Some of the Best Advice I’ve Ever Received

Several years ago, I was talking with my mentor about a problem I was facing.  I was stuck between two pretty bad options and I felt like I had to pick one.  She patiently listened as I told her all about why each option was awful.  When I finally came up for air and let her get a word in, she looked at me calmly, without judgement, and said decisively, “Do it on your own terms.”  This one quick and simple statement that seemed so automatic and obvious to her was a total game-changer to me.  I realized in that moment that I was the one who limited myself to these two poor options.  Certainly there were other options available that I hadn’t even considered.  I thought about it and quickly came up with a solution that was not as awful as the two options I had initially conjured up.  I did it on my own terms, and it went just fine.

As a therapist, I find myself borrowing my mentor’s advice quite frequently and sharing it with clients.  It is so exciting to see the lightbulb go off in their heads as they open their mind to new possibilities.  Just last week, a client was telling me how she was invited to both a birthday gathering and a baby shower over the weekend, and all she wanted to do was hang out at home with her family.  In her mind, she felt like she had to go to both of these outings because she was invited.  She believed that if she didn’t go, she would hurt the feelings of the people who had invited her.  By the time we were discussing it, she had already decided in her mind she would go to both events and forego her own personal plans.  She described both events in a very negative light – one was far from home, late in the evening, with people she didn’t know very well, the other was in the middle of the day on Saturday, for several hours, with people that made her feel intimidated and insecure.  I told her that it seemed like her mind was already made up about going even though it sounded like she really didn’t want to go.  She nodded in agreement, looking defeated.  I then asked her, “What would it look like if you could do this on your own terms?  Would you go?  Would you pass?  Or is there some in-between that you haven’t yet considered that could be a better fit?”  She thought about it for a moment then looked up at me and told me that if she could do it her way she would pass on the birthday gathering and instead offer to take the friend out for a drink another night.  I encouraged her to do just that.  She had come up with a wonderful option that allowed her to get what she needs and also allowed her to celebrate her friend’s birthday.  As for the baby shower, she seemed a bit more stuck.  I asked her if she might be able to go for a little bit and leave early, and she immediately looked more at ease.  She told me that she could arrive late as she did have things to do earlier in the day and that she believed her friend would be understanding.  As soon as she was able to handle both situations on her own terms, without feeling compelled to poor choices, she looked incredibly relieved.

“Do it on your own terms,” is some on the best advice I have ever received.  All too often we are presented with challenges and we box ourselves into options that aren’t great for us.  My challenge to you, and to myself, is to strive to do it on our own terms.  It can make a world of difference when we open ourselves up to the possibilities instead of feeling stuck with options that simply don’t fit our wants and needs.  So the next time someone asks you to do something, instead of limiting yourself to a simple yes or no response, think long and hard about the options in between and you may just find yourself feeling more satisfied and less stressed. 

(Emotional) Disaster Preparedness

Originally posted on October 11, 2015.

A friend of mine was recently telling me about a program he watched in which people shared their detailed plans in preparation for a disaster, like a meteor hitting the earth, for example.  I had heard of this concept before – preparing for the worst.  It makes sense really.

While I may not be meticulously prepared for a physical disaster, I do however, feel very much prepared for an emotional disaster, or more commonly, a rough day.  As a therapist, I frequently talk to clients and coach them on things to have on hand at home to keep them comfortable and make them feel better when things aren’t going so well.  I call this a Comfort List.  I think it is incredibly important that everyone knows what can make them feel better, and have these things available in case of emergency.  It is easiest to consider things that are comforting to each of your five senses. 

Comforting Sounds

Is there a sound that immediately puts you at ease or brings a smile to your face?  Clients have told me a specific song or band can always make them smile.  Maybe the sound of the ocean or sounds of nature are your thing.  Whatever your preference, be prepared by having this sound accessible to improve your mood whenever you need a boost.

Comforting Smells

Is there a scent that immediately calms you?  Perhaps you love the smell of freshly baked cookies or the smell of the ocean.  You may be able to buy a candle with the scent that improves your mood.  One of my personal favorite scents is the smell of clean laundry.  No candle required there!  It can be helpful to recognize if there is a scent that improves your mood, and then have access to that scent at home.

Comforting Sight

Have you ever been in a taxi and noticed a beach postcard above the visor?  It might be there to remind the driver of a happier more peaceful time or place.  Visual cues can change our mood.  Maybe there is a photo or a piece of art that improves your mood.  Or perhaps even watching a specific tv show or movie.  For me, the thing that I find myself viewing when I’m having a bad day is the movie Pitch Perfect.  It is a permanent fixture on my DVR.  My husband knows it is NOT to be deleted because if I’m having a rough day, watching some (or all) of this movie has the power to transform my mood.  It may be beneficial to figure out what visual cues bring you joy and make sure you have access to them from your home.

Comforting Touch

Is there something tactile that is comforting to you?  Possibly an old sweatshirt or a stuffed animal or a soft blanket?  It may sound juvenile, but the truth is, sometimes touching something comforting can help improve your mood.  It is useful to identify items that feel comforting to you and keep them around to help you feel better on a rough day.

Comforting Tastes

Everyone has heard of comfort food.  We all have them – foods that can transform our emotional state from bad to good.  Whatever your comfort foods are, have some, in moderation, on hand at home to use in conjunction with other comfort tools to alleviate a bad mood and help you to feel better.

I encourage you to create your own Comfort List and keep said items on hand at home.  Arming myself with things to comfort each of my senses is sure to improve my mood when I’m having a rough day.  This is my version of emotional disaster preparedness.  As for the other kind of disaster preparedness I mentioned earlier, I’m going to cross my fingers that some bottled water, canned goods, and the first aid kit in my car will get me through. 

Seeing Your Therapist in Public

Three days a week, I work as a psychotherapist in a group private practice, downtown in Chicago.  The other four days each week, I work as a full time, mom, wife, and friend, in addition to my many other roles.  I try my best to appear professional and put together at work.  Outside of work, I’m the mom of a toddler – simply brushing my hair can feel like an accomplishment and truthfully, “put together” seems far from reach most days.  Many clients often insinuate that they expect therapist’s lives to be perfect or at least smooth and easy.  On occasion, my professional life and my personal life collide.

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