Monday, August 30, 2010

Thoughts on Thinking

I seem to go through alternating periods during which I think a lot and feel very creative followed by periods of time during which I do very little in the way of deep or creative thinking.  It seems like I am most creative when I am dissatisfied with my life.  I suppose that makes sense -- malcontendedness spurs me to change-focused action.  This typically involves a great deal of thinking.  First I have to identify the exact nature of the problem.  Then I have to come up with satisfactory solutions.  Once I've decided on a solution I have to come up with an action plan.  So I guess it makes sense that I do a lot of below the surface pondering when I'm unhappy.

Then there's the rest of the time.  It seems strange to me that I don't feel compelled to analyisis or introspection when I'm content.  One would think that this is the time when I have the most energy to put towards that purpose.  But it's also the time when I have the least motivation.  I'm happy with the way things are and simply want to enjoy them.

Then there's stress, which seems to paralyze me like nothing else can.  I think that's where I am now.  That is why I'm blogging about thinking - I'm so stressed I really CAN'T think right now!  But this too shall pass, as everything always does.  Until then, I hope everyone will bear with me!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mindfulness While Stressed

I recently got a stark reminder of how easy it is to give in to emotion and act without thinking when you're under a lot of stress.  I'm in the middle of planning a wedding, one I said I wanted to be small and simple.  Unfortunately, I'm learning that small and simple is practically impossible unless you elope.  I'm not one who particularly cares what type of flowers we have, what the bridesmaids wear, or what food we serve at the reception.  However, these are all things that have to be decided and I feel so overwhelmed by all the work that has to be done.  My family has been extremely helpful and I am eternally grateful.  Still, I've been letting the pressure stress me out and I've found myself reacting without thinking and thinking without thinking about what I'm thinking - the exact opposite of mindfulness.

Case in point - last week we - my mom, two sisters, my fiance', and I -  met with the flower-and-cake lady.  I wasn't feeling well and just wanted to hurry up and get it over with.  My older sister was trying to explain something to me and I snapped at her.  She didn't say anything but later my mom told me I'd hurt her feelings.  I apologized to her but I still felt really bad.  Here everyone is going out of their way to help me and I acted in a manner that was completely thoughtless and ungrateful.

Maybe something good came out of it though.  It reminded me of the need to be mindful.  To simply accept the stress as it comes without getting caught up in it.  I know I'll have to remind myself to do this again and again but that's ok - it's all part of being mindful.

Monday, August 16, 2010

After Achievement

Sometimes the natural progression of life scares me.  You look back on how things used to be and compare them to the way things are now and find that everything is different...

I am a person who started out with a lot of goals in life.  We all know that goals provide motivation and oftentimes help to create a sense of purpose.  Without goals, we often feel like we're wandering aimlessly without any direction.  What I've noticed, however, is that sometimes achieving a goal can cause problems.  For one thing, a lot of us see the accomplishment of a long-desired goal as a turning point in our lives.  We think that things will be different (i.e., better) after we, for example, finish school, get married, or get a promotion.  Once we reach these goals, however, we become disappointed when they do not bring about the drastic changes in our lives that we thought they would. 

Also, there are times when achieving a goal leaves you feeling strangely empty after the initial excitement wears off.  The goal that was providing you with a sense of direction and around which you organized your life is gone, leaving a vast and empty space behind.  For a time you feel lost and your life lacks structure.  I know I struggled with this for quite some time.  After college the goals I set for myself were more abstract (e.g., "Be good at my job," "Maintain close relationships with my family," etc.).  While they provide me with a template for how to live my life they don't offer a clear course of action the way my previous goals did (e.g., "Earn a bachelor's degree, then earn a master's degree, etc.).  That's when I started working on learning to just be satisfied with the way things are.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Bad Day?

I got up this morning, took a bath, got dressed, and poured myself a bowl of cereal.  I sat down and proceeded to dump half the bowl in my lap and on the floor.  Annoyed, I set the bowl down and ran to the bathroom where I tried to towel dry my pants.  I quickly realized that there was too much milk on them and they were going to have to be washed.  I pulled them off, sprayed them with stain remover, and dumped them in the washing machine.  I pulled another pair of pants out of the closet and turned on the iron.  As I quickly ironed the wrinkles out of the pants I thought to myself, "Well, I can see how this day is going to be already." 

If I'd accepted my thought as truth it could have been a self fuilfilling prophecy.  I would've left the house in a terrible mood, convinced that the day was shot.  Instead, I said to myself, "Wait a minute.  Am I really going to let this ruin my day?"  I thought about how ridiculous that would be, to literally "cry over spilt milk."  The morning's mishap hadn't been an omen fortelling the awful day that lay ahead.  It had been an accident, plain and simple. 

I thought this was a good example of how what we tell ourselves influences how we feel.  I continued to be annoyed as I ate my then-soggy cereal.  I was even a bit annoyed when I left the house.  By the time I got to work, however, I was feeling ok and I believe that the rest of the day is just going to get better from here on out.

Monday, August 2, 2010


One of the things most people associate with therapy is having your dreams analyzed.  The father of psychiatry - Freud - did indeed encourage people to share their dreams during therapy sessions and was able to assist in interpreting them.  I do not know if they still teach aspiring psychiatrists how to interpret dreams in school but I know that it was not so much as mentioned in my clinicial social work curriculum.  In recent years I've felt very disappointed by this.  Patients often share with me dreams that they find strange or believe might be meaningful.  My response is typically something along the lines of, "Hmm.  That's interesting.  I wonder what it means."  In other words, I don't know anything more about the "meaning" of the patient's dream than he or she does. 

I went to the web hoping to find some tips on dream interpretation -- something simple that could help me in my practice but that wouldn't require me to enroll in some special training program.  I found some useful tidbits on the following website:  I used the tips provided in a recent session and was able to help the patient make some connections between his dream and the circumstances in his life.  I thought I'd share these tips for anyone who might be interested, either to help them better understand their own dreams or to help others understand theirs. 

1. Create a written account of the dream in as much detail as you can recall.  (I've read that it's best to write your dreams down as soon as possible after waking up -- that's when you are most likely to remember them).

2. Ask: "When you think of this particular dream image, what other things come to mind?"  For example, when you think about the dream what are your feelings?  What are your thoughts? 

3. Examine your emotional reactions to the dream.  Think about times in your past when you have felt these same emotions.  Ask how those situations from the past relate to what is happening in your life right now.

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