Two Tips on How to Deal with Your Family and Partner During the Holidays

The holiday season brings many joyful times as well as many stressors. Spending time with family is something many of us look forward to enjoying, but depending on our relationship with in-laws and parents, the holidays may not be as rewarding as we hope. Getting married or being in a long-term relationship means you inherit a new set of parents, your partner’s parents, for better or for worse.

Here are two tips that may help you keep your relationship intact when navigating the relationship you have with your in-laws:

1) Discuss holiday schedules ahead of time in a productive way

Figuring out which family you visit or visit first and when should be a decision between the two of you and usually involves a bit of compromising. This is an important step in showing both of your families that you are now separate from them and have formed your own family. John Gottman identified a method called ’the two ovals’ which works well for figuring out holiday schedules.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Draw two ovals, one inside of the other like a donut or a bagel.
  2. In the smaller circle put the family time you are unwilling to compromise on, the things that if you gave up, you’d really regret and feel badly about. Say holiday dinner at your aunt’s house.
  3. In the larger oval put the family time you are more flexible with, like when you visit your grandparents the next town over.
  4. Discuss your ovals with your partner and ask the following questions:
    1. Where you do agree?
    2. What are both of your inflexible areas?
    3. How can you reach a temporary compromise for this holiday season?
  5. Come up with a plan that works for both of you and then tell your families as a united front. 2 Ovals

2) Create a sense of ‘we-ness’ and solidarity with your partner, especially around the holidays.

Tense situations with in-laws and spouses often occur in marriages and sometimes you may wonder where your and your partner’s allegiance lies. You both have been part of another family for a long time; that family has its own holiday traditions and customs. Somewhat of a ’turf war’ between the spouses and in-laws may ignite, both wanting the partner’s attention during the holidays.

One of the main ways to end the war is to create a sense of ‘we-ness’ and solidarity with your partner and side with your partner over your parents. This may mean having to hold your ground and stand up for your spouse and take this or her side over your parents. This may seem harsh, but slowly your parents will adjust to reality and accept that your partner comes first. You are a partner/spouse first and a son/daughter second. Remember which team you are on. 

Here’s a more mild example:

Your father says: “Jane’s mashed potatoes are good, but your mother’s are better aren’t they? I don’t like all of the onions that Jane put in them this year.”

You can say: “Actually, I really like the extra onions, it gives it a more flavorful taste.”

And another example:

Your brother says: “I don’t know why you married Jack, he’s got no personality!”

You can say: “He really opens up once you get to know him. Why don’t you ask him about his fantasy football draft this year?”

This way you are choosing your partner over your parent/relatives. It might seem like a small gesture, but it adds up, especially in the eyes of your partner!

Hopefully these two tips help you navigate the holiday season with your partner.

4 Tips To Have A Great Date

I hear these comments fairly often in my practice:  “I’m not good at dating,” “I never know what to say” or “I can’t get past a 2nd or third date.” I also hear from my couples that their date nights are “boring” or “lacking connection.” Dating isn’t so much about what you say, but more about how you listen. Like Dale Carnegie wrote about in his classic book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, focus on being interested, not interesting. Although this advice was more about being a good salesmen, it can be applied to any relationship you have in your life. Everyone genuinely wants to feel understood and appreciated and nothing makes a person feel more understood than sincerely listening to him or her. If you keep this in mind, it can take some of the pressure off of you to feel like you need to have a bunch of interesting things going on in your life to share with the other person.

Based on John Gottman’s decades of observing people, here are 4 tips on how to have a great date, whether it’s a first date, 10th date, or a date with the spouse you’ve been with for 10 years!

Tip #1 Ask open-ended questions

There is a fine balance between asking a question that is too open such as “What’s up?” or “How’s it going?” People tend to give one word responses to those questions, possibly because they aren’t sure you want to know the full answer. Instead ask questions that are still open but more directed, such as “How has your summer been going? Have any plans for vacations?” It might be a good idea to ask questions about goals or visions of the future.  This will allow you to get to know the person’s aspirations and dreams. Be careful to watch your audience and gage if your questions are uncomfortable for the person and find the right level of disclosure.

“How’s your summer going? Have any vacation plans?”

“If you could have a job in another field, what type of job would you want to have?”

Tip #2 Listen to the person’s answers and find commonalities

As you ask open-ended questions, listen to the person’s answers and share something you have in common with what they are saying. People are more attracted to people who can relate to them and to those people with whom they share common ground. After you share a bit about yourself put the conversation back to them. Share enough to establish commonality and then ask a follow-up question to what they said earlier.

“Oh, you’re a teacher? My roommate is a teacher. He’s getting pretty stressed thinking about this upcoming school year. What do you do to prepare for the beginning of the school year? Maybe I could give him some tips from you.”

If your date had said he or she had returned from a vacation in California, a follow-up might be: “I love California, it’s such a diverse state, something for everyone! When I went there a few years ago we saw the Redwoods, I remember they were so tall and majestic. What did you see when you went there?”

Tip #3 Paraphrase what the person said and show non-verbally that you are listening

If you paraphrase what the person said, it shows them that you are listening. This is also helpful when asking questions or when mentioning a commonality.

“You seem to really love your job! How did you know you wanted to be a veterinarian?”

“You used to live in Lincoln Square? I love that neighborhood and spend a lot of time there! Have any gotta-go to places?”

Another helpful thing to do that shows people you are listening is to nod briefly or respond with a verbal cue “uh huh, yeah?, hmm.”

Tip #4 Let go of your own agenda

Try not to focus so much on the outcome of the conversation. It’s hard to focus on listening when you are trying to come up with your next interesting question to ask the person. Instead, focus on what the other person is saying in that moment and ask follow-up questions to further your understanding of what they are saying. Look for those emotional cues where you can empathize with what they are saying.

Above all, just listen to the other person with your full attention. Your ability to draw people out with a general curiosity about them will go further than if you were the most interesting person in the world.

 

Four Changes You Can Make To Have More Productive Conversations

Have you ever had a conversation with a significant other, a co-worker or a relative and thought “well, that could have gone better…” I know I have! It’s hard bringing up issues with people; maybe that’s why so many of us keep our feelings to ourselves and do not share them with others.

Based on John Gottman’s 40 years of research with couples, here are 4 changes you can make so that your conversations do not turn into arguments or feelings of ill-will.

Change #1

Before even starting the conversation, think to yourself: “What is the specific behavior I want to see changed?” When you start to think about the issue this way, you are already changing what might come off as a criticism into a complaint. Complaints are about specific issues, not about a person’s character.

 

Change #2

Erase the phrase “I feel like…..” from your vocabulary. What usually comes after this phrase? The word YOU. As soon as you add the word “like” you are describing the other person. Your intentions may have been to describe your own feelings, but you are actually criticizing the other person instead.

Instead use the phrase “I feel/felt ______ (identify a feeling) when you do/did ______ (specific behavior). 

By actually stating how you feel, you are more likely to elicit an apology. And let’s be honest, isn’t that what you want?

 

Change #3

Add the phrase “I see your point” to your vocabulary. If the other person starts to get defensive or critical, it’s very easy to get defensive back–almost too easy! Instead try to pick out small parts from what they are saying that you can understand. Saying “I see your point” goes a LONG way when someone is being critical or defensive and can almost instantly decrease the tension in a conversation.

 

Change #4

Never roll your eyes or smirk when having a conversation. These are both signs of contempt and tell the other person that you do not respect or value what they are saying. Although they might not create a blow-up mid conversation, over time these behaviors will chip away at your relationship with that person. These behaviors might be automatic responses for you depending on the person with whom you are talking, so be mindful of when you do them.

 

And there you have it! Try some of these out and see if your conversations turn out much better than you expected!

Why Taking A Career Risk Was Worth It

Today marks the one year anniversary of starting my solo private practice. As I reflect on this past year, I really surprised myself at the risk I was willing to take and the new found confidence I now have in myself. Early on in my career as a therapist, when asked if I was going to go into private practice, I would almost always reply with an excuse about how I “did not know enough yet” or how I “knew nothing about running a business,” etc. Soon after I became licensed, I accepted a job at a group private practice (one where the clinicians work for someone else) even after discussing plans to share office space with a friend of mine. Looking back on that decision, I realized that it was out of my own fears, self-doubts, and lack of confidence in my abilities as a therapist back then, that I made that decision.

Years passed and my confidence in my abilities as a therapist grew. I received great feedback from clients, saw them making progress, and began making a name for myself in my area. Still, I did not feel ready to be completely on my own. I still felt like I needed the referrals from the group practice, the support of co-workers, and the guidance if something went astray with a client. A few more months passed and I realized that other clinicians in the group practice were coming to me for guidance with their clients, their paperwork, and talking to me when they had a particularly hard session. It was around that time that I realized that I had begun to rely on the support from the group less and less, that I was beginning to develop the confidence as a therapist on my own. It was then I knew that I DID have the ability to run my own practice and no longer needed the support of a group practice.

I realized that I no longer had the same fears I once had or maybe those thoughts became quieter. I realized that I was ready to take the risk and open my own practice, that my ability to be an effective therapist would still be there even when I worked for myself.

A year ago today, I opened my doors to my own independent practice. I became my own boss, my own administrative staff, my own office manager. No one was holding me accountable but myself. Soon, the fears came rushing in…

  • What if no one calls?
  • What will I do if clients don’t like me?
  • What if I am not as helpful as I once was?
  • How will I handle all of the messy administrative issues?

Guess what? People did call!

Guess what! Clients continued to say I have helped them make a great deal of progress!

AND I have been able to handle all of the messy administrative things that come with being your own office manager too!

Are those thoughts still around a year later? ABSOLUTELY! Do I let them control my actions like I once did? No way! I tell those fears where to go and I continue being the best therapist I can be!

I was watching Shark Tank a little bit ago and something Mark Cuban said really stuck with me. “Perfection is the enemy of profitability” he said to one hopeful entrepreneur who had taken many years to test his product, wanting to make it perfect, before taking it to market and getting any sales. “You will be testing it for 72 years!” the Sharks said to him. “It doesn’t need to be perfect!”

I realized that I almost did the same thing myself, but in a different way. I was holding back starting my own practice because I felt I was not ready, whether I did not have enough experience or knowledge, I wasn’t “perfect” yet. But I’ve realized that even if I were practicing for 40 years working for someone else before opening my own practice, I might never feel 100% ready, be 100% perfect. Sure, I’ve made a few mistakes this year and am far from “the perfect therapist” but there are no perfect therapists out there! Being a therapist means constantly learning and growing. Working for myself has given me even more of an opportunity to do just that by allowing me more freedom and has forced me to learn things that I never would have gotten the chance to do working for a group practice. In a way, I’ve had to continually build my confidence in my abilities even more so since I am the one “running the show.”

What I’ve learned this year is this:

  1. I do not have to be the “perfect” therapist in order to be an effective therapist.
  2. Just because I work for myself does not mean I have to stop improving myself as a therapist.
  3. Having a bit of confidence can grow into more and more confidence, but you have to give yourself the opportunity to cultivate it.
  4. Working for myself has taught me to advocate more for myself, because no one else is around to do it for me!

My challenge to you (therapist or not!) is to let go of some of your perfection, some of your “should-ing” or “have to do this-ing” or “have to do that first-ing.” There might NEVER be a perfect time to take a risk but there is ALWAYS a perfect time to believe in yourself and your abilities–and that time is TODAY. That time is RiGHT NOW.

What happens if you fail? If you aren’t successful? Then you learn from your mistakes and try again. But if you never give yourself the opportunity to fail, then you learn nothing! Like the famous Wayne Gretsky quote “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.”

 

 

Fan the Flames in Your Relationship

What would you say if I asked you to describe how you felt about your partner in the beginning of your relationship? Would you remember positive memories of getting to know each other? How you felt excited just to speak with him or her on the phone? How you felt nervous and giddy to see your partner in person for a special date? Listening to a couple describe how they felt about each other earlier on in their relationship is a great measure of the couple’s fondness and admiration for each other. Fondness and admiration are related to affection and how much spouses look forward to being together after being apart. It speaks to how strong their friendship is which is related to passion, intimacy, and good sex.

Often times it is night and day hearing couples describe their feelings about one another when they first started dating compared to how they feel now. As you can imagine, couples whose relationships have deteriorated often rewrite history to only remember the negative aspects of their earlier days. Often describing the things their partner did wrong early on. “She was an hour late for our second date, I looked like an idiot waiting at the restaurant!” “He was so nervous we sat in silence for 10 minutes!” These couples probably did not start out viewing each other this way, but the negativity of the present has crept in to re-write the past. This is indicative of how they view their relationship now. Per John Gottman’s research, re-writing relationship history in a negative light is also predictive of the future of their relationship.

Luckily, it is possible to revive fondness and admiration that has been dwindling for many many years. It takes a cognitive switch, a choice if you will, to view your partner in a more positive and admirable way. Making a choice to scan for the positives instead of the negatives.

We can mentally rehearse all the positive things about our partner’s qualities or we can choose to focus on the negative, annoying, irritating things about their personality. What are you going to focus on? You have a choice.

Here’s a personal example. My husband leaves his dinner dishes on the counter for a long time after he has finished eating dinner. It used to bother me ALL THE TIME. I would come home and those dishes would jump out at me, instantly ruining my mood.

It had to stop. Not his dish leaving habits, but my scanning for his faults.

Instead, I chose to focus on what he was doing right. I would come home after a long day of sessions and he would greet me with a “hey sweetie, I’m glad you’re home.” I chose to focus on that nice greeting, a positive bid for attention, instead of focusing on the dishes. You know what? Soon those dishes did not mean as much to me anymore.

Ways to rekindle affection, fondness, and admiration:

  • Take some time and remember the positive experiences you and your partner had together, the fun times, the adventures and share them with one another.
  • Instead of pointing out what your partner did not do right, point out something that they DID do right.
  • Identify two positive characteristics of your partner and mention to him or her two specific events in which he or she displayed these characteristics

A Simple Way To Be Better Friends With Your Partner

I see this time and time again. A couple will come into my office and tell me that they feel like they don’t even know each other any more, that they feel like “roommates,” or worse that they aren’t even friends. Sadly, this is a very common problem with couples that have been together for a while. Life gets in the way, they don’t take the time to talk to one another, and they drift apart. According to John Gottman’s research, a main culprit of this is that their “love maps” need updating.

Gottman defines love maps as how well someone knows their partner, how detailed their map in their mind is of the other person’s life. Think about when you first met your partner, you wanted to know everything about them! Their favorite food, their pets’ names, the name of their childhood best friend, their hopes, their dreams, their fears! You would ask open-ended questions to find out more about how your partner thinks or feels about certain things. Yes, you were getting to know them but you were also building your love map of their internal world. Then the years passed and now you sit next to your partner and feel like you don’t even know him or her anymore. Many people build a deep love map in the beginning of their relationships but they do not update them regularly.

“Without such a love map you can’t really know your spouse. And if you don’t really know someone, how can you truly love them?”–John Gottman, 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work

Luckily, couples can get to know one another again and update their love maps! I often give couples the homework of deepening their love maps by asking each other a set of questions to learn more about one another, to get to know each other again, and to keep them emotionally connected. When you feel like your spouse knows information about you, it helps you feel cared for, valued, and appreciated.

Here is a quick snapshot of the Gottman Love Map Exercise you can practice with your partner right now!

In the spirit of getting to know your partner again, pick a question and try to come up with the answer, then have your partner gently correct you if you did not guess correctly.

1. Name my two closest friends.
2. What is my favorite musical group, composer, or instrument?
3. What was I wearing when we first met?
4. Name one of my hobbies.
5. Where was I born?
6. What stresses am I facing right now?
7. Describe in detail what I did today or yesterday.
8. What are two of my aspirations, hopes, wishes?
9. Name one of my major rivals or “enemies.”
10.Who is my favorite relative?

Remember, the point of the exercise is not to be right or wrong, but to deepen your understanding of one another.

The next time you feel like you and your partner are “ships in the night” ask yourself if you have taken the time to update your Love Maps!

Questions Asked by Couples Before Starting Counseling

When couples seek counseling they often have questions about my style of counseling as well as my beliefs about relationships and divorce.

I recently got asked what my stance is on divorce. Meaning am I for, neutral,  or against divorce.

  • My stance on divorce would depend on the specific couple. As a couples therapist, I like to think that there is hope for many couples to repair their marriages. The type of couples therapy I use in sessions, the Gottman Method, does provide a roadmap for most couples to do so. The Gottman Method can be used to help couples repair and move past many difficult relationship events (affairs, traumas, etc.). That being said, there are some circumstances that couples therapy is contraindicated such as cases where characterological domestic violence is present.
  • When two people are in a relationship, they will have a set of perpetual unsolvable problems that will continue to come up. Each person has to decide if they are able to live with the other’s unsolvable problems. If they are not, they should probably not be in a relationship together.

Can couples counseling be helpful for couples going through a divorce?

  • Absolutely. It looks a bit different than counseling for couples hoping to stay together. My goal as the therapist would be to reduce the same unhelpful patterns that I would in a couple hoping to continue being married and to help facilitate more productive conversations. Even though you are getting divorced, you still have to be able to exist in each other’s worlds (especially if children are involved). A divorce takes a huge psychological toll on people, and anger and sadness are normal and common emotions. You can be angry at one another without being demeaning, and you can be hurt without turning your relationship absolutely toxic.

How can I trust my partner after they’ve betrayed me?

  • When your partner is unfaithful, your whole sense of self is shattered and you begin to doubt yourself. The person you trusted is now untrustworthy. You doubt your own instincts.
  • A mistake that couples make where one person has been unfaithful is to try to make the unfaithful partner trustworthy again. This leads to the betrayed person checking up on the partner (checking their phone, credit card statements etc.).  Because they cannot trust themselves to trust their partner, the betrayed might make their partner call them every number of hours, send them pictures to make sure they say they are where they said they would be, etc.
  • Instead of focusing on making the other person trustworthy, focus on yourself and your own self-esteem/self-worth. Once you begin to trust yourself again, trusting your partner will come easier.

Hopefully these answers shed some light on the hard questions you may be wondering about before you consider therapy. Feel free to call or e-mail me if you have further questions.

 

Couple Counseling

Couples Counseling

 

An Easy Way to Get Therapy at No Cost to You

It’s been my experience that many people view cost as a barrier to getting therapy. They might have a high deductible insurance plan or no insurance at all and have been putting off contacting a counselor because they fear they will have a big bill to pay at the end of the month. Many people are aware of their employer offering them medical, vision, and/or dental insurance, but often are not aware of another benefit offered by many employers called an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). By using your EAP benefits you can receive therapy at no cost to you!

An Employee Assistance Program is a benefit separate from the insurance that your employee pays to be able to offer benefits to employees. The EAP program can offer employees resources such as financial planners, child care, legal services and (you guessed it!) counseling services. These counseling sessions are paid for by your employer and are at no cost to you. Many employees have plans that offer between 3-6 counseling sessions but in my experience, I have seen plans that offer up to 10 sessions. EAP counseling sessions are considered to be “short-term” counseling and if you want to seek counseling beyond the number of sessions for which you are approved, you would have to use your insurance benefits or pay out of pocket.

You would access these therapy services by calling your EAP company and speaking to an EAP staff (usually a therapist) about why you are seeking counseling services and any preferences you would have in a counselor such as location, specialties or available times. If the EAP staff feels like your situation is appropriate for EAP sessions, he or she would would then either give you a list of therapists to call and set up an appointment or would set up an appointment with a therapist for you and give you the therapist’s information. It’s that simple.

Many people assume the word “employee” in EAP means that your employer will know if use your EAP benefits and that is not the case at all. With the exception of being told you are required to attend counseling sessions by your employer, your employer will not know if you are attending therapy or not. In the case that your employer requires you to utilize your benefits, the therapist that is providing the EAP services still cannot speak to your employer without your consent and the EAP staff will usually be the go-between between the therapist and your employer.

How do you find out if your employer offers EAP benefits? Contact your Human Resources department and ask how you would go about contacting your EAP. You do not have to inform your HR department you are wanting to seek counseling, because, like I said previously, EAP programs offer many services. Many people are told about these benefits when they have their employer orientation or sign up for their insurance benefits and then often forget they even have them! Why not take advantage of a few counseling sessions at no cost to you if you are able?

Please note: Although I am an EAP provider/affiliate for many EAP companies, this blog post does not reflect any one company in particular and is based solely on my understanding of the EAP referral process.

EAP benefits provide therapy sessions at no cost to the employee.

EAP benefits provide therapy sessions at no cost to the employee.

The Importance of Emotional Connection During Everyday Activities

It sounds so simple, right? Of course you should spend time with your significant other! You might spend a great deal of time together already! But ask yourself this, is it meaningful? Does it allow you and your partner to emotionally connect? John Gottman calls this “putting deposits in the emotional bank account” and this allows you to bounce back after the next big argument. Think back to the last time you and your partner spent time together. Was your partner emotionally “there” for you during the time? Were you emotionally “there” for your partner?

Take watching your favorite TV show together. Sure, you might both laugh at the same time at something funny that happens or you might both relate to what happened in that episode, but do you take the time to connect during or after the show or do you go your separate ways afterwards?

As people get more comfortable in their relationships and routines are in place, the emotional connection could decrease. I’m not saying that you stop spending time together (although you might!), but you may not be as emotionally present for one another as you were when you were first dating. Instead of reading and discussing the news, you may read the news silently. Instead of talking about the TV episode you watched, you may turn the TV off and go to bed.

To rectify this, in a therapy session I have couples identify what they currently do every day to connect with one another or their “rituals of connection” as John Gottman puts it. These can be simple, everyday occurrences such as making breakfast together, cuddling before waking up, greeting each other when you come home from work, or watching the evening news together. If you and your partner cannot think of any ways you connect throughout the day, you can think about what you used to do when you were first dating and why that was special to you. It is helpful to identify what you are currently doing to connect with one another and why it is meaningful to you. That way your partner knows that you value this activity and you keep doing it! Couples often surprise each other during this exercise. Often, one partner finds a great deal of meaning in something when the other had no idea!

Then the couple identifies activities that they would like to do in the future in which they would like their partner to be more emotionally “there” for them. This is an important activity to do. Even if you have been together for 40 years, your partner cannot read your mind! Keep in mind this is not an activity that allows you to criticize your partner for all of the things you are not doing together; it is one that allows you to say “I love you so much, I want your full emotional presence when we do X” or “I love doing this activity and I really want you emotionally there to share it with me.” It also allows you to know ahead of time what activities are important to your partner and which activities they would be hoping you were more emotionally present for. This allows you to prevent a “withdrawal” from the emotional bank account in the future and could even lead to a deposit!

Remember, every interaction can be made into a way to have a deeper emotional connection with your partner. In doing so, this helps keep the friendship strong, which is the foundation of a supportive and healthy relationship.

Happy connecting, everyone!

What have you done to connect with your partner today?

5 Common Obstacles That Stop You From Practicing Mindfulness and How to Overcome Them

One of the first skills I often teach is mindfulness since it has many different uses and benefits. A simple definition of mindfulness would be focusing on one thing at a time, in the present moment, with awareness and acceptance. There are two main types of mindfulness: informal and formal. Informal mindfulness practice involves taking something you are already doing such as taking a shower, eating breakfast, or walking to work, and trying to do it more mindfully with awareness of what you are experiencing in the present moment. Formal mindfulness practices occur when you take five or so minutes and practice focusing on the present moment whether it is focusing on your breathing, an object, your pulse, etc. Meditation would be more of a formal mindfulness practice.

Mindfulness

Just like any new skill, mindfulness can be very hard to implement and incorporate into your life. I like to practice mindfulness myself and often run into the same problems my clients do when trying to practice. Here are a few of the common obstacles I have found clients (as well as myself) have encountered throughout the years.

 

“I can’t do it.”

When clients tell me this, what they often really mean is that they find it very hard to do. Think of mindfulness like you think about working out. Most people find working out hard to do at first, but if you keep at it, it gets easier. The same goes for mindfulness. The key is to keep practicing in spite of it being hard.

 

“I don’t have time.”

This is often my problem with mindfulness! It’s also the easiest to fix! You do not have to take time out of your day to practice mindfulness. You can do it with any activity, anywhere, anytime! That’s the beauty of informal mindfulness — taking an activity you already do and doing it more mindfully. One of my favorite informal mindfulness exercises to do is to pet my cat mindfully. Often I pet her so she will stop annoying me, but when I turn it into a mindfulness exercise for myself, I focus on what her fur feels like beneath my hand, listen to the sounds she makes (if any), and look at the features of her face. When you are practicing formal mindfulness, it also does not have to be for a long period of time. Customize the length of time to suite your needs. I often practice focusing on my breathing for 2 minutes.

 

“I can’t stay focused!”

This is another one of my favorite problems. Not being able to focus is perfectly normal! Our minds are thinking a million different thoughts a day! It’s what our minds are designed to do!  The key here is to throw your agenda and expectations out the window. Holding onto goals such as being able to focus actually get in the way of being able to be in the present moment. Mindfulness is less about staying focused and more about noticing (without judgement) when your mind drifts and bringing it back to the present moment.

 

“When I practice, I start to think of things I don’t want to think about (grief, sadness).”

Part of mindfulness is training your mind so that you are in control! Mindfulness is not about avoiding or suppressing painful thoughts or emotions, it is about accepting them and not judging whatever comes up. If you are practicing mindfulness and focusing on certain things (sounds etc.) brings your mind back to past painful events, it won’t be helpful to let your mind take you where it wants you to go (back to that loss etc.).  So instead of letting your mind take you to an unhelpful place, simply acknowledge your thoughts and focus your attention back to the exercise.  Being able to realize when your mind drifts and bringing it back to the present moment is one of the most powerful aspects of mindfulness. Once you have completed the exercise, you can explore the feelings that arose.

 

“It makes me tired.”

For people with sleeping problems, drifting off to sleep while practicing mindfulness might be a good thing! You can practice it before bed and get to sleep faster. But mindfulness is being aware of the present moment, and how can you be aware if you are asleep? Relaxation is not the goal of mindfulness, but it is often a secondary benefit because people often choose relaxing activities such as mindfulness exercises (taking a bath, focusing on your breath, body scans). Some people are so busy in their lives and don’t spend time focusing on one thing that when they finally do this, they get bored and sleepy. The key is to treat feeling tired or bored like any other urge. Make room for it, acknowledge it, and focus your attention back to the exercise.

 

Hopefully these common obstacles and solutions will help you further your mindfulness practice! Don’t give up! With more practice, you will soon be the master of your own mind! For a quick introduction to mindfulness, check out this video.