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train your brain

Exercises to Train Your Brain to Think, Feel & Behave Differently

Greetings! Megan here.

We know the brain has plasticity, so we know we can shape and mold it. However, many of us don’t know what to do to see a difference.

Oftentimes we see things as black/white, good/bad, like/dislike, right/wrong which are limiting perspectives and keep us stuck in just two options. To increase our flexibility and make training the brain easier, we have to work on the brain’s flexibility and give our brain more options and perspectives from which to see our life and the world.

If you want to decrease your anxiety, anger, irritability, and depression, here are some specific exercises that help you create flexibility in the brain.

Create a Mind-Body Connection

First, focus on your 5 senses.

Take a minute or two, wherever you are, to focus on each sense and be as descriptive as possible. Naming and noticing while not judging (they aren’t good or bad; right or
wrong; they just are).

Sight: What are you seeing? Colors, textures, name the objects, just notice.

Smell: What are the smells around you? Do you smell the grass, flowers, stale
office furniture, someone’s lunch, your deodorant, or shampoo? Again, use your
adjectives: pungent, sour, sweet, stale, fresh, etc.

Taste: What are you tasting? Toothpaste? Coffee? Breath mint? Be descriptive:
Minty, tangy, sweet, bitter, etc.

Touch: What does it feel like in the chair you’re sitting in or on the floor/ground
you’re standing on? Is there a breeze? Warm sun on your face? What do the
clothes feel like on your skin? Tight, loose, itchy, soft, cozy, etc.

Hearing: What are you hearing inside this space (room, car, etc)? What are you
hearing outside of this space (next room, outside, down the street)?

Next,  Count your breathing.

Count to 4 or 5 or 6 on each inhale and exhale for the same number. It
doesn’t matter what number you choose, one’s not better than another, just do what feels
best for you. Counting in and out for the same number is very balancing. As you do this
breathing work, notice the break in breath at the top of the breath and at the bottom where it feels like the breath is suspended for just a moment.

Set Boundaries

Know what you have control over and what you don’t have control over.

The easy answer is: You only have control over yourself. Your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Even if sometimes it feels like you don’t, you can learn how to do this. What you don’t have control over is anyone else – what they do, what they say, how they think, how they feel.

Awaken The Auto-Pilot and be Kind to Yourself (and Others!)

Notice your critical voice. We speak to ourselves, in our mind, with many different voices. Sometimes we’re very parental with ourselves and sometimes we are free and playful. Other times we can be very critical. If you have any sort of perfectionistic tendencies or are a bit Type-A, this may really resonate. When we begin to just notice (no need to try to change it) when we are speaking to ourselves critically we inherently change it. Just the sheer act of paying attention and noticing (without judgment) has the ability to change the issue at hand. And remember, don’t be critical of yourself being critical – just notice it for what it is and move on!

For ultra brain flexibility do a routine task differently.

-If you have “your spot” at the kitchen or dining room table, move to another spot at
each meal.

-If you have a morning routine in the bathroom, change it up. Brush your teeth first,
then take a shower, then floss your teeth.

-Soap up in the shower differently. If you usually start and your head, start at your feet.

Remember, there is no right or wrong, good or bad and we aren’t going for efficiency right now. We’re going for a change of perspective as well as flexibility of thinking and doing, which will help you change other, bigger, things if you want to! You’re building new neural pathways in your brain! Congrats!

I hope these insights are helpful! Let me know if you have any questions!

trending

How Are You Trending?

Written by Rob Giltner, MAMFT

Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot of terms like: “peak performance,” “level up,” and “elevate yourself” as it relates to being our best self. However, our best self is something that we should take time to think of. Only once we have a good idea of what our best self looks like can develop a proper road map to achieving that. 

One tool that can be very effective in achieving our goals, can be to take an inventory of ourselves and assess mindfully how we are trending. We might think of trending as it relates to social media. However, here the term describes an assessment of ourselves.

In therapy or counseling, we often use scales to take a personal inventory.

For example, if you have been experiencing constant anxiety you may say that the anxiety is at an 8 out of 10; 10 being the worst. Your long-term goal may be to get anxiety down to a 2 or 3. However, that can’t happen unless you develop a plan and utilize anxiety-relieving tools. 

Understanding how you are trending allows you to set measurable goals where you are able to go from an 8 to a 6 and so forth. If you take that progression then you are trending in the correct direction.

Often individuals have great long-term goals. Which could be to feel more peace, to be happier, or to be less stressed. What often gets in the way of those goals is being unaware of the direction we are trending. After all, all of us carry busy schedules and have many things to do. When we are overwhelmed or highly stressed our brains go into survival mode instead of naturally assessing how we are trending. 

If you have a goal or an idea of what your best self is; are you trending away or toward that direction? If you are trending away, what might you do to help yourself begin to trend in the right direction? If you notice you are trending toward your goal what has been working? And as always be gentle with yourself in any direction you may be headed.

white fragility

Beyond Buzzwords: White Fragility

White Fragility is another wonderful book to read this Black History Month. The author Dr. Robin Diangelo has been teaching diversity training for 20 years. And she happens to teach at my alma mater, the University of Washington in Seattle. So cool!

Like Kendi, Diangelo speaks about her own discrimination and racism and the need for us all to consider important aspects of how we participate in racism even when our intention is to “not be racist” or even “antiracist.”

PLUS, through Metro United Way, Diangelo will be offering a “Beyond Buzzwords” event on February 23rd, 2021 from 12pm-1:15pm. Register HERE for FREE to attend!

Speaking of buzzwords, if you are noticing some phrases pop up that you aren’t familiar with, I encourage you to Google them and find out more. When we know better, we do better!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How To Be An Antiracist – February 2021 Monthly Book Giveaway

how to be an antiracist #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From the National Book Award–winning author of Stamped from the Beginning comes a “groundbreaking” (Time) approach to understanding and uprooting racism and inequality in our society—and in ourselves.

“The most courageous book to date on the problem of race in the Western mind.”—The New York Times

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times Book Review • Time • NPR • The Washington Post • Shelf Awareness • Library Journal • Publishers Weekly • Kirkus Reviews

I. Loved. This. Book.

And, to no surprise, I’m not the only one.

As a cis white woman (she/her/hers), I am fully aware that there is plenty I do not know about racism.  And not only am I not an expert on racism, there is plenty I don’t know about sexism, agism, ablism, and other prejudices. I also recognize that I still participate in racism and other prejudices even when I believe I am consciously trying my best “Not To Be” racist or prejudice.

Author Ibrim X. Kendi brilliantly addresses the difference between “not being a racist” and being “antiracist.”  He helps the reader understand that whether we like it or not, we are all participating in racism (even him!), even when we would consider ourselves “not racist.”

While this is a “how to” book, it’s also a wonderful narrative of Kendi’s life. Not only does he talk about his journey with racism and discrimination, but also with cancer. This book is a great “must read.”

 

book of the month

2021 Book of the Month Giveaway!

Hi Friends! Megan Bartley here.

One of the fun questions that was asked during our Mindfulness Center holiday party was, “What’s your favorite holiday?!” We had many varied answers from Easter to Fourth of July to Thanksgiving to Christmas. My answer was unique. My favorite holiday is New Year’s Eve and Day.

I have always liked the idea of a fresh start, of starting anew. Of putting the past behind me and stepping into the unknown of the future. Now, with that said, I am a planner, in a big way, so I usually have many goals and intentions for the New Year. I also LOVE to challenge myself…to learn new things, read new books, try new activities, explore new places, eat new foods…you name it.

One of my favorite books is The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra. One of the laws is the Law of Detachment. Choprah so elequently writes,In detachment lies the wisdom of uncertainty . . . in the wisdom of uncertainty lies the freedom from our past, from the known, which is the prison of past conditioning. And in our willingness to step into the unknown, the field of all possibilities, we surrender ourselves to the creative mind that orchestrates the dance of the universe.”

Aaaahhhh…. I could read that passage over and over. It seems so simple, freeing, beautiful and exciting.

So in the spirit of newness and giving, I am excited to announce that every month this year we will be giving away one of my most favorite books that has helped me

  • 1) learn new things,

  • 2) see old things in new ways, and/or

  • 3) challenge the norm of what we “know.”

In January 2021 we will give away a copy of The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. Simply submit your information below to enter the drawing. We will announce our winner in our email newsletter the last Friday of every month. If you can’t wait to read the book… Order it HERE!

understanding mindfulness

Understanding Mindfulness

Written by Bridgette Allen, MAMFT

The definition of mindfulness is simply paying attention to what is transpiring in the present moment, without judgment.

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, renowned mindfulness teacher and researcher, mindfulness is also “a particular way of looking deeply inside to promote understanding and healing with an acceptance of what is.”

To fully understand mindfulness we must first recognize the importance of focusing on our breathing. Since our breath is always with us and easily accessible, following it anchors us in the present moment. It is our “friend” and regulator. When our mind wanders, and it will, we gently bring it back to our breathing and the present moment, without judgment.

In addition, our feelings about our mindfulness practice play an important role in the success of living “mindfully.”

Nine inter-related attitudinal factors form the foundation of mindfulness:

Non-judging: Learning to be an impartial witness to our own daily experiences. Not labeling them either good or bad, but just taking note of what they are now.

Patience: Understanding and accepting that things sometimes unfold in their own time and being open to each moment in the present.

Beginner’s Mind: Seeing afresh…looking at things as if for the first time with an unbiased view and a sense of curiosity.

Trust: Honoring ourselves and our feelings; believing in our own instincts.

Non-striving: Being in a state of non-doing and allowing ourselves to “be” without trying to change anything.

Acceptance: Coming to terms with what is and seeing things as they really are in the present.

Letting Go: Accepting things as they are with no attachment or expectation.

Kindness: Bringing compassion for ourselves as we are now without self-blame or criticism.

Curiosity: Noticing what is happening in the moment with our emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations.

As we cultivate these factors in our practice, they in turn strengthen mindfulness within ourselves and in our relationship with others.

Mindfulness can be practiced informally or formally.

Formal mindfulness practice involves setting aside a specific amount of time, usually thirty minutes or longer every day, to consciously “go inside” and be aware of what is sensed or felt in the body, using the breath as an anchor. This practice can include a sitting/walking meditation, body scan (systematic scan of body parts), or yoga session.

Informal mindfulness involves finding brief moments in everyday life to be present. Instead of multi-tasking or spending extended periods on automatic pilot, the focus is on one activity at a time, without distraction. Whatever your preference, practicing mindfulness can help reduce the amount of mindlessness you experience day to day.

the subtle art of not giving a fuck

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Written by Megan Bayles Bartley, MAMFT, LMFT

The title of this book caught my attention recently while I was at the airport. Working with many people who have anxiety or feel stressed out I thought it could be an interesting read. I like things that make us question the status quo and may be a bit provocative. The subtitle drove home my decision to purchase it: “A counterintuitive approach to living a good life.” Even cooler!

I was curious about the author and what his credentials are so I looked on the back cover and discovered he was a well-followed blogger. Hmmm… Not your typical (potentially dry) self-help PhD? Not surprising with a title like this. My graduate studies had taught me to be leary about non-scientific based information, but I’m an out-of-the-box thinker, so I’m usually willing to let things speak for themself. As I read I realized Manson has no specific education or credential as a therapist or in the mental health field. What he does have is his own personal experiences, which he shares freely in the book (which is different than most PhD, self-help authors!). He’s likable and seemingly very open, which is a plus for me. Essentially what I found is a very direct and easy-to-understand and assimilate way to communicate mindfulness (without really talking about mindfulness!). Even cooler!

I have many clients who are not “readers” and I’m always on the lookout for books that may be interesting to the uninterested reader. This book fits the profile. I have recommended it to several people and they *loved* the title and were willing to give it a whirl upon my recommendation.

A few of the premises in the book that caught my attention:

  1. We can never really avoid being in pain and discomfort (he uses the word suffering), so choose what you want to be in discomfort about.
  2. Choose what you want to give a f*ck about rather than giving a f*ck about everything.
  3. Your emotions are there for a very good reason – to give you feedback, to get your attention. So PAY ATTENTION to them!
  4. Make sure you are aligning with your values and priorities. Are the people you surround yourself with people you strive to be like? Are the decisions you are making assisting you in being the best version of yourself?
  5. Failure is to be expected! Welcome it. Learn from it! Perfectionism can keep us from living in reality… I mean really, at what point is “perfection” achieved?! Or are you always telling yourself you’re STILL not good enough.
  6. It’s ok to say “No.” Again, choosing what you do and don’t want to participate in establishes appropriate boundaries.

I found it to be a very enjoyable, humorous, entertaining read, and am glad I read it.

Intrigued?! Give it a whirl for yourself!

 

speaking your truth

Speaking Your Truth

Written by Jennifer Komis, MAMFT, MDIV

I learn a lot from my 3-year-old niece. Last time she visited, she walked in and immediately said, “Do you have Popsicles?” When I said “no” (terrible aunt oversight), she looked at me point blank and said, “Well, you should get some.”

Such directness. Such self-assurance. She asked for what she wanted. And while her attitude is typical of a 3-year-old, she made me wonder on a deeper level how we lose this directness, this wildness. When do we stop asking for what we need? What causes us to get all “polite” and quiet and afraid to say things like, “I need this. I want this. I miss this, love this don’t like this.”

Many of us stop making these requests as adults.

We think staying quiet equates to “making things work” or “keeping the peace.” But does it?

For a very long time, I thought my messy parts were unacceptable. I thought the “in process” version of me needed to be hidden in order to be loved and accepted. And so I hid, and watched many of those around me do the same.

I was presenting to the world the image of a final product instead of the messy, always-becoming work in progress that I am, that we ALL are. And that was not helpful. If anything, it was destructive and furthering a lie that being all of ourselves is somehow not okay.

The world NEEDS us to be messy because it gives others permission to be messy too.

When we stop pretending we have it all together all the time, we meet each other in actual reality, which is complicated, beautiful, good, bad, scary, exciting, and so much more. We grow together in ways false facades don’t allow. Most importantly, we get real and know that we are loved precisely because of that realness.

Isn’t there still a voice inside of you that has something important to say, something that might make life more authentic and real? When we don’t share those words, we create a barrier.

How do we share our truth in a kind and direct way? How do we ask for what we need and hear others’ requests for what they need? It’s certainly not easy, but when we do it, when we begin to cross those bridges with ourselves and others, we find ourselves feeling closer, realer, and safer than we ever could have imagined. Be you. Be loving, be wild.

self love

What Is Self Love?

Written by Ashley Vaden, LMFT

What is self love?

I’ve found the idea of self love to be an elusive concept. A term that people like to throw around that I’ve never really grasped or experienced fully for myself. It’s like when you’re a kid in the backyard and mysteriously, a butterfly lands on you, only to fly away and never touch down again on purpose.

Has self-love ever felt like that to you? A feeling that comes close but never quite sticks? That’s why, for the past year, I’ve ventured to expand upon my understanding of self love and the explanation of it in more concrete, tangible ways. I’ve read books, listened to podcasts, worked with a mentor, interviewed trusted friends, and along the way, I’ve learned that instead of falling in love with ourselves, we grow in love with ourselves.

Self love is really about growth of self.

I’ve learned that it’s messy, and difficult, and a choice hell bent on expansion and expression. I’ve learned that we never really are the best versions of ourselves, because we are growing each and every day, but we can operate from the best versions of ourselves by choosing self and embracing authenticity. Here are my thoughts on how to grow in self love.

Self Discipline

Self discipline is the act of making promises to yourself that you in turn keep. These promises can be and should be small and specific, especially as you build confidence in yourself and require momentum in practicing self-compassion. As we strive toward bigger goals, the challenges we face may become greater, but the self discipline remains the same. Here, consistency is king. It is intention followed by action. It is choosing these values and these promises even when they are difficult to uphold.

I have found many small acts that have helped me achieve self discipline and thus expansion of self love. These include daily meditation, making my bed, drinking more water, reading for 15 minutes a day, spending time connecting with a loved one. I don’t achieve each of these tasks every day; but every day, I try to at least incorporate 3 of these intentions, whether I’m feeling rushed or I’m feeling good.

Jordan Peterson writes,

“As you attempt to climb a higher mountain or aim at a higher target, the things around you become increasingly dramatic and of import. That happens by necessity because if you’re aiming and working hard at something difficult and profound, your life is going to become increasingly difficult and profound. That might be exactly what you need as an antidote to the implicit limitations that you face as a human being.”

I think we often get this illusion that if we face obstacles that this means we are not on the right path, when essentially you must understand that the fact that you are feeling resistance means you are moving forward. I think we also misconstrue that these tasks of self discipline are difficult when we are in a place of low mood or energy. When we are feeling well, we forget the grounding practices and habits that keep us humbled and persistent. So, make promises to yourself, and keep them. Those promises lead to a larger goal when kept consistently. This journey of action aligned with value keeps you in synchrony with the growth of yourself and self love.

Click here to read the full article!

finding your new now

Finding Your New “NOW”

Written by Cheryl Young, MAMFT

I don’t know about you, but the words, ‘unprecedented, unsettling and uncertain’ are starting to lose their shock value on me. It is disturbing to listen to the news and feel that I have lost control of my very purposeful, intentional and planned out future.

The myth of being in control is now clearly being revealed. The belief that we controlled any areas of our lives has been exposed to wishful thinking. Our ‘needs’ that we intentionally took care of are now no longer needs but simply ‘wants.’ How does this sit with you? Does this feel ‘unsettling and uncertain’? Our new ‘now’ is teaching all of us that we never really were in control and perhaps there are other ways to have what we ‘need.’

Prior to our globally forced slow down – what were your plans or dreams?

What were your barriers? How have they changed? How have you changed? And now… what will you choose? Very rarely do we choose to go through pain and discomfort to reach our desires.

Personally, I have found that you cannot find true joy, unless you learn to embrace the natural pain that comes along the journey. The degree to which you avoid discomfort is also the degree to which you cannot access the delight.

When we make the decision to begin a new exercise program…the pain is expected and even accepted. We physically feel the pain of healthy growth and even welcome it as a sign of our commitment in making new uncomfortable choices to improve our physical bodies.

This is also true for our mental, emotional and relational selves. We are wired to avoid pain and to seek pleasure. Yet the growth and strength in the many areas of our lives requires the decision and willingness to face what feels uncomfortable, and sometimes painful.

To choose connection and not isolation, we must accept the risk and sometimes pain of being known and vulnerable along with the risk of being hurt. To be emotionally healthy, we have to come in contact with and befriend the very emotions that we don’t want to have.

While my usual ‘silver lining’ outlook is growing skeptical and full of doubt, I have found that practicing intentional gratitude during these ‘unprecedented, unsettling and uncertain’ times has provided me with a new lens through which I look to greet the day or difficult situation. This lens doesn’t remove the ‘bad’ – it just allows the good to shine a little brighter.

Choosing to start each day with an intention of self-love, compassion and growth provides internal grit and strength to face the uncertainties and clouds of fear that hang over all of us. Having a daily intention allows us to pay attention to what we say is important to us and not let the distractions of the day take control.

The practice of gratitude and setting daily intentions does not eliminate the potential pitfalls around us. Rather, it allows us to respond in a way that we get to choose. Learning to accept the emotions that follow doubt and fear, allows us to release the power they have over us.

Finding your new now means being present with all of your emotions, feelings and thoughts. Accept the good with the bad. Allow the best of you to shine through even while we are living in these ‘unprecedented, unsettling and uncertain’ times. Always remember you have a choice of which lens you choose to look through.

Cheryl Young supports people on their healing journey. Email her to see how she can help you discover a healthier YOU at cheryl@louisvillemindfulnesscenter.com