From Penny's Desk...
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Removing Roadblocks, Letting Go of the Past, and Embracing Failure: The Path to Personal Growth
Life is a journey of encountering roadblocks, problem-solving your way through difficulties, and learning from mistakes and setbacks. Sometimes, we get discouraged, dwell on our past transgressions, and fear failure to the point that we may become fearful of change, growth, or progress, preferring the safety of our comfort zone.
Challenges, failures, and losses should not ever define you. By removing roadblocks, letting go of the past, and embracing failure, you can embark on the most transformative path of your personal growth.
Removing Roadblocks: Where to Start
Remember that roadblocks can take many forms. They can be both internal and external. Internal roadblocks come in the form of self-doubt, fear of the unknown, and limiting beliefs. External roadblocks include the expectations of society and even those closest to you, unhealthy relationships, and challenging times that you’re confronted with.
Removing roadblocks starts with identifying and acknowledging them. Self-reflection and looking within are how you can recognize these barriers so you can gradually confront any fears and move past “limitations”—or, at least, the circumstances you believe are holding you back from personal growth.
Removing external roadblocks takes actions such as surrounding ourselves with positive people and relationships, asking the people in your life who are supportive for help, and gradually taking on opportunities that will take you closer to your goals and desires. You don’t need to take big leaps that may make you feel too uncomfortable or unprepared. Taking small steps forward and gradually challenging yourself will help you strengthen your self-confidence, which is key to pushing past roadblocks.
Extract Lessons from the Past & Then Let It Go
If you mentally replay (or talk about) your past failures and setbacks repeatedly, unable to forgive yourself and move on, you may be carrying a very heavy burden that can stagnate your personal growth. Dwelling on past mistakes, all the decisions you regret, and the times you have failed miserably prevent you from moving forward. It can deplete your physical energy, stagnate your creativity, and interfere with coming up with ideas of ways you can make progress.
Allow yourself the gift of breaking free from this potentially tormenting cycle. Acknowledge what those past experiences taught you then let it go and embrace the present.
For many people, forgiving yourself and/or others is critical to truly being able to let go of the past. Recognize that mistakes are part of being human. Taking responsibility for mistakes and learning from them is how we grow. This growth is ongoing throughout our lives. Practicing self-compassion and treating yourself with kindness will help you move past failures.
The Important Function of Embracing Failure
We learn to avoid and even fear failure from an early age when we’re scolded or punished for making mistakes by sometimes well-intended adults. Mastery cannot be achieved without repeated mistakes. Failure is what can propel us to keep practicing and trying again, but what’s key is not giving up. There are countless stories of people in history who failed catastrophically before reaching a major breakthrough. Embracing failure will allow you to develop resilience, learn valuable lessons, and uncover your hidden strengths. Many people believe that what sets apart the most successful people comes down to one single action: The fact that they refused to give up.
Rather than viewing failure as a setback or a personal weakness—rather than telling yourself that you “can’t,” that you’re “not good at this,” or that you’re “just not cut out for” this or that—reframe this concept of yourself and your abilities. Look at failure as a step closer to success; as a sign that you’re getting closer to achieving what you want. Without failure, you may be at risk of settling and functioning on cruise control. Each failure offers you an opportunity for learning how to do it better. Embracing a growth mindset and reframing failure as a chance for improvement will also teach you to have a positive attitude toward the setbacks you face in your life and the many new and great opportunities and experiences that are to come.
Healing & Self-Discovery - A Difficult Past or Childhood Trauma
Unhealed wounds from childhood can have deep and lasting effects on your life. These emotional and psychological injuries can shape your personality, the way you interact in your environment, and your relationships in adulthood.
Emotional concerns like low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and difficulty cultivating healthy connections with others can all be attributed to unresolved trauma. These wounds can manifest as unhealthy coping mechanisms, like substance abuse or self-destructive behaviors, as you may seek out ways to self-medicate and numb emotional pain. Unaddressed childhood trauma can also impact your decision-making, leading to impulsivity or a constant fear of abandonment and rejection. They can hinder your personal growth and your ability to enjoy trusting and fulfilling relationships. You may fear being vulnerable, you may struggle with intimacy, or you may have a chronic fear of abandonment. In some cases, unhealed childhood wounds can contribute to cycles of abuse. Many people with unhealed childhood wounds can be high-functioning and high-achieving individuals but may struggle with perfectionism, low self-esteem, self-sabotage, imposter syndrome, or difficulty setting boundaries, among other concerns.
It’s important to address these wounds through therapy, counseling, or support groups so that you can break free from the weight of your past. Doing inner work is a courageous step towards your personal transformation and developing resilience. Below are a few ways you can start the healing process.
Reflect on the source of the wounds.
The first step in healing is to acknowledge your emotional wounds from childhood and recognize the pain, trauma, or neglect that you experienced. Consider the impact it had on you and how it has affected the various aspects of your life (e.g., work, relationships, self-esteem). Reflecting on the source of your unhealed wounds doesn’t mean you have to dwell on the past or block yourself from moving forward. It’s about making sure that you’re not avoiding or denying these feelings, as this will only prevent healing.
Forgiving yourself and self-compassion.
In the healing process, it’s important to avoid blaming yourself for childhood experiences or judging the way you may have dealt with those experiences in the past—even the recent past. Recognize that as a younger person, you didn’t have the knowledge and life experience to process difficult situations and the emotions they triggered. As you grew older, the emotional toll that childhood trauma inflicted could have affected your coping skills and problem-solving abilities. Accept that you handled difficulties in the best way you knew how to at the moment. When you can forgive yourself and show yourself compassion, you will open yourself up to being able to learn from past decisions and make better choices for yourself and your well-being moving forward.
Consider inner child work.
The inner child is the vulnerable you that experienced childhood trauma. Connecting with or “speaking to” your inner child is believed to help with unhealed wounds because it’s as if your adult self is supporting the child version of you that didn’t have the skills to cope with adversity and trauma. Inner child work can involve visualization or journaling, which can help you understand the needs, fears, and desires that your childhood self struggled with. Supporting and comforting your inner child can help with self-acceptance and healing.
Identify and challenge the negative beliefs that likely stem from unhealed wounds.
Negative beliefs about yourself and your abilities very often stem from childhood wounds. Some examples include feeling unworthy, unlovable, or “not good enough” despite having plenty of evidence to the contrary. Recognize that these beliefs are “leftovers” from a traumatic past. Make sure to challenge negative beliefs by repeatedly reminding yourself of all the evidence in your life demonstrating that you are worthy, loveable, and competent.
Assertiveness and setting boundaries.
Unhealed childhood wounds can lead to people pleasing behaviors, such as difficulty saying no, and other behaviors that may demonstrate your struggle with assertiveness and setting boundaries with others. Practice saying no by pausing and asking yourself what you truly want in a given situation while reminding yourself that it’s okay to look out for your own needs and wants—and this is not selfishness. Setting boundaries with others involves continuously assessing your comfort level with situations and communicating clearly and honestly. Practice speaking out when you dislike something or a situation causes you discomfort while focusing less on the opinions of others or whether you’re disappointing anyone.
Allow yourself to release emotions.
Just because childhood trauma happened long ago, doesn’t mean you have to get over it and move on. Allow yourself to experience and express emotions associated with your childhood wounds. Journaling, writing a letter to someone who hurt you, or talking to someone you trust can help you release pent-up feelings.
Increase your comfort with vulnerability and showing emotion.
Healing emotional wounds often involves opening up to others, connecting with others, and expressing yourself in ways that typically may make you feel “embarrassed.” For many people, allowing themselves to cry or describing a past experience that caused pain can help with working through any difficulty with being vulnerable and showing emotion. Remember to aim to surround yourself with supportive people who validate your experiences and encourage your growth.
Although addressing emotional wounds from childhood can be a challenging process, it is a transformational journey of healing that can be life-changing. Healing deep wounds that originate from your past takes time and patience. Acknowledge every small step forward and be gentle with yourself when you struggle. Remember that the setbacks you experience along this journey are full of valuable lessons; lessons that will guide you as you progress toward a more empowered and fulfilling life.
How to Embrace Your True Self & Let Go of Societal Expectations
The society we live in establishes many pressures, expectations, and norms, many that we may not be fully aware of but that affect our well-being and our mental health. So many of us are impacted by career expectations, body image ideals, social media pressures, and norms related to gender, family, and relationships.
It can be easy to lose touch with your true self when you’re bombarded by cultural and societal rules and standards of what’s good and bad; what’s in and what’s out; and what purportedly leads to true “happiness,” “success,” and “fulfillment.”
In order to cope with the potentially negative emotions that can come from being different from or existing outside of societal expectations, many of us succumb to the pressure and mold ourselves to fit into these expectations, even if it means sacrificing our authenticity.
The truth is, embracing your true self can lead to a happier and more fulfilling life. Below are some steps to help you let go of societal expectations and embrace who you really are.
Identify the societal expectations in your environment that you may be at risk of surrendering—or conforming—to.
These expectations can depend a lot on various factors in your life, such as your age, where you work or go to school, your local community or neighborhood, your family and friends, or your hobbies and activities. The people you surround yourself with and the places where you spend most of your time often dictate the societal expectations that you’ll be faced with.
Spend some time thinking about and identifying the various expectations you confront in your workplace, school, among your family and friends, or within your local community. Consider which expectations you consider less harmless versus those that have the potential to jeopardize your identity and emotional health. Once you are aware of these expectations, you can start to question whether they align with your personal values and beliefs.
Challenge the beliefs you hold that are influenced by societal expectations.
Often, the expectations we have internalized are not based on our own beliefs but rather on what we have been told or made to believe is “normal” or “acceptable.” It’s important to challenge these beliefs and ask yourself if they align with what you really want and your true values. A helpful way to identify these beliefs is to examine the areas in your life where you don’t feel satisfied or fulfilled. For instance, you may hold certain beliefs that keep you in relationships that don’t satisfy you or in a job you aren’t passionate about.
Connecting with your inner self.
To embrace your true self, you need to connect with your innermost self. This means taking time to reflect on your thoughts, emotions, and desires. It can be helpful to engage in activities that help you connect with yourself, such as meditation, spending time alone, being in nature, journaling, or therapy. By understanding your own thoughts and feelings, you can start to build a deeper connection with your true self.
Work on self-acceptance.
One of the most important steps in embracing your true self is to accept yourself as you are. This means accepting your flaws, quirks, and imperfections and recognizing that they make you unique. When you fully accept yourself, you can let go of the need to conform to societal expectations.
Surround yourself with people, places, and things that promote positivity.
Surrounding yourself with positive people, activities, and environments can help you embrace your true self. Seek out friends and communities that promote diversity and individuality rather than conforming to societal expectations. This can help you feel more comfortable being yourself and can provide a supportive network as you work on embracing your true self.
Practice assertiveness by setting boundaries with others.
It’s important to set boundaries with people and situations that do not align with your values and beliefs.
This doesn’t mean you should cross out people who don’t subscribe to your views and opinions, but it does mean saying “no” if a person or situation makes you feel uncomfortable. Setting boundaries can sometimes also mean avoiding people who are negative or judgmental. Setting boundaries allows you to prioritize your own well-being and stay true to yourself.
As you progress through the process of embracing your true self, you will find that it takes a conscious effort to let go of unhealthy societal expectations and reconnect with what is true and meaningful to you. It can be a challenging process, but the rewards are worth it. You will uncover the freedom and inner peace that comes with discovering and celebrating your true self.
Finding Yourself (June 2023)
Among the foremost goals on the journey toward personal growth and development is finding yourself. Finding yourself is about discovering your values, passions, and purpose in life. It is about connecting with your true identity, exploring your inner self, and gaining full acceptance of who you are, with all of your attributes and flaws alike.
Finding yourself is a lifelong journey, with periods of progress and fulfillment along with times wrought with confusion, struggle, and even fear or self-doubt. Despite the highs and lows of the journey, the rewards of self-discovery can be life-changing. Below are some steps you can take to achieve a more authentic and meaningful life—to embark on a new chapter of learning, healing, peace, and connection with yourself.
Identify your values.
Your values include everything that is most important to you in life—people, ideas, beliefs, and goals, to name a few. Your personal values are your guiding principles. They shape your decisions and actions, and they are aligned with your goals and aspirations.
Take some time to identify your values, even if you think you already know what they are. You will likely be surprised at what you can discover about your values when you take time alone and reflect on what is most important and meaningful to you. Keep in mind, too, that your values can shift and change throughout your life. Some values can remain constant, while others can evolve or change entirely. This is why this exercise is so important as you go through the process of finding yourself.
Disconnect from technology.
You’ve heard this a million times, but it is a key component on the journey toward finding yourself. Most of us are constantly connected, and sometimes it can be overwhelming. To find yourself, it’s important to disconnect from technology, even if you can only achieve this for a few minutes throughout the day. In addition to technology breaks during working hours, try to establish a total technology break by a certain time every evening.
Rediscover and embrace your passions.
Your passions are the activities that bring you joy and fulfillment. Even if they are challenging, they don’t feel like a chore or a task that must get done. If you’ve been struggling to find what your passions truly are, think of the activities you do that make you feel “alive.” This is how many people describe how they feel when engaged in an activity that is their true passion.
Embrace your passions and make time for them in your life. Whether it’s building or creating something, learning, dedicating your time to a good cause, or some kind of physical pursuit, find ways to incorporate your passions into your daily routine.
Put yourself out there and explore new things.
Trying an activity that’s completely new to you can be a great way to discover who you are. These types of activities can often involve taking risks and leaving your comfort zone. For many people, exploring something new can involve traveling to a new place that you may not necessarily be drawn to, learning a new hobby, or meeting new people. The more diversity in your leisure activities, the more you will learn about yourself.
Set aside time to reflect on your past without judgment.
Past experiences—both the good and the bad ones—have shaped who you are today. Reflect on your past experiences, and think about what you have learned from them. Consider how they have helped you grow into the person you are today. Use this knowledge to inform your decisions and actions in the present and future.
Self-care is a central aspect of finding yourself.
Taking care of yourself is essential on this journey. Self-care involves tending to your physical, emotional, and mental health. Getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, eating healthy, and managing stress are some of the basics you can start with.
Many people critique the focus that is placed on self-care lately, claiming that self-care is a luxury only accessible to the privileged. While there is truth to this notion, it is still critical to incorporate at least some self-care to your daily life. It doesn’t need to be costly nor take up hours of your day. If your time is limited; if you’re stressed out and overwhelmed, and self-care seems farfetched, focus on staying consistent with one small self-care task daily.
Learn to love spending time alone.
Spending time alone can be a powerful tool for self-discovery. Take some time each day to be alone with yourself and your thoughts. Use this time to reflect on your day, on your experiences, and on thinking about your goals and aspirations.
Many people seek help on this journey.
Finding yourself can be challenging and confusing at times. You may go through moments of feeling like you aren’t making any progress. You may doubt this process and wonder if it is merely an unrealistic and unachievable pursuit.
Consider working with a therapist, coach, or mentor who can guide you. There are professionals and experienced healers that have been on this journey and devoted their lives to helping others do the same. They have experienced the highs and lows and can help you surpass and, especially, learn from the inevitable roadblocks that come with finding yourself. Remember: When you commit to this journey, your awareness broadens. You feel more; you look at yourself and your life, and you begin to ask more questions. This opens you up to an array of new thoughts and emotions. Seeking help can provide you with the support and confidence you need to navigate challenges and continue in your pursuit of connecting with your innermost self.
Finding Your Whole Self When You Feel Broken or Damaged (May 2023)
Life is a journey of ups and downs; a path in which we encounter moments when we may feel broken or damaged; lost and without options in the darkness of our own struggles.
These difficult moments bring so many opportunities for growth, allowing us to find ourselves and discover our inner strength and resilience. Within the depths of despair, we can always find a glimmer of hope—a chance to rediscover and embrace our whole selves. It is during these challenging times that we progress toward our higher selves, find healing, and discover our true essence. Feeling broken or damaged shows us just how human we are, as we share in an experience that touches all people at some point in their lifetime. At the same time, feeling broken or damaged shows us how we are so much more than our “human” self—so much more than the body; so much deeper than the human form that transports us through this lifetime.
In finding your whole self, it is critical to acknowledge your pain; validate it, and give yourself permission to feel. It’s normal and human to want to avoid sadness and other negative emotions, but true healing starts when we confront pain head-on. By allowing yourself to experience the depths of your emotions, you create space for healing, growth, and resilience. The vulnerability of feeling broken or damaged is what lays the foundation for finding your whole self.
It is also important to cultivate self-compassion as you discover your whole self. When you feel broken or damaged, it is easy to fall into becoming your own worst critic and blame yourself for the struggles you face or the losses you have experienced. Self-compassion is about treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would offer to a loved one in pain. It is about embracing your faults or imperfections and accepting mistakes as lessons on your journey—not reflections of who you are or your self-worth. Everyone confronts roadblocks and moments of loss, challenge, and failure. Compassion is how we find the strength to heal.
Surrounding yourself with a network of compassionate and understanding people who can provide guidance and encouragement can help immensely as you discover your whole self during difficult times. If you find yourself alone during this time, know that this is a common scenario for many people in times of transformation. Loneliness, or a loss of interest in talking to others, often accompanies periods of feeling broken or damaged. If possible, reach out to supportive people around you, whether in person or even virtually. Share your story, fears, and dreams with those who will listen without judgment. You can also express yourself by journaling or writing about your experience. Opening up and showing your vulnerability can be transformative. Sharing with others provides a sense of connection and reminds you that you are not alone. Through talking—or writing—about your feelings, you can discover new perspectives, insights, and tools to help you piece together the many aspects of who you are.
Finally, remember that finding your whole self is not a destination or a goal that is pursued and then completed at a specific point in time. There is no end point to discovering your whole self. Healing and self-discovery is an ongoing journey. Be gentle with yourself as you navigate the path ahead. Celebrate every achievement, and acknowledge that setbacks are a natural part of growth. Trust in your strength and believe in the power of your inner light to guide you.
Spring Spiritual Awakening:
New Beginnings & Connecting to Your Higher Self (April 2023)
Inviting a spiritual awakening to your life this Spring is a process of becoming aware of your unique spiritual nature and realizing the true essence of yourself. It is a journey of self-discovery that will lead you to a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness of all things and the universe.
A great way to open yourself to the infinite possibilities of a spiritual awakening, including opportunities and unexpected gifts from people and the universe, is to practice being present; being fully aware of the here and now. This is one of the key elements of this journey: learning to be present in the moment.
Being present in the moment means that you are fully engaged in the experience that you are having right now—whether it’s typing up a report for an upcoming deadline or taking an evening walk in your favorite nearby park. You’re not thinking about the past or worrying about the future. You are fully immersed in the present, experiencing it with all your senses. This can be a difficult thing to achieve in today's fast-paced world, where distractions are everywhere and we are constantly bombarded with stimuli that pull us away from the present moment.
One of the reasons why being present in the moment is so important on your spiritual awakening journey is that it helps you to connect with your true, higher self and develop greater knowledge and trust in this self. When we are not present, our minds are racing, and we are often caught up in negative thoughts and emotions. We become disconnected from our true essence, which is love, joy, and peace. By learning to be present in the moment, we can quiet our minds and connect with our inner selves. This can lead to a greater sense of peace, happiness, and fulfillment. As Eckhart Tolle said, “You find peace not by rearranging the circumstances of your life, but by realizing who you are at the deepest level.”
Another reason why being present in the moment is a critical part of a true spiritual awakening is that it helps us to connect with others on a deeper level. When you are present, you’re fully engaged in the conversation or activity that you’re sharing with others. You aren’t distracted by your own thoughts or worries. You are able to listen deeply and respond authentically. This can lead to more meaningful relationships and a greater sense of connectedness with yourself and others.
Below are some simple ways you can start fully immersing yourself in the here and now:
•Focus on your breath. One of the simplest and most effective ways to be present is to focus on your breathing. Take a few deep breaths and notice the sensation of the air moving in and out of your body. If your mind starts to wander, gently bring it back to your breath. Learning to stay present isn’t about trying to avoid intrusive thoughts or mental distractions. In fact, if or when your mind drifts, use it as an opportunity to practice self-acceptance and non-judgment. Bring yourself back to the present moment—to your breath.
•Engage your senses. Notice the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures around you. Pay attention to the details of your experience and savor the moment.
•Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment without judgment. It can be done through meditation, yoga, or simply by bringing your attention to the present moment throughout the day.
•Let go of distractions. One of the biggest obstacles to being present is distractions. Turn off your phone, computer, or TV and give yourself the space to be fully present in the moment. Think of the last time you did nothing, as in just sit down without a device in your hand or some kind of audio media playing in the background. Practice doing nothing as an exercise in letting go of distractions and experiencing the freedom that comes with this.
•Cultivate gratitude. Gratitude is the practice of appreciating the good things in your life. When you focus on what you are grateful for, you naturally become more present in the moment.
Learning to be present in the here and now is an essential part of a spiritual awakening journey. By learning to quiet your mind and connect with our higher self, you can experience greater peace, happiness, and fulfillment. You can also cultivate deeper relationships with others and a greater sense of community.
So take a deep breath, engage your senses, and allow yourself some time every day to let go of the thoughts of the past and worries of the future.
Enjoy the gift of now.
Why You Should Forget About ‘Finding Love’: Celebrating Yourself This Valentine’s Day & Focusing on Self-Love (February 2022)
Hearts, flowers, candy, and Cupid arrows decorating storefronts, pharmacies, and jewelry stores begin to bombard us just after New Year’s day. The bright pinks and reds, giant stuffed bears, and varieties of sweets depict a holiday of joy and sheer happiness, but the reality for many people—single or in a relationship—can be entirely different.
Valentine’s Day is triggering for many because it can awaken a variety of emotions; feelings that maybe you’ve been trying to avoid. However, with giant, singing Hallmark cards and chocolate covered everything all around you, it’s difficult to not think about your love life (or lack of); about issues with your existing relationship; or about your feelings of loss, loneliness, or sadness.
If reminders of Valentine’s Day stir up less-then blissful feelings, know that this is very normal and likely indicates that you are capable of being honest with yourself; that balloons and saran wrapped, heart shaped boxes don’t work to distract you from how you’re truly feeling about your love life or your relationship. However, it’s worth looking into the meaning you attach—or assign to—Valentine’s Day. Society tends to coerce us into believing that romantic partnership is the ultimate goal in life; the solution to loneliness and the only route to happiness; that finding that special someone will complete you. It’s no wonder, then, that being single or going through struggles in your current relationship elicits all sorts of unpleasant and even anxiety-provoking feelings. We are sort of brainwashed into believing that if we’re not purchasing—and/or receiving—the bouquets and other treats on the big love day, then we’re missing something significant; that we have a void that we have to make it a point to fill ASAP.
I believe that thanks to greater mental health awareness—strengthened and driven forward by the Internet and social media—people are catching on to the nonsense; to how unhealthy it is to even believe that you need to find a better half in order to be fulfilled. Love and partnership are certainly beautiful and meaningful aspects of life, but trying to find fulfillment and happiness from them is a recipe for self-development disaster. Sadly, you may also unknowingly drag your partner down with you, as a lot of dependency and pressure is placed on the relationship to fill those voids that really only you can gratify for yourself.
Self-love—and the ability to be alone and enjoy this state of being—are necessary prerequisites to a mutually satisfying romantic relationship. This Valentine’s Day, consider celebrating yourself, assessing what you may need to work on in order to strengthen yourself emotionally and mentally, and focus on building your self-love. This inner work will set the stage for how a potential romantic partner treats you and can even influence your relationship with a current romantic partner. When you value and respect yourself; when you have a positive opinion of who you are; and when you can treat yourself with compassion, you will seek out and find people who act the same way towards you. So, use this year’s love holiday to explore your innermost self. Rather than looking outward for fulfillment, discover how everything you need to be truly happy is in your hands. It’s not something you find out in the world or in someone else. It is within you, right now. Once you tap into true, inner happiness, and you can find satisfaction in your own company, a romantic relationship—love—will be a wonderful addition to your life. And yes, the hearts, flowers, and teddy bears will likely take on a whole new meaning, too.
Rethinking Your 2022 New Year’s Resolutions - January 2022 Edition
This is the “don’t make New Year’s resolutions” blog article that you probably never imagined you would find on the Internet; at least not on any type of emotional health and self-development platform.
If you do a quick Google search for guidance on making and keeping New Year’s resolutions, you’ll surely find thousands of articles, blogs, and self-help steps on how to make 2022 your year. These end-of-year promises are considered critical to making a fresh start; to setting goals for greater personal or professional success; and for igniting a sense of hope for new things to come. While setting the right resolutions for 2022 can help you accomplish all of these achievements, the reality is that sticking to your resolutions is the challenging part. Sadly, by mid- to end of January, many resolutions go down the drain, leaving people disappointed in themselves and feeling like they’ve failed at their chance to chase their dreams. What’s worse is that many feel they have to wait until next year to try again.
The truth is that in many ways, you might be setting yourself up for failure by making New Year’s resolutions to begin with. The issue often lies in these promises being very ambitious goals and dreams (which is not a bad thing), but if you don’t have a plan for the critical steps and habits needed to achieve those goals and dreams, then by February (or sooner), you will have likely forgotten the resolutions you wrote down on January 1st.
Here, we’ll provide you with an approach that is much more effective so you can set yourself up for success. It is possible to begin to enjoy goal attainment by February 2022 if you break down your New Year’s resolutions into smaller, actionable steps.
When it comes to goal attainment, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has some excellent, evidence-based strategies, which is just a term that means the technique has gone through research and has been tested many, many times before.
Begin by identifying (and listing, in writing) the goals you want to achieve for the new year. Next, assess where you are now. For example, let’s say you want to change jobs/careers or you want to dedicate time to a “side hustle” this coming year. Begin by identifying the new jobs you want to apply to, or maybe whether you need some additional education or training in order to change careers. In this step, you can even take it a bit further and write down some notes on the specific barriers that have interfered with your ability to switch careers in the past or to focus on that potential income-producing activity you’re passionate about.
This next step is key because this is often what is missing from New Year’s resolutions and also happens to precisely be what makes resolutions go wrong: The steps towards the goal; the breakdown of how you’ll accomplish the goal.
If you want to mean what you say and say what you mean when it comes to making an end-of-year commitment to yourself, then you must develop specific action steps to get you to your goal. The steps have to have built-in “protection” against any potential barriers to the ultimate goal.
For instance, when you identified the specific barriers to your goal in the second step, you now apply that information here as you develop your action steps. This, of course, doesn’t guarantee your success, but you definitely have a much better shot at achieving what you want. If a career change passion project is the goal and lack of time is one of your barriers, then one of your action steps should involve improving time management by creating a daily schedule. Get as down to the details as you can in this process and make sure that at least one of your steps towards your goals involves the development of a habit. Waking up and going to bed earlier (and maybe spending less time scrolling through your phone) are excellent time-management habits. If you think about it, this habit alone can make a huge difference in a career-change or side hustle goal because you might buy yourself an extra couple of hours every day.
The last and final step is to simply follow your plan! Follow those action steps you’ve created. Devote most of your New Year’s resolution planning time and energy on detailing and breaking down the steps that take you towards each of your goals. Create new habits and stick to them. It takes about 30 days for an action or activity to become a habit, so get started come January 1st. Better yet, why not start before New Year’s Eve? You make the rules when it comes to your 2022 resolutions. Start early, start strong, and stick to your steps.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
December 1, 2021
Our Latest Blog Entry
What Triggers Your Worst Holiday Blues?
Identifying & Coping with the Not-So-Jolly Feelings
that Can Arise this Season
The holiday blues are not an official mental health diagnosis, but maybe they should be. It’s a highly common affliction affecting many people, triggering sadness, worry, emotionally painful memories, or loneliness. The ongoing pandemic has likely left us all at heightened risk of experiencing at least a bit of holiday depression. For some, the holiday blues can strike severely.
It can be tough when the spirit of the season is in the air, but you’re struggling to get on board with all the merriness. It’s common to also feel a bit of frustration, too, because maybe you actually enjoy the holidays, and you feel you’re missing out on the special moments that will soon pass come January and the new year. If only you could shake off the blues and soak in the sights, scents, and joy of the season.
Lost loved ones, COVID, and financial or employment-related strain are likely among the top 3 trigger categories for the blues right now. If you’re missing someone or deeply grieving a loss; if you have fears of going out due to infection risk; if you live in an area under strict restrictions; or if spending money is low right now, the holiday blues can certainly set in.
Don’t be afraid to allow those holiday blues feelings to come to the surface. It’s actually far more beneficial to allow feelings to come up rather than avoiding them as they do their damage in the background, robbing you of quality of life. Remember that feelings are temporary. In the moment, it doesn’t feel this way, but if you allow yourself to fully embrace the blues, your mind and body will immediately begin the healing process. Expressing emotions heals emotions. Bottling up holiday depression will only leave you feeling down through the month of December, and maybe beyond. Below are some helpful coping methods you can apply as you go through the emotional ups and downs of the season.
•If you’re doing any gift-giving this season, set a realistic budget. Many people who have been financially impacted by the pandemic have opted to give homemade or simple store bought food items as gifts, which can be given on a one-per-household basis and are much less costly than other, non-food holiday gifts. It’s important to accept that funds are low this year because our worlds have been turned upside down by a deadly virus! Keep things in perspective so you can avoid feeling guilty or down about having less cash flow this season. Material things are fun, but remember to also use this time to focus on what’s truly important.
•Dedicate more time to rest, self-care, and downtime. Holiday blues are often triggered by loneliness and not having enough to do, but sometimes, being too busy and on-the-go all the time can be triggering for many people. If this is the case for you, schedule in some holiday self-care time every day. If you’re under restrictions, or if the sting of loneliness is what gets you down, get creative and plan some of your favorite holiday activities, only amended a bit to fit your current circumstances. Things might not be perfect or the same, but you can still use this time to push yourself a bit to make the most of what you have available—what you can do. You can still use the resources you have to make the holidays fun and memorable. Look around you with an open mind.
•Express gratitude, even if you’re not fully feeling it. Acknowledging what you do have this holiday season can help to ward off negative thoughts related to what’s missing or not the same this year. Every day in the month of December, think of just one thing you are grateful for and write it down somewhere visible to you—like on your desk or maybe set it as an ongoing notification on your smartphone. Directing your thoughts towards what you are grateful for significantly alters your mood and outlook. It can even turn your blues around entirely.
Remember that your healing may not necessarily come from beating the holiday blues, but instead, acknowledging difficult and painful emotions, expressing them, and allowing yourself to heal. Going through the blues this December may provide you with a whole new perspective as you grow in greater understanding of your emotional struggles and triggers and seek out new ways to heal from the burdens of the past year.
Our Latest Blog Entry
The Value of Giving Thanks: How Gratitude Can Enhance Emotional Health - November 1, 2021
Giving thanks this holiday season has a significant and unique meaning. Similar to last year, Thanksgiving 2021 will bring us a lot to reflect on as we end year two of a pandemic that has brought so much hardship, loss, and struggle.
Aside from the fact that gratitude is important for personal and spiritual self-development, research has demonstrated significant mental health-promoting and healing benefits of giving thanks. Whether you’ve struggled with depression or anxiety, or just experience typical daily stressors, spending time every day reflecting on (or journaling about) what you are most grateful for in your life works as prevention and/or minimizes the impact of negative thoughts and emotions. Plus, research has found that practicing daily gratitude has a cumulative effect—meaning that you’ll reap more mental health rewards with time and practice.
There is a reality about gratitude that cannot go unmentioned; the fact that during challenging times, many of us simply don’t feel it. In the back of our minds, we know we should count our blessings, particularly when the holidays roll around; when we’re gathered around the dinner table, sharing quality time with loved ones, and reflecting on how we are so much better off than a lot of people despite the issues we’ve faced the past couple of years. However, if the pandemic has brought you your fair share of difficulties, you might feel a form of empathy fatigue—or even gratitude fatigue—whereby you struggle to acknowledge the plight of others and have trouble seeing the positives in your own life because your burdens have been weighing heavily on you, maybe for a long time now.
If you feel like you’re in a bit of a gratitude rut as Thanksgiving and the holiday season approaches, here are a few ideas that can help you express—and feel—more thankful for enhanced emotional wellbeing.
•Write a gratitude letter every day. Aim to write one starting now until the end of the holidays. Jot it down on paper or type it up on your computer or smartphone. Research has shown that this simple exercise stimulates certain brain regions and has lasting effects on the brain, alleviating negative thinking, stress, and helping you to more easily express gratitude down the line. You can read more about this interesting gratitude study here.
•Express your “thanks” to loved ones, even for small, daily actions or routine gestures. Verbalizing gratitude for actions you typically may not acknowledge serves to remind you of the support and love you have in your life. This act also impacts those around you, prompting your loved ones to be grateful to you and others in return. The pandemic has brought many work-related and financial stressors, which for many people means less spending and less buying during the upcoming holiday season. This small act of gratitude is an excellent way to remind yourself of the importance of who—not what—you have in your life.
•Spend a little time remembering where you were and how far you’ve come. Although you have likely experienced many moments during the pandemic that you’d like to forget, it’s important to dedicate some time to thinking back to the struggles you have overcome, what your life difficulties have taught you, and how far you’ve come now. These reflections will fill you with gratitude, motivating and inspiring you to continue pushing forward with the courage, strength, and resilience that you’ve gained through life’s challenges.
Our Latest Blog Entry
Coping with Change - October 1, 2021
Knowing how to cope with and adapt to change is likely the single most effective method to prevent stress, anxiety, depression, and to overall enjoy better quality of life. While the uncertainty that comes with change can trigger a variety of emotions—from fear to sadness, dread, grief, or even total avoidance of the impending transition—change is also what brings so much beauty, joy, and meaning to life. Without it, we wouldn’t have opportunities to learn and to experience growth and progress. Many people consider themselves as having a total aversion to change. This is a quite common circumstance that typically stems from negative experiences you’ve had with change where you endured a great loss or, you might have not had the coping skills at the time to fully manage it. However, it’s likely that you’ve also enjoyed many positive encounters with change where it has improved your life in one or more ways. Nonetheless, it’s the negative confrontations with change that can stay with you, often being very traumatic even. It’s the hardships and the scars caused by change that can leave you feeling like you’re totally unequipped to handle any sort of deviation from your current way of life.
Think of the most recent, major life event you experienced that involved change and that impacted you emotionally. Maybe it was the loss of a job or of a relationship; the death of a loved one; a big failure, setback, or disappointment; having to move to another city or maybe facing major financial or health struggles. These are all examples of some the most difficult life events that involve change—sometimes a total, drastic change from the previous security, comfort, or happiness you enjoyed. If you examine this major life event—and you consider what exactly made the change so difficult and distressing for you—it’s likely that your resistance to the change had a lot to do with the emotional toll it took on you.
Resistance is, of course, a normal and very natural human response. In fact, it is biologically engrained in human beings to resist change because, long ago, before the modern times that we now know, human beings had to work much harder to maintain their own survival and that of their loved ones. Threats that are now one in a million—or non-existent—were common causes of death or serious injury for much of humanity in generations past. Moving from a piece of land from one side of a mountain to another, for instance, was a change that, for our ancestors, represented many unknowns, such as whether or not there would be access to water, food, appropriate shelter, and safety from enemy tribes. Nowadays, although moving is a change that can be stressful and also full of many unknowns, it’s not a threat to our survival in the same way it was for our ancestors. A major change thousands of years ago represented a very real threat to safety and wellbeing. So, sameness, routine, and structure meant that life was predictable and predictability ensured survival.
Today, our way of life is drastically different because we don’t have those same threats to our survival that existed long ago. But, we are, in many ways, genetically very similar to our ancestors, meaning that we are prewired to dislike and avoid change. Another major difference between now and way back, thousands of years ago, is that in our current civilization, we actually need to be able to approach change and cope with it in order to progress and succeed. So, a sort of opposite scenario has taken place whereby those who embrace change are now more likely to enjoy a better life in many respects. Embracing change is the new way to survive.
How to Start Embracing Change
It’s a bit challenging, at first, to work against what we are very much biologically programmed to do, but so long as you understand that part of being human is to resist change, then you’ll be able to go around many of your human tendencies. This is essentially how you can reprogram yourself away from the biological drives of fear and avoidance of the unfamiliar to instead, reinforcing a desire to try out and experience new things. Sure, change won’t always result in positive outcomes—the hardships will still be there sometimes—but so long as you appreciate the greater importance of embracing change, you’ll be able to gradually get comfortable with approaching it without fear. Below, we’ll discuss 4 critical strategies that can help you not only cope with change, but also invite it into your life.
1)Practice acceptance as a way of mentally preparing yourself for all the possible outcomes that can result from change; good or “bad.” This way, your fear and avoidance of change will diminish and ultimately, disappear. Acceptance involves a mindset shift where you begin to look at all life circumstances and situations with an attitude of nonresistance. Acceptance is your willingness to go with the flow, but not in a passive, I-don’t-care, apathetic way. Instead, you commit to putting forth your maximum effort and energy into everything you do, but then you willingly allow circumstances to play out and for life to take its course. This mindset also involves a lot of trust and a belief that what is meant for you—and what is best for you—will be.
2) Get prepared and plan ahead. Yes, you can practice acceptance, but still plan ahead for upcoming changes so that you’re ready to take on the new things in store for you. You can prepare for change and plan ahead by setting goals; anticipate potential issues and roadblocks and work on solutions; asking others for help or advice; or making sure to keep other aspects of your life pretty structured and predictable so that you can just focus on the one, major area where you’re undergoing change.
3)Remember your strengths by always reminding yourself of who you are. Whenever something in your life causes you stress, worry, or fear, remind yourself of your personal strengths, qualities, and attributes. Focus on the tools you have—not on what you lack—to confront those issues that feel so much bigger and more powerful than you. Fear can make you feel small, but this is an illusion that is very much fueled by those biological drives that try to convince you to stay away from uncertainty and anything unknown. This is, after all, the purpose of fear—it’s an internal warning that functions to make you want to run back to your safety zone where you’re more likely to “survive.” Reminding yourself of your power—of your strengths—helps you to snap out of that illusion and back into the reality that you have what it takes to handle the change in front of you.
4)Allow yourself to feel afraid, overwhelmed, or saddened about change. Your journey towards accepting and coping with change isn’t linear, and you’re not supposed to be enthusiastic about change all the time. Learning to cope with change and implementing these strategies isn’t about perfection or a flawless performance all the time. In fact, the real proof of your strength and ability to handle change lies in those moments when you want to run away from it—when you want to stay within the safe confines of what you know—but you challenge yourself to push through the fear and embrace change instead.
September 9, 2021
Our Second Blog Entry
Coping with COVID Stress:
Part II of the Pandemic We Thought Was Behind Us
Just when healthy and safety restrictions were becoming more lenient, businesses were starting to pick up again, and we were beginning to enjoy mask-less outings, COVID cases have begun to not only increase, but rise in a manner very similar to last year. In many ways, the 2021 pandemic is more concerning, given the fact that this time around, many Americans are vaccinated, but we’re still faced with variants of COVID that put us all at risk.
We’ve learned so much from the struggles of last year. We’re far more prepared, knowledgeable, and able to cope with the possibility of a repeat of 2020, but then there are the ongoing debates—about masks, vaccination mandates, school protocols—that escalate the already present
stress and uncertainty we all feel. It’s dizzying—and frustrating. Below we will discuss some of the most common 2021 COVID stressors and how you can use the valuable lessons from last year to cope now.
If you’re feeling emotionally exhausted, worried, and overwhelmed by it all, know that it’s not a sign of your inability to cope.
In fact, COVID stress—and the negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions that come with it—is a very normal response to the paradox and chaos of the past year-and-a-half. In your continued effort to get through these tough times, make sure to regularly acknowledge and validate the fact that you should feel the toll of these strange times we’re experiencing—and of the financial, social, emotional, and personal consequences of this seemingly endless pandemic.
When you acknowledge and validate your struggles, you make room for, and allow yourself to express thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Letting emotions out—and continuously reminding yourself that it’s okay to have them—paves a path towards coping in a healthy manner; towards acceptance of what you can’t control; and ultimately, towards recovery and resilience. So, be gentle with yourself when feelings and emotions are intense, when your thoughts become negative, or when you feel hopeless. Use these moments to observe and reflect on what you’re thinking and feeling. Give yourself some compassion. You’ll be amazed at how temporary thoughts, feelings, and emotions really are, and the healing effects of allowing them to just be.
The upcoming inevitable circumstances: Back to school, colder weather, and more time indoors.
The “big 3” stressors for most people right now include the start of the new school year, the change of season, and an overall decrease in outdoor activities. Since last year, we’ve learned that the more time we spend breathing the same, circulated air as others, the greater our likelihood of getting infected. Avoiding crowds and being outdoors are protective factors against COVID infection—protective factors that many people may not have access to pretty soon.
While you might not be able to avoid certain settings and scenarios (e.g., sending your child to school, going to work), you can still control (and minimize) your exposure to other non-essential activities. This is the best way to cope with the other circumstances you can’t avoid—by focusing on and working with what you can realistically control and prevent. What causes many people to put themselves at risk, even in situations where they do have a choice, are certain attitudes/mindsets that portray a sort of “I give up,” outlook. Consider whether one or more of the following statements sound like something you’ve either said to yourself or out loud lately.
•This pandemic will never end. I can’t stay locked up forever.
•I haven’t gotten sick so far, so I should be fine.
•I’m vaccinated now, so I can go back to my regular, pre-COVID activities.
•I already expose myself to so many people at work, so what difference does it make if I go out?
While there is some truth to these words, these attitudes/mindsets have one main thing in common: They feed into an overall lack of acceptance of the way things are right now and they enable apathy and helplessness. Although this pandemic feels like it’s been going on forever—and seems as if it will never go away—remember that nothing stays the same. The pandemic is a passing stressor like all others. Difficulties and struggles come in and out of our lives; they are temporary states that have a function and purpose; that teach us important life lessons and help us to develop resilience. Remind yourself of the transient nature of the current sacrifices we all have to make. This will help you to adapt, accept, and cope.
We’re all dealing with our own stress and other people’s stress, too.
All you have to do is take a brief look at the comments on a Twitter or Instagram post about COVID and you can get a glimpse of how highly charged people’s emotions are; the extent of the polarization that’s present regarding COVID-related opinions; and most of all, the impact the pandemic has had on people’s emotional health.
Despite masks, social distancing, and the availability of the vaccine, infection rates continue to increase—as does the ongoing conflict among people with differing views. Those who are not involved in the conflict are just trying to survive right now; keep themselves and their families safe; and stay afloat mentally and emotionally. It can be confusing and frustrating to witness people focusing on—and fighting over—topics like mask wearing and vaccination.
A very helpful way to cope is by doing what you can to detach from the madness—stay away from, or do your best to avoid, conversation topics, places, media, and people that trigger negativity, feed into pointless drama, and drain your energy.
Now more than ever, it’s critical to be very guarded of who or what you let in. Instead, place your attention and energy on the people, places, and things that inspire and motivate you, and that bring you joy and meaning.
As we learned from last year, when many of the distractions that keep us occupied are gone, we’re called to turn inward, reflect, enjoy simplicity, discover sources of gratitude, and focus on our personal growth and self-development.
From Penny's Desk...
An ongoing series of informational entries
Our First Blog Entry
Empty Nest Syndrome Explained - August 29, 2021
The transition of going off to college and taking that big step into adulthood should be a meaningful and joyous time for both children and parents. The child, who is now a young adult, is finally spreading his or her wings and starting a life of their own. As for the parent, there is certainly nostalgia as they experience this emotional milestone alongside their child, but there is also a sense of achievement in having completed a significant duty as a parent as they guide their child towards independence. However, as poetic as this moment may seem, it’s not always an easy transition for parents when they must cope with the absence of their child. The “empty nest” leaves parents with feelings of loneliness, sadness, and loss, as much of the identity of a parent lies in parenting their child for nearly two decades. These feelings, and a temporary loss of identity, are so common, and so impacting to the lives of parents. that they have been labeled the empty nest syndrome.
The Environment of the Empty Nest
Empty nest syndrome is considered a transient emotional state, occurring when parents are no longer the primary, full-time caregivers of their young adult children. This transition can cause them to experience various negative feelings and emotions. Feeling some degree of sadness is expected as children leave home, but the empty nest syndrome is characterized by more intense emotions that last a longer period of time and can often adversely impact other areas of the parents’ daily functioning.
Empty nest syndrome can be viewed as an adjustment disorder, where parents must adjust to a new life where they are no longer full-time parents to their child, which can dissolve much of their identity and sense of self. Empty nest syndrome can occur on a spectrum of severity, from mild to severe, with its symptoms ranging from occasional sadness to more severe symptomology similar to that of disorders like clinical depression. Major Depressive Disorder is more prevalent among empty nest older adults.
Risk and Protective factors For Empty Nest Syndrome
Women are often more likely to suffer from empty nest syndrome. However, this risk factor is likely more strongly related not to gender, but to primary caregiving status. Another risk factor related to women is the timing of children leaving home, which often coincides with menopause for many women. The hormonal changes that occur among some women during menopause may, at times, place women at risk for mental health concerns like depression. When other life stressors, like children leaving home, are present, depression may worsen. Another risk factor among mothers includes a history of struggling emotionally when weaning the child from breastfeeding. Other risk factors that can apply to male or female parents includes retirement, unemployment, a poor relationship between parents, or separation of parents. For children of divorced parents, the same risks factor applies if each parent has relationship difficulties with their respective partners.
The protective factors that can help parents cope with an empty nest include professional and personal fulfillment, the regular practice of hobbies and activities, and having support from friends, family, and their local community.
How to Cope
Sadness and loneliness are normal, human expressions of love and longing for loved ones, particularly children who have grown up and are creating lives of their own. It is important for parents to bear in mind that these feelings should be expressed, validated, and processed.
Since prevention is the best medicine for many ailments, both physical and emotional, it can be particularly helpful to anticipate empty nest syndrome, especially if among parents who display some of the risk factors and possibly not enough of the protective factors. Anticipating this natural stage in a child’s life helps parents to prepare ahead of time, put coping skills in place, and gradually get to a place where they can accept the change that is to come and support their child during this transition.
It is important for parents to begin to discover personal pursuits and activities that bring meaning and passion to their lives. Since social support is so essential during the process of assimilating an empty nest, parents should begin connecting or reconnecting with friends, family members, or maybe other empty nesters, too.
A growth mindset is an extremely beneficial coping strategy, which involves perceiving and interpreting life challenge as opportunities for growth, rather than as a problem or an obstacle. Coping by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and practicing daily self-care can improve or prevent empty nest syndrome. Physical activity is an excellent habit for preventing or targeting mental health issues triggered by empty nest syndrome. Many parents benefit greatly from using their new-found empty nest to rekindle their romance with their partner.
In addition to these coping strategies, many parents also benefit from seeking professional counseling services. Mental health professionals can guide and assist parents through adjusting to this new chapter in their lives.
One of the greatest difficulties parents have when coping with empty nest syndrome is the vivid realization of the quick passage of time. Parents often express that it was only yesterday that their child was starting Kindergarten, graduating from middle school, or learning how to drive. The memories of their child’s growth and development brings about intense emotions, from profound gratitude, joy, and pride to deep feelings of grief and loss. While the emotional pain is intensely felt, the empty nest is also representative of many new beginnings for parents and their child alike.
We are here to help if needed… call us at (516) 804-0448. www.counselingservicesofli.com