Who Is Narrating Your Life? How You Answer Has a Big Impact on Your Happiness

In the movie Stranger Than Fiction, Will Ferrell plays Harold Crick, an IRS agent who is haunted by the voice of an unseen narrator who offers a running commentary on the events of his life.

Mr. Crick’s unseen narrator turned out to be a frustrated author. But the truth is, each of us have an internal voice that “narrates” the events of our life. The nature of that running commentary shapes the way we react to situations and events—and that, in turn, has a big impact on our overall happiness.

Like Mr. Crick, then, it’s a good idea to occasionally interrogate that internal narrator.

Interrogating Our Narrator

In his book, God Help Me! This Stress Is Driving Me Crazy!, Dr. Greg Popcak proposes a simple exercise. Whenever you hear that unbidden voice interpreting a situation or event in your life, stop and ask: Is this thought true or false?

In the context of this exercise, we’re not so much analyzing the factual accuracy of the thought. Most of the time, our internal narrator’s interpretation of events contains at least a grain of truth. Rather, we’re trying to determine whether the thought leads us to the richer, more joyful life that God wants for us.

“We know that a thought or feeling is true (healthy, productive, rational) if acting on that thought or feeling would lead us to experience a greater degree of hope, confidence, competence, intimacy, security, peace, strength, and so on, even in the face of problems,” Dr. Popcak writes. “On the other hand, we know a thought or feeling is false (not of God, who is ‘the way and the truth and the life’) if acting on that thought or feeling would lead to hopelessness, confusion, doubt, anxiety, despair, estrangement, insecurity, ignorance, or incompetence, none of which come from God.”

Let’s look at an example. Your boss asks to meet with you on Friday without specifying the reason for the meeting. How does your inner voice narrate this situation?

Here’s one option: “Is she mad at me? Did I do something to upset her? What if she fires me? I don’t need this kind of stress!” This is an example of a “false” thought—not because it is inaccurate, but because it doesn’t help you deal with the situation. You can tell this thought is not from God because it leads to worry, hopelessness, and despair, none of which do anything to help you.

Here’s another option: “I wonder what she wants to meet about? I guess I won’t know until Friday. I’ll just have to wait and see what happens. I’m a little nervous, though; maybe I need to pray for peace.” This thought is “true” because it provides a helpful path forward.

Let’s take another example. Martha looks at her calendar for the week; it’s crammed with medical appointments, school events, and work obligations—and that’s on top of her usual busy routine.

Her interior narrator might respond negatively: “I am so overwhelmed! There’s no way I can juggle all this. If one more person puts one more thing on my plate, I’m going to scream.” Those thoughts are “false” because they don’t lead to more peace. They don’t come from God; in fact, they obscure God’s will for Martha’s well-being.

On the other hand, her internal narrator might respond more “truthfully”: “This is way too much for one person to handle. To get through the week, I’m going to have to drop some of these commitments or hand them off to someone else. I need a plan!” This way of narrating her situation might not make it magically better, but it provides a more hopeful path forward.

Tuning into God’s Grace

Both of these scenarios illustrate the power that our internal narration—what psychology calls our “automatic thoughts”—has over the quality of our day-to-day lives. False thoughts send us down a path where we waste energy, spin our wheels, and stew in stress. Worse, these noisy thoughts often distract us from the help and comfort God offers us. True thoughts, on the other hand, help us tune into God’s grace. And when we’re tuned into God, he opens our eyes to new possibilities and strengthens us to get through tough situations.

The key is to be more intentional about what our internal narrator is telling us. Like Harold Crick in Stranger Than Fiction, we need to confront our own personal narrators. If they’re not reading from God’s script, then we need to change that.

Poor Harold Crick had to get hit by a bus in order to get a new script. Thankfully, most of us won’t have to go to such lengths. If you need some professional, faith-based help, though, connect with a Catholic counselor at CatholicCounselors.com.

How To Put The Brakes On Anxiety

“Try taking a few deep breaths.”

If you frequently suffer from anxiety, you’ve probably heard this advice, but a lot of people dismiss it out of hand: How are a few deep breaths going to fix things? I’m facing a real crisis here!

It’s true that deep breathing won’t make the cause of your stress go away. But it’s also true that this technique is really good at putting the brakes on anxiety, helping you calm down enough to address the cause of your stress more effectively. God designed our bodies with this feature, so why not use it?

To understand why deep, controlled breathing works, it helps to understand a little about the physical roots of anxiety.

Your Body’s Emergency Response System

Picture Alex, a firefighter, in the moments after an emergency call comes into the firehouse. He springs into action, grabbing equipment as he races to the fire truck; in a moment, he and his crewmates head out, sirens blaring and lights flashing.

Meanwhile, a similar scene unfolds inside Alex’s body. Seconds after the emergency call spurs Alex into action, his hypothalamus releases hormones that mobilize the body’s defense systems. Alex’s heart rate increases, his breath comes more quickly, the pupils of his eyes dilate, and blood and energy are diverted to his muscles and other vital organs.

This is the same physiological response that has turbo-charged humans’ bodies in the face of danger for hundreds of thousands of years. It’s what Alex needs in order to perform his best when he gets to the scene of the emergency.

When Your Brain Issues a False Alarm

But what happens when the brain sounds the alarm in a situation that doesn’t require a short-term, high-performance physical response? What if, for instance, you have serious financial worries that keep you up at night for hours at a time, your mind racing? Or what if you have to attend a social event at your new job, and you spend days worrying about what could go wrong—or worse, days replaying and critiquing every interaction you had at the party?

When your brain deploys an outsized physiological response to a situation that doesn’t really call for it, the result is anxiety. Unlike the boost that Alex got, the physiological effects of anxiety aren’t helpful; in fact, they can be downright harmful. Will a racing mind or heart help you address your financial problems? No. Will sweaty hands, a clenched stomach, and shortness of breath help you navigate the social labyrinth of your workplace party? Not likely. In fact, you’d probably be better able to deal with these genuinely stressful situations if you weren’t so anxious.

Before you can begin to tackle the external source of your stress, then, you need to regain control of your body. Researchers have identified a number of techniques that work, including deep, controlled breathing.

Control Your Breath to Tamp Down Anxiety

Why does deep, controlled breathing work to tamp down the body’s stress response?

The two main regulators of the body’s physiological state are the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system; the sympathetic nervous system revs things up in the face of a threat and the parasympathetic nervous system slows things back down. Normally, the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in shortly after a threat has passed, releasing hormones that help your body’s systems calm down. But when your brain wrongly activates the sympathetic nervous system in response to an ongoing, non-physical threat, anxiety and its symptoms are the result.

Controlling our breath is one way we can consciously activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Researchers have long noted the connection between controlled breathing and a calmer state of mind, and in 2017, a team at the Stanford University School of Medicine identified a patch of 175 nerves that seem to be key to that effect. These nerves monitor your breathing as a clue to your physical state; they send their findings to a brain structure called the locus coeruleus that modulates the activity of the whole brain.

By taking deep, controlled breaths, you’re telling your brain, “It’s okay, we’re not in immediate danger.” This activates your parasympathetic nervous system, putting the brakes on your runaway anxiety.

Four Steps to a Calmer You

Here’s one controlled breathing technique you can try the next time you feel anxious:

  1.     Place one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest. Close your eyes.
  2.     Count to four as you breathe in through your nose.
  3.     Count to seven as you hold your breath.
  4.     Counting to eight, blow out through your mouth.

Repeat for at least five minutes or until the anxiety passes. If you’ve been dealing with chronic anxiety for a long time, it may take as long as twenty minutes to calm down.

This trick works so well, it is regularly taught to professional athletes, performers, and emergency responders.

Of course, anxiety is a complicated phenomenon. Deep, controlled breathing techniques aren’t a one-and-done solution to chronic anxiety, which may require the help of a professional.

On the other hand, God designed our bodies with this neat feature. So the next time someone suggests taking a few deep breaths to put the brakes on your anxiety, why not try it?

For more about this topic, see the book Unworried: A Life without Anxiety, by Dr. Greg Popcak. And if you’d like to explore this topic further with a Pastoral counselor, check out our tele-counseling services at CatholicCounselors.com.

Getting Over The Grumpies—The Secret Antidote for Shifting Your Mood

When we’re feeling frustrated, burnt out, or just downright grumpy, it can be easy to get stuck in those feelings. Maybe because it’s comfortable, maybe because we’re trying to figure out what’s wrong, or maybe because we just don’t know how to overcome our negative mood. 

A recent study out of the University of Texas explored the effects of expressing gratitude on the gratitude giver and receiver. The study revealed that more often than not people hold back from offering thanks to others because they either feel uncomfortable doing so, or believe that the person receiving their gratitude will feel awkward. The results of the study indicated however, that expressing gratitude, even in the simplest ways, can have a big impact on how the giver and receiver feel about themselves, each other, and their overall mood. 

The Theology of the Body reminds us that God created us to be a gift to each other. When you receive a gift, it is only appropriate to say, “Thank you.” Christians are called to love one another, and one of the most important ways we can love each other is by reminding each person in our lives how important, how treasured, and how special they are to us. Sometimes we can feel foolish telling other people how much they mean to us, but today, perhaps sharing our gratitude for one another can be one small way we can fulfill St. Paul’s admonition in 1 Cor 4:10 to be “fools for Christ.” Take a moment to find some small way to let the people God has brought into your life how grateful you are to them. Tell your spouse, your kids, your family, friends and co-workers how much you appreciate them, and don’t forget to say “thank you” even for the little things that others do for you. It’s a simple way you can be God’s blessing to others and remind others of what a blessing they are to you.

Here are three ways to boost your mood (and another’s mood) through gratitude:

1. Recognize the Gift–Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that you shouldn’t say “thank you” to someone who is “just doing their job” or “just doing what they are supposed to do.”  There are lots of people who don’t do their jobs and fail to do what they should. The fact is, it takes effort to try to do what’s right and fulfill our responsibilities to one another, and it’s an effort that deserves to be recognized. In a world that sees people as objects and takes everyone for granted, we Christians have a special duty to remind each other, and the world, how important each and every person is in the eyes of God and how precious a gift it is when someone does something–anything–to make our lives a little easier or more pleasant. Be that person who recognizes the gifts others give you today. Acknowledge everything someone does for you today with a simple “thank you” and a smile.

2. Celebrate the People In Your Life–Is there someone you especially appreciate? Someone who makes a difference in your life just by being who they are?  When was the last time you told them how important they are to you?  Today, take a minute to actually hand write a short note to tell them how much they mean to you. You might thank them for something specific they did, or for how they make you feel, or just thank them for being in your life. Let them know what a gift they are to you and how you wouldn’t be the same without them. Then drop it in the mail or leave it someplace where they can be surprised to find it later on. It doesn’t take much effort, but you’d be surprised by how much of a difference this little effort can make.

3. Get Happy–Research shows that people who make an effort to practice simple gratitude habits can increase their happiness set point by up to 30%. Your happiness set point is the natural level of happiness you experience in your everyday life and it is remarkably stable. Whether people are surprised by good things or frustrated by unpleasant events, they tend to return to their happiness set point fairly shortly thereafter. But simple acts of gratitude like keeping a gratitude journal, saying “thank you” to others, and finding simple ways to acknowledge how much the people in your life mean to you have been shown to significantly increase a person’s happiness set point, increasing their overall sense of wellbeing and joy.  It turns out, the best way to be a happier person is to remind yourself to express thanks for all the little blessings you’ve been given and all the people who bless your life everyday.

For more ways to live an abundant life, check out our resources at CatholicCounselors.com

Quick links and resources:

Broken Gods—Hope, Healing, and The Seven Longings of The Human Heart

Praying For (and With) Your Spouse

For Better…Forever—The Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage

Overcoming Your Inner Critic

Have you ever felt held back by thoughts such as “I can’t,” “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not doing enough,” etc.? The emotional part of our brains is wired to think these hurtful thoughts as a feeble attempt to protect ourselves from potential threats. However, when we listen to these reactionary thoughts, it’s easy to begin to believe these hurtful statements about ourselves.

The Theology of The Body reminds us that we live in tension between what it calls “Historical Man” and “Eschatological Man” That is to say, we’re caught between the person we are and the life we have today, and the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled person we’re called to be and the more abundant life God is calling us to live. Through his grace, God is working to make all things new–starting with us, our lives and relationships! Of course, the enemy doesn’t want any of this to happen. He is constantly whispering in our spiritual ear, telling us that “thus-and-such isn’t possible,” or “who do we think we are?” or “you can’t do that!” or, “that’s never going to change” or even, “why bother trying.”

St Ignatius of Loyola called these kinds of messages “desolations.” Desolations represent the voice of the Enemy, who is trying to tempt us away from doing what God would have us do and having the life and relationships God wants us to have. The more we listen to these desolations, the more we block God’s grace from having the effect it could on our life and relationships. Desolations make us feel stuck, demoralized, undermined, and thwarted–often before we even start. It takes a lot of work to rid ourselves of desolations and learn to be guided by the consolations of the Holy Spirit, but the more we do this work, the more confident we become in the face of the various challenges we encounter in every part of our life. Even in the face of big, serious, persistent problems, we can feel confident, powerful, and effective, because we are confirmed in the knowledge that all is possible with God.

Here are a few ways that we can move towards consolations and overcome our inner critic.

  1. Acknowledge Daily Successes—When desolations are taking over, we often think about the things that we didn’t do well or “should” have done better. Especially at the end of the day, we reflect on the things we didn’t get to on our to-do lists or the things that we wish we had said or done. But this type of daily reflection causes us to feel powerless, defeated, not good enough. Instead, write down the things that you do well daily. Did you reach out to a friend? Hold the door open for someone? Clean up the pile of papers on the counter? Finish a project? No matter how big or small, write down at least one success, accomplishment, or thing you did well each day. This helps us to lean into consolations by recognizing what we are capable of and what we did well which replaces those hurtful thoughts with helpful thoughts. 
  1. Recognize Your Strengths—When you acknowledge your successes each day, ask yourself, “What strength or virtue helped me do X well?” Identify the strengths or virtues that you used to help you accomplish that task. Were you thoughtful, determined, patient, etc.? These are the strengths that you have, that make you who you are, and that you can use to help you be effective in any situation you may face. 
  1. Use I Am Statements—As mentioned previously, the enemy uses desolations to make us focus on all the things we are not and all the things we “can’t” do. The Holy Spirit, however, uses consolations to remind us who we are and all the things we are capable of. Once you have identified your strengths as described above. Write them down in a list and remind yourself of them every day by saying, “I am thoughtful,” “I am determined,” “I am patient,” and so on. Fill in your strengths into those I Am statements and use them as a reminder of who you are and who God created you to be. 

For more support on overcoming your inner critic, reach out to us at CatholicCounselors.com.

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Quick Links and Resources:

Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety

A Great Day For A New You—When Its Time To Make a Change 

Broken Gods—Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart

Maintaining Peace While Home For The Holidays

 

The Holiday hustle and bustle is upon us and while many things can be very joyous, there are also many things that create stress as well. One of the biggest stressors this time of year can be the pressures and expectations from family members, especially extended family. Everyone has their own idea of what the holidays “should” look like and it’s easy to feel torn in many different directions—often to the detriment of our own needs, desires, or expectations. 

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Are difficult people robbing you of your peace? 

Check out:

God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts!
(Making Peace with Difficult People)

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It’s true that as Catholics we are called to be generous to others and to say, “yes” to opportunities to be of service. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a right to have our needs met as well. In fact, the principle of “mutual self-donation” articulated in the Theology of The Body assumes that in godly relationships, all the people in the relationship are equally committed to meeting each others needs, even when it requires them to grow and make sacrifices for one another. Sometimes, this mutual self-donation does not occur, which may leave us feeling overwhelmed, drained, or disappointed, especially around the Holidays. But there is hope! We can in fact work to create this mutual self-donation in our relationships by being assertive about our needs. Assertiveness allows us to achieve mutual self-donation, by seeking a healthy balance between meeting our own needs and being attuned to the needs of others. It enables us to see ourselves not as vending machines that exist solely to be used up by others, but as persons, who have gifts to give others but who also have a God-given right to be loved and treated with dignity.

Assertiveness is a virtuous practice, however can sometimes be difficult. Here are a few ways to be gracefully assertive and achieve mutual self-donation in your relationships:

1. Be Direct–Jesus said, “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’.”  In other words, it is important to be clear, direct, specific, and honest about what you can do for others and what you need from others. This is the essence of assertiveness. When you feel like others are taking advantage, don’t get resentful. Instead ask yourself, “Have I been honest about my needs?”   Have you been direct about the kind of help you need from the people in your life? Have you let your needs be known–not just by hinting at them and hoping others will just “get it”–but by stating them clearly, specifically, honestly, and directly? The first step to being gracefully assertive is taking the time necessary to clarify what your needs are and to state them honestly with the expectation that others will be as generous to you as you are attempting to be generous to them.

2. Use the “Qualified Yes” Technique–When other people ask you to do things for them, instead of feeling stuck between having to say “yes” to everything and not being able to meet your own needs, and saying “no” too often, use the “Qualified Yes” technique. In other words, when someone asks you to do something for them, don’t immediately focus on whether you can help at all, instead, focus on negotiating how and when you might be of assistance. For instance, if your parish asks you to help with an event, you might say that while you wouldn’t be able to run the event, you could assist with this part of it. Or if your mom or siblings ask for your help with a project Wednesday evening, you might say that while you can’t help Wednesday, you could be available Thursday. Using the qualified yes technique allows you to avoid polarizing requests for help and feeling trapped between disappointing others and meeting your own needs.  Instead, this method gives you a way to be generous to others while still being faithful to your own needs and obligations.

3. Use Relationship-Friendly Boundaries–Sometimes you do need to set boundaries with people but you don’t have to feel like you are threatening the relationship to do it. Setting basic boundaries doesn’t mean pushing people away or even frustrating them. It just involves proposing a healthy and appropriate way for them to get their need met while saying “no” to less healthy or appropriate suggestions. For instance, if your in-laws are pushing you to stay with them over the holidays, but you know spending that much time together would be hard on all of you, you might say, “We’re really looking forward to getting time together, but I think it would be better for all of us if we stayed at a hotel.”  In this example, you’re respecting the desire for everyone to have family time, but you are setting a boundary that increases the likelihood that getting this time together will be pleasant and successful. Set boundaries that focus not so much on avoiding short term conflict, but on the long term health of your relationships.

For more resources for maintaining peace during the Holidays—or anytime of year, check out our resources at CatholicCounselors.com.

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Quick links and resources:

God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts! (Making Peace with Difficult People)

Parenting Your Teens and Tweens with Grace

How to Heal Your Marriage (And Nurture Lasting Love)

Feeling Stuck—Healthy and Holy Ways To Make Effective Change

Sometimes, when we get caught up in certain challenges in our life or relationships, it can seem like nothing is  ever going to change. Maybe we feel trapped and powerless or maybe we know what to do, we just don’t know where to start. 

The Theology of The Body reminds us that, when we look at our life, what we see isn’t what we get. At the beginning of time, God created us to live abundant, intimate, joyful, healthy and holy lives. Although sin entered the world and frustrated that plan, God is not defeated! Everyday,  through His grace, God is helping us rebuild the remarkable, grace-filled lives he created us to live. Of course, that doesn’t happen on its own. When we experience difficulties in making changes in our life or relationships, the first thing we need to do is to bring that situation to God–without ceasing. Everyday, we have to ask God to teach us how He wants us to respond to the challenge we’re facing–step by step. When responding to a frustrating situation, no matter how long we’ve been working on it, we have to cultivate the mindset that we don’t know anything– especially when we think we do. Instead, we need to ask God to teach us as if we were children who were experiencing the situation for the first time. That’s the “poverty of spirit” that allows God to lead us to the changes he wants to make in our lives.

Second, we need to get to work. As we continue to pray as if we need to be taught–from the ground up–how to respond to each step of the problems we’re trying to solve, we need to constantly ask ourselves, how could I glorify God in this moment? How could I work for the ultimate good of the person in front of me? What would it mean for me to be my best self in this moment–especially when my plans are being frustrated?

Like a toddler learning to walk, even when we are uncertain, we need to take our first steps. We can learn from Saint Francis of Assisi’s example when he asked, “Lord, what do you want me to do? Show me what you want me to do with my life.” And he heard the Lord answer, “Francis, go and rebuild my church which, as you see, is falling down.” That was all Saint Francis heard. That was all he needed to hear before he sprung into action. It took a bit longer, however, to realize that Jesus wasn’t asking him to physically rebuild San Damiano as well as a few other rundown churches near Assisi. He did that, of course, but it gradually dawned on him that his vocation was to rebuild the church, the human institution that was perilously close to falling apart. Saint Francis didn’t wait until he was one hundred percent certain of his next steps, he prayed and he took action, and because of that, God was able to guide his steps and lead him down the bath He needed him to go. 

When we adopt this approach—just as Saint Francis did—we become God’s little children, reaching out for his hand, asking him to teach us how to live the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled lives we were created for.

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Quick Links and Resources:

The Life God Wants You To Have 

Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety

Can You Get More Out Of Your Personal Life? (Quiz)

Pastoral Tele-counseling Services 

The Life God Wants You To Have–Navigating Change and Achieving Your Goals

Setting new goals or navigating change can feel overwhelming. Sometimes we can even feel as though we’ve failed before we’ve even started. But it doesn’t have to be this way! 

The Theology of The Body reminds us that, when we look at our life, what we see isn’t what we get. In the beginning, we were created for a more abundant, intimate, joyful, and holy life. More importantly, through God’s grace, we are destined to live a more abundant, intimate, joyful, and holy life again. Of course, that doesn’t happen on its own. First, we need to be in constant prayer, asking God to teach us how He wants us to respond to every moment of the day. We have to cultivate the mindset that we don’t know anything–especially when we think we do. We need to ask God to teach us how to live each moment of every day as if it’s the first time we are experiencing it. That is the “poverty of spirit” that allows God to lead us to the changes he wants to make in our lives.

Second, we need to get to work. As we continue to pray as if we need to be taught–from the ground up–how to respond to each moment in the day, we need to constantly ask ourselves, how could I glorify God in this moment? How could work for the ultimate good of the person in front of me? What would it mean for me to be my best self in this moment–especially when my plans are being frustrated? Like a toddler learning to walk, when we adopt this approach, we become God’s little children, reaching out for his hand, asking him to teach us how to live the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled lives we were created for.

Here are three simple steps for navigating change and achieving your goals:

1.Set Positive Goals–New research by Florida State University shows that one of the most important factors in making successful change is how positively we frame our goal. For instance, the implied criticism behind the negative goal,  “I want to lose weight” causes us to feel undermined right from the start. A better goal would be something like, “I feel good when I exercise and eat a little lighter. I want to do that more often.” Another example? “I feel good–and my kids behave better–when I correct them in more loving and gentle ways. I am going to do more of that.”  Setting a positive goal reminds you of the good feelings that accompany sticking to your resolutions and pull you toward success.

2.  Engage Grace–When you start your day, bring your goal to God. Think of times throughout the day when it might be difficult for you to remember to follow through with the changes you’d like to make. Think about how you will cooperate with God’s grace to make those situations a success. Ask God for the grace to use these challenging moments as opportunities to grow into the person he wants you to be. Remember what St Thomas Aquinas taught—Grace builds on nature. Bring the changes you are attempting to make in your life or relationships back to God and ask him for the grace to make up for whatever you might lack if left to your own own devices.

3. Make A Shopping List–New changes often require new skills, resources, and support. Before you set out to make a change, take some time to make a list of the resources and support you might need to succeed. What books might help give you new insights or skills? What people can support you? What level of support do you need? Is it enough to find a person to be an accountability partner? Do you need to find someone who will work on the goal with you? Or do you need more professional support of some kind? Don’t shame yourself out of getting the support you need by telling yourself that you should be able to do it on your own with the resources you have. Ask yourself what level of support you would need to guarantee success, then start making arrangements to get that level of support.  The Theology of The Body reminds us that it’s not good for people to try to “go it alone.”  We were made to need others to succeed.  Cultivate the humility that true success requires and allow others to be part of the process

 

Quick Links and Resources:

The Life God Wants You To Have (Book)

What Does God Want Me to Do? (Video)

Tele-counseling

Saint Sebastian Center for Performance Excellence

Spiritual Life Coaching

Decisions, Decisions… How to Be Confident in The Face of Uncertainty

From big to small, we are faced with decisions every day. Sometimes when we are at a crossroads between two–or more–options, we become paralyzed by the uncertainty and fear of decision making.

When we don’t know what to do, the Theology of The Body can help us gain clarity. St John Paul reminds us that every decision we make should help us, as he put it,  “become what we are”–the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled person God sees when he looks at us. In any decision of any importance at all, if we’re confused about what to do, the be way to be confident in our choices is to look for the option that seems to give us the greatest chance of doing three things.  First, using our gifts to bless others. Second, enabling us to make our relationships healthier and stronger. And third, using the situation to become a stronger, healthier person.

It is these three qualities, meaningfulness, intimacy, and virtue, upon which an abundant life rests. We can never guarantee the outcome of what we do, but we don’t have to. We just have to be able to be confident that we have a good and godly process that we use to make our decisions. If our desire is to avoid evil, to be loving and responsible in our decisions, and make choices that lead to what we prayerfully believe will increase our chances of growing in meaningfulness, intimacy and virtue, then even when we feel uncertain, we can be confident that, through God’s mercy,  we are making the right decisions.

Let’s look at a few practical ways to be confident in the face of uncertainty:

1. Focus on the Process, Not the Feeling–You will rarely feel 100% certain that you made the one right choice.  If you wait for your feelings to tell you that you are doing (or have done) the right thing, you will be waiting a very long time, indeed. When making a decision of any sort, don’t take your cue from your feelings, focus on your process. Have you taken the decision to prayer? Are you trying to avoid doing anything bad? Are you trying your best to be loving and responsible in your decisions? And finally, are you trying to choose the option that seems to increase your chances of living a more meaningful, intimate, and virtuous life?  If you can answer “yes” to these questions, then your decision making process is solid no matter what your feelings say. Trust the process, not your feelings, and know that God will be pleased with your effort and get you on the right path by means of his mercy.

2. Indecisive is Worse Than Wrong–You already know that being stuck isn’t working. As long as you are genuinely trying to make a meaningful, intimate and virtuous choice, even a wrong decision is better than staying put, because even a wrong decision will give you new information to work with. Very few decisions are irreversibly wrong, and those are almost always decisions made rashly, and emotionally instead of trying to intentionally pursue greater meaningfulness, intimacy or virtue. When you make a decision, don’t look back. Instead, look at the new information your decision has given you and look for the next step that allows you to pursue meaningfulness intimacy and virtue. Staying put gets you more of what you’ve got. Making even a wrong decision that reflects an active attempt to pursue meaningfulness, intimacy, and virtue will draw you closer to God who, in his mercy, will get you on the right path. Grace can direct you when you’re in motion, but grace can’t move you if you are committed to staying put. Indecisive is always worse than wrong.

3. Don’t Feed the Goblin–Assuming you’ve followed the steps above, the voices of doubt that remain in your head after you make a decision are never from God.  Even if you made the wrong decision in good faith, God will gently guide you forward on the right path. As Jesus said, “I did not come to condemn but to save.” Those self-critical voices of condemnation that make you second-guess yourself are not from God, they are what St. Ignatius referred to as desolations. This is the voice of the Enemy trying to cause you to stay stuck and refuse to take any actions that God could use to draw you closer to him. Reject these voices and focus, instead, on the next step that leads to greater meaningfulness, intimacy and virtue. The more you refuse to feed the goblins of doubts, the more you will grow in the confidence that comes from stepping out in God’s grace.

For more resources to help you make decisions that will lead to greater meaningfulness, intimacy, and virtue in your life explore CatholicCounselors.com!

 

Quick links and resources:

Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety 

Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of The Human Heart 

What Does God Want Me To Do?

 

I-Oughta-Biography — Overcoming The Shoulds In Our Life

“I should be better at this,” “I shouldn’t have to deal with this problem anymore,” “I should just get it together…” 

Do these “shoulds” sound familiar? We have a tendency to be so hard on ourselves. We fall into the “should” mindset, making ourselves feel guiltier or more powerless about the fact that we’re not living up to the perceived “shoulds.” 

The Theology of The Body, however, reminds us that although God has a plan for our lives, we can’t find it by beating ourselves up or by torturing ourselves with a constant list of what we should or shouldn’t be doing–or should have done. Living in the “shoulds” is just another way of living in a state of reactivity that closes us off to being able to hear God’s voice or discern his plan for our lives. Instead of living reactively in the shoulds, the Theology of The Body directs us towards the need to cultivate a spirit of receptivity.

When we feel disappointed,  confused, or caught up in the “shoulds” the first thing we need to do is bring that feeling to God. Openly and honestly sharing the thoughts that are going on in your mind through prayer. Next, instead of trying to puzzle out what his answer would be, we need to spend time allowing him to love us, reminding ourselves of all the ways he has shown his love for us before, praising him for all the ways he has been present to us, and thanking him for the little blessings of that day. Then, confident that we don’t have to earn God’s love by doing all the right things and having all the right answers, we need to be still and listen to the ways God is asking us to use our gifts to make a positive difference in our circumstances, to make our relationships stronger and healthier, and see all the things that happen to us as an invitation to do something small to be a little more of the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled people we’re meant to be.

One reason we fall into this “should” mindset is due to the fact that our stress level gets too high for our thinking brain—our cortex—to function effectively. When this occurs, we become significantly more reactive than receptive, ultimately functioning from our limbic system—the emotional reactions part of our brain. 

Taking our thoughts and concerns to God, resting in His love, and using our gifts to take action in a positive way allows us to lower our stress level, bring our thinking brain back on line, and find our power in the present moment. 

Focusing on the “shoulds” causes us to live in either the past or the future—two places where we have no control or power. Focusing on our present moment and what we can do in the here and now with God’s loving guidance allows us to take control over our situation in a healthy and positive way. 

The more we can take this receptive approach to life, the clearer we can be about what God wants us to do, and what choices will lead us to the abundant life we all long for.

Building Relationships: The World of Social Media

Social media can be a great instrument in quickly and almost effortlessly communicating with the outside world. But Emily Stimpson, author of “These Beautiful Bones: An Everyday Theology of the Body,” reminds us that yes, social media is a great tool for relationship interaction, but it shouldn’t replace it.