Self Growth

Living in the Present

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The mountains are calling and I must go. John Muir

Are you living in the moment or are you unaware of the moment because you are so focused on tomorrow, next week, next month or  next year?  It is easy to coast along on autopilot, lost in our thoughts or worrying about things that are yet to happen.  Nevertheless, truly living and enjoying our lives happens when we focus on the “now.”  Take a moment to look around and enjoy where you are in this moment.  What do you see, hear, smell, feel?  Who are you with?  What is happening?  Just enjoying the experience of the present can set the stage for a good day and a good mood.

Often when we get caught up in the future, we lose sight of the joy that is contained in just being thankful for the simple things in life.  There is nothing wrong with planning, but don’t let that become your life.  Your happiness depends on you living those plans and being mindful of them while they are coming to fruition.  If your mind is racing and you are having difficulty slowing it down, try this mindfulness exercise:

Sit comfortably with your eyes closed and think of the following:

Imagine yourself in your favorite location: a place where you feel safe, comfortable and content.  What do you see there? What do you feel.  Think of the sounds and smells that accompany that space.  Breathe that space in, and breathe it out.  Feel the warmth that envelops you.  Spend some time just breathing in and out and focusing on the safety and warmth of that location.  Once you have spent some time relaxing and decompressing, slowly open your eyes and be present to your “now”.

From time to time when life becomes too overwhelming, ask yourself if you are too scattered, too overwhelmed or too focused on things that have yet to come.  Taking some simple steps toward a more mindful approach can change your mood, your perspective and often the quality of your day.  Enjoy the now.

Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC  http://www.thcounseling.com

 

Cultivating Hope

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English: Rainbow

 

 

Victor Frankl, a famous psychologist, said that suffering without meaning equates to despair.  So how do we find meaning in our experiences? Knowing how to find meaning in challenges is one of the hallmarks of having hope.  So what can be done to foster this important attribute?

  • Look for how you can take something positive away from each experience – be the experience a good one or a bad one.  Examine your past experiences, mishaps and challenges.  What have you learned from those experiences?  Maybe you haven’t even been aware of what you have learned, but by taking the time to give it some thought, you may find that you have taken some pearls from those experiences after all.
  • How have you applied those pearls of wisdom to subsequent challenges?  Are you utilizing the wisdom you have gleaned from hard times in other challenges that you face?  If not, try to make a conscious choice to do so.  Being aware of how your struggles have taught you something makes them feel more valuable.
  • Do you feel you have the ability to get out of bad situations?  If you are able to learn from your challenges and find a “take away” pearl, then remembering that may give you the optimism you need to know that you can survive future challenges as well.
  • Think about your successes.  What are they?  What strengths do you possess that helped you to accomplish those things? Realizing you already possess certain strengths can be a source of security and comfort when faced with challenges, or even just a bad day.
  • How have you improved over the years?  What qualities of your personality have evolved, and how?  Have those qualities been beneficial to you in your life and relationships?  Recognizing that you are dynamic, changing and growing can help you find more meaning in each experience.  Life is full of learning opportunities.

Feeling good about yourself is one of the keys to finding hope.  Knowing that you have strengths and capabilities can give you the optimism you need to find the silver lining in situations, particularly because you have done so in the past.  Remember that today you have learned something new and that tomorrow will be a new day in which to apply that knowledge.

Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC    http://www.thcounseling.com

Tips to Help You Stop Judging Others (and Yourself)

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Ironically, when we judge others, we are really judging ourselves. Our harsh comments or thoughts are more often a reflection of our own issues than someone else’s. But, learning how to change automatic negative thoughts that we have towards others, and ourselves, is often easier said than done. There are a few things you can try to learn new habits of acceptance and appreciation.

Find at least one thing you like about each person you meet or know.  Although you may still have an initial negative thought about someone, you don’t have to latch onto that thought.  You can choose to look for the good in others.  Make it a habit to try to find at least one good quality in each person.  You will find it is not hard to do once you get started.

Puzzle cube; a type of puzzle.

Consider one positive way each person contributes to the world.  It may be that they work hard or that they are kind to animals.  It could be that they are a good parent or are very outspoken about a cause.  Whatever their passion, how does it positively impact others?

Focus on other’s strengths.  You may not value the same things as them, but they still have strengths.  Everyone does.  So, what might another person’s strengths be?

Appreciate the way that they are a piece of the puzzle.  We are all a part of the puzzle.  Each one of us adds an important piece to the world and without that piece, it wouldn’t be the same.  There are pieces of the puzzle that are far away from each other and don’t even touch, but they are still important in the grand scheme of the puzzle.  Try to appreciate that we all hold an important place in the world as each of us impact the whole.

Remember that each person has a story.  We don’t always understand why people act the way they do or make the choices that they do.  Sometimes we disagree with those behaviors or choices.  But, remember that there are reasons for the way we all develop.  There are stories behind each person and we don’t always know what those stories are.   Show compassion for others, and wonderment about their story.

Liking someone doesn’t mean liking everything about them.  We all have our flaws, but to focus on those flaws and allow that focus to take away from the good would be unfortunate.  If nothing else, you can appreciate that each person is unique.  Sometimes we just don’t click with someone, and that is human nature.  Not all personalities go well together.  But, that doesn’t mean that someone is not a good or likeable person.  Maybe they just aren’t your “cup of tea.”

Read back through these suggestions replacing the words relating to “other people” with words that relate to you, such as “I,” “my,” or “myself.”  Learning to accept yourself as ever-changing and unique is a wonderful way to improve your self-confidence and will provide you with another very natural way to appreciate others.  After all, our thoughts about others really are only a reflection of our thoughts about ourselves.

Tamra Hughes  MA, LPC  http://www.thcounseling.com

Improve Happiness by Discovering Your Strengths

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Happiness

It is easy to become consumed with the down side of situations and to lose site of the goodness and power within ourselves.  Nevertheless, recognizing that you have choices is a good starting point that can be truly empowering.  Even more important is discovering that you have used the power of choice before in ways that were healthy and successful, and sometimes when you didn’t even realize that was what you were doing.

Try thinking of a time when you were happy and proud of yourself.  Chances are it was a time when you made a good choice and tapped into one or more of your strengths.  Rather than focusing on times you didn’t feel good and trying to find motivation to do things differently, you will have more success and feel better along the way, by starting from a positive experience.  Build on your successes.  It takes practice, but by developing new habits for tackling life’s challenges, and focusing on the good inside of yourself, your overall sense of satisfaction and happiness in life can improve dramatically and you will not only heal, but learn to thrive.

Sunset at Porto Covo, west coast of Portugal
Sunset at Porto Covo, west coast of Portugal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here are some practices to get you more in touch with the goodness within yourself:

  • Take a few minutes each day to relax, close your eyes, and bring to mind thoughts of warmth and love enveloping you.  Breathe that in and breathe out any negative thoughts or feelings.  Take those moments to appreciate the unconditional positive love that surrounds you.
  • At the end of each day, think of something that happened that day for which you were thankful.  Keep a list of those things so that you can look back on them. For more information on this practice, refer to my previous blog, Thankful List.
  • Think of times that you successfully navigated a situation or frustration.  What skills were you using?  What quality of your personality was working for you?  Try to apply that quality to future scenarios.
  • When you experience a negative feeling, challenge the belief behind it.  Are you making negative assumptions or leaping to conclusions? If you were to assume the very best instead of the worst, how would that change things?  How does that affect the way you feel?
  • Pay if forward.  Every day, make a kind gesture for someone else.  Open the door for someone, or buy coffee for someone else in the line.  Doing good things for others makes us feel good about ourselves, and could be the fuel for a fantastic day.

Recognize and celebrate your goodness.  Remember it when faced with an opportunity to make conscious choices about how to handle a difficult situation or feeling.  Doing so, is a great starting point that will help you to add to your repertoire of positive qualities and tools for achieving, happiness, success and thriving!

Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC  http://www.thcounseling.com

Healing From Loss

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Grieving the loss of someone you love is one of the hardest experiences to go through in life, and it is an experience most of us will encounter at some point.   Finding a way to cope with the deep emotions that loss elicits can be overwhelming, and if not dealt with properly, it can lead to feelings of isolation and hopelessness.  It is imperative to take time to nurture your wounds following loss, but it is equally important to do it in a way that will eventually create feelings of new hope and happiness for the future.  The reality is that grieving itself is important.  Being sad about the loss, crying and reminiscing are all valuable tributes to your loved one, and cathartic in the grief process.  Nevertheless, there is a time when the sadness needs to evolve into the action of healing.

Many people have found solace in the wake of loss or disaster by taking action and improving their life, the world, or the lives of others as a tribute to their loved one.  Take for example the Susan G. Komen foundation, established by Susan G. Komen’s family following her death from breast cancer.  Another example is the establishment of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), or on a smaller scale, someone who speaks publicly about a tragic loss in hopes of preventing further unnecessary loss or just in hopes of motivating individuals to make the most out of every day.  There are even ways to cope with loss that are more personal, less public, and yet still meaningful in the process of recovering from grief.  It is not to say that there may not always be some lingering sadness when reflecting on the memory of someone who you loved and lost.  However, letting the spirit of living resound within you can add a new and very fulfilling meaning or purpose to your life.  The following are some suggestions that may help get you started on the path to feeling better:

  1.  Start by writing about your loved one.  Create a memoir or a poem.  Celebrate their life.  If you could describe your best memory of the person, what would it look like?
  2. Consider how this person impacted your life.  What did you learn from them?  What did you love about them?  Did you grow or change as a result of the relationship you had with them? For example, are you more caring? A better listener than you used to be?  Are you stronger?
  3. When we lose someone, it changes what is called our ‘assumptive world.’  That is the world as we know it and expect it to be.  We may have considered it to be predictable, reliable and safe.  We may have acted as though the person would always be there, and now they are not.  Losing this person may call into question many things we had previously taken for granted or ‘assumed’ and now we have to restructure or create a new perspective about how the world works and what we consider to be predictable. What does your new assumptive world look like?  Looking through a lens of optimism, what could your new assumptive world look like?
  4. Consider the relationship with this person as part of your story, the story of your life.  Did they encompass a chapter or many chapters?  Think of how you would like the rest of your story to read.  How can your experiences with your loved one create meaning in your future, even though they are no longer here?  How can their memory live on through you?
  5. Take positive action.  Reach out to others. Embrace life and enjoy each day.  Laugh with friends, smile with friends, and spread the spirit of meaningfulness to those around you.

The process of grief and healing can take time.  However, if you are feeling it is simply too difficult to manage, reach out and talk to someone.  Being in the presence of friends and family can help, or take some time to talk with a professional.  There are many wonderful therapists and support groups that can assist you in walking through what can be such a tremendously difficult time.  There is life after loss. However, remember that it takes time, patience and often help, to get through it and begin to enjoy all that life has to offer.

Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC  http://www.thcounseling.com

The Art of Positive Thinking

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We have all had those days where we wake up on the wrong side of the bed and find fault with everything for no reason at all.   The weather is not what you had hoped, nothing sounds good for breakfast, you don’t want to work, you don’t want to stay home, your spouse is annoying you, etc.   On days like that, it feels you just can’t win. It is often said that what we put out into the world is what we get back in return.  So with a little effort and a few simple skills, maybe you can turn your mood around, or get some good feelings back as a return on your investment in the positive!

  • At the first sign of negative feelings, stop and take a few minutes to simply breathe.  Breathe in the good, breathe out the bad.
  • First thing in the morning, think of something for which you are thankful.  At the end of the day, do the same.
  • When you find yourself angry or frustrated about a situation, ask yourself how you can find meaning in it.  What is the opportunity in the problem?  What can you learn from it?
  • Remember that no matter what happens, be it a small dilemma or an unexpected disaster, you always have a choice in the way you handle it.
  • When feeling overwhelmed, try to take a step back and look at things more objectively.  Taking a different perspective can change things dramatically.
  • Smile at someone.  Most likely, they will smile back at you!
  • Have a sense of humor about some of life’s foibles.  They often make for good stories later.
  •  In every busy day, take a few moments to enjoy the world around you.  Notice the crisp, sparkling snow or the sound of a breeze, or even the smell of a freshly mowed lawn.  The world is full of simple pleasures if you choose to look for them.

Positive thinking is a choice, and it is a choice we are all free to make.  Give it a try to see how it creates good feelings for you and those around you.  Chances are, the good energy you put into it will be returned tenfold!

Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC  http://www.thcounseling.com

Taking Time for Yourself

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Over the years, I have seen many people come in for therapy to work on feeling happier.  They are sad, struggling in relationships, recovering from divorce or struggling with parenting.  Yet, in their struggles they have forgotten about themselves.  Their focus has been outward on relationships and pressures, but stopping, turning attention inward, and nurturing themselves has been overlooked.  Without properly nurturing ourselves, we run out of fuel faster, leaving us with nothing to give.  We also may run into difficulty genuinely feeling good about others if we have forgotten how to feel good about ourselves, or have allotted no time for ourselves, hence causing friction in our relationships.

Take for example, the case of Julia, a thirty-something mother who works part-time and has two young children.  Her states that her marriage is good, although both she and her husband seem to always be busy or exhausted and in recent years have had very little time to devote to their relationship.  Julia is feeling sad and lonely, in spite of the constant time spent with her children or work.  She also is feeling anxious, worrying excessively about her health or her children’s health.  After spending some time hearing about her frustrations, I ask her how she spends her “alone time” and how she feels about that time, and about herself.  Not surprisingly, Julia really has to think about it.  She has no “alone time” and really has taken little to no time to consider how she feels about who she was before her life became so busy, who she has become, or who she wants to be.  She has lost touch with herself and her feelings of individuality.  In doing so, she has also lost some enjoyment of the simple pleasures that life offers.

At our very core is the need to love ourselves and enjoy our journey.  Enjoyment doesn’t always mean “fun,” but often means simply finding time for peace and contentment.  It can be as simple as a sense of satisfaction for a job well done or taking pleasure in a beautiful sunny day.  Without this, our mood can become dark or overwhelmed, triggering anxiety or depression.  If any of these feelings ring true for you, here are some ways you can break the cycle of self-neglect:

  •  Take action right away when you become aware of having overlooked yourself.  It is much easier to get back to feeling good if you make some changes early on, rather than letting the bad feelings affect relationships.
  • Make it a habit to spend at least 20 minutes alone each day doing something you enjoy.  It could be exercising, soaking in a hot bath, reading a book, or working on a craft.  As long as you enjoy it, and do not feel demands from others when doing it, then it can be extremely helpful in allowing you to regroup and center yourself.
  • Try not to judge yourself.  This is a hard one, as judging comes so naturally for most of us, particularly in this competitive society.  Nevertheless, particularly during your alone time,  allow your thoughts and feelings to flow without judgment of whether they are good are bad, productive or unproductive.  Thoughts and feelings just happen, and, at times, it is good to let them float in and out of your soul just like the clouds passing through the sky.
  • Try to be your own best parent.  How would you compliment your child for a job well done? Try to do the same for yourself.  The same thing holds true for consoling.  If you have had a bad day, comfort yourself with kind words or by wrapping yourself in a warm blanket and relaxing.  It is healthy to nurture ourselves and love ourselves just as we would our child.
  • Be open to accepting that you are human and will make mistakes.  By accepting your shortcomings, making amends, and moving on, you are carrying less weight and are more apt to forgive others.  This goes a long way towards contributing to happiness.

Remember that finding joy in life is often about taking pleasure in the small things and about loving yourself.  Setting aside time to be still and listen to the voice inside is a habit worth nurturing, and is one that can lead to satisfaction and peace both within yourself and in your relationships.

 

Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC  http://www.thcounseling.com