Life Hack Your Way to Happy

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Some say that happiness is a choice, and where they may be some psychological pushback to that statement, the fundamentals of the concept are true. All of us have had the experience of waking up on the wrong side of the bed and immediately recognizing that we are a major “crankypants.” Sometimes, it’s simply because we didn’t get enough sleep, or tweaked a part of our body while sleeping. Perhaps remnants of a bad dream are lingering in waking hours. You might be ruminating on a deeper issue at work or in your personal life, and those thoughts are dominating your happy/carefree time. Whatever the cause, we do have a choice to get out of the funk, which usually involves changing our perspective,and/ or relationship to the stimuli around us.

Now of course, just being cranky is different than feeling fundamentally unhappy at your core. Pervasive unhappiness or unease can be labeled as depression, and it can feel incredibly heavy. Suffering from a long-term bout of unhappiness can stem from many areas, but for the most part, it can be narrowed down to fit into one of these categories.

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1.       Fear: This is intended to be a broad category, as it addresses many subtopics, such as self-esteem. A lack of self-esteem is typically a fear of not being good enough or being afraid that you are not living up to standards/expectations from yourself and/or others. Fear can also be associated with loss or being alone; never finding “the one” or losing someone/something important in your life.

2.       Lack of drive; nothing to look forward to; bored: Many of us will never feel like we are fulfilling our true potential because we waste so much time doing nothing. We have so much choice these days that it can be paralyzing to have to choose what to do, therefore leaving us feeling empty. Without a long-term goal to keep working towards, we can feel rudderless.

3.       Conflict with self or others: This is a beast of a category right here as it truly covers the bases when it comes to deep unhappiness. When we are engaging in an activity or life choice that takes us away from who we are at out core, we will inevitably feel conflict, and unease. When we are in conflict with another person, it can feel just as daunting as we struggle to find the right course of action with the least amount of consequences.

With these many varying degrees of unhappiness, getting out of the feeling boils down to making tiny choices throughout the day that help lead you back to feeling more stable and on top of things. If you don’t have the bandwidth presently to do the deeper work, then here are some life hack tools to guide you back into a more positive place.

-Distance yourself from the feeling: Use language such as I FEEL unhappy, as opposed to I AM unhappy. The feeling is fleeting, not a permanent state of being.

-Name the emotion as something other than it is: You may be experiencing what you label as "unhappiness" in your body, ie: tension in your shoulders, an upset stomach, headaches. That’s your body’s emotional response. The feeling can be whatever you want to name it. You can rename it as excitement or anticipation for a change.

-Acknowledge that its hard not to think about: Sometimes unhappiness comes from obsessing over something we have no control over. If you acknowledge to yourself that it’s hard not to think about, and give yourself a little break, it can eliminate some of the guilt of the obsession, which in turn helps you ruminate less.

-Fake it till you make it: Act like a happier happy version of yourself. You’ve been happy before, and you will be again. Do you remember what it felt like to be happy? What were you doing at the time? Try to repeat some of the actions you were doing when you were happiest.

-Get out and move: The energy around you can influence your state of mind. Stagnation can make you feel tired and bored which can mimic unhappiness. Get out of your house and into nature to cast off some toxic energy!

-Give yourself some self-care: It’s critical to know what makes you feel good for you, because self-care looks different to everyone. It can be as simple as sitting with a cup of coffee or going for a walk; saying no to something you don’t want to do or allowing yourself to do something you’ve always wanted to do. Find one thing that rejuvenates you and do it!

Remember that happiness is a moment to moment choice. One bit of information can change the temperature of your day, but how you choose to respond to it will have the greatest effect on your mood. When you link together each small choice towards happiness, it will inevitably shift your perspective, and before you know it, you will start to feel the heaviness of a funky mood disappear!

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The Proper Care and Feeding of an Entrepreneur

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Do you spend your Friday evenings watching Shark Tank with a partner who is constantly getting irked at the equity offer of the potential investee? Do conversations with your partner inevitably lead to some brand-new scheme about how to make more passive income? Does your partner own a Gary Vee inspired baseball cap with the term #hustle emblazoned across the front?

If that checklist rings true for, then I hate to break it to you, but you are in love with an entrepreneur!

As challenging as it may be to be in a relationship with an entrepreneur, you might keep finding yourself being drawn to them. I sure am! I grew up in an art-based, entrepreneurial household, and now, in my adult life, I love a full-bred, self-made, renaissance man.

It’s essential to the health of any relationship to keep wondering how to show up and be a better partner. In an entrepreneurial partnership, that question is even more pertinent, as their proper care and feeding is a full-time job in itself.

Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes, but at their core, they have the same goal in common…a positive cashflow. I can still hear the echoes of my dad, “Happiness is a positive cashflow” in response to, “Hey Dennis, how are ya?”

So, how does one be the best partner to this special breed? I actually sat down with my partner and interviewed him to get the direct line into his thinking, to understand what support looks and feel likes to him. In that, here are the Top 5 Tips to being in relationship to/with an entrepreneur.

1.      Don’t take rescheduling personally: For an entrepreneur, fluidity is key. Most days look like one large chess game, where they are trying to make multiple things work simultaneously. This means that the best laid plans usually get tossed out early in the day. You may have a date planned, but by 6pm, they could be in the midst of putting out another critical fire. It is understandable to feel frustrated, as I’m sure they do as well. So, the best way around this is to ask them for more quality time, without resenting them for having to ask. It’s not that they are avoiding you, or that you are not a priority. It’s that for them, everything points back to “positive cashflow” and you must be able to understand and respect that.

2.      Whatever they are talking about is the most important thing to them at the time: With so many items to manage, they have multiple tabs open in their brains and they enjoy talking out their ideas. So, the thing that is top of mind is the most important thing, at any given moment. This can work in your favor, when YOU are top of mind, but can also leave you feeling like you’re basking in the sun or living in the shadows, as there isn’t much in between when it comes to attention. In those moments, just listen as they talk through some processes. At times, it can be helpful to ask if they just need to vent, or if they would like to engage in conversation.

3.      Patience is elusive so model that behavior and help them with it: To the entrepreneur, no one is ever operating fast enough for them. They are usually 12 steps ahead of the pack, and waiting is not their strong suit. That impatience may end up being taken out on you, the person they are closest to. When it comes to patience, you must exercise it in spades, and model for them how a few deep breaths can effectively slow them down. Offer them some grace and understanding that their frustration has very little to do with you, so try not to take it personally (easier said than done.)

4.     Acknowledge the bad days, but don’t dwell: Entrepreneurs are not super human, but want to be viewed as such. No one is immune to bad days, but the worst thing you can do is take a rough moment and make it the focus of attention. It is necessary to find the balance of acknowledging that something has been challenging, and then using positive language to help propel them forward. Be a compassionate cheerleader.  For example: “I can see where that’s hard to not have your web designer on the same page as you, but you will figure out a way to make it work. You always do. You got this!”

5.      Gratitude is currency: Any entrepreneur has had their ego crushed at some point or another, so it’s no wonder that gratitude goes along way. Find the small things to be grateful for each day and aim to understand how they are all contributing to a larger picture. Take time out to text or share in person something that you appreciate about your partner. Positive reinforcement helps to beget more of the same ideal behavior in the future.

Most entrepreneurs have a very specific vision they are working towards, and long story short, they need undying support to get there. That’s why, as their partner, it is crucial to check in with yourself and see if you can really be along for the ride without resentment. Sacrifice is a part of the entrepreneur’s relationship, and balance is at a premium. It is likely that the two of you have very different relationships with time, and priorities, and so over-communicating about sacred space and time just for the two of you will help mitigate any future loss of quality connection. But, as mentioned before, when you hold the attention of one, you will feel like you’re on top of the world, and that feeling is hard to beat.

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Change Takes Time...So Here's a Shortcut

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My clients regularly ask the following question, "How many sessions will it take to fix this/me?" I wish there was a definitive answer to that question, but there are so many variables to consider in the therapy process that planning out an "all better" date is near impossible.

Yet, there are definitive steps to take to make the change process more tangible. The first step in the right direction is admitting that you have something you would like to improve upon…but guess what?! There is already a roadblock.

Change sucks. There really is no more eloquent way to put it. Knowing that change sucks, we naturally put up speedbumps in an attempt to save ourselves from discomfort, therefore making the change process an arduous one.

What else holds us back from change? For one thing, the phrase “people don’t change” is defeating and false. People DO change. The saying should be “people who don’t want to change, won’t.” Yet, when someone is finally ready to make the big leap, they will.

Another reason we avoid change is that we like to be able to predict the future. Even if we know that a particular behavior is detrimental to our health, we would rather continue that action for fear of not knowing what is on the other side of change. For example, perhaps you are suffering from an addiction. Your brain intuitively KNOWS that with every use you are hurting yourself and your loved ones. Yet, you don’t know what life looks like without the drugs or alcohol. In fact, the unknown can be so scary that you would rather risk death daily to avoid the discomfort of change. If you continue to use, you can predict what’s going to happen. Sobriety, and all that it holds is therefore branded as the scary unknown.

In order to make a change, we have to be willing to struggle with ourselves, and you can bet that the older version of ourselves will put up a valiant fight. The struggle will come in changing the narrative we tell ourselves about a certain interaction.

...people do change, as soon as they recognize their willingness to.

Here is an example: A woman is in a long-term relationship with her male partner. She makes a sexual advance and is turned down with him saying, “I have work to do.” Instead of listening to the reason, and taking it at face value, she starts to create an alternative story to rationalize what she has internalized as rejection. Her thoughts include, “He doesn’t think I’m sexy. He’s a man, so he should always want sex. I’m not good enough for him. He must be getting attention somewhere else. We are losing connection with each other.” With those thoughts, she goes into protection/shame mode and shuts down. No longer wanting to be close to him at all, she makes the choice to isolate in their bedroom all night, stewing in the rejection thought pattern.

In this example, the woman needs to change three things. First, when she feels rejected, she can say that to her partner: “I know you said you have to work tonight, and I believe you, but I feel sad that I am missing this connection time with you. Can we schedule some time for sex tomorrow?” Naming how she feels right away can potentially prevent her from going into the isolating behavior.

Secondly, she can stop the dramatic narrative that she is layering over what he’s said. There is a relief in taking things at face value. He said he has work to do. So, once again, she can repeat how she feels to him and she can do the work to ensure that what she is telling herself matches with what her partner is saying. “He has work to do, and it has nothing to do with his level of desire for me.”

Lastly, in being transparent with her feelings, and re-shaping her narrative, it will be easier for her to enact a new behavior. Just because she doesn’t get the intimacy she envisioned, she doesn’t have to isolate and continue to live out rejection. The chance for intimacy is still there and can be experienced in a different way, perhaps with a foot rub, or some snuggle time on the couch before bed.

With these three alterations to the scenario, the woman can start to implement true change in how she responds to these situations. Even though it will take time before she can short circuit her emotional responses, these steps will help to mitigate anxiety and halt the classic shame cycle.

Real change takes time, so allow yourself some grace as you integrate these techniques and hopefully entertain a new and less uncomfortable outcome.                          

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De-coding the Lure of "Opposites Attract"

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Everyone has heard the age-old adage of “opposites attract.” While parts of this concept may be true and certainly appealing, we often misinterpret its meaning and then romanticize a relationship where absolutely nothing aligns. We end up minimizing conflicts by brushing them under the rug, and then filing them into our partner’s “quirks” categories, as opposed to red-flag categories.

The bottom line is that in a successful relationship, partners need to share SOME things...similar interests, some common goals, some shared ideas. Something. To be on each end of the spectrum on EVERY subject can be exhausting as each person attempts to defend their beliefs and opinions. So much time is wasted in trying to meet your partner in compromise when you are so opposite of each other.

When we talk about opposites attract, we are mainly referring to personality types. The introvert and extrovert, or the planner and the free spirit, for example. We innately look for traits in our partners and friends that can help us grow in areas that we can benefit from. The organizer may dream of being more spontaneous, where the free-spirit craves some structure and planning. Opposite personalities can also complement each other in filling in spaces of communication. If two “aggressives” partner up, tense situations can become even more so when each show up to be “right.” When a passive and an aggressive align, arguments can be more manageable as your partner steps in with a fresh new perspective. The fireworks of arguments appear sexy in the beginning, but rapidly lose their charm as the relationship deepens.

If you are aiming for a long-term relationship, it is important to at least agree somewhat when it comes to the big three: religion, politics, and finances (especially when considering having children.) Imagine the heartache you can sidestep if you start to thoroughly understand where you stand on these issues early on. If your partner can’t at least RESPECT your opposite view point, then there is not much to go on.

In terms of committed relationships, it is also incredibly helpful when your Love Languages align or at the very least, are understood. To put it simply, we each show and give love in one or more of five different ways: words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, gifts, and acts of service. When a couple has two very different ways that they show love, it can feel like the other person is speaking a foreign language and we just don’t get it. For example, someone who needs words of affirmation to feel loved needs to hear things like “I love you” or “I’m proud of you” or “I think you’re beautiful.” On the other hand, if the partner needs acts of service, they feel most loved when you take out the trash, or vacuum or make the morning cup of coffee. These languages can be learned, but when it is a stretch for the partner to understand what the other person needs, these opposites can become a sticking point in the relationship.

The fireworks of arguments appear sexy in the beginnning, but rapidly lose their charm as the relationship deepens.

Here are some tools to keep in mind when you’re starting a new relationship, and wondering if it could blossom into something more:

·       Don’t become disillusioned by how fun it is early on: Everything is cute in the beginning. Take off the rose-colored glasses, and come out of your endorphin coma and look at reality before you commit to something more long-term.

·       Do not sacrifice core beliefs: Does the following sound familiar? “I really want children, but he doesn’t, but I just keep waiting for him to change his mind,” or “she said she never wanted to go to church, but I figured she would eventually warm up to the idea.” Pay attention to what your partner says and does. For the most part, people will tell you exactly who they are, and expecting them to act any differently is insanity.

·       Stand up for your needs and opinions: At the beginning of a relationship, we all want to be the pleaser and seem amenable. As adorable as that may be, it can lead to heartbreak as you are not being honest with yourself in what you truly want. The more you talk about your true wants and desires, the easier it will be to decipher how matched you truly are.

It is not impossible for opposites to build a happy relationship, but you must be willing to put the work in, and potentially tap into more patience on a daily basis. Some people get turned on by a challenge, and the appeal of someone that thinks and acts so differently than your norm can feel like a fun puzzle to complete. Just remember that long-term, committed relationships are exactly that: long and committed. So, before you elope to Vegas with the cute guy or girl that appeals to your quirk quota, simply take a step back and double check that all of those out of sync idiosyncrasies add up to someone you’d like to wake up to every day.

 

The Aftermath: Healing After a Break-Up

You’ve reached a hard limit. You’ve been in your relationship for enough time to understand habits, and to be able to pinpoint your own true feelings and those of your partner. Today, you have realized that even though you love each other, there is a deep incompatibility, and it’s a deal breaker.

This moment is heartbreakingly painful, and it is important to recognize that. Yet, at the same time, it doesn’t have to be devastating. Previously, I wrote about the journey leading up to this moment, and how to discern if it is time to “say when” and change the dynamic of your relationship. One of the recommended steps is to ask yourself if the boundary that is being tested takes you one step closer to or further from a personal life goal. If you answer that it is taking you away, then this is probably one of the main reasons why the relationship isn’t working for you, and it is time to leave. This decision can be an EMPOWERING one, and it is that mindset that we need to keep as the goal.

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When we are in a relationship that challenges us, it is important to rely on the internal moral compass that typically points us in the right direction. If a boundary is being tested, and yet it feels right and you are excited to stretch and to grow, then that compass is pointing you towards your true north. You will grow TOWARDS your partner, and feel like you are working on something to bring you closer together. On the other hand, if you are starting to feel anxious, resentful and even angry at the thought of making an internal change, then perhaps this boundary is not one to test, and it is time to stand up for what you need and want, and check in to see if this is a true necessity for your partner.

You realize you don’t see eye to eye on some deal breakers, so now what?

1.       First things first: Be gentle with yourself. It doesn’t matter if you have been with someone for two months, or for two years, ending a relationship, and breaking a habit is stressful. During the first couple of days and weeks, it is important to be kind to yourself, practice self-care, and keep in mind that a break-up can be comparable to a death. There is a grieving process that needs to be honored, and if you skip any of the emotional phases from anger to denial, they might come back to visit you later.

2.       Transition needs room to breathe. If you are living with your partner, this separation can be even more challenging, but finding your own space is essential to the healing process. Our own physical space is one of the most influential factors in how we feel, so stay with a friend, or get a hotel room for the night or a week, but either way, take some physical space in order to re-group, and re-build.

3.       Once you have some distance, both physically and emotionally, it is more likely that you will be able to make a decision from a healthier place. We often stay in toxic relationships out of fear...the fear of change and not knowing what’s on the other side. Once the big fear is confronted, we can look back on the relationship with a clear perspective and make a decision from a place of abundance, as opposed to a place of lack.

4.       Lean on your family and friends. During a period of grief, some of us deal by isolating and cutting off our support system. Don’t do that! Let those who truly know and support you into your process, and let them be there for you. It is more than acceptable to ask for help and accountability during this fragile time.

5.       Take time for yourself without judgment. After a break-up, there are many questions. Unresolved issues pop up, leaving you confused and questioning. On top of that, friends and family want to know what’s next for you, and what your status is. To those questions, you can simply reply “I don’t know about any of that, but for today, I am pursuing my own happiness.” Your happiness is the top priority in all of this.

6.       Lastly…..have fun. There is no doubt that you had wonderful times with you partner, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t make happy memories with other people. Get out, and do something new, challenging or plain old fashioned fun. This will boost your endorphins, and help you build more memories to draw from for strength.

If a boundary is being tested and yet it feels right and you are excited to stretch and grow, then that compass is pointing you toward you true north.

We go into fight or flight mode in these stressful times, and our cave-man minds like to remind us that we don’t want to be alone; therefore we make hasty and instinctual decisions for survival purposes. We get rushes of emotions and missing that person, and wondering if we have made the right decision. It is crucial to steel yourself against that pull, and keep in mind the long-term goals you are seeking. Remember, you broke up for a reason, and if distance and time ultimately brings you closer together, that’s a bonus. Allow this time to be one of reflection, happiness seeking, and goal tending, and your true north will be revealed.

Just Say When: 5 Steps to Keeping Boundaries in Relationships

I’ll be the first to admit that I am the type of girl that likes to bury my pasta in parmesan cheese, so I always get a bit angsty when the waiter walks up with the grater and utters the dreaded line of “just say when.” At that point, I have two internal voices in dialogue with each other. The carb and cheese lover inside of me says “don’t you dare stop him before that white mountain of cheesy goodness reaches a peak,” while the other voice says, “you don’t want to look greedy or be judged, so get the minimal amount and stop there.”

This “say when” line applies to so much more than just cheese, or pepper on salad, or filling up a wine glass. When broken down, that phrase essentially means, “how much can you handle?” or “what is your boundary?” At some point or another, we have all reached a moment in a relationship where we ask ourselves if we have reached our “when.” The difficulty arises when the respective angel and devil on our shoulders start to argue about how much we really can tolerate and the “when moment” that used to be crystal clear continues to get pushed back and back until we no longer have any perspective. 

It is not easy to set boundaries and to keep them, and it is ever harder to stick to an ultimatum or a deal breaker moment with someone you love. The question of “how do I know when it’s time to go?” is a popular one because of the fear that we are throwing in the towel too early, or that if we just stick in a bit longer that things will change or be like they used to be.

If you find yourself at a potential boundaried moment in a relationship, there are a few steps to take to guide yourself through this roadblock:

1.       Ask yourself this simple and yet not-so-simple question: What percentage of the time am I truly happy in this relationship as a whole?

2.       Next, look at the situation from a third party point of view: If your best friend were in your same situation, what advice would you give him/her? Then, whatever that advice is, try and apply it to yourself.

3.       Is your body giving you any signals, like anxiety or headaches, panic attacks or a loss of appetite? When thinking about your situation, if you have any of these symptoms, this may be your body’s direct way of telling you that you have reached a certain limit.

4.       We grapple with wondering if this is a challenge to push through or a hard limit that needs to be heeded. In those moments, it is necessary to ask yourself if you care to learn this lesson. Does pushing this boundary teach you something that you desire to be better at in your life, or are you doing this solely for your partner?

5.       Lastly, you must be very honest with yourself about your realistic, long-term goals. Does this moment take you one step closer or one step further away from a personal life goal?

The aim of these questions is to help provide you with a more definitive understanding of your own boundaries. We create and apply boundaries for a reason, and it is usually to protect us from something, and our bodies are very in tune when something is being pushed or tested. So, if you find that the majority of your answers above had you feeling defensive in the moment that is a true signal that something isn’t right in your world.

The hardest part is what comes next. If you have identified your current situation as a “say when moment” having the courage to change the status of your relationship is the largest challenge.  For advice on how to move forward from here, please take a look at my next blog!

Does pushing this boundary teach you something that you desire to be better at in your life, or are you doing this solely for your partner?