Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder
New York City skyline, 2011. What do you find beautiful?
Being Open to Discovering New Things
So much of life is about being open to the possibility of new things. Do you ever find that once you open yourself up to the idea of something, it actually happens? I think for some people, this is hard to come by and they struggle to keep an open mind. If you are one of those people here are a few suggestions you may want to try.
- Learn about different people and cultures. See how they live and what they enjoy, be open to their way of life, maybe you’ll learn something new!
- Strike up a conversation with a stranger. Start chatting, learn about them and their life, find out where they grew up, what they do and what they like. You may learn some really interesting things about the city you live in or what they do.
- Slow down and look around. Everyday you may rush by things around without even realizing. Give yourself a minute (or ten!) to take in your surroundings. You will most likely discover something you hadn’t seen before or given yourself the time to see.
The other day I got turned around in Hunt’s Point in Queens, which is basically just a nice way of saying I got lost. In my confusion, I discovered Gantry Plaza State Park, seen in this post’s pictures. I opened myself up to the discovery of this park, by getting lost in this new neighborhood and by not pressuring myself to finding the right street, or by feeling guilty about being lost. If I hadn’t been open to the possiblity of discovering something new, I would not have found it. If you’ve never been to Gantry Plaza State Park, check it out. It was a treat to explore. Cultivating an open mind can expand your possibilities and increase your changes of discovering something new. I hope you can find ways to stumble upon new discoveries, and meet interesting people while finding new places.
Psychotherapy Speak: What is Denial? A Definition
Hint: it’s not just a river in Egypt.
Every hear someone say “that guy’s in so much denial” and not be 100% sure what they meant? Denial is a defense mechanism that someone uses when there is something true or factual they are facing, and they refuse to see it as true. Often denial is used for people who struggle with substance dependence. For example, a person who gets drunk every night and misses work because of their use of alcohol might say “I don’t have a drinking problem, I just like a few beers now and then” instead of recognizing that getting drunk every night and missing work is a serious issue.
Sometimes denial can be used in a positive light. If someone is struggling with a terminal medical condition, they might use denial to keep living in the present and not give up on themselves even though they know they will die as a result of their illness. So denial can be used to help a person survive through a difficult circumstance or situation as a way to reduce their distress.
Can you think of anyone you know who uses denial? How would you deal with it if someone told you - you were in denial?
11 Ways to Find Inspiration in the Everyday
Your daily routine may sometimes leave you feeling bored or worse indifferent about life. It is at these moments that it becomes important to find inspiration and not get burnt out by the daily grind. You can do this by reminding yourself to engage in the world and do things you love. But finding inspiration can sometimes feel like a challenge. That’s why I’ve created a list of things to help you feel more inspired and less caught up in a routine. Below are 11 ways to keep you inspired and hopefully loving your life:
- Go to a museum. Surround yourself with beautiful paintings and sculptures. Soak up the creativity all around you.
- Visit the botanic gardens. Being in nature helps remind you of the beauty of simplicity, as seen in a tulip or even a leaf.
- Rock out at a free concert in one of the many parks of New York City. Music can be relaxing way to sooth or calm your nerves.
- Turn off the TV and go out into the world -travel to some place new. Visit a new neighborhood in your city or go out of town for the weekend. Explore places and people around you.
- Try new foods – different taste sensations can transport you to another country without having to leave your zip code!
- Visit websites with beautiful pictures and search topics you are interested in, like Flickr, or deviantART. Or visit Kickstarter and get inspired by other people’s projects.
- Change your perspective – mix up your regular routine. Travel to work down a different path or walk home a new route.
- Remind yourself of past successes – you have been able to succeed before and sometimes reminding yourself of what you are capable of can have a positive impact and inspire you to succeed again.
- Keep a notebook of anything and everything you come across that you like. Every once in a while look through it. Are there themes? Things that you see over and over that you really just love? Brainstorm ideas about the themes, see what you can come up with.
- Reading - it can transport you to a different world, without having to leave your very own home!
- Visit your local book store and browse some books by topics you like, such as art, architecture or design. Use the pictures to awaken your own creativity.
You can find ways to be inspired all around you without having to go very far or make much effort. Many of these ideas are all about how you see the world and what you see around you. Opening your eyes to the possibility of something new can almost guarantee that something new will come your way. Oftentimes, you just have to be open to it.
Stumbling Upon Serenity
While walking in Madison Square Park I noticed a new sculpture installed this week called Echo by Jaume Plensa. Standing over 44 feet tall, I felt like I had stumbled upon a little piece of serenity in New York City. This massive sculpture is modeled after a 9 year old neighbor of the artist. There is a look of peace and calm on the face of this sculpture that is breathtaking to see. If you enjoy art installations in the city, stop by Madison Square Park at 23rd Street, between Madison Ave and Broadway. And, while you’re there, why not grab a burger at Shake Shack? They serve some of the best burgers in the city! It’s not always easy to find some calm in New York City, but this is a good start. I hope you enjoy it!
7 Simple Strategies on How to Stop Negative Thinking
Are you like me? Do you sometimes get annoyed when a stranger bumps into you while walking down the street? Then you imagine all the things you might say to them (“That was rude!”). Or maybe you go over and over in your mind all the things you did wrong during the day, beating yourself up for all your “flaws”.
You may find that negative thoughts are often lurking, ready to spoil your day.
If your mind wanders into a negative space that you just can’t get out of, guess what? You are pretty much just like everyone else! It’s normal to get frustrated and aggravated by little occurrences throughout your day and to keep thinking about them. But the danger with constantly replaying negative thoughts is that the more you have them, the more they stick around.
A neuropsychologist named Donald Hebb first described this phenomenon in the brain. People often use the expression “cells that fire together, wire together” to describe it. What this means is the more the neurons in your brain fire in one position, the harder it is to change them. The more you think and think about something, the more you strengthen that memory in your brain. This is why it’s important to stop negative thinking as soon as possible - to stop strengthening the connections in your brain. But, you should also know that the brain can change. It has what we call neuroplasticity. You don’t have to be stuck in your negative thoughts. It is possible to form new, more positive pathways and in essence rewire your brain to a more positive place. You can teach yourself strategies for overcoming the downhill spiral of negative thoughts.
It does take time and effort but there is hope that with practice and compassion for yourself, you can reduce your negative thoughts.
It can be helpful to remember that thoughts are different than facts. Just because you have a thought about something doesn’t mean it is automatically true. So for example, maybe you are feeling down on yourself for how you performed at work and start thinking you are a bad person. Just because you feel down about your performance at work doesn’t mean you are the worst employee or a bad person. It just means maybe you had a rough day or made a mistake. We all make mistakes; it’s what makes us human and lovable! If you were perfect all the time, it would probably be boring. Know that you are going to make mistakes, because everyone does and that it’s totally normal. And sometimes really exciting things can come out of our mistakes - we can learn to do something new or see a problem from a new perspective. So remember just because you think something doesn’t mean it’s true.
Here are specific strategies to reduce negative thoughts. You may find that one strategy resonates more than others or you may find that a combination of them helps the most. Try them out, experiment, see what works for you, keep what you like and discard the ideas that are not helpful. Here you go:
- Time yourself for a set period of time say 30 minutes, an hour or even a day. See how many times you have a negative thought about yourself and write it down. Notice your self-talk; how harsh are you on yourself? Is it difficult to have compassion for yourself? You may be surprised by how frequently you engage in self attack. Sometimes just noticing how often we do this can be an important step to stopping the behavior. You may not even realize how often you are attacking yourself.
- Use visual imagery. Create some visual images for the thoughts to help take away their power. You can do this in many different ways, here are a few suggestions: imagine your thoughts as water flowing under a bridge. You are standing on that bridge over your thoughts. They are separate and distinct from you. They can’t control you, they are beneath you. You can see your thoughts streaming past you, flowing with the water away from you. Every time a negative thought comes up, push the thought away in the water, under the bridge. Or imagine your thoughts as channels on a TV. When you notice a negative thought coming up change the channel to something more positive, like something you enjoyed that you did that day. You could also try imaging all your problems as something you can put into a box and lock up. When you are ready to think about them, you can open the box – but ultimately you are in control and can use the key to open and close the box as you like. Some people find it helpful to use imagery to help control negative thinking. See if you can come up with some imagery that is helpful to you.
- Mindfulness – when you have a negative thought come up become aware of it. Note to yourself: I am having a negative thought right now. Don’t judge yourself or judge the thought, just notice it come up. Then remind yourself to wake up into the present. You can do this by bringing your awareness to the present moment and your breath, away from your negative thought. Just breathe in and out, and name your breathing, “in and out”. Try this for ten breaths. This will help move you back to what is happening in the moment and away from the thoughts.
- Grounding technique – when you find yourself getting stuck in a thought try to ground yourself in the present moment. This can be used with the mindfulness technique if you like. You can do this by first noticing your feet and how they feel on the ground. Then notice your weight on your legs, and if you are sitting down, how the chair feels on your bottom. Go through the different parts of your body and notice what you are feeling in each part of your body. How do your shoulders feel or your back? What about your face, is your jaw clenched, do your eyes feel tense? Bring your awareness away from your negative thoughts and onto your body and what you feel in your body. This way you can use your body to ground you. Or you can use things around you to ground yourself. So for example you can notice the color of the sky or the sound of a car passing you on the street. Notice what color shirt the person is wearing next to you. By noticing what is around you and how you physically feel in the present moment you can refocus your energy away from the negative thoughts.
- Write the thoughts down. Release them onto paper and then once they have been released from your mind, discard the paper. You can do this by crumpling it up, tearing it into pieces, scratching out the words you’ve just written with a pen or any other way that you like. Create a process around getting the words out and repeat it as necessary. Writing thoughts can help reduce anxiety.
- See if you can figure out who you are speaking to when the negative thoughts come up. Does the conversation you are having with yourself remind you of a conversation you’ve had with someone else? For example maybe it reminds you of your mother who was always negative and harsh on you, making you feel like you were never good enough. Maybe you hear her voice criticizing you or maybe you are defending yourself to her. Who exactly is speaking in your mind? Once you find out who that is, ask yourself how helpful has it been for you to hold onto these thoughts from someone else? How does this behavior serve you? Does it help you or hurt you to carry around someone else’s thoughts about you? Then when the thoughts come up again, take them out of your mind and give them back to the person who is saying them! They aren’t your thoughts, so get rid of them, and let their rightful owner have them back. Or some people like to imagine someone or something else saying the negative thought, like for example, imagine a little tiny mouse saying these negative things to you. This can add some humor and lightness to the thoughts, and help to take away some of their power over you.
- Challenge your negative thoughts – are they really true? I discussed this idea recently in another article called 15 Ways to Be Happy When You Feel Unhappy. The idea is to ask yourself is it really true? Am I really a complete failure because I made a mistake at work? Do other people make mistakes? Is it okay to make mistakes? What if someone I know at work made the same mistake, would I think they were a failure too? As yourself, how well is the thought that I am a failure serving me? Does it help me or hinder me to think this way? Don’t automatically believe the negative thoughts, challenge them!
Often times when you are ruminating in negative thoughts you are lost. You can get lost in the regrets of the past or the anxiety of the future. The past haunts you with things you wanted but didn’t get, or ways you acted that you now regret. You get stuck in the idea that things didn’t go the way you planned. Or you worry that in the future things won’t work out, so you go over and over in your mind how to make things perfect. When you are living in the hurt of the past or the anxiety of the future, you miss out on the present. By bringing your awareness to the present you may be able reduce some of your negative thinking and enjoy the moment you are in. Or, you can redirect the energy you spend on negative thoughts into planning and setting goals for yourself. Channel that energy into something positive! Think about what you might be doing or enjoying if you weren’t always having negative thoughts. Your life could be different, why not imagine that into reality? Isn’t that a better thought to think about over and over again? So next time someone bumps into you on the street don’t sweat it, you’ve got ways to cope.
written by Victoria Marano, LCSW
Have you ever been labeled something you didn’t think you were? How did that feel to you? This video is a good reminder that psychiatric labels can be harmful and hurt us. Labels create distance and can break connection between people.
“Labels belong on jars, cans, bottles and boxes not on people. Normal is a setting on a dryer.”
Quote from NAMI Mass’s twitter feed.
Finding Art in Greenpoint
While exploring Brooklyn this past week I came across some very interesting sculptures. I love finding art hidden in places around New York City. I couldn’t find the name of the artist, but I thought I would post the pictures, since the sculptures are really quite stunning in person. There were a total of four sculptures of women and men almost life size, standing atop a large concrete wall.
See more pictures through the link.