Do You Mind?

90-Day Self Love Challenge Part 3 of 4– Managing the Ego

I’m a regular guest on The Lillian McDermott Radio Show which airs every 2nd and 4th Tuesday, 9am EDT at www.whenyouneedafriend.com.  During last September’s show, we were discussing depression and anxiety and I mentioned quite often, the root cause of depression and anxiety is a lack of selflove.  Lillian was very interested in how we can work to love ourselves more fully. Together we embarked on developing the 90-Day Self Love Challenge.  This blog covers the 61-75 days of that challenge.

“I am my own worst enemy.”  Are you at all surprised by how profoundly true that statement is?  Author Eckhardt Tolle wrote in The Power of Now all problems exist in the mind.  It makes sense if you think that if its true happiness comes from “out there,” then it must be true all problems come from “out there” as well.

When we live our lives believing our happiness and sorrows exist outside of ourselves, beyond our control, it leaves us in the unfortunate position of feeling victimized, without power and control.  Being put in such a very scary position leaves us no other alternative than to defend ourselves from the inevitable and constant attacks from the world.  This is where the ego comes in.

The ego is a construct of our personality designed to protect us from the hostile world we live in.  The ego needs to defend, appear strong and in control to others, and most importantly, be right; because if you can’t be right in this world, then what have you got?

The ego is not a bad thing, really.  It just does what it does.  Some would say the tiger is evil for killing the beautiful gazelle.  Others say the tiger is good for it plays an important role in the circle of life.  But the tiger is neither good nor evil.  It just is.  So it is also true for the ego.

We can’t be ego free.  We have to accept we will always yearn with the desire to be right, appear strong and in control to others, and feel a need to defend ourselves from what we tend to expect is a hostile world.  We can learn how to manage our ego.  I remember clearly my prior addiction to being right. There was a time in my life I would die on any principle if I convinced everyone else I was right.  What a waste of time!  Rather than make me appear weak and out of control, giving up my need to be right actually helped me become a stronger person.

We did a lot of work in this area on the radio show. We did 15 days of exercises to help you recognize and manage negative ego responses. I will address days 75-90 in upcoming posts.  In the meantime, I invite you to work on this 90-Day selflove challenge.  Go to http://whenyouneedafriend.com/category/90-day-challenge-to-self-love/ to learn more.

Disease or Dis-ease? Rethinking the philosophy of Addiction

The nature of addiction is not well understood in our society.  From the right, addiction is seen as largely a character defect; a level of laziness wherein the addict will not get her act together and pull herself up by the boots straps to take responsibility for life.  From the left, addiction is a disease rooted in genetics that leaves the addict largely helpless to his cravings.  He needs intense behavioral programming to help him stay in recovery and he must be ever vigilant, because his biology places him at life-long risk.

Depending on where we fall on the ideological scale, we largely accept these beliefs as fact. Even public funding supports these beliefs as most substance abuse programs are founded on behavioral principles and the philosophy that addiction is genetic and has no relationship to mental health.

I take issue with this.  From my own experience, I classify myself as an addict.  I’ve been addicted to many things in my life:  cocaine, anger, sex, cigarettes and diet coke, to name a few.  I don’t really struggle with addictive impulses now, nor have I for years.  Although I can never really compare my inner struggle to anyone else’s, my compulsions to indulge were very real and felt impossible at points to overcome.

I’ve never been to rehab.  I’ve never attended a 12-step meeting.  I don’t have any particular problem with any of those tools, but what I did do was dedicate my focus to establishing an improved relationship with myself.  I recently came across the book, Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari, a well-researched account of how our addictive impulses are more about our lack of connection, our lack of bonding, much more than any genetic problem were are just condemned to live with.

This new discussion on the subject challenges both the left and right standards of thinking and suggests we can overcome addiction altogether by focusing on the key relationships in our lives and doing whatever we can to feel bonded and connected.  Personally, I take the theory one step further and suggest the most important relationship in our lives is our relationship with ourselves.  I know for me, the more I committed to a loving, respectful, bonded and connected relationship to myself, the less need I had for my addictions.   The struggle simply no longer existed.

Additionally, when I look back on times in my life I became more susceptible to my cravings, I can see how I had become disconnected from myself and it was through reconnection I emerged craving-free once more.

There are a lot of things you can be addicted to aside from drugs or alcohol.  Fact is, we are all either in active addiction or active recovery.  The only difference lies in the quality of the relationship you have with yourself.

90-Day Self Love Challenge Part 2 of 4– Developing Acceptance

I’m a regular guest on The Lillian McDermott Radio Show which airs every 2nd and 4th Tuesday, 9am EDT at www.whenyouneedafriend.com.  During last September’s show, we were discussing depression and anxiety and I mentioned quite often, the root cause of depression and anxiety is a lack of selflove.  Lillian was very interested in how we can work to love ourselves more fully. Together we embarked on developing the 90-Day Self Love Challenge.  This blog covers the second 30 days of that challenge.

Aside from love, acceptance is probably what we want most in life.  Like love, we tend to look for it and crave it from others.  Also like love, I’ve found the most rewarding way to gain acceptance in this life is to accept yourself and not base your level of acceptance on what other people think about you.  This topic has been covered many times in books such as “What You Think about Me Is None of My Business”, but what has really helped me on this journey is Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements.

 In this book, the second agreement states verbatim, “Take nothing personally.  What other people do or say is a reflection of their own consciousness and has nothing to do with you, even if it is directed at you.”  I can repeat it easily enough, because I have said it to myself a billion times.

To say the 70’s and 80’s were a hostile environment for a young gay boy would be vastly understated.  I knew I was different before I had words to describe why.  So did the other kids.  I was even bullied and mistreated by teachers, while others just looked the other way while verbal and physical harassment occurred right in front of them.  Those experiences left me without a good sense of self.  When you hear something over and over again, you easily believe it.  It becomes your truth.  Since I didn’t have the skills to accept myself I became addicted to acceptance from others.

That’s where the Don Miguel Ruiz’s 2nd Agreement comes in – after much meditating on it, I was able to rewire my brain in a positive way and develop a more useful truth:  Other people’s opinions are just opinion, and not necessarily qualified ones.  Opinions are not facts.

We did a lot of work in this area on the radio show with 30 days of exercises to help you become more accepting of not only yourself, but also of others around you. I will address days 61-90 in upcoming posts.  In the meantime, I invite you to work on this 90-Day selflove challenge.  Go to http://whenyouneedafriend.com/category/90-day-challenge-to-self-love/ to learn more.

TMI – Learning How to Filter

Attentional problems, ADHD or ADD is not a brain disease or medical condition as much as it is a life-skill deficiency concerning the ability to focus.  While it is true some people are able to achieve a higher level of focus through pharmaceuticals, you can develop the skill to focus for yourself thus, creating a stronger sense of mastery over your life.

We are exposed to lots of information daily.  Electronics, people, responsibilities and our own internal dialogue are constantly vying for our attention.  It happens so much so it is often difficult to turn it all off at night.

Most of what is assaulting us and demanding our attention is TMI (too much information).  Every notification, person asking for our time, the thing we have to do next and random thought will always assume to be the most important thing and the most deserving of our immediate attention.

We cannot rely on our environment or even our inner dialogue to dictate importance or priority.  We have to accept responsibility and learn to filter. Filtering is not an innate talent some people just “have;” anyone can learn to filter with practice and patience.  Ways to improve your ability to filter include:

  • Making a conscious choice to spend time on information you need to know right now, rather than information that is nice to know. Learning how to not distract yourself on “nice to know” information or “click-bait” is really half the battle of learning to filter.
  • Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can accurately pay attention to several pieces of information coming at you at the same time. Decide what is the most important for the given situation and focus on it.
  • Dedicate at least 15 minutes to a half hour every day “unplugged.” Give your mind, eyes and ears a chance to rest and regroup.

Some additional meditative practices I’ve used include:

  • Pretend you are sitting comfortably on the side of a busy highway intersection. There are no traffic signals or signs, leaving the busy traffic to fend for itself through the intersection.  You could go out into the intersection and start to direct traffic, but you do not.  Rather you focus on just sitting and watching the traffic, doing nothing to interfere.
  • Pretend you are in a very crowded room, such as at a party. You are having an intent conversation with someone whom you are very interested.  During this conversation, you are able to recognize people coming in and out of the room, people moving around and making noise, sometimes being disruptive or causing a commotion, but there is no need to give this activity more than a passing notice.  You can be aware of your surroundings and be free to return to your focus on this conversation.

Through daily practice, you fill find your ability to filter gets increasingly easy.  It really does improve your relationship with time and helps you feel more organized and in control.

90-Day Self Love Challenge – Developing Awareness

Last summer, I met life coach and radio show host Lillian McDermott.  We were brought together because she wanted to do a show about raising awareness of the LGBT community.  We got along well and I’m now a permanent guest on the  2nd and 4th Tuesday show at 9 am.  During the September show, we were discussing depression and anxiety and I mentioned quite often, the root cause of depression and anxiety is a lack of selflove.  Lillian was very interested in how we can work to love ourselves more fully and together we embarked on developing the 90-Day Self Love Challenge.

I’ve often said the three most important relationships in your life are time, money and yourself (not in order of importance).  I say this because they are the only things that endure throughout the lifespan.  Everything else, everyone else has the potential to come and go.  However, you will always have to deal with time and unless you somehow manage to live on a deserted island and sustain yourself by living off the land there, you will always have to deal with money too.  Equally, you have to live with yourself everyday so it is very important neither time, money, nor you become your enemy.

Selflove is our most important task in this life and it will (and should) take a lifetime of work.  It’s like exercising.  You are never done.  It constantly needs attention and improvement.

So, Lillian and I set out to develop an action plan of how a person can get more selflove in his/her life.  We started off for the first 30 days with the focus on becoming more aware.  We spent days 1-25 identifying the 25 people in our lives that have made significant impacts. We focused on the positive and the growth opportunities we learned from people, while being aware of the positive growth from negative relationships. I had a past relationship in which the quality of that relationship was poor and very negative, I came out of it with a lot clarity about who I wanted to be and want I want my life to look like.  We can learn a lot from the negative experiences and people who have passed through our lives.  Each day is spent in reflection of that relationship and acknowledging the growth that came out of it.  It was very important to Lillian she contact everyone possible on her list to tell them about the impact they have made on her.  I preferred my reflection to be mostly with myself.  Everyone has a different path and recognizing what works for you is best.

Days 26-30 are about becoming more aware of your how you go about your day. The focus is on being aware of your thoughts and where they take you.  What does your body language say about how you are around others and in different situations?  Spend the time focusing getting to know you.

I will address days 31-90 in upcoming posts.  In the meantime, I invite you to work on this 90-Day selflove challenge.  Go to www.whenyouneedafriend.com to learn more. At the website, you can listen live to me on the radio show on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of every month from 9a – 10a Eastern Time.

What Is Love? (or How Do I Put My Ego Aside To Get What I Really Want?)

Recently a client asked me, “What is love?”  I sat there in silence for many moments, because I really wanted to give him a simple answer.  A concise sentence he could take with him and use. There is no easy answer.  I think if I could come up with a simple answer, I would be very rich.  I also know if a simple answer could be easy to attain, someone way before my time would have thought it up prior to now.

We all can agree love is complex, but we also often confuse things for love that are definitely not love, making things all the more baffling.  We think it is love, when it is really ego. In the past, I was a guest columnist on a website that provides information about dealing with affairs. Readers on the site repeatedly asked questions, “How do I make my partner talk about the affair? How do I make my partner go to counseling?  How do I make my partner realize how much he/she has hurt me?” When I responded “You can’t make anyone do anything,” the plea I often get back is “But I love him/her!” That is actually not love at all, but ego and control.

So, I’m sitting in my office chair and all of this is running through my mind. I’m pretty sure I know what love is not.  The question still remains, “What is love?  I came up with this:  I think love is the willingness to do the hard work necessary every day to affect the best possible outcome, with care and concern for all present.

Love is about what you are willing to give, not about what you think you should get. To be willing to operate under that principle is indeed hard work.  Moreover, having care and concern for the best possible outcome, doesn’t always mean happiness and roses.  Sometimes doing the best thing is not only difficult, but sometimes hard to talk about and even worse, hard to hear.

A major mistake we make in our attempt to build meaningful lasting relationships is operating from the guiding principle; “The success of this relationship depends on how well you meet all my expectations of you.”  It invariably leads to difficulty and resentment at some point, because other people are not us and they never will be.  We can’t even live up to our own expectations of ourselves, so how can we expect more from others?  It’s a waste of time. Focus your energy instead on this simple question: “Am I being the person today I would want to be in a relationship with?”  Ask it often and see what happens.

Mental Health Boot Camp

We don’t pay attention.  Not really.  You probably tend to think you are very aware of your surroundings and what everyone is doing and why, but research and statistics tell a different story.  We really don’t pay attention to a lot going on around us.  There is so much to do and so many people, places and things vying for our attention, we tend to be focused on what we discern is the most important and discard the rest.  More importantly, we really don’t pay attention to ourselves.  There is a lot going on up in our brains, but we ignore most of it.  True a lot of it can be unimportant chatter, like the angry rant of a squirrel, but some of it describes who we are, how we see our reality and most importantly how we confirm and develop that reality around us.

I find most of our problems lie in we don’t listen to ourselves and what the continuous narrative up there is telling us about our lives. I created Mental Health Boot Camp out of a need to connect to a client who wasn’t doing well in therapy.  He said to me one day, “I think I would just rather drive my car into a pole.” His depression was so severe and he was having extreme difficulty in connecting to himself and motivating himself to work on treatment.

 Mental Health Boot Camp is a kind of journaling program used in a new way to help clients.  There is an enormous amount of research to support how the simple act of writing down our thoughts can help us gain a new understanding of ourselves, develop clarity of thought and help us use the thought process we have to overcome life’s obstacles and problems.

Through Mental Health Boot Camp, clients have become able to see themselves in a stronger, more positive light and recognize they have all the skills they need to obtain more peace, happiness and fulfillment in life.  Mental Health Boot Camp just helps provide the direction. The client I mentioned above eventually went on to college, became self sufficient, got into a relationship and…well…became happy.

Mental Health Boot Camp is really a matter of knowing how to direct your energies to their best use.

I’ll Write This Blog Later

I used to be a procrastinator.  More specifically, I used to be an avoider.  I would avoid doing things either I was afraid of facing, unsure of my ability to do the ‘thing’, or worried doing the ‘thing’ would cause more grief than just simply worrying about it not being done. I kicked my procrastination/avoidance problem years ago by realizing I buy more trouble putting things off and thinking they will go away than just doing them and dealing with whatever happens next.

In thinking about writing this blog, I came across this entry written by psychologists who study procrastination for a living: http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200507/why-we-procrastinate. The article gives good tips about why procrastination occurs, why it is such a struggle for some people, and what to do to help ourselves.

Ultimately, it seems procrastination is a matter of unconscious avoidance or even rebellion against authority.  It might have started in the family of origin, but as an adult “authority” can unconsciously take all manner of forms.  Even time can become a representation of authority to be avoided or rebelled against.

I think it is interesting the researchers state procrastination is not a matter of time management. It is an issue of unconscious behavior in reaction to a perceived threat to psychological stability.  Moreover, we can put off different responsibilities for different reasons.  It is important to carefully examine what you are putting off and take a hard internal look for the reasons behind the avoidance.

I know for me, one of the behaviors I still struggle with is my writing, even writing this blog.  I know I consciously want to have the blog and my book ideas written, but I struggle with making time to actually do them.  On the surface, it is mysterious to me how I have an urgent need to check Facebook, when I really should spend the time writing.  Upon close internal inspection, I found I wanted to write my ideas, but more importantly, want my words to be acclaimed and sought after by the general public.  That coupled with an underlying fear of no one really caring.

I had to ask myself, “What if I wrote a blog no one ever reads?  What if I write a book no one ever buys? Would I still want to write it?”  When I could get to a “Yes, I would still want to write a blog/book, even if I’m the only person who ever reads it”, I found it easier to keep up with my writing.

There is probably something you routinely put off you wish you didn’t.  It can be fearful to look for the underlying reason you avoid it, but once you’ve faced the internal reason, you may find your ability to deal with the activity increases and your anxiety level in general will go down.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find out What It Means to Me

I’ve often thought respect is the foundation of a good relationship.  Without respect, the other things we want from our relationships like trust, love, fulfillment and meaning all seem hollower.  Respect is a fertile ground in which trust and love and can grow abundantly.

Recently I found this great article written for school teachers about teaching trust to children.  The article explains respect should not be confused with obedience.  We may obey people we are afraid of, or for some reason defer to their authority.  That does not mean we respect them.  The article also states the best way to teach respect is to be respectful.  I find that very important as when I look around the world, I see many people displaying a sense of entitlement to the respect they “deserve” without acknowledging any responsibility to give respect to others. Here are some great bullet points about how to teach respect to your partner by first being respectful:

Be honest – If you do something wrong, admit it and apologize. Be aware of how your actions affect your partner and take responsibility for the consequences of those actions.

Be positive – Don’t embarrass, insult or make fun of your partner. This is as important when it’s just the two of you as it is in public.  We are programmed by society to shape behavior through criticism.  Just because it is common and everyone does it, doesn’t make it a good idea.

Be trusting – Let your partner make choices and take responsibility. I ask people all the time “what is the definition of trust?” People mistakenly believe trust is a confident belief you have for someone after they’ve proven worthy of it.  WRONG! Trust is about believing and being confident in someone without guarantee.  It’s also about forgiving people when they are truly sorry for having hurt you.

Be a good listener – Listen to your partner’s side of the story before reaching a conclusion.  How often do you interrupt or spend think about what how you are going to respond even before your partner has quit speaking?  Give your partner your full attention. Be aware of how your body language conveys interest and attention. If you are turned away doing something with your hands, I know you are not listening to me really.  Just saying you are doesn’t change reality. Learning to listen is a talent, skill and an art.  You have to practice it to become better at it.  It doesn’t happen without time, attention and energy.

Be polite – Use “please” and “thank you.” Be aware and respectful of your partner’s space. You can create a lot of happiness and contentment in your relationship simply by exercising basic politeness.

Be reliable – Keep promises. Show your partner you mean what you say.

These are basic, simple tips to use in your everyday life.  You can transform your relationship and your life just by practicing these every day.

The Greatest Love of All

I’ve been focusing and concentrating a lot recently about the concept of self-love and how, exactly, does one learn to love oneself?  I challenge clients with this question often and just as frequently the response is, “I don’t know”, or “I don’t love myself and don’t know where I would begin doing so.”

Working on self-love is one of life’s most difficult tasks. Because it is such a difficult concept to understand, it’s why most people give up, dissociate from their lives in significant ways and develop strategies to run from themselves.  People running from the responsibility of self-love has resulted in our being the most in-debt, overweight, addicted, prescription-pill-taking, depressed society that has ever existed on the planet.

Hard? Yes.  Impossible? No.  Worth all the damage we do to ourselves to avoid the responsibility?  Absolutely not.  I have been posting a series of daily reminders on the BHC Assessment & Consulting Facebook page to outline self-loving steps.  You can “like” the Facebook page and follow along here: https://www.facebook.com/drdave0521.

First, you have to realize the work of self-love is a life-long journey.  You will never be finished.  That’s actually good news!  Imagine the longest relationship you will ever have in your life continuing to grow and get better, richer, more meaningful, rather than stagnant and boring.  Who doesn’t want that?

Second, you have to commit to the actions that create love: respect, acceptance, patience, value and consideration.  These may mostly be mental actions, but they are still actions.  You can achieve this by asking yourself, “How can I respect myself today? How can I accept myself today? Etc.”

The longer I live and study the human experience, the more I recognize this work of self-loving can make major headway in solving most of life’s problems.  It can help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.  It can help alleviate the effects of trauma.  It can probably even help alleviate the symptoms more severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.  At the very least, it can make life more livable.

Love is the greatest gift you can give yourself.