Monthly Archives

July 2015

Inner Work, Managing Emotions, Setting and reaching goals

Journaling: Using Prompts to Get Started


“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

-Carl Jung

So, you’ve got your journal, you’ve got your favorite pen.  And then you find yourself staring at a blank page.   Or maybe you’ve been recording the factual events of your life, but are thinking that you’d like to use your journal to “get inside” your mind, dig a little deeper, do some self-exploration….but don’t know where to start.

One simple technique for helping you get clarification on your internal reality and educate yourself about the ideas lurking in your unconscious is to use a journal prompt.  These prompts help “kick-start” some personal inventory-taking, and can act as springboards to doing deeper inner work.  Prompts act as departure points for forward movement, a “pushing off” of that emotional boat in which you may be wanting to set sail to explore new places but are afraid to leave that familiar shore.  Simply putting words to whatever it is that is keeping you from casting off is forward movement, a first step.  So, pick up that pen, choose one (or more) prompts that “speak” to you, and get started.  With each prompt you choose to write about, you might also want to journal “why this particular prompt appealed to me right now.”

Some sample journal prompts:

When I hear/see_________, I feel ________, and I need _________.

If I knew I absolutely could not fail, I would _______.

Right now in my life I would like more__________, and less__________.

The relationship I would like to improve is________.

If I wrote my life story, the title would be_________because__________.

An old friend I’ve lost touch with is________.  Why/how did we lose touch?  Would I want to reconnect?  If so, why?  If not, why not?

If I had________in my life, I would be happy.

Something I always wanted to say to (someone no longer in my life) is____________.

Write a letter (sent or unsent) to a former mentor thanking her/him for what she/he contributed to your life.

Something I’ve always been meaning to try is________. What keeps me from trying it is_____.

I feel most freely myself when__________.

I can be freely “me” when I’m with__________.  I can’t be freely “me” when I’m with_______because he/she/they_____________.

What scares me the most at this time of my life is_________.

The thing I really need to stop doing is___________.

What haven’t I forgiven myself for?  What keeps me from doing so now?

I’m writing right now because I feel the urge to do something I know I need to stop doing.  I’m feeling__________.

What am I avoiding?

I regret that I__________.

What chapter of my life is ending or beginning?

My body is teaching me_________.

In which of these areas do I feel out of balance at this time in my life:  relationships/love/family/personal growth/physical health/finances/security/fun/creativity/relaxation/career/community/social life/home/environment/spiritual life/other____________________

What tempted me today that I said no to? yes to? How do I feel about having said no (or yes) to that temptation?  By saying no (or yes) to that, what was I saying yes (or no) to?

Today I am grateful for__________.

(Write your own obituary.)  When I read what I’ve written, I feel__________.

If heaven does exist, my idea of heaven would be________.  What does this say about me?

When I remember first falling in love with my current partner, this is what I remember_______.

A part of myself that I feel I’ve lost, but would like to recapture at this time in my life  is___________.  The first step in recapturing that part of myself is____________.

(For more information about journaling using prompts, please refer to Kathleen Adams’ “Journey to the Self” workbook.)

Managing Emotions, Setting and reaching goals



“The journal is your playground, think tank, padded cell.”  -Ryan Bartlemay

Why keep a journal?

-Promotes self-understanding.  Ensures that the final version of your life story is the one you’d want to tell yourself.

-Clarity.  A journal is a chance for your past self to lend counsel to your present self.  The journal acts as a compass to help you identify any blocks to getting your goals met and discard old ways of being and doing that don’t work for you anymore.

-Stress relief.  In the words of process-journaling expert Kathleen Adams, author of “Journal to the Self,” the journal is “the 79 cent therapist,” a space to express thoughts and feelings free of justification or blame, and unimpeded by the judgments of others or society.  Journaling helps put the brake on endlessly repeating troubling thoughts, and gets us off our “mental treadmill” and on to some constructive resolution.

-It’s a tool for motivation and self-discipline, for achieving success in such areas as weight management, exercise programs, life goals, getting organized, making successful life transitions, improving relationships, working smarter, and improving physical health.  If you have felt frustrated in achieving any of these, or other such goals, journaling can help you get and stay on track.

-Journaling helps improve mindfulness, and a sense of “being here now.”  If you’ve ever felt that “life goes by too fast,” journaling can help you slow down the moments so they can be fully enjoyed and savored.

-Improved physical health.  When we inhibit thoughts and feelings about what’s stressing us, it takes tremendous energy to hold it in, and this serves as a cumulative stressor on the body.  Journaling has been shown to result in strengthening the body’s immune system, reducing blood pressure, improving lung function, and improving mood.

-It’s a tool for healing relationships.  The journal provides a safe forum to vent strong feelings that may not be appropriate for direct expression, which then leaves you calm and sensible for an actual conversation in which you’ll speak more assertively and listen attentively.

-Creativity.  Your journal is a generous canvas for expression of creativity you might have thought to be nonexistent or buried.  Write a poem, draw or paint, make a collage, write a song….express yourself!

This week I will be posting more tools and tips for journaling, so grab your favorite pen and some paper…and stay tuned.






Couples, Individuals

What’s Most Important to You?




Values: What are they and why do you need to know what yours are?

Values are those inner standards from which you receive the motivation to act as you do. They signify what is important and worthwhile to you. Our values help us map out the personal choices we make in order to live the life we want.

When I work with adult clients, I encourage them to do values clarification. Why? Because living a life that is NOT in accordance with their own personal values produces resistance in them, and will eventually cause them stress, anxiety, or depression.

Where people spend their resources (time, energy, and money) is a statement of their values. But sometimes, clients spend their own resources on values that are not in fact their own but are the values of other people or organizations with whom they feel pressure to conform, such as their parents, friends, or partner, their church or political party. When this happens, clients come in with feelings of confusion, resentment, and bitterness. They know they’re not living the life they want, but feel powerless to change their situation.

The healthiest people I see are the ones who have given themselves permission to identify and live out the values that are true for them, not others. And, depending on how much pressure there was on you as a child to conform to the values of others, it may take a lot of courage to declare your own values and live them out.

Do personal values change over time? Yes, they do, depending on circumstances or stages of life.

For example, a life-threatening illness, or the death of a loved one, or entering a new stage of adult life such as menopause, empty nest, or retirement, can all bring about shifts in our values.


Need help clarifying your values? Try the following exercise, and do it by yourself, then ask your partner (or other family member) to do it on their own. When you have both completed the exercise, then discuss your answers with one another.

What’s important to me? Check those that apply to you:

_____a physical appearance to be proud of

_____to be educated and have a degree

_____to be in a relationship with a partner with whom I love

spending time and doing things together

_____to have and exercise political power

_____to be known as an authentic person

_____to be in a relationship where I’m loved for who I am right

now, not who I “was” or who I “could be”

_____to be creative in the “palette” of my choice, be it painting,

gardening, decorating, fashion, textiles, cooking, or

any other form of creative expression

_____to enjoy nature and/or being outdoors

_____to help people make changes that they want

_____to have employment that I enjoy and that has meaning for me

_____helping the sick and disadvantaged


_____being actively involved in the lives of my children or


_____having a beautiful home in the setting of my choice

_____eating fine foods

_____experiencing cultural activities

_____having a close circle of friends with whom I share interests

_____a meaningful and fulfilling spiritual life

_____being different; not following “the herd”

_____fitting in with my social group

_____to have time to spend every day on something just for me

_____to be a recognized expert in my field

_____to have a financially comfortable life

_____financial security for my retirement

_____to be sexy

_____to feel physically safe and secure in the world

_____to live a really long life

_____to be completely myself without feeling judged by others

_____to have high social status in my culture

_____to be free from physical pain

_____to have prized possessions surrounding me

_____to be admired

_____fighting injustice

_____living ethically

_____being taken care of

_____being independent

_____being in control

_____having stimulation and no boredom

_____having self-acceptance at every age of my life

_____being well-organized

_____freedom to do as I please

_____learning and knowing a lot

_____family life

_____preserving my family’s roots

_____living fully in the moment

_____having high quality material possessions

_____having lots of time to be by myself, doing what I want

_____not being tied down by material things


My personal values: (List your top ten.)


Now rank each value in priority order, then, for each value you listed, answer this question:

I will know this value has been met when________________________



This value is currently being met by ____________________________ _______________________________________________________________________

A few questions to consider when discussing values:


  1. If my partner’s top values differ from my own, do we (and if so, how do we) allow for, and honor, one another’s differing values within our couple relationship?


  1. If my adult children’s top values differ from my own, do I (and if so, how do I) allow for, and honor, the values they have which differ from my own?


  1. What values of mine differ from my parents’/family of origin? How do members of my family of origin allow for, and honor, my values that differ from theirs?


  1. Are there ever times when you feel in a position to have to defend your values to someone else? If so, have you ever felt uncomfortable or unsafe having to do so?


  1. Are there ever times when you feel unable to stand up for your values and/or are silenced in the face of opposition to, criticism of, or minimization of your own values? If so, what would support you at times when you feel unable to stand up for your values?



Got a Problem to Solve?


Got a Problem?

Families and couples often come in with many problems to solve, stuff that’s built up over time, and they want to solve it all in the first session. Reality check: We’re going to start with the most pressing problem first, and solve one problem at a time. That’s ONE at a time.


First, (and this is important, folks), problem-solving is NOT the same thing as venting. They are two separate things, and should be done separately. Problem-solving when you are angry is a sure-fire way to fail at it. So, vent feelings first. Once you vent and feel heard by the other(s), and are in an emotionally calm space, only then can you move to problem-solving.


A pen, some paper, and an open mind.


Ask the other person(s) involved if this is a good time for them to do problem-solving. If it is NOT a good time, make an appointment with them, and choose a time that is more likely to be less stressful (i.e., not the minute they get home from a long day at work). Problem-solving should be done when all parties are sober.


Name the problem, and be specific. Choose only ONE problem to solve. (This is one of the hardest things to do during this process…stick to only ONE problem. Try to stay focused on just the one problem first introduced.)


Make a list of every single option you can think of which might be a solution to the problem. In this step, DON’T EVALUATE or judge the options or give an opinion about whether you think they will work or not. JUST list them, as many as you and the others can think of, no matter how unrealistic they may seem at first.


Once you have exhausted all the possible options, go back and write the pros and cons of EACH option. Each person involved is allowed to say what, to them, are the pros and cons of each option.


Come to an agreement on which option looks the best at this time, and choose it. Reality check: There is seldom “THE IDEAL” option; there is only the best option available for this time and this place and whatever other limitations exist right now.


After choosing an option, decide how you and the other(s) will implement it. Decide who will do what/when/etc., and write it down. Decide on a trial time. In other words, how long will you try this option? A week? A month? Until it no longer works?


Put the option you chose into effect. After the agreed time, meet again and evaluate how well it’s working. If it is working, great…keep it up. If it is not working, STOP doing it. Go back to step three, and re-evaluate the other options or come up with more options. Also consider whether your chosen option just needs to be slightly tweaked in order to be effective, and make those small corrections, and see how that works.


When problem-solving fails, THIS is usually why:


  1. We try to do it when we are tired, angry, discouraged, or rushed.
  2. We confuse problem-solving with venting feelings.
  3. We don’t stick to ONE problem during the problem-solving process. We keep bringing up new problems during the process, which bogs the process down and derails it.
  4. We criticize options that are suggested during step 3, and the other people involved feel discouraged or hurt by this.
  5. We don’t let everyone (who is a party to this problem) participate in the process.
  6. We let people who are NOT a party to the problem get involved. Boundary setting is important here.
  7. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Sometimes decisions are made without every participant being “on board” (agreeing to it). Excluded participants may try to sabotage the plan once it is put into place if they did not feel like they were a legitimate part of the process.
  8. If the first option tried doesn’t work, we give up and throw out the whole process, saying problem-solving “doesn’t work.”

If your continued efforts at problem-solving are not working, try to identify which of the above you are doing and make a commitment to stop doing it.