What Are You Avoiding?

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Last weekend, my best friend came to visit me in Los Angeles and we engaged in some serious self-care – I’m talking spas, hot tubs, museums, and kombucha on tap. And even though her whole trip was filled with non-stop fun and a lot of new experiences, the weekend was truly ignited by our first stop: tarot card readings with a psychic.  

via deathtothestockphoto.com
via deathtothestockphoto.com

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I’m not going to go into detail about what we were told, because I want to keep the experience intimate and personal (see also: do not want to share all of my vulnerabilities with the entire internet, all of which is reading this post, as this is the most popular blog of all time). She did make, however, a statement that really made me reconsider things.

She sat behind worn tarot cards in a tiny closet-space of a room, and in an elusive accent said, “There are emotional blocks here. You’ve pushed them down because you don’t want to deal with them, but you have to.”

My initial response was, obviously, defensive. Of course I deal with my emotional blocks. I have a blog about mental wellness and self-care! I’m a therapist! Psychics aren’t real!!

But as I continued to reflect on what I was told, I realized that maybe I do still have some emotional blocks. Because maybe we all do. Maybe that’s a normal part of being a young woman navigating life. And maybe being defensive about how “emotionally blocked” we are or aren’t is kinda missing the point.

So I ask you to join me in really honestly asking yourself:

What am I avoiding?

What part of my life – spiritual, romantic, occupational, creative, familial – contains elements that I’ve avoided dealing with due to some kind of fear?

Take a moment to quietly reflect. When you think about your life and read the phrase “unfinished business,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? A goal you want to achieve but are holding yourself back from? A family relationship that was tarnished in your past but never really dealt with? A gut feeling that maybe you and your partner aren’t thriving together in the way you hoped you would?

The emotional blocks we have behind our avoidances are sneaky. They aren’t obvious. If they were, we’d probably be more proactive in dealing with them. But the thing is, we have to give these avoided areas of our lives the respect they deserve. They deserve to be fully felt and fully dealt with. When we treat aspects of our lives with avoidance, we only set ourselves back. We are not full and we are not whole. We are hiding.

Consider your blocks. Consider your fears. Consider your unfinished business.

Now go and do something about it.

And P.S. – Sorry about what I said about psychics. I think maybe they’re real. 

Vulnerability in Practice

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Daring Greatly and Brene Brown’s TED talk have made vulnerability a hot topic in the personal growth world. This week, in the midst of gabbing on and on about how I feel, what’s going on in my head, what I fear, the times I’ve failed, the things I am searching for in my life and still not getting, I had a thought.

Maybe I’m too vulnerable.

deathtothestockphoto.com
deathtothestockphoto.com

I feel an immeasurable amount of gratitude for my friends and family, who have always encouraged me to be open with my emotions. High school hangouts weren’t for partying, they were for sitting up at sleepovers talking about feelings. Starbucks coffee shops aren’t for quick catch-ups, they’re for 3 hour-long heart-to-hearts. And emailing? Please. More like exchanging 15 page journal entries.

This week, vulnerability has led me into some strange places – primarily, places that feel less understanding. When I share something vulnerable, I have a strong desire to be joined in that vulnerability – to hear the person I am talking to say, “Yes, I know exactly how you feel because I have totally been there.”

Not everyone says that.

Not everyone wants to be vulnerable.

And can you blame them? Lots of people have been hurt by being vulnerable. By sharing their trust with someone who broke it. By showing their authentic selves and being criticized. By opening up only to get shut down.

I understand those who don’t want to return vulnerability. That light inside of us is precious and sometimes small, and we want to protect it. It’s genuine, it’s honest, and it’s not always as beautiful as we want it to be. It isn’t understood by everyone. And risking being misunderstood sometimes doesn’t feel worth the risk.

But I think we should keep taking it.

When we are vulnerable, we might not be met with sighs of relief – “I’m so glad you’ve said that” – on the contrary, we might be met with cocked heads or awkward stares. And that might feel kind of weird in that moment. And we might feel a little bit of shame for being so honest.

And yet…it’s real.

Human beings can only form real, true, meaningful, inspiring, groundbreaking connections if we are real with each other. Because if we aren’t, what are we? We’re skimming the surface. We’re snorkeling when we could scuba dive. We’re in an airplane when we could be in a rocket ship. We aren’t really feeling it all, in all of its beautiful discomfort and aching warmth.

I want to feel it. I want to connect. I want to keep risking it.

And so the song I used to sing with my family comes to mind again: This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.

Challenging Materialism

Last night I spent a half hour or so scrolling through Instagram. Looking at pictures of my friends? No. Looking at inspiring art? Hell no. I was straight up devouring photos of potential new skincare purchases.

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And the thoughts go like this:

I really want that serum. I see that so many people love it. But it’s so expensive! I’m sure it’s worth it. Oh shoot, and sunscreen! Definitely need to buy that before next weekend. My haircut this Sunday is already gonna be at least $65 but I obviously need that and also sunscreen. Dang, what am I even going to wear next weekend? All my shoes are horrible. I need new summer clothes. I could really use a new…

Blah blah blah literally could go on FOR LIFE if I don’t notice it and get a hold of myself. Sometimes I have to close my computer or shut off my phone and set it on the table next to me, vibrating with this energy of temptation, non-verbally begging me to pick it back up and keep shopping.

Here’s the thing: we want stuff. We want the things that products sell us – beauty, success, happiness, and a sense of interconnectedness with each other. We want what’s trendy so we can feel like part of the gang. If every cool girl on Tumblr is wearing strappy wedges, we wanna get strappy wedges too, because we want to be a part of it. We don’t want to feel left behind. And further, we want to spend our energy thinking about shoes because it’s a lot easier than thinking about the “real life” stress of our work, relationships, and intrinsic dissatisfaction. 

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We often search for a feeling of belonging and happiness in our possessions, but the truth is that we just don’t get it. Sure, we might feel a rush after making a purchase, but that isn’t sustainable. Research shows that materialism is associated with lower social and personal well-being, impulsive spending, increased debt, and even depression and social anxiety. 

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And in a way, having intense feelings of materialism is kind of like addiction, isn’t it? I’m in the midst of reading In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Dr. Gabor Maté, which is centered on Maté’s experience treating chronic drug users. One of the most interesting parts in the book so far though has been his dissection of his own impulsive spending (on classical music CDs! Which I thought was kind of cute) and how his constant yearning for more is relatable to an addiction.

“When you get right down to it,” he writes, “it’s the adrenaline I’m after, along with the precious reward chemicals that will flood my brain when I hold the new CD in hand, providing an all-too-temporary reprieve from the stress of my driven state. But I’ve barely left the store before the adrenaline starts pumping through my circulation again, my mind fixated on the next purchase.”

We have it in us to beat this cycle. It takes mindfulness and redirection. 

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1.     Note the reason behind the feeling.

You’ve been on Pinterest pinning the crap out of images of home décor photos lately, and you just can’t stop thinking about all the new pieces you want to buy to glam up your apartment. These thoughts can come on quickly and go a mile a minute. Stop to consider them. Why are you spending so much time thinking about your shopping list? It might be that there’s something else you’re avoiding. It might be that you’re seeking external validation. It might be that you’re just bored. Recognizing the reason behind longing for possessions is helpful because it reminds us that, a lot of times, it’s about more than just really wanting to buy a new TV.

2.     Shift your thoughts: what do you already have inside of you?

I love the quote from Gabor Maté because it reminds us that yearning for possessions is an endless cycle. Buddhist monk Sakyong Mipham said, “’Just one more’ is the binding factor in the circle of suffering.” Let’s try to stop needing more by honoring what we have inside of us. What can you create? Are you a writer? Shift your thoughts toward your next storyline. A photographer? Plan a weekend trip somewhere new to shoot. Take inventory of your talents and interests and make something. Get invested in it. Get so excited about it that you don’t want to think about anything else. It’s a way better adrenaline rush than buying a new video game.

Like everything else, fighting materialism relies on self-awareness. Know what’s going on with you. It’s not such a mystery if we take the time to think about it. 

Thumbnail photo by ashleyelladesign,com.

Healing Our Creativity Scars

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It was 11am on a weekday and I was already feeling my motivation dwindle. My focused actions turned into mindless Twitter scrolling and my coffee was cold – sure signs that I was on the edge of surrender.

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My inspiration savior came in the form of Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast, Magic Lessons. Fellow social worker (and career-crush) Brené Brown was featured on an episode in which she talked about her belief that “non-creative people” don’t exist – only people who do and do not use their creativity.

But then she said something that really shocked me. While researching shame, Brené Brown found that 85% of the people she interviewed remembered an event in school that was so shaming that it changed the way they thought of themselves for the rest of their lives. Among those individuals, 50% reported that those shame wounds were related to creativity.

As someone who has her fair share of difficulty with creativity, I wondered: do I have childhood “creativity scars”?

Almost immediately I remembered a shaming creativity memory from my childhood. I was attending a Fine Arts summer camp, where all of the campers were asked to choose a creative course to engage in – acting, painting, sewing, or singing – and our efforts would culminate in a theatre performance on the last day of camp. I loved to sing and write songs as a kid, so choosing the singing course seemed a natural fit. I still remember approaching the teacher when it was my turn to sing as she played one of my favorite songs, Hopelessly Devoted To You from Grease, at the piano. I was already completely terrified at the fact that I was there, singing alone in front of 20 other campers and a music teacher, making me completely and utterly mortified when she told me, “Don’t sing so breathy. Make your voice stronger.”

Did I take her advice? Did I toil away, day and night, to strengthen my vocal cords and eliminate my breathiness so I could have the most amazing musical performance in the history of this Fine Arts Camp for fourth grade girls?

Of course not. You know what I did? I left class that day, asked to be switched to the sewing class (which I didn’t even want to do), and canceled the plan that I had with my friends to sing a song in the end-of-camp talent show – a song that I wrote myself. I was so ashamed of my voice that I quit the singing course and I watched from the audience as my friends performed a song about best friends I had written for us all to sing together.

Looking back on this story, my heart hurts: it hurts for the kid version of myself (who should have been encouraged instead of critiqued), it hurts for the adult version of myself (who is still, on some deeper level, impacted by it), and it hurts for the 50% of you reading this who can clearly remember a creativity-shaming event similar to mine.

Brené’s interview inspired me to work toward healing my creativity scars – wounds rooted in the innocence of childhood and the susceptibility to believing anything an adult says.

So how can we heal our creativity scars?

First, we can think back on those childhood scars with our present, wiser minds. If you, as you are now, were in the room when the creativity-shaming event happened, what would you say to the child version of yourself? I know what I would have said: “It was so brave of you to come up here and sing. Look at the wonderful things you are capable of doing if you put yourself out there and do something that you love. You are doing such a great job.” Let yourself hear those words and believe them.

Next, we can take the plunge and engage in our creative side. This might be trying something – writing, drawing, painting, dancing – and keeping it private for a while. Feel what it’s like to be creative without anything to prove to anyone. Then, slowly challenge yourself to share your work with someone you love and trust. Feel the glow of being creatively supported.

Finally, let this creative rebirth remind you that you don’t need to worry about how “good” or “bad” your work is. You ARE creative. You CAN create. So don’t ask yourself if your creative work is good or bad; thank yourself for awakening the inherent creative spirit that has always been living inside you since you were a kid, waiting to see the light again.

Thumbnail photo from deathtothestockphoto.com.

Keeping a Journal

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I remember seeing a joke somewhere that a therapist’s go-to response for clients sharing any sort of life challenge is, “Have you tried journaling?” And here I am now, asking you (as a not-yet-licensed therapist but also as a pal)…have you tried journaling? 

deathtothestockphoto.com
deathtothestockphoto.com

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Keeping a journal has helped me in so many ways at different stages in my life. When I was a kid, it made me feel safe. I grew up with 6 million sisters (or: five) and having a journal was a comforting way to keep my private thoughts private. I wrote about how annoying my sisters were, how much I wanted to couple-skate with Cam at our school’s annual roller skating party, and shared all my secret embarrassing desires (like how I was excited to get my period one day. Can you imagine??).

In high school, on good days, my journal was a place to gush about every miniscule detail of every insignificant interaction I had with my crush. It was a place to spend way too much time sitting in the warm fuzzy feeling of interpreting the complexities of the way he said “See you later,” a place to dream about all the laters we could have together if everything went how I wanted. And my journal, on bad days, was ready and willing to be marked up with swear words and tear stains in accounts of an unpredictable life with an alcoholic parent. In a time of chaos, it was my rock – never judging, never prying.

My journal in college focused on dreams and wishes for the future. I wrote about my academic goals and daydreamed about creative pursuits that I promised I would get to someday (side note: I’d been slowly writing and planning for this blog for about a year before going live with it!). And now, post-college and post-grad school, my journal serves as a mechanism for my own personal exploration. The focus isn’t just on my dreams for the future, but also on how to better understand myself in the present. I write about events that shake me up and tease out the emotions behind it, exploring why these feelings showed up.

And on top of it all, I’ve noticed the awesome, awesome benefits of taking the time to be quiet, be present, and handwrite. I don’t think I’m over-the-top addicted to technology, but I will admit that I have been horrified at how quickly I instinctually pick up my phone to check Twitter after committing to writing. I didn’t even realize how much I needed to get away from my phone, computer, and TV until I noticed how hard it was to do. Journaling helps me disconnect and spend some time with myself. When was the last time you really did that? 

So again, I ask you: Have you tried journaling? I came up with a few journaling topics – why not try it out?

Visualizing Your Best Self

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As I continue to shape and define the kind of site I want Morning Wellness to be, I’ve noticed an instinctual gravitation toward writing on topics related to finding ourselves (through vision boarding, values clarification exercises, and asking ourselves weird-sounding but research-supported therapeutic questions, to name a few).

rekitanicole.com
rekitanicole.com

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Today I want to share an exercise that’s not only related to defining our goals and desires, but also believing that we are capable of achieving them.

When you think about the big things that you want to do in your life, can you picture them happening? Are your dreams clear enough that you can envision them, and is your confidence strong enough that you believe they could happen?

In doing my own self-reflection, I realized that having goals doesn’t necessarily guarantee confidence that you can achieve them. And that sucks. If I have a professional or personal goal and my mindset is just, “Yeah, I think that I could possibly do that in a couple years if all goes okay,” then how am I going to go about working toward my goals? It’s not an attitude that encourages going the extra mile, taking risks, or making ourselves vulnerable. It encourages leaving everything up to fate and just hoping it ends up okay.

I found this Best Possible Self visualization exercise on the Greater Good in Action website, and I think it’s perfect for anyone looking to define what they want in life and build confidence that they can achieve it.

Visualizing Your Best Possible Self

Picture living the best possible life you can imagine. Reflect on different areas of your life – your career, friendships, family relationships, romantic relationships, health, habits, creative pursuits – and imagine them reaching their greatest potential.

For 15 minutes over the course of two weeks, write continuously about this best possible future. Get detailed – where are you? Who’s there? What specifically are you doing? Putting aside your anxieties and barriers, simply write about your best possible future, as if it’s the most possible thing in the world.

Researchers have found that people who completed this practice over the course of two weeks got a positive mood boost.

Why not give it a try? I’m going to! I know that I could use some help in clarifying what exactly I want to make of my life and build my self-confidence around my creative capabilities.

For more details on this exercise, be sure to check it out here.

I wrote Monday about valuing ordinary moments, and this post isn’t meant to discredit that. I wholeheartedly believe in the power of small moments, and I don’t want to ignore them in favor of extraordinary ones. I think there’s a way to balance appreciation for the ordinary moments with working hard to create extraordinary ones.

So, this week’s Morning Wellness reader (and writer) goal: be grateful for the ordinary moments while believing you will certainly live extraordinary ones too. 

Finding Joy in Ordinary Moments

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What do you think about when you picture yourself experiencing the utmost amount of joy?

ashleyelladesign.com
ashleyelladesign.com

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I’ll tell you how I would have answered that a few weeks ago. Picturing joy would mean imagining living a life that was perfect. I’d have the exact job I want and I’d be successful – people in my professional field would know my name and be familiar with my work, and non-social workers would also know all about me because my influence would be just THAT great. I’d be living in a spacious (but cozy) and gorgeously designed (but not over the top) house with windows-a-plenty. My partner and I would be in complete harmony – no arguing ever and no fear, anxiety, or challenges would come between us. I’d be spiritually enlightened, eternally calm, and yeah, hella stylish.

My view of joy changed when reading

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Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. Brené conducted research to determine the difference between happiness and joy, and she found this:

Participants described happiness as an emotion that’s connected to circumstances, and they described joy as a spiritual way of engaging with the world that’s connected to practicing gratitude.

— Brené Brown

This idea was interesting – that, theoretically, we can be happy but not full of joy, or full of joy but, in that moment, not necessarily happy.

Reading on, I was stopped dead in my tracks by her other discovery about joy:

“Joy comes to us in moments.”

In talking with research participants who have experienced great losses,

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Brené found that what they missed the most was simple, ordinary moments. She writes that we are at a risk of letting joy pass us by if we disregard the ordinary moments while chasing after the extraordinary ones.

It makes so much sense. In a life that puts such a significant value on being busy, on “hustling,” on making it, on getting out of the suburbs and moving to the city, on being somebody – there’s pressure to live an exciting life, and a fear of living a boring one. Our focus leans closer toward achieving more than it does toward being grateful for what’s in front of us. 

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I think we can take this concept of joy coming to us in moments and use that to cultivate joy in our everyday lives. We let the simple moments pass through us and we often don’t think twice about them because they’re ordinary. They’re the every day. They’re your boyfriend’s jokes, they’re your sister’s text messages, they’re your best friend’s phone calls to just see how you’re doing. They’re the real, authentic, life-shaping moments of connection we have with each other that will just slip through our fingers if we aren’t careful, because we’re used to them.

But we don’t have to let that happen.

We can put down the books about finding our happiness and we can stop picturing joy as a result of a perfectly crafted, Instagram-ready life. We can stop thinking we’ll be happy when we’re more successful, with more money, with better clothes, with a perfect relationship. We can stop with these broad ideas of concepts that will make us happier and instead, look at what’s right there in front of us and what always has been.

Imagine that big beautiful house with the high ceilings and big windows.

Zoom in and picture yourself sitting on your leather couch in your designer dress and your manicured nails.

Zoom in and picture talking to your partner, with your great careers and your awards hanging on the wall.

Zoom in and picture the small smile on his face when he reaches for your hand and asks what you want for dinner.

That’s the joy. Not the house, not the windows, not the dress or the career. It’s you, your partner, and the feeling of palms pressed together.

Let’s stop seeking joy. We already have it. Now, let’s savor it all.