Beyond IF, Toward CAN

Many of us want things to be different this year.

To feel different, to look different, to extract from our time something more than last year. From the outset, I try to remember that the one gift we are given that we can simply cannot make more of is time — it spends itself at the same rate and rhythm no matter how we fill it.

Fill your time with things that restore you.

I recognize that this is easier said than done, but it can be done by choosing to make time for things you want or miss or need. I encourage folks to think about one or two things they want to add or improve upon and then allocate five minutes to it every single day. No matter what.

Go with others beside you.

There are many paths you can go down to reach the same goal, and many goals reached from that one path. The point for me, as a person and a professional, is to pick a path and to ask others to walk with us on it. It can be difficult to predict whether this path will send us forward, backward, sideways, or in a different direction. It can be even harder to trust that others will be willing to walk with us when darkness falls on the path we have set out upon.

Always forward.*

As the first few weeks give way to February, I imagine that many of us will start wondering if we have what it takes to hold fast to our resolutions. My advice is to shake the snow globe by looking for a fresh perspective on your habits and then rebooting by taking action with others.

It can often feel impossible to move beyond IF and SHOULD, but I think joy and hope are found in things we WILL and CAN do this year. The IFs are mostly unanswerable, and the SHOULDs are usually unbearable. But there are so many things we CAN do if we break things down, start small, look to others when we reach setbacks, and trust the process WILL continue to unfold.

*Yes this mantra is borrowed from Marvel Comics.

*Yes this mantra is borrowed from Marvel Comics.

Day 1 and Day 905

New year, new office!

This morning I welcomed my first patients into the new office at 610 Pittsford Victor Road.

This reminded me of when I first started blogging in anticipation of starting private practice.

In the spring and summer of 2016, I put a countdown in a blog post titled “Final Countdown.”

Feeling nostalgic and wondering if time stood still on this post, I took a look. That countdown clock has continued ticking ever since and here we are in a new forever home 905 days later.

Getting the space ready for today has been an all-hands-on-deck labor-of-love for the Harrison family. This included holiday visits from different sides of the family to pitch in with everything from childcare to switching out door knobs, major trash removal to interior decorating counsel.

We rung in the New Year at the new office working on important finishing touches such as…

Organizing toys in the waiting room.

Organizing toys in the waiting room.

Testing out Mario Kart in my new therapy space.

Testing out Mario Kart in my new therapy space.

Thank you to everyone who has helped to make this dream come true. The trust and support of so many people has helped grow this practice into a place where more people can find help. Something that I know I can do no justice to is highlighting the role My Better Half has played in all of this. I intend to devote a full post to describing how my wife and best friend has built my dreams and given me the opportunity to live out my life’s calling. Can you guess when this post will appear? Until then, you’ll just have to remember that she even thought of the Keurig!

Coffee (and tea and hot cocoa) for everyone!

Coffee (and tea and hot cocoa) for everyone!

One of the greatest features of this new office is more space to expand!

For those of you that have reached out since I first announced my move, thank you. Thank you for your interest. Thank you for your patience. Now with this additional space, I will work with other providers to meet the needs of families, both the ones I currently see and those waiting patiently for services. You will be the first to know!

Day 1 in the new forever home.

Day 1 in the new forever home.

Unreal InstaLife

Following up on my last two blog posts regarding social and electronic media, My Better Half shared this video with me:

The way this video represents a range of social media behaviors feels raw and real by focusing on the actions and nonverbal forms of communication in the physical presence of each person. I thought this was worth sharing in so far as it's evocative and can help facilitate a discussion. 

I have a few guidelines I've implemented in my daily life - and recommended to clients - that I think could be helpful to incorporate into everyone's daily routines:

Zero tolerance for technology during meals.

This can be delimited and brief (even 5 to 10 minutes) with no one looking at their phone. The ritual of breaking bread with others is so valuable for a variety of reasons, and I think that is a routine worth establishing as often and as early as possible with children and families.

Now, what I would encourage people to do is to have a fairly elastic definition of meal times. I get to meet with a number of children and adolescent clients who are working on skills like sitting during meals or eating a variety of food. It's not cheating if you change the definition. A meal could be a snack your kid likes to eat after school. Or meal planning time when you pick out what you're going to eat for breakfast or pack lunches for the next day together.

Keep the phone out of the bed. Literally.

Don't bring your phone in bed when reading stories to your children, talking with your partner, or transitioning to sleep. Even if you're a medical provider who needs to be on call at night, the psychological distance of putting it on a night stand that is a few feet away can be very real.

Be intentional about how & when you use your phone.

Rather than mindlessly and passively scrolling into the oblivion of your Facebook feed, go on a mission to find something or connect with someone through direct messaging. Messaging with intent is very different than just liking the buh-Jesus out of every witty or contrarian thought.

Reward yourself and your children for setting and sticking to technology limits.

If your 7-year-old child can go from 5 to 7 PM with a focus on playing outdoors or building something with their hands or their imagination, praise them like they're walking on the water. It's a big damn deal in this day and age to occupy ones self without the aid of technology. Pay attention to what you want to see more of and bring on the parade when you see the good behavior in action.

Take your teen's access to technology seriously.

A paper I read yesterday highlights the complexity of adolescents' access to social media and how it impacts their well-being. The catalytic effect of one post or accidental share can alter the trajectory of a child's academic year or self-concept without caregivers' even knowing.

This line in particular rung most true for me and ties in nicely with the video above:

...the social exclusion and comparison resulting from vast amounts of time reading large social media feeds and seeing friends doing things without you and comparing your inner emotional experience to everyone else’s highly groomed depictions of their seemingly marvelous lives.

While this run-on sentence may seem a far cry from the reality of parent- or adult-hood, I'd bet the farm that the so-called average adolescent could speak to the truth of this point of view. The world is both bigger and more constrained than it's ever been, making the boundaries harder to find and more difficult to delineate during times like these...

Do Less, Well

I've been thinking about how to say this for the last few weeks, and nothing I've thought has sat well enough that I felt fully comfortable writing and sharing it widely. I'm trying to avoid devolving into a know-it-all advice column, so I've been perseverating on how to say this.

But I'm going to say this because it's something I'm trying to live myself and help others to do. And I think it's a perspective worth sharing with you.

Everybody is doing too much, almost all of the time.

You probably already know this, but my hope is that reading what I have to say here will help you see the value of doing less, well.

I recently read an article in the September 19-October 2, 2016 edition of New York Magazine, which prompted me to get over the perfectionist parts in myself that hesitated to write this.

This piece is not the first to speak to the digital hijacking of free time and empty space, but I think it underscores the frequency, intensity, and duration of the electronic undertow many of us are caught in. I will acknowledge here the subtle irony of my writing adding to this current.

I see so many people - adults, children, adolescents, parents - racing to DO, TO GET DONE and so few folks feeling comfortable or even permitted by themselves to simply BE PRESENT. Not only present with others, but with themselves, their thoughts, their feelings, their bodies.

Now, I freely confess (to those that don't already know) that I am no Buddha sitting under the bodhi tree. I am a born, reinforced, dyed in the wool diehard DO-er of the first order. I come by it honest through my parents, gathered a lot of my worth as child by racking up accolades, and married a woman who gets stuff done all day long. I believe there is value in the dignity of work and accomplishing things daily either in the service of others, to further yourself, and ideally, both. 

However, I feel like we DO too much by trying to always fix things rather than trying to find some time to BE in order to understand and appreciate things as they are. I know there are so many, many things we want to change or be different in our lives:

How can I get my child to talk [about their feelings in general or when they are upset or AT ALL or EVER]?

How can I help them express their feelings [differently or safely or in an acceptable manner]?

These questions seem to demand a DO approach. How else could a caregiver respond to these two questions than by taking as much action as possible in order to help their child today?

But how do we know WHAT to DO until we first examine HOW we ARE right now? I'm not talking about some existential examination of consciousness or a philosophical debate on the value of neurodiversity. What I'm talking about is taking stock of ourselves, our behavior, our goals, and our dreams before we start to act on the world hoping that it will change.

There's never enough time in the day, the week, or the year to think and feel our way through things without also doing something to make those things happen. Every impulse in my rational being pushes me to get stuff done, too. I am easily seduced by the allure of getting stuff done.

What I want to sell you on is DOING LESS, WELL in order to have more time to SIMPLY BE.

Some examples:

  • Sit in a room by yourself and think for 5 minutes about your day (the one you're in)
  • Eat a snack outside or near a window and think about your dreams (any of them)
  • Read a book that you once loved as a child (it doesn't matter how young you were)
  • Turn off the radio and listen to the hum in the car (or the sounds of the road)

Now, I believe that everyone can do one of these every single day. I know I can, and I often forget or contradict myself by multitasking my way through many aspects of my daily routine.

I think part of what keeps many of us from simply being with ourselves for brief periods of time is an overwhelming sense of anxiety or guilt that we're not DOING all we can in that moment.

A continual pattern of DOING can quickly cause a cacophony of activity with no end in sight.

These are some ways I've tried to set limits on my over-DOING and increasing my BEING:

  • Set Do Not Disturb function (with professional exceptions) on my phone during dinner
  • Play video games for 15 minutes during lunch (yep, Zelda is my favorite)
  • Read the lyrics to the songs I sing to my children every night (I'm old, I know
  • Walking down our wooded driveway with my son (just trying to listen to him)

In my work with families, I try to encourage and foster this concept of BEING over DOING by inviting them to focus on 1 or 2 (tops!) things each week as part of our work together. I also try to constrain folks to focus on these 1 or 2 things really well during specific periods of time. So rather than say, "Change the way you respond to this behavior ALL DAY," I try to help families identify a time during the day when they are most likely to be successful with this strategy.

My tacit hope, which I have not until now fully articulated, is that by focusing on 1 or 2 things to DO, I can help free up more time for families to BE with their children and with themselves. Now I think this is somewhat wishful thinking on my part knowing that many families cannot rest too easily unless they feel or even know they have done all they can for their children. 

But here it is: I think most of us would be much happier and behaviorally better of if we DID LESS, WELL.

Picking through Dinner

Last week I posted on how to make change incrementally. After I wrote this, I got thinking about a concrete way to demonstrate these principles. An example we can all relate to and even start practicing in our own lives. I had to think no further than dinnertime. Every. Evening.

My 3-year-old adorable son has a way of eating at a pace that is uniquely his (and not the rest of his family's). God bless him for marching to the beat of his own drum, but sometimes, child, I just wish he could take an ounce of our Type A and get the eating done on Harrison time.

Needless to say, it can be a struggle to get him to eat a decent amount. Setting a goal of "finishing your plate" has rarely, if ever, ended well. Then, predictably, right before bed we hear the plaintiff plea, "I'm hungry." Here are the steps our household is taking to deal with it: 

  • Control portion size. We dish out much less than we want him to eat. It makes the goal of finishing more attainable, and we can praise the heck out of him for it like he's just "walked on the water."  We reinforce asking for healthy food if he wants more dinner.
  • Adjust expectations. We're all done eating, and he still has half of his mini-portion left. Instead of telling him to eat or threatening to remove a reward, we'll pull out 2 bites that I really want him to eat, usually a meat or veggie piece. I clear the rest of his plate. Once he finishes those two bites, he is finished at the table (sans treat if we had to negotiate).
  • Offer a reward & make it contingent. If he finishes his plate, he gets something he wants to eat right then and there. One he can pick for himself. We have a perpetual candy bowl in the house that started with Halloween and will transfer like miscellaneous sugar tumbleweeds into an Easter basket soon enough. All of the candy is individual bite-sized servings so they're not inhaling a ton of it. ALSO: He only gets to pick out a piece of candy after he has eaten his meal to our general satisfaction; there is no foraging later or earlier in the day for candy until he has eaten the meal we reasonably provided.
  • Offer alternatives. But only if it's already an option (side dish) associated with the dinner you prepared. This is hard for my Better Half. She seriously thinks he will starve to death if he doesn't eat one meal. If he cries at the sight of chili and short-cons us into offering chicken fingers, we're effectively reinforcing crying to get the food you want. I fully recognize that this example is not that simple in a lot of situations, but I do think there's a lot of value in making sure whatever options you intend to offer are already available.

One way to re-route this process is to have your "what they ingest" priorities straight out of the gate and have your "check-downs" at the ready before you engage them. If the meal is chili with crackers and cheese, have it all laid out on the table and lead with a small portion of chili, reminder of eating this portion, then incrementally dole out the crackers with cheese once you have some positive momentum on the chili side of the dinner. Then, only the candy bowl after the small-sized serving of chili and the crackers and cheese are finished. Yes, I really do put this much thought into this, but I only do it because, more often than not, it works well for us.

Here's a simple dinner contingency map for those visual learners out there.

Here's a simple dinner contingency map for those visual learners out there.