Archive | August, 2012

Is that Normal?

30 Aug

Normal. Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “according with, constituting, or not deviating from a norm, rule, or principle.” Secondarily, “Occurring naturally and not because of disease, inoculation, or any experimental treatment.” And then a third definition, “characterized by balanced well-integrated functioning of the organism as a whole.”

Of late, I’ve fielded quite a few “Am I normal?” inquiries.

The question represents a common misconception and bias- that we are often alone in our struggles, that we must somehow be special or unique in our experiences, and often that no one could possibly understand what is it we’re going through.  Why do we worry that we’re not normal? Because we inherently want to be liked by people. We don’t want to stand out from the crowd.  We derive our sense of self from our interactions with others and our social context. It’s the reason that peer pressure is so powerful, especially as a teenager when we’re trying to figure out how we are compared to others. “I don’t want to be an outcast. I want to be accepted. They are going to reject me if I don’t. I better do what the crowd is doing.”

On the other hand, I can remember when I was around 14 years old and would get irritated when my younger sister would copy me. And yet in my life now I will  mimic the actions of others that I find to be useful to me. My sister at that time was watching and mimicking me…integrating her sense of self through relating to me. It makes me sad now thinking of how I’d reject her when she’d do what I was doing. She wanted to be like me to be closer to me, to feel accepted by me. They say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. I realize that now. It’s not that I was annoyed she was doing what I was doing– it was so important for me to be someone, to be noticed, to be considered a separate person. I wanted to be Kori, not “the girls”, as my sister and I were referred to. Perhaps we were both searching for the same thing, just in different ways. Acceptance. A sense of self.

We all in some regards want to be normal then. We want to fit in. Some people more than others. I have tended to stray from the status quo….still perhaps rejecting the common tendency to think, be, and feel like other people do. But I also tend to think more about how I think– you think that has anything to do with my role as a mental health therapist? Ultimately I think I moved toward this profession because of who I was beforehand-  interested in how things work in our heads and why they work that way. I was intrigued by how our minds operate and what makes each of us so unique in what we come to believe.

When my client asked if she was normal as she relayed her experience to me, I was grateful that she even felt comfortable enough to ask. There was, and often is, some embarrassment in the revealing of behaviors that seem “off” in some way based 1) on what one knows others experience or don’t experience; 2) what one assumes other experience or don’t experience and 3) what one feels is relevant in their own lives. Her behavior felt foreign to her and so she needed reassurance that she wasn’t the only one to go through what she was. Embarrassment becomes a factor when we anticipate others thinking something about us– only a lot of embarrassment is based on errors in judgment.

I can say that I don’t want to be normal, but when we’re talking about medical issues, noticing things about our bodies or aspects of our behavior that may seem different than what we’re used to can be important signs or symptoms of something that genuinely needs to be addressed. If I notice a mole on my arm that has grown larger and is asymmetrical with odd coloring, I’d think, “That’s not normal,” and it would spur me to get it checked. This is what my client did with me, only on a behavioral level. A level of discomfort that she had not been through before signaled  her to check in with someone she knew with experience.

What I love about this, and what I want you to take away from this post is how she approached her situation in a non-judgmental way. Asking “is this normal” is a pretty neutral question as opposed to “Is there something wrong with me.” My client came to me from a place of inquiry, observation, wonderment. She was intrigued. Rather than putting a meaning to it, she sought to find out IF it was meaningful.

This is the skill of mindfulness. This is the skill that allows us to not get swept away by emotion. This is the skill that allows us to approach situations like scientists, as unbiased as possible so we can problem-solve.

I love the question of “is that normal?” It gives me an opportunity to ask  the question back, “What if it’s not?” and to gain an understanding of what the individual’s beliefs and worldviews are about who they believe themselves to be and who they are in the context of others. Because we are different around different people.

At The Diet Doc we have a tag line– Living Above the Crowd. In a society where so many people live in auto pilot mode, not thinking, engaging in impulsive behaviors, and behaving mindlessly, we teach people how to be the best versions of themselves, to be the fit individuals among the throngs of overweight people, to ask questions and be educated, to approach their lives with openness, and to explore their own purpose and meaning. We want them to create their own definitions of normal.

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My Top Ten Tools for Tempering Temptation

26 Aug

In my last post I agreed to share with you my strategies for maintaining an iron will for goal achievement. Many of you are dieting for health and fitness reasons or you may be gearing up for a competition.  Whether you’re doing so because it’s necessary to prevent illness or the exacerbation of a condition or because you want to look and feel your best, you have hopefully assessed the meaning of your goal and the incentives of accomplishment. If you haven’t I’d stop what you’re doing right now, grab some paper and identify your reasons.

Why is this important to me?

The rest of this post won’t make a bit of difference if you have not at least developed your purpose in goal striving! If you’re asking this question now, look internally for the answer. INTRINSIC goals are those that will propel you forward when the going gets tough. For example, some of my clients have said the following:

1. I want to be able to get on the floor with my future grandchildren.

2. I need to be able to fit in the airplane seat when I go on this missions trip.

3. I want my kids to never struggle the way I did with weight.

4. I no longer want to be at the mercy of food!

Identifying your goals from this perspective is foundational. When you’re setting them is the time to dig deep for these answers. But what do I do when the threat is right in front of me?

My Top Ten Temptation Tempering Thoughts (in no particular order) are as follows:

(I get sarcastic with myself, and yes, as I mentioned before, I talk to myself…out loud. Keep in mind there is a specific reason I use each of these thoughts).

1.  Really? You’re THAT hungry that you would actually compare yourself to a starving child in Africa? (Brings me back to reality and out of emotional reasoning).

2. You do realize that you just ate, right? You consumed ___ protein; ___carbs; and ____ fat. I think you’ll be okay. (This is an objective, just-the-facts assessment of the situation; we can easily get carried away by our emotions and make poor decisions as a result).

3. You have another meal coming up soon. (Another objective statement; no emotion attached).

4. You could have cake anytime. Why is it imperative that you have it RIGHT NOW? (Changes my perception of the situation; when I’m craving something or feel a sense of urgency to eat it, reminding myself that it’s always available takes away the thought that “if I don’t eat it now, I’ll NEVER be able to eat it,” which just isn’t true).

5. They’ve got their goals and you’ve got yours. You’re seriously going to justify eating that because everyone else is? (We are easily swayed by the actions of others. We want to fit in, we sometimes don’t want to explain ourselves, and let’s face it, when everyone else is doing the same thing, it can be more difficult to live above the crowd).

6. It’s not that you can’t have it, Kori. You could have it any time you want. You choose not to. (When we feel limited and caged and like we do not have a say, we want to break out of our box and prove that we have control. Think of the last diet you were on that mandated you eat a certain time, in a certain way, with a certain recipe, etc. How long did it last? Structure is good– we thrive with it. But make it too rigid –“you can never eat that food again”– and you’ll likely want to bend the rules. Get back to reality and recognize that you can have any food you want; yes, you really can. But you are choosing not to have certain foods because you feel better without them, mentally and physically.)

7. You’ve been down this road before. Is it worth it? NOPE. (If your immediate, impulsive, no-pause answer moves you in the direction you desire, great. Impulsivity is a problem for most people here– I want it, so I eat it. Instead, develop some rules or standards for yourself. Rules are appropriate in some situations. For example, “I don’t walk into the break room” or “Cheetos give me a stomach ache. I don’t like them.”

8. You know the negative consequences far outweigh the short-term pleasure. Walk away. (Here I’m thinking of similar situations I’ve been in and where they have led when I make a certain decision. I love pita chips, but I don’t even go down the pita chip aisle. Why test myself? It’s like a recovering alcoholic going into a bar, sitting down, ordering a drink and willing himself not to take a sip. Why risk it?)

9. Is what you are thinking of doing in line with what you’ve said you want to accomplish? (We’ve all been there. We say we want one thing but then we act in a way that is incongruent with those wishes/hopes/desires/goals. Pause for a second and ask yourself if you want to be the broken record. Aren’t you tired of asking, “How come I self-sabotage?” I will answer that for you– because you don’t stop and RESPOND. You are impulsive and act without thinking.)

10. Are you even hungry, Kori? Genuinely, physically hungry?  (If I have to ask myself this question, there is a high probability that I’m not. And in that case, I am not going to tarnish my winning streak of positive decisions!)

And there you have it. I’ve got a lot more where those came from.

I’d love to hear what YOU do to temper temptation. Using both cognitive (thoughts) and behavioral strategies can provide a winning combination for achieving your edge in tempering any temptation and moving closer to your goal!

Be.Here.NOW! Two EASY steps to taking control!

23 Aug

Temptation.

Threats.

Stress.

No, they aren’t inherent. We create them!

A donut is just a donut.

Your boss’ scowl is just an upturned lip and furrowed brow.

The pile of papers on your desk is just a pile.

If you’re tempted you are thinking, “I really want that donut but I can’t have it.”

If you’re threatened you are thinking, “He’s mad at me. What did I do?”

If you’re stressed you are thinking, “There is no way I can get all of this done.”

Your thoughts. Not exactly true.

The meaning you’ve decided to attach to your thoughts has created a breeding ground for not so comfortable feelings. You’ve created a new reality for yourself– a pseudoreality.

So you have this first thought. Most individuals will act on that first thought. This is called impulsivity.

I want the donut. I eat the donut.

I think my boss is mad at me. I recoil and lose confidence in my ability speak to him.

I think my work to be impossible and now I can’t think clearly or focus on the task in front of me.

Reread the last 13 words of the sentence above.

Are you concentrating now?

You just completed the first of the two steps I’m recommending for taking control.

1. FOCUS ON WHAT IS RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU. This means being present, aware, and in the here-and-now. Acknowledge your discomfort, ask yourself what is happening for you right now, and check yourself. Right now I am feeling tempted.

Be right here. Right now.

2. IDENTIFY YOUR THOUGHT AND SAY, “ON SECOND THOUGHT.….”

  • “I can have a donut if I want to. That is totally in the realm of possibility. There are consequences to every action though. I get to decide whether I want to modify the rest of my day to have that donut or recognize that a) donuts will always be available. I could get one WHENEVER! b) I have another meal coming up that I can eat soon. c) If I eat it I won’t be too happy with myself- it’s not exactly in line with my goals.”

Okay, this was a LONG second thought, but you get my point. One thought that you allow yourself to have that moves past the first can have very real, positive, and confidence-building consequences.

Ask yourself of the first thought, “IS IT WORTH IT?” or “DO I HAVE THE FACTS TO PROVE IT?” (Facts NOT feelings).

I’ll give you one more step for good measure.

When you recognize you’re feeling tempted, threatened, stressed, or otherwise uncomfortable say it out loud (if you’re in an appropriate place to do so): “Wow, I’m feeling kind of overwhelmed right now.” Make it real. Get it out of your head. Now you’re in a place to make a more effective decision about how to think and how to act.

Taking control means approaching your situation without judgement and in a present-focused manner. Want to know what else I do stay laser-focused on my goals? I’ll share my strategies in my next post.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear about the tools you’ve learned for maintaining your mental edge!

The Mecca of Meta- Dive Deeper to Find Meaning!

20 Aug

I can sit here at my computer staring at the screen for hours pilfering what feels like every single little freaking brain cell to uncover what I can only hope sometimes will resonate with you, my gracious readers. What to write….what to write.  At times gouging my eyes out might be less painful than scrounging for the words to describe what I so desperately want to tell you!

It is in that place of frustration though when I’m brought right back to one of the greatest concepts I have ever learned about.  The META level!

No, it’s not some strange philosophy. It’s the underlying meaning of things. So when I’m struggling to find something to write about, the meta of this would be writing about my struggling! It’s brilliant and wonderful and it gives us the ability to look at the PROCESS versus the CONTENT!

I have a question on the form I use to gather information about new people I’m working with that gets at the heart of this. I want to know if the person I’m beginning this journey with has thought about his thoughts.  When I say this out loud– “Do  you ever think about your thoughts?”–I get some very puzzled looks!

Think about what operating on a meta level in relationships would do for our communication and the intimacy we can create with others!  Think about what could happen if in situations when you don’t know what to say, you actually said you didn’t know what to say.

And what if….(beware: the upcoming sentence is a huge run-on, and you might have to read it a few times for it to make sense) when you were feeling uncomfortable and your tendency is to not say anything at all because you don’t know how you’re feeling, but ‘something’ is written all over your face and when asked what’s wrong you say “nothing”, you actually said, “I’m not sure. I don’t feel good, but I can’t pinpoint how I feel.” What if that?!

Think about how many misunderstandings could be avoided if we were more rational thinkers who thought about what we think about and what those thoughts mean and what influence they have!

Yep, it means diving deeper. It requires going to another level. It demands some digging beneath the surface. But imagine, just imagine, how  much better you could know yourself if you did go there!

I’m going to the Mecca of Meta! Care to join me?

4 Steps to Reversing the Brain’s Negativity Bias

19 Aug

“I can understand that memory must be selective, else it would choke on the glut of experience. What I cannot understand is why it selects what it does.”

~ Virginia Peterson

Looking back over the last 10 years or so of my life, I can’t say I’ve come full circle. I wouldn’t want to.  A decade ago I was on the fringes of a spiritual catastrophe. I was bitter, lost, demanding answers that I was not quite as willing to search for as I am now, and inexorably and painfully insecure. I was involved in a relationship wrought with delusions of escape. I was realizing that I had sacrificed far too much of who I was at my core to satisfy another person. But in the beginning I believed I was collecting the pieces of what had been broken years earlier.

At some point amidst the inner hell, as well as the external turmoil I was facing, I made a decision to BE different. I could no longer make so many concessions knowing and FEELING that I was compromising what mattered most to me. I was sick of being tormented by the push/pull nature of my thoughts and actions. I was exhausted from acting in ways that felt completely foreign to me to appease or please others.

I don’t think that what I describe is far from what many individuals experience in their lives. As a therapist I am trusted daily with the robust memories, day dreams, and emotions of those who have trusted me to provide a NEW experience for them so that they may develop the skill to do so themselves.

Often what I must teach them first is that our brains are bent toward negativity. They come to me with requests for learning how to be more positive, thinking less like a pessimist, and getting out of the “downer” mentality. I get it. I see it. I live it. And when I’m in it and notice it, I have to be active about changing it.

The negativity bias can be viewed as adaptive. The “bad” stuff in life, if we pause and let it sink in, gives us valuable information about the threats in our world and perhaps by focusing on it we can avoid future harm, right? Once bitten, twice shy? While negative experiences certainly have their place and can provide opportunities for learning, , they can also become pervasively harmful with too much emphasis placed on them, creating permanent long-term storage of negative memories. If you’re in therapy now and all you do is rehash your negative “stuff”, you’re not helping yourself.

On the flip side, while we can all attest to the great feelings we have when something positive occurs, how often are you dwelling on them? This weekend in Sam’s Club, I walked past the DirecTV salesman as I pushed my cart toward the familiar food aisles, and with a broad smile said, “Hi! How are you?!” like I knew him well. He gave me an upturned lip and said, “I’m living.”  First I thought, wow, they need to train their salesmen! Then I responded with, “What?! You’ve gotta be doing better than that!” A big grin spread across his face. Perhaps I provided him with a positive experience that he’ll remember later. Even better though would be him intentionally and deliberately sinking into it right then and there.

How many positive experiences go by do you think, that you don’t even notice?  I’ll answer this question for you– A LOT. Why? Because you don’t sit on them and let them sink in like you do with those experiences that hurt, get you angry, make you frustrated, or cause you to experience anxiety. Dwelling on an experience allows it to become a part of you. You permanently change the structure of your brain when you take the experience in, mull over it, wallow in it. Think about what this might mean for you if you applied it to positive experiences!

But reversing your brain’s negativity bias takes work! How often do you read in my blog about INTENTION, EFFORT, and DELIBERATENESS? Speaking of the brain, I hope these words have become etched into yours by now. They are power words that convey brain rewiring.

You can think of the work toward becoming more positive like installing new software on  your computer. There is no shortage of viruses that could infect your computer. They’re inevitable. But the virus protection software that you install can head off the pernicious effects of any threats much faster if it has been downloaded and is utilized regularly. So what can you do to begin the download?

Follow these 4 steps to reverse your brain’s negativity bias:

  1. Use positive experiences! You can do this in a number of ways. You might watch for them, be ready for them in your day to day life. You can think of something positive from the past, hold it in your mind’s eye, and rehash the experience. Over and over. Or you can imagine a positive experience that you’d like to have.  It’s important to remember that verbal thought passes through your brain quickly. It is not like emotion, housed in the deeper brain centers, that creates lasting structural changes. This means that the sensation of experience, the feeling that you derive from it (think in terms of a sense of connection, feeling loved and appreciated, or an intense sense of wonder or gratitude) must be dwelled upon.
  2. Play out the scene and using all your senses, make a movie out of it. Extend the experience in the space of time–make it last and make it as intense as possible.
  3.  Be intentional and deliberate about this. Don’t hope it will just “sink in” and happen. Actively create the space and time to do it and intend and feel it creating change within you.
  4.  Hold in your awareness a positive and negative experience together.  For example, in a moment that I experience a sense of appreciation by another, or I am told by a client that I have helped him to see his inner power and that he feels so much more confident, I might go back to an experience I had 10 years ago when I was told I could never get anything right. In this instance I would make the positive experience prominent so it envelopes the negative. Taking this one step further, I imagine it folding up the negative. The envelope of the positive opens up to let the negative out to dissipate and float away like dust in the wind.

I can look back at the last 10 years of my life and view them in a positive light and I can approach each day with an appreciation for the positive experiences ahead of me.  Will you do the same?

Huh? Time out on the Toilet?

16 Aug

Tuesday evening I had the privilege of speaking to a spirited group of women at their annual meeting for the International Association of Administrative Professionals. When I arrived the wait staff was just serving them dinner and a prayer was being offered before they dug into their first course.

I was directed toward the table at which a friend and client of mine sat. She had asked me to deliver the workshop. I sat down and was introduced to a couple ladies who instantly had many questions about food and nutrition once they discovered I was the Wellness Director at The Diet Doc. They knew I would be delivering a talk on stress management and were curious if I would be speaking directly about nutrition and diet as well. I thought, they go hand in hand. “I”ll be weaving nutrition in throughout the lecture,” I said.

After dinner had been served and the conversation turned to how much we thought the chicken breast weighed, (one woman guessed 10 oz, another guessed 6 oz.–when I got home I weighed what had been packaged up for me, and it was actually 3 oz!) I was introduced and handed the microphone. Off we went through a whirlwind adventure of what stress is, how we know we’re stressed, what we do when we’re stressed, and finally, how we can get to a place where we are able to recognize more effectively when we’re uncomfortable and manage those emotions without being impulsive!

My solution for them, and I’ll share it with you now, is a trip to the bathroom! Yep! I can get you started on the path to stress management by having you take one key behavior seriously– your time on the toilet.

You already take breaks daily to go to the bathroom. At least I hope you do! So the time is already carved out of your day. Getting a handle on your stress means getting to know your mind and body. It means developing emotional intelligence skills. And that means you have to recognize and then assess what’s  happening cognitively and physically. In order to do this you must act consciously and intentionally.  What better way to begin this ritual of a self-awareness check than a two-minute time out on the toilet?!

When I suggested this to my lovely group of ladies, they laughed. And then they looked at me like I was a nut job. Then I said that I do it, and the tension dissipated….but just a little.

But I DO do it. When I sit down, I close my eyes, I take a few deep breaths and ….(get your head out of the toilet, people!) I recenter. I assess my thoughts, I do a body scan to see where I might be holding tension (I know what you’re thinking right now), I relax my shoulders, and I assess  how I’m feeling.

I explained to my captive audience (at this point they were on the edge of their seats, pensively waiting to see how far I would take this) that we are like balloons.With each challenging event that occurs during our busy work days that goes “unnoticed” our balloons are filled with a little bit of air. The amount of air will depend on the enormity of the situation and how much emotional energy we’ve had to invest. By the end of the day, our balloons may be ready to pop, and it could be the glass of spilled milk at dinner, a comment made by a spouse, or something even seemingly innocuous that could result in the blowout! The toilet time gives you an opportunity to let some of that air out of your balloon. By tuning in to yourself, paying attention, getting present, and consciously and intentionally assessing how you are and where you’re at, you can relieve a bit tension.

We can’t control the events that occur in our lives, but we can control our responses to them. In order to do so more effectively and to prevent impulsive reactions from occurring, we have to learn how to stop living in automaton mode. Emotional intelligence skills give us the ability to be able to say, “Okay, I’m uncomfortable right now, and this isn’t ideal, but how do I want to respond?” When you become more adept at assessing your own emotional state, you also enhance your skill in tuning into the emotional states of others. This does not mean, however, that your office staff should organize communal bathroom practice sessions!

Bill Gates was in Seattle this week inspecting cutting-edge toilet technology at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair.  Obviously the bathroom is a very important place! You can use it to reinvent yourself too!

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