Exercising Choice

ChoiceSaying “no” when you would typically say “yes.”

Replying: “Let me think about it” instead of immediately making a decision.

Leaving a stressful situation for a few minutes to find your center.

These are all examples of choices you can make to promote your well-being when feeling cornered by circumstance. Choosing to place your needs first can have profoundly positive effects in your life; it loosens old patterns that don’t serve us anymore.

What choices can you exercise to take better care of you?

Compassion Over Entanglement

How Mindfulness Can Help Ease Difficult Relationships
Research is starting to examine the benefits of mindfulness as a tool to promote healthy relationships. In addition to reducing stress, studies now suggest that mindfulness can increase our empathy toward others. Developing empathy for others through the practice of mindfulness can prepare us to look “beneath the surface” of what we think about the people in our lives whose actions seem to challenge us every-step-of-the-way. It can help us make better decisions when triggered by emotion and construct another way of seeing things during times of interpersonal conflict. Would you like to know more?
 In what follows, I’ve outlined three mindful steps you can take to make a radical shift in the way you currently manage difficult relationships. You might say the three steps are a practical tools you can use to make your life a little easier:

 

Step One: Pause and practice
Several studies examining the benefits of mindfulness strongly suggest that mindfulness promotes stress reduction. When we’re less stressed we are better able to perceive difficult behaviors in others as “challenges” rather than “threats.” In other words, practicing mindfulness in the presence of potential conflict helps to calm the areas of our brain responsible for triggering “fight, flight, or freeze” responses and, therefore, helps us maintain our connection with the more rational parts of our brain that promote good judgement. One practical tool to practice mindfulness in difficult moments is the practice of shifting your focus away from conflict and onto the physical sensations of the breath. One way to do this is to say to yourself with every breath: Inhale one, exhale one…inhale two, exhale two, and so on.

 

 Step Two: Explore your hunches about the person’s underlying needs.Before responding to irrational behavior from others, it may be helpful to pause and ask yourself: How likely is it that this person’s behavior is really about me? If we’re honest, we’ll likely discover that, most of the time, it isn’t. Barring the presence of mental illness, people’s challenging behaviors (E.g. blaming, complaining, shouting) are often a reflection of unmet needs: psychological states of being that undermine personal growth and a sense of emotional security. For example, the person at the office who makes undermining comments at someone else’s good idea may have an underlying need to feel recognized and competent within the group. Like an iceberg, underlying needs exist “beneath the surface” and are psychological explanations for what often drives difficult behavior.
 That said; when facing irrational behavior from others–in addition to asking yourself the question: “How likely is it that this person’s behavior is really about me?”–it may also help to ask: “What are these behaviors really signifying?” “What’s likely beneath the surface?” and “How can I best respond knowing that this is probably more about this person’s underlying need than anything I’ve done?”

 

 Step Three: See the person as an innocent child or try to see aspects of yourself in him/her.
Now that you understand the concept of underlying needs, this step asks that you put this knowledge into practice. After you’ve considered the possible needs underlying the other person’s irrational behavior, try to imagine what he/she must have looked like as an innocent child whose legitimate needs were never met. Perhaps they might resemble the child in this picture: If you find this too difficult to do, try to see aspects of yourself in the other person. To help you do this, you might ask yourself the following questions:
– Have I ever been in a similar situation as this person? If so, how did I feel?
– Have I ever felt angry, afraid, or ashamed?
– Have I ever acted irrationally when upset?

 

 It is much harder to judge someone when we discover pieces of ourselves reflected back in the experience of the other person who, like us, is imperfect; has endured the palpable pains of life, and is ultimately vulnerable to suffering, sickness, and death–just like us. Although it is sometimes necessary to sever relationships with people who are “toxic,” there are some relationships from which we simply cannot walk away–relationships that we need to meet our goals whatever those may be. In these cases, it may be very helpful to introduce a bit of mindfulness into the relationship. Mindfulness is not magic, but it may ultimately help you make a radical shift in the way you perceive the other person and the situation. And, this can make all the difference!

 

Written by Tony Madril

Leaning Into Anxiety

How often have you felt anxious about “not knowing” what the future holds? Having a sense of powerlessness over what will happen next is perhaps one of the most anxiety-provoking situations we can face in an ever-changing world.
Since we cannot control what the future may bring, it may be helpful to focus on what we can manage: Namely, how we respond to anxiety.
We have choices.
We can eat a half-gallon tub of ice cream.
We can drink a bottle of wine, or we can teach ourselves how to “lean into” it.
Here is simple instructions for practicing ‘leaning into’ anxiety…
  1. Find a place where you will not be disturbed for a few moments.
  2. Take a couple of deeper than normal breaths.
  3. Visualize yourself sitting in a room filled with white clouds, clouds that make it impossible to see more than couple of inches in any direction.
  4. Stay with the image for a few moments or minutes.
Perhaps many of our discomforts can be resolved by integrating anxiety into our daily lives-instead of trying to push it away, again and again.
–Tony Madril

Let Out Some Poison!

letoutsome poisonOur body often acts as a barometer for internal emotional “pressure.” When powerful emotions like fear and anxiety become intense within the body, it can manifest itself as physical symptoms like muscle tension in the shoulders and face; other signs may be an increased heart rate and perspiration. These are classic signs that the body’s “fight-flight-freeze” system has been activated and stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline have been released into the blood stream.
It would be easy to blame the “evil stress hormones” for our discomfort and call it “poison.” But consider instead the distress that is created by becoming immobilized by not knowing how to release this type of mind-body tension as the real problem.
What then can be done? Is there a ready antidote to counteract this type of poisoning?
What if, when this distressing thoughts and emotions occur, we take the following three steps:

Stop what you are doing and take a couple of deeper-than-normal breaths.
Try to identify the thoughts you are experiencing (E.g. “I’m thinking that I may not find a job and become homeless”), the emotions (E.g. fear, anxiety) and the body sensations (E.g. muscle tension in the jaw and temples).
Call a friend and tell them what you are thinking, feeling, and sensing in the body related to a distressing situation.
I call this practice: “letting out some poison” because it provides an immediate outlet for distressing thoughts, feelings, and body sensations and counteracts the sense of powerlessness that can accompany ‘not knowing’ what to do with action-oriented steps to improve the situation. You might find that after doing this exercise your mind and body returns to a state of rest; the muscles in the body lengthen and relax, and the mind returns to a general state of wellbeing.
The next time you find yourself in a distressing situation, you might try letting out some poison!
–Tony Madril

The Right Exchange

In the world of relationshipsth (1), it is the mix of positive interactions to negative ones that predicts whether a marriage will last or end in divorce. In fact, research informs us that five positive interactions to one negative interaction protects the relationship against overwhelming strain.

Here’s a radical thought: What if we applied this five-to-one “exchange” to the relationship we cultivate with ourselves? What if we agreed to provide ourselves with five self-compassionate gestures for every, one, self-critical/self-limiting action?

We don’t need research to recognize that there are many ways we create our own distress by  engaging in self-denigrating behaviors. For example, by berating ourselves for making a simple mistake or suppressing the need to assert ourselves for fear of being rejected.

This five-to-one exchange may offer an antidote! By initiating a sequence of five self-compassionate interactions following each negative one, we might succeed at replacing self-doubt with self-confidence. That said; here’s what the five-to-one exchange might look like in practice:

1. I say to myself: “You don’t have what it takes to get that promotion!”

Noticing this self-judgmental thought, I commit to taking the following five self-compassionate actions throughout the day:

  1. I say to myself: “May you be happy. May you be peaceful. May you be free from all inner and outer harm.”
  2. I decide to take a break from what I’m doing and go for a walk.
  3. I call a close friend.
  4. I treat myself to my favorite meal.
  5. I take a warm bath before bed.

Like the couple that insures their relationship with more positive than negative interactions, we too can learn to be mindful of the type of negative-positive exchange we make with ourselves on a moment-to-moment basis. We too can make the conscious choice to be more accepting, more open, more kind to ourselves in every situation. Wouldn’t this be a worthwhile endeavor? After all, we’ll be in this relationship with ourselves for the rest of our lives.

Tony Madril

The Toddler Approach

Have you ever been upset with how your mind behaves? More times than I’d like to admit, I’ve found myself upset with how the mind keeps sending me disturbing messages; messages that, though untrue, tend to wreak havoc on the emotions.
Rather than being upset with the mind, why not treat it as you would a toddler? How upset would you be with a toddler for knocking over a picture frame? Isn’t that what toddlers are supposed to do? How helpful would getting upset at a toddler be anyway?
Perhaps a more effective way to work with a “tantrumming mind” is to send it words of understanding and support–something you might say to to a toddler in a moment of distress: There, there…I can sense you are struggling right now. I understand that you are doing the best you can and I’m willing to be patient with you.
Practicing the understanding that, like a toddler, the “thinking part” of the brain is relatively new to the task of navigating the external world, may help you feel better about having to deal with the disturbing messages the mind sends you from time to time. It might even help you to feel compassionate toward the mind, and toward yourself for living a human life.
Written by Tony Madril, LCSW, BCD

Expanding the Focus

It is easy to become angry about a situation when we believe are needs aren’t being met. It is easy to see someone as our “enemy” when they have communicated something we don’t want to hear.

What is hard to do is to pause and consider the many ways in which our “big problem” is actually a cumulation of many smaller events that have occurred over a period of time, outside of our awareness. The father who is abusive was once abused by his father, and he by his. The boss who makes an unpopular decision is only following through with the demands of his boss who, in turn, adheres to the whims of a demanding organization.

Expanding the focus beyond a single person or event can ease our emotional distress by helping us see the trajectory of causation. Perhaps we can be more compassionate toward others if we realize that they are not solely to blame; that they too are subject to the movements of forces much bigger than themselves and, like us, are powerless over most everything in life.

Written by Tony Madril

Free Workshop on Mindfulness & Test Anxiety

This is a free skills-based workshop for psychotherapists preparing to take either the California LCSW or MFT examinations and who are struggling with test anxiety. The curriculum is based on the application of classic mindfulness meditation techniques to the emotional and cognitive processes involved in test taking. It will be held in Los Angeles, CA on July 14, 2015.

 

PARTICIPANTS WILL LEARN:

  • Practical mindfulness-based skills to effectively manage test anxiety
  • New ways of relating to the examination process
  • Tools to increase psychological resilience
  • About resources for building a daily mindfulness practice

 

Recent studies suggest that mindfulness can significantly reduce stress levels in individuals engaged in various types of fear-inducing activities such as publicly speaking (Smalley, S. and Winston, D., 2010. Fully Present). Another study discovered that mindfulness training can significantly boost test scores by way of improving working memory and reducing mind wandering while test taking (M. Mrazek, 2013. Psychological Science)

Click here to learn more…https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-mindful-test-taker-a-free-workshop-for-lcsw-and-mft-examinees-tickets-6530798795

 

3 Steps to Boost Daily Resilience

3 Steps to Boost Daily Resilience

By Tony Madril, LCSW, BCD

 Step 1.  Set an intention for the day

An intention is not about setting outcome-driven goals like we’re used to, it’s about deciding how we would like to meet the circumstances of our day as they unfold. In other words, it’s an attitude that, much like the rudder on a boat, allows us to gently guide how we might react to circumstances outside-of-our-control. For example, I might set an intention upon waking that “Just for today, I will pause before reacting to anything potentially upsetting.” This intention will, then, prime me throughout the day to be more thoughtful about the decisions I make. As a by-product of this daily practice, I may find that my days are more peaceful and I am more satisfied with myself as a person.

Step 2. Meditate for three minutes 

In mindfulness there is an instructional model called the “Triangle of Awareness,” which suggests that knowing ourselves, and how we relate to the world, is founded upon our awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and body sensations at any given moment. Cultivating such focused attention through meditation can help us become less reactive to undesirable life events such as the loss of a job or relationship. The 3-Minute Breathing Space for Resilience, a guided meditation, can help us develop such a fulfilling discipline. It creates a space to stop and notice what is “good” with us in the midst of a busy day. You may listen to this guided meditation by clicking on the following audio link… 3-Minute Breathing Space for Resilience

 Step 3. Practice accepting what you cannot control

It’s only human to try to control things, especially when we are feeling anxious or afraid. The problem with trying to control is that we really don’t have control over much of anything but ourselves, and trying to control typically creates problems: as an alternative, try approaching whatever distressing situation you’re facing with an attitude of acceptance. You might say to yourself: “I may not like it, but I accept that this is how things are right now” and “I accept that this situation makes me feel anxious.”If you find this particularly difficult to do, you might also acknowledge that nothing stays the same for very long, including your problems: emotions eventually settle; people change their minds; physical pain ebbs and flows. Can you think of a problem you thought was unending and is now a thing-of-the-past? 

 

 

 

Transform Difficult Relationships with Mindfulness

Read my newest article about using the tools of mindfulness to transform the way we relate to others…

Transform Difficult Relationships with Mindfulness