Healing the Pain of Losing a Pet

Last fall, I was awakened one night by the insistent paw of my cat Sweet Pea, who was eager to head out on her nocturnal adventures. I followed her to the door, where she hesitated, as she sometimes did when the cold air hit her nose.

My beloved Sweet Pea

My Sweet Pea

“You want to go out? Go!” I said, impatiently nudging her so I could close the door and go back to bed.

I didn’t know it was the last time I would see her alive.

When Sweet Pea didn’t appear for breakfast and our morning cuddle, I set out to post notices and photos online and around the neighborhood. After a sleepless and agonizing week, and several false leads involving look-alike cats, I shouted to the heavens, “I need to know!”

The next morning, I discovered that my beloved little fur baby had been killed by another animal.

My anguish and anger would last for months, during a spell of grieving the likes of which I’d never known. I took my cat’s death personally, and I took it hard. What I’ve since learned is that these are not uncommon responses. So many people who hear my story shake their heads in sympathy, recalling their own deep pain upon losing a pet.

“It’s been years, and I’m still not over it,” is something I heard from more than one person.

“The loss of an animal companion is incredibly painful,” says Aruni Nan Futuronsky, a teacher and coach at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. “They live so deeply inside our hearts. Free from the complications of human relationships, the unconditional love and companionship they offer us is magically bonding, and losing those connections is truly heartbreaking.”

Our animal companions mark our daily routines, Futuronsky notes, and our care for them is intimately woven into the fabric of our lives. We conveniently forget that we will most likely outlive them as we develop deep bonds with these affectionate, innocent creatures who ask so little and forgive us everything.

While we don’t typically get bereavement days for the death of a pet, and not everyone will understand our need to mourn, Futuronsky says we can heal by being true to our feelings and finding safe places to share them. “After my dog Lucy passed, I asked people to send me their remembrances of her, and I received pictures and memories,” she recalls. “My reaching out to others was supportive.”

I held a backyard memorial service for Sweet Pea, with neighbors who loved her. We sipped cider as we shared stories of her antics, and we sprinkled catnip on her grave to say goodbye…and thanks. I also received touching condolence cards from friends and clients, and a surprise bouquet of flowers from the elderly couple next door who wrote that they, too, were “heartbroken over the loss of such a delightful soul.”

The traumatic death of my cat came on the heels of my divorce and several other family losses and challenges over the past two years. This compounded and complicated my grief, as I learned from helpful and validating books and blogs on the particular pain of losing a pet.

Dr. Becky Schoenberg, a Boston-area veterinarian who focuses on end-of-life care for pets, says people who’ve lost animal companions need permission to grieve, a community of people who understand, good self-care, and memorial objects or ceremonies that honor the special relationship.

“Over and over, I hear people say, ‘This sounds silly, but I’ve never cried this much over a human loss,’” says Schoenberg. “I think their grief is sometimes accompanied by a sense of guilt or culpability, even when the animal’s suffering is completely out of their control. There’s something about the responsibility we feel for pets, and the ways in which we’re their source of everything, that makes it so hard to face their loss.”

Allowing ourselves to retreat from the intensity of these feelings, with such healthy distractions as good movies, friends, and recreation, is another important strategy for healing. It’s also helpful to remind ourselves that the pain will lessen in time.

Still, there might be moments—passing a pet store, seeing a photo, or discovering a chew toy under the chair—that trigger tears. It’s just part of the unpredictable nature of grief, and reflective of the love that was shared. I recently had one such moment while watching the movie I’ll See You in My Dreams, as the character played by Sam Elliot consoled Blythe Danner’s character, who had just euthanized her dog.

“It’s hard to lose somebody, no matter how many legs they have,” he said. “It just leaves a big hole.”

Indeed, these small creatures leave enormous holes when they’re gone, and indelible paw prints on our hearts. Our role, once their time with us is over, is to honor those relationships in ways that best serve and heal us. While there will definitely be another cat in my life, there will never be another Sweet Pea. I’m grateful she chose me, and for the time we had together.

Kim Childs is a Boston-based life and career coach and writer who specializes in Positive Psychology. She is also a Kripalu Yoga teacher and facilitator of workshops based on The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron. Visit KimChilds.com to learn more.

Reclaiming Our Lives

by Kim Childs, CPPC

During my intensives on The Artist’s Way, there’s an exercise midway through that asks us to track our spending for one week. It’s designed to help us see where our money’s going and whether those expenditures reflect our true values. A similar exercise asks us to track how we’re spending our time for a week, hour by hour.

The results can be sobering for those of us who say we “can’t afford” and “don’t have time for” the things we desire, because they show us where we may be squandering not only money, but also our time and energy. Comparing what we say we want to do with what we actually do may lead us to realize that some changes are in order.

It’s the kind of exercise that prompts the question, “Is this really the life I want to be living?”

Without a doubt, we’re in the midst of a noisy, distracting, anxious time in human history. We’re pulled in so many directions by electronic communications, omnipresent media and overfull schedules. Many people are working more hours and taking work home, and even kids have busier lives than ever. There’s a lot of pressure to do, go, keep up and produce, but at what cost?

If we don’t periodically check in with ourselves to ask whether how we’re spending the currency of our lives reflects our deepest values and desires, we risk losing our lives before they actually end. Such is the message of Bronnie Ware in her powerful blog, Regrets of the Dying, which cites the top five regrets of her patients in palliative care. Here’s what they said:

–I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

–I wish I didn’t work so hard.

–I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

–I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

–I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Do you see yourself in there anywhere? If so, pick the regret that most resonates and make a commitment to address it. I don’t necessarily mean adding to your “to do” list, but instead seeing where you can subtract any time-wasting, energy-wasting and even money-wasting activities from your life to reclaim resources for what’s more personally meaningful.

For example, if you have a latte habit that adds up to $25 a week, could that money be spent on a weekly yoga, dance or drawing class instead? If Facebook and TV suck hours from your life, could some of that time be redirected to conversations and visits with people you love or the pursuit of a new career or creative interest? Can you bundle work activities and errands in ways that free up chunks of time for fun, spiritual nourishment or self-care?

Of course, there are periods in life when the demands of family, illness, work or other obligations intensify and our time and energy for personal pursuits is limited. At other times, however, it’s more likely a matter of transforming lousy habits we’ve developed that rob us of precious resources and ultimately leave us feeling unfulfilled.

To begin reclaiming your life, ask yourself these questions:

1 – What’s truly important to me in life? What do I love to do?
This takes getting quiet and turning within to hear the answers. In other words, it takes time and space for reflection – something that we don’t often allow ourselves. Give yourself an uninterrupted chunk of time, pen and paper at the ready, to explore and note your answers.

2 – Where do my current choices reflect that? Where don’t they?
This is where an inventory of how you are spending your time, energy and money comes in handy. Get real about the way you are actually using these resources, and see where you can reclaim some of them for your deeper desires.

3 – What is one small step I can take this week to reclaim my life?
After you’ve identified a place where you’re wasting time, energy or money, make a decision to plug the leak and use the reclaimed resource for one of your answers to question 1. Remember that small steps are easier to take, maintain and build upon. They’re also less threatening to the part of us that hates change.

Reclaim your life for what truly matters to you. It’s not too late.

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 via phone or Skype.

Romance Your Life Right Now

by Kim Childs, CPPC

A few days ago I woke up on a cloudy morning with worries on my mind. Some journaling helped me to see that there was sadness beneath the anxiety.  As I finished writing, the sun poked through and I decided to go for a walk in my favorite park. There were just a few of us out there, which inspired me to greet every person I passed. My mood improved a bit with each friendly exchange and, on the way home, I had another inspiration…

I plunked right IMG_1482down and made a snow angel.

This playful act lightened my heart and made me smile, thinking of those who’d come upon my angel later on, perhaps at the very moment they needed a boost…or a blessing.

From then on, it was an awesome day.

Whether or not we have someone special beside us this Valentine’s Day, we can each take responsibility for romancing our lives – and ourselves – whenever we like. After all, how do we really want to treat the person we spend the most time with? Here are some ways to be your own valentine:

Create rituals – Each day, the demands of modern life and electronic communications are relentless. If we don’t deliberately take time for what we truly value, we’re always at the mercy of other people’s agendas. Daily rituals can include journaling, prayer, exercise, meditation, writing a gratitude list, setting positive intentions for the day, writing about what we’re looking forward to or what went well each day, or simply sipping  coffee or tea in sweet silence.  Rituals are about intentionally and consistently unplugging from the busyness of life to honor what is personally meaningful. Candles, incense and music can enhance your rituals, if that feels inviting.

Go play – Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, advises those who want to recover their creativity to take an Artist Date each week. Its sole purpose is to “refill the well” of inspiration and sensory pleasures. These self-directed play dates can include museum trips, concerts, dance and art classes, neighborhood strolls, walks in nature, visits to unusual shops, finger painting in the kitchen and dancing in the living room. Invite your inner kid to set the agenda, and show up with enthusiasm.

Fluff your nest – Do you live in a space that feels good and reflects what you love and value? Do you surround yourself with colors, fabrics, pictures or objects that delight and comfort? If not, begin to “fluff your nest.” It may begin with clearing clutter, which fosters calm and a sense of spaciousness, while making room for new things and energies. Start small, keep it manageable and appreciate yourself each time you let go of what no longer serves you.

Savor the good – The field of Positive Psychology recommends this practice as a way to improve mood and prime the brain for more positivity. It simply involves focusing on what’s good in our lives and saturating the mind with appreciation for 20 to 30 seconds at a time. Throughout the day, pause to savor what’s good, including creature comforts, special people, simple joys and natural beauty. Pay attention to what life is constantly offering, even – and especially – during stressful times.

Pause to pat yourself on the back – It’s easy to go through life moving from one activity or achievement to the next and striving for new opportunities without pausing to acknowledge what we’ve done. While self-improvement is a worthy pursuit, it’s important to periodically note all that you’ve already done and accomplished in life. Try saying, “I am enough, I have enough, I do enough,” and remember to honor your strengths and talents, especially the ones that you take for granted.

Give thanks, often – Cultivating gratitude, another fundamental Positive Psychology practice, nurtures a lasting romance with life. Whether it’s noting and savoring things you are thankful for, or giving thanks for misfortune that did not happen and problems that have disappeared, there is always something for which to be grateful. An “attitude of gratitude” can create immediate feelings of abundance, and sweetness that lasts longer than a box of fancy chocolates.

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 via phone or Skype.

Rethinking January

by Kim Childs, CPPC

As 2015 came to a close, I felt ready for a long winter’s nap in the wake of some family losses and hardship. “I want to take January off!” I told close friends, while going ahead with business as usual. Well, 2016 was barely a week old when an upper respiratory infection forced me to spend a lot of time “off,” reading all those books I’d wanted to read and starting the contemplative practices I was craving. th

Coincidence?

In recent years, I’ve been rethinking all that gusto we have for new activities in January. I find winter a time for going in – literally and figuratively – and an opportunity for reflection and renewal. Taking cues from nature’s stillness at this time of year would serve us all well. And so, instead of writing a blog this month, I’m sharing this super helpful article by my dear friend and colleague Portland Helmich about making the most of winter.

Squash soup and a good book, anyone?

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.

Small is Big for Making Changes

by Kim Childs, CPPC

In my Positive Psychology training, I learned about the Japanese notion of kaizen, which kaizen1means continuous improvement and represents how Japan rebounded from the Second World War. I believe in the power of small and sustainable changes toward any new goal we have. It keeps the brain from signaling “Danger, danger!” and triggering sabotage as we try to stretch beyond our comfort zone, no matter how positive the new direction.

That’s the thing about change. It’s rarely comfortable, “so easy does it” helps.

In my own efforts to be healthier and happier, kaizen has shown up over the years as:  a daily green smoothie habit that helps me to consume more veggies, morning journaling for clarity and self-knowledge, regular walks for exercise and stress reduction, and the practice of pausing to notice, question and adjust my thoughts when they’re headed downward. In the New Year I’m trying on one meatless day of eating each week and eight minutes of meditation each day (it’s just one of my favorite numbers).

While I may get to other agendas and improvements in 2016, these modest goals set me up for success. I’ve seen this in students and clients, too, as they make small changes that are easy to sustain and lead to bigger rewards. One client of mine has found that just 20 minutes of reflection and reading in the morning leads to a better day.

It’s helpful to attach new habits to existing ones, by the way. Examples include: composing a gratitude list while walking the dog,  reciting positive affirmations when looking in the mirror, listening to inspirational teachers on the daily commute or while in the kitchen, and practicing mindfulness in traffic.

The idea is to make small changes in favor of what really nourishes and inspires us, versus resolving to demolish bad habits, which can feel punitive. When we keep those changes small and enjoyable, we can maintain and build upon them more easily.

“As you know, most New Year’s resolutions are worse than useless; they don’t lead to real change and we feel bad about not sticking to them,” says my favorite neuropsychologist Dr. Rick Hanson. “But if you think of this as feeding yourself, being good to yourself, giving yourself a big wonderful gift each day, nourishing something that will pay off big for you . . . well, it sure is a lot easier to keep treating yourself well in this way.” Read more in Hanson’s wonderful post, Water Your Fruit Tree.

I also invite you to spend 10 minutes with Marie Forleo to learn “How Not to Miss your Life” by making sure you are devoting your precious time and energy to what’s most important to you in the New Year.

I wish you big rewards from small changes in 2016. May you water your own garden and cherish your life one moment, one day and one tiny change at a time. And if you want to share your small change below, know that I will be cheering you on!

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.

 

Help for Hard Times

by Kim Childs, CPPC

This month, I’m personally processing another loss as I witness the suffering of so many around the world. I’m learning more about the demands and stages of grief, the words prayer-quotecards-201511-card-6-480x480and gestures that are most helpful to those who are grieving, and ways to cultivate gratitude and other positive emotions when times are hard. I plan to share lessons from this particularly challenging loss later on. Meanwhile, I’m offering resources that have helped me in the following posts and articles. I also recommend honoring difficult feelings in writing or with a good friend, therapist, coach, spiritual adviser or clergy member. Whether you or someone you care about needs comfort and support as we head into the holidays, it’s my hope that we practice extra kindness with each other and find reasons to give thanks amid challenges. Gratitude, appreciation and compassion are uplifting emotions and heart-expanders when hardships would otherwise make us want to close down.

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.

 

Change Your Mind, Change Your Life

by Kim Childs, CPPC

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.

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.

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 easy.th

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 filled.th

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.