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Thoughts Impact Our Feelings and Actions – Steps to help shift overwhelm

Guest Blog

– Bowbang Feng, LMFT

“I always mess it up! I never get it right!”

“I’m making progress. It’s easier when I break it down it to smaller steps.”

When you read those two sentences how do you feel? Thoughts like these may be helpful at times and lead to positive feelings and effective coping; or, strong negative thoughts can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, or overwhelm.

Many non-linear thinkers develop patterns of negative thinking and have a strong internalized critical voice. Negative thoughts are typically based on irrational beliefs or cognitive distortions. These beliefs are often things we may have been told by others or by society. See if any of these sound familiar. Most of us do these sometimes.

Examples include:

  • all-or-nothing thinking, which gives rise to perfectionism
    • The belief that it has to be perfect or it has no value, and you failed. This can lead to procrastination, worry, and frustration.
  • selective attention to negative events or outcomes (and overlooking positive outcomes)
    • It’s hard to hold on to the positives when it feels like the negatives are so huge and overwhelming. We overlook the positives as if they weren’t true.
  • catastrophizing, believing that it would be a catastrophe if something does or does not occur
    • Imagining all the horrible things that might or might not happen and projecting them into the future. This can lead to being in a state of flight, fight or freeze – perceiving a constant threat.
  • personalization, seeing oneself as the cause of some negative external event for which one is not, in fact, primarily responsible. This often leads to feelings of guilt, shame, and anxiety.
    • My partner is upset…it must be my fault.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy offers a simple technique that can be very helpful – a Thought Record. This is a way of slowing down and mindfully looking at a situation. Writing down the facts along with our automatic thoughts and feelings gives a reality check that allows us to come up with a more balanced thought or belief. Give it a try.

Here are the steps:

  1. What is the situation? Just the facts. Who, What, When, Where, etc.
  2. Mood: How do you feel? How intense is that feeling from 1-100?
  3. Automatic Thoughts: What beliefs come up? What am I afraid of? What does this mean about me or the world? What images or memories does it evoke? What are the possible irrational beliefs?
  4. What is the evidence that supports this idea?
  5. What is the evidence against this idea?
  6. Is there an alternative view point that is able to take a balanced perspective of all the evidence? Come from a place of self-compassion and a non-judgmental perspective.
    1. You can also explore what is the effect of my believing the automatic thought or belief?
    2. What could be the effect of changing my thinking or how might I feel different?
  7. Check back in on your mood. How intense is it now on a scale of 1-100? Often times we feel better when we shift our thoughts and perspective.

The more you do this, the easier it gets. It can be a simple and powerful tool to shift our thoughts, moods, and behaviors as well as to gain more understanding about what it is that is really upsetting us. Once we understand the real problem, we can deal with it.

Bowbay Feng, LMFT
510-629-0239
bowbayfeng@gmail.com
www.bowbayfeng.com

The Magic of “What if…”

Are you satisfied with the results of your actions (or lack of actions)?

Consider this cycle:

  1. You hold certain beliefs, such as “I’m not a person who…” or “I can’t use a calendar.”
  2. When you think about doing one of those things, you feel apathy or even defiance.
  3. The unpleasant or negative feelings lead to avoiding actions that would have furthered you towards a goal.
  4. You don’t like the results you do get and possibly feel a bit of self-recrimination.

The results become evidence and the cycle continues.

Beliefs lead to thoughts which bring about feelings that influence behaviors and consequently results.

When you repeatedly get results that do not support your goals or your happiness it’s time to stop and consider what could be in the way. What if you interrupt the “I’ll do that later…” or “It’s too hard…” or any other sad excuse? What if you notice when you have a thought that is likely to interfere with an intended action? What if you reflect on how you’ll feel later if you avoid following through with your intention? What if you disregard the excuses and take the intended action anyway?

What if you give yourself the chance to do more of what you say you want for yourself and be more of who you say you want to be?

If you want different results, then you need different actions. Different actions require different feelings, and different feelings need different beliefs. So, when you hear yourself thinking “I’m not …” STOP.

You are, you can, and you will.

Routine or Ritual?

 

Habits and routines created with intention can make life easier in so many ways. I don’t mean the unconscious habits of going for a snack when you’re bored or throwing clothes on the chair rather than hanging them up. Those are the habits that most people say they’d like to change.

What I’m talking about are the productive behaviors you want to change the problem behaviors to. I’m also including other positive routines and habits – such as regular sleep and wake time, paying bills every Friday, that kind of thing. For example, I have a morning routine that goes breakfast, exercise, shower and dress, work. Sometimes I have an early client and have exercise or shower after that. The actions of the routine may get shuffled but not neglected because they’ve become habitual.

Now with a ritual you are adding an additional element—the conscious intention of the behavior helping you be more of the person you wish to be. Here’s an example that uses the process of ritual:

Intention: Organizing a space in which you can find things, get things done, and keep what’s important to you safe. Hold the intention of creating your space as a sanctuary where you can be comfortable and focus on what is meaningful.

Planning: Schedule a block of time to look at all of the things in your space. During this time, you will make a decision about every item in your space. If something has no use or meaning, or is no longer important to you, consider letting it go. Some things will be tossed, some given away, and some perhaps stored elsewhere because they are rarely used. Next, look at what will stay – the things you want to keep and use all the time. Think about where it makes the most sense to put the items you’ve decided are special to you and support your intention.

Preparation: Your first action step is the clearing and de-cluttering. A cleansing process is often done to make way for something new. After clearing, find the right kinds of containers for the things you have. Now, take a break.

Manifestation: Set aside a morning or afternoon for the ritual. Enter the room and close the door. Sit down and focus on your intention.

Select one type of object—say books. As you recognize in what way they reflect who you are and what’s important to you, you can claim them as power objects. Put them in the areas you’ve decided upon.

To close the ritual, imagine doing what you will be doing in each area of the room. Do you feel better, worse or, the same as before? Make sure you feel good everywhere. Take a photograph of your space.

Integration: Put the photograph on the wall or in your journal. Use it as a daily or weekly reminder as perhaps the first step of a maintenance ritual.

Are you the driver or the passenger?

You know how when you’re in a car riding “shotgun” and the driver’s going dangerously fast, you press your foot against the floor really hard as if there was a brake pedal there?

When someone else has the controls you’re along for the ride. If the driver makes a risky move, there’s not much you can do.

How is this relevant to your life? Well, let’s talk about “locus of control.”

If you feel you have no control over the events in your life, in psychological terms that would be called having an external locus of control. When things don’t go as you wish, you might blame bad luck, injustice, or even “Mercury in Retrograde.” On the other hand, with an internal locus of control you feel that you, yourself, are responsible for outcomes. And if not the outcome itself, your response to it. Think of it as responsibility.

Even when you have specific goals and well-thought out plans things may not work out as you intend. Perhaps you had some internal obstacles you couldn’t foresee…not your fault. Or there was some sort of glitch that interfered when you were just tooling along perfectly, like road work that caused a detour and added minutes to your journey. Again, no one to blame. The road workers hadn’t come up with an elaborate plan just to frustrate you.

Life doesn’t always seem to comply with our wishes and our best intentions often go astray. These times are opportunities. Use them as lessons to either prevent similar future problems that might arise in the future, or to practice letting go of expectations and focusing on all the things that are right in your life.

What’s Your Story?

When I was studying to be a coach, I was introduced to a book called, Taming Your Gremlin.

No, it is not a manual for those who have mythological pets. Rather it addresses all of us who have that voice in our head that says things like, “you can’t…,” “you’re not…,” or “you should.” Despite the fact that the voice is likely disparaging, we have a tendency to listen and believe what it says. We are believing that story as if it were fact.

Belief. That is the key here.

You may have heard the quote by Henry Ford that goes, “whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right.” Fortunately, because we have the ability to learn and change we can change our beliefs. We can create new “mindsets.” Our mindsets are beliefs that determine how we deal with life and make choices.

Do you feel like your brain is holding you back? Or, maybe, it’s not that obvious. Have you ever felt like no matter what you cannot get past this certain place? That is still your mindset – that little voice telling you that you cannot do better. If you want to make changes in limiting mindsets, the first step is to recognize that there is a self-limiting story that’s running the show. The next step is to consider re-writing the story.

Yes. You can do it. It takes practice to get the new story to take hold but it’s worth it. For example if you have a story that you “have to” do something and you find yourself resisting, try thinking that you “get to” do it. Or when you hear yourself thinking “I failed miserably with…” how about thinking, “I learned what works and what doesn’t so I can do things differently the next time.”

On the other hand, “Argue for your limitations and sure enough they’re yours.” Said Richard Bach in Jonathan Livingston Seagull. You’re so much better than that.

Why play small when you can fly?

To-Do, or Not To-Do

 

Is your To-Do list the bane of your existence? Or is it an effective time management tool? Those of us list-makers find that writing things down can alleviate possible memory issues, such as going to the market and leaving without the most important item, or packing for a trip to a beachside resort and discovering you forgot to pack a swim suit.

 

But some people personify the To-Do list and hear it relentlessly nagging with “you should…” or “when are you going to…” If you have a list with countless items and you don’t begin because you don’t know where to begin, you are likely to have thoughts like that run through your head.

 

Why not find ways to effectively manage your to do list?

  1. Categorize items
  2. Prioritize items in each category according to things like due dates
  3. Estimate roughly how much time, and when you can realistically attend to the high priority tasks
  4. Schedule them in your calendar as appointments

 

If you still feel that your To-Do list is more like the Grim Reaper constantly hovering over you than a helpful reminder of what you’d like to get done, how about a Not-To-Do list?

 

In her article “To-Do Lists are Great but Do-Not-Do lists Might Be Even Better for You,” Caroline Liu argues that a Do Not Do list lets you dump (or limit) the things that are keeping you from what’s really important. This list makes you look at all the things that you do do in your day and say, “this is not worthy of my time, I’m not going to do it any more.”

 

The key thing is to NOT. DO. THEM. ANY. MORE.

 

Busy Doing What?

Nobody is too busy; it’s just a matter of priorities. Laura Vanderkam has an eye-opening TED talk on this subject.

What if you could be in charge of designing your days by creating a time budget? You know how to budget your money, right? If you have a regular paycheck and you’re aware of your monthly income, presumably, you know how much goes to rent/mortgage, utilities, food, transportation, etc., and what might remain for saving or random spending. And if you don’t have a regular paycheck, then you really have to budget to stay on top of things.

How about applying the same principles to your calendar? Realistically, how much time can you/must you devote to work? To health? To taking care of your home? To your family, friends, community? You can use your calendar to block time for your priorities in each area. Some things will be high priority items, some medium, and some low. You want to commit to the high priorities as much as is realistically possible. It also makes sense to have both cushions and flexibility. For example, include travel times for appointments, and padding for things that run longer than intended.

Sometimes the best laid plans…, so when that happens consider rescheduling as an option. When something unexpected happens – maybe you get a flat tire on the way to your workout class – look for a place later in the week when you can get a different workout in, and make sure to put it in your calendar.

Of course, a portion of your time needs to be spent creating your time budget and updating it daily. Schedule that too. And pay attention to how long things really take so that you can improve your time budgeting skills.

Three Tips for Managing Holiday Madness

Man in Santa Claus hat loooking depressed about his finances

Have you noticed that the winter holidays are starting earlier each year?

Even as days grow shorter and colder, calendars are filling up with all kinds of festive events and obligations. While our wallets aren’t getting any fatter, marketing for the “big” winter holidays is inescapable. We’re bombarded with ads and invitations to buy, buy, BUY. A whirlwind of parties, shopping, eating, and visiting families engulfs us. It all takes an emotional toll even as they allege good times.

Most creatures practice some form of hibernation during the winter months. In contradiction to nature, we humans rev up the action. You can protect yourself from the physical and emotional stress by following these simple steps:

  1. Learn to say no. It’s not mandatory to:
    1. do everything (Try, “Oh, jeez. Looks like I’m already committed then.”)
    2. see everyone (The above idea can work on this one, too.)
    3. eat whatever is offered (Choose what you really, really want and go for small amounts.)
  2. If you’re experiencing the anniversary of a loss in November or December, give yourself time to grieve.
  3. Try going a week without the newspaper, television, or social media… okay a day. A vacation from advertising and news can make a big difference in how you feel.

 

But if, for whatever reason, the season gets you down…don’t be afraid to see a professional. Help is always available. If I can’t help I’ll do my best to provide qualified referrals.

Decluttering Your Commitments

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“Every minute you spend in planning saves ten minutes in execution,” asserts Brian Tracy. I agree. Create a routine for the beginning and end of day planning and you’ll have lots more control over your schedule and your life.
At today’s end, look at your calendar and note what you accomplished (yay) and if there are follow up steps you can schedule. See if there are things you couldn’t complete (for any reason) and reschedule likely times for those items. If you have projects with deadlines, make sure the action items on the timeline are in place in your calendar. This will likely take five to ten minutes.
In the morning open your calendar and review. Did you receive phone calls or emails that require making changes? Will your top priorities stay on top? Are you leaving time cushions for changes that might arise? Here again, you can do this in five or ten minutes.

Do the same thing at the beginning and the end of the week. Develop this routine and be in charge of your life.

The Upside of Failing

lessonsinfailure-oct-2016

Did you know — At age 23 Oprah was fired from her first reporting job? Or that Stephen King was working as a janitor and living in a trailer when he was 24? How about this fun fact– at 28, J.K. Rowling was a single parent living on Welfare. And finally, Def Jam Records dropped Lady Gaga after three months. She went on to earn six Grammy awards and thirteen MTV Video Music awards!

Microsoft co-founder, Bill Gates famously said, “it’s fine to celebrate success, but more important are the lessons of failure.” The key word here is lessons.
Lessons mean you get to look at your intention, review what worked, what didn’t and then make adjustments. Failing at anything, from eating a big dessert three days into a new diet to writing a report that you discover is missing a paragraph only after it goes to print, means you get to learn how to make future attempts get more pleasing results.

This is lots of what we do in coaching. We shape behaviors so improvement is constant.