Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Breaking Habits Part Six: Talking to Yourself!

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We previously discussed coping statements that we can use to help get us through difficult times. The way we talk to ourselves is incredibly important. Our brains internalize what we say - and think. This is how habits in thinking and behaviour are created. Our neurons form connections - 'neurons that fire together, wire together. 

From one perspective, this is why the more negative things you say to yourself or about yourself, the more you believe them. And the harder it is to think differently. BUT, the opposite is true: if you consistently say positive things to yourself, you will internalize them.

It is critical to remember that you might not necessarily 'believe' what you are saying. For example, we know that in tough times, it will pass. No feeling lasts forever. But in the moment, this certainly doesn't feel true! In times of distress, pain, sadness, etc., it feels like it will always be this way. There is no ONE way to fix this. I have learned, in my own experience, that fighting the negative emotions or thoughts DOES NOT work. If I constantly tell myself, 'I should not feel this way. I cannot feel sad. I cannot be angry. This is wrong', and so forth, I will only get MORE frustrated.

Instead, what if we allow ourselves to feel our feelings, and then practice some positive coping tools or say affirmations? For example - let's say you are feeling anxious about an upcoming deadline. You are tense, and your bopdy is tired. You are irritable, and you just want to cry or scream. If you tell yourself that feeling this way is wrong, you will likely only feel worse. But what if you....

Image result for you have power over your mind1) Acknowledge the feeling: I feel anxious now. I AM NOT my anxiety. This is a feeling. And this feeling is bringing up thoughts that I am going to fail, that things will turn out bad, etc.

2) Focus on your values: I value health and happiness. In ten years, will this situation matter? Will I remember how anxious I was now and be thankful for it? What am I missing out on in this moment by remaining anxious and frustrated?

3) Do something else - and say and think something else: I am able to deal with this. It is OKAY to FEEL anxious. But I don't need to act or react to my feelings or thoughts. I know that they will pass, even though I feel awful right now. Instead, I know that practicing gratitude at this time, tolerating the discomfort, and doing something kind to myself will allow me to cope with this.

Image result for self compassion quotes....And soon enough, the feelings will dissipate. The thoughts and feelings might not completely disappear - but they WILL pass and wane over time if you choose to rewire your brain. Over time, your brain will respond to this by making new connections. Sure, it feels terrible and weird to do this during tough times, especially since it is much easier to just feel anxious and NOT challenge the thoughts or choose to do otherwise. But remember: rewiring your brain takes time. It is uncomfortable. But it is so possible. And incredibly worth it.

You can do hard things. Trust that this temporary discomfort, anxious, and pain will pass if you acknowledge it, accept it, and use positive statements instead. Your brain will learn new patterns. You will heal. You will make it through. YOU GOT THIS!

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Breaking Habits Part Five: Coping Statements

Image result for coping statementsLast time, we talked about self-compassion: learning to be kind to ourselves. It is truly difficult to do this all the time, especially when life gets frustrating. Being kind to ourselves means that we acknowledge that:

1) No one is perfect

2) Struggles and challenges - and even mistakes - do not define us

3) We are not valuable or loved because of our appearances or accomplishments. While looking 'good' and being successful are important, we are worthy regardless of these

4) Being gentle and kind to ourselves means understanding that we are enough. But it also means that we can always grow and improve

As we practice compassion to ourselves, it is helpful to have some coping statements to keep us focused on our values, goals, and dreams. There are different coping statements you can repeat at various times in your life. You can even make your own!

Now, let's be real: sometimes you can say a statement to yourself - and it won't 'make anything better'. You might not even believe what you are telling yourself! If this happens, why should you use the phrases at all?

Image result for coping statementsWell, the reality is that the more you repeat or tell yourself something, the more you will believe it. The brain is very adaptive. Your mind will learn what you tell it. So, if you repeat negative thoughts all day, you will begin to believe them. Similarly, if you repeat coping phrases, you'll internalize them as well!

I encourage you to either search for coping statements, or think of your own. Repeat them to yourself, and reflect on what you are actually saying. For example, one of my favourite statements is 'you can do hard things'. To me, this means that regardless of what challenges I may face, I will get through them. I will survive. I may have to work hard for it, and it might be painful, worrisome, uncomfortable, or even distressing and frustrating. But I CAN DO IT. 

What are your 'go-to' coping statements? How do they help you get through tough times?

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Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Breaking Habits Part Four: Self-Compassion

Image result for self compassion quotesWelcome to part 4 in our series on breaking habits. The last post discussed tolerating distress, and alluded to the fact that practicing self-compassion can greatly help us here. This post will help clarify what it means to be compassionate to ourselves, and how we can go about doing this practically.

We often hear about 'self love', but what does this truly mean? We often think that self-love means we need to love everything about ourselves - outside, inside, etc. And while this is true, it is often exaggerated because self-love really does not have to mean that you love yourself in all ways possible. Why do I say this? Because we all have things we wish we could change about ourselves. Instead, let's redefine self-love to ACCEPTANCE. We accept ourselves as we are - the parts we love, AND the parts that we don't love as much. When we look at it this way, self-compassion becomes a lot easier! (P.S. I recommend that you take time to see this site, where you can learn more).

Image result for self compassion quotesSo, how do we practice self-compassion? Let's start of with the easiest thing: stop saying bad things about yourself. This is easier said than done. We often are our worst critics, saying harsh things to ourselves. Did you do something embarrassing? Did you call yourself 'silly, stupid', or other names? STOP! It is easy to do this because we feel ashamed, angry, or frustrated with ourselves. But calling ourselves names is harmful; we begin to believe these words. Instead, self-compassion means acknowledging that we are frustrated with ourselves, and riding through these difficult emotions. It means realizing that we are imperfect, but that we are still worthy of love, strength, happiness, success, and peace. Self-compassion means understanding and realizing that though we may not love everything about ourselves, and though we may make mistakes or be imperfect, we are worthy of life.

Self-compassion can also mean doing things that help us care for our minds and bodies, which are strongly interconnected. Physically, we need to feel good to be well mentally. And when we are mentally and emotionally well, we can care for ourselves physically. So, self-compassion can also mean feeding our bodies with enough nutrition, moving in enjoyable and healthy ways, taking our medications, etc. It also means allowing ourselves to rest and relax, to engage in enjoyable activities, and to realize that we must take care of ourselves in order to live fully.

Image result for self compassion ideasThere are lots of other ways to engage in - and practice - self-compassion. Think about how you would treat a loved one...what would you tell them about accepting or loving themselves? What suggestions would you have? Practice these in your own life. Again, this is a lot easier said than done. We face challenges like money, time, motivation, and so much more. Remember, though, that practicing self-compassion does not mean that we need to spend loads of money on fancy foods, massages, etc. if we cannot do so. It does not mean that we need to schedule 4 hours for self-care. It does not even mean that we stand in front of the mirror and reflect on how beautiful we feel. HOWEVER, self-compassion means caring for ourselves in a way that nurtures our health and wellness - physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Prompt: what can you do practice self-compassion today? How can you care for yourself?

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Breaking Habits Part Three: Tolerating the Distress

Image result for ride the wave you can't stopThis is part 3 in our series about Breaking Habits. Did you miss the last post? You can read about it here.

Now, we know that we have a habit we want to break or change. We understand that there are steps we can take to do this, and we have a plan for how to achieve this. But then, like most new things - we start to make changes, and we feel uncomfortable. Worried. Anxious. Distressed. Angry. Fatigued.

On one hand - we want to make the changes. On the other hand, we try to make changes, and we feel distressed. We so desperately want to keep up these new habits, but the discomfort and unfamiliarity is not pleasant. We want to go back to the comfort, the familiar. 

Deep down, we know that the old, 'comfortable' habits were temporarily. They provided us with relief in the moment, but not in the long-term. And yet, this instant relief or freedom from discomfort is luring. This is when we need to practice distress tolerance. It is only by continuing to practice opposite actions that we can create new habits to replace old ones.

There are endless ways to keep yourself going in these times. One thing that is helpful to do is to remind yourself why you are doing this. Yes, you are not comfortable now. But these new changes are for your future happiness, success, joy, and health. So, you need to ride the wave. The discomfort, distress, and anxiety with these new changes are truly temporary, but you need to surf through them until they dissipate. Like a wave in a storm, if you try to resist it or fight against it, you will fall. But if you face the wave head-on and surf through it, you will persevere. 

Another thing that is helpful at these tines is practicing self-compassion. Self-compassion means being kind to yourself through your suffering - and not making it worse by criticizing yourself or your emotions. The next post will discuss this - stay tuned!

Task: how can you 'ride the wave' when making changes that you know are good for you, but uncomfortable? What can you do to help yourself tolerate the discomfort? 

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Thursday, 20 December 2018

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Related imageWe'll get back to the series on breaking habits in the next post...because it is time to celebrate Christmas and the New Year!

You probably already know - Christmas is my favourite holiday! There is something special about the lights, gifts, carols/music, gatherings, etc. that fills me with joy. Of course, this is the season where we celebrate Jesus' birth, making it a time of spirituality and peace.

Image result for christmas quotes hopeAs I have grown, Christmas has changed - in a good way. As a child, I looked forward to the gifts and cookies the most. Now, these are still important to me now...but the meaning of Christmas has become deeper for me. Christmas is no longer simply about being surprised by presents; it is now a time of thanksgiving and reflection. As December comes to an end and we celebrate Christ's birth, it is an opportunity to look back on the previous year.

I am extremely grateful for the blessings of 2018. It was by no means an 'easy' year; we have all faced challenges, obstacles, and trying times last year. But we also had good laughs, peaceful moments, learning experiences, and joyous situations. I'm sure you can look back and identify that despite the tough times, 2018 was full of good times, too.

The birth of Christ brings a message of hope and peace. Jesus humbly came to earth to save us, to give us life. His birth is a time to celebrate. Christmas is a time to slow down, to enjoy the precious moments in life. To be grateful fir what we have (and sometimes, for what we don't have!).

This Christmas, I pray that you experience joy, peace, and hope as you celebrate with loved ones. I pray that your blessings fill you with gratitude, and that message of hope and joy through Christ's birth allows you to feel inspired as the year closes.

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Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Breaking Habits Part Two: Where to Start

Last time, we introduced the topic of breaking habits. This is the second post, following the first.

Changing our habits is no easy feat. To try to change the way we act, think, or do things is challenging because we have gotten so used to our patterns and routines. But sometimes, we get uncomfortable with our routines or habits. We find that they no longer serve us, or are no longer what we need in life. So, we decide that we want to break these habits...but where do we start with this?

In my own life, I found that the first step to breaking a habit is to simply acknowledge that I want to change it. There is something that I don't feel comfortable with about this habit...I am comfortable WITH it - because it is so familiar to me. At the same time, I am uncomfortable with it because I no longer find that it helps me, or is useful at this time in my life. To recognize that there is a NEED for change is truly the first step. It is only in admitting that we WANT or NEED to change that we can begin to take steps towards this.

There are many reasons why we decide to change a habit. It can be because the habit is simply destructive to us, such as is the case with addictions like smoking, alcohol, etc. It can be because although the habit is comfortable, it isn't appropriate for our current life situation. For example, you may have always enjoyed eating salty foods, but now your blood pressure is quite elevated, and your health requires you to cut down on adding salt to your meals. Another reason for change might be because we are frustrated by the effects of our habits. For example, you might be used to buying the latest technology right when it comes out...but each year at Christmas, you find that you do so and are left in debt by the New Year...and this is clearly NOT advantageous. Whatever your reason for change is, one thing is clear: you want to change or break this habit. It may have served you at the time, but where you are in your life now...requires a change.

After you identify what you want to change, you can start to think about what you want to change about the habit...or the steps you need to take to find an alternative to the habit. Let's take an example: you are used to sleeping in until 11 AM each day you have off. However, you noticed that when you get up earlier, you are more productive and have enough time to do things for yourself AND spend time with you friends and family - which you value. But the thing is...sleeping in until 11 AM is comfortable for you...despite the fact that it is no longer effective for you to do so. You so desperately want to change this - you want to get up earlier than 11 AM. But you do it once, and although you DO have more time in your day and enjoy this, you feel a bit cranky at first. You miss your old habit of sleeping in. This new habit, although it has its benefits, is also very hard and somewhat distressing. It is a big change, and change can - and often always is - very uncomfortable. 
So, what do you do? On one hand, you enjoyed waking up earlier because you realized how much more things you were able to do throughout the day. On the other hand, however, making that change was uncomfortable...and part of you misses the old habit of sleeping in. Deep down, you KNOW and FEEL that waking up later is no longer something you want to do. But it is comfortable and familiar...while change is the opposite. How do you cope with this? How do you repeat the new habit of waking up earlier when it is painful and distressing to do so?

The next post will discuss this topic! Stay tuned!

This post's task for you: what habit do you want to change? Why do you want to change this habit - and what are the steps you need to take to do so?

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Breaking Habits - Part One

Many of us have habits, routines, or practices that we wish to change or 'break'. Often, we decide that we want to change a habit because it is 1) causing us distress or discomfort; 2) not serving it's original purpose any longer; or 3) we feel that there is a better way of doing things.

This post is going to be the first of a series on breaking habits. Stay tuned, because it is one of my favourite series here on the blog!

The tough part, of course, is actually CHANGING the habit. To stop doing what one has done for so long is foreign. On a more biological level, our brains have gotten comfortable with the previous habit. It has become 'standard' to us. So, changing things up is like a red flag to our brains - it has to relearn something new.

This applies to nearly any habit we may have. And although it is not simple, it is POSSIBLE. I have found that the best way to try to change a habit is not necessarily to ignore the habit or routine, but to reflect on 1) how the habit served you before (ex. what did doing xxx do for me?); 2) what kept the habit entrenched (ex. a certain place? being around certain people or objects? certain situations?); and 3) why you feel you would like to change or break the habit (ex. why is this something you don't want to be part of your life anymore?).

Even just thinking about breaking a habit causes some distress. We think, 'but if I don't do xxx, I will feel miserable!' or 'if I cannot engage in habit zzz, what will I do with my time? Or how will I cope with this situation?'. It is important to realize that having these feelings and thoughts in response to changing a habit is normal. Remember, your habits have become habits because your brain got used to them, they served a purpose, and now they are routine. So, expect that changing a habit will not be as easy as thinking 'Oh, I'll just wake up tomorrow and not have my morning cigarette. It'll be fine'. It simply does not work that way. Chances are you will wake up and think, 'I need that cigarette. I'll start breaking this habit tomorrow'.

Ah, the concept of 'starting tomorrow'. The issue is, tomorrow will not come when doing an action such as breaking a habit, which is tough, is concerned. We will always find ways to delay 'tomorrow'. Now. Now is the time to start thinking about what habit you want to break or change, and to commit to it.

Throughout this series, we will talk about:
1) How to actually START breaking or changing a habit
2) How to keep repeating this so that change is sustained
3) What to do when you feel like you can't go on or change

Think about something you want to change about your life - a habit or routine that you have gotten caught up with. Sure, for a while, that habit or action was likely helpful in managing an emotion, a need, or a situation in your life. But right now, you feel something in your soul telling you to quit it. To make a change. You're scared, but you want to try. I'm not an expert, but I know it is doable. Let's join together on this journey towards changing our habits and growing new roots. I hope this series is helpful and fruitful!