Category Archives: Self Help

Live your life in episodes

Did they find the body? Did she say yes? C’mon, Chris Harrison, who gets the final rose tonight?!?!!?!

I was remarking to my wife last night as we began binge-watching Designated Survivor, that you can tell when a show was made for TV, because they build in suspense by adding commercial breaks at critical points in the action.

Why is binge-watching so addicting?!

I can’t speak for you, but what I love about binge-watching shows on Netflix is the continuity of story, emotion, and drama. I love that there are no commercial breaks in the action. I love that I don’t have to wait a single second to continue having the emotionally engaged experience that I’m having. I don’t even have to wait between episodes, because Netflix now allows me to “Skip the Intro” to many shows! It’s literally seconds between episodes. It’s almost hard to tell where one episode ends and another begins. This is great when watching Netflix, but not for our lives and relationships.

What we lose by binge-watching our lives

Unfortunately, we often tend to live much of our lives as though we are starring in a Netflix Original show. We don’t build in breaks in the action. We don’t tend to slow down, digest what we just saw, heard, or experienced. We just push through to the next thing.

What would happen if you built in a commercial break in the action? What if you slowed down enough to talk to your spouse about that thing you’ve been worried about? What if you called that friend you’ve been meaning to get in touch with? What if you finally called a therapist to work through what happened to you a few years back? What if you said “no” to yet another request and just took a nap instead?

If we don’t take a break from the action, there’s no chance to process, sift through, and move on from difficult feelings, relationship struggles, and the drama, and sometimes trauma, of life. Sometimes we just need to be assertive with ourselves and others, and set up some healthy boundaries.

Live your life in episodes

As much as we may love to binge-watch our shows with no commercials, and no breaks between episodes, it’s not healthy to live our lives like that. Live your life in episodes. Yes, there will be common themes, and some story lines will follow from one episode to the next. But allow yourself some space, resolution, and healing, by not living it all at once. Breaks are healthy. Sleep is healthy! Saying “Yes” and “No” can both be healthy at the right times and with balance.

What about the bad episodes?

Even if you do this, your life will have some bad episodes. Perhaps you’ve made some bad decisions, or someone else made decisions that impacted your story in a negative way. Maybe there are some episodes you’d just rather forget even aired in the first place. Whatever your story may be, remember that you can choose to live your life in episodes. You can choose to move forward from those hurtful episodes to more joy-filled ones. Only you can make the choice to stop re-watching the same episode over and over. It may require some help, but you’re the only person with the remote control, and the only one who ever will.

Grab the remote!

It’s time to think about which episode you keep replaying, and whether you might need to start building in some commercial breaks to engage differently with the people around you. Think about what your next step is, and take it today. Maybe it’s calling a friend, a psychologist, or your satellite provider, or maybe it’s just taking a well-deserved, long-awaited nap. Whatever your step is, it’s time to pick up the remote control and make a change.

4 Ways to Keep Your Anger Managed

My morning started out just as exciting as always yesterday. I was downstairs, half awake with bed-head hair, getting Batman vitamins for my two pre-kindergarden aged boys, and vaguely listening to the TV as they crunched away on Honey Bunches of Oats, when I heard it again. Wisdom from a preschool cartoon. I’m amazed at how often this happens. With all the garbage we “grown-ups” watch, I’m reminded of the posters you see in classrooms stating, “Everything I need to know, I learned in Kindergarten.”

This is obviously an overstated simplification, but I think of that saying sometimes when I hear the amazing life lessons that my kids are taking in passively as they watch silly cartoons. Yesterday (and today again) it was the Muppet Babies. If you stick around for the end of the video below you can hear the overproduced theme song that hasn’t left my brain the last 48 hours. I’m only slightly less sane than I was last week because of it.

Anyway, during yesterday’s episode, Animal (the wild and crazy Muppet that bangs away enthusiastically on his drum kit) got very angry. Animal’s “big feeling” turned him into a gigantic 50-foot-tall version of himself that had a negative impact on his best friends (Kermit, Miss Piggy, etc.). Does this sound like you at all? Maybe not the giant thing, but the part about your anger hurting those around you? If so, read on! If not, read on anyway, because you likely know someone who struggles to contain their anger. You might be able to better support them, and understanding their process might help.

  1. Catch your anger early. Unless you are very young or are neurologically/biologically impaired, there’s a great chance that this one step will make a dramatic impact on your  anger. So often we get ourselves in difficult spots, say things we end up regretting, etc. because we don’t respond to the first feeling we have. You get a little frustrated… or disappointed… or rejected. Feelings often start small, and only build when we don’t address them early. Let the feeling build, fail to seek repair in relationships, and I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll be impacted by the feeling transforming into something bigger and more difficult to manage down the road. Catch it early. Address it early.
  2. Feelings never last forever. Yes, if you fail to address it, your anger will build over time and come back to bite you. However, if you take steps to reconcile ruptured relationships and address the primary problem, you won’t experience the same negative emotional consequences later. Feelings come and go. They can be intense for a while, but they ALWAYS subside. Take some deep breaths. Pray. Go for a short walk. Meditate. Whatever you need to do to cope, do it! This will give your body the time it needs to come down from the angry high. For many people, men in particular, this often takes about 20 minutes. Once your body is calm your brain likely will also be calm, and you will be able to address the person/issue with more respect and wisdom than when you were agitated. If you’re in a relationship with a man who often gets angry, talk with him (*at a time when you are both already calm) about maybe taking 20-30 minute time-outs in future arguments to calm down before coming back to discuss the issue again. Big feelings don’t stay big forever.
  3. Lean into your support network. If you tend to get agitated easily, try to spend more time with people that care about you. They will build you up and put you in a better emotional space where you can handle life’s frustrations and disappointments. We often get angry because we’ve failed to receive or achieve something. Knowing you have the support of your closest friends and family can act as a buffer against any negative self-talk you might be tempted to engage in when life setbacks happen. Lean into the people who will continue to support you after you fail and go a bit over the edge with angry behaviors. They should also be challenging you to grow, but in a way that shows they love you and want good things for you.
  4. Finish unfinished business. If you have unfinished business with people, meaning that you have old wounds that have not healed, unforgiven hurts, unresolved anger, bitterness, or resentment, it’s time to let it go. I don’t mean that there should not be consequences for past actions, or that you have to like the bad things that have happened to you in life, or even like the people that have hurt you. What I mean is that you need to FORGIVE the people who have hurt you. (For a post all about forgiveness, click here). This means that you need to let go of emotional hurts from old wounds. Feelings serve a purpose in that they are informative, and can be motivating for us. But they can also get in the way if we hold on to them too long. Finish your unfinished business. Even if the person who hurt you has died, moved away, or simply refuses to respond to your efforts to connect. It takes two people to have an ongoing relationship. It only takes one person to forgive. Don’t let pride get in your way. You don’t need revenge (even though you might want it). You need forgiveness. Probably for yourself for some things, but definitely for the other person. This can happen in stages or percentages, but it does need to happen. Refuse to let other people have control over your feelings. Don’t let your life continue to be about them. Live your own story!

All told, managing anger can be relatively simple if we practice and utilize basic coping skills, keep anger in perspective, cultivate relationships with dependable social support sources, and move beyond past hurts by moving toward forgiveness. This process can be daunting at first, but if we make these actions ongoing habits, they get much easier over time. If you want or need help with this process, ask for it! Freedom from anger is often easier to achieve with someone walking the journey alongside you. Remember, big feelings don’t stay big forever. You just have to do your part to manage them.

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

Stop Shoulding On Yourself!!!

I wish I had an extra 5 minutes sleep each night for every time I heard someone say Should. My dark circles and gray hairs would slow their advance considerably! This word has led to more anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, hopelessness, guilt and shame for my clients than any other single word I can think of. It’s messy. It’s ubiquitous. It’s pervasive. It is EVERYWHERE!!!

Now you may be wondering what’s so bad about this S* word? Aren’t there other S* words out there that are supposed to be worse? Words that will raise the maturity rating on an album or movie? Well, I suppose that’s a matter of perspective.

What makes “Should” worse than other S* words?

What I’ve learned is that if someone tells me they’ve had a Shitty day, that their boss is a piece of Shit, their food tastes like Shit, their spouse made them feel like Shit, etc., that’s generally an expression of either disappointment or anger. Both of these feelings are unpleasant, but they can typically be resolved through a series of conversations with the offending person, forgiving the other person, or perhaps just eating at a different restaurant.

Should, on the other hand, carries a much different kind of burden. When we say “I should have said…” or “I should have known…” or “I should have been able to…” we are committing the cardinal sin of putting on our 20/20 hindsight glasses and wishing things could have gone differently, punishing ourselves for things that we cannot change, and generally putting ourselves in a hopeless position.

Personal costs of “Shoulds”

When we say, “I should always know the right thing to say/do,” or “It should never come to this,” or “I should be able to handle…” we are putting ourselves in a position where expectations may become unrealistic (see this post for more on how expectations can mess with your psychological well-being). This can only be resolved by confronting ourselves.

However it is used, I treat Should much more harshly than Shit in therapy. I couldn’t care less what curse words people use to express their feelings. If they’re being honest and respectful with me, I’m just glad to be having the conversation. But if they start using Should to talk about them or me, that’s something we need to discuss.

What can you do about your “Shoulds”?

I refuse to have my options limited by Shoulds. And it would probably be a good idea for you to start eliminating this toxic word from your vocabulary. You can get rid of Shoulds, but whether you do is entirely up to you. You have choices. To borrow a phrase I heard years ago in my training as a therapist,  stop taking away your own options by “Shoulding on yourself.”

If you find youself using far too many Shoulds in your life and have a difficult time using more positive, life-giving, freedom-inspiring language feel free to get in touch with me. I’d be happy to set up a time we can meet to discuss ways you can think and speak differently to have the kind of life you want.

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

Should you lower the bar?

Let’s face it: You’re not perfect, and nobody else in your life is either. The sooner we can all acknowledge that, the better. Our feelings in life typically revolve around expectations, and if we can learn to modify them we have a good shot at also modifying the feelings that follow.

Am I saying that you should lower the bar in your life? That you should stop striving for excellence? That you should aim so low that you are all but guaranteed success? Hardly!

What I am suggesting is that sometimes our expectations may not be useful. Sometimes we expect too much of ourselves. Goals are great. Intentions are important. Plans provide purpose. Expectations, on the other hand, can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and fear when we don’t measure up, when we fail, or when we just don’t quite reach as far as we’d hoped.

WHAT’S SO BAD ABOUT EXPECTATIONS?

The problem with expectations is that they can make us believe that the only kind of success is complete/total success. In reality, there are gradations of success. Life is one big gray moment, slowly passing by with infinite opportunities for growth, acceptance, persistence, critical thinking, teamwork, and grace.

Seldom will we feel completely satisfied. Rare is the goal completely accomplished. And what happens once we reach a goal? How long will we sit around riding the wave of success? We need to start anew with other challenges/goals or our lives become stagnant.

“IF YOUR COMPANY ISN’T GROWING, IT’S DYING!”

Take a look at almost any successful business in America and you’ll likely find that they grow consistently over time. Rarely will a successful company stay successful if they plateau in their sales, membership, etc. Maintenance is not the path to success. Think growth. This mentality applies not only to business, but to relationships, personality, and careers. Always be looking for where you can be growing.

Just be careful that when you sit down to plan out growth/development in your business, marriage, church, family or peer group that you aim for what seems unreachable but hold yourself only to realistic expectations for what success will mean. Celebrate the small accomplishments along the way. See each moment as one in which you can claim success and move closer to your audacious end goal.

HOW CAN I APPLY THIS MENTALITY TO MY LIFE?

If you are at your limit for patience in your marriage and can’t see how things could ever be as good as you once dreamed, look for small moments to intervene. Don’t focus on how you want your relationship to be 5 years from now.

Find a small opportunity to be the change that you’d like to see in the marriage and go for it (try something as simple as counting to 4 before saying what you really want to say- this gives you a chance to reconsider saying something potentially damaging). Abandon your own need to see the finish line before doing something different, and accept a step in the right direction as success for the day.

If you are looking to grow your business don’t focus on your sales goal for  5 years from now. Definitely have that goal written down somewhere, but focus on what you can do today to increase sales.

How can you network with a colleague through social media in the next 10 minutes? What innovative strategy for marketing brainstorming can you insert in your next team meeting?

SUMMING UP

All said, you likely can’t reach the high bar you set for tomorrow by being anxious about it today. Take incremental steps and expect only that you will try your best, rather than that you will have the best outcomes. That part really is ultimately out of your control. People still have to choose you/your company over others. (If you find that you have to be in control most of the time and it’s getting in the way, that’s another issue to consider working on).

Letting go of expectations can be difficult. We want so badly to be successful. To be the best. To serve the most people. To reach our lofty goals. We want good returns on our investments of time energy, emotion, and expertise. Let’s just be careful that our desires don’t become expectations.

Acknowledge and accept your limitations. Set your goals at “excellent” and your expectations at “reasonable.” Keep striving for the best, but stay aware of how your expectations may be getting the best of you.

IF YOU’RE STILL HAVING TROUBLE…

You may have been trying like crazy to get control of your life but you constantly feel like an inadequate failure. Maybe you can’t seem to do anything right. Perhaps you want so badly to make things work in your relationships but it seems impossible to climb back out of the hole you’ve been digging. Maybe it’s time for a little professional assistance. Let’s work together to keep the bar high in your life but keep your expectations reasonable!

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

 

Healthy Scrolling: The Danger of Facebook

So many of us engage in harmful behavior every day without thinking about it or even realizing we are doing it. I call it “comparison scrolling.” We open up Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Snapchat, or dozens of other sites geared primarily toward facilitating communication among “friends” and often get to work breaking down our self-esteem.

So what’s the big deal with scrolling? How could that possibly be bad for me? The problem with our obsession with social media is that we are socially and biologically programmed to compare ourselves with others. This is useful from an evolutionary perspective in that we find out what we need to know about the “best” person in our circles. Knowledge like this can help motivate us to go to college, make more sales, update our wardrobe, get to know the latest fad that will grab attention at a party, and ultimately upgrade our social status. This can certainly be useful if you’re on the lookout for a new job, new romantic partner, etc.

Unfortunately, we tend to engage in this comparison behavior even when it’s not immediately useful. The problem is not always in the comparison itself, but in what is being compared. I heard someone recently describe social media scrolling as “comparing our everyday struggles to everyone else’s highlight reel.” There is so much opportunity to compare the mundane, boring, sometimes downright depressing reality of our everyday experiences, to the wonderful, delicious, fun, exciting, adventurous, and rare experiences of our “friends.”

Compounding this problem is the fact that it’s not possible to be intimately involved with each of the people you consider friends, followers, or connections across various digital platforms. If you were, you would know that while they are excited to share their amazing sushi lunch (while you eat a PB&J), trip to the baseball game (while you’re stuck working on a spreadsheet at the office), and first steps from their smiling toddler (while your kid just threw up on you and won’t stop screaming), that’s not the whole picture.

For the people you REALLY KNOW, you can get excited about the highlights on Facebook and not feel jealous or compare yourself because you know that going out for sushi with a friend means they will be staying up late writing a report. Their trip to the baseball game was for work and they spent the time there worrying about whether they were making a good impression. Their toddler usually cries more than your child and has a hard time sleeping through the night.

All said, nobody has it all together. Everyone has struggles. Keep this in mind when scrolling your feeds. Your life isn’t perfect. But neither is theirs. Social media doesn’t need to be about comparison. With the right perspective it can be about sharing in the joys, triumphs, milestones, and yes, sometimes the setbacks of everyone we call our friends.

You may find that you’re having a difficult time comparing yourself to others, finding that you always come up short. It may be hard to take that broader perspective and see both the good and the bad in others. Heck, you may tend to only see the good in others and only the bad in yourself. If this is you, scrolling through your feed is probably not your main problem.

If this is you, I’d recommend that you get some support. Talk to someone who can help sort out how and why you feel the way you do about you. If you need some help with this process, give me a call or find me at the website below. In the meantime, scroll with caution, and remember that it’s not about being perfect. That’s not even possible, so it’s time to get a new goal!

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

Sadness is your friend: A lesson from “Inside Out”

Is Sadness really necessary? Shouldn’t we try like crazy to get rid of all the unhappy moments in our lives? While watching Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out the other day I reflected on the difficult truth that Sadness is as much a part of having a fulfilling life as Joy.

As a professor of psychology and a practicing Clinical Psychologist I am often asked, “What is a good goal for therapy?” Many will say generic, impersonal things like “Increased psychosocial functioning,” “decreased symptoms,” or perhaps simply, “be happier.” But none of these broad goals ever feels satisfying to me.

Is it best to just try to be happy all the time? Should I try to make the most money? Buy the most toys? See the most countries? Plenty of rich, well-traveled people will tell you that’s not going to make you happy all by itself. No, if I’m going to suggest to someone a generic goal for life or therapy I’ll tell them something like, “Be as authentically YOU as possible, as often as you can.”

(SPOILER ALERT) Toward the end of Inside Out the main emotion character, Joy, has the startling realization that feeling and sharing our Sadness is crucial to sustained happiness and relational connection. In order to heal from her pain, grief and anger Riley (the owner of the mind in which Joy resides) must first acknowledge her Sadness. Before she can embrace her difficult new situation and any good might offer, she must integrate her experience of multiple emotions without casting any aside.

All of Riley’s feelings are vital and provide her with important shades of color for her memories. Riley’s complex-and sometimes unpleasant-feelings allow her to have an authentic presence with the people around her.

But I believe the key takeaway is that it’s not just feeling our emotions that is the key. Sharing them is what helps create strong bonds of trust, connection, safety, openness and-ultimately-happiness.

If you’re having a hard time getting out of your head or really connecting with the important people in your life I hope you’ll reach out to someone for little help and encouragement.

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

Exercising is HARD!!! 2 simple steps to following through on your self-care and exercising goals.

I don’t know about you, but I find it terribly hard to start (and stick with) an exercise program. I hem and haw. I commit and de-commit. I do one workout and then stop. When I think about what has kept me moving forward toward my goals when it comes to exercise, two basic principles come to mind: 1) be consistent, 2) be accountable.

  • A chiropractor I know is very specific in his instructions to patients who need to lose weight or simply get into better physical shape for medical reasons: Don’t go more than one week without completing your exercise routine. That’s it. Sure, there are additional, patient-specific instructions about which exercises may be most helpful or best suited to a particular injury, body type, desired result, etc. But when it comes right down to it, Dr. Lindwall has discovered psychological gold. Habits are easier to break a second time once we break them the first time. This goes for starting a new (useful/healthy) habit as well as for stopping an old (destructive/unhealthy) habit. So whether you’re lifting weights an hour a day three times a week, taking a hike in your local foothills or woods every Saturday, or surfing some killer waves at your local sandy seagull sanctuary in the wee hours after sunrise, make sure to do it at least once a week. The further you get from the habit, the easier it is to stay away. Routine is just as important as self-discipline/willpower when it comes to exercise.
  • Some people may wonder why a program like Weight Watchers has become so successful and had such lasting results over the years with so many thousands of members. I believe there are three key elements: simplicity, financial commitment, and human accountability. The plan involves a “points” system that is easy to understand and apply. In other words, you don’t have to be a genius to lose weight if you use their system. Very little thought involved. Stick to your number of points each day and you’re halfway there. As far as financial commitment, I’ve noticed an interesting trend when it comes to how we use our time and money. I’ve had far fewer no-shows and cancellations from therapy clients when they are paying directly for services as opposed to having an insurance company or Medi-Cal pay for services.People tend to pay for things they value. Anybody can take a walk/jog around their neighborhood. Anybody can grab a gallon jug of water and do some bicep curls at home. But not many can do it consistently in today’s fast-paced, over-booked American culture. You pay for membership in Weight Watchers. People pay for what they value and are emotionally invested in. The human accountability piece is perhaps the most important. When we know someone else is going to ask us about our workout or, even better, exercise with us, we are more likely to follow through. Simple as that. Having a workout buddy (even just someone you message on Facebook each week to check in on each others’ workouts) can help tremendously!

Now, all I need to do is take more of my own advice! I’ll comment later tonight as to whether I did!

 

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.