Your Weekly Meditation: It is Okay to Trust Yourself

It is okay to trust yourself.

So often we look to our past for evidence that we can trust ourselves in our present. But we know more now than we knew then. We are stronger now. We are wiser. Our past has taught us valuable lessons we are now able to apply right here in the present moment. When you are not sure what to do next, start by asking yourself. Listen within. And remember – it is okay to trust your own inner answer.

This week I resolve to: Try trusting myself for a change, and expect to be pleasantly surprised!

4 Things to Know About Communicating With the Opposite Gender

If you are a female, communication is likely second nature to you.

As a female, you communicate without even thinking about it. You use every faculty at your disposal to communicate and take great pleasure in doing so. You understand – without giving it your conscious attention – the complex interactions that can take place between body language, facial expression, tonal nuance, word choice, eye contact, and other particulars in your extensive toolkit of human communication skills.

If you are male, however, these skills may come more dearly.

120709-older-couple-walkingAs a male, you may prize directness at the expense of nuance, or confrontation over conciliation. You may find yourself getting frustrated with linguistic flourishes, and have little awareness of or patience for the need to “warm up” your audience or find “just the right words” before launching into a challenging topic.

The good news here is that these differences in communication skills and preferences are only to be expected once the unique genetic coding in the female and male brain is factored in.

Louann Brizendine, M.D., author of “The Female Brain” and its twin bestselling volume, “The Male Brain”, points out that while 99 percent of the genetic code in male and female brains is identical, there is approximately one percent that could not be more different. It is here that problems often arise in learning to communicate effectively and enjoyably with the opposite gender.

Since nearly all of past research into human brain structure, biology and function has been conducted on male brains, researchers’ understanding of female brain structure, usage, and genetic coding is more recent. As more of this information is obtained and shared, the genders can finally begin to mend shattered verbal fences and build satisfying communication bridges, and then turn around to pass along their hard-won knowledge to the next generation of men and women in turn.

In addition to basic communication skills, there are four things to know about communicating with the opposite gender that can be helpful under any conditions – in the workplace, in a friendship, in a romantic relationship, between family members, with peers or acquaintances, and even among total strangers.

Communication Basics But first, it can be helpful to review communication basics. These six essential skills can pave the way for successful communication whether gender differences are involved or not:

1. Remain calm: Speaking when you are angry or feeling any strong emotion risks the message getting lost in the expression of the emotion itself. If you want someone to really hear what you want to communicate, wait until you are feeling calm to speak. 2. Choose your words concisely and carefully: Everyone has had the experience of laughing over a choice bit of movie dialogue, or feeling tears well up from an especially moving literary turn of phrase. But while flowery language may do very well for artistic endeavors, in human-to-human communications, careful and concise language serves you best. If the communication is somewhat difficult or emotional, this rule is even more critical to follow. 3. Take your turn: While speaking your mind may not provide the resolution you are hoping for, it is a sure bet that not saying anything will deliver a less than satisfactory result. Whether someone else is hogging the conversation, or you simply feel too timid to speak up, be sure take your turn. It is yours – you deserve to speak every bit as much as anyone else. 4. Do not interrupt: Have you ever had a conversation with another person that was so one-sided that all you did was listen? And then at the end of the “conversation”, the other person announced that they enjoyed speaking with you so much that they hope to do it again soon? Everyone loves a good listener. Just as it is important for you to take your turn to speak, when your turn it is over, it is equally as important to listen attentively to what the other person has to share. 5. Try to stand in the other person’s shoes: While in most cases, women are more easily able to access and display empathy than men are, everyone has the ability to communicate in a way that conveys “we are in this together”. In sales, in service, between lovers and best friends, or even between two strangers, a genuine expression of mutual empathy is the communication trait that is most likely to pave the way to happy conversational results for both parties. 6. Know when to stay and when to walk away: Sometimes, and especially if the communication is particularly difficult, more than one conversation may be necessary to obtain resolution. Sometimes, no resolution will be possible. When entering into any communication, be aware that there is a time to stay and a time to walk away. If the conversation is becoming unproductive, it is often best to simply “pause” it and resume again when calmer waters have returned.

These six skills lay a firm foundation upon which to become a communications expert. As you practice and master each basic skill in its turn, you can then proceed forward and use this next set of four skills to build on what you are learning.

Gender Communications Because of the one percent of the brain that is different between the male and female brain, gender communications require the development of an additional skill set for optimal results.

Part of this skill set comes from a willingness to learn about the opposite gender’s genetic difference as the basis for a corresponding difference in communication style and preferences. The rest of the skill set comes from learning to communicate to play to the strengths of the other party, which may change depending on whether the conversation taking place is happening between a male and a female (inter-gender), two males or two females (both intra-gender).

These four skills can enhance your gender communications and provide for more enjoyable and satisfying conversations regardless of age or level of prior familiarity.

1. Pay attention to your word count and conversational speed: According to Dr. Brizendine’s research, females on average will use about 20,000 words per day, while males come in at a mere 7,000 words per day.  In addition, females tend to speak faster than males on average. This means that if the communication is happening between a male and a female, some word count sensitivity and speed can smooth inter-gender communications. a. Helpful tips: Females, try to choose your words with care, and slow down when you speak them. When speaking with a male, use less words and a slower pace than you might normally choose in your intra-gender conversations and see if your communications results improve. Males, think about conversation as a three-phase process: “warm up”, “game time”, and “cool down”. Since your communications likely normally consist of “game time” words only, add in some “warm up” and “cool down” communications when talking with the opposite gender to smooth the path. 2. Balance listening with action: Because males have a more direct, “fix it” oriented brain, while women have a more well-developed ability to read subtle nuances into even the most casual statement, the ability to balance listening with action is critical to success in inter-gender communications. a. Helpful tips: Males, if you are unsure whether she is asking you to help her fix or solve a problem or if she simply needs you to listen, then ask her. It is respectful to ask what she needs from you, and this will also help you to feel more satisfied in the exchange as well. Females, if you feel frustrated that he doesn’t “talk to you” or “share” more, understand that for many males, no news means good news. If he isn’t talking, chances are he doesn’t have anything to say or he isn’t ready to say it. When he is ready to speak, he will. 3. Remember your inverse needs: For females, cuddling and intimate conversation can frequently meet their needs for physical connection. For males, however, there is a near-continual drive for physical consummation. Because these needs are hard-wired into the brains of females and males, respectively, being part of a couple means balancing these needs so that each partner feels they are getting their basic physical intimacy needs met. a. Helpful tips: Females, there are some very real physical discomforts for males that are associated with too infrequent consummation. And because males on average are less verbal, physical consummation forms an important communicative bridge that males crave. Also, the common phenomenon of males falling asleep right after consummation is more biological than environmental, according to Dr. Brizendine and other researchers. Males, she needs cuddling just as much as you need consummation. If you do tend to fall asleep immediately after consummation, be aware that you haven’t lost your opportunity to show her attention and to cuddle later on. 4. Respect different tolerances and preferences for conflict: One of the most important gender brain differences recently uncovered by Dr. Brizendine and other scientific researchers points to differences in tolerances and preferences for conflict versus congruence in interpersonal connection. Whereas males are often quite confident and comfortable with conflict, females often do whatever they can to avoid conflict. There are hormonal and biological reasons for these differences in preferences for conflict. The differences in large part relate to the different roles males and females take on when it comes to fostering family and community relationships and raising children and are hardwired into male and female brains, respectively. a. Helpful tips: Males, remember that most females do not enjoy nor seek out conflict or competition in their intimate personal relationships. Since there are often several ways to approach even the most difficult communications, whether in the work place or in the home, remember it can be helpful to “dial it down” when having an inter-gender conversation. Females, remember that males are not conflict-avoidant and are not biologically programmed to seek congruence in relationships and communications. Take a few steps back before overreacting to inter-gender communications that appear strongly worded or overtly conflict-oriented. Train yourself to take a few deep breaths before responding, and remember that as negative as conflict feels for females, it can feel equally and inversely positive for males.

“The Female Brain” and “The Male Brain” by Dr. Brizendine offer many more valuable insights into the mechanics of intra- and inter-gender communications. With these basic communication skills in hand, coupled with newfound understandings and knowledge about gender brain differences, scientists and researchers are paving the way for more productive and satisfying communications for both genders.

 

About the Author: Kimberly B. Krueger, MSW, LCSW is the Founder and Program Director for Southlake Counseling and Southlake Center for Self Discovery. She has dedicated her career to helping people of all ages “say yes to life” and overcome their life challenges with compassion, professional guidance, and caring support. Southlake Counseling offers the most comprehensive counseling services in the Southlake area with a focus on eating disorders, mood disorders, nutrition and fitness, wellness, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, addictions, equine therapy, and a full range of one-on-one and group therapeutic services. Learn more at www.southlakecounseling.com.

 

Your Weekly Meditation: Emotions Are Friendly Messengers

Emotions are friendly messengers.

In the same way that you might feel overwhelmed by the sight of a tidal wave coming toward you, you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed by the experience of your own intense emotions welling up within you – or the strong emotions of others headed in your direction. Emotions are not the enemy. They also do not necessarily belong to you. Sometimes you may be tuning in to the elevated emotions of peers, supervisors, or loved ones. Other times the emotions may belong to you, but their intensity may relate not just to one specific situation, but to one or more unresolved experiences you have had over time. In any case, emotions are not your enemy. They are friendly messengers letting you know that your own attention is needed.

This week I resolve to: Welcome whatever emotions may come – and become willing to examine each in their turn, accepting and processing the ones that belong to me, and returning the ones that don’t, back to their rightful owners.

 

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 Weekly Meditation: Life is Like a Bowl of Jello

Life is like a bowl of jello.

Taking Forrest Gump’s famous chocolate analogy a step further, life as it is most closely resembles a bowl of jello. We are constantly trying to steady our footing, hunting around for solid ground. But the moment we find it, it shifts again. Rather than continuing to struggle to change how life is, the beneficial approach here is to relax into the experience of walking on jello, learning to laugh softly at life’s jiggles and wiggles and bumps, and maybe even enjoying the excitement of never knowing what will happen next!

This week I resolve to: Reconnect to the pure joy I had as a small child, when I could spend hours chasing those jiggly jello cubes around the bowl, anticipating the moment I might finally catch one and – gulp!

 

Your Weekly Meditation: Rest In What Is

Rest in what is.

When we really stop to breathe in the moment, rarely will we discover that our world is actually falling apart, regardless of what we may have been telling ourselves. Rather, it is just a moment in time, followed by another and then another, and for each of those simple, single moments, we truly are okay. We can get through anything when we remember to come back to our breath and rest in what is. We can also more fully enjoy life’s good times in this way.

This week I resolve to: Stop, breathe, and simply rest for a moment when I find myself feeling wound up, stressed, out of myself, out of control, or otherwise ill at ease in my own skin, in the midst of living my own life.

Your Weekly Meditation: Hard Work is Not a Substitute for Grace

Hard work is not a substitute for grace.

We live in a very industrious, hard working world. We do work so hard! Sometimes we work so hard that we forget to cut ourselves any slack at all. Hard work is not a substitute for grace. Grace is the small still voice inside of us that quietly observes, “You are so tired right now. Why don’t you take a rest.” Grace is the gentle unseen arms that move to hug us – right before we push them away, saying “But I haven’t achieved enough yet today to relax or receive.” Grace is that moment when we look up and spontaneously ask ourselves, “Does this task REALLY matter to me?”, even if we do not give ourselves the gift of waiting long enough to hear our own answer.

This week I resolve to: pay attention not just to my outer to-do list, but to the inner direction that guides me subtly but unerringly towards my heart’s true priorities.

 

 

Your Weekly Meditation: This Too Shall Pass

This too shall pass.

It’s not clear whether anyone ever claimed that life would be easy, but somehow we are often tempted to believe it nonetheless. It is not supposed to be easy. It is supposed to be life. These are not one and the same. Part of life’s job is to produce challenges. From these challenges, we get to learn valuable things about ourselves – like how strong we really are, how caring we can really be, how much compassion we truly possess for ourselves and others. Through times when the most we can say is “this too shall pass” we are given the opportunity to fall in love with who we truly are….and pass it on.

This week I resolve to:  notice how much I learn and grow from the hard times in my life, and thank myself for being willing to endure temporary pain and hardship so I can become a better friend to myself and others.

Your Weekly Meditation: There Is Nothing Wrong

There is nothing wrong.

It is so tempting to survey our lives on a daily (sometimes hourly!) basis to assess what is going right, and what is going wrong. What are we pleased with, and what are we displeased with? What would we change, and what would we keep the same? But there is a bigger, much more peaceful perspective that allows all of these separate elements in our lives to stay connected. In this bigger picture perspective, can there ever really be anything “wrong?” If we tried to remove one element, what would happen to the whole? This is worth our time to notice.

This week I resolve to: remember that there is a bigger picture beyond the snapshot life presents to us in any given moment. In this bigger picture perspective that factors in before, during, and after, we can ask ourselves, “what can ever go truly wrong?”

Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Resisting the Urge to Surf

Surf? You probably saw the title to this week’s Monday Motivator and thought, “What does surfing have to do with a blog about recovery, health, and wellness?”

Not much, if we are talking about the kind of surfing that comes with an oblong flat board, sleek black wetsuit, and a bank of high, toasty waves.

But when it comes to facilitating a continuity of wellness that exhibits consistent restraint in the face of compulsive, urge-like addictive tendencies, we can learn a lot from surfing.

“Urge surfing” is a term coined by Alan Marlatt, director of the University of Washington’s Addictive Behaviors Research Center. The technique was developed by Marlatt to combat the “abstinence-violation effect,” or the feeling of internal powerlessness we get after we have transgressed against our self-imposed health or wellness standards. Once we have crossed that internal line over into following our urges instead of exhibiting restraint, Marlatt explains, we may feel an intense discouragement and reason that our course is already set, so we might as well continue down the damage path rather than correcting our course.

This, as you might imagine, not only feels awful, but has fairly unpleasant effects upon our lives and in our relationships.

In Marlatt’s many years of experience as one of the leading authorities on preventing relapse, how we relate to our lapses is the primary contributing factor as to whether we will engage in further urge-type behaviors.

To combat the downward spiral that the abstinence-violation effect induces, Marlatt suggests a healthy and consistent application of “urge surfing.”  Urge surfing refers to an effective relapse prevention technique we can use to “ride out” the relatively brief span of time in which our urges feel powerful enough to potentially overtake us.

Urges, Marlatt explains, are like waves. They roll in, and then they roll out again. Most urges arise and subside within a thirty minute time period. So if we learn how to “ride out” the urge without resisting, judging, or otherwise jumping on the urge bandwagon, it will eventually subside naturally with no undue ill effects.

When practicing urge surfing, Marlatt teaches, we do not fight with our urges. Fighting with our urges gives them additional power and potency in our awareness, which just makes it that much harder for us to resist them.

So instead, we just observe them, like a surfer would observe a wave that he or she did not want to catch. Eventually, the wave would unfurl itself completely and dissolve back into the ocean, leaving us with calm seas in its wake.

So the next time you feel the temptation to engage with urge-related thoughts that have the potential to lead to relapse behaviors, follow these simple steps to try urge surfing instead:

  1. Simply observe the urge as it arises. Tell yourself, “There is no harm or judgment in acknowledging that I am feeling an urge. It is just a wave. I will watch but not act.”
  2. Pay attention to your breath as an aid to keeping a big-picture perspective. This helps you avoid the tendency to develop “urge tunnel vision,” which focuses your awareness so intensely on the urge that it begins to feel unstoppable and overwhelming.
  3. Notice the types of thoughts you are having around the urge…for instance, “Wow I sure would love to (fill-in-the-blank) right now. Boy that would feel/taste/etc good. Hmmm. Yes. I sure wish I could do/say/experience (fill-in-the-blank)right now. Yup. Very interesting.” Keep observing and notice how your own experience of having the urge shifts and changes in intensity, focus, and duration as the wave continues to roll in and then right by you.
  4. Instead of fearing the sensation of the urge and of the consequences should you choose to follow it, maintain an objective, scientific, “research” mindset. Study the urge as if you were a scientist noting down observations so you could write up a report about it later. If it helps, pretend it is not your urge, but someone else’s urge that you are documenting.
  5. As the urge subsides, be prepared to journal about your findings. Note especially how the craving eventually subsided and how the experience of watching and observing the urge was different from the experience of fighting with, resisting, or attempting to ignore the presence of the urge.
  6. Be sure to congratulate and celebrate yourself for trying on a new approach to your urges!

Urge surfing is a powerful, empirically-supported relapse prevention technique that has helped many individuals change their relationship with their urges to smoke, binge eat, use substances, drink, and other self-damaging, unhealthy behaviors. Marlatt encourages first time urge surfing practitioners to remember that learning any new skill is like learning to ride a bicycle – we are bound to fall off a few times as we learn. But as we continue to persevere, the skill feels more natural and innate, and slowly but surely urge surfing becomes part of our repertoire of trusted tools we can use to reclaim the health and balance in our daily lives.

If you are struggling to relate in healthy and life-affirming ways to the presence of your urges, Southlake Counseling can help. Our compassionate, skilled professional staff is well-versed in Mindfulness techniques like urge surfing. We know what it feels like to confront a significant life challenge such as relapse in a recovery or health program, and we have supported many individuals to make lasting positive changes in their relationship with their bodies, minds, relationships, and environments. Contact us today to learn more about how urge surfing and Mindfulness can be an aid and a support to you in saying “no” to urges and “yes” to wellness and balance in 2011 and beyond!

Be Well,

Kimberly