Change Your Mind, Change Your Life

About 20 years ago, I was washing dinner dishes and listening to a lecture by a spiritual teacher when he said something that made me pause. Talking about how we humans often perpetuate our own suffering, he startled me with the words “Your mind is not always your friend.”542df4668ade92564c808fceeed153d0

“What?!” I exclaimed, as a former straight-A student who valued her intelligence and sharp mind.

But what this teacher actually meant is tidily summed up in one of my favorite bumper stickers, which says:

“Don’t believe everything you think.”

The number of thoughts we have per day is estimated to be upwards of 70,000, but what’s really worth noting here is how so many of them are repetitive, negative, critical and just plain unhelpful. Many are also untrue, and we really get into trouble when we latch onto those.

To the mind’s credit, it is biologically programmed to scan for danger and keep us vigilant and protected. It’s how we’ve survived as a species, and we don’t want to lose that handy facility. We want to respond to real (versus imagined) threats, keep ourselves from real (versus perceived) harm, and have good plans for handling real (versus projected) problems and crises.

The truth is that, during the course of an average day, much more is going right for us than is going wrong, which is why a focus on the negative is unwarranted. We need to challenge the mind’s tendency to make up and dwell on distressing stories before checking out the facts and considering other scenarios. I recommend the practice of questioning or “staring back” at distressing thoughts and finding truer, or equally true, and better feeling thoughts to counter them. Martin Seligman, the acknowledged father of Positive Psychology, calls this thought disputation. Here are some examples:

Painful thoughts: “Jane didn’t call me on my birthday. She doesn’t really care about me.”
Disputation: “Jane has always reached out to me on my birthday. She must be really busy.”

Painful thoughts: “My boss didn’t comment on that report I submitted. She must think it stinks.”
Disputation: “My boss has often praised my work. Maybe she hasn’t seen this report yet.”

Essentially, it’s about waking up from the trance we fall into of wallowing, obsessing and  ruminating over our most painful thoughts. I’m not talking about suppressing painful emotions, which are healthy and natural responses to life’s inevitable losses, violations and disappointments. But after we allow emotions to move through and guide us to any necessary actions, it’s time to move on and tell ourselves better stories about what’s next.

I love the saying, “Worry is a misuse of the imagination,” which tells me that, after making plans to handle any looming trouble, I should focus on what I desire to happen and what greater good is still possible. In coaching we call this a solutions focus.

Byron Katie is spiritual teacher whose own mental breakdown led her to create a thought challenge process called “The Work.” Designed to liberate us from painful thoughts and facilitate greater insight and healing, it involves writing down a stressful thought (e.g. “I’ll never pay off this debt.”) and then asking the following four questions about it:

–Is it true? (“Well, it sure feels true when I look at that credit card balance.”)
–Can I absolutely know it’s true? (“Not really, because unexpected income is always possible.”)
–How do I react—what happens—when I believe that thought? (“I feel constricted, angry, hopeless and desperate, which doesn’t support creativity or positive action.”)
–Who (How) would I be without this thought? (“Hmmm…probably calmer and more inspired to try new business ideas, make new contacts and be open to better fortune.”)

When I practice Seligman’s and Katie’s methods, I catch and dispute my worst thoughts before they spin out of control. This gives me access to inner resources, including creativity and wisdom. If there are actions to take and remedies to create for solving problems, I’m then prepared to take them and make them. I can then use my beautiful mind to ask, “What’s right?” and “What else is possible?” instead of “What’s wrong?” as the process of Appreciative Inquiry recommends. This builds on what’s working and cultivates optimism and energy for making choices that serve my greater good.

Now firmly in midlife, I can honestly say that this practice has changed my life for the better. If you’d like to try some Appreciative Inquiry, you can do so here right now.

Here’s to your beautiful mind. May you use it for good.

Time Affluence

by Kim Childs, CPPC

Recently, I returned early from a weekend trip to Cape Cod because my traveling companion had a Sunday appointment. While I typically stay on the Cape as long as possibletime wealth and come home to jump right into the workweek, this time I had a whole afternoon and evening to use as I pleased.

I took a long, therapeutic bath while listening to Brazilian jazz. I finished a book I’d been reading. Later, I made myself a delicious dinner and watched a movie. When I fell into bed that night, I was practically purring.

Those hours of bonus time felt luxurious, and even a little…decadent.

I first heard the term “time affluence” from my Positive Psychology teacher Tal Ben-Shahar, and immediately loved it. Having an abundance of time for the things I need and desire to do is one of my favorite ways to feel rich. Ben-Shahar was citing the research of psychologist Tim Kasser, who calls time affluence “a path toward personal happiness.”

The problem is, most of us don’t cultivate it in our overstuffed culture.

“We are a materially affluent society but we are a time deprived society in most places around the world,” says Ben-Shahar. “We need to slow down, because we are constantly doing too much. What we need to actually do is less rather than more if we are concerned about our happiness.”

Research by Kasser and others in the field of Positive Psychology shows that material wealth, beyond meeting basic needs and comforts, does not predict happiness and well-being. Time affluence does, as it allows us to relax, pursue and savor pleasures, and nurture the relationships that matter to us. Having some unstructured time, or “white space,” in our days also leads to more creativity at home and on the job.

“We need to be carving out white space in our life, because innovation happens in the white space,” said author and creativity consultant Todd Henry in a recent interview. “When we squeeze all the white space out of our lives, we’re not allowing our ideas to marinate. We’re not allowing them to breathe. We’re not allowing them to emerge into their full potential.”

It’s the reason that kids need time to simply play, and be. Remember how we used to do that?

Since leaving my radio news career in the late 90s, I’ve been deliberately downsizing my schedule and leaving more white space on my calendar. This, from someone who was formerly over-scheduled to within an inch of her life. Today I find that I simply need more time between things to feel sane.

It also makes me a nicer person.

I’ve shared this prescription with coaching clients and students who’ve told me that it takes some planning and getting used to in this age of distraction and addiction to busyness. It can also be challenging to protect our time from those who want some of it. That’s when “Sorry, I’m not available” becomes a phrase worth repeating, with no need to explain why all the time.

So how else do we grow richer in time? Here are some other ideas:

Get up a bit earlier in the morning to do something that nourishes your spirit, no matter how brief or small, to set the tone for a more intentional and less reactive day.

–Step away from the computer every few hours to do something completely unrelated to work, like pet the cat, visit a garden, chat with neighbors/co-workers or do a little dance (or walk or stretch).

–Set gentle alarms that remind you to pause and breathe every few hours, perhaps adding the mantra, “There is enough time.”

–Combine weekly errands in one or two days to leave other days free.

–When staring down a to-do list, ask, “What do I want to do next?” rather than, “What do I have to do next?” One of my clients told me that practicing this expanded her sense of time and increased her energy for what needed doing.

–Remember that Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest and treat it that way, with devices turned off.

–Leave time at the end of the day for no electronics, save for a lamp to read, write or reflect by.

As I tell students in my workshops on The Artist’s Way, we often say that we don’t have time for the things we truly love and value, when the truth is that we’re likely misspending time on things that we don’t. Try tracking where your time is actually going, and reclaim chunks for what you’d really like to be doing.

“Time is a created thing,” wrote Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. I invite you to cultivate more time and space in your life, for your greatest happiness and truest wealth.

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 or Skype.

I Love Me, I Love Me Not…

by Kim Childs, CPPC

In June, I gave myself a 30-day challenge to look in the mirror each morning and say, “I love you.” It seemed like a simple practice. But as the saying goes, simple does not always mean

I’d heard about this exercise from author Louise Hay, who advocates positive self-talk and affirmations for physical and emotional healing and well-being. In her words:  “You have been criticizing yourself for years, and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”

And so I tried the exercise, and discovered that my inner critic can be surprisingly alert and vocal at 7 a.m.

In general, I treat myself well, appreciate my abilities and strengths, and practice good self-care as a coach and teacher who aims to walk her talk. A recent year of intense personal challenges grew my self-compassion and self-forgiveness, and my training in Positive Psychology helps me to dispute pessimistic and self-critical thoughts and replace them with encouragement.

Nonetheless, some days I found it surprisingly hard to unconditionally love myself as I faced that mirror.

This was especially true when I focused on wrinkles, recalled regrettable words or actions, or felt inadequate or guilty for not doing more toward my goals. Some days, “I love you” was followed by such phrases as “and I forgive you” or “You’re doing the best you can” or “You can do better today” or “You have really good intentions.”

While it might look and sound a little silly, I believe that a self-love practice like this primes us for receiving the good we desire in life. Some mornings, it boosted my mood for the entire day.

“In order to thrive in life, we have to find a way to regard ourselves with respect and some consistent positive self-regard,” says Maria Sirois, a  faculty member at the  Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. “For many of us, this is challenging, as we have grown into the habit of self-criticism or even self-loathing, and it might seem impossible to find a way back to loving and forgiving ourselves for not being perfect.”

Sirois says the journey toward greater positive self-regard is one of small steps, taken each day. “It might look like being honest about what we want to do with our free time or who we really want to spend it with,” she says. “It might mean saying no to old habits, such as watching hours of TV each night, and yes to reading, dancing, or meditating.”

Having also done the mirror exercise in her 20s, Sirois reports, “That practice became the foundation of learning to put myself in the equation of my own life—not to negate the importance of others, but to include myself in the formula of my days and balance that with care for others.”

Friends who joined my 30-day challenge on Facebook added personalized mantras and affirmations, and drew lipstick hearts on the mirror. A colleague shared that he began a similar practice several years ago to overcome harsh self-criticism, and it worked. “I did this religiously every night for at least half a year, saying, ‘I appreciate you, I respect you, I love you,’” he recalls. “At some point, I noticed the internal harshness had abated, and it was okay to stop because the result I sought had been achieved.”

When I talk about self-love with students and clients, I sometimes get blank looks, complaints that it’s too hard, or protests that it’s more important to love and care for others. Christine Arylo, co-author of Reform Your Inner Mean Girl, says that we should consider love an inexhaustible resource, whether directed at ourselves or others. “There is an infinite supply of love and, the more you love yourself, the more capable and free you are to unconditionally love others,” says Arylo. “If you are taking care of everyone else’s needs and sacrificing what you need and desire over and over again, you’ll become resentful, depleted, or angry—the opposites of love.”

To strengthen self-love, Arylo says we can first become aware of where we’re weak or strong in loving ourselves. “For example, you might be strong in self-esteem and weak in self-respect, so you’re a superstar at work and a disaster in your love life,” she explains. “Or perhaps you’re strong in self-empowerment but weak in self-care, so you manifest your dreams but you do so at the cost of your health.”

Arylo recommends selecting one aspect of self-love to grow at a time, and making choices that support it. If you choose self-care, find ways to treat yourself well and honor your own needs. To boost self-esteem, do something brave or challenging each day, no matter how seemingly small. To grow self-respect, act with integrity.

As for me, I plan to continue this practice until I wholeheartedly believe what I’m saying to the mirror each morning, making it my job to cheer on the goodhearted, imperfectly human woman in the reflection.

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.

The Power of the Pen

by Kim Childs, CPPC

As I’ve said here before, a simple practice called Morning Pages changed my life in 1997. Done at the start of the day before other agendas beckon, they are a fundamental part of The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, a course I’ve taught for fifteen years. The idea behind them is to meet ourselves on the page  and see how we’re doing each day by writing, uncensored, by hand, for about 20 minutes until three pages are

While most of us are more used to typing than writing these days, there is a visceral difference when we use a pen.

“When we write by hand, we connect to ourselves,” says Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way. “We may get speed and distance when we type, but we get a truer connection–to ourselves and our deepest thoughts– when we actually put pen to page.”

Throughout the years, my students and I have had powerful experiences with these pages, where questions, complaints, fears, revelations, worries, insights, ideas and appreciations share space with “to do” lists. One of my students says that the pages “take the weight off” the issues he’s writing about. Another says she notices a qualitative difference to her day—and more obvious mind chatter—when she skips them.

I firmly believe that we learn more about ourselves and make room for healing  when we vent, process, celebrate, plan, and voice truths – both inconvenient and profound – on the page, and there’s ample research to support this. If daily or nightly journaling sounds daunting, there are other writing exercises that I recommend to students and coaching clients for greater clarity and self-growth. Here are some:

–At night, list three things that went well for you during the day and note why they went well. This exercise comes from Martin Seligman, the “father” of Positive Psychology, who says that it boosts optimism and reduces depression over time. Adding why things went well helps us to replicate successful strategies and acknowledge our own efficacy.

–At night or in the morning, list three things for which you are grateful, and why. Create a new list each time, calling the items to mind with heartfelt gratefulness. The leader in gratitude research, Robert Emmons, has found that a practice such as this benefits both mental and physical health. It also inspires us look for things to write down throughout the day, making us conscious appreciators.

–Set a timer for 20 minutes and write about your best possible future. Repeat for a few days, and whenever else you like. This exercise, adapted from researcher Laura King, is a snapshot of your life in a future time when all of the areas that matter to you have gone as well as they possibly could. Write in the present tense, as in, “I am living in a home filled with art and collectibles from my world travels. My health is excellent and my work as a coach is fulfilling and lucrative.” Add details to make it more vibrant. One student who’s been doing this exercise was told that it could actually lead to the fantastic future she’s scripting. Her reply? “Even if it doesn’t, it’s still fun.” Exactly. The very act of writing in this way can boost our mood for the rest of the day, while it directs us to choices and decisions that can craft the desired future.

–Write affirmations or statements of your ideal self or life, and post them where you’ll see them often. Make sure you believe them (i.e. they are true or could be true in time with behavioral or attitudinal shifts) by editing the statements until resistance evaporates and finding evidence to support them. Ex: “My work makes a difference in the world in ways that delight me and inspire others.”

–Write a letter to yourself that starts with “Dear (Name), I love (or admire/respect/appreciate) you for ________ and later transitions to “And I forgive you for __________. Have Kleenex handy, and lots of self-compassion.

–Write a personal mission statement to guide your actions and choices. One way is to start with “I think the world needs/would be a better place if _________________” and follow with “and I can _________ by ________.” Mission statements should reflect your deepest values and pull in your strengths and abilities, for example: “I think the world needs more kindness and I can spread it by writing about it, appreciating people, and practicing kindness with everyone I meet.”

–Re-story a painful event from your past from a new perspective, recalling the events in a factual way and looking for the learning, growth, changes or blessings that resulted from the event.

Intrigued? Find a favorite pen and start writing…

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.

Trusting Grief

by Kim Childs, CPPC

I cringe to admit this, but I used to wonder, “Why don’t they just get over it?” when I’d see someone grieving for longer than I thought was warranted. While my compassion was abundant, it had an expiration date.

That was before the year in which I ended my marriage, lost two dear uncles an03112015_KimChildsTrustingGriefd nearly lost my father. During this time of multiple losses, grief moved in and unpacked its bags. A year later I’m humbled to see that, while I thought I’d be done with the grief by now, it’s not quite done with me.

I’ve never been one to suppress my tears, but I didn’t anticipate their seemingly endless flow as I mourned these endings, especially my divorce. Grief has literally brought me to my knees at times, forcing me to surrender my own agenda, slow down and pay attention—often, without warning.

Some days, grief is simply exhausting.

What I’ve learned is that there’s a reason for all of this.

“Grief is a body-centered process, and when we allow our bodies to experience the feelings, they will integrate and shift,” says Aruni Nan Futuronsky, a faculty member at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. “However, we’re not responsible for the integration—the moving through the feelings in the body/mind. That relies upon the wisdom of our brilliant ‘animal’ bodies, as Mary Oliver would say.”

What we are responsible for, says Futuronsky, is creating the circumstances in which integration can happen, which means quieting our minds and lives to make space for grief.

“When my mom died, I was totally and wholly exhausted. I needed to rest and relax regularly,” Futuronsky recalls. “A few months later, it was time to start moving. Bike riding, walking, yoga—they all helped me keep unraveling the feelings, but they would not have worked earlier in the process.”

The most important thing, Futuronsky says, is to give ourselves full permission to be exactly where we are on our own unique journey of grief. This may prove challenging—not only to us, but also to those who care about us, especially if our grieving makes them uncomfortable. In fact, I learned that times of loss can include the loss of other relationships, as people may shrink from those who are grieving.

In the months following my divorce, I heard from friends and loved ones who said, “I hope you’re keeping busy,” or “Focus on the good in your life,” while others told me, “I’m praying for you,” or “Come over, I have Kleenex.” These well-meaning messages largely represented their personal strategies for coping with loss, while I had to honor my own, which sometimes included those things.

In truth, at times I’ve felt a strange sweetness in the murky depths of my sadness. As my heart continued to break open, I sensed more room in there for tenderness, appreciation and love. For that is what we’re doing when we grieve—mourning the loss of something or someone we loved, and thereby honoring love itself.

“The road back from grief can be a wavy one,” says a friend who lost her partner to a heart attack several years ago, “but the gift within this is that the road is to yourself, in new ways.”

Self-compassion and patience are therefore essential when grieving, as is support—especially from those who’ve been there. Two books that kept me company during this time were Dark Nights of the Soul, by Thomas Moore, and Safe Passage, by Molly Fumia. Both authors promised that I could trust grief to carve deeper channels in me for a fuller experience of life, if I let it. I also learned that denying grief can cause anxiety, depression, addiction, compulsive behavior, blocked creativity and even chronic physical ailments.

“If you get grief wrong you get a lot of things wrong in life,” said Fully Alive author Tim Shriver in a recent interview. “You hide from a lot of pain. You hide from a lot of frustration.” A member of the Kennedy clan, Shriver said he grew up not knowing how to face or transform the inordinate amount of loss in his family. “I think learning how to express grief, move through it and internalize both the pain and healing is a real process of growth and change,” he remarked.

In another helpful book, Honoring Grief, author Alexandra Kennedy recommends setting aside a special place and time each day to sit with our grief and honor the person or part of life that we’ve lost. I’ve done this at the altar where I pray, letting photographs trigger healing words and tears. Journaling also helps enormously, giving voice to the pain.

“May you learn to trust grief and let it take you where you need to go to heal,” Kennedy writes in her gentle book. “May your heart heal of old wounds and regrets so that it may open to greater love and joy. May you celebrate—every day—the wonder and mystery of being fully alive.”

I think I’m getting better at trusting grief, my unpredictable companion, for the wise healer that it is. One day I hope to look back and appreciate its gifts.

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 was written for Thrive, the blog of the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health and also appears here.)

The Art of Receiving

by Kim Childs, CPPC

Last year was one of the most rewarding and challenging of my life. After suffering several personal losses amid building a new business, I arrived on the doorstep of 2015 completely exhausted. My well was empty.

The solution? Create a month-long, self-styled retreat in the comfort of my home because planning a trip anywhere else took more energy than I had. I excused myself from all but essential work projects, unplugged (mostly) from the Internet, saw just a few coaching clients and limited my social interactions to those that really nourished me (sometimes quite literally…more about that later).open-hands2

This left gorgeous swaths of unstructured time in which to enjoy my own company and practice self-care.

It’s been delicious, though not always comfortable, and quite an opportunity to get better at the art of receiving, from within and without.

At first, I struggled with believing that I had the right to take the month off.  I had to remind myself of all the reasons I’d “earned it,” all the hard work I’d done in the last several years, and all the ways I’d been there for others recently. That helped, but the feeling that I had to be productive still taunted me some days. Fortunately, I listened to my body and chose baths over business most of the time, stretching out my morning rituals until 11am.

Decadent…and perhaps just what the doctor would have ordered, if I’d consulted one. Instead I saw Danielle, an amazing healer who gently released years of accumulated tensions from my body via myofascial release work.

And so, during my birth month, I gave myself the gift of time and space to heal, and allowed myself to receive it. I also received gifts of all kinds from people who love me, from delicious meals and hot cocoa, to wonderful energy healing sessions, books and flowers.

All of this got me thinking about (and feeling) how challenging it can sometimes be to receive. Based on my own experience, and that of some friends I surveyed, I learned that:

–When we receive, we may think we have to reciprocate, and that can feel like pressure.

–Childhood wounds, abuse, shame and a sense of unworthiness can inhibit our ability to receive and make us mistrustful of those who want to give.

–We are stubborn sometimes, and unable to receive (from people, from life) if what’s being offered doesn’t match our desires or expectations.

–We may feel indebted to those who give to us, and that’s uncomfortable.

–Our hands have to be empty and open to receive, which means letting go of things that no longer serve us to make room for what does. We don’t always want to do that.

–Receiving, especially help, can trigger feelings of  vulnerability and challenge our self-image.

–If we are habitual givers or people pleasers, receiving means relinquishing a bit of control.

–Those of us who’ve been super self-reliant have to get used to letting people help us.

You may have your own reasons for struggling to receive, or you might be a pro at it (if so, well done!). If you do want to improve your receiving skills, here are some ways to practice:

–When someone compliments you, simply say, “Thanks!” without deflecting or diminishing.

–When someone offers you something, say “Yes, thanks!” and enjoy it. (Unless it’s something awful, in which “No, thanks” works.)

–Bear in mind the joy that you feel when you give to others, and allow people to feel that same joy by giving to you.

–Practice being nice to yourself (in thought and action) so that you get used to receiving and feel attuned when it shows up externally.

Imagine no receivers on the field on Super Bowl Sunday. Who would catch the ball? Life, too, is a game of give and take. May you become an excellent receiver, from within and without.

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.

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 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.)

Defending Negativity

Mr Negativity

Mr. Negativity, in the flesh

by Kim Childs, CPPC

Sometimes, when people hear that I’m a Positive Psychology Coach, they mistakenly assume that I’m only about positive thinking and denying “reality” (quotes added because reality is multidimensional, but more about that later…). Positive Psychology does recommend that we notice, cultivate and savor the good in our lives, but it also acknowledges that life is full of loss, pain, illness, disappointment and setbacks.

While feeling and acknowledging these negative emotions is healthy, dwelling on the them takes us on a downward spiral, both physically and mentally.

And so, in my work as a Positive Psychology coach and teacher, I’m often surprised by how many people want to defend and hang on to negativity. But the truth is, I get it.

When I first started my own recovery journey, I was sick and tired of pretending that everything was fine and ignoring the elephant in the room. I was done with denial, and hungry to talk openly with anyone who’d listen about pain, trauma, abuse, emotional wounds and hardship. It was healing to shine the light of truth on my darkness, acknowledge the difficulties of my past, and express the emotions that were buried within me. I did this in therapy, 12-Step rooms, support circles and personal growth workshops, and I highly recommend all of these to anyone on a healing journey.

Eventually, though, I began to notice that my life was also full of grace, kindness, good people, beauty, blessings, accomplishment and love. The more I consciously register and pursue these things, the better I feel and the more able I am to move through the tough stuff. So why, when we know there’s another way, would we cling to and defend negative thinking, especially when it causes suffering? Reasons include:

–Familiarity/identity: “This is how I’ve always been and it feels ‘comfortable.'”

–Tribal loyalty: “My family/friends/co-workers are negative and I want to fit in.”

–Fear 1: “If I let down my guard and focus on the positive, I’ll get blindsided when something bad happens.”

–Guilt: “How can I be happy when there is so much suffering in the world?”

–Ego: “I’d rather be right than happy.”

–Fear 2: “If I dare to dream and hope, I’ll be disappointed (again).”

–Love/connection: “If I stay sad, I’m honoring the loved one (or thing) I lost.”

–Revenge: “As long as I’m unhappy, I’m punishing _________.”

–Fear 3: “If I start believing that a happier life is possible for me, I have to change.”

Now, this is the point where I have to mention that we humans are, in fact, born with a negativity bias. It’s the reason we’ve survived as a species, because the brain is wired to look out for danger. But in an age where the threat of physical danger has diminished, we’re more often on the lookout for what threatens our ego and self-identity. While this vigilance is meant to keep us “safe,” it limits our perspective when we exclude what’s good, right, helpful and working in our lives.

There is a time when a negative focus may serve us, and that’s in preparing for disaster. As Susan Jeffers advises in Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, it can be useful to follow a problem to its worst case scenario in our minds and imagine how we’ll deal with that outcome, telling ourselves “I’ll handle it.”

Then, it’s best to put our higher brain to use envisioning the outcomes we desire, and doing what we can to bring them about. In coaching, and elsewhere, we call this a Solutions Focus.

My favorite quote on this subject comes from American historian, author and activist Howard Zinn, who says that being optimistic is not foolish, but grounded in the reality that, while history is full of tragedy and cruelty, it’s also full of compassion, sacrifice, courage and kindness. Zinn then speaks to the value of a positive focus:

“What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

Here’s to the optimists, and defenders of positivity.

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.

Befriending Your Resistance

by Kim Childs, CPPC

Several years ago, I was invited to be a writer and facilitator on a wonderful project. On the morning it began, I found myself dawdling and stalling on my way out the door for the 9:00 am meeting. Once in the car, I encountered rush hour traffic and arrived 15 minutes late. The other staff members, who’d traveled hundreds of miles to be there, were on time and waiting for me, the person who lived two miles away.

It was a cringe-worthy moment, and I blame my resistance.sisyphus

Resistance is a force, as natural as gravity, that shows up whenever we try to grow or change. Sometimes it’s quietly discomforting and sometimes it’s deafeningly loud. It’s rooted in fear and a desire to remain safe in our comfort zones, where very little growth or change happens.

“Resistance by definition is self-sabotage,” writes Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. “Resistance obstructs movement only from a lower sphere to a higher. It kicks in when we seek to pursue a calling in the arts, launch an innovative enterprise, or evolve to a high station morally, ethically, or spiritually.”

As a teacher and coach of personal transformation, I see resistance in my students and clients all the time. It’s woven into the list of excuses they come up with for why they didn’t, or can’t, follow through with a plan to make progress on a goal. It also shows up as lateness, crisis, procrastination, sudden doubt, discouragement (“Why bother?”), and even sickness and injury. However the forms differ, they have the same effect: keeping us stuck.

While I still encounter my own resistance, I’ve gotten much better at recognizing and working with it. Kind of like, “Well, hello there, I was expecting you! Thanks for sharing, but we’re gonna move forward anyway.”

Megan McDonough, a yoga teacher and faculty member for Kripalu’s Certificate in Positive Psychology (CiPP) program, notes that the same phenomenon occurs when we encounter our “edge” when practicing on the yoga mat.

“Stretching into life gives the same edge, only we call it resistance,” McDonough says. “By calling on your unique strengths, looking at what works, and recognizing the resistance for what it is, you can continue taking forward action with the same deliberate attention you give to a challenging yoga posture.”

CiPP Course Director Maria Sirois says that we can also seek to understand what our resistance is trying to protect us from, and see if we need to challenge any false assumptions.

“For example, I may want to be a calmer person, yet underneath that desire is a competing assumption that my anxiety actually protects me from harm by keeping me on constant alert,” says Sirois. “Letting go of anxiety means letting go of the notion that I can control the world. And this doesn’t happen all at once, but in small increments of change.”

In my experience, resistance is overcome by action, and baby steps in particular. We can sneak around the part of us that’s frightened of change by taking small steps, known in Japanese culture as kaizen, or continuous improvement. Such small changes are easier to make, maintain, and build upon, which leads to new habits and developments before resistance can take hold.

In my recent quest to exercise more, I got around my resistance by arranging errands in a part of town that I could walk to. Since I had to return library books and make a bank deposit, why not put on my sneakers and hoof it over there? Eventually, I stopped needing the errands because my body craved the exercise and it became a habit.

On the occasional lazy day, it’s easier to resist my resistance because I look forward to the buzz I get from my brisk walks.

Kelly McGonigal, author of The Willpower Instinct, says that linking dreaded tasks to things that bring us pleasure is a good strategy for overcoming resistance. In the book, Kelly writes about a woman who tackled the long avoided de-cluttering of her spare room with the help of Christmas tunes and scented candles. One of my clients recently got through a mound of paperwork by promising herself dinner and a movie afterwards. It also helped that she’d promised to e-mail me when the deed was done, adding a dose of accountability.

Other clients find success with the “Five Minute Takeoff,” a resistance-busting strategy that involves setting a timer for five minutes and boldly diving into that overstuffed closet, pile of mail or languishing project with permission to stop when the timer goes off. It breaks inertia, assuages overwhelm, and often gets the job done in less time than we thought possible.

Whatever strategy I use for overcoming resistance, understanding that it’s an inevitable part of growth helps me to have compassion for the part of me that’s threatened, and make gentle progress. Self-compassion coupled with action is a powerful combination for getting things 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.

(Note: This post was originally written for Kripalu’s Thrive and also appears here.)