Self-Care is for Men Too!

“When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life.” ~ Jean Shinoda Bolen

Everywhere you look there are articles, blogs, advertisements, and pictures about how women can become more beautiful or healthy or happy. Just as important, but receiving much less attention, is the topic of self-care for men. 

Self-care is defined as the practice of taking action to preserve and/or improve your health. It has a renewing, refreshing, and sharpening effect. There are many practical benefits to regularly implemented self-care: Improved overall health, sharpened mental health, decreased stress levels, heightened focus, greater levels of resilience, broadened creativity, and a myriad of other advantages. 

Self-care has many faces. Women think of chocolate, sleep, massages, shopping, relaxing by the pool… When men think of self-care, they may not immediately picture a bubble bath with essential oils. So what’s a guy to do for self-care? Here are four practical suggestions:

  1. Make yourself a priority. Sounds simple enough, right? Maybe you really enjoy music: listen to your favorite album on your daily commute. Maybe you know you feel better physically and mentally when you exercise: take a few hours a week to get to the gym. Making time for yourself is not selfish, it is necessary to being at your best…which unavoidably seeps into every other aspect of your life! Making yourself a priority does not mean that you sit lazily on the couch, ignore the important people in your life, or allow screen time to absorb your stress.  It means being intentional with your time and doing what will refuel, refresh, and reinvigorate you for another day. Know what brings you joy, and be proactive about practicing or engaging with these aspects of your life. 
  2. Interact with others. Having meaningful relationships positively influences mental health. These relationships will allow you to share aspects of your own life and also escape from your day to day routine. This might mean grabbing wings during game time from Buffalo Wild Wings, going hunting or fishing, grilling or smoking the results of said hunting or fishing outings, shooting hoops at the gym, or a myriad of other options!
  3. Be healthy. Both men and women need to take care of themselves physically; this is self-care 101. By this I mean eating a balanced diet, getting adequate sleep, exercising regularly, etc. It might also include meditation, practicing gratitude, regularly assessing goals/resolutions, and any form of stress management. Additionally, be sure to make yearly doctors’ appointments with both your primary care physician and specialists (where applicable).  Take care of your body and brain and you will be better equipped to perform to the best of your abilities! 
  4. Recognize burn-out signs. We all have them. Maybe you get snappy, easily irritated, on edge. Or maybe you feel exhausted, lethargic, or depressed. Such symptoms may serve as warning signs that you need to put on the brakes and take a personal day. This is where you might return to number one and repeat the cycle of making yourself a priority, investing time in meaningful relationships, and taking care of your physical and mental health. As you do so, the time in between your warning signs and necessary “reset” will lessen because your manly self-care will become more instinctive and effective.

There are several reasons why men do not practice self-care regularly: First, it is not considered to be terribly masculine in our society, and some men worry it will make them appear weak if they take time for themselves. Also, some men might think it is not for them because not many men are promoting it. Lastly, and most commonly, many men may find it difficult to prioritize self-care with work/life being too demanding, or they may not understand the need. 

Self-care is not just an activity you simply schedule into your daily life (though that is a great place to start if you are not currently doing any self-care!). It is a mindset that requires listening to what your body and mind need, and then regularly practicing those things. As you put yourself first, foster meaningful relationships, live a healthy lifestyle, and avoid burn-out, you will see the many benefits of self-care. Women swear by it…and so should men! In fact, I firmly believe that many of the issues that we face in our relationships would be alleviated if we all simply practiced self-care! If you have questions or feel you need assistance implementing self-care into your life, please do not hesitate to contact me or schedule a session. You will not regret making self-care an important part of your life!

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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Two Secrets for Making 2019 Your Year

“Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal or ideal.” —Earl Nightingale

What do we do each January 1st? We think about New Year’s Resolutions–hobbies we would like to pick up, physical feats we would like to accomplish, places we would like to travel… Some we achieve, some we abandon, and others we half-attempt and get mediocre results. If we want to make serious changes in our lives, build confidence, and grow as individuals, we need to have a plan. Without a clear endpoint in mind, we are wandering aimlessly. A plan allows us to proactively create our destiny, and our goals serve as the springboard.

Last year I wrote about the ins and outs of setting resolutions. Most of us are familiar with the process of setting goals; if you need a refresher course, check out the references included below.. Having or setting goals is not the hard part, though. The hard part is following through with and reaching our goals. We have all had a goal that went unreached for whatever reason. I want to focus this post on what we can do to stay motivated to reach our goals in 2019.

How can we stay motivated to reach our goals? To quote Zoolander, “What do we do when we fall off the horse? …We get back on!” I have two simple suggestions that will help us pick ourselves up and get back to work WHEN we may fall short of our goals:

  1. TRACK PROCESS, NOT PROGRESS. This is an interesting yet intentional combination of words. Have you ever gotten fixated with the before and after pictures of home renovations or of physical transformations? What these pictures do not show is the vast amount of time and effort that went into achieving those results. We must remember that progress is a process. Growth and improvement takes time! We are growing accustomed to thinking we should have a six pack after a week of clean eating or exercising. The truth is that progress takes much, much longer than we like or expect. Instead of obsessing over results, we need to track how many times we did what we said we were going to do. How many times did we get to the gym? How many times did we bring a healthy lunch to work? How much money have we put into savings? If we keep doing what we said we were going to do–going to the gym, eating better, spending carefully–we will inevitably get closer to where we ultimately want to be. 
  2. PRACTICE SELF-COMPASSION. Beating ourselves up for our mistakes and punishing ourselves for not reaching our goals will nearly always backfire. This promotes shame, which is limiting and uninspiring. When we are too tough on ourselves we actually hinder our ability to perform. Multiple studies (see references below) show that treating ourselves with more kindness is the best way to gain better results. Those who practice self-compassion are more likely to achieve their goals because they realize that mistakes are bound to happen, but that does not mean they should give up. As we implement more self-compassion into our daily walk and talk, we will find greater happiness, confidence, and progress as we reach our goals. (Look out for a post on self-compassion at the end of this month!)

Those who succeed in achieving their dreams always have one common characteristic: They never give up. This persistence is a mindset we can establish from the beginning and nurture throughout the journey of working towards our goals. Yes, we may fall down or fall short, but we cannot allow that to let us lose sight of what we are working towards. When we are tempted to give up on our goals, let’s remember to enjoy the PROCESS, and to practice a little more self-compassion. Just remember that every day is a great day to try again. Let 2019 be your year!

Something I love about the New Year is that it gives us courage to change. New Year’s Resolutions are revitalizing and we often find a great deal of motivation to do the hard things we may have been putting off.  If current addiction issues, unresolved trauma, or a strained relationship is not allowing you to make the changes you want to make, please do not hesitate to contact me today with questions and/or schedule a session with me. I absolutely love what I do, and have years of experience as a trained, qualified therapist. Please come see me this year and allow me to help you make 2019 your year!

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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“Bookending” Your Day With Morning and Evening Routines

We are all aware of using either morning or nightly routines to be productive and either jumpstart our morning or end the day on a positive note. But how many of us use both morning and nightly routines with the intent of reaching our goals? In September, I wrote in detail about nightly routines, and in November I wrote about morning routines. In this post I want to combine the elements from these posts to demonstrate the powerful concept of “bookending” your days with morning and nightly routines in order to reach your goals. It’s almost 2019–it is the perfect time to start being intentional with your routines!

Let’s start by talking about the bigger picture. Many of us have goals or resolutions that give us a trajectory in a given direction–towards what we want to accomplish or who we want to become. In my opinion, goals play a necessary role in our growth; without them we will almost certainly fall short of our potential. On that same vein, just because we have goals written out does not mean we are sure to reach them. We need to be actively aware of what we are striving towards; that requires dedication and focus in order to reach them.  How many of us are giving our goals the attention they deserve?

Bookends are a support used to keep a row of books upright; without them, the books lean one direction or another, or fall down completely. Consider this analogy: Your day is like the row of books on a shelf, and the bookends, or supports, are the morning and evening routines.  A successful person’s morning and evening routines are the “bookends” of a productive life. How so? Because what they include in their routines ensures the really important things get done each day. While we may be unable to control what goes on in the middle of a day, we usually can control how we begin and end the day. We can take advantage of this fact by incorporating our most important tasks, actions, goals and/or behaviors into our morning and evening routines.

For example, many businessmen refuse to check email first thing in the morning–for fear of getting prematurely sucked into work. Instead, their morning routine consists of waking up, getting dressed, and dedicating an hour or so to working on important tasks or working towards a higher goal before going into the office. This may include reading, meditating, exercising, meal preparation, etc. These people are ensuring they accomplish what they want to before the chaos and interruptions of the workday get in the way.

For me, if I fail to exercise first thing in the morning, it is very unlikely I will be able to find time to exercise later in the day. So, daily exercise is part of my morning routine. Similarly, being a better journal writer is another important goal for me. If I do not set aside a specific time for journaling, it simply will not happen. Thus, I have incorporated journal writing into my evening routine (which also serves as a great way for me to unwind before bed!).

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Make or review goals, life plan, bucket list or resolutions
  2. Incorporate elements from step one into morning and evening routines
  3. Adjust routines as life happens (this will become even more vital when you have kids, not the other way around!)

Sounds simple enough, right? Here is a real life example: At the end of 2017, my friend made a goal to participate in a race during 2018 (step one). That goal could have remained written down for her to occasionally glance at, and she may or may not have reached it. But she decided to use her daily routines to reach her bigger goal. Each morning she would review her goals as a reminder for what she was working towards. She broke down her goal to run a race into achievable increments which she then incorporated into her morning routine of exercise (step two). Then, each night, she would make plans for the following day’s exercise goals, and so on and so forth until she was able to run, bike, and swim the assigned distances for her race. She successfully “bookended” her days to reach a goal by incorporating it into her morning and evening routines. She said it was exhilarating to accomplish something so seemingly unreachable through consistent baby steps! This is possible with any goal–whether it be increasing your physical flexibility, mastering a language, learning a new hobby, or traveling to somewhere on your bucket list. No matter the goal, you can reach it as you use routines to bookend your progress.

How can we possibly expect to reach our goals or cross things off our bucket lists if we are not actively working towards them? The concept of bookending our days with morning and nightly routines ensures that we will be consistently focused on our goals on a daily basis.  None of us want to look back and see that we failed to reach our full potential or have missed out on valuable experiences. Make your dreams a reality in 2019 by bookending your days with effective morning and nightly routines. By being intentional with your routines, you will make more progress than ever. And, as always, should you feel you need the help of an experienced therapist to become the person you want to be, schedule a session today. My door is always open–especially for those looking to make 2019 a fabulous year!

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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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 Positive Influence of Affirmations

 

Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” The way you talk to yourself can determine how you live. Incorporating positive affirmations into your daily walk and talk can profoundly influence the course of your life!

Do you realize how much you talk to yourself? You may be driving alone in your car, thinking about an interaction with a friend, and think, “I was stupid to say that”; or maybe you are looking in the mirror before a date and say, “I wish I felt more attractive.” Affirmations are sentences aimed to affect the conscious and the subconscious mind.  Every word we say to ourselves is an affirmation–the sad truth is that the majority of things we say to ourselves is negative. We focus on what we cannot do, what we are not, and what we do not look like. It is incredibly easy to get down on ourselves and practice negative self-talk. After all, we are our worst critics!

How you talk to yourself influences how you feel about and see yourself. You may not realize how poorly you treat yourself until you start observing your self-talk. Can you imagine saying half of the things you say to the mirror to your child or your partner? Never! How we perceive and talk about ourselves and our situations set the precedent for how we live and interact with others. Not only that, a study was done in 2010 at the University of Arizona where researchers found that the power of positive thinking could beat depressive thoughts. By saying positive affirmations, subjects were able to change their thought processes, and some even reported that affirmations were the most influential part of their recovery process! Practicing positive affirmations can help us consciously flip the switch to start being the person we want to become.

Now let’s talk about how we can use our inner dialogue to build–rather than tear down–our self esteem. A positive affirmation is a brief statement, worded in the positive, said with confidence that can help you make significant changes in your life.  Okay so what do you do with these thoughts? Here are three steps to get you started:

  1. Consider your positive traits or abilities. Like I previously mentioned, we are our worst critics. We are so hard on ourselves; we only see where we lack, what we cannot do, how not skinny or smart we are, etc (especially in this day and age of social media, our negative comparisons are endless!). But you are unlike anyone else; there is only one you in the world. What are you good at? What makes you special? Write a little list of these qualities and make them into “I am…” or “I can”  statements. Examples: I am strong; I can learn new things; I am determined, I am hard-working; I am relentless; I am connected and comfortable in all environments, with all people; I find and enjoy the simple pleasures life is offering right now;
  2. Replace negative self-talk with your personalized affirmations. The moment you start paying attention to your inner-dialogue, you will notice how down on yourself you are. Make a sincere effort to cut out negativity towards yourself and instead build yourself up. Next time you are feeling discouraged thinking, “I will never be able to do that..” or, “I will never be good enough…”, instead say one of your positive affirmations. Examples: My challenges bring opportunities; I love myself and who I am; I love myself unconditionally; I allow only healthy and loving relationships into my life; How I feel matters, therefore I concentrate on aspects of life that make me feel good!; My mood creates a physiological response in my body. I am peaceful and positive!; I am in control of my thoughts and my life.
  3. Rewrite and repeat your affirmations daily. Watch this YouTube video of a father practicing affirmations with his daughter before she goes to school. This is a great example of how to start your day; look yourself in the mirror and build yourself up! Imagine the power that would come to you if you began every day this way! Whether you practice affirmations at the beginning of the day, at the end of the day, or all throughout the day, be consistent. You might even consider writing your affirmations down on notecards or post-its scattered throughout your living and working spaces. Seeing these positive statements will only help reinforce and solidify them in your mind.

These three steps are simple: Focus on what you can do, stop putting yourself down, and regularly affirm yourself. As you begin to think about specific thoughts about your, over and over again, those thoughts will become beliefs and reality. Instead of limiting yourself with demeaning thought processes, make changes today that will enable you to reach your full potential. As you build yourself up, you will see that the small steps of adding positive affirmations into your life will influence you for the better. You will be a happier person, more comfortable in your own skin, and you will see that life is full of opportunities you can handle. After all, that’s the truth!

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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Fork Your Way Into a Healthy 2018!

Healthy Eating Self Care - Cluff Counseling, Denton TherapistDid you know that around 160 million Americans are either obese or overweight? This scary statistic includes 30% of boys and girls under age 20! By understanding what specifically our bodies really need, we can aim to lead and maintain a healthy lifestyle–both physically and mentally.

Many of my clients have goals for 2018 that include improving their physical appearance by focusing on a healthy diet, exercising regularly, getting more sleep, and boosting their stress management. While I am not a licensed health coach, this is pertinent information to me because physical health is closely tied to mental health. I, like you, am also working on bettering my diet and exercise regime in 2018. I follow several fitness accounts on Instagram for inspiration; just tonight, @soheefit shared her secret that slimmed her waist…There is no secret! The way we will see results is by eating well, exercising often, and regulating sleep and stress. We often fall prey to the latest trick or the newest laser therapy or the groundbreaking diet we hear about from friends or on social media, but, at the end of the day, those methods are not healthy or sustainable. We need to make lasting changes to our nutrition and exercising habits in order to see results. This is not news to you!

Have you ever felt discouraged or depressed, and gone for a walk or a hike? If so, it is likely you noticed that your emotional state improved as you got fresh air and let your heart rate increase a little bit. Our physical health directly affects our mental health. When we take care of our bodies, they take care of us. What specifically are you going to do in 2018 to take care of yourself (both physical and mental)? Exactly which “healthy habits” do you need to work on developing? As I mentioned previously, the three main things that influence our overall weight gain are: Diet/nutrition, exercise, and sleep/stress management. For the purpose of this blog, I want to focus on the first: diet and nutrition. Brian Regan, a comedian, has a skit where he mocks the food pyramid, saying nobody knows what on earth “legumes” are, and he pokes fun of the serving sizes saying no one actually keeps track of or ingests 6-11 servings of grains.

First, let’s clear the air about the “d” word…DIET. It is a dreaded word for many of us–especially those who have tried the South Beach Diet, a low-carb diet, SlimFast, Whole30, Jenny Craig, or any of the other millions of diet plans available nowadays. Unfortunately, the sad truth is that dieting typically does not work. Abstaining from eating major food groups is unhealthy, weight lost from pendulum dieting often comes back full-force, and then you feel overweight and discouraged. My recommendation is to fill your plate and your body with healthy options, while still enjoying what you are ingesting. Food is meant to be enjoyed! Take a moment to consider what you are eating and if it is what your body really needs.

In 2011, 19 years of food pyramid illustrations and teachings were laid to rest with an updated nutrition guide called MyPlate (see graphic below). MyPlate depicts a place setting with the recommended serving sizes for fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy, to help us visualize exactly how much of which foods our body needs. The following are specific ideas for each food group, to help you get creative with what goes on your fork:

Choose My Plate - Cluff Counseling, Denton Therapy

 

  1. FRUITS: Adults ages 18-30 should eat around 2 cups of fruit a day. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut-up, juiced, or pureed. (Click here to see a comprehensive list of the fruit options).
  2. VEGETABLES: Adults ages 19-50 should be eating between 2½ -3 cups of raw or cooked, fresh, frozen, canned, dried/dehydrated, whole, cut-up, or mashed vegetables each day. Vegetables are organized into 5 subgroups: dark-green vegetables, starchy vegetables, red and orange vegetables, beans and peas, and other vegetables.  (Click here to see a comprehensive list of all the vegetables you never even knew existed).
  3. PROTEINS: I think protein is the hardest to come up with ideas for (“um…protein powder?”). All lean cut and deli meats are protein, as well as beans, lentils, tofu, eggs, nuts, and seafood.  (Click on this link for the complete list of protein options as recommended by the USDA). Having an adequate amount of protein in your diet can often curb cravings and keep you full longer, which makes a world of difference in forming healthy habits!
  4. GRAINS: All bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits are examples of grain products. There are two types of grains: Whole Grains and Refined Grains–we want more Whole Grains than Refined Grains. Whole Grains contain the entire grain kernel ― the bran, germ, and endosperm, while Refined Grains have been refined to have the bran and germ removed. Aim for eating whole wheat bread/rolls/tortillas, quinoa, oats, and brown rice (click here for the full list of grains). Little changes to the base of your diet and nutrition–your grains–will make a huge difference!
  5. DAIRY: Milk, cheese, yogurt, and milk-based desserts (ice cream, frozen yogurt, smoothies, sherbert) are some of the common foods that make up this food group. (Please click on this link for a thorough list of all possible dairy foods!) Men and women ages 19-50 need three cups of dairy each day–be sure to choose low-fat or fat-free options for the Dairy Group!

We live in a culture that often convinces us certain foods are either good or bad (which is a key component in eating disorders!) and that we are either a good or bad person based on what we eat. Carbs are not bad. Meat is not bad. Milk is not bad. Our bodies need the vitamins and nutrients available in each of the food groups, and–as we eat from each food group in moderation–we will find our way to a healthier lifestyle. Eating a well-rounded diet will affect the overall health of your internal organs, your cholesterol, energy level, self-esteem, skin health, relationships…basically your entire life. You know what they say, “Fuel well, feel well!”

Maybe you have a New Year’s Resolution pertaining to your physical appearance this year. The goal should not be getting thin, but getting healthy. Get healthy eating better in 2018. Start today by improving what is on your plate. Make it well-rounded, make it low-fat, make it healthy, make it fun! Eating healthy does not have to be a drag. You can do it! The good news is that you do not have to do it alone. If you need support to explore your relationship with food, contact me today and allow me to coach you through the process.

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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#RelationshipGoals

Relationship Goals - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville TherapistDid you know that people who set goals are ten times more likely to succeed than those who do not? I know you want your relationship to make it, so let’s talk about goals you can set as a couple that will improve your relationship in 2018!

While the new year can be a great time to kick-start personal resolutions and habits, embarking on resolutions with a partner can also be a wise move.  Two weeks ago, I posted on my blog about New Year’s Resolutions and the power behind mindfully setting well-rounded goals to help you improve in all aspects of your life. This week I want to focus on applying that logic exclusively to relationships.

Do you and your partner set resolutions or goals for your relationship? This might include things you both need to improve, leave behind, or want to learn–like arguing less, listening more, or learning your salmon grilling techniques. Many of my clients only set individual goals, and not couple goals for things they would like to achieve as a unit. The following are nine simple suggestions that you can personalize and include in your 2018 couple resolutions:

  • Do stuff together. Yes, this sounds obvious, but often couples slip into monotony that leads to lack of connection. So my advice is to do things together–it can be simple things like paying the bills, cleaning your house, or running errands…just do it together. I also recommend doing meaningful things together–like worshipping, learning a new skill, participating in service, or visiting travel destinations. And do not forget to have fun together–be goofy, joke around, and remember that laughing together does wonders for a relationship.
  • Be present with each other. I understand that between school, work, kids, etc, your schedules appear full and you do not have much time to spare. Make whatever time you do have together COUNT. Make a goal to stop scrolling so much in your partner’s presence; put your phones down, and focus on each other! Take technology breaks and spend undistracted time with each other. When you and your partner are together, make sure ALL of you is there.
  • Do not turn a molehill into a mountain. This year resolve to not let little upsets grow into big ones. Remember that every conflict in your relationship is not personal.
  • Be respectful, even when you are upset. Although it can be easy to flare up in the face of contention and say angry things to your partner, it is harder to come back and apologize. Instead, try the Time Out technique and say, “I love you and because I love you, I don’t want to say or do anything that would hurt you or our relationship and so I need some time to calm down before I can continue this conversation.” Imagine what a difference this could make!
  • Speak up about what you want! Your partner is not a mindreader. He or she cannot magically know what you want or need. Use your words and tell him or her what you want–whether it is where you want to eat out, what is going on in bed, or how you communicate throughout the day. Set your partner up for success by telling him or her what you want so it can be delivered.
  • Speak your partner’s love language. Many of you are familiar with love languages (if not, click here to read more). To boil it down, each of us has a primary love language: acts of service, words of affirmation, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. Both you and your partner receive love through one of those primary love languages. It is your job to know what is most meaningful to your partner. The majority of my clients often feel disconnected and butt heads because each partner is speaking with his or her own preferred love language, rather than how what his/her partner receives love.
  • Ask your partner how (not if) you can help. Ana Aluisy, a couples therapist from Florida, says that simply being direct and asking your partner how you can help improves your connection and intimacy immensely. Aluisy says, “Many times we place immense amounts of efforts into being supportive towards our partner, but they may not notice. Knowing specifically how they need us to be there for them is key.”
  • Catch your partner doing good. More often than not, we overlook what our partner does well and only see that he/she loaded the dishwasher wrong. We must intentionally look for the good and express it often to cultivate a loving attitude within the relationship. Here is a simple exercise that I recommend to my couples: over the next seven days, catch your partner doing good and tell them what you see. At the end of the week, reflect on how you feel about your partner. You will be surprised how such a simple thing can make a big difference in your view of your partner.
  • Have regularly scheduled check-ins. Jeffrey Sumber, Psychotherapist and Author says. “I encourage couples to check in with each other on a regular basis, typically weekly. It’s not only an opportunity to see whether things are going amazingly or if someone’s struggling, but it’s also an opportunity to offer appreciation for one another on a regular basis and express what you each need.” Whether you have a nightly, weekly, or monthly “check-in,” it is important to have a time you both plan on discussing your relationship.

Making relationship resolutions in and of itself shows you are prioritizing the relationship. Couples benefit from constantly reevaluating their relationships and finding ways to strengthen them. Setting couple New Year’s resolutions can be a great way to increase your connection, strengthen your relationship, and improve your overall relationship satisfaction.

The above resolutions are just a few examples of goals you can choose for your relationship. I encourage you to pick 2 or 3, from the list or on your own, that you would like to focus on this year and discuss with your partner how you two will implement them in your relationship. If you feel like you need some assistance creating measurable or implementable couple goals, please feel free to contact me or schedule a session. Let 2018 be the best year so far in your relationship!

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

Resources:

Bucket Lists: A Powerful Form of Self-Care

Bucket Lists - Cluff Counseling, Lewisville Marriage & Family TherapistIn the wise words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” Life really does move fast; one of the best ways to make the most of it is to have a bucket list. Not only will this help you deal on difficult days, but it will give you something fun and tangible to work towards. Remember…Y.O.L.O.

If you are a list person, this post is for you! Do you know what a bucket list is? I am sure many of you have heard of it. But what exactly is a “bucket list”? Slightly morbid…but it is called a “bucket list” because it is a list of all the things you want to do before you kick the bucket so to speak (erm…die.). A bucket list is also known as a “life list”–an in-depth list of the things you want to try, goals you want to achieve, and life experiences you want to have during this life. Bucket lists make you stop and think what you actually want to experience in this lifetime, they remind you that life is short and we should live it to its fullest, and they increase your happiness.

I am posting this blog as a licensed, professional therapist because I fully believe that everyone should have a bucket list, and not just because they are fun and exciting. I am writing this post because writing/having a bucket list is a form of self-care and I hope this blog post gives you a gentle nudge toward getting out of autopilot mode, enjoying life, and living fully.

Making a bucket list is quite simple…and fun! Here are some steps to get you started:

  • DREAMSTORM**. This is what happens when brainstorming and dreaming meet. Grab some paper or a blank Word Doc and scribble away. Write down the things you really want to do before you have kids/get old/or die. Maybe you want to hang glide, cage-dive with sharks, visit every continent, learn to play a musical instrument or another language. DREAM BIG. Be audacious but realistic and intentional; for example, owning an NFL football team would cost eight or nine figures of capital. Unless you plan on pouring your life into that goal…do not put that down. You want a list you can actually work with!
  • TIME IT OUT. One of my favorite quotes is from Benjamin Franklin, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” If you stop after step one, you are going to have a lovely, overwhelming list that will fade in your desk drawer. This step is critical–plan out when you will accomplish your bucket list items! You can do this several ways…
    1. By short term deadlines–like during summer or before the end of the school year.
    2. By year–things you will accomplish in the year of 2017. This goes well with New Year’s’ Resolutions…but do not wait to plan because some bucket list items will require saving, flights booked in advance, or scheduling!
    3. By place–like if you are living in a certain city or state that has appealing things for you to do or see. Make a list of all the things you will accomplish while you are visiting or living there.
    4. By decade–things you hope to accomplish before your next birthday or during your 20s/30s/40s, etc.
  • BE ACCOUNTABLE.  Share your list (or parts of your list) with your spouse, your best friend, your sibling, or someone that shares your mutual interest in accomplishing those bucket list items. This will be wise to help minimize costs on shared expenses and will also keep you accountable to make stuff happen.
  • NARROW IT DOWN. Now that you have no more than five specific bucket list items that you have chosen to focus on, get specific. When will you do this? Where do you need to go? How will you get there? Do you need to buy anything? What preparation is involved? Then get to it and make it happen!
  • SPECIFICS. Now that you have no more than five specific bucket list items that you have chosen to focus on, get specific. When will you do this? Where do you need to go? How will you get there? Do you need to buy anything? What preparation is involved? Then get to it and make it happen!li>
  • CHECK AND REPEAT. Checking or crossing things off of your bucket list is oh so satisfying. Once you have things to check off, select new bucket list items and get specific in your planning to make it happen. And I would also recommend to make your bucket list a living one. Add to it! You never want to run out of things to dream of and work for!

Why on earth would I, a licensed therapist, be posting about bucket lists? What does this have to do with therapy? Well, making a bucket list is quite lighthearted and exciting. Sometimes life is hard, stressful, intimidating, frustrating, unfair, and a host of other negative things. Making a bucket list is a form of self-care; this can set your mind on lighter, happier things, and give you something to dream about and work towards. One of my family friends is a specialized dentist, and the way he can handle the stresses of day-to-day life is to have a trip to look forward to. He always has something on the horizon, and that keeps him going on tough days.  Making a bucket list can do the same for you.

I fully believe in taking time out of the day-to-day rigors for yourself and your personal needs. I do not think it is selfish; I actually find it to be wise and completely necessary. You will perform your basic duties better if you take regular breaks and time for yourself. Planning and executing a bucket list is not only an incredible way to carpe diem (make the most of the present), but it is a sure-fire way to work towards a bright, happy future. If you need help planning your bucket list, or making self-care fun again, contact me to set up your first session today!

**If you are struggling to get started during the dreamstorm phase, jump onto Pinterest and peruse bucket list boards, or even google that phrase and look through the images that are generated!

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

Resources:
Cluff Counseling: “Choosing the Right Therapist for You”
Cluff Counseling: “Self-care: Is it Selfish?”
Raptitude: “How to Make a Bucket List You’ll Actually Do: A Comprehensive Guide”
Science of People: “The Psychology of Happiness”
Science of People: “The Ultimate Guide to Creating Your Bucket List”

The Cure for Loneliness

Cluff Counseling - Anxiety & Depression CounselingAmericans are lonelier than ever. According to Public Radio International, about 50.2 percent or 124.6 million American adults are single today. In the 1950s, that number was around 22 percent! What has caused this great rise in isolation?

In a recent article, featured both in Forbes and Psychology Today, author Caroline Beaton shares a compelling argument that millennials are among the loneliest in American History. She deduces that loneliness is literally contagious, and that we exacerbate the issue by our addiction to social media. It is easier for us to stay at home, glued to our phones alone in our warm beds than to be out socializing with friends, neighbors or acquaintances. These days, social connection does not require a car, a phone call, or a plan… just a click. When we feel isolated, depressed or anxious, it is convenient for us to go online in search of connection. Basically, we use the Internet to alleviate our loneliness…

But that satisfaction is temporary…fleeting, even!

So you may think that the answer is to simply use less internet in order to overcome societal loneliness. While there is definitely some truth to that, there is more to the equation. If we click out of Instagram and put our phones down, we may instead be inclined to reach for the remote and begin another mindless, solitary activity. My advice is simple but timeless, and it goes along perfectly with Caroline Beaton’s follow-up article, “The Solution to Millennial Loneliness.” The cure to loneliness is simply alter your priorities. Place relationships and connection at the top of your list.

I fully recognize that technology and social media are addictive. This is why I recommend we change our priorities and focus on those around us–to be present in the moment. Imagine what would happen if you put down your phone while your parent or partner was talking to you. Or if you actually conversed with all your friends over pizza instead of sharing a meal together while just staring at your phones. I am absolutely guilty of this myself! We need to be assertive with our time. If we are not being intentional about where our focus goes, we will ultimately end up sucked into the distractions all around us.

The solution is to prioritize relationships into your day. Do not let the Internet and social media gobble up your prime and extra time. Make the decision today to forego the next episode of Downton Abbey until a time that your significant other is not looking to connect with you. Set aside time to chat with your father before beginning your homework. Schedule a time (even weeks in advance!) to grab lunch with a friend. A valiant and consistent effort is required to make and preserve relationships…but it can be done.  Prioritize. Schedule time for the ones you love and be present when you are with them. This is the cure for loneliness. Watch out– its effects will be more far-reaching than loneliness itself!

Resources:
Cluff Counseling: “Are You Addicted to Your Phone?”
Forbes:  “The Solution to Millennial Loneliness”
PRI: “Singles now outnumber married people in America — and that’s a good thing”
Psychology Today: “The Loneliness Epidemic and What We Can Do About It”
Psychology Today: “Why Millennials are Lonely”

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