Help, I need to Motivate myself!

Image result for reward for hard work

Because, cmon, motivation and discipline are words that other people use to tell me why I’m not perfect.  Only I know I’m not perfect and that’s not what I have a problem with.  My problem is how I need to get things done that I DON’T like doing.  The things that are either so boring I will be smacking my own head or so scary that my stomach clenches and I feel sick.  Either one will fill my head with sand and my whole body with weights.  That sounds great, let’s move more sloooowwwwllllyyy through a task that already sucks!

Or not.  But how you ask?  First off, acknowledge how hard/boring/scary/awful/awkward your task is.  Lying to yourself that this is going to be easy won’t make it go faster.  Most of the time when we rate a task under its actual difficulty level, we just get mean to ourselves later about how hard it actually was.  Skip that!  You have enough negative voices in the world around you.  Don’t set up a situation where you’ll get negative on yourself.  List out the reasons that this will be bad and then you’ll have more grace towards yourself whatever happens.

Break this down, WAY down.  Let’s say you need to make a phone call that will not go well.  You have bad news to give, the other person doesn’t like you, and they will attempt to argue no matter what you say.  If you look at that head on, it will always seem like a wall falling on you.  So break it down so far that you will have a number of success stories before you get to the actual call.  So the list looks like

  1. Find that phone #
  2. Write an outline of what I need to say, any questions I need to ask
  3. What’s my back-up, forward my outline to someone?
  4. What info will I need in front of me for this call?
  5. Get that info and have it on hand


Notice that I made the first thing the easiest.  Find that phone number and voila! I can check something off.  You’ll also notice that once I let myself in on how bad this will be, I start making a plan that matches that reality.  This list calls for back-up, getting my information together, and having a clear idea of what I have to say.  I see a lot of my clients prepare for the call they wish would happen and then get eaten by the call they knew was coming.  Acknowledge!  Validate!  If you don’t want to make this call/ start that diet/ go look for a new job, there is a good reason and lying to yourself won’t make it go away.

Now move.  Any movement on the task will be good.  Once you’re in motion it’s easier to keep going.  So pick the smallest easiest thing, get it done, feel that rush of checking it off, and then head into the next thing.  If the task involves some kind of performance (any moment you will be talking and feel judged) then practicing is movement.  Talk to yourself in the mirror, have the conversation in the car on your way to work, try out different approaches.  Laugh all you want, but I practice testimony in the shower.  Wherever, however.

Reward yourself throughout the process.  A list can be its own reward as you check off the tasks you’ve gotten done.  Gloat when you can put that checkmark there.  It will help get you through the process.  Also think about small breaks, allowing yourself treats, and calling friends when you’ve gotten something done.  This can feel weird.  A lot of us are more used to attempting motivation through shame and fear.  But those don’t work!  Write a list of activities under five minutes and small treats that you will feel good about.  You will be amazed at how much more motivating it is to reward yourself.

Now all of this will go crap-side-up if you get caught in perfection.  The only perfect things are statues, that don’t move, and therefore can’t get anything done. My favorite quote on this is from Tim Ferriss and to paraphrase it, “The half assed plan you’ll stick with always works better than the perfect plan that fails.”  My add to that is, “All perfect plans fail.”  When you can’t think of what to do next and you feel overwhelmed by even the little tasks on your broken down list, please, for the love of all that is good and holy, Half-ass that sucker!  It will give you the freedom to get moving.  And once you’re moving…you’re likely to keep moving.

Forgiveness is NOT a free pass.


No one can force you to forgive.  You also can’t be forced into taking vitamins, staying away from abusers, and following your dreams.  Let’s get this straight right now.  Forgiveness is NOT for the other person.  It’s for YOU.

When you forgive, you no longer put the energy into the other person, into hoping for their pain, or wishing they would finally make yours right.  You put yourself in charge of the future and allow the past to stay where it will do you the least amount of harm.

Not everyone wants to be in charge of themselves.  It’s a harsh truth that being victimized  can leave some people in a bitter place of waiting for someone else to make it right.  That feeling can be somewhat addictive.  If you’re the victim, you’re always right, you’re always sure the other person is wrong, you never have to give up on what you’re owed.

It’s not actually a good life.  But it has a dark addictive pull.  Some people would rather be right than happy.  And if you only hurt yourself, that’s horrible.  But permanent victimization allows you to hurt everyone around you.  The most horrible behavior I’ve seen as a therapist has been justified by victim status.  Guys who wind up in an anger management group for knocking their wive across a room, all say the same thing. “She came after me!  I wouldn’t have had to do anything if she would have just shut up.”  Women who’ve abused their children or allowed one boyfriend after another to do it for them, same thing.  “He called me a b****, you would have hit him too.”  “I didn’t hurt my child, my boyfriend did and I’m being blamed!”  The worst behavior is always justified by how badly the abuser has been victimized.  And it’s crap.

No one ever had the right to abuse you no matter what happened to them.  You do not have the right to abuse anyone else no matter how crappy your day, your week, or your whole life has been.  Forgiveness is the verb that allows us to let go of how badly we were treated so we don’t recreate the cycle for someone else.  We make the effort to let go of what we’re owed, so that we can get what we truly want.  You need more than what you’re owed by the people who have hurt you.  You definitely ought to want more than that.

When you hang on to what you’re owed, you are more likely to take the payment from someone who wasn’t even there.  Let yourself become the victim and you will have a black hole sucking all the light out of your relationships with no end in sight.

Do you truly want what you think you’re owed so damn much that you will sacrifice everyone around you to that goal?  Will you sacrifice your own happiness because your need for vindication is so extreme?

Forgiveness hurts and it’s hard, and you will wish you didn’t have to do it.  And it’s the best hard thing you will ever do for yourself.  Imagine you had spend 5 years eating snickers and watching vapid TV with all your free time.  Now you really want to fit into a decent outfit and be attractive to the opposite sex.  You have 5 years of damage to undo and you will be sweating, screaming, throwing out foods that don’t help you, watching TV from an elliptical, and discussing how you let yourself go with friends and professional helpers.  In about a year or less, you will walk into a room and show off every painful moment it took to get you into fighting shape.  You will love every moment you hurt because it led you to feel this good right now.  It will be better because it took the pain to achieve.

When you forgive, you take on the pain of your life without any hope of someone else rescuing you from it.  You take on the pain that the other person will never accept and you feel pain that was never a fair or just payment for your actions.  You agree that you will take on all the pain for both of you and bear the entire load.  Because that is the ONLY way you’re ever going to be in a position to dump the whole thing overboard.  You can sit on that couch and feel the pain of rejection but not take on the extra possibility of failure, or you can lever yourself up and make painful changes that lead to that moment of freedom you’ve dreamed of.

We’re going to spend the next 4 days on the specifics of how to forgive.  I hope you’ve been convinced to at least think about this, for your sake and the sake of the people you actually like.


Picture from AlicePopcorn from flickr creative commons

Don’t be so responsible, at least not for everyone else!

Who are you responsible for?  Most adult women don’t know the answer to this question.  They think they do, but they are taking care of everyone else around them, not taking care of themselves, and then resenting someone else for the state of their lives.  Plenty of men are doing the same things and talking about how they can’t ever get out of a job they hate.

If you’re going to have a goal, you are the only one who can truly make that happen for yourself.  You are even responsible for who and how you ask for help.  But that’s help, not take over and make my dreams happen for me.

Prince or Princess Charming is not coming to make your better life appear.  You will have to take the responsibility for yourself and start letting a few other people’s needs slide.  That’s right, you need to get a lot less responsible.  Go nuts, let the dishes sit, mow the lawn after you’ve written your bucket list, let the other people in your life have the control.

Yes, control.  You need to control you, and let other people get into their own trouble or success as the captains of their own ships.  I’m not saying let your 3yr old make major life decisions.  But you’re teens could definitely do their own laundry.  And if they mess that up, let it be a learning experience.

Never be so dependable that you never get a chance at your own dreams.

Be less responsible, go play, go dream, let everyone else pick up the slack for once while you make something happen for yourself.

How to save your child!

Last post was on how to ruin your child, but some people do most of those and still have decent children.  How the heck is that happening?

Resiliency.  The ability to come through tough times with your better self intact and growing.  Some children seem to have a natural store of this, while others can get to this state with help and training.  So here are 10 ways to help any child withstand and thrive in their circumstances.

  1. Compliment specifically and describe actions not attributes.  Children think that pretty and smart are states of being that can’t be affected by their own actions.  Complimenting them on these doesn’t leave the child feeling empowered.  Make positive comments about actions children take.  This will point out to them how they change their own circumstances for the better.  When people feel powerless they get depressed, lazy, unmotivated, selfish, and scared.  Compliments about actions can be a protective layer against all the bad that feeling powerless can bring.  You can give a child that protective layer!  Make sure your compliments are about verbs not nouns or adjectives.  “I loved that you tried so hard!”  “Wow, you kicked that ball at the goal!”  Stay away from compliments that start with “You are…”  Those are attributes that children will usually see as unchangeable.
  2. Ask questions and listen to the answers. This works with any age child.  In my practice as a play therapist I shock parents all the time.  I tell them simple things their children have said and people sit back in stunned silence before saying, “She’s never said that before!”  No, she hasn’t, but she never felt that anyone had the time to listen.  Some children will not tell you the important things until you have spent several hours listening to their stories about the latest transformer cartoon they saw.  When children communicate with you they are looking for how you listen.  If you are waiting for the “important stuff” to actually start hearing the words, you will never hear anything important until it is too late.  Try this in small increments.  Spend at least 10 minutes listening to your child and commenting on what they’re saying without any statements of judgement or morals of the story.  Do that several times a week.  That child will tell you something surprising by the 3rd week, maybe sooner.  I have yet to meet the teen who really won’t talk.  They just need to talk about things you don’t find important, so they’ll know if you find them important.  Once they’ve figured that out, they spill their guts.
  3. Spend time.  Kids of all ages are used to being shuttled and cared for but the ones I’m meeting still crave time.  I see adults who don’t know how to let the kid pick the agenda and still remain in control of the situation.   When you know that you are the one in charge of safety and discipline, you can let go of the agenda control for a few hours and everyone will still be OK.  Occasionally let a child set the pace and pick the activity.  Go to the park.  Walk slower.  Look at the bug on the flower.  Watch really stupid Disney TV with your tween and listen to how cool it is.  Look for the perfect shoes for the all important first day of school (without sighing and looking like you desperately wish to be elsewhere).  Do this in lengths of time that you can manage and you’ll discover that it’s actually fun.  Children have a different time frame than we do and the world is still fresh to them.  Enjoy it, you’re relationship will improve and the child’s sense of well being will blossom.
  4. Praise hard work and make positive comments about perseverance.  Luck tends to happen more to the people who give it more chances to happen.  That comes about by hard work, multiple tries, perseverance.  If you want a child to succeed against the odds, praise every time he goes against the odds.  Being smart will not guarantee success.  But put the brains together with a good work ethic, and that kid is going to go places.  Know the value of your own hard work, say positive things about people that work hard, let your child know that work is good by your own attitude towards it.
  5. Give children jobs and insist they finish them.  It’s nice to talk about hard work, but if you’re actually going to compliment their actions, the kids have to have a chance to do the job.  They will not see this as a good thing.  You will hear whining, complaining, mouthing off, “You only had me for the free labor!”  Smile serenely and insist the job gets done.  Withhold the resources the child wants until the job gets done.  You don’t get paid for laying there, why should you teach your child that rewards come without effort?  You are NOT doing them a favor if you give money and rewards unconnected to hard work.  This is basically the same principal of empowerment.  What the child can change and feel control over, will be a protection against depression and negativity.  If a child realizes, “I can make good things happen for myself by my own effort.”, that child will be less likely to feel powerless and depressed.  Put children in a situation where they must work to get what they want.  This teaches them the power of their own actions and immunizes them against depression.
  6. Show gratitude in your own life and point out good things that come from bad breaks.  When you notice the good in your own life, your brain goes looking for more.  You prime yourself to find opportunities out of stresses, and you give yourself a cushion emotionally during bad times.  Do that when the little people are watching and they’ll be able to do the same things.  When kids around you say the negatives constantly, they are crying out for some guidance.  Ask them to stop, take a breath, and notice something good around them.  Don’t give them the moral of the story, don’t stop the rest of the whine down, just keep interjecting the new skill and showing your own command of it.
  7. Teach the difference between responsibility and guilt.  You are 100% responsible for your own life.  You’ve been that way since other people stopped paying for you and making all your problems go away.  Children will someday be 100% responsible, unless they’re constantly fighting the universe on this one yelling, “It’s not my fault!”  No, the guy who ran the red light and crashed your car is not your fault.  But he’s also not around to rehab your injuries, pay your bills, and make the situation better for you.  Guilt is irrelevant to your future.  Guilt is all about the past.  Teach kids to look towards the future and solve the problem for themselves.  Who created it is only important when you’re picking friends and figuring out who to stay away from.
  8. Encourage failure.  I am appalled at the number of bright, talented kids that show up in therapy due to their overwhelming anxiety and fear.  They are terrified of failure, won’t try anything new, won’t plan for the future, and often look for escapes in drugs, alcohol, and stupid behavior.  Failure is a fact of life that children will see as a hiccup or a complete breakdown, depending on your reaction to it.  How do you handle failure in your own life?  Your kids are watching.  Let children fail and encourage them to go for it!  When you help them avoid failure at all costs, you are teaching them that failure will kill them.  They’ll stay safely cocooned in the basement smoking pot to kill any motivation with that belief.  Teach them that trying and failing are GOOD.  Failure is how we learn.  Failure is where we consider and grow.  Failure is how we get better.
  9. Point out upcoming consequences and then get out of the way!  You know your child is heading towards an all-nighter and a bad grade in science.  Do you, A) Step in and make an award winning science project for them, or B) Tell you child that there isn’t a lot of time left and it will probably mean a bad grade if they don’t get started.  If you said A, you are enabling bad behavior that will haunt that kid for the rest of her life.  Point out the consequence in a calm tone of voice with no judgement attached.  Walk away.  Keep doing this until the child hits the wall they’ve been running for.  Ask them what they intend to do differently next time.  Repeat.
  10. Use consequences not anger.  Sometimes your child won’t have a natural consequence for his bad behavior.  You then have to decide what a logical consequence is and apply it.  Screaming, yelling, throwing things, withholding acceptance, silent treatment, and sulking are NOT logical consequences to a child’s behavior.  They ARE a child’s behavior.  If you use your emotions instead of consequences, your child won’t learn to make the connection between actions and consequences.  They may also be left more susceptible to emotional blackmail in later relationships.  Let children feel consequences, not your emotional need to avoid those.


There are plenty more ways to encourage resiliency in children.  These are just some of the easiest.  It’s a great topic to do some research on and then incorporate into your interaction with children.  It’s also, never to late to start these interventions.  It can be harder if you start later, but it’s still worthwhile. Good luck and go get started!


Picture by jaci XIII from flickr, some rights reserved.

How to ruin your child!

Now I’m aware there are good kids out there being raised right.  I also know there are children who get raised by loving parents doing everything right and the kid still hares off into all sorts of crazy.  There’s also some children out there being raised by well-meaning but not terribly effective parents.  The kids who are terrorizing the rest of the school and making life hard on everyone.  So forgive me if I sound cynical, pessimistic, or really sarcastic.  I’ve listened to too many kids talk about being; raped, bullied, beat up, ostracized, stalked, slandered,  poisoned, drugged, and run over by their peers.

Think I’m exaggerating?  I’ve been a therapist for 17yrs.  You do not want to know what I’m leaving out.

And the kids doing some of the worst behaviors were not physically abused, sexually traumatized, or raised by drug addicts.  These are “nice” middle and upper class children who were more subtly allowed to get warped.  You cannot take all the credit or blame for your child.  He or she has their own choices to make.  But if you are doing one of the following, I can pretty much guarantee problems will be coming for your family.

In the hopes that you will be able to see yourself in some of these and save yourself from the outcome, here’s 10 easy ways to completely ruin your child (and by extension your happiness, any hope of decent grandchildren, and the future of the species.  No pressure.)

  1. Give them EVERYTHING!  Never even suggest they work for what they want.  The good stuff should always be free and a fit should get you what you want.  When this ceases to work because peers and bosses do not find this behavior attractive, your child can experience depression at a much higher rate and be unable to take effective steps to help themselves.  When you’ve never had to help yourself, you don’t know how!
  2. Let them watch adult themed shows with sex and violence.  They’re going to deal with that eventually.  Give them a head start!  Seeing so much death, destruction and confusing sexual innuendo will help your children feel overwhelmed by their surroundings and unable to reach for real intimacy.  They will be more sure that bad things are going to happen and feel less able to take care of themselves.  As a bonus, if they get into porn they will fail to develop any real skills for sexual intimacy and be even less likely to make you a grandparent!
  3. Don’t allow your child to fail.  Failing and surviving will give them skills that might actually get them out of your house.  Fear of failure will paralyze your child into a fetal curl in your basement.  Children figure out that failure must be the worst thing that could happen when you NEVER let them even get close to it.  They will continue to rely on you to save them as long as you are willing to take away their right to learn and grow.
  4. Tell your children they’re smart, constantly, without ever commenting on or asking for hard work.  Your kids will expect problems to be easy and think hard work is what stupid people do to make up for being brainless.  When your child inevitably hits the moment that brain power alone won’t get them through, they won’t even attempt perseverance!  They’ll give up and move back into that sweet cocoon you’ve got set up in the basement.
  5. Helicopter in to rescue them from any discomfort they may face at school, with friends, at church, or on sports teams.  The ability to withstand discomfort and be graceful under pressure takes practice. Don’t allow your child any room to grow in this area and they will still be whining about how people don’t treat them nice when they’re 35.  Better yet, they may feel justified to give in to road rage, screaming fits in public, and any other number of embarrassing public acts.
  6. Completely ignore any issues they have at school, especially bullying and sexual harassment.  Better yet, tell kids it’s their fault and related to the way they look.  Unbalanced reactions that reflect your own need to avoid conflict or prove how right you are, are sure fire ways to screw things up!  Be sure to act surprised when the school calls about your child attempting to seriously hurt someone, the failing grades, etc, etc.
  7. Have an extreme reaction to their emotions.  Either pay so much attention to feelings that they are the center of the universe and a reason for everything, or discredit all of them and act like John Wayne crawling through cactus.  This can include being scared of your child or making sure they’re terrified of you without any mitigating attempts to show love and acceptance.  Your child will learn to either over-emote to an unappreciative audience, or be the unassailable tower of solitude and emotional distance.
  8. Don’t ever teach them any of your values in an attempt to let them find their own.  Obviously, we all slavishly followed what our own parents said.  When you give a child something concrete not to do, they know right where to start their rebellion.  Without guideposts of some kind, your child will just keep right on going with their behavior until they can get hurt.  They’ll also be confused by the multiple choices of belief systems about their own self-worth, their place in the universe, and the worth of other human beings.  Of course they don’t need some way to evaluate all this information and come up with a working model for themselves.  Just let them founder around!
  9. Let someone else do all the work, say a grandparent, without having the power or the long term stability.  That way your child can grow up confused about who’s in charge and acting out against everyone.  If you do this sporadically enough, your child won’t even be able to trust that relationships last and bad behavior doesn’t mean abandonment!
  10. Pick a favorite out of a group of siblings and do a LOT of comparison.  This way everyone can be turned against each other, you’ll completely ruin any attempts at cooperation or group cohesion, and all the kids will suffer equally whether or not they got picked to be the golden child!  The repercussions can last into adulthood as your children perceive all situations as a winner take all grabfest with no room for cooperation!


These are all the worst case scenario. Doesn’t mean they can’t happen.  If you see yourself doing one or several of these, get some help.  It’s easier to stop if you have someone helping you be accountable.  And just so you know, number 9 was my issue during my son’s first year of life.  I let him be raised by a caring friend who finally got tough with me and made me rethink the whole set up of my life.  It was NOT pretty!  But I can’t thank her enough for getting in my face about the issue.  Correct these, hold yourself and others accountable to raising children right, and remember that you won’t be perfect.  Just keep striving for effective.

See you back here next time for the blog on ways to make your child resilient and able to live through any of the above!

How to deal with Grief

Just not the typical stuff that everyone always told you about.

This is about the things no one says and most people seem to pretend isn’t happening.  So in no particular order, here’s a list of what you might face and some tips to make the process less painful.

  1. Justification will get you into trouble and you will have a VERY good supply of justification.  Have any old bad habits that have died the good death? Grief resurrects those fast.   You will want comfort.  You will feel justified in taking comfort where ever you can.  And if you don’t set some boundaries and get some help, you’ll be having a relapse into the cigarettes, bad boyfriends, chocolate cake, and self-loathing you used to deal with.  Find a way to indulge that will be healthy for you.  Go to a movie, call in sick and lay in the park, have coffee with friends and take good care of yourself.  Do NOT say you’ll give in to a bad idea “just this once” and think that actually works.
  2. Crazy is attracted to vulnerable.  And we’re all vulnerable in grief.  I would like to think that if I’m grieving, crazy people will leave me alone and have a little respect.  That’s not happening.  Think of these people as vampires that want to suck from your tear ducts.  They are attracted to your pain because they like feeling needed, and they expect that filling any of your needs will give them a license to own your life and your time.  Your best friend being there for you 24/7 is awesome.  But you do not have to accept every offer of help from anyone that comes along.  Your grieving, not destitute.  Say NO and say it often enough to keep your sanity.
  3. One loss will be a reminder of every other loss.  You can’t just grieve them one at a time.  And you’re not crazy because you started crying over the death of your friend and wound up re-living the moment in 3rd grade when the other boys wouldn’t let you be part of their spy kids club.  Grief revives grief.  Expect to be awash in memories and remember to roll with it until that wave passes.  It does pass.  Trying to shove it all back and ignore it will give you an ulcer and probably won’t work anyway.  Sooner or later you will ride that wave.  Set aside some time and let it roll.
  4. You will grieve what you WISH you had, what you SHOULD have had, and not just what you actually experienced.  Death & Divorce are the final blow to our fantasies that change can happen and happily ever after might still exist.  You can hate someone and still wail uncontrollably at their funeral because of the wishes you didn’t even know you had.  If you had the lousy relationship or time was too short with a good one, expect to be raging angry and unbelievably sad.  Both emotions are normal and will need outlets that don’t get you locked up.  Find a place to scream.  Go run until you puke or fall down.  If you can’t run, find some other activity that will get you sweating and exhausted.  Once you’re worn out you’ll cry more and that’s part of the process.  Physical activity is one of the few sure ways to flush all the stress out of your system and give you a fighting chance at a calm tomorrow.
  5. Other people will be struck with a sudden case of stupid and that’s the platform they will attempt to help you from.  I put down my horse a few weeks ago.  I cry just typing that.  Just a few days after it happened someone helpfully told me about a stage 4 cancer victim and her struggle with pain.  Randomly brought that up and spent 10 minutes detailing the horror.  And then he said, “So it could always be worse.  I mean really, you don’t have that much to complain about!”  No, I don’t have stage 4 cancer and I’m very happy about that.  It doesn’t make the pain less that I’m not afflicted with a life threatening disease.  Actually, I just feel totally angry at that moron because he wants me to feel guilty about my pain and shut up about it already.  People will also make judgements about the length of time you should be crying, and how much grief you should be allowed to express depending on a formula of how “close” you were, how long you knew the person/animal/marriage, and how disrupted your life has been.  If you are a Christian or have Christian friends, you will also hear about God’s will.  Please don’t deck anybody.  Do feel free to walk away.
  6. There will be a series of lasts and firsts that have to be lived through.  The last time you saw them, the last Christmas, the last time in the hospital.  It’s like you’re looking through the back window of a car as it pulls away from some place special.  At some point you start looking forward and see your first landmark that you can’t share anymore.  Expect at least a year of firsts that send a shock through your life.  These can be large or small and it won’t matter what you need to get done or where you are.  Surround yourself with people that can hear that same story again, as many times as you need to tell it.  Encourage them to talk about themselves and their own lives even though you might not really be listening.  Connecting with people is important to your long term health but it’s going to feel impossible as you travel through your lasts & firsts.  Treasure people who will know how to do the work for you and re-pay them in kind some day.
  7. Guilt and regret will do their best to find you and kick your ass.  We don’t like the total lack of control that loss brings into our lives.  Guilt is a way of pretending you could have stopped the bad thing, if only…..  There are rare times when we actually caused the problem that led to the loss.  If that’s true for you, accept your responsibility and learn from your mistakes.  The rest of the time we’re fooling ourselves that we could have controlled a situation that was never in our hands.  Regrets are usually centered around the things we meant to do and never found the time for.  No one has any time anymore.  I’ve been to too many funerals where we all said, “It shouldn’t take a death to get us together!”  And then we don’t see one another until the next funeral.   If you are overwhelmed with regret, you have a problem with the busyness of your life.  You will either force a slow down, or live with the next set of regrets after the next funeral.
  8. Time is going to go a little screwy on you.  Your perception of time passing will speed up and slow down with your emotional state.  Other people will not be on the same roller coaster and may “helpfully” try to rush you or slow you down.  If you’re at least aware of what’s happening, you won’t take it as personally.  Wearing your watch may not help.  Grief can make everyday objects and concepts suddenly complex and disturbing.  Your brain will get overwhelmed by the amount of emotion it’s processing.  Make someone else be in charge whenever possible while remembering you’re still the boss.  Do not give up all decision making for funerals, burials, parenting plans, divorce proceedings, etc.  Delegate as you need to but remind everyone you’re still checking the outcome.
  9. Yes, you will be annoying for a while.  And your friends will love you, remember who you usually are, and stick with you.  It’s going to be your turn soon.  You’ll have to listen to someone else cry, hear stories about their family/marriage/pet, and hold their hand until they can go it alone.  When you let people help you, they are more comfortable asking for your help later.  Let people see the full melt-down.  You’re building the trust they’ll need to show you the same someday.


You’ve been here.  You’ve known pain and the moments nobody prepared you for.  Please take the time to share any other shocks from your own experience.  Someone else will benefit from your story.


The picture is called “Lost Tree” and is from flickr by h.koppdelaney

Clean out your kitchen


Walk into your kitchen, look around, what do you see?

This is where the past can negatively affect your future more than in any other room of your house.  It’s the pizza cutter that won’t go away. The foods we ate as a child, or that we eat to “feel better” now.  Or how about some raw chicken slime?

Your kitchen should be the cleanest room in your house, but it’s usually the room where you wish the magic fairies would come so hard you black out. They’re not coming, and you’re not going to get healthy by wishing.  Since you are the only rescue you’ve got coming, here’s a few ways to save yourself.

1. Remove what doesn’t work.
You know your life would be easier if you could walk into your kitchen and instead of being directed to all of the foods that are bad for you, you could pick the ones that actually help you. Your kitchen is where you feed your body and you make choices without even realizing it is all about your health.

Get rid of whatever you haven’t used and you won’t be using.  Throw boxes over your shoulder, fill crates with dishes that you’ve never even liked, make this place work for YOU!

2. Follow through on your goals.
In the kitchen the emotional and the physical goes so hand-in-hand we’re going to talk about them somewhat interchangeably. If you have a strong emotional drive to loose weight/get healthy, but you have junk food everywhere in your kitchen, there is a disconnect there.

There are so many disconnects that I see in my practice. People who come in and think that they are ready for change but their physical environment is still reflecting the old them.

When you walk into your kitchen your physical environment needs to reflect the future you want. It needs to be free of the past, clean and ready to make the present doable.  Point yourself towards the future that you want.

3. Make a commitment to yourself.
Does your freezer, and your refrigerator, and your pantry reflect the new you?  No? Your worth cannot be measured in Pop Tarts, and mac & cheese.  Anything that’s sugared, over processed, and says , “I don‘t really deserve to be healthy“, throw it out!

You no longer need this. You need a life that reflects what you want for yourself and not just what you’re willing to put up with. Make your pantry, your refrigerator, and your freezer reflect that new reality.

Emotionally we do the same thing with our beliefs about who we are and what we’re capable of.  Do you have self beliefs that reflect an old you? Are you able to say I love myself ?  Or do you still pack your emotional freezer full of pop tarts and crap in a box?

The good news here, a change in one area begins to reflect in the other areas. Even if you are not believing in yourself fully right now, restock your physical kitchen. Believe in your self enough to make physical changes around you, that will eventually be reflected in your emotional state.

4. Do the easiest stuff first.
It’s often easier to make the changes physically than it is to make the emotional changes. Unfortunately many of my clients think that they need to make the emotional changes and then finally go clear out their pantry. It doesn’t work that way.

If you are self sabotaging with your emotional beliefs and your physical reality, it’s going to be easier to change your physical reality before your emotional beliefs.

Think of it like this, if someone loves you there going to do good things for you to convince you of that. Have you convinced yourself lately that you actually even like you? If you haven’t what can you do that will convince you of your own self like?

Get into your kitchen and make it aware that you now like yourself.

5. Do it as big as you can and as small as you need to.
If you live with a bunch of little kiddos,  or a big boy who likes lucky charms too much, you’re going to have to do this in smaller ways. You’re going to have to claim a section of the kitchen and make that section free of the things that you no longer want for yourself. But somewhere, somehow in your kitchen, make an area that’s about you and how you want to feel about yourself.

Nobody will do this for you.  It’s your right to do it for yourself.

6. Expect and deflect the haters.
They may even be your own family.  People don’t respond to change well.  The very people who asked you to get healthy may be the ones who put sugar in your special section, whine about the new food choices, and tell you, “You take this way too seriously.  It’s like you joined a cult!”  When you expect everyone to make things easy for you, you’re doomed.  Other people will make healthy changes harder.  Now that you know that, you can be prepared to overcome.

Here are some possible responses.
-“I’m doing this for me, so that you’ll know it’s OK to take care of yourself.”
-“If I take care of myself now, I’ll still be here when we’re old.”
-“I refuse to live with shame and regret for one moment longer.  I have made a commitment to myself and I’m going to stick with it.”
-”I’m not making anyone but myself eat healthier.  I’m just suggesting it to the rest of you.”
-”Thank you for noticing I’ve made changes.”

Health and time cannot be bought back.  Protect yours.

Next time we’ll still be in the kitchen, talking about emotional residue and how it affects your new recipes for emotional closeness. Until then, happy cooking!


photo is “He has a plan” from the flickr photo stream of x-ray delta one.

Spring Cleaning out your life.

Spring is coming (here in the north we’re expecting it in less than 4 months) and it’s time to clean out your house.   And for every action in your house or apartment, there’s even more important work to do on your heart and soul.

We call the eyes windows to the soul, a place we see out, and others have a chance to see in.  But have you looked at your windows lately?  If you haven’t cleaned them in a while, you’re not seeing the world clearly and people may have a distorted view of you.

A few items we clean off the windows.

  1. Bugs.  These poor guys are just flying along minding their own business and run into your house.  In the emotional world these are the natural, daily, events that hit us and we don’t even think about them.  Snow and rain on the day you wanted to wear your new spring shoes or play a pick-up game in the park. Sudden changes in your day, too much traffic, and the annoying mosquito person at work, can all build up without any of us really noticing.
  2. Bird Crap!  They really don’t do it to you.  It’s not personal and they’re not aiming at your windows more than your neighbors.  It just seems that way.  Bad stuff happens in your life.  Things that can seem pointed, and like the universe really is out to get you, can leave long smears of frustration and disappointment .
  3. Rain drops & sprinklers.  The things that should clean, but may leave residue in the smallest most persistent ways, can also fog your vision.  Think of these as memories of good times, old habits that don’t seem that bad, and expectations that used to fit you.
  4. Eggs, doggie bombs, & paint balls.  Yep, sometimes it is personal and someone is out to get you.  This is the long standing feud at work or home, the 16 year old  who screams at you every time you ask where the homework is, and the driver who flipped you off after cutting into your lane without a turn signal.  People aren’t always nice.  Heck, some of them aren’t ever nice.  If one of those has made you the target of their unjustified wrath, you have some nasty to clean off your windows.
  5. Pollution.  We live in a world that is filled with too many choices, too many noises, too many people, and too many stresses.  It’s all around us.  Just being here in this day and age is a stress that we overlook and underplay.  It leaves a residue that can be hard to focus through but builds up so gradually you may not even realize it’s there.


If you clean all of this and have nothing clouding your vision, what could happen?  You could give yourself a chance to see clearly for the first time in years.  Maybe you’re not the bad things you’ve been labeling yourself as.  Maybe you’re a stronger person who needs to finally appreciate yourself.  Get out of the shadows and stop letting bad people and bad experiences influence the rest of your life.  Yah, we’ve all had stupid days and done shameful things.  Clean that off the windows and stop letting it color your world.  Give yourself the ability to focus beyond where you are and look out to where you want to be.  Clean the inconsequential bugs and residue off your eyes and see a better future for yourself.  What you can see, believe and plan for, you can achieve.  First you have to see.

How to get those windows clean!

  1. Vinegar.  It smells.  It cuts through bird crap and wipes away residue.  It is the sometimes painful experience of questioning all your assumptions and expectations.  Sit down and write out what you expect from life, what are so mad about?  Are your expectations realistic?  Are they part of the problem?  Do you assume you’ll always loose and aren’t worth winning?  Be strong enough to face your old world view head on.  Then give the reasons it’s not right anymore.  Write those on sticky notes and book marks, have them as your screen saver on your phone and computer.  Remind yourself daily that you are a new person.
  2. Get help.  Windows by yourself are overwhelming.  My mother would make all of us kids do this together for a great bonding experience of whining and accusing her of having brought us into this world for slave labor.  But at least we weren’t alone.  Ask people how they see you and really listen.  Look especially hard for the positives you’re missing and the negatives that are holding you back.  When you find a friend or mentor you can trust with these questions, leave the door open for more information from them.  Friends that will tell you the truth without judging you, are worth their weight in gold.  Keep them close no matter how uncomfortable it can seem.
  3. Put a sheet over the windows.  There are days when you know the proverbial crap is hitting the fan.  It’s really ok to take a break.  Close your eyes and let the breeze feel good.  You need enough rest to feel rested or you won’t have the energy to do more than exist.  This can also mean an information fast.  Turn off the news.  Don’t read the paper.  Give yourself a week long break from incoming information so you can have some time to process what’s already banging around in your head.
  4. Put up some protection.  If you build in overhangs, put up sun coverings, or just redirect the sprinklers, you are narrowing what will get splattered on your windows.  In life, you may need to narrow your choices down to a manageable number.  Give yourself 15 minutes in the grocery story and stick to the list.  Only look at the items that are already in your price range.  Our brains get overloaded by too many choices and it begins to affect our view of the world and ourselves.  People are more depressed these days partially because they believe they could be happier and should be.  Everything is out there, why can’t I find it?  Well, because it’s now hidden in a mountain of other options that are visually overwhelming and emotionally draining to sift through.
  5. Clean something.  The act of cleaning up a section of your house, the top of your desk, even your windows, will help you see a physical difference that you made happen.  When you clean, you physically enact what you’re trying to do mentally.  It allows your mind-body feedback loops to work in your favor.  And we all tend to think better in a visually calming environment.  Take one small area and make it calm enough to look at and feel good.  You’ll see more options for yourself and open up a space for new thoughts about yourself.


I hope this spring brings good things to your life, light to your eyes, and new beginnings you can be excited about.

Responsibility will set you free.


Responsibility is a big word with life long effects.  If your child can learn this one word and all the things it means, you will have given them freedom. Or maybe you need some freedom for yourself.

The cages people live in aren’t usually acknowledged or seen.  If the bars are visible, the prisoner usually tells everyone, “oh, I stopped trying to break out, there’s nothing I can do about it.”  There are plenty of people in this world that have to be overweight, poor, beaten down, & imprisoned.  There are far more prisoners of self-victimization.  The latter folks refuse to see a way out because they are scared of being guilty, afraid of failure, or addicted to pity.  Responsibility is the anti-dote to all of this.

When I’m responsible for my actions I can change them, learn from them, ditch them, keep them, or apologize for them.  I don’t have to be at the mercy of people who would remind me of the past.  I own my past mistakes proudly because I’ve used them to move forward.  I don’t have to feel ashamed because I already made apologies and amends.  Since I’m responsible for my emotions, I don’t have to react if someone else holds a grudge or expects me to continuously feel guilty.  I’m free to go as far as I can persist and work and dream towards.

If you know what responsibility is, you have already accepted that you are 100% responsible for everything that happens to you.  If you’re totally pissed off by that statement, you’re still confusing responsibility with fault.  You are never 100% at fault, you are always 100% responsible.


  • Fault is about the past
  • It looks for who is guilty
  • It blames and shames
  • It “solves” the problem by finding a culprit and demanding restitution
  • Fault feels like a weight while you wait for someone else to make you feel better
  • No one will ever find enough fault to change their current situation
  • Fault finds and creates victims



  • Responsibility is about the future you want
  • It looks for what can change
  • It asks for help and forms partnerships
  • It solves the problem by learning, change, hard work, and courage
  • Responsibility feels like a work out and it makes you a stronger, more confident person
  • Anyone can change what they are willing to take responsibility for
  • Responsibility is found by survivors who go on to become winners


Now that you want this, let’s learn how to do it.  Responsibility is a three part approach to your own bad behavior, the trash your neighbor put in your yard, your weight problem, your bad marriage, etc.  When you’re teaching children about it, start with their bad behavior first and then move on to situations that someone else caused or triggered.

  1. Accept/Admit.  “I did that.”  “I broke that window.”  “I’m going to die if I keep eating like this.”  “I hate my job and I feel trapped.”  “I haven’t spoken to my spouse with love in years.”  “I’m stuck in an abusive relationship.” This is the point where you allow yourself to see the situation clearly.  It can be painful so take it in small steps if you need to.  If you’re teaching a child, have them repeat a simple phrase after you and then compliment them.
  2. Amend/Apologize.  “I’ve taken over for the old boss and I’d like to make things right with your department.”  “I didn’t cause this problem, but I have the power to make it right.”  “I realize what I did hurt you and I won’t do that again.”  “I won’t allow another person to treat me that badly in the future.”  “I’m sorry.”  The person you may have to make amends to can also be you.  We allow some serious crap in our lives when we don’t realize our own value.  Apologize to yourself and then allow some forgiveness.  You did the best you could at the time and now you know better.  When you’re teaching children, ask them who was hurt by what they did.  You may have to help them by asking, “How would you feel?”  Be prepared to go slowly and repeat often.
  3. Adapt/Advance. “I can aim the ball away from the house next time.”  “I promise myself that I will eat a vegetable with each meal.”  “I learned from what happened and here’s what I’m doing differently now.”  “I will make small goals out of this big goal until everything is done.”  “I will deal with the issues that have been holding me back.”  This is where your future gets a turbo-charge.  You look forward and plan a new attack using the information you’ve gathered from the first two steps.  If you’re teaching children, ask them what they would do differently, or what would let everyone feel like a winner.  If you’re learning to do this for yourself, fill in this blank;  Today, I can ______________ to make tomorrow better.  You might find yourself filling that in with one word or several paragraphs and either way works.  Just make sure that you are acting on it as soon as possible and right now would be even better.


One more note.  If you make an apology, don’t get caught up in thinking that’s always about admitting you’re at fault.  Apologies do three things. They state wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness (the one everyone thinks of when they hear the words, “I’m sorry”).

Apologies are a treaty that states you understand the pain/trouble/ aggravation caused by an action and agree not to do it again.  You don’t admit you’re a horrible person who meant to harm the other person, just that you see their point of view enough to change your behavior.

And sometimes sorry just means you really feel the other person’s pain and want to express solidarity with them.  Know what you mean by your words and make the apology that’s needed for the situation.  If someone misunderstands you, explain what you can but remember you’re only responsible for your own emotions and behavior.

Help! My family won’t support my parenting.


You put your child on a gluten free diet and your grandfather took her out for pizza.  You tell your parents “we’re trying a new church as a family” and they take your children aside to warn them about how Mommy & Daddy are going to hell.  You’re so grateful for a diagnosis that helps you deal with and explain your child’s behavior; until your family starts casually mentioning all the ways you did things wrong in pregnancy and how your parenting is really not helping.  You tell your teens, “No drinking!” and your sibling takes them both out for a beer.  If these sound outrageous, be very thankful you haven’t had to deal with an unsupportive family.  Read on to help a friend who has.  Oh, and every one of these examples is true.

It’s not just controlling &/or self-absorbed family members who will act this way.  Normally sane, functional people will become grandparents, aunts, & uncles and promptly turn a corner  onto the dark side.  Having children of your own changes all the dynamics in your family, but your family may not cooperate.  Children are a sign that the future is coming and it’s time for everybody to grow up.  Older family members may even see your children as a sign of age creeping up.  Various family members may be threatened by your independence, the way you respond to your children instead of them, or even the way that children force you to finally stand up to family members.  Who’ve often had it coming for YEARS!  We’re all more willing to do the hard stuff and go through the conflicts if it’s for the sake of our child.  If there are changes that need to be made in the way your family acts towards you or continues to treat you, children will bring that problem to a head.   When in doubt, choose your kids.  They need you more than family members have a right to interfere with.

Another issue that may effect multiple family members is denial.  If your child has issues that you are dealing with, the rest of the family may feel threatened.  Nothing says get your own poop in a group faster, than a close relative attempting to do just that.  Guess what?  Lots of people have poop all over because they do NOT want to deal with it.  These folks are convinced that pretending it’s not there is working.  They don’t want to hear about their behavior, it’s effect on anyone else, or the slightest hint that they could actually change the way they’re not dealing.  You’ll tell these family members about your child’s autism diagnosis and they’ll say, “I’m not autistic!”  These are also the grandparents who yell at you for insulting their grandchildren and tell you it must be the bad parenting.  They will also make multiple comments about “their” grandchild being just fine and you’re wrong about that diagnosis.  Like you made the diagnosis without the benefit of Dr.s or anything!  Obviously, this is crazy talk.  Treat it appropriately.

There are two types of non support that tend to come from the folks who raised you.  You deviate from the way you were raised and they get upset.  They’re either taking your every motion personally or they’re just so self-absorbed they can’t see the use of new techniques.  Either way they will be a pain.  You probably know already which you’re dealing with.  The personalizers have been martyring themselves at Sunday dinner for years now.  When you tell them about what you’re doing with Jr, they make it all about them.  “You never did think I was a good mother.”  “Why do you need all these new fangled ideas?  Wasn’t how you were raised good enough?”  When your martyred parent refuses to follow your rules, and feeds your child a combo of sugar and caffeine that acts like kiddie-crack, you will hear a variation of, “You think I would hurt my own grandchild?!”  Yes, you do.  And no amount of playing nice is going to cover that up, nor should it.  You make rules to protect your child.  If people won’t follow those rules, they are potentially harmful.

Self-absorbed parents are going to take your parenting personal if they notice it at all.  The most likely scenarios are you insisting they give up a bad habit while around children, not use corporal punishments like spanking, or follow new food rules.  This grandparent will defend themselves for about three seconds, “I’m fine, what’s the problem?”.  After that they tend to go on the offensive.  “I never had this issue as a parent, what’s your problem?”  “That kid just needs a good beating to toughen them up.”  “I’ve been smoking for 45 years and I’m still alive, you just believe everything you read ’cause you’re gullible.”  These guys are not changing for you, their grandchildren, or the chance of peace on earth.  They don’t care because they don’t see any options besides their own.  Don’t reason with them unless you just needed the frustration.

Here’s the list of things you can do in order of effort you’ll have to put in and the likely negative response from family members.  Some of you are going to need to jump straight to the end and just plow into the opposition.  Your children are worth it and the peace of your future is worth it.

  1. Reassurance.  Your parents or other loved ones may just need to know that you love them and appreciate what they’ve done.    Some people worry that any change in you means a change in your feelings towards them.  It’s needy and a little annoying, but relatively easy to deal with.  Tell them, “I love you, I am so glad you are my, parent, brother, sister, cousin, etc.  I will always appreciate that my family has given me the strength to parent like my children need me to.”  You will need to overtly state that your parenting is not  a negative commentary on theirs.  (Unless your parenting is a direct attempt to be as different from them as possible and you’re still angry.  Skip down to #3 and come back to this one if you ever get less angry.)
  2. Educate.  Older family members or more conservative ones, may not like the changes because they don’t understand, or adhere to an older set of solutions.  Tell them about the process you’ve gone through to come to this point.  How many diets, dr.s, diagnoses, etc before you found something that worked.  Point out ways that your child is doing better or your family is doing better because of the changes you’ve made.  Let them know they don’t have to agree with you, but you’d love for them to understand how you came to your decision.  Remember that you took a while to change and your family will too.  Don’t be put off by total disbelief or disdain.  We all react to new ideas pretty negatively the first time we hear them.  But somewhere after that 5th to 25th time, we’re sold.  Bring it up calmly and drop it quick.  Multiple exposures works, but slower than you will want.
  3. Recruit your children.  Diet changes, religious decisions, and other major issues are not something you’ll want to force down your child’s throat.  No matter how young they are, relentlessly point out the positives by your words and your actions.  If you change the way a child eats, do it for the whole family and treat it as an adventure.  Laugh more.  Be OK with making mistakes and draw your children into preparations so they feel important.  Get your children involved and give them ownership of the changes.  Relatives who come in trying to mess with what you’ve done will listen to your kids more than you anyway.  You will benefit from having kids who try to cooperate rather than sabotage, and who are happier overall.
  4. Set boundaries.  Of course you should already have boundaries and rules in your home.  I’m talking about the formal process of laying out the rules and consequences for non-compliant family members.  Let them know you are serious, you are acting in the best interests of your child, and the specific expectations you have for that relative’s behavior.  If you are married or partnered, this needs to be done as a team or the relatives will figure they can get what they want by going to the other guy.  Yes, it is the same behavior your 4yr old uses to get a cookie from mom after dad has said no.  We tend to go back to what worked when we’re under stress.
  5. Recruit help.  This can mean getting some other family members on your side or just opening up about the situation to some supportive friends.  It can also be a time to suggest family therapy so a professional gets looped into playing the referee and you don’t have to.  Be prepared for anger and bad behavior if your naughty relation figures out you’re getting the rest of the family on your side.  Be prepared for the same reaction if all you wanted to do was educate the family.  The people who are most likely to undermine your parenting are also most likely to be paranoid and wildly defensive.
  6. Limit the interactions.  You’ve done everything you can and your parenting is still not being supported.  This is a safety issue.  When your child is 15 and wants to get in a car with a drunk driver they NEED your voice in the back of their head.  Your children will face multiple situations that could kill or permanently harm everyone involved.  If they think you’re stupid and not worth listening to, they are less protected and more likely to get hurt.  Please don’t think that your parenting is anything less than life or death.  Respecting you is a safety net against stupid/dangerous/harmful behaviors.  Do not let anyone mess with that.  It is totally within your rights and responsibilities as a parent to tell your mother, father, sister, brother, cousin, uncle or aunt that they are no longer welcome in your house.  It’s better to tell them to go away now, than to blame them at the funeral.  If you do chose to have some contact with these people, do it in settings that you feel comfortable with and get support.  Have your partner, your friends, your worship community or a mental health professional present.  Don’t go it alone if you can’t tell them off alone.


Not all families are born.  We have to make them around us sometimes. Whoever they are, put people in your children’s lives that are respectful and helpful.  Everyone will benefit.