What is Forgiveness?

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Forgiveness is tricky business. So tricky, in fact, that I rarely use the word.  I find that it’s too complicated, too misunderstood, and too emotionally charged to be used very often.  For example, does forgiving someone mean you have forgotten their transgressions?  Does it mean that what they did to hurt you doesn’t matter anymore? Are they free to do it again?

I don’t think so.

Sometimes it is more useful to consider what forgiveness is NOT.

  • Forgiveness is NOT forgetting a past hurt or transgression
  • Forgiveness is NOT something that comes easily or without much thought or effort
  • Forgiveness is NOT something that happens automatically when the transgressor has apologized.  Instead it is something solely in the hands of the person who has been hurt.  It is their decision and action alone.
  • Forgiveness does NOT equal a continued relationship.  Meaning: you can forgive someone of something, and also then choose to terminate your relationship with them.  The two actions have nothing to do with one another.

Forgiving someone else (or even oneself) can be an important piece of mental health, particularly when it comes to some of the bigger hurts in life.  But it can’t be rushed; and it definitely isn’t useful when it is insincerely given, or bullied out of us.  Stay tuned for tips on how to forgive.



How To Stop Being So Hard On Yourself

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One of the things many of us often take for granted is how changeable our thought patterns are. It’s easy for our thoughts to get stuck in ruts, and often those ruts are negative. “I’m so fat,” “Everyone else is smarter than me,” “I’m a crummy parent.” These sorts of thoughts can begin to feel automatic. But they don’t have to be.

Just as we move and challenge our arms and legs when we try to get into good physical shape, we can also move and change our thoughts to improve our mental health. Choosing one thought to change at a time is a good place to start. Say, for example you want to change the thought “I’m not as good as the people around me.” Try the following steps:

  1. Create an alternate thought to replace the old one. Something like: “My life is just as important as everyone else’s.”
  2. Each time the old, negative thought pops up, say (either out loud or to yourself) the new, more positive thought. This may be a bit time-consuming at first. You may find that you have to repeat the old thought over and over again. But don’t give up, with time, the new thought will become more automatic.
  3. As you notice the old, negative thought decreasing in frequency over a period of time, pick a new thought to tackle. Repeat.

This article originally appeared on March 17, 2015 on Personal Development Genesis as part of series on how to silence your inner critic.



New Years Resolutions That Work

I always make New Years resolutions.  Some years they are pretty serious and challenging, other years they are more light-hearted and fun.  Either way, I think using the first couple weeks of January to take stock of where you are, where you’ve been and where you would like to go is a good use of time.

Like everyone else, my New Years resolutions often include things related to healthier living.  These might include resolutions involving nutrition, exercise, home management (financial matters, tidy-ness, etc).

But I also like to include resolutions involving my social well-being and relationships.  This might mean taking a look at how I spend my time and who I spend it with.  Am I spending my time as wisely as I spend my money?  Are there relationships that need to be re-kindled?  Others that need to be changed or ended?  Having a healthy, fulfilling social life (and that means very different things to different people) is a huge part of overall mental health, so it should be a part of our New Years resolutions too!

Sometimes I add a professional goal to my list of resolutions – some years it just feels important to make some changes, and some years things have been humming along just fine.  Either way, January is a great time to ask yourself: “Am I where I would like to be professionally?” or “Where would I like to be at the end of the year and what can I do to get there?”

Lastly, I like to add at least one (sometimes more) resolution involving my hobbies.  Some years it has been as simple as “find a new hobby” other years it has been more refined (like the year I resolved to learn to crochet).  This year I have resolved to write down all the books I read (I read 2-3 each week so it feels important to keep track!).  Regardless of what it is, avocations – or hobbies – are another important part of overall mental health so they need to be included too.  Plus these resolutions tend to be a lot more fun – and easier – than going vegan or working out everyday.

Regardless of your resolutions, remember to keep them reasonable and do-able for your best chance of success!

What are your resolutions this year?



Imagine: You Want to Change Nothing About Yourself

I was in my favorite class dance class the other day when the instructor said something like this:

“Do the best you can with the body you brought in the room today.”

This statement really hit me.  It was just what I needed to hear, and got me thinking:

What if there was nothing I wanted to change about myself or my life?

What would life be like for all of us if we accepted ourselves, our homes, our bodies, our bank accounts, our jobs, our partners for what they actually are – instead of wishing they were something different.  How many times a day do you find yourself saying:

I wish my paycheck were just a little bit more…


I wish my boobs/hips/biceps were just a little bit bigger/smaller


If only I lived in that neighborhood over there…

Now imagine that these thoughts never came to mind.  What would you do differently? Are there things you would try that you don’t have the courage to now? Are there groups you would join, jobs you would take, clothes you would wear if the “what if” and “if only” thoughts weren’t continually popping up?

In a world where we are bombarded with self-improvement tips and tricks, it can feel almost impossible to enjoy the space and the bodies we occupy RIGHT NOW.  But none of us can improve all the time, and in fact a little self-acceptance might be the one improvement many of us most need.

Stop Procrastinating!

which way to go

I was recently interviewed for a story about why we procrastinate.  And it got me thinking about procrastination in general.  Here’s the thing:

  • We all do it from time to time (or all the time)
  • Most of us find it irritating in both ourselves and others
  • Most of us have at least ONE thing we wish we would stop procrastinating about (in fact, I am writing this because I am procrastinating doing something else – really!)

In the story, I was asked a bunch of questions about why we procrastinate, but in reality I’m not sure it matters.   What matters is stopping (or at least reducing) the practice.  Here are a couple tips for tackling that dreaded task and getting it done already!

Break it up.  Filing your taxes, getting your yard ready for spring or organizing a garage sale are all huge jobs that can be easy to procrastinate. Instead, try breaking large and medium tasks into several (like 5 to 10) smaller tasks.  The small tasks will feel less overwhelming and you’ll be more likely to get them done.

Recruit a friend.  It’s not always possible to work with a partner, but many tasks can be made more tolerable fun with a friend or family member around.  You can also enlist them to help you with the job, making it go even more quickly.

Reward yourself.  We all need to be rewarded for a job well done.  So whether it’s an ice cream cone, a long soak in the tub or an hour spent with a trashy novel – make sure you have a carrot to dangle in front of yourself along the way.

Stop thinking about it.  Sometimes I find it’s hard to stop thinking about the job I am procrastinating doing.  And really, how silly is that? Instead of spending so much time dreading it, worrying about it, thinking about how hard it will be to do it, and why I’m not doing it in the first place is a big old waste of time.  It’s much better to just get up a make a little headway on the job – or at the very least stop beating myself up for not doing it!

I’m off now to take my own advice and start conquering procrastination!

Are You Procrastinating Right Now?

Are you a procrastinator?

Do you wait until April 15th to file your taxes?

Pay your bills on the day they’re due?

Wait until the very last minute to hand in reports?

Then this article might be for you.

I was recently contacted by a reporter with Public News Service who was working on a story about the Affordable Care Act.  He wondered why so many of us wait until the last minute to do things like sign up for health insurance (the deadline for the ACA is April 1).  Want to know more? Check it out:

Public News Service March 26, 2013

Public News Service March 26, 2013

Anger and Your (Mental and Physical) Health

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Did you see this recent article in CNN’s The Chart about angry outburts? The author of the study (Dr. Murray A. Mittleman, Harvard) found that people who had angry outbursts were at greater risk for “cardiovascular events” for two hours after the anger episode than those who were calm.

It seems that we are learning more about more about how psychological health affects physical health.  For example, we know that stress can affect every system of the body.  We also know that depression can take it’s toll on our cardiovascular system, and other areas of the body as well.  Now it looks like we can add anger to the list of psychological issues that affect our bodies as well.

This shouldn’t come as too big a shock, of course, because our heads are attached to our bodies – it’s all just one big system!

But how can we manage our anger?  Even those of us who don’t consider ourselves “angry people” can struggle with our tempers from time to time.  Whether we get mad at our kids, our neighbors or the other drivers on the road – anger can take its toll in lots of ways.  Here are some tips to manage:

Get it out.  Some people like to talk about it, others like to write about it or sing songs about it.  Some way or another the anger needs to come out in safe, controlled ways.  Try a few strategies and find one that works for you – just know that bottling it up isn’t usually a good option.

Do something for stress relief, even if you think you don’t need it.  We all feel stress from time to time – what’s important is that we have a few strategies for dealing with it.  We need to engage in those activities regularly – at least a couple times per week – even if we think we’re too busy or don’t need it.  When stress builds, anger isn’t far behind.

Consider changing something.  If you find yourself becoming angry at the same things over and over (cars on the highway, a rude neighbor) consider changing your routine.  Take a different route to work.  Avoid your neighbor at the mailbox.  Sometimes even slight changes in routine or behavior can make a big difference.

For more ideas about managing anger and stress, check out the American Psychological Association’s Help Center.


Why Lent Is Good For You

Goodbye (for now) tasty treats!

Goodbye (for now) tasty treats!

Even if you don’t know what Lent is or how it relates to Christianity, Jesus or Easter – most folks know that some people “give things up” for the duration of the Lenten season (which is 40 days, by the way – not including Sundays).  I’m not an expert on theology or religion, but as an expert in mental health I will say that Lent is good for us.  Whether you are religious or not, Lent is the perfect time to take a look at our lives and make some adjustments.

Here’s the deal: Most of us think about how we want to live healthier, more frugally, more whatever around the 1st of the year.  We turn these vague notions about healthier living into New Year’s resolutions – even though we know they probably won’t stick.  Do you even remember yours?  New Year’s resolutions don’t typically work because:

  • They are often too vague and general – i.e., “eat healthier” or “save more”
  • There is no specific time frame – the entirety of 2014 is just too broad
  • They are made on the heels of what is often the most indulgent time of the year – “You mean I can’t eat dessert after breakfast, lunch and dinner?” or “I really have to go back to work?” – The drastic change is just too much

But Lent gives us the perfect situation in which to make changes to our lives:

  • The things we “give up” are typically really specific – i.e., soda pop, Facebook or frozen yogurt (yes, these are all things I have given up over the years)
  • The 40+ day time frame is perfect for successful behavior change: It’s not so long that it drags out, but it is long enough to form new habits and routines
  • It comes at a great time of year when there isn’t much else going on – not too many distractions

What are you giving up this year?