Before you make your New Year’s Resolutions

According to University of Scranton Professor John Norcross, who studies such things, by June 60% of us will have abandoned our New Year’s resolutions.

Cheery thought, isn’t it?

A lot of things contribute to our failures. We make goals that are too big and too broad. I will never eat sugar again for the rest of my life. (There’s a reason people in recovery talk about taking it one day at a time. Forever is a big bite to take on at once.) They are too much of a leap from where we are. I will start running and do a marathon in a month. They are too vague. I will get into shape.

Good goals are SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound.) If I make a resolution to give up brussels sprouts that’s not relevant because I never eat brussels sprouts anyway.  If you’re into such things, here’s a worksheet.

But there’s another reason we drop out before reaching our goals. We define what we’re going to do but we never address the mess inside our head. It’s like trying to drive with the brake on. It’s hard to succeed if there’s a voice in your head telling you that you’ve always been a failure. (Here’s more specific information on dealing with the critical voices in your head.)

fitness motivationAs a mentor with the No Boundaries program sponsored by Fleet Feet (as well as in my own journey) I’ve seen how much our heads can get in the way of our feet. That’s why I created MindRight/BodyFit, a weekly podcast or PDF addressing an issue that can get in the way of beginning or maintaining a fitness program. You can read more about it (and even sign up!) here.

 

The beginning of a new year is a great time to set goals for living in healthier ways. Just don’t forget to take care of the unhealthy stuff between your ears.

Facing Change

I recently came across this very good article in Huffington Post on mindfulness. I’ve written before about what a valuable tool just paying attention is, how increasing our awareness helps us increase our capacity to deal effectively with the ups and downs of our lives.

“Don’t look for mindfulness to cure your anxiety, depression or addiction, look at it more as a new way of relating to life, a way of coming home, nurturing a healthier heart and opening up to the experience of being alive.”

More than once when a client comes into my office they are looking for a cure. After all, that’s what they seek from their medical doctors. They want to make the sore throat go away or the painful knee to stop hurting. I have to break the news to them that what our work is about is not so much curing them.

I can’t make it so that they will never be sad again. I can help them deal with and perhaps even transform sadnesses that they’ve carried for far too long. I can help them identify the feelings that really don’t belong to them, that are based on faulty beliefs or someone else’s pain inflicted upon them. And I can give them the tools to deal with sadness that comes  in the future.

But things like sadness, grief and even anxiety are part and parcel of our humanity. They are acknowledgements of the inevitable changes of life, the ebb and flow that is as relentless as the tides.

I was at the beach with my five-year old great-nephew. He decided that he didn’t like the tide coming in. “Make it stop, Aunt Peggy,” he said. I  told him that I didn’t have the power to do that. It’s  just what the ocean did.

And change is just what life brings to us. Some changes are better than other, more joyful than others. But mindfulness is one way that we can navigate with some grace the changes that come and the feelings that they bring.

Where everybody knows your name

Not actually us.

The other night I spent a wonderful evening sharing dinner with a group of friends. I don’t even know how long we’ve known each other. Years ago we started as a group for women clergy in town. As we discussed what the group might be, we considered being a book group or a sermon preparation group.. and then we decided that we mainly wanted just to talk with each other.

And so we did. Every month we gathered at someone’s house – or later, my office. We had tea and coffee and talked about our work. And our lives. We met together for years until finally people started moving away… Texas. New Mexico. Winston-Salem. (okay, which one of those does not fit with the other?) Occasionally now one of our southwestern sisters comes through town and we get together.

The other night as the day grew short and our time together grew long, I watched this group. I appreciated the ease with which we are together with each other. We shared from our hearts, the good, bad and indifferent places. People offered encouragement and support. People offered new possibilities. We experienced community.

I’ve thought about that night a lot this week. So many of the people whom I see are hungry for that kind of community. “Cheers” was based on a place “where everybody knows your name” and I think there is within us a longing for those kinds of places. Places where they know our name. Where they know our heart.

But such community doesn’t just walk up to our door. It doesn’t happen without investment. And that’s where a lot of us flounder.

We create time for everything else in our schedules except each other. Or with the first sign of a disagreement, we’re done. We walk away. We never risk allowing ourselves to take the risk of deepening relationships. We forget how important friendships can be.

Community is messy. Community is demanding. Community is risky. But when it happens, it is priceless.

This week, pick up the phone, open up your e-mail, log onto Facebook… and reach out to someone. Someone from whom you’ve drifted away. Someone with whom you’d like to have a closer friendship.

It can’t start without opening the door.

 

Nothing more than feelings

Through the graces of Twitter,  I recently read this fine article for caregivers by Wendy Lustbader in the Huffington Post. I particularly liked this quote:

You can’t take away someone’s loneliness. No matter how many times caregivers phone, visit, or take their loved one on outings, there will always be the time in-between contacts for the person to feel the sadness of separation from lifelong friends and the loss of once cherished activities. These are consequences of frailty or illness that caregivers cannot rectify. It helps to recognize the unavoidable fact that the hours of companionship they provide for their relative go quickly and the empty hours still pass slowly.

It’s a challenge for caregivers but not just caregivers. Many people struggle with wanting to take away another person’s pain, grief or struggle. After all, we love them. We don’t want them to feel badly. We want them to have lives of joy, no matter what their age and physical condition.

One of the things that I learned in working with the former staff of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is that we cannot take another person’s grief from them. We cannot protect someone from their feelings. Trying to do so may not be only fruitless but also disrespectful. We all have a right to our own feelings. The grief that comes with the many losses of aging and declining health is hard won. It recognizes the value of the gifts the person enjoyed, whether it was a loving life partner, a treasured home, the ability to do a favorite hobby or even to talk a walk on a nice day. To allow the grief that comes is a way of acknowledging those losses.

Our task isn’t to keep someone from grieving; it is to provide a safe space in which they can grieve. It is to support them. It is to help them with any concrete tasks of life with which we can help. And, if necessary, it’s to help them find ways and tools for expressing that grief.

Years ago pastor Charles Poole wrote a book entitled, “Hard Things Are Hard.” Indeed they are.

When a friend or loved one is going through a hard time, we do them no service to try to pretend as if we could make it be easy.  They don’t need us to take away their feelings. They need us to be able to speak truthfully about those hard things. And then to be present with them in the best way we know how.

If you are looking for a safe place in which to grieve whatever losses you’ve had, I invite you to the Life,Loss and Healing workshop in Durham, NC (March 23-25, 2012.) The workshop gives people a chance to acknowledge many different kinds of losses, to express their own feelings and to find tools for healing. If you’re interested, contact Nancy Mullins at lifelosshealing@nethere.com.

The 12 Days of Christmas: Surviving and thriving (Day 5: Have some cake)

So you’ve decided to eat healthy and lose that weight you’ve been carrying around. Or you’re trying your best to follow your doctor’s guidelines for managing your diabetes. Or you’ve come to a decision for your ethics and your health that you’re committed to being a vegetarian. Or vegan. Or you’ve discovered that you really do better without gluten.

You’re doing pretty good with it. But Christmas is looming. Here’s some tips for navigating the minefield that can be the dining room table.

1. Understand that food is loaded. And I’m not just talking about loaded baked potatoes. Food is loaded with meaning.

Every year, my mother spent days baking Christmas cookies. Many different kinds of Christmas cookies. Dozens upon dozens of Christmas cookies.

Our family is not that big.

But for my mother, baking Christmas cookies was an important part of Christmas. Just like it was important to have two meats and sixteen vegetables on the table for dinner. (Our family is not that big.) But for her it was an act of love to make sure every family member had a vegetable they loved, that we had everyone’s favorite dish.

That cake may be more than a cake. It may be a way the baker has of expressing love. It may be the passing along of a legacy of generations, remembering someone who has died with the food they used to make. (For example, whenever I make chocolate pie it’s not just chocolate pie. It’s my Aunt Janie’s chocolate pie.)

2. Honor the feeling. Even if you cannot or chose not to eat the slice of cake, you can honor the intention of the one who made it. Honor the work they’ve done. Honor the caring behind it. “Tell me how your mom used to make this…” “You’re so thoughtful to think about all of us…” For some, the acknowledgement they need is in your enjoyment of their food. But it can also help to have a verbal acknowledgement.

3. Talk about the food. this is true especially if you have a special diet. Family members may feel a little scared that first Christmas you’re a diabetic or have gone gluten-free. Talk with them about what it means. Give suggestion as to what you can eat or ways recipes can be modified. Offer to bring something, if possible.

4. Talk about food early. In the case of my mother, most of the Christmas casseroles were done and in the freezer not too long after Halloween. If the cooks in your family plan on a similar schedule, be proactive.

5. Be prepared to be a broken record (or stuck CD or frozen mp3.) Anticipate reactions. Will your uncle the hunter make fun of you for being vegetarian? Will your sister make comments about all of that gluten stuff just being a fad? Plan ahead of time how you’ll respond. Generally, the Christmas dinner table isn’t a good time for debates, so answers that de-escalate instead of answers that engage generally work better. “I know it must seem like a fad to you, but I’m willing to do anything that makes me feel this much better.” “I know it may seem silly, Uncle Jim. but you know me…” “It’s okay if our children don’t clean their plates.”

Be prepared to repeat these statements as many times as possible. If you choose not to engage in an argument or debate, they cannot make you.

6. When all else fails, have a back-up. We still laugh about the time that my sister-in-law’s father, not impressed with the healthy dessert she’d made for Thanksgiving, insisted on stopping at Shoney’s on the way home for fudge cake.

 

Depression?

It’s amazing what you can read on the internet.

Just this morning I came across the following article:

10 Ways to Stay Depression Free

The article has some very good information about how to have a healthy lifestyle, but I was amazed by this blanket (and inaccurate) statement:

Depression is a lifelong, chronic condition, and it needs to be maintained like any other disease. 

I’m sorry, but that’s just wrong. I’ve spent a lot of time working with people who are depressed. In many, if not most of the cases the depression is actually a strange sort of gift. It’s a warning light to let them know that something is wrong in their lives. It may be a relationship that needs addressing. Or it may be time to pursue that dream that they’ve put off for too long.

The depression may be a signal that it’s time to change an internal dialogue that keeps a person beaten down and feeling bad about themselves. It maybe time to give up the old family rules and roles that dictated who succeeded and who failed.

Depression may point out that how you’re living your life doesn’t match up to who and what you want to be. It may be the cry from your body and soul that it’s time to take care of yourself.

Depression may also be the indicator that it’s time to heal very old wounds. It may be time to finally grieve that loss you’ve not been able to acknowledge, much less grieve. It maybe time to deal with the fact that not only was your childhood not “not that bad,” there were times that were just plain abusive. Many times I see that depression in an adult is actually the cry of a hurt and scared child who has been living in that adult body.

Here’s the danger in promoting depression simply as “a chronic disease like diabetes.” When we think of depression in that way, we don’t take the time and do the work to hear what it is actually saying. We may band-aid the pain but never address the cause. I encourage you to follow the lifestyle tips in the article, but not because  you’re trying to keep a terrible disease at bay. Do them because you’re trying  to live the healthiest and best life possible.

When you change how you think about such a thing, it’s amazing how much difference it makes.