Blog

Wanna Be Happier? Get or Borrow a Dog!

Look at this face!

This is Tucker, my morning cup of joy. Every day at 9 AM he arrives at my breezeway door, sent by my next door neighbor, ball in mouth, ready for action. (Some days I wonder why I’m voluntarily getting out of a warm bed an hour early and heading into the “arctic” outdoors with this rambunctious canine)!  

We traipse around our land playing Fetch or Tug of War for awhile, then we head onto the adjoining trails leading to either the bog or the nature path which goes through miles of farmland and woods. Tucker runs ahead, then waits at every turn for me to show up and cheer him on. When he’s naughty he drops the ball and eats deer droppings or grabs onto giant five foot logs which he swings around, intending to haul back home. Once in awhile he obeys when I tell him to drop either the poop or the log. I’m persistent, so he’s minding me more often lately. It’s a work in progress…

For about four months here in Maine, any doubt I may have felt earlier in the morning about the effort to get up and out disappears completely once we’re immersed in this winter wonderland. After the walk I take Tucker downstairs into my gym where he works at the peanut butter inside his Kong while I’m working out. When he’s done he thanks me profusely with sloppy kisses, and I remind him how much I adore him. I then take him home next door, and return to the rest of my day feeling loved, useful, grateful, and filled with joy.

This is my happy place, communing with nature and a big, sweet, loving creature who enjoys the experience as much as I do. It’s a morning ritual which sets the tone for good energy and connection with clients, family and friends. I start each day “in the moment” with intention and gratitude.

So, if you have a dog and can’t roam the woods like I do in the morning, you can still make their walk a ritual of immersion in nature and love by just being present. If you don’t have a dog, borrow one as I do, so you can also borrow their capacity for spontaneity and pleasure. Chances are, your friend or neighbor who loans him to you will appreciate the help, and you and the dog will benefit immensely from your special time together. Any affectionate touch will ramp up the happy bonding hormone Oxytocin in both of you. You’ll begin the day with great self care and a full heart, and you’ll be readier for whatever comes your way!

Cheers,

Susan                                                                                                                                                                                   

*PS. If you need help with the whole issue of self care and practices which promote positivity and joy, feel free to call me at 603-431-7131 to set up an appointment. I’d be glad to help! 

 

Emotional Contagion – what are you spreading or catching?

I live in New England where right now in the middle of the winter of 2018 there seems to be a massive Flu epidemic. It’s cited as being the worst in history, with people unwittingly passing it on to others who then do the same. It’s a classic case of physiologic contagion. We’re all advised about washing out hands, not sharing towels or utensils, and staying home if we have symptoms to avoid unnecessary spread of the illness which can be fatal.

But what about other forms of contagion? Who notices them and gives us tools to avoid spreading the unsavory?

Contagion in relationships is much like the Flu – if you get too close and aren’t mindful, you’ll catch, in this case, the emotional state of someone you may feel sympathy towards.
If your spouse is depressed and lolling around, if you aren’t proactive you may end up “mirroring” them with similar body language and affect. We all seek people who will mirror us accurately as a form of bonding and connection, but when a loved one is very down or anxious, you want to be careful to not take on their attitude, but instead to feel compassion, and try to provide support. It’s a fine line of difference.

If a friend is feeling hopeless about a relationship or job, you can listen and acknowledge their pain, maybe even ask if they’d like some suggestions or a reality check around their experience. But that’s different from hanging around with them and getting into long, shared experiences about how partners or jobs are unreliable, and tapping into your own negative beliefs about these things. Then the feeling and attitude has been contagious. You’ve “caught” it.

If when you empathize with a loved one by connecting with similar experiences you’ll need to also connect with any lessons you learned or things you gained from the experience, so you don’t “catch” the “hopeless bug”. You’ll need to remind yourself of anything you may have done to get past the experience to something brighter.

It may be useful to remind your loved one of their resources and resilience they’ve demonstrated in the past around these kinds of issues. You can become a subtle cheerleader for their strengths, without sounding too chirpy.

It will also be helpful to limit time spent with someone in a very dark state. You cannot help them if their narrative becomes your own, so make sure you engage in activities before or afterward which remind you of good possibilities in life. You will be a sunnier presence for them as well if you practice this.

You can then make hope the contagious feeling instead!

Wednesday 1/17/18 8:30 PM EST BlogTalk Radio Episode: “How Good a Partner are You? Take the Test”

In this half hour episode I explore the issues involved with being either a clueless spouse / partner, or one who has healthy, loving partnership skills. This episode taps into emotional intelligence, how highly you would rate yourself when examining your attitudes, knowledge and practices in your primary relationship, and identifying areas where you may need to improve to avoid misery, and to create more satisfaction for you and your partner / spouse. Tune in and take the 20 question test to get a better read on how the experts might score you, also to get a better sense of where you might be headed for avoidable trouble!

To join the conversation live with questions or comments call toll-free 877-497-9046.  If you can’t make the live show you can hear the recording anytime afterward at: www.BlogTalkRadio.com/SusanLager

However you tune in, you won’t want to miss this episode! You’ll learn about relationship skills and practices essential to happiness and trust!

Giving Yourself Permission in 2018

Most of us are familiar with the “January Effect” – people armed with New Year’s resolutions to live cleaner: workout regularly, be more organized, eat more healthfully and lose weight, drink less, be more productive and waste less time, etc., etc. 

 Years ago when I belonged to Gold’s Gym we “regulars” would see swarms of well-intentioned people in January jamming up the machines, crowding the classes, full of optimism, only to almost entirely clear out by late February or March. The self-righteous eye rolls or chuckles among the “regulars” would be palpable. After observing it yearly I ultimately decided that this phenomenon might not be so much about laziness, lack of commitment or disorganization, but maybe more about a lack of permission – a lack of giving oneself permission to honor the need for down time, rest, hanging out, or sometimes people’s lack of permission to look at themselves with honesty about what’s really important to them. Had the resolutions to work out rigorously four times a week taken into account what was realistic in the context of people’s sleep habits, infrastructure to take that personal time, need for solitude or need for rest? Often not – coming to the gym frequently sounded good on paper, but had these people given themselves permission to look realistically at all these other factors that could undermine them? I think not.

I met with several couples in my practice after the holidays who talked with surprise and delight about having had a wonderful time with each other and with their kids during the holidays – for some, the first time in years! It wasn’t because they packed more activities in or were “good.” They didn’t go to every festival or capitalize on every possible day to ski or ice skate. They didn’t go to every party. They didn’t jump start their New Year’s resolutions. Instead they gave themselves permission to do less, to relax more, sleep more, hang out more, go offline, and not compete with their friends or neighbors to be the most social, or have the best holiday decorations, or the most elaborate rituals. They had given themselves permission to be honest with themselves about how much was enough, and how much might be too much. They tuned into themselves and their children rather than the hype around them, and it made all the difference in the world.

So, if as you read this you feel some apprehension about becoming a sloth if you practice tuning into your needs for rest and relaxation, take a deep breath and just try it for awhile. You may very well discover that when you legitimize downtime you won’t ultimately be less productive or social or happy. You may just discover a quieter, “slower” aspect of yourself, creating more peace of mind. You may even get to the gym with sufficient regularity after January!

How to Avoid Self-Sabotage This Holiday Season

 
How to Avoid Self Sabotage This Holiday Season
 
I was recently contacted by a fitness coach named Travis White who asked me to post this article on my site. I’m forwarding it to you because I think he gets to a lot of the important issues and behaviors around holiday health habits. See what you think.
You can find Travis at: [email protected]
 
Happy Holidays!
Susan
 
We often joke about overindulging during the holidays – setting back the scale 10 pounds and wearing pants with an elastic waist.  Psychology Today describes self-sabotage as behavior that “results from a misguided attempt to rescue ourselves from our own negative feelings.”  However, with understanding and good planning, the holidays can be an opportunity for self-care, health and happiness.
We hope these insights will help you set yourself up for success instead of sabotage this holiday season. 
 
  • Procrastinating
 
Do you bog yourself down with pointless, extraneous activities, creating delays instead of reaching a goal?  For people who do this, there is self-harm in the actions which exist in the space between deciding to do something and actually doing it.  Another version of procrastinating is to choose a “wait and see” attitude.  Some professionals recommend asking yourself what it is you are waiting for, and why?  Are you allowing others’ actions to determine whether you reach your goal, and why?
 
  • Unhealthy coping skills
 
Everyone can fall into the trap of choosing a coping mechanism that actually puts obstacles in their way.  Examples are things like self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, overspending when you are tight on money, or “comfort eating,” especially if you are overweight. 
 
  • Blocking your own path
 
Do you find yourself suddenly clumsier than usual?  Are you oversleeping when normally you rise with the sun?  Does your normally impeccable filter allow something inappropriate to slip out of your mouth and into the wrong ears?  Such behaviors can be evidence of self-sabotage.  As Huffington Post explains, “Because we like to think that we are completely in control of ourselves and are consciously making decisions, often it’s hard to recognize that these behaviors are driven by our unconscious mind.”
 
  • Healthy choices
 
If you see yourself in any of those descriptions, here are some tips to set yourself up for success and avoiding self-sabotage:
  • Take a moment.  Take time for mindful meditation.  Slow down, savor the moment, breathe deeply, and be fully aware of your state of being.
  • Journal.  Writing about what you are experiencing can produce tremendous insights.  It also offers you an opportunity to look back through your notes to discover patterns. Do you struggle at the same time every year?  Is there a trigger you can identify?
  • Volunteer.  The holiday season offers plenty of opportunities to do something for others, and it’ll boost your mood. 
  • Exercise.  Many of us fall short on maintaining a workout routine throughout the year, and this is especially true during the holidays.  This year can be different!
  • Move.  Don’t sit for extended periods of time.  Make a mental note to get up every half hour to hour, even if only for five minutes.  Commercial breaks during football games or your favorite holiday movies are a great opportunity to do a few squats or stroll around the house.
  • Plan.  US News and World Report notes that starting every day with a plan can help you stay on track.  Have an agenda in place for what you will eat and when you will exercise; even if you deviate, you will probably do better than without a set goal. 
  • Be flexible.  If you go into the holidays with an all-or-nothing mindset, the first bump you hit can derail you.  Instead, remain flexible and be creative in meeting your goals.  Maybe the whole family can take a brisk walk through the neighborhood before the trip to Grandma’s, or open the new year by throwing a ball around the yard.  Take opportunities for time together and fun! 
  • Convenience is key.  Don’t make being healthy an added stress.  Instead, consider the convenience and low-cost of setting up a home gym.  A few well-chosen pieces of equipment can put you on the path to fitness. 
 
Success, not sabotage
 
Do some soul searching to discover how you might be inhibiting your own self-care.  If you realize you are setting yourself up for sabotage, take steps toward success by making healthier choices.
 

The Key to Being Happy

listen to yourself header
 
I just received this post from my esteemed colleague, Carthage Buckley, a wise and passionate
coach from Ireland I had the pleasure of doing a BlogTalk Radio episode with earlier this year.
I thought this post was so relevant and perfectly worded that I decided to share it with all of you.
 
For anyone wanting more of Carthage’s down-to-earth, practical advise go to:
CoachingPositivePerformance.com.  He’s a prolific writer who deals with all sorts of subjects
relating to maximizing one’s personal best. Read this and check him out!

Listen to yourself and you’ll always be happy

Coaching requires the coach to spend a great deal of time listening the client. When appropriate, the coach will interject with a question. There are a number of reasons why the coach may choose to ask a particular question but quite often the question is saying one thing to the client – listen to yourself. It is important that the client does not just listen to the words they speak, but also to the way in which they say it and the feelings they experience when they say it. This is listening at a much deeper level than most people are used to. When you listen to yourself, you live your values and pursue your dreams. This is one of the most effective strategies for reducing stress and increasing personal happiness.

One day, a heart-warming message was posted on my Facebook page. My Australian friend, Marshall, had posted to tell me that he was enjoying his holiday in North America – the post was made from Vancouver. He wrote to thank me for encouraging him to take the plunge and follow his lifelong dream of visiting North America. It was clear from his message that Marshall was having the time of his life. I had previously spent a year in Australia, working with Marshall. During that time, he had told me many times of his desire to travel. I had offered lots of advice throughout the year but it could all be summed up with one phrase – listen to yourself.

While it is always nice to receive appreciation; I am afraid Marshall’s appreciation is largely unwarranted. For it was not me who inspired him, it was his own dreams. Marshall and I had often talked with our friends about travelling and about our experiences. Marshall was always keen to encourage us to fulfil our dreams. As the year moved on, I noticed a slight change in him. He began to talk more about the places he wanted to see and the things he wanted to do. It became clear to me that he had begun to listen to the advice that he was offering to others.

Marshall’s message reminded me of how I came to be in Australia in the first place. I had been working in Ireland when a colleague asked me for advice. He told me that his girlfriend had bought him a holiday to Egypt for his birthday. It was the one place that he had always wanted to go to. His concern was that he would have to give up his job – it was a summer job. We talked for a short while and he realised that he had to take the opportunity to go to Egypt. He thanked me for the advice and immediately handed in his notice. As he thanked me, my inner voice was screaming

listen to yourself. I had always wanted to go to New Zealand and Australia. I decided there and then that I needed to follow my own advice. 4 months later I had saved €4,000, acquired the necessary visas and was boarding a plane at Dublin airport. I was about to enjoy the best 2 years of my life.

When you listen to yourself it is easier to discover your purpose and live your values.

We all like to offer advice to our friends but sometimes, when we are offering that advice from the depths of our heart, we are not just speaking to our friends, we are also speaking to ourselves. So, take the time to listen to yourself; it may be the wisest advice you ever receive.

 

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade! – Or Apple Crisp……

 

(Well, the lying-down position of this image you may be getting tells it all). Sometimes, despite your best efforts and highest expectations things just don’t turn out the way you’d hoped they would. In this case, I (once again), unwittingly took the shot sideways in the middle of aiming, and couldn’t get it to stand up straight afterward on my computer. It came out right side up for my husband on his laptop. Who knows what you’ll get…                                                                    

(Am I the only one using an iPhone who does this with some frequency, or are there other directionally impaired picture-takers out there)???

The real subject of this post ironically, had to do with the the non-fit between the weather and the activity. Every Autumn I look so forward to cozy rituals with family and friends, like apple picking amidst the crisp air and gorgeous New England foliage. I DON’T look forward to roaming the orchards in humid 74 degrees with almost no foliage display in mid October. (Nor did my husband, wearing his lovely new flannel shirt!)

But here’s the point: Expectation, as per Buddhist teaching, can really set us up for problems. You want a rose, but get a marigold, then feel dejected, as though it wasn’t still a lovely flower! You want the whole New England leaf-peeping experience, then feel cheated when the temperature and foliage is more like an August day. Yet, you still get the apples and a day in the country with your loved one(s).  So, I recommend that you learn to go with the flow, whether it’s a sideways photo or an apple picking event, take it for what it’s worth, have a good laugh, and enjoy being alive! (As my sister Marge says, “It’s certainly better than the alternative.”)………..

 

Slow

I do almost everything FAST. I walk fast. I eat fast. I talk fast. I think fast. Regrettably, I drive fast. When I moved to Maine from New York City I felt like I’d landed on the “Slow Planet.” Drivers on local roads coming from opposite directions would wind down from a frenetic 20 miles an hour to a dead stop, and have a conversation with each other while everyone behind them would wait patiently, never beeping their horns. (?) Cashiers at checkout counters would wrap every purchased item as though it was made of 14 karat gold, then fish around for the right bag, all while shooting the breeze with me. People on elevators would wait courteously while others filed out first – all in slow motion.

Where I came from in New York I was typical – everyone rushing around everywhere as though North Korea had finally launched an ICBM with a big warhead on it headed toward NYC. With millions of people around, it always felt normal and necessary to be quick on the draw! So the transition to the “Slow Planet” has been a challenge. Not only that, but in my line of work as a psychotherapist slow is often needed to be attuned. Clients don’t want to feel they’re playing “Beat the Clock” in their precious time with me, so I’ve had to be mindful of pace and intensity there as well.

The good news is that I’ve found an anti-zoom antidote to “Fast” through kayaking, which I’d highly recommend to everyone. Even though my kayak is capable of moving very quickly and efficiently through water it feels like an oxymoron to be doing “fast” there. What’s the rush? There’s no email or texts calling, as service if often nil, no laundry, no dishes, no blogposts, no bills, no nothing except the beauty of the water, the mysteries under the surface, the cottages on the shore, the breeze, and the lapping, rhythmic sound of my paddle pushing me gently forward. Unless you’re an olympic contender for “speed kayaking,” (don’t think that actually exists….), there’s no point in being fast when you’re in that realm. Calm reigns and stress is quieted. Reflection and being present in the moment is natural. I’m finally home, and you will be too, where “Slow” is the gift……

How Your Lens Effects Everything

 

This is a pretty winter scene, wouldn’t you say? When you look at it do you see stillness, silence, the beauty of nature imposing itself on a cityscape, maybe a snow day off to relax and refuel? Or do you see a frigid, lonely, oppressive, colorless storm aftermath with probable power outages and traffic shutdowns? Well, it’s all in your lens, or the way you take in the visual experience and the meanings you give it. If you’re a Southerner, or a pessimist you probably zone in on all the discomforts and possible inconveniences associated with this scene. If you’re a hardy New England nature lover, or just an optimist, you probably see the exquisite beauty in the scene. You might view it as an opportunity for a snowshoe hike or a hilarious snowball fight. It’s all in not only what you pay attention to, but the meanings you assign to your selection.

The 2016 election was, (and continues to be!) a perfect example of this issue. You hear from three Trump advocates / surrogates about his behavior in a particular situation and they frame it as “take charge,” “authentic,” “strong,” “warranted.”  You then hear from three liberals about the same events and they frame his behavior as “authoritarian,” “deceptive-lying,” “bullyish,” and “provocatively inappropriate.”  The two sides, based on their lenses can’t even agree about the occurrence of the same exact events.  (To this point, we now even have a new term called “alternative facts” coined by the incoming administration).

Whether you’re a democrat, a Republican, an independent or apolitical, how you see political events and the world in general entirely depends on your lens.

As a psychotherapist part of my work is to a) encourage clients to notice what they pay attention to, and b) challenge the lens through which they take in events, or the meanings they give their experiences. I try to practice what I preach, knowing how radically it effects my moods, energy states and world view. I would encourage you to do the same!

“5 Foolproof Ways to Ruin Your Holidays” on BlogTalk Radio 12/14/16 8:30 PM EST

Don’t miss my next 25 minute BlogTalk Radio episode on Wednesday, December 14th at 8:30 PM EST

If you’ve been telling yourself a story about all the stresses, expenses, difficult relatives, ridiculous gifts, cards to send, the hassles of putting up and decorating the tree, Chanukah forgotten, cleaning the house, making flights on time, too much eating and drinking, getting too fat, cleaning up the house, no time for anything, then this episode is for you!

I’ll give you 5 sure methods to make all the negative spin come true, individually, and as a couple. Enough chirpy info about how to do better! Let’s look at how you can SABOTAGE any fun, joy or meaning!

Tune into www.BlogTalkRadio.com/SusanLager for live streaming, or for the recorded episode afterward, OR to join me live on the air with your own Grinch stories or ideas call into the studio at: 877-497-9046  I’d love to make it a conversation!

Blog Talk Radio Host

Get My Free Original Articles

  • - Communication
  • - Resolving Conflict
  • - Intimacy
  • - Relationship Tools

Contact Me

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

About
Susan Lager

I am a licensed, board certified pyschotherapist and relationship coach in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Through my psychotherapy or coaching services, I can provide you with skills and tools to transform your life.

Connect With Me


Find My Office

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.