The First Mile is a Liar – True of Running and Resolutions

A while back, a friend of mine told me that “when it comes to running, the first mile is a liar.” I am not sure who was the original source of this insight, but it really resonated with me.

I am not much of a long distance runner, but I run occasionally when I want to bring more variety into my fitness routine. Historically, I would try to set an intention or a goal for my runs, based on time or mileage. I thought that it might be easier to keep going if I kept an end goal in mind.

Invariably, I would find that within minutes of starting my run, voices of doubt would creep in…

“Am I really up for this today?”

“How am I going to make it X number of miles?”

“Wow, I don’t remember it being this hard. I must have gotten out of shape.”

As you can probably guess, these voices did nothing to improve my confidence or my performance. There were plenty of times when I decided that I would call it a day early, telling myself that I would try again tomorrow when I had more energy.

Eventually, I realized that the days that my runs went well were the days that I managed to ignore the voices of doubt during the first mile or so. With enough endorphins and momentum behind me, the voices would seem to fade away. Then I would suddenly realize that I had not only met my running goal, but I felt like I could keep running further.

I started to realize that if I could just push past any voices of doubt for long enough, it would all become more manageable. I knew I would eventually hit my stride, and I knew that once I did the distance and time would start to melt by.

So instead of listening to voices of doubt or dwelling on how much further I had to run, I would focus on running to “that next tree” or keeping my speed up for “just one more song.” I would focus on anything that kept me moving, and it helped.

I still value big picture goals for my running. They let me know where I’m heading and they can be helpful for setting my pace. I have realized, though, that frequently checking in on my progress towards a big goal can get in the way of early momentum. Instead I focus on keeping myself moving for that next little bit. If I am moving and headed in the right direction, then I’m winning.

Generalizing the Lessons of “The First Mile”

While my experience may not reflect a universal truth about running, the lessons that I learned can be applied to other types of goal setting. I find that this is especially true for goals that involve changing one’s habits.

  • Don’t let a large goal daunt you.– When you set large goals it can seem like you are making little progress, or that progress is not happening quickly enough. Any goal that you accomplish will happen one step at a time. Focus on stepping in the right direction and you will get there.
  • Break larger goals down– Just like when you are focusing on “making it to that next tree,” long-term goals can be broken into short-term pieces. Setting short-term and intermediate goals can give you a sense of accomplishment that will help motivate you to go further.
  • Accept that “The First Mile” of anything can be hard.– If you can accept that it may be difficult to get started with a long-term project or personal change, it helps you to ignore any voices of doubt that may challenge your belief that you can accomplish your goal. You can treat it as a natural and expected part of the process.

So What Exactly is a Connected Self?

What is the Center for the Connected Self all about?

I created The Center for the Connected Self after several years of working with people who were suffering from a wide variety of psychological issues. What I discovered is that there was a common thread to the struggles many of my clients faced: Disconnection.

For some, this meant disconnection in their relationships. Perhaps the experience of anxiety, depression, or unresolved trauma stood in the way of them being fully present in the important relationships of their lives. Or maybe they noticed that their relationships kept ending in the same disappointing ways, over and over again.

For other clients, disconnection was most visible in the relationships that they have with themselves. Some struggled to know who they really were, what their wants or desires were. For others, it was that their actions didn’t always line up with who they knew themselves to be.

Still, for others, it is a deeper sense of purpose or meaning that they are disconnected from. They went through the motions of life just fine, but they didn’t have a clear sense of why they were here or what they were working towards.

In each case, a sense of disconnection was holding them back from something important in their life.

The Center for the Connected Self strives to help people to identify and address factors in their lives that are keeping them from having healthy relationships with themselves, important people in their lives, and/or a deeper sense of meaning.

So what does a Connected life look like?

So if disconnection is at the root of many forms of mental and emotional turmoil, what does health look like? What would it look like to live a connected life?

connected life is not an easy thing to describe, because it can look quite different, depending on the situation. The lives of a corporate executive, a college student, a homemaker, and a retired individual might look quite different, even if they are all living in a healthy connected way.

The common qualities of these different types of connected lives are healthy connections within these individuals, healthy connections between these individuals and those around them, and the connection that these people have to a meaningful sense of life purpose.

Broken down further, these important connections comprise six core areas of personal connectedness, which I call the 6 Cs.

The 6 C’s – Core Domains of Connection

  • Connection to the Authentic / True Self
  • Connection to your Emotions
  • Connection to your Body
  • Connection in your Close Relationships
  • Connection to your Community
  • Connection to a sense of Deeper Purpose

These core domains of connection are interconnected, such that health or challenges in one area is likely to affect one or more of the other domains as well. Optimal functioning will involve healthy connections in all six areas.

Qualities of Connected Living

In addition to the presence of healthy connections, connected lives tend to be characterized by certain qualities that underlie an overall sense of well-being. Although it is far from an exhaustive list, some hallmarks of healthy, connected living are: authenticitybalance, and flexibility.

Authenticity is an essential aspect of living a fully connected life.Itbegins with a firmly rooted connection to your deepest and truest sense of Self. This means knowing and accepting the different facets of who you are (even those parts that we aren’t particularly proud of).

It is only after we are in touch with our true selves that we can bring a sense of authenticityto our other important relationships.

Another important aspect of a connected life is balance. It is not uncommon to find ourselves overly focused on one aspect of our lives, to the detriment of others. A connected life is not a life of extremes. Rather it is characterized by a sense of equilibrium and balance.

Connected selves do not lose their identity when they are in their relationships with others, but they also make space for the presence of others in their lives. Connected selves are in touch with their emotions, but they are not dominated by their emotional experience.

Flexibility is another common quality of people who live fully connected lives. Such people are able to adapt with relative ease, which helps them to function at a higher level.

Flexibility does not mean having poor boundaries and constantly adapting to the needs or desires of others. Nor does it mean living life in a haphazard way. Having flexibility means that you are able to step out of your comfort zone to meet the demands of a situation, without feeling overwhelmed or depleted.

flexible social butterfly does not fall apart when they are alone. A flexible homebody is able to make it through the company holiday party, in an engaged way.

Having recognized the detrimental effects that disconnection has, I work with each individual to explore and break through any barriers to connection that they might be living with. As theses barriers are cleared, I support my clients in authoring new lives of deep connection and meaning. If you are interested in learning more, feel free to call me or email me.

What Do You Mean, It’s All In My Head? – Understanding Psychosomatic Symptoms

I am always saddened when I hear stories of people being told that a symptom or experience is “all in your head.” Often, these words come from a well-meaning people, perhaps a doctor or a concerned spouse, but these words can wound those that hear them.

People can feel that their concerns are being dismissed or that their sanity is being questioned. “It’s all in your head” can easily be received as “what you’re feeling isn’t real” or “you must be faking.” These are damaging messages, because they do not account for the subjective reality of the person experiencing the symptom.

This type of message is communicated all to often to individuals who are experiencing psychosomatic, or mind-body symptoms. Apart from their emotional toll, these messages can stand in the way of people getting the help that they need. A patient may start shopping for a new doctor instead of addressing the underlying roots of a problem.

So what exactly is a psychosomatic symptom?

Psychosomatic symptoms (sometimes referred as psychogenic symptoms) are bodily symptoms have their origins in the mind (either wholly or in-part). Examples can include tension headaches, digestive issues, chronic pain, and a whole host of other concerns.

Generally, psychosomatic symptoms are viewed as being distinct from symptoms that have a “physical basis,” such as pain from a broken bone. However, this sort of dichotomous (black or white) thinking can be problematic, as many conditions can have both physical and mental/emotional components.

It is often more helpful to consider psychosomatic symptoms as existing on a mind-body continuum. One way of determining if a condition has a psychosomatic component is to consider whether the symptoms are made worse by emotional conflicts, tension, or stress. Unfortunately, this can be hard to see and reflect on when you are in the midst of an experience that might seem entirely physical.

The Role of Stigma

Part of the problem that we face when we consider psychosomatic symptoms is that we live in a culture that has deeply ingrained, negative views about problems that are in any way connected to a person’s mental life. We tend to view mental and physical ailments as completely separate and distinct, and I am sure that I do not need to point out which type of ailment is more socially acceptable.

When individuals in our culture experience a symptom in their body, they do not generally consider how their thoughts or emotions could be contributing to or giving rise to the symptom. Part of this is a lack of education and understanding around the mind-body connection. Another factor is a cultural reluctance to accept the possibility that any of our problems could be mental or emotional.

Even the word emotional sheds some light on this problem. This word carries a whole host of negative connotations. Being emotional might mean that you are unstable, erratic, or out of control. If those are the connotations of being emotional, it’s no wonder that people are reluctant to acknowledge emotional problems.

It makes me wonder why there couldn’t be a shift, in which the term emotional could begin to be used to describe someone who is connected to their feelings. Or perhaps someone who can tolerate a full range of emotional experiences.

HINT: The qualities that I just mentioned are a good thing…Yes, it turns out that these qualities are even good for men to have…

So What Can You Do?

  • Rule out a clear physical cause – It is always important to see a physician to rule out the possibility of a physical cause that can be treated by traditional means. However, I would also encourage people to be open to the idea that psychological factors could be exacerbating physical conditions.
  • Get in touch with your emotions – An important early step of helping psychosomatic symptoms is to get in touch with and acknowledge what you are feeling. Unacknowledged feelings and emotional conflicts are fuel for psychosomatic problems. It is not necessarily important to arrive at a solution for an emotional problem that you are having. The goal at this point is to acknowledge that the feelings exist.
  • Look for connections – As you become more aware of your emotions, you can begin to look for possible connections between your feelings and your symptoms. It can be helpful to create a journal where you regularly write out your feelings. Not only will the expression of the feelings be helpful, but it can also help to find potential connections.
  • Challenge negative thinking patterns – While it is counterproductive to try to disavow negative feelings, it can be helpful to challenge negative thinking patterns. For example, if you find yourself thinking of the worst case scenario about your symptoms, or anything else in life, maybe challenge yourself to think about the possibility of more positive outcomes.
  • Talk to a therapist – It can be very helpful to talk to a therapist who is knowledgeable about psychosomatic / mind-body conditions. A therapist can help you get more in touch with your emotions, and they can help you work through emotional conflicts. If you wish, your therapist can also work with your medical providers to take a team approach to your care.

Actions or Distr-Actions: What are you Really Doing to Change Your Life?

It sometimes happens that I have clients ask me for “homework.” Often this is a sign that they are motivated to change, and they want to be able to apply the things that we are working on in the various domains of their lives.

At other times, a bit of exploration reveals that they are looking for some sort of technique or exercise that will help to distract them from deeper problems going on in their lives. They are not alone in finding this to be a tempting path.

We all want to feel like we are taking steps to address the problems in our lives. It gives us a sense of control over our destiny. A sense that we don’t have to just accept the hands that we get dealt in life. It helps us to feel like aren’t just lazily or ineffective.

Sometimes, we know just what to do to address our problems head-on. Other times, we scramble to find something, anything to do. It is often at these times that we can settle on actions that are really distr-actions.

distracted worker

The Problem With Distr-actions

The issue engaging in distr-actions is that they don’t really help to solve problems, it just masks them. It might feel better in the moment, but as soon as the distraction ends you are right back where you started.

What’s worse is that it can be easy to fall into a pattern of avoidance, which results in our worries growing more and more. We then need to exert more and more energy to keep these worries pushed down, out of consciousness. Unfortunately, these worries have a way of creeping back in.

We might experience problems with sleep, our appetite, our sex drive, or a whole host of other physical symptoms. Or we may find that we are tearful, depressed, or perhaps overreacting to small things in our lives. This is because the root issues are still there. They have not gone away.

All of this may seem pretty discouraging. However, you should keep reading, because there is good news: These issues do not need to have this power over you. You can move past them by working through them.

So Wait, I’m Not Supposed to Work to Improve My Life?

At this point, you may be asking yourself, “Now what am I supposed to do? I want to change things, but you’re telling me it’s bad to be taking action?” The answer is not quite that simple. The solution is not to passively wait for your life to change. The solution is to make sure that your actions count.

A good question to ask yourself, when planning or reflecting on your actions is, “Do these actions disconnect me from my problems, or do they actually help address them?” If you suspect that disconnection is part of what is motivating you to take a particular course of action, then your actions are less likely to be helpful in the long-run.

Worse yet, you might even convince yourself that you are working to address your problems, to no avail. This can help to reinforce negative self-talk, like “nothing that I try ever helps.”

Beware of Knowledge – A Seductive Distraction Indeed

People can be quite sophisticated when it comes to distracting ourselves from our core problems. A particularly tempting distraction can be gathering information about how to address problems, while putting off actually addressing them.

I want to be clear. I am by no means saying that it is a bad thing to be gathering knowledge or insight about a problem. I am saying that it can become a problematic distraction if the knowledge gained is not applied in a way that actually addresses the core issues.

An example of this might be someone who suffers from social anxiety, so they read every self-help book on the subject, and they scour the Internet for every blog post that touches on the subject. However, when they have an opportunity to practice being more social, they avoid it, perhaps choosing to stay home to read more about how to change.

In this scenario, there is a lot of frantic motion, but not much meaningful action.

Knowledge, particularly knowledge of your values and emotions, can be incredibly helpful in guiding meaningful action in our lives. The challenge can be remaining mindful of applying the knowledge that we have.

So What Can You do to Avoid Falling into the Avoidance Trap?

  • Challenge Yourself to Recognize Avoidance in Your Life – Do an assessment of the things that you are doing to feel better. Are they really creating the change you want? Or are they disconnecting you from your emotions? Are you driving around in circles, or are you heading towards a meaningful goal?
  • Get Connected to Your Emotions – The next important step to ending patterns of avoidance is acknowledging what you are avoiding. Take some time to recognize and experience any emotions that you have been avoiding. It my feel threatening at first, but you can only move past these emotions by working through them. If you struggle to know what emotions lie beneath your avoidance, it may be helpful to talk it over with a therapist or friend.
  • Plan A Course of Meaningful Action – Once you are clear on what you have been doing to avoid addressing an emotional issue head-on, the next step is to figure out what you can do to make changes. At this stage you want to remain present and connected with your emotions, while focusing on finding a course of action that will truly address your problems.
  • Don’t Try to Make Changes in Isolation – Patterns of avoidance are difficult to change by ourselves. Reach out to someone you trust to help you recognize avoidance in your life and help redirect you. Ideally, this will be someone who you are comfortable with challenging you (or less uncomfortable). It is hard to be self-reflective when we are feeling defensive.
    Practice! – Tuning into your deeper emotional experience and challenging avoidance are processes that takes some practice. It can be helpful to think of it as a muscle that gets stronger the more you use it.