Love the One You’re With.

“It’s a beautiful thing to have lungs that breathe air and legs that allow you to climb mountains, and it’s a shame that sometimes we don’t realize that’s enough.” -Unknown

It’s one of the top five new year’s resolutions: to lose weight. When women give birth, they are inundated with messages on “bouncing back” and “losing the baby weight.” It’s an issue that impacts all ages, races, and sexes. While good health is important, we focus way too often on the number on the scale and other identifiers of what we deem as thin in our western society:  think “thigh gap” or “six-pack.” However, a number on a scale is a relentless pursuit of perfection that is influenced by so many outside factors like hormones, water retention, barometric pressure, travel, age, body frame size, genetics, and metabolism, just to name a few. Not only that, socioeconomic factors can lead people to poor eating habits due to lack of resources, be it time, money or both.

Weight is not an ideal indicator of good health.  There are people we might view as “skinny” who have high cholesterol, sugar or blood pressure. Yet we live in a world full of  messaging that says skinny is beautiful, and fat is not.

If we really focused on healthy and fit versus skinny, we’d think about the following:

  • Accepting yourself exactly as you are in this moment – this, first and foremost, will bring you greater happiness in the long run and if you struggle with this, find someone to talk to who can help you get there
  • Drinking enough water each day
  • Focusing more on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and limited animal protein and less on processed foods and refined sugar (80/20 rule – eat healthy 80% of the time and give yourself some room for splurging) – if you struggle with time or money, you may have to get more creative with your options here, but there are ways to do it
  • Limit your alcohol intake – people make poor decisions when they drink too much, including food and lifestyle choices and if you don’t drink, don’t start again
  • Don’t smoke or do recreational drugs  – see above on alcohol intake
  • Getting some type of physical activity – even brisk walking for 30 minutes – several times a week and if 30 minutes is daunting, start where you can
  • Relaxation exercises on a consistent basis – meditation is ideal, given that it is scientifically proven to counteract stress in the physiology, but visualization, breath work, yoga, or even listening to music, making art or gardening helps
  • Connecting with others in some meaningful way on a regular basis – this can be family, friends, pets or some type of community involvement
  • Find ways to laugh – if it’s not with friends or family, watch a funny show or a stand-up comic every so often

What we do know, from science and research, is that diets don’t work. They backfire, more often than not, in the long run. What does work is being steady and consistent with the approach I outlined. Sometimes we might lose our balance, and that’s okay. We just hop back on the beam and go for it again.

We’re all different – and honoring our differences through inclusion is where we can really start to make a difference. If you see someone next to you on the running path or at the gym, and you begin to judge or compare, remember that we all have different starting places and that progress for you may look different from progress for someone else. Your 8-minute mile might be someone else’s 13-minute mile.

Instead of measuring your success by the number that shows up on the scale, measure it by things such as cholesterol, sugar, and blood pressure, or how many flights of stairs you can walk without having to catch your breath.  Better yet, by the joy that’s in your heart.

Character Building.

Watch your thoughts for they become words. Watch your words for they become actions. Watch your actions for they become…habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny! What we think, we become.” – Margaret Thatcher

When I think of character, I think of a big old tree like the one pictured; sturdy and strong amidst the changing environment. I also think of reliability, stability, and consistency. Sometimes people come to see me because they aren’t sure who they are exactly, or they’ve gone off course from who they thought they were and want to get back on track. Perhaps they’ve relied too heavily on an unhealthy habit or activity to get themselves through the days.

I believe the act of character building comes from one knowing themselves and staying true to themselves. But, sadly, I think many in the world today don’t know themselves and don’t delve deeply enough into understanding their motives or instincts, and that we don’t always have to act from that place. It’s no easy task.

Most of us will not live a monk’s life. But if you’ve ever had any type of deep or prolonged training in meditation or mindfulness, you may have been asked to refrain from worldly drives and desires for a period of time. Now, I’m not recommending this to everyone. But I will say that it teaches one about where desire comes from (and returns to) and that fantasy and desire are not one in the same, and that the right kind of desires can lead us to our goals, and generally most fantasies aren’t meant to be acted upon. Usually we find out the fantasy wasn’t so great after all. Fantasies can be useful, but they can also keep us distracted from things within ourselves that we don’t want to face.

I see a great deal of happiness and good in the world today because I try to look for that, in myself and in the people around me. Even with the barista at the coffee shop, I try to look them in the eye and go with the flow of the small talk. I also see pain and sadness around me, and I most often see it as a result of people chasing after what they think should be versus living with what is. One of the best sets of questions I’ve seen to help in this process is from The Work of Byron Katie on challenging one’s thinking and beginning to be in love with what is:

  • Is it true?
  • Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
  • How do you react, what happens when you believe that thought?
  • Who would you be without the thought?
  • Then…find the turnarounds or opposites of your thought and explore that.

My absolute favorite of the questions is, who would you be without the thought? I sometimes find that can help people snap out of moments of obsessiveness. Additionally, it goes back to what I said about fantasies and certain thoughts being our way to escape reality or escape becoming the best version of ourselves, which can be a painful process at times.

While life may be difficult at times, a life built on a solid understanding of oneself and acting from that place, consistently, builds a life worth living; a destiny.

Step-Parenting: Five Things To Know.

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“Love is a verb, not a noun.”  – Many

I can’t find a direct source for this quote, but it’s the one thing that comes to mind when I think of step-parenting. And, I wish we had a better word for step-parenting, step-moms, step-dads, etc. I hear “bonus” used a lot in place of “step,” which is nice, but still doesn’t hit exactly home. If it works for you, that’s what matters.

The one thing I will say to those who do step-parent, and to you, if you are considering this route, or just beginning it, my hat is off to you because you are taking on something of huge proportion. It is no easy task and some days are easier than others, but it is ultimately incredibly rewarding.

I will tell you that I often think step-parenting is harder than raising one’s own child. Step-parents are called to parent  – provide guidance, routine, warmth, love, kindness, aid development – when the children are in their home, because they just are, but they are also always trying to walk the line, find the boundary, know their place. All of this without that one piece that gives them a primal drive to do this:  biology.

Here are five of the top things to know:

  1. Ease into your role. If at all possible, wait to meet the kids of your new significant other until you both feel that this relationship is for the long haul.  Children don’t need to be included in mom or dad’s dating life until it’s someone that really counts. Some people feel a year is the marker for this. Remember that you are going to be an adult that this child becomes attached to in some way. If you think it’s not for you, don’t meet the kids.  When you do meet the kids, remember that slow and steady wins the race, and really there is no race. Get to know the kids as people. What do they like? What do they dislike? What is their relationship like with each parent? Allow them to warm up to you in their own time and in their own ways.  Don’t go heavy on affection – hugs – and allow children to take the lead on this, especially the older they are when you meet them.  As the relationships develop and as your commitment deepens to your partner, you may become a “step-parent” or have another endearing nick name the kids give you, but don’t push it. Let the kids lead this. Allow their parent to be the disciplinarian, and when you are more firmly established in a parental role, you may take some of this on.
  2. Show up to their lives. While children will not always articulate it, you are an important adult figure and caretaker – especially as time goes on.  They look for you to be a part of their lives and their activities, most of the time. Again, much depends on age. At the very least, show an interest in what they are doing. Ask them about school or sports or their friends. Listen to them and make eye contact while doing so.
  3. Articulate and display their importance at big milestones. Keep conversations at age-appropriate level for kids and tell them things about these big steps that are relevant to them.  The younger they are, the more brief these conversations might be. Ask them if they have any questions.
  4. Accept your role. Know that you will never be this child’s number one, nor should you ever try to be. Their mother and father will be, and that’s the way of the world and the way it should be. But you do have an important role to play as an adult, mentor, and friend in their lives. I think of it as a “trusted advisor” or a “steward.”  You will not be one of the primary decision makers for them, unless called upon to do so by both parents, but you will be someone that can be viewed as a consultant for opinions and thoughts. Your experience matters, but you just may be more of a “wing-man.” And, that’s ok. It’s still an important role to play.
  5. Create tradition in your home. Kids (and adults) crave routine. They want to know it’s safe and safety is known to kids through routine and consistency. As much as possible, be steady with your routine. Get home from work and spend time together as a family, develop rituals and tradition around meal times and find favorite places to go out to dinner. At birthdays and holidays, determine what your traditions will become, and include the kids in doing this.

In terms of the child’s other parent, always be kind, courteous and respectful toward them, no matter how they treat you.  And, never speak ill of that parent in front of their children. That person makes up one half of that child, and remember, your spouse had children with them, so they can’t be all that bad. It puts children in an awful predicament to hear negative things about their parents. End story. The only exception to these rules is if there is abuse or neglect going on, and that should be handled with the proper authorities and with the right direction on how to speak to children about such matters.

Finally, go easy on yourself and take care of yourself.  Realize that it’s ok for you to set aside some time for yourself when the kids are in your home.  For two reasons: one, they need time with their parent alone and, two, you need time to be YOU. For your sanity and the sanity of everyone else.  Every so often you might feel like the kids are visitors or intruders, and this is a normal feeling, but remind yourself that you want these children to feel like it’s their home too, to feel safe, secure, wanted and loved at the end of the day. The same way you wanted to or did feel as a child. Dig deep if you have to, because some days you will have to dig deep, and that doesn’t make it any different than parenting of any kind. The fewer expectations you have of what it should be like, the less disappointed you will be and bear in mind that all step-families are different. What works for one person, doesn’t always work for another. If you need it, get some support from people who have walked the road ahead of you, a good therapist, or find a good book on the topic.

Most step-parents report that their step-children have taught them so much about themselves as a person. About their limits and their shortcomings, but also their ability to overcome those limits and shortcomings and where they can lean into their strengths. Like any good relationship that requires care and maintenance, they will make you a better person.

 

 

 

 

 

Evanston Office – Now Open

I am officially taking on new clients in downtown Evanston at the University Building: 1604 Chicago Avenue, #9, Evanston, IL 60201. This location is close to public transit and Northwestern University as well as Sheridan Road, allowing easy access for those coming from further north or Chicago. You can reach me to book an appointment and/or for a brief 10-minute phone conversation to find out if working with me might be a fit for your needs: jennifer.hains.lcpc@gmail.com or 917.434.7558.

I look forward to hearing from you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts.

“The good life is a process, not a state of being.” – Carl Rogers

I was listening to  a recording of the great cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, give an interview. The interviewer, Krista Tippett of On Being, said to him that it sounds as if he chooses joy as a way of being after he shared with her that he believes optimism to be a philosophy.

Our thoughts, emotions and behaviors intersect and impact each other.  We also have the capacity to change any one of these things, if we so choose to, so that we can affect the other two.

In my meditation tradition we call this correcting one’s intellect.  In the therapy world, we might put it under the umbrella of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), but it’s really at the heart of many therapeutic techniques. If I continue on with the meditation example, I can tell you that not only does meditation help us gain a greater acceptance of our thoughts as simply thoughts and allow us to not stick to any one thought so rigidly, but meditation also clears stress from one’s physiology. So perhaps I’ve changed a behavior, but what happens if I haven’t changed my thoughts? Let’s say I’m still pretty grumpy about much of what happens in life and have an overall negative lens on most things. Well, I’m just adding more stress to my physiology, creating more work for the meditation. And so I’d probably say, you’re not really getting anywhere are you?

It’s a little like trying to lose weight. Ideally, what’s needed is healthy food, good exercise, an affirmation and acceptance of oneself in the moment and a belief in one’s ability to make progress.  In my personal experience and observing others, this generally works. People lose the weight. But what about the ones who keep the weight off many years down the road? As we know many people gain the weight back. They are the ones who have fundamentally changed the way they THINK about being healthy and a healthy lifestyle. They do it because they want to increase their health span (how long one lives in a healthy state vs. life span, simply how long one lives) and they know that good health underlies almost everything else in their lives.

So when people say they want to be happy, I think, yes, you can DO many things to bring you happiness, but it is a process and it is a choice every day. Choosing joy is not always easy and it’s not just covering up the hard stuff that’s going on, but it’s re-framing the hard stuff and looking at it from a different point of view.

 

Connection.

 “It’s the relationship that heals.” -Irvin Yalom

I met an old friend for coffee yesterday. In person. For coffee. Somehow this is a rather novel idea these days with social media fooling us into believing we’re more connected to others than reality would say. Don’t get me wrong, social media has its pros. I have friends around the world that I simply can’t just pop in to have coffee with on any given day of the week, and so it is nice to see some portion of their lives from time to time.  But, that said, the downside of social media is that we can often believe we know our friends, or know what’s happening in their lives, by just a few brief posts or photographs.

Irvin Yalom is basically the godfather of group psychotherapy, and I’m a big fan of many things he’s had to say over the years. He states it’s the relationship that heals and when it comes to therapy, I can tell you all sorts of modalities I might practice. Some of them may be meaningful to you, some may not, and at the end of the day, the thing that’s going to make therapy with me most useful to you is that we form a relationship, there is a good fit, and you trust me enough to help you walk the path. Training is important, yes, but what I find most draws people is authenticity and presence.

This is why so many forms of recovery, that are based on group models, work. It’s less about the dogma and the literature and more about the relationships that are formed that help people transform their lives. It’s about connection, and the kind of connection that brings meaning to our lives. This is why therapy works when the fit is right between therapist and client.

As I sat across from my friend yesterday, I realized how little I knew about her life beyond a screen showing me photos of her life, and just how lovely it was to see her face, the expressions on it, the voice, and the emotion that lies behind that. For this reason, I often have days where I’d like to just chuck the smart phone in a bin because I feel like they remove us from these very tangible experiences. We simply need more in-person connection because the world needs more healing.

 

 

 

 

Disruption.

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neal Donald Walsch

Life can carry discomfort from time-to-time, because it is just the nature of the life, and  this quote is a reminder to lean into that discomfort. The discomfort often has something to teach us, and we learn a lot about ourselves and other people as a result. It’s a little like learning to use that paddle board. You have to go through the discomfort of falling in a few times before you find just the right balance to stay on top.

I was recently directed to the podcast, Disrupt Yourself, so I listened to an episode yesterday. The premise of the show, as far as I can tell at least, is that each episode is an interview with someone who has made a major change in their life. They’ve created disruption – whether that be a change in themselves, their workplace, or their lives – and ended up on the other side, for the better. The episode I listened to was an interview with Pat Flynn, who lost his architecture job and became a successful online entrepreneur and digital marketer.  I finished the episode feeling inspired and reminded that we need to set big goals for ourselves and take the baby steps – and big leaps – to get there

But, I also contemplated what it is about disruption that scares most people?  The go-to answer might be a fear of failure, but I would also argue that it is often a fear of success. We don’t always believe that we deserve the best and so we keep ourselves locked into a mediocre “good enough” space because, yes, it is comfortable. But evolution doesn’t come from staying comfortable, it comes from putting ourselves in situations where we have to experience discomfort and exercise our skills of flexibility and resilience.

What is it that you’re too comfortable in at the moment?  A relationship dynamic, a career, a way of living? And, what do think it is that keeps you from disrupting the status quo?

I challenge you to consider how you might create a disruption in order to make space for creation to operate and something better to take hold. Set one big goal for yourself with a finite time frame and see what you can accomplish. Learn to fail. The worst that can happen when you fall in the water is that you just get back up on the board again, with more experience.