I picked up my daughter this evening after work. I was subtly surprised by her poise and how much sense she was making as she talked about her day and about how she felt. She seemed so grown up all the sudden. She seemed to have independent thoughts and strong emotions that weren’t just temper tantrum driven. She seemed convicted of what she believed and how she felt but not for the purpose as rebellion as it usually seems. She seemed confident. No reason not to be.

When we got home she crafted a plan and invited daddy and I out onto the trampoline. I needed to change my clothes. She said she would wait. She wanted to jump as a family. She wanted to sing. She giggled and grinned. She was in her element. Leading the pack. Orchestrating her symphony. And for once I didn’t feel bossed around or commanded. I felt invited to participate in something of joy. Spontaneous combustion.

I was online later and saw a painted canvas referencing Elizabeth Warren standing up on the senate floor. Persisting. She was warned. Repeatedly. Nevertheless she persisted. And I felt myself swell with pride. And then I thought of all the times I have banged my head against the wall as My daughter pushed back at my ideas, at times ignoring my requests altogether. How she often commands her own agenda and stays her course regardless of the consequences. I thought of how many times I have driven to break that in her, describing her as stubborn and unruly and difficult or impossible.
The irony was not lost on me.

Somehow present in the moment that this evening brought, connections in the car over the day of a 5yr old, followed by squeals of laughter on the trampoline and wrapped up by singing in the dark as she went to sleep “I love you a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck” I found myself caught up in the joy of life. The little moments that make up the big themes. The small lessons that create life’s calling and dreams.

She teaches me more and more each passing day. About adventure and creativity. About persisting. And becoming. About determination. About love and acceptance. About getting wrapped up in joy.

I am inspired to stand beside, encourage and only gently challenge. To not hold her back or stifle her desire to soar. To recommit to being a guide, to accepting her for all that she is in her determination and exuberance for life. To open up to again to spontaneous joy and self expression. To choose grace and gratitude for this journey.

Little Fish, Big Pond

I had the honor and privilege of attending a Gottman conference in Seattle, Washington this past week. This was not my first Gottman training, nor will it be my last, as I have come to have a profound respect for his research and clinical expertise! For those of you who have not been introduced to John Gottman or his wife Julie Schwartz Gottman, I will provide a brief description…

John Gottman has over 40 years of relationship research under his belt and is world renown for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction. He was most recently listed as one of the top 10 most influential therapists of the past quarter century, and has published 190 academic articles and has authored or co-authored 40 books. John Gottman PhD co-founded The Gottman Institute, with his wife Julie Schwartz Gottman PhD in a desire to share their research and clinical expertise in marital therapy. Julie Schwartz Gottman was named Washington State Psychologist of the year and is widely recognized for her work with distressed couples, abuse and trauma survivors and substance abusers along with their partners… So as you can see, their collective resume is impressive and incredibly humbling for us neophytes in the field of psychotherapy!

Coming back to my experience last week; sitting two rows from the front, where John and Julie were providing case consultation on real life cases one after the next, modeling their interventions and techniques with precision and a confident humility, the title for this blog post came to me.

There I sat surrounded by clinicians far more experienced than I, finding myself feeling rather small and inadequate. I sent a quick text to my girlfriend sharing this, and she responded with something along the lines of “just keep swimming”, a favorite line of mine from the movie “Finding Nemo”. I quickly decided that this line would be my motto for the entirely of the workshop and jumped back in, fully engaged and ready to soak up everything I could.

Little fish, Big pond. Just keep Swimming.

I have a dear friend who is embarking on a journey to community college to complete her associates degree, and my hat goes off to her for her diligence and stamina as she has been through a lot…. Scaling obstacles and fighting battles have become her specialty! While talking with her the other day, I heard her lamenting some of the same feelings and doubts that I had felt while at my Gottman conference…. “What am I doing here?” “How did I even get here?” “What if I fail?” “Is this really the right thing for me to do?” I heard myself respond to her saying, “We all have to start somewhere, and you are right where you’re supposed to be, just trust that.” Followed by some other familiar line like…

Little Fish. Big Pond. Just keep Swimming.

We’ve all heard the phrase “sink or swim”, and perhaps some of us feel more versed in this life experience than others, but as I thought more about this concept of swimming as a small fish in a large pond, I realized that this is where the weak get separated out from the strong… Sometimes we have to give it all we have simply to keep our head above water and we fear that we won’t be able to do it for much longer, but here is where will power and sheer determination come into play. One day we realize that our neck and shoulders have come out of the water and there is a tad bit less effort involved… and perhaps a little later we find ourselves actually wading through the water, possibly even enjoying the feel of the sand beneath our feet. A confident humility in knowing the effort it took to get there and strength it took to keep going.

We all have moments where we feel insignificant, lost and or out of sorts… We all have seasons where we are humbled and reminded that there is a whole world of knowledge yet to learn, and life yet to live… It’s what we choose to do with these moments and these seasons, how we choose to react that sets us apart. Do we quit swimming and start sinking? Or do we fight for dear life and kick like hell!

We are all just fish learning how to swim.

Holistic Wellness

I have been thinking a lot about optimal health and holistic wellness, both of which seem to have become popular buzz phrases as of late. Unfortunately, though we hear these phrases often, and even talk about them, we often fail to strive to become them.

In looking at popular definitions of wellness we see the following:

  • well.ness (wel’nes) Optimal physical and mental health.
  • well·ness noun \ˈwel-nəs\ : the quality or state of being in good health especially as an actively sought goal <lifestyles that promote wellness>
  • Wellness is considered to be an active process of becoming aware of and learning to make choices (healthy choices) that lead toward a longer and more successful existence.    
  • well·ness [wel-nis] noun the quality or state of being healthy in body and mind, especially as the result of deliberate effort.
  • well·ness [wel-nis] n.The condition of good physical and mental health, especially when maintained by proper diet, exercise, and habits.
There is a predominant theme that stands out in each of these definitions, which is that “wellness” is not simply attained, but rather sought after and then maintained through ongoing effort… We do not stumble upon wellness, nor are we simply gifted with wellness, but rather we strive for and actively participate in creating wellness.
So what is Holistic about wellness?
To understand holistic, we must define the word holism. To be whole we must acknowledge the parts. The system as a whole determines in an important way how the parts behave. Aristotle best summarizes this as “The whole is more than the sum of its parts”.
Holistic Health is the balance between all aspects of life – social, physical, spiritual and emotional. It impacts on how we manage our surroundings and make choices in our lives – clearly it is an integral part of our overall health. (as described by the american psychological association)
If holistic wellness involves intentional action to be obtained, and the goal is to seek overall balance; both in physical, emotional, social, spiritual, intellectual, and environmental, then i will propose that we are to be actively and very presently pursuing integrated and collateral balance. Where does one begin this journey? Perhaps that is unique to each of us as individuals.
Look at those six areas of holistic health; physical  emotional, social, spiritual, intellectual and environmental. What area needs the most attention in your life? What area feels the strongest and can therefore inform the other areas how to become stronger? Do you put a lot into physical health, exercising and being mindful nutritionally, yet create very little time or space for your emotional well-being? Or are you a very social individual with lots of close connections in your community, while neglecting the importance of your spiritual growth/development? We all have our strengths and we all have our weaknesses.
This week, what would it look like to identify a strength to build even further upon, and name a weakness to begin strengthening from the ground up? Could this be the first step toward holistic health?
We are whole beings, with many intricate parts, and when we neglect even one part of who we are, the whole being becomes off balance. Honor your whole self today, in your own unique way as you begin to seek Holistic Health.

How do you define success?

I had considered titling todays post “how do you handle failure”… however it seemed a bit dark for a title, so I opened with your definition of success. I believe that these two things go hand in hand: both how you define success and how you handle failure. Seems to be that you can learn a lot about a person by how they view their success and failures and how they behave accordingly.

When I think about successes and failures, I cannot help but think about how one defines the terms, and how they vary widely from person to person. And once they have been defined, how do these definitions impact our lives?

For example: If my definition of success in a marriage involves deep conversation and weekly strolls through the neighborhood, sharing emotions, and philosophical debates, how will I feel about my partner’s silence in the evenings, or lack of desire to be active?

Or if my definition of financial security involves a loaded savings account and a plush 401K, how will it impact me if my partner feels it’s more important to have a nice home and nice things for quality of day to day life?

Without realizing it, we all go into relationships with these templates or expectations of how things should feel or how they should look, and we don’t mean to be selfish, but it’s difficult to change what you have always thought or how you have viewed things.

The challenge of any relationship in life is that we each bring our own set of templates or expectations, as well as definitions of successes and failures, and often times these do not line up or match someone else’s.

For some of us, there is a realization somewhere along the journey through life, that our template or expectations may not even be serving ourselves very well, let alone another relationship. At that point we are left with more questions than answers. What are my options? Do I have options? Is it possible to change? I will readily admit that this particular junction can be rather stressful and presents with a rather daunting level of involvement.

But is it possible to reconstruct these templates, either for the sake of another or simply for the sake of a healthier definition or expectation?  Dr. Dan Siegel says yes, through the study of interpersonal neurobiology, we now understand that we can remap the way a brain functions. This allows us to change the way we think and the way we behave. How is this possible? Through literally rewiring the brain to focus on something different and therefore encourage a new, and perhaps healthier template to emerge.

The simple science is that “neurons that fire together, wire together”, which is another way of saying what you think about and what you regularly do, become your template for how you think and what you do… so if you want either or both of those to change, you have to begin to think and behave in a way that is more in line with what would be considered healthy.

Perhaps in order to further explore this, one could benefit from identifying what their templates are and what expectations come with those templates. We need to first identify these definitions and expectations before we can begin to look at how they were created in the first place… let alone go about the work of changing them.

The more that I explore within the field of psychology, the more I realize the long and arduous process, of becoming, of changing, or growing, of expanding… and the more I get excited for the ride.