ted talk

The Secret to Cultivating Aliveness

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What is your biggest secret?

What hidden part of your life are you terrified to reveal for fear of being rejected?

What’s the part of your story that you don’t like to look at, that you wish weren’t true?

Bruce Muzik’s secret was simple: he was a racist.

Listen to him talk about it himself:

Bruce’s main point is that in order to fully embrace the feeling of being alive, you must own up to the secrets you’ve kept in your life: from yourself and from others.  As you embrace your true identity with authenticity and vulnerability, he acknowledges that it will be painful.  In fact, he admits to the consequences he suffered in his own marriage after admitting to a long-term affair.

But the gift of being alive and authentic to yourself and others is worth it.

Why is telling the truth worth it?

Keeping secrets makes us question who we truly are.

Have you ever told a lie so many times you start to believe that it’s true?  Or told a story over and over again, each time exaggerating the details until it becomes unrecognizable?

As we deceive ourselves and others enough times, we start to believe the lies.  We become confused as we grapple with what deep down we know to be true about ourselves, as compared with the lies we’ve been telling.  Eventually we end up uncertain about who we are and what we stand for.

When we look outside ourselves to feel alive, we end up self-destructing.

Our world is filled with messages about what will make us happy.  Marketing and advertising are based on telling us that we’re not complete without a fancy car, makeup product, or even toothpaste.  We’re encouraged to find our value or worth in what others think of us or our outward actions.

What happens, however, is that those foundations of our value will inevitably fail.  We will find ourselves lacking as we compare ourselves to others.  We’ll lose the approval of someone close to us.  The power or authority we’d gained in our lives will slip away.  And to numb the pain, we turn to things like addiction. 

Honesty releases us from the nondescript pain of numbness.

The opposite of feeling alive is feeling numb, or disconnected from our emotions.  The things that brought joy, laughter, and delight in our younger years are no longer having the same effect.  We get caught in striving to prove ourselves or in the drudgery of day to day life without any awareness of how we can be cultivating aliveness.  This is inherently dissatisfying, and will lead us to moments of pain.

But we don’t like pain.  It’s uncomfortable and inconvenient.  And so then we look for ways to get back to the state of numbness we had before, through addiction, media, shopping, food, sex – whatever serves to create that temporary escape until the pain crawls its way back in. 

Honesty invites intimacy and connection.

Releasing ourselves from the cycle of pain and numbness requires stepping into honesty and authenticity with ourselves and others.  Often we long for intimacy, to be accepted and loved for who we are rather than what we produce or the identity that others give us.  But we cannot receive that connection with others if we’re hiding our true selves.

Brene Brown, in her TED talk about vulnerability, talks about the close relationship between vulnerability, shame, and connection.  Honesty flies in the face of shame and allows yourself to be fully seen, known, and accepted by those you love.

How can I start becoming more alive?

Get honest with yourself.

The first step is breaking through denial and practicing honesty with yourself.  What are the secrets you’ve been hiding, even from yourself?  If deception has been masking your true self and making you uncertain of who you are, take some time to rediscover your identity.  Find the experiences that create joy and life in you.

At the same time, make a list of the secrets you’ve been hiding.  Using principles from the 12 Steps (like Steps One and Four) can help you realistically assess the areas you’ve been hiding from the truth.

Begin sharing with the people you love.

This might be the biggest risk you’re asked to take: share the secrets you have with someone close to you.  The point of this exercise is not only to create connection and honesty in your relationships, but it is also intended to help you feel more alive.  If you can be fully yourself and vulnerable with those around you, you’ll experience greater connectedness and life. 

Start with your biggest secret first.

The biggest secret is often the one that you are most afraid of sharing.  Step into sharing this one first.  The rest will come easier as a result, almost like a waterfall just after the dam has broken through.  Once you see how honesty brings aliveness, you’ll want to continue.

One helpful principle to keep in mind is the effect of your honesty on others.  Dumping your secrets onto others may make you feel better, but it leaves them carrying the burden.  Before you share your secret, you have to be willing to take responsibility for any consequences that may come your way.

Expect things to get worse before they get better.

Something I tell every new client when they come in my door for their first session is that oftentimes, the pain will worsen before it improves.  When you are honest, there is a strong possibility that your honesty will increase pain for a time.  You’ll likely be facing areas of your life you’ve kept hidden for a long while.  But that pain will break through your numbness and eventually lead to greater feelings of connection with all your emotions, positive and negative.

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Do you feel plagued by the secrets you’re keeping from the ones you love?  Are you confused and unsure of who you are because you’ve been allowing yourself to be defined by others?  Are you hesitant to own up to taking responsibility from the consequences that will come?  At Restored Hope, I know honesty is difficult, but I also have faith that it is the best decision.  I’d love to help you on your journey to living more alive.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to set up your first appointment at my Ann Arbor counseling office.

Re-Writing Your Story of Shame

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What are ten words you can use to describe yourself?  We’ve often encountered this exercise in school or in the workplace.  Typically these descriptions are roles we play (mother, sister, friend) or our profession (writer, teacher, therapist).  They may include adjectives like friendly or confident.

How would this exercise change if you identify ten negative labels you associate with yourself?  It could include words you fear others think about you, or that plague your thoughts in your most anxious or insecure moments.  These words come from a place of shame within you.  Words like impostor.  Addict.  Depressed.  Alone.

You may be aware of racial or gender stereotyping you face personally or that you’ve seen others encounter.  Maybe you’ve even labeled others quickly in your own mind, not thinking of the consequences of those labels.  Labelling others is a psychological shortcut called a heuristic, which is a way our mind sorts new information so that it doesn’t tax our brain as much.  But these heuristics influence stereotypes, which have implications for performance and expectations of ourselves and others.

Labels are particularly potent in addiction.  The labels associated with addiction are often damaging and hurtful.  The words themselves don’t cause the damage: it’s the stereotypes around the behaviors or character qualities associated with the labels.

You are not defined by your diagnosis.

Take a look at this TEDx talk from Adi Jaffe about his experience with labels and shame.  (Warning: there is an instance of coarse language at the end of the talk.)

How can you take a step into “rebranding” your own shame-filled labels?

Make your mental illness your superpower.

As Jaffe noted, the stigma of his diagnosis of ADHD had the potential to limit him from achieving his goals.  Instead, he chose to see the benefits of his ADHD: it allows him to multitask and think creatively about the work he does as a psychologist.

“You might just find that your disorder is your biggest gift.”

Make a list of the gifts your addiction or mental illness has given you.  For example, addiction was a survival method that got you through past experiences of pain or harm.  Perhaps your anxiety has allowed you to plan for possible negative outcomes and have more realistic expectations.  Wrestling through depression may have given you the ability to help others who struggle with grief or sadness when others don’t understand what it feels like.  Healing from mental illness teaches you skills in self-care and emotional awareness, which can impact your coping with stress.

Talk about your mental illness.

Jaffe took a huge step of bravery in sharing his own story of cocaine addiction and rehab on the TEDx stage on the campus where he teaches.

Share your story of mental illness with someone else around you.  You’d be surprised how many people are dealing with the same thing, even though on the surface they don’t show it.  The more you talk about your unique experience of mental health issues, the broader the definition of your label becomes.  You have the power to change the way people think about depression, anxiety, addiction, or any other label that is often stereotyped and misunderstood.

Take quality care of yourself.

One of the most insidious messages people with mental illness hear is that they are somehow weak for having it, or they have brought it upon themselves.  Jaffe quotes a statistic from his study that says 75% of individuals avoid getting help because of shame, stigma, or inability to share their pain with others.  There is no reason to punish yourself for your struggles with mental health by avoiding help or thinking you just have to pull yourself up by the bootstraps.

Do what you need to live a healthy life, even if others perceive it as weakness.  If you consciously choose not to dictate your self-care by what others think, then those who share your label will see you as a role model and emulate your more healthy life.  Practice self-care.  See a therapist.  Take a nap, for goodness sake.  Do whatever it is you need to do to be a healthier version of yourself.

Be conscious of how you label others.

This is an area I need to be wary of as a therapist who has the power to diagnose my clients. It informs my intentional decision to approach each of my clients with a unique and individualized treatment plan.  As an example, if I start to see all of my clients with sex and love addiction as the same, they will be short-changed and not get adequate treatment for their personal needs.  I strive to see each one of my clients as a person rather than as a diagnosis and treat them accordingly.

If we deal with people by their label, we run the risk of relating to them as a concept but not a person.

Pay attention to what labels you tend to place on others you interact with day-to-day, along with stereotypes that go with each label.  Notice how you tend to make assumptions, whether right or wrong, about their behaviors or thoughts.  Give yourself grace for this – it’s literally a function of our brain that helps us to survive! But become more aware of your own stereotypes and seek to learn more about the people you label.

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Are you crippled by the shame of the labels you carry around with you?  Do you feel afraid of receiving a new label the second you step into a therapist’s office?  Take a step of self-care today and seek out help.  Restored Hope is a counseling office located in Ann Arbor where I specialize in treatment sex and love addiction.  My goal is to support you in releasing the shame of your past and stepping into a healthy future.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me to set up your first appointment today.    

From Resilience to Transcendence: How to Use Adversity to Live a More Purposeful Life

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How is it that some people faced with adversity or difficult life circumstances seem to thrive while others get stuck in their pain?  Why do some struggle with troubling memories, bitterness, or sadness while others faced with the same circumstances seem to be more settled?

The answer to this question boils down to resilience.

In this Tedx talk, Dr. Gregg Steinberg talks about his interviews with individuals who have faced difficult life circumstances and come out stronger than before.  He proposes a 5-stage process to achieve super-resilience, or transcendence.  While I have some misgivings with his presentation, I believe that there are portions of what he says that we can learn from.

As a trigger warning: Dr. Steinberg tells a story about miscarriage, as well as other stories of loss.  If these topics are particularly painful for you, I recommend skipping the video and reading the commentary below.

What I Do Agree With

It is possible to turn hardship into an opportunity for growth.

Pain and adversity have the potential to create significant growth in our lives.  Post-traumatic growth is the concept that those who are able to endure adversity and the psychological effects of it can see positive growth.  This growth is related to a broader perspective and greater understanding of themselves and the world around them.

This research is especially impactful for partners of addicts, in particular those who face sex and love addiction.  For the spouse or significant other of an addict, the reality of the pain and trauma experienced after discovery can feel crippling.  What worsens the traumatic response is the fact that the partner of the addict did not cause the addictive behavior – often it stems from the addict’s past experiences and trauma.  Yet while dealing with this unexpected discovery is incredibly painful, there is hope for a more fulfilled life after working through this adversity.

Physiological symptoms give us hints that we need a change in our lives.

How often do you check in with your body to notice your breath, the sensations of tension or tightness you might feel, or where emotions are located in your body?  Unless you regularly engage in yoga, meditation, or therapy where you are prompted to observe these indicators, likely your body sensations are outside of your conscious awareness.  Dr. Steinberg talks about his own experience of stress having an effect on his physical health and indicates that adversity has significant effects on your physiology, whether you’re aware of it or not.

Allow your body to speak to you about what you’re experiencing emotionally.  In his hallmark work The Body Keeps the Score*, Bessel van der Kolk speaks at length about how traumatic experiences are stored in our bodies.  Physical symptoms of stress include such common symptoms as headaches, insomnia, fatigue, chest pain, stomach issues, lowered immunity, and tense muscles. 

It is crucial to begin paying attention to your body and listening to what your symptoms are telling you about your current emotions and stress levels.  Begin a yoga or meditation practice to become more aware of your body sensations.  When you notice tension in your body, explore what you need in order to reduce your stress.

Living with purpose leads to greater fulfillment, happiness, and contentment through adversity.

We do not often welcome suffering.  It is painful and exhausting.  And yet when we engage in the greater perspective or purpose of the suffering we experience, we can find larger meaning to the adversity we face.  Finding purpose can happen in the midst of suffering or as a result of your trials and pain.

As you come to understanding the greater meaning of your life and begin living out of that purpose to love and help others, Dr. Steinberg mentions that you will grow in confidence and access skills you didn’t know you had.  Also, helping others can lead to gratitude, which directly impacts depression and anxiety. 

Things I Don’t Agree With

Oversimplifying the process of transcendence or post-traumatic growth.

Sweeping messages of hope and healing for those who are suffering through adversity can be encouraging, but what if you are one of the people who feels stuck?  When a “magic solution” of finding greater purpose and seeking transcendence is proposed, you can feel shame and beat yourself up for a negative experience outside the realm of “transcendence”.  You might believe that your pain and suffering is your own fault because you can’t access this higher purpose.

I recently attended a training for helping survivors of trauma using EMDR, a method to effectively process past traumatic memories that are haunting you in the present day.  During this training, the presenters continually returned to the concept of “it’s not you, it’s what happened to you.”  Recognize that the suffering you’re facing and the negative beliefs about yourself you re internalizing as a result of the suffering do not mean that you are fundamentally flawed or that something is wrong with you.  Instead, acknowledge that trauma is what happened to you, and allow yourself the care you need to heal from that trauma.

There is only one path possible to reach transcendence.

Dr. Steinberg presents a 5-step process to achieving super-resilience, or transcendence, where each step needs to be completed in the order they are presented.  Placing this structure around healing from trauma or achieving resilience is incredibly limiting.  Everyone is different, and I believe that each individual person has a unique path of healing from trauma and suffering.  There certainly may be similarities, but I do not believe you must go through this 5-step process to be healed.  Pay attention to which stages you connect with, pursue them, and leave the rest.

You need to face adversity, or have a “slap in the face,” to begin to live with purpose.

Adversity and crisis can certainly be clarifying and help you to know yourself better and discover a greater purpose.  However, you are not required to live through adversity in order to pursue your passions.  If you want your life to look different, sometimes it simply involves an intentional choice to live that way.

Evaluate your life regularly to identify the areas in which you could use a life makeover.  Where are you unhappy?  What have you always desired to do, but have lacked the time or courage?  What physical sensations do you experience that indicate you need a change?  Take one small step today to start down the road of living out that dream.

And Where I Have Mixed Feelings…

“Tragedy is a gift because it forces us to find our purpose.”

Yes and no.  Dr. Steinberg’s quotation about tragedy as a gift minimizes the emotional weight of tragedy and suffering.  It can lead to faulty thinking that I ought to be grateful for my suffering and have a positive outlook all the time, which isn’t realistic for painful emotions.  We need to acknowledge the true pain suffering causes.

At the same time, what we learn or take away from tragedy can be an opportunity for growth.  Tragedy refines us: it cuts through our daily stressors and nuisances to our cores and creates greater meaning and awareness of who we are.  We need to balance both the pain of the suffering and the goodness that can come from a more focused perspective.

Are you dragged down by the weight of suffering and pain you’re experiencing?  Are you feeling stuck in a rut over a past breakup, your spouse’s addiction, or other painful circumstances?  At Restored Hope, I offer counseling services in Ann Arbor to help you move into a greater understanding of your unique process of moving through painful experiences and into a more fulfilled life.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to set up your first appointment.

How to Take Back Your Time And Live a Life You Love

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“I’m too busy.”

“I don’t have any time.”

“I wish there were more hours in the day.”

How many times have you said this?  Have you ever felt like you’ve had way too much on your plate?  Overwhelmed by your schedule and the to-do list each day?

I’ve certainly had these moments in my own life.  As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve found plenty of ways to fill my time with tasks, attempts at living the perfect life, or simply being busy.

Sadly, I believe that being “busy” is a hallmark of status in our world. I have a tendency to answer the question of “how are you?” with “busy,” with a hint of pride in my voice.  If I’m busy, that means I’m productive, I’m doing something worthwhile.  If I’m busy, it means that I have value and worth.

See how insidious that distorted belief is?

Laura Vanderkam is a researcher on time management who has written several books, including I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time.*  For this book, she tracked the lives of busy women who kept week-long time diaries.  She shares some of her interesting findings in this TED talk.

In listening to this talk and reading her book, I had a few different reactions.  First, I felt empowerment to make the most of my days.  It feels freeing to know that I have 72 hours of “free time” each week even if I sleep 8 hours a night and work 40 hours a week.  I like having permission to say no to something that doesn’t fit within my priorities list.

At the same time, I also felt shame surrounding how I currently spend my time.  I know I like to decompress by watching TV or playing a game on my phone.  I keep a clean house, which takes up more time than I’d like.  I enjoy unhurried mornings that involve staying in bed a little longer with a book.  Could I cut back on these activities to make more time?  Sure.  But I’ve also fallen into the trap of feeling as though I always have to be doing something productive with my time, which is exhausting.  Not enough time for rest and refreshment affects my well-being.  I’ve had to learn the importance of prioritizing rest.

Here’s some realistic takeaways I had from this talk that matter in my personal approach toward time management, and I hope will resonate with your personal struggle with time.

I have more time than I think.

When I look at the 168 hours I have in a week and the percentage of that contributed to free time, I am shocked at how much time I have.  I might not be aware that those hours are going by, but if I intentionally sit down to plan out my schedule, it’s clear how much time I actually have.  When I think about priorities or skills I want to be developing, setting aside an hour a week to focus on them suddenly seems doable.

I need to move from the victim mentality (“I’m too busy”) to the attitude of a responsible adult (“It’s not a priority”).

It feels really good to put myself as the victim.  If stress or anxiety in my life is due to circumstances or is someone else’s fault, then I don’t have to take a serious, hard look at what I’m doing to contribute to my own problems.  But if I truly want to make a change, I need to shift my mentality to look at ways I can take responsibility.  I need to acknowledge the reality, as Vanderkam mentions, that how I spend my time is my choice.  Framing time management as a choice helps me to stop making excuses and start implementing the change I desire in my life.

Thinking of the long game is more effective than focusing on the urgent.

I love the exercises Vanderkam mentions in her TED talk that involve looking at longer-term goals for your career and personal life.  As a sensing personality type on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I tend to lose the forest for the trees.  I focus more on the details or what’s right in front of me, which leads me to be distracted by tasks that seem urgent.  It’s a helpful reminder for me to focus on long-term goals as a way of re-centering on the change I want to make.

I have permission to prioritize what’s important to me, not anyone else.

Just because my friend or coworker is focused on climbing the career ladder doesn’t mean that I need to share that same ambition.  Maybe I’m really passionate about spending time with my family, weight-training, or cooking.  My desires of how to spend my time are not better or worse than anyone else’s, and I don’t need to compare myself as a way of minimizing my desires or puffing up with pride.  Instead, I need own my personal priorities and value them as important.

How I spend my time does not reflect on my value or worth.

The fact that we have an entire subculture of books, podcasts, and other media dedicated to productivity means that we have a tendency to value productivity to the point where it becomes an identity.  I notice myself slipping into this mentality if I go down the rabbit hole of productivity media.  I start to feel valuable or worthwhile when I’m being productive, but if I take time to rest and recharge, I feel worthless and lazy.  I heap shame on myself when I’m not being productive enough, and therefore I undervalue my need for rest.  In those moments, I need to step back and remind myself of the truth that my value comes from my relationship with God and who I am, not from my career success or productivity.

Making a weekly schedule with priorities in mind is important.

When in college, I started a habit of keeping a weekly schedule.  I’d write down what classes and activities I had, made a to-do list of tasks I wanted to complete each day, and tried to plan in downtime or rest.  While I’ve had varying degrees of success with this practice over the past several years, I remember how good it felt to have my day planned out for me, rather than having to make little decisions all day about what was important.

In the context of setting priorities, I appreciate Vanderkam’s suggestion to sit down on Fridays and write out your schedule each week, putting your priorities in first.  This empowers me to say that my priorities are the most important part of my planning, and it makes sure that they’re included in the schedule.  It puts things that are a lower priority on the back burner.

How might you implement some of these skills for time management this week?  What are the takeaways you have from Vanderkam's TED talk?

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Do you constantly feel like you don’t have time for the things you love?  Are you tired of feeling stressed because there aren’t enough  hours in the day, or hopeless about ever having enough time to rest or recharge?  I understand the pain of constant busy-ness, and I’d love the chance to help you begin prioritizing what you need and creating space for the things you love. At Restored Hope, I offer counseling services in Ann Arbor to help you break through stress, anxiety, addiction, and depression to live a fulfilling life that you love.  Call me at 734.656.8191 or email me to set up your first appointment.

 

 

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

Find Your Power: How Your Posture Can Change Everything

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I find myself curling up into a ball a lot.  I sleep in the fetal position, feel most comfortable when I’m sitting cross legged on a couch, and I love child’s pose in yoga.  I’ve always enjoyed curling up in a tight little ball, like a porcupine or turtle.

I also notice that when I’m feeling uncomfortable, ashamed, nervous, or vulnerable, I tend to curl into one of these positions.  I might bring my feet up to my chair and wrap my arms around my knees, slouch my back, or look down at my lap with my arms crossed.  I describe the feeling of shame like a hook on my navel that pulls back, causing me to close in on myself.  Someone once told me that I make myself small in these moments, both in my presence and my physical posture.

Our body language and the way we hold ourselves communicates a lot.  We notice it when we’re arguing with our spouse or facing our boss: nonverbals can often tell us more about what the other person is thinking than the words they say.  According to Amy Cuddy, author of Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges*, our physical postures don’t only communicate messages to others, but they also communicate messages to ourselves.

You may have heard of (and potentially scoffed at) the concept of power posing made popular by Amy Cuddy’s research and TED talk.  She references her research that shows evidence that taking on a powerful, open posture (like Wonder Woman) before an evaluative event, like an interview, can help you to feel more confident and present your authentic self during that interview.  Although her research has faced some criticism, I believe her basic concepts of confidence, authenticity, and presence still stand.

What I realized is that I need to address the shame and insecurity that causes me to take on the defensive and protective posture in the first place.

When listening to this TED talk, I didn’t take away that I only need to take on a physical pose to fix my insecurities.  What I realized is that I need to address the shame and insecurity that causes me to take on the defensive and protective posture in the first place.

Notice that the power posture is described by taking up more space and making yourself big.  Physically, you are opening up.  But this is not just a physical phenomenon.    When we choose to be authentic, honest, and genuine with our true selves, we are opening ourselves up to potential criticism or risk of rejection.  We are taking up space in ways that might be uncomfortable for others.  We are making sure those around us know who we are, and we are not afraid to be ourselves.

“Don’t just fake it 'til you make it.  Fake it 'til you become it.”

As women, this can feel countercultural.  Gender stereotypes about women encourage “meekness,” being quiet, sacrificing your own needs for the needs of your husband or family, and being “nice.”  In the process, we can take on a subservient posture, making ourselves small to the point that we almost feel invisible or unimportant.  I’m not surprised by Amy Cuddy’s observation that women tend to close up in that posture much more often: in many cases, we’ve been taught to do that since we were young. 

Making myself small wasn’t just a comfortable physical position.  It also hinted at areas of shame, anxiety, insecurity, and uncertainty about my ability to be truly loved.  I would make myself as small as possible not to be an inconvenience to others, whether that was physically or through keeping myself quiet and avoiding conflict or speaking my mind.

What’s interesting is that as you begin to step into a place of greater confidence, power, and certainty of your true identity, it’s not as if you’re putting on a fake persona or changing your personality.  It might feel like that at first, like a new pair of shoes that has yet to be broken in.  But as you begin to take up more space, you’ll find that you are able to be a more authentic and genuine version of yourself without hiding behind your insecurities and fears.

I had to give voice to the parts of me that had been silently screaming beneath the surface for years.  I had to learn to say “no”, and “wait”, and “I need”.

Amy shares her own story of insecurity and impostor syndrome.  She had to fight to prove to herself and everyone else around her that she deserved to be where she was.  And that was not an easy battle.  But the hard-fought battle was eventually won.

It took some serious self-reflection and change in my understanding of my own insecurities in order for me to begin to take up more space.  I had to give voice to the parts of me that had been silently screaming beneath the surface for years.  I had to learn to say “no”, and “wait”, and “I need”.  But as this shift has taken place, I feel a distinctive difference in how I approach life.  I feel confident.  I feel powerful.  I feel strong in ways I didn't think I could feel.

I’ve noticed something as I’ve started to do yoga.  Often we stand in mountain pose or recline in crescent lunge for a few breath cycles.  These poses are confident, open, and powerful postures to take on.  I know that as I am standing in these postures, focusing on my breathing, and highly aware of my body, I am feeling confident.  Do I believe that confidence extends to the rest of my day?  I can’t say for sure.  But I do know that it brings a moment of confidence and certainty to my authentic self that I wouldn’t experience if I didn’t take those strong, powerful moments.

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Do you struggle with insecurities and lack of self-confidence?  Are you tired of beating yourself up?  Does shame tend to rule your life?  I know what it feels like to be caught in what feels like a never-ending shame spiral.  At Restored Hope, I offer counseling that specifically addresses the shame you can feel from addictive behaviors, relationship difficulties, hopelessness, and anxiety.  Give me a call at my Ann Arbor therapy office at 734.656.8191 or email me to talk more about what you need and how I can help.

 

 

 

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

Living Into Your Natural Flow: How to Achieve Happiness

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Have you ever noticed the phenomenon when you’re wrapped up in something you love and time seems to fly by?  Maybe you experience this when you’re playing a favorite instrument, reading a book, or solving a problem at work.  According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, you’re likely experiencing what he calls a state of “spontaneous flow.”

What is flow?

Csikszentmihalyi has done extensive research on this concept of flow, defining it as a state of being where you get lost in the task you have in front of you.  Typically it is a place where you have both a great level of skill and are performing a highly challenging task that uses that skill.  You can recognize when you are in this state of flow by noticing when you feel like you are outside of yourself or completely absorbed in what you’re doing.

He studied creatives, business leaders, and athletes to explore the moments when these individuals tend to feel most productive or highly motivated in their work.  Here is his TED talk outlining his research results:

How can I achieve flow?

When Csikszentmihalyi claims that flow provides the greatest source of happiness, it makes sense that you’d want to know how to get there.  Identify where you already have some natural talent.  Maybe you’re a skilled basketball player, you’ve enjoyed playing the piano since you were young, or you have a knack for closing on a sale at work.  Malcolm Gladwell, famous for his 10,000 hour rule, explains that in order to become an expert in an area (and to achieve flow), you must begin with some natural talent.

Once you’ve identified this area, you need to train and develop technique in it.  As he mentions, if you’ve never played the violin a day in your life, you won’t be able to enter flow the first time you pick one up.  Similar to Gladwell, Csikszentmihalyi suggests having 10 years of technical knowledge and immersion in your area of focus.  This takes time, patience, and practice, but that will pay off into satisfying work. If you enjoy what you’re doing, the process of getting that skill will likely be enjoyable as well. 

You can also grow into flow by paying better attention to the zones he mentions are closest to it: arousal and control.  Moving from intellectual arousal to flow involves facing high levels of challenge that push you to learn new skills and grow beyond your preexisting knowledge.  On the other side, when you achieve control through mastering a skill, you can increase your chances of entering flow by providing yourself with greater, more difficult challenges.

In his book Flow*, Csikszentmihalyi gives more practical feedback on how to achieve this flow in your life.

Why does flow matter for mental health?

We all want to experience greater peace, productivity, and happiness.  Csikszentmihalyi demonstrates how research does not support the stereotypical belief that money or material things will increase happiness.  Finding a purpose and a passion are what ultimately lead to happiness, both of which are involved in the experience of flow.

Achieving a state of flow can break you out of your mundane, everyday routines and give you a new sense of power and purpose.  It gets you in touch with your passions.  It helps you to experience peace and serenity, where worries melt away and you can maintain focus on just this one area.  It will help you to enjoy your work more, rather than experiencing stress.

If you struggle with addiction, you might find yourself getting locked into destructive patterns of behavior that consume your time and energy and leave you drained and exhausted.  Choosing to engage in areas of positive flow  both reduces the power of that addictive behavior and provides an intense experience in a positive direction that can replace this longing for a high from the addictive substance or behavior.

Where can you begin your focus to experience flow?

To get you started on this journey toward achieving a state of flow, ask yourself these questions:  Where are the areas that you wish you could achieve this state of flow?  Where have you experienced it before?  What skills do you feel are most developed in you to reach this state?  Which skills you desire to develop more?  Where have you experienced a state of arousal or control and are looking to move into the zone of flow?

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Are you tired of feeling purposeless, like you’re just getting through each day?  Do you wish you didn’t feel so much like a zombie?  Do you walk through life bored and just looking for something to keep you entertained, rather than truly enjoying your life?  I understand how difficult it can be to find purpose and meaning in your life.  At Restored Hope, I offer counseling in my Ann Arbor therapy office to help you move closer to this state of flow and out of that space of apathy and aimlessness.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 today or email me to talk with me today.

 

 

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

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, I believe your depression, stress, or addictive behaviors can be made worse by lack of sleep.  At my Ann Arbor counseling office, I’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 me a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out my form to schedule your first appointment.