Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Out with the Old, in with the New

Well, it is just about over. The wonderful, the horrible, the forgettable and the memorable, all are about to be bundled up and tucked away for another year.

And that is when it hits you.


The New Year. It is almost here.

Oh boy. Here we go again. Another set of resolutions. Another New Year’s diet (after all, more than seventy percent of women nationally resolve to lose weight each New Year, and you don’t plan to be the only one still clunking around in her size-larger holiday wardrobe come next July.)

Another whole year to (take your pick) dread/look forward to.

You would really like to look forward to the New Year, but you have so many regrets. You don’t feel done with this year yet. All those resolutions you made last New Year’s, and here is a new New Year staring you down, and you still haven’t finished last year’s list yet!

What to do?

The good news is, you have spent the last several months studying Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) in a group study setting, and you are learning a lot from the four DBT principles about how to stay present for your life as it is, and how to choose peace over chaos.

You wonder if you can use the four DBT principles in this situation as well – it is a big situation, with a whole year’s worth of joys and regrets attached to it – but maybe DBT can help you sort it out.

First, you start by observing mindfulness through practicing radical acceptance – the total, unresisting acceptance of what is. You observe to yourself that today, the New Year has not yet arrived, but you are aware that it soon will. You observe that your mind is telling you there is lots of unfinished business to attend to – business you will never finish before this year ends and the next one begins. You notice that your mind is kicking up a whole pile of “should haves” and “ought tos” that it thinks you need to pay attention to.

You then decide not to care. You can’t control any of that. Today, your job is to live in the present moment, with what is. You remind yourself that what happened even one moment ago is no longer within your control…and that what happens in the next moment is not yet within your control….but what happens in THIS moment IS in your control. You decide that in this moment, you choose acceptance. Peace. Focus. Baby steps. Small steps forward.

You start to feel better.

But then your mind kicks up another round of thoughts, and this time your emotions go haywire. You are feeling, well, everything! Sadness. Rage. Loss. Grief. Hope. Excitement. Anticipation. Resentment. Fear. You remember that the DBT principle of emotion regulation has taught you to maintain objectivity by naming each emotion and witnessing it before choosing whether or not to engage in it. You catalog your emotions, but then choose to allow them to continue on by after you have given them names…like clouds making their way across the blue winter sky.

Simultaneously with this process, you are practicing the DBT principle of distress tolerance, as you use your skills in emotion regulation to name and then release your feelings rather than hanging on and becoming overwhelmed by them. With your newfound skill in distress tolerance, you simply allow the day’s events and emotions to unfold, focusing on the moment, remembering the bigger picture, and refraining from getting unnecessarily caught up in the temporary ebbs and flows of daily life. You are also, slowly but surely, releasing the present year’s old unfinished baggage by recognizing it, accepting it, then releasing it – as you do so, you are realizing that in the very acknowledgement of each stressor also comes its release.

Finally, you bring your new skills together in interpersonal effectiveness, interacting with yourself and others with respect, hopefulness, a degree of detachment, and yet the assertiveness to include yourself and your needs in the mix of any interaction you are having. You feel a burgeoning respect for yourself – no, this past year did not go perfectly according to plan, but yes, it did go, and yes, you are managing just fine in releasing what is unfinished and accepting a new gift of a whole year of life, love, and new experiences yet ahead.

You are proud of yourself. You are ready for the New Year. You are looking forward to today, and also to what lies ahead. And in this, the final, unexpected gift of the holiday season, you discover that you have turned your biggest holiday woe of all into an even bigger New Year’s wonder.

If you are finding that you are struggling this holiday season to find the wonder in the midst of the woes, Southlake Counseling can help. Our compassionate and skilled staff has more than two decades of experience with guiding individuals in how to effectively use the DBT principles of mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. Learn more by visiting us at www.southlakecounseling.com.

Be Well – and happy New Year!

Kimberly



Wake Up and Smell the…Snowflakes?

Not every one of us lives in a region of the world where it snows. For those of us who are accustomed to snowfall, we may be so used to seeing this phenomenon that we turn an un-wondering eye to the infinite variety of snowflakes as they fall. And for those of us who rarely see snowfall, we may be too caught up in our wonder of the snowdrifts themselves to notice the role of each individual flake.

But each single snowflake is utterly unique. Each snowflake does its part to create a winter wonderland, and without any one of those flakes, the snowfall would be incomplete. In the same way, each one of us looks, feels, acts, and lives in our own unique way. Were we even for one second to choose not to play our part, to participate in the grand snowfall of human life happening all around us, all of humanity would be the poorer for it.

Today’s Affirmation: Today, I take time to appreciate my uniqueness, the necessity and rightness of my beingness, and the wonder that there is a ME in this world, and that I get to play that part!



Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Treating Yourself During the Holidays

When you think of the word “holidays,” the vision that comes to mind is of treats.

Specifically, holiday treats.

Specifically, those marshmallow chocolate sprinkled things your mother always makes….the ones with the mint centers and gooey tops.

And the peppermint ice cream with hot fudge that your family always has as a Christmas evening tradition. And the spicy-sweet popcorn mix with extra real butter for the night you watch “Twas the Night before Christmas” with all the kids. And the annual community-wide block party with the neighbor’s homemade fudge, and the home-fried doughnuts, and the…..

Your mouth is watering already. You have been SO good all year long…. for just such a season as this. While you can already see the New Year (and the New Year’s diet) looming, that dread can be put off for a month or so yet. You tell yourself that you will tackle the diet when you get to it.

To be honest, you are aware that you tend to indulge to excess during the holidays, to the point where you have an extra set of clothes waiting in the wings – all a size larger – and you dread New Year’s Day, when you have to squirm your way into something extra-tight to go to your annual family get together.

You’re just not sure what to do about it. Just the thought – not to mention the sight – of all those holiday treats, and you seem to lose all self control.

But this year, you have a new bag of tricks up your sleeve. You have been studying Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and your group leader has told you that using the four principles of DBT might help you.

Your goal is to maintain better self-control during the holidays, but balance that with a less restrictive, treat-aversive attitude throughout the rest of the year. Your group leader thinks that with some balance year-round, and a bit more willingness to indulge in treats here and there throughout the rest of the year, you won’t be as prone to excess when the holidays roll around.

You sure hope she is right!

You start by practicing mindfulness. As your table fills up with holiday goodies each night, you simply observe, with radical acceptance of what is, that they are maintaining a presence there. You feel that familiar craving deep in your abdomen. You witness yourself imagining how each treat will taste.

From there, you notice the frustration arising within you. You want all of the treats! Now! You feel stress – which ones should you start with? How many of each? What if you overindulge again and feel guilty like you did last year? You use your new emotion regulation technique to name each emotion as it arises – not engaging, but simply naming. Frustration. Fear. Anger. Sadness. Regret. Guilt. Shame.

As the emotions present themselves and you give them names, you are simultaneously practicing distress tolerance – the ability to stand in the presence of strong emotions without allowing them to overtake you. You accept that these are today’s events, like them or not, accept them or not. You choose to learn from (if not like) them, and to accept them by reminding yourself that you are stronger and wiser than any temporary disturbance that you may happen upon in the course of a day.

Finally, you use your newfound interpersonal regulation skills to remind yourself that food treats are not the only way you can reward and treat yourself. You can brew yourself a lovely warm cup of tea. You can invite a loved one for a brisk walk and watch the snowflakes fall while the moon shines above. You can pop in a good movie that you love to laugh at. You can draw a bath…or turn in early to get a few extra winks of sleep. You can read a favorite book or snuggle with your spouse.

In this way, you begin to relate to yourself as a whole being rather than as an emotion-driven stomach, and slowly, those cravings in your abdomen begin to unclench you and leave you in peace….turning a longstanding holiday woe into a true miraculous wonder.

If you are finding that you are struggling this holiday season to find the wonder in the midst of the woes, Southlake Counseling can help. Our compassionate and skilled staff has more than two decades of experience with guiding individuals in how to effectively use the DBT principles of mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. Learn more by visiting us at www.southlakecounseling.com.

Be Well – and happy holidays!

Kimberly


Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: Self-Care During the Holidays

Your spouse just told you that your in-laws are coming to your house this year.

Again.

But what is different this year than before is that your cousins have decided to caravan down with them and come to your home for the holidays too.

Furthermore, since you have a large backyard, they have decided not to kennel their two dogs, one gerbil, and three cats. No need – your house has enough room for them all!

As your spouse relates all of this to you, you feel your blood pressure starting to rise.

You try to explain, but your spouse just doesn’t seem to get it. And it is little wonder that he doesn’t – you can still remember last year, when you envied him his stressful, hectic city job that allowed him to escape the bedlam and chaos that was your home this time last year.

He didn’t see how demanding his folks really are of you. He didn’t realize how worn out and exhausted you felt at the end of every day – how spent, and drained, and just ready for the whole thing to be over.

You are dreading it at a level you didn’t even think you were capable of. The holidays haven’t even started yet, and already you are ready for them to end.

Luckily, you have been taking a group therapy course in Dialectical Behavior Training (DBT) over the past several weeks, and what you are learning is giving you a fresh perspective on how to handle the family situation this year.

First things first – practicing mindfulness, you note your reactions to your spouse’s announcement. The rage. The frustration. The resentment. The air of finality to it – you are being told, not asked, if it is okay to host his extended family this year. You bring your newfound ability for “radical acceptance” to bear on the situation – calmly, you practice simply accepting the moment for what it is, rather than what your mind thinks or wishes it to be. First, accept. Next, work to change.

That accomplished, you pull out mindfulness’ trusty sidekick, emotion regulation. Using your new skills in emotion regulation, you begin to name each emotion objectively, like a witness or observer, rather than an active (and highly emotional) participant. Yup, that really is rage. Yes, there is frustration too. And resentment. Definitely resentment. Some sadness too – when will you and your spouse ever get a chance to enjoy the holidays just relaxing together? Okay, and relief is also coming up – because this year, you have a plan to use your new DBT skills to transform events in a way that includes your need for self-care and alone-time, as well as couple time and family time, into the mix.

Next up is distress tolerance. You realize you are feeling a lot of distress due to all the emotions suddenly arising and colliding within you. You take a deep breath, relax into an awareness of a bigger picture behind your momentary stress, and then let your breath out again, dropping your shoulders and softening your facial muscles as you do so. You remind yourself that you can deal with this situation, you do have it in you to find a workable solution, and you are okay, even in the midst of some significant emotional distress.

Finally, you begin to pull it all together into interpersonal effectiveness. Now is the moment when you will assert your needs – and household ground rules – with your spouse, sharing with him how you are feeling, what you need, and what you can and cannot offer to make the holidays with his family a success this year. You decide that you will initiate a calm, objective conversation with your spouse, free from excess emotion or last year’s holiday baggage, blame, or shame.

Still very calmly, you ask your spouse if he could join you at the kitchen table for a few moments to strategize. You share with him that you did not enjoy the holidays last year and have a plan for how this year’s time with loved ones can be different. You outline what you are willing and able to do to support his in-laws’ visit, and what you need from him in terms of his participation in the family holiday preparations. Then you ask him how he feels about participating in the ways you have outlined, and whether it is something he can commit to. You ask for his feedback as well, and together, you begin to open up to one another and admit that having the whole family in to stay is stressful for you both.

In other words, as you open up, mindfully, with calmness, centeredness, focus, and objectivity, sharing what you need as well as what you wish to offer to make the family holiday season a success, you give your spouse permission to do the same.

Together, using DBT as your guide, you begin to talk through creative ways to turn last year’s holiday woe into this year’s holiday wonder.

If you are finding that you are struggling this holiday season to find the wonder in the midst of the woes, Southlake Counseling can help. Our compassionate and skilled staff has more than two decades of experience with guiding individuals in how to effectively use the DBT principles of mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. Learn more by visiting us at www.southlakecounseling.com.

Be Well – and happy holidays!

Kimberly



You’re Talking, But Am I Really Listening?

You’re talking, but am I really listening?  

Too often couples are seen in therapy due to communication problems. Phrases like, “he/she just doesn’t understand me,” or “I just don’t feel like he/she is listening to me,” are all too common phrases.

Many times when we are in heated discussions with a loved one, we are thinking about what we are going to say next, or trying to jump in to get our point across. Subsequently, we are not being “mindful” of what the other person is saying. Being “mindful” is being fully present in the moment you are in just as it is unfolding in front of you.  If while your loved one is speaking, you are thinking about what you are going to say, you are already in the future and not in the moment.

Mindfulness is a skill that is the core of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). It’s a skill that requires practice because our society tends to promote being “mindless” by encouraging multi-tasking. One way to get started in becoming more “mindful,” or more fully present in the moment when having a neutral or pleasant discussion, (for both parties) with your loved one is to focus on what they’re saying, pay attention to their tone, and focus on understanding. If you feel the urge to “jump in” to assert your view, just notice that urge, but bring your attention back to what your loved one is saying. Feeling understood and listened to are powerful tools in strengthening relationships.    

Shannon T. Brewer, M.A., L.P.A.

Your Say Yes to Life Monday Motivator: How to Know When We Need Help

In the more than two decades I have spent assisting courageous individuals who come to me seeking help for how to transcend challenges and embrace opportunities, I have noticed over and over again how hard our culture makes it for us to ask for help.

We may think that it is hard to accept help when it is offered, and that is often true as well. But that difficulty is nothing compared to how hard many of us find it to reach out and ask for help when we need it.

In fact, I have also noticed that the difficulty only sometimes lies with an actual inability to ask for help. For many of those I have met in the course of my life and work, the true challenge seems to be even knowing for sure when help is needed!

So I thought we would spend some time this month discussing how we know when we need help and how we can ask for help when we need it.

When we were little, we probably asked for help by crying. We had a limited emotional vocabulary, and tears were one of the few reliable ways we could communicate a felt need – even if we did not have a clear understanding of what that need was. We just knew we needed….something….we cried….and someone noticed and offered assistance. If necessary, we figured out what kind of assistance was needed together, but the presence of the tears was enough evidence in and of themselves that help was in order, and enough to send it running our way.

As we got older, however, it became less socially acceptable to literally “cry out” our need for help. As our tears went underground, our ability to sense our felt need for help went with it.  We learned that there was a cutoff age by which we could unselfconsciously ask for help without fear of ridicule, rejection, or censure. Once that cutoff age had been reached, we were deemed “old enough” to figure out how to help ourselves and we were on our own.

It was at this point that we most likely withdrew permission from ourselves to ask for help, or accept it when it was offered, or both.

However, even if it has been awhile since we have used it, we have never lost this ability to sense when we need help. Rather, we are just out of practice with tuning in.

This week, spend some time tuning in again to that innate felt sense of when you need help. As you do this, suspend any learned adult requirement that you must question your own felt sense of needing help, regardless of whether your need is small (lifting a heavy bag out of the car) or big (addressing a difficult relationship or work situation).

If necessary, pretend you are small again, and your felt sense of needing help is pure and trusted. Allow it to come up. Notice if it is preceded by a sudden feeling of sadness, anger, fear, or other emotion. Notice how you feel as you begin to translate a wave of previously inexplicable sudden feeling into a need for help. Do you feel fear? Resistance? Reluctance? Relief?

Being able to tune in to when you need help is the first step to being able to ask for help – we simply cannot ask for what we do not know we need. Knowing we need help is also the first step towards trusting ourselves enough to ask for it – if we cannot admit to ourselves that we need help, then we cannot allow ourselves to accept it, even when it is freely offered!

If you notice you are struggling to tune back in to your felt sense of needing help, or you are struggling against admitting to yourself that you are worth receiving the help you know you need, Southlake Counseling can help. Our professional staff is compassionate and experienced in helping individuals of every age and from every walk of life to relearn how to ask for and accept help. To find out more about how you can begin to say no to “going it alone” and YES to accepting and embracing help, visit us at today at www.southlakecounseling.com.

Be Well,

Kimberly


Lessons and My Yoga Practice

“…each moment of my day offers me the opportunity to choose between pain or peace.” ~ Rolf Gates in Meditations from the Mat

People who know me are aware of my passion for yoga, and specifically for the lessons I learn on my mat that I am able to transfer into my life. One such lesson started last summer and has recently revealed itself to me in a new way.

I began practicing at a different studio early last year at the suggestion of a friend, who had no idea the depth of my personal struggles at the time. I immediately found a sense of peace and calm with this practice that I had not experienced through my intermittent yoga practice before. Like I’ve heard…when the student is ready, the teacher appears…and I was ready.

On the 4th of July, I went to an early morning class and was not surprised to find a nearly empty studio. I was spending a lot of time up in my head those days, so I welcomed the opportunity to spread out my mat and practice without the distraction of other people inches away from me. I settled in to my usual spot by the window, and was somewhat shocked when a man put his mat down directly behind me on the otherwise empty back row. Again, I was up in my head saying, “Why couldn’t he get in one of the nine other spots on that row instead of RIGHT BEHIND ME?”…and it was downhill from there.

As soon as the teacher led us into child’s pose to start the class, I felt a tap on my arm, something I had never experienced before in yoga and haven’t since. I turned my head to see the guy from behind me squatting beside my mat, “Excuse me, but I’m going to have to ask you to take off your watch.” Appalled, I responded, “Are you serious?” “Yes,” he said. “It’s going to distract me for the whole class.”

Now remember, this guy had about 40 other spots he could have been in for this class instead of right behind me, so I was furious. I jerked my watch off and tossed it over by the wall, giving him the “Are you happy now?” look, and clearly I wasn’t.

So for about 87 minutes of the 90-minute class, I stayed mad. I went over and over in my head how awful it was that this guy had violated my personal yoga space so HE wouldn’t be distracted. I mulled over how it would have been different if he had said we don’t really need to know what time it is in yoga, and wondered why he didn’t ask the teacher to take off her bright ORANGE watch, when mine was only flat black. I allowed this guy to steal my practice from me, gave him the power to keep me in my head instead of on my mat, and obviously I haven’t forgotten it. The lesson I took away from that day was that I often give people power over me by resisting them, taking things personally, when it would be much easier for me to say, “Sure…I’ll allow you to be You. It’s not a problem.” It would not have hurt me to take my watch off, let it go, and get on with my life…

As is usually the case with my yoga practice (and my life!), things continue to unfold and be revealed, and these epiphanies are now a source of great delight for me. This past weekend, again at an early morning yoga class, the “watch guy” walked in to the studio. Although I practice several times a week, I have never seen him since that day in July, 2009. This time he put his mat in the middle of the front row, and since I was two rows back, he was clearly in my line of vision. I try very hard to keep my practice and my focus on my mat, and some days I’m more successful than others, but I couldn’t help noticing what this guy was doing every time I faced forward. In nearly every pose, he turned his head left and right to see what the people on either side of him were doing. At first I thought it was my imagination, so I became curious and watched more closely. It was obvious that he knew the poses, he didn’t need a model for what to do, he was simply checking out the pose of the woman on his right, and the man on his left…hmmmm.

Although I believed I had long ago moved past the watch incident, a new feeling of compassion rose up in me for this man who appeared to be more concerned with what was going on around him than what was going on within him. I have no way to truly know what he was thinking, but it seemed his focus was purely external, and I felt sad for him.  Aha…two new lessons for me. #1. I can have compassion for someone, even when I don’t understand where they are on their journey, and #2. I am grateful for the times when I’m able to shift my focus to my own internal point of reference, instead of gauging myself based on something external…and how much happier and healthier I am when I stop comparing myself to other people.

If you are struggling with finding your internal point of reference…your true Self…or are having trouble letting go of resistance and control in your personal relationships, perhaps we can help. We offer unique therapies to help you uncover and access your Self, with or without a therapeutic yoga practice. Make an appointment today to begin your own journey…

Namasté,

Debbie


Your “Say Yes to Life” Monday Motivator: On the Borderline

May is Borderline Personality Disorder Month.  In honor of this important topic, we will spend the month of May addressing different aspects of recovery from this highly treatable disorder.

This week we will focus on the nuts and bolts of what borderline personality disorder (BPD) is, what treatments are available, and recommendations for finding support for yourself or a loved one.

Just hearing the phrase “borderline personality disorder” can strike fear into the hearts of the most resilient loved ones.

But for the individual who is diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD), there is probably just a question mark where comprehension should be. This person is probably thinking, “BPD? What is that? This is just how I am!”

Therein lies the difficulty in accurately diagnosing, assessing, and treating BPD. To the professional untrained in BPD treatment, a sufferer can seem like an exercise in unpredictability, not to mention a source of continual professional self-doubt and frustration.

To the loved ones, often unwittingly caught in the disease’s trap along with the sufferer, BPD can appear as a nightmare of confused interpretations that never ends.

To the sufferer, it is just another day in a life filled with emotional pain.

Statistically-speaking, studies indicate that 2% of the population is thought to suffer from BPD. Additionally, up to 20% of all psychiatric hospitalizations stem from BPD. It is thought that nearly three-quarters of all sufferers are female, which is why current research and treatment continues to focus on females.

But what is it? What does “borderline personality disorder” even mean?

Simply put, BPD places the individual at odds with her own emotions. Emotional ups and downs are experienced as equally painful, chaotic, and unmanageable. Any other symptom traditionally associated with BPD can be traced back to this internal emotional war. Because the emotional instability is so severe, BPD is considered both serious and life-threatening. Self-harming and suicidal thoughts and behaviors are common. Relationships are a continual challenge due to continual mood swings and poor sense of self-identity. Treatment is a must – for the sufferer’s sake, and for the sake of those around them.

What causes BPD? While research is not yet able to pinpoint the exact causes, one thing is clear – it is not a self-willed disorder, and it is not the sufferer’s fault. Newer scientific evidence strongly points to a dual dance of biology and environmental triggers. For instance, while studying the brains of individuals diagnosed with BPD, researchers noted higher activity in parts of the brain that control emotional expression and experience, including the limbic system, the brain’s emotional processing center. For these and other reasons, it is widely thought that BPD-predisposed individuals’ brains differ not just in function but also in structure. This evidence also illuminates one possible reason for the tendency the disorder has shown to run in families.

Environmentally, an individual is considered at higher risk for developing BPD after experiencing childhood trauma or an invalidating emotional bond with early caregivers – or both. Since the disorder tends to first show itself in early adulthood, environmentally it appears that an earlier experience of traumatic emotional invalidation is a key factor in determining who is at risk for BPD later on in life.

But while it can be tempting to spend vast amounts of time digging into a sufferer’s past for clues as to why BPD has developed, the most important call to action is to get that person HELP.

Up until a few short decades ago, treatment options were scarce. But thanks to the pioneering work of Dr. Marsha Linehan, the founder of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), there is much hope for successful treatment of this persistent and often resistant disorder. Dr. Linehan developed DBT specifically for the treatment of individuals suffering from BPD after studying their symptoms extensively and determining a range of four core building blocks needed to successfully overcome the disorder.

This is good news for sufferers, loved ones, and professionals. Sufferers who become students of DBT learn key coping techniques in Mindfulness, Emotion Regulation, Distress Tolerance, and Interpersonal Effectiveness. These four core modules are introduced over a period of time in an atmosphere of comprehensive individual and group support, including extra phone support if needed. The end result is an individual who is equipped with all the tools and resources she needs to combat her tendencies toward emotional overextension and self invalidation. Since the instruction is done in a nurturing and emotionally-validating environment, the individual is repairing old hurts while learning new skills, and emerges a stronger, more confident person within herself and in her interpersonal relationships.

If you or someone you love is exhibiting signs and symptoms of BPD, it is important to seek help immediately. BPD is a serious disorder and deserves the highest respect. Do not attempt to manage symptoms of BPD for yourself or a loved one. The professionals at Southlake Counseling have dedicated more than two decades to proficiency in supporting individuals with borderline symptoms through the recovery process. We are here to help. Southlake Counseling offers a wide variety of DBT-based individual and group support, including phone support. Our support groups are offered for both females and males, adolescents and adults. Our comprehensive DBT outpatient program is designed to make immediate, measurable progress in reduction of symptoms and improvement in emotional functioning. Visit us at www.southlakecounseling.com to learn more.

Be Well,

Kimberly


Your “Say Yes to Life” Monday Motivator: The Helping Hand Mindfulness Extends

Well, here it is – the first week of a brand new year!

Exciting, isn’t it!

Or maybe a little nerve-wracking….stressful….already packed full of resolutions, expectations, old memories of what not to do from the barely-departed previous year (aka baggage), and more than a bit of fear.

Enter “mindfulness”. Mindfulness is a powerful tool that can facilitate the kind of positive life change that resolutions seldom do. Best known as one of the four core tenets of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), mindfulness is commonly defined as “awareness without judgment of what is, via direct and immediate experience”1.

How can mindfulness help you in 2010?

While resolutions and expectations are born of past experiences, and thus are colored more by painful remembrances of how we did not measure up to our own standards or others’ in the past, mindfulness keeps us anchored here in the present, which is the only place where any true change is possible.

The first step to using mindfulness as a tool for positive change is to be able to distinguish it from what we normally do. So let’s take a common New Year’s resolution as an example – a resolution to adopt healthier eating habits.

Without mindfulness, here is what you might expect to happen on January 2nd, when, full of good intentions and steadfast resolution, you approach the refrigerator. You open the door and stare in at the new healthy selections you just purchased, sitting there on the shelf next to last night’s party leftovers. Your hand shoots resolutely towards the healthy side of the shelf. Your mind says, “You know you won’t be able to keep this up. You might do okay for a few days, but sooner or later you are going to break your resolution. You might as well just go ahead and eat those party leftovers anyway. They are going to spoil otherwise, and it is wasteful to let perfectly good food spoil just because you are trying to eat healthier. You can eat the healthy stuff you bought tomorrow.”

Does any of this self-sabotaging dialogue sound familiar?

With mindfulness, you do not waver between the past and the future, trying to predict the probability of an outcome that is only possible here, now, in the present moment – an outcome that you are in charge of and are perfectly well-equipped to determine.

So now let us take the same example, but apply the tool of mindfulness to achieve a different outcome. There you are, standing in front of the open refrigerator door. Your eyes fall on last night’s leftovers, and then on the new healthy items you have just purchased.  Your hand reaches toward the healthy side of the shelf, already anticipating the crunch of the sautéed bell peppers with chicken and seasoning that you are going to make for dinner. Your stomach grumbles. You begin gathering all the ingredients to make your meal. Happily, you unwrap your new sauté pan that you got for Christmas, add a little olive oil, and start chopping vegetables. Thirty minutes later, you sit down for a lovely, healthy meal that is both delicious and satisfying. You clean up, and head into the living room to catch your favorite television show.

What just happened here? With mindfulness, you sabotaged your saboteur by simply staying present. You didn’t allow your mind to wander back to the past, which is forever out of your control, or to the future, which is not yet within your control. You stayed true to the reason you visited the refrigerator in the first place – to fuel your body with delicious, healthy nutrients per your New Year’s intention NOW, in THIS moment, to offer yourself the gift of healthy eating habits. You chose tasty ingredients, enjoyed putting them together into a meal, ate them with gusto while you were hungry, stopped when you were full, cleaned up, and moved on to the next activity you had planned.

Mindfulness hands back on a silver platter your power to make new, self-affirming choices in the present moment. Mindfulness is your best friend in a season too often filled with recriminations, regrets, fears, self-doubts, and atoning resolutions. The past is in the past, right where it belongs. And the future depends on the choices that you make right now, today.

So take mindfulness by the hand, and walk confidently and positively forward together in the present moment to greet the New Year.

At Southlake Counseling, we understand how New Year’s resolutions can often collide with last year’s regrets. This is why our staff of trained and experienced clinicians have dedicated over two decades to the study and successful application of Dr. Marsha Linehan’s Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) treatment methods. If you are struggling with maintaining a positive outlook about making good choices in 2010, we are here to help.  If you would like to learn more about Mindfulness or our DBT program contact us today at www.southlakecounseling.com to learn more.

Be Well,

Kimberly 

1 Marsha Linehan, PhD, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Founder