Friday, February 20, 2009

You Asked For It: Tell The Kids,..."Times Are Hard!"

This may be a tough one for parents. Especially if your kids have gotten used to getting the latest gadgets, coolest (do they still use "cool"?)fashion, or newest video games. But times are hard. We know it, and have to deal with it. Why shouldn't they? I know we want our children to have all the things that we didn't have when we were growing up. But enough is enough. How did we survive without those things? I bet a lot of us didn't even know that we didn't have them back then (I guess we didn't really need them).

Seriously, during these difficult economic times families have to pull together, make sacrifices. Parents are losing jobs, having problems paying their bills, maybe needing to change living situations, perhaps change schools (from private to public). Younger kids don't necessarily need to know the specific details, nor be burdened with your worries. But they all need to know the meaning of "tightening our belts," that is adjusting to a reduced family budget. Another thing to be aware of is the need to help family members manage the stress, and negative emotions that may result. It's hard to adjust to not having control over our life as we once did.

The answer is good communication. Listening.Allowing kids to have input into what the family does, where possible. Parenting consistently. Maintaining a regular schedule and routine. Remaining optimistic, and projecting those positive expectations to your loved ones. You are in control. Make the changes that you need to make and work things out.

Thank you to our friend Ann for suggesting this topic.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The "Jump Start Your Life" Plan: 30 Minutes For 30 Days

[Please read last week's blog, "YAHOO, You Can Teach An Old Dog New Tricks," before reading this.]

I developed this Jump Start Your Life (JSYL) Plan as a simple way to approach making changes in your life. For those people who feel stuck, or in a rut, or stressed to the point of not being able to figure out where you want your life to go, this is the Plan for you. The idea is simple: Take 30 minutes a day to reset your brain, for 30 consecutive days. The idea may be simple, but many of the people I know will have a lot of difficulty finding time to do this for 1 day, let alone 30. But to get the beneficial effects, and jump start your life, you have got to do it for 30 days. "Resetting" your brain allows a brief but important relief from all of the mental work that stresses you daily, often all day, and sometimes at night (that's your brain working overtime). Allowing your brain to get a break from the daily habitual stressful thinking patterns that you've developed can not only be restful, but can also allow you access to parts of your brain that you don't typically use.

Brain plasticity is a scientific term for the brain being able to change to adapt to your needs. Usually this is an involuntary process. This can also be a voluntary process, meaning you can have some control over how your brain works. This is what happens when you break a bad habit, and develop a new healthier one. Your brain breaks some old connections, and develops some new ones. So our "Jump Start Your Life" Plan will give you an opportunity to take a break from your daily, habitual (often very stressful) thinking pattern and explore other possibilities in your head.

For 30 minutes everyday (for 30 days) you do an activity that relaxes you, and stimulates parts of your brain that are usually not active. Usually, during exercise it's easier to escape from the days' stress, or when listening to music. Your brain is still active, but (hopefully) not the same activity as during the day at work, or picking up your child at school, or arguing with your partner. The goal is twofold. Get a break from your stressful thinking habits, and activate less active, potentially productive, other areas of your mind. Additionally, you improve your concentration, mood, energy, and stress level. I list some of the activities below. Also during the 30 days you need to think about your life the way you would like to live it. Think about it everyday. As you take 30 minutes each day to make yourself a priority (no, 30 minutes for you is NOT selfish), your motivation will build, and you'll become more committed to taking action to change your life.

Here are some examples of 30-minute JSYL activities:

1. Physical exercise (non-competitive); 2. listening to relaxing music; 3. dancing or other rhythmic movement; 4. loving, attentive physical intimacy; 5. relaxing or informative reading (no murder mysteries); 6. relaxation breathing; 7. watching a comedy; 8. playing a game where you're not concerned about winning or losing; 9. sitting on the beach, relaxing; 10. fishing. 11. Knitting, cross-stitching, crocheting; 12. Looking at family photo albums; 13. catching up on the phone with a friend (no gossiping); 14. a warm bath; 15. yoga; 16.meditation; 17. cooking (if that relaxes you).

This is not a time for a nap, nor to have a beer or smoke. Pay attention to new ideas that come into your head during the month (including your dreams), even things that may seem to not make a lot of sense. Keep a journal (or have some other way to record your ideas). Use your record to help you generate new choices that will help you out of your rut. Use your improved mood, energy, motivation, and creativity to make some changes. You're now in a better position to develop some new habits. Go ahead, enjoy the rest of your life.