Kitchen Therapy


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How Do I Find My Meaning and Purpose In Life

I’ve always admired people who know what they want out of life and set out to achieve it. You know the ones, they knew what they wanted from the minute they were born and never wavered or questioned on their path in life.

I’m not one of these folks.

I’ve always wished I was, but I realise I’m not and never have been. I am more like…  Dory, from Finding Nemo. Remember her? The likable, yet frustrating blue fish who would change her mind mid-sentence and struggled to finishing a thought because half way through that thought another bigger, better, brighter thought had come along!

I’ve tried to be like those other folks. I can easily immerse myself in a project. The problem is, part way into the project, something else catches my eye and I go off on a tangent. That tangent leads to more tangents and before I know it I am so far off the mark I’ve totally lost track of what I was doing in the first place.
By the time I get back to my original topic, I’ve completely forgotten what I’ve done and need to start again. So as you can see, I tend to rediscover the wheel again and again (or more appropriately, I discover the same bit of the wheel again and again) and hardly any progress is ever made!

On the up side, I help those around me build patience and tolerance (whether they like it or not)!

Now, while my Dory-esque nature has strengths, I can’t ignore that my flaky side needs reigning in!
So… I have spent some time looking at ways to sustain interest and motivation. Ways to build persistence and consistency so goals are pursued and achieved. It’s been an interesting couple of months.

Here’s what I have learnt…

As a society we are very much focused on goals. Getting to university, getting married, finding a job, buying a house, keeping it spotless, having children, keeping them spotless, buying a bigger house, a boat, a new car and so on. The problem is that when we get these things, they don’t seem to be enough (that’s if we can even sustain the interest and motivation to do what it takes to get them!)

When we equate success with goals, we live in the future, we think when we reach that goal we can finally feel happy and content!

What if we were to take a step back and begin by clarifying what gives our lives meaning and purpose AND THEN use this information to guide us?

Consider how life would be if we decided that success meant living by our values? Living in a way that is meaningful to us each and every day. If we knew what was important to us in life, what we stood for and how we wanted to behave, a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment would be instantly available to us. Our values, our sense of meaning and purpose in life is available to us right now. At any moment we can choose to act in line with our values and when we do, we feel empowered.

Our values inspire us, motivate us and guide our actions. When we use our values to set goals, we are then doing what matters most to us. We are not waiting to reach that goal so we can finally be happy, we live every day feeling satisfied and content because each day we are doing what is important to us.

Our values are available to us right now.
They show us who we are and what is important us.
And most importantly, our values do not need to be justified to anyone. This last point I struggled with for a while, I thought my values had to be worthy as judged by some outside force. I was always drawn to values such as fun, playful, free and easy-going. This is what I wanted to be in life, but then I’d look at words like conscientious, congruent, hard-working and felt embarrassed that my values in life were so… fluffy. I now own my values in life and I realise that when I am living by my values, I work my butt off and I am the best me I can be.

I’ve made a list of values below as a starting point, have a look and see if any jump out to you.
Some words actually make me feel like I’m choking, while others resonate deep within me and make me feel happy, alive and joyful.

If you get stuck, here are some of my favourite exercises…

Who are your role models?
Who inspires you?
What strengths and qualities do they have that you admire?

Imagine your 80th birthday party. When it’s time for family and friends to toast you and make a speech about you and your life, what would you like to hear them say about you?

Imagine you are looking over your own funeral, see who is there and listen to what they are saying about you and how you will be remembered. If you lived your life as your are now, what would they say about you?
What would you like them to say about you?
What does that reveal to you about the person you want to be?

What words would you like written about you on your tombstone, just a few words that would capture the essence of who you were and how you lived your life?

Values are our heart’s deepest desires, they give us direction in life and by staying in touch with our values we make our brief time on Earth meaningful!

Let your values shape your goals and your life.

LIST OF VALUES
1.  Adventurous
2.  Affectionate
3.  Authentic
4.  Blissful
5.  Brave
6.  Bold
7.  Calm
8.  Careful
9.  Compassionate
10. Confident
11. Courageous
12. Creative
13. Curious
14. Daring
15. Decisive
16.  Determined
17. Dynamic
18. Elegant
19. Empathic
20. Energetic
21. Enthusiastic
22. Fair
23. Faithful
24. Fearless
25. Flexible
26. Focused
27. Free
28. Fun
29. Generous
30. Giving
31. Gracious
32. Grateful
33. Healthy
34. Helpful
35. Honest
36. Humor
37. Imaginative
38. Industrious
39. Inquisitive
40. Intuitive
41. Joyful
42. Kind
43. Leader
44. Learning
45. Lively
46. Loving
47. Loyal
48. Mature
49. Mindful
50. Mysterious
51. Modest
52. Neat
53. Open-minded
54. Optimistic
55. Organised
56. Original
57. Passionate
58. Persistent
59. Philanthropist
60. Playful
61. Pleasure
62. Powerful
63. Present
64. Proactive
65. Reasonable
66. Refined
67. Relaxed
68. Reliable
69. Resilient
70. Resourceful
71. Respectful
72. Self-control
73. Sensual
74. Service
75. Silly
76. Sincere
77. Spiritual
78. Strong
79. Thankful
80. Thoughtful
81. Thorough
82. Tidy
83. Tranquil
84. Trust
85. Truth
86. Understanding
87. Unique
88. Vision
89. Virtue
90. Vitality
91. Vivacious
92. Warm
93. Wise
94. Witty
95. Wonder
96. Youthful
97. Zeal

 


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Counselling 101 – Skills we should be taught at school!

 Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” Rudyard Kipling

As a psychologist I get to witness  the power of words first hand. I see the effects of words that evoke fear, powerlessness and helplessness. I also see the flip side to this, words that empower, motivate and create joy, love and happiness.

Understanding and fully appreciating the power of words has been one of the most amazing things about my line of work. People are able to shift from depression, anxiety and fear to a state of peace and happiness through words.

The words we use to describe what we experience will in turn become our experience.

If one of my children is feeling sad, angry, happy, or playing victim I ask them what they are thinking. I can guarantee you the response is usually “I don’t know” followed by a scowl!
And it’s true, they have no idea what thoughts lead them to this emotion. They just know they feel good or bad!
And same goes for any of us, we don’t really pay attention to the constant chatter in our minds. But it’s there and it’s creating our reality!

As a psychologist, I have come to the conclusion that this is one of the most important lessons I need to teach my children.
To build in them the awareness and understanding that they are not victims to random emotions that take over their bodies.

(I know I am referring to children here however this is something most of us as adults have never really been taught. I passionately believe that this is crucial information about living that all kids need to be taught in school so they have the resources to become functional and contributing adults. Unfortunately it isn’t taught in school and it is what I teach my adult clients. Imagine how far we would all be if we were given this information at a young age?)

Most of us don’t really pay attention to what we are thinking, but we are pretty aware of how we are feeling at any given moment. So start with your emotions. Ask yourself  how you feel which also helps to build emotional awareness and identify and verbalise feelings better. 
Once you establish how you feel, take a step back and try to identify what you were thinking and as I said, people find it very difficult to pin down their thoughts. So take it slowly. How you feel and how you behave is determined by what thoughts are going around in your head. So if you’re feeling sad, you’ve been thinking sad thoughts and you may be crying or isolating yourself. If you’re feeling sorry for yourself, you’ve probably been telling yourself that something is not fair and you may be sulking or stomping around! If you’re feeling happy, you’ve been having happy thoughts and your behaviour may be to whistle, play or be easy-going.

Your thoughts will determine how you feel and act. 
You cannot have happy thoughts and feel angry.
You cannot have angry thoughts and feel happy.
If you are thinking happy thoughts, you will be feeling happy and acting happy.
If you are thinking angry thoughts you will feel angry and act angry.
And so on…

 It sounds incredibly simple and yet it is one of the hardest things to master!
Choosing your thoughts and ultimately choosing the life you have.

Please feel free to leave me any questions or comments you have!


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“Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

The last few weeks have been emotionally and physically draining. My father had a heart attack that he was not expected to recover from. Luckily he has recovered and even though he has lost the use of his right leg, we are overjoyed with the progress he has made.

As we have progressed through the wards of the hospital, I have cut down my daily visits from 12 hour bedside vigils to a two to three hour visit. My days are very full and very tiring and as I drive to and from the hospital I find my mind drifting, questioning theories about grief. Running through exercises and passages I have read, asking myself what is useful and even possible when clients come in during times of stress. I have never wanted to be one of those psychologists that just talks at you, telling clients what they should be doing without making the effort to understand or respect what they are telling me. I have also never had the patience to be one of those therapists that sees clients endlessly, listening to them carry on about the same issue and not challenging them (may sound cold but there are clients who do just want to come in and have a bitch or a whinge without any interest or intention to change their lives!)

My dad’s heart attack meant I was now facing one of my biggest keeps you up at night fears.
Most of the time I felt I couldn’t breathe from the pain that seemed to crush my ribs and block my airways!
And then out of nowhere there were moments of perfect clarity that allowed me to step back and observe the process I was going through with objective interest.
Moments where I felt complete acceptance with the cycle of life and I knew that we would all be okay.

So here’s what I learnt from my dad’s heart attack…

1. All the stuff that books tell you doesn’t matter, really doesn’t!
Who cares about the gossip and who said what about who! You have no time or energy or interest in such rubbish! It was like a breath of fresh air. I had perspective and I wanted to make sure that I rememebered what really mattered and more importantly what didn’t matter for the rest of my life. I knew that at some point things would have to return to normal and I didn’t want to waste this experience.

2. You can choose how to respond.
I always felt that I would be one of those women you see on television, you know the one’s that wail, scream and try to throw themselves at the coffin. The thought of losing a family member has always filled me with such anxiety and despair that I never doubted that would be me! Recently I went to a friend’s father’s funeral and this friend of mine conducted herself with so much dignity that I took strength from her. Another friend’s 5 year old has been battling a brain tumor and again I witnessed a woman handle a terrible situation with incredible strength and grace.
I started to build other ways of being in my mind. Seeing these women helped me realise that you can choose how you conduct yourself no matter what is happening. I taught it, but I must confess I had my doubts, the pain with some clients at the loss of a loved one or the loss of a marriage is so intense and debilitating that you can easily be dragged into their worlds and feel as incapacitatingly helpless and hopeless as they feel. If you meet them all the way you will find it hard to see a way out yourself, if you don’t meet them at all, you will never really have an empathic understanding of what they are going through and will not be able to establish that necessary relationship and connection you need to be of use to them. So just like in counselling, in real life it’s finding that balance for yourself where you can grieve but you have the door open to the rest of your life and you can come and go freely.

3.You can only play victim for so long.
I find this hard to say without sounding insulting. I have clients who come in and spend so much time and energy waiting for the world to acknowledge the unfairness of their situation and then fix it. The world does acknowledge it, but then it expects you to move on. I felt surely everyone could see how much I was going through and I felt justified in my grief, until I returned to work and there was a stack of forms and files that needed addressing immediately. I had to work hard at not feeling resentful and sorry for myself! I have seen clients waste so much time and energy refusing the move on. Losing their jobs, their relationships as they cling desperately to the perceived unfairness and injustice of a situation. I’ve seen enough to know there comes a time when you need to accept and move on with your life. The alternative is truly terrifiying! Losing everything and everyone and then realising that it was all for nothing, carrying on will not take away the pain, it just creates more. Nothing will take away the pain, it’s about building a life around it.


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Are you a tad bit overprotective when it comes to your kids?

 

As a parent, first and foremost I want to protect my children.

My instincts are to protect them from any harm that may come their way. So while I understand the following concept intellectually, I really struggle implementing it.

Depression has been on the rise since the late 1950’s, it is not only increasing, the victims are getting younger and younger.

Dr Martin Seligman claims that “our society has changed from an achieving society to a feel-good society. Up until the early 1960’s, achievement was the most important goal to instill in our children. This goal was then overtaken by the twin goals of happiness and high self-esteem.”

The focus today is very much about feeling good, I know how intense the urge to rush in and protect my children from any negative feelings is. The argument however is that negative feeelings are there for a reason. They carry messages about how we are fairing in life and galvanise us into action when things are going wrong by making it very hard to ignore the pain and discomfort they inflict upon us.

Another thing to consider is the concept of “flow” that I wrote about in an earlier post by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Being in flow is when you lose yourself in what you are doing. It’s when the best of your abilities are matched with the challenge before you. If the challenge is to easy, then you get bored, however if it is too hard you feel hopeless and want to give up. Flow is about feeling challenged and frustrated as you try to achieve your goals. It is about failing and trying again. Seligman says, “rewards alone, high self-esteem, confidence and ebullience do not produce flow… A life without anxiety, frustration, competition and challenge is not the good life; it is a life devoid of flow.” When we consider that research indicates flow is what makes us happy and gives our lives meaning, we can then can grasp the importance of negative feelings in our overall happiness. 

The last point I want to make is about how bad feelings can be used to stop us from feeling helpless and depressed. Feeling helpless, feeling immobilised, feeling like nothing you do will make any difference, is how many of my clients who are depressed feel. When we protect our children from failure, from feeling sad, anxious, or angry, we deprive them from learning persistence. When we are faced with a problem, we can try to change how we approach the problem until we find a way that works. Or we can give up. If we protect our children from feeling bad and failing, then we are teaching them to give up, we are depriving them of the skills to perservere when the going gets tough. We are teaching them to avoid anything that feels bad, making it difficult in the long term for them to experience flow in their lives. When they come up against any difficulties, or negative feelings, they may easily give up, placing them at high risk for developing depression.

My own goal is to try very hard to resist the urge to jump in and “rescue” my children from anything and everything. This includes too much homework, a mean comment by a friend, being overlooked for an activity, etc. Yes, I know I sound a bit nutty but I can’t help it! I want to “fix” it so they don’t feel bad. However the prospect of creating helplessness and depression is sobering enough to make me stop and think. I want to help them build resilience and resources to cope with life. Bailing them out will make me feel good, but it won’t be doing them any favours!


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How Can I Be Happier?

 

We have studied depression in depth for the last century and we know a lot about what makes us miserable! 

Most of have felt depressed at some point in life. We feel down, we don’t really care about much, we have no energy and for a while, life feels unpleasant. But we know we will get through it.

Some people however have more frequent episodes of feeling down and the duration and intensity of these episodes can be used as guides to unresolved psychological problems. Depression is way for the body to communicae to us that there is something wrong. When I talk to my clients about depression I get them to think of it as a continuum rather than a question of “Am I depressed or not?” On one end of the continuum is the mild to moderate range where the experience is painful and uncomfortable. While on the other end we have Bipolar or Manic Depression which is more biological in nature.

Our goal is to treat the problems that the clients present with, to get the levels of depression and anxiety to nil, zero. But people want more than just feeling not depressed, they want to have meaning and happiness in their lives.

This recognition led to a new branch of psychology called Positive Psychology. It is interested in the “scientific study of optimal human functioning.” So the goals is no longer to just identify and treat mental health problems, but also to teach people how to enhance the quality of their lives using substantiated research and findings that have been proven to deliver results.

I like to think of happiness also having a continuum where the more frequency, intensity and duration of symptoms is symbolic of being further along the continuum and feeling happier!

Martin Seligman, on of the founders of Positive Psychology defines happiness as “both positive feelings (such as ecstasy and comfort) and positive activities that have no feeling component at all (such as absorption and engagement)”.

Mihaly Csiskzentmihalyi claims the way to happiness is through “flow”, a state where we are so engrossed in “some activity that time either lengthens or disappears, we no longer notice our surroundings except as related to the activity and any problem or discomfort drops entirely out of mind”.

I used to think “I’ll be happy when…”
I struggled (for a long time!) with the idea that happiness was a choice avalaible to me at any  point. I believed that happiness was the end goal, the reward for hard work and suffering!. I remember thinking “if I just went around all day feeling happy I’d never do anything again!” I got really stuck here. I felt accessing happiness just for the sake of it was cheating and fake.

Then one day it dawned on me. When you are happy you are more likely to achieve your goals and succeed! When I feel happy I am excited and energised. I feel at peace and I find it easier to get absorbed in whatever I am doing. I can appreciate my self and my surroundings more. I have increased clarity in thought and inspiration. Feeling happy actually helps me to produce a higher quality of work.

So rather than asking “Am I happy or not?” ask yourself “How can I be happier?” This changes the nature of happiness from something that is the end result to happiness being  an ongoing process. Something that is infinite in nature and within your control.

Can you think of something you really want?
Imagine you have it.
A new house, a new car, a new body? Whatever you think will make you feel happy. Now imagine yourself going through the day having this something you treasure. How will you feel about yourself, how will this effect the interactions you have with the world. Will you feel more confident, assured? 
When you have really stepped into the role and can feel this I want you to consider that you just had acces to all those feelings all on your own. They are there, available to you at any moment!  

When you’re happy, nothing has actually changed yet everything suddenly seems different.