How to Achieve a Stretch Goal

What is a stretch goal? For our purposes, we’ll define a stretch goal as a goal for which you don’t appear to be well suited, based on past experience.

For example, if you’ve always struggled financially, the goal of becoming a millionaire would be a stretch goal. Getting in great shape would be a stretch goal if you’ve weighed over 400 lbs for many years.

We all have dreams that would be stretch goals for us. Plus, everyone is different – what might be a stretch goal for you could be more easily achievable by someone else, and vice versa.

You can easily spot when a goal is going to be a big challenge because the following symptoms are frequently present:

  • The thought of achieving the goal is physically uncomfortable. We all have a spot in our bodies where we get that feeling of dread.
  • You feel a strong inclination to procrastinate. If you’re having trouble getting started, that’s a warning sign.
  • You indulge in distractions. The TV, Internet, food, sleeping, socializing, or drinking all become a lot more interesting than they usually are for you.
  • When you do actually try, there is resistance everywhere. Now we’re talking again about that feeling of dread, as well as the appearance of numerous obstacles in the way.

Once you’ve determined that a particular dream is a stretch goal, how can you accomplish it, when it seems so challenging?

This process is particularly suited to achieving a stretch goal:

  1. Write down your goal. Also write down the experience of achieving it. Imagine having just lost those 50 pounds. How would you feel? What would that experience look like? Focus on your thoughts and feelings.
  2. Keep writing, reading, and imagining.Put down on paper the experience of having achieved your goal. Try to relax with those feelings until there’s no negative emotional charge, like fear, associated with the goal. Repeatas often as possible until the negative feelings are completely gone.
  3. Stick with the winners. Hang around other people who’ve done what you’ve set out to accomplish.In our weight loss example, join a gym and find the folks who have successfully lost a lot of weight. Notice that they aren’t remarkably different from you.
  4. Make a plan. Now you can make a plan and move forward with the more traditional approach of putting your plan into action and refining it until you reach the results you desire. As you put your plan in motion, continue to use your positive meditations for daily motivation and clarity.

Constantly monitor your feelings and your behavior throughout the achievement process.

Are your thoughts mostly positive? Do you feel good when you think about achieving what you’re aiming for? Are you taking enthusiastic action toward reaching your goal? If not, you need to eliminate negativity. Repeat steps two and three.

Stretch goals are challenging because they aren’t in alignment with our previous experiences or our opinions about ourselves. The negative feelings that arise when you attempt a stretch goal need to be dealt with effectively to help bring about your success.

Following the process above will move your stretch goals into the realm of possibility. Even your wildest dreams truly are within your reach.

Fill Your Life With Happiness

Happiness is a funny thing. Many experts say that happiness comes from within. This may be true, but there are also specific experiences that make us happy.

Maybe having a great day at the park with your kids filled you with happiness. Or perhaps that promotion you’d been working for finally came to pass. Bet you felt happy then!  However, you probably also know someone who seems happy all the time, even when things aren’t going well in their life.

So how can you have more of this elusive thing that comes both from within and from without? Luckily, there are specific things we can do to bring more happiness into our lives. We can also choose to remove things from our lives that may prevent happiness.

Try these ideas to simplify your life and focus more on doing what brings you real happiness:

1.  Unplug from email. Everyone loves to get email, as long as it isn’t spam. But the enjoyment is only temporary. Think about the amount of time you spend on email over the course of a week. Is all that time you’re spending making you happy?

• Do what you can to eliminate the 95% of the email that means the least to you, and limit this communication tool to those people you care about the most. Just knowing that you don’t have email piling up 24/7 provides some mental relief which will help make way for happiness.

2.  Ditch all the stuff. Go through your belongings one by one and purge the stuff that you don’t need or love. All the extra stuff is just getting in your way and tying up your resources. Sell the stuff, pitch it, donate it, or give it away to friends.

3.  Cancel cable television. Cable TV is practically a given in our country. But the time it takes away from the average person’s life is staggering. And no one is happier from watching television. It merely serves as a distraction from the real issues, both positive and negative, in your life.

• Try limiting your viewing to 2-3 hours a week. This will free up plenty of time to do other things you love or work toward goals that are important to you. Reaching those goals will, in all likelihood, bring you more happiness than excessive TV viewing!

Getting rid of these things might not directly increase your happiness, but it will allow you some time and space to do other things that will increase your happiness. 

Now that you’re done with the big steps, what’s next? Take some time to consider these areas of your life:

  • Spend time on your relationships. How is your relationship with your spouse or partner? Is there something that could be improved upon? Making this relationship as positive as possible is crucial to your happiness.
  • Evaluate your social network. Are your friendships and social activities supporting your happiness? In what ways do they make you happy? How could you increase your positive feelings in this area?
  • Assess your health. Are you as healthy as you could be? Are you happy with your body? What changes could you make to your routine to bring about the results you desire?
  • Be honest with yourself about your career, finances, and hobbies. Look at each of these areas and determine if you would be happier with some changes. If so, make a plan with some easy action steps to get you started on a path that brings you more joy.

Now that you’ve gotten rid of the dead weight and changed the things that aren’t as good as they could be you have room to add in activities that support your happiness. Don’t be in a big hurry to take up all the new space; enjoy the peace and quiet.

If you have an activity you’d really love to add to your life, now is the time to do it. Over time, continuing to add new things that bring joy will enhance your overall happiness. Your life will be forever changed.

Having a life filled with happiness is really quite simple. Just get rid of all the objects and activities that aren’t adding to your joy. At this point, you’ll have the time, space, and money available to add more satisfying features to your life.

Try implementing just one or two items from this plan today. Before you know it, your level of happiness will be higher than ever.

Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: 5 Tips to Survive a Bad Day

Bad days happen.

Can three more trite but true words exist together in one sentence anywhere in the world?

Bad days happen to good people. They happen to bad people. They happen to bugs (FWAP!), animals (POW!), and even electronic equipment (*#&$ DVD player – SMACK!)

Yup. Bad days happen. But sometimes, a bad day well spent can also turn into one of the best days of your life.

Why would I say a crazy thing like this? Quite simply because bad days are often good days in disguise. Bad days give us the courage to see the important things we would otherwise not notice. Bad days can also serve to point out the necessary obvious we have been trying too hard not to notice.

Perhaps most importantly, bad days remind us that in all things, balance trumps both good and evil. Too much sugar, we decay. Too much salt, we shrivel. But with a proper balance of each, we begin to grow, to find empowerment through humility, to become wise.

In 2006, the musical artist Daniel Powter became a near-household name when he wrote and recorded what has become his greatest hit to date, the mega best-selling song “Bad Day”. Why was the song so popular? Not because of the admittedly charming video (a glimpse into the lives of two young people – a gal and a guy – who are having their own ‘sliding doors’ bad day experiences).

Not even because of the talent of the songwriter-performer, which is clearly robust.

The reason that “Bad Day” raced up the charts in the United States and around the world is because the song confirms what each one of us secretly hopes is true but can’t quite be sure of without more visible proof – that bad days do not happen to only us.

Knowing that bad days happen to other people too can be reassuring.

Knowing we did not necessarily do anything “wrong” to cause a bad day can be calming as well.

However, no matter how reassuring or calming this information may be, how popular a song by the same name might appear to be for all of us equally, or how wonderful our personal bad days may appear in hindsight, it is no joke that they can be challenging to live through in the moments when they are happening. In fact, one of the keys to benefitting from a bad day is being able to survive it with enough of you intact to be able to revisit it again later to glean the valuable information you need to move forward.

So for this blog post, I thought I would share with you my five favorite tips for surviving a bad day. Try them out and I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

Tip One: Listen to the song “Bad Day” by Daniel Powter and feel the peace and ease spread through your body at the sheer compassion in the lyrics. You had a bad day – are having a bad day. That is all that is happening. You will get through it – and quite likely will emerge stronger, more courageous, more grateful, and wiser than you were before (p.s. for extra credit watch the video and draw your own graffiti along with the two main characters!)

Tip Two: Figure out what you need that you are having trouble giving yourself. Do you need to cry? To laugh? To feel TOTALLY sorry for yourself? To do something TOTALLY self-indulgent (big or small)? Do you need to talk? To take a nap? To sit in the sun and soak up some vitamin D? If (fill in the blanks – aka items on your to-do list for the day) was optional, how would you comfort yourself RIGHT NOW? Pick at least one and preferably all of the things on your list and just start doing them.

Tip Three: DO NOT PANIC. I repeat – do not panic. It is just a bad day. You’ve had one before, and you will have one again. Take ALL the pressure off – yes, I mean right now.  You may not produce anything but carbon dioxide all day long. But just think – that too is an accomplishment! Later on you can tell your nieces, your grandkids, a stranger, “Let me tell you about the day I accomplished absolutely nothing. It was fabulous, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.” Then realize it now and get to work doing a really great job of accomplishing nothing.

Tip Four: If you can’t get out of work/school/volunteering/etc., be sure to alert others who may be affected by your inability to focus/concentrate/produce/string a sentence together/etc. Not only will you get healthy doses of sympathy from some quarters, and possibly entertaining stories that will make you laugh in spite of yourself from others, but you may also get some much-needed respite from demands and requests. Share appropriately, of course (the boss is on a “need to know” basis) but if there are potential sympaticos in your sphere of influence who are in a position of being able to lighten your load a bit until the black clouds pass, call in your turn to have a bad day. You can always return the favor later.

Tip Five: Be kind – VERY kind – to you. Period. (This is non-negotiable.)

If you have experienced that the number of “bad days” have begun to outweigh the number of good days in your life as of late, you may want to consider connecting with supportive professionals who can help you to say “no” to past hurts, limitations, and painful memories and “yes” to the full and wonderful life you cannot help but dream about. If this describes you, I want to invite you to explore everything that Southlake Counseling has to offer. Our highly skilled and compassionate professional staff has more than two decades of expertise with helping people just like you to take wisdom from the bad days to fuel the good. Please visit us at

Be Well,



Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Three Steps to Move from Wanting to Having

Whether it is a better job, a more satisfying relationship, a long-denied vacation, or more self-love, the steps to move from wanting what you want to getting what you want are the same.

Oddly, however, no matter how many times we see the process playing out in the lives of others, nature, American Idol contestants, or the birds and the bees, often the personalization of this process is not that intuitive.

We are just too scared.

We want it too much. We are too sure we won’t be able to have it, hold it, or even get within spitting distance of it. We are too positive we can’t do what it will take to get it. We are also pretty convinced that the folks we think have it and could show us the way – those fabulous, amazing, powerful and talented folks – can smell us coming from a mile away and are determined to spend their remaining days as far away as possible on the other side of the room from have-nots like us.

But they were have-nots once too. They just know one thing that we don’t. They know that, as a mentor of mine once told me, “Anything worth getting is worth giving everything for.”

What she means is this: If your soul sings at the mere thought of “it” (aka whatever you want), if you simply cannot stop wanting it no matter how many rational arguments against it that your logical brain can produce, if you keep trying in (you think) your own small, pathetic way to obtain it, if you sometimes cry yourself to sleep at night wanting it and then have dreams that you have it and wake up happy – at least until you realize it was “just a dream”, and if any or all of these experiences have happened to you more than once, then you know you have a real game-changer on your hands.

You have a dream that has a life of its own. You want something that is so much a part of you – who you are now, who you have always been, and who you have yet to become (actually, all of the above) – that giving up on the dream feels like giving up on life itself. The good news is here is that, if you are dreaming a game-changer dream like this, you are actually destined to achieve the very thing you want, provided you are willing to work more deeply and courageously, learn and grow more, and leap higher and farther than you ever imagined possible.

The even better news is that this thing that you want is already yours….in theory. But that doesn’t mean you will ever get it – not as long as you continue to allow your limiting beliefs to stand in between you and it. And that doesn’t mean that you still don’t have to take the necessary steps to get there….just like every other dreamer who eventually lands their personal game-changer grand prize dream.

In honor of the month of February, let’s take self-love as an example we can work from.

Self-love may mean different things to different people, but a generic definition we can use is to have a positive regard and affection for self that is at least equal to that of the individual in our lives whom we treasure most. Whether that is your spouse, your child, or your pet…..what matters is that you can see a compare-and-contrast in how you treat that other and how you treat yourself.

If you treat the other better, then you could stand some improvement in the self-love department. If you also want that improvement for yourself, if you want to feel more love and regard towards yourself, and if you want it badly, then you have identified a clear example of a soul-level want that can be yours if you are willing to do what it takes to achieve it.

There are three steps that you will take to move from wanting to having a more fulfilling and authentic expression of self-love. These three steps will sound ridiculously easy, but that doesn’t mean that they are.

Here are the three steps:

Step One: Admit that you want it. No way are you ever going to get what you want if you won’t admit to yourself that you want it. If you can go one step farther and admit that you want it to yourself and one other person (this person is called an “accountability partner” in some circles) even better.

Step Two: Work deeply and courageously, learn and grow more, and leap higher and farther than you ever thought possible. (NOTE: As you can tell, this step is the one that usually takes the longest).

Step Three: Reach out and claim “it” for your very own.

If you have a big “it” that you simply cannot stop dreaming about, but you feel stuck and stalled out in progressing towards your goal, I want to invite you to contact Southlake Counseling. We have a highly trained, expert and caring professional staff who has more than 20 years’ worth of experience with guiding individuals just like you to say “no” to limiting self beliefs and “yes” to self-love, self-worth, and achieving the big game-changer dreams. Visit us today at

Be Well,


Your Weekly Meditation: What We Can’t Control Can Teach Us

What we can’t control can teach us.

On some level, we can’t help it. We are human, and we are programmed with an innate primitive brain function called “fight or flight” that is continually roving out ahead of us, seeking for signs of doom and disaster. Luckily, however, our brains have evolved quite a bit over the millennia, so now we can see how we are biologically programmed, and work around areas where we know we have a knee-jerk tendency to panic or overreact. Actually, this is how we’ve evolved – by learning to do this. So now that we know this, we can keep learning. We can choose not to engage with knee-jerk “fight or flight” responses, taking a few deep breaths instead, walking around the block if we need to, giving ourselves time to remember that we now have choices. Now, we can choose to respond to the unexpected in ways that are more in alignment with how we want to see and live life. 

This week I resolve to: Give myself some time to respond when life hands me a helping of the unexpected. I can breathe, I can wait, I can say to others, “I’ll get back with you after I have given this issue some thought.”


Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Putting Fear in its Place

Many of us have been shamed at one point or another in our lives for the simple expression of fear.

Feeling fear – it is something that animals, small children, birds, express so naturally. They feel fear, recognize it for the messenger that it is, and do the next right thing. This is because in its primal state, fear is built into our primitive limbic brain – the part of the brain that is wired to alert every sentient being to danger and give us a head start in finding safe shelter.

So how did fear evolve to the point where the simple expression of feeling fear can lead to shame, a desire to hide, or a need to camouflage fear with anger, rage, sadness, blame, or various addictions, just so we won’t be found out?

The actual definitions for fear range from an unpleasant feeling of perceived risk or danger, real or not to a reverential awe.

One interesting question I often ask those I work with is – “who told you fear was unpleasant?” Who would we be in the presence of our own fear if we weren’t so keen on labeling it as unpleasant? These are interesting questions to ask.

Another revealing question those I work with sometimes find helpful is, “since when is risk or danger ever perceived?” By this I mean that when we say these things to ourselves, we are in essence saying to ourselves, “I don’t trust you.” This is very frightening, and our fear only grows.

The truth is that when we feel fear, it is real to us – period, the end. We won’t accept others’ assessments that we really aren’t afraid when we are. We don’t have to stop and ask ourselves, “are you sure you are afraid?” We know. Questioning our fear shames us, and cuts us off from taking the necessary action to move through our fear towards resolution.

Similarly, when we spend precious moments believing that the emotion of fear is unpleasant, unwanted, unnecessary, or untrue, we resist the fear and….you guessed it….become even more afraid.  It is at this point where we may find ourselves turning to various thought or behavior patterns or addictions such as drinking, drugging, using other people’s bodies, stuffing our own bodies when we are already full or not feeling hungry, watching hours of mindless television programs, losing ourselves on the internet, or otherwise “checking out” from our own lives and the people around us.

We are afraid. We don’t want to feel afraid, we don’t know if we can trust that that feeling is fear, we judge ourselves for feeling the fear, we resist feeling the fear….and yet still we are afraid.

I’d like to propose a simpler way to put fear in its place. Let it stay where it is.

Fear is there, knocking on our awareness, for its own reasons. It has a message for us. It comes respectfully, and not without its own trepidation given the often cold reception we offer it. Yet it continues to come. Fear is kind. Fear wants us to deal with what is causing the fear and find resolution and peace.

So the next time you feel fear, before you move on auto pilot into arguing with its presence, discounting it, shaming or judging yourself for feeling it, blaming someone or something else for inducing it in you, hiding from it, or drowning yourself in addictive thought and behavior patterns to escape it, try this.

Simply stop.



Ask yourself kindly, “What am I feeling afraid of?”

Write down your own answer.

If you find you are turning towards any exterior crutches or supports, like alcohol or other people, before doing a thorough self-investigation of your fear, then notice that too, and ask yourself kindly if you can wait just a few moments to do self inquiry on your fear before you have that first drink, make that phone call, or switch on the computer or television set.

And if you find that you are still too afraid to proceed without those crutches, it may be the right moment to consider reaching out for help.

Fear is a great teacher – if we will allow it. Fear can be a good friend – if we will allow it. Fear can teach us that it is okay to reach out and ask for help, and that in the very act of asking for help, we find our first taste of freedom from the fear of our own fear.

At Southlake Counseling, we have more than two decades of expertise with guiding people just like you through the experience of their own fear towards understanding, action, and resolution. Our caring professional staff is skilled in individual and group facilitation methods which can allow fear to safely arise, deliver its message, and depart, leaving us stronger, wiser, and more confident for the experience. Contact us today to find out how we can help you say “no” to discounting, shifting or hiding from your fears, and “yes” to learning from a very wise teacher – fear itself.

Be Well,


Your “Say Yes to Life” Monday Motivator: the H.O.W. of Recovery (Honesty-Openness-Willingness)

I first came across this powerful principle many years ago in my own recovery from an eating disorder. Long credited to the Twelve Step communities, H.O.W. nevertheless feels like a universal recovery principle, applicable to any individual at any age and in any stage of their pursuit of recovery, health, and whole-person wellness.

In the course of my professional life, I am always delighted to find a new resource that outlines this fundamental recovery principle. On this week’s reading list is an innovative new book called Beating Ana: How to Outsmart Your Eating Disorder and Take Your Life Back. The author, Shannon Cutts, is herself a survivor of an eating disorder, and the book is structured to allow the reader glimpses into not just her own day-to-day hard work of recovery, but also into the recovery journeys of others she has mentored and encouraged along the way.

In Beating Ana, this is accomplished by structuring each chapter around a question from one of her mentees, her answer to that question, and then what she calls a “Recovery Workshop” that invites the reader to learn new recovery skills and tools to progress toward their recovery goals. Each chapter ends with a “Life Celebration Affirmation” which strengthens the reader’s awareness of the hard work they are doing and encourages them to continue doing the hard work of recovery.

In the chapter called “The H.O.W. of Recovery”, Ms. Cutts explains how easy it is to be bullied by the fast-moving train of an eating disorder as it progresses. She writes, “We convince ourselves that we are but spectators at our own funeral, powerless to do more than watch as events unfold to their logical conclusion….We do not yet see the truth. We do not yet perceive that, even as our inexplicable, indescribable self-torture escalates, and even when the eating disorder rolls out the big guns, we are still here.”

We accomplish this awareness and regain our inspiration, courage, and strength to keep fighting, she explains, through practicing the H.O.W. of Recovery – often better known as Honesty-Openness-Willingness. Beating Ana explains each of these principles as follows:

  1. Honesty: objectively looking at your life and seeing what is broken and who can fix it
  2. Openness: being open to believing that the way life has been doesn’t dictate the future
  3. Willingness: the “I will do whatever it takes” attitude that sustained recovery requires

Ms. Cutts then encourages readers to journal about each of these three core elements to any successful recovery process – in her words, “[to ask] yourself whether or not you feel that you have each quality and have it in sufficient measure to commit to healing and to your own life.”

It has been my experience as well that when we have the honesty to admit what is no longer working in our lives, the openness to believe that we have the power to change what isn’t working, and the willingness to do whatever it takes, that literally anything is possible. No dream is too unrealistic, no amount of work is too much, and no sacrifice is too great to achieve release and lasting freedom from the prison of an illness that claims body, mind, heart, and spirit without a backward glance.

I encourage all of you to examine H.O.W. you are approaching your own recovery, health, and wellness goals this week and thus far in 2010. If you find that you are struggling to connect with your awareness of your own Honesty-Openness-Willingness, we encourage you to tackle this challenge by being honest, open, and willing to ask for help. At Southlake Counseling, we have more than two decades of expertise and compassion invested in helping individuals just like you to achieve their dreams and realize their full potential. We are excited about sharing your journey as you reach for and even exceed your own potential! Contact us today at – we look forward to hearing from you!

Be Well,


Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: The Rebel Within

We all like to think that we are not passive-aggressive. Even if we are not sure what that term means, we are pretty sure it does not apply to us. “Passive-aggressive” doesn’t sound like something a nice person, a loving person, a person like us, would do.

Even as you are thinking this, however, a recent incident weighs on your mind. Last night your mom called asking if you could watch her twin dachshunds while she and your step-dad went on a mini-vacation. The problem is that you know that your mom knows that her dachshunds get along like oil and vinegar with your basset hound.

And you know it too.

So why were the first words that popped out of your mouth, “Of course, Mom – no problem!”

Not to mention that, no sooner had she sweetly thanked you – for the third time this month – than you proceeded to volley off a series of conditions upon which the dogs could stay, including specific times your mom must drop off and pick up her babies, provision of an ample amount of food (because we all know how much dachshunds can eat and your basset Harry doesn’t need to starve all weekend just because your mom doesn’t want to pay to kennel her pets) …. you get the picture.

But you are not, would never act, in passive-aggressive ways towards your mother whom you love. Right?

The trouble with passive-aggressive behaviors is that they signal an uprising within – an inner conflict that is so immediate and unexpected that we do not feel like we have time to stop, investigate, and address the source of the conflict prior to interacting with the instigator of the conflict. To compound matters, since passive-aggressive behaviors most often arise when we are interacting with individuals we are familiar with and know fairly well, the stakes get even higher and cycle becomes more vicious over time.

So how do we change the flow of passive-aggressive language and behaviors?

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is one way to begin to uncover hidden motives and messages that are causing us to engage in passive-aggressive interactions. IFS is a unique therapy model that encourages students to think of themselves in terms of aspects of self rather than a single unified personality. IFS teaches us that we have not one single “personality”, but personalities within ourselves. All of these personalities have our best interests at heart, but each perceives that achievement of our best interests can only be obtained through conflicting means. This is why getting to know each of our parts or personalities, and then getting them to dialogue and work together, is the goal of IFS.

To illustrate how this might work, let us revisit the issue of your recent interaction with your mom regarding her dachshunds, Winnie and Sue.

In this example, there are at least two aspects of you interacting with Mom when she makes the request to kennel her dogs at your house. There is the Pleaser (for more on the Pleaser see this previous Monday Motivator), who automatically says “yes” to every request your mom makes. The Pleaser likes – drum roll please – to PLEASE. This aspect of you enjoys making others happy, and fears their displeasure with the same intensity it fears abandonment because of displeasure. The Pleaser has been convinced through past experiences that saying “no” equals displeasure, which equals abandonment. To the Pleaser, a “yes” ensures your social survival.

Underneath the Pleaser, however, there resides another aspect of you. This aspect, the Rebel, idolizes James Dean, the Fonz, and any other character who regularly chooses to go against the flow. The Rebel has her own assessment of the mother-dachshund scenario. In the Rebel’s opinion, your mom is taking advantage of you for free kenneling. The Rebel resents your mom for continuing to ask you to care for her aggressive, whining, bottomless pits when she knows that you know that she knows that you are inconvenienced more than a little by the repeated favors. To make matters worse, the Rebel remembers every single past experience you have had when you have been taken advantage of – only to find out after the fact, to its horror and disillusionment. The Rebel has vowed to do whatever it takes to uphold your integrity and respect by refusing to let those close to you use you as a doormat yet again.

This is why, even as your Pleaser is saying yes, yes, yes, your Rebel is yelling at the Pleaser – and at you – telling you not to be a pushover. Your Pleaser is afraid of social annihilation and your Rebel wants to annihilate your Pleaser, the requester – and Winnie and Sue.

And you are caught in the middle.

Using IFS, you can begin to dialogue with the Pleaser and the Rebel, hearing each part out, commiserating and empathizing and then introducing a third perspective – balancing out each part’s needs so that all three of you together can accomplish your shared goal – to safeguard your own wellbeing even while maintaining valued relationships with others in healthy, self-affirming ways.

If you are frustrated by persistent internal and external conflict in valued relationships, and you are at your wits end for how to handle the interactions of your Pleaser and Rebel, IFS and Southlake Counseling can help. Contact us today at to find out how to say “no” to passive-aggressive behavior and YES to collaboration, partnership, and positive relationship skills.

Be Well,


Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Couples in Conflict

You love me…you love me not. I love you…I love you not.

Whether it’s Valentine’s Day, an anniversary, or any other chance to renew our commitment to our partner, have we ever stopped to wonder why these reminder events are such a marketer’s playground, or why when they come around each year we are suddenly able to find the time, energy, and money to drop whatever we would otherwise be doing to make plans for displays of affection?

Love isn’t easy, period. Love is not easy to come by, and it is not easy to keep.  And it is extraordinarily painful to lose, but couples who once were madly in love with each other fight, split, and divorce on a daily basis. They also spend months and sometimes years after the split still struggling to figure out why it happened and how to pick up the pieces and move on.

If it is not easy to love a deux, it can be traced back to our own difficulties with loving ourselves. We cannot love someone we do not know – and often, each half of a new couple comes into the relationship willing and able to spend more time getting to know the other person than getting to know themselves.  We don’t know why we get angry, or what triggers it. We tell new partners about how past partners have deliberately “pushed our buttons,” and then we blame those past partners for love’s earlier unhappy endings. We tell ourselves we are sure it will be different this time – new partner, new love, new beginning.

Until it starts happening all over again with our new partner, and we suddenly begin to smell a rat. We may then start to wake up and realize that, if the only constant in a recurring pattern is us, then we are the one who holds the power to change that dynamic rather than risk yet another painful loss.

In Internal Family Systems (IFS), a powerful and dynamic therapeutic model that explores our inner world interactions in all their many parts, we learn that both in and out of love, we are multi-faceted beings.  We are fascinating, really – we have so many thoughts, so many emotions, so many memories, so many experiences. And within the context of a love relationship the environment is especially ripe for all of those thoughts, emotions, memories, and experiences to collide in our attempt to preserve the love we have while protecting ourselves from more pain.

IFS students soon learn that we have the Hurt Child, who remembers the very first breakup and wants to make sure she never, ever has to go through that again. We have our Inner Critic, who remembers past harsh words from former loves that hit too close to home, and reminds us that we are our own worst enemy and that any pain we have felt in the past is our own fault. We have our inner Champion, who will do battle to ensure that no interloper – even a loving one with good intentions – gets close enough to harm us. And we have the Blamer, who steadfastly maintains that, regardless of whatever repeatedly unfortunate circumstances may befall us, we have no one to blame but somebody else.

Couples in conflict can benefit greatly from becoming students of themselves, and IFS is a model uniquely well-suited to that exploration. In IFS couples therapy, each partner can start to learn how “pushing buttons” actually arises when an inner facet of self that bears past painful memories gets triggered into self-protective action by a partner’s comment or action. IFS’ self-awareness training enables each participant in the relationship to check their reactions against their inner awareness before responding in customary knee-jerk reaction ways to their partner. For instance, is the Blaming part of you judging your partner because it is easier than bearing the self-judgment of your own Inner Critic? Is the Hurt Child going away just when he should come closer because one hurt was enough, and when that original hurt happened he was a child and didn’t know what else to do but flee?

IFS training in the context of couples communication helps each participant to recognize that each of these parts is doing the best they can to protect us. We can then begin to learn new communication skills that start with self-awareness and self-evaluation. We can forestall knee-jerk reactions that may further damage our treasured relationship and create new patterns of interaction that are healthier, more mature, and more self- and love-affirming.

If you are feeling stretched and challenged by the dynamics of a valued love relationship, Internal Family Systems therapy can help. At Southlake Counseling, we have over two decades of expertise with guiding couples to salvage, restore, and rebuild the love they have worked so hard to cultivate. Contact us at and experience for yourself just how wonderful saying “no” to unhealthy conflict and YES to love and life can be!

Be Well,

Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Who are you calling a “people pleaser?”

To a certain degree, we all struggle with the desire to please others who are in our life. While usually our eagerness to please aligns more closely with achieving an advantageous compromise that benefits both the other party and ourselves, there are times we may find that, in the choices we make, the benefits to the other party far outweigh our own.

When this happens on a consistent basis, we may be struggling with a common syndrome known as “people pleasing.” “Who me?”, we might catch ourselves thinking…or saying…when the subject arises. Yet while it can be painful to discover that we have been engaged in a habitual focus on others’ wants and needs to the exclusion of our own, what is more important is that we develop that awareness so we can make a different choice going forward.

If you have ever caught yourself worrying about what to wear, how to act, what someone is thinking about you or how you can change what someone is thinking about you, you have a taste of what people pleasing feels like.  

Let’s take a common example – you have just come home from work and you are looking forward to your one free evening of the week to rest, relax, and just take good care of yourself for a change. But when you get home, your daughter asks if her friend can please stay the night. Then your spouse informs you that he is no longer able to take your son to baseball practice because he has scheduled a guys’ night – and he knows you will understand even though this is the first you have heard of it. Your daughter is begging….your husband is looking at you with expectation that you will graciously pick up the ball he dropped.

Appalled at yourself even as the words come out of your mouth, all you hear yourself saying is, “Yes, of course – no problem. I’ll take care of it. Have a good evening, honey!”

This is people-pleasing at its finest. And it probably doesn’t feel very good either while it is happening or after it has occurred.

In Internal Family Systems (IFS), we would call this the “People Pleaser Pattern.” IFS is a unique and powerful therapeutic model that assigns these different aspects or parts of our being different names and encourages the IFS therapist and student to work together to discern the roles each of these parts play in our lives and how we can work with instead of against them.

So in IFS therapy, we might look at the People Pleaser within and start trying to discern how it works in our lives by asking ourselves, “Does this happen all the time, with everybody, or just with a certain person or just a few folks?” “Or does it perhaps happen only in certain situations under certain conditions?” “What is triggering my desire to say ‘yes’ when I want to say ‘no’, from agreeing when I really disagree?” As we begin to seek and hear our own answers to these questions we are already on our way to understanding and then transforming our people pleasing behaviors into something more self-respectful.

Using the IFS therapy model, you will work to first understand your specific behavior, and then identify the motivation(s) you have for encouraging or at least allowing that behavior to continue. Next, you will begin to trace the behavior backwards to possible origins. Where did you learn that it was not safe to say “no”? Who rejected you because you stood up for yourself or expressed disagreement with their opinion? Did you lose a valuable opportunity because you were too vocal in a team-based setting about an important group decision? Rejection always hurts….and it will continue to hurt until you recognize it, acknowledge it, and begin to heal from it. IFS gives you this chance to identify and heal from past wounds that are still driving current choices and behaviors.

Next you will begin to learn how to work with your People Pleaser part so that you can understand how it is trying to protect you. The People Pleaser is not out to get you – it is simply looking out for what it has come to believe are your best interests. The more you can allay the fears that part of you carries within it and reassure it that whatever the outcome, together you can find another way to deal with life without having to people-please, the less that part will be inclined to go rogue when it feels you are in danger.

Finally, having established a more collaborative relationship with the People Pleaser part, you can begin to finally regain the power of decision in your own life. IFS offers you a powerful way to hear and respect what each part of you is trying to do to help you while still reminding them that in the end, the buck stops not with any one of them, but with YOU.

At Southlake Counseling, we understand that discovering and befriending all of the various parts of yourself can feel like a handful – when attempted alone. We want you to know you are not alone – we are here and we can help. Our caring, experienced and professional staff has more than two decades of experience in guiding individuals in their exciting journey to self-transformation. If you want to learn to say “no” to allowing past pain to overshadow current gain and say “YES” to all the fantastic possibilities that are yet ahead of you, contact us today at

Be Well,