Friday, January 29, 2016

Challenging self talk

From birth, our minds are busy building connections, telling our body what to do, identifying and classifying, storing all this data that it is receiving and interpreting into the depths.  As we grow older, we don't recognize it yet, but we are actually seeing cause and effect and by extension storing assumptions or connections associated with actions or events that we have seen.  We may not be actually aware we are doing it, but our minds are wired to do this automatically so we really don't have to "do" anything for this to occur.  Every day, every moment of our lives is taken in and then recorded into our brains.  

Along the way we form "beliefs" about people, places, events, objects and all that is around us.  Often we don't even realize these beliefs have been formed.  These beliefs start to drive our behavior.  For example, if I believe that all flowers give me allergies because I sneezed a lot near a lilly, I might assume that flowers only bring me pain and miserable feelings because I'm already associating flowers with my terrible allergies and I hate how they make me feel.  I may not realize that I'm only allergic to lillies and not roses, and therefore missing out on the beautiful and fragrant roses because of my ingrained belief.  

These "beliefs" we have formed also feed the internal self talk running through our minds all the time, and without even thinking we are searing deeper these thoughts/beliefs into our little highways in our brain.  Over time, these little highways become super fast autobahns because they are really well paved and unobstructed.  We become on autopilot with some thoughts because they are flying through our brain so fast and so often we don't realize it's happening.  All along, our brain has been bringing in data, storing it and forming "beliefs" based on simple connections we have witnessed.  There was no fact checking this information before it's stored and repeated over and over internally.  

What happens when that "belief" is actually completely fabricated and untrue?  How do you know this? Sometimes it's because someone tells you or you learn it in school, or sometimes it's because you recognize it on your own.  Of course, often though these "beliefs" don't automatically get challenged each and every day, so we keep repeating the thoughts, behavior and decisions.  Fortunately,  it is possible to disrupt this routine and redirect the flow to a new factual highway that can change everything through changing the way we are talking to ourselves.  

This psychologist, Dr. Helmstetter, got interested in this phenomenon many years ago and decided he would try to see how well it worked himself.  He was struggling with his weight, and chose to create some new self talk.  He spent months creating a new series of self talk and recorded it onto tapes.  Each morning, when he was getting ready, he would play the tapes in the background.  In 10 1/2 weeks he lost over 35 pounds - doing nothing more than listening to these self talk tapes in the background.  What's more incredible, his wife also lost over 20 pounds - and she wasn't trying to lose weight!  He went on to write a book and create a whole program around changing self talk with great success.

One way we can treat ourselves better is through challenging our "beliefs" that are holding us back.  The most efficient and lasting way to do that is to build new superhighways in our brain so that we don't fall back to our old ways over and over again, and changing our self talk can do that.

To check out more about Dr. Helmstetter...


The book I reference in this post:

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The cup theory

Years ago, I learned about this self and relationship theory from a really great teacher in San Diego.  I resonated with it so much, I share it as much as possible; and today I'll share it with you.  Perhaps you will find it as helpful as I have.

Imagine you have a cup with you at all times.  It's part of you.  And you fill that cup each time you make yourself smile inside or out.  These actions that you do have nothing to do with taking from anyone, they are things that you do that simply make your heart feel good or make you feel giddy with joy almost like a little kid.  They are taking care of your needs.  When you were a kid you did them all the time, without thinking about it.  As a kid it might have been running around the yard, playing a game, singing, riding a bike.  As you got older, the list got larger, with things like taking a nice candlelit bath, watching sports, hanging out with friends, volunteering, sitting next to your dog, playing with a child or children, reading a book, going to the library... you get the idea.  Each time you do one of the million things that make you smile (inside or out), you fill that cup up.  When your cup is full, you feel like a zillion bucks - on top of the world, or maybe just really content and happy.  Now imagine that everyone has their own cup just like you do, and everything they do that makes themselves smile inside or out fills up their cup.  Each and every person has their very own cup and it may be full or not so full.  Let's call this the "me cup".

When two people enter into a relationship - regardless of the type of relationship - a new empty cup appears magically between them. I'll call this the "relationship cup".  Now this cup gets full by one of two ways:  

  1. Either or both of the partners in the relationship deposit into it by doing things that fulfill both .  These things might be a different for each type of relationship, as well as the people in the relationship... some ideas might be spending quality time together like going out together for a walk, a long conversation, sharing a laugh; telling each other how much they appreciate each other or offer affirmations to each other; holding hands, cuddling or making love; giving gifts to each other, doing something out for the other like getting the dry cleaning or the dishes... you can go on from here with your own ideas.  
  2. The overflow from either person's "me cup".

When one partner's "me cup" is not full and they are not continuing to do things to fill it up, many times they look to their partner to do things for them to fill it up for them. How their partner does that is by giving to the other person and taking away from themselves.  Many people do this without realizing it.  I can recall an instance in my own life where I did this; I was bending over backwards trying to cheer up my partner, doing things that will please them and ignoring my own needs until I depleted my own cup and then in turn looked to my partner to help me out and fill my "me cup", but because they weren't filling their own up they were looking to me to fill theirs up.  It became a downward spiral really quickly and neither one of us had a clue why it was happening or how to fix it.  Each side felt like the other didn't care enough and there were hurt feelings and distance put between us.

Once I learned about this idea, I decided that from then on, I was going to take responsibility for my own "me cup", ensuring it was filled up as often as possible, and when I was having trouble filling it up (we all have those days), I looked for motivation from all kinds of places to jump start myself into doing it again rather than looking to someone else to do it for me.  It empowered me to take charge of my own needs and reminded me that only I am responsible for taking care of me.  That doesn't mean that other people can't do things to take care of me or be nurturing towards me, it just means that I don't expect them to give me everything I need because I take responsibility for my basic needs first, and when they give and nurture - it's received even more warmly by me because I'm not starving or terribly thirsty for it.

When each side takes responsibility for filling their "me cup" and putting into the "relationship cup", the result can be very fulfilling and happy relationship for all sides.  When one side relies on the other to fill their "me cup", the "relationship cup" isn't getting filled up; and if left empty too long distance or break ups often follow.

As with most things, this comes easier with each and every time it's practiced.  Over time, it can become second nature and add to each partner's self awareness - both of which always improves relationships.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Thoughts on "Trust" and relationships

A friend and I were talking about what we each believed is the most important element in a relationship, and we both agreed that trust was that essential component to a strong relationship - no matter what type of relationship it is.  We expanded that discussion just a little bit and talked about what that means to each of us in a relationship, about faithfulness and honoring each other.  

Since that conversation, this topic has swirled in my mind - begging me to write more about it.  I thought about it for weeks, reviewing my own thoughts and feelings about trust and conversations with others about trust over the years.  The common denominator that I was finding was that lots of people have different definitions of what trust is.  The word trust is one of those words that carry such a heavy meaning to it yet when really challenged to define it, most of us are not able to find the words.  

Years ago I heard the infamous Dr. Phil saying that "Trust is a function of how much you trust yourself to be strong enough to deal with their imperfections".  Sure, if I cannot handle the fact that you are a human and will likely mess up with me at some point in our relationship, I could diminish my trust in you.  But this didn't help me get to the root of what trust is.  What does it mean to trust myself?  What does it mean to trust another person?

If you ask a seven year old kid, you will likely hear something like "I can tell Joey about my secret and no one else will know."  If you ask an adult you might hear something more along the lines of "I know that Daisy will not break my curfew rule and will be home by 10pm tonight", or "I believe my husband will not lead that beautiful woman on that is sitting across from us flirting with him" or maybe "I know that this person is going to obey the red light they have as I go through my green light".  As I thought about it more, I could think of so many different examples of trust that expanded the answer to what it means to trust myself or others.  

Remember the old saying that "trust is earned not freely given"?  Repetition of actions over time that help prove to another that trust is there.  Trust really was a word that isn't easily explained and definitely needed more context.

I looked up the word in the dictionary and didn't find a good clear answer as to what trust is.  So I took the next logical step.  I googled it, and found more than 976 million hits - many with different answers.  Then, I decided to go see what one of my favorite relationship researcher says about the topic, Brené Brown.

From Brené's perspective, trust is such a big word that we need to break it down in order to understand the components and identify what part of the trust is broken when we feel like our trust is broken.  Yes! Her definition was exactly what I was looking for.  And it also brought up some interesting self-reflection that I needed to face (more on that later).

Brené explains trust as having seven dimensions, and she brought them all together in a very nice tight acronym:  BRAVING.  Her book "Rising Strong" defined it very clearly (the below is directly taken from her book):
  • B – Boundaries.  You respect my boundaries and when you are not clear about what’s OK and what’s not OK, you ask. You are willing to say no.
  • R – Reliability.  You do what you say you’ll do.  At work this means staying aware of your competencies and limitations so that you don’t over-promise and are able to deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities.
  • A – Accountability.  You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends.
  • V – Vault.  You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share.  I need to know that my confidences are  kept and that you are not sharing with me information about other people that should be confidential.
  • I – Integrity.  You choose courage over comfort.  You choose what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy.  And you choose to practice your values rather than simply professing them.
  • N – Non-judgment.  I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need.  We can talk about how we feel without judgment.
  • G – Generosity.  You extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words and actions of others.
This acronym applies to self trust as well as trust for others.  It bears repeating that of course, if there is no self trust there is no trust for others, and if there is partial self trust there is partial trust for others, further clarification of Dr. Phil's quote above.  Finally, a clear concise breakdown, providing me language I can use when I am feeling distrustful.  I can more discretely explain what is not working so that it can be zeroed in on and addressed.

I mentioned earlier that this multi-dimensioned definition brought up some self-reflection.  I started thinking about my own behavior towards various people I have had relationships with and myself in the past, and I recognized some areas where I am not as consistent as I'd like to think.  All part of yet another level of self-improvement for me.  Luckily, I'm armed with a more defined list of components to have better conversations with myself and the people in my life.

In case you'd like to see the video of her talk:

Sunday, January 24, 2016


I've been thinking about my firsts so far in my life, and how I remember them.  Whether I remember them in detail, with feeling or as a movie lodged in my head, each and every first has always been special and will continue to have a special place in my heart.

My first bike was a beautiful magenta pink with white handlebars and streamers that came out of the ends of the handlebars.  It had a white banana seat and a white basket with magenta flowers on the front of it.  Oh how I adored that bike.  I lived in one of the world's worst places to have a bicycle as I was in the middle of the country on a dirt/gravel road; yet it didn't stop me from wanting to ride my bike everywhere.  Sadly, my love affair with my beautiful bike was short lived as not too long after I got the bike I left it in the driveway and my grandfather ran over it with his tractor.  I was utterly devastated.  It was so incredibly awful to see my beautiful shiny bike completely mangled without a chance of fixing.  I don't recall who got me the replacement bike, but it absolutely didn't have any of the gorgeous details that my original bike had.  I have never forgotten that magenta bike and how much I loved it.  I never left my bike out to get ran over again though :)

My first computer was a Commodore 64 and was given to me on my 12th birthday I believe.  That computer was a keyboard and computer in one, and would hook into your television for a monitor.  I spent hours on that thing with my Commodore computer magazine, creating programs to push graphics around on the screen, make games or simple number programs.  That computer came about after the first time I ever saw a computer and really used one, in computer camp at EOU.  I have no idea what gave me the idea to go to the camp, but I know that once I went, I was hooked on computers forever.  I still have my notes from that first camp.

My first cross-country travel was with my mother, siblings and grandmother to North Carolina to see all of my grandmother's family.  It was on my 13th birthday I think, and the air traffic controllers were on strike.  We almost didn't get to go.  That trip also had some other firsts - the first time I ever had moon pies (which were delicious), North Carolina style green beans and my first pair of heels given to me by my Aunt Arlee.

My first job was as a babysitter for the neighbor kids down the lane about a 1/4 mile.  I used to walk over there and watch them in the mornings and catch the bus with them to go to school.

My first kiss was with this boy that was a couple of years older the summer of my Freshman year in High School.  I remember that he seemed to come out of nowhere when I was volunteering at the local Stock Show Rodeo and Horse Races event in my hometown that year.  I don't recall exactly how he started the conversation or where we were when we first started hanging out - but I do remember he asked me to come up to the grandstands and sit with him while the horse races were going on, and I did... and he held my hand for the first time up there.  I remember being a little surprised but really excited that this cute boy was holding my hand.  Later that day I think it was, we were near some hay bales by the animals in the 4-H area, and he leaned in for my first kiss.  I wasn't sure whether to keep my eyes open or closed, so I kept them open at first, only to see my sister hiding behind a hay bale behind him.  After I saw her I forced my eyes closed and ignored her.  I had no idea what I was doing or what I should do - he never said anything about that first kiss, but kept kissing me all summer long so I guess I wasn't totally awful.

My first formal dance was my Junior year at prom - my best friend's prom in a nearby town.  I wore a southern belle type dress that was a seafoam blue-green color, and baby's breath in my hair.  We had such a fun time dancing all night long.  It was a perfect night without any expectations or pressure since I went with my best friend.

My first real job not babysitting was with the Oregon Department of Social Services, I worked in the Welfare office as an assistant.  I learned so much about people that summer watching all the social workers and the people seeking assistance.

My first car was my parent's Blue Toyota Celica.  I remember the very first day I got my license I was driving that car around with a couple of my friends and we saw my first boyfriend.  We drove around and I thought we were playing cat and mouse until he finally got me to pull over and I learned I had a flat tire, he was trying to get me to stop so that he could tell me I had a flat tire.  I was so embarrassed.

My first year of college was such a mix of emotions.  The beginning of the year I was so excited and high on life - I was making my own way in a town that didn't know me or my family and my school & dorm had all these new people and experiences just waiting for me.  I heard music I had never heard before, I made friends that knew me as I was, no presuppositions there.  I broke up with my high school sweetheart 1/2 way through the year after he cheated on me at Christmas, and had my first college boyfriend not too long after.  I lived away from home for the first time, and I felt so happy studying computers at this big school far far away from my hometown.

My first marriage was with my high school sweetheart, he came back into my life after my second year of college and I married him.  We had a beautiful wedding, me in a gorgeous satin gown with a sweetheart neckline and the day was freezing cold December; full of snow and ice.  I remember my dad and I standing behind the doors to go down the isle and he looked at me and said "We can always go fishin'".  Our honeymoon was the local "super 8 motel" and we went through the infamous "Nels In and Out" in our wedding finery on the way to the honeymoon. We stayed married for not quite 7 years total.  My first divorce was a little dragged out, as he didn't really want to take the time to get the paperwork done but we completed it without a court fight or arguing over the custody of the kids.  I am eternally grateful that we were able to handle it civilly and without incident.

My first child was born when I was only 21 years old, she was a tiny little thing.  She was born early in the morning around 5:30am and had a tooth when she was born.  I never got to see the tooth because the Dr. removed it not long after she was born and threw it away.  She was a perfect little baby girl.

My first degree after high school I got almost exactly 10 years to the day that I graduated high school.  I was so proud of myself for getting that degree despite my challenges on my own with two kids and job to juggle.  I remember the graduation was very long and in the SDSU Cox Arena gym with big screens showing us as we walked in and across the stage.  My youngest daughter apparently was yelling "hoochie mama" at me as she saw me get my degree on the big screen.

I have had thousands upon thousands of little firsts in my life that were either delightful, playful, joyful, wistful or devastating.  I feel like each and every day presents me with thousands more little and big firsts to experience and add to this list.  When I think about it, each and every experience can be thought of as a first if you look at it from the perspective that the now is the first now you'll ever see in your lifetime.