In-sight

It’s amazing what you notice when you literally can’t see…

A few weeks ago, I went in to my optometrist’s office to have my eyes checked. I needed an updated prescription in order to get new contacts. What I learned was that my vision had been grossly overpowered for pretty much my entire young adult life (Math: Aged 15 through 38 makes for 23 years of wearing contact lenses, kids)

I left his office wearing a prescription I think I may have had when I was 10. All of Park Slope looked slightly out of focus with a diffused fuzz surrounding lights and street signs. He told me my brain needed time to get used to this downgrade. My eyes had been conditioned to over focus. This got me thinking about my painful at times issue of noticing the little things that others miss. Conversations I can’t seem to filter my attention away from, scenes that play out in the far corners of train cars when people are staring deeply into their smart devices and smells that no one else seems to pick up on, but send my olfactory bulbs into overdrive. This is the story of my life. I fantasize about what it must be like for the people who do not notice; who aren’t capable or do not care to notice. I envy their ability to walk through life oblivious to all that detail.

I still couldn’t see shit hours later. How long was it going to take my brain to acclimate?

I woke up the following morning and popped the tester contacts back in. When I got to the city, I realized I could not discern clear facial features of anyone more than ten feet away from me. This walk down one of the longest city blocks to get to my work is like an American Ninja Warrior gauntlet. I’m in a constant battle for space, bobbing and weaving through people staring up or down but never straight on, exaggerated arm swings with lit cigarettes that narrowly miss burning a whole into my side and those people who literally just STOP without warning (yes, there is such a thing as rear ending a pedestrian). Since I couldn’t anticipate people’s movements, I had to just go with the flow. I got knocked into by a guy carrying a humongous Starbucks disaster drink. Ask me what he looked like? I have no freakin’ clue. It’s easier to let moments like that go when you don’t have the afterimage of his face stamped in your memory.

I rushed down the subway stairs and made my train just as it was pulling into the station. The bright orange circle was the letter B to my downgraded eyes. It was, in fact, a D. Getting off a few stops later, I waited until the next train fully pulled in and squinted to see the letter clearly. I almost doubted myself. I almost asked the teenager sitting next to me what the letter was. I didn’t. I gazed at our reflections in the darkened window facing us. We looked the same age. My eyes had now become a Photoshop filter. I smiled not really caring what part of Brooklyn I might end up in if my vision had tricked me.

After a week of this, I started to feel like those people I envied. I realized just how much mental real estate I give over to details that honestly take the joy out of my life at times. There is an expression “the devil is in the details” and it rang true for me. Learning to pay attention to what matters most instead of getting lost or despondent over every micro element of what I’m seeing, hearing or inhaling is my take away from this experience. My eyes may have found their focus now, but I feel like I inadvertently got a dose of exposure therapy in the process. And I’m not mad about it at all.

 

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Using Your Whole Brain to Avoid Drama

A few months back, my sister and I were chatting about how she had learned to cope with her kids’ misbehavior and meltdowns. Unlike the old school European tactics of our parents, she had discovered a way that built a level of self awareness in her children even some adults lack. This magical teaching tool is No-Drama Discipline (image above) written by two of psychology’s leading experts in parenting.

I decided I wanted to read this book not because I am or will be a parent anytime soon nor because it is required reading for my grad school endeavors. What appealed to me about it was gaining another level of understanding the way in which our brains react to emotional situations. While it may be geared toward parents trying not to psychologically scar their children in the process of raising them, its tools can be applied to almost any relational conflict in life.

The WHOLE brain…

The authors speak of the brain in two parts – an upstairs and a downstairs. This rather simple separation makes sense in terms of our reactions. Think of your upstairs brain as your rational, intellectual side that likes to problem solve and think through things before it reacts. It’s the part that has had many millennia of trial and error to evolve into the task master that it is. The downstairs brain is your primitive, reptilian side that reacts immediately and strongly to things that stimulate it. It’s governed by emotional reflexes and, if left to its own devices, would have kept us from ever becoming “human.” The whole-brain approach these experts describe is getting the upstairs and downstairs to work together in order to build a positive sense of self, accountability and resilience, delayed gratification and a host of other mindful things in children.

Adults can have trouble integrating their upstairs and downstairs brains too. We have ALL been there; a situation where reason flies out the window and we would sooner punch a wall than ask questions. That’s the downstairs brain running the show. This reactivity is noted by the authors as being a plea for help or a sign that a child doesn’t know how to process and express the BIG feelings that have overwhelmed him or her in that moment. Adults, too, can have trouble articulating BIG feelings, especially if there is a level of vulnerability involved. What it boils down to is if you punch that wall, will you still be loved? If you are at your lowest, will people still be there for you? If you are your worst self, can you still be lovable? The answers to these questions are in the following steps.

Step 1 – The Connection Cycle

In dealing with relational conflict, the authors emphasize tuning in to the mind beneath the behavior (77).  This is focusing not on what the person has done or said, but on the underlying why. This is sometimes easier said than done; however in the initial moments of the behavior’s aftermath, connecting with the other person begins to communicate a sense of comfort. The connection cycle begins with a physical touch, followed by validating where the other person is emotionally, listening to what they have to say and then reflecting on it. This first step demonstrates that you know the person may be in a bad way at the moment, but you are there and willing to understand them. This approach teaches our kids how to love through good times and bad, as well as promotes the secure attachment vital for their healthy, future adult relationships. Cue the word adult..

Step 2 – A little Redirection

Connection is very much about being in the present moment. While you can’t bend time to undo the offending or upsetting behavior, the “moment” doesn’t have to define the other person, the relationship or life as you both know it. With connection established, you now have a firm grip on why the downstairs brain ran amok. In order to get the upstairs brain on board to resolve the situation, the authors refer to a series of strategies in redirection. I’ve chosen the ones that best apply to adult conflict.

Reduce words – Do not nag, lecture or harp on what happened, since the why behind the behavior is known. Do not do this days, weeks or months after the conflict either. People tune out or conversely, ruminate on the negative. No one feels good in the end.

Describe, don’t preach – I’ve placed this after the above because it relates to what you say. Just describe what you observe. Take all the emotional language, assumptions and judgement out of it. If anything, ask them to help you understand what happened.

Embrace emotions -You want to make sure they know it’s okay to feel BIG emotions, but they are not a license to ACT. This is done through setting boundaries i.e. the standards of behavior that are okay and not okay, while also maintaining connection and being empathetic (97).

Emphasize the positive – Give your focus and attention to behavior you want to see repeated. Statements like “I love it when you…” or “It makes me so happy when we…” open up a dialogue that redirects from the negative thing that happened.

Creatively approach the situation – Humor and playfulness are just as fun in adulthood as they are in childhood. While some situations may be serious, there are still ways of poking fun at ourselves (e.g. Wow, I was being a crazy pants back there!) or at the circumstances (e.g. I feel like this Emoji face right now…and then doing it).

The last strategy of redirection involves teaching mindfulness. One important tool is the do-over defined as a second chance at handling a situation, which is meant to build a child’s empathy and mindfulness. Ask questions like, What could you have done differently? What will you do next time? Ask yourself those same questions.

Mindfulness is the most honest resolution to any relational conflict.

Reading this book allowed me to understand the why behind the demise of a close friendship. It also helped me to have a difficult conversation with someone I cared for deeply with more presence and understanding than if I let my hurt feelings do the talking. Moreover, it paints conflict resolution as a warm and nurturing experience; something I never experienced growing up, but I can now model for my present and future relationships. This book is LIFE!

 

To order a copy: https://www.amazon.com/No-Drama-Discipline-Whole-Brain-Nurture-Developing/dp/034554806X

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to be mindful with a mind that’s full in 2017

Welcome to the end of the first week of the New Year. I am not alone in saying that 2016 presented its fair share of obstacles, life altering experiences and game changing events. None of us want a repeater in 2017. Last week, I set out to create an image of how I wanted this year to unfold. Within this image was a list of intentions to guide me along the process. Why not resolutions, you ask? There is a huge difference between resolving something and intending to act. The former implies that there is something wrong; that there is unfinished business hindering you from getting to where you want to be. To make such a list drives into your consciousness all the failures, road blocks and let downs of years’ past. Intentions are purposeful actions. I intend to hug strangers, eat broccoli, travel to Cuba and so on. Intentions allow you to be mindful even if the rest of your brain is locked up in the junk of 2016.

Doing for ME above all others…

One of the most powerful intentions I put on that list, which set the tone for all the others that followed was doing for ME above all others. This is huge! I am an empath and a nurturer. My profession by definition draws on both these qualities, sometimes to depletion point. Oftentimes, I forget myself and my own needs. Therefore, placing ME at the top of my intentions keeps me mindful of number 1. Channeling that nurture inward allows my higher self to steer me forward. She’s the one with the clear voice and my best intentions in mind. Her judgement of situations and people is never cloudy. She is my gut and she is always spot on. If this is too woo-woo for some of you, let me rephrase it as learning to put your needs first. If it puts you last on the list, just say NO.

Walk away from other people’s tornadoes…

You cannot take on or personalize other people’s struggles in this life. Once again, the empathic nurturing self wants to provide solutions, love the pain away, walk alongside them in their process. What you need to realize is that it is their process, not yours and trying to invite yourself into the tornado leaves a destructive path in its wake. As my post on unconditional love explored, it’s okay to walk away.

Any kind of day can be made better by working out…

I told myself whenever I was feeling off in some way or another, I would do a quick workout and then re-evaluate how I was feeling. Being in your physical body prevents you from ruminating and that form of distraction can reset your nervous system in profound ways. Feel good hormones called endorphins surge through your system every time you exercise. Why not take advantage of nature’s mood elevators? Who here has 15-20 minutes a day to feel good? I DO!!

Fantasize like a 5-year old…

Small children fantasize 24/7. Their play incorporates a ton of make believe and they love telling long drawn out stories of what they envision their future/fantasy selves to be like. My niece is always telling me her I want to be a princess fantasy complete with what her hair will look like and the types of rooms in her home. Why is it so hard for us adults to do the same? The inability to fantasize about certain things I desire for myself is like telling my inner 5 year old not to dream because I don’t believe it will come true.  There is power in falling in love with that story or as a close friend put it watching the movie of your life play out all the while rooting for the heroine – YOU. I intend to tell myself elaborate stories of future me with as many details as possible and enjoy the vision in progress.

As my list took form, I felt an energetic shift within myself. The first week of the New Year has been an optimistic one not because anything profound has actually happened, but because I feel more at home within myself than ever before. Let the above intentions guide you in making a list of your own. See what shifts occur within you. This is YOUR year.

Show them what you’re worth

A familiar image to New Yorkers – the fearless, hard working, mostly immigrant lot that helped build up the city skyline we are famous for…

 

In my family, your sense of worth comes from how hard you work. It doesn’t matter if there is little to no material pay off for this work. Your blood, sweat and tears are enough of a status symbol to make the neighbors unable to call you the worst of insults – useless! This work ethic has been passed down through four traceable generations. It’s very much alive in me and that air of purpose shows society that I’m grabbing life by its horns or its balls, depending on the situation. No family lore ever spoke of burnout, though.

I’ve mentioned this topic in another post “The Magic Number” where I discussed how too many massages with little self care leads to the need to set a professional limit in order to avoid burnout. Professional burnout is common in any career that involves caring for others. Our nurturing energy can literally be sucked dry if we don’t set up the proper boundaries and limits on “selflessness.” In extreme cases, injury and illness befall the individual who is worn thin. More common features of burnout are irritability, resentment toward those you are giving care to, impatience and clock watching. This last term is one the awful markers of burnout in massage. This is when a therapist counts down the minutes til the massage they are performing is over. I admit there have been a handful of massages where I dug deep in my psyche to get through it because every minute felt like an hour; however if I felt like that with every client and therapeutic situation, I would be in trouble.

The other evening, I chatted with two colleagues who have been licensed Massage Therapists now for almost a decade. We were discussing our “worth” within the corporate spa setting and one of them made a telling exclamation. Every three years, she is garnering new skills that she brings to the table outside of her hands on experience and spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars to acquire these skills and keep her license current. She lamented with an ironic laugh how she is getting better in every sense of the word, but has less to show for it each year. In fact, her commission rate straight out of school was 7% higher than it is currently at the ten year mark.

Her lament peaked my curiosity as to what salaries/commissions are like in other corporate owned spa settings. I wanted a comparison. Perhaps it was only this particular spa chain that so profoundly undercut its “talent.” What I learned was pretty disheartening. Granted, my research reflected the New York market; however, we have one of the most arduous and strictest licensing processes in all the country. If anyone deserves a proper salary for their training, it’s New York State licensed massage therapists. So, does the corporate spa setting undervalue therapists? YES!!!

The caregiver in need of care…

 

Before faces lengthen and spirits become disillusioned, it’s important to understand that there are many other options and specializations for a massage therapist. Your worth isn’t determined by one particular spa chain or corporate pay structure. In fact, you can set a rate per massage for your private practice that reflects the skills, continuing education and experience you have amassed. Also, many medical settings, like chiropractic, physical therapy and rehabilitation have a need for capable, experienced therapists to support their patients’ treatments. These places will pay sometimes fixed salaries and sometimes per documented massage hour regardless of how many patients you see in a day. The reality that newly minted and seasoned veteran massage therapist have to come to terms with is that you won’t be able to put all your eggs in one basket. Having two or three part time positions in addition to private clientele may be the only way to make a decent living and this reality could/can lead to burnout. Perhaps then this profession is something you can’t do for the long haul. This is what I have started to realize. This is why I made the decision to return to school and pursue a parallel, but different therapeutic career. Perhaps my colleague should do the same. Harkening back to my family’s legacy, I find that there isn’t any sense in showing the world how much of a hard worker I am when I may end up breaking both my back and my spirit in my effort. It’s time to rewrite the story and choose the gentler path for once; one that eventually will pay off and show the most important person of all, MYSELF, what I’m worth!