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Five steps to reboot your brain

Have you ever woken up one morning and thought to yourself “This just isn’t working….” Maybe it is how you are approaching a problem at work. It might be a situation with one of your children or a pleasurable hobby that isn’t fun anymore. Maybe your colleagues, friends or partner are noticing you just don’t seem as happy as you use to be. So what can you do? Here are five steps to reboot your brain:

  1. Do a reality check: First step is awareness of your situation. This might start with a comment from someone noticing you seem down. Or maybe you don’t want to go do that hobby you have loved for years. You might find yourself showing up late for appointments or not returning phone calls. These are the warning signs that indicate a change in your life may be necessary.
  2. Do some research. Is there some truth in the comment your friend made? When did you or your colleagues notice the change in you? Has this situation ever happened before in your life? What did you do then?
  3. Brainstorm with others. We may think we are unique in our growing pains, but most likely someone you know has gone through the something similar. Ask those you respect if they have ever been in the same situation and how did they handle it?
  4. Check in with your thoughts. We all have patterns of thinking that do not serve us. This might be “all or nothing” type of thinking. Either you have to do something perfect or not at all. It might be negative self talk fueling your behavior. Journaling helps me and a lot of my clients in this step.
  5. Take one small step. Many people realize they need to change but then expect themselves to do it over night. Change is a process and a journey. It starts with one small step which might feel like going backwards but is necessary.

Here are a few of my own examples.

Many years ago I was working as Director of Development for a software company managing people and projects internationally.  I started noticing that I enjoyed finding out what motivated people and how to help them do their jobs better. I wanted to read books on psychology and not software. I started talking to anyone I knew who had made a career change and researched educational opportunities to help me explore different fields of study. Many of my thoughts were negative. How could I leave such an excellent job and become a therapist? What about income? I took one small step by signing up for a class in developmental psychology at a local university. I found I loved it and then created a plan for change.

Another example happened this past year. Just about a year ago I bought a beautiful horse named Ginger. We had been training all winter and competed in our first  show in May. It went so well I just couldn’t be happier.  A few weeks later we started having problems. The problems got worse and I became really dejected, as did Ginger. Riding became a chore. My negative self talk kicked in along with my own all or nothing thinking. I could have wallowed in self pity for a long time but I was able to change gears because I knew my horse wasn’t happy. I started researching the issue we were having and talked to every person who had met Ginger and I.  We asked a lot of questions: When did the issue start? What had changed with my horse (shoes, bit, training)? Did I change anything in my own workout? My trainers and I brainstormed ideas on how to go forward. I also followed the advice I frequently give my clients when their child has a sudden change in behavior and called the veterinarian to examine Ginger to rule out anything physical. It turns out that she had contracted Lyme Disease and that was making her achy and stiff. At the same time I had myself tested and I also had a co-infection from a tick!  We both started treatment and had to go back to the basics in our training. It was a huge setback but it brought Ginger and I closer together. I am happy to report we both have recovered.

Below is a picture of us last month.

How do you reboot your brain? What steps do you take?

I would love to hear from you!

Janneta

jbohlander@jbohlander.com

(203) 521-0805

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Perfectly Imperfect – the 5 areas perfectionism hits hardest

I had an exercise in a Family of Origin class in Graduate school.  The assignment was to present my family of origin to the class.  I researched and made up the best genogram I could using posters, an easel and practiced my presentation over and over.  When I got up to present the professor told me to put everything away. She told me I had to do it imperfectly.  So I tried my best to mess up, make mistakes lose my place and other blunders.  The class was allowed to comment and stop me if they wanted to. At one point someone said I was doing it “perfectly imperfect.”  Boy was I mad, but you know what?  They were right.  The exercise was for me to experience how much my perfectionist attitude prevents me from taking risks and growing. I have never forgotten this lesson. So as I kept trying to write this blog, I realized I was putting it off until I had the best idea with the best research. I had succumbed to my perfectionism once again.  It also happens when I ride my horse. My trainer will tell me to try something and to “get out of my comfort zone.”  As I try, she will invariably say “don’t ride pretty for me!”  In my mind it means go for it and if you mess up, so what! Try again.

So what did I learn from my graduate school experience and what have I seen in my private practice? Perfectionism:

1. Hurts relationships

Have you ever been in love with a perfectionist? Maybe you have one in your family.  Many people in these situations feel like everything they do is not good enough. The hyper-criticism of the perfectionist breeds anger and resentment. If unaddressed the perfectionist might find themselves alone and wonder why.

2. Actually lowers productivity

Perfectionists naturally want perfect outcomes. As motivated as they are, their productivity might actually suffer since they are so preoccupied with the end result that they may become distracted. The pressure to deliver a perfect result can also create performance anxiety that takes away from productivity and performance.

3. Makes you less creative

Perfectionists like to stay with the known and not take chances. They will do anything to avoid mistakes. This difficulty with being open minded is not conducive to creativity.

4. Impacts your ability to feel compassion for others

Perfectionists can easily tell you what should happen. It is difficult for them to feel compassion for others when they are judging if others are right or wrong.

5. Costs money and resources

It is common for perfectionists to do entire projects over because of minor mistakes or flaws. This results in increase costs, more time spent and materials used.

So how is your perfectionism limiting you? I would love to hear from you!

Janneta

Janneta K. Bohlander, LMFT

jbohlander@jbohlander.com

203-521-0805

What is your inner voice saying?

On Facebook recently I saw a wonderful quote by Peggy O’Mara.  It stated ” The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.”  I thought about this quote from two perspectives. The first as a mother.  The second as a daughter.  From the perspective of a mother I became acutely aware of what I was saying to my daughters.  As parent’s a lot of our comments or commands are generally of the negative form i.e. “Sit still,” “Get your elbows off the table”,” don’t eat with your mouth open”, “do your homework.”  When I was growing up my father’s favorite phrase when I missed a math problem was “What are you a God Damn idiot?”  Needless to say this phase echoes in my head when I make any mistakes.

In addition, we frequently pass on those messages we received from our parents to our own children. We may have promised ourselves we would never say those hurtful things to our own children, but sometimes it just slips out. I heard someone describe their inner voice as the “Itty bitty sh*tty committee.” 

So what do you do if you want to change those tapes in your head that are playing constantly?  The first step is becoming a detective and notice what thoughts automatically pop in your head.  Keeping a thought journal is very helpful for this exercise.  These intermediate beliefs may take the form of attitudes (anyone who cries is weak), rules (boys don’t cry) or conditional assumptions (If I cry in public I am weak.)  Under the surface of  many these automatic thoughts  are core beliefs and assumptions that influence our thoughts and view of the world.  If we want to change these core beliefs we need to identify them and challenge them so that we can come up with new more realistic views of ourselves and others.

Core values fall into several categories:

  • Dependence
  • Unlovable
  • Helpless
  • Defective:
  • Worthless
  • Undeserving

An exercise to identify what your core beliefs are is called the downward arrow technique.  After you catch one of your automatic thoughts ask yourself “If that were true, what would that say about me or others?”  Write down your answer at the top of a piece of paper.  Draw an arrow down from there and ask yourself “What would happen if this thought were true? What would it say or mean about me?” Draw an arrow below this answer and ask the same questions.  Do this until you cannot answer it anymore and reach one of the categories listed above. This is your core belief. 

Below is an example of the downward arrow exercise:

 My date is looking at me in a strange way

 |

He thinks that everything I say is really stupid

 |

He is going to dump me

 |

I will never find anyone who can love me

 |

I’m unlovable

 

Once you have identified your core belief you can begin to challenge  them.  In my next post I will discuss the ways to take on these beliefs.

 

Train your brain to get what you want

What we think about most we manifest.  What exactly does this mean?  It means that what we think about most is what we move towards as well as attract to us.  If we are constantly thinking we will fail, that becomes our goal.  Michael Dooley has a website devoted to this topic, tut.com.  His trademark is “Thoughts become things….choose the good ones. “

Here is an exercise to try out: Don’t think of a pink elephant.  Really. Don’t think of a big, pink elephant.  You will notice that the more you try NOT to think about something, the more you actually do. Why is this? When our brain receives a command it first focuses on the action to be taken, in this case “think.”  It then focuses on the noun or person, place or thing.  Again in this case it was the word “elephant.”  From there it picks up descriptions such as “pink” or “big.”  The last word your brain registers  is “don’t.”

When you start thinking “Don’t have a panic attack on the highway!” Guess what most likely is going to happen?  You have inadvertently  instructed your brain to have a panic attack on the highway.  A fundamental skill race car drivers are taught is to focus on where they want to go, NOT what they fear.  So when they spin out of control, the driver’s initial tendency is to focus on the wall.  But if they keep focusing on the wall, that is where they will end up!  Drivers know that they go where they look .  This is true for hunter/jumpers in horseback riding.  Many years ago my trainer would tell me if I kept looking at the ground I was going to end up there.  You know what? She was right!

Here are a few suggestions to help you retrain your brain:

  • Resist focusing on your fear, have faith and focus on where you want to go.  Your actions will take you in that direction.
  • The best way to change your focus is to think about what you WANT.
  • We travel in the direction of our focus.
  • Focusing on the solution is always to your benefit.  Ask yourself “How will I accomplish this goal?” Your subconscious will begin to find solutions to your problem.
  • When you find yourself or others telling you to NOT do something.  Turn the instruction around to a command to DO the opposite.  Find the replacement action.

Keep in mind, that when you change your focus you often won’t immediately change direction.  There will be a lag time between when you redirect your focus and when your body and experience catch up.  Be patient.

Ask “what IS” instead of “what IF!”

So many times I hear children and adults talk about their anxiety and fears in terms of “what if” questions.  It sounds like this: “What if I forget my test material?” “What if I don’t get a job by September? ” “What if I don’t get into any college.”  This type of questioning creates anxiety because we are thinking about something we don’t want to happen in the future. Our body then reacts to these thoughts as if it were happening now.  We are trying to solve problems that haven’t actually happened.  Providing answers to “what if” questions is like trying to fill a water balloon with holes in it – You can spend as much time as you want trying to fill it, but it will never work and you will waste a lot of water (energy) in the process. One way to change your thoughts and line of questioning, is to change what you are focusing on.

What I suggest to my clients who are anticipating the future in a negative way is to think about “What IS.”  In the case of the person worried about their job, she asked the question this month – in March! An entire 6 months before she needed to be panicked about it.  When we talked about what is happening right now, this client realized that she could spend her energy doing things to get a job versus worrying about what might happen in the future. I have been asked by young children “What if I don’t get into a college?”  They are so far away from needing to worry about college that they are missing what is happening in the moment and the joy of being a child.  I should point out that we rarely think “What if…” in terms of positive outcomes.  Have you ever heard someone say “What if I win that race?” , “What if I get a fantastic raise?”  I know for me it has been a rare occasion that people worry about success.

Another technique is to do a “reality check.”  What I mean by this is to ask yourself if your worry is based in reality.  For someone who does a lot of public speaking and is worried about “what if I forget what to say?” they may ask themselves: How many presentations have I given in my life? Out of the 25 presentations how many times have I forgotten what to say? What are the chances that it will happen this time?  Usually this is a very small percentage.

So the next time you hear yourself thinking “What if….”  Ask yourself “What is happening right now?”  It is important for all of us to “keep our head where our feet are” – meaning in the present.

Some facts about “What if” questions:

  • They are almost always harmful
  • They are often irrational with no evidence or data to support it
  • The majority are negative and in most cases the absolute worst case scenario
  • They take us out of the present and into the future
  • If we don’t catch these kinds of thoughts quickly, they snowball and get bigger in scope leading to more anxiety.

Let me know how this works for you!

Janneta

jbohlander@jbohlander.com

Got Anxiety?

As we grow up we all have to get use to a lot of new situations. Having some anxiety is a normal part of the process.  But how do you know when the anxiety you or your child is feeling is beyond what is a normal? Here are some of the signs to look for:

  1. Out of character behaviors: Your usually compliant child is giving you a hard time and having tantrums.  They may suddenly not be acting their age, not want to go on play dates or have difficulty leaving you.  Adults may suddenly begin taking back roads instead of getting on the highway.  Some adults stop going to parties or getting together with friends because they are socially anxious.
  2. Asking a lot of “What if” questions:  This might be around things like getting picked up from school, where you will be during the day, about potential illness or any number of topics.  Most adults think “what if” in their heads more than they ask others.
  3. Avoidance: Sudden, strong avoidance to situations that were formerly not an issue.  Your child may not want to go over to a friend’s house who has a dog (specific phobia) or go upstairs by themselves.  They may not want to go on sleepovers anymore.  Children might fear that something bad might happen to you while they are at school, or have just so much anxiety they feel they can’t cope in the school setting.   Adults may avoid public places because of fears of contamination, feeling claustrophobic or fear a panic attack coming on.
  4. Reassurance seeking: Incessant and insatiable need for reassurance and/or repeated explanations.  Your reassurance to your child never seems to be enough.  Adults typically go to professionals for reassurance, i.e. doctors, ER, internists.
  5. Frequent physical complaints: Children begin complaining of nausea, stomach aches, headaches, feeling on edge, or other aches or pains.  These feelings may seem to occur Sunday nights, before school on Monday or after a vacation.  Adults may become hyper-vigilant about their bodies, noticing any change in heart beat, breathing, pulse, or lumps.
  6. Sleep problems: Your child now wants you to be in their room with them or lay with them until they fall asleep. They may crawl into bed with you in the middle of the night.  Some children have a difficult time falling asleep because their mind is just spinning or they have to perform certain rituals before going to bed. They may experience insomnia, nightmares and frequent awakening, followed by exhaustion and drowsiness during the day.  Adults may suffer from insomnia because they just can’t shut their mind off.  They may wake up a lot in the middle of the night with worries and have difficulty falling back asleep.
  7. Decline in attention, concentration and organization:  A lot of energy can be spent worrying about things.  This can be distracting and cause children and adults to appear that they are daydreaming.  Focusing and concentrating on assignments and lectures may become difficult and children’s grades may slip.  Adults may have difficulty at work focusing or concentrating. Others may comment that they don’t think they are listening to them.
  8. Perfectionism: Your child has to have things perfect.  Maybe it is the way they write their letters, how they fold their paper, or any number of things. At school they may frequently erase things until they get it “just right.”  You may find yourself cleaning excessively, checking and rechecking things, doing tasks over and over again and becoming frustrated.

Adults and parents should consult with a mental health professional if the anxiety is:

  • Disproportion: The anxiety is excessive and unreasonable
  • Disruption: Interferes with you or your child’s ability to function normally
  • Distress: You or your child is distraught and easily upset.
  • Duration: Level of anxiety has occurred for a least one month

As always, if you have any questions or need some help let me know!

How to get what you want in 2013!

Happy New Year!  Are you like so many people who have decided to make a few New Year’s resolutions?  Or, have you sworn off resolutions because by the time February hits you have given up on them?  Here are some suggestions for setting goals this year that might help you succeed:

1. Define the goal: What do you want to change?  Is this a feeling that you don’t like such as anxiety, or is it something that you want to do?  What do you want to feel, think or do more of in 2013?  What do you want to do less of?  

2. Impact: How does this issue affect your life at school, being with friends, going on trips, or at home? How do you feel about yourself when this happens? What would be different in your life if you met your goal?

3. Barriers: What might get in the way of reaching your goals? What things might make it difficult to find solutions? What have you tried in the past that has not worked? What are some things that have helped in the past?

4. Strengths: What skills do you have that could help you reach your goal? Who can support or coach you?

5. Signs: What would be some signs that you are feeling better? How will you know if you are achieving your goals? Who might be the first to notice the change in you? What are some of the pro’s of making this change? What are the con’s?

For example, I am working with a 9 year old client who would like to get over her fear of dogs.  This impacts her life in many ways.  When she wants to go sell Girl Scout cookies she can only go to the houses she knows that don’t have dogs.  She also won’t go over to friends houses if they own dogs.  For Halloween she didn’t even want to go Trick or Treating for fear she would go to a house that had a dog.  In the past she has tried going up to dogs, having her parents go up to the dog first and even bought her own dog.  These situations were too intense and not successful.  Some of the skills she has are her strong motivation to change as well as her love of animals.  She also has the support of her parents and some wonderful friends that want to see her succeed.  Some signs she will notice that she is getting better are her ability to say hello to the neighbors dog, meet her friends new dog, and pet other dogs without avoidance.  Her parents would be some of the first to notice the change in her.  If she succeeds in reaching her goal, she will be able to go most anywhere without being afraid a dog might be there.  She will have more play dates, have fun selling Girl Scout Cookies, and enjoy Halloween this year.

In the above example, I worked with the client to establish an exposure hierarchy.  This is when a person breaks down the goal into small pieces and gives a number to indicate how comfortable they would feel doing the action.  For example, looking outside at the neighbors dog might be a 1 out of 10, with 10 being the scariest feeling.  Playing in the backyard with the dog might be a 10.  Once we have this list we can set the goal of accomplishing all tasks that are less than 5 on our scale by the end of February.

Remember, goals should be SMART :

  • Specific
  • Measureable
  • Action Plan
  • Realistic
  • Time frame

 Good luck and all the best for a wonderful 2013!

Janneta