed my life.  Doing yoga daily creates space for me to intentionally slow down, practice breathing deeply, and grow in conscious awareness of my body and how I hold myself throughout my day.  My goal for the month was to feel better, and I certainly did.

What is mindfulness?  How does it benefit me?

If your concept of mindfulness includes the image of a Buddhist monk sitting cross-legged and letting out a few “om”s, you’re likely not alone.  Mindfulness, however, is a much broader reaching practice than just these examples.  Mindfulness is defined as a state of conscious awareness in the present moment without judgment.  You can practice mindfulness while you’re walking down the street, driving in your car, or playing with your children.

A multitude of studies completed in recent years show all the health benefits of mindfulness.  It reduces stress and improves mood, likely due to slowing down the fight-or-flight stress response.  Mindfulness increases focus and attention, which then links to an improvement in job performance.  It leads to a reduction in symptoms of chronic pain and has shown positive benefits with cancer patients’ recovery.  For recovering addicts, doing mindful practices actually encourage change in the brain structures that have been formed through addiction.  It also offers benefits to those who suffer from depression or overly intense emotions.

What about the benefits of yoga?

Yoga is one major way to target those benefits of mindfulness, but it also carries its own positive effects.  Yoga can be a form of exercise to increase your flexibility, muscle strength, and tone.  It can provide cross training for running or other cardio exercise.  It also can help you to become a more mindful eater as you grow in awareness of your body and how it feels.

Psychologically, yoga targets stress and provides relief through relaxation, reducing anxiety, and improving your mood.  Yoga can help you to build a positive sense of self, which is often threatened by the shame or negative self-talk characteristic of depression.  If you are a survivor of trauma and struggle with dissociation, yoga can help you become more in touch with your body and help you to ground into the present moment.

One of the most beneficial concepts for me in my yoga practice was the beginner’s mind.  As a former dancer, I believed that in order to prove my flexibility and be the “best” at yoga, I had to do all the intense pretzel-like postures the instructor was doing.  As a recovering perfectionist, I still felt pressure to do every move “perfectly.”  Luckily, the instructor encouraged me to listen to my body and not push myself beyond my limits.  Being able to slow down on the mat and give myself permission to be imperfect allowed me to approach other areas of my life with the same calm and willingness to learn.

One potential roadblock for Christians who are hoping to try yoga is the potential struggle with its Buddhist roots.  As a Christian myself, I wrestle with this concept too.  I’ve chosen to use poses that involve a prayer posture or my intention for my practice as a way to connect with the Lord in prayer and surrender, seeking to set my mind on Him.  In yoga classes, you may come across language that feels uncomfortable or doesn’t fit with your Christian beliefs, and that’s fine! If it’s too difficult for you, you can try a different instructor or seek out Christian yoga classes.

How can I practice mindfulness in my life? 

Try a breathing exercise.

Taking a few moments to enjoy some deep breaths helps to slow down your nervous system and decrease anxiety.  Practicing breathing can be a task that takes as short as 10 minutes or less – it doesn’t have to be a huge chunk of your day.  It can be helpful to use a guided meditation in which to do this.  I really like the Headspace app, which gives you fun animations to help you start and 10-minute meditations to walk through.  For my Christian friends, I’d also recommend Everyday Prayer, a short podcast series with meditative prayers to increase a sense of mindfulness.

Test out mindful eating.

As you eat your next meal, pay attention to the flavors and textures of the foods you are eating.  Notice the smell of the spices in the food.  Pay attention to how your stomach feels, if you notice yourself feeling full or stuffed as a signal to stop.

Go for a mindful walk.

Take a walk outside.  Pay attention to the feel of your feet pressing against the ground, the temperature of the air, and the feeling of wind on your skin.  Look around at the sights around you, whether they involve nature, other people, or buildings.  Smell the fresh air outside.

Yoga.

As talked about before, I’ve become a big proponent of yoga after I’ve seen how I’ve felt as a result of doing it daily.  I love Yoga with Adriene.  She offers hundreds of free yoga videos on her YouTube channel, and if you subscribe to her newsletter you receive a monthly calendar with a practice she’s chosen for each day of the month.  Check out YouTube for other free yoga channels, or join a class in your area.

Practice consistently.

As you likely know if you’ve tried and failed to start a new exercise regimen, you don’t begin to see the benefit to your fitness levels until you’ve made the practice a habit.  Practicing mindfulness daily is an important step to experience its health benefits.  You can choose a time and place that works best for you – I like doing my yoga first thing in the morning (and I go to sleep in my yoga clothes so I’m ready to go when I wake up!)  It doesn’t have to be a huge commitment either: even just taking 10 minutes a day can show a marked difference.

How will you practice mindfulness this week?

 

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Do you feel like you’re constantly juggling a million tasks and struggling to find space to breathe?  Do you love the idea of taking a yoga class, but just can’t figure out how to fit it into your busy schedule?  Are you burned out and tired with the loads of stress you’re carrying?  My hope is to offer you a fresh breath of air through counseling.  At Restored Hope, I offer therapy sessions focusing on self-care and creating space in your schedule and your life for rest.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to chat more about how I can help.

Why Sleep is More Crucial Than We Think

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When was the last time you got a full night’s sleep?  For many of us, that’s a question without a simple answer.  The insistence of our morning alarm clocks and the demands of our busy lives whittle away the time we have available to get our much needed shut-eye.  Insomnia creeps in as we’re too anxious to fall asleep or wake up in the middle of the night inexplicably.  Our fast-paced lives and the pressure of parenting and career can cripple our ability to get the rest we so desperately need.

Our culture doesn’t help either.  Prior to the invention of electricity, the rising and setting of the sun dictated sleep.  Now that we’re in a world where technology reigns supreme.  The distraction of smartphones, TV, tablets, and all other manners of tech stimulate the brain just before bed in a way that interferes with sleep.  But our bodies still need that sunset to sunrise sleep cycle.

We believe sleep is a luxury, a waste of time.  We could be so much more productive if we just cut back on our sleep a little bit, we say.  We glorify Netflix binges and brag about how little sleep we can survive on.

What do you believe is the purpose of sleep?  We’re used to thinking of sleep as a way to regain energy or restore our minds.  But neuroscientist Russell Foster talks about the implications of sleep in brain chemistry in a way that will revolutionize your view of those 8 hours a night.

According to research studies, sleep deprivation and mental illness are intricately linked and feed into one another.  If you aren’t getting enough sleep, you set yourself up for anxiety, depression, stress, and even addictive behaviors as a way of self-medicating or soothing.  If you already struggle with one of these issues, your lack of sleep exacerbates the problems you’re already facing.

According to research studies, sleep deprivation and mental illness are intricately linked and feed into one another.

According to Foster, sleep isn’t just for restoration: it’s also a necessary part of our mental health. Connections between mental illness and sleep disturbances put a stark focus on the essential nature of sleep.  It isn’t just a luxury – it is something that you need.

In addiction recovery, particularly with process addictions like sex addiction, the goal of recovery is transforming the brain.  Instead of taking in a mind-altering chemical, your brain learns to reward itself with a rush of dopamine, the feel-good hormone, when you engage in addictive sexual behaviors.  Getting enough sleep is a crucial part of rewiring your brain so that you can reduce and eventually eliminate your dependence on the dopamine rush that comes with addiction.

Think of sleep as the brain food you need to be able to renew cells in your brain and wash away the neuropathways linked to sex addiction.  If you starve your brain of sleep, the craving for addictive behaviors will grow stronger.  Just like Foster talks about the body craving carbohydrates when it’s sleep deprived, your mind will crave the stimulation of the dopamine high that comes with addictive sexual behaviors.

If you starve your brain of sleep, the craving for addictive behaviors will grow stronger.

He also talks about depression as it relates to sleep deprivation.  One of the first goals for healing from depression is getting enough sleep each night. Give it a try – see how your mood and presence completely change when you wake up after a full night’s sleep.  Compare that to a night of 4-5 hours to see how drastically your mood shifts.

If you struggle with depression, lack of sleep directly affects the severity of your symptoms.

If you’re having a hard time sleeping and beginning to experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, or another mental health issue, it’s worth it to seek help.  While increasing sleep can reduce the impact of the symptoms of these disorders, it also gives a red flag that you likely need additional support for the mental health issues you’re facing.

How much sleep do you need?  Foster says 8 hours is an average, so you may need more or less sleep than that.  Test this out for yourself: the next time you are able to sleep without the alarm clock waking you up, pay attention to when you naturally wake up.  How many hours did you need?

If you have trouble falling asleep or if you struggle with insomnia, make your bedroom a haven for sleep as Foster suggests.  Setting yourself up for good quality sleep now will change how you experience mental health beyond just restoring your energy levels.

How will you prioritize sleep as part of your mental health?

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Are you struggling to find the time to sleep in your busy and stressful life?  Do you feel exhausted all the time?  Do racing anxious thoughts keep you up late at night, but you feel like you can’t get out of bed when your alarm clock rings in the morning?  At Restored Hope, we believe your depression, stress, or addictive behaviors can be made worse by lack of sleep.  At our Novi and Ann Arbor counseling offices, we’d love to provide you with support to help you get the sleep you need, as well as learn ways to overcome depression and addictions.  Give us a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out our form to schedule your first appointment.

Self-Care Saturdays: Know Where You're Going

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As we approach the new year, this is the time when we think about New Years’ resolutions.  What do you want to be different in your life this year?  Do you want to lose 15 pounds?  Invest more in your marriage?  Discipline your kids better? 

Unfortunately, the problem with these resolutions is that they’re usually thought up on a whim.  We could have just looked in the mirror two days before January 1st and decided we wanted to lose weight, or had a particularly hurtful argument with our teenager the night before.  If we want to make lasting resolutions that aren’t just forgotten by the end of January, we need to set reasonable goals that fit within a larger version of our future.

In short, we need to understand our why.  Why do we want to lose weight?  Why do we want to stop our bad habits?  We need to create a vision or mission for our lives if we expect to follow through on any of these goals.  This is a form of self-care because as you begin to know yourself and your greater vision, you are able to make choices in alignment with your desires for your future.  It can help you leave behind the pressure of the urgent in favor of prioritizing what’s important.

Why is purpose important?

In Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, he coins a phrase called the Stocksdale Paradox, informed by a conversation he had with Admiral Stocksdale, who was a prisoner of war in the Vietnam War.  When asked how he survived the prison camps for seven years, he answered that he had to both face the reality of the situation he was in, and also hold that in tension with hope and vision that he would overcome.

Similarly, Victor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, speaks about how he survived the concentration camps in World War II.  He names that those who were most likely to survive were those who had a purpose to move toward.

When life gets difficult, it can be easy to lose sight of our vision for the future.  This lack of purpose can lead to hopelessness or apathy about what’s yet to come, which can easily morph into depression.  Alternatively, when you are living out your purpose, you can find yourself in a state referred to as flow by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi.  You might recognize flow by feeling "in the zone".  When you find yourself in this state, you can find hope and connect to something greater than yourself.

How can I find my purpose?

For most of us, we aren’t born knowing our purpose for our life.  This develops over time as we discover our passions and our gifts.  But what might be some ways to facilitate that exploration and understanding?

Imagine your funeral.

Okay, so this one might be a little bit morbid.  Imagine that you’re at your funeral.  What do you hope people are saying about you?  Make a list of the qualities you’d hope to have describe you, and think about how your life reflects those current values.  As you uncover what you truly desire to be remembered about you, the values important to you become clear.

List your gifts, talents, and skills.

What are you good at?  What do you enjoy?  What have others indicated are your gifts?  What skills do you have?  The place where your greatest passion and talents meet is where you will find your purpose.  These give us a sense of intrinsic motivation, where we do work that we love just for the sake of it.  This intrinsic motivation drives goals more than external motivations, and it also improves our mental health.

Prioritize.

The reality is, you can’t tackle all of your goals at once.  If I could, I’d be a master baker, a proficient knitter and crocheter, and a sewing maven.  Sadly, I am none of those things.  But I am becoming an increasingly skilled therapist by working on that particular area because I know it is a priority for me.  Choose one area to focus on, perhaps that has to do with your vocation or your most important value.

Start big and then narrow down.

I’m a big culprit of losing the forest for the trees, so it’s helpful for me to think about my life in terms of a long-term vision, then narrowing it back to the present day.  Start with goals you hope to achieve five years from now.  Then ask yourself: what can I do in the next year to prepare for that five-year goal?  Once you’ve identified that, look at what you can do this month to meet the yearly goal, and what you can do this week to meet the monthly goal. 

For example, let’s say you want to run a marathon in the next five years.  Maybe that means at the end of this year you want to run a 10k.  This month you want to be up to running 2 miles straight without walking.  This week you need to go out for two 1-mile runs.

Studies show that depression leads to setting vague goals that are difficult to follow through on, which feeds back into the depression.  Breaking these goals into smaller chunks makes them more manageable.  Find that first small step you can take to move toward your goal.  Each step you take can help you to gain momentum.

Create a routine that implements some of these goals.

Schedule these goals in to your calendar!  Adding these activities to your schedule makes you more likely to carry them out.  If you struggle with depression this can be a great way for you to break out of the funk.  As you begin to achieve more simple activities that move you toward your larger life goals, you will feel a sense of agency and control over your future. 

Check in with yourself on a regular basis to make sure you’re living into your goals.

How many times have you set goals for yourself and then immediately forgotten about them?  Instead, display them somewhere prominent where you will see them on a daily basis.  Set an appointment with yourself to review these major goals each week or month.  Do a quick assessment each month to see where you’ve done well with your goals and what changes you could make to improve.

Have patience and don’t beat yourself up!

Change in habits to align with our values is a slow, long-term process.  Cultivate patience with yourself to prevent spiraling down into depression if your goals go unmet.  Give yourself grace to make mistakes, and use that as an opportunity to troubleshoot and see what’s in the way of your goals.

Stay accountable with a friend.

Do you have a friend who’s hoping to change some of their habits this year?  Use this person as a resource and hold one another accountable for exploring your purpose for the future.  Talk with them about your vision.  Discuss your weekly review of your goals or your monthly assessment with them.  Having a friend to talk about it with can make all the difference!

 

My hope is that as you set this intention and begin to make changes to align your life with your values, you’ll experience a sense of achievement and purpose that you wouldn’t have felt otherwise.

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Do you struggle to keep to your resolutions?  Maybe you feel purposeless, or like you don’t really know what you’re doing with your life.  If you’re looking for more clarity and hope about your vision for the future, we’d love to help.  Restored Hope is a therapy office serving the Novi and Ann Arbor areas of Michigan, and we offer counseling services that help you sort through some of those messy questions in life.  Give us a call at 734.656.8191 today or fill out our form to schedule your first appointment.