This Is As Good As It Gets: Live In The Moment

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One of the ways to immediately ground yourself and be present in your life in this very moment is to realize that “this is as good as it gets”. If I suggested that there was no tomorrow, next week, or retirement year ahead of you that were worthy of you holding back, not fully living, or experiencing the moment as it is with total presence…would you believe me? Probably not. You believe you know better. You think you have many days, seconds and years left to live. You have time to put things that matter off. You would argue that you need to wait to start pursuing your dream until: the kids go to college, you are able to finally stop working in a job you don’t like, or you are able to save enough money in your 401K, etc. (What Would You Add?)

The truth is a harsh reality. We really have no guarantees in this life for a tomorrow, next week, retirement age, or more stable 401K. All we have as human animals is this very moment in time. Today. This second. Right now. This is as good as it gets because it’s all you have. Would you live your life differently if this day was your last? Would you spend a single second in relationships that were toxic, jobs that were not satisfying, or a passionless life? Maybe you would, but I believe that you would choose a different option if given the chance. Maybe I am wrong.

There is no better day for you to start something that you have always wanted to do than now. Or to begin a new healthier lifestyle that matters to you. How about that hard conversation you have been waiting to have with your partner where you begin to express all of the ways you feel loved? Or the one in which you need to ask for what you need and take responsibility for your part in a negative pattern? Maybe this moment is the perfect time to tell those that you love how much they mean to you. Or even more powerfully, how wonderful would it be for you to unconditionally choose to love yourself with total empathy, compassion, and acceptance? Not you in 10 less pounds, or you making more money, or you as a “better” person. Actually loving the YOU that you are in this very second; perfectly imperfect you.

How freeing would it be to realize that we have little control over most of our lives? We control our thoughts, actions and words…our own self. We have NO control over others’ behaviors, actions or perceptions. As we learn to live in this moment, we enable ourselves to let go of all our anxieties over what little we can control and surrender to this very moment in time by making it count. Making it matter – finding our way second by second.

Would you live differently if this was as good as it was going to get? Would you breathe a little deeper, slow down a little bit, smell the proverbial flowers or have dessert? Would the familiar photos on your walls take a bit of your gaze, or the hug you give your child as they walk out the door mean a little bit more? Maybe you would wear more comfortable clothes and let go of aging worries. You would buy that beautiful coat at the store to fit the body you live in now rather than decide to get it when you can buy the size you wore last year. What would change for you? Would you stop wasting your time?

Stacey Neil, LMFT is a Licensed Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer in private practice in Los Gatos, Ca. She can be reached at 408.827.5139.

How Our “Perspectacles” Create Our Truth

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Social learning theory posits that learning is a cognitive process that takes place in a social context and can occur purely through observation or direct instruction. This theory points to learning through interaction, relationship and instruction by others. If this basis is true, then wouldn’t it also be true that all learned “truths” that we have as unique individuals are also uniquely ours? As no two people have shared exactly the same actuality as they developed and moved through the myriad of experiences that brought them to current day living; it would make sense that no two people share the same realty, even if looking at exactly the same picture, idea, poem, lesson, etc..

I believe that our realities are shaped so much by our fears, experiences, positive relationships, and day to day minutia, that it is next to impossible for two different individuals to see the same situation in the same way. It’s as if we wear lenses, or spectacles, that are entirely biased by our learned perspective. If we view life experiences so different from each other day to day, wearing our so called “perspectacles”, how are we ever able to agree on anything? Or come to general conclusions with each other?

This biased perspective that each of us holds is the root cause for so many miscommunications between individuals and especially within couples. How many times have you looked across the table at your partner, in the middle of a heated argument, and wondered…how in the world did they come to that conclusion? When both people are faced with the same situation, conflict, or event, how is it possible for it to be viewed in such different ways? The answer is rooted in the the very basis of how we learn things as human beings.

When we are babies our parents point at square object sitting on the floor with weird symbols on it and say “book”. We have no idea what the sound “book” means but we hear it and a small seed gets planted in our minds. A few days later, our parents say the same sound to us again and pick up the square object off the floor while doing so. As this continues to occur over the course of our beginning months of life we begin to associate the sound “book” with the square object our parents are pointing at, picking up, or reading from. Then maybe our parents ask us, “Can you say book?” while pointing to the object. As babies just beginning to speak, we try out the sound and are immediately rewarded with positive reinforcement in smiles, loving gestures, and excitement in our parent.

This positive reinforcement motivates us to continue to practice and work on making our parents give us that good feeling again. Eventually through trial/error and repetition, we internalize the sounds that go together making a one syllable noise “book” as the square object with the symbols on it to the point where we don’t even have to think about it anymore as the word just automatically pops into our head. This becomes our internalized knowledge and it is how we learn everything. Everything gets learned in this manner: what to fear, what feels good, what is right/wrong, how to take care of family members, talk to others, and what love looks like. Everything.

If social learning theory holds to be true, then this would mean that everyone has had unique and different learned experiences around everything that has formed their world view. So when you have a couple in an argument and the husband stops talking and is silent, the wife will interpret that with the learned experiences that she has associated with that behavior. For example, if her father (in the midst of an argument with her mother) used to be silent, when he was about to hit her mother across the face, her reaction will be one way; however, if her father used to be silent to allow his wife to have some space to formulate her thoughts in the argument, her behavior will be different. Based on what she has learned, this same behavior in her partner can evoke fear, or security. One of the main causes of conflict with couples in working through their issues together, is that there is no one way to view any shared experience. All of us utilize our own perspectives to determine what we believe to be our personal truth, we identify it as right or wrong, and then act according to this belief system that we hold in place.

So if this holds true, how do we learn to interact with each other in a healthy manner? How do we have shared respect and room for individual opinions allowing for an appreciation for the differences in our shared realities? The first step is to recognize that this is everyone’s truth and your way of seeing the world and your reality are your unique perspective and yours alone. Having a general respect for the fact that everyone you meet will see the same thing as you in a different way can help you to get over your bad self, tell your ego to take a deep breath, and minimize your frustration in collaborating with others.

After you open up your perspective to allow for differing opinions, I encourage you to humble yourself and ask questions of whomever you are connecting with. Don’t make assumptions with what your “perspectacles” are telling you someone is feeling based on what you think is going on. Learn to have the courage to ask questions and be curious about someone else’s experience. One of the best ways to encourage someone to feel like you are truly open to a different point of view is to have genuine curiosity about them. You are sharing your time with a unique individual who has learned things much different that you. For example, they may have painful past experiences or trauma they are trying to work through, or maybe they struggle with trying to identify their own feelings in the moment; you never know what someone else’s journey is about. Be compassionate and patient and hold open your heart as you hear someone’s truth. It doesn’t have to change your perspective or mind, but it should help you to understand that this person is not you, but is instead uniquely their own individual self.

Finally, in addition, I encourage you to see if you can catch yourself using negative judgement when considering persons with vastly different viewpoints from your own. See if you can begin to appreciate and have an openness towards others that may be be new for you. When in an argument or discussion with your partner, try a genuine curiosity about their point of view and ask them about it in a non-judgmental way. My bet would be that your relationships open up into a brand new closeness as you begin to understand and stay open to the uniqueness of your partner. This new skill will work effectively for you in all collaborative relationships: at work, in your family, friendships, and in dealing with the guy at Starbucks. I think honoring everyone’s unique perspective makes our world a more interesting place full of individuality. I mean how boring would it be if everyone was the same?

Stacey Neil, LMFT is a licensed Psychotherapist and Certified Personal Trainer who has a private practice in Los Gatos, California. She can be reached at 408.827.5139.

Why Dieting Has Always Made Me Fatter

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Want to gain weight, get angry, frustrate yourself, and mess up your metabolism potentially forever? Go on a diet. As many of my readers know, I grew up overweight. I weighed in at higher than 160 pounds in 4th grade. I remember this clearly because I had to get my wisdom teeth pulled (at an ungodly young age) and I lied to the dentist about how much I weighed so my dad wouldn’t know. This caused him to not use enough numbing medicine and I began to feel all of the cutting, pulling and tearing midway through the surgery. I will admit, as much as that sucked, I was still glad my dad didn’t know how much I weighed because even by age nine I was fully aware of the stigma associated with being the “fat” girl in my school.

My doctor at the time told my mom that I needed to go on a diet and put me on The Peanut Butter Diet. Seriously. No joke. Peanut Butter. I had ton’s of peanut butter for each meal. I remember being seven and trying to measure out a tablespoon of peanut butter into a little plastic spoon. That’s hard as you know if you have ever tried to do it. It’s also a really small amount of peanut butter and it leads you to want to suck the remaining smears of leftover peanut butter off the spoon if any clings on. Sure, this doesn’t lead to food cravings and feelings of deprivation. This is how food obsessions are born. My little girl self was dutiful. I measured, logged, counted calories and tracked everything I ate. I didn’t like the fact that my parents needed to order “pretty & plump” size clothing for me. It was humiliating. At the time, this was the early seventies, I just wanted to be able to get my clothes at Sears like everyone else. If you have ever been overweight, you understand that to buy clothes “off the rack” is highly desirable when you haven’t been able to do so in the past. Stores didn’t use to have attractive, cool, fashionable clothes for larger women like they do now. I ended up hating peanut butter for about 10 years. And I gained weight once I cried and told my parents I couldn’t do it anymore.

Next I went on Weight Watchers with my mom (who used to have those delicious Dexatrim chocolate caramels under her bathroom sink when I was growing up) by around the time I had my wisdom teeth pulled. Dieting as a young girl makes you bitter. You watch your friends (who at the time had ruler shaped bodies and no curves whatsoever) eat whatever they want from chips to cookies to soda, while you are eating carrot sticks, celery stalks and dry bread. Nothing makes you feel worse than being so obviously flawed at a young age that you need to eat different foods then your peers. If it wasn’t already obvious that you were overweight and “not like everyone else” (which by the way it already was) then you certainly didn’t fit in when you pulled out your little veggie packets during recess. I didn’t lose any weight during this diet either and had to hear my grandmother ask me each time she saw me at the holidays, “How is your diet dear?”. My diet? What I wanted to say was, “It sucks Grandma, and the minute you turn around I’m going to sneak into that candy jar and eat as much as I can hold in my mouth before you walk back in the room.” But of course I am a nice polite little girl (back then) who doesn’t speak to her grandmother like that. I did however learn how to steal candy from her jar when she wasn’t looking in my very own “silent lid removing” skilled way. That’s how my diet was. Dieting just made food my obsessive enemy. A feared necessary evil that I apparently was unable to control. I mean look at me, the evidence was right there. And yet, I was persistent in my quest to lose weight…and would be for 35 years.

The point of my historical dieting memoir is that I have been on just about every diet that has come out since back in the seventies. I am here to tell you that what I have learned in my history of eating: only protein, no carbs, fat free, low fat, SouthBeach, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Nutrisystems, liquids only, fasting, and bordering on anorexic deprivation – is diets do NOT work for me. They only make me fatter. It wasn’t until I stopped trying to make myself eat “this” or “that” particular food and stop considering foods as “bad” or “good” that my weight was able to stabilize. Granted, I am still in no way a small woman, but I am able to take the power away from my obsession with food that dieting only encouraged. I have finally been able to let my dieting goblin go and not have food rule my every thought, action and feeling about myself. As a woman who can tell you it used to be easier for me to not eat at all then to eat healthy, I have found freedom.

When you are taught at a very young age that you are not “allowed” (internalized as “good enough”) to eat ______________ (insert any delicious off limit food a young girl wants), you really mess up your relationship with food from the get go. Food is not understood to be energy for your body to utilize in order to be fit, strong, and healthy. Food becomes public enemy number one. The surest way I know to make an individual obsessed with and yearn for a particular food is to make it off-limits. When food is off-limits it becomes ALL POWERFUL. All you think about. Dieting by its very definition is, “to restrict oneself to small amounts or special kinds of food in order to lose weight.” That is the definition for the verb form of the word and I assure you for anyone who knows what it takes to diet, it is definitely an “action” word verb, not a (person, place, thing) type noun. Love the term “special kinds of food” by the way…. I think food should just be food. Not special, or bad, or holiday themed. Food is fuel…delicious, nutritious, scrumptious fuel.

I work with my clients who are interested in losing weight by following a very simple principle….and for those of you who work with me on this, you know I am always insisting you call your meal planning a “lifestyle change” and not a “diet”. There is more to this phrase than simple semantics. A diet implies deprivation by it’s very definition and if you want to successfully implement a healthier eating method in your life, you need to make sure you can follow whatever you roll out with yourself for the REST OF YOUR LIFE. Seriously. Forever. Because if you take something away that you love from your daily food intake in order to lose weight, you need to never eat it again for your weight to stay off. It makes more sense to try and incorporate balance and smaller portion of foods that you love on a daily basis so you can maintain whatever changes you have made long-term.

This is pretty simple actually. If you take a bunch of foods away from what you like to eat and lose weight, you are creating a new pattern for your body to follow of eating. This is the principle of a diet. As long as you diet in this way forever, you can maintain the weight loss, but if you cannot keep yourself following whatever plan you put yourself on that is causing you to lose weight, you will inevitably gain the weight back. Add to that the new brain science that is being discovered around our bodies desire to fight weight loss at all costs by changing our hormones, brain chemicals, and metabolism when our body goes into starvation mode or caloric deficit. Your body does not know you are overweight and fights any weight loss you try to achieve as a means of saving its’ life. Our bodies are super machines. To lose weight in the caveman days meant sure death and your body has not yet changed it’s thinking in this regard. It does not realize we have fast food and processed super connivence items at every street corner. Evolution did not get the memo.

So what works if you are looking to eat healthier and be fit? Moderation, mindful eating, balance, and exercise. Moderate your overall calorie intake. Eat slowly and enjoy every bite your put in your mouth and balance out foods by eating a diet full of rich colors and grains that are as close to the earth as you can (i.e. not processed). Exercise. Do this by finding your way to an exercise program you can maintain because you enjoy it. Eat foods you enjoy fueling your body with (mindfully and slowly) and then…and this is really important…accept the body you end up with as a result. If you are eating healthy wholesome foods most of the time and exercising in a way you enjoy, you can give yourself permission to let go of what you think you are supposed to look like and instead celebrate your best self as you are. Stress kills. Tearing yourself up all the time because you aren’t as thin as you want, or because you ate that brownie at the pot luck, is just going to make your life miserable. A miserable life is a life that is no fun. Life is hard enough without having to move through it without accepting and loving yourself as you are. You are so much more than your looks, your body, and the size of clothes you wear. Let go of your materialistic expectation and just do your best. Live fully and with pleasure.

Shhhh…The Secret To Finally Starting an Exercise Program

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My clients ask me all the time about exercise programs. As a Personal Trainer and Licensed Psychotherapist, I tend to meld both backgrounds into my transformational work with my clients incorporating the importance of moving your body, practicing mindfulness and also looking to implement positive change in dealing with struggles that individuals face with anxiety, depression, loss, or trauma. Exercise is amazing for many aspects of well-being that go far beyond physical health and include re-wiring the brain.

Scientific studies are finally beginning to catch up with my soapbox preaching around the importance of exercising to overcome mental health issues. Now you can pull up your favorite search engine and type in “the benefits of exercise for mental health” (I tried Google) and get over 78 million responses. I believe that every Doctor and Psychiatrist should have a section for “exercise prescription” on the medication pads. I don’t think medication should be prescribed without a discussion on the benefits of exercise to go along with your chemical cocktail of symptom relief. If you are going to take pills to feel better (and often that is absolutely necessary) it is equally important to get that body of yours moving.

So what makes it so hard for all of us to grab our bodies and begin an exercise program when we know it is SO good for us? In my experience with clients it boils down to a feeling of overwhelm. There are so many individuals who are mass marketing programs that guarantee you results in “3 Months”, “30 Days”, “14 Days”, or even (believe it or not) “The 3 Minute Exercise Solution” that it is impossible to know where to start. To add even more confusion to the mix is the conversation around what you “should” be doing as a part of a complete exercise program such as the baseline debate over which is better: cardiovascular exercise “cardio” or strength training. In addition, once you even whittle down past these two main categories, there are literally hundreds of different exercise options available.

As a prospective new exerciser begins to look into how to work out, what exercises to do, or how to plan a program – worries begin to arise. The opposite of positive thinking occurs, and instead the only increase that comes up for someone is a spike in his or her stress levels. I have heard these concerns. Everything from: “I don’t want to bulk up”, “I am too old”, “I am going to get hurt”, “I’m too overweight to do that”, etc. pops into consciousness as attempts to find the best possible excuse to forget getting started on a new program in the first place arise, and going to the pantry to get a snack begins to sound like a much better idea instead.

I know it’s intimidating because I hear it from clients all of the time. That’s why I want to share the number one secret that I have learned to getting started on any exercise program. The best thing you can do to assure that you are going to get started, and more importantly, stick with an exercise program is to find something you enjoy doing. This cannot be overstated and does not need to be more complicated. If you find something you enjoy doing, you will stick with it. If you like to walk in the evenings with your dog, go out for a walk starting for 20 minutes and work your way up to 30. Don’t like dogs? Grab a bike, go for a swim, try a class, take a hike, or find a friend to join you. Hire a Personal Trainer to explore ideas with you if you want. But try something. If you don’t know what you like, give yourself permission to try a lot of different things. There is no perfect science to finding out your likes and dislikes other than having the courage to give it a shot.

I promise you that if you are able to find something you enjoy you can begin to create a new healthier habit. This takes 6-8 weeks to do, so you may find yourself needing to self motivate until the habit gets established, but this will become routine, and your body will start to look forward to whatever activity you begin to practice. Yes, there are ways to change the way your muscle structure looks through exercise, or lose weight, or even improve upon you metabolism; however, this is not necessary to focus on, when learning how to get your body moving. What is important for improved health is as simple as it is stated below in the American Heart Association Recommendations.

AHA Recommendation

For Overall Cardiovascular Health:

-At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days per week for a total of 150 minutes.

OR

-At least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least 3 days per week for a total of 75 minutes

(You can visit http://www.heart.org for more information on this)

If you enjoy walking your dog in the evening and want to make this your exercise routine, you can make sure you are going at a moderate-intensity if you can still talk but have increased your breathing rate. Maybe you need to take Fido up the hill for a stroll to accomplish this, but you can make this the only exercise routine you need if your exercise plan is to walk according to the guidelines above.

It can be overwhelming to listen to all the fitness programs available, and at times having access to so much information can lead us to shut down instead of take charge. Fitness professionals are master marketing moguls and typically have killer bodies to boot. From Beach Body, to Jillian Michael’s Fat Shredder, to P90X; the options for exercise promises and benefits are numerous, but rest assured that for you to improve your mental health, relieve depression, and feel happier and healthier, you just need to find something enjoyable to you.

So get out there and ride a bike, join the Y, rescue a pet that needs to be walked, or take a class. Check in with yourself after a few days and see if you can feel the difference in your mood, you self-esteem, and sense of well-being. Becoming mindful of this feeling of accomplishment and improved health will keep you going. Good Luck On Your New Plan!

Stacey Neil is a Certified Personal Trainer and Licensed Psychotherapist in private practice in Los Gatos, Ca. She can be reached at 408.827.5139.