Creating an Environment of Well-Being

There have been times in my life when I have felt as though I was emotionally hanging on by a thread. By a thread that was fraying. And I was hanging on for dear life. Those days are behind me, and I owe it to having created an environment of well-being for myself. I wake up at 5:30 a.m. most mornings so I have time for a wellness routine. I begin with a gentle stretching routine by Bob Anderson and his DVD “Stretching.” I do the “Mindful Movements” routine by Thich Nhat Hanh, and a qi gong routine that varies according to the amount of time I have available. One of my favorite routines is free on YouTube and features Lee Holden. It is only 10 minutes long and helps move energy through my body. I like to end these wellness practices with qi gong shaking and mindful meditation. I really like the Insight Timer app for meditative music and/or guided meditations. These practices have had such a positive impact on my well-being that I also do most of these when I’m on a vacation.

The central theme of my focus on well-being is “self-compassion.” Kristen Neff, Ph.D. has written a really nice book, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. My morning routine helps begin my day with self-awareness and self-compassion. I have found that by building up a reserve of self-love and self-compassion, I am not relying on others to fill me up. As Neff says, “Instead of relying on our relationship to meet all our needs for love, acceptance, and security, we could actually provide some of these feelings for ourselves. And this would mean that we had even more in our hearts to give to each other.” (7)

One of the greatest gifts of a life focused on creativing an environment of well-being is a deep feeling of calm and peace, even in the midst of emotionally challenging times. As someone who used to suffer from panic attacks, I am grateful for a sense of well-being that provides me with a resilience I never knew was possible. As Neff says, “…self-compassion is a powerful way to achieve emotional well-being and contentment in our lives. By giving ourselves unconditional kindness and comfort while embracing the human experience, difficult as it is, we avoid destructive patterns of fear, negativity, and isolation. At the same time, self-compassion fosters positive mind-states such as happiness and optimism. The nurturing quality of self-compassion allows us to flourish, to appreciate the beauty and richness of life, even in hard times….Self-compassion provides an island of calm…” (12)

As Neff says, “…open your heart to yourself. It’s easier than you might think, and it could change your life.” (15)

For more information about how to create an environment of well-being for you and your family, here is a podcast with Dr. Dan Peters of Footprint Parent, and me.

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September 1, 2017 at 2:36 pm Leave a comment

When Being AWKWARD Can Have Its Benefits

I have some clients, young and old, who have  social skills that might be considered “awkward.” They do not have autism, but others often mislabel them because of their awkwardness. I was so happy to read the book Awkward: The Science of Why We’re Socially Awkward and Why That’s Awesome because it helps illuminate the reason for the awkwardness, and the benefits of this brain style.

You see, people who are awkward have a cognitive style that does not have their social brain engaged 24/7, as is the case with the “neurotypical” person. The awkward person has to realize they are in a situation requiring the use of their social brain, and that is why they might seem so awkward when they enter a room or attempt to join in on a conversation. Some of my clients are brutally honest, and I know it is due to not using a social filter, and it is not because they are being rude.

The really awesome part of the awkward brain is that “they are a passionate bunch who tend to be obsessive about the things that interest them. Their obsessive interest to learn everything they can about a topic mirrors the ‘rage to master’ that researchers observe in high-achieving people.” (xvi) Whereas socially-aware people see the big social picture, awkward people have a spotlighted view of the world that isn’t focused on social norms. “Awkward people’s minds tend to make them natural scientists because they are good at seeing details, picking up on patterns in those details, and taking a systematic approach to problems.” (xvii)

Awkward is divided into three parts: PART I: So This is Awkward, PART II: This is Getting Awkward, and PART III: How the Awkward Become Awesome. PART III includes information about the relationship between giftedness and awkwardness, as well as groundbreaking innovations and the awkward brain.

For a great introduction to this book, read the author’s article, “Being Socially Awkward is Actually Awesome, According to Science, by therapist, Ty Tashiro, a self-described awkward person.

 

 

September 1, 2017 at 11:13 am Leave a comment

When Processing Speed Slows You Down

Most of my young clients who are twice-exceptional have neuropsychological assessment scores that highlight a variety of slow processing speeds. That asynchrony between their intellectual abilities and their processing issues leads some parents and teachers to label these kids as lazy, willful, or inattentive.

Although these are common issues for kids who are twice-exceptional, few parents or teachers have the necessary training to recognize and then accommodate for these processing speed variations.

I was fortunate to find the book Bright Kids Who Can’t Keep Up by Ellen Braaten, h.D. and Brian Willoughby, Ph.D. Braaten is the Director of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program at Massachusetts General Hospital and Assistant Professor Psychology at Harvard Medical School. Willoughby is a staff Psychologist at the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program at Massachusetts General Hospital and a faculty member at Harvard Medical School.

As the authors say, “In general, though, processing speed involves one or more of the following functions: the amount of time it takes to perceive information (this can be through any of the senses, but usually through the visual and auditory channels), process information, and/or formulate or enact a response. Another way to define processing speed is to say it’s the time required to perform an intellectual task or the amount of work that can be completed with a certain period of time. Even more simply, processing speed could be defined as how long it takes to get stuff done.”

The authors break processing speeds into three categories: visual processing (“how quickly our eyes perceive information and relay it to the brain”), verbal processing (“how quickly we hear a stimulus and react to it”), and motor speed (“fine motor agility, such as how fast we can copy something or put pegs in a board, rather than to how fast someone can run, for example”).

Processing speed issues are often an indication of other learning challenges including:

  • ADHD
  • Dyslexia
  • Nonverbal learning disabilities
  • Language-based learning disabilities
  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Psychosocial stressors

Most kids who have slow processing speed may share some of these common issues:

  • Slow reading
  • Slow writing
  • Slow responses to questions
  • Slow responses to requests
  • Poor memory recall
  • Slow completion of work
  • Appear unmotivated or apathetic
  • Appear to be fidgety

For lots of detailed information on processing speed in the classroom and at home, this book is a wonderful resource.

September 14, 2016 at 4:21 pm Leave a comment

Taking a Journey into the Rainforest Mind

It has been more than four years (and two grandchildren) since I last wrote a post for this site. In that time, I have continued working with amazing gifted and twice-exceptional clients, and I have read dozens of great books. So where to begin, that’s easy: Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth by Paula Prober. I wrote a previous post about Prober in March 2102, entitled Giftedness and the Rainforest Mind: Our Endangered Students. Her blog posts continue to be insightful, humorous, and important.

Your Rainforest Mind is THE book for those people beginning their exploration of gifted issues as well as those (like me) who have been in gifted education for decades. I own dozens of book on giftedness (and I have read many more), and this book rises to the top for its holistic approach to understanding gifted people.

As a professor of gifted education, I was always looking for the best resources to expand my students’ hearts and minds about gifted people. I certainly would have required this book for my courses on “Introduction to Gifted Education” and “Social and Psychological Foundations of Gifted Children.”

What makes Prober’s work seminal is that it includes the stories and voices of her clients, it provides a wealth of valuable resources, and it has the potential of having a significant impact on gifted adults, and on the parents of gifted children.

The stories of Prober’s clients are so compelling, I am grateful to be able to learn from them, and I know many readers will now hope to find a therapist who connects so deeply with their rainforest minds.

September 14, 2016 at 1:15 pm Leave a comment

Appreciative Coaching with Gifted Kids: Strategies for Parents and Teachers

Jacqueline Binkert and Ann Clancy, two of the authors of Appreciative Coaching: A Positive Process for Change, are also authors of an online article called “A Coaching Journey from Resilience and Well-being to Flourishing.”  That article emphasizes that humans have the capacity to thrive and flourish rather than settling for mere resilience and well-being.  The authors describe flourishing as “a state in which a person feels persistent positive emotions and experiences excellent physical, mental and interpersonal health.”

The Appreciative Coaching approach comes from the work of David Cooperrider and others who created the Appreciative Inquiry movement.  Their work comes from the field of business management and has since been adapted by counselors and life coaches.  I am currently adapting it to my work with student teachers as well as educators in their first three years of teaching.  After reading many books and articles about Appreciative Inquiry and Appreciative Coaching, I have come to believe that this approach would be beneficial to those who live and work with gifted children.

So, what is meant by the Appreciative Approach?  It is a focus on solutions rather than problems.  It is a focus on what is positive with life in general, and situations in the specific, rather than a focus on what is negative.  It is a focus on our hopes and dreams rather than our dreads and fears.  This focus and dialogue about a gifted child’s strengths, successes, lessons learned, and hopes and dreams has the potential to help that child flourish emotionally, socially, and intellectually.

  • Gifted children are not problems to be fixed; they are possibilities to be appreciated and nourished.
  • What we pay attention to will grow.  Pay attention to what you perceive to be your child’s weaknesses, and you will fertilize those negative aspects.  Pay attention to your child’s strengths, and you will see a change in your attitude toward your child.  Look to what you hope for rather than to what is lacking.
  • Use language that is life-enhancing.
  • Although your child is young and has limited life experiences, listen to your child’s life story and be willing to share yours.
  • Model gratitude.  The focus on the positives and successes in our lives provides us with the energy for thriving and flourishing in our lives rather than merely surviving.

 

End-of-the-Day Reflections:

  1. What was your favorite part about today?  Tell me the story.  How did it make you feel?
  2. What one thing did you do today that made you feel especially proud of yourself?
  3. What did you learn today that excited you (in school, with friends, at home)?
  4. What are you going to dream about in your sleep?
  5. What wishes do you have for an even more exciting day tomorrow?  What wishes do you have for your siblings, parents, grandparents, classmates, teachers? (choose one or two)

Life-Long Learning: The Joy of Learning:

 1.  Think back to a time when you were really excited about something you were learning.  A time when learning came alive for you.  A time when what you learned became an integral part of who you are today.  Tell me about that time.  What was happening?  Who was involved?  What did you do?  What did the others do?  What was it about you in the experience that brought about a profound sense of learning and growth?

2.  What did you value most about that experience, yourself and the people involved?

3.  Imagine now that you, as a parent, are excelling in creating strength-based and positive learning environments and opportunities for your children.  Your children love learning new things when you are a part of that experience.  What are you doing?  What is happening that is leading to this love of learning?  Tell me about it.  What is happening in them?  Who is involved?  What are they doing?  What is the outcome?

4.  When you think about structured learning environments (school, church/synagogue, community settings), what can we do to create environments that encourage the type of learning you just described?  Share with me at least three things that you can start doing today to help foster a joy and love of learning for the children in your life?

Binkert, J. & Clancy, A.  (2009).  “A Coaching Journey from Resilience and Well-being to Flourishing.”       http://www.appreciativecoaching.com/Coaching_Journey_to_Flourishing_Binkert&Clancy_2009.pdf

Cooperrider, D., Whitney, D. & Stavros, J.  (2003).  Appreciate Inquiry Handbook.  San Francisco: Berett-Koehler.

Dole, D., Silber, J., Mann, A. & Whitney, D.  (2008).  Positive Family Dynamics: AppreciativeQuestions to Bring Out the Best in Families.  Chagrin Falls, Ohio:  Taos Institute Publications.

Orem, S., Binkert, J. & Clancy, A.  (2007).  Appreciative Coaching: A Positive Process for Change.San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass.

May 8, 2012 at 7:59 pm Leave a comment

Are You Willing to Be Unconditionally Happy: The Untethered Soul – The Journey Beyond Yourself

http://www.untetheredsoul.com/

Have you ever read a book that seemed to grab you by the shoulders and shake you?  That is just the experience I had recently while reading Michael Singer’s book The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself.  This really shouldn’t have happened as I’ve read other books about living in the “now” and letting go of the “monkey mind” of internal chatter.  But this book picked me up and shook me silly.

 

Where do I begin?  How about pages 46 and 47 where I did a ridiculous amount of underlining and note-taking.  Singer brings up the idea that “the only thing you really want from life is to feel enthusiasm, joy, love….If you can always feel up, if you can always feel excited abut the experience of the moment, then it doesn’t make any difference what the experience is….learn to stay open no matter what.”  He goes on to say, “Do not let anything that happens in life be important enough that you’re willing to close your heart over it.  When your heart starts to close, just say, ‘No.  I’m not going to close.  I’m going to relax.  I’m going to let this situation take place and be there with it.’….Let it be the sport of the day….You will just embrace life with all your heart and soul….Just relax and open, and tremendous energy will rush up inside of you.  You are only limited by your ability to stay open.”

 

I have had a variety of experiences that would normally have shut down my heart in the past couple of weeks, and several of them revolve around my 96 year-old father.  When he complains about something for the tenth time, I am now seeing this as a moment to keep my heart open and compassionate and not allow myself to shut down and try to block out the experience.  This is more difficult to do when I’m struggling with his long-term care company that has yet to reimburse us for the cost of his care, and that continues to draw a monthly insurance premium from his pension check.  But this, too, has been another opportunity to keep my heart open no matter what!

 

The part of the book that has been the most difficult for me is the idea of being happy “no matter what.”  Singer asks the reader “Do you want to be happy or not?”  He says this is really under our control, and of course most of us say YES!  But then he says that we “have a deep-seated set of preferences that gets in the way.”  He suggests that “any part of your being that would add a condition to your commitment to happiness has to go.”  It is hard for me to imagine being happy under painful circumstances, but Singer says, “Committing yourself to unconditional happiness will teach you every single thing there is to learn about yourself, about others, and about the nature of life…..Make that your game, and just stay happy no matter what….to stay happy, just don’t close your heart.”

 

I’ve always been a pretty happy person, but I’ll admit that during stressful experiences, I used to tighten my body and let my monkey mind chatter away.  Thanks to The Untethered Soul, I’m learning not to resist life’s events.  I’m trying to keep my heart open no matter the circumstances, and I’m trying to be happy no matter what. 

 

It may take a few more readings, and a lot more moment-to-moment awareness on my part, but I am now awake to the possibilities of the naturally-unfolding life.

Continue Reading April 9, 2012 at 7:25 pm Leave a comment

Helping Your Gifted Child Gain Emotional Freedom

Has your child ever been overwhelmed by perfectionism, sensitivity, intensity, or other innate aspects of their giftedness? In her book, Emotional Freedom, Judith Orloff, M.D., energy psychiatrist and best selling author suggests ways we can bring peace and calm to our lives. Recently finding myself in physical and emotional chaos after what may have been the flu, I decided to take another look at Dr. Orloff’s book. It occurred to me that gifted children often have such an amplified awareness, parents are usually their constant model of how to interact with the world and deal with emotional disequilibrium. I know there were times when my own sensitivity and intensity caused chaos for my family. On the other hand, I know there were times when my own sensitivity and intensity brought greater awareness for other members of my family.

So what did I learn from Dr. Orloff about emotional freedom and parenting a gifted child?

* Dr. Orloff defines emotional freedom as “Increasing your ability to love by cultivating positive emotions and being able to compassionately witness and transform negative ones, whether they’re yours or another’s.”

* We need to make sure our children aren’t being ruled by negative emotion.

* “The power of love is the champion of emotional freedom. We must respect the voice within that says, ‘Honey, be kind to yourself. You are enough. You are beautiful.’ Compassion is in each of us: it is the ultimate answer.” Dr. Orloff believes that spirit of compassion will help all of us to become strong and joyful. What parents wouldn’t want that for themselves and their children?

* Dr. Orloff recounts a Native American story about what we “feed” will grow stronger. She suggests that we set our “intention to feed what is best and most beautiful within” ourselves in order to gain emotional freedom.

* Our bodies are depleted by emotional stress and our bodies are revived by calm. Dr. Orloff describes many ways to bring calm to our bodies.

As someone who has experienced the emotional stress brought on by my sensitivity and intensity, I would recommend Dr. Orloff’s book. She weaves together practical suggestions with stories from her life as well as those of her patients. One of my favorite parts of this book is when Dr. Orloff suggests that we let ourselves “feel the sensuality of inhaling and exhaling as air passes through your nostrils and chest like a cool breeze. Take pleasure in the breath’s hypnotic rhythm….With each slow, deep breath, feel yourself inhaling calm, sweet as the scent of summer jasmine… Emotional Freedom reminds me to not take the power of my breath for granted. How lovely it would be if highly sensitive and intense children could be taught ways to gain their own emotional freedom!

April 3, 2012 at 2:02 pm Leave a comment

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