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Telling Your Story

Telling Your Story

Telling Your Story

I recently wrote a guest post for The Cheerful Word on what it means to take a deeper look at your life story.  I also just came back from a few days in WI, where I grew up.  This trip had me thinking about my story and what informs my success, experience, challenges, relationships etc.   Since I recently wrote about the power of telling your story, I thought I would take a shot at telling some of my story.

In this post you’ll learn a bit about my background, my family and the Midwest.  If you haven’t been to the Midwest, then you should go.  Yes, I know it’s not on the way to anything.  However, lots of good pockets of entertaining cities as well as beautiful countryside and friendly people.  If you do go, don’t go in the winter time.  The summers are great though.   The picture for this post is actually right down the street from the farm I grew up on.  So, why does this matter for this post?  I am telling this story because I think the lessons are valuable things to highlight regarding personal development and self-improvement.  Since this blog is all about individual and organizational self-improvement, I thought this would be a good fit.

Once a year my grandmother hosts a party “Christmas in July” (actually August this year).   It used to be a Christmas party actually held in December but due to conflict with weather, we moved it.  It’s mostly family and close friends that have been friends with the family for decades, some many decades.  It’s a great chance to reconnect with people I don’t get to see often, but have spent time with for most of my life.

Whenever I go home I also have the opportunity to connect with some of my oldest friends, which is great. Through this process of reconnecting with old friends and family members, I was thinking I have much to be grateful for.  Below are some highlighted areas of gratitude and lessons I appreciate.  My guess is that this will resonate with some of you.

Some of the things I’m grateful for that I was reminded of while back in WI this last weekend –

Work Ethic – Whenever I go back to “the farm” (my family still owns the farm I grew up on) there are endless requests for help.  Although some may argue, this is actually something I’m grateful for.  Having grown up on a farm where there is always something to work on, taught me how to work hard and I think gave me a positive work ethic.  This is a quality that I see as being crucial in all the role models I have had over the years and in those that are truly successful.  Hard work pays off, always.

Humor – My friends and family are hilarious…or at least we think so.  Whenever there is a larger gathering there are usually no dull moments.   Humor can be so helpful in de-stressing, changing perspective or shifting the tone of a day.  I can often get too analytical and serious with things.  I am so grateful for my friends and family, who always put a smile on my face.

Nature – Being in a rural environment just feels more relaxing sometimes.  Even though my family’s farm is filled with work, it is also filled with a sense of relaxation and beauty.  Not being surrounded by commerce, vehicles and constant advertising is a great way to refuel and gather a new sense of energy.   It can be so easy to get swept away with the “to do” lists and constant distraction from media, technology and fast moving pace we set ourselves at.   Being closer to nature often allows me to take a step back, take a deep breath and remain grounded.

These are a just a few pieces of my story that I am grateful for.

What lessons or pieces of gratitude do you have from your story?

Share or comment below.

Thanks,

Michael

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Self Care

Self Care

 

Self care does not often come up as being a priority in our world of high expectations, busy schedules, constant distractions and technological bombardment. However, there is a shift happening with the awareness about the importance of self care.

As we build our understanding about the biology and neuroscience behind behavior, emotions, productivity, focus and fatigue we continue to bridge the gap between body and mind.  Some research implies that self care not only has an impact on one’s ability to perform but also an impact on organizations as a whole, as it relates to overall function.

Often times stress leads to conflict.  When we are stressed our patience is more limited.  So when we have conflict with loved ones, co-workers or the general public, our ability to respond appropriately is reduced.  The solution to this may be to take time out to care for yourself, so that you can reduce stress.

This is not surprising news.  When we feel better, can think clearly and are less stressed, we are more effective human beings.   So, regardless of what you do and what industry you are in, consider making your own care a priority.

I know that in my work, the better I feel the better I am at my work and relationships.   Since I initiated a more regimented self care routine, I have gained more clarity, productivity and a calmer presence.  But you shouldn’t take my word for it, or the research available.  Experiment, and see what you find when you start making yourself a priority!

Ways to Take Time Out for Yourself

Physical – Lifting weights, running, walking, snowboarding/skiing, surfing, take a class (spinning, cross fit, yoga, martial arts, Zumba etc.), hike, bike and sex.

Relational – Spend time with your family, partner and friends, go to a concert, get involved in a regular hobby or group oriented activity or sport.

Reflective – Journal, meditation, listen to music, go for a walk, deep breathing exercise, read.

General Health – 8+ hours of sleep per night, drink lots of water, eat nutritious whole foods.

What other ways can you take care of yourself?

Challenge of the Week!

  • List out your weekly self-care routine or goal.
  • Tag someone on social media that you think is interested in the challenge.
  • Share this post with the person you tagged.
  • Feel good about expanding awareness of why we should be taking care of ourselves so that we can take care of each other!

Cheers,

Michael

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The Importance of Gratitude

The Importance Gratitude

 

I was on a flight last week heading out to California for what I expected to be a very transformational conference, and it was.  I was excited to be going in the first place but returned with even more gratitude.  The conference was called – The Most Awesome Conference, and indeed it was.  It was put on by a group of savvy therapists, consultants and business strategists.  This conference was unique, not only did we get to hear presentations on important strategies of running a business but we got to participate in creating new ways to market, promote and manage our business.  The amount of connection and support I felt from this weekend conference was intense. I was reminded of the importance of gratitude.  It is with this gratitude that I continue to be propelled forward.

I would like to give thanks to the following people for putting together such a great weekend full of learning, laughter and action! A special thanks to – Joe Sanok of Practice of the Practice, Kelly & Miranda of Zynnyme, Dr. Julie Hanks, Jo Muirhead, Mari Lee of Growth Counseling, Ernesto  Segismundo of Fylmit.com, and all the wonderful attendees of The Most Awesome Conference!

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from them and to have had the chance to share ideas and explore how to build the field of counseling, coaching and consulting.

I reference this story for a few reasons –

  • It is important to me to be thankful.
  • Gratitude can improve our lives socially, psychologically, and even physically.
  • Gratitude impacts others, thus impacting the world!

Three reasons why expressing gratitude may be beneficial to you

  1. According to Robert Emmons, a leading researcher on gratitude, there are a number of benefits from offering regular gratitude including – stronger immune system, higher levels of positive emotions, more forgiving attitude and less feelings of isolation.

  2. Gratitude can have an impact on your relationships. According to John Gottman, a leading expert in marital relationships, it is very important for a couple to maintain a ratio of more positive interactions than negative, for the marriage to be successful.

  3. Gratitude has an impact on others around you. If you want to make a difference in how you interact with others, consider adding an element of gratitude. This shift in interaction style may have a great impact on your relationships and communication.  Others are more likely to respond to gratitude than discontent.

When I think of the times in my life that have been particularly challenging, one of the things that brings me back from feeling like nothing is working, is to be thankful for all that I have.   The truth is that when we cut out all the things we have from the things we need, most of us are richer than we think.

So the question at times may be – “What am I grateful for?”  This may be an easier or harder question to answer, depending on the day. However, just like everything, if you practice it becomes easier.  So, please see the following challenge –

Challenge of the Week!

  • Think of someone or something you are grateful for and why.
  • Express this gratitude by writing a small thank you message and tagging them via social media.
  • Share this post.
  • Move through the day with ease.

Thankfully,

Michael

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How to Reduce the Stigma of Therapy

 

How to Reduce the Stigma of Therapy

During the last 100 years or so there has been an interesting evolution regarding the helping professions.  The stigma around seeking help for guidance is a somewhat unusual cultural phenomenon.  In most cultures, seeking guidance is a relatively accepted and supported endeavor and has been for many years.   For a more detailed exploration of stigma as it relates both to mental health as well as stigma towards seeking professional help, see this article on Help Seeking from the British Psychological Society. In this article there are many examples of sited research, as well as interventions, to help to reduce stigma of seeking help.  Some research suggests that normalizing issues that people are facing may help to reduce stigma for seeking help.  So the purpose of this post is to provide some anecdotal information from my own experience to help normalize seeking help.

Here are some reasons I have seen in my own practice that may impact how seeking help becomes stigmatized, as well as how to reduce the stigma of therapy.

Throwing out the baby with the bathwater –

I have come across many people over the course of the last decade who say that they tried therapy and didn’t like their therapist.  Not having a connection to the therapist is an important factor to consider.  Research shows that the goodness of fit or “therapeutic alliance” (how well you connect with your therapist) is one of the largest predictors for change.  So if we know that the connection experienced between therapist and client is so important, then this should be a focus.  Unfortunately, often time’s people will see a therapist that they don’t connect with, only attend briefly and then assume that therapy is not effective. This may be due to the therapist not checking in with the client or the client not having the understanding of the importance of this dynamic, but it does happen.  If you are looking for ways to explore the “goodness of fit” in more detail, see this article on How to Choose a Therapist.   An important thing to keep in mind when looking at therapy is that therapists are like many other professionals, there are great ones, good ones and ones that may not be the best fit for you.  To offer a comparison – if you hire a plumber and they do a bad job, would the assumption be to discount plumbing altogether or call a new plumber?

Therapy doesn’t work –

Sometimes people go to therapy once or twice or maybe three times and then assume that nothing is happening, so it obviously doesn’t work.  I often have the conversation with clients about how to get the most out of a therapy.  My hope is that these conversations take place in most therapy offices.  The truth is that when you have meetings with a therapist they are typically only one hour.  This also means that whatever is discussed in therapy may take implementation and practice outside of the therapy office.  For change to occur, practice and patience are important.  There may be times where someone continues to attend appointments even though they feel that nothing is changing for them.  Whatever the feeling is, bring it up with your therapist and see what is missing.   Remember, if something is not working, try to identify why, and fix it.

These problems aren’t bad enough –

We all have similar problems, to a certain extent.  We definitely all have things we are stressed about, are scared of, are hopeful for, are insecure about etc.   Therapy does not have to be only for those struggling with something that society deems “serious.”   Fortunately many people see therapy as an opportunity to self actualize, seek understanding of one’s self, process something confusing, determine what is most valuable to them or many other reasons outside of the context of exploring pain, trauma or dysfunction.  Therapy is not for sick people.  Therapy is an open platform to explore whatever you decide is important.  I repeat, whatever YOU decide is important.   People seek guidance and empowerment for a variety of reasons and the depth and importance of those reasons only get to be decided by the individual.   Reducing the stigma of therapy can be accomplished through recognizing a few simple statements:

It’s OK to take a look at who we are.

It’s OK to explore what is working and what isn’t working.

It’s OK to want to make changes to better ourselves.

Best,

Michael

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The 100 Day Intention Experiment – Part 1

 

The 100 Day Intention Experiment

 

About two months ago I was involved in an accident.  Since this accident I’ve had lots of questions, first of which was how did I survive. I had slipped and fallen off of a high waterfall and landed in about 1.5 feet of water, but mostly rock.  When my friends arrived down to where I had fallen, the look on their faces was as if they had seen a ghost.   Thankfully they were able to help me hike out of the woods.  I’m lucky to have such great friends.   The waterfall was 75 feet.  I managed to grab some branches and rocks on the way down so the free fall was only 30 feet or so.  I went over the falls head first, but managed to turn myself around and point my feet down so that I was falling vertically.  I am very thankful for years of martial arts training that taught me to relax and focus during times of stress.  I believe it was this ability to focus, as well as being able to relax and exhale on impact that helped to reduce trauma.   After a series of x-rays it was determined that I didn’t even break anything.  It was a miracle.   I’m still working on rehabbing my ankles and knees, but overall I’m good.

This post is less about that story and more about what this experience pushed me towards.  Like I said, I’ve had lots of thoughts since this accident; gratitude, curiosity, wonder, fear etc.  One thought that has come up regularly is intention.  The experience made me ask a great question – “How intentional are my moments, days, weeks and general direction?”  So I decided to create an intention experiment.

I definitely have lots of good things going on right now and am busy, but wasn’t as intentional as I would like, so I changed.  Today is day 50 of a 100 day experiment I decided to start.  This experiment was inspired by my study of daily practices in graduate school, my martial arts practice and an inspirational story I heard about a man named Hal Elrod.    If you don’t know Hal’s story, you should look into it.  He wrote a book called The Miracle Morning, which is also worth checking out.  The idea is about setting a routine at the first part of the day that then sets the tone for the rest of the day, physically and mentally.   So, why 100 days?  It seemed like a nice round number and also enough time to form a new habit, which is my goal.

Having a daily practice is not something new for me.  However, I haven’t had a regular routine like this that is regimented and covers a few different focal points.  I want to share the routine because I’ve found it to be so helpful.   The order has had some variation but for the most part this is how it goes:

  • I wake up, brush my teeth, splash some water on my face and sometimes put in my contacts.
  • I do 10 minutes of seated meditation. The meditation I do is mostly just focused on relaxation and how I’m breathing.   I do this first because I’ve noticed that I recall my dreams much better, which often times there are some nuggets of inspiration there for me.
  • A short warm up, stretching and moving and then into a Tai Chi form that I have been practicing for the last 7 years or so. I think I’m at the point now finally that I can do this form and feel like a beginner.  There is so much to the art of Tai Chi, but that’s for another post.
  • I then start a Chi Kung which I have also been practicing for some time now. Chi Kung is another kind of meditation.
  • I do about 10-15 minutes of movement that helps to get my blood flowing even more. Usually this consists of martial arts forms/movements/stances, pushups, pull ups, sit ups and some stretching.
  • To wrap it up I journal. The journaling usually has three elements.
    • I write about whatever mood I wake up in or what’s on my mind.
    • I write about my dreams I remember and what kind of meaning I can draw from them.
    • Most importantly, I write about my intention for the day. I find that writing my goals and what I intend to accomplish for the day has been a powerful exercise for me.  Sometimes I write down intentions for longer term goals as they relate to what is happening currently.

Since I started this routine I’ve noticed some really great opportunities develop in my business, I have been feeling better physically and seem to be more productive.  This may just be coincidence, although I don’t believe that.  I do believe that creating clear goals and intentions for our time, creates results.  I have noticed that my time has been spent more focused.  This routine has helped me get clear about the direction of my business as well as directions and goals I am taking on personally.

I really believe having a daily practice has so much to offer.   My story and practice is unique, just like yours.  Starting the day with focus on mental clarity, physical health and intention seems to be a great recipe for success.  It works well for me because I’ve incorporated some practices that I already love.  Combining practices that I really enjoy with ones that are harder to do (especially in the morning) has been a good mix. I look forward to reflecting on this practice after another 50 days.

What is your recipe for success?

Best,

Michael

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Mind and Body Connection: Healthy Body Healthy Mind

 

Body Mind Connection Healthy Body Healthy Mind


When I was in graduate school one of the concentrations I had was called Body Centered Therapy.  This program is described as “a program designed to prepare students with an understanding of creative and expressive processes within the context of the mind and body connection”.   I look back on my experience in graduate school fondly and continue to learn more and more about this idea of body and mind connectivity.  This is a large topic with lots of debate and areas of discussion.  I am writing this article as a short introduction to this idea, with some examples of how body and mind are connected.

In my professional experience there certainly seems to be a connection between an individual’s physical experience and emotional well-being.  For example, the article HERE points to the fact that there may be a physical component related to the onset of depression, but this generally speaking is not a new finding.  Research has been connecting physical experience with mental health issues for many years. For example, this article by the National Institute of Mental Health reviews some of the conclusions related to diabetes and depression.  A great map of physical experiences brought on by depression can be found HERE.  There are often connectivity examples between depression or anxiety and physical symptoms resulting from them.  We commonly understand that anxiety and depression can bring on physical symptoms of stomach ache, sweating, headache or a number of other symptoms.

It seems that the more we understand about connectivity between experience, thought, behavior and emotion, the more we may gravitate towards a mind and body connection paradigm.  Popular culture tends to separate body and mind, but many believe this is shifting.  Depression is a condition that impacts how we feel, think and act (all involving the mind).  However, emotions like sadness or worthlessness, found in depression, can bring on real physical symptoms such as pain or nausea.  In this way, depression is present in both the body and mind.  For another example of mind and body connectivity, consider this article on chronic illness and depression.

There have been many theories posed as to the cause of depression, anxiety, panic disorder and other mental health challenges.  However, regardless of the cause, it seems that an overwhelming number of people respond well to lifestyle change.  In my personal and professional experience, I see that people often respond well to lifestyle changes such as increased exercise and improved nutrition. I think that this strengthens the argument even more that there is a definite connection between body and mind.

So what does one do with all of this information about the body and mind connection?  It seems that one way to actively incorporate the belief that there is truly a cross over between our body and mind is to do just that: change our belief.  One way of changing our belief is to change how we respond.  When we are faced with different experiences we may begin to ask how is this impacting both body and mind.

The mind and body connection is certainly not just seen in mental health issues like depression or anxiety.  We see examples of body/mind connection in our everyday lives, if we know where to look.  The next time you are faced with a really challenging decision, consider how your body responds.  Often times our body can give us clues about decisions to make or hunches about directions to take, we just have to learn to listen.  Being more aware of our whole experience in any given situation will bring on more understanding, and more of an integration of body and mind.

Stay Healthy,

Michael