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10 Dec

All Children Are Our Children

A study commissioned by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption showed that nearly 40% of American adults, or 81.5 million people, have considered adopting a child. If just one in 500 of these adults decided to adopt, all of the 134,000 children in foster care waiting for adoption would have a permanent home.

 

I’ve written before about my experiences volunteering at a local group foster home. It’s actually a residential treatment and crisis care center. While there are many children who live there for varying amounts of time, I have been lucky enough to establish relationships with a handful of them. I love these kids. I feel like they are my children. And in a very real sense, they are mine. And they are yours. They are a part of our community, and they are a part of ourselves.

 

When I first committed to this “job” I agreed to come in for two hours a week, for four weeks. I’m now averaging four hours a day, five days a week, and I just was there for eleven days in a row. I’m well into my sixth month, and I can’t imagine stopping ever. Being a volunteer means that I am not paid, and spending this much time at the place actually costs me lots of money each week. I can’t help but bring fresh fruit and books and things like that. I make the time because this is important. I spend the money because I would rather help these kids than save up to buy a designer purse.

 

More and more we are learning that we live in a global community. We see how much of what happens in other communities, and other countries, has an affect on our own lives. And because of the internet and ease of travel, it’s easier for us to reach out and help children not only in our hometowns, but around the world.

 

I recently met Vivian Glyck, an amazing woman who has made a difference by following her vision. She says that after becoming a mother, she developed “a keen sense that the world is so small, it is really just one community, and I realized that taking care of oneself means heeding one’s calling – without hesitation or deliberation.” Vivian’s calling is helping children in Uganda. Why? Because 25 million Africans, many of whom are children, are infected with the HIV virus. Every 30 seconds a child in Africa dies of malaria. 12 million children are already orphaned by AIDS. Vivian travels to Africa and works with children personally, and she says they are “just like my child” which is why she named her organization “Just Like My Child.” The mission is to alleviate the suffering of women, children, and families in rural Uganda by empowering communities to create their own long-term solutions to healthcare, education, and microenterprise. Read more about Vivian’s story at: justlikemychild.org

My friend Lysa Heslov is also helping children with her foundation Children Mending Hearts. Her mission is to give children worldwide the power to find and use their voices through creative expression. This is a global arts exchange between at-risk children in America and children living in conflict zones around the world that educates, empowers and encourages all the participants. People of various cultures connect the different projects, and learn and grow from their experiences with each other. Lysa has traveled to the Congo and worked with children first hand. And now her foundation is traveling around the United States to conduct art workshops. For more information visit: childrenmendinghearts.org

 

My friend Joseph Curiale saw a news story on CNN which compelled him to start a foundation to help orphaned girls in India. Right now there are four girls going to school on scholarships, who would otherwise be living in poverty in a government orphanage. Joe has traveled back and forth to India 12 times to make sure that these children, whom he considers his own, are getting the support, and the love, that they need. Joe is a testament to how one person can make a difference in this world. The work he has done is remarkable. Read more about his story at: josephcurialefoundation.com

 

Through organizations like Plan USA we can sponsor an individual child, and help that child’s family and community as well. Sponsorship helps to provide vaccination and nutrition programs, community water systems and well construction, home and health clinic construction, school and teachers, and so much more. As a sponsor you receive a photo of your child, a family profile to introduce you and provide information about the community, and regular updates on how everyone is doing. You can send letters and small gifts, and you can even visit your child! This sponsored child becomes your ambassador to a place and culture that you might otherwise never know. I began sponsoring Swapna, a little girl in rural India, in 2005. I’ve been able to see her grow and communicate through Plan USA’s field office volunteers. We don’t speak the same language, and the geographical distance is great, but we are connected through our hearts. She is a beautiful child, and I am grateful to be able to contribute to her life in some way. If you’re interested in sponsoring a child, visit: planusa.org

All children are children of the world. All children are our children.

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29 Nov

Divorce Is Forever

My friend Sandy and I had had yet another one of our philosophical discussions this weekend. She said, “I have a great title for your next blog: Marriage is Temporary, Divorce is Forever.” Having been divorced myself I can understand her sentiments. Yes, divorce is forever. But now, truly happily married, I’m in the state where I once again feel that marriage is forever, too. Maybe there really is no delineation — maybe it’s that these relationships we get ourselves into go on and on, and it’s just the definition of the relationship that changes. Whether married or divorced, there is this person in our lives that we love — or loved — and through whom we are tied with children, or finances, or history.

As celebrities give us this great illustration with which we can all better understand, let’s explore this theory with a few examples. Bruce Willis and Demi Moore: married, seemingly happily, for enough years to produce three beautiful daughters. They divorce amicably, and no bad blood shows up in the press. She later marries Ashton Kutcher, and Bruce shows his support as the three attend many family occasions and holidays together. One big happy family! And when Bruce remarries, of course they’re all there, too. Very civilized, very mature. So Bruce and Demi, although married to different people now, are still tied to each other through their children, and have managed to maintain a functional relationship.

Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt do not share any children, although they shared years of their lives together as husband and wife. Will the press ever let them forget that? I think not! Even as Brad welcomed his 5th and 6th child, twins, with his current partner, Angelina Jolie, tabloids speculated about an Aniston-Pitt reunion. What gives? These people have all clearly moved on, but why can’t we? Is it because Brad and Angie have yet to tie the knot? They are clearly committed — and they certainly are looking to the future as they raise these children together. I think it’s because we want to see that Jennifer is okay. We want her to be happy, and in love, like Brad is. That way it seems more “fair.” But life is not always fair. Life gives us lessons, and sometimes they’re tough ones. We just have to trust that somehow, someway, through some power greater than our own, that it all balances out in the end. Karma? Destiny? Maybe that’s it.

From Sandy’s point of view, her marriage was temporary. She didn’t plan for it to be that way. She went in with the best of intentions, until death do us part. But as it goes, things happen, people change, and plans go awry. So now she’s divorced, which she considers to be permanent. This is the new definition of her relationship with her ex. Can she “wash that man right out of her hair?” No. They have kids together. They had a life together. And now all of that has to be shifted to fit this new paradigm. It can be painful, and certainly stressful. There are unfulfilled expectations. There is grief, fear, and uncertainty. And what can we do about it? Somehow we have to manage. We have to redefine the relationship in such a way that it makes sense to us, and that we are okay with it, taking the good with the bad, however we choose to see that. We have to let go of any anger or resentment because there comes a time when we realize that we are only hurting ourselves with it.

So yes, my first marriage is over. But am I over it? Probably not. I’ve still got these two kids as constant reminders of the years we shared in it. Those years don’t disappear. They are a part of my memory, and my psyche. They helped to shape who I am today. But I still wouldn’t change a thing about it. I know mistakes were made, but those mistakes helped both me and my ex to learn and to grow. I know we are both better off where we are today. I love my life, I love my husband, and I know that I wouldn’t have what I have right now had the divorce not happened. So it’s all good. And I am sure that my ex feels the same way.

Life is full of challenges and full of risks. Marriage is a big risk. Divorce is another. Both take a commitment. It’s a commitment to living life to its fullest, to being true to yourself, to doing what you feel is best, and to honoring the wisdom that you have gained through your experiences.

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14 Nov

No Whining, No Griping, No Complaining: Take the Challenge and Reap the Rewards!

In my CoffeyTalk newsletter this week I put out a challenge for readers to join me in the “Complaint Free World Challenge.” Here’s how it goes:

“Maya Angelou writes: “If you don’t like something change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.” Now there’s an organization that is challenging us to go 21 days without a complaint! Can we do it? I’m certainly going to give it a shot. What a great idea! Why 21 days? Scientists believe it takes 21 days to form a new habit and complaining is habitual for many of us. A Complaint Free World has created purple bracelets to help us with this. The idea is that when we catch ourselves complaining, gossiping or criticizing, we move the bracelet to the other arm and begin again. So, it may take much longer than 21 days to get through the experience, but afterward, we’ll find that life is happier, more loving, and more enjoyable. Let’s track our progress on the CoffeyTalk group page on Facebook. Shall we call this Day 1? Game on!”

By taking on this challenge I have become much more mindful of what I say. Which is actually making me more mindful of what I think. I might think of something in a complaining sort of way, but before I express the gripe, I have to re-frame my thinking and find some other way of looking at things so that it doesn’t come out as a complaint. Interesting! What made that annoyance show up in my mind? Why does this bother me, and why do I feel the need to say something about it? Is there something I can do about it, or is acceptance a better approach? How can I communicate effectively to make my needs known without complaining? Of course all of these thoughts take place in a microsecond!

Maybe that’s the whole point behind this exercise. After all, this is not a new concept. Emmett Fox advocated a complaining fast in his “The Seven Day Mental Diet” booklet in 1935.
When we can change our thinking, we can change our life. And this is one very practical tool we can use to do just that.

In a perfect world, a no-complaining challenge would not be necessary. But then of course, we all have a different definition of perfect. These little annoyances and irritations are ways that we learn and grow. If we were comfortable all the time there would be no reason and no desire to change. It doesn’t matter what is going on around us, there’s always going to be something that we don’t like. But our response doesn’t have to be a knee-jerk complaint. We can be thoughtful, and even helpful. Or we can have a more zen attitude, and be accepting. And in any case, we can learn from the experience. Because that’s what life is all about. Here we are, thrown together in this place and time. We can’t help but bump into one another. We might as well look at the reasons why this happens, and what we are hear to learn from each other. Whether we perceive the experience as a positive or negative one, there is some purpose to it.

One of my life lessons has been patience. I have my own timetable, and it usually runs really fast. I can get a lot done in very little time. I don’t “waste” time; I use it efficiently. It has been a challenge for me to work successfully side by side with other people when my pace is so much quicker. And I recognize that my behavior may be annoying to someone with a different pace, especially when I want to speed them up. I have learned that I need to slow down at times, to be more careful and cautious, and take a few moments to notice the details. I have also learned that complaining from either side only slows down the process. Because that keeps us focused on the complaint instead of the task at hand. In some cases it is better to forge ahead, matching each others steps when we can, knowing that we will get past it.

I’m only 3 days into the challenge and I’ve learned a lot already. It would be easier if I tried Emmet Fox’s 7 day system first, but I’m already committed to this one and I’m not complaining! 18 days to go. Are you with me?

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31 Oct

How to Have a Daring Conversation

An excerpt from Step into Your Moxie by Alexia Vernon

The word moxie has become synonymous with vigor, verve, pep, courage, nerve, aggressiveness, skill, and know-how, and the new book Step into Your Moxie: Amplify Your Voice, Visibility, and Influence in the World by speaking and leadership coach Alexia Vernon presents a soul-stirring call to action for women to speak up for themselves and the ideas and issues that matter most to them. We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from the book.

 

# # #

The key to having a daring conversation is giving yourself enough time to properly prepare for one — but not so much time that you never have it, or that by the time you have it, the person you are speaking with either has no idea what you are talking about or the situation that was such a big deal to us didn’t even register on her Richter scale. While time is subjective, and the ten to twenty minutes of sensation I feel before I speak may feel like twenty eternities in purgatory for someone who is brand-new to speaking, when it comes to a daring conversation, as a rule it’s best to have it within a week of deciding your organs could finally unstick themselves if you said something. And before you do, here is how you can set up yourself, and the other parties involved, for success.

 

The words that we use, from moment to moment, in a conversation where conflict could transpire (or has transpired) often determine whether things go difficult or daring. I recommend using the following words as often as possible:

Yes. My favorite agreement word. Ever. It makes someone instantly feel seen and heard. You can say “yes” after someone shares an idea, an opinion, or a feeling, but do refrain from saying “yes and” and then redirecting the conversation back to you. “Yes and” works great in comedy, but “yes” as a complete sentence usually works better in daring conversations.

Thank you. You can say “thank you” to someone for sharing where she is coming from, for being vulnerable, for telling you the truth, for helping you understand her perspective, or for acknowledging wrongdoing or committing to better behavior in the future.

What I want for us is… These words work great for communicating what you want from the conversation. Try not to use them to linguistically wrestle for power over someone but rather to propose something that the other person, no matter his or her perspective, likely wants too.

Tell me more. This phrase works whenever people are dropping into vulnerability and you want them to know you really want to hear what’s going on, even if it’s uncomfortable. Or, on the flip side, this short phrase is effective when you want to nudge people beyond surface talk so they can go to the source of what’s truly going on.

I’m sorry. This is a very appropriate response when you have truly done something wrong, you want to take responsibility for it, and even more important, you want to communicate what you will do differently moving forward. Sometimes you may be sorry for the way someone is feeling, or the way you unintentionally made her or him feel — even if you haven’t done anything super sorry-
worthy. Be clear on what you are sorry for, and state that. (Again, please don’t think I’m giving you a hall pass for giving your power away. The kind of “I’m sorry” I’m recommending here is different from the “I’m sorry” you use when you feel insecure or actually want someone else to apologize to you. “I’m sorry” must not be a quid pro quo.)

What do you need (from me) in order to move forward? When you brainstorm creative ways to play nicely together in the future, the ultimate expression of compassionate (and super vulnerable) power is to ask what someone else would like to see from you now and in the future. This question alone can resurrect a relationship from collapse, if and when safety has been created in a conversation and everyone is fully committed to a mutually beneficial outcome.

 

Words and Phrases That Keep Conversations Difficult

On the flip side, I recommend avoiding, at all costs, the following words and phrases, regardless of how entitled you feel to use them or how hooked into them you have been in the past. Why? Because they build a wall between you and the other party — and they are a direct flight back from the land of daring to the land of difficult:

A lot of yous (especially when the conversation is past-oriented). The word you often lands as an accusation and can trigger defensive and blaming behavior. Instead, strive to use the word we. Collective language, whether it’s about what’s happened in the past or what you are committing to in the future, keeps conversations daring.

That’s not what I… It’s easy to go all antagonized attack dog when someone misuses or misinterprets what you have said. Should this happen, calmly (and silently) note the misunderstanding to yourself. Somebody is not receiving the message you are intending to send. Instead of pulling out the claws and taking a bite, take a breath, and then use appropriate words and phrases from the preceding section to explain yourself again. The more uncomplicated you make your second attempt, the more likely it is that your message will be interpreted correctly.

That’s not my problem/responsibility (or that’s your problem/responsibility). Though this is an ugly cousin of the last phrase, I’m calling this one out separately. Because no matter whose problem or responsibility something is (or isn’t), stating this (even if you are entitled to), is like lighting a match by a gas line outside your house and wondering why you burned your entire neighborhood down.

[Something conciliatory] but… No more buts in high-stakes conversations! As we explored in chapter 4, a but negates everything that has come before it. And when you have one foot in a difficult conversation and the other in a daring one, this word can pull you back into the former faster than a preschooler can get her entire family sick during cold and flu season. (I may be wearing a face mask as I write this chapter. Trust the analogy. It’s as tight as my mask.)

[So-and-so] said… Please avoid gossip and triangulation. Leave third and fourth parties out. All that matters is what’s transpiring right now, between you and the other person or parties before you. If you need to address somebody else’s role in a situation, set up a separate time and a separate daring conversation for that.

 

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Alexia Vernon is the author of Step into Your Moxie. Branded a “Moxie Maven” by President Obama’s White House Office of Public Engagement, she is a sought-after speaking and leadership coach who delivers transformational keynotes and corporate trainings for Fortune 500 companies and other professional groups and organizations, including the United Nations and TEDx. Visit her online at www.alexiavernon.com.

 

Excerpted from the book Step into Your Moxie: Amplify Your Voice, Visibility, and Influence in the World. Copyright ©2018 by Alexia Vernon. Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com.

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23 Oct

Stress Much This Season?

‘Tis the season… for stress? NBC Dateline reports that 41% of people interviewed said that the holidays are as stressful as a job interview. In other words, “very stressful.” It’s not hard to imagine why this is the case. Besides our normal work schedule and routine, add to that the traditional holiday obligations: office parties, cooking, eating, shopping, wrapping, traveling, visiting and general socializing, and our capacity for stress tips the scales on the verge of overload.

Then of course, there’s the economy. A Los Angeles radio station does an annual poll of its listener’s resolutions. Every year “Get Fit” or “Lose Weight” ends up being the most popular goal. But this year “Get Out of Debt” ranked the highest. How do we reconcile this with the barrage of store catalogs and television ads broadcasting all the great deals we can get on all kinds of stuff? It’s enough to make a person cringe every time Jingle Bells plays in the grocery store.

We can’t fast forward through the season, even if we wanted to. But we can manage our stress, and find ways to relax and enjoy the beauty of this special time of year.

1. Fold your hands in prayer behind your back. When we get stressed we tend to tense up, and cave our chest in. This opens up our chest, so we can breathe more freely. Pull the shoulders back, tilt the head back, and breathe deeply.

2. Rub the circumference of each ear with your hands. Right hand rubbing the right ear and left hand rubbing the left ear. According to Ayurveda, India’s 5,000 year old Science of Life, there are marma points (like acupuncture points) in the ears that correspond to the various parts of the body. Rubbing the ears in this way is like giving yourself a little mini massage!

3. Stop and smell the flowers. Keep some lavender essential oil in your desk or purse. When you feel stressed, bring it out. Close your eyes and breathe in the fragrance. Count to 5. Then exhale through your mouth to the count of 5. According to Aromatherapy, lavender is very calming, and when we close our eyes it isolates the sense of smell so that we feel it more intensely.

4. Present moment awareness. Most of the time, when we’re stressed it is because we are living in either the future or the past. Bring yourself into present moment awareness by focusing on the now. Use your senses, which connect us to our environment. Hug yourself, to be more “in your body” instead of in your mind where the stress is. Look at something beautiful, a flower, a bird, the sky, and just be with that for a moment. Take a sip of sweet tea, and really taste it, and enjoy it. Be grateful in that moment, and stress just washes away. Gratitude and stress cannot be present at the same time!

5. Sit in your desk chair, or kitchen table chair – left foot on the floor, put your right ankle on your left knee, and learn forward with a stretch. Hold it as far as you can go, then bend forward a little more. This opens up your hips, and again balances that tensed up muscle feeling. Do each side equally.

6. Pay attention. Understand that it is our choice where we place our attention. We can look at the source of our stress, or we can look at the white snow, the blue sky, the green pines, the twinkling stars.

7. Release expectations. Simplify. Is it important to send out 100 cards with personal notes? Or would you be happier contacting a few close friends? Do you need to have the house decorated like something out of a magazine? Do you need to make a seven course meal? What expectations do you have of yourself, and of others? Rather than striving for perfection, allow things to just be, however they are. Know that whatever it is, it’s all good.

8. Remember these words: love, peace, joy. This is what the season is all about. When those other words creep into your consciousness, the ones that set off stress, replace them with what you know to be important: love, peace, joy.

Wishing you love, peace and joy this holiday season, and always.

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15 Oct

13 Romance Ideas to Warm Up the Fall Season

1. Join In On Football Season

For many men, “Fall” is just another name for “Football season.” Since you can’t beat ’em, you might as well join ’em! Get tickets to a local game, pack a tailgate picnic and head out to the stadium. Be sure to bring a warm blanket for the two of you to snuggle under, and maybe a thermos-full of hot chocolate laced with coffee liqueur for half-time.

2. Take Advantage Of Pumpkin Season

Jack-o-lanterns aren’t just for kids — this Halloween, pick up a couple of extra pumpkins and spend the evening carving them up together! Maybe you want to work together to create an amazing masterpiece, or maybe you want to work solo to design special “his and hers” messages for one another. Some ideas: a big set of lips and some false eyelashes on a girl pumpkin for him — an “I love you” message that lights up when the candle is inside for her!

3. Play High Stakes Board Games

Take a traditional board game and make up your own rules. Yahtzee can become “Strip Yahtzee,” by simply adding that for every three of a kind you roll, your partner loses a piece of clothing. For every four of a kind you roll, you get a “wish”: a kiss, a foot massage, etc. And for every Yahtzee, set the timer for 5 minutes (and only 5 minutes!) of “high scorer dominance.” You can do something similar with Scrabble – earning extra points for sexy words, or Monopoly – paying for properties with “favors” rather than cash.

4. Share Firelight

There’s nothing more inviting than the glow of a fireplace on a crisp Fall evening. Spread a blanket out in front of the fire, toss around a few fluffy pillows, and serve up some warm apple cider with cinnamon sticks. Relax and enjoy each other’s company. Soon you’ll be toasting more than your tootsies!

5. Dance In The Dark

Set up an impromptu dance floor in your bedroom. Light some candles, turn on the Harry Connick Jr. CD and hold each other close. Dance the old-fashioned way, cheek-to-cheek, and whisper sweet nothings in his ear. Let the music move you, and melt into each others arms.

6. Want To Make It interesting?

When the weather’s crummy and he wants to spend the day watching sports on TV, make it interesting for both of you! Place bets on how many car commercials are shown in the next station break, which team’s cheerleaders get on camera next, how long it takes five minutes to really play. Bet kisses, massages, sweet treats, etc.

7. Puzzle Him

This takes a little forethought – get a jigsaw puzzle and put it together on a piece of cardboard. Put another piece of cardboard on top of it and flip it over. Now write a message to your significant other, or make it an invitation! Be creative, even naughty! Then flip it back over and pull the pieces apart. Keep one piece hidden in your bra. That night, ask him to help you with the puzzle. If you have a glass top table, do the puzzle directly on the table. Once the puzzle is all assembled, have him look for the missing piece under the table. When he can’t find it, crawl under the table to help, and show him your message. It won’t take long for him to find that missing puzzle piece now!

8. Create Your Own Starry Nights

Get a pack of glow-in-the-dark stars to stick on the ceiling over your bed. Have them spell out a love note to your honey. When the lights go out, you can lie under the stars and cuddle.

9. Wash Your Cares Away

How about a soothing bath for two? Make bath sachets by wrapping cinnamon sticks, cloves, and orange peel in pieces of fabric and tying with a ribbon. Drop into a hot bath, add a few capfuls of almond oil. Indulge!

10. Tea For Two

Take a little time-out with an afternoon tea party. De-stress over chamomile and banana bread, and take turns with the shoulder rubs.

11. Recipe For Romance

Cool Autumn breezes call for simmering stews. Spend time in the kitchen together chopping up herbs and veggies and create your own cold-weather feast! Serve with corn bread and your favorite wine.

12. Bicycle-Built-For-Two

Enjoy the last few sunny weekends by renting a bicycle built for two and cruising the neighborhood!

13. Story Time Together

Grimm’s Fairy Tales take on a whole new meaning when read aloud by the one you love. Curl up on the couch and revisit some of your favorites, and love happily ever after.
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11 Oct

Are Your Thoughts Derailing Your Resilience?

An excerpt from Resilience by Linda Graham

Everyone knows what it’s like to be knocked off center, to lose their inner sense of balance and groundedness, at least temporarily, when faced with life’s unwanted curve balls. Whether it’s a troubling health diagnosis, the death of a loved one, a serious car accident, a layoff, or a natural disaster, life can intensely challenge our resilience.

In Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster (New World Library, October 2, 2018), author and psychotherapist Linda Graham, MFT, guides readers step by step through a process of cultivating more well-being in their lives by strengthening their resilience so that they can respond skillfully to any upset or catastrophe that would derail that well-being. We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from the book.

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Sometimes your thoughts can drive you crazy, blocking clear thinking and impeding response flexibility. Sometimes your thoughts trigger further thoughts, evaluations, judgments, and condemnations that reduce your resilience. These thought patterns are ways of filtering reality that can be counterproductive.

You can learn to work mindfully with your thoughts, and with all the amazing, creative, dazzling constructs of your default network mode, especially when those constructs turn dark or constricting, so that you can also experience their coming and going. Even your deeply held beliefs about the truth of the way things are can shift. And you can come to understand the processes of your brain that create, install, and defend those constructs to the death.

Here’s a list of common thought processes that human beings use to filter their experience.

  1. Assumptions: We learn from past experience, and based on that experience we sometimes think we know more than we know. We filter our perceptions of reality through those assumptions rather than seeing clearly what is actually true or needed now.
  2. Projections: We assume that what we have learned is true for ourselves is true for other people as well. We project our assumptions onto them, usually without their knowledge or permission, abandoning theory of mind.
  3. Objectification: We lose the sense of ourselves or another person as an active agent of changing experience. Instead we see ourselves (and others) as an object, a thing, an “It” at the mercy of external events and other people’s choices, powerless to change our experience (or our responses to it).
  4. Mind reading: We presume we know what another person is thinking, feeling, or needing without empathically checking with them. Or we may presume that the other person already knows what we think or need without bothering to tell them directly: “If you loved me, you would know how I feel.”
  5. Discounting the positive: We fail to register positive traits in ourselves or in others, belittling ourselves, devaluing others, and deflecting or neglecting appreciation in either direction.
  6. Overgeneralizing: We may exaggerate attributes of an experience, perceiving things as global and pervasive, applying to everything and everybody; we see things as “always” or “never.” We may take things personally whether or not that’s true or relevant, seeing things as permanent and unchanging. (This overgeneralizing is known as the three Ps: pervasive, personal, permanent.)
  7. Catastrophizing: We may immediately assume the worst: if we sneeze, we assume we’re catching a cold, which means missing work for three weeks, which means losing the job, which means losing our home — from sniffle to disaster in less than three seconds.
  8. Black-and-white thinking: We see everything in categorical terms, with no shades of gray, few options, and no possibilities of compromise. This rigidity in thinking, which can lead to a serious derailing of response flexibility, is also known as neural cement.
  9. Inability to disconfirm: We are so rigid in our opinions that no new information can change them.

You may recognize similar patterns in your thinking.

Exercise: Identifying Thought Processes That Derail Resilience

  1. Review the list above. Identify any of these patterns you recognize as operational in you or in people you know, without attaching any shame or blame. For now, simply acknowledge any patterns you identify that you might want to rewire later.
  2. Pick one pattern relevant to you that you’re willing to investigate; it need not be the one that is most difficult for you.
  3. Track this pattern in your thinking for a week. Notice when this pattern is operating in your thinking; notice when it’s not.

Becoming aware of your common patterns of perceiving and responding, and acknowledging them in your conscious awareness, is essential if you want to rewire them. Steadying your awareness with more and more difficult objects of awareness is reflective resilience.

Mental constructs can be very stable and long-lasting, more like the climate you live in than the weather that changes from day to day. Emotions that might flit through your awareness in a matter of minutes or half a day (weather) can settle into a longer-lasting mood (climate). The moods we deem negative — depression, discouragement, despair — are the ones we’re more likely to notice and want to shift than the lighter-hearted moods of joy or contentment.

As human beings, we adopt roles, preferences, priorities, and goals that filter our perceptions and shape our responses over long periods of time. We prioritize family over work, or work over family, based on deeply held values and convictions. We construct entire philosophies of living, belief systems, and identities that filter our perceptions and response to reality. Formulating values to live by is part of resilience: they are part of a moral compass that guides our life choices. But locking ourselves into values that cannot be changed in response to new experiences is not resilient.

At this stage of new conditioning, you’re simply training your awareness to realize that any thought is a product of the processes of your brain, and thus any thought can change. Entire patterns of thought, no matter how complex, can change. Roles, preference, priorities, and even entire belief systems can change over time — and they do.

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Linda Graham, MFT, is the author of Resilience and also Bouncing Back, the winner of a 2013 Books for a Better Life Award. She is an experienced psychotherapist who integrates modern neuroscience, mindfulness practices, and relational psychology in her international trainings on resilience and well-being. Visit her online at www.lindagraham-mft.net.

 

Excerpted from the book Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster. Copyright ©2018 by Linda Graham. Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com.

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02 Oct

Health Care Reform And Mental Health Services

Years ago, when my son was diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD), my life changed. I went from being a mother to also taking on the additional roles of advocate and mediator. In order to help my son get the help he needed and the services he was entitled to in school, I had to learn everything I could about the educational system, the healthcare system, and the law. It is a challenge, yet it is essential in order to work with teachers, administrators, doctors, and therapists as part of a team. I learned a lot, thanks in large part to an organization called CHADD, Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorders. This is a national, non-profit organization with local, volunteer-run chapters. Our local chapter held monthly meetings, which allowed parents to keep up with the various issues and changes. Most importantly, the meetings provided a forum for parents to network with each other and share experiences and resources.

We got over all the hurdles, and managed to get through the system despite the complexities. My son is in college now, and he has the tools to advocate for himself. But there are new kids coming up, and new parents who are starting from scratch to figure all of this out. Luckily, CHADD is still on it, providing us with the ongoing information we need to help our kids.

Following is an e-mail I received from CHADD regarding the current Healthcare Reform Legislation. I am happy to share it with you, and hoping that it will encourage all of us to look at the many children and families who will benefit from healthcare reform. To those of us working so diligently to take care of our children, this is most welcome, and long overdue.

“House of Representatives Passes
Comprehensive Healthcare Reform Legislation

Many Provisions Will Benefit
Children and Adults with AD/HD and Related Disorders

On Saturday, November 7, 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a comprehensive healthcare reform bill, the Affordable Health Care for America Act (HR 3962) by a vote of 220-215. It is expected that the full Senate will debate and vote on its version of the bill in the coming weeks, which will then be followed by the House and Senate having its leaders meet in a conference to reconcile differences and produce a final piece of legislation that can be sent to the President.

CHADD, through its membership in the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, Campaign for Mental Health Reform, and the Mental Health Liaison Group has sent letters to members of Congress in support of the bill. CHADD’s views on and support for healthcare reform legislation can be viewed on the Healthcare Reform 2009 webpage and CHADD’s Leadership Blog. CHADD has no position on many of the provisions contained in the legislation. The three primary disability coalitions CHADD participates in, believe there are significant key provisions warranting support of the legislation.

A few key provisions in the final House bill that will benefit children and adults with AD/HD and related disorders include:

* Requiring most Americans to obtain health insurance, and mandating that most employers provide insurance to their employees, but also providing substantial federal subsidies to make coverage as affordable as possible;
* Providing coverage of critical services for people with disabilities in the new Health Insurance Exchange’s essential benefits package including behavioral health treatment, and mental health and substance abuse services in compliance with the Wellstone-Domenici parity law, rehabilitation and habilitation services, equipment and supplies for children under 21 years of age;
* Inclusion of “disability” as a category for purposes of health disparities;
* Inclusion of the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act, a new national long term services insurance program to help adults with severe functional impairments to remain independent, employed, and a part of their communities; and
* Not allowing individual or group health insurance policies to establish lifetime or annual limits on the dollar value of benefits and the elimination of discrimination based on health status or a pre-existing condition.

CHADD continues to actively monitor developments in healthcare reform. Updated information on the legislation, CHADD’s 13 principles for healthcare reform, children’s mental health coalition’s five principles for healthcare reform and CHADD’s work with other partner coalitions can be viewed on CHADD’s website: http://www.chadd.org

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24 Sep

Watching The World’s Water Quality And Quantity

Water is something that many of us take for granted. It is a necessity, and it is readily available to us. We turn on the faucet and there it is, clean, safe, drinkable. We shower in it, water our gardens with it, and wash our clothes with it. But for many people around the world, clean water is a luxury they can only dream about.

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 884 million people are without adequate drinking water, and 2.5 billion people are without adequate water for sanitation. Waterborne diseases are the leading cause of death for children under age five. Every 15 seconds, a child dies because of a lack of clean water and sanitation. Half of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by people suffering from waterborne diseases. The World Bank says that 88 percent of all diseases are caused by unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene.

How did we get in this situation? The world’s population tripled in the 20th century, and the use of renewable water resources has grown six-fold. The population is expected to increase another 40-50% in the next fifty years, and this will have an inevitable impact on the environment. Water resources are stressed. There is less water available for agriculture as well, which means that our food supply is threatened, which contributes to the hunger crisis. And the water crisis and the climate crisis are closely related, one affects the other.

Fortunately, there are some amazing organizations doing something about this. Water.org, co-founded by Matt Damon and Gary White, focuses on water and sanitation. One way they are helping is providing loans to individuals and families so that they can use the money to connect their homes to a water source. When people don’t have to spend their time walking long distances for clean water, they have more time to work and earn money for their families. And the children are more likely to go to school, which means they’ll be able to have a better future. The microfinancing loans are paid back very quickly. Water.org has another program in place where a $25 donation will give one person clean water for life. For a $100 donation you can help an entire family. The money goes towards community organizing, hygiene education, geological surveys, project costs, and maintenance.

Water.org also has several amazing downloadable lesson plans for schools and teachers to coincide with World Water Day, an annual event March 22. The site also lists several ways that kids can get involved in helping to find solutions to the water problem.

Guy Laliberte, the co-founder of Cirque du Soleil, has created a wonderful video to explain the water crisis, and what we can do to help. It’s definitely worth a visit to his website onedrop.org and it’s free.

I live in Southern California and we’re currently experiencing a drought. Of course this is nothing compared to what is going on in Africa and Asia, but knowing what we do about the importance of water to our own survival, it is difficult to fathom how we could still be building and maintaining so many wasteful private swimming pools, golf courses, and elaborate decorative fountains. Excess is out, people! Downsize, conserve, simplify. We need to stop thinking like consumers and start thinking like citizens. We need to watch out for each other, and future generations. There are lots of things we can do, and most of them we know about already, we just have to be mindful and take action. When my washing machine conked out after years of wear, I purchased a front-loading washer that uses 14 gallons of water per load, compared with my older top-loading washer that used 40 gallons of water per load. That adds up to a big difference in water savings over the life of this one appliance. When we moved into our home four years ago we replaced all the original 1970’s era toilets with new ones that use a lot less water. If you still have an old toilet and can’t replace it just yet, you can install devices that reduce the amount of water that is used. Here are some other things we all can do to help conserve water and protect the quality of the water we do have:

  • Rather than flushing unused or expired medications down the drain and into the public water system, return them to the pharmacy to be disposed of properly.
  • Use both sides of a sheet of paper. Save a tree and you also save water.
  • Use environmentally-friendly hygiene and cleaning products. Think about the chemicals that are going down the drain and into the water system.
  • Carry your own reusable water container rather than buying bottled water.
  • Eat at least one vegetarian meal a week. For the most impact, consider going vegetarian. If everyone in the U.S. are vegetarian just one day, we would save 100 billion gallons of water.
  • Take shorter showers, and install low-flow showerheads. Every minute you shorten your shower by saves about 5 gallons of water.
  • Turn off the water while shaving, brushing teeth, or washing your face.
  • Make sure that your home is leak-free. Read your water meter before and after a two-hour period when no water is being used. It the meter does not read exactly the same, there is a leak somewhere.
  • Operate the dishwasher and washing machine only when they are fully loaded.
  • Compost instead of using the kitchen sink disposal when you can.
  • Insulate water pipes. You’ll get hot water faster and also avoid wasting water while it heats up.
  • Plant smart. Xeriscape landscaping is a great way to design, install and maintain your plants and irrigation system so that you save time, money and water
  • Water your lawn only during the early morning hours when the temperatures and wind speed are the lowest to prevent water loss from evaporation.
  • Sweep, don’t hose down walkways and driveways.
  • Raise the lawn mower blad to at least three inches. A lawn cut higher encourages grass roots to grow deeper, shades the root system and holds soil moisture more efficiently.
  • Mulch to retain moisture and also control weeds that compete with plants for water.
  • To wash your car, use a commercial car wash that recycles water.
  • Spread the word about the world water situation, and set an example for your friends and family.
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24 Sep

Change Your Life, Be A Mentor!

January is National Mentoring Month. Being a mentor can mean different things to different people. When I was growing up, my parents were divorced and my mother worked full time. My dad moved away, and my mom was stressed out and tired when she was home. Luckily we had Diana. Diana was our real estate agent when we had to sell the family home and move. She and my mother became friends, and Diana ended up moving in with us. It was a blessing in many ways. It helped my mother pay the bills, gave her someone to talk to, and it gave my sister and brother and me an additional adult in our lives.

At the time we thought of Diana as our friend. She introduced us to tacos, and hot fudge sundaes. She stayed up with us until midnight on New Year’s Eve. She made sure that our birthdays were celebrated in a grand fashion. Even after Diana moved out into her own place, she was always there for us, just a phone call away. We could talk to Diana about anything, and know that she never judged us. One of my favorite memories is when she took my sister and me to the beach and we made Clam Chowder from scratch and went bike riding. Diana helped us feel normal, and brought light and joy to our lives when we desperately needed it.

Diana has always been a member of our family, kind of like the hip Aunt you always look forward to visit. And now that I’m involved with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, I can see that Diana was also our mentor.

It is evident how much having a mentor can mean to a child, no matter what circumstances that child is in. All it takes is one adult to show support, encouragement, or concern to absolutely affect a positive change in how that child views himself and the world. I knew this going into the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. What I didn’t know, and soon learned, was how much the experience would change me.

I’m a parent, so I know what it means to love a child. I know what it means to want the best for this person, to put his needs before your own, and to make this person your priority without hesitation. I have a child with special needs, so I know about the obstacles, and the heartache. I thought I was fully prepared and well equipped to handle all of the emotions and challenges that come with mentoring a child. But every day I learn something new. And every day my heart is opened more, and I am grateful that I have the opportunity to expand my awareness because this girl is in my life.

What makes Big Brothers Big Sisters unique is that it is a one-on-one mentoring program. There are local chapters all over the country, so that many different geographical areas are served. When an adult volunteers to be a mentor, there is an interview, and a background screening process. Then the “match” part can begin. The adults, the “Bigs,” and the children, the “Littles,” fill out a questionnaire that reflects their interests, needs, and wants in a mentor relationship. From there a match specialist pairs up two that are compatible, and a match meeting is set. At the match meeting, the two meet for the first time, and get to know each other. The parent, foster parent, or guardian also gets to participate, and if all parties are agreed, the match is made.

The minimum time requirement is four hours a week. This can be accomplished in one visit or several visits, depending on how the match wants to work it. There is a lot of flexibility to the program. Low cost or no cost activities are encouraged. Time together is what is emphasized, as that is what the kids need more than anything. Some adults express that they worry that they don’t have enough to give, that they will have a hard time finding interesting things to do each visit to keep the child interested. But once they spend a few weeks just hanging out, they discover the beauty and simplicity of the relationship itself, and know that time together is the most valuable gift there is.

Adults who enter the program are required to commit one year to it. It takes a few weeks, or even months, for the relationship to really gel. Many times the kids have trouble trusting, and it takes time for them to bond to a new person in their life. The year goes by quickly, and if at the end of the year, for any reason, the adult needs to dissolve the match, they can. But most matches last much longer, even a lifetime. Children ages six through eighteen can be matched with a mentor, and they can stay in the program until they are twenty-one years old.

My Little Sister is sixteen years old now. I’ve known her for almost a year. I can’t imagine my life without her. We have a lot of fun together, going to plays and movies, cooking, and discovering different parts of the city. But the best times are when we just hang out and talk.

People come into our lives for a reason. We learn more from our relationships than we do from anything else. Diana came into my life when I was a child, and she’s still an important part of my life today. She’s family to me, and I love her. And now my Little Sister is an important part of my life, too, and I love her. I hope that I am helping her as much as Diana helped me, and that she will mentor someone when she has the opportunity. Relationships are the heartbeat of this world, and Big Brothers Big Sisters brings people together to make the world a better place.

Introductory video, Big Brothers Big Sisters Ventura County:

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