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Curious Reflections for the New Year

“I have 8000 questions,” I said to an old friend who I hadn’t seen in quite some time. “Shoot,” he replied. 

After countless hours and at least that many questions volleyed back and forth, many of them hard, tangential, deep, personal, whimsical, or out of left field, I felt as though we had both grown, in our understanding of each other as well as ourselves.

And I am reminded of two things that I think are incredibly relevant as New Year 2022 comes to head:  the importance of both curiosity and the type of reflection questions we ask.

The Importance of Curiosity

There are different types of curiosity, but the one I want to focus on can be defined as an interest in learning, and I believe it’s a bit of a psychological superpower. It’s a great antidote to boredom. When you can harness curiosity in the face of the mundane, you may find that it’s not so dull after all. Think of children who are in awe of the smallest things. Their years have not led them to take things for granted or stifled their curiosity. Moreover. when we can tap into that curiosity and actively quest for knowledge, we activate the reward center of our brains, releasing the natural feel good chemical dopamine. Those dopamine hits feel good and are naturally reinforcing for us.

Beyond the nueurochemicals, though, curiosity is an incredibly helpful stance to approach the world from. If we get curious about our own inner workings, we are going to learn more about how we tick and have a more accepting view of our idiosyncrasies. When we approach others with curiosity, we shed assumptions that might lead to miscommunication. We can let go of judgments, instead being open and, again, accepting, strengthening our bonds and collaborations.

Similarly, curiosity aids in acceptance of difficult circumstances. I’m not saying that it will turn an unpleasant situation into a desirable one, but it does change how we experience it. When we try to learn everything we can about the circumstances, it makes them easier to tolerate and cuts down on a lot of the extra mental baggage that increases our suffering. In sum, I believe that curiosity is a key to openness, acceptance, and a more rewarding life experience.

 

The Importance of the Questions We Ask

The questions we ask (or are asked) matter more than you may realize. The question itself shapes our responses. It’s not all about asking how well we have set goals and reached them. It’s all about reflecting on who we have become as people. The what and how it is asked directs our mind down a certain path of thinking. It influences what we notice and remember.

For example, a study way back in the 60’s involved tracking the eye movements of participants while they looked at a painting. The results distinctly showed that the question asked influenced the participants’ eye movements. That is, they honed in only on the parts of the painting relevant to answering the specific question they had been asked. Who knows what details they overlooked because their brains deemed them “not relevant for the task at hand [answering the question]”?

Coming from a different angle, there are tons of studies that show that questions influence the memories of eye witness testimony…sometimes quite dramatically. People recall events that didn’t actually happen or forget about important aspects until they’re asked point blank. 

Within my own arena, providing therapy, I’m keenly aware that the questions I ask shape the conversations my patients and I have. The questions are like directions, pointing us down one path or another, with some paths leading to nothing while others lead to break throughs. While I may be over-reaching a bit, I take all of this together to mean that the quality of questions we ask ourselves and others is critical.

 

End of the Year Reflections

As this year winds down, let’s take some time to reflect so that we can move forward with our eyes open, motivation high, and direction clearly illuminated. I encourage you to approach your reflections with an air of curiosity and to ask different questions. Rather than the common “How was this year?” “What did I like or not like?” “What went well and what didn’t?” “What do I want to keep and what do I want to change?”, consider some of these:

  • In what way(s) have I grown as a person?
  • Who and/or what helped me grow?
  • What were the hardest moments of the year? What did I learn about myself through overcoming those challenges?
  • What were some of my biggest victories? What were some of my small, easy to overlook victories? What do these victories tell me about myself?
  • What allowed me to be successful?
  • Where or how did I get to display my strengths? What did I notice about those experiences and how they felt for me?
  • Which people in my life left me better after our interactions? Which left me feeling drained?
  • What did I complain most about? How might I make a change to remove that complaint from next year?
  • What do my experiences over the past year tell me about my needs? Did I prioritize making sure my needs were met? How might I meet them going forward?
  • Where am I stuck in a rut?
  • What am I most proud of? Least proud of?
  • When was I happiest? The most inspired? The closest to my ideal version of me?
  • What question have I been avoiding asking myself? What decision or change have I been avoiding making? Why am I avoiding?
“The best scientists and explorers have the attributes of kids! They ask questions and have a sense of wonder. They have curiosity. ‘Who, what, where, why, when and how!’ They never stop asking questions, and I never stop asking questions, just like a five year old.” 
– Sylvia Earle
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Journal Prompts for Spring Beginnings

Friends, happy (almost) spring. I don’t know about you, but it feels exceptionally profound this year. With everything that has gone on, it’s good to reflect with some journal prompts for Spring beginning.

We’ve been through a lot.

When the pandemic hit, we all changed more in about 48 hours than we changed in entire years prior to that. It wasn’t easy. We all went through our own personal versions of hardship that left, or are continuing to leave, scars that we’ll carry with us for the rest of our lives.

But, as we move into the spring season, a season of rebirth, rejuvenation, and new beginnings, and as the world begins to see glimmers of hope of the end of the pandemic, I invite you to take some time to think about your own new beginning.

What new beginning do you want to create?

An Exercise for You

I invite you to use the journal prompts below to explore your own thoughts, feelings, and dreams for this next chapter in your life.

When I do exercises like this, music helps put me in the right mindset to think deeply and to be creative. 

Grab your journal, computer, or just a piece of paper and a pen. Hit play on the button below, and let’s dig in.

Journal Prompts for Spring

Use these prompts (one, some, all) to help guide you to think about what your new beginning could look like.

What has been really hard is….

I didn’t realize that I…

If I’m being totally honest…

I wish I could…

I miss…

I’m most excited to…

If I wasn’t afraid, I would…

I want to look back and know that I…

The truth is…

That’s all. Just some reflection this week. I’m feeling particularly contemplative these days, and if you are too, I wanted to share the type of exercise I’m doing to lean into it. 

Sending you love for a new beginning.

“The best time for new beginnings is NOW.”
Unknown
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Therapy Is Like KonMari for Your Mind

You might have heard of the best-selling book Tidying Up with Marie Kondo in which the author, Marie Kondo, outlines her KonMari method for getting rid of clutter and maintaining an organized space. Therapy is like KonMari for your mind. 

If you’ve been with us for a bit, you’re probably coming to realize some truths about our minds. Among others:

They’re powerful…

They take shortcuts…

They’re prone to creating habits…

And sometimes those habits aren’t helpful.

Because of the nature of the way our minds work, they easily fall prey to creating shortcuts and habits that aren’t helpful to us. Some of which manifest themselves as what modern society calls mental illness.

Think about that for a second. Simply because they’re doing what they naturally do, our minds can find themselves in unhelpful patterns that negatively impact our lives.

It’s no wonder why 1 in 4 people will experience mental illness at some point in their lives!

Mental Health Awareness Day

Yesterday was Mental Health Awareness Day. Unfortunately, even though so many of us could benefit from therapy, proportionally few of us actually take advantage of it.

A big factor in that underutilization is stigma.

We’re afraid it says something bad about us. We’re afraid it means we’re weak, or that there’s something wrong with us.

In fact, it just means you’re a human with a mind that was doing its job and, along the way, accidentally created a pattern that wasn’t helpful. 

Let’s look at an analogy…because I LOVE analogies.

A cluttered pantry

Many of us have had the experience of a room or closet in our house slowly morphing into a cluttered, disorganized mess over time. 

It didn’t happen overnight. No one walked in there and threw everything all over the place. It happened slowly.

One day, you didn’t fully put away the groceries and left some cans on the counter. The next day, an opened bag of chips spilled on the floor. The next day, your kids dumped out a box of fruit snacks.

You get the picture.

Over time, you found yourself with a stressful, cluttered mess. 

The same thing happens to our minds. Over time, our minds develop patterns and habits that cause our thoughts to become disorganized, cluttered, messy.

Therapy is like KonMari

When I read Marie Kondo’s book, I instantly thought of my experiences in therapy (I’ve gone for 3 separate issues over my lifetime). It really applies, and it’s life changing magic.

Kondo’s book points out how our minds can easily morph into something that feels like that cluttered, messy pantry. 

No space.

No organization.

Nothing in its place.

Therapy is like having a neutral third party help you reorganize things.

It was like having a tidying expert come into my messy pantry with me, randomly pick up a box, and say, “Where does this go. Don’t worry about everything else. Let’s start here.”

One by one, we sorted through everything. Stacking like objects together. Creating an organizational system. Putting everything back in its place.

Each time I’ve gone, I walked out with a spacious feeling mind. The transformation was amazing.  

Psychological Strength

Therapy is an incredibly powerful tool, and now more than ever people in the United States should be taking advantage of it. To start, I urge you to tackle your own mental KonMari by reaching out to a licensed therapist in your area, even if you just barely think it might help.

Where does psychological strength come into play, you might ask?

Psychological strength fits into the equation much like preventive care fits into medicine. (I’m mixing analogies, I know! Stay with me!)

Psych strength is the set of skills and tools we proactively develop to make it less likely that our pantry will get messy in the first place and more likely that we’ll be able to keep it organized after a big KonMari session.

Every single person in the world would be better off if they spent intentional time learning how their mind really works and practicing some simple skills to make it more likely to work FOR them, not against them.

This is why we’re so passionate about what we do at Peak Mind and why we’re so thrilled you’re in our community.

In the shadow of this Mental Health Awareness Day, we want to say thank you. Thank you for being with us. Thank you for making your mental health and wellbeing a priority.

“Many people carry this type of negative self-image for years, but it is swept away the instant they experience their own perfectly clean space. This drastic change in self-perception, the belief that you can do anything if you set your mind to it, transforms behavior and lifestyles.”
– Marie Kondo