Do You Mind?

Think Right

“Eat Right, Sleep Right, Think Right, Exercise” – part three.

The Buddhists say, “Think Right.  Think it today, become it tomorrow.  Nothing can help you or harm you as much as the thoughts in your head.”  I like to imagine that our brain is like a 5-year old, probably a boy.  Most five-year-old boys don’t necessarily intend to get into trouble, or do irresponsible things that create havoc for themselves and everyone around them.  They just do a lot of times, because they don’t know any better, and left to their own devices, they have a lot of energy that needs to be expended and if they aren’t focused or directed, they will just start doing “stuff”.  That sounds like the ordinary adult brain to me.  Our brains as adults basically need the same things that we needed at five years of age to help us learn how to do better and be better.  Our brains, or our inner five-year-old if you like, need Supervision, Love, Education, and Discipline.  Of course, because I like mnemonics,  I like to refer to these needs as “SLED”.  The word isn’t really relevant, except that it is an easy word to remember.

 

Let’s first consider Supervision.  Our brains are constantly at work; thinking, studying, analyzing, considering, judging, and looking for something to do and focus on.  I find it very interesting how we can be largely unaware of what’s really going on up there, despite the fact that it could be some pretty important stuff.  It is extremely important to be aware of your thoughts.  Just like our little five-year-old boy metaphor, he, and our brains, have the most chance for success when they are not left unattended.  Developing better supervision of your brain is a matter of practice.  Simply practice checking in with your thoughts at random times during the day and start paying more attention to where they go and what they focus on.  Ask yourself if this is really where you want to be spending your energy.

 

  1. I meet so many clients who consider their brain to be their worst enemy.  I think sometimes I’ve thought that way myself.  It seems silly to think that is sometimes how we see ourselves, and a pretty serious problem when you get right down to it.  We need to love our brain.  It will be the only one we ever have.  Nothing ever grows and thrives in an environment of contempt and scorn.  Not flowers, not children, not brains.  Love your brain.

 

  1. One of my favorite sayings is, “This is not about judgment, it’s about education.”  I think there are only three things that come instinctively to human beings that we do when we are born: eat, go in our diapers, and manipulate (others so that we can eat and have our diapers changed so we can do it all over again).  Everything else is learned through education.  We need to educate our brains everyday so that we can learn how to do better and be better.  Every day, like every session of play for our metaphoric five-year-old, should be seen as a classroom of opportunities for us to learn key skills we need to thrive and live our best lives.

 

  1. As we become more aware of our thoughts through direct supervision, we then must start to direct our thoughts kindly, and lovingly towards those thoughts that promote successful behaviors.  Just like our five-year-old, if we are too permissive, the child will become indulgent, spoiled, and bratty.  If we are too strict, the child will become anxious, indecisive, and insecure or rebellious, wild, and uncontrollable.  Start thinking of every second of the day as a unit of energy.  You only have one of two buckets to put that unit of energy into:  one is problem-solving, the other is problem-creating.  How do you want to spend that unit of energy that once spent, you will never get back?  Practicing this exercise is one way to create more discipline in your brain.

 

So, there it is:  Supervision, Love, Education, Discipline.  A five-year-old needs it, you need it, we all need it.  It’s a good way to Think Right.

Sleep Right

“Eat Right, Sleep Right, Think Right, Exercise” – part two.

51% of Americans are having trouble sleeping at night due to stress and anxiety.  What are we stressed out about?  Work, probably.  That, or relationships.  The consequences of not sleeping right continue to escalate our perception of life being unmanageable and out of control.  The psychiatrist will tell you that you need Ambien (which has some dangerous side effects) or Xanax or Klonopin (to which it is possible you may become addicted) to fix your problem.  But lack of sleep is your symptom; it is not your problem.  The reason why people don’t sleep is because they are anxious and worried about the today they can’t leave behind, and the tomorrow that hasn’t even happened yet. This results in a perceived lack of control, which is the primary cause of all anxiety and worry, which results in an inability to sleep.  Restful sleep occurs when you tackle the problem, rather than the symptom.

 

The best way to do this is to commit yourself to becoming a better problem-solver of your life…and get organized!  I have found that being organized is the number one way to feel in control of my life.  Through a commitment to organization, I know exactly what I have to do every day to complete the tasks of my professional occupation as psychotherapist, as a business owner, and the things I need to do to manage my home and keep my husband and dogs happy.  As such, I am almost never late to meetings (my sessions begin on time 99.9% of the time), I do not forget to return phone calls or emails, and when someone asks me to do something, at a glance I can give them an honest answer about my ability to follow through.  Commitment to organization helps me to identify daily what problems need to be solved and which ones take priority.  Consequently, I become a better professional and a happier person.

 

As a result, I rarely have problems with sleep like I did years ago.  Of course, it is also important to commit to turning it off at night.  There are a lot of techniques that can help a person relax and let it go. An easy internet search will yield thousands of returns that provide tips on preparing adequately for sleep each night. Most importantly, however, you have to remember that you are in charge of what you think.  Problems are created at 3am, not solved.

 

Commitment to organization and problem-solving will naturally lead to better, more restful sleep…resulting in a better you!

Eat Right

Over the years, I have developed a foundation for living a happier, healthier life that I try to dedicate myself to and teach to my clients. I like to call it the “Dr. Dave’s 4-point plan for successful living.”  When I plug that phrase into a google search, I find that everyone has developed a “4 principle” concept to outline whatever corner of the universe he/she specializes in.  Of course, the search also returns a lot of 3-, 5-, 10- and 20-principle ideas as well.  I was hoping to find out I had accidently tapped into some ultra-cool numerological thingy indicating I was uniquely tuned into the blah, blah, blah…..but nothing like that.  It’s just a thing I made up.

 

Of course, naming the principles is easy and simplistic.  Practicing them on a daily basis is a completely different story.  But as Cartoon G.I.Joe says, “Knowing is half the battle.”  The principles of my four-point plan are: 1) Eat Right 2) Sleep Right 3) Think Right 4) Exercise.  I have tried endlessly to turn it into an acronym, but “SEET” doesn’t mean anything to anyone.

 

Over the next few installments of this blog, I want to share with you thoughts on my four principles, and how I feel using them can help anyone lead a happier, healthier life.  I’m going to start with EAT RIGHT.  I love FOOD.  I love FOOD so much; I always want to type it in all caps.  This past year so far, I have especially been dedicating myself to the principle of eating right.  I have been on a regimented eating plan (not a diet. I don’t like that word) that is healthy and balanced.  I’ve done this plan before, trying to get ready for vacations and such in the past but I wanted to do it this for real, full time this year because I have just simply been gaining too much weight over the last few years and needed to take it off.  The plan is a lot of work.  I have to eat 5 times a day and everything is measured out exactly. But I’ve realized the benefits are I feel so much better, both mentally and physically.  My whole entire life, I’ve heard people say “you are what you eat”, but that never meant anything to me. As a young adult I was thin and never paid any attention to what I ate.  That all changed in middle age.  The good news is that this struggle with food has taught me how much food affects who we are, and I’ve never really thought about food like that before.

 

It is estimated that the U.S. diet and weight loss industry is worth 100 million annually.  Most of it is just crap people are trying to shill to make a buck (remember the shake weight?).  “Eat Right” is not about losing weight; it’s about recognizing that what we eat affects what we do, who we are and how we live.

Stuck

There should be a mental health diagnosis called “stuck”.  12 years ago, the U.S. Surgeon General released a first-ever U.S. Government report on mental health in America and stated that 1 in 5 Americans have a diagnosable mental illness at some given point in their lives, mostly being depression and/or anxiety.  I think that at least 2 out of the other 4 get to points in their lives where they feel “stuck”.  Stuck is that feeling where you continue to wake up in the morning, after waaaaay too many mornings of feeling the same way and you say to yourself, “What am I really doing here?  Where am I going?  Am I even making the right choices for myself?  Are there even any choices that are right for me?…Is today actually Monday?”

 

Too often, psychologists, psychotherapists, and counselors aren’t seen as people who deal with “stuck”.  On the contrary, we love stuck!  At least, I do.  I love to work with people who are stuck, because to me, that indicates that you have hope for something better in your life if you could only figure out how to begin the process of becoming unstuck.  That is one of the reasons I created Mental Health Boot Camp™.  While I love working with people who have mild-to-serious mental health concerns and problems, I still base my therapy on helping people live their best lives.  That is something that is applicable no matter if you have a serious mental health concern, or you just wish this day would hurry up and be over with.

 

When mental health professionals report on depression, we have four categories to use:  mild depression, moderate depression, severe depression without psychotic features, and severe depression with psychotic features.  I would label my “stuck” categories similarly:  Mildly Stuck, Moderately Stuck, Stuck without Myopic Features, and Stuck with Myopic Features. I would use the term “myopic features” because I sometimes see clients that are so stuck, they can’t see anything but the brick wall in front of them.  They become convinced that they are out of options, choices, solutions, etc.  Sometimes, people who stay in the severe category too long become depressed, because they become so sure that they can no longer help themselves.  That is the inner negative self-talk’s opinion.  It is a lie.  Never.Give Up.  (see last week’s entry).

 

People who are mildly stuck may be just stuck in the moment.  That is because we encounter a problem to be a little complex and we get too caught up in trying to find the absolutely perfect solution.  A solution which will solve everything and we never will have to think about anything again. Ever!  I like to encourage people not to waste too much time looking for exactly the right “thing”.  We are all guilty of it.  I do it myself.  But if it is not dangerous, it is at least counter-productive.  I try to remember that a more workable solution is just to look for a step…period.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be the most right or most perfect step; it just has to get you moving in some direction. Remember what you learned in 9th grade Physics class: things in motion tend to stay in motion, while things at rest tend to stay at rest.  That works for people too…and moods.  Staying stuck too long leads to depression and depression is atrophy.  People that are depressed don’t move.  People that move are not depressed. Find a step and act on it.  It doesn’t matter so much where it is leading, you can figure that out later.  Complex problems are best solved one step at a time. The most important thing is where you are being led from.

 

For more information on Mental Health Boot Camp™, follow this link to my website:  http://drdavidbakerhargrove.com/BootCamp.php

Don’t Ever Give Up

One of the saddest movies I think I have ever seen is Longtime Companion. It tells the story of a group on gay professional men that live in New York City and how their lives are torn apart by AIDS.  It was produced in the mid 90’s when that was truly the story of our lives.  Our community was being ripped to shreds by the disease and infection was a death sentence.  Perhaps it is not such a sad movie anymore.  So much has happened in the medical community to treat AIDS/HIV and we look at the disease so much differently now.  I don’t know. I haven’t had the heart to watch that movie in years.

 

Today I work with gay men in my practice who had AIDS back then and through some miracle are still here today.  Most of them were very sick at one point, and expected to die.  They were able to survive, and most of them have been on disability for many years.  Today I work with them to help them rebuild their lives because now that the medications they take can arrest the virus completely, they have found they still have a lot of living left to do.

 

I was talking with a client about this just a few days ago and I remarked how sad it is that we lost so many wonderful young men who were our friends, lovers, relatives, and I hated to think about how if they could have just held on for another year or two, medical science was about to make miraculous advancement in the treatment of the disease no one could have ever predicted.  My client said to me that even sadder was that so many of them didn’t see any hope and they just gave up.

 

Sometimes we get trapped into an emotional alley by our lives and all we can see is brick wall.  It looks impenetrable and there honestly doesn’t seem any way out.  When things seem the most hopeless, is often when great things happen…as long as you don’t give up. I can tell you that the early 90’s was certainly a dark time in the gay male community.  There definitely did not seem anyway out of the AIDS crisis.  While the epidemic is far from over, or even manageable, we are still light years away from those dark days.

 

Don’t ever give up.

I Get In My Own Way

I’ve been taking a practice-builder’s course this year.  It’s been the best time and money I’ve ever spent.  I already know how to be a good therapist.  I have a lot of experience and feel really proud of my professional accomplishments and expertise.  What I really lacked is the knowledge about how to run a successful business.  One of the tips that I’ve learned in the course is you have to have a web presence, and one of the best ways to do that is to blog.  So I am blogging.

 

I actually love to write and have been told I am a good writer.  When I was trying to push my dissertation through committee (a hellish experience, I must tell you), I was often told by the faculty how good my writing was.  So why is it every week when I sit down to write this blog and share with you my thoughts, feelings, and reflections in a way that will hopefully inspire you to life your best life, I get frustrated, have a mind freeze, and find myself inadvertently checking facebook and shopping for obscure 80’s bands on itunes?

 

Because I get in my own way.

 

Does that ever happen to you?  Sure, writing a weekly blog doesn’t necessarily carry the same weight as trying to balance the national budget or negotiate peace in the Middle East, but it is an aspect of my job that I have added to my job description and if I want to fulfill the duties and responsibilities of my job I have to do it.  I was just talking to my husband about it on the phone, and we both agreed that I get too caught up into making it a “thing”.  This is something that I WANT to do.  It’s something that I’ve CHOSEN to do.  I should just be able to do it…right?  It’s like exercise.  I know I want to exercise.  I like how I feel afterwards, so why do I dread it every morning?

 

Because I get in my own way.

 

I guess if I could figure out the psychological cure for getting-in-your-own-way-syndrome, or “YOWS”, I would be a millionaire.  But if I had to put my finger on it, I would say it’s mostly because we take something that is rather simple, and attach a bunch on emotional stuff to it, and all of a sudden, it’s a “THING”.  Just right now, I tried to move through the emotion and process it while I was writing, and it actually seemed to help.  I just allowed myself to feel the emotion without allowing myself to stop the behavior of writing.  I think maybe that is the key.  Allowing yourself to feel the emotion and be ok with experiencing it, but still allowing yourself to do whatever it is you need to do.  It seems to work.  I think I will try it with exercise tomorrow.

 

Do you have a “THING”?  Is there a certain something that you have to do that always seems to stop you dead in your tracks, even though it really shouldn’t be a big deal?  Instead of letting the emotion bring you to a complete stop, allow yourself to feel the emotion, experience the frustration, accept that it is there and realize that you can still do whatever it is you need to do while feeling the emotion at the same time.  Let me know if it works…and stay out of your own way!

You Can Change the World

I often hear people talk about what is wrong with the world (when people say “world” they typically mean “people”). I’ve thought a lot about how the world (aka, people) could change to create a better place. I guess if I didn’t really think people could change, I would be in the wrong profession.  I feel lucky in that while I’m not particularly obsessed with making the world conform to my needs, I’m more interested in just trying to get rid of the anger and hate.

The first twenty years of my life were not happy ones.  I always felt at odds with my environment and endured extremely painful ridicule, harassment, and emotional brutalizing not only by fellow students but by teachers and other adults just because I appeared to be gay.  Even adults who did not actively seek to hurt me participated in the hate by simply choosing to look the other direction.  I grew up angry, depressed and withdrawn.  In my early twenties, I quite accidentally stumbled upon the idea of psychotherapy and I have to tell you that my experience in therapy saved my life.

That’s the reason I became a therapist.  I like myself and my life now, and have fought hard for that self-appreciation. I want to help others experience that same sense of pride and enjoyment of life that I worked so hard for.  The foundation for a fulfilled life is success in work, love, and play.  Success in these areas are measured in the quality of relationships you have in each.  When you have a successful relationship, you feel better; when you have successful work relationships, you typically are more financially successful; when you have great friends, you laugh more.

I had thought for a while that just being a therapist and helping others one-on-one wasn’t enough.  I had to get out there, become a leader in the community, do things, be the president, BE SOMEBODY.  I don’t regret any of that work at all, but I found that what I had originally set out to do, be a therapist, got lost in the process.  I admit that I am a narcissistic, self-aggrandizing, attention-whore, but I can still be somebody AND change the world, just by doing what I do. Every day I seek to build, not tear down.  Don’t get me wrong, I love to be snarky.  I often think of funny things I would like to post on facebook about current events or smartass comments about this and that.  I don’t.  It doesn’t build, ultimately it just tears down.  What really makes the difference is what we do every day with the people around us.  When we take the time to like ourselves and each other a little more; when we take time to support ourselves and each other; when we take a minute to laugh and encourage someone else to laugh with us; that is what truly brings on change. You don’t have to be president of anything, you just have to be present.

Own Your Spirit

I originally wrote this blog a few months ago for a transgender/transsexual specific website.  However, I think the principals apply to anyone who is dedicated to living their best life with authenticity and integrity:

About 13 years ago, I was a volunteer counselor at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center in Orlando when I met a young man who came to speak with me.  He felt he might be transgender and was having a difficult emotional time in trying to reconcile his thoughts and feelings.  The year was 1998.  There was no Google, no YouTube, no Facebook.  Online communities were only beginning to form, and even then mostly only among the tech-savvy. The internet was in its infancy and primarily used for the proliferation of porn.  Here in Orlando, the “Gay and Lesbian Center” didn’t even include transgender in its title, although it did offer a support group for transitioners.  Resources and information were scarce.  Maybe you remember this time very well and how hard it must have been to step forward and come out to anyone as transsexual, even to a therapist.

If you are a little younger, imagine what it must have felt like to come out without the internet or the information, resources, people, and online community that it provides.   I’m not even sure I had a cell phone in 1998!

Anyway, I knew NOTHING about being transgender/transsexual.  Honestly, I was your stereotypical gay circuit boy.  I thought transgender/transsexual people were just drag queens who were too lazy to take off their makeup during the day, and it certainly never even occurred to me it might be possible to have a male brain inside a female body or vice-versa.

As a therapist, and foremost someone who cares about helping people develop mastery over their own lives, I took his situation very seriously.  I started to learn everything I could about what it means to be transgender/transsexual.  There was very little published information available at the time and extremely few resources.  It took me a long time to find a doctor who could, and would, administer hormones, and as far as I could figure out a person had to go to Thailand in order to get GRS (genital reconstructive surgery).

I soon came to realize if there are trans people in the world, I may very well be their only resource for information and support.  I took that responsibility very seriously and wanted to be the best resource I could be for people to help them transition successfully.

Fast forward to present:  Today information, resources, and physicians who can prescribe hormones and conduct surgeries are a plenty.  Online communities are exploding and most Fortune 500 companies are not only open to people transitioning at work, they allow the medical expenses to be included in their health benefit packages.  I have helped well over 100 people transition successfully and yes, I now even have a cell phone.

There is a lot of information available regarding “what needs to happen” in order to transition, and for one hot second, I thought the internet might be muscling me out of a job.  But as I continue to work in this area and become more impassioned about people developing mastery over their lives, I realize we still have a lot of work to do together.  While it is certainly easier to find out about the actual steps to transition, what is not so easy to decipher is how to transition in an emotionally safe and healthy way.

I stay very connected to the trans community, both through my practice and people I remain in contact with after they have completed psychotherapy.  I often hear stories about people who really want to transition in the best way possible but they don’t realize what they are actually doing is letting fear guide their transition for them.

I am no stranger to fear-based decision-making.  I’ve certainly done enough of it myself throughout my life.  I realize that because of the pressures to conform that mainstream society puts on all of us, we often end up, whether we realize it or not, trying to transition in a way that makes it safe and comfortable for everyone around us, at the expense of ourselves.  Or even more problematically, we essentially tell ourselves that we have transitioned, when we haven’t even come out at work yet.  Please understand

Getting The Love You Want

Three things I want you to know:  1) Your relationship does not have to suck, 2) You actually do deserve the relationship you have always wanted, and 3) You actually can have the relationship you have always wanted.  Don’t believe me?  Say that whole first sentence aloud 3 times…does it seem a little more real now?  Don’t worry; keep saying it and it will.

Think about it logically. Why do you continue to tell yourself that you can’t have a good relationship?  Why do you continue to tell yourself that it only happens for other people?  Why should you be left out? Your mind might be coming up with a litany of reasons, but they are all really just negative self-evaluations based upon opinion rather than fact.

One thing I have learned in my 15 years of clinical practice is, if you are not in a relationship, there is a reason for it and you are the reason.  Somewhere, somehow, in the deep, dark recesses of your mind you are pushing potential, or current, mates away.  You know it’s true. If you are in a relationship that is not the relationship you want, there is also a reason for it, and yes, you are most likely the reason for that too.

If you are in a relationship that is not working well, you can transform your relationship by following these steps:

  • Make a commitment to never yell or call your partner names. Ever.
  • Make a commitment to make no disparaging or negative comments about your partner to friends, family, or in public.
  • Don’t tell your partner “how he or she is” or what is wrong with him/her
  • Stop talking and listen
  • Monitor how much time you spend during any given day focusing on what is wrong with your partner and/or relationship.  If it is more than a few seconds a day, it is too much.  Instead focus on what you like about your relationship/partner.  People live up to our expectations of them.  If you focus on what is right about your partner/relationship, you are liable to get more of it.

If you are not in a relationship and want to be in one, transform your life by following these steps:

  • Monitor your thinking about yourself, dating, your potential dating pool, etc.  If your thoughts are consumed with negativity and fear, it is the reason why you are single.  Make a commitment to think positively about dating and your possibilities.  Stop programming your mind by repeating phrases like “All men are pigs.”, or “All the good ones are taken.”
  • Stop looking at dating as a chore.  If you can’t get excited about it, at least try to see it as a means to an end…like college.
  • I used to tell my clients, “Mr. Right will never come knocking on your door, so get off the couch”, until a client of mine, who spent an a lot of time home alone, got involved with the guy who came to fix his cable.  True story.  They are still together, as far as I know.  So, now I say, “Never give up.  Anything is possible.”

Don’t believe me that any of this will actually work?  Have you tried it?  Go ahead and give it a try and come back to me and let me know how it worked.  It’s ok, I’ll wait. 🙂

Embrace Life’s Problems, rather than resisting them

Life is about problems. Period. Get used to it. Every day, whether you realize it or not, you spend most of your day confronting, and hopefully, solving problems. Most of us get tired of problem-solving. The whole activity often leaves us feeling overwhelmed and incapable, prompting us to unleash our inner 7-year-old and engage in avoidant behaviors, like procrastination, overeating, over-drinking, over spending, drugs, etc.

The problem is not the amount of problems we have, whether or not we have the talent, skills, and abilities to solve those problems, or the fact that we have problems at all. The problem is we want things to be different. We dream of a problem-free life, where every day exists to indulge our pleasures and fantasies, and we never have to worry about anything again.

Ain’t gonna happen. Ever. We would be much better served to accept that fact that every day there will be problems and challenges to face and that life is really just one big educational experience in which the main goal is to continually work on becoming a better problem-solver and life manager.

To help people get more used to this reality, I’ve developed an exercise that provides people with a road map for problem solving. I call it the “WAC” (pronounced “whack”) format. When faced with a problem, you only have three options at solving the problem: Walk away from the situation completely, Accept the situation for what it is, or Change the situation so that the problem is solved to your satisfaction. Hence W-A-C, or WAC.

This is the underlying guide for every single problem you can possibly face. It is not as hard to employ as it seems. The issue most people face, and what really makes most of life’s problems seem overwhelming and impossible is that we typically prefer to employ a fourth option, which is to complain about the problem, wish things would automatically be different without any effort on our parts, and/or someone else would come along and fix it for us.

We can go through our entire lives deluding ourselves into thinking that someday, maybe someday; this fourth “option” will actually prove to be the saving grace that makes our lives problem free. Some people go to unbelievable lengths, and spend an unbelievable amount on energy in the hopes of making it true. It just won’t work and always ends up in avoidant behaviors, feeling stressed out, overwhelmed, and having mental health symptoms like depression, anxiety, worry, stress, fear, etc.

You do have the talent, skills, and abilities to handle any problem that comes your way. Even you if don’t immediately know the solution, I can guarantee that someone around you does. You don’t have to know all the answers. You just have to be willing to face the problem head on.

Don’t resist life’s problems, embrace them. Honestly, to do anything else is just plan whack.