January is almost over and it’s about this time that we can start to lose momentum towards the goals we set at the beginning of the month. The sad truth is, most goals do fail. Motivation alone isn’t enough to fuel a new you.
So what’s the trick to true change? New Systems.
New Systems = New You
Building new systems will absolutely change your life. I can attest to this because I radically improved my own health and fitness in 2020 by applying this concept.
What the heck is a “system” anyway? A system is a way of setting up your life for success. For example, if I want to start drinking more water this year I need to set up my environment so that I’m more likely to drink more water. My system could involve making sure I have lemons on hand so I enjoy drinking water more. It may also involve not having other beverages easily available to me.
So how do you create new systems? It’s way easier than you’d think and it can absolutely change your life.
Ok, before I go any further, I need to give credit to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, for introducing me to this concept. I read his book in January of 2020 and used my own fitness journey as an experiment. The idea behind Atomic Habits is that small changes lead to big results.
Let’s talk about how this can apply to mental health. If you’re trying to overcome depression or anxiety, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and not know where to start. Thinking about very small changes that you can make to your life will get you some momentum and those small changes begin to add up.
With depression, it’s important to determine your actions based on what you know to be true, not by what you feel. When I’ve been depressed, I certainly don’t feel like getting out of bed, but I know that if I don’t I’ll only feel worse in the long run. What is a system I can put in place to help me get out of bed? First I have to think about what is making it so hard to get out of bed. For one, I noticed that I really don’t like being cold so staying in my warm bed seems all the more appealing. Something as simple as putting slippers next to my bed every night and a nice warm sweater made it all the easier to get up. The next step was having a yummy coffee to drink… next was having some nice music playing… All of these little things created a new way of living out my mornings every day but help me especially if I’m struggling with a bout of seasonal depression.
Anxiety is another common struggle. When we feel anxious, it’s important to notice what small things could be making it worse. Some people may need to simply drink less caffeine in order to help alleviate anxious symptoms. Make that easy and enjoyable by getting yourself some delicious herbal tea to look forward to. Limiting social media is another small habit change that can decrease anxiety. This habit can be decreased by setting a social media limit on your phone.
See how the idea is to set up your life so you can easily do what makes you feel good? When it’s easy and enjoyable, you are more likely to live that way.
I hope you will consider what small changes you can make and systems you can put in place in order to live the life you want to live and be the person you want to be. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions as to how this can be applied to your life.
My guess is that your inbox, like mine, is overwhelmed with offers and promises to help you through this hard time. So, in the spirit of the origins of “3 Things Thursday,” I’m going to keep this short and sweet. I’m also going to be real with you.
This time has been incredibly hard for me. As a therapist, sometimes I put unrealistic expectations on myself to have all the answers and to maintain some sort of Buddha-esque Zen state. The truth is that I became a therapist to try to understand my own journey through depression.
Depression has been creeping around my doorstep these last few weeks and although I can’t honestly say I’ve warded it off every time, I can tell you what I’ve done that seems to help.
JUST DO THE NEXT RIGHT THING
So much of the Depression battle happens within the mind. We have hopeless thoughts like: “When is this ever going to end?” “I can’t do this anymore.” “Why can’t I just make the best of this?” We get frustrated with the world and ourselves. Often, these thoughts come crashing in right when I wake-up (sounds fun, right?).
To overcome these thoughts, I remember something taught by Cognitive Behavioral therapists: MY THOUGHTS DO NOT DEFINE ME. I may think “I can’t do this anymore” but that is a generalized statement that’s just not true. I mean, what is “this” exactly?? Instead, I Marie Kondo the thoughts (thank them for their service but bid them farewell) and I remind myself that all I need to do RIGHT NOW is brush my damn teeth. So, I get up and I brush my teeth. Then, I think, ok, just go have some breakfast and coffee…mmmm….coffee. The day goes on like this, just doing one thing after the other and not worrying too much about ALL of the things at once. Before long, I’m feeling better because I’ve acquired some momentum. If I sit and sink into the depressed thoughts, I often start to feel worse about myself.
HONOR THE FEELSNOT THE THOUGHTS
This may seem like the opposite of what I said above but bear with me for a sec. Yes, to get my day started, I ask my depressing thoughts to “please hold” while I just try to get some momentum. At some point though, I need to pay attention to those thoughts and feelings because if I don’t, they’ll come out sideways (yelling at the kids or the dog or Alexa).
First, it’s important to recognize that MY THOUGHTS ARE NOT MY FEELINGS. What do I mean by that? We often confuse thoughts with feelings. We’ll say things like, “I feel like he’s ignoring me.” But that isn’t a feeling, that’s a thought or perception. “I think he’s ignoring me and that makes me feel angry,” gets more to the truth of the actual emotion. It’s more vulnerable to share our actual feelings which is why we often avoid it.
So in this case, I have feelings of hopelessness and the thoughts that then get associated with those feelings are ones like, “I can’t do this anymore.” I’m feeling hopeless, meaning I’m feeling a lack of hope that the future will get better. My thoughts then go a little dramatic and make this huge (untrue) statement that makes the feelings of hopelessness worse.
If I stop and really honor the part of me that’s feeling hopeless, I can comfort myself with words that are actually helpful. A great way to think about this is to imagine how you would comfort a friend or a child who is hurting. We (hopefully) wouldn’t tell them to just “get over it” and we wouldn’t agree with them if they said, “I can’t go on.” Instead, we could say, “Yeah, it makes sense that you’re hurting, this sucks (honoring their feelings). But also, I know you can get through this because you’re a strong person (speaking truth against untrue thoughts).” We can talk to ourselves like that too. We can be an actual friend to ourselves, imagine that…
BE A GOOD FRIEND
Right, so you wouldn’t tell a friend that they’re not capable of getting through something. My guess is that there are a lot of things you say to yourself that you would never say to a friend. So how about we start being a little nicer to ourselves? Sometimes you’re going to feel shitty, and that’s ok. Feelings come and go. They never stick around forever. So when you’re feeling crappy, acknowledge it and also recognize that it’s possible to still do the things that need doing. Don’t put more on your plate than what needs to be there. Again, be nice. Do the things that MUST be done and maybe throw in some fun things. You may not find as much joy in these fun things as you usually do but that’s ok. Here are some thoughts that I have found are helpful when I’m feeling down:
“I’m doing the best I can right now and that’s enough.”
“These feelings won’t last. They never do.”
“It’s ok to feel things deeply, it means that I care. Is there something I can do to feel like I’m putting some positivity into the world? OR is there someone I can connect with right now who ‘gets’ it? OR can I take some time to journal about what I’m feeling?”
“What am I needing right now? How can I lovingly care for myself?”
These are just some of the thoughts that bring me comfort. Do you have any you’d be willing to share? If so, please leave a comment for others to get some ideas.
Every last Thursday of the month, I will share 3 things that are bringing me and/or my clients freedom in their lives. I know you’re busy and your inbox is crowded so my goal is to keep these emails quick and quality. Here are the 3 things for this week:
Positive thoughts lead to positive outcomes, right? Well, sometimes things don’t go as planned and when that happens we can feel blindsided. This episode shares the wisdom of people like Olympic Gold Medalist, Micheal Phelps, on how we can use our thinking to prepare us for success when we’re thrown a curve-ball.
Journaling is a research-based tool for overcoming depression, anxiety, overwhelm, and more. Yet, when we try to practice journaling we often find ourselves just staring at a blank page not knowing where to begin. I’m a huge fan of journals with prompts for this reason. I love this Amazon best-seller because it’s fun and it’s practical. The pages are small and the prompts are insightful.
3. This book: Atomic Habits by James Clear. $16.20 for Hardcover on Amazon.
The Enneagram journey has been one of the most transformative experiences of my life, right up there with marriage, parenthood, and (good) therapy. I have been sharing about the Enneagram on this site for a while now, I even created a downloadable pdf called, “Nail Down Your Enneagram Type.” After a year’s worth of research and soul-searching, you’d think I would have felt pretty confident about knowing my own Enneagram Type. Frighteningly, I was confident that I knew my Type- most of the time. Sure, I had doubts that would come and go, but I stood-by my assessment: I was a Four with a *strong* Three wing.
Now, this is incredibly humbling to admit (I’m a therapist, I’m supposed to be superhumanly self-aware, you know) but I was wrong. I’m going to tell you that this experience was nothing short of a full-blown identity crisis. But first, let me tell you how I got there because maybe something can be learned from this.
Themes That Didn’t Fit
For each Enneagram Type there are common themes that you will hear repeated again and again. These are phrases or words that seem to resonate deeply with everyone within that archetype. One of the phrases that I often hear for Type Four is this sense of always being on the outside looking in. Admittedly, this is a phenomenon that I just don’t connect with. I do, however, resonate with this: if everyone knew who I really was, they’d know I don’t belong here. Both are sharing feelings of not belonging yet one is saying “I’m an Outsider,” the other is saying, “I’m an Imposter.”
It always bothered me that I didn’t resonate with this experience as other Fours did. I thought that maybe it was because I was the “countertype” of Four which is the Self-Preservation Four. I thought that maybe it was because I had a strong Three wing. With all of the nuances that are available for each type, it can be easy to rationalize anything that doesn’t seem to fit within the “typical” caricature. Still, I decided to keep an open mind…
Characteristics are Not What Makes Personality
The other reason why I confused myself with a Type Four, is that I have some of the typical characteristics of a Four. I care deeply about aesthetics, I’m obsessed with music (on vinyl in particular), I write poetry, I like to wear black, and I let me tell you, I think about death a LOT. I have also experienced bouts of clinical depression throughout my life. I’ve made a career out of deep conversations and feeling feelings. Yet, these are not the things that truly make a Four a Four. What makes a Four a Four is the underlying motivation and fear that drives their behavior. This is what makes any of us fall within a Type. Here is my interpretation of the basic desires behind each Type:
Here’s what I realized: I’m not particularly fixated on being unique or irreplaceable (Type 4). I want to be impressive and needed- in a unique way. All of these fall within The Heart Types; 2, 3, 4. To be honest, I also resonated with being infallible or perfect (Type 1) and with being competent (Type 5). Most of us will resonate with multiple drives. It’s the one that wins out that matters. So how do we tease this out?
The Importance of Instinctual Variants (aka Subtypes)
Now anyone could read the above list and think, “I want to be all of those things!” And truly, we each have some of all nine Types within us. Our Tpye is just what we “lead” with. When I was feeling stuck, Yoga Therapist and Enneagram coach, Abi Robins suggested that I start by looking at general definitions of the Three Instinctual Variants. Your subtype will flavor the way your Type manifests. They are as follows from The Enneagram at Work:
Self-Preservation- Governs our needs for material supplies and security, including food, shelter, warmth, and family relations.
Sexual/One-to-One- Governs our sexuality, our intimate relationships and close friendships, and the vitality of the life force within our bodies.
Social- Governs our needs for belonging and membership within the larger group and community.
All of us connect with each of these drives but there is one that will outweigh the others. When I took a historical look at my life, I can see there have been many times when I chose to prioritize intimate relationships over material security and community belonging. This means that my primary Instinctual Drive is One-to-One.
Now Look at the Variants of Each Type
With my Instinctual Variant, One to One, in mind I let that flavor each of the above Types I seemed to connect with. It looked something like this:
Type One: To be in charge of perfecting my partner.
Type Two: To be indispensable in my intimate relationships.
Type Three: To be impressive as the image of what an ideal partner should be.
Type Four: To be irreplaceable, my partner’s “soul mate.”
Type Five: To be competent by obtaining an ideal partner who is trustworthy.
Again, looking historically at my life, I have persistent themes of trying to be an ideal image of what a woman partner should be in a heterosexual relationship. I was able to rule out all of the other Types for various reasons although with Type Four, I still felt some connection. I was between Type Three and Type Four.
What is Your Stance?
If you’re still struggling with your Type at this point, I get it! This was a long process for me. It is so worth it though, so don’t give up!
Another way to help tease-out your Type is to look at the Three Stances:
Withdrawing– We struggle to engage through action. (Numbers 9, 5, 4)
Compliant– We struggle with independent thinking. (Numbers 1, 2, 6)
Aggressive– We struggle to connect to our own feelings or those of others. (Numbers 3, 7, 8)
I was able to rule out the Withdrawing and Compliant stances as I have never had a problem with: 1) Having an opinion, 2) Sharing it, or 3) Drive. Consequently, my Number is within the Aggressive Stance which meant that between 3 and 4, I was most likely a Three.
Try it On With an Open Heart
Realizing I was probably actually a Three was really hard for me. Above, I mentioned that I was embarrassed that I wasn’t as self-aware as I thought I was. Being a therapist, this felt like a failure. I never thought of myself as someone who was afraid of failure but then I realized how many times I had tried to keep relationships from failing. I also don’t like engaging in activities that I don’t think I’ll be good at! Ha!
The problem with Type Three is that I didn’t naturally resonate with wanting to look “successful.” While reading through more literature though, I came-upon the word “impressive.” Threes want to be impressive. This 100% resonated with me. I don’t always like being seen as the “winner” because people seem to not like the elite. Being impressive, however, meant that I could be down-to-earth, friendly, but still impress my “audience” in ways specific to their ideals.
This leads me to the next major connection I have with Threes. I can be a Chameleon. I can easily connect with people because I can pull from myself only the parts that they will like and identify with. Threes can edit their personality. Fours don’t really do this. Fours are ok with being unique and different. I only liked being unique if it would be impressive in some way.
Mistyping is Not Failure
I’ve admitted that I was embarrassed to have mistyped for so long. However, now I can truly look back on my, “Year as a Four,” and see the importance of that season. There are some very key aspects of my personality that are still influenced by my Four Wing, even though I lead mostly with Type Three. The parts of me that are more Four than Three, got the attention they deserved. For so long my Threeness has taken the spotlight (as you can imagine) and my Fourness was something only expressed in solitude or close relationships.
The Enneagram is meant to be a spiritual journey. This means that no matter where your path takes you, something can be learned from it.
In Summary: These Three Steps May Help You Find Your Type
Start by finding your Subtype: Social, One-to-One, or Self-Preservation.
Now consider what Stance you may have. Aggressive, Compliant, or Withdrawn.
Look at the Types through the lens of your Subtype.
Here is an updated pdf to help you along your way:
For those of you who celebrate Christmas and have a love for the Enneagram, I have a special treat for you: A Christmas playlist based on Enneagram Types! Now, they may not all be self-explanatory so here I’ll provide my thought process behind each song choice plus a link to the lyrics. I’d love your feedback and additions, let me know what you think in the comments section!
Type 9: Peace on Earth/The Little Drummer Boy
Type Nine’s are characterized by a desire to maintain inner peace and tend to avoid conflict. I adore this collaboration with Bing Crosby and David Bowie, bringing together two generations and two very different genres for a common message of love and peace. This seemed like a great choice for Type 9, “The Peace Maker.”
Type 8: Do They Know it’s Christmas?
Type Eight is known as, “The Challenger,” or, “The Protector.” This song is provocative and bold. Most people either love it, or hate it. However you feel about it, there’s no denying that it was meant to challenge society during a time of mindless spending and self-absorption.
Type 7: Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree
There were SO many songs that could have worked for Type 7! After all, Christmas is all about FUN, isn’t it? For much of the world it seems to be because there were tons of songs about joy, and laughter, and partying it up. I decided to go with a this timeless tune because it could very well be the first classic Christmas Party song. Here’s a video with the lyrics included (just in case it isn’t already seared into your brain):
Type 6: Happy Christmas (War is Over)
I’ll be honest, I first considered this one for Type 9, but it seemed for fitting for Type 6 with the lyrics,
“A very merry Christmas, And a Happy New Year, Let’s hope it’s a good one, Without any fear.”
Type 5: What’s This?
If you haven’t yet seen the amazing Tim Burton (Type 5) classic, “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” add it to your list. The song, “What’s This?” captures the inquisitive spirit of the Type 5, although I will admit it may be rather upbeat for many Investigators. It actually may be a perfect example of when Type 7 moves to Type 5.
I also considered, “The Christmas Song,” because the melody paints the picture of one is who is slowly and methodically taking in the sights of Christmastime. If you are a 5, what song do you think best captures your personality?
Type Four: Last Christmas
It seemed way too easy to choose, “Blue Christmas,” for Type Four, the Tragic Romantic. Instead, I went with Wham!’s, “Last Christmas.” I (as a Four, myself) also considered my personal favorite, “Christmas Wrapping” by the Waitresses. Let’s just say us Fours can be a little “extra,” it felt impossible to pick just one song!
Type 3: The Christmas Can-Can
Type 3’s are known for doing all. the. things. This is such a fun song for those amazing over-achievers in our lives!
Type Two: All I Want for Christmas is You
This was another really tough one because there were so many songs to choose from! Type Two’s love Love and value relationships over anything else. It seemed that the most important thing for a Two during Christmas would be to have love in their life. Two’s also tend to love tradition, so I went with a song that we all know. Check-out this blast from the past!
Type One: O Holy Night
It’s hard for me to explain exactly why this felt like the right song for Type One. To me, this song describes the feeling of all being right in the world, even if just for a night. Type One’s are often called, “The Perfectionists” or “The Reformers,” and have a innate sense for what could be improved. I like to think that for a moment, when One’s listen to this song, they feel some inner peace. The Enneagram Institute has typed Celine Dion as a Type One, so I went with her version of this timeless piece.
What do you think?
I had a lot of fun making this playlist but of course, it’s daunting to capture a personality with just one song. I easily could have made a playlist for each Type. So, what do you think? Did these choices resonate with you? I can’t wait to hear your feedback and additions!
Summer is just around the bend and that means it’s time to get your summer read on! I love books, and as I’m sure you can imagine, I REALLY love books about living your best life. My mom said she never knew a teenager with such a propensity for self-help books! It’s true, I love non-fiction, this is not new. However, my love for the Enneagram, is new.
Haven’t experienced the mind-blowing, soul-affirming tool that is the Enneagram? Get on that. Here’s a link to a free test and here’s a link to paid test. Taking a test will start you on your journey. Keep in mind, however, the tests aren’t always accurate because the Enneagram is seeking to find the motivation behind your behavior which can be extremely difficult to tease out. Take your results with a grain of salt and use them as a starting place on your journey towards discovering your type.
For those of you who do know your Enneagram type, I have a treat for you! A list of some must-reads based on your number. These are books that will help guide you to your integration point. They should be like a drink of cool water for your soul but could also challenge you to think in a new way. I have included two books for each type, one secular and one spiritual. The Enneagram is seen by many as a spiritual tool and I wanted to honor that by including a book that uses the lens of spirituality. The secular books are listed first, the spiritual books second.
I have also included the focus of the “work” for each type as a brief explanation for my choosing the books that I did. This is an incredibly simplified description of the work for each number. If you have more questions about why I chose the books that I did or would like to add to the list, please comment! I would love to get a conversation going.
And so, without further ado…
Non-Fiction Books for Growth Based on Your Enneagram Type
Type 1: Integration Point 7
The work for Type One is to quiet the inner critic and to embrace life on life’s terms.
I am currently accepting new clients for a process group starting October 2017.
You may not be so sure about groups, I wasn’t either until I experienced one for myself. I was amazed at how quickly I resolved some issues I was working through, and it was really enjoyable too! Groups are an affordable, effective, and deeply healing form of therapy. The experience of connecting with others who have a shared experience is incredibly powerful and validating. Please contact me today if you are curious about whether a group may be right for you.
Women in Ministry Process Group: October 2017
This is a 6-week small process group meeting weekly at my home in Buda, to create a comfortable and more anonymous environment. The group will be a place to safely share your experience facing the unique challenges of being a woman in ministry. We will explore the dynamics of Church culture and how they may be impacting you emotionally, physically, and spiritually. The process group will involve art therapy, group processing, and prayer. I would like to have 8 spots filled before October 1st. Please let me know if you have any questions: firstname.lastname@example.org or 512-620-1257.
Time: 12p-1p, Thursdays
Cost: $50 deposit/materials fee, $30 weekly.
Future Group- LGBTQ+ & Spirituality: Reconciling Two Worlds Within
Please contact me if you are interested in this group! email@example.com or 512-620-1257