Category Archives: Self-improvement

On managing the COVID-19 reality

Adaptation and Change

We differ in how we react to life experiences. We will differ in how we react to the COVID-19 experience. Try to not compare or judge yourself for being more or less this and that than others. So, you are more anxious, so be it. Embrace it, seek reassurance and support. So, you are a bit detached and disconnected from it all. We understand. It is your way of dealing with it.

Do your own thing. Evaluate the flood of advice out there, including this one, reject what does not fit and use what fits. To have your own approach is positive. It gives us a sense of agency and control amidst uncontrollable events. Enjoy and take pride in that!

On staying mentally stable and at peace

Find a way to process your feelings. You know how you do it and what works for you – talking to others, writing, reading, browsing through funny photos, reading jokes, watching comedies…Whatever your way is, it is essential that the emotions are let to be, talked about and hopefully validated by someone.

Move. I can’t stop saying it enough. The parks are open. The streets are available for walking. The weather is favorable. Spring is coming only in 3 days. Life goes on. Go out. A few times a day.

Have a news reception policy. You have full control over what information gets to you and how frequently. I strongly recommend limiting access to news updates to specific times and specific length. Unless you are enjoying it (and yes that is possible), it is likely that the news will keep you in a state of stress and anxiety. Do stay informed but do not overindulge. Entertain yourself with positive content, music, podcasts, or books.

Seek help. It is your responsibility to seek resources, including therapy. If you feel you want to but are unable to do it, tell someone who cares about you, and allow them to guide you towards getting help.

On working from home

Transitioning from the office to home is a big change. In normal circumstances, we would be allowed time to prepare and gradually adjust to this transition. That is not the case here. You might find yourself a little disoriented sitting in front of your laptop at home. There are a lot of online resources on adjusting to working from home. Here are a few quick pointers:

Get out of bed. Shower, get dressed, do your normal morning routine. Exit home and go for a little walk. Return and start working. Try to have a designated workplace.

Create your personal work policy, including times when you will be available, offline times for a break, walk, and lunch or reconnecting with your loved ones. And yes, you are allowed to have those.

Monitor how you feel. If you get emotionally overwhelmed, pause and move away from the computer. Do something else for a few minutes. Let your brain rest and reorganize.

The general sense of urgency and uncertainty will inevitably spill over the work environment. Give an extra thought to what is urgent and prioritize your work thoughtfully.

 Staying connected…and disconnected

The notion of self-isolation has quickly become a common phrase and an expected and required behavior. Self-isolation is neither natural, nor easy. It is essential that people in self-isolation due to travel, age or health conditions stay connected with their close ones through social media or phone. This requires a conscious effort, a change in attitude, preparation and care from their support group. Employers, family, and friends of quarantined individuals should keep this in mind and try to help with food and supplies. Make yourselves available for conversations and check-in with them frequently.

When the whole family is at home, including your children, creating sufficient space from each other is important for completing work activities. This is a big adjustment and may not work well at first. Couples should have conversations about their needs and work on creatively building an environment that makes all activities, including work possible.

On Community

All measures are aimed at preventing the further spread of the COVID-19 virus. That is all. No more and no less. If we keep this in mind and let it dictate our choices, we are making a great contribution to our community. As with the cold virus, sometimes we have to completely stop and just rest in order to start getting better. We have not stopped yet but we are getting there.

A Thought On Transience

…The daily disappointments with how little we accomplish, how limited our energy is and how short the day is. The constant unstoppable movement of time that passes through us. It unsettles us unconsciously. Instinctively, we try to oppose this all-encompassing law with our thinking mind and its illusionary sense of control. The sun coming through again and again grand and completely uninterested in us. It has been before we came to be in its presence and it will be after we rest our eyes in death. Then, why not let that light shine through us without resisting it? Why not relax and let time pass through us, lawfully age us and continue on? Why not let go of our attempts at making it any different? We can only be in awe of all this and in unstoppable gratitude for being thrown into this magic. Can we let ourselves be a beautifully-sounding yet humble instrument played in this ongoing symphony that surrounds us?

Know Thyself (and Others)

To be known is an innate desire in us human beings. But what does it mean to be known? To be known as we know ourselves at this moment or to be known as a process of discovery? There seems to be an understandable need in both individuals and societies for us humans to be complete and settled into who we are, to be solid and unchangeable. The need for this stability is understandable as it provides the basis for building long-term projects such as marriage, parenthood, and careers. From this base point, we can go out and do. Self-reflection and interest in the unknown parts of us do not align very well with this process. They could encounter unexpected realizations that unsettle those ongoing life projects that we participate in and often are solely responsible for. Still, we continue to want to be known by others, to be received, understood and responded to in the way that makes us feel seen. Outwardly oriented, we look to others to give us the self-reflection that we are not so inclined to do ourselves. 

Of course, there are many who are completely averse to any self-knowledge – from others or themselves. This attitude can be effective and lead to great external success. In some small way, a small part of me admires it. However, for those of us who have embarked on an ongoing dialogue with ourselves and others about all that we are, there is a beautiful and exciting road ahead, covered with bumps and roadblocks, interrupted by confusing road signs and surrounded by an ever-changing scenery. And as we go on, we need to keep pausing to evaluate the landscape, assess how it has affected us, determine how prepared we are for the next step, and recalibrate our self-curiosity. There is a continuing tension between the motivation to keep going, and the temptation to submit to the pull of our current environment. This tension appears from the moment we are born. For survival, for nurture, for love (as defined by those important others in our life) we learn to compromise the innate need for creatively expressing who we are. From unconscious split-offs to conscious withholding of our true thoughts and feelings, we hide the parts of us that are not welcome. On an individual, family, peer group, and social level, the creative expression of who we are is constrained by how we are received. What we reveal about ourselves to others is determined by our assessment of what feedback we will get. And so we adapt and reorient ourselves to continue fitting in.

The need to be known remains intact, however. When we are received and understood, we become alive. In these moments we are one with our external reality. Sometimes, it takes only one curious and understanding human being to change our self-perception and activate that (often) dormant need for a dynamic, energetic and connected living.

To live in this way requires a continuous effort to remain in a dialogue with oneself and with others. It is based on deep inquisitiveness, the ability to listen without judgment, and the responsibility and skill to express our own thoughts and feelings. The desire and attempt to see another person’s perception is a high aspiration, a difficult undertaking, a brave step. Mistakes will be made, miscommunication will occur. However, as long as there is a willingness to understand and an attempt at it, the dialogue will go on. In this ongoing dialogue, stands our chance to know ourselves creatively, to reveal and remake ourselves and to do the same for others.

Reaching for a book?

Part 1

This post lists some of the books I recommend to my clients and the ones that have remained my favorites through time. Having gone through a number of self-help books, I have experienced the hope and curiosity they trigger, the validation they offer and the discouragement that arises weeks or even days after we finish reading them. The books below withstood the test of time and produced a good wholesome effect on me. To keep this blog short, I have split the list in 2 parts and will offer only part 1 today:

The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz

Each chapter offers one story about one client of psychotherapist S. Grosz. The author takes us into the realm of the unconscious and its effects on our behavior. Gently holding your hand, he reveals the nature and impact of psychotherapy and delights you with an expected ending.

The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge

Do we change or do we not? This question still traverses the conversation around human psychology. Written in 2007, this book will convince non-believers that adaptive changes in our brains could be seen in brain scans, including changes resulting from psychotherapy. This is scientifically-informed captivating storytelling.

The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller

114 small-size pages will draw you into the complex and intense world of children as they relate to their parents. The innate need for survival as well as the inherent love for mom and dad lead to astonishing adaptive changes in the psyche. This applies to all of us, almost without exception. It is the human nature.

Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel

More than this book, I like E. Perel’s original video talks in which she explains “the secret of desire”. She caught the psychotherapists’ attention before she became a celebrity through her popular talks and interviews with the novelty of her ideas, direct and honest speech and a sense of humor.

Monogamy by Adam Phillips

Unconventionally-written and philosophical, this small book may not fit your taste but if it does, you will hang onto it. The ideas feel ahead of our time.

Which of the books you have read supported you and helped you make sustainable changes?

Do This at Least Once in Your Life

Sophie is seventeen and about to make one of the most important decisions in her life – choosing a university program. Her parents are watching closely that her choice is reasonable and practical. They want to protect her from disappointment and unhappiness. Sophie has a dream which she has not shared with anyone. She tries not to think about it. It is distracting and in the way of her realistic and accessible goals.

According to Debbie Millman, one of the  most established contemporary creative designers and successful entrepreneurs, before Sophie proceeds with her choices, she can benefit from a ‘dream’ exercise. For the last 12 years, Debbie has asked her students at the School of Visual Arts in New York City to take 30 minutes to describe the day exactly ten years from now. In the dream, everything they wish to have, do, be with is possible. It is exactly as they want it to be. From the morning to evening, every detail that they can imagine is to be laid out on paper.

I come across this exercise through Tim Ferris’ podcast interview with Debbie Millman. As soon as it is finished, I sit down and put on paper what my mind has to offer. The result surprises me. I have not thought or envisioned what I describe in my half-page essay.

I take this fantasy very seriously. But why, it is just a fantasy? We know what happens with fantasies. And who fantasizes anyway? It is silly.

Debbie’s students found that what they described on paper, they achieved. ‘It is magic,’ she laughs in the interview. She achieved her own goals that she listed in a bullet form as part of this exercise years ago. As a psychotherapist, I found my own explanation of the ‘magic’. What we dream of is what will unconsciously influence us in the important decisions we make in our lives. If what we really want is not made conscious, recognized and thought through, it will remain a powerful force, albeit unknown to us. If we ignore it and proceed with reasonable, realistic goals, when we achieve them we may still feel discontent. Even more, we may not be able to achieve those goals because that is not what we really, really wanted, in other words what our deep intelligence wanted for us.

The exercise gets this narrative out of the depths of our unconsciousness on page for us to read it and see it. If you do it today, you will be fascinated with what you find. It may trigger some fears and the need to dismiss it. But if you work through those fears and allow yourself to consider your dream, you will be moving one step closer to aligning with your inner self and becoming successful in the deeper sense of the word.