What Does it Mean to Be Truly Full From Within?

What does it mean to be “full from within?” This concept, from my upcoming book "The Psychology of Finally Being Full From Within (June 2017)," refers to the idea that we no longer have this psychological “black hole,” that needs to be fed through external things such as; food, drugs, alcohol, spending, relationships, gambling. 

 

To be truly Full From Within means that our “tank” is mentally full. In other words, our self, although beaten up, bruised, and broken sometimes as a result of our journey down each of our unique life’s path - is repaired and felt as whole again. Like a patchwork quilt that only gets stronger as a result of it’s many tears and reparations. 

 

How does one achieve this, you ask? 

 

Borrowing from Aaron Beck’s cognitive triangle 10- we have three components of the mind that work to repair the self :

 

  • thoughts
  • feelings
  • behaviors

 

These are the different components that must be running on all four cylinders to ensure that we aren’t at risk of developing or perpetuating an unhealthy relationship with any of the topics mentioned above, for the purposes of this book, specifically - food. 

 

Behaviors to Repair the Self

 

One of the biggest misconceptions about our mind is the idea that we must feel a certain way to engage in certain behaviors. In other words, we must first feel happy if we are going to go to a social event and relate to others in a positive way. However, the cognitive triangle mentioned above is tri-directional14, meaning our behaviors can influence our feelings and/or thoughts, and vice versa. 

 

This is powerful information. This means that we don’t have to wait for happiness or joy to come around to engage in behaviors we know lend to more happiness. In fact, one of my first interventions with my patients who suffer from depression is the “just do it” approach, meaning they are given the task of doing three behaviors they don’t necessarily feel like doing in the six days in between their next therapy session.

 

To explain depression via a very simple analogy- it is like the flu for the mind. What do you typically do when you have the flu? 

 

You cancel your appointments, stay in bed, drink lots of water, and get lots of rest. The reasoning is that if we minimize the amount of life events for a brief bit of time, we will heal more quickly, and we do. BUT, this is not the case with depression. 

 

The same intuition we use to combat the flu is the antithesis of what we must do to combat depression, yet somehow our instincts tell us to do the opposite. When we feel depressed, our inclination is to isolate, do less, and wait for the clouds to part. The problem with this, is that this type of behavior is what feeds the depression. 

 

For my clients suffering with depression, I will often assign them a task of doing one social event, one bout of exercise (if they have never been inclined to exercise), and one learning activity (lecture, take a CE, attend a webinar, go to a pottery class, painting class, attend a speaking event).

 

Many of them balk at the idea. Some of them have been doing things their way for years and there is an undercurrent of fear related to breaking routine. It is almost as if the depression has a voice that says “don’t do it, you will only feel worse.” 

 

I’m reminded of the saying “if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got.” Nothing could be more true when it comes to depression. 

 

We must realize that when we have depression, our mind is sick. It is no longer serving us, and the messages are coming from crossed wires. In order to uncross those wires, we must physically and literally put one foot in front of the other and re-engage in those activities that we know from the research lend to a sense of happiness or at least contentment. 

 

Below are some examples of behaviors, taken from my first book - Happiness in B.A.L.A.N.C.E : What We Know Now About Happiness 11. :

 

  • Benevolence - reaching out to others and getting out of our own head, focusing on how to make someone else’s life or day better through connecting or giving

 

  • Play- engaging in something that requires enough effort that we can’t run old unhelpful tapes (I’m not good enough, other people must be more disciplined than me, things will never change, etc), but provides us with enough fun that we leave the activity feeling light, like surfing, artistry, building, writing, playing an instrument, etc. 

When we are kids, we spend about 95% of our day playing and even trying to find play in our responsibilities (have you ever watched a kid brush their teeth or get dressed? it is never a straightforward buttoned up process). Yet, as adults - we flip that on its head and spend 95% of our time being a human doing vs. a human being. 

 

  • Learning- engaging in novelty is something our brain requires to feel happy and fed. It could be as simple as learning a new card game, all the way to enrolling in an MBA course. When we allow our minds to do what they are best at- our minds give back to us. 

 

  • Connection- We are social creatures by nature. There is a physiological rewiring process that occurs as result of being in near proximity to other humans 12. It is how we survived so long ago, and our minds still provide the payoff. 

We are not meant to live in isolation, yet so many of us drift in this direction when they are depressed. Even introverts requires some social connection. While extroverts tend to thrive and recharge their batteries on social connection, it is true that introverts recharge in their solitude. 

However, there is a difference between being alone vs.  lonely. As introverted as you may think you are, none of us are immune to going from alone to lonely if we don’t make time for some social connection.

 

  • Exercise- There are about 99 reasons to exercise and a happiness is one. I’m not going to waste space and wax poetic about the many benefits of exercise, because I’m sure you’re well aware. But in addition to producing endorphins that have been proven to make us feel better, as far as weight loss goes- it also makes us less likely to put junk in our bodies. Ever do an intense sweat session and then make a beeline to the nearest McDonald’s? I didn’t think so. 

 

Thoughts to Repair the Self

 

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy is a 25 cent term to describe the process of looking at the old tapes we run in our minds day in and day out for years upon years, and stopping them in their tracks, and replacing them with new ones. 

 

A hallmark approach in Byron Katie’s book “Loving What Is,” is to continuously challenge one’s thoughts by asking “is that really true?” 13 If we deem that we can’t say with absolute certainty that a thought is true, then we can replace it with a more constructive thought. 

 

For instance, if we find ourselves with a running narrative that goes something like “you are just never going to be someone that stands out, it’s ok you have other good traits,” then what is the behavior and feelings that it produces? Perhaps the person goes on feeling invisible like many people who are overweight feel. Maybe the person gives up on trying to stand out in the way they look and participate in life. 

 

However, if we question that thought and say “can I know with absolute certainty that I will never stand out?” then the answer is “no.” An alternative thought becomes, “I may have felt invisible leading up to this point, but there is no time like the present to make my mark. It is through my choices that I stayed in the shadows, but it will be through my new choices that will bring me back to life.” 

 

You can see how the latter alternative thought could bring forth a much different behavioral and feeling outcome. Is this hard work? Yes. Has anything worth getting in life ever come easy? 

 

The good news is that the more we train the brain to think differently, the more differently we think, and the easier it becomes to think differently 15. Recalling the tri-directional cognitive triangle mentioned above, thinking differently means behaving and feeling differently.

 

We have to curate our thoughts the way we curate our clothes. If we are mostly sad and hopeless in our lives, then we are bad dressers. We have to go into the closets of our minds and pull out the silkier more colorful thoughts.

 

Depression and anxiety are diseases of passivity, rendering us even more incapable of feelings of efficacy and internal control over our lives. However, it is only us that can pull us up from the depths of our despair by taking the reigns of this cognitive triangle by the horns.

 

Feelings to Repair the Self

 

The feeling component of the cognitive triangle is perhaps the most elusive. How do we make ourselves feel a feeling? 

Research has shown that the simple behavior of smiling can induce a feeling of joy. So again the multi directional dynamic of the cognitive triangle is demonstrated. 16 

 

In fact, emotional pain like sadness and stress can be lessened through the act of smiling. If you are still skeptical about how our behaviors can change the tides of what often seem to be overwhelming emotional currents, try this exercise:

 

The next time you notice yourself feeling stressed or defeated when you get on the scale and notice it hasn’t moved. Stop. Don’t allow the mind to go down the well beaten path of beating yourself up. 

 

Instead, immediately pull out photos of something that makes you happy, while playing upbeat or soothing music. You can go through a Digital album on Facebook or instagram, or even a physical album you have at home. Really focus on the details of those photos. Maybe it was a special trip you took with your mother, wife, or child. Maybe it was the birth of one of your children. Maybe it was the day you bought your first house.  

 

Notice how differently you feel? Doesn’t it feel a little bit powerful to know how much we steer the ship when it comes to our feelings? 

 

Additionally, we can influence our feelings by the thoughts we have. Obviously, if we have a running no-good narrative, playing on repeat, we aren’t going to feel super awesome by the end of the day. But, if we start to employ Byron Katie’s method of stopping and asking “do I know this to be absolutely true?” then we create room for change. An opportunity to feel differently and behave differently than we ever have before. 

 

Mind Meal Challenge

 

Sit down and list the thoughts, feelings, and behavior triangles you believe to contribute to your unhealthy relationship with food. Try doing at least one that starts with your thought, one that starts with a behavior, and one that starts with a feeling. 

 

Examples could be :

 

1. thought: I come from an overweight family, it’s just our culture.

feeling: hopeless, defeated

behavior: Give up on trying to exercise or change eating patterns.

 

2. behavior: skipping the gym for two weeks

feeling: lethargic, tired, fatigued

thought: I don’t feel like working out.

 

3. feeling: sad

thought: I don’t want to be around anyone today.

behavior: skipping out on planned events with friends and family

 

Next, practice replacing the thought or behavior with a more silkier, colorful thought (recalling the clothes metaphor). 

 

 

1. behavior: skipping the gym for two weeks

feeling: lethargic, tired, fatigued

thought: I don’t feel like working out

 

*Alternative behavior: making myself go to the gym

 

 

2. thought: I come from an overweight family, it’s just our culture.

feeling: hopeless, defeated

behavior: Give up on trying to exercise or change eating patterns.

 

*Alternative thought: It is time for me to finally break the cycle and be a positive role model for my parents and my children. 

 

Your Psychological Tool Belt for Weight Loss

The first meeting with a patient preparing to have weight loss surgery, whether it be sleeve, bypass, or balloon, carries so much hope, anticipation, and excitement- that you can almost cut it with a knife. For many people, by the time they have reached the point of considering weight loss surgery, they have gained and lost hundreds of pounds. They finally have a beacon of hope in what was once a desolate psychological place of despair and hopelessness. 

Trying to emphasize the need for simultaneous behavioral and psychological change, often makes me feel like Rachel Dratch in her SNL portrayal of Debbie Downer. 

The reality is that there are many people who go into the surgery, carrying a magic bullet fantasy who don't intend to change anything about their lifestyle or psychological landscape, and that actually still works - for a while....

The sheer reduction in portion size over time would dictate that most will lose a significant amount of weight. There is no other way of losing weight that has such a fail safe element to prevent "cheating," or "relapse." You simply can't go overboard after the surgery, or you will get very sick and regret it. 

However, after the party is over. All the folks have gone home, all the social reinforcement has diminished, and six to twelve months post- you are still faced with the demons that got you here in the first place; depression, past trauma, abuse, a bad relationship, lack of purpose, addictive propensities, boredom, loneliness, lack of a sense of self efficacy, etc.

Your Psychological Tool Belt is Here.

Baptism - go back to the drawing board when you know you've gotten off track. I am in the midst of potty training my three toddlers at the moment and am reminded of her directive if the kids start to have accidents more frequently that we need to go back to square one and do another three day round of the pants off dance off, where we are sequestered to our home for 72 solid hours so that I can act like a psychological seismograph and quickly put a peeing kid on the potty mid stream.

Same thing applies to bad habits or addiction. To have the same motivation and gusto you once came out of the gates with, you have to go back and come out of the gates again. Perhaps this means reading the literature that got you motivated to change in the first place. Maybe this means going back to OA meetings. This could mean training for a half marathon. Whatever helps to signify to you that another major shift is coming. 

Psychological Absolvement- This is a layer of guilt that I see many who relapse, carry. This serves no one. In fact, it sometimes perpetuates the problem because when we feel bad, we do badder (that's a word right?). Understand that this journey you are on is not a simple downhill road, but a twisting, winding, and sometimes uphill battle. This struggle is all part of your process. 

In any true change process or metamorphosis there is significant struggle, whether it be the caterpillar in its cocoon, or the crucible in the kiln. 

Higher Desires- Make a list of what you at your best self feels and looks like. Are there famouss people or celebrities that have recovered from addiction that inspire you? Are there people in your life that live it with vigor that you would want to emulate? 

Environmental prompts- make sure your life is surrounded by items that inspire and motivate you. It could be a beautiful quote on your mirror, a poem on your bedside journal, a beautiful picture on your phone's wallpaper, making sure your favorite health sites are showing up first in your social media feeds, making an effort to tune out negative social media, or triggering/toxic people. Whatever the things are that you know lend to you being your best self, need to be in place. Think of it like psychologically nesting for change.

Cons list- you need to have a list on your person or on your phone of all the reasons you did this in the first place; heart disease, hypertension, sleep apnea, chronic pain, not being able to keep up with the grandkids, poor sex life, feeling of embarrassment in public, social isolation, etc. These can be powerful reminders of why we started such an endeavor in the first place.

Spirituality- This doesn't mean religion but it can. If you have a solid faith- wonderful, use that. Allow your guiding principles to help you during your most vulnerable weak moments. If you don't have any form of spirituality - think about what that might look like for you; yoga, mindfulness, realignment with nature, serving your community. 

Spirituality allows us to connect with our soul. It allows us to be in a place of openness and vulnerability without knowing all the answers. It provides us with the opportunity to have faith that everything is going to be alright even though things are really uncomfortable right now. 

Daily/Weekly- What are you daily and weekly rituals that keep you on the right track? Make a list of the things you know you need to be doing daily and weekly to signify you are in a good space. Maybe daily it is drinking hot lemon water in the morning, meditation or "bed"itation, prayer, exercise, vitamins, meal prep. Then maybe weekly it is acupuncture, therapy, journaling, volunteering. 

Try starting with these tools and see if you don't start to feel a sense of renewed motivation. For more tools, please check out the full psychological tool belt here.  For my free supplemental course on weight loss, click here.

 

 

Sex and Why You're Not Having it

 

5 Ways to Rekindle Your Spark Today

The Sexual Landscape of Most Couples Today

Many couples that come in to me for help, come in with sexual desire issues. They understand that their sexual relationship with each other is not quite what it used to be, but don’t know how to fix it.

Some believe “if only my partner would change, we wouldn’t have a problem.” Many people subscribe to the new car theory of relationships, assuming “if I only was with someone _____ (more attractive, more sensitive, more ambitious, more involved with the kids, etc) I would be happier.

The reality is that everyone reaches sexual desire issues in a relationship if they stay together long enough. It is actually a sign that things are going right. Yes, if we are together with one person long enough- we will hit a tipping point, where our self-growth must take place in order for us to move forward. Problem is- many of us don’t want to put in all that effort of changing ourselves and would rather just change our partners.

Sex as a Matter of Life & Death?

Freud conceptualized our internal conflict as coming out of two things; eros and thanatos. In Greek mythology eros was the personification of love, sexuality, life energy, and reproduction, while Thanatos was the personification of death. So in essence, when we aren’t having sex- we’re dying.This is why, if you leave sex and passion out of your relationship for a long time, you may find yourself subconsciously “stirring the pot.” You might be drumming up fights for no reason, dragging out baggage from the past, or to a larger extreme- engaging in an emotional/sexual affair outside of the relationship.

We all share the common need for eros, passion, life, and sexuality. The problem is- our partners soon create an atmosphere that seems counterproductive for achieving that.

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Til’ Death Do Us Part
When we take our vows- we make a commitment to our partner to love them unconditionally, forever. So, as soon as we do this- we regress back to what we know- childhood. What other relationship provides us with the expectation of unconditional love and security forever?

Now we are presented with a problem. How do we sustain a robust sexual and erotic dynamic in a relationship that now is akin to the one we got from our parents?

When we trade the insecurity, uncertainty, and instability that comes with new love for security, safety, and stability that is our implicit agreement in marriage (or long term partnership/companionship)- we lose eros. We lose the erotic, anticipatory will-he-come-back-tomorrow, type force that is present early on in relationshipsCan We Have it All?
My answer is “yes, but it doesn’t come as easily this time.” There is no magic “spark” or “flame” that can be flipped back on like a light switch. It takes concerted and repeated hard work. The work must be put back in to cultivate a relationship with your partner that goes beyond being roommates. However, I have seen that transformation take place with many couples.

Here are 5 ways you can begin recreating the spark again:

1) Remember when we used to spend hours listening to our partner? Now after riding the bull of life- we are lucky if we get two seconds of eye contact before turning out the lights. Try to give your partner 10 minutes of uninterrupted listening time. Ask questions, be curious, be genuinely and authentically interested in what they are trying to convey.

2) Bad communication = bad sex, but better communication doesn't necessarily translate to better sex. If we want more eros- we must focus on eros. First why do you want more eros? Set your values. Then, set aside time in your week to focus on this. Maybe its a massage, maybe its writing your partner a flirty email, maybe it is just giving your love a heartfelt compliment.

3) Be the change you want to see in your relationship. If you want someone who takes better care of themselves- toss your flannel pj's and start wearing better nighties. If you want someone who has more patience, begin to practice patience yourself.

4) Take out the trash. As David Schnarch puts it "we must be willing to call out the worst in ourselves from the best parts of ourselves." Sit down and identify how you yourself have been contributing to dulling the spark and make a commitment to change it.

5) Take the S.o.M.A six week signature relationship building course (cheeky right?)

1 is the Loneliest Number That You've Ever Heard?

Want to know the difference between being "lonely," and being "alone?" Then S.o.M.A's singles track is created with you in mind. What is the difference between being alone and lonely?

 

What is the School of Marital Arts for Singles?

The School of Marital Arts for singles is a six week program designed for those who are struggling to figure out how to find and maintain stable and healthy relationships. This six week program is based on Dr. Colleen's cutting edge approach to couples and 1:1 therapy based on the idea that our deepest relationships push us to grow in ways most of us are resistant to. Through this program, you will be challenged to grow and challenge yourself in ways you never thought possible.

Over the course of this program you will learn:

  • The principles of well-being that go into making us more balanced individuals capable of maintaining more balanced relationships
  • Identifying red flags and knowing when to run, not walk, away from someone.
  • Learning the difference between being "alone" and being "lonely"
  • Developing the necessary ability to seek relationships from fullness vs. emptiness, love vs. fear.
  • The main causes of divorce/breakups and how we can avoid them.
  • How to look at family patterns and how they affect you and your partner(s) in relationships.
  • How to identify your primary growth points that are being challenged and how to overcome emotional gridlock in your relationships.
  • How to identify and transform long term behavioral patterns that cause disconnection.
  • The principles that transform relationships and allow us to continuously rebuild throughout a lifetime.
  • How to cultivate one's own sexual desire or get it back.
  • Having the hard talks: How to navigate difficult but necessary conversations.
  • Knowing when to fold them- identifying key deal breakers in a relationship.