Motivation: Start Lifting Yourself Up and Stop Beating Yourself Down

Motivation, non-judgment, authentic life
Listen to the Audio Version of Dr. Bando’s Article.
Often, clients or prospective clients approach me for help with motivation. We all want to live vibrant lives and maybe increase exercise, change the foods we eat, stop eating late at night, make that health care appointment, or countless other important things. Today passes, then tomorrow, then a week goes by, and we realize we haven’t made that change we wanted at all. We can’t seem to find that Motivation, so we get frustrated and feel defeated. Our self-talk becomes harsh: “Ugh, I am so bad at this!” “Why can’t I just do what I’m supposed to?! It should be easy!” “I’m hopeless.” “I’m an idiot!” We give up for the moment and throw in the towel, abandon our goals, and try to accept things as they are, giving up hope that we will ever make that change.

Finally Fed Up?

Maybe we finally decide to get serious. We are disgusted enough with ourselves that we make a strict plan to ensure we adhere to the behaviors we “should” be doing. Then one day passes, then another, then a week, and then here we are: still stuck, still without change.

Perhaps we even make the change for a brief time. Maybe we start eating in a way that makes us feel nourished and energized while helping to reach a target weight. Then, time goes by, and we are sick of being restrictive and “depriving” ourselves, so we give in and “indulge,” feeling stuck in old behaviors, staying unmotivated, and continuing the cycle.

It’s Time to Get Motivated!

MOTIVATION happens when our goals align with our values, then the behaviors we take to move toward our goals link closely to our values, and we reinforce those behaviors. I know from personal experience that the key factors in staying Motivated are reinforcement, which inspires and ignites Motivation, and punishment, which extinguishes Motivation. When we narrow it down to these two simple principles, we begin to realize how straightforward it is to start down a path to lasting change. By reinforcing yourself with simple things like clear goals, being in tune with what is truly important to you, and staying passionate (by focusing on what works and reinforcing the hell out of it), you are guaranteed to break yourself free from that cycle.

Audio Meditation for Motivation:

Listen to Dr. Bando’s Audio Meditation
To stay motivated and moving toward goals that you value, you must build the muscle of Reinforcement. Finding what you are already doing that is working, or taking very small steps forward, and then rewarding those actions creates sustainable motivation for change. Think of it this way: punishment extinguishes motivation and reinforcement creates, ignites, awakens and maintains motivation. Where you have reinforcement, you can create motivation.

Let’s practice building this muscle:

Start with noticing your breathing. You do not have to change or alter your breath. Simply notice that you are inhaling and exhaling. Pay attention to where in your physical body you feel your breath.

Now, for the next three to five breaths, pay attention to where you feel your breath in your physical body and when your mind wanders away or zones out, gently bring your attention back to your breath.

When you notice yourself wander and bring you attention back to your breath, you can think of this as a weight lifting rep, or an exercise to build your ability to put your attention where you want it.

Now, let’s go further. Using this idea of placing the mind where you want it to be in the moment, recall one thing you did in the past day that was effective. Unless you achieved a huge goal in the past day, this exercise requires you to let go of judgments and find where you were effective. Do not dismiss anything for not being “good” enough or “big” enough. If you were tired and you got up on time, that is an accomplishment. If you felt depressed and did not want to get out of bed but you took a shower, perhaps that was effective. It does not matter how big or small you think this action was, take a moment and pick one effective action you engaged in over the past day.

When you have that behavior in mind, reinforce it. You can reinforce this behavior a number of ways: you can reinforce with self-talk, such as, “Good job,” or “I did it,” or “Nice!” Remember, your focus is on what you did well and reinforcing it. If your mind wanders to telling you that it wasn’t good enough, your practice is to gently bring your focus back to what you did well and reinforce it. You may also reinforce your behavior through soothing touch. Maybe if feels soothing to place your hands over your heart center and notice the warmth, or one hand over the other hand, or gently cup your face with both hands. This is touch that feels loving and sweet. Again, when your mind wanders to you or your behavior not being good enough, gently bring your attention back to what you did well and reinforce it.

This is the practice of increasing your motivation in a way that is sustainable and reliable. You can practice this every day – find one thing you did well and practice turning your mind toward noticing what you accomplished and reinforcing it. When your mind goes toward judgments about you or your behavior not measuring up, this is punishment. It will extinguish your motivation and ability to move forward. It’s not wrong, this is just what minds do, they wander, and they come up with judgments. Your task is to calmly notice when this happens and bring your attention back to reinforcing your accomplishment. Practice, practice, practice this and you will notice your motivation grow and your ability to take more steps toward your goals increase.


When Others’ Opinions Get You Down (and What to Do When You Feel Fat)

judging ridicule others' opinions feeling fat
We’ve all been self-conscious about our appearance, and have at one point or another worried about what other people think of us. Whether it’s how we dress, speak, act, or even weigh, that concern can at times be overwhelming. While it’s important to take in others’ opinions (this gives us a reflection of ourselves and how we are perceived), over-valuing what others think or may think, while under-valuing our own ideas can damage our self-respect. If you’d like to spend less time concerned about others’ opinions and more time embodying your own values, I’ve put together a few strategies that will help you in this area.

Tuning In

Tuning in requires focusing on your internal voice and turning up the volume so that it is louder than the opinions around you. When you find yourself in a situation where you feel over-worried about what someone else may think of you, ask yourself, “What, in my deepest values, do I believe about this situation?” You may also ask yourself how you would respond to a friend who was in your shoes. Would you shame and browbeat her or tell her that you understand where she is coming from and she did not do anything to be embarrassed? The strategies of asking how you feel, what you believe and to what standard you would hold someone you care about, gives you valuable feedback about whether you want to correct your behavior or if the problem is not your behavior but worry thoughts and shame entering your mind and body.

Your Values, Thoughts, and Emotions

When you have discovered that you have behaved, dressed, spoken, etc., in line with your values but are still plagued by embarrassment and worries about what others think of you, the first step is DON’T CHANGE YOUR BEHAVIOR. If you change your behavior when your behavior is not the problem, you are sending yourself a confusing message and shame is likely to build.

For example, Marla (pseudonym) found herself concerned that she was not “thin enough” and felt embarrassed about her appearance in certain social situations. As a result of this embarrassment, Marla would tug on her clothes, check herself often in the mirror, avoid being in pictures, and plan her outfit days in advance in response to excruciating worry thoughts. When Marla asked herself about her values, she realized that she would never ever treat a friend the way she was treating herself. She would never judge a friend based on her weight or fit of her clothes and would not want to associate herself with anyone who would judge in this way. Yet, she had been behaving as though she should be ashamed.

Marla’s strategy became clear: Treat her body as perfectly fine and refuse to apologize for how she looks. This means that Marla resisted urges to tug on her clothes, plan the perfect outfit in advance, and even volunteered to be front-and-center in photos. Initially, her self-critical and worry-thoughts increased, and she felt embarrassment wash over her when seeing a full-body picture posted on Facebook. Marla was determined, though, and she persisted.

Over time, her mind and body understood the consistent message that Marla was sending. The message was, “I will not apologize for how my body looks because there is no reason to apologize.” Her self-hating thoughts and worries about what others thought of her began to quiet and feelings of embarrassment lessened over time. Now, when Marla feels a surge of her old urge to apologize for her appearance rear its ugly head, she knows what to do and prioritizes her mental health and self-respect.

As my wise Zen teacher says, “You cannot force yourself to be different. All you can do is practice every day until one day, you become what you have practiced.”

Your Breath and Sensations

If you find it difficult to tune into your values and priorities, start with your breath. Any of my past or present patients will tell you that at least once per therapy session, I will ask them to stop and notice three inhalations and exhalations. This offers an opportunity to notice what the breath is doing in the body. Stop and try it now – place your awareness on your breath for three inhales and exhales. Notice: Where in your physical body does your attention go as you are placing your awareness on your breathing? Your breath is a readily available sensation that can help you start to tune into your body and then your wisdom.

After noticing how your breath feels in your physical body, you can also start to pay attention to sensations. Start to ask yourself questions, such as, “How does my body feel when I am having fun, trusting myself, following what feels right?” Are you relaxed in some areas, tense in others? Do you notice changes in your posture? How about temperature or a feeling of moving energy in various parts of your body? The more you tune into how your body feels, you will begin to get clear messages from your wisdom and be able to sharply access your values and priorities in different situations.

Now What?

The more you practice paying attention to your breath, listening to your body and feelings, identifying your values and behaving as though they matter, the easier it will become. With any new behavior practice, practice and then more practice is needed to help the new habit stick. As my wise Zen teacher says, “You cannot force yourself to be different. All you can do is practice every day until one day, you become what you have practiced.”

Identify a step from this article that you can put into practice today and practice doing this every day until it becomes easy for you. Then, identify and take a next step. If you are a person who has loud self-critical thoughts, it will take a while for them to calm down and for value-driven thoughts to take up your mind space. Give yourself the time you need and devote yourself to one small practice every day.

If you want additional help learning how to truly experience and enjoy your life, contact Dr. Bando today for an online consultation and start shifting from surviving to thriving!


Where Does Anxiety Come From?

We’ve all experienced stress, worry, and anxiety from time to time. For some of us, or at certain times in life, it occurs frequently and can feel overwhelming. At its worst, anxiousness can even impair daily functioning. A lot of factors work together to cause the experience that we call anxiety. Let’s take a look at some specific ways that it develops:

From Chronic Stress Conditions 

Most of us equate stress with anxiousness, and oftentimes, these two do go together. However, when we talk about anxiety as opposed to a passing stressor (a stressful life event that comes and goes rather quickly), there is a lot more to it than just feeling stressed. Some people grow up or live in incredibly stressful environments (e.g., low-income households, experiences of neglect and abuse), and these long-term stressful conditions can make people more vulnerable to anxiety, and in some cases, weaken their ability to handle stress. If your system is already taxed by dealing with chronic, daily stress, your ability to manage more stressors thrown your way will very likely be compromised. A buildup of chronic stressful situations that do not go away quickly can lead to an experience of anxiety.

From Reinforcement

Have you ever heard someone say, “You don’t need to worry,” and you want to answer with, “I do need to worry!”? When we are experiencing anxiety, we often believe it’s helpful, because it gets reinforced. When we feel anxious about something and spend time ruminating and worrying, often everything turns out just fine. We can then believe that anxiety helped achieve the desired outcome. There is an old quote by an unknown author that goes, “Worrying works! 90% of the things I worry about never happen.” We continue to feel anxious and sometimes become almost fearful that if we are not anxious, things will not work out. Most of the time, this isn’t even a process we choose. The cycle gets reinforced, and the brain keeps it going without our intent. Reinforcement is brain food; when a behavior is reinforced, it is likely to occur again.

 

Anxiety, anxious, anxiousness, worry

 

From Avoidance

One function of anxiety is that it helps us to avoid other issues. This can be the most puzzling reason for anxiety. Most of us hate the experience of anxiety, and at first glance, it does not make sense that we would use anxiety to avoid anything. Rather, we want to avoid anxiety! Think of it like this: Anxiety gives our mind something to chew on. We may not like it, and it may not feel pleasant, but it occupies us, nonetheless.

Anxiety tells us that something is wrong and we need to fixate on it, wring our hands, figure it out, look up facts, check out others’ opinions, etc., and it keeps us very busy. Sometimes it keeps us so busy that we can’t focus on much else. If we are having an uncomfortable emotional experience or find ourselves in a painful situation that cannot be solved (e.g. a job we cannot quit, the death of a loved one), sometimes we are so overwhelmed that anxiety jumps in to try to give relief. We may prefer (on some level) the experience of spending our time figuring out an unfixable problem than sitting with the feeling of grief or helplessness.

 From Other Emotions

Another function of anxiety is its ability to hide other, more difficult emotions, because it is a secondary emotion. Anxiousness (or any secondary emotion) happens when the primary emotion is not sufficiently experienced and processed. In other words, your anxiety serves as an avoidance (see above for more explanation on this). When we experience it, we don’t feel the underlying emotion. Our way out of anxiety is to feel this primary emotion. When we resolve a primary emotion, the secondary emotion regulates.

 From Itself

One of the most unpleasant aspects of anxiousness is that once we are aware of it, we can start to feel anxious about our anxiousness. The more we work to avoid it, ignore it, fight it, or self-criticize it, the more space it takes up in our mind. We end up feeling anxious about having anxiety and sometimes anxious about the rare times we do not feel anxiety. We may also experience additional concern about others noticing or criticizing our anxiousness.

If you struggle with anxiety, consider seeking therapy. Therapy can help you safely address and resolve unrelenting anxiousness. A therapist who practices Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a good choice. DBT can help you build skills to address any vulnerabilities you have, to identify and cope with primary emotions, and to make more effective choices than avoidance. They can also teach the skill of Radical Acceptance, which is learning how to accept things that cannot be changed, rather than adding to your suffering by fighting it or feeling more anxious. If you could benefit from these skills, contact a qualified therapist and start shifting from surviving to thriving today!


4 Tips for Handling an Argument

Arguments are an inevitable part of life. If you ever have a relationship with anyone, it is very likely that at some point, you will disagree. Disputes are a normal and expected part of intimacy – whether you argue with your spouse or partner, business colleague or boss, or friend or even acquaintance, arguments are part of how humans connect, understand each other, and sometimes even bond. If, however, you find yourself getting into frequent arguments, your arguments get more intense than seems effective, or you struggle to resolve disputes, try these 4 Tips for Handling an Argument, to improve your communication and increase the probability you get the results that you want.

  1. Use “I Feel” Statements

If you are rolling your eyes because you’ve heard about “I” statements in therapy mumbo-jumbo self-help books before, please suspend your judgment and read on. “I” statements are not about being mushy-gushy, “I’m okay, you’re okay,” and only using language to appease the other person. Used correctly, “I” statements function to reduce the other person’s defensiveness and help you to get your point across clearly. Often, arguments are started or sustained by miscommunications and misinterpretations. Making statements such as, “you are a [fill in the blank with your favorite accusation]” or “you make me feel” put the other person on the defensive and make them unable to hear and understand you, let alone meet your needs. These kind of “You” statements can leave the other party feeling confused, criticized or blamed. That is a recipe for that person putting up their dukes and fighting back. Now, both of you are unhappy, and the argument is unresolved. Being mindful of your language and using “I” statements help you to communicate your experience without blaming the other person, greasing the wheels for their willingness and understanding. Start with “I feel” or “I want” or “I don’t like” and then describe the situation without judgment. (See past blogs on my website for more information about what Nonjudgment is and how to use it.)

  1. Lower The Intensity

If you have heard the phrase, “fight fire with fire” you may know it refers to the idea of responding to a fire by lighting another one.  Sometimes in an argument, we instinctively want to “fight fire with fire.”  We want to be the winner that convinces the other party to change their opinion, agree to our demand, or simply say those magic words, “You are right.”  The problem is that as you each raise your intensity to be the winner, it escalates the dispute, the argument can get out of hand, and no one wins. Next time you argue and observe yourself becoming more intense (louder voice, bigger mannerisms, harsher words), STOP. (This is a DBT Skill that encourages you to Stop, Take a step back, Observe, and Proceed Mindfully.) Take a deep breath in the moment, take a break from the discussion if you need to calm down (and use Willing Hands or Half-Smile, some other DBT Skills that come in handy during an argument), and lower your intensity.  Ask the other party to do the same.  E.g., “Let’s both lower our voices. I’d like us to get through this together calmly and respectfully.” Then it can be possible to talk calmly as equals, hear each other, and respond effectively, working to get everyone’s needs met.

handling an argument, therapy, behavior change

  1. Take a Break

There is an old saying, “never go to bed angry.”  Although this statement probably intends to help resolve an argument, it can convey that when we argue, we must keep arguing until we resolve the disagreement.  This is simply not true, and it is not the most effective way to handle an argument.  If you are in an argument, sometimes the very best solution in that moment, is to take a break to calm down.  However, just walking or storming off can make the argument worse.  Instead, as calmly as you can, let the other person know that you need a break from the discussion.  Taking a break can give you each time to reflect, give your nervous system a chance to calm down, and help you to come back more clear-headed.  Negotiate a time to resume the discussion later.

  1. Practice Acceptance

Some arguments happen because we have different points of view.  You can get wrapped up in trying to make another person agree with your outlook.  Perhaps you even want them to adopt your opinions.  However, there are times you must “agree to disagree.” In other words, sometimes no matter how long or skillfully you talk, you will continue to have a different opinion from the other person. In those moments, you can practice the skill of acceptance. (Radical Acceptance is another DBT Skill useful in the midst of an argument.)  You will be accepting that the other person has a different viewpoint and that you may not be able to change it. Acceptance does NOT equal approval.  You do not personally have to approve of or adopt their perspective. Acceptance means that you accept the reality of the situation, even the parts of it that you don’t like. You let go of trying to change things that won’t change.

 

With these 4 Tips, you can practice handling arguments differently. Start with small, low-intensity disagreements and move to more emotional arguments once you’ve mastered some of these skills. If you often get into arguments, struggle to communicate, or feel unhappy in your relationships, you might seek the support of a professional therapist to help improve your communication and get more of your needs met.


A Call for Nonjudgment

Given our country’s and the world’s current political and social climate, at times, it can feel like pain is all that exists. Daily reports of heinous acts causing harm and terror bombard our senses whether in the media, our real life, or both. Devastation and anger in response to feeling helpless to stop the madness are completely valid, and it can feel nearly impossible to practice being nonjudgmental.

 

This begs the question: Why practice nonjudgment?

 

Since nonjudgment is an essential component to mindfulness and everything I teach is rooted in the practice of mindfulness, this query has come up many times for me personally as well as with my clients.

 

What is the point of being (or practicing moving toward being) nonjudgmental?

 

Nonjudgment means describing things as they are, without adding opinions or evaluations. In other words, nonjudgment = truth.

 

Example:

Judgment: That man is a horribly rude, insensitive person.

Nonjudgment: That man pushed me aside, went in front of me in line, did not apologize or acknowledge his actions to me, and then left.

 

Do you see the difference? In the judgmental example, we have little information about the man or what happened. Being nonjudgmental gave us much more depth of information and understanding.

 

Let’s take this a step further. In addition to being able to comprehend what exactly happened, being nonjudgmental gives us two other gifts:

  1. The gift of being able to diffuse our emotion (in this case, probably anger).
  2. The gift of moving into compassionate, effective action.

 

If we believe that someone is a rude, insensitive person, we will treat him as such. Our minds are made up. He is rude, and there is no reason to treat him with any kindness, understanding or even courtesy.

 

If, however, we believe that someone engaged in behavior that caused us or others harm, this speaks to the specific behavior, rather than the person, and gives us room to react with compassionate, effective action. If I can practice adopting this nonjudgmental stance, I can respond in a way that is effective for my goals. I may be able to stand up for myself, tell the man I was in front of him in line and assert myself to be served next. I may be able to look him in the eye, tell him that he pushed me, that it took me off guard, and have a conversation about what happened and how we can resolve this. I may be better able to treat him as another valid human being who did something I don’t like and then go about solving the problem. There is no room for this if I maintain a judgmental stance. In my judgmental attitude, the man deserves to be dismissed, written off, and devalued. When this is my intent, there is no room for change. Judgment leaves no space for the possibility of a different interaction between the two of us.

 

Nonjudgment expresses the truth and allows for the possibility of another experience.

 

Now imagine applying the practice of nonjudgment to bigger issues that cause pain in your life or our world. How might things go differently if we practiced approaching them with nonjudgment, and therefore, compassionate and effective action? How can you practice this today?

 

Before attempting to apply the skill of nonjudgment to large issues in your life, start practicing with more every day, mundane, non-emotionally evocative situations. This approach will help you build the muscle of nonjudgment and then gradually apply this stance to larger, more important events in your life and the world around you.

 

If you are interested in developing the skill of nonjudgment, here are some steps to get you started.

 

  1. Write out a few sentences describing how your day has gone so far. Don’t censor yourself. Write how you think and feel, what you like and don’t like.

 

  1. Take a look at what you’ve written and draw a line through any judgments (e.g., good/bad, right/wrong, should/should not), opinions, or evaluations you notice.

 

  1. Practice re-writing the statement using descriptive, nonjudgmental language (as in the example given earlier in this article). Try to describe with as much factual detail as possible, leaving out opinions, evaluations, and assessment. Just the facts.

 

  1. Notice the difference between your original, more judgmental sentences, and your revised nonjudgmental statement. How is it different? Is the nonjudgmental statement more factual, or does it give more information? Do you feel differently when reading the judgmental vs. the nonjudgmental statement? How might you respond differently to the events of your day with these two different perspectives?

LIFE’S TOO SHORT JUST TO SURVIVE. THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE!


© 2017 Amanda Gale Bando Phd · Designed and Developed by D-Kode Technology

Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando

Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando