Category Archives: mindfulness

Letting Balls Drop

I had a position at a job once in which the demands for my work outnumbered my hours and abilities. All the items I was asked to do were important in their own right, yet I was simply unable to do all of them without burning at both ends and sacrificing my own sense of self and well-being. I became frustrated. I felt disrespected. Resentment was building in my heart with anger towards my supervisor. Above all, I was tired. I wanted to do a good job, truly, and yet I was stretched too thin. I talked with a mentor at the time and his reply both terrified and freed me.

“Lindsay, you have to let some balls drop.”

As someone who works hard and wants to do the best job I can at all times, the idea of intentionally letting things drop seemed out of the question. How could I just choose not to do a part of my work? People depend on me, I may get in trouble with my boss, I don’t like negating my responsibilities. I had adopted the attitude that it wasn’t my fault, there was simply too much to do, and that the demands would have to change in order for my attitude and well-being to change. It wasn’t up to me, the job and expectations had to change.

However, this belief system flew in the face of my agency and choice. The resentment I was inwardly brewing was impacting only me and keeping my hands tied. I wasn’t getting more of my life back with this demeanor–quite the opposite actually. I quickly became aware that changing my attitude and actions was the only move towards power and freedom that I actually had.

So I asked my friend a bit more about this idea of letting balls drop. Questions like what if I drop the wrong ones or get in trouble with management? What if folks are upset at me and families I work with lose trust in my abilities? He kindly walked me through this, reminding me to trust myself in knowing which balls were droppable and which I must keep juggling. He challenged my beliefs that perhaps by letting balls drop, those above me might take action upon seeing the workload is too much for one person. He encouraged me to choose my needs and a work/life balance, which means both things have to give a little.

Part of my story is my need to get things right and the idea of choosing to let them be wrong was extremely uncomfortable at first. I knew there would be questions from my boss, and there were. I knew I would be tempted to blame and defend myself, and I was. I knew it would be uncomfortable to simply acknowledge I couldn’t get to it all, and it was. And in it all I hoped it would be ok, and ultimately it really was.

I got some life back. I found myself less tired and frustrated. My arms were no longer tied up in exhaustive juggling, rather more open to critically deciding what would make it onto my plate and what would have to be dropped. In some ways it was a practice of boundaries. In some ways it was a practice of self-care. In some ways it was a practice of my needs being of equal importance to others. And in all ways it was a practice of balance, choice, and empowerment.

As I write this, the critic in my own head desires to explain my absence from blogging over the past month. And the truth may be that my reasons are legitimate and worthy. However, I also acknowledge that though those are true, I fully decided to let this ball drop because ultimately it was droppable. It’s a hobby I enjoy and hope is of some value to others, yet it is droppable when I start juggling too much. And in the end, it is freeing to hold that truth tightest.

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC.

For more, contact me!

People Like Yourself

In her 2010 book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown writes, “To become fully human means learning to turn my gratitude for being alive into some concrete common good. It means growing gentler toward human weakness. It means practicing forgiveness of my and everyone else’s hourly failures to live up to divine standards.” The book, written as a series of practices that provide insight into the gifts that come from doing things imperfectly, offers it’s readers a new way of interacting with themselves. Perhaps learning to be kind, gentler, and forgiving, to actually treat yourself like you like yourself amid the perfect standards of the day, is actually the way to be more fully human.

In a world full of competition and pursuing excellence, it is easy to feel like one isn’t enough, doesn’t measure up, and at the end of the day really doesn’t matter. These thoughts and practices of our day quickly take a toll on our well being, moving from passing thoughts to sticky reminders of why we shouldn’t like ourselves. In 2018, it seems the chase for the newer model this and the more expensive that keeps us striving and we often allow our negative thoughts to serve as motivation. And though this sort of criticism and shame may work to help us with short-term change, we often soon become fed up and therefore give up before we’ve even given ourselves a fair shot.

Taking this into mind alongside our desire to avoid arrogance and presumptuousness, finding a balanced middle path where we can accept, and even like, ourselves while still allowing for the reality of the work to be done can be challenging at best. To admit and find peace in the truth that we can affectionately care for ourselves, not be selfish, and still be in process, well that all seems much harder to put into practice than the beauty of our opening quote. So how do we do it? How do we genuinely learn to like ourselves in a healthy way?

There is no easy answer, no quick change that allows us to live this way, but rather a series of small choices that help us to live life liking ourselves rather than beating ourselves up. Here are few practical and tangible ways we can separate from the burdens of life and live in ways that celebrate the men and women we are.

  1. Come up with a mantra to live by. We all have negative thoughts about ourselves swirling about our minds, waiting to appear in both the good and bad. We must be intentional to fight these sticky thoughts and putting new thoughts in is a surprisingly easy place to start. A mantra of mine I stole from a colleague. It has appeared throughout my blog and points me back to my values and worth. This saying, “show up as the woman you want to be,” encourages and motivates me onward rather than keeping me stuck in self-defeating thoughts. I encourage you to come up with a quick sound bite that you can hold onto that points you back towards liking yourself.
  2. Write personal daily affirmations. Try starting your day with writing present-tense “I” statements about character traits or qualities in yourself that you are proud of or simply like. Make the words into art or collect images that represent those parts of you. Whatever you do, keep them positive and keep them current.
  3. Do something that supports your values every single day. One of the quickest ways to self-defeat is acting outside our values. When we act differently than what our values suggest, we become duplicitous. This is extremely difficult for us to manage and often results in a negative downward loop of actions confirming negative thoughts and feelings about ourselves. However, by acting on our values, even amid the judgmental thoughts and feelings, we can learn to like ourselves more and more, trusting the feelings and thoughts will eventually catch up. (If you aren’t sure where to begin, try identifying some of the values that guide your life. Google “Value Card Sort” for an array of different and free online resources to help get you started!)
  4. Be kind to yourself. I end many therapy sessions reminding folks to be kind to themselves because I know from my own experience, that the minute you leave you are more determined than ever to change and get things right. And then we don’t because we are humans and perfection is impossible. We must be able to practice kindness and grace in our mistakes, failures, and growth rather than condemning and punishing ourselves. Change takes courage and bravery, acknowledge that in yourself through kindness and mercy.
  5. Start a gratitude practice. It’s tricky for us to hold onto the anger and the burdens of our day when we take time to focus our heads and hearts on the things we are grateful for. Maybe it’s jotting down three unique things every night that you were thankful for that day or doing a more formal practice like The 5-Minute Journal — whatever the practice, try sticking to it for at least a month, jumping right back in if you forget a day or two.

Working on more closely living our values, solving our own problems, getting in the grit, and taking responsibility are all wonderful practices in life. Practices I encourage you to continue. The striving in our lives towards the beauty of perfection is rarely the issue. However, the ways in which we do so, cutting ourselves down and our self-worth often taking the hit, lead to the opposite outcomes. And these outcomes create hopelessness, helplessness, and discontent rather than spurring us onward.

As I close, I invite you to reflect on the relationship you have with yourself. How would you describe the relationship and how is life within that relationship? Take notice if it is one of kindness and compassion, mercy and grace, that allows you to honestly say you like yourself. And if it is, well done and keep up the hard and fruitful work. If it is not and you would like that to change, consider one or two of the practices above that you would be willing to incorporate starting today.

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC

For more information on living a life of liking yourself, contact me today.

The Hopes and Fears of All the Years

This Christmas, while singing carols, this line stood out to me in a new and unusual manner. “The hopes and fears of all the years…” And while having heard it and sang it all the years of my life, it struck me with it’s opposing nature as the words escaped my lips. How can two seemingly opposite emotions and states of being be brought together? And how do we live in that place, year after year?

My DBT training has taught me well to live the tension of conflicting thoughts and feelings, and so perhaps for me, it is less about the “how do we do it,” and more about the “but do I have to…?” I don’t want to live this way, in the tension of hope and fear. I want to live freely in hope and hope alone. I want to let fear go—it not getting a place in my life outside of keeping me safe and alive. I don’t want to live scared that I may fail at this, might not get those, or may lose that.

Plainly put, I want to find hope that is certain and without the accompanying partner of fear.

Yet, as I sit writing at the start of 2018, I can quickly and easily think of many things in which I am both experiencing hope and its companion fear about for the coming year—hopes for my personal life, my professional life, my spiritual life. And as much as I think I can control my destiny, work hard enough, choose wisely, or make fewer mistakes, when all is said and done, I cannot control the outcome of many of my hopes and fears.

They simply are.

And so I must choose to accept the feelings that come. To live in peace during the holidays, the new year, and beyond, I must actively accept the hopes and fears that swirl into and around the reality I am living. Though I may prefer hope and must fight the urges fear suggests of hiding and setting hope aside, I deliberately welcome both instead of trying to pick one. While choosing fear might seem safer and keeps the heart more guarded, it isn’t, however, the way that leads to a true life worth living. And holding hope alone is near impossible given its uncertain nature. I must invite both, I must hold both, and I must grasp both with open hands.

Not to be overlooked, the ultimate understanding and acceptance of hopes and fears as conveyed in the Christmas carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem, points at the birth of Jesus. The hope realized and the fears assuaged, all were met together in Christ. And, Jesus, the anchor of hope that can bear the weight of my fears was not lost on me this Christmas. For when we have hope bigger than ourselves, our fears seem to shrink back and find their rightful size and place. This and this alone is where we tighten our grip and hold on for dear life. For it is here and Him that will see us through the hopes and fears of all the year.

As you begin 2018, I encourage you to see how you are letting hope in, holding fear loosely, and what anchor keeps you amid the two. What do you cling to when fear grows and consumes your heart? What do you clutch for the answer to your hopes? And is there space for the two to collide and coexist, hope and fear crashing into one another while you withstand the impact?

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC

 

Holding Expectations with Open Hands

It’s the holiday season. A time of year that can bring with it an array of emotions and memories, hopes and disappointments, joys and longings. It can be hard to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas, perhaps for the first time without a loved one lost over the past year to the battles of life. And it’s difficult to enjoy a Norman Rockwall season in the midst of estrangement, pain, or let down. We can all admit, even if we don’t want to, that holidays aren’t always easy.

Society seems too often sell us an idea of holiday spirit—of connection, of laughter, of gathering, of love. Immaculately decorated homes filled with the overflow of conversation. The scent of homemade traditions engaging our senses. The shared cooking, the loud stories, the new dessert, and the fireplace glow—we love this stuff! We connect. We laugh. We gather. We love.

It stirs in us because we were created for these.

Our hearts are moved by the expectation that this idea is what life is supposed to offer us. Reuniting with those who love us, sharing a good meal or two, and giving of time and resources—this is the stuff that moves and soothes the soul. It may be nostalgia, it may be our reality, or it may be a foolish desire, but we tend to become hopeful and expectant during this time of year.

And perhaps it is because this is how it is meant to be with expectations. We feel the mundane of the work week, basketball practice, preparing dinner, and the like. We want more from the days and from life in general. We want those things that make life richer and more enjoyable. We want and even expect happiness and ease, community and the picture-perfect Christmas. Yet few of us rarely get the total package and instead must make due with our family members in jail, our parents divorced, our kids struggling, our spouses angry, and our homes far from the magazine image.

There is so often a tension between what we want and what we have. A tension between the longing and expectation and our acceptance of reality has the potential to leave us with feeling frustrated, hurting, scared, and defeated. And so, too frequently we begin to shield ourselves from the expectations and hopes by simply letting go of them. We shift towards expecting the worst and living muted from anticipation.

However, to be true to ourselves, we must acknowledge and embrace the hope and longing. They are our life line and anchor, pulling us onward and holding us firm to rise once more and fight the good fight. Hope lights the way and expectation can motivate us toward the actions and behaviors that we ourselves become proud of.

It is in finding the balance between gripping expectations of things beyond our control and turning our back altogether on hopes and expectations that true freedom is found. Similar to an analogy I once heard about sand, the tighter we hold our expectations, the quicker they seep through our hands. Rather, we must learn to hold them with open hands, allowing them, and the metaphorical sand, the ability to simply be.

As you and yours head into the coming week of Christmas, I hope you might look at what expectations of the season, of gatherings, of family, of life, and of yourself that you are tightly gripping. I invite you to loosen your fingers while still keeping your palms up, not dismissing hope and expectation altogether. Allow for some space, for the middle to exist, and for the joy of a willing approach—willing to be surprised, willing to take care of your disappointments, willing to attend to your feelings, willing to embrace the small moments—this holiday season.

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC

For more by Lindsay, check out her weekly blog. And if this particular piece felt helpful, contact me today!

Feelings: Friend or Foe

There is this phrase that came out a few years ago. I still love it even though it is used all the time now. It’s popularity was helped by the .gif and meme phenomenon. My friends and I use it to refer to songs or stories. My husband describes the popular TV show This Is Us with the phrase as a way of gauging if he is up for watching it or not. And my clients often use it to describe our conversations or in hopes of avoiding other conversations. Simply put, this little phrase shows up everywhere.

All the feels. 

All the feels has become the common way to pluralize our experience and allow it to be more complete. It communicates to others some degree of weightiness impacting us one way or another. It’s the quick joke that can lighten the mood of a heavy conversation. It’s the short quip that conveys the impact of an event. And it’s the phrase that has given us permission to share more emotionally than in the past. With so many feelings, even all the feels, our connections and relationships with feelings surely has changed. Or have they?

Are feelings really any more of a thing we welcome and experience than they were in the past? Or do we still see them as a vulnerability, a weakness, and a burden?

In working on this blog, I googled quotes on feelings. The results were overwhelming and somewhat unapproachable. It seems that every author, every poet, most artists of any sort, not to mention countless therapists, religious figures, and pop culture icons, all have thoughts about feelings. What a funny sentence—thoughts about feelings. Perhaps they are also expressed as feelings about feelings. But more on that at a later time.

No matter what, feelings are a shared and unavoidable phenomenon. Feelings happen as life happens. The argument of which comes first, thoughts or feelings, similar to the chicken or the egg conversation, exists in the therapy world, but that is not the debate of this platform. Here, rather, I invite us to look at our thoughts on feelings. What do you believe about feelings? Are feelings friendly, informative, even helpful? Or are they foolish, stupid, and maybe our foe?

One of my favorite therapy exercises with clients is one in which I process with them their relationship to their emotions; in essence, how do they get along with their feelings. It is often revealing as a question that many have never considered. Yet, we all have a way of relating to our feelings. On any given day I have clients who obey their feelings to a tee, listening to their every whim and worry, and then others who despise their feelings and pretending they don’t have them, bury them into the depths of their core. Some embrace all the feels and some loathe all the feels. I don’t believe any one of these is more “right” than the other, and in fact, they both have their pros and cons. But perhaps even before how we relate to our feelings, we first have to look at some of our thoughts, and feelings, about feelings.

I found a few quotes from folks current and historical that embody so much of what I hear others say about emotions. As you read these, see what internal responses are happening in you. Do you agree or disagree? Are you annoyed or in favor of how these folks articulate the relationship we have with feelings? After reading these quotes, I invite you to pause a moment and think about one belief you have about feelings that impacts and informs the way you interact with them in both yourself and others.

Author, researcher, and Ph.D., Brene Brown states, “All the stuff that keeps you safe from feeling scary emotions? They also keep you from feeling the good emotions. You have to shake those off. You have to become vulnerable.

In his work, The Picture of Dorian Gray, poet and playwright Oscar Wilde writes, “I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.

UCLA psychiatrist and author, Judith Orloff suggests, “How you react emotionally is a choice in any situation.

And Anne Frank penned in her diary,But feelings can’t be ignored, no matter how unjust or ungrateful they seem.

Most likely your beliefs originated in childhood and/or are based on impactful experiences you’ve had throughout your life. As experiential beings, feelings are vivid and real and can impact us for a lifetime. Biologically speaking, feelings occur in our brainstem, deep in the reptilian part of our brain that is essential to survival—think flight, fight, or freeze.  And one of the fascinating things about this part of our brain, as it relates to feelings, is it has no sense of time. It doesn’t know the threat of a large dog when you are a child apart from the threat of the barista getting your order wrong when you are running late to work. It isn’t meant to give us logical information, it is meant to give us information about survival, threat, values, and the like.

What we do with this information our feelings are communicating, and in a lot of ways, what we were taught about this information, often gives way to our current way of relating to our emotions. We hate them, we love them, we express them, we bury them, we try to turn certain ones off, we avoid others at all costs—this is the way with all the feels. And while I don’t agree with all the above quotes, I think they certainly capture a great deal of the way many of us relate to feelings.

It would take a great deal longer and many more words to fully unpack our relationship with feelings, but I want to leave you thinking about your relationship with them. And I want to propose a possibly new thought. What if emotions aren’t good or bad, friend or foe, but simply just are? They are a part of our experience. They have the potential to protect us or lead us into distress. They can be influenced but our experience of them is not fully in our control. Feelings come and go, they ebb and flow. They desire reaction and yet we have the ability to slow down and respond.

Maybe a hard sell to some, but I find myself on the friendly side of the feelings equation. They are there for a reason, and that reason isn’t our destruction! Life seems less colorful, passionate, and complete when emotions get pushed away. Feelings connect us, they serve us, they motivate us, and they ignite us. And yet, with all parts of our life, feelings must be in balance. They must rarely be given the reigns to completely control our decisions and behaviors. They are not the enemy, but they are also not the king.

I hope to have given you food for thought this blog. We each are continually navigating and working on all our relationships, our personal relationship with feelings included. I conclude with this quote from my beloved author C.S. Lewis, who I believe captures the essence of a balanced approach to allowing feelings a unique place at our table while also a suggesting a specific route in which they are to be engaged.

“The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.”
― C.S. Lewis

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC

Let’s talk about your relationship with feelings!

Do Unto Others

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

The Golden Rule; it is plastered around elementary schools and rooted into our psyche with the hope of encouraging interactions with one another that honor, respect, and serve. Ideally, if we can just think about how we would like others to view and treat us, then maybe we will do the same to them. It’s a win for everyone and serves as a subtle reminder of general behavior expectations for children, adolescents, and adults.

Yet what if the Golden Rule is also for ourselves and not just how we treat others?

It’s fair to say that a great deal of us want others to give us the benefit of the doubt, encourage us, allow for our mistakes and do-overs, and genuinely think the best of us. We’d like others to be kind to us, to assume we are trying our hardest, and that our intentions are pure. A lot of us fight for this in friendships, workplaces, and marriages and we may eve debate leaving them if we don’t get this sort of treatment. In short, perhaps we want others to treat us the way we wished we treated ourselves.

So what if we did? What if we gave ourselves the grace that is the essence and driving force of the Golden Rule?

I invite you to examine the ways in which you are treating yourself and if they are anything like the ways in which you treat others? Would you say the things to friends that you say to yourself when you make mistakes? Would you call your spouse the name you call yourself when you are disappointed in your abilities? Would you tell your co-workers the things you tell yourself about your work and production?

If your answer is no, never, or no way, that’s a great starting place. Think of the mercy you freely extend to those you love and care for. How can you extend this to yourself? Maybe it’s creating a postcard to reminding you to love and accept yourself. It might be journaling an affirmation a day about something positive you embody. Or, perhaps it is finding just one of your sticky negative self-talk statements and becoming intentional about challenging and changing it over the coming weeks.

And as I offer up this invitation, I am also fully aware that some of us will answer with an emphatic yes. Yes, I would treat others the way I treat myself. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not, either way, the heart of the matter is still important. If treating them kindly, then I applaud you and the way you treat yourself and others. If less so, consider asking yourself the following: Are you ok with treating others in ways that you have experienced? Are these interactions with self and others wounding, discouraging, and hurtful or uplifting, encouraging, and merciful? Does it serve you to be demanding of yourself or others? Is it the kind of man or woman you want to be?

Do unto others and do unto yourself.

And so if you desire to treat yourself and/or others differently, I encourage you to start by learning to let go of judgment. Let go of labels and ineffective interpretations and make way for more factual information. Sticking with the facts of what we observe, both inside and outside of ourselves, helps us to see what we are working with and on—in this moment, regarding this situation, and with these circumstances.

It is here, in the light of what is actually happening, be it a success or failure, an accomplishment or mistake, that we can choose how to treat ourselves. You can let go of being this or that and allow yourself to merely experience it instead. You can allow yourself to either separate from your latest performance or become enslaved by it. It is here, in the reatlity of an individual situation, that you can choose to be kind in your thoughts, be gracious in your feelings, and be encouraging in your actions—both to yourself and to others.

Go forth. Do unto others as you’d want to be done to you. And make sure both are in line with the values you hold to and the person you want to be.

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC.

Curious about how to live this way? Contact me!

Containing and Keeping Yourself

It is common for folks to discuss the need to protect themselves from unsafe people. Often times, this stretches beyond the physical safety and presents an emotional concern. A roommate, a co-worker, a parent, or partner each have the potential to create lasting wounds. As I hear stories of abuse and abandonment and hurt turned to harm, it is understandable what these folks mean and gives context to what they deem as unsafe.

This painful impact that others have created has the potential to give great understanding to the recipients’ behaviors. In response to the pain we’ve survived, we adapt and change in ways to help us avoid pain in the future. Some folks shut down and withdrawal. Some busy themselves and pursue perfection. Some let loose and let go. There is no one particular right way to react all the time, though some routes are more effective than others. When we are trying to make it, it is important we learn to protect and boundary ourselves from the unsafe people and places of this world.

Typically when we discuss the idea of and need for boundaries, our minds drift to building a fortress of safety around ourselves that no one can penetrate. Our hearts are tucked away from hurt, though we may portray a desire for closeness and present welcoming. We learn to manipulate and orchestrate ways in which to get our needs for relationship met all the while staying in our safe little bubble. And as we deftly avoid pain, our well-intentioned protection can become a way of qualifying our own hurtful behaviors.

It doesn’t start out malicious. Perhaps our boundaries look like leaving a conversation without regard for the other or exploding in anger after being wounded. We justify our reactions, our behavior, and our truth. Our emotions drive us and we create wreckage in our rearview. Our protective lies become our only reality. It might be drinking to numb or fighting to connect, defensiveness to protect or blaming to avoid. Slowly and surely our previously adaptive ways of protecting become swords that wound others. So as we acknowledge the different styles of coping, we also must begin to see boundaries as not only a way to protect us from the world, but also to protect the world from us.

I once heard it said that boundaries are like hula-hoops, one around us to protect and one around us to contain. Protection, we get that. Containment, on the other hand, containment is so equally important and yet so easily overlooked. Containment is our way of taking care of ourselves and not recklessly letting our baggage crash into those around us. Containment is self-soothing, problem-solving, keeping our side of the street clean, living our values, meeting our own needs, showing up in difficult situations, and taking responsibility. Simply, containment is essential.

The idea of containing and keeping one’s self is not based on a belief that we are all dangerous and terribly harmful to one another. Rather, containing and keeping one’s own self, allows for healthy space between us and others, and allows for the best possible solutions to our own problems. When we contain ourselves we know what’s ours to own and what’s not, we can take responsibility for our actions, and we are free to show up as the men and women we desire to be.

Containing myself allows me to be the solution to my problems, and this is the ultimate gift to myself. Keeping means I learn to check in with myself and meet my own needs, especially when others are unable to meet them. Containing gives me the freedom to set boundaries in a way that I am proud of. Keeping myself provides safety because I am able to care for myself in ways perfectly unique to what I need and want. Containing myself prevents my hurt from hurting others. Keeping myself allows me to hold myself together when it feels the world is trying to take from me.

Containing ourself is just as much for the world as for us, as it provides a foundation for own contentment. So how do we contain and keep ourselves?

Perhaps best learned in relationship, containing yourself is often first practiced in the safety and space of trust and bumping up against others who won’t give up or let go. We learn that others are not able to make us ok and yet that doesn’t relate to their care or love for us. We experience their consistency while recognizing they are not picking up our emotional distress. We are encouraged to find new ways to soothe ourselves and create practices that help us be our own best resource.

As we learn to be the answer to our own problems, ultimately, we must tune into ourselves. Containment requires a sense of honesty and knowing one’s self. This looks like mindfully learning and tuning into what we are feeling beneath the outbursts or isolation, saying no to things that we cannot offer free of expectation, asking for what we need, and accepting that others may or may not meet that need. We take ownership of our behavior rather than make excuse. And remembering we are responsible for how we treat others, we handle our pain in order to not injure another.

Written by Lindsay Williams, MA, LPC