Traci Stein, PhD, MPH, is a practicing psychotherapist and Columbia-trained
clinical psychologist, ASCH-certified in clinical hypnotherapy. She has combined integrative therapies, including hypnosis, with conventional medical and psychotherapy practice. Her passionate commitment to mind-body healing has spanned two decades.
Although potentially challenging, identifying what we’d like to be different in our lives, and creating a plan for change, can help us feel happier, be healthier, and set us free from things we know, deep down, are unhealthy for us.
If you’ve read my earlier post, “8 Essentials for Creating Positive Change,” you are already armed with the fundamental tools to address those habits, patterns, or relationships that need tweaking (or more).
Below, I address in a bit more detail how to successfully engage in the process of change. What follows are some of the most common changes people seek to make, and what to keep in mind.
Hello all, and Season’s Greetings!
If you’re like me, this time of year may be when you more “formally” think about what you want to change in your life. But really, any time of year can be a good time for self-reflection, deciding what works for you, and what to finally toss, whether figuratively or quite literally!
Some of us may be contemplating a more significant shift – such as deciding whether to stay in a relationship, change careers, return to school, or move across country. Or, our primary goal may involve a habit change, such as eating better, moving more, quitting smoking, or leaving nail biting behind. As you know, contemplating any sort of change can feel stressful, but there’s a lot you can do to remain calmer and more optimistic, and achieve those goals that are important to you. (Remember, there are probably very good reasons why you’ve set such goals in the first place!) Whether your goal is large or small, the steps below can help get and keep you on track, while remaining sane during the process.
Over the past several years, there has been a surge of interest in the topic of self-compassion, and for good reason. So many people find it easy to feel compassion for others, but have difficulty being compassionate toward themselves. Self-criticism and harsh judgments can be difficult habits to break. Yet, the research on self-compassion has found that the practice has a number of benefits. These include enhanced compassion for others, increased personal motivation, decreased distress, and greater optimism and self-worth.
Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneer in self-compassion research, states that the three elements of self-compassion are: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-kindness refers to acknowledging our own suffering and responding with caring, patience, and acceptance - much as we would be patient and kind toward another. Recognizing our common humanity involves understanding that everyone has ups and downs, strengths and challenges, and feelings of self-judgment, but that each of us is far more than any of these. Our own foibles and errors simply make us human. Finally, a mindfulness practice enables us to sit with whatever is going on in the present, without judging it, attaching to it, or pushing it away. Mindfulness is key to being in the gift of the present moment and breathing through suffering.
I'm honored to guest blog for Belleruth while she travels this week. It is National Bullying Prevention Month, and for this column I decided to talk about extremely common forms of "self-bullying" – "fat talk" and body shaming. Both of these are unfortunately common and at odds with the expectation that we should treat everyone – ourselves included - with respect, compassion, and kindness.
As a woman, I'm struck by how often we criticize ourselves for being "too much of this" and "not enough of that." It is so ingrained for us to feel we must not take up too much space – literally or metaphorically. We criticize ourselves for the normal, largely unavoidable effects of aging, or for having bodies that differ from the airbrushed images we see in the media. We find fault with ourselves even despite objective information to the contrary.
Hello all, and happy Fall! This is my favorite time of year for many reasons: the air is becoming crisp, leaves are turning, and children are gearing up for the new school year. I always feel more energized and ready to get back in the swing of things once the lazy days of summer have begun to fade. Both literally and metaphorically, fall is a time for shedding whatever has run its course to make way for new growth.
If you're like me, you probably have a running list of things you'd like to tweak a little, or change completely. On my to do list right now: get more exercise, eat fewer refined foods, bring my lunch more often, reduce my salt intake, increase the duration of my meditation sessions, be more patient, and so forth. As always, there are things I want to do less of and things I want to do more of.
What helps me, and I hope is helpful to you, is remembering that it's not about perfection (there really is no such thing, anyway), or about accomplishing everything at once. Our lives really are about the journey, rather than immediately reaching any specific destination.
Happy Earth Day, and Happy Spring to all! I am grateful for Spring’s arrival for a number of reasons. Spring provides us with a much-needed break from what has been a very long, cold winter in much of the country. Symbolically, Spring represents new life, growth and positive change on so many levels after having shed whatever Nature deemed necessary during Fall. It also ushers in longer, brighter days and a delight in being outside after the winter hibernation. Now, each tiny seedling sprouting forth from the earth invites us to appreciate the beauty and change all around us.
Spring also is a time for personal housekeeping and sprucing things up – both literally and metaphorically. Sometimes this means taking stock of where we are with regard to relationships, old patterns, our health, and how we spend the bulk of our time. We can then lovingly tend to what needs nurturing, prune what belongs in the past, and sow the seeds of the changes we desire.
Almost before we consciously register a note, scents have the power to evoke another time for us, another way of being. I have long since stopped wearing perfume, but every time I smell anything by Estee Lauder, I can immediately identify it, so strongly have their fragrances been linked to memories of my maternal grandmother and her sisters – all women who were very influential in my upbringing. The link exists exclusively of any liking or not – even the perfumes I actively dislike are immediately and paradoxically associated with feelings of being cared for.
Although it is still technically “summer time,” a few leaves have already begun to dry and fall from the trees in the New York City parks, the daytime sun has given way to a crisp nighttime temperature of 60-something degrees, and I have resumed the almost daily ritual of packing a light sweater in my bag “just in case.” As such, many of you have probably witnessed the re-emergence of that notorious TV commercial, with those kids -- dread-filled, feet dragging, frowns pronounced – trailing the giddy parent who skips through the school-supply aisle to the tune, “It’s the most wonderful time…of the year!”
All joking aside, for everyone, the start of the school year elicits something different. Certainly, there are those kids (and adults) who unequivocally enjoy the opportunity to connect socially and the academic stimulation of being in school. For others, this time of year can highlight feelings of “otherness” or social awkwardness, as well as struggles to complete schoolwork well, on time, or at all. The latter can result from difficulties in paying attention, diagnosable learning disorders, anxiety, poor self-esteem, or some combination of the above. In addition, challenges with schoolwork can serve to exacerbate all of these issues, resulting in a vicious cycle of distress and poorer performance.
One summer afternoon, many years ago, a colleague of mine confided to me, “I have really, really ugly legs. Bad, bad-looking knees.” We were sitting in the hospital garden having lunch and talking about work, and I wasn't sure I’d heard her correctly. By most accounts, this woman had a bubbly personality, a sunny smile, and a pretty normal looking body (whatever that means). She was also professionally accomplished, had a loving family, etc. etc. To be quite honest, she had worn a skirt to work on a number of occasions, and I had never noticed her legs one way or the other. Quickly I glanced down at them, and then looked her in the eyes. I said, with no flattery intended, “I really don’t see what you’re talking about.” Mind you, I was probably much more aware of my hair at that moment – which was an odd combination of flatness and frizz from the humidity, a stray tendril clinging moistly to my temple. Not exactly my most camera-ready look. I’ve had lifelong hair angst, but have surrendered to the fact that it will never be thick, lustrous, well-behaved, shampoo-ad type of hair. And at this point, it doesn’t really bother me all that much. Truly. But it did throughout my adolescence and teens and probably through college as well. I tortured it with highlights and perms and had numerous hair disasters along the way.
First, hello to all. I find that holidays and the New Year are great opportunities for self-reflection and meaningful change. We may think of this as something that is necessarily dramatic or large, or immediately observable to others, but often the most profound changes involve subtle but important shifts in how we treat ourselves, or how much space we create to accept ourselves in the present moment, even if there are things we’d like to be different. Once we can be more loving and kind to ourselves, the other changes seem to become that much easier.