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.

Resources:

The Best Form of Self-care: Forgiveness

The Best Form of Self-care - Forgiveness - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville TherapistHave you ever wondered why it is easier to forgive others than it is to forgive yourself? Unfortunately, there is no trick to learning to forgive oneself–it just takes time and patience. Even when we have learned how to offer forgiveness to others, forgiving ourselves is a difficult, yet crucial step we all must work through.

Forgiveness is a process that takes time. It does not happen overnight and may require varying amounts of time and steps for each individual. Regardless of how long it takes or how arduous the process is, I can assure you that it is worth it. Let’s start at square one. What does forgiveness mean? To forgive is to cease to feel resentment against and/or to grant pardon to an individual–including yourself. Forgiveness has many benefits including healthier relationships (with others as well as yourself); improved mental health; less anxiety, stress and hostility; lower blood pressure; fewer symptoms of depression; a stronger immune system; improved heart health; and improved self-esteem. Not to mention how liberating it is to free yourself from guilt, resentment, and pain. Nothing but good comes from extending forgiveness!

I think we all know these things when it comes to forgiving others. But forgiving ourselves is a completely different story. Publilius Syrus once said, “How unhappy is he who cannot forgive himself.” I am sure many of you have experienced this yourselves; I have seen several clients stuck on this important phase of forgiveness, and it truly does take a great toll on their happiness.

Why is it so hard to forgive ourselves? When we have done something “wrong,” we register it in our nervous system. We hold on to it. We do not forget it. Did you cheat on your spouse? Hit a child in anger? Steal something? The list of potential human misdeeds is long. But then we start to associate definitive statements with our past mistakes. “I’m always saying the wrong things,” “I’ll never be able to cover my bills,” or “I’m a horrible parent.” This perpetuates into a negative cycle of self deprecation and self-loathing. It may seem obvious, but this process does not lead to growth or happiness. Along with forgiving yourself for whatever action or misdeed you may have committed, it is imperative to release those limiting beliefs as well.

Sharon A. Hartman, LSW, a clinical trainer at a drug and alcohol treatment center in Pennsylvania, works with clients struggling with forgiveness every day. She says that forgiving oneself is possibly the most difficult part of recovery. Countless studies show stress and anger can cause or worsen diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and various autoimmune disorders. “When resentment is interfering with your life, it’s time to forgive yourself.”

Just as it is helpful to break up the steps of forgiving others, forgiving oneself can also be separated into more manageable steps, as follows:

  1. Accept what happened. Move away from excuses and accept responsibility for what you did. Do not justify yourself or blame others that may have affected you. This is a difficult but necessary step.
  2. Establish your morals. We feel guilt or shame for actions done in the past because we were likely not acting in line with our current morals and values. This can be helpful in cluing us in to what we hold important and how we want to live. Consider your mistake an opportunity to define how you will (or will not) act in the future.
  3. Realize you did the best you could at the time. Hindsight is 20/20, so it is easy to critically evaluate past actions. But if you remind yourself that you were simply doing the best you could with what you had at the time, it will help alleviate some of the guilt and frustration you have towards yourself. (A warning: Earnestly evaluate whether or not your expectations are unrealistic or not. Refer to step number six about how perfection is impossible.)
  4. Consider creating a “re-do.” Sometimes I advise my clients to write down how they wish they could have responded or reacted in the moment. This gives them an opportunity to react to past events with their current morals/values, or perception. Simply write down how you would have done things differently if you could go back and do it again. In doing so, you will affirm that you not only learned from your past mistake, but that if you had the skills back then that you have now, you would have done things differently.
  5. Turn the page. The time will come, however, where you must accept that the past has happened and you have tried to amend past mistakes. No amount of re-do’s will change this. So turn the page and accept those events as part of your story. Without past mistakes and experiences, you would not be who you are. In a way, you can be grateful those experiences have allowed you to move on and truly forgive yourself.
  6. Cut yourself some slack. This is like learning to ride a bike. You were not perfect the first time (or even the tenth time) you tried. It took falling off, scraping your knees, feeling frustrated, and bumping up against curbs to learn how to ride. New behavior and thinking patterns are no different. Cut yourself some slack while you are experiencing a learning curve. Be patient with yourself. Remember that mistakes are part of the learning process. You are going to make mistakes. We all do.
  7. Move toward self-love. Think kind thoughts about yourself and show yourself some respect and compassion. Talk to yourself like you would your best friend. If we can speak to ourselves with love and kindness, and put ourselves as a priority, it reaffirms that we believe we are worth it. Recognize your strengths. Give yourself compliments. Surround yourself with supportive people.
  8. Appreciate progress. Recognize the steps you have taken in the right direction. The fact that you are trying to completely forgive yourself shows that you care about growth and integrity. Recognize when you make changes that move you to act and live more in line with your morals and values, and be proud of yourself for the progress you are making.

Sharon Hartman said, “We all screw up sometimes. Forgiving ourselves is as close as we come to a system reset button.” Holding on to guilt and shame because of past offenses can stunt your growth, relationships, and happiness. Forgiveness is crucial–especially forgiveness of the self. Because we know ourselves better than anyone else, we know our own weaknesses and faults, and it is easy to withhold that forgiveness. But I can assure you that extending that compassionate forgiveness to yourself will unlock doors of happiness and progression you have not been able to access previously. Remember that forgiveness is a process and requires time. It is different for everyone. If you have worked through all of these steps and you are still struggling to move on from past omissions, I highly recommend talking to a therapist. Please click here to contact me with any questions you may have, or feel free to schedule a session at your earliest convenience.

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

Resources:

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.

Resources:

The Power Behind Vulnerability

The Power Behind Vulnerability | Marriage & Family Therapy Dallas, TX

“To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen… to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee… to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, ‘Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?’ just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, ‘I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.’”

-Brené Brown

Vulnerability is a powerful, yet misunderstood concept. In our society, vulnerability is viewed as a weakness–something we should avoid and not learn about. When I think of vulnerable individuals, however, I do not think of downtrodden, susceptible, needy, or neglected beings. Instead, I think of my amazing clients: a husband leaning on his wife for support while he battles debilitating depression; sex-addicts relearning how to have an emotionally intimate relationship with their partners; battered women re-adjusting their paradigms to see themselves as valuable; or teens challenging peer pressure to realize their worth. I see those who are “vulnerable” as brave, open, and authentic; willing to be comfortable in their own imperfect skin and take life on as they are. It is this vulnerability that allows these individuals to have meaningful, honest relationships–both with themselves and with others. I refer to vulnerability as the “underlying, ever-present, under-current of our natural state,” as David Whyte puts it; the ability to show our raw, true selves–flaws and all. My purpose of this post is to explain how welcoming, instead of numbing, vulnerability can cure most relationship ailments.

Brené Brown did a quick poll on Twitter asking people what made them feel vulnerable; within 90 minutes, she received 150 answers of common situations we can all relate to–having to ask my husband for help because I’m sick, and we’re newly married; initiating sex with my husband; initiating sex with my wife; being turned down; asking someone out; waiting for the doctor to call back; getting laid off; laying off people. You will notice that each of those are interpersonal examples–meaning each is an instance where at least two people are interacting. This is because vulnerability is at the very core of relationships! Unfortunately, too often we become consumed by how others perceive us or how we measure up compared to those around us…so we let our automatic defense mechanism kick in: we numb our emotions. We block out painful feelings like embarrassment, grief, shame, fear, and disappointment to combat being vulnerable. The issue with doing this, however, is that there is no such thing as “selective numbing”–it is physically impossible to block out only negative emotions without blocking all emotions. Brené says, “When we numb those [hard emotions], we [also] numb joy, we numb gratitude,…we numb happiness.”

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, one of my areas of expertise is relationships; I find fulfillment in helping my clients strengthen and improve their relationships with others and with themselves. I have seen countless clients who have resorted to numbing their emotions because they do not know how to care for themselves when they experience pain. Consequently, they miss out on the full spectrum of feelings that meaningful relationships offer, including and especially positive emotions. Yes, being vulnerable opens us up to feelings of hurt, rejection and sadness, but it also means we can have more happiness and satisfaction in our relationships. Our relationships can be so much more fulfilling as we welcome our imperfections and allow ourselves to truly be seen!

How does one begin to welcome vulnerability? First, adopt the unquestionable notion that you are worthy of love. There is nothing you had to do to earn it, and thus there is nothing you can do to take that worthiness away. Second, know that you (and your friend/sister/partner/spouse) are imperfect beings, prone to mistakes, misdeeds, and miscommunication; expecting perfection is the quickest way to extinguish vulnerability. I will expand on these ideas further in upcoming blog posts.

Brené says, “Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging.” Believing this will give us the courage we need to be authentic (read: vulnerable) in our relationships–to be honest about who and how we are. I have seen firsthand how numbing emotion to curb vulnerability stifles relationships, whereas welcoming vulnerability makes relationships thrive and progress. If you would like to learn how to be more vulnerable in your relationships, contact me today to set up your first session.

Additional Resources:
David Whyte, “Vulnerability”
Ted Talk: Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability

Seven Questions Your Therapist Doesn’t Want You to Ask

...but that the well-informed client will want to know7 Questions Your Therapist Doesn’t Want You to Ask

Have you ever been asked an awkward question that you are unsure how to answer? Well, therapists get those all the time! So often, in fact, that I have spent time to compile my typical responses for when people are brave enough to ask.  I completely understand where you are coming from–you are anxious, coming into therapy trusting me with something vulnerable. So when you ask difficult questions, such as the ones below,  I am impressed–it shows me that you are invested in your therapy and the progress in our sessions. Because I know these questions can take courage to ask, I am devoting my blog today to answering them all at once.

Q:  How can you help me if you have not been married/don’t have children/are not an addict, etc?

A: Fantastic question! This is one I understandably get a lot, as I’m not yet married or may not have experienced exactly what you’re going through. Here’s an analogy I love to use: A doctor does not need to have had a broken leg to know how to fix it.  In last week’s post, I talked about my extensive education, research, certifications, and training I have received in order to be an experienced therapist. I have been in the middle of hundreds of marriages totalling thousands of hours of counseling; I know what works! My job is not to share personal biases or experiences from my own life (like what I have done to achieve the perfect marriage), but to be an unbiased, third party observer and use my education, research, experiences, and skills gained through counseling others to help you reach your goals.

Q: Will you respect my values and/or spiritual beliefs when they are different from your own?

A: Yes, absolutely. As a religious woman, this is something I feel very strongly about. When you come into my office, I leave my beliefs at the door and adopt your values. For example, based on personal values, I have chosen not to smoke. But if you choose to smoke marijuana on a daily basis, I am not going to tell you that’s a bad decision or that you are a terrible person! My job will be to point out if your choices are steering you away from what you are ultimately wanting. If smoking marijuana is affecting you from keeping your job, for example, then I may point out that the drug is interfering with your ability to think clearly.  While I will never expect you to live according to my beliefs and quit smoking, I may advise that you be smart about when you smoke (ie. during the weekend or other times that will not interfere with your work performance). My job is to help you make the most of your life.  I’m not going to project my values on you; instead, I am going to meet you where you are and we will work together to get where you want to be!

Q: Have you seen a therapist for your own issues?

A: I see a lot of therapists as clients, and many of them ask if i have “done my own work.” Without going into details about what specifically I have had to work through, yes, I have certainly invested time in self-betterment. In many of the trainings I have been through, it was required that all attendees bring a piece of personal work to process during the training. If I felt like I did not completely work through that piece by the end of the training, I sought additional resources to help me fully resolve it. In order to be the best therapist I can be, I have to do my own work. I’ve been on the other side of the couch and I can honestly say that I understand where you are coming from.

Q: Do you practice what you preach?

A: You bet I do! Well, I try. I give my clients homework–things like practicing mindfulness or self-care, watching their diet and sleeping patterns, reaching out to their social network for connection, processing/identifying their emotions, etc. And yes, I do all the same things I ask my clients to do. I am not perfect…some days I fail miserably!  But I will redouble my efforts the next day–which is what I will expect of you when you fall short.

Q: Why do I feel worse than I did before I started therapy?

A: Although this is actually quite common, I can see why it would be frustrating for a new client to feel this way. In therapy, I’m going to help you work through issues you have ignored or numbed to protect yourself. Reliving difficult experiences or using coping mechanisms instead of resorting to an addiction can be uncomfortable and/or overwhelming at first. But this is good! It means there is movement where you used to be stuck. It’s a positive thing. I don’t expect it to last forever. A good analogy for this is the first time you took a new medication–did you feel some side effects before it kicked in and did its job? As you continued to take the pill, you likely began to feel more of the positive and less of the negative side effects.  Therapy can be hard, but these painful “side effects” will only be temporary; the “medication” (aka the work you have put into therapy) will kick in and you will experience the satisfaction that comes from your hard work.

Q: Will you let me know when I’m done with therapy or will you prolong my sessions so I keep paying you?

A: I am sure you can think of a million things to spend your money on other than therapy, so I admire you for even considering to come see me.  I always tell clients that my job is to work myself out of the job. As I said in this post, I experience such joy seeing clients progress, get healthier, and move closer towards their goals. (It is important to note that the amount of sessions required for each person and/or situation varies. There is no set time frame, but we will go at your pace until we both feel that you have fully worked through your issue.) So no, I absolutely will not “hold on” to you for monetary gain. I want you to move onto the next stage of life healthier, happier, and independently. Plus, as you “graduate” and leave counseling, that makes room for someone new. (Not to mention that I would probably get bored if I saw you forever…haha!)

Q: Why did you specialize in sex addiction and why do you like being a therapist?

A: Such a valid question. Let me just preface by explaining how I got interested in it: I was working at an agency where I saw numerous clients with signs of sex addictions. I did not have the needed skills to appropriately address or assess this piece of their treatment. I was led to seek additional training in sex addiction, and to working at an inpatient treatment center to further my knowledge, before moving into the private practice sector. I continue to see many sex addicts, male and female, in my office. Why? Because I have found that these dear people have the most tender hearts! And I find deep satisfaction helping them find their worth–they make mistakes (don’t we all?), but that does not make them bad people. I love reminding them of that!

On a more general note, I chose to be a therapist and work with couples and families because I deeply value those relationships. I absolutely love that my life’s work is helping others improve relationships I esteem so highly.

Do you have a question you would like me to answer? Click here to contact me today!