“I have an itch I MUST scratch!” “I just HAVE to check Facebook/email/Twitter…again!” “I NEED that drink!” “I just HAVE to tell that person what I think about them right NOW!” “That milkshake is calling my name; I MUST answer!”
How many times have you had these or similar thoughts? Maybe it was less of a cohesive thought and more of a strong, urgent feeling. That strong, urgent feeling is just an impulse. There are times when giving in to an impulse may be ok, but many times, giving in to our impulses can get in the way of us reaching our goals, changing habits, or making more constructive choices. What can we do when an impulse strikes again? Let’s use the example of someone wanting a large milkshake but also wanting to make more healthy choices.
1) Recognize that that strong desire to (insert undesirable action here) is just an IMPULSE.
“The milkshake is NOT actually calling my name. (Milkshakes can’t talk!) This feeling is just an impulse. I do not have to give in right now.”
2) Think about your choices. Since it is just an impulse, you do have a choice of what to do. What are your options?
“I do not have to get the milkshake. I could distract myself until the urge lessens.”
3) Imagine what is likely to happen if you follow each option.
“If I drink the whole thing, I might enjoy it for the moment, but I may regret it later. If I distract myself, I may gain a better sense of self-control, feel proud of myself, and be closer to my health goal.”
4) Make the choice that seems best at the end of the day and follow through unless you have good reason to change your mind.
“I choose to not give in to the impulse and get the milkshake. I believe that, at the end of the day, this is the best choice for me today.”
5) If you get upset, take a small time-out to calm yourself down and think about the greater reward to come.
“I really want that milkshake, but I’m going to do some deep breathing and imagine how I will feel a month from now if I keep it up.”
Recognizing that an impulse is JUST AN IMPULSE can be a very freeing experience, and with practice, it can become a regular way of thinking. As you recognize impulses for what they are, you may find yourself seeing your options more easily, taking time to weigh your options, and making decisions that will get you closer to your goals.
(Adapted from our Back On Track resiliency curriculum by Mary Ortwein, Sharon Bryant, and Benita Peoples)
No family is perfect, but some families do more than just survive- they thrive! Research has been done to identify those things that thriving (not perfect) families do. Here are some of them.
Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing
It is so easy today to go along with the fast-paced, ultra-stressed, pulled-in-all-directions way of life. It is easy to lose focus and let priorities shift. Thriving families put family first.
How to start? Get together and plan an activity. It can be for the whole family or special one-on-one time between parents and children. Make that time something you look forward to or is unique to each child.
Each person has a unique perspective. There may be times when you rather than your child are right. For example, you may be right in saying, “You cannot stand in the middle of the street.” They may be wrong in saying, “I can do whatever I want whenever I want to.” However, thriving families make a habit of listening and understanding first. They are willing to have empathy or imagine, “What would it be like to be my partner or child? How do they see things?” They seek to understand the other fully before trying to get their point across.
How to start? When you ask your family member how their day went, put your own thoughts and feelings on hold while you listen to them. Try to imagine being them as they speak and understand from their perspective.
Go For the Win-Win
No one likes to lose. Often, compromises mean that someone has to lose, at least a little. Work for what would be the best for all involved, even if that means thinking outside the box.
How to start? Think of an issue that your family has been struggling with for a while. Discuss together what would be a win-win for everyone. Be creative in problem-solving as a team.
One of the things that makes life both difficult and exhilarating is the difference between people, including members of a family. Thriving families honor the differences and look for ways to celebrate unique parts of each other.
How to start? Take 10 minutes to think about the differences that each person brings to the family table. Write out those differences and how they enhance the family. Decide on a way the family can show appreciation for 1 unique thing about each family member this week.
Becoming a thriving family takes time. Even if your family system does not look how you would like now, you can put some or even one of these elements into practice. Make a move towards thriving!
(Adapted from Steven Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families)
With all of the recent super-hero movies, many of us may have identified at one time or another with one of the characters. Maybe we would love to have the engineering ability of Iron Man, the super-strength of Captain America, or maybe even the ability to throw Thor’s hammer. However, while we may hope to identify with all of the super-powers, we may most often identify with Bruce Banner, the Hulk. Bruce Banner is always combating the “stress monster” that comes about when his anger gets the best of him. He manages to keep it all in check sometimes, but when he loses control, he transforms into the Hulk and can no longer think rationally about his decisions. Does this sound familiar when stress and anger get the best of you?
While we may not transform into the Hulk, stress can cause mental, emotional, and physical problems when we experience it long term. So, how can we keep our inner Hulk in check? Bruce Banner is very aware of his heart rate, breathing patterns, and how his body specifically responds to stress. All of these things are key to managing our own stress when life throws us curve balls. Self-awareness or knowing how our bodies individually respond to stress is the key to managing it. Next, once we recognize these heightened types of mental, emotional, or physical patterns in ourselves… stop… and BREATHE. Breathe deeply from your belly. Imagine how a baby breathes when it is sleeping- its belly, not its chest, rises and falls. Diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing can help slow our heart rate and bring our other physiological symptoms back to manageable levels. Taking time each day to breathe deeply for 5-10 minutes, and it will make a big difference when the stress monster creeps up in the day.
When things in life get tough, what do you do? Just keep swimming! Through life’s challenges I often hear the voice of Dory from Disney’s Finding Nemo singing, “Just keep swimming, swimming…What do we do we swim, swim, swim,…” Dory is the voice of resiliency in my life!
Resiliency is one’s ability to roll with the punches. When stress, adversity, or trauma strike, one with resiliency is able to experience anger, grief, and pain, but they are still able to keep functioning both physically, mentally, and emotionally. Resiliency does not mean ignoring your emotions but rather acknowledging them and gaining the ability to control your emotions, not allowing them to control you. The great thing is that even if we find that our ability to bounce back and keep swimming has been lacking in the past, resiliency is a skill that we can practice and strengthen. So how do you strengthen resiliency? Our resiliency curriculum, Back on Track*, suggests 6 ways to help you develop your resiliency skill.
· Get Connected – Building strong, positive relationships with loved ones and friends can provide you with support and acceptance through the good times and the bad.
· Make Every Day Meaningful – Do something that gives you a sense of accomplishment and purpose every day. Set goals to help you look toward the future with meaning.
· Learn From Experience – Think back on how you’ve coped with hardships in the past. Consider skills and strategies that helped you through rough times before.
· Remain Hopeful – You can’t change what’s happened in the past, but you can always look toward the future. Accepting and even anticipating change makes it easier to adapt and view new challenges with less anxiety.
· Take Care of Yourself – Tend to your own needs and feelings, both physically and emotionally.
· Be Proactive – Don’t ignore your problems or try to wish them away. Instead, figure out what needs to be done, make a plan and take action.
Practicing resiliency each day can strengthen your ability to keep swimming through life’s small struggles and large stressors. In challenging times, my inner Dory gets fainter, but I work to strengthen that voice, to strengthen my resiliency. Through getting connected, making each day meaningful, learning from your experiences, remaining hopeful, taking care of yourself, and being proactive you can keep swimming and moving forward in life.
-Bethany McNeely, staff therapist
*Back on Track, written by Mary Ortwein, Sharon Bryant, and Benita Peoples, is a curriculum developed through our work with people in a wide range of life situations to help them bounce back by being real, relaxed, responsible, and resilient.