Do you dread the holidays?

Whether it’s the divorce, the strained relationships, the passive aggressive agendas or the drunken political commentaries, holiday gatherings can bring out the worse in us. Here are the top 5 reasons why you dread this time of year and how to make it better.

1. You believe you HAVE TO participate. Believing you HAVE TO, is like building a prison around yourself and throwing away the key. Nobody likes feeling powerless. Recognize that you are CHOOSING to participate in this awkward family gathering, because you prefer it over the alternatives. If you opt out, your wife may divorce you, your Dad will write you out of his will, or everyone will talk bad about you while your gone. As concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl once said, “there are two ways to go to the gas chamber, free or not free”. If he can walk to the gas chamber with freedom, surely you can choose to visit your in-laws. Or not. Stay home, go to the neighbors, pass out food to the homeless. Celebrate your freedom of choice with pride, not guilt or blame.

2. You are pointing your finger the wrong way. Although it’s easier to blame our family, what we really don’t like is who WE become when we are around them. Terri turns into a wimpy doormat when she’s around her Mom. Kevin’s own inadequacies get triggered when his brother brags about his accomplishments. Julie gets embarrassed by her children’s poor behavior and becomes “Mean Mommy”, embarrassing herself even more. Realizing it’s YOU and YOUR BEHAVIOR that bugs you, gives you the power to change it. Ask yourself, “How can I be true to myself, even while surrounded by family?” Focus on what you value and ignore the rest. Every time Terri felt overshadowed by her Mom, she focused on the beautiful things around her. Kevin doesn’t value being reminded of his shortcomings, but he does value cheering on his favorite football team. Julie made sure she used HER best manners by focusing her attention on the lovely food and interesting company. Commit to being a person YOU like and experiencing the things YOU value.

3. The holidays bring up unprocessed emotions from the past. We aren’t meant to live perfect & easy lives. We are meant to learn and grow and the holidays can be a time of great teaching, if we let it. What genuine emotion are you trying NOT to feel that the holidays stir up in you? Sadness? Anger? Embarrassment? Fear? Find a quiet place where you can lock the door and allow yourself to feel whatever feeling wants to come up. Ask yourself, “Where in my body do I feel this feeling?” “What does it feel like?” “What color is it?” “Does it have a shape?” “Does it have a sound?” If you can OBSERVE and ALLOW this feeling to be in your body, it will move through you in about 90 seconds. If you avoid, suppress, or fight feeling this feeling, it can stay with you for a lifetime of holidays. Sink into your emotions like you sink into a bathtub. Soak for a while in whatever shows up. When the water gets cold, stand up knowing your emotions don’t have power over you.

4. You don’t like your reality. There’s nothing like a family reunion to remind us that we are still unemployed, still single, still broke, still fat, still addicted, still inadequate and unworthy. But when my clients look at what they say to themselves, they are WAY harder on themselves than any family member. Mom- “How’s that diet going that you started last year?” Your self talk- “Oh God, here we go again, my mom knows I’m fat and lazy and it’s nobody’s fault but mine and I suck. I’m an undisciplined loser.” Mom’s self talk- “I care about her and wish I knew how to help her.”  Make peace with your reality so no one has the power to trigger you. I weigh 50 lbs. more than I’d like to and that’s ok. I am $19,000. in debt and that’s ok. My car is 15 years old and that’s ok. My kid has anxiety and that’s ok. Be sure to speak only facts, not opinions. You are not stupid, poor, fat, or a bad parent. People will always judge you, but you get to decide how you judge yourself and there is great freedom in making peace with the circumstances of your life.

5. You take family too seriously! Stop “shoulding” all over your family and put the FUN back in dysFUNctional. Your family should not be perfect, nice or welcoming. They are who they are and like it or not, they are yours. Pretend like your holiday gathering is a movie, would it be a comedy or a drama? Study the characters, their mannerisms, voice tone, and words, so you can act them out later. Write a script before hand and see how close you get to reality. Watch the movie play out and re-write the ending to make it funnier. Get together with a friend after and see whose family is craziest.

This is your life, your family and your holiday. Make sure the best of you shows up for it. Use it as a time to grow personally and become aware of areas you still need to make peace with. If you are tired of letting the holidays bring you down, schedule a life coaching session with me and we’ll make this your best year yet.

Have you forgotten how to play?

My kiddo: “Mom, will you play a game with us?”

Me: “No thanks, honey, I’m enjoying reading my book.”

My kiddo: “What are you reading?”

Me: “Oh, it’s this great book on the importance of play by Dr. Stuart Brown, I just love it. It’s all about how Play shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul.”

My kiddo: “You’d rather read about play, than play a game with us?”

Me: “Oh, all right, I’ll play a game with you.” (But inside my head, I’m thinking YES! At times, I would rather read about play, than play a game with my kids.  Is something wrong with me?)

Have I forgotten how to play?

Janine is one of those Moms schools couldn’t live without. PTA volunteer, scout leader, car-pool coordinator, and room Mom. Everyone counts on her and she takes a lot of pride in her involvement. But she gets resentful of other Moms who say “no”. Why is she doing all the work? Secretly, she’s jealous of those Moms who put themselves first, but she can’t seem to figure out how.

Don is a good provider and father of two young children, yet he constantly feels like isn’t doing enough. At work, he feels like he should be at home, at home, he feels he should be working. He’s burning the candle at both ends and burning himself out.

Many of my clients fill their calendars and to-do lists, but still feel like they are missing something. We are taught to focus on goals, hard work and productivity, but we aren’t taught about the importance of play. (Or perhaps we spent too much time playing patty-cake and trains, that we’ve forgotten what feels like play to US). Grown ups need to play in order to feel like all our hard work is worth something. It gives us a sense of well-being, connection, and shifts us into a more relaxed brain state (and who doesn’t need that?). But what feels like play to one person, may not to another. If you or your kids need a break from stress, check out these play personalities, from Dr. Stuart Brown’s brilliant book.

Storyteller – Imagination is the key to the kingdom of play. Reading, writing, movies, performances, dance, etc. Storytelling can be brought to any activity. (If your child loves stories, make sure to give them lots of quiet time to be inside their own heads.)

Director – Enjoys planning and executing scenes and events. Born organizers, they love the power of being in charge and creating an experience for others. Center of the social world. (Discovering my daughter’s bossiness was her way of playing helped me accept it and find appropriate outlets for it.)

Kinesthete – Move in order to think. Like to push their bodies and feel the results. (School desks are torture for these kids. These kids need trampolines, chin up bars, balancing boards and roller blades, especially if they are trying to learn something new.)

Joker – A joker’s play revolves around nonsense. Silly jokes, behavior, foolishness, practical jokes, class clown. (Which means these kids need an audience, thank goodness for YouTube.)

Creator/Artist – Joy is found in making things: something beautiful, something functional, and something goofy. Or just to make something work. Take something apart, fix it, clean it, put it back together, and make it new. (Gardening, organizing, decorating, woodworking, blogging, detailing a car, there are many outlets, if this is you or your kids, make sure you have a creative outlet or you’ll never feel completely alive.)

Explorer – Exploration is a way of remaining creative & evoking the imagination. Can be going to new places, searching for new feelings or meanings. Discovering something new by going deeper or researching and discovering something new. (Now I understand why I love life coaching and reading non-fiction, it’s how I play!)

Competitor – Playing to win a game with specific rules. Keeping score and fighting to be number 1. Games may be social or alone, observed or participated in. Competitors like to be known for being on the top. (Who can be the first one to eat their veggies and clean their plate?)

Collector – Wants to have and hold the most, the best, the most interesting collection of objects and experiences. This may be a solitary activity or the focus of intense social connection. (This can apply to multiple activities, you can travel to collect souvenirs, play soccer to collect trophies, or collect subscribers on your YouTube channel).

Can you identify the play personalities of everyone in your family? Remember, the things that feel like play are the things your kids will make a career out of later. What’s your favorite way to play?

Everything does NOT happen for a reason

This was not in my plans

My house was bustling with excitement. I’m getting ready for my first, big product launch and planning a fun, life coaching group for Moms.  We are enjoying our out of town guests and planning our end of summer party.So much fun stuff happening…… and then, disaster hit.I went to bed and the kitchen, family room, and all my plans for the next two months went under water.Water gushed from the dishwasher and soaked the heart of my home.

My plans are derailed. Our house guests left early, hungry, because I couldn’t feed them. Our kitchen, unusable. My living room, no longer available for group meetings. My launch, postponed. My brain, filled with the sound of 10 fans and a dehumidifier blasting 24 hours a day. I feel like I’m trapped in a hot, dusty, airplane hangar with whirring helicopters that won’t stop. I feel helpless and lost.

As I sit in the backyard, washing my dishes with a hose, trying to regain some sense of control, a thought comes to my mind, “Everything happens for a reason”.

Bull Shit.I’ve heard that throughout my life and it’s a stupid lie.How do I know?Because it feels like crap when I think it.

Our bodies tell us what is true and what is a lie. The girls in my summer camp are always surprised how easy it is to know when you are lying to yourself.The lie feels heavy, icky and tense.The Truth, on the other hand, shall set you free.The truth isn’t always pretty, or happy, or easy, but it ALWAYS tastes of FREEDOM.

LIE – My friend should not have moved away.

TRUTH – I miss my friend. I wish she still lived nearby.

LIE – There is too much bullying going on in schools today.

TRUTH – Kids today could benefit from social development skills.

LIE – Bad things keep happening to me.

TRUTH – Things happen and I keep labeling them as bad.

You might find comfort in the thought, “Everything happens for a reason”. If this thought brings you peace and freedom, then it is TRUE for YOU. For me, it feels heavy & helpless so I know it’s a lie. I MUCH prefer to believe, “I decide what I make things mean.”

Client: I lost my job.

Me: What do you make that mean about you?

Client: That I’m a loser and will never get ahead. (lie)

You can decide that “Life sucks and then you die.” Or you can believe that, “Unexpected things happen and that’s ok.”

Client: I’m bored with my life.

Me: What are you making that mean about you?

Client: That I’m a horrible person! I should be grateful for all the good things. (lie)

Are you really horrible or is boredom just a sign that you are ready for more?  Here are some of my favorite thoughts clients found to be true for them:

1. There is something here for me to learn, that I couldn’t learn any other way.

 

2. This is happening FOR me, not TO me.

3. It was always meant to happen this way.

4. Love is always an option.

5. Love values struggle as much as it values ease.

I don’t know why my kitchen flooded when it did. I haven’t decided what I want to make it mean yet. But I know I will choose something that feels amazing and powerful and truthful because that’s how I roll.

How about you? Do you like the thought, “everything happens for a reason” or does it feel like a lie? What lie are you telling yourself that is keeping you weighed down?

The Opposite of Play isn’t Work, it’s Depression

Can you feel the enthusiasm?  New lunchboxes, new pencils, new classrooms and the back to school excitement is here.  But a look at the statistics for today’s kids tells us this optimism will turn to stress by October.  How do you keep the relaxed and joyful days of summer, even after the school year begins? The answer is so simple you won’t believe me.  So let’s take a look at the problem first.

Many kids today struggle with motivation, joy, self-acceptance, social and life skills. With suicide rates rising and occurring at younger ages, it’s not a problem we can continue to ignore. Anxiety and depression are higher than ever in teens and increasing in YOUNG children! Why?
1. Kids today think the world is a scary place and they have no control to change it.
2. Too much structure: school-work, organized sports and screen time are all about following OTHER people’s ideas.
3. Less and less time spent in nature.
We’ve got a serious problem in the health of today’s kids and teens, not to mention an inability to prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow, which require creativity & drive, not repetition. The success of the movie Race to Nowhere shows you parents know it, see it, and need help changing it. But the solution is simple.
It’s PLAY.

Self-directed, imaginative, social, outdoor PLAY.
The benefits of this kind of play are HUGE! But somehow, in our drive to make kids smart achievers, we forgot that the best way to be successful in life is to FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU LOVE TO DO then SPEND LOTS OF TIME DOING IT.  PLAY helps us discover who we are and what we enjoy. PLAY teaches us how to solve our own problems and exert power over our lives. When you PLAY you are in control of your environment, (something my corporate clients know is important).  PLAY teaches that life isn’t about success and failure but about participating for the sake of it. It gives us ACCESS to ourselves: our feelings, thoughts, preferences, abilities, etc. PLAY allows us to discover who we are and who we are meant to be. It gives us the feeling that life is good and all is well. Allowing your kids to initiate and pursue their own interests is as crucial to their well being as feeding healthy foods.

But if you are like me, it’s easier said than done.
My neighborhood is full of single-family homes with sidewalks, basketball hoops and nice families, but nobody’s outside! My kids are not the outgoing type so outdoor play only happens if it’s me initiating it, and I’m busy! TV, video games and ipads keep my kids quiet and out of my hair. And when I say no more, I have to listen to them whine & fight. The pressure to put my kids in organized sports comes at me from all angles.

When you ask parents what is their greatest hope for their child? It’s always the same….happiness. Every parent wants their child to be happy and PLAY is what creates that sense of well-being. Here are some practical tips to create an environment that encourages a LIFETIME OF JOY.
1. Back away from the children. By hovering and directing their play experiences (or hiring a teacher/coach to do it) they don’t learn to control their own world. Let them struggle, make mistakes, invent their own rules & figure it out.
2. Initiate a neighborhood playgroup or street party. Collect emails and schedule “play in the street” days if your neighborhood is as quiet as mine.
3. Teach your kids how to call up a friend and ask them to play. Practice it and praise their initiative.
4. Limit screen time! TV and video games distract a child from their emotions. Kids need to experience boredom, disappointment, frustration and failure and then find ways to soothe it and make it better. Think of it like serving vegetables, nobody likes it but it must be done. Limit and commit, no matter what their ages.
5. Go camping with other families or (my favorite invention ever) go to family camp. Free time outdoors encourages more imaginative play with more creative problem solving than free play indoors.
6. Invite other kids and families over and play “the old fashioned way.” No video games, cell phones or TV, and let the kids figure out how to invent their own fun.
7. Tell the teacher you aren’t going to do homework because it stresses out your child and takes away from valuable play time. (I did. It was hard, I was nervous the whole time.) Remember the schools are here to SERVE YOU, not the other way around. If enough parents do it, they’ll change their policy.
We are out of balance and it’s time to change. We need to enjoy living for life’s sake, not because it’s leading us towards someone elses external goal. What feels like PLAY to you? Do that more and set a good example.  It’s for the kids!

Is something bothering you?

Sometimes life sucks.  People are mean, Teachers make dumb mistakes, Bosses are blind, and our family pushes our buttons.  When you or your kids are feeling down in the dumps, it’s important to give yourself permission to feel it.  Take a break from blaming & complaining and LABEL THE FEELING:  mad, sad, embarrassed, frustrated, disappointed, scared.  Finding & labeling the AUTHENTIC EMOTION is powerful.  It honors you and your feelings.  Worry, stress, anxiety are not emotions, they are a mental distraction that only create more worry, stress and anxiety.

Naming an emotion contains it.  Suddenly, what used to feel overwhelming, now feels manageable.  You’ve felt disappointed before, you can handle it.  So you feel ashamed?  That’s ok, we all do from time to time.

This is a hard thing to give our kids.  We don’t like to see them sad, mad, scared or ashamed.  We want to kiss their boo-boo’s and make it better quickly so we don’t have to see our child suffer.  But when we first tell them to “look on the bright side” “don’t feel that way” or “it’s no big deal”, we unknowingly teach them that there is something wrong with them, that the way they feel is flawed.  We do the same thing to ourselves when we deny our own emotions.  “I should be happier”  “I need to just suck it up and get over it.”  “Why can’t I just……be different than I am?”

Naming and owning an emotion doesn’t take long.  In fact, Scientists have timed it.  If we fully allow ourselves to experience an emotion, it lasts about 90 seconds.  Kids are usually better than adults at staying with the feeling, crying, hitting, stomping, and then they’re over it.  Sometimes it’s all you need. But if you’re a Mom like me who can’t help but help, you can ask my most favorite question, “What do you know to be true about you?”

DD -“Ella was so mean to me at school today.  She said I was stupid and fat.”
Mom – “You feel mad.”
DD – “Yeah.  It makes me mad when she’s mean to me.  Why can’t she just be nice?”
Mom – SILENT SITTING (no talking, just let her have her emotion, let her stay frustrated for 90 seconds.)
Mom – “What do YOU know to be true about you?”

Somehow when we ask for TRUTH, it raises the bar:  “I know I’m overweight, but I’m also a good friend.” or “I say dumb things sometimes but I’m not a dumb person.” or “Whenever I’m with Ella I feel worse about myself.”
If your child’s response is “The truth is I’m a loser and nobody likes me”, start over at step one, naming the feeling, “You feel sad.”

Model it for your kids by trying it for yourself.

1-    Find something or someone that is bugging you.

2-    Name your authentic emotion:  (mad, sad, scared, ashamed, etc.)

3-    Bathe in it.  Picture yourself sinking into a bathtub of your emotion.  Let yourself soak in it for 90 seconds. Say to yourself, “I feel scared, and that’s ok.  I allow myself to feel my feelings.”  Notice how it feels in your body and where you feel it.”  BREATHE!  It is super important to keep your breathing slow and deliberate.  If you start to think, talk, blame, argue, bring your attention back into your body and your breath.

4-    After 90 seconds is passed and you are feeling calmer, ask yourself, “What do I know to be true about me?” and see what answers arise.

5-  Congratulate yourself on being authentic.  Celebrate your awesomeness.  (I know you want to avoid this step but your kids are your motivation.)  You want them to have a positive self image so show ’em how it’s done!