Measuring Your Success

Measuring Your Success - Cluff Counseling, Lewisville Marriage & Family Therapist - TypeLegendary basketball coach, John Wooden, says success is, “…peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.” Are you doing your best to reach your 2018 resolutions?

As April approaches (and with it my birthday!), I have been thinking about my goals for the year and how I am doing with them. How are your resolutions going? Do you remember what they are? Did you write them down to begin with? Maybe you have a list displayed on your bathroom mirror, and you are actively thinking about daily steps you can make to reach your lofty goals. Or maybe you fall into that ⅓ group who do not work on resolutions after the first month of the year. Either way, I am here to give encouragement, and provide some tips on how you can measure your progress.

Life is busy. We get so caught up in the daily grind of simple survival that we may overlook seemingly extraneous things–like wanting to pick up a paintbrush or get into an exercise regimen. How can we stay motivated to learn the skills we want to learn, accomplish what we want to accomplish, and ultimately become who we want to be? The answer is simple:

Baby steps each and every day.

I want this blog post to inspire/motivate/rekindle your desire to grow and improve this year. You set your resolutions for a reason! With your own persistence, consistency, and organization you can accomplish whatever you set your mind to. Let’s get started.

First, take a look at your resolutions. Yes, I list this as an actual step because many people have intangible goals floating around in their brain space. You must write them down! You need to be able to see your goals; there is something about the action of writing them out that makes you more accountable to yourself, solidifies your desire to learn new things, and helps you remember your goals (muscle memory, maybe?). So step one, if you have not already done so, write your goals down.

Next, break down goals into measurable steps. “Learn to play the guitar” is a wonderful goal in and of itself, but it is very broad and difficult to quantify. How will you know if you have mastered or even “learned” the guitar? I would like to introduce a simple method that will help you break goals down to actionable steps and give you baby steps for each and every day. This step is perhaps the most important phase of goal setting, for this is where you can set yourself up for success!

  • VISION. Begin with your overarching goal. Let’s say that “learn the guitar” is your vision.
  • GOALS. How will you accomplish your vision? (Notice that the following can all be checked off yes or no; they are quantifiable steps that are easy to measure!)
      • Have formal guitar lessons weekly from a qualified teacher or musician
      • Practice the guitar for at least 15 minutes daily
      • Master one song a month
      • Perform Christmas song at family Christmas party
  • ACTIONS. Now take each of your goals and break them down into smaller steps with set time frames to accomplish each by. (Yes, this takes time and organization. But this is truly what enables you to reach your goals!)
      • Have formal guitar lessons weekly from a qualified teacher or musician
        • Research local music schools; find pricing options (by end of work week)
        • Call Dad’s friend and ask about his rates + availability (Wednesday @ 7 p.m.)
        • Find, clean and tune Dad’s guitar (before first lesson)
      • Practice the guitar for at least 15 minutes daily
        • Nightly after dinner, 6:30-6:45 p.m.
      • Master one song a month (if we are just now redefining or re-dedicating ourselves to goals, start with April)
        • April: “Leaving on a Jet Plane” (Key Signature G)
        • May: “With or Without You” (Key D)
        • June: “Brown Eyed Girl” (Key G)
        • July: “Silent Night” (Key G)
      • Perform Christmas song at family Christmas party
        • Practice basic key signatures monthly
        • Begin practicing “Silent Night” in July
        • Perform for a friend or small audience prior to family party in December
  • ACCOUNTABILITY. Who will you be accountable to? If you have a roommate, partner, sibling, parent, friend or coworker you are close to, consider telling him/her about your goal. Ask him/her to occasionally (or frequently–whatever will help you most) ask you about your progress. Often, knowing someone else knows about your goal helps motivate you to keep going when you are tired, busy, or discouraged. In fact, partner up–play guitar together or hit that yoga class with a friend!

Lastly, REGULARLY review your resolutions. Set a time to remind yourself of your goals. I have long preferred to do this early each Monday–after my morning rituals (like exercising, eating, and getting ready for the day) and before beginning my professional/scholastic duties. Having a set time to go over your goals makes them more prominent in your mind, schedule, and priorities, and helps you to achieve ultimately them. Plus, if you fall off the horse one week, you can reevaluate how to get back in the saddle. If you find your goals to be too easy or too demanding, you can adjust them as necessary. Having a regular check-in with yourself will keep you progressing.

Winston Churchill once said that success is being relentless. If you want to be successful, be relentless in your pursuit to achieve your goals and to become the best version of yourself. Only you know if you are exerting your best effort to reach those goal or not; are you happy with your progress? Is there room for improvement? If you are not on track to reach your goals right now, sit down, write your goals out, and divide each into quantifiable, actionable steps. I can assure you that this is one surefire way to both measure your success and achieve your dreams. And, as always, I am here to help however I can. Contact me or schedule a session today.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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The Beauty of Journaling

Cluff Counseling - The Beauty of JournalingSome of the most influential people in history kept detailed journals of their lives. Those journals are both a permanent record for posterity, as well as a cathartic release for the people writing them. Even if you don’t think you need either, keeping a journal has benefits you can enjoy immediately.

Imagine you had a friend you could share everything with–literally everything: when you feel frustrated or hurt by your partner, when you are stressed because of work, when you feel guilty after making a mistake or hurting someone else, or even just when you feel discouraged because of social media comparisons. Yes, you may have a friend, family member, or a partner in whom you can confide, but that person may not always be available and/or what you are facing may be too private, at times, to discuss with others. This is the beauty of journaling.

Journaling is powerful. It is an incredible tool that we can tap into when life is overwhelming, wonderful, or anything in between. When stressful events occur, writing through emotions and feelings has long been known to cause improvements in health and psychological well-being. This is because expressive writing reduces intrusive and avoidant thoughts about negative events and improves working memory. In addition to stress management, these enhancements free up our cognitive resources for other mental activities. There are so many positive benefits to journaling, but today I would like to focus on the following four:

  1. Journaling helps you organize. To do’s, goals, and dreams come out while journaling; it is all part of your stream of consciousness. Not only that, but if you are facing a problem in life, journaling can help you problem solve. A clear plan of action often surfaces when journaling, which is so helpful if you are feeling scattered, disorganized, or overwhelmed!
  2. Journaling clears your emotions. As you write freely in your journal, you will experience reduced feelings of scatteredness, increase focus and stability, release pent-up feelings and emotions, bridge outer events and inner thinking, and detach from the past. There is no greater way to be present in day-to-day life than to regularly clear your emotions and start with a clean slate. In fact, you can even reduce your stress by journaling!
  3. Journaling solidifies learning. I cannot tell you how many times I have read something I learned but had forgotten from my own journal. Writing down experiences and lessons learned reinforces them, and enables you to remember details you might not otherwise remember.
  4. Journaling leads to gratitude. No matter what mood you are in when you begin writing, journaling has the power to naturally steer you towards thankfulness–towards appreciating what you do have and strengths you do possess. When we pause to consider all the good in our life (and I recommend taking the time to write down your gratitude list), a cascading effect occurs and we inevitably realize we have more than we originally considered.

So how can you get started? There are infinite options! In the resources section below, I included one of my favorite possibilities, “The Five Minute Journal.” There are prompts divided into a morning section (to start your day off awesome), as well as a night section (to reflect on what happened throughout the day). Prompts include things like, “I am grateful for…,” “What would make today great..?” “Daily affirmations: I am…,” “3 amazing things that happened today,” and, “How could I have made today better…?” These prompts foster meaningful thought and do not take much time to answer.  A quick google search will render many additional ideas on how you can get started writing in your journal today.

There is great power in picking up a pen and writing freely in your journal for a few minutes every day. While some sources recommend writing for 20-30 minutes at least once day, I often tell my clients to start with what feels natural. If you want to write for five minutes at the start of your day, try it. If you prefer summarizing the day before going to bed, go for it! I recently started bullet journaling because it seemed easier than paragraphs; though many of my entries morph into traditional journaling format, I enjoy following what feels natural to me. Let your creativity run free and journal the way that feels most natural to you–that is how you will get the most out of it. If you have questions about journaling or would like to schedule a session, please do not hesitate to contact me or set up a session today!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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SPLIT: A Deeper Look into Multiple Personalities

Britney Spears, Nicki Minaj, Marilyn Monroe, Lady Gaga, and Mel Gibson are a few famous individuals who have shared that they face Dissociative Identity Disorder–more commonly known as multiple personality disorder.  The average number of alternate personalities a person with DID has is between eight and 13, but there have been cases reported of more than 100 personalities within one individual. Read on to learn more about the cause and treatments for this mental illness.

Dissociative identity disorder (DID), often called multiple personality disorder (MPD), has fascinated people for over a century. In 2017, this disorder caught a bit of the limelight with the release of M. Night Shyamalan’s hit movie, “Split,” where the murderous villain has 24 personalities manifesting themselves throughout the abduction of three teenage girls. Although this movie was entertaining for some, 1% of the population who truly face this horror, may not have been as amused.

When Truddi Chase was just two years old, she moved out to the country with her mother and stepfather. At this time, she was sexually abused by her stepfather, and the trauma ultimately led to a DID diagnosis. For years, Chase was able to suppress her memories by holding them in alternate personalities that rarely came to the surface. Each of her 92 personalities held different memories, served different roles, and played different parts in protecting her from the past. One personality named Black Catherine held most of her rage. Another personality, Rabbit, held the pain. Chase wrote a book about her life, When Rabbit Howls, and, later, a movie was produced about her entitled, “The Voices Within: The Lives of Truddi Chase.”

The American Psychiatric Association defines Dissociative Identity Disorder as a disconnection between a person’s thoughts, memories, feelings, actions or sense of who he/she is. To some degree, this is a normal process that everyone has experienced. Examples of common dissociation are daydreaming, highway hypnosis or “getting lost” in a book or movie, all of which involve “losing touch” with awareness of one’s immediate surroundings. The difference between those more daily acts of dissociation and Dissociative Identity Disorder, however, is that DID is nearly always caused by a traumatic experience–such as an accident, disaster or crime victimization. Dissociation helps a person tolerate more than what he/she normally could. A person may mentally escape from the fear, pain and horror–which may make it difficult later to remember/recount the details of the experience.

Although there is so much we do not know about DID, we do know some things about DID:

  • Dissociation is present in all races, but is more common in American children.
  • Females experience more childhood abuse than males at a ratio of 10:1 and thus more females suffer from DID.
  • However, more males who have been abused may experience pathological dissociation.
  • Dissociative identity disorder is typically caused by trauma occurring at less than nine years of age.
  • Early age of abuse onset predicts a greater degree of dissociation.

DID is nearly always the aftermath of some form of trauma. Multiple personalities are unconsciously created in order to shield and protect the individual from reliving and remembering the traumatic experience. Sometimes these personalities can lay dormant as life stabilizes, but may manifest themselves during stressful periods of life. There is no medical attention formulated specific to DID; the recommended methods of treatment include the following three steps: 1) stabilization, 2) trauma-work and 3) integration. Dissociative patients who are not appropriately treated or who attempt to treat themselves tend to get worse and DID then becomes one of the most difficult to treat psychiatric conditions. Alternate personalities do not integrate spontaneously; treatment is necessary. Untreated DID tends to leave the sufferer vulnerable to to further trauma.

As with nearly all mental illness, there is a stigma associated with multiple personalities. We need to remember that this is a natural coping mechanism for those who have experienced intense trauma. The way I see it, those people who have DID are courageously fighting to survive and overcome past trauma. This means that functional, high performing, otherwise healthy individuals can experience DID depending on their childhood history. Mary Higgins Clark wrote a book called, All Around the Town where Laurie, the protagonist, is kidnapped at a very young age. She develops DID to face the sexual and emotional abuse she endures. After her release two years later, and the ensuing stabilization of her life, her multiple personalities subside for a time, only to reemerge after being triggered by her parents’ tragic deaths, causing her to confront the horrors of her past in order to heal. This book was incredibly interesting; I likely dissociated into Laurie’s world as I allowed myself to be fascinated by the manifestation of her mental illness!

My hope for those with DID and any other mental illness, is that they can find healing and hope. I never judge my clients facing these difficult challenges. It is important to remember that SPLIT was incredibly dramatized, and that the individuals with DID are just seeking to cope with life. It is likewise important to keep in mind that we all dissociate to some degree as the stresses of life close in on us! As previously stated, the best methods of treatment for Dissociative Identity Disorder is therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (also known as EMDR–of which I am trained in), and medications to treat depression or related symptoms. As with all mental illnesses, DID is not a life sentence.  Address the trauma that originally led to intense dissociation is the first step.  I am passionate about helping you find hope and healing. Please contact me today or click here to schedule a session.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Love Languages: The Gift of Words

The words you say can lift, comfort, inspire, motivate, and remind others how special they are. Words of affirmation carry a weight and a distinctive power that can change everything. For those whose primary love language is words of affirmation, hearing why they are loved sends them straight to heaven. Read on to learn about how you can improve your relationship today by applying the love language of words of affirmation.

Just before Valentine’s Day last month, I posted an overview on the 5 Love Languages. I shared that the way to give the perfect gift is to tailor your actions to how your partner receives love.  Love languages are powerful; by understanding our partners’ inherent love language, we can start to tear down walls that come up in our romantic lives.There are five ways that people speak and understand emotional love–through words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, physical touch. In this post, I want to focus on a love language that costs zero dollars and that you can do anywhere–that is expressing love through words of affirmation.

Words of Affirmation:  The love language that uses words to affirm others.

In short, practicing the love language of words of affirmation means we express affection through spoken words, praise, or appreciation. This love language comes easily during the dating and courtship stages of relationships, but it tends to grow harder for the more seasoned couples. Whether you realize it or not, you have an arsenal of compliments just waiting to be given to your significant other. Even when you are fighting or angry with each other, there are positive things you can say about him/her (even if it is, “He is a very passionate person,” or, “She is great at voicing her opinions”). We can use our words to build up, validate, compliment, or express love and/or appreciation for our partners. For some, words of affirmation is their primary love language. They do not need lavish gifts or fancy surprises…they need your words. They need you to tell them why you love them, why you chose (and continue to choose) to be with them. They need to hear their strengths. They need to know what makes them special. And, just like you, they need to be expressed love in their preferred love language regularly.

You may think that writing a long love note everyday is too much and fear that you would quickly run out of words to write. Think outside of the box. While I firmly believe that a meaningful, heartfelt card is appropriate for special occasions, there are feasible alternatives for every other day of the year. Try leaving a sticky note on the garage door on your way out, write a lipstick message on the bathroom mirror, leave a note in his pocket or briefcase before work, call your partner during the day just to express love, send an email or a quick text, or simply look at your partner and express love.

As we have established, words have a powerful effect on those with the primary love language of words of affirmation. That power can be both positive or negative. Heartfelt love and appreciation can cause them to feel incredibly satisfied and content; conversely, rudeness, insults, and even a brusque tone deeply injure those whose love language is words of affirmation. That is why understanding and using this love language in a way that resonates with your partner will make a world of difference.

So how can you use this love language? Make your conversations meaningful. I do not mean that all of your conversations need to be deep or introspective (though there is a place for that). Treat your partner’s words like they matter–because they do! Stop what you are doing. Listen. Ask questions. Validate. Seek clarification. Express appreciation and encouragement. Apologize. Do not withhold compliments. Strive for present, meaningful conversation, and you will communicate that you love and deeply care for your partner.

Here are some prompts to get you thinking about how easily you can incorporate words of affirmation into your daily walk and talk:

Examples of words of appreciation:

  • I appreciate that you . . .
  • I couldn’t ___ today if it weren’t for you . . .
  • I am thankful that you . . .
  • I’m glad to have you as my (mom, sister, friend, etc.) because . . .

Examples of words of encouragement:

  • I believe in you because . . .
  • It impressed me when you . . .
  • The good news is . . .
  • When you need something to lift your spirits, just remember that . . .

Examples of words of empathy:

  • It must be really tough that you . . .
  • I can’t imagine how hard it must be for you to . . .
  • That sounds . . . Is that right?
  • I could see how you would feel that way because . .

Examples of words of respect:

  • Great job . . .
  • I’m so thankful to have you in my life because . . .
  • I wish I could ___ the way you do.
  • It makes me happy when you . . .
  • I’m proud of you for . . .

Every relationship has areas that work well and areas that could use improvement. Feeling more loved and appreciated is something all of us would like! If you do not know his/her (or your own) love language, I highly recommend taking the quiz from the 5 Love Languages website. Understanding love languages will enable you to directly and efficiently communicate how much you care about your significant other. If your partner receives love through words of affirmation, do not be overwhelmed. Remember, you do not need anything special to say more affirming words today. By simply tweaking what you say (and how you say it), you can drastically alter your relationship for the better. As always, should you need additional assistance implementing love languages and working towards a more fulfilling relationship, my office door is always open!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Strength in Numbers: Support Groups

“Regardless of the road we follow, we all head for the same destination, recovery of the [alcoholic] person. Together, we can do what none of us could accomplish alone. We can serve as a source of personal experience and be an ongoing support system for recovering alcoholics.”            -Alcoholics Anonymous

I posted an article mid-February about disclosing mental illness–when, how, where, to whom, etc. It may seem easier to deal with mental illness alone, but great strength can be found in numbers. The same is true with addiction; more often than not, disclosing addiction to trustworthy individuals can empower and motivate you to overcome your addiction. There is great power found letting other people in so they can can comfort you, support you, and keep you accountable. Your family and friends will have an important role in your recovery and healing, but this post is about the kinship and healing you can find beyond your immediate circle of support and in support groups.

You have likely heard of Alcoholics Anonymous or “A.A.” This is an international fellowship where those looking to overcome alcoholism will be encouraged and supported towards sobriety. People all across the spectrum of alcoholism take part in these A.A. meetings, and participants become friends and a support system.  Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the most well-known examples of a support group, but support groups are certainly not limited to overcoming alcoholism. In short, a support group is a gathering of people who share a common health concern/condition, an interest or a specific situation–such as breast cancer, diabetes, heart disease, addiction, or long-term caregiving.  

The general purpose of support groups is to help identify healthy and effective coping strategies, as well as skills often geared to mitigating feelings of angst, fear, pain, and loss. The groups also provide a great support network—in support groups you can find other members in similar circumstances with similar feelings with whom you can share in an open and unedited fashion. The group allows you to be where you are and validates and normalizes what you are feeling. Imagine the benefits of being surrounded by people who not only support you, but understand what you are feeling and going through!

Support groups are available worldwide. If you are in search of a particular support group, ask your doctor, or mental health provider for recommendations, or search the internet, contact local centers (community centers, libraries, churches, etc.), or ask someone you know in a similar situation for their suggestions. In addition, there are many options online including chat rooms, email lists, newsgroups, FaceBook groups, blogs, or social networking sites. Help is out there!

On the other hand, group therapy is a more formal type of mental health treatment that brings together several people with similar conditions under the guidance of a trained mental health provider. Its focus is more educational, therapeutic, and process-oriented. It provides a forum for change and growth, and there is often a theme presented for the entire group, with specific outcomes anticipated.  Support groups are less structured, with no set curriculum, and the facilitator can be a lay person or anyone who has an interest in the subject (instead, many themes may enter a discussion by a fluid group of members, and the facilitator guiding from the side). The following are a few of the key differences between support groups and group therapy:

  • Openness. Oftentimes, support groups are very open, meaning individuals can come and go as they please. If participants are unable to make it, the group carries on as normal. With a therapy group, participant’s attendance is crucial to the benefit of the whole.
  • Size.  Therapy groups range from four or six to ten individuals. Support groups can be communal, allowing more participants.
  • Facilitator’s role. Therapy groups function because of the therapist at the helm, directly leading and educating the group. In support groups, however, the facilitator, who is typically a selected participant, guides from the side, allowing participants to make comments and build off of one another. In both cases, facilitators objective is to create a safe learning space for all participants.

Each type of group offers a unique dynamic and the key is finding a group that meets your specific needs and association. Not everyone will find it helpful to participate in the more intense, focused, therapy-based experience of group therapy; however, nearly everyone can benefit from a support group. Support groups are readily available and are often free. Benefits from participating in both a support group as well as group therapy include feeling less lonely, isolated or judged; gaining a sense of empowerment and control; improving coping skills; talking openly and honestly about your feelings; reducing distress, depression, anxiety or fatigue; developing a clearer understanding of what to expect with your situation; getting practical advice or information about treatment options; and comparing notes about resources, such as doctors and alternative options.

Support groups and group therapy have an important place in healing and recovery–be it from addiction or from mental illness. Depending on the situation, it may be beneficial to see a therapist one-on-one, in addition to attending groups. In some cases, medication is also necessary. If you would like more information, please contact me today. I am more than happy to schedule a session with you or your loved one and help create a plan for healing. When looking for resources to address addiction or mental health issues, do not forget about the strength of numbers you can find by participating in support groups and/or group therapy!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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