Unexpected Inspiration

OK, this is embarrassing. I miss Amy Poehler. For the last week, I’ve been listening to her book, Yes, Please via audio book while I’ve been running/walking each morning. It’s been utterly unfair to be listening rather than just reading. I’ve been duped into thinking that she’s been my running partner who just talks a lot more than me. She is irreverent, vulnerable, and alternately serious and wickedly funny. If you are now imagining me jogging around my neighborhood laughing out loud (and even crying once) with nothing but my earphones for company, then you are picturing this friendship accurately. Amy’s great. She’s warm and believeable, companionable and entertaining. But there was something more about “getting to know” Amy that tapped into things I want to be about.

Amy talks about how important her friends are all the time. At every rough patch, in every job and through all the muck of life, Amy made reference to the people around her who were holding her up. I’ve tried to make friendships a greater priority in the last months and I’m starting to see exciting changes. I want to keep pressing on!

Amy went for it. She discovered that she loved making people laugh and she shaped and bent her life around this passion when there was no money or glory in it at all. It was all about creativity and risk and living on the edge and doing it all with people you love and respect. I want to stay hungry like that for the stuff I want to be about!

Amy cries a lot. In so many of her stories, Amy will say something like. And then ____________ happened, and I cried. Right there in front of ____________. I love that she has so many experiences of just letting it go and letting people see that vulnerable part of her. I want to keep being willing to show that part of myself too.

            Amy is courageous. Her chapter on apologizing showed me an example of taking responsibility and owning her actions that moved me to review my own responses to people who bring up their hurts with me.

            Amy is willing to be the one. Amy orchestrated a lot of gags for events like the Golden Globes and she was always willing to be the one taking the greatest risk on a prank! By doing this she bravely led the way and helped others shine. She was gutsy and generous.

            I didn’t expect to be inspired when I started to listen to this book. I expected to laugh. I have laughed at Amy Poehler for years—Parks and Rec is pure genius! But I want to grab every opportunity to stretch into the person God created me to be, and surprisingly, Amy Poehler is helping me do that. And hey, maybe she’ll read this blog, we’ll have lunch, and we’ll get to pick up on our friendship and make it a bit less lop-sided. You never know!

 

Where have you been inspired in an unexpected place?

Too Careful For Our Own Good

Apparently the message, “our lives are messy” is too critical for today’s college student to hear. I consulted recently with a campus minister who had been challenged by a counselor at the small liberal arts college where they both work. The counselor said that telling students their lives were messy was just too hard for them to hear…..that they should not be given such a critical message.

This is really disturbing to me.

Who decided college students are so fragile?

Why is the University taking on the role of protector in this way?

This month’s Atlantic has a thought-provoking story on this idea called “The Coddling of the American Mind”. The author goes into great detail about current practices at Universities that perpetuate the fragility of the American college student. A couple of primary examples are punishments for microaggressions (“small actions or word choices that seem on their face to have no malicious intent but that are thought of as a kind of violence nonetheless”( p.44) and insistence on the use of trigger warnings when professors assign readings that may evoke strong emotional reactions.

As an anxiety therapist, I appreciated the writer’s investigation of how the presiding attitudes on campus foster an avoidance of emotional reactions that reinforces over and over again for students that it is dangerous and harmful to feel offended, provoked, angry, or anxious. While I affirm being sensitive and am grateful for movements in the past that sought to move towards more inclusive language as a reflection of our world, I see the difference that writers Lukianoff and Haidt explain in this way: “The current movement is largely about emotional well-being. More than the last, it presumes an extraordinary fragility of the collegiate psyche, and therefore elevates the goal of protecting students from psychological harm. The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into ‘safe spaces’ where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable.” (p.44 )

The writers rightly point out that avoidance of feared things is actually counterproductive to psychological well-being and certain does not prepare students for life after college on many levels. I worry that these practices actually serve to convince students that they truly cannot handle feeling bad, which is an attitude I am constantly fighting against with my clients. Even for students with a true trauma background, the answer for their growth and healing is not creating a fantasy world where problems don’t exist. And certainly I wish the message was being injected into these students that they can handle evocative content….that their stress and anxiety responses can be functional and helpful, not dangerous!

I want to be a part of helping people see that their God-given emotional capacities are there for good reason and are a part of what make us human. There is no emotional state that needs to be summarily avoided! Our resiliency and maturity are both stretched by being squarely in reality, noticing our triggers and emotional reactions, and learning to soothe ourselves and stay grounded. These skills are things that can be developed and should be a goal for any college age person. Let’s allow life to teach college students what they need to learn about their tremendous capacity to experience emotions and be ok!

 

The article cited is from the September 2015 issue of The Atlantic.

Getting Good at Stress

I CAN’T HANDLE IT!!

How much do you say this? How often do you hear it? Truth is, a lot of times when I say it, it isn’t actually true. I am handling it or I figure out a way to handle it. Much of my job is pointing out to my clients all the amazing ways that they are handling really hard challenges too. So why do we so often sell ourselves short? Why do we instantly rush to what we cannot do when we really can do it? When we decide we cannot do something, our body necessarily needs to perceive the situation as threatening, even if it is not. With this mindset, we can unwittingly train ourselves towards a threat response when what we actually need is a challenge response.

A threat response primes you to defend yourself. You anticipate physical or other kinds of harm and your body gets ready. A challenge response primes you for performance without preparing for harm, per se. And here is the crazy thing…..having lots of challenge responses is associated with “superior aging, cardiovascular health, and brain health.” (p.111) In other words, it is good for us to experience lots of life challenges and respond with a challenge response! The good news is that we can train ourselves towards a challenge response and away from a threat response by quickly reviewing the resources we have available to us when we face something really difficult. What might this be like?

  • “What have I done in the past when I’ve been this crunched?” vs. “I can never meet this deadline”
  • Making a list of friends who will step up to help through a spouse’s chemo vs. “I will never make it through this”
  • Praying and remembering those who will pray for you vs. “I am all alone and I will never make it through this job loss.”

When we really need a threat response, when we really CANNOT handle something, then having a threat response is exactly what we need! But in reality, many of us punt to a threat response when it is, in reality, unnecessary. And learning to quickly remember all the resources we have available to us is a pretty easy intervention to learn! And then your stress response can be truly helpful to you! It isn’t the harmful thing we once thought!

I’m amazed over and over again by the resiliency of people and the amazing capacity of human beings to handle really horrible, scary, and tough, tough life situations. Watching people realize they can and/or have made it is one of the joys of being a therapist.

So, are you willing to try reviewing your own resources when you find yourself moving towards a threat response?

The quotes are from Kelly McGonigal’s great book: The Upside of Stress. See my blog reviewing the book here.

Pilgrimage

This week was the anniversary of my father’s death 38 years ago. I recently traveled to Alabama to attend the 50year celebration of the church my father was pastoring when he died. My expectations were low. I knew that there would be people I recognized, I thought perhaps only a handful…..but I realized that it was probably a chance I wouldn’t have again to connect with this part of my past. What I found when I got there was an entire community of people that I remembered. I was embraced by spiritual mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, who had known me as my community through my childhood. Names, faces, and feelings flooded me. Several people hugged me, looked at me, and simply wept. It was a pilgrimage I will treasure forever.

The church had prepared several photo montages of the past and collected memorabilia from every decade of the church’s life, so I had the delight of seeing some photos of my father I’ve never seen and reading a piece I’d never read that he wrote for the church’s newsletter. The experience overall reminded me of how meaningful it is to remember where we come from; who raised us, who nurtured us, and who loved us.

I wanted to share some of my father’s words as a tribute to his memory and a celebration of the richness and depth of faith that is my heritage.

Words from Cooper French

“When I look at the needs of people, a superficial concept of God just won’t do. We need God at the point of that deep festering hurt, at the point of our fragility, at the walls of our breaking hearts, at the edge of our frustration, at the mouth of our anger, at the source of our sadness, and at the wellspring of our joy. We need a God who interferes with us, who “messes” around in our lives, and who loves us enough not to leave us alone”

“He has this strange habit of resurrecting himself in the most interesting places. He will continue to seek ways to invade our cold and hardened hearts. And once he gets in he will never let you go, no matter how small the hold you have given him in your life. He is going to be there and there isn’t much you can do to deny that. God is an interfering God. He is neither shocked nor embarrassed by your behavior or thoughts”

“Where are you hurting and struggling most? That is the very point God is going to slip into your life. ….Now isn’t that what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about? God is real here and now FOR YOU!”

AMEN

Procrastination

Procrastinators will tell you that it is hard to live like they do. Cycles of delay and cramming leave procrastinators feeling worn out and hopeless. I’ve been putting off learning a computer system I need to know for a class because it feels utterly defeating to ever get started. If I wait too long, I will have a long night of cramming myself!

Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University, told Psychological Science. “To tell the chronic procrastinator to just do it would be like saying to a clinically depressed person, cheer up.” Many folks will say it’s poor time management or laziness that makes a procrastinator procrastinate. No wonder procrastinators can get so down on themselves! Like most long-term issues, the fixes aren’t usually quick and easy. Making a schedule doesn’t unmake a procrastinator.

“In the last few years……scientists have begun to think that procrastination might have less to do with time than emotions. Procrastination ‘really has nothing to do with time management,’ Joseph Ferrari adds.” Click here for the full Atlantic article. So, are you wondering what the culprits are? The same professor and others say that the two basic reasons for procrastination are:

1—We delay action because we feel like we’re in the wrong mood to complete a task, and

2—We assume that our mood will change in the near future.

These reasons confirm how our moods can tend to shape our actions. Who hasn’t slept in because then they might feel more up for work later? Or rearranged their desk so that the more favorable work environment will open up more creative energy? It can be really subtle or blatantly ridiculous—if I eat half a cake now, I’ll get all my binging out of my system and I’ll feel ready for this diet. We all do it, but chronic procrastinators do it a lot. And the lack of task completion builds guilt and anxiety and shame, which can make accessing one’s resources even more difficult. So, it builds on itself.

This article concludes that the most helpful way out of procrastination is having an external deadline. But when that isn’t possible, I’m wondering if part of the answer lies in really understanding the myth behind the reasons for procrastination listed above.

1—We think we need to or are entitled to feel a certain way to do things.

2—We falsely believe the right feeling or mood will come along eventually.

What if we got underneath these false beliefs and came to the realization that to be the person we want to be, we need to develop the skill of feeling bad and doing stuff anyway. I talk about this skill with clients a lot and struggle to apply it myself.

Who has had success in this area? I’d love to hear your stories.

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