Monthly Archives: December 2014

Beyond Wishing and Hoping

by Kim Childs, CPPC

The start of a new year offers itself irresistibly like a clean slate and invites us to consider:  o-TEA-WRITING-570What are we ready to leave behind? What do we really, really, really want, going forward?

Whether or not you believe in resolutions, these questions are always worth asking.

For several years I’ve participated in Burning Bowl ceremonies on New Year’s Eve. They involve writing a list of things that we want to shed – from resentments and self-destructive habits, to negative beliefs, unhelpful relationships and excess baggage of all kinds. We’re even invited to thank these unwanted things as we write them down, because they might have served us on some level, however hard that is to recognize. We then burn the list.

Next, because nature abhors a vacuum, we need to reflect on what we most want in the New Year and write about these desires and intentions. This list is one to keep, read and follow like a prescription, because habits tend not to change by themselves.

In preparing to write about desires for the New Year, it’s helpful and motivating to review the important areas of your life (career, health, family, community, etc.) and look for what has gone well in the past year. This echoes a classic Positive Psychology exercise from founder Martin Seligman, who discovered that people who take time at night to write down three things that went well during the day can experience less depression and more optimism over time. It’s important to add why things went well, too, in order to see your own ability to positively influence your life and replicate the conditions and strategies that made things go well.

Example: I got a lot more physical exercise in 2014 because I made it a habit and linked it to other daily activities that were already in place (e.g. walking to the bank or library instead of driving).

Once you see what’s already going well in your life, identify and write about the areas you want to improve. Name some concrete goals and outcomes to give yourself something to aim for and measure (i.e., “a regular meditation practice” versus “to be less stressed”). Write, in the present tense, as much detail as you can about the improvements you seek to realize in the new year. This helps to infuse the vision with feeling and make it more real to you (e.g., “I am taking time to pause, breathe and be mindful each day and it feels so good.”).

This way of designing the future is related to another classic Positive Psychology exercise, from researcher Laura King, known as the Best Possible Future Self. Her prompt to the research subjects went like this:  “Think about your life in the future. Imagine that everything has gone as well as it possibly could. You have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing all of your life goals. Think of this as the realization of all your life dreams. Now, write about what you imagined.

King found that subjects did this exercise for 20 minutes straight on 4 consecutive days enjoyed long term mental and physical health benefits. By thinking about our best possible future selves, we learn more about what we most desire in life. This, in turn, helps us to restructure our priorities in order to reach these goals, asking ourselves, “What can I do to live into this scenario?”

The answers to that question create new habits and behaviors, which bring about lasting change.

Whether you’re envisioning your best possible year or your best possible future, let your desires dictate your actions, going forward. In other words, be the character depicted in that “movie.” Aiming for more inner peace, would she check her email first thing out of bed or light a candle and meditate or write in her journal?

Finally, I recommend taking an end of the year detox bath, featuring one cup of Epsom or sea salts, one cup of baking soda and ten drops of lavender oil. Soak for at least 20 minutes, then invite any stress and tension to drain out with the water. As you apply your favorite lotion, appreciate your body for all it’s done for you this year, and promise to take good care of it.

I wish you a happier, healthier, more fun and fulfilling New Year. May you look back on it in a year’s time and say, “Well done!”

Kim Childs is a Certified Positive Psychology Life,  Career and Wellness Coach. Click here to learn more and schedule a free initial consultation in person or over the phone.

When “Happy” is Hard

by Kim Childs, CPPC

A few days ago I showed up to teach a chair yoga class at an assisted living facility, where employees were decking the halls and putting out poinsettias. “What’s your favorite thing about the holidays?” I chirped to the women who’d gathered for class.

“When they’re over,” said Marge, a normally polite and well-dressed octogenarian. I was Holiday-Bluesnot expecting that answer.

With some gentle probing, Marge revealed that this was the first Christmas she’d be spending without her husband, who’d passed away. T’was not the season to be jolly for Marge.

I completely understood.

As a Positive Psychology Coach, it’s my job to help clients see the value of appreciating and savoring the good in their lives and doing what they can to cultivate positive emotions. As a human being, I empathize with the fact that life also contains loss, pain, illness, disappointment, and setbacks.

During such “dark nights of the soul,” we can deepen our wisdom, humanity and self-compassion by being fully present to whatever is happening and honoring our feelings. At such times, happiness may feel miles away and joy might seem like a luxury. If so, we can reach for other positive emotions to cope and build resilience.

I learned this firsthand during a year in which I ended my marriage, lost two dear uncles, and nearly lost my father.

As I moved through these painful changes, traumas, and endings, many of my days were saturated with grief. Despite this, I had to show up for my work as a coach and teacher of happiness and fulfillment. The challenge of walking my talk was more daunting than ever.

In response, I increased my habit of consciously registering the things that expanded my heart, lifted my spirits, and excited my mind. While this practice didn’t always take me from “zero to happy,” it allowed me to be there for my students and clients, and for my aching self. Training my mind to see the good, while also letting myself feel and process my grief, kept me from spiraling downwards. Here’s how:

  • I took walks to boost my mood and care for my body, taking in the blue of the sky, the luminous clouds and the many-colored leaves. Appreciating beauty is one of my strengths, and I use it every day. Time in nature, along with my spiritual practices, inspired awe and reverence for something greater than myself.
  • I reached out to friends who could listen compassionately and hold with me what I couldn’t hold by myself. Such moments allowed me to feel seen and heard, honoring my deeply ingrained values of authenticity and connection. Knowing how good that felt, I sent notes and made calls to others who were suffering, which allowed me to feel helpful and stop ruminating.
  • I hung out with other friends who made me laugh and talked about books, movies, ideas and the news of the day. These gatherings fed my hunger for knowledge, stimulated my curiosity, and provided humor. Inspiring quotes and content on the Internet also helped, as did funny articles and, yes, cute baby and animal videos.
  • I continuously reached for gratitude, my favorite positive emotion. Appreciating the people I was losing and the gifts they’d given me, and feeling grateful for my home, health, community and comforts, buoyed my heavy heart.
  • I practiced and took in kindness whenever possible, because I know that it matters even more when we’re hurting.
  • I engaged in my work, challenging as it was some days, which allowed me to use my strengths, skills, knowledge and creativity in service to others. I also channeled my energies into growing a business while other things around me were fading or dying.
  • I gave myself space to feel, permission to be human, and room for tears.

As the Buddha stated in the first Noble Truth, life involves pain and suffering. How we meet and interpret our difficulties determines how much we will suffer. Doing what we can to care for ourselves and learn and even benefit from hardship can help us to survive and grow. The science of posttraumatic growth examines this phenomenon, succinctly stated by Nietzsche as, “What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.”

As the chair yoga class was winding down I gave Marge a little shoulder rub, sending compassion through my hands. “Good thing you don’t have to drive in this storm, eh?” I remarked. “You can just walk down the hall to a dining room where someone has cooked a hot lunch for you.”

“Yes,” Marge replied, “and I’m grateful for that.”

Kim Childs is a Certified Positive Psychology Life,  Career and Wellness Coach. Click here to learn more and schedule a free initial consultation in person or over the phone.

(Note: this post is adapted from one written for Kripalu Thrive, which appears here.)