Category: Personal Challenges & Moments of Growth

Life isn’t easy, sometimes you need a helmet, but at the end of the day you are better off for having put in the effort.

No Time Like the Present

save-the-dayThere is never any better time to start doing something than right now. That saying “No time like the present” is especially targeted to the things that wind up on our priority list but never quite make it to the top. You know what I mean, the diet you will start on Monday (until Monday arrives and then it is postponed another week), the pile of bills you need to sort through that isn’t addressed until the final seconds, the paper you have known about all semester and are just now thinking about. We all have our own version of putting things off and waiting just a little bit longer to get up and do whatever it is that needs our attention.

With this time of year there are many things that are on their way to winding down and tons of others that are ramping up. School is getting ready for the finals season, plans for family gatherings are in the works and ready to reach a frenzy, and if you are in any kind of marketing or retail you know that January and February deadlines are near or already past.

So what gets prioritized and what gets pushed back a week or two?

Is there something that you have been wanting to do for yourself to help manage all of this commotion? Is there something you can’t put at the top of your “to-do” list because it just doesn’t contribute to the mountain of things you feel you need to do?

Here is a new spin for you if you aren’t able to operate at 100% then it is impossible for you to be able to give your best to the things that you label high priority.  When you are stressed it is important to put yourself on a priority list and give yourself the attention you need. If you aren’t stressed yet then there is not better time to get a head start at helping your body and mind work at 100%.

Do something great for yourself and be able to work more productively and sustainably. When we are stressed or anxious about the mountain of things we have to do then we aren’t able to work as efficiently or as expertly as we are able. So, there is no time like the present. And you can run with this in one of two ways. You can seize the moment to be proactive in taking care of your self OR you can get a move on that low priority thing that has been looming over you for the past few weeks.1


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Habits – How Do They Serve You?

coffeeMy most prized kitchen appliance is my Keurig, I have 2 different French press systems and I refer to coffee as the “elixir of life.” You can imagine how devastated I was upon reading an article yesterday about how drinking coffee before 9:30 in the morning is not ideal for your body’s alertness and is less effective in keeping you awake during the day. I was mortified and slightly angry, the author obviously didn’t know that coffee transforms me from the bleary-eyes sleep monster that crawls from the depths of my covers to the radiant human being that sits before the general public. I will have my coffee when I wake up. And I’ll drink it too!

But my response to this new information on my most prized morning ritual opens a door to other habits in my life that I have let go unaccounted for and uncheck for a very long time. We all have habits that at one time served a function. At one time they were beneficial to our everyday life, were protective from some threat, or maybe the habit was just a point of comfort.

So here is a challenge for you:

Examine your habits.
From as small as you put the toothpaste on the toothbrush before getting it wet to as big as You scope out the corners of a restaurant to make sure there is an open table before agreeing to eat there.

Pick one that you want to focus on.
Choose wisely, you might find that the habit needs some altering or to end all together.

Discover the source of your habit.
Why do you map out all of the emergency clinics/emergency rooms in the area before going to an unfamiliar place. Does that come from your experience of panic? Were you in need of a hospital at one time and were far away from help?

Reevaluate the habit.
Is this still a necessary part of your life? Do you need to let go of this habit for a lifestyle that better serves you or do you need to alter the existing habit so that it is more appropriate for your current situation?

While you practice your challenge I am going to do mine to! I have multiple habits – a lot actually – that go back years that I have no good reason for engaging in right now but I still do it. Time to shake this off and live better. This is a moment to live more efficiently and comfortably. Give yourself a chance to improve a small area of your life and see how that impacts everything else!1


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mantraHave you ever heard of mantras? When I hear that word I think of some weird pep talk I need to give myself in order to get the confidence I need to be able to do something. Honestly I think the word sounds a little cheesy and I get this picture in my head of someone sitting cross-legged on the floor in some meditation pose, eyes closed, muttering the same sentence over and over again in some singsong voice. If this is you – own it! If I sit on the floor with my eyes closed for more that 2 seconds I am prime target for a dog-tackle, so I have to find a safer way to use my mantra.

I’m off topic. Mantras are all about finding one or two simple sentences that define you. Not necessarily the “you” you are now but the “you” you are trying to become. The person you are striving to be everyday. Maybe this is the beginning of this journey for you; you haven’t started changing your actions, your thoughts, your everyday patterns but you kind of want to. You know there is something more for you. So find a mantra!

This is an activity that takes some time and some thought. Find what it is that you want for yourself. The kind of person you want to wake up and be every day. If you struggle with compassion towards other you might say something like:

I am cultivating a kind heart; I am looking for opportunities to be gracious and compassionate to others around me.

Or if you are trying to reduce your anxiety and level or stress you might say:

I am moving towards peace and calmness in my everyday life, I am relaxed in moments of stress and I am able to work through my worry.

Mantras don’t need to be fancy or eloquent. It is however it will speak to you. If it needs to be a simple as:

I am not a worrywart, and I don’t let stress get the better of me.

The idea here is to have a positive intention or focus to your mantra. This is something you are moving toward or trying to increase in your life, not what you are moving away from or trying to decrease. It is completely appropriate to look at the things you don’t like about your life to get a base for what you want to increase but don’t dwell there – you are in the process of moving toward something more positive, not just bashing the negative you see in your life.


This is excessive but you get the idea.

After you have your mantra say it to yourself every day at least once. You can write it on a card and put it on your bathroom mirror. Put it on a piece of paper in your car or your wallet. Where ever you will see it everyday and every time you see it read it out loud to yourself. Own it! This is you! And if you can sit on the floor and meditation style repeat it to yourself more power to you!

Enjoy this process. Not only are you working on getting to know the person you are working to become but you are also giving yourself the tools to get there.1


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Celebrate Your Life

diadelosToday is the last day of Dia de los Muertos and I am on a hunt for pan de muerto.  That is a traditional sweet bread that is eaten on the holiday. You can find out the basics of what you need to know on Wikipedia, but the gist is that this is a celebration of life.  Families honor their children, honoring the innocents in their lives, and spend countless hours making shrines and gifts for those in their family that have passed, honoring and celebrating their lives and the family’s heritage.

A lot of the symbols of Dia de los Muertos are the same as Halloween, with skulls and bones and children dressed up but everything is so colorful and bright.  The family has a time to come together and remember where they came from. This all has me thinking about my family history and how little I celebrate the lives of those who have come before me. The work they put in to build the family that I enjoy today. And how do I celebrate life? This presents a great opportunity to be mindful of life and living well.

When I say living well I don’t mean being uber healthy or going the extra mile every day. I really mean honoring yourself and the life that is yours. How do you do that? Do you have a moment tucked away in your day, your week, where you can really honor yourself and recognize that you are worth celebrating?

Sometimes this may create feelings of guilt. “I don’t have the time or resources to honor myself and that would be wasteful.” Or “To honor myself would be arrogant or prideful, and that’s not the kind of person I am.” But honoring yourself, celebrating life and the life that you live can be a simple as not doing something that would be harmful to you, like staying late at work every day this week instead of spending time with your family and recharging for the next day. Deciding to take some time to read a book you enjoy or that is inspirational to you instead of neglecting your need for relaxation.

We all have moments where we can decide to honor ourselves or to put that celebration of self, of life, on the back burner. It is always on the “to-do” list but never at the top. Prioritize yourself and honor your life today! I know I am going to do some digging and honor my heritage today too.1

Quien con la esperanza vive, alegre muere. (He who lives with hope dies happy.)


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Masking Your Nervous Self

maskLast night was Halloween and of course everyone gets dressed up and pretends to be someone else. It is so fun to see how excited kids get when they decide on a costume and even more excited when they get to put it on! One little boy I know dressed up as a ninja and he owned his new identity. As soon as he put on his suit he stopped talking (and this kiddo is a chatter box!) and went into stealth mode. He was rolling from room to room and slipping into doorways without a sound. He slipped on his costume and he truly became another person.

We all do that sometimes. We wear masks to help us get through different situations. Sometimes the “mask” is as literal as putting on your pair of power shoes to give you the confidence to get through a presentation or a meeting. It can be a new identity you try to take on as you go into a social event that regular Harold wouldn’t be able to get through but “Harry,” the life of the party has no problem.

  • How many different versions of yourself to you have?
  • How do they serve you?
  • What do they help you accomplish?

Different triggers and situations demand new kinds of action from us and pull from different areas of our strengths. Sometimes the “everyday” version of us can rise to the occasion and sometimes that doesn’t seem like enough. We need to pull in someone else that can carry us through, so we put on our mask and assume some other identity. This doesn’t mean that you aren’t able to take care of business on your own, after all the mask is really just another side of you. It is simply shifting your skills and strengths to accomplish a task and also serves a protective function to preserve the you that feels vulnerable.

Examine what situations or events require you to put on a mask – or what situations you might be able to get through more gracefully if you started using a mask. What strength do you need to pull from and who do you need to become in order to be the best you that can get through the moment. This is an exciting moment where you can discover how to best take care of you in uncomfortable and anxiety-provoking situations. And it can be as simple and putting on a pair of shoes or becoming Harry instead of Harold for a few minutes.1


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Slumps and Silver Linings

Sometimes your day just sucks and there doesn’t seem to be anything good about it. One thing happens after another and a day that seemed to just get off on the wrong foot is suddenly ruined. Bad days can turn into bad weeks and there you go. You are in a slump.


Slumps (or funks as my dad likes to call them) are hard to get out of and uncomfortable to explain to others. Family and friends notice you are “off” and ask you about it – and then what do you say? Some will explain it away as not getting outside enough; some will say they have been under the weather. Whatever your explanation or the thing that got you in your slump, the best way to get out of the slump is to intentionally find your sliver lining.

Throughout your day, as terrible as your slump day may feel, I will be bold and say that not everything IS terrible and that there are a few shining moments where things are not as bad as all that. Find those moments. Give your attention to them – highlight what that means to your day. I think you will find that the more you look for silver lining moments, the more you will find. The more you find, the less terrible your slump (day, week, month, etc.) will feel.

When we focus our attention on the things that are going wrong or the places in our life where we are dissatisfied we breed an attitude of discontent and negativity. If all you see in your work is one deadline after another, one more productivity requirement without additional compensation, then you won’t be able to appreciate the moments where you are praised for the work you have accomplished this quarter, you won’t really enjoy the coffee your co-worker picked up for you on the way to work.

How different could your perspective and attitude be if instead of letting the kids stress you out with the million different activities they are in you took time to intentionally enjoy them making pancakes with you on Saturday. Or intentionally enjoyed catching your kids joyfully playing a game together. Things look different very quickly when we are intentional about what we give our focus to and the importance we place on the things that are good in our lives.

I’m not saying that slumps aren’t miserable and difficult to get out of. The situation that lead to your slump might be something that needs to change to keep you from burning out or being in an extended slump. But in the moment, the day to day in between that change and right now, you have the opportunity to look for something better that is already present in your life. Enjoy the positive things that already exist around you.1


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Push Yourself, but Don’t Over Do It

Have you ever heard the saying “pain is weakness leaving the body?” I think that is ridiculous – and completely untrue. I hear this most from people when they are working out. They push themselves and push themselves until they are physically exhausted and can’t stand up straight. I truly admire and respect those with the extreme physical discipline to go the extra mile and stay in the space that is uncomfortable – but when you are pushing yourself to the point of pain that is just foolishness! It isn’t good for your body or your mind and you are going to feel terrible tomorrow (making your no pain, no gain theory a total bust).


This is true in all areas of our lives. I’m talking in work, family, and other things we commit ourselves to. If we are really pushing ourselves to the point where we are exhausted, where are reserves are left at zero, and we are in either physical or mental distress then we are forced to recoup and aren’t able to function well. A good friend told me recently,

“Find your edge, the place where you can’t go any farther and then back off a bit. Never do as much as you can, do just a little bit less.”

My initial type A, overachiever reaction is:

“NO! I’m not lazy and I can do this at 110% all the time. Don’t expect less of what I am capable of!”

And then I take a minute to think about what he is really saying.  He is really saying that if you operate from a place where you can act with consistency then you are more productive and your effort will be more sustainable. When you need to do more the energy and capacity will be there. In layman’s terms: You can do what you do longer and can move into overdrive when and only when you really need to.

We experience burn-out so regularly doing this, that, and the other. Our culture values going above and beyond to the point where you have nothing left. What would happen if you took a gentler, more consistent approach to the things you do? Worked consistently and sustainably at work, at school, in your family, in your hobbies? You would have so much more to pour out and offer others and yourself simply by making sure you never had to tap into your last reserves of energy. You might even be happier because you would be taking care of you!1


My good friend is Matt Harris, a yoga instructor and a fellow therapist. He works in Louisville, specializing in couple’s therapy.


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Keeping Your Cool when Life Happens

Life has so many changes and times when you really can’t control what happens. When life happens you can do one of two things.

  1. You can totally loose your cool, call people colorful names, and steam for the rest of the day.
  2. You can take a minute to process and decide on a course of action that is both positive and productive.

I am a strong believer in continuums and reactions like this often happen on some sort of scale. The most frequent outcome of things gone haywire is some combination of angry outbursts and then problem solving.

Where do you fall on that continuum? How much of a freak out do you need to go through before you can problem solve and come to a productive rational conclusion?

Sometimes your ability to keep your cool is related to the kind of situation. When the situation is related to something that is very important to you, something that you are really invested, in it is easier to go off the handle than it is to calmly recalculate and adjust for what needs to happen next. What are you invested in or passionate about? Maybe it is related to work, family, or a significant other. You melt down when you aren’t able to meet productivity requirements or when a staff meeting doesn’t go the way you had hoped. When your family changes their plans (for the 15th time) and you are stuck to make dinner for 4 extra guests with little time to prepare. When your partner decides to go hang out with friends instead of checking out a new class you were both going to attend.

fly-off-the-handleSometimes small things really rub our raw spots and to others they seem trivial. The things that cause us to loose our cool have such an effect on us because they are important to us. So what is the difference between the times where you can just adjust your plans or your approach and get things done vs. the situations where we feel like we are left high and dry? The difference is how important they are to you and the more important a situation is to you the more you need to plan for how to manage any shifts in advance.

  • Identify areas of your life where you tend to loose your cool, feel very anxious or angry.
  • Once you know where you struggle make a plan B for those moments. A little cheat sheet for yourself as to what you can do next or what you can say to yourself that will be comforting.
  • Find the situations that you are able to adjust to with little difficulty.
  • Explore how you are able to be successful in those situations vs. others. Why are you able to adjust and how to you do your adjusting? Why don’t you go off the handle and how can you translate those feelings into situations that are more difficult to remain calm?

To recap: Plan B for when you might loose it and find out where you are successful in working through life’s curve balls. You are already successfully keeping it together in some areas of your life, now we just need to move that success to the areas where it is harder to adjust.1


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Relationship Rules and Expectations and How to Change them in your Life

   “Peeps Afloat Together in Muddy Waters” Many thanks to Red Hot Roasters of Louisville for the delicious peep latte! Great inspiration for this “float” we do together in relationships.

Relationship Rules & Expectation and How to Change Them in Your Life

ARGGHHHHH!!!!  That was the memorable utterance that Charlie would yell after Lucy picked up the football again and again, always egging him on to try just one more time.  Do you ever feel the same way about romantic relationships? Just when you have convinced yourself that this time, when you go to kick the football you won’t land on your…well, you know.  Frustrated we either turn inward, blaming ourselves, “Why didn’t you see this coming?” or outward, “AHHH who are these people?!?” or most often, some combination of the two.  We expect that we can see a pattern in the future, projecting based off of small “signs” or “clues” that this person may not be the partner of our dreams, however, it seems only in hindsight that the signs are glaringly obvious.  And, after these relationships crash and burn, it seems, the only thing left to do is hit our heads against the wall or melt into a little ball on the vegetative couch. 

We want some control over this merry-go-round, but often the answer lies in something that feels very out-of-our-control, the relationship rules and expectations that we have learned from a very early age.  Think about it: In your family were you taught that if you just held back your feelings and went with the flow of things, that arguments would dissolve and everyone would get along?  Were you taught that if something flying across the room didn’t occur, that the relationship lacked passion?  Were you taught that a man “wears the pants” in the relationship or oppositely, that if a woman was not dominant in the relationship she was being a weak partner, wife, or mother? 

Families have a “culture” to them, unexpressed rules, beliefs, norms and traditions that dictate family patterns and keep the family running.  Gregory Bateson (1972) calls this “homeostasis,” or a pattern of relationship interactions that keep the relationship in what seems like a business-as-usual pattern.  These patterns can be helpful or harmful, but what they do have in common is that they are established and occur over and over again.  They are also only applicable to the situation in which they were created for.  For example, if in your family of origin an interactional pattern looked like this: Mom got angry à Dad withdrew à Mom followed à Dad got angry and yelled à Mom withdrew, this pattern of following and withdrawing may seem very normal…but may seem very not-normal to the person whose family pattern meant: Mom got angry à Dad got angry à They yelled it out until the anger burnt out.    

We all have established patterns of behavior in our families to function everyday and those patterns are built on relationship beliefs and norms.  However, much like the pattern for building an electric loop for a light bulb would not work if you were to directly apply those same rules to build a toaster, when we apply the same unexpressed relationship rules & beliefs to a person who has never lived inside our family of origin, we end up with a relationship “short/outage” (pun intended).  Due to these norms feeling so innate and comfortable (we did function with them for quite some time) we often think that these rules are somehow the “magna carta” for functioning within relationships.  Even with those norms that we see as dysfunctional within our families, such as the aforementioned flying object example, we may have held on to the relationship beliefs and rules that lead us to those moments, which make that one step further into the flying zone that much closer. 

What to do to score a field goal

If you are feeling overwhelmed and frustrated by this pattern, take it as an alarm bell to start putting yourself in the driver’s seat of your relationship decision-making.  The first step is to reflect on what you believe to be true about relationships, what they should be.  Be very attentive when that word “should” comes up, because it will tell you a lot about what you believe to be “absolutely true” about  relationships and/or what may be a point of great frustration in your relationships. 

1.      Make a list. 

Yes, while it may seem cheesy, JUST DO IT.  Actually seeing it on paper and having it recorded helps you to recognize the pattern when it comes up and helps you not to forget.*   Once you have started this list, recognize that it will be a list that you will add to over time, perhaps even if you are in long-standing relationship, because we are constantly becoming aware of these patterns.  Also, do two things with this list.  First,

2.      Recognize where you think this belief comes from (family, previous relationships, etc.) and how you have seen it play out in your relationships.

This doesn’t have to be anything profound, we don’t need you lying on a couch regressing without the proper supervision of a therapist (little Freud joke there).  Something like, “I expect that the person that I am with will pick up the tab at dinner” followed by “Got this from dad and mom because dad was always the provider.” Then how it is attributing to how you feel now, “Was frustrated because I feel like I am always the one picking up the tab.”   Then finally, step three,

3.      Decide whether you want to keep this relationship rule, change it, table it, or ditch it. 

This may take a little time to think about, so be kind to yourself and reflect on it a bit.  Sometimes when we realize that something that is frustrating us in a relationship has roots in a relationship rule or expectation from the past, we have an immediate decision to keep or ditch.  Sometimes however, we need some time to think about it and that is okay.  Looking at what this rule has given us (possibly a sense of security, or protected us in the past) helps us appreciate the rule for what it is and helps us to decide if these rules are still relevant for our relationships now.  Don’t beat yourself up for having it if you feel like this rule is not one that is healthy. All rules have given us something and it is up to us to put on our detective hats and figure out why that rule was put there and how to find another way if it is no longer helping us and we want to plot another course.  Seek advice from someone you trust or see a therapist if you are wanting help in this area too.   It is sometimes hard to see these patterns that we are used to, and getting advice from a safe and trusted third party can help us see what we are not seeing in our relationship norms.  Although it takes some work, this process truly pays off and can lead to more fulfilling relationships and definitely more awareness on our part.   

*As a caveat, if you are in a relationship where you fear your partner or may be in danger, please keep this list in a place where it is not visible to the other person or protected by passwords on your computer. 



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How to Figure Out Who You Are

Somewhere in between the rush of everyday life, the demands of everyone else (and everyone else’s mother…and everyone else’s mother’s boss), and meeting expectations, we begin to forget the integral part of all of that which keeps us running; who we are.  I am not talking about an identity crisis—no top down convertibles or crazy hair.  No, this is merely a gradual letting go of attention paid to who we are and what we want out of life that occurs almost imperceptibly over the course of months, years or decades.  How do we forget who we are?

One of the ways is through unconscious accommodation.  Those who are strong in the ability to accommodate others and be flexible by nature (which in this demanding world can be many people) can be especially susceptible. While accommodation and flexibility are wonderful traits, where we can get into trouble is where we do not make a conscious choice to be accommodating and flexible, and we perpetuate a pattern of making what seems like unconscious choices by not listening to our own selves.  For example, look at this difference in two different decision-making patterns with others:

Not making a conscious choice (unconscious): Ignoring or invalidating that inner voice, not listening to your own opinion and going with the choice of another to accommodate someone else.


Making a conscious choice:  Listening to that inner voice of our own opinion, acknowledging that your own opinion is valid, but choosing to accommodate another person at this time.

On the surface, to someone else, both scenarios may look the same.  In both cases you accommodated the other person, but they have a very different feel to them, no? The other person may think, “Great! Jane is so easygoing or she really believes in what I think, therefore I have her support on this!” However, under the surface, making a conscious choice or unconscious choice can make a great difference to you as an individual in acknowledging yourself and your opinions.  If your opinions, thoughts and feelings are quieted or invalidated, they will eventually stop speaking.  Thus when you begin the process of personal decision-making and consideration of the important questions such as “Who am I?” and “What do I want to do with my life?” you may be greeted with the sound of silence (or crickets).   But do not despair! This is reversible!

So then how do I fix this?

The good part about that inner voice is that even when you put it in the corner, much like “Baby” in Dirty Dancing, it can be coaxed out to live it up and get out on the dance floor (maybe even crowd surf).  The first step is to start small and acknowledge what you like and enjoy in life.   Once you do that, stake a claim! Stake a claim to those things, however small you think those are, that bring you happiness and joy.  Sit down in a quiet place (or in a noisy one if you work better in that type of environment) and write down all of the things that bring you even the slightest bit of happiness whether it be fireflies, zombies, ice cream, people who wear funny hats, Jackie Chan movies, etc.  Get specific.  Strange as it sounds, when you start listening to the little pieces of who you are, the bigger pieces start coming together.   And finally, when you have come up with that list, remember those things, and when someone asks your opinion, pause and think, “Okay, how do I feel about this? What do I think?” You can always make a conscious decision to accommodate another, but at least take the time to check in with the one person who you will know and be accountable to the absolute longest; yourself.