The Strengths Within

I want to write something about recognizing the strengths in those around us and in ourselves.  I work in a school that specializes in educating students with dyslexia and related learning differences.  A couple of days ago, while attending a college workshop for high school counselors, another counselor started asking me questions about what my students can do after they graduate.  During the course of the conversation, I had already acknowledged that many of my students struggle with standardized test scores. I know she did not mean her questions with ill intent, but I definitely got the feeling that she was curious how they could possibly go to college or be successful.  Many of my students are successful in a traditional college setting. But I also found myself explaining to her the strengths of the dyslexic mind, such as big picture thinking and spatial reasoning.

I spent the last two days in the cold, cold woods with my 12th graders on their senior retreat.  Spending time in this “untraditional classroom” makes it really clear just how many strengths my students have.  Many of my skills made me successful in traditional educational programs. I can read and write well and have a decent ability to memorize and reason.  I always did well on standardized tests (except when I took the ASVAB in senior year, which tested things like mechanical comprehension and assembling objects, in addition to the typical English and math).  Things like reading comprehension and expressing my thoughts on paper come pretty easily to me. Every day, I see my students struggle with these tasks.

But on retreat I get to see my students shine.  I get to see them take their strengths and work together as a team.  My students solve problems in unique ways. They see things in a way that I cannot see them.  They persevere and push through obstacles where I just give up. They use visual-spatial reasoning in a way that I never could.  It is awe-inspiring to watch them tackle a problem and solve it.

So as you observe the young (or old) people in your own life – your children, your students, anyone you come in contact with – remember that each and every one of us has gifts we bring to the world.  Each of us was created to contribute in some way. We all have strengths! It is easy to focus on the struggles, but it is important to recognize the successes. You may have people in your life who do not fit the mold of what society expects.  That’s okay. It’s actually pretty awesome! This is where we find the artists, inventors, leaders, and thinkers who will change the world.

Live in the Moment

I am a notorious planner. I love to make lists. Researching and planning for a vacation is my absolute favorite. I will sometimes spend more time researching books to add to my TBR (to be read) pile then actually reading. I can’t help it. I get great joy from planning and lists. But it is also important to remember ……

So sometimes I must remind myself – “put down that phone and enjoy the moment you are in.” Twirl in the sunshine. Dance in the kitchen. Snuggle in the morning. Notice something beautiful. Skip down a path.

My Book Nook

My house is usually messy and full of chaos. It raises my anxiety, but I also hate cleaning up. I recently decided to take one small corner of my home and turn it into my tidy, relaxation spot.

The sofa and bookshelf were already here in my bedroom. In a messy home, however, extra furniture easily becomes a place for clutter. A couple of weeks ago, I declared, this is my book nook. This is my spot for relaxation. No more clothes or toys thrown upon this sofa!

In the past, those curtains stayed closed. Now, I am opening up to let in the natural light. This spot is also great, because it is has the separate lighting (the chandelier) from the rest of the room. Since my daughter sleeps in my bedroom, I can still use my book nook spot after she is asleep without turning on the overhead light.

I purchased a few little extras to make my spot extra special.

I bought an extra cozy blanket from Pottery Barn Teen. It is super soft and perfect both for me and for my dogs to snuggle under. I also ordered these Pride and Prejudice themed pillows from TheOldCuriousityShopp on Etsy. They are comfy and bring me joy!

On the wall, I hung this letter box from Underwood Letterpress. It came in my Fall Causebox. I plan to change it up with quotes from my favorite books. This one is from Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. I love the whole series!

I already had this table from Hobby Lobby, but moved it next to my book nook. I’ve never been a big candle person. I don’t buy them myself, but I have several that I’ve gotten as gifts. I don’t have the strongest sense of smell. I usually only light them right before people come over to my house to mask any not so great smells that may be lingering. Many people find candles soothing, so I’m trying to be one of those people. This La Lueur candle, which also came in my Fall Causebox, does smell better than many of the unnatural and synthetic candles that I have had in the past.

I even ordered a new mug that would brighten my mood to use for hot tea in my book nook. This cup of happy mug comes from Natural Life, and says “do more of what makes you happy” inside the rim.

I also try to be one of those people who drinks a comforting cup of tea. Tea is healthy and makes me feel fancy.

My little book nook brings me joy. It is not always quiet, with dogs and a child in the house. But I am making an effort to spend time there doing things to take care of me, like relaxing and reading a book. My dogs usually join me. It’s also a comfy place for my daughter to sit next to me and draw or read books together. My sink may be currently full of dirty dishes and toys are currently strewn around the house. But my book nook is cozy and calm.

Planting Seeds

A year or so ago, I printed out the following quote and hung it above my desk at work.

This is a necessary reminder for me. You see, I have the tendency to allow small successes or failures to dictate my mood for the day. I am a school counselor. My days are unpredictable, and of course, some are better than others.

Some days I get that compliment from a parent or I see a change in that student, and I think to myself, “wow, I am doing a good job!”

But then the opposite is also true. Students don’t listen to me, a parent gets angry, and my mood goes south. My self-talk starts to look like, “maybe i should find a different career. I’m no good at this.”

I have to consciously remind myself to look at the big picture. Especially when it comes to children, we may not always see the influence we have. Today it may seem that little Johnny just doesn’t get the truths I’m trying to teach such as the importance of treating others with respect or that we as individuals control how we react to a situation. But the reality is that I am planting seeds. Eventually the cumulative effect of all the things his teachers, parents, and others have taught him will start to bloom.

And so, I keep that reminder above my desk. So that in the moments of frustration, I can remember – I am planting seeds!

The Power of Words and Positive Thoughts

The title of this blog is “Looking on the Bright Side” so I am obviously a proponent of the power of positive thinking. Every now and then, I see a post about depression that seems to fuss at those of us who promote positive thinking. I understand the sentiment behind the post, but don’t agree with the execution. I think the general sentiment is that it is not helpful to tell someone with clinical depression to just “think happy thoughts.” And that is true – complex issues require complex solutions. Other treatments are usually indicated, including medication and counseling. And while positive thinking is not the only nor a simple answer, that does not mean it is not part of the solution.

Cognitive behavior therapy is a popular treatment modality for many mental health conditions. It is based on the idea that if one changes their thoughts, it will have an impact on feelings and behaviors. Restructuring our thoughts and cognitive distortions is clinical talk for the same concept that I am referring to when I personally refer to positive thinking.

This past week, I attended the Louisiana Counseling Association annual conference. I love conferences! I love learning, and I always feel super inspired to get better at my job when I’m surrounded by awesome colleagues who are all doing awesome things.

Always ready to get my learning on!

One of the keynote speeches was on a really interesting concept that I had not learned much about before. Dr. Clifton Mitchell was an extremely dynamic and entertaining speaker. He spoke about “priming” and the power and influence of our words.

The research has shown that our minds naturally move toward the dominant thought in a sentence regardless of whether it is stated in the positive or the negative.

For example, if I tell myself, “don’t eat that cake,” the dominant thought is “eat that cake.” The don’ts, shouldn’ts, won’ts, etc. don’t matter to our brain. Our brain is sensitive and picking up on certain stimuli.

Much of our behavior is controlled by our unconscious mind. Every behavior is preceded by thoughts, whether we are aware of them or not. We don’t have the power to consciously delete a thought from our brain. The only way to get rid of it is to override it with a new thought.

Basically, Dr. Mitchell was saying that we should always word things precisely, in the positive, and in the present tense if we want to move toward meaningful change. This is the same concept as reciting affirmations. If I’m feeling sad, I tell myself “I am content and satisfied with my life” until it becomes true.

This power of the positive thought is backed up by research. Part of my job as a counselor is to help my students re-frame their thoughts to assist them in becoming the best version of themselves.

Words have power. Thoughts have power. Remember that the next time you feel tempted to downplay someone’s positive and cheery outlook.

The right song at the right time

I have always been a believer that sometimes the universe (or God) sends you messages when you most need to hear them. I’ve had those moments throughout my life. Sometimes it might come in the form of a quote, something you read, a sermon at church, but often it comes in the form of song lyrics.

This evening, I was feeling pretty down on myself. I was driving in my car and thinking about how I’m not great at my job and not great as a mother. I was reflecting on all the ways that I am deficient. Just as I pulled into my destination, “Live Like You’re Loved” by Hawk Nelson came on the radio. I was telling myself that I’m not good at anything, and then ….

That’s the great thing about music. It reminds us that so many of the things we feel are part of the human condition and not unique to us. A few more lines and then I heard exactly what I needed to hear in that moment ….

In the midst of my depressing thoughts, God reached out to me through the power of a song. It helps that I was listening to KLove, but I promise that this used to happen to me all the time long before I started listening to Christian music. The messages are there if you keep your ears open for them.

For the love of sleep

So, it has been awhile since my last blog post.  School is back in session, and I have been staying busy.  That means my free time is usually devoted to my favorite pastime – sleep!

I have always slept a lot.  Unlike many, I prioritize sleep over many other things.  That may not always be the best thing, but it is what I do.  I never pulled all-nighters to get homework done in high school or college.  I don’t stay up late watching Netflix. My whole life, I’ve been someone who goes to bed early.

I’m also a napper.  My five year old daughter has outgrown the nap, but you will often find me snoozing away a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Sometimes I think about all of the other things I could accomplish if I just stayed up a little later or skipped that nap.  I know that it is healthy to get a good night’s sleep, but does my love of sleep cross over into the unhealthy range?  

I remember back in college in my developmental psychology class, my textbook had a quiz in it to estimate your life span.  You start at a certain number depending on if you are male or female and then as you answer each question, you add or subtract years to your life.  Do you smoke? Do you exercise regularly? Does diabetes run in your family? On and on. When I got to the question about sleep, I actually had to subtract years from my life because I said that I slept 9-10 hours a day.

My husband likes to blame it on my thyroid, but I feel like my thyroid condition is well-managed.  I take medicine every day and my ranges stay where they should. I just really like to sleep!

Oh well, if sleeping is my one vice, it could be worse!

We need to end gun violence in America

Another day in America, another mass shooting, or in this case two.  Violence happens so much now that is easy to find ourselves feeling immune to the heartbreak.  

We must elect lawmakers who will pass legislation to help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.  This is a crisis and something needs to be done. We need representatives, senators, and a President who will stand up to the gun lobby and do what is right and necessary.

You can see where your current elected officials stand in this file available on https://giffords.org/act/town-hall-toolkit/

Earlier this year, the House of Representatives passed a bill to require background checks for gun sales.  It has not gone to vote for the Senate. Call your senators or go to http://www.genprogress.org and click take action to send an email. Background checks save lives.

Also, please spread love not hate.  It is easy for people to look at perpetrators of crimes like these, and vilify them and say that is not me.  But if you spread hate in small ways, then you are helping to sow the seeds for extremists whose hate takes a different form.  Remember that we are all God’s children and every person on this Earth has value. If we could all just believe that, oh how the world would be changed.

Girl, Wash Your Face Review

I waited awhile to read the bestseller, Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis.  For awhile there, it seemed like every woman my age was reading it.  I have mixed feelings on the book. Overall, I like it and recommend it.  I agree with the fundamental statement that Rachel Hollis makes:

I preach it to my students, family, and friends.  We can’t control the things that happen around us.  We can only control us and how we react to those things.

The problem I have with the book is not what she’s saying, but how she says it.  She makes statements as if they are declared facts. I know that is supposed to be motivational, and it obviously is to many women who want or need to hear it.  But sometimes the world is gray. It isn’t black and white, and that’s okay. I think it also may have something to do with the fact that I Iistened to the audiobook.  She is so emphatic in her statements. Each chapter starts with a lie that women tell themselves or that Rachel believed at some point. She then tells stories about her life that show how she was able to move past that particular lie.

There are a lot of ways that I’m so different from Rachel.  I am not a workaholic. I am not an extrovert. I prefer downtime laying in bed reading a book to many things.  Unlike many women, I prioritize sleep over almost everything. Sometimes I feel like I miss out on things in life due to sleep, but we’re also told that we need more of it.  Conflicting messages! Her love story between her and her husband is interesting in that it is not typical or what you’d identify as normal or healthy. But we do each have our own story, and we are not perfect.  I can relate to that.

When she talked about not accepting no as an answer and working for your dreams, at first, I could not relate.  I do not dream of creating some successful business or being a famous author. But that’s okay. Part of taking ownership of our dreams is that they can be as big or small as we would like them to be.  My dream is to travel. I think about vacation all the time. I think about going to new places and experiencing new things. I think about fun. So Rachel inspired me to create an online vision board to remind me of what I’m reaching for.  The world! When I was young, I created a poster that said I would have travelled around the world by the time I was 40. That isn’t going to happen, but I can keep shooting for the stars! My husband (the practical one in our marriage) is always talking about budgets.  I do need a practical person to balance me out sometimes. But I also need to remember to live my dream. We only live once! So I made myself a travel vision board and put it as the background on my laptop.

Goals are great, but it is important to give ourselves grace.  Rachel acknowledges that sometimes life does not go as we planned, and we need to sit back and think about the things that we have accomplished.  Celebrate the small moments.

She does talk about being healthy and taking care of our bodies in a way that could potentially be construed as judgmental.  I know she wants us to love our bodies and treat them with respect, but this can be another mixed message because I also want to enjoy life and therefore food.  Another example of how the world is not black and white.

At the end of each chapter, she lists the things that helped her in her quest to stop believing that chapter’s lie.  Here are a few of them that speak to me and that I can get behind:

Be the Change

There is question as to whether Gahndi ever said this quote or not.  Some say that he said something similar in meaning, while others maintain he never said it at all.  Regardless, it is a quote that I use to inspire myself.

Two years ago, I bought a Mantraband bracelet with the words “Be the change” inscribed upon it.  I wear it often as a reminder of how I would like to live my life. I often show it to my students in counseling sessions, as a reminder to “be the change.”

If we want the world to be a kinder, more understanding place, we need to be kind and understanding.  If we want the world to be just and fair to all, we must be just and fair.

I am a person who believes in the power of the individual.  Often we look at the world and think “how can I have an effect?  I’m just one person.” But I truly believe that individual actions matter.  Many individual actions add up to monumental change. Our actions and beliefs trickle down to those around us.

I don’t want you to think that this is a skill I have mastered.  I am not always “the change I want to see in the world.” Sometimes, I am too timid to stand up for justice.  Sometimes, I am unkind to myself or others. But I have to remember to be compassionate towards myself. I’m not going to always get it right, but sometimes I will, and that is what matters.

And that is why I wear my bracelet.