Growing Old Is Not For Wimps

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As I get older, I realize more and more that growing older is not for wimps. New and unusual hair begins to grow in places that you believed to be bare, and you need a magnifying mirror before you can even begin to pluck it out. I’ve been trying to figure out if our eyes naturally begin to fail in our forties as a way to allow us to not be able to see ourselves as clearly as before for self-preservation purposes, or if their slow demise is a thermometer designed to help you come to terms with the fact that you are getting older.

I now find myself wearing glasses just to work on the computer…or read a menu, recipe, or food label. I have become my mother and have magnifying eyeglasses all over the house (you can buy a three pack at Costco for less than $20 – you’re welcome). I can’t believe that’s now me. I was excited that the new Iphone 6 was coming out not so I could get the latest “gadget”, but because it would have a bigger screen so I could finally read my phone again. It was terribly sad for me when I finally got it to realize that I still couldn’t read the newspaper text on the screen (yes, I realize these are first world problems….and yes, I had already increased the font size).

What a strange phenomena we humans experience to be present as your body ages and you realize that once something starts to slip away IT IS NEVER COMING BACK. My vision will never be restored to the eyesight I enjoyed (without truly appreciating it) in my earlier years. Those of you who follow my blog know that I got injured running a few weeks back. After X-rays came back telling me that all of the impact sports I have been doing (including running) have done damage to my hips, due to the genetic way that my hip-joint and spine curve, I was told to take up some low or no impact sports instead. Who me? You sure Doc? Yes…she was sure.

“Deterioration” is a word that you are hoping not to hear when you are someone who is passionate about all types of activities such as I am. So what do you do with bad news like that? You determinedly decide you are going to take the news with a stoic appreciation for what you have that is still functioning… then I went swimming. While I have recently been spending so much time in the water I’ve been reflecting on the ways in which it is a struggle for us to age in these bodies of ours.

It feels like a blessing and a curse that we humans have mastered the art of living much longer lives. Neanderthals lived to be about 30 years old, maybe they had it better dying while in their primes. Right now we are expected to live to be around 79 (American Men) and 81 (American Women). As a interesting side note, if we live in Japan, we get to add a few more years (82). How wonderful that we have the experience of spending time in our later years with gifts such as grandchildren, retirement and social security benefits. On the flip side is the fact that our human bodies begin to change in ways that we could not possibly understand in our youths with themes more like: fear of Alzheimer’s, investment loss, minimal medical benefits, and strange body changes (while trying to find our misplaced keys for the tenth time that week).

Youth is definitely wasted on the young. You hear that phrase when you are young by your grandparents, but unfortunately, do not really understand it until you are much much older. I get it now.

It takes a lot of courage and wisdom to age well and with grace. For some, the later years will be the first time they experience the true gift of total self acceptance. It will certainly make for a gentler aging process. Fighting with every wrinkle, sag, memory loss, or strange hair will only lead to distress. One true gift of getting older is the new found appreciation I have for older people I meet who share their incredible life stories that are filled with strength and an undeniable sense of humor. “Don’t sweat the small stuff”, they tell me when I ask what makes for happiness in this life.

One of my favorite quotes is by Hunter S. Thompson who says:

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”.

This is my goal (and I am well on my way based on my most recent doctor’s X-ray). I want to live fully and messily and wear myself out. I am finally okay with the idea of this being my best body, self and life. After a certain age, there is only one direction your body is going, and it’s not younger. It happens to all of us if we are lucky. Really think about that. If you are struggling with how to come to terms with your aging body, you are fortunate beyond words. You have been able to stay alive in this crazy world of ours and get the privilege of actually living to old age. How cool is that?

Stacey Neil, Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer, can be found at the pool swimming laps along with in her private practice in Los Gatos, CA. She can be reached at 408.827.5139.

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Surrender Without Quitting: Accept What Is

Surrendering with White Flag

I have been contemplating a new wrist tattoo that has a dandelion with the word “surrender” floating away as if set free in a wish. This concept of letting go seems to go against every bit of my type A personality’s desire to “power it out” and “get it done”. However, I would suggest to you that surrendering is the hardest skill to learn of them all. How do we learn how to let go and just be? How can we ignore societies ongoing messages that drive us to achieve, achieve, achieve? I suggest to you that to letting go is the opposite of driving through your life at 110% of capacity…that the truth to living a fulfilling life filled with mindful presence is to actually take a deep breath, exhale it out, and surrender.

There is resistance around the idea of surrendering as it can feel like quitting. Surrendering is not quitting. Surrendering is allowing yourself to live in the moment of your life and to realize that in this very moment this is as good as it gets. If you can learn how to let go and be fully present in your life, you can surrender the anxieties that surround all of the “what ifs” that we all tend to ruminate about in our heads. What if I lose my job? What if my spouse cheats on me? What if I never lose these 20 pounds? What if I get cancer? What if my son doesn’t get into that college he is fighting for? Quitting is rolling over and allowing your life to run you; it has nothing to do with surrender. Surrendering is allowing space to just be, as is.

You can surrender and decide you are never willing to quit. You never “quit” trying to be mindful, eat healthier, improve upon your body, learn to relax, living fully and with passion, etc.. Never give up in fighting for the things you want in your life whatever that means for you. To give up self-care is to give up on yourself. Always do your best…and then surrender to what you currently experience as your life. Know that for this very second, what you see is what you get. There is no purpose in feelings of bitterness for what you may or may not have in this second. Surrender to your reality as is.

Why does this matter?

I am always sharing different themes around our internalized myths about what we believe to be in our control (everything) when in fact what we control is very little (almost nothing). We control our own individual words, actions and behaviors. We have no control over how other’s perceive us, what other’s say to us, or how our bosses act. The more we try to control our external environment, the more frustrated we become and the less present we are in our lives. We become focused on the future, potential catastrophic anxiety inducing worries that may happen, or we hold on to past vulnerabilities and pains. What we don’t tend to do is be present in this very moment breath by breath.

Sometimes when a client comes in for therapy, they work really hard at trying to task through the work of becoming more aware of their own internal processes by getting mad at themselves or frustrated by their thoughts or the way they feel. They despise their own judging minds and thoughts. If this ever happens to you, I suggest you try to imagine letting go instead of criticizing yourself. Your thoughts can spiral out of control and you can choose to non judgmentally notice that they are present, then surrender and not engage in the emotions that will only fuel the fire of your judgements. Give yourself permission to be just who you are and allow that to be good enough. Let go of all of the ways in which you feel you are not doing what you “should” be doing according to some internal judgement of yourself and be free. Be good enough. Surrender. It is so much less effort to let yourself go in this way.

What can you do right this second as you read this to let go? Surrendering sets you free. Be free.

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

Lost Your Mojo? Here’s 7 Ways To Get It Back

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Burnt out? Tired? Just plain sucking wind? You are not alone…many of us living during these stressful times are feeling the pain. Do you find yourself dreading your thoughts as they start to arise on a Sunday evening at home when they begin to remind you about what you have to deal with the next day? It’s hard to keep up the good fight when our work life balance continues to tip in the direction of working more than is healthy, sleeping less than we need, and struggling to calm down our minds in our often chaotic lives. It happens to all of us at one time or another: we lose our Mojo.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, Mojo is defined as, “a quality that attracts people to you and makes you successful and full of energy.” Maybe you are familiar with Austin Powers having his mojo stolen in the 1999 film, “The Spy Who Shagged Me”. More historically, mojo was defined as a form of “magic” or “spell” that one person puts on another with their charisma and charm. In today’s day losing our mojo seems to be more the norm than the exception. If your mojo has gone into hiding, do you even remember the last time you had it?

So what do you do about this? This is more than losing your ability to be sexually exciting to a potential partner, or having zero desire to put on the sexy lingerie for an evening in with your special person….this is about losing your passion in life, your focus at work, or the joy you feel around your family. You feel flat and somehow this flatness is contagious to those around you as they seem to become less interested in you and even bored by you as a result. We all know how exhausting people around us are when they are down all the time. It sucks the life right out of you.

Ready for a solution? You must try your best to snap out of it. I hate to break it to you, but you are the only one who can do it for you. When you have positive energy and vibrance, others in your life will react with a much more responsive energy to you and your life will hone back into focus. You can become re-energized and fired up as a part of this reaction, but it needs to start with you sucking it up and finding yourself again. If your mojo seems elusive these days, try one of the following 7 tricks to finding it again:

1) Get a New Look – How long have you been wearing the same clothes, with the same hair, and maybe even the same shade of chapstick? Sometimes getting stuck in a rut affects how well you present yourself to others in your environment and you can find yourself with a tired look from two decades before. You don’t need a mid life crisis to upgrade your look. Change is good and can help to knock you out of your comfort zone (which is obviously not very comfortable for you with no mojo). You will be amazed at the response you get from others when they notice the effort, but it is more about the response you get from looking in the mirror and realizing you still got it! You can look your best no matter how much you may wish you had less weight, better fitness, less gray, etc. Put the effort into respecting yourself and get it together.

2) Exercise – Yes, I realize I squeeze this point into many of my blogs, but I cannot overstate the emotional charge that a good twenty minutes of an increased heart rate can give you. Give your system an endorphin boost by getting moving. It doesn’t matter how you get it done, but get it done. Get outside, walk the dog, get some vitamin D rich sunshine, and breathe fresh air. Just get that stagnate body moving.

3) Have Sex – Spice up your bedroom routine. (Or maybe you need to actually have a bedroom routine?) Take a few minutes longer to get ready for your partner. Put on a candle, take a bubble bath, get yourself in a sexy pair of boxers, SHAVE (wherever is needed), and see how you feel. If you are flying single, don’t fret and do something erotic for yourself alone. This is the electronic age – you don’t need to be partnered up to have an earth shattering orgasm. This is one of the best ways to improve your mood, cure headaches, and feel positive in your body. This doesn’t need to be a huge production, you can pull this off in a relatively short period of time. Just Do IT!

4) Go Dancing – I promise you that you don’t need to look hip with your funky self to move your body to music. You don’t even need to leave your family room. Crank up some music and close your eyes. See if you can feel the energy in your body as you begin to sway and move. Gyrate, get your groove on…have fun. It is incredibly therapeutic to dance out your moods, feelings, and emotions. There is an entire group of my colleagues in our therapeutic community who only do this type of dance and drama therapy. It works!

5) Watch a Comedy – Laughter is truly one of the most energizing things we do as human beings. Want to know something interesting? You can actually get benefits, and feel an increase in your mood, by fake laughing (if you really have gotten jaded in your ability to pick out a comedy that might work). Lighten up, watch something ridiculous and stop taking yourself so seriously. Hey, you can even watch Austin Powers look for his mojo if you want.

6) Get In The Water – There is new scientific research that definitively shows the positive effects of water on human beings. The term that is being used to describe this total mindful relaxation is “The Blue Mind”. You can google that term and check out what is being said as it’s pretty cool stuff. There is also a powerful new book written by Wallace Nichols that was just released about the calming, soothing effects of the ocean, or any body of water, with the same title. I have shared my new love of scuba diving with all of you in my past blogs, and it is this feeling of pure bliss that is now being scientifically proven.

You can check it out here: http://www.wallacejnichols.org/122/bluemind.html

7) Get Enough Sleep – There is no way that you haven’t seen all of the latest news media around the crucial need we humans have for 7-9 hours of sleep each day that very few of us are getting. Our brains are actually more active during restorative sleep than we ever realized. It is slated to be the number one health problem or “crisis” that faces our next generations. This is entirely in your control if you take the time to practice prioritizing this. Learn to love your bed: get good sheets, a comfortable mattress for your body type, chuck the TV out the bedroom window, and get rid of the illuminating clocks. You have your phones so set your alarm there. Have gentle lights, pleasurable reading, and a calming environment. I suggest doing nothing in your bed that is stressful. Do you work in another room. Your bedroom should be your sanctuary. If you don’t have one set up a sleep routine.

Here’s how to set up a sleep routine if you aren’t sure how: http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/what-can-you-do/good-sleep-habits

So as you can see finding your mojo has everything to do with taking better care of yourself, having more fun, and taking yourself less seriously. Don’t sweat the small stuff (realize it’s all small stuff). We have very little in our control in this life and that continues to burn us out; however, I suggest you think about this lack of control instead as a form of freedom. If we have very little in our control, why not just surrender and decide to make the most of our time, every single minute? Which number above are you going to start with first? Maybe you plan a date with your partner with a combination of #1, #4, and #3 + #6 combined…I bet your mojo would be feeling pretty good after an evening like that. 🙂

Stacey Neil is a Licensed Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer who works in Private Practice in Los Gatos, CA. She can be reached at 408.827.5139…unless she is out looking for her mojo. Then you may need to wait for morning. 🙂

Mindful Eating: 5 Simple Ways To Be Mindful At Your Next Meal

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If you’re anything like me, I have to pay attention while I am eating or I taste the first 2-3 bites of any given meal, and then check out. If you are not present when you are eating the foods that you have prepared for your body to enjoy, you can end up feeling less than satisfied which will in turn cause you to eat more than what your body truly needs. Many of us share in this habit. In fact, recent studies show that in America, at least 20% of our meals are eaten in the car alone on a daily basis. I imagine it is safe to say that there is not a lot of mindful eating going on in the car while driving, watching out for the texter in the car next to you, or trying to fight traffic during rush hour. The truth is that we are stressed out and unable to find the time to take part in one of life’s greatest pleasures: mindful eating.

There are a myriad of reasons we don’t eat mindfully. The number one reason is we claim we don’t have time. We also like to say that we’re tired, we want to relax and eat in front of the TV, or we just plain don’t want to. So why does it even matter? It matters because when we don’t eat mindfully, we end up eating way too much food, we have no idea what our body is craving from a nutritional perspective, and we eat foods that are not good for us. When this happens, we end up overweight, we have digestion problems like acid reflux, and we never experience full satiety with our meals which leads us to grabbing those after meal snacks of a high sugar nature…which leads us to overeat (and continue the cycle).

What does it even mean to eat mindfully? There are several definitions of what it means to eat mindfully. The most prevalent definition states that mindful eating is defined as “eating with attention and intention”. That’s pretty clear, but I really like one I came across in FitWomen, which states, ” mindful eating is a means of feeding yourself in a manner that supports your health and weight goals”. Semantics aside, to eat mindfully is to be completely focused and present in the moment while eating. Not just to hold on to being in the moment for the first two or three bites that you ingest, but to hold on to the focused intention of eating mindfully all the way to the very last bite of your meal.

Mindful eating is a skill that takes patience and practice. I enjoy teaching my clients how to eat mindfully during their sessions because it is almost always an entirely new experience for them. We are not taught from an early age to be mindful of what we are putting in our mouths. In fact, many of the early messages we are fed have more to do with what are “bad” or “good” foods, or that we must finish all of the food on our plates. Messages like this take us away from mindful eating by their very nature. If we are going to base our understanding of food on the fact that it is fuel for our body and meant to provide us with everything we need to sustain health, then it allows for us to set up the platform to celebrate eating as if it is a tribute to our sense of self and the very basis for how we care for ourselves and respect our body.

Ready to get started? I encourage you to practice these five simple tips on the next thing you put in your mouth. It can also be fun to do what I do with my clients in my therapy office when I teach these skills. Go get 5 or 6 different texture/taste/sensory food items and place them on a small plate. They should all be single, small items. An example of what I have set up for a client include: 1 blueberry, 1 raisin, 1 pistachio nut, 1 raspberry, 1 small ball of blue cheese, all on a plate together in little piles. We then practice these skills going through the items on the plate one by one. Don’t be surprised if you try this and realize how long it can take you to eat these 6 items in the manner I outline below.

Step 1. Create Space – Make sure when you are going to eat, it is ALL you are doing. This means you get yourself into a place where eating is all that is going on for you. No TV, cell phone, email reading or checking Facebook. When you are eating, practice JUST EATING.

Step 2. Show Gratitude – Give a silent moment of thanks for the food you are about to eat. We are surrounded with convenience on every level to such a degree that we have no concept of the man hours it took to grow and harvest even just the lettuce bed that our meal may be served with. A dear friends daughter who is serving in the peace corps in Africa just recently learned a hard lesson first hand when she spent hour after hour tilling the dry hot African soil in order to plant sunflower plants. She was hoping to make sunflower oil to use in cooking. After spending numerous hours and waiting many hot dry days she harvested the crop of seeds and took it into town to be ground into fresh oil. She literally was able to make 3 tablespoons of oil from all of her hard effort. She shares this as one of the most humbling experiences of her life in the peace corps. It is a lesson for all of us in the disconnect we have from how our food is grown, harvested and shipped to the market for us to purchase. Appreciate this.

Step 3. Sensory Orgasm – Place a small bite on your fork. Smell it. Most of what people perceive as “taste” is actually a result of their sense of smell. You need to rev up those nostrils and get them on board for what’s coming up. Smell your food and imagine that it is acting as a “teaser” for what’s coming your way. Get excited about how that bite is going to taste by considering exactly how it tantalizes you. See if you can recognize the different spices or scents that are being released by the small bite on your fork. The human nose has over 400 different scent detectors that can detect over 1 trillion different scents. How many can you detect in your bite?

Step 4. Titillating Texture – Place that small bite on your tongue (finally!) and just leave it there. The average human has 10,000 taste buds but did you know they are all not on the top of your tongue? They are also under the tongue, on the side of the mouth, the roof of the mouth and even on the lips (which are especially sensitive to salt). So once that bite is on the tongue, move it around and activate those taste buds! See what flavors and salivary glands get spritzing when you do! Your whole mouth can join in the experience as you feel the texture, experience the taste, and get your digestive juices flowing in preparation for swallowing. Enjoy this bite you have given your body and when you have really spent time with it up down and around…chew and swallow.

Step 5. Repeat – But wait you scream! I want another step to this simple process. I have this as your final step because I promise you, it is the hardest one to do. For you to be able to mindfully eat your meal following the process above until your very last bite is a patience that you may find outside of your reach when you first get started. Mindful eating is a practice. It pays off, but you need to work on it. Keep at it. If you find your mind wandering off, bring it back. Try it again.

Food is a sensual sensory experience that is meant to be celebrated, honored, and enjoyed on every level. We are taught so many negative messages about food that sometimes we have negative relationships around meal time from the time we are small. Learn to fall in love again with food by enjoying the many sensations and joyful emotions that can arise when you are present and in the moment with your food. Make everything you put in your mouth worthy of your health, your body and also your complete focus. So what are you having for dinner?

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

Healthy is Too Hard!! Answers On How To Implement Positive Change

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If you are someone who is interested in making positive changes in your life, I imagine you are reading this blog among many others. It is my hope that you read with an open mind and take things away that are pertinent to you or speak to you in some manner, but leave behind the advice or suggestion that doesn’t speak as easily to you. In my work as a therapist, personal trainer, and wellness coach, I spend a great deal of my time with my clients working on the issues that they are hoping to work through or heal from; along with a great deal of energy dedicated to how to make positive changes. As I have heard in the voice of many of my frustrated clients: “Healthy Is Too Hard!”

Yes, it is incredibly challenging to make, implement, and maintain positive changes that you attempt in your life. A lazy, sloth-like, fast food eating, indulgent lifestyle are much easier to pull off in our society full of convenience, sensory overload, and consumerism that pushes us to “buy”, “eat”, “compete”, “drink”, and live in a manner that is not in alignment with a wellness based goal of balance, health, and long-term care of our spirits.

Sometimes it is easier to ask yourself, “why bother?”. I find the answer to this question to be grounded in the idea that many people who are not taking good care of their health and wellness are unhappy, unfulfilled, lack work/life balance, and are completely living a life that does not feel in alignment with who they always believed themselves to be (if in fact they are aware of who that is). Sometimes they have anxiety, depression, impulsive shopping problems, work/life balance issues, no real quality time with their children, or no idea about who they are and where their passion lies, or chronic health problems. Maybe they drink themselves to relaxation every evening to relax.

Wellness is about integration between many different components in your life in which you have health including: emotional, spiritual, mental, vocational, physical, family and financial. Often we are good in one area in our lives, but not another. If for example, you are doing a great job working out and eating well each day but you are working 14 hours a day at a desk and having no time to explore your emotional well-being – you are not living a life of wellness. It is the integration of these components that makes up a complete picture.

This discussion gets complicated because the first step in working towards improving upon your life is to take an honest assessment of where you are. I use an integrated wellness assessment I have created with my clients, but you can even write down the 7 areas I mentioned above and check in with each section by asking yourself, “How am I doing?”. You must be brutally up front with yourself if you are going to be able to truly take a current day snapshot. Most of us have one or two real problem areas in our life and struggle with having to face the facts around our behaviors and how they are affecting us.

The next step is to grab one of your problem areas and set yourself up with 2-3 goals using the S.M.A.R.T. format listed in the graphic above. You literally just start somewhere positive. Pick one (maybe the area you tend to feel the most negative consequences in your life from). You can learn more about setting smart goals here:

http://www.wikihow.com/Set-SMART-Goals

Pay special attention to being specific and having goals that are achievable. We often attempt to set goals that are too vague or general and have very little chance of success. If you are not honest with where you are currently in regards to the behavior, you have very little chance of setting up an achievable goal that targets it effectively. For example, if your goal is to start exercising and you are currently at 0 times per week. Your smart goal would look like: I will walk 20 minutes on Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 7-8 beginning 9/15. It must be that specific, and as you can see, it needs to start with an achievable amount of time and days involved. Going from 0 to 2 X per week is a great start. Keep it up for a few weeks and re-evaluate if you want to, but don’t create a goal that has you working out 7X per week straight out of the gate. You will set yourself up to fail.

Speaking of failing, one critical step when setting a new goal, is to always be mindful of also setting up a plan to fail. That is, put down a plan for what happens if you fall off the wagon. It happens to all of us, no matter how motivated we are to get started, so you want to anticipate it ahead of time. It is always incredibly helpful to say your new goal out loud to someone who can hold you accountable, or post it on social media…maybe you want to hire a wellness coach to help you along. Whatever it takes. Wellness is a life long journey that will require tweaks, updates, and constant monitoring to check in with yourself and how you are feeling within your individual life.

I am lucky to have worldwide readership on this blog; however, for those of you who may live in or are close to Silicon Valley, I am offering a special program to help this process along for my clients. I am offering it only for a limited time to help kickstart some of my readers and clients (and their friends) to get started on improving your wellness. Please see my flyer below for more details.

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I will continue to write tips and ideas on how to integrate wellness and find a way towards authentic living in a mindful, balanced and fulfilling manner. This is my greatest passion and I believe strongly that we need to focus on all of the areas of our life to have a true understanding of how we are living. Our lives are so very precious and short. We owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to live it as fully as we are able.

Stacey Neil, LMFT, CPT is a licensed Psychotherapist, Wellness Coach and Certified Personal Trainer who is in private practice in Los Gatos, CA. She is also the Co-Founder of TotalFit Solutions, Integrating Mind & Body. She can be reached at 408.827.5139, or http://www.totalfitsolutions.com

Or you can fill out the form below and I will get back to you!

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.

All The Pointless Killing: Looking For Light In Darkness

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Our world feels heavy and dark to me lately. I have been reading and watching the news with a burdened heart as we continue to kill each other in mass quantities and destroy the beautiful lands of our world in a systematic, destructive, and pointless fashion. I was speaking to a friend this morning and trying to understand if the increase in overwhelming violence feels more prevalent due to our ability to share information as it happens, or if we are just becoming more monstrous as a people. Based on what my son was sharing with me about a documentary he watched on “The Dark Ages” the other day, we humans have always been the most destructive animal ever to live on our planet. Maybe our ages have always been dark as we have been conquering lands, resources, and each other’s property, since the beginning of time. We don’t always do this with intelligent conversations, agreements, or thoughtful compromises; more often than not, we do this in horrific and torturous ways. Murderous ways.

These thoughts have been causing me to wonder how to help others hold hope during such despairing times. When we are bombarded with mass killings, and populations of people who kill each other in the name of many things such as: biblical lands, sexual orientation, adultery, God, or not fitting in with our classmates; holding on to any kind of light can feel impossible in so much darkness.

Hearing about the plane being shot down over the Ukraine-Russian border yesterday is just one more example of the senseless nature of murder. There were 298 fatalities that occurred in a split second. It was originally reported that there were 295 people killed because the airline had not accounted for the 3 infants that had been on board. They missed the three infants who never had a chance to have a life in our world. Who knows what a loss to society those three brand new people were when they will not be given the chance to grow up. We will never know what we have even lost in just those three alone, not to mention the 100 people on board who were working in the fight against AIDS on their way to a conference, or the remaining 195 people from all over the world. All 298 people have families, loved ones, and friends, who are grieving alongside a world of fellow human beings that are also devastated. Any one of us could have been on that plane.

When did it become of statistical relevance that how many people get killed on each side of a battle is what determines who can be deemed “right”? You kill 100 of our people, we retaliate and kill 150 of yours; therefore, we are winning. How can killing someone be in alignment with any form of victory? Isn’t everyone losing? The whole of the world has lost if this how we calculate victory. How much land is worth the blood of one human being? Is there a ratio? Maybe a square foot per body? It feels so senseless and yet the conflicts continue.

We are historically a people who seek power and control over others. We are also a people who are loving, kind beyond measure, and filled with compassion. How to hold both the dark and light aspects of our human nature is a struggle even on an individual basis for many people who cannot accept the dark aspects of their selves. Therefore, it would make sense for this same conflict to also extend on a much larger scale to us as a people, who have an unimaginable burden to bear, as an awareness of what we are capable of as human animals is more and more apparent in our actions.

It can be a challenge to maintain kindness and generosity in a world that does not always return the favor. Do it anyway. Believe in the potentiality of us as human animals to heal and love one another in spite of our differences. Choose to live in a world of which this is the common goal of yourself and those you come in contact with. I chose a career in which I can support others in their own individual journeys of growth, self acceptance, and empowerment so I am gifted in that my work can reflect my hope.

I know that I am lucky to not have to fight another to feed my children, or find myself desperate to provide warmth to my family when the weather is hostile. I am mature enough to realize that within my own stance is ignorance. I have never had to live in a place where I do not feel like I have the opportunity to provide the resources needed to care for my own. With this lack of experience, I cannot rightfully judge; however, I propose that our fundamental belief systems should stem from a moral base of caring for each other, treating each other with respect, and being kind. Maybe this too is idealistic and unattainable. I choose to hope not.

In spite of the darkness, I will continue to fight for our positive potential as humans. I have been witness to the remarkable will of the human spirit to heal and find its authentic self. Whether an individual’s struggle is through human weakness, mental illness, a traumatic history, or personal loss – the human spirit is undeniable and powerful beyond measure. I see this in my therapy office every day. As we all go through our daily choices, thoughts, and decisions, I hope that all of the acts of kindness, generosity, and patience for each other’s differences helps to better our world one action at a time. Believe in the power of these little tiny acts to gently create a luminescent glow in the darkness. Hold on to your ability to care for those around you as you join me in fighting towards light one small victory at a time. Never give up in this quest. It is too important for us, our children, and our children’s children.

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

How Running is the Ultimate Battle of Me vs. Me

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I am constantly reminded of the fact that I am my own worst enemy. I constantly question, reflect upon, and challenge my actions, progress and daily choices. We are a result of the choices we make, and I focus on making mine count. I believe that there can be a balance between challenging myself to always do my best while allowing for days when my best is a pathetic effort to roll out of bed. In an ideal world, I would do this without judgement. In my real world I do this as a daily battle of my beliefs, thoughts and actions battling with the thoughts of how things should be in my head. This is a work in progress as many of you probably can relate. For me, running has become the epitome of this battle of Me vs. Me.

I absolutely abhor the act of running; however, I am equally passionate about how I feel when I finish a run. There is no stronger euphoria for me that I have been able to duplicate with any other form of exercise. This is no small statement as I participate in a variety of programs, classes, and latest trends in fitness to challenge myself. As a trainer I need to keep up on what is current in my industry and have found myself just lately in classes such as Barre, CrossFit, and P90X…but nothing beats the pounding last step of my run and the resulting accomplishment I feel.

Running is simple to learn as we figure it out as babies. Lean forward, catch your self falling, repeat. I have dreams of being a gazelle like runner with legs like Lolo Jones and a body that can wear little tiny black shorts that are not concerned in the slightest about being long enough to protect my soft upper thighs from friction based chub rub. However, this is not meant to be, as I feel like a giant, leaden, heavy footed rhinoceros when I run. Don’t get me wrong, a mature rhino weighing 1500 pounds, can run up to 25 mph and frankly holds a kind of grace when moving that much mass…but for me it doesn’t quite feel as impressive. This is not actually meant as a put down on my size, shape, or form – it’s truly just a descriptive statement on how I actually feel as I am running through space. As a side note, in the battle of gazelle vs. rhino, gazelles can run twice as fast, clocking in at a graceful 50 mph. A wonderful example of how I feel in a race..but I digress.

For those of you who run and are able to enjoy the process of running, the clarity of mind you receive, or the meditative thump of your feet as they turn over in perfect rhythm – I envy you. I am nothing like you, as I need to fight my own self minute by minute (even second by second) at times just to keep going. I have found it to become my own ultimate fighting challenge: The Battle of Me vs. Me.

One would imagine that I win either way if I am only battling myself. Clearly there can be only one winner, right? However, I do not always feel like I come out on top. My head screams at me throughout the run telling me a plethora of negative statements: “You will NEVER make it”, “You’re feet are burning”, “Your hip is aching”, “Your sports bra is chafing your underarm”, “You suck”, “This hurts”, “Stop already”, etc. My abdominals like to add into the chant and begin to threaten me with risky temporary feelings that are best described as a form of “loosening of the bowels”. The person who finishes the race with diarrhea running down their legs? That happens…trust me. I decide I need to pee immediately, but cannot stop anywhere. It goes on and on. Mindless chatter to accompany me as I go…my own twisted form of voices in my head.

Running has become my lesson in self battle. A challenge I fight with 3-4 times per week at the crack of dawn. I do this because I am never prouder of my body or mind when I complete a run. Never. The battle that I overcome in my head throughout my mileage, as I continue to go step by step, leads me to an unmatched sense of accomplishment. It is more than worth the pain, sweat, and fear of failure, because in spite of all the chatter, I can beat it.

What is your internal battle? Do you ever sit with yourself and really check in about what you are not doing in your life because you are afraid? Maybe you don’t try because you think you need to be perfect, you are too old, or you may fail. Push through. We are nothing more than a compilation of our actions and choices in this world. What do your choices say about you?

Decide that you are willing to take a risk. Know that it will be hard, you will fall down, look less than graceful, or be a beginner. A beginner!!! What a terrifying concept -such a dreaded word. Trust me when I share with you that as an ex smoker who couldn’t run a mile at 38, I know what it feels like to begin something later in life. It is NEVER too late. What would you do? What would it take for you to make a commitment to yourself to try it? You will fall down. You will look like a newbie, you will not do very well to start – so what! Do it anyway. You do not need to compete with the Lolo’s or Gazelles out there…you simply need to compete with yourself. You vs. You. Your goal is to try to do a little better than you did the day before, and most importantly, just keep going. Decide you will NOT give up on you.

As I prepare to run my fifth 1/2 marathon I tell you that it is possible and worth it to push yourself beyond your imagination. I cried after finishing my first half marathon from a combination of triumph and pain (my body felt like it got hit by a mack truck), but that medal was heavy against my swelling chest and the weight of it was immense. I may never run a full marathon or ultra; however, in the battle that I need to fight just to push myself through, I come out a winner. Hold yourself accountable and just go forward. Move one step at a time towards your own fears by making them the goals you pursue. Sometimes you need to do this in spite of yourself.

Stacey Neil is a Licensed Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer who founded TotalFit Solutions. Her private practice is in Los Gatos, California and she can be reached at 408.827.5139.

The Fairy Tale of Life: To Die With Unrealized Dreams

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People die every day who haven’t fulfilled their life’s ambitions, found their passion, or discovered a joy filled authentic self. Every Day. I struggle with this in my life quite often as I have lost people I love, whom have died, just as depressed, lost, and alone, as they spent their lives. My Dad was one of these people.

If there was a theme that resonated in my father’s life it was to search. He spent his time forever seeking his ideal partner, most profitable career move, or physical challenge. If there was someone in life who could be forever seeking while being utterly lost it would be my Dad. Not coincidentally, he died as he lived – sad, alone, and never having found what it was he was looking for.

Watching him as a young girl growing up try one thing after another, or one women after another, or one invention after another….was tiring. Just as it feels redundant to read the preceding line, it was often a challenge to be his daughter. I was blessed/cursed with being born with an innate drive to help people. I am passionately compelled to care about others in their well being, personal life satisfaction, and sanity. I have built a business, career, and lifestyle, around this very premise. I live the life I promote to my clients, family, and friends, as everyday I do my best to be my most authentic self. These are some of the reasons that it broke my heart to realize that in spite of all of my love, care, and time that I directed towards my father – he still died as he did. How is this possible? It’s viable because many times there is no happy ending in this life. Sometimes no happily ever after exists.

In our lives we find motivation and hope in the “what ifs”. The possibilities that await us allow us to strive to be calmer, happier, more content. I believe that my job as a therapist is to support others in their dreams for themselves while helping to ground them in their lives as they exist today. My work becomes coaching the balance between finding acceptance of oneself in the moment while also allowing for the possibilities that exist when tuning into our genuine authentic self. This becomes an awareness in my therapy office. But what happens if someone doesn’t find a therapist to work with that can promote this balance? Or someone never seeks individual work on themselves? How life shattering it becomes to realize that this understanding, for whatever reason, does not always work for everyone and many times there is no respite from the pain and suffering that some will cling to until their very last breath.

A life question of mine has become: How do I sit with the knowledge that many times the people I love are people I cannot reach? This life that is so challenging for all of us, that is so out of our control in spite of our best efforts; sometimes this life never improves or gets better and then it’s done. I have been spending time thinking of my father, and other’s in my life growing up who I have loved, who did not choose the healthiest path of which to live out their very limited time on this earth. I feel helpless and ineffective as I cannot help people who are not able to receive it, or don’t want help, or…… It is unbearable to see human beings suffer, especially those we love. We can love them in whatever way the verb resonates with us. If that means daily visits, phone calls, motivational posters, letting them move in, or letting them go. It is possible that sometimes the best way to love someone is to let them go. How can that even be?

Maybe the legacy that my father has left me with is the desire to live my life fully everyday. The realization that life is precious and short came from him. It is a priceless gift to behold. He died at 56 years of age as a marathon running fit man. His cancer fed on his depression and stress levels. It took an already compromised will, that had decided life was unfair many years ago, and gnawed on it until it simply had nothing left to destroy. In the end, his deteriorated body became symbolic of his tormented soul.

I in no way had a fairy tale upbringing, and in fact wouldn’t even play with princesses, dolls, or spend my time reading books that included princes, white horses, or castles. And yet, I somehow internalized the idea that life works out, good things happen to good people, and things are fair. I wanted to believe in this. I still want to believe. The reality seems to be that sometimes good things happen to good people and sometimes bad things too. Life doesn’t always work out, and challenges present themselves to us every single day as we become forced to make wise choices that hopefully include kindness, forgiveness, and acceptance of our perfectly imperfect human selves. Things are not fair. Bad things happen to good folk all of the time.

What inspires me in my work and in my life is the potential. The potential of what we all have inside of us. The unlimited possibility. I see this in my clients as they sit across from me. I hold this idea in our space together as it sprouts roots and is nurtured in the therapeutic relationship. There is nothing more beautiful to me than being allowed to witness growth in a unique human being who is brave enough to face themselves in a therapy room. I choose to believe that everyone has the potential to reach their own best life, their own happily ever after, before their story ends. This is my version of a fairy tale worth hanging on to.

Stacey Neil, LMFT is a Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer in Private Practice in Los Gatos, California. She can be reached at (408) 827-5139.

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