So much of how we operate as human beings is habitual. There are habits of how you get ready in the morning, of your movement, of how and what you eat, of how you spend your free time, etc. You even have habits of thinking! Typically, you operate from these places of habit on autopilot, without much awareness.
Most people try to change their habits at one time or another. It goes something like this for many… At some point, it becomes apparent to you that a habit is not working anymore, or it's not aligned with how you want to live, or it’s getting in the way of you functioning well. You decide to change it. You try to eliminate it, and after a few days or a week, you discover that it’s quite challenging. Maybe you do okay for a day or two and then slip back into that familiar way of being. You feel frustrated and maybe even give up…. If this has been your experience, you’re not alone. It is often the case that when you want to change a habit, there is a sense of urgency, often followed by disappointment and frustration when things don’t go the way you want quickly.
When you set out to change a habit, it may be the case that you’ve taken on too big of a task at once. It can be quite helpful to create small (tiny, even) concrete steps to focus on as you move toward changing a behavior or a habit. Commit to each step for a month, maybe even two, or three. For changes to integrate and be sustainable, the brain and nervous system need a lot of practice and repetition. A lot. Once a step feels like it is integrated and close to autopilot, it may be time to move on to the next step, and so on. Tread lightly and patiently.
While you’re in the process of changing an unwanted habit, challenging feelings will likely come up. It is important to recognize these feelings when they arise and name them. Naming how we feel lessens the intensity of the feeling. You may also choose to take some full, deep breaths and feel your feet on the ground as you practice being with your feelings. Remember to be gentle with yourself. This habit had served a purpose.
Another aspect of habit change that’s important is to choose a wholesome habit to cultivate as you decrease an unwholesome/unwanted one. It’s valuable to add a habit that feels joyful, meaningful or helps you thrive. In the same spirit as changing an unwanted habit, when you choose a wholesome habit to develop, create small, concrete steps to follow. Take one step at a time and be patient.
Changing a habit on your own can feel challenging and overwhelming. I invite you to contact me for support. You don’t have to do this alone.
This culture's focus on productivity and busyness seems to dismiss the value, necessity and benefit of solid, restful sleep.
Sleep is one of the foundations of well-being. Yet, many teenagers, young adults, and adults are sleeping far fewer hours than is recommended.
If you're feeling tired during the day, or are sleeping six or fewer hours a night, you may want to see a physician to make sure you're well medically. Also, consider choosing one of the tips* below to focus on for the next month so that you can potentially increase the quality of your sleep.
1. Stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends. This helps to regulate your body's clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
2. Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate your sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety which can make it more difficult to fall asleep, get sound and deep sleep or remain asleep.
3. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid naps, especially in the afternoon. Power napping may help you get through the day, but if you find that you can't fall asleep at bedtime, eliminating even short catnaps may help.
4. Exercise daily. Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity. Exercise at any time of day, but not at the expense of your sleep.
5. Evaluate your room. Design your sleep environment to establish the conditions you need for sleep. Your bedroom should be cool – between 60 and 67 degrees. Your bedroom should also be free from any noise that can disturb your sleep. Finally, your bedroom should be free from any light. Check your room for noises or other distractions. This includes a bed partner's sleep disruptions such as snoring. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, "white noise" machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices.
6. Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows. Make sure your mattress is comfortable and supportive. The one you have been using for years may have exceeded its life expectancy – about 9 or 10 years for most good quality mattresses. Have comfortable pillows and make the room attractive and inviting for sleep but also free of allergens that might affect you and objects that might cause you to slip or fall if you have to get up during the night.
7. Use bright light to help manage your circadian rhythms. Avoid bright light in the evening and expose yourself to sunlight in the morning. This will keep your circadian rhythms in check.
8. Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals in the evening. Alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine can disrupt sleep. Eating big or spicy meals can cause discomfort from indigestion that can make it hard to sleep. If you can, avoid eating large meals for two to three hours before bedtime. Try a light snack 45 minutes before bed if you’re still hungry.
9. Wind down. Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading. For some people, using an electronic device such as a laptop can make it hard to fall asleep, because the particular type of light emanating from the screens of these devices is activating to the brain. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid electronics before bed or in the middle of the night.
10. If you can't sleep, go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired. It is best to take work materials, computers and televisions out of the sleeping environment. Use your bed only for sleep and sex to strengthen the association between bed and sleep. If you associate a particular activity or item with anxiety about sleeping, omit it from your bedtime routine.
11. If you’re still having trouble sleeping, don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor or to find a sleep professional. You may also benefit from recording your sleep in a sleep diary to help you better evaluate common patterns or issues you may see with your sleep or sleeping habits.
* Tips provided courtesy of the National Sleep Foundation
I had the pleasure and honor of being on my good friend's radio show, Radical Advice this week. The show is live on Tuesdays from 10:00a-12:00p on www.bff.fm and each episode is archived into the iTunes podcast app. Check out the episode, during which we practiced and talked about mindfulness, listened to some music and answered listeners' questions. Find this episode in the October 2017 archives in Itunes.
These days, all of us are communicating in various ways, all the time, with many different people. It may be face to face, on the phone, via email or text, or through social media.
When you feel negatively affected by what someone communicates to you, your emotions come to the forefront to protect you. As a side effect, your response may be less skillful and affect the other person negatively. This can lead to an escalation and prolong the negative feelings cycle.
Below is an acronym that can be useful to practice whenever you are communicating with anyone, via any medium. It can help you be more kind, clear, considerate and respectful in your message. It is often helpful to pause, take a breath and check in with yourself prior to your actions.
Before you speak, text, type and/or post, consider:
T. Is what you’re communicating true? Are you stating a fact or more your opinion or feeling about something? Check in with yourself and be clear.
H. Is what you’re communicating helpful? Are you helping the other person, yourself or the situation?
I. Is what you’re communicating important? How important is it and to whom? Is this something that can wait?
N. Is it necessary? Check out whether whatever you want to communicate is better left unsaid, or maybe you could benefit from giving yourself some space before you communicate this thing.
K. Is it kind? Check in about why you’re communicating. What’s your intention and purpose for this communication at this time? Will it be of benefit to you, the other person, the relationship? Is what you’re about to say skillful, respectful and thoughtful?
T.H.I.N.K. is based on a concept originally presented in the 1930s by Herbert J. Taylor
Many conversations I've had personally and professionally have led to discussing "self-compassion." It often lands heavily in people and a typical response is a lack of knowing how to be compassionate for oneself. Some of the most kind and generous people I know are the toughest on themselves.
Self-compassion may sound like an ominous or unrealistic feat, but perhaps it is possible to shift perspective, even a little. Merriam-Webster defines compassion as, "a feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, etc." Adding the "self," I suggest the following definition: a feeling of wanting to take care of myself when I'm sick, hungry, in trouble, etc. This seems like it may be a slightly less daunting. Perhaps just the intention of wanting to help is enough.
Aspects of compassion may include feelings of generosity, honesty, patience, kindness, and tolerance. I wonder if some ease can be found if "self-compassion" is replaced in the mind by a gentle intention such as, "May I be patient with myself right now," or "May I tolerate myself in this moment." The invitation is for this to be a well-wish for yourself rather than an expectation or demand.
If you're interested in investigating this practice in your life, I suggest starting with something that isn't very difficult or intense.
Often, it is helpful to get support when learning new coping skills such as this one. Contact me for a free consultation or to set up an appointment.
Many of us feel very busy most, if not all of the time. Recently, a comment from a pre-teen jarred me a bit. "I'm sorry I haven't called you. I've been really busy." It was a little amusing and then I found myself thinking about how this young man hears adults in his life say this, and it may be true as well, that he is busy. How can adults model and help cultivate a sense of slowing down for themselves and the young people in their lives?
One idea is to have a moment of awareness at the start and end of each day. When the alarm goes off, check in with what the mind is up to right away. Do you pick up your device and start working or interacting with others immediately? Are you already in meetings and/or rushing through the day? Perhaps take a moment to realize that you're still in your bed. The invitation here is to take an intentional breath or two before you get out of bed and start your day.
When you land back in your bed at the end of the day, perhaps turn off your device and take a few deep, intentional, aware breaths before you close your eyes and rest.
These simple practices may help start and end your day with a moment of connection, with yourself.
Want to learn more and get support around slowing down and developing more balance in your life? Call or text me for a free consultation: 415-533-0405.
Last week, I had an opportunity to speak to a group of parents at a high school here in San Francisco.
It was a privilege to meet some of the parents and get to share some knowledge and ideas about teens and self-esteem.
During the presentation, I spoke about adolescent brain development, using some of the information from Daniel J. Siegel's work. So much is going on in a teen's brain and body at the same time!
As a group, we brainstormed a definition for self-esteem, as well as qualities of high and low self-esteem.
I also shared with the group some components that contribute to self-esteem, such as the home environment, community and the teen's own thoughts, feelings and perceptions.
The presentation ended with some tips for parents on what they can do to help teens develop and access high self-esteem qualities.
I appreciated the participation and engagement of the parents, teachers and students who were in attendance. I am grateful to have been invited to speak.
I am hopeful I will have another opportunity to continue to connect with parents and teens at this and other high schools in San Francisco.