The Best Life
  • at November 19, 2015

This is a shot I took of a comment a college student wrote at conference for leaders of a campus fellowship at James Madison University this weekend. The student group has over 600 members and just one paid staff worker. There were around 100 very impressive student leaders at this conference. My friend and fellow JMU grad says she can sniff out a JMU grad when she meets them: competent, social, winning, sincere, and so darn capable. Super students by any measure! And these students did not disappoint! Ironically, what these super-students wanted me to talk to them about was healthy boundaries in the midst of all of their commitments. Here’s what we did:

  • One session was titled “Say Yes!” Jesus had really packed days of ministry and didn’t seem worried that it would cause everyone to fall apart. We looked at the fact that oxytocin is actually a stress hormone that gives you the urge to reach out to others (thank you Kelly McGonigal!). So, basically, their ministry output and relational commitments can help them with their stress!
  • Another session was “Say No!” Jesus had personal prayer time and stuck to his agenda even when “whole towns” were coming to him for healing (see Mark 1). In other words, he knew what his no’s were because he was clear on the yes’s.
  • Then we spent the whole weekend trying to unpack the implications.

The tension comes when don’t allow ourselves to seriously consider the no’s that are implied by the yes’s. The implications are far-reaching and tough to stomach sometimes; from social engagements, to leadership positions, to jobs and marriages. And my, how the students wished God would hit them over the head with all the answers! I have the same wish sometimes, but have seen in life that behind that wish is often resistance to growing up, taking responsibility, and staying steady when I have to stand in the tension that comes with my decisions.

How do you stand in the tension of your yes’s and no’s?

  • at April 23, 2015

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.

  • at February 25, 2015

This morning the most forwarded NY Times article was about meditation and sleep problems. It seems that people are catching on—SLEEP IS IMPORTANT!!! For anyone who has suffered from sleep problems, you know just how horrible it is. Inadequate sleep:

  • Makes us more prone to rumination and worry
  • Leaves us emotional fragile
  • Seriously alters one’s perspective and outlook
  • Makes weight loss more difficult
  • Limits our ability to access our functional resources for problem solving and emotional regulation
  • Increases irritability and irrationality

Sometimes clients come to me with some other presenting problem and when I explore the person’s disrupted sleep patterns, we wind up starting there knowing that all the other work will be far easier to tackle when sleep is regulated. Getting help with sleep regulation is not only wise, but sometimes really necessary. People don’t realize that what they do to make up for sleep problems sometimes makes the problem worse. Sleeping in and long naps can wind up exacerbating nighttime sleep issues, and lying in bed awake isn’t “helpful resting” like some of us would like to believe.

A few thoughts to get you moving towards better sleep:

  • Don’t lie in bed awake more than about 20-30 minutes. Get up, read a bit, and try again in a half hour. Lying in bed awake trains you to lie in bed awake.
  • Wake up at approximately the same time every day no matter how disrupted your sleep was the night before. You may be tired for a day, but you will be more likely to sleep at night after that.
  • Watch for anxiety about whether you are sleeping. Nothing makes sleep harder than stressing about whether you are sleeping. Get up and do something else if you find yourself in that state of mind. Try to sleep again when you feel tired and are no longer anxious.
  • Racing thoughts in bed can be a sign of a larger anxiety problem that may merit treatment.
  • When you wake at night, remember that the parts of your brain don’t wake up at the same rate. The fear center of the brain wakes up faster than your capacity to reason. So, the middle of the night is rarely a good time to do any productive processing about your life. I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent in existential angst in the middle of the night only to wake up and wonder what my fretting was all about.
  • Research is showing that rigorous daily exercise and meditation/contemplative prayer practices are helpful. Check out the NY Times article I mentioned earlier.

Let’s make March “Better Sleep Month” and start really working on getting better (and more) sleep!

  • at February 12, 2015

Oh God, let something essential happen to me, something more than interesting or entertaining or thoughtful.

Oh God. Let something essential happen to me, something awesome, something real. Speak to my condition, Lord, and change me somewhere inside where it matters.

Let something happen which is my real self, Oh God.

Ted Loder, Guerrillas of Grace

I meet regularly with a group of folks to grow in our faith together and we pondered this prayer last night. It’s funny, I’ve had this book in my house for quite a while, but I was put off by the title. It was only in a Lenten mailing that I saw it.

This prayer challenges me to hope. And hope can be scary……and vulnerable. Truth be told, I feel safer with more general, open-ended prayers where most anything could be considered an answer. Praying like this puts my heart and risk and opens me not only to a potential radical process of transformation, but also to disappointment. What if nothing happens that I can see or discern?

The most real and gritty prayers get us to this place with God. When we are honest with our truest desires and most desperate wants we open ourselves up in the most vulnerable way! I think that our most desperate surrender places us in the tenderest place of faith. We are in a Divine story that unfolds in a frustratingly human way. We can’t see the whys or how things fit together at many points and that sometimes makes it harder to ask God for real things.

I think that I am going to sit with this prayer for a while. It challenges me and causes me to lean into the mystery of faith.

  • at January 28, 2015

3 Great Questions

A colleague tipped me off to these great questions, from The Happiness Trap News

Am I Present? Am I Open? Am I Doing What Matters? 

AM I PRESENT?

The biggest enemy of presence is living in our heads. Distraction with worry and rumination are big culprits. I have a book in my office with the title Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life. That about says it all. We can be so caught up in our thoughts that we miss the life that is happening in front of us!

AM I OPEN?

By open, I mean are you open to whatever inner experiences may be happening or are you fighting them? Are you able to see, acknowledge and allow whatever emotions or thoughts are coming up for you without needing to change them? This might mean talking to yourself in this way, “ah, there’s some anger. OK, makes sense that would be there, now how might I respond well rather than let this eat me up?”

AM I DOING WHAT MATTERS?

Is what you are doing aligned with the person you want to be? Is what you’re doing contributing to the rich, full, and meaningful life you value? Of course, this may be more challenging when you find yourself folding laundry, sitting in the carpool line, or working at a job you don’t like. But acknowledging the mundane realities required for your life can be a discipline that increases your patience for those tasks.

These questions can spur us out of our automatic processes that impact our moods negatively. Again and again I see how the discipline of these questions can help me experience God’s presence more readily and appreciate my current experiences more fully. Or, if my present situation is a horrid one, these questions help me stay in my best place to deal with it.

For more from Russ Harris, the author of The Happiness Trap, check out this website.

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