Accessing the Power of Gratitude

The practice of gratitude as a tool for happiness has been in the mainstream for years. Long-term studies support gratitude’s effectiveness, suggesting that a positive, appreciative attitude contributes to greater success in work, greater health, peak performance in sports and business, a higher sense of well-being, and a faster rate of recovery from surgery.

But while we may acknowledge gratitude’s many benefits, it still can be difficult to sustain. So many of us are trained to notice what is broken, undone or lacking in our lives. And for gratitude to meet its full healing potential in our lives, it needs to become more than just a Thanksgiving word. We have to learn a new way of looking at things, a new habit. And that can take some time.

That’s why practicing gratitude makes so much sense. When we practice giving thanks for all we have, instead of complaining about what we lack, we give ourselves the chance to see all of life as an opportunity and a blessing.

Remember that gratitude isn’t a blindly optimistic approach in which the bad things in life are whitewashed or ignored. It’s more a matter of where we put our focus and attention. Pain and injustice exist in this world, but when we focus on the gifts of life, we gain a feeling of well-being. Gratitude balances us and gives us hope.

There are many things to be grateful for: colourful autumn leaves, legs that work, friends who listen and really hear, fresh eggs, warm jackets, tomatoes, the ability to read, roses, our health, butterflies. What’s on your list?

Some Ways to Practice Gratitude

* Keep a gratitude journal in which you list things for which you are thankful. You can make […]

By |October 9th, 2011|Self-Care, Tips|0 Comments

Self-Care: Becoming Your Own Best Friend

Need someone to work extra days?  Ask me.  Someone who’ll clean up the place because we’ve scheduled an open house?  Sure.  I’ll even bring the cleaning supplies.  Need someone to baby-sit your kids while you go away for a weekend?  I’ll do it.  Stay late?  Cook extra?  Loan money?  Run an errand?  Give up my bed, my book, my best outfit? You bet.

“This was my life,” said Betty, 42.  “I thought I had to do anything and everything people asked. Even if they didn’t ask, I’d find ways to accommodate them.  And if I couldn’t, I felt guilty.”

Betty was an expert, no-holds-barred, genuine “accommodater.” Somewhere along the line she learned that her needs weren’t important. In fact, she had been accommodating others for so long and doing it so well, she didn’t even know what her needs were.

What she did know was that she was unhappy, that she sometimes felt angry and almost always felt guilty.  She realized she allowed people to use her, but she didn’t know how to say no.

“To me, self-care had something to do with giving myself breast exams,” she said.  “If someone mentioned boundaries, I thought they meant property lines.”

“Self-care is an attitude toward ourselves and our lives that says, I am responsible for myself,” wrote Melody Beattie, author of Codependent No More. It doesn’t mean you become selfish, cold, and dispassionate.  But you first become compassionate with yourself.

I often say in my work that the most important relationship that you need to nurture is the one you have with yourself.  Just like you might call and check in on loved ones every so often, you need to check in with yourself on a regular basis.  To practice […]

By |June 9th, 2011|Mind-Body, Self-Care, Tips|0 Comments

Listening to Our Bodies: They Know More Than We Do

The body holds much of the information we need to function at our best, but too often we ignore its messages and plow ahead with what our minds tell us. Perhaps because we’re not taught from early on to pay attention to internal messages as well as external demands, we frequently ignore our body’s communications.

So we take another extra-strength aspirin rather than investigating what’s causing our head to ache. We use more caffeine or sugar to give us a lift when we feel tired, rather than hearing our bodys message about needing rest or recognizing our fatigue as an early symptom of burnout we’d do well to heed. Or perhaps we’re so disconnected from the wisdom of our bodies that we have no idea what we really want to eat, reacting instead to the temptations that abound in our imagination and in the ads we see.

We fail to take into account the thousand little messages communicated to us by how we’re holding ourselves: the mouth that’s pinched and tight rather than relaxed. The fact that our shoulders are up around our ears, the knot of tension in our stomach as we promise to do something when closer consideration might tell us we are already over-extended.

These days it’s not uncommon for us to put deadlines ahead of the protests of aching bones or inadequately nourished bellies. (Is there hidden wisdom in calling a due date a deadline in the first place?) Instead of asking our body what it wants, we go for the quick fill-up or the comfort food that may be the last thing we really need.

So what to do to give your body an equal say in how you use it?

* Start with […]

By |July 8th, 2010|Mind-Body, Self-Care, Tips|0 Comments

Top 10 Barriers to Self-Growth

Change can be scary as we feel new things, entertain different thoughts, perhaps leave old ways behind. Often, resistance to change can rear its ugly head whenever our egos feel threatened by some change in the status quo.  This resistance can take many forms, and is sometimes difficult to recognize in ourselves.  Here are 10 obstacles that can hinder self-growth.

1. Denial. It’s difficult to grow when you don’t see the need. Listen to the quiet voice inside and to what your loved ones are saying. Get the support you need to see the truth, because ultimately it’s the truth that will set you free.

2. Seeing yourself as a victim. If you’re always one-down, you can’t become the empowered person you are meant to be.  Staying trapped as a victim robs you of the opportunity to take charge and change how you react to a situation.

3. Substance abuse. Whether you’re self-medicating with food or alcohol, or seeking escape, the problems just don’t go away without the willingness to face them.  In fact, the problem only gets worse, because a new problem is created–like excess weight, or addiction–that takes the focus away from the root cause.

4. Self-loathing. Nothing banishes self-hatred faster than self-care. Choose in any moment the kindest path.  If a friend came to you with the same problem, what advice would you give her?  Use the same advice for yourself, and do it with love.

5. Blame. If we always point the finger at one another, we never see our own role.  Be willing to take responsibility for your part in contributing to the problem.

6. Defensiveness. This is a racket we swing against anything that suggests we might be at fault. Try to see “faults” […]

By |March 4th, 2010|Anger, Change, Emotional Eating, Tips|0 Comments

The Importance of Self-Love

The legend of Narcissus tells of a young boy who, upon seeing his reflection in a clear fountain with water like silver, fell hopelessly in love with himself. Unable to tear his gaze away from his reflection, he could not eat, could not sleep, until finally, he pined away and died.

Unfortunately, the myth of Narcissus is too often our concept of self-love. We believe that if we love ourselves, we are selfish and self-centered, that falling in love with self means conceit and self-absorption. In fact, the opposite is true. Self-love is an honoring of the self that requires a high degree of independence and courage. The love we give others will be enhanced by the love we give ourselves.

The Problem with not Loving Yourself

A lack of self-love is a sign of low self-esteem or self-worth and shows its face in many ways: a refusal to enjoy life, workaholism, perfectionism, procrastination, emotional eating, guilt, and shame. Those who lack self-love avoid commitments, stay in destructive relationships, and fail to experience true intimacy with anyone. They practice negative self-talk, compare themselves with others, compete with others, caretake others and fail to take care of themselves. Unlike Narcissus, when they look in a mirror, they turn away.

The primary difference in those who practice self-love and those who don’t is their belief about themselves. “Of all the judgments that we pass in life, none is as important as the one we pass on ourselves, for that judgment touches the very center of our existence,” said Nathaniel Branden in his book on self-esteem, “Honoring the Self.”

The Gift of Self-Love

Unable to love ourselves, we are our own harshest critics, fault finders, nay-sayers and naggers. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No […]

By |February 4th, 2010|Beliefs, Emotional Eating, Tips|0 Comments

Why Therapy? Exploring the Strengths of Seeking Help

Long before there were therapists, there were family members. Grandpa and Aunt Jane listened, or gave us advice, or sometimes just told us to buck up. If family couldn’t help, there were friends or a clergy member. But most likely, we were also warned not to broadcast our troubles, and many people suffered their emotional problems silently.

Times have changed, and so has society’s acceptance of seeking help. The old stigma of being seen as weak or incapable is largely gone.  This has been helped tremendously by many well-known writers, actors and politicians being open about their struggles with, and treatments for, everything from depression to chronic shoplifting. Going to a therapist is now seen as a sign of strength and willingness to take charge of one’s life.  Rather than proof that someone is “sick,” it is a sign of good health to make a commitment to change.

What Makes Therapy Different?

You might be wondering what talking to a therapist will do that you can’t get from talking to a dear friend or family member. “Therapy is a unique relationship and what makes it valuable sets it apart from friendships, working partnerships, family connections and love affairs,” says Carl Sherman, author of How to Go to Therapy: Making the Most of Professional Help.

In his book, author Sherman describes therapy as a balance in which two people are “collaborating on a single project: helping you deal with your problems and achieve the change you want. There is no other agenda.”

It’s the simplicity of that agenda, combined with a structured schedule, confidentiality and trust, that make this unique relationship work so well for so many people. What’s more, the “unconditional positive regard” that characterizes all good […]

By |January 7th, 2010|Change, Tips|0 Comments

15 Tips for Holiday Eating Without Weight Gain

by Michelle May, M.D.

Do you anticipate the holidays but dread the “inevitable” holiday weight gain? Do your holiday events revolve around eating more than the meaning, people, presents, decorations, or travel?

Avoiding holiday weight gain and eating healthy during the holidays can be a real challenge unless you have a great strategy.  These 15 holiday eating tips will help you avoid holiday weight gain and enjoy the season more while eating less.

1.  It is easier to get distracted from signals of physical hunger and satiety at social gatherings, especially if food is the main event. Make an effort to pay close attention to your body’s signals.

2.  Be a food snob. Skip the store-bought goodies, the dried-out fudge and the so-so stuffing. If the food you select doesn’t taste as good as you expected, stop eating it and choose something else. Think of how much less you’d eat if you only ate things that tasted fabulous!

3.  Think of your appetite as an expense account. How much do you want to spend on appetizers or the entree? Do you want to save some room for dessert? Go through this process mentally to avoid eating too much food and feeling uncomfortable for the rest of the evening.

4.  Pace your eating prior to the event so you’ll be hungry but not famished at mealtime. But please, ignore the old diet advice of “eat before you go to a party so you won’t be tempted.” That is absurd! You want to be hungry enough to enjoy your favorites.

5.  Socialize away from the sight of the food. People who tend to overeat are “food suggestible” so just hanging around food […]

By |December 3rd, 2009|Emotional Eating, Food, Mindful Eating, Tips|0 Comments

The Benefits of Yoga: Good for Mind and Body!

You’ve certainly heard time and again that yoga is good for you. All that stretching and breathing calms you down and makes you feel better. But other than “making you feel good,” what are the health benefits associated with practicing yoga?

More often than not, we tend to perceive yoga as a meditation practice that helps us physically – to balance, to stretch, etc. But yoga is also a practice that improves the well-being of our mental state. In fact, “yoga” is derived from the same root as the word “yoke,” referring to the process of yoking the mind and body together.  It is in combining both of these that the most benefit is derived from the practice of yoga. 

Physical Benefits
* Breathing: most of us breathe very differently than we should. As infants, we breathe in by expanding our bellies, and breathe out by retracting our bellies. As we age, we actually reverse this process, and we tend to breathe in a very shallow manner.  In fact, we very rarely truly give any thought at all to how we breathe. Pranayama, a yoga breathing exercise, actually helps to give thought to “how” we breathe and teaches us how to do it properly.

* Muscle tone and strength: many yoga poses require you to support yourself and balance on your limbs. This in turn increases your strength. Thus, more strength equals stronger, leaner muscles.

* Pain prevention: whether or not you have pain to begin with, yoga can help treat both current chronic pain and prevent future pain that can occur as we age. Back pain, for instance, is a very common as most of our everyday lives are spent sitting in a car or at a […]

By |November 5th, 2009|Exercise, Fitness, Tips, Yoga|0 Comments

How to Be a Food Snob

I’ll never forget the day I figured out I was a food snob. There I was, sitting in a graduate seminar chatting with a colleague, when she pulled out a granola bar that looked interesting.  I said, “Wow, I’ve never seen that kind before, but then again I never buy granola bars.” And when she replied, “Of course you don’t, you’re a total food snob!”, I was taken aback.  Was this an insult? After a few seconds, I thought, “Yes, yes I am a food snob!” and thanked her for her compliment.

What is a Food Snob?

What the heck is a food snob, you might ask, and why should you be proud to be one? Good question!  A food snob is someone who has an epicurean zeal for high quality, fresh and fancy food.

Here are some of the traits and behaviour patterns of a food snob:

* They prefer to buy their food from specialty shops; bread from bakeries, meat from butcher shops, and nuts and grains from bulk food stores.

* When in a suburban-style mega-grocery store, they mostly avoid the centre aisles, opting instead for fresh produce and dairy.

* They don’t buy things that come in crinkly bags or brightly coloured boxes with cartoon characters on them.

* Whatever they do buy from centre aisles has to be imported from some foreign country and in a glass bottle with a fancy label, thank you very much.

* They love to visit farmer’s markets, and pick out local produce with the eye of a jeweller choosing the finest gems.

* They also love to try new things; the more exotic and unpronounceable, the better.

* When eating out, they get excited by hole-in-the-wall restaurants that serve […]

By |September 3rd, 2009|Emotional Eating, Food, Lessons in Living, Mindful Eating, Tips|0 Comments

How to Be Less of a Perfectionist and Enjoy Life More

This is the second of a series of two articles that explore the dynamics of perfectionism. In my last article, you learned what perfectionism is and why people develop the need to do things perfectly. In this one, you will learn how to change your perfectionist behaviors and enable yourself to be more satisfied with yourself and your life.

You will have the greatest success if you read the first article and take some time to observe your own perfectionist patterns. Once you have accomplished that, choose a few of the strategies outlined here. Keep working at it until you understand what you need to do to accept your imperfections and humanness.

Create a Support Network for Yourself
Seek out people who are not perfectionists. Encourage your support network to not be rigid or moralistic in their attempts to keep you on an honest course. Look for people who forgive and forget when mistakes, failures, offenses, or backsliding occur. Ask them to tell you when they think you are being rigid, unrealistic, or idealistic in your behavior. Ask them to give you positive reinforcement for any positive change, no matter how small. Seek out people who have a sincere interest in your personal growth.

Do Some Self-Exploration
Explore the following questions in your journal, print this out and make some notes here, or discuss them with a trusted friend or professional counselor:

1. Where do you see perfectionististic behavior in your life?

2. How do these behaviors create problems for you?

3. What perfectionistic beliefs do you have?

4. How do you think these beliefs will affect your ability to change your behavior?

5. What do you need to do to become less of a perfectionist and be more relaxed about things?

6. How can […]

By |August 6th, 2009|Beliefs, Tips|0 Comments