Coping with Loss Growth Positive Change Positive Potential Relationships

Your Year in Review: Growing in Our Relationships

We define ourselves by our relationships.

When you review the past year, who were the major characters in the drama of your life? More important than most other accomplishments, what did you do for others? How did you make a difference in someone else’s life? This is one of my measures of success.

But like a secret Santa, we shouldn’t give to others to make them feel better about us. Giving should make someone else feel better and make you feel better just because of that.

It can be better to just give forward without any recognition or expectation and imagine how you may changed the spin of the world in a subtle and positive way.

What did others do for you? You have to think about that one. The great and grand things come to mind, but there are countless little favours and good deeds that we easily forget.

Who are the people who always greet you with a smile? Who accepts you unconditionally? Who makes you feel good about yourself? Who loves you just the way you are?

How have your key relationships changed? How have you grown in your relationships? Are you growing together or growing apart?

What new things have you learned about others? Has it changed how you feel about them? Has it changed your relationship?

And what about your relationship to yourself? What new things have you learned about yourself this year? How have you changed? How have you grown?

Will you live your life differently?


The Year in Review: Relationships

Before we put out the new calendar, I like to sit down with the kids and review the year that has passed.

We sit at the table and page through the old kitchen calendar, filled with the schedules and events of the year: family vacations, music lessons, games and practices, swimming classes, school concerts, holidays, birthdays and other celebrations.

Though we at first focus on the events and activities that filled the year, our focus is always on our relationships. After all, that’s what life is all about. 

We may have endured some hard times, unusual challenges and family milestones. How did we survive? Who helped us get through?

Over the past year, who made a difference in our lives?

Tomorrow: your key relationships this past year.

Growth Letting Go Relationships

Year-end Week: Reflecting On The Year That Has Passed

This transition week between Christmas and New Year’s . . . and the Old and the New Year is not unlike the Twilight Zone. For most of us, it can pass too quickly and we don’t recognize it’s significance.

For die-hard consumers, it’s a major shopping week. With Boxing Week sales, they lose no momentum from the pre-Christmas shopping flurry. Kid are mulling around the mall too, watching movies and hanging out, enjoying the two-week respite from the routine of school.

Even grown-ups who have to go to work don’t really get much done. Some business associates close for the week. Offices operate with a skeleton crew. Many coworkers are on vacation. Who has meetings between Christmas and New Year’s Day?

Before we begin the New Year with a bang and then scramble to fill our new calendars, get into the groove of new schedules, and perhaps consider a New Year’s resolution or two, let’s seize this week of transition to reflect on the year that has passed and take stock of our lives.

A year is a great expanse of time, but when it’s nearing it’s end, it may seem to have passed more quickly than the one before. This is an almost universal experience among busy adults. The older we are, the more accelerated seems the passage of each succeeding year.

There are times in our lives when we have much less to do – before and after the decades of raising our children – when our social calendars are not so busy – when we’ve finished school – and after we’ve retired. During these periods of pause, time can seem to slow down. We may have more opportunities to reflect (though we often do not).

But even during the busy years of our lives, when you consider the twelve months of the year – the events in your community: elections, riots, Grey Cup finals, parades; the milestones of your social life: births, deaths, engagements, breakups, weddings and the illnesses of friends and family members; what you accomplished at work or in class; the people you met; the challenges you faced; and growth or transformation in your relationships, you experienced a great deal!

It was a great expanse of time. Before we let it go, we can reflect on our experiences, our relationships, what we have gained, what we have lost, what we have survived, how we have grown and what we have accomplished together.

Before we launch full steam into the New Year, let’s take this week to appreciate the year that has been – together as a family , with your closest friends or in individual reflection.


Christmas Happiness Love Positive Potential Relationships

Let Life Exceed Your Expectations

With Christmas and with life, how happy or satisfied we feel can depend on two relative factors: our expectations and reality (or more precisely our perception of that reality).

Public speakers and performers understand this. You can sell more tickets by promising more than you can deliver, but that’s not the secret to pleasing and satisfying your audience.

Tell them what to expect, deliver it and give them even more. Exceed their expectations.

But don’t give them everything you’ve got. If you want repeat customers, leave them wanting more.

The key to Christmas disappointment is to have expectations that are not likely to be met. If as a child you hope for that one special present (and nothing else), you’ll be unhappy when it’s not under the tree.

If as a parent or partner shopping and planning for picture-perfect holiday celebrations, you’ll be disappointed if things don’t turn out as well as you had hoped or after putting all that thought into the perfect gift, you didn’t get the reaction you expected.

This doesn’t mean we need to lower our expectations for the holidays and in life to the point of pessimism. We can still have positive expectations, but they can be tempered by the realization that though events may not unfold exactly as we plan, we will appreciate the good that we get.

The key is flexibility – to surrender our tight control and rigid expectations, to be open to the unexpected gifts we are given. You may not end up with the picture perfect partner of your fantasies, but you may be blessed by someone who loves you just the way you are.

You may not live the life of which you once dreamt, but you can appreciate the joy of opportunities, experiences and relationships beyond your wildest expectations – the greater reality you had not imagined.

If you look at the good that you have – and make the most of it, your life will exceed your expectations.

Awareness Balance Healthy Living Relationships

A Healthy Approach to the Holiday Feast: Enjoy Every Bite

Mindfulness is not just a path to spiritual maturity. It’s the secret to enjoying the tasty treats of the holidays without overdoing it.

Around this time of the year, I often ask patients to delay their blood sugar and cholesterol blood tests for a good month after Christmas. If they go for their tests too soon after a series of holiday feasts and weeks of snacking from the naughty list of food choices, their numbers are bound to be too high and not reflective of the other 11 months of the year.

And then they will use the holidays as an excuse.

We have to be realistic . . . and humane.  To enjoy the holidays and remain healthy, I tell my patients that moderation and balance are the keys.

If you choose to eat your favourite shortbread cookie or a Purdy’s chocolate, eat mindfully. Go slow and without distraction. Enjoy every little bite.

Consider that every food that’s not quite healthy has a cost – in calories, fat or salt. Be aware of that cost, and get good value for that cost. You wouldn’t gulp down caviar if you were paying for it. You would take your time and enjoy every penny of it.

Take your time with your holiday meal. There are several good reasons not to eat and talk at the same time.

I have seen families who have the habit (or tradition) of conversing with their mouths full of food – not just a nearly finished morsel in the corner of a cheek but molars fully engaged and cheeks bulging. They invariably get into a lot of arguments simply due to misunderstandings. It can be like trying to understand what a squirrel or chipmunk is saying. Chip and Dale may be two of the most confused and misunderstood Disney characters.

In these families, a member may indicate his plan to make a point by loading his mouth with a spoonful before saying it. That’s my indication to get ready to do the Heimlich maneuver.

So as you gather round your table to celebrate the season, the pleasure of good food and the blessing of our relationships, you can minimize risks to your health and your relationships by mindfulness.

Choose your bites and your words carefully . . . and separately.

Awareness Christmas Forgiveness Grace Happiness Letting Go Love Relationships Wisdom

Living Each Christmas As If It Were The Last

A patient came in today to talk about how best to approach what could be his last Christmas.  A former smoker, two weeks ago, he coughed up blood. His chest x-ray showed a lung mass. He was quickly referred for bronchoscopy and the biopsy confirmed cancer.

While awaiting his PET scan and other investigations to determine if his cancer has spread beyond the lungs, he asked how best to cope from day to day.

I recommended a book that I had just finished reading, Enjoy Every Sandwich: Living Each Day As If It Were Your Last. Dr. Lee Lipsenthal was a medical doctor who taught patients how to live fully and gratefully each day. The book is about his personal experience in applying his positive approach as he himself coped with the diagnosis of esophageal cancer.

We can never know how much time we have left – to live our lives, to enjoy the pleasures of each day, to appreciate the company of family and friends, to do what we love to do, to do what we need to do, and to say what we need to say.

In our most meaningful relationships, what needs to be said includes (1) expressions of appreciation (“Thank you”), (2) acceptance and forgiveness (“I forgive you”), (3) acknowledgement and repentance for the harm we may have caused (“Please forgive me”), (4) what they mean to you and how much you love them (“I love you”) and finally (5) closure (Good bye).

During the holidays as we gather with friends and family, let us act knowing that this could be our last Christmas together. Be fully present. Take time to listen . . . and understand. Enjoy every smile, every hug and every kindness.

Let us not waste the precious moments of our time together being cynical, critical or angry about matters that have little significance from the perspective of our whole lives and our relationships.

Don’t waste an opportunity to be kind and to express love.

Get caught up in the magic of the holidays . . . the wonder of being alive and the comfort of feeling connected.

And though you may eat a little too much from the doctors’ naughty list of foods, enjoy every bite.



Awareness Growth Happiness Positive Change Positive Potential Relationships

Holding Ourselves Back: Prejudging Ourselves

When we’re stuck in life and going nowhere fast – in a job we don’t like, falling into the same issues with our loved ones or repeating the same mistakes ad nauseum, it may not be God, fate or others we can blame.

Though we may be held back by the rigid preconceptions or the prejudice of others, including our family and friends, it may be our own self-conception that is most responsible.

We may be trapped in a box of our own design.

But recognizing this, we may finally escape. The borders of our box are illusory. They are the limits of our imagination – the positive possibilities for ourselves and our lives.

Just because you’ve never been good at a sport doesn’t mean you can’t get some solid coaching, master the core skills and discover your athletic potential.

Just because you haven’t been confident in certain situations in the past doesn’t mean you can’t face these challenges and discover social success.

Just because you have made mistakes in the past does not mean that you have to repeat them. You are not damaged goods. You can live a better life.

Just because no one in your family went into the course of study or career that you would love to pursue doesn’t mean you can’t do it.

Just because you may face physical or health challenges – perhaps a chronic condition such as diabetes, asthma or heart disease – does not mean you cannot live fully and enjoy an authentic sense of well-being.

Just because you have been anxious or depressed in the past does not mean you cannot learn to master your thoughts and emotions, achieving the happiness that you deserve.

But you first have to address the negative programming of your own subconscious, the fear of your inner child and the self-talk that holds you back.

Talk back when you recognize your own negative self-talk. Challenge the voices of the past.

Imagine a better life, but realize that until you have pushed your limits (beyond the borders of that illusory box), that better life may be greater than anything you have yet imagined.

Don’t prejudge yourself. None of us has finished growing.

Break out of your box.

Awareness Christmas Compassion Empathy Forgiveness Growth Positive Change Relationships

How to Play Better with Your Friends & Family

When family gatherings inspire fear and loathing in the pit of your stomach, it’s probably not because of the appetizers . . . unless you’re like my son and had a bad mushroom experience in early life.

With the people we ought to know and love the best, we can easily fall into patterns of seeing one another and from these, dysfunctional routines of interacting. It’s a game we all play, following rules we never challenge.

But like a dream – or a shared delusion, our vision for greater possibilities is limited and we feel trapped in our roles. We forget that we always have a choice – including the choice to participate in the game.

That doesn’t mean we should just stay home – or leave the party early – say after the first insult or after the third rerun of the same argument.

Instead, we can choose to play a better game. My personal favourite is “Spot the Difference.” The object of the game is to recognize in another person the positive changes you had not noticed before; the more differences you can spot the better.

If we catch the spirit of the game, everyone’s a winner.

When we open our eyes and see past the filters of our shared past, we perceive more of the whole person. When we deliberately let go of our preconceptions of someone we’ve known for years, we may recognize that they have been shaped by a variety of experiences over the years and grown beyond the younger version we remember from the past.

And if this improves the way we treat one another, our most important relationships will continue to evolve. 

We feel most alone when we are not understood. We feel most at home when we are seen, accepted and loved just as we are.

This is what we all need. This is all we need. 


Growth Positive Change Positive Potential Relationships

Playing “Spot the Difference”: How We Create Our Own Blindspots & How We Can See Around Them

We can prejudge those we don’t know at all, making assumptions about their personalities, beliefs and private lives before we even meet them. They may be strangers we pass on the street, the lady standing in front of you at the cashier or the kids playing basketball at the park.

We may make assumptions based on gender (Men are like this; women are like that), their clothes, the way they speak or the colour of their skin.

But if we meet someone new with the intention of really getting to know the whole person, we listen when we talk.

We look and listen better and sometimes see things that that person’s oldest friends and family don’t see. Why is that?

We can get stuck seeing each other in shorthand. We might always see one another as we were when we were kids. That’s fine if we are still seeing the best and it brings out the best in both of us, but not so good if it prevents us from seeing our truer complete selves – or if it prevents our relationship from evolving.

Aunts and uncles notice when kids have grown and matured from year to year, but when we stop growing on the outside, our family might assume there’s been no change on the inside.

To see outside of the tight box we have mentally drawn around the people most familiar to us requires time and intention. Look beyond the borders of the box – beyond appearances.

Look and listen for change and growth, and you may surprise one another by seeing someone familiar in a whole new light. You will have spotted the difference.

Coming up: Have you prejudged yourself? Are you stuck in your own box?

Awareness Christmas Compassion Empathy Forgiveness Growth Letting Go Positive Change Relationships

Spot the Difference: A Party Game Every Family Should Play

The best part of the holidays is the magical way we just fall into the groove with our families and our oldest friends. Even if we haven’t seen some of them for much of the year, we can pick up just where we left off.  Though we want to know what’s new and important in their lives, we don’t have to get to know each other all over again.

The worst part of the holidays is the predictable way we slide back into a rut with those we’ve known the longest. Though we’ve managed to avoid one another through intent or neglect, we find ourselves at the annual Christmas gathering and pick up old arguments just where we left off last year. Though we know we’ve changed over the years, they haven’t . . . or so it seems.

I have a great party game for the holidays. So at your next family gathering if things get slow . . . or if things get tense, play “Spot the Difference!”

You probably remember the version of the game kids play in elementary school. You may have seen them in children’s activity and work books or on the place mats for the kids’ meals at a family restaurant.

Confronted with two near identical pictures, a child is asked to spot the dozen or so differences. They learn observational skills and hone their abilities to compare and contrast.

As we grow up, our ability to perceive and learn new information can be limited by what we already know. Our brain conserves energy and effort by taking shortcuts. As if we are wearing filtered glasses, we see only what we have seen before. History appears to repeat itself because that is the only way we see it.

We expect Grampa to repeat the same old stories, complain about the food and fall asleep in the easy chair. We expect our brother-in-law to brag about his work or his latest sports achievement. We expect our cousin to talk about herself and nothing else. And we keep disliking Uncle George because he just hasn’t changed and we’ve always disliked him.

We know that we have grown and changed with age and experience, but we can fail to see the growth and change in the people we think we know the best.

Thinking about old friends and family members with whom you don’t have the most positive relationships, could you be selling each other short by failing to spot the differences?

How might they have changes in a positive way?

How might you understand and see them more fully?

Coming up: Rules of the Game.