How Can You Tell If You’re Really In Love?



4009889190_43d18dfa97 In my journey to true love I must have thought I was in love at least nine times. Of those nine times, once was really close to the real thing but I was in high school at the time and not ready to settle down. All the other so called boyfriends I had, I look back and ask, “What was I thinking?”

Ha! I doubt I was thinking at all! While the guys were nice enough, those relationships usually fell under one of three categories:  1. They were convenient, 2. I was lonely or 3. the sex was good but not much else was.

When I was twenty-nine years old I was in a relationship with a guy who was smart, attractive, funny, immature and self-centered. At the time I thought, “This is as good as it’s going to get. Maybe it’s time to settle down.”

Then I met John. It wasn’t fireworks or love at first sight. It was and still is, as Miss Etta James sings, a Sunday kind of love. Warm, sure, safe. The longer we are together the more precious our relationship is to me. I couldn’t ask for a better love.

That’s why I encourage people not to ‘settle’ for less than good, solid love. And how can you tell the real thing from the cheap impostors? Mira Kirshenbaum, Women & Love, Finding True Love While Staying True to Yourself,  helps us do that with this list of qualities to look for. She wrote it with women in mind but it is true for men too, for everyone, gay or straight. Love is love is love. I could not improve on her list so here it is, in its entirety:

It’s not just how you feel about him. It’s about how he makes you feel about yourself.

It’s not about losing yourself in him. It’s about becoming true to yourself with him.

It’s not about how great he is. It’s about how great you can become along side him.

It’s not about how much you love him. It’s about how much he helps you love yourself.

It’s not about his finding room in his heart for you. It’s about his finding room in his life for your energy, drive, ambition, passions and interests.

It’s not just about how good he is deep down. It’s about how you experience his goodness as you live your life together.

It’s not about how he makes you hungry to be with him. It’s about how much he makes you feel at home when you are with him.

It’s not about the love you share. It’s about your ability to fully, equally, deeply share your life together.

It’s about falling in like.

Photo courtesy James P. Wells via Flickr



 

 

 

 

 

Worrier Without a Cause



Last night I woke up with a start, like being zapped by a charge of static electricity. Suddenly, at 2:00am, I was fully awake.

“Ah, s*%&,” I mumbled. What the heck had woken me up? Clearly I was worried, because I had the signs: My heart was beating fast and my breathing was shallow. But what was I worried about?

Blinking into the dark I sifted through all the possible things I could be worried about. The kids? No, they were doing great. The husband? Nope, he was good, too. Work? Work was incredibly busy but all t’s were crossed and i’s dotted there. So what was worrying me?

By now you may have caught the insanity of my situation. Just because I was experiencing the symptoms of anxiety did I have to be worried about something? If I didn’t know what I was worried about right off the bat did that mean I was really worried? If a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? While we’re at it, what is the sound of one hand clapping?

Given enough time and enough adrenalin our silly, Neanderthal brains will come up with something to worry about. It’s like a law of thermodynamics.

Usually when we experience that crazy fight/flight response it is in reaction to a clear stimulus, like an unexpected letter from an attorney.

In contrast, there are those times when the fight/flight response happens first but our brains can’t just leave it there; we are compelled to nail it down with a reason for being. We think, “My heart is beating fast therefore I am worried, nervous, anxious.” A better, more mindful, reaction might be, “Hm, my heart is beating fast, isn’t that interesting? Let’s see if we can slow it down.”

Which is the conclusion I finally got to once I realized my brain was fishing for something to worry about. The danger was that if left unchecked it was bound to find something to give the anxiety cause, just as a toddler left unsupervised is destined to find the one uncapped Sharpie in the house and introduce it to the wall. It was time to shut the mind down with some deep breathing and relaxation.

7 Bogus Excuses People Give for Being Ingrates



Today my husband and I are celebrating our 27th wedding anniversary! Yes, we have actually been married 27 years! We are celebrating because despite the stress of life’s up and downs we have managed to keep respect for each other intact. Now that I think about it, we often say ‘thank you’ to one another, for a meal prepared, a timely phone call to say we’ll be late, for going to pick up the kid or just passing the salt. More than ‘I love you,’ I believe ‘thank you’ has been the phrase that has provided the daily, gentle wind beneath our wings all these years.

In my psychology practice I see couples for therapy and it never seizes to astound me how remarkably rude people can be to each other. The excuses Alisa Bowman of the “Happily Ever After Project.” lists below are sadly familiar to me because they are just the pitiful reasons spouses and partners give for depriving each other of the gift of gratitude. They don’t even realize what they are doing. It’s a kind of death by a thousand cuts. Part of couples counseling is helping people become aware of how they hurt each other in these small, daily ways and how to turn it around. I am happy to post Alisa’s seven bogus excuses here:

  1. “I shouldn’t have to thank my spouse for doing something he or she should be doing anyway.” Do you thank the person who bags your groceries? Do you thank your waitress for bringing your dinner to the table? Do you thank the fire fighter who gets your cat out of a tree? If so, you already are in the habit of thanking people for doing things they should be doing anyway. After all, these people are all getting paid to do these things. Your spouse doesn’t even get paid to wash the dishes, vacuum or cut the grass.
  2. “My spouse doesn’t thank me. Why should I thank him/her?” In the words of the venerable Dr. Phil, “How is that working for you?” Someone has to start being thankful. It might as well be you. And even if your spouse doesn’t thank you back, your gesture of gratefulness serves as positive reinforcement, so your spouse is more likely to do this task again. Gratitude is always a win-win.
  3. “But my spouse did it because he knew I was mad at him and not because he actually wanted to do it.” Think of how much emotional resistance your spouse overcame to perform this gesture. When your spouse is mad at you over something you didn’t do, is it easy or is it hard for you to perform a conciliatory gesture? It’s hard, right? It’s like running a dang marathon in 100-degree heat, isn’t it? It’s a gesture that is absolutely Thanks Worthy.
  4. “But my spouse only did it because I asked her to do it.” So your spouse did it to make you happy and not to make herself happy. That sounds like love to me.
  5. “But what my spouse did wasn’t a big deal.” It might not be a big deal to you, but it might be a very big deal to your spouse. More important, saying “thank you” isn’t a big deal, either. It’s just two words. You don’t even burn half a calorie to say them, and you can even do it with your eyes closed.
  6. “I already missed my opening. It’s too late to thank him now.” That’s like saying that it’s too late to send someone a belated birthday card. It’s not. I’ve sent people birthday cards months after their big days. They always appreciate the gesture. In fact, the later you are, the more meaningful the gesture can be.
  7. “She’s a big girl. She doesn’t need to be thanked.” That might be true, but why deny your spouse the opportunity to feel good?

Thank your spouse today.

Thank a stranger today.

Thank your kid today.

Thank a neighbor today.

I think you will find that the more thanks you give, the more happiness you will get.

Why do you avoid thanking your spouse and other people in your life? What is the road block? How has gratitude changed your relationships? What creative ways have you come up with to be more thankful? Who do you find easy to thank? Who do you find hard to thank? Why?

How Advertising Messes with Women’s Body Image



5+ Ways to Break Through Writer’s Block



Writer’s block is just another form of anxiety. There is nothing romantic or sexy about it. Don’t therapists say the first step to recovery is to admit you have a problem? It took me years to diagnose myself. Now that I have, I can’t believe how obvious it was! Why wasn’t I writing my book, the one I’ve been talking about for over three years? What kills me is that I write all the time. I write at work, I write at home, in the park and in the barn. I write everywhere, as long as the writing has nothing to do with what I lovingly call The Damn Book.

Writer’s block is a simple phobia, like fear of flying, or spiders or snakes. What am I afraid of writing The Damn Book? I’m still sort of figuring that out. There are theories (fear of success? Anxiety about being good enough?).  I’ll get back to you on that. For all practical purposes the Why doesn’t matter all that much. What matters is that I know something about treating anxiety. I know from panic attacks. It is a matter of applying all those years of knowledge and experience directly to writing TDB.

You know about my business/marketing coach, Steve of SmackSmog. He has a nice way of pushing me when I am just a few feet away from the finish line and about to choke. He suggested I come up with a writing schedule that will realistically work for me. Steve isn’t the first person to point out recently that I need to take more time for myself just to play, i.e. go to the barn to see Annie, otherwise I can slip into self-sabotage writing-wise. I thought hard about it and finally had some success on Monday morning. That afternoon I wrote to Steve about my day:

Dear Steve,

I will be reporting to you periodically because it helps me be accountable. No need to respond (but I do love the pep talks and your suggestions are always helpful).

Today was my first day of working on a writing schedule that will get me to the finish line and get TDB written. I wrote from 7:30-9:30AM. In that time I wrote over 5 pages of text. That is without over-editing.

When I first sat down at my desk I turned off the Internet connection, closed all other apps except for TextEdit, (the most simple form of word processing on the Mac, without distracting edit choices) left my phone on silent and downstairs, had my cup of coffee and a glass of water handy.

Interestingly, I was very anxious getting started, the kind of anxious I associate with getting into trouble, like paying a bill I should have paid a long time ago. This is what happens when I think of writing TDB. It’s like being haunted by a ghost. I didn’t let it stop me! For once I recognized how unreasonable it was. I stopped just long enough to deep breathe. Then I wrote through the anxiety. For fifteen minutes I forced my fingers to punch at the keyboard. My brain felt frozen like in those nightmares where you run through tar to get away from the monster. Normally scare me to death (I can’t write! This is all dreck!), but I kept writing. Eventually the words started coming easier, my brain thawed out and I found my groove.

This also helped:

1. I thought about and planned my writing time over the weekend. I resisted the temptation to actually write on TDB, and instead just thought about it. I decided I wanted to write about what happens when it’s not you who needs therapy but someone you care about. Great topic.

2. After looking at my schedule for the summer I set the time earlier so that I could have time to see Annie and be available for the kids. I cut the writing time from three hours to two. I think that will work as long as I plan the topic/subject to write about beforehand, which primes the pump.

3. I got up an hour earlier and got my exercise in. If I exercise first I settle down easier.

4. I put a pad of paper on the desk. At first I was so distractible (the anxiety) that I had to tell myself “It’s just two hours, whatever it is, it can wait two hours.” Anything that wouldn’t leave my head I wrote down on the pad of paper and went back to writing.

5. I wrote over the weekend but kept it to the blogs. I actually started writing on My Horse Is My Therapist which I’ve neglected since February! I need to keep the blog and TDB separate. I know a lot of writers use their blog to write their book. It’s not going to work that way for me.

According to my files I haven’t touched the TDB since March! It feels good to break through the entropy. I am hopeful that this (treating my resistance to writing TDB as a simple phobia) is what I need to get to the finish line. I’m looking forward to Friday.

Warmest,

Your favorite client ;-)

 

12 Habits to Encourage a Good Night’s Sleep



Courtesy of ParanoidMonk via Flickr

Experts agree that sleep is right up there with eating and physical activity when it comes to taking care of our mental and physical functioning.  Lack of sleep is suspected of causing everything from increases in accidental death to obesity. So why are we so clueless when it comes to proper sleep hygiene?

Maybe it’s because the pressure is on to get away with as little sleep as possible. You don’t have to be the parent of a newborn to be sleep deprived. With 24/7 Internet access through our smartphones, round the clock entertainment through cable television, Netflix and Hulu, a global business environment that means staying up long enough to talk with Tokyo, lack of sleep is an equal opportunity malady.

How do you know you are getting enough sleep? If most days of the week you wake up before your alarm does, you are doing pretty well.

For the rest of us a reminder of good sleep hygiene (another way of saying healthy sleep habits) may help. I can always do with a good review:

1. Establish a regular sleep schedule and try to stick to it, even on the weekends, yup, even on the weekends, give or take a half hour but not more. If you usually need to get up at 7:00 in the morning, count back eight hours to establish your target ‘go to bed’ time. If you “sleep in” for hours on your days off you are voluntarily giving yourself what amounts to jet lag.

2. If you nap during the day, limit it to 20 minutes or 30 minutes, preferably early in the afternoon. Sleeping too much during the day (unless you work the third shift) may be a sign of sleep apnea.

3. Avoid alcohol in the evening, as it can disrupt sleep. You know the drill. Three ounces of wine or 8 of beer with dinner tops! Don’t kid yourself and push for more.

4. Don’t eat a big meal just before bed-time, but don’t go to bed starving, either. If your stomach is growling eat a light snack before bed. Stick with complex carbohydrates, like cereal, or white fruit, like an apple.

5. If you use medications that are stimulants, take them in the morning, or ask your doctor if you can switch to a non-stimulating alternative. If you use drugs that cause drowsiness, take them in the evening. I know this sounds like a big “Duh!” but you’d be amazed how many of the meds we take over the counter have stimulants in them. Excedrin, for instance, and some allergy relief medication can cause wakefulness. If nightmares are keeping you up, ask your doctor if they may be a side effect of your medication.

6. Get regular exercise during the day, but avoid vigorous exercise within three hours of bedtime. Just walking for 15 minutes every day could do the trick.

7. If pressing thoughts interfere with falling asleep, write them down (keep a pad and pen next to the bed) and try to forget about them until morning. Imagine literally pulling the thoughts out of your head and placing them on the paper. There is nothing you can do about that job application at 3:00 in the morning.

8. If you are frequently awakened by a need to use the bath room cut down on fluids four hours or so before going to bed.

9. If you smoke, quit. Nicotine is a stimulant and can cause nightmares. Yeah, I know, how easily said. I’m sorry if you are a smoker and have tried to quit a million times. Please, try one more time.

10. Avoid beverages and foods with caffeine for at least six hours before your bedtime. That means decaf too, and foods and beverages with other stimulating active ingredients like chocolate.

11. Take a good look at your sleep environment. Is it soothing? Are the sheets on your bed soft, clean? Are the lights low (imitating camp fire) or overhead (like the sun, hello!). Do you have a TV in your bedroom? Experts advise you take the TV out and read a light book instead. If you must watch TV before sleeping avoid the news and go for re-runs of a familiar comedy. Leave your smartphone as far away from your bed as possible.

12. About half an hour before you hope to be asleep start your go to bed ritual. Keep to the same ritual as closely as you can every night. Our bodies are creatures of habit. If every night you check the house, then the kids, then brush your teeth, then pajamas, then bed and a little light reading, your body gets the signal, “Hey, it’s time to sleep! Release the melatonin!”

I’m getting a little drowsy just writing this!

4 Rules That Will Change Your Life, by Tina Fey



At my house Tina Fey is popular. I liked her back in the day, when she was Weekend Update anchor on SNL and REALLY liked her when I found out she was a writer who was strong armed by Lorne Michaels to get in front of the camera. We enjoyed 30 Rock way before it became popular. When Tina Fey accepted her first Emmy she said, “Thank you to all our viewers out there. All twelve of you!” My family was 33% of her audience. The college of his choice asked my son to write an application essay on “who, living or dead, would you like to spend an afternoon with and where would you take them?” Did he choose to take Akira Kurosawa to the East Village to check out the latest in independent film? No. He wrote, “I’d ask Tina Fey to spend the afternoon with me at Wegman’s.” My boy!

So of course I had to snatch up Tina’s book, Bossypants, first chance I had, on impulse at Target where I had gone for a lamp. Tina earned her show biz ‘cred’ at The Second City in Chicago, the theatrical incubator that produced John Belushi, Steven Colbert, Steve Corell and a million other wildly creative and successful people. Second City is all about improvisation, performing sketches without the support of a script. Tina says she learned important life lessons from improve. Just for fun, because it’s the weekend and “lighten up” time, here are Tina’s Rules with commentary from me:

Rule #1. AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES. When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun,” and you say, “That’s not a gun. It’s your finger. You’re pointing you finger at me.,” our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if I say, “Freeze, I have a gun!” and you say, “The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!” then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun.

Now obviously in real life you’re not always going to agree with everything everyone says. But the Rule of Agreement reminds you to “respect what your partner has created” and to at least start from an open-minded place. Start with a YES and see where that takes you.

Because my husband is a show-me-the-proof scientist it is sometimes hard for him to follow this rule. When we were first married I would say something like, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a little pied-a-terre in Manhattan?” he’d respond, “You know we can’t possible afford that,” as if I were about to call up Donald Trump that minute to ask if he had any extra space in his Tower! Having kids has expanded his thinking to allow more Yes. With kids fingers are always something other than actual fingers. They are rayguns, or dinosaur claws or beams of sunshine or flower petals. The only response to that is, “Yes, of course!”

Rule #2. Say YES, AND. You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own. If I start a scene with “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “Yeah…” we’re kind of at a standstill. But if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “What did you expect? We’re in hell” or “Yes, this can’t be good for the wax figures” now we’re getting somewhere.

To me YES, AND means don’t be afraid to contribute. It’s your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile.

Just the other day, my husband and I were walking in the Conservatory Garden in Central Park. I sighed and said, “There are so many places in New York that I love. If you could live anywhere in Manhattan, where would it be?” I was taking a chance because make believe isn’t my husbands strong suit (see above). He delighted me by pointing to the top floor of a high rise on Fifth Avenue. He said, “Right up there so that I could see this garden every day.” Progress!

Rule #3. MAKE STATEMENTS. This is a positive way of saying “Don’t ask questions all the time.” If we’re in a scene and I say, “Who are you? Where are we?” “What’s in the box?” I am putting pressure on you to come up with the answers.

In other words: Whatever the problem be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles. We’ve all worked with that person. That person is a drag.

A pet peeve of mine (I have so many) is when people talk in question mode when they mean to make a statement. “I used to be a lawyer? But now I’m a stand up comedian?” Arg!

Rule #4. THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, only opportunities. If I start a scene as what I think is very clearly a cop riding a bicycle, but you think I’m a hamster in a hamster wheel, guess what? Now I’m a hamster in a hamster wheel. Who knows? Maybe I’ll end up being a police hamster who’s been put on “hamster wheel” duty because I’m “too much of a loose canon” in the field. In improv there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents. And many of the world’s greatest discoveries have been by accident.

Thomas Edison famously said he did not fail to make a lightbulb 1000 times. He simply learned 1000 ways NOT to make a lightbulb. For most of us, when we feel like we’ve made a colossal mistake, we want to distance ourselves from it as soon as possible. It takes a cool head to stick with it long enough to get beyond the mistake and find the lesson, opportunity or discovery that it is waiting to be revealed!

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