Tag Archives: healthy relationship

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.

Weeks 5 & 6 – Decluttering the Mind: Changing Negative Self-Talk to Something Helpful

 

Negative Self-Talk

The way your talk to yourself in your mind, otherwise known as self-talk, can have a major impact on your life, from your confidence to your choices. Research has shown that most of our self-talk is negative, and is working against us rather than helping us. These negative thoughts often create feelings of frustration, irritation, anger, hopelessness and disappointment.

 

WHAT IS ‘SELF-TALK’?

Even though you might not always be aware of it, we all have self-talk. Self-talk is a positive or negative running commentary about life. Typically, our self-talk happens without us noticing because we are often on ‘auto-pilot’ or that we are so accustomed to our thinking that we don’t reflect on how our thoughts are influencing us.

 

Changing Your Negative Self-Talk Can Help You to:

  • Feel better about yourself
  • Boost your confidence
  • Improve your social life
  • Feel more in control of your life
  • Be more optimistic and effective in life
  • Improve athletic performance (researchers found 11-15% improvement with positive self talk)
  • Improves academic performance
  • Decrease school and work absences

 

Tips

  • Self-talk works best when it is scripted ahead of time and practiced.
  • What works for each person is a matter of personal preference – so make sure your new changes are personalized for you.
  • Addressing yourself by name is found to be more powerful than ‘I’ statements – (i.e. Mallory, you are going to have a good bike ride, all you need to do is start).

 

Negative Self-Talk Personalities

 

 

 

  1.  The Worrier

…. creates anxiety by imagining the worst-case scenario and scares you with ideas of upcoming disaster. The worrier often over-reacts to the first physical symptoms of panic (such as sweaty palms, tightening chest or increased heart rate) and recycles thinking of over-exaggerated fears. The worrier is always vigilant and watching with uneasy anticipation for any tiny sign that trouble is ahead. It over-estimates the odds that something bad or embarrassing will happen and imagines scenes of failure and disaster. The worrier’s favorite expression is “what if…” Our self-talk from the worrier’s perspective will say “Oh no! My chest feels tight. What if I panic, and lose control.” “What if I’m alone and there is no one around to help me?” What if I do something that is really embarrassing?” This fear can immobilize a person and keep them from really living, because of the anxiety that it produces.

 

2.  The Critic

…is the part of you that is constantly judging and evaluating your behavior and promotes a low self-esteem. It tends to point out your flaws and shortcomings at every opportunity. It emphasizes your mistakes and reminds you that you are a failure. It tends to ignore your positive qualities and emphasizes your weaknesses and shortcomings at an unproportional amount. The critic generates anxiety by putting you down for not being able to handle your symptoms of fear or anxiety, for not being able to go places that you previously were able to go, or for having to rely on someone else. It also loves to compare you to others with you always falling short. The critic’s favorite expressions are: “What a disappointment you are!”, “That was stupid”, “Can’t you ever get it right?”, “I am unworthy of others”, or “I am not good enough”.

 

3.  The Perfectionist

…is a close cousin to the critic because it is less concerned about putting you down, but relentlessly tries to push you to do better, and is rarely satisfied. It promotes chronic stress and burnout. It keeps reminding you that you can always do better and you should be working harder, your efforts are not good enough, you should always be pleasing, competent, and should always have everything under control. The critic’s favorite expressions are: “I should… I have to …”. It wants you to be the best and is intolerant of mistakes or setbacks. It tries to convince you that your self-worth is dependent on external indicators such as : work/school/job achievement, money, status, acceptance by others, or the ability to please others. The perfectionist pushes you into stress, exhaustion and burnout.

 

4.  The Victim

…is the part of you that feels helpless or hopeless and promotes depression.  It believes that there is something inherently wrong with you, and there must be something deprived, defective or unworthy about you.  It generates anxiety by assuming that you will never be cured, and assumes the road to recovery is way too steep because you are not making any progress. Victims feel as you are stuck and things will never change, no matter what you do. The victim’s favorite expression is: “I can’t”, and “I never will be able to”. “I have had this problem too long and I will never get better”, “I’ve tried everything and nothing ever seems to work.”

 

Countering Negative Self-Talk

The best way to stop the effects of negative self-talk is to counter it with positive, self-compassionate, and supportive statements. It starts by writing down and rehearsing statements that directly refute and invalidate your negative self-talk.  Remember, your negative, anxiety producing, self-statements have been reinforced for years, and it will take some practice and time to get rid of them. You must slow down your automatic thoughts, and really pay close attention to what you are saying to yourself. These four sub-personalities will help you to decipher which is your favorite way to generate anxiety.

Some of your expressions are simply bad habits and you don’t want to be deceived by them any more. Some are deep seated and you still believe that they are true. You can weaken the hold of your negative self-statements by exposing them to the following questions:

What is the evidence for this?

Is it always true?

Has this always been true in the past?

What is the realistic percentage of this really happening?

What is the very worse that this could happen? What would you do if the worse did happen?

Are you looking at the whole picture?

Are you being completely objective?

 

After noticing the negative self-talk thoughts in your mind, another way to improve your headspace is to add positive coping thoughts. Examples of coping thoughts might be:

  • Stop, and breathe, I can do this
  • This will pass
  • I can be anxious/angry/sad and still deal with this
  • I have done this before, and I can do it again
  • This feels bad, it’s a normal body reaction – it will pass
  • This feels bad, and feelings are very often wrong
  • These are just feelings, they will go away
  • This won’t last forever
  • Short term pain for long term gain
  • I can feel bad and still choose to take a new and healthy direction
  • I don’t need to rush, I can take things slowly
  • I have survived before, I will survive now
  • I feel this way because of my past experiences, but I am safe right now
  • It’s okay to feel this way, it’s a normal reaction
  • Right now, I am not in danger. Right now, I’m safe
  • My mind is not always my friend
  • Thoughts are just thoughts – they’re not necessarily true or factual
  • This is difficult and uncomfortable, but it’s only temporary
  • I can use my coping skills and get through this
  • I can learn from this and it will be easier next time
  • Keep calm and carry on

 

 

Sources

“The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook” by Edmund J. Bourne, p. 164-168.

Helmstetter, 1982; Stranulis & Manning, 2002

 

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.

Healthier You Psychology Program – Week 1

Motivation, Defining Success, & Intro to Healthy Thinking About Food

 

Are you ready for healthier changes in your life?  Wonderful!!!  

When starting any changes in your life, it is absolutely critical to ask the question: What does success look like?  Most people will answer “weight loss.”  However, it is important not to let the scale dictate everything.  With my “Healthier You” Program, I need you to be aware that measuring weight, while certainly can be a part of measuring success, it is not the all, end all.  And if weight is the all, end all for you, it has too much power over you.

This winter, a few months after having my son, I eventually got back into exercising and was doing really well with a regular strength program and going to spin class for cardio.  After a few weeks, I was feeling energized, stronger and was proud of myself for investing in exercise after everything my body had went through.  I was even really ENJOYING my exercise routine.  However, one day, I mindlessly stepped on the scale, and saw that I had not lost a pound.  I immediately felt frustrated, defeated and my motivation plummeted.

It took me about a week to change my negative self-talk and refocus.  But I did learn a very important lesson…  that I needed a better way to measure success to immunize myself from my disappointment autopilot self-sabbatoge.  

My suggestion for people who want to make healthier changes in their life such as exercising more or improving their diet, is to create at least 3-5 other ways to measure success other than weight.  Before weighing yourself, it is critical to check in with these other variables (you can use a scale of 1-10 to evaluate).  Other ways to measure success may include: energy levels, how many times you exercised, how many days you have activity, healthy food choices, how many times you avoided unhealthy food choices, how you feel, or even how healthy you were this week overall.  

Another important component my Healthier You program, is to really look at the reasons WHY you want to change.  Here is a sample worksheet that can help you get started:

  • Note – not all healthy lifestyle changes need to involve weight loss

I often suggest to have several copies of your reasons, and review them at the beginning of the day, and during times when you normally struggle (perhaps mid afternoon or mid evening?).  If you are contemplating giving in to an unhealthy impulse, read these reasons for inspiration.

And the final part of this week’s program is to start being aware of your thoughts – with a focus on your relationship with hunger (as hunger is a very difficult feeling for many of us).  Here is a handout that can give some examples of unhealthy thoughts to notice, and some examples of healthier counter-thoughts:

 

Best wishes on your own journey and keep checking back for more program information.

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.