Tag Archives: edmonton

Self-Compassion

Self-compassion is one of the most important ways to improve our relationship with ourselves.

Society has taught us to be perfect, work harder, achieve more,  and be the best at everything we do.  While it is great to have goals in life to help us grow and develop, unfortunately, many people struggle with not knowing when to stop and are constantly self-critical.  When our self worth depends on being “better” than others, we become anxious, insecure, and self critical.  This competition and frequent self judgement, can lead to social isolation.  This self-criticism gets in the way of our brain’s social wiring goals – which is to belong and be loved.

Self-compassion is not artificially boosting ourselves up, being too easy on ourselves, or giving up.  It is the actually the opposite – the source of learning, empowerment and inner strength.  Our performance after failure can also be improved through self-compassion, and it helps us maintain peace of mind throughout the day.  

Kristen Neff, one of the leading researchers and practitioners in the field of Self-Compassion says, “Self-compassion soothes the mind like a loving friend who’s willing to listen to our difficulties without giving advice, until we can sort out our problems for ourselves.” 

Self-compassion involves facing mistakes, failure or insecurity in a different way.  Self-compassion involves treating yourself with the same support, kindness, and concern you would show to a child, loved one or close friend.  When facing with struggles in life (which we all experience), self-compassion involves responding with kindness rather than harshness and judgement.  For example, “Mallory, that sucks you are struggling with feeling left out of the group.  That feeling is normal and many people feel the same way.”  I like to use my name my self-compassion statements (see my tips on positive self talk).  If you would like to learn more about self-compassion, here is a Ted Talk by Kristen Neff I strongly recommend seeing.

Kristin Neff also has some free guided Loving Kindness Meditations as well – that are a great way to learn how to speak to ourselves differently, especially if you have no idea where to start.

And finally, here is a Self Compassion Exercise that I use with clients and myself, to practise self compassion.  It often does not come naturally, so we need to have a script to repeat to ourselves – until it becomes automatic.  If self-compassion is something you want to work on in your life, I often suggest practising either a meditation, repeating your own personalized self-compassion scripts (set an alarm), and use the worksheet – and then personalize the worksheet to situations in your life that you are currently facing (feel free to get some ideas from family and friends too).

Week 7: Improving Our Relationship With Ourself

A critical part to the Healthier You program, and something I work with almost ALL OF MY CLIENTS on, is improving our relationship with ourself – starting with changing the way we evaluate our worth.  There are many factors that influence how we evaluate our worth including:

  • Societal values
  • Family values
  • Our experience growing up
  • Pressures such as perfectionism, capitalism and the focus on beauty
  • Need for approval
  • Need for control

One thing we know in psychology, is that people tend to be happier, have less psychological issues such as anxiety and depression, and have a steadier positive experience throughout life when they use INTRINSIC VALUES to evaluate themselves, vs EXTRINSIC VALUES.

EXTRINSIC VALUES (the ones we want to be weary of using) includes factors such as achievements, compliments, approval, and social media responses.  There is a big difference of using EXTRINSIC VALUES as a motivator or goal versus using them to evaluate one’s worth.  A common problem people experience when using extrinsic values to evaluate themselves, is they can be doing everything well, and not be getting the feedback they need.  Extrinsic values are often out of our control and we don’t get accurate feedback because we rely on others – such as a boss (who may not be good at giving positive feedback), society (that often has ulterior motives such as to sell us something), or an arbitrary assessment (such as a test that focuses on a small proportion of your knowledge).  The key message is:

WE ARE MORE THAN OUR ACHIEVEMENTS, JOB, MONEY, ATTRACTIVENESS TO OTHERS, POPULARITY, and STATUS.

 

So………what are INTRINSIC VALUES and how do we incorporate them in our lives?

INTRINSIC VALUES are values that tell us about who we are.  These values are typically consistent throughout our adult lives (and often developing in childhood and adolescence).  There is no intrinsic value that is better than the other.  Here is a Intrinsic Values worksheet that I give out to help prompt thinking.  There are many more values a person can use – but Intrinsic Values list will help you get started.

 

Activity

From the list, choose 5-10 values that are true to you.  This may take a few read overs to go from a larger list to a smaller list.  

A way to tell a true value vs. “nice to have traits” is that if you were to get $500 000 to no longer have that value, would you take the money?  For example, I like being tidy and I know society values it (and those around me), but I would take the money to no longer be tidy.  However, I would not take the money to no longer be kind, helpful or hardworking.  So these are my true values.  Also be aware of the pull towards values that society values – that may not be as true to you.  

Societal values are constantly changing – and remember, this is about finding your own PERSONALIZED values, that tell us about what influences your thoughts, feelings and behaviors.  

Questions to Ponder

  • After looking at the list, is this someone you would want to be friends with?
  • Does this give you any new perspective about why you enjoy certain people, and why others seem not to be a good fit in your life?
  • Do your values give you any new deeper insight about a value conflict when you have been upset or hurt?

Incorporating INTRINSIC VALUES Into Your Life

  • Each week or two (set an alarm), rate yourself from a scale of 1-10 of how much you incorporated these values into your life.  A lower score does not indicate poor performance, it means that may be a value that may need expressing or nurturing in the next coming weeks.  Likewise a 10 does not mean perfection, it means you utilized that trait highly during that time period.
  • The above activity is also good to do when you are feeling down or upset.  If you are upset with another person, focus on yourself, and notice what the situation says about you, rather than being judgemental of someone else.  
  • When working on a new goal, such as a healthier lifestyle, studying for a new career, or trying something new, be extra purposeful of using these INTRINSIC VALUES along side when evaluating progress.  For example, put a sticky note with your values on the scale to prompt you.

Week 4 – Happiness and Living Life With Intention

 

This week’s Healthier You Program, we are working on advancing the understanding of mindfulness while being more exploratory and experiential.  (AKA – Let’s Play!)

 
Step 1: Watch this Ted talk: 
(it is about 10 minutes long)
 
Step 2: Go for outside either for a walk, or sit on your backyard deck.
 
Step 3: See if you notice anything differently after watching this video that you have not noticed before.  It could be more detail in an image.  A touch (i.e.. the wind)   How the trees are moving.  A smell.  A sound.  Anything that catches your attention.
 
Step 4: Take 3 pictures each of 3 different things you notice around you that you normally don’t pay attention to
 
* You can do this exercise as a family, couple or individually (but please discuss your experiences together and share your photos with one another).
 
 
 Happy Experiencing!
 

Week 3 – Identifying & Navigating Through Potential Roadblocks

An important step in making healthy lifestyle changes for the long term, (that most people don’t do), is to identify the roadblocks that may limit success.  When introducing an exercise program and a more active lifestyle, it is easy to get derailed and go back to what feels comfortable – especially when a person is tired or has something more appealing they would like to do (Edmonton Oilers game anyone?) 

When it comes to healthy eating, it is often even easier to experience a lapse, as unhealthy tempting options are everywhere – especially because we know through research, that humans only have so much will power.  This is why it is very important to have an honest discussion with yourself – what have been the reasons in the past that I have stopped my healthy changes?  

When other people are around, is it difficult to not follow the crowd?  When you are tired, do you tend to go for the unhealthier choices?  Do you get bored and unstimulated, and stop your routine?  Are you a poor planner – and when life gets busy, you tend opt for unhealthy convenience?  Do you not make yourself a priority and have a difficult time setting boundaries for yourself?  

These questions need to be constantly evaluated.  Most people experience lapses from time to time when making healthy lifestyle changes.  However, it is important to be aware of these roadblocks, and preplan what you will do to prevent them from being ongoing excuses.  Catching a lapse, or even preventing a lapse – ultimately PREVENTS A RELAPSE.  

  • Note – a lapse is temporarily reverting to previous behaviour (i.e. poor eating and not exercise during christmas holidays).  A relapse is a long-term regression to previous behaviour.

Here is a Common Eating Roadblocks handout I use to discuss common barriers to success.  It is also helpful for people to make a similar own personal handout for their own healthy eating roadblocks as well as exercise roadblocks.

Week 2 – How to Create a Mindfulness Practice – With Food, Life and Relationships

If you had an opportunity to take a pill, that would have many benefits including:

  • Decreases stress
  • Improves cognitive function
  • Increases the brains ability to control emotions and decreases reactivity
  • Improves sleep
  • Increases our immune system
  • Decreases risk and severity of depression & anxiety
  • Decreases blood pressure, and decrease risk of stroke & heart attack
  • Increases brain neuroplasticity – the brains ability to change
  • Increases brain gray matter – which is related to slowed brain aging and increased memory and concentration
  • Improves relationship satisfaction, improves responses to conflict, improves empathy and acceptance of ones partner, and promotes attachment
  • Reduces pain intensity and unpleasantness

How much would you pay for this pill? The bad news is that a pill doesn’t exist – but the good news is there is a mental exercise that can give you these benefits – called Mindfulness.

Mindfullness is complex to describe – but imagine yourself sitting near a river and watching the flowing water. Mindfulness is watching the flow of thoughts, feelings, ideas, judgments and habits as they come and go. Mindfulness is really about where your mind places your attention – and with practice, it gives you move control over emotions, thoughts and experiences. For example, when playing with kids or a pet, is your mind in the moment, or are you thinking or things you still need to complete today?

A great exercise to try to see how mindLESS we can be, particularly with food, is this mindfulness exercise:

(Make sure you have a healthy food item available such as a strawberry)

Now, I know it would take forever to eat a meal with this approach.  But it truly shows us how much we miss in our day-to-day eating. We miss pleasure – intense flavors, beautiful shapes and details, and delightful smells.  These queues are very important in signaling to our brain that we are full and satisfied.

We can apply mindfulness also to our every day activities.  I developed the below mindfulness handout with information, and ideas for incorporating mindfulness into your daily life.  How many of these tips are you willing to try?

Mallory’s Mindfullness Handout

(click on the above link for the handout)

 

Audio Mindfulness Exercise Adapted from:  Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn (2007). The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness. New York: Guilford Press.

A Little More Conversation: Relationship Communication Tips

 

You’ve probably heard people say before that no  is perfect; that no matter how compatible two individuals are, behind every lasting couple is a large amount of hard work.  Possibly the most important kind of ‘hard work’ that gets done in good relationships is quality communication.

Author Fyodor Dostoyevsky once remarked that “much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid”.  Similarly, a 2013 study examining which interpersonal skills were most predictive of romantic relationship success found communication to be the most significant predictor examined; that is, communication skills were more important in relationship maintenance than were conflict resolution skills, knowledge of one’s partner, life skills, self management, sex and romance, and stress management.

In some ways, we’re more connected now than ever before . The ubiquity of social media, email, and text messaging has created a world in which our loved ones are constantly reachable at the press of a button; as a result, many people would likely argue that communication isn’t an issue in their relationships.  However, some argue that quality is more important than quantity in determining relationship success: if we can’t communicate about the tough stuff and the heavy stuff, we may as well not be communicating at all.  We live in an interesting time, romantically speaking: divorce rates are high, people are getting married at a later age, and social media and the internet have made meeting potential partners almost as easy as going grocery shopping.  The lucky among us will find people with whom they want to spend their time long-term, but even perfect couples can run into stumbling blocks when it comes to communication.

So what is a well-meaning couple to do if quality communication seems awkward, embarrassing, daunting, or simply impossible? Luckily, psychologists have been studying this very subject for many years, and a few significant findings exist that just might be of use in your love life:

Stay positive: A 2006 study found that the more positively spouses reacted to each other’s good news, the better their relationships tended to fare over time. This advice is fairly intuitive: if you act positive and happy most of the time (and especially in relation to the events transpiring in your partner’s life), your relationship is more likely to have an overall positive tone.  Of course, this doesn’t mean that you have to act like Pollyanna when you feel like crying (honesty, after all, is another important facet of partner communication); it simply means that erring on the side of positivity is generally a healthy relationship communication tactic.

Listen first, talk second: When your partner is telling a story, expressing a point of view, or explaining something to you, try not to be forming your next rebuttal while they’re speaking.  Listening with your complete attention is one of the most important relationship communication skills – after all, it’s pretty easy to tell when somebody is waiting for their turn to talk rather than listening.  If you love your partner, you should value what they have to say equally or more than you value what you have to say.

Argue smarter: Contrary to popular opinion, it’s okay to fight or argue in your relationship – in fact, conflict can actually be a good sign that you’re addressing issues rather than burying them. When you find yourself in a dispute, though, there are a few ways to ensure the conversation goes as productively as possible. A good way to convey that you understand what your partner is trying to communicate is to repeat back what they’ve said to you, but paraphrased. For example, if your girlfriend has just finished a five-minute rant about your laziness around the house, try replying something like “I get that you feel like I haven’t been pulling my weight”. You don’t have to agree with her, but simply acknowledging that you understand her point of view can go a long way.

Make time for each other: We all lead busy lives, and especially if you and your partner have children or have different schedules, quality time together can often fall by the wayside.  Notice when this happens, and communicate to each other that you want to plan to spend an evening doing something fun together or just enjoying each other’s company. Remembering why you fell for your partner in the first place (and telling them that you remember) can be powerful.

Share your feelings: This one might sound obvious, but it may not be for some people: it’s important to tell your partner what you’re feeling, both when those feelings are positive and when they’re tougher to express.  Tell your partner when you’re having a good time spending the day with them; equally, tell your partner when you’re feeling down.  Your romantic partner should be the person who is most privy to your feelings, mainly because they are likely going to be the person most able to augment the good emotions and alleviate the pain of the bad.  Of course, you don’t have to tell them literally everything that passes through your head, but sharing how you feel can go a long way towards building a sense of connection and safety.

No buts allowed: Try to avoid the word ‘but’ when arguing or apologizing – as in “I’m sorry, but…”. This tiny word is a powerful weapon that, whether used intentionally or unintentionally, does wonders to undermine the level of respect you’re conveying towards your partner.

Whether you’re married, dating, or single, it’s important to gain a quality understanding of relationship communication skills and to continue building on your existing skills over time. Love isn’t always easy, but most of us would likely agree: the work is worth it.

If you would like to learn more about effective communication for your relationship, contact us for an appointment.