Archive of ‘Connection’ category

Instead of New Year’s Resolutions, Try Intentions.

We made it! The year is wrapping up and we are looking onward to the clean slate and potential of a brand new year! No matter what the past year held, many are ready for a fresh start. We are in a season of optimism, hope, and commitment to change.

With the new year comes the New Year’s resolutions. I’m not a fan of the New Year’s resolution and I’ll tell you why in a moment. But first, a small disclaimer: I believe we mean well when we set resolutions. Looking at life with a fresh lens and committing to making changes we want to make is healthy. When we set resolutions, we mean to commit to ourselves that this is the year that things will be different. This is the year that we will do the thing, take the leap, start new, and close the gap between who we are and who we want to be. Believing in our highest potential is a gift to ourselves.

But here is the problem with resolutions: They set us up to fail. They are outcome-dependent, often designed to be pass or fail, black or white, all or nothing. We either did the thing, or we didn’t. Sure, it is good in the beginning. The first three weeks of January go smoothly. These new habits are hard, but we are adapting. But what happens when life gets messy or we get busy? We start to slip. Regression is a natural and expected part of the change cycle, but it sure doesn’t feel that way when the commitment we made to ourselves was do or do not. There was no try.

For some, resolutions work. I have heard a few stories about people who stuck with their resolution for the full year, reached their potential, and didn’t look back. But by and large, the experience with resolutions is this:

  • At their best, resolutions become something we feel that we “should” do, a pesky little reminder that we are not living up to the dreams we had for ourselves.
  • At their worst, resolutions can make us feel downright horrible. What messages do you send yourself when you are letting yourself down? I doubt any of us are hoping to highlight or strengthen our feelings of inferiority in the new year. Who wants that?

How do we preserve the part of resolution setting that is helpful while ditching the part that can create anxiety, feelings of failure, and inadequacy? I propose we set intentions instead. Intentions are a mental state that provide a framework for the future. An intention is not what we want to accomplish, but rather how we want to accomplish it. Setting an intention is like setting a reminder to yourself of how you want to live your life.

Intentions are different from resolutions because they are disconnected from any specific outcome. When we focus on how we want to live and the traits we want to embody, the decisions we make will align with our intentions. We will grow to choose what is best for us because we are rooted in honoring our ideal selves. Naturally, we will progress toward our goals.

In three steps, here is how you can get started on setting your New Year’s Intentions:

  1. Brainstorm. The answers to these questions will help you generate ideas and clarity for your New Year’s Intentions:
  • What type of a person do I want to be?
  • What words do I wish people would use when they describe me?
  • How do I want to move through life, work, and my relationships?
  • What do I want more of in my life?
  1. Refine. Now that you have a few ideas percolating, try plugging your intention into this sentence: “When given the choice, I will ____________.

Examples of intentions may sound something like this:

  • When given the choice, I will choose peace.
  • When given the choice, I will choose kindness.
  • When given the choice, I will love myself.
  • When given the choice, I will honor my body.
  • When given the choice, I will celebrate my progress.
  • When given the choice, I will be gentle with myself and others.
  • When given the choice, I will be patient.
  • When given the choice, I will listen to my intuition.
  • When given the choice, I will trust the process.
  • When given the choice, I will move with grace.
  • When given the choice, I will follow through on my commitments.
  • When given the choice, I will be present.
  • When given the choice, I will balance ease and effort.

Here are a few tips that may help:

  • Play around with the language. The language I suggest may seem foreign, and that is okay. Modify it it something that fits you.
  • Seek clarity and specificity. There is power is precision.
  • You can have more than one intention, but there is also value in hitting the nail on the head. It will be easier to remember and honor over time if you have one sentence to go back to.
  1. Remind. How will you remember your intention? I suggest writing it down in multiple places. A few ideas could be a note in your phone, in your planner, on your bathroom mirror, a post it note on the refrigerator, taped to your computer monitor at work or under your keyboard if you would like privacy. Writing it down where you will naturally see it will position you to gently guide yourself back throughout the year.

How does your New Year’s Intention compare to the resolutions you have set in past? I would love to hear! Connect with me at [email protected] or on instagram @counselingandyoga.

About the author: Katy practices at Austin Family Counseling where she provides relationship and couples counseling, and counseling to individual adults and teens navigating life’s many challenges.
Katy Manganella, M.A., LPC-Intern is supervised by Susan Gonzales, LPC-S, LMFT-S.


The Practice of Gratitude

With December marking the end of the year, it is natural to reflect on what kind of a year you’ve had. I encourage having reflections that include gratitude’s and appreciations; it is imperative reflect on the positive things that have occurred over the past year. Having that perspective on how you have seen growth and change, or maintenance and consistency, in a positive light can reduce stress and anxiety and make it easier to reflect with a positive outlook in the future.

I’ve heard the different perspectives of positive and negative described as a cloudy lens and a sunshine lens. I love the simplicity that provides as a visual because looking at your past year in a cloudy lens could lead to feeling sad, conflicted, and unmotivated. This cloudy lens has the ability to reach in all areas of life and makes it hard to find those sunshine moments. Looking through a sunshine lens doesn’t mean negative and bad things don’t occur, rather a sunshine lens means choosing to find something that you are grateful for, no matter how big or significant that something is. Examples could be feeling grateful that you survived your day, you went to a concert, hanging out with close friends, or ending your day with a nice hot bath.

To start a gratitude practice, set yourself up for success. Choose a time during your day that you can have 5 minutes to reflect. Once you have your daily time scheduled, reflect on one thing of gratitude. Just one. If you think of more, that’s great! But only start with one, so that way you feel encouraged to continue this gratitude practice. Once you feel like your reflection time has become consistent, then move up to listing three to five items of gratitude.

Practicing gratitude is like building strength in a muscle. It takes time and consistency to see growth and change in how your perspective shifts from a cloudy to sunshine. I hope with the reflection of this past year, you are able to find those moments that you truly appreciate and are grateful for!

Julie Smith MA, LMFT-A under the Supervision of Kirby Sandlin Schroeder, LPC-S, LMFT-S Senior Clinician at Austin Family Counseling


Family Connection

Today the average family is busier than ever before. There are conference calls, soccer practice, gymnastics, work, school and tons of others. Many families eat dinner on the fly. Breakfast is something popped into the microwave and then run out the door. Electronics tend to be in use most of the day in some way or another. With such busy schedules I am not suggesting you must sit at the table every night and have a home cooked meal and sit together to talk. Parents and children rarely have time for that. What I am suggesting is that one evening, afternoon or breakfast a week is set aside for family members to sit and talk. So much can be achieved for the family by doing this. Family time also adds other benefits to family members.

First, family time helps to build strong bonds between family members.

Family members need contact with each other. It helps to form more secure children who grow up to be more mature adults. Having that contact between individuals also allows for sharing. Do you remember 20 to 30 years ago having family meal or family night was a normal part of being in a family? There would possibly be a special meal, play a game or watch a movie. Family night might not have always worked for all kids (teens tend to balk at family night at some point). But family night also added to the security that the parents cared and siblings wanted to play and hang out with you.

Second, family time creates stability and safety in the family.

Spending time together helps children to feel safer and more stable. Children get to connect on a more personal level when all members of the family are together in one place. So many skills can be strengthened during family time. Children can work on coping skills, communication skills, and regulation (learning to manage their emotions). Through listening to others talk, children can learn patience, manners and learn to empathize with the other family members. Children can become aware of the issues that might be happening to the family. Regular family night helps with the schedule; children know it is coming usually on the same night each week.

Third, family time can help parents know what is going on with their children.

Sitting with your children, when you get a chance, and taking the time to listen to what your child can say can be revealing. We often move so fast today that we miss those opportunities to really engage with our children on a different level. When was the last time you could just sit and talk to your child and be easy with it. You don’t have the concerns of making dinner, picking up a kid, chores, telecommuting. It takes time to sit with your child. If it is scheduled weekly, then your child knows she/he has a special time each week. I encourage parents to make time for each child one on one. Have this time be regular in the family, barring injury or illness, and do not schedule other things at the same time. Keep this time sacred to the family. This can be very hard to do in the beginning. The average family has such a huge schedule and obligations picking a time each week that when the family can come together can be challenging.

I often describe electronics and kids as an addiction.The more children stay on electronics (phones, iPod, kindles, iPad, etc.) the more that they want. Electronics has affected the way children learn, interact and create social networks. Kids can be friends with someone they don’t even know from across the country (don’t get me started on the dangers of electronics as that is a topic for a different blog). It is hard for many parents to get their kids “unplugged” during the day. It can be even harder to keep the children off the electronics. One thing to think about when your child spends a lot of time on electronics is, is your child getting rewarded in their rewards center in the brain? With all the pictures, games and videos children don’t need to work for anything. It is continually downloaded to their brains.

Have you ever had the problem of trying to get your kid off his electronics and find that he/she behaves poorly, making inappropriate statements, having trouble controlling the feelings, and in general not interested in what you need from them? This is all due to the reward center issue. On the electronics kids don’t have to work. In the real-world kids have to engage many skills to interact with others. Speaking takes time, trying to find their place in a conversation can be hard, keeping patient can be hard. All these skills are circumvented when playing on electronics. I always encourage time during the day without electronics.

Finally, family time is a great time to catch up, update schedules, figure out what is needed for the week.

Family can schedule events for the week and work out who will go where to meet these obligations. For example, Mom is working late on Tuesday so Dad will take kids to soccer. Family time is a time to sit with your kids, talk about their week, see what successes or challenges they have had. Each child can put into the conversation so everyone learns more about each other. Children can bring concerns into the meeting as well. I encourage parents that have regular family time to put a sheet of paper on the fridge titled “Topics for Family Meeting”. Then, throughout the week issues can be listed. It gives kids a sense of additional regulation because most situations don’t need to be addressed that moment. If it is scheduled for the family time/meeting, then a child knows it will be addressed and coming back to it later gives each party a chance to calm.

Finding time to be together in a family can make a huge difference to your family. Members can feel connected to each other in a way that has not happened before. Everyone will have a chance to use their voice to express what they need. Children learn so many skills being with the whole family. Self-regulation is a huge one. Every skill children are using will relate to experiences outside the family. Knowing that there is a scheduled time to spend one on one with a parent can build a child’s self esteem. The rewards of family time will echo throughout the week. It isn’t easy to start, but once it becomes a regular thing in the family, everyone can get on board with it.

By: April Alaspa, LPC-S


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