Wise Women Share Thoughts on Self-Compassion

selfcompassionsaturdayUnderneath virtually all of our suffering lies a lack of self-compassion. When Jill Salahub, author of the blog, A Thousand Shades of Gray, realized this, she began the series, Self-Compassion Saturdays. She interviews women bloggers (artists, writers, coaches, and a psychologist—me) all about self-compassion: what it means, what it looks like, and what they still want to learn. Jill is putting together an e-book based on these interviews. Be sure to subscribe to her blog so you don’t miss it when it’s complete!

I’ve shared highlights of each interview on my Psychology Today blog . Sorry to make you click over–search engines (and Psychology Today) don’t like it if you put the same content two places. Click here to read the full post. Thanks!

Anne Lamott on The Big Picture

anne_lamott_credit_sam_lamott_final_small_custom-7e5d0b9ab1f825f3b80131f7594ab88e8c3f9039-s6-c30I recently read Anne Lamott’s newest book, Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair, and fell in love with her writing, her perspective. I immediately started following her on Facebook.

She shared this today, and I think it might be everything you need to know about life.  Seriously. I’m going to print it out and keep it in my purse to look at frequently. I want to share it here because I know some of my readers aren’t on Facebook, and I don’t want anyone to miss this!

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Last night, at Arborlawn United Methodist Church in Fort Worth, the last of 14 cities on the book tour for Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair, a woman in her late twenties raised her hand and asked, “What is the big picture? I do a lot of things that I love and value, but don’t have a clue what it all means.”
The crowd was actually hushed, as if I might have the secret launch codes, and could answer this for all time.

I said, “Welcome to the monkey house,” stealing one of Vonnegut’s titles. Everyone of every age roared with friendly laughter, because we’re all in the same boat. We ALL think we missed school the day that the visiting specialists stopped by our 2nd grade classroom to distribute the pamphlets on what is true, who we are, how we are to live with the great mystery of life, how to come through dark times, how to awaken. We’re all sort of winging it, trying to learn self-love and respect, trying to be here, now, sometimes, and live lives of meaning and joy.

You do a LOT of things you love and value? That’s the big picture.

You’ve learned about radical self-care, and putting your own oxygen mask on first, yet also have discovered that we can only be filled up by service, by giving? Are you laughing enough? Are you saying “No” enough? Have you taken to heart that “NO” is a complete sentence? That no one over 40 must EVER again help anyone else move to a new house? That no one over 50 must EVER chair a yard–or-parking lot-or garage sale–for a church, or a high school sports team?

Ram Dass said he thought that when it was all said and done, we’re all just walking each other home. That’s the meaning, I think. That’s the big picture.

You’re not squandering your time racing around all day doing meaningless bullshit, multi-tasking, and always feeling like you’re behind on your homework? If not, that’s what it all means. Rest is a spiritual act.

My pastor once told us that you can trap bees in jars without lids, because they look straight ahead, muddling around, panicking on the floor of the jar, bumping into the glass sides, because they don’t look up. If they did, they could fly to freedom.

You’re learning NOT to chase the mechanical rabbits at the Greyhound Race Track, of fame, drama, achievement, ownership? You’re pursuing a creative call of some sort, now? You’re not pretending that you are going to get back to writing, singing, dance, as soon as this or that happens–ie as soon as you graduate or retire, or your youngest leaves home? You’re doing it NOW, badly, herky-jerkily, as a debt of honor? That is the bigger meaning of it all: creation.

You’re living as if you may have a year or so to live, and want to make the most of it, savor and be filled, by spending time with those you love most, much of it outdoors in the beauty of our Mother? Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.”

So are you out there, shaking your head with amazement, smiling about the earth’s wild sweet beauty? That is the bigger picture. That is the meaning: wonder, presence, immediacy, being HERE. Like my teenage friend Mason says in Stitches, “I had brain cancer. I was in a coma. Then I was HERE again.” Are you here?

That’s the big picture.

Happy People have Happy Habits

Happiness is circular.

Happy people have happy habits,

which in turn, makes them happier.

Here’s a list of habits that have a high chance of giving you a happiness boost. (This links to my Psychology Today blog’s newest post.)

A few weeks ago I went to a continuing education day-long workshop on developing positive emotional habits. The presenter was a psychologist and a comedian, so it was one of the better workshops I’ve been to.

Here are a few key points:

  • Happiness has many influences: 50% is our based on our “set point” (temperament/genetics); 10% is based on our circumstances; and 40% is based on intentional activity.
  • Despite increases in our standard of living, Americans are no happier than they were 60 years ago.
  • Money brings happiness to the extent that it alleviates poverty; beyond that, it does little to increase sustained happiness.
  • Developing skills to increase happiness/contentment is not frivolous. Happiness is linked to many important life outcomes such as health, problem-solving ability, creativity, less depression and anxiety…

Okay, I don’t know what you’ll think about this, but the presenter said this has been determined the world’s funniest joke (according to the Richard Wiseman LaughLab):

Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn’t seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy takes out his phone and calls the emergency services.  He gasps: “My friend is dead! What can I do?” The operator says: “Calm down, I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.” There is a silence, then a gunshot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says: “OK, now what?”

Did that make you laugh or groan?

I hope you’ll click through and read my post on Psychology Today: 15 Habits to Cultivate Lasting Happiness.

Photo credit: D. Sharon Pruitt

How to Wake Up: Book Review

41TrCuW0wiL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_Reading How to Wake Up is like sharing a cup of tea and talking at a kitchen table with a warm, wise friend. Toni takes you step-by-step through the process of learning to do what is skillful (what works) and letting go of what is not skillful.

She doesn’t make false promises that it will always be easy, but paradoxically, her truthfulness engenders a sense of hope.

She explains concepts of Buddhism in a way that finally make sense to me–but you certainly don’t have to be a Buddhist to benefit from this book. She tells stories, uses examples, and offers “Practice Notes” sections to trouble-shoot common obstacles. You’ll learn tools for increasing self-compassion, dealing with jealousy and anger, decreasing worry and anxiety, and being more fully present with others, plus a lot more.

What I most feel when I read this book (and her previous book, How to Be Sick) is that Toni cares about her readers. She isn’t an author, preaching to us from above. She is one of us. She sees us. That is a powerful gift, indeed.

Every Word Handwritten

I gave away all my scrapbook things. We’re talking everything. New albums. Paper. Pens. Stickers. Funky scissors and rulers. It was really difficult, but it was time. My fine motor skills have gotten worse, and scrapbooking greatly exacerbates my pain.

I’ve been a serious album maker for many years. I got my first stash when our son was a baby. I went to a Creative Memories show and came home with $200 worth of supplies. Back then (well, even now) that was a lot of money. I came in the house and Greg said, “You’d better use that stuff.” I stayed up late that night making my first scrapbook of our son. Since then I’ve made holiday albums, sports albums, ABC albums, quilt albums, heritage albums, everyday happenings albums, anniversary albums, celebration albums… So much time and detail. Every word handwritten. (Link to a cool song that is loosely related)

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One of my favorite memories is walking into our family room and finding my then 10-year-old son and all his neighborhood friends (who all went to school together), gathered around looking at his Kindergarten album. Yes, I have an entire album just for Kindergarten!

It’s been a week and a half since I gave everything away, and I’m still a little sad. Greg has been super nice. I think some guys wouldn’t understand how hard this was. But he did. He also told me, though, that this was a way of taking care of myself.

I found a unique group of young women to give my things to–the “Groovy Girls Collective.” They describe themselves as “a community gathering place devoted to supporting, educating, and mentoring women of all ages, nurturing collaborative creators both locally and worldwide.”  (I may be giving up something, but if it has a world-wide impact, that’s OK with me.) One of my neighbors’ daughters is involved, and I contacted her, who said they would definitely like some scrapbook supplies. Here’s a few pictures from their Facebook page.

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Visiting an animal shelter.

Visiting an animal shelter.

A lemonade stand.

A lemonade stand.

Although I’m sad, I’m also excited, as I can already tell these young women are having lots of fun and great things are happening. Maybe some of these pictures will end up in a scrapbook one day.

50 is the new 60

30-40-50-60-thirties-forties-fifties-old-birthday-ecardI don’t mean to sound negative, but I’m tired of hearing that 40 is the new 30, and 50 is the new 40.

I’m 51 and I feel like 60.

I exercise. I eat fairly well. I take my Centrum Silver one-a-day vitamin. But anyone with chronic health problems will tell you,  the everyday struggles can age you.

I wanted to write a whole post about this, but I lost steam. So instead, I’m rereading some of my own blog. Here are a few posts on taking care of yourself when you’re in pain, or just not feeling well for whatever reason.

Tiny Dreams A reminder to those of us struggling with chronic pain or illness of the need to adjust our expectations (dreams) to fit our current reality. Very short post, with some really nice comments.

People tell you to dream big

but maybe it’s the tiny dreams that matter.

Sometimes my dream

is just to make it through the day.

Coping with Chronic Illness…Compassionately My interview with author of How to Be Sick, Toni Bernhard (be sure and read the whole interview; Toni is awesome):

I always tell people that the single most important thing they can do is to be kind to themselves. I look at it this way. We control so little in our lives, but the one thing we can control is how we treat ourselves. I see no reason for us not to be as kind and gentle with ourselves as we can be. It’s not our fault that we have health problems. We’re in bodies and they get sick and injured. It will happen to everyone. This is how it’s happening to us. I’ve had so many people write to me and say the single most important thing they got out of my book was to give up the self-blame and forgive themselves for being sick or in pain. Many people have said they didn’t even realize they hadn’t forgiven themselves until they read How to Be Sick. Those emails always touch me so much — just to know I’ve been of help to them.

Leaving Judgment Behind A post about a story I told to my husband, who then told it to someone at work, and how it made a difference.

My influence may be less direct, but no less meaningful. And maybe it’s not about producing a quantity of work…maybe its about being as compassionate as I can be, to myself and others, and seeing where that leads me.

A Horse with No Name A quirky little post where I lament that there’s no colored ribbon or bracelet for people without a firm diagnosis.

I’m thinking about all the people who aren’t sure what’s wrong with them. They’ve been to specialists, had all the tests, and carried their MRIs down many a hallway.  I  wish there was a ribbon for people like us. I even went to a paint store to look at paint chips, in hopes of finding the perfect color name for our ribbon. The best one I found was “Mysterious Mauve.” It’s a subtle mix between gray and purple. Beautiful.

Today, know that I believe you. I know you’re not crazy. Doctors do the best they can, but they’re human, too. They make mistakes. They don’t have all the answers. They don’t always have a name for what we have, but that doesn’t make it not real. As Toni said in her interview, “The single most important thing we can do is to be kind to ourselves.”

And maybe 60 isn’t so bad; with age comes wisdom.

I “hang out” the most on Facebook. I’d love it if you join me! You can click here or over on the side (no one ever sees it over there).

 

Self-Compassion and Setbacks

madewithover-12I originally wrote this for Psychology Today, but I think the information may also be useful to my awesome readers here.  Haven’t we all had the experience of trying to change something–maybe exercise more, quit smoking, or eat healthy? We do great for awhile and then boom, we “mess up.” How do we keep a setback from turning into a major relapse, and along with it, feeling awful about ourselves? Here are some gentle suggestions (on Psychology Today, they’d be called “tips.”  Oh, and they’d also be numbered.)

Expect setbacks. Change takes time, and often frequent tries. For example, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most smokers require 5 to 7 attempts before they finally quit. Did these people fail the 5 to 7 times prior to the final cessation of smoking? Or were these attempts part of their eventual success? Consider thinking of all of these tries as part of the process. It’s all good.

Check your stress level.  An increase in physical or mental stress may be the culprit. For example, if you’ve been sick with the flu, your resistance may be lowered leaving you more susceptible to setbacks. Other kinds of stress, such as work or family problems can leave you feeling drained and less able to cope.

Follow your self-care policies. I’ve learned the importance of making my self-care activities a priority by writing them down, almost like a policy. Everyone’s “policy” will vary, but mine includes things such as getting enough sleep,  time outside in nature, etc. Too often, when we get busy, the things we need the most are the things we let slide. This makes us very vulnerable to a setback. (Here’s a list of over 80 self-care ideas.)

Keep practicing. If your recovery or behavior change plan  involves specific activities—journaling, meditating, walking —make sure you don’t stop doing these things, even if you’re doing well. Sometimes it’s the good times, not the stressful times that take you off guard. Author Judi Hollis makes an apt analogy: “The tight rope walker, so well practiced he almost performs while sleeping, is the one facing slips or near misses. The newly trained aerialist or acrobat exhibits stringent caution. It is the seasoned performer, lulled into false confidence, who takes the fall.”

Identify your personal warning signs. You might notice an increase in physical symptoms, such as a frequent upset stomach, headaches or heart palpitations. Maybe you notice a lot more negative self-talk. Perhaps you find yourself drinking more, worrying, or being irritable. Everyone’s early warning signs will be different, but it’s important to notice any possible patterns.

Recognize it early. This follows closely with identifying your personal warning signs. The sooner you can catch yourself in a setback, the sooner you can get yourself back on track.

Recommit. Remind yourself of your goals and what you deeply care about. Recommit yourself to doing activities aligned with your values. Don’t give up!

Realize you’re human. Psychologist and author Kristin Neff identifies a sense of shared humanity as one of the three main components of self-compassion. We’re all imperfect; it’s part of being human. Remind yourself that setbacks happen to everyone.  It’s okay to make mistakes. You’re not alone.

Live in the gray. Life is a paradox. I like to remind myself that I’m doing the best I can at any given moment, AND I can do better. It’s not a beating-myself-up kind of “I can do better” but a gentle nudge.

Seek out support. If you’re feeling badly about yourself for “screwing up,” your first instinct may be to hide in a hole. But this is exactly the time when you need to reach out to your support system. And if you don’t have one, you just need to look on the Internet and do a little searching, and you’re sure to find someone going through a similar situation.

Remember, life is not linear. Don’t think you have to progress in a perfectly linear fashion. Most people cycle in and out of change. As writer and creativity coach Jenna McGuiggan notes, life is often “one step forward, two steps back, and three to the side for good measure.”

Give yourself credit. Remind yourself of the steps you’ve taken, regardless of how small they might seem to you. I’ve always liked this Chinese proverb: “Be not afraid of going slowly, be afraid only of standing still.”

Don’t let it snowball. Relapse prevention experts use the term abstinence violation effect (AVE) to describe a particularly dangerous form of black-and-white thinking. The classic example is the person on a diet that eats something not on the plan, and then thinks, “What the heck, I’ve already blown it so I might as well keep on eating.” Be on the lookout for this. Try self-soothing statements such as: “It’s okay. One slip up doesn’t mean I have to throw in the towel.” This is not a time to berate yourself. Instead of piling on the criticism, calmly tell yourself that something needs to be adjusted. Maybe you’re being too rigid with yourself… Maybe you need to back off a bit…

You can always begin again.This is the most powerful message I’ve learned from studying meditation. I am a complete novice, yet I’ve already gained so much. Sharon Salzberg, author of Real Happiness, talks about this idea of “beginning again”. When meditating, our mind begins to wander. This is normal and to be expected. What matters is what we do when it happens. This is, as she says, “the magic moment”. Do we beat ourself up? Do we tell ourself we’re a failure? Do we give up and say it’s too hard? Or, do we learn that we can bring our attention back, with gentleness and kindness, again and again? To me, this is a metaphor for life. We don’t have to wait until Monday to start eating healthy again. We can make the choice to honor our intentions with the very next bite of food we put in our mouth.

Regardless of our goals, slow and steady progress, even with a few setbacks sprinkled in, works just fine.