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A Low-Cost, High-Impact Mother’s Day Gift

Guest Post by Kellie Edwards

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I know you have heard of Mother’s Day, but have you heard of a Gratitude Letter?

Better yet, have you ever given one? It is an unexpectedly uplifting experience. I gave one to an ex boss of mine, and she kept it for years. It’s nice to be appreciated. And it feels pretty good doing the appreciating too!

So you can probably see where this is heading. Mother’s Day is coming up — what a perfect time to ask your children to tell their mother, in their own words, what they love and appreciate about her. How about they write it in a letter she can keep? You can help them if they are too young to write. My husband did.

Here comes the best part: Then you have them read it aloud to her — with your help if they need it, and really make her day. Everyone in the family has all the positive emotions buzzing through their bodies and brains (read on to see why that is SUCH a good thing for everybody).

Then we will make it even better. If you can record the reading and the reaction, take a photo of them hugging at the end (and a photo of the letter), pretty quickly you have the ingredients of a heartwarming video that we will post on our YouTube channel with others — and you can all watch it and send it to your family and friends.

Gratitude is one of life’s most vitalizing ingredients. Research has shown that practicing gratitude can have dramatic and lasting effects in a person’s life. Beyond these benefits, it feels good in its own right to appreciate that we have been the recipient of freely and generously given kindness. After I have convinced you of the science behind gratitude and how good it is for the whole family to be involved, you can check out the video we made from the letter my children surprised me with:

Physical Benefits:
▪ Stronger immune systems
▪ Less bothered by aches and pains
▪ Lower blood pressure
▪ Grateful people exercise more and take better care of their health
▪ Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking

Psychological Benefits
▪ Higher levels of positive emotions
▪ More alert, alive, and awake
▪ More joy and pleasure
▪ More optimism and happiness

Social Benefits:
▪ More helpful, generous, and compassionate
▪ More forgiving
▪ More outgoing
▪ Feel less lonely and isolated

(Adapted from Robert Emmons, “Why Gratitude Is Good.”)

It nourishes a fundamentally-affirming life stance — it is saying YES to life.

And it helps us cope with stress, both in everyday life and trauma, recover more quickly from illness and enjoy more robust health.

AND it can be cultivated — in an enjoyable way. By writing a gratitude letter for example!

Here’s my sweet letter:

So go on, make Mum’s day and make the world a kinder place, one Mom at a time.

(P.S. If you are a mom reading this, just send it on to you-know-who…)

kellie_edwardsKellie Edwards is a registered psychologist, a member of the Australian Psychological Society, holds a Masters in Counselling Psychology and is a qualified meditation teacher. She has also participated in Stanford University’s Mindful Compassion Training, a highly respected science-based compassion cultivation program. Learn more about Kellie’s exciting new website Mindfulness4Mothers or follow her on Facebook

Guest Post: 5 Ways to Make the Holidays Restful

by Renée Peterson Trudeau

bigstock-Santa-Claus-sunbathing-lying-o-51205291Does the thought of hanging Christmas lights and attending holiday work parties make you want to grab your sleeping bag and run for the nearest cave? 2013 has been intense for many of us.  We felt overscheduled, overworked and we rarely got the chance to unplug.  We navigated big career and life transitions–and had little time to integrate these changes.  Frankly, we’re exhausted. We’re ready for rest. Not a relaxed evening by the fire, but a serious stretch of lazy days, long naps, walks in the woods, deep nourishing slumber and joyful, easy, simple connections with friends and family who feed us emotionally and spiritually.  What we most need in the coming weeks is not the latest iPad or one last trip to the mall, but permission to rest, relax, unplug and do nothing.

But with the holidays and all the activity and invitations that come with this season knocking on our door–what’s a person to do?  I challenge you to take the road less traveled and take a radical stand for what you most need this year.  Consider the following five ideas:

  1. Schedule downtime now. Block out periods on your calendar during the holiday season for “dedicated relaxation,” where your only job is to rest. Schedule half-days, full days, weekends or an entire week if you can swing it. Maybe you’ll feel like a nature hike when your period for renewal rolls around or maybe you’re better served by staying in your pajamas, turning off your smart phone, sipping on hot tea and watching the leaves fall from the trees. Make down time a priority and schedule this now so you can honor your commitment to deep to-the-bones self-renewal.
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  2. Just say no.  Decide what’s most important to you and let everything else go. If it’s not an “absolute yes,” then it’s a no.  Don’t want to miss Aunt Tracy’s special Christmas Eve dinner but feel exhausted at the thought of attending your neighbor’s cookie exchange?  Just say no and let it go. You’ll be glad you did. The opportunity will come back around next year. Our quality of life is always enhanced when we let go of things-not when we add them. Check out my popular 9 Ways to Say No list from my award-winning book, The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal: How to Reclaim, Rejuvenate and Re-Balance Your Life.
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  3. Ask for help. Give yourself permission to ask for and receive help whether it’s cooking, gift giving, socializing or hosting family. Do it different. Be willing to let go of tradition for the sake of enhanced emotional well-being. Step out of your comfort zone, reach out to friends, neighbors and coworkers and ask for their help during the holidays so you can create more space for yourself and your family to just “be.” What are three things on your plate right now that you could delegate, outsource or ask for help around?
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  4. Do less to experience more.  Positive psychology researchers say we’re happiest when we keep things simple and have fewer choices.  We create stress when we try and cram too much into our schedules and then try to control everything we’re juggling. My friend author Joan Borysenko says, “Your to-list is immortal; it will live on long after you’re dead.” How can you simplify your plans (do you really need to go chop down your own Christmas tree, make your mom’s famous stained glass cookies and host your husband’s department dinner)?  Popcorn, hot cider and an evening of great conversation is hard to beat. Do less, so you can experience more.
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  5. Unplug and spend time in nature.  My friend Richard Louv author of the Nature Principle says, “Time spent in nature is the most cost-effective and powerful way to counteract the burnout and sort of depression that we feel when we sit in front of a computer all day.” I call nature the ultimate antidepressant and re-set button. If anyone in my family is exhausted or out of sorts, off to the greenbelt we go. In fact, this holiday we’re completely unplugging and heading to the Davis Mountains in West Texas for a week to enjoy some of the darkest night skies in the U.S. Being in nature offers us nourishment and renewal on all levels-physical, emotional, spiritual and mental. It is a powerful, restorative and healing force. Use it!
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There is an innate push and pull that many of us feel during the winter season.  As the winter solstice approaches–the longest night of the year–our natural rhythms are calling us to slow down, reflect, go inward and contemplate where we’ve been and where we want to go. (Think of our friends the bears, they’ve got it right!)  Counter this with the world around us that is swirling madly with activity and constantly telling us to do, eat, buy and be more.  It can feel quite confusing–and exhausting! And totally unsustainable.

I challenge you: do it differently this season. Pause and enter the holiday season mindfully and with a clear intention. If the call to making rest and renewal a priority resonates with you this holiday, make this #1 for yourself and for your family. Then, you can bound—instead of crawl–into 2014 fully present, refreshed and ready for the New Year.

_DSC9086finalSubscribe here to Live Inside Out, a weekly blog written by life balance coach/speaker, author Renée Peterson Trudeau. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping and more. Thousands of women in ten countries are becoming RTA-Certified Facilitators and leading/joining self-renewal groups based on her award-winning The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal. Her newest release is Nurturing the Soul of Your Family: 10 Ways to Reconnect and Find Peace in Everyday Life. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and 11 year-old son. Join Renee this January for her new 2014 life balance telecourse New Way of Being: Learning to Go with the Flow.  www.ReneeTrudeau.com

Guest Post: 7 Ways NOT to Gain Weight this Holiday Season

by Carley Hauck, MA

bigstock-Weight-gain-woman-getting-dres-48482855Holidays are rife with emotional triggers and exhausting task lists. When we are stressed, many of us struggle to maintain healthy eating habits. Here are seven research-based practices that can help us not eat and drink too much during the holidays.

1. Breathe. When you feel stressed, you can simply take a big belly breath (several would be even better). This slows down your nervous system. Breathing is a practice in releasing, opening, and receiving the blessing of life.

2. Eat slowly. “Ooh this is delicious!” The only way to keep that “first bite” experience is to eat slowly, with moderate pauses between bites. When you do anything else while eating (talking, walking, writing, driving) the flavor diminishes or disappears.

3. Be mindful of hunger. Before eating, on a scale of 1-10, how hungry are you and what sensations tell you that? If you aren’t physically hungry, let that be your guide. Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment. It helps us to be in our bodies and out of our heads. It doesn’t matter if the clock says its lunchtime or if you have food in front of you. If you listen, your body will tell you when to eat and when enough is enough.

4. Make mindful choices. It’s your body, choose what you want to put in it. During big holiday meals we often want to try everything. But before picking up a plate, try this. First, gauge your hunger level. How hungry are you? Choose how much food you want based on your hunger. Now, look at all the choices and pick the ones you most want to try. As you are eating, you can choose to eat what tastes good and leave the rest on the plate or try something else.

5. Distinguish between desire and craving. Did you know that stress can intensify our food cravings? Food can be soothing, particularly sugary foods, and eating can actually dampen the stress response and calm our nervous system. If the holidays are causing you stress, breathe, and ask yourself, “What do I feel? and What do I need? “ Can you just be with the food craving instead of acting on it? I often feel like I want chocolate in the middle of the day, but then I say, “You just had lunch, do you really want it?” If I hear myself say “maybe”, I wait. If the craving goes away I just let it go, but if its still there then I ask myself again, “Do you really want this?” Being mindful of cravings means that we listen to what we want and what we need and make a conscious choice.

6. Practice generosity. Generosity is the practice of having enough so that you can give it away. Those who are truly wealthy are the ones who give generously. We can give to ourselves, others, and our greater community by understanding how to use food as love. When we cook, eat, and share food together, we practice generosity.

7. Express gratitude. Research shows that gratitude has been shown to increase our inclination to be caring, compassionate, honest, and respectful. Bring more gratitude into your life by asking yourself: “Am I expressing my gratitude to the people in my life?”

At this time of year we see that the weather is changing. We can mirror this change in our own lives with the practice of letting go. In replacing old beliefs and habits that don’t serve us, we open the doors for new ways of being that promote happiness and health. We can start right now.

May your holidays and new year invite new possibilities, slowness, and blessings.

OugOBegFBfAFZVmrUqb3OUt5UJZpK2EurPyFOvONJ1gCarley Hauck, MA is the founder of Intuitive Wellness and works as an integrative life coach and wellness consultant with individuals and organizations. She holds a Masters Degree in health psychology. Carley is a lead consultant for ongoing research observing the long-term benefits of mindfulness on weight loss and stress reduction. Carley has worked with companies such as LinkedIn, Pixar, and Hopelab to help create happier, healthier, and more productive workplaces. Carley currently teaches on the subjects of Happiness, Positive Psychology, and Mindful Eating at Stanford University. Additionally, Carley teaches community classes integrating health and mindfulness and has class offerings for the New Year. Please go to www.intuitivelywell.com to learn more on how Carley can support you or your company.

Guest Post: Where are the Übermothers of Yesteryear?

by Nancy Davis Kho

With no disrespect to the ozone layer, I believe there is a layer of protection to human society whose imminent loss poses an equal risk: the Übermother. This is the segment of society whose collective calls for restraint in situations private and public have kept generations of children under eagle-eyed watch. The Übermother doesn’t have to be a mother, or even a woman; the job simply requires a set of minimum behavioral standards and a willingness to enforce them.

My most memorable Übermother encounter occurred when I was eight. On a lazy summer day, a gaggle of adolescent girls congregated in my backyard to perform gymnastics around the tetherball pole and discuss rules of our nascent Neighborhood Girls Club. (In the end, the only rule was that you arrived for club meetings with the front hem of your shirt tucked over and through the neck of your shirt, thereby fashioning the sort of midriff-baring top now easily purchased from any department store. Girls then had to work so much harder to be skanky then than they do now.)

As we idly discussed the club and performed flips and cartwheels, I made a disparaging remark about my own gymnastics performance, testing out a word I’d never utter in front of my parents. Only then did I notice the garden hat rising slowly from the other side of the hedge that divided our yard from the Fitzsimmons’ next door. Remember the scene in the recent Steven Spielberg remake of “War of the Worlds,” when the terrified citizens watch the alien spacecrafts emerge from under city streets and realize in horror that they’ve been there all along? That’s how it was. Mrs. Fitzsimmons fixed me with her inscrutable eyes and said quietly, “Nancy Davis. Watch your mouth. We do NOT say ‘crappy.’”

Until I typed that sentence, I haven’t used the word because I am pretty sure Mrs. Fitz would have tracked me down and made me eat it.

Fast forward three decades, to a summer day when I was at our pool club in the Oakland hills with my own daughters, an afternoon so hot that you could have crossed the pool on the shoulders and heads of swimmers seeking relief. As I swam with the girls, I caught a blur of fluorescent green out of my peripheral vision, followed a split second later by a tennis ball whizzing a millimeter past my nose and thunking into the water in front of me. Adult swimmers all around gasped and said, “Were you hit?”

I looked up to see the perpetrator, the young son of a casual acquaintance of mine, standing with his hand clapped over his mouth, laughing. I did what seemed right: plucked the ball out of the water and walked it over to his mother. “Hi – your son almost hit me with this and I thought you’d probably want it back,” I said with what I hoped was a commiserating smile. I didn’t intend to make her defensive, but I figured she’d want to know what was going on. “Thanks,” she said brusquely, neither apologizing on her son’s behalf nor calling him over to say he was sorry, and she turned her back on me.

About ten minutes later I was toweling off my kids when I glanced up to see the same boy, the same crowded pool, and the same ball—returned to him by Mom—cocked back for trajectory into the same throng of swimmers. My Übermother response kicked in and I yelled “STOP!” then turned to his mother to say “He’s doing it again!”

This set off a tirade from the mom directed not toward the ball-hurling boy, but toward me. “You do not need to tell my kids what to do. I am watching them!” This was repeated in an ever-climbing screech so that soon everyone at the pool knew I had overstepped my bounds, by trying to prevent her son from injuring someone else. In short she’d given my Übermother the smack-down.

It seems that we can no longer feel comfortable pointing out even obvious deviations from the path of good behavior. And that’s sad, because even though I was sometimes terrified of Mrs. Fitz and her garden hat, I also knew I was never alone. If I had a problem and my parents weren’t around, there were approximately thirty-five other adults on my street who would have stepped in at a moment’s notice. No one ever went too far astray growing up on Branford Road.

If there’s one thing I know about my otherwise perfect daughters, it’s that testing limits is a normal part of their development. And as a parent, I recognize the limits of my sphere of influence. That’s when I depend on my friends, family, and yes, even pool acquaintances, to help set the girls straight.

Of course there have been times when someone else reprimanding my kids has triggered the parental protective impulse. Every parent has the responsibility of defending his child, when the child is unfairly targeted. I’m also not advocating the dog-pile, when a parent has already spoken to his own child yet other adults still chime in with the verbal equivalent of “Yeah, what he said!”

But if I agree in general with what’s being said, I try to stay out of it. What better way to convince my kids that there is, in fact, a set of social norms against which they’ll be measured than to have someone else point them out? Optimistically, I imagine new brain synapses being formed as a child comes to the startling realization that they’re not just Mom and Dad’s rules, but universal rules.

It would be ideal, though probably unrealistic, to quantify a level of obnoxiousness (perhaps measured by decibels or the number of times the tongue is stuck out) past which Übermothers could be given free rein to comment. Perhaps it would be easier to reestablish the general rule that grownups are allowed to remind a child when an missing “please,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry” are in order.

However I’d settle for a system ensuring that when a child presents an imminent danger to himself or others, then Übermothers go on alert. Perhaps the “Good Samaritan Law,” the one that protects a rescuer from being sued by the person receiving aid, could be extended to encompass people trying to prevent a need for medical assistance in the first place. And if it covered those of us who believe that crappy behavior is just not acceptable in the 21st century, society as a whole might benefit.

I’m waiting for your call, Mrs. Fitzsimmons.


Nancy Davis Kho is a writer in Oakland, California whose work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, TheRumpus.net, The Morning News, and Skirt! Magazine.

An avid music fan, she blogs about the years between being hip and breaking one at MidlifeMixtape.com. You can find her on Twitter (@midlifemixtape) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/MidlifeMixtape.)

Guest Post: Carrying Love and Appreciation in Your Wallet

by Linda Graham

I first heard this story from the mediation teacher Jack Kornfield, though I’ve heard variations of it from many other sources since.

When a fifth-grade teacher’s class became especially disruptive one day, throwing spitwads, calling each other names, and shoving each other in the aisles, the teacher demanded silence, then instructed everyone to take out one sheet of paper. She told the students to write down the name of every other student in the class, one name per line, down the left-hand side of the paper. Then she asked the students to write a brief description of something they appreciated about each student in the space next to the student’s name.

Silence took over as the students concentrated on the task. At the end of the class period, she gathered all the papers and told the students she would give further instructions the next day. After school, the teacher cut apart the comments, reassembling them into one scotch-taped piece of paper for each student At the beginning of class the next day, she handed each student a list with twenty-three comments of appreciation about themselves.

The students read the sheets—most of them quietly, some with giggles, a few wiping tears from their cheeks. Many of them had had no idea that they were regarded positively by their classmates until that moment. The exercise became an important opportunity to take in the good about themselves that their classmates had shared and to know, too, that they were contributing to their classmates’ feelings of being nourished by appreciation.

But the story doesn’t end there; nor do the lessons about emotional intelligence. A decade later, one of the students was killed in combat in Vietnam. After the memorial service, the father of the young man came up to the teacher and handed her a neatly folded piece of paper. It was the young man’s list with his classmates’ comments from that lesson in the fifth grade. His father said, “They found it in the chest pocket of his uniform the day he was killed.” Overhearing that, a former classmate came up to them both, opened her purse, and pulled out her sheet of paper. “I’ve always carried this with me; today was an especially important time to remember.”

We all are sustained by the love and appreciation of others. We all need to be reminded regularly of that sustenance. Any time we share our appreciation of another, we are using our emotional intelligence to sustain them, too.

Exercise: Carry Love and Appreciation in Your Wallet

1. Identify a group of people who all know each other—your coworkers at the completion of a project, your monthly book club or golfing buddies, family members at Thanksgiving—and suggest everyone send a card or email to everyone else in the group with a sentence or two acknowledging something they appreciate about that person, something positive and true. You can simplify this exercise, if you are comfortable doing so, by asking ten people you know—friends, coworkers, or neighbors, even if they don’t know each other—to send you a card or e-mail with a simple phrase or sentence of appreciation. (You may already collect comments like this if you write down what people have written on birthday cards or congratulatory cards.)

2. Assemble the comments sent to you into one piece of paper you can fold and carry in your wallet or tape to the bathroom mirror. Read through this list of emotional nourishment at least once a day for thirty days—a month of steadily resourcing and taking in the good.

3. Each day, after you read through your list, notice how you feel about yourself as you take in and savor the appreciation. Notice where you feel any warmth or glow in your body from reading the list.

4. Set the intention to return to this warm glow of self-appreciation as you move through your day, checking in with yourself periodically. Pause and remember the list (look at it again if you need to) and recall that self-appreciation.

5. At the end of the month, reflect on how reviewing your list of appreciations every day has strengthened your resilience in coping with the new, the difficult, the stressful or hurtful. You may add to the bottom of your own list an appreciation of your growing capacities to create resilience for yourself.

This practice is especially helpful at times when your sense of self-worth is being challenged. You’re using your own emotional intelligence to create a resource of support as you remember the appreciation of other people.

Practices of self-appreciation have been shown to diminish bouts of anxiety and depression. Taking in the love of others and cultivating love for ourselves activates the release of oxytocin, creating the calm in the body and enhancing the neural receptivity in the brain that allows us to learn more resilient strategies of coping. It also provides all the benefits of cultivating positive emotions: putting the brakes on negativity and deepening the wellsprings of optimism, connections to others, resilience, and fulfillment.

Linda Graham, MFT, is an experienced psychotherapist in private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area.  She integrates modern neuroscience, mindfulness practices, and relational psychology into her nationwide trainings. She is the author of Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well- Being.  Her Healing and Awakening into Aliveness and Wholeness e-newsletters are archived on her website.

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BONUS Book Giveaway!

Linda Graham is offering to give a copy of her fabulous new book Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being to a lucky Raising Happiness Reader. Complete this entry form for consideration. We’ll pick one person (US-based only, please) at random on April 30 at noon PST. Good luck!

Renee Trudeau Book Giveaway

My dear friend Renée Peterson Trudeau is releasing her new book Nurturing the Soul of Your Family: 10 Ways to Reconnect and Find Peace in Everyday Life this week and has graciously offered to give a copy to one lucky Raising Happiness reader.

Check out this wonderful new book and explore a new way of being for yourself and your family.

Complete this entry form for consideration.  We’ll pick one person (US-based only, please) at random on March 6 at noon PST.  Good luck!

Renée Peterson Trudeau is an internationally recognized life balance coach/speaker and author of Nurturing the Soul of Your Family: 10 Ways to Reconnect and Find Peace in Everyday Life (New World Library). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping and numerous media outlets.  On the faculty of Kripalu Center for Yoga & Wellness, she leads life balance workshops and retreats for Fortune 500 companies such as 3M and IBM, conferences, and organizations worldwide.  Thousands of women in ten countries are participating in Personal Renewal Groups based on her first book, The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal.  Renee lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and son.

Guest Post: How Self-Care Transformed My Marriage

by Renée Peterson Trudeau 

I was nervous about writing this post.

While I’m quite forthcoming and like to “keep it real” when I talk about the challenges and ups and downs in my personal life, talking about my relationship with my husband is very different terrain.

My parents divorced at age 48 after 26 years of marriage and seven kids. Both sets of my grandparents have been through a divorce. My brother—who I am very close to—divorced after 14 years of marriage. And the couple I idolized in college also divorced 20 years of marriage and four kids.

As we often do, I internalized all of these experiences and the “running tape” inside my head throughout my twenties and much of my thirties was,“Relationships are hard and you don’t have any great models, so you’ll probably never be very successful in this area. In fact, you’ll probably fail.”

A while back my husband and I took our first extended trip alone together since our son was born to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. We went to Big Sur, CA and the trip was really phenomenal (you can view our photos here).

The scenery was stunning, but what was most amazing to me during this trip was the realization of how much I have changed in the last 10 years around how I view my husband, myself, our partnership and the concept of marriage.

One morning we were hiking down a beautiful sandy trail at Andrew Molera State Park. We were headed towards the ocean and were the only people on this quiet, twisting path.

As I often do when hiking in nature and contemplating life, I asked my husband some “thinker” questions about his current life stage. He paused to reflect, answered me and then I waited to see if he’d reciprocate and ask me the same questions.

He didn’t.

And I was fine. Really, I was quite OK.

Ten years ago, I would have been irritated, hurt and probably angry for hours at his “perceived” insensitivity.

But today, I know three things that changed how I viewed this experience:

1. My beloved is an introvert. He likes to really sit with and chew on things. His internal world is vast, rich and when I throw out an introspective question, he needs time and space to digest it.

2. We don’t need to talk about everything OR go back and forth around a topic to enjoy intimacy. Often our most intimate moments are found in silence.

3. I don’t need my husband to make me feel complete or whole.  I know who I am. I am in touch with my needs. And, if something is really important to me, I have no problem bringing it up with him. And, he’s always receptive to listening.

I almost felt giddy at this realization as we continued moving down the path, towards the waves — in silence. I let my beloved be with his thoughts, while I sat with mine. (I did share this ah-ha moment with him later and he felt horrible for not creating more of a dialogue with me until I assured him I wasn’t upset.)

Relationships are hard? Yes, sometimes they are. But how well equipped are we when we show up at the dance? One of my mentors used to say we’re all going to face our same relationship issues over and over again no matter who we’re married to, so just pick your partner and do-si-do!

I’ve noticed as I have become more self-aware, more compassionate, more loving towards myself and more attuned to my needs, my partnership has evolved and shifted.

Showing up in the relationship with a full cup rather than a half-empty one significantly changes the dynamics.  I’ve learned one of the best things you can do to deepen and strengthen your marriage is to know and love yourself. And to make sure your needs are met before trying to support your partner.

I certainly don’t have the answers when it comes to making a marriage work and I still find that cultivating a deeply, evolved, committed relationship is not for the faint at heart. It takes everything I have to be present with my partner day in, day out. And, it continues to be the single most challenging aspect of my life, hands down!

But I also know it’s worth it. Being in a close, connected partnership where you support and hold the highest and best for each other has been rewarding beyond compare.

Renée Peterson Trudeau is an internationally recognized life balance coach/speaker and author of Nurturing the Soul of Your Family: 10 Ways to Reconnect and Find Peace in Everyday Life (New World Library). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping and numerous media outlets.  On the faculty of Kripalu Center for Yoga & Wellness, she leads life balance workshops and retreats for Fortune 500 companies such as 3M and IBM, conferences, and organizations worldwide.  Thousands of women in ten countries are participating in Personal Renewal Groups based on her first book, The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal.  Renee lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and son.

 

Guest Post: Losing Your Patience? Try Practicing Patience Instead

by Janine Kovac

The other morning was like a perfect storm.

I thought my daughter was ready to go to school, but when we were about to leave, one of her cowboy boots could not be found. This was followed by crying because her other pair of shoes fit funny. These were shoes that I didn’t want to buy in the first place because…I thought they fit funny. Shoes my daughter had begged me to buy because she needed sneakers for gym class and liked the pink sparkles.

“But I don’t like these shoes anymore!” she whines as I try to hurry her into the sneakers and out the door.

I clench my teeth and hold back the words, “I told you so.” My shoulders tighten and my throat is taut. I try to take a deep breath, but it comes out as an exasperated sigh. I try to “validate my feelings of frustration.” But validation doesn’t help us find the missing cowboy boot. We’re still late for school and I’m still frustrated. I am losing patience.

I realize that normal people don’t usually think about this, but “losing patience” is a metaphor. We say we have a lot of patience or that we lose patience, but patience is not an object. It’s not something we store in the pantry for weekday emergencies when we need more patience.

Every student cognitive science major at UC Berkeley, as I was, hears the story behind conceptual metaphor analysis. Renowned linguist and cognitive scientist, George Lakoff was teaching a graduate seminar in the late seventies at a time when metaphor was thought of as flowery and poetic—a superfluous quirk of language rather than an elegant and efficient use of words that can convey abstract thoughts.

As Berkeley lore has it, one day a young woman rushed into Lakoff’s class several minutes late. She was an emotional wreck. She hadn’t slept. She hadn’t done the homework. In the version told to my class, the young woman’s face was tear-stained and she was soaked to the bone from torrential rains outside.

“I have a metaphor problem with my boyfriend,” she explained, by way of apology.

Professor Lakoff stopped the class to discuss the young woman’s metaphor problem. (It was Berkeley. In the seventies. Of course they stopped the class to discuss her metaphor problem with her boyfriend.)

“We’re at a dead end,” he had told her, or so the story goes.

When your boyfriend says, “we’re at a dead end,” you know the relationship is over. There’s no discussion. No second chances. To the class’s surprise, they came up with a number of similar metaphors that meant more or less the same thing:

We’re at a fork in the road.

We’re spinning our wheels.

That marriage is on the rocks.

She’s drifting away from him.

He’s going to drive this relationship into the ground.

Of course, there are journey-related metaphors to describe healthy relationships, too:

Since the wedding it’s been smooth sailing.

Counseling has turned this marriage around.

Everything is back on track.

That put our relationship into high gear.

Open communication paved the way for reconciliation.

The phrase “drifting away” tells you the break-up is gradual. “Spinning our wheels?” This means that you’ve put in a lot of effort, but there has been little progress, whereas “smooth sailing” implies that you hardly need to work at all.

The problem is that a relationship is not a boat or a car or a train. It is an ongoing dynamic process that involves communication, compromise, kindness—to mention just a few things. (My husband and I have a solid marriage and we rarely fight—it’s smooth, but certainly not effortless!)

In the weeks that followed, Lakoff and his students outlined several other conceptual metaphors. For example, we have numerous metaphors in which abstract concepts are thought of as objects.

We say:

You gave me that idea.

He threw his power around.

She grabbed control.

We passed judgment.

And: I lost my patience.

Of course, even though we toss around these metaphors, it’s nonsensical to think that I could lose patience the way my daughter lost her cowboy boot. But if in that moment, I can remind myself that this is a misplaced metaphor, I can actually change my behavior.

Patience is a skill. I don’t need to have more patience; I need to practice.

So when we’re scrambling in the morning and my daughter is crying about her sparkly sneakers—that’s when I have to remind myself to practice patience. Part of the practice is taking that deep breath and empathizing with my daughter. After all, I don’t like shoes that fit funny, either. Perhaps part of the practice is thinking of a future solution: I can tell her that when she gets home from school, we’ll look for the other cowboy boot. And part might be reassurance: “It’s ok if we’re late to school.”

The metaphors we choose influence how we reason, and how we respond to stressful situations. We have metaphors for problem solving, metaphors for emotions, and metaphors for how we rationalize. Some are fixed-mindset metaphors; others are growth-mindset metaphors. In this next series of guest posts, I’ll highlight those we use in our everyday lives even though we might not be aware of them.

Sometimes all it takes is a shift of metaphors to change our perspective–and shed light on new solutions that otherwise might not have occurred to us.