Monday, December 13, 2010

Post-Divorce Exercise Saves Lives

Okay, I don’t mean post-divorce exercise literally saves lives, although I’m not saying it won’t save yours. But exercise is something that has often keeps us going when the going gets rough. Divorce, being a new parent, grad school, and many other difficult situations raise the stress level and necessitate decisive action to bring it down to manageable.

I took a yoga class some months after my separation, and several women in the class said yoga had saved their lives. Some were post-divorce, others had chronic health issues, but all attributed huge physical and psychic gains to the practice.

I know, I know. You don’t have time. The idea of integrating exercise into daily life in as many ways as possible is something to think about. Getting outside is another fantastic stress reducer. Together these are great for maintaining equilibrium and not allowing the stress level to creep up on you. You don’t have to spend loads of time. The trick is to figure out what works for you, even if you can only eke out 15 min. You can:

*Go to the gym right before or after work
*Walk, run bike or go to the gym at lunch
*Use the stairs instead of the elevator
*Walk or bike to your next appointment
*Schedule gym, yoga or biking time in your work-week
*Keep a yoga mat, stationary bike or exercise clothes/shoes at the office in case you get a break
*Use a jogging stroller, kiddy bike seat or baby back-pack to incorporate exercise into the work of childcare
*Use the exercise room at hotels during business trips
*Explore new cities on foot, walking or running when traveling
*Take a dance, exercise or yoga class during lunch
*Do short family/friend hikes, walks, rides and runs during the week

Choose options that will fit with your lifestyle. Have other ideas for post-divorce stress reduction? Please leave a comment.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Post-Divorce: Second Chances

I heard a piece about Dave Brubeck today. In his interview with Terry Gross, he explained that he stopped piano lessons with his mother, a music teacher. He focused on his father’s love, cattle ranching and rodeo roping. Studying pre-vet in college, in his second year an astute professor suggested he drop the science and study music. It wasn’t until his senior year that they realized he couldn’t read music. He went on to become one of the most celebrated jazz musicians in the world. Also inspiring, about to turn 90, he is still performing.

What does this have to do with divorce? With life? Just this: there are always second chances. And usually third and fourth ones too. Whether it’s a marriage, a career, a relationship or a belief, there are opportunities. You can’t rewind, do-over or re-do. But you can start fresh.

So consider this: what would you like to do with your second chance?  Perhaps a little post-divorce growth?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Post-Divorce Holiday Tips

If I do say so myself, my tips from last year on managing post-divorce holiday stress are pretty good: Do what you do to de-stress; create new rituals; look good; accept the new; remember why you made the choices you made.

I have a few more for this year.

Acceptance is golden. It wasn’t perfect before the divorce and it won’t be perfect now. Accept that truth. It’s okay to do the best you can. It’s quite good enough because it has to be. If you and your brother didn’t get along well before, you’re not going to get along better now just because you’re divorced and want things to be peaceful and pleasant. If the kids argue normally, they’re going to argue even though it’s the holidays.

Be social. Although we don’t always get along with our loved ones, even for the most diehard introverts, holidays are tough alone. If need be, invite yourself someplace. Friends are usually more than happy to make room for one more.

Money can’t buy you love. Coming into the Chanukah and Christmas spending seasons, post-divorce most of us just don’t have as much as before. The kids can do with less. Either they’re old enough to understand or too young to care about exactly how much money you spent. Your friends will understand if you don’t have as much to give as you did before.

Volunteer. Serving Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner to people in need is a fulfilling experience and one that can make even the most depressing post-divorce holiday warmer and more upbeat. If you can’t serve, considering giving food or money.

Be thankful. It’s Thanksgiving, so be thankful for what you do have. What a great time to start a gratitude journal or a gratitude book for the whole family. And speaking of gifts, gratitude letters are great gifts. So are personalized cards expressing thanks to friends and family for specific things. And so are photo books and other handmade or made-to-order personalized gifts that are not too expensive.

Happy holidays! And thanks for reading my blog.

Say you don't need no diamond ring and I'll be satisfied
Tell me that you want the kind of thing that money just can't buy
I don't care too much for money, money can't buy me loveCan’t Buy Me Love. The Beatles.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Post-divorce Self-compassion

Considering the value of self-esteem is relevant to the post-divorce period. I’ve already talked about how self-esteem can be impacted negatively in marriage, but now we’re all about questioning the very notion of self-esteem. Some people call it self-indulgence.

I like the idea that we would do better to consider self-compassion as an alternative to self-esteem. Adapted for post-divorce, self-compassion involves:

* Being tolerant of the self. Tolerance is about being non-judgmental, particularly in the face of failures. Since divorce is the ultimate failure for many because of their values, hopes and dreams, it’s useful to consider a different view. Perhaps it isn’t a failure at all. Perhaps we do not need to judge ourselves through the right-wrong lens. Acceptance without judgment is a different view. Sometimes, if not always, we’re where we need to be.

* Recognizing that pain is part of the human experience. We need not be isolated in our pain. I’ve talked about the role of friendship and support post-divorce which I think is really important. We are not islands but part of the common humanity. Everyone has their pain and it’s good to talk about ours. We can help others by being there, listening and supporting.

* Trying to maintain emotional balance. We need not exaggerate our failings, including indulging in self-pity when in pain. This is a toughie, but ruminating, obsessing and getting hysterical about our problems is rarely useful. Trying to get a calm, clear perspective and to maintain that perspective without drama is very useful. It involves noticing your thoughts and accepting or redirecting them instead of allowing the negative focus to engulf us. Sometimes input from others helps us gain perspective and feel supported.

So instead of bemoaning that your self-esteem is low because of the divorce, try taking special care to be kind and compassionate towards yourself, and maybe even to others, post-divorce. It’s a goal likely to boost happiness.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Post-Divorce Mindset: Failure or Renewal?

It’s autumn and the leaves are changing. They’re beautiful, and though we know they’re dying, we don’t see it as a failure. It’s a process of readying for winter followed by renewal in the spring. We love the changes.

What does this have to do with divorce? If we can think of the post-divorce period as a process, then we might talk about a failed marriage, then a process of change followed by renewal. It’s when we have the mindset, I’m a failure because of my divorce, that we get into trouble. Thinking of yourself as a failure obviously leaves little room for change. Thinking of yourself as a person who was in a bad marriage, and is now recovering from that experience and moving toward growth and renewal, is infinitely more helpful.

*Becoming is better than being. So said someone and I have to agree. Now that you’re single, what would you like to become? Think of three things you’d like to become at this point in your life. For example, become a yogi/yogini, become an accomplished cook, or become a better parent. Better yet, become all three.

*One man or woman’s meat is another’s poison. I’ll have to agree with that one as well. You’ll meet or have already met many who identify their divorce as the turning point in their lives after which all else went to the dogs. You’ll meet many more who identify their divorce as the turning point after which all else (relatively speaking) was dog heaven. And here’s the secret: meat or poison, heaven or hell, it’s completely up to you. You make it what you want based on how you think about it. If you think creatively and positively about how you’re going to flourish, like the trees come springtime, you’ve got it covered.

*You are what you think. I definitely agree with this one. You are not a failure, you are not just a divorced person, you are a survivor. And you are about to create your own destiny. This is a growth opportunity, as are most tragedies. Athletes with a “growth mindset” learn from their losses and misses to become better players. People with growth mindsets know they can do anything they set their minds to, regardless of what they’ve been through. So figure out how you’d like to grow.

Change how you think of yourself and your experiences to make the post-divorce experience one of renewal and not failure. Spring is just around the corner.

Just for fun:  Kelly Clarkson, Since U Been Gone

Monday, October 11, 2010

Journal Post-Divorce...For Your Eyes Only

After writing recently about journaling for health and other assorted reasons, I thought, what better way to get out of the post-divorce doldrums?

I started my as yet unpublished memoir in the early post-divorce period. It was quite therapeutic. I submitted an as yet unpublished essay to the NY Times Modern Love column. While the rejection was disappointing, or as I prefer to say, “unlucky,” it was fun to write and exciting to submit.

I’m not saying you have to write for publication. Writing, if it comes reasonably naturally to you, is a great way to get thoughts and feelings out of your head, enhance your understanding of situations and difficulties, problem-solve, be creative and have fun. It can be for your eyes only.

You can write your way:

*through depressed, angry and guilty feelings
*through new and difficult situations, like dating
*through problems, e.g., with the kids, with your future, with your ex
*into your new and improved post-divorce personna

There are many famous post-divorce books, including:

*How to Sleep Alone in a King-size Bed
*Eat, Pray, Love
*First Wives Club

So get out pen and paper, a notebook or journal, or open a brand new page in your word processor, and just let it flow. Leave your internal editor behind, and see what comes out. Get wild, get crazy, have some fun…it’s for your eyes only.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

You've Said Goodbye to Your Narcissist...Wake up and Smell the Flowers

Charming, commanding and demanding, the narcissist (almost as often a woman as a man) is sure to strain even the sanest, most committed mate. So finally, you’ve had enough, either because you were pushed to the limit or because you knew it would never change. So you’ve kicked him or her out. You’re alone. Once you’ve said goodbye to your narcissist, you have to learn a few things.

Learn to:

*Be alone
*Deal with your guilt and anger
*Rely on your own judgment
*Trust your view of reality
*Love yourself as you are
*Recognize your codependence

Learning to love yourself is important, but it’s not enough. You must also learn not to attract yet another narcissist. Or if you do, you must learn to let him/her go. If you can’t do the things you need to make you happy (okay, I’m on a happiness kick which is why I started thinking about this to begin with) then you could have a narcissist on your hands.

You must:

*Be assertive and say no when appropriate
*Notice when you’re being a caretaker, which is probably what got you in trouble in the first place
*Not be controlled and give up things important to you in deference to what they want
*Notice when you’re feeling bad and take appropriate action
*Notice when you spend a lot more time stroking your partner than being stroked
*Notice when you’re wary of the mood you’re partner is going to be in

When these things are becoming increasingly difficult, you must consider the distinct possibility that you’ve involved yourself with another narcissist. Wake up and smell the flowers!

For inspiration: Annie Lennox, Pavement Cracks

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Post-Divorce 12-Step Program

What do you think of a post-divorce 12-step program? You know, for recovering divorcees. Has it been done? Goggle reveals nothing. I’ll have to brush up on my 12-steps. No, I’m not an addict and don’t want to pass myself off as one. Though there’s always Addicted to Love, of course.

My 60-second post-divorce 12-step manual.

Step 1. Recognize you were powerless to stop the divorce. It happened. What’s done is done.

Step 2. Only a power greater than ourselves can restore sanity, e.g., running, yoga, mindfulness, god, therapy, coaching.

Step 3. Turn yourself over to the greater power. You must want to get better and move on.

Step 4. Make a fearless moral inventory. How have you lived your life? And how do you want to live it? This is a good time for a change.

Step 5. Admit your wrongs.  Identify weaknesses and failings.

Steps 6 and 7. Be ready to have your greater power remove these defects. Whatever your greater power, put it to work here. Personally, I think that means you. Work to get your act together.

Step 8. Make a list of those you have harmed. There are always those we have pushed aside if not downright harmed, particularly in the midst of the post-divorce trauma, if not before.

Step 9. Make amends to those you have harmed. It’s a good time to sort out your issues with people.

Step 10. Continue with your personal inventory and when wrong, admit it promptly.

Step 11. Through prayer and meditation (or running, music, etc). improve our connection with our higher power.

Step 12. Carry the message to others. I survived divorce. You can too!

I like the 12-step focus on being a better person. It’s a good focus for all that negative post-divorce energy.

Mood music: Addicted to Love, Robert Palmer.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Post-Divorce Intentions

Mindful behavior involves intentions. In short, you consciously decide what you’d like to be doing and then set an intention to do that thing. Consider what you’d like to be doing differently post-divorce, and what intentions you might need to set to make that happen.

You have to consider the things you’re struggling with and what your intentions might be. Some of the possibilities for post-divorce intentions are:

*I notice my many positive qualities (being divorced is not my central defining characteristic).
*I am present in the moment (and not dwelling on how things were or could have been).
*I take care of things myself (even if I haven’t always done so).
*I speak only in neutral or positive terms about Jon, Jill or whoever (i.e., your ex).
*I focus on wholesome, healthy thoughts about my divorce (not unwholesome or unhealthy thoughts).
*I believe being single is a normal, healthy state (not a lowly life form just above an amoeba).

Identify your intention(s) and go through these four steps.

First, be aware of your intention. Let’s take the intention, I believe being single is a normal state. Negative thoughts that come up about being divorced (e.g., I’m a failure, Everyone is married but me, You have to be in a couple to be happy) are thoughts to notice but not dwell on.

Second, remind yourself of the intention when you notice the negative thinking. When you notice you're thinking that everyone is married except you, remind yourself that being single is normal, that many people are single, even never-married, and are perfectly normal.

Third, keep the intention in mind with some reminder you develop. You have a beloved object you’ve acquired after the divorce that you put on your dresser to remind yourself every morning that your intention is to live with the knowledge that being single is a normal, healthy state. You set a reminder on your phone that pops up every 3 hours that says, I’m a powerful, attractive person. Each is a structure you establish that reminds you of your intention.

Fourth, keep track of how you’re doing with your intention and notice the gains you make. If you feel you can do better, design a plan for doing so without criticism or judgment. Perhaps the object on your dresser is working well, but you need something at the office too. Great! Do it.

Being aware of our intentions and setting them mindfully can be a real help post-divorce.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Post-Divorce Forgiveness

I’ve looked at self-forgiveness post-divorce, and other-forgiveness in general. How about forgiving the other party in the divorce? The REACH acronym proposed by Worthington works for the post-divorce situation.

R – Recall the hurt. Whatever the reasons it ended, there was hurt (as if you’ve forgotten). See it, feel it, taste it. Without first grabbing hold, you can’t let go.

E – Empathize with the other person. Try to understand why s/he needed to do what s/he did, why they couldn’t be the person you needed, why you couldn’t make it work together.

A – Altruistically give forgiveness. It’s a gift to be given with no personal gain (though honestly, the research on forgiveness shows that it will feel good and be good for your health).

C – Commit to forgiving publicly. You don’t have to put an ad in the paper, but you do have to make it concrete in some way. Write a forgiveness letter (give it or don’t), journal about it, tell someone.

H – Hold onto forgiveness. As opposed to revenge, anger and hate. Try to practice it. Develop an intention to forgive and act on it. In fact, you may want to start with an intention to forgive, and work from there.

Who knows, some day you might want to write them a gratitude letter. After all, if I didn’t go through yesterday, I wouldn’t be right here today.

Music to forgive by: Taxi, Harry Chapin

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Reduce Post-Divorce Stress with Mindfulness

I really like mindfulness techniques for getting more centered, calm and managing stress under any circumstances.  Anyone can learn to be less judgmental, more patient, more present, more intentional and more authentic. 

Have a look at my recent eZine article on the subject with specific attention to the post-divorce situation.  And namaste baby.

Monday, August 30, 2010

10,000 Hour Rule Post-Divorce

The high performance literature tells us that you have to work hard to excel. Recently popularized in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, I think it’s useful for considering the post-divorce learning curve.

Although the 10,000 hours rule is discussed as several hours a day over 10 years to build a business or master a sport, I think it's a good post-divorce rule.  Consider that you practice being a divorced person 24-7. Or at least during your waking hours. Okay, quite possibly while you’re asleep as well. By my calculations, it would take just a little over a year to be an expert. How long do you think it would take to be a talented amateur? I’m thinking it would take only half that time, give or take.

High performance requires a few things which I think are relevant for excelling in your post-divorce life.

1. Pursue your passion. You’re divorced, so being single better be your passion, right? Embrace it.

2. Develop and focus on goals. Breathe, exercise, meditate or do whatever you do to create and focus on your goals. You may have a goal of the day (e.g., getting through this day without snapping at anyone) or a goal of the week (e.g., getting me out to socialize two times) or a 6 month goal (e.g., finding a new house or job).

3. Pump yourself up. Music, fist pumping, dancing or getting a pep talk from a friend, all serve to get you excited about your goals and go for them.

4. Develop routines. Athletes, performers and creatives all have routines. They help us focus, stay on track and waste less time. If I deviate from my getting-ready-for-work routine I’m sure to forget my watch, take too long to get out of the house or otherwise start the day in a bit of a frenzy. Make new routines and follow them.

5. Use affirmations. I think I can I think I can I think I can. You can! Tell yourself in whatever way that works for you that you can do this, and you can do it well.

6. Take breaks to renew. Sometimes you just need time alone. No commitments, no plans, maybe just a good book or a few movies. But not for too long. It’s just a break and then you get back to your routines and goals.

208 days is not so terribly long. That’s my prediction for how long it can take to achieve talented amateur status in the post-divorce world.

Pump up with Put Your Records On – Corinne Bailey Rae

Monday, August 16, 2010

Post-Divorce Dating Online

It’s official. According to a story today on NPR, more than half of modern couples meet on-line. That doesn’t include the people who meet in bars but actually met first on-line. So for you post-divorcees, consider the possibility of getting your dating going via the internet. It worked for me.

As the psychologist quoted pointed out, no one knows what you want the way you do. And you can screen for things important to you via on-line dating services. Sure you’ll meet some people you’re not interested in seeing again, but that’s always true of dating. It’s still a lot quicker than traditional meets.

Shop as many sites as it takes to find one you’re comfortable with. Look for sites that capture your interests if the biggies like don’t appeal. You can date by ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, geekiness, profession, wealth, politics, athleticism and probably anything else you’re interested in. Consider free sites if you’re not sure about the commitment.

Other tips for on-line dating:

- Tell the truth and present your best self, but there’s no point in saying you’ve got an athletic body type or college degree if you don’t.

- Consider different options like speed dating and matchmaking services.

- Be safe, i.e., use your head.

- Do not personalize everything; if someone doesn’t get back to you there are a million reasons why.

- Be ready to move on if something doesn’t feel right or isn’t working right.

- Consider anyone who meets your criteria. You can always ditch them later and it’s good practice.

- Have fun!!!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

I Look So Good Without You

More than one person said to me post-divorce, you look great; divorce must agree with you. If we think of strengths as the flip side of weaknesses, and opportunities as the flip side of threats, maybe that explains it.

Athletes learn how to recovery from injury and get over bad performances. There’s a lot to be learned post-divorce from their advice.

Wallow, briefly. You may have to act out, isolate, eat, starve, sleep, or whatever your particular I’ve-hit-bottom strategies are. But you’ve got to set a time limit and move on. That doesn’t mean you don’t get to spend evenings now and again watching tear-jerkers or playing videogames all night while hanging out with your pet. You just don’t get to do it every night.

Cross-train. What? You’re not in training? Yes, you are. You’re in training for being a divorced person. Find new things and try them out. Everyone has something they’ve put on the back burner for when they have more time. The dance class they’ve wanted to take, the triathlon they’ve wanted to train for. Even if you’re a single parent, you probably still have more time, since you’re not devoting all that time to your spouse.

Find a positive or nix negativity. Notice when you’re getting into negative self-talk and work hard to turn it into something positive. Just as athletes have to get over the fact that they’re injured or didn’t make a personal best, you have to get over the fact that things didn’t turn out as you’d hoped. Decide right then and there that the next relationship is going to be healthier and happier. Listen to Jessie James who will perk you right up.

Come back with care and reasonable expectations. Don’t expect too much from yourself and take things slow and easy. This applies to new relationships and goals for new projects you may take up. Give yourself some time to get back to speed.

And remember the the words of Billy Crystal:  You look mahvelous.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Post-Divorce SWOT Analysis

You know how SWOT analysis is used in strategic planning for organizations? Even if you’re not familiar with it, the idea is to analyze the organization’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It’s a good post-divorce planning model. Consider yourself an organization. Newly incorporated if you like.

Let’s start with your strengths. Take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths if you get stuck. Or just be honest with yourself and don’t let your inner critic guide you. Friends are also good at pointing out our strengths. Your strengths might include honesty, intelligence, creative problem solving ability, strong parenting, empathy. See how you can parlay these into good skills for meeting people and figuring out what you want to do with your life? Use your honesty and intelligence to engage your next date and your problem solving ability to figure out how to manage the visitation schedule.

Weaknesses are easy for most of us. Too much of a strength can be a weakness. Like being too trusting, for example. Afraid to try new things might be another. Afraid of being rejected yet another. Weaknesses can be paralyzing if you let them get the best of you.

Opportunities come naturally out of weaknesses. Too trusting? Try modulating that in the next relationship, whether it’s with a new landlord or new friend. If you’re afraid to try new things, set yourself the goal of trying something new every day, whether it’s just a new flavor of coffee or talking to the person next to you in the grocery checkout line. Or even something big like trying that on-line dating service your friend suggested. Or the new job you’ve been considering. Consider what you’d like to achieve and then identify the opportunities that are available to you.

Threats include external factors that might get in your way. One of my clients was convinced that having a little boy was going to completely dash all hopes of a date since, she claimed, everyone knows that men don’t like to take on other guy’s boys. That’s an inner critic talking if ever I heard one. But having a badly behaved boy stomp on your date might present problems. Figure out how to deal with that threat in advance. I know you can use your creativity to work it out. The economy is another threat. It’s going to make it impossible for you to get that high paying job you need now, right? Wrong. Yes, the economy presents issues for all of us, but someone’s going to get that job. Why not you?

What I like about the SWOT analysis is that it forces us to take stock of our abilities and the challenges we face. And it makes it possible for us to figure out how to move ahead.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Shared Post-Divorce Experience

One of the things I loved about Theo Pauline Nestor’s How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed was the interweaving of life-story and divorce-fact. It’s summarized here:

It’s weird to think of all this activity as a recognizable phase of human development like the ones children go through…Apparently I’m not really an individual woman starring in her own never-been-told-before-drama. I’m one of thousands, and I’m on a well-trodden path, one with well-mapped crests and valleys and milestones as predictable as the appearance of molars and the onset of puberty.”

Of course we all want to be unique with our own unique stories. Good for us. But the idea that certain aspects of our pain are shared, well that’s just priceless as I’ve reflected on before

So here are some of the commonalities of experience, courtesy of Nestor and me, with a few of my suggestions for handling them:
* Rearranging our space – Damn right…I’m gonna make it mine.

* Being treated like a freak (the maitre de asking: just one?) - This may be our distortion. Indeed, an informal study I conducted found that even when I’m with someone the maitre de may ask, just two?

* People exclude you because of your singledom – it’s hell for the hostess at a dinner party to handle singles.

* Feeling like your former other cannot disengage, making it difficult for you to do so – You’ve got to do it anyway. Just go ahead and cut the cord. It’ll feel better.

* Sleeping with the former spouse and feeling guilty – Just don’t keep doing it. But certainly don’t feel guilty. The desire for intimacy is normal.

* People complain you date too soon, or not soon enough - Everyone’s an expert. You know what's right for you.

* Meeting the ex-spouses’ significant other is painful and confusing, even if you have a significant other yourself - Of course it is.  It’s evidence that part of your life has been usurped by someone else, even if you no longer want it. It’s painful in anticipation, before it ever happens. It just has to be accepted as a part of life.

* The institution of marriage itself has become confusing – Just table that for now. See how you feel about it in a year or two.

* Thinking the ex-spouse is going to be a better person with better judgment than they were when you were married –They probably are not going to change for your benefit. And I mean this in the kindest way: get over it.

* Others don’t always understand your choices, and are delighted to let you know it – Give them your best Buddha smile and nod understandingly. Then do what you want.

There are many more commonalities. I hear them from clients all the time. These are just a few of the highlights I offer to encourage you to view yourself as part of a community. You’re not alone.

How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed: A Memoir of Starting Over, Theo Pauline Nestor.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Post-Divorce Gratitude

People who are more grateful are happier. It’s simply a fact. So I’m thinking that in the post-divorce unhappy period, why not practice gratitude in the hopes of being happier?

But how to be more grateful? Sonja Lyubormirsky gives the how-tos in her book the How of Happiness. I wanted to highlight a few ideas here and you can also see another blog and newsletter I’ve written about the subject.

I like five of the ways Lyubormirsky shows that gratitude is thought to actually increase happiness. These include savoring the positives in your life, feeling better about yourself as a result, feeling more connected with others who contribute to the positives in your life, reducing the envy and jealousy which are incompatible with gratitude and actually starting to feel more positive about the good things we have. Not only are these good things for everyone, but post-divorce they’re particularly useful. They counter the natural self-esteem drops (I must be inadequate for not making the marriage work) and envy increases (look at that happy family, and that one, and that one) which many experience.

The typical way to practice gratitude is the gratitude journal written daily, a few times a week or weekly, depending on your personal needs. Thinking about gratitude without writing about it is another way to practice. And an interesting twist is to think about something for which you are not grateful, e.g., the ungrateful thought that your kids never spontaneously tell you they love you. Then counter it with a grateful thought about how they do spontaneously hug you or call you.

Another really potent approach is to tell someone the reasons you are grateful to them, by letter or in person. Even just writing a gratitude letter without giving it seems to increase happiness.

Finding a gratitude buddy is helpful to some. Being accountable to someone else may increase your chances of sticking to a gratitude plan. Sharing something you’re grateful for with another person is also a way of enhancing our own experience of gratitude.

Earlier this evening I mentioned to my son how much I love the smell of dusk at this time of year; he enthusiastically said he felt the same which was very pleasing to me. Okay, I choose to think he was being serious though I recognize he may have been slightly sarcastic (yeah mom, I smell another one of your hokey positive psychology interventions).

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Post-divorce Decluttering

There’s a lot of stuff in a marriage. Furniture, papers, pictures and photos, gifts received, kitchenware and bathrooms full of stuff. I still find the odd item after nearly 9 years. Some things are keepers. You don’t want to have to buy a new blender for no good reason. Others, they have bad karma and you just know it. One must honor that and deal with it appropriately, i.e., such items must get gone. And you can see another blog entry for an example of this.

Cluttering experts believe that physical clutter reflects mental clutter. I’m going to have to agree but I mean it in the kindest way. I have piles of unread journals. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s a thing. They represent something to me and I’m not sure I want to let that thing go just yet.

Now I’m not saying that if you keep stuff from the marriage you haven’t let go. But you have to consider what that particular stuff means to you. Consider if it’s dragging you down. Consider how you feel and what you think when you see it. Consider what it would be like for you if it were gone.

If you’re early on in this process, large plastic bags full of stuff for the dump or good will are extremely liberating. It’s like letting to of deadweight. There’s almost a physical lightness that comes of getting rid of stuff. It can be downright fun.

And if you have any doubt, check out John Lennon’s Instant Karma.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Forgive the Mistakes Post-divorce

Short of having the means to go back in time and change the past, how do we let go of our mistakes? Do we say, I forgive me for flunking that exam because I partied and didn't study, I forgive me for going to law school when I really wanted to join the Peace Corps, I forgive me for getting married when I wasn’t sure, or...[your issue here]?

How do we move from believing we've done something wrong to accepting our imperfections? You have to notice the self-blame and take action to forgive yourself. It goes something like this.

First, you have to admit that you've done something forgiveness-worthy. You married too young, too fast, a person you had qualms about from the start, or ...[your reason here].

Next, you must experience the feelings of shame, guilt and regret. Accepting responsibility is required. I messed up and I have no one (really) to blame but myself. No one forced me to marry, I could have withstood being a single parent, not pleasing him/her, not pleasing the families, or...[your reason here]. You must accept that you made the choice. You must allow youreself to experience that it feels bad.

Finally, you must try for understanding and acceptance. It seemed like a good choice at the time. No one's perfect. This doesn't make me a worthless person. Instead of self-blame and recrimination, you have to figure out what you're going to do about it now. How can you move forward? How can you handle the next relationship differently? How can you...[your goal here]? It's not forgetting, but forgiving and remembering to do something different.

Self-forgiving people, like other-forgiving people, have better health and mental health. It's not surprising, since guilt, shame, anger and self-criticism are stressful. So take a few deep, cleansing breaths, and let go, at least for right now. Take a step into your self-forgiving future. And while you’re at it, consider if there’s anyone else you might need to forgive.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Favorite Mistakes

And the mistakes seem to me as crucial as the successes…Richard Holmes

I found the story of Humphry Davy’s discovery of laughing gas fascinating. Not only did he serendipitously discover that it numbed pain, but then, no one wanted to use it. It seems that physicians believed that patients who expressed pain would be able to cope with surgery. They believed the pain showed that the body was fighting and it was a good thing. Ouch.

I’m reminded of people who were in painful marriages and continued, feeling they should be experiencing the pain, that it was part of a real relationship. Often these same people experience amazing relief after divorce. I’m not saying get divorced, I’m just saying that you have to listen to your pain. I hear this often about jobs . The job is painful and it’s painful to consider leaving. Continuing in the pain is perhaps not such a good thing. Continuing in one’s mistake is also perhaps not such a good thing.

It took 40 years for doctors to use nitrous oxide in surgeries. Aren’t we glad they finally figured it out? So how about you? Have you finally figured it out? What have you learned from the mistakes of your marriage? This is the glorious part of making mistakes…the ability to learn from them.

Read about the Humphry Davy story.

Listen to Sheryl Crow, My Favorite Mistake

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Post-Divorce Dating

I'm about to publish an Ezine article about post-divorce dating, so I'm giving a sneak preview here.  The focus is using a different mindset when you consider the perils of dating.
I'm encouraging the growth mindset.  Doesn't that sound all grown up and adult?  It's about thinking more positively about your abilities and knowing that when you put enough effort into something, you're bound to succeed.  We won't belabor the fixed mindset, which, as you can imagine, isn't quite as productive.  It's the one where you think you'll never meet anyone, etc.  NOT what we're looking for.

For the growth mindset, keep in mind:

- Effort leads to success - Join Facebook or
- Learn from mistakes - Why didn't that guy ask me out?
- Stay positive - I know I can figure out how to survive a date
- Seek out feedback - What's wonderful about me (or not so much?)
- Take the plunge! - In the words of a famous sneaker, JUST DO IT!

For more on mindset, look at the book or read my newsletter What's on your Mind

Keep an eye out for my article here or read my last one.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Post-Divorce Creativity Cont'd

You can never have too much creativity, right? And I can never rehash my own ideas enough, right? Okay, maybe not. You be the judge.

My recent newsletter about Using Creativity to Flourish identified 5 strategies for enhancing creativity in life. Let’s apply these to the post-divorce. Yes, I’ve made it a noun, so shoot me.

Enhance natural curiosity. This is trying not to rush and noticing things. Though you may be more stretched for time post-divorce, with kids, work and socializing to juggle (among other things), YOU can chose where to indulge your curiosity. So go crazy. Window shop, go to the museum your ex, Bob or Sally, sneered at and take that hike you’ve been wanting do.

Enhance your flow. Spend more time on your hobby, or take up a new one you didn’t quite feel was supported. I know, you need to spend more time with the kids, the parents, your job. But if you enjoy it, everyone will be happy. My kid has been remarkably supportive (well, since he’s a remarkable kid it’s not all that surprising) of the many hours I spent taking classes and working on my life coaching venture. He even gave me a sign for mother’s day that says Inspire.

Enhance relaxation and reflection. I spent the first 6 months or so sleeping about 4 or 5 hours a night compared to the minimum of 7 I really need to function well. Take heed. You will not get everything figured out, finished, etc. Rest and engage in activities that replenish your psyche and body. Massage, exercise, spiritual pursuits (you know I’m a running, yoga and meditation nut) are all going to help you figure out how to create the life you want.

Enhance the positives. You’ll experiment with different things that seem like they might be interesting…learning to play the flute or belly dance, the new investment group, pilates, speed-dating. Whatever you try, toss out the boring and the time wasters and just do the things you enjoy. Now you can create a schedule that works for you and yours, not having to worry about someone else’s needs.

Enhance your creativity affirmations. Forget I’m so not used to being alone I don’t know what to do with myself. Replace it with It’s so awesome to be able to be spontaneous and go someplace without checking in with anyone.

Building in creative space for yourself and the things that enhance creativity will help you move forward in new and exciting directions. When in doubt, try it.

And this could be the Start of Something New, HS Musical

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Post-Divorce Growth

Did you know there’s an area of research about posttraumatic growth? It focuses on how people make positive changes after trauma. I’m not saying getting a divorce is like being in a train wreck…okay, I am saying getting a divorce is like being in a train wreck. Hence the applicability of the posttraumatic growth literature.

I see many people who display just the sort of changes reflected in this area of research, post-divorce, including:

Increased ability to see possibilities in things. Many develop new interests that either were actively thwarted by the former spouse or simply not supported. Necessity being the mother of invention, sometimes the need to earn more or change the work schedule enables people to create more meaningful and satisfying lives.

Positive changes relating to others. I often see people putting more effort into relationships, accepting that they need people (you know, people who need people are the luckiest people).

Changes in personal strengths. Seeing the self as stronger is a common side-effect of divorce. You do what you gotta do, and perhaps never realized before that you could.

Changes in spirituality. I see a lot of personal growth. Leaving a significant relationship may start a search for meaning or a desire to become more accepting of the curve balls life throws our ways.

Maybe having a new appreciation of the value of one’s life, as real train wreck survivors are likely to have, is not a typical byproduct of divorce. Then again, we don’t have to worry about survivor guilt, do we?

Just for fun, you can take the Post traumatic Growth Inventory.

Now that I've used the line, the only song that comes to mind is People, Barbra Streisand.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friendship Post-divorce

Wondering what to get your post-divorce friend? Now, a department store in London has the answer to that very question. Yup, a gift registry for the divorced.

Seriously though, it raises something important for the post-divorce person. What do you need from your friends?

There are things for which a gift registry makes sense. Then there are the things you can’t buy. These are things like being loved, you know…priceless:
Spend time with your friend
Invite your friend places even though s/he is not a couple
Call and listen even if your friend is still whining
Tell your friend how wonderful, handsome/gorgeous, brilliant, etc. they are
Remind your friend why they made the choice they did or are in the situation they’re in…there’s always something positive here, a la:
Anybody who ever built an empire, or changed the world, sat where you you are now. And it’s because they sat there that they were able
to do it.
Ryan Bingham, Up in the Air
Introduce your friend to other friends (not potential partners)
Include your friend during holidays
Go to a movie with your friend

If you’re reading the post-divorce blog, you’re probably divorced and need to pass this along to your friends so they know what to do. AND, you can ask for these things. Don’t be shy, say what you need.

For inspiration to say what you need, have a listen to Say, John Mayer

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ex-ray Vision for the Toxic Divorce

You don’t look different
But you have changed

No one talks about certain post-divorce strategies that are essential in the management of the toxic divorce. Not that any divorce is particularly good, but the acrimonious, contentious divorce is a special case requiring special measures, kind of like x-ray vision. And I’m here to talk about those measures.

The most important thing. Never, ever fantasize to sexual images, content, audio or anything else sexual involving your ex. No one told me this. I’ve never read it anywhere. Or perhaps I have but just don’t recall. Maybe it’s not THE most important thing, but it’s valuable. It helps one’s ability to look at the other, or through the other, in a non-sexual way, usually a good thing.

Right up there. Never ever let him/her see you looking like crap. Sometimes of course, it’s unavoidable. You run out for a carton of milk with torn, baggy sweats and stringy hair, and there s/he is. I don’t think you have to go crazy with this, never leaving the house without looking like perfection. But it’s something to keep in mind. As an electrolysis tech one shared, never let him see you looking bad. I wondered if she meant hairy. But you decide on what “bad” means for you. It’s not about what they think of how you look, who cares? It’s about how you’ll feel.

Nix ex. At some point you have to stop thinking of him, or her, as your ex. The exness of it looms. It’s all there is. It sucks the life out of you and dominates any room you enter. Give the ex a name. No, not that kind of name. Their actual name: Sue, Dave, George, Maria. It’s deflating, minimizing, it only takes up a small corner of the room or your mind. You are no longer dominated by them. You’re back in control. You can really look right at or through someone who’s a mere person, not an ex.

Something to consider. Be nice. Anger also sucks the life out of you. You have to ask yourself what’s the gain? Is it going to change anything? Will Sue or Maria change as a result? How is the anger affecting you? Your kids? Your friends? This is the point at which you no longer have to say everything you think out loud. Keep it simple. As we say in the south, kill them with kindness. Not literally of course. It’s a lot easier to look someone in the eye when you’re calm.

And finally. Speaking of friends, tell them to stop bashing Dave. It’s not helping your anger management attempts. After the initial validation of everything you think, for which bashing is essential, it no longer serves a purpose. Your best friend has a legitimate right to their own anger. After all, they had a relationship with Dave too. But you have to set limits at some point. That includes parents, sibs and other loved ones. If you’re working on managing your anger, their anger fueling the fire isn’t going to help. Facing Dave evenly is more likely when everyone else is even too.

You’re thinking of me, the same old way
You were above me, but not today.

And how about Pat Benatar’s Don’t let it Show for a little extra inspiration.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Post-Divorce Creativity

So you’re going post-divorce unconventional. Now you have to figure out what, exactly, you’re going to do next. At this point, creativity is a useful construct. Csikszentmihalyi, in his book on the creative process, talks about these five tasks:

Preparation. Here one is consumed with a problem that is at once interesting and exciting. Clearly, the recovery from the loss of one’s marriage and former way of life is likely to consume us. Finding the interesting, exciting aspects is often a bit of a challenge. But really, if your own life’s progression isn’t interesting and exciting, what is? Equally clear to most is the fact that we cannot continue with our former plans and strategies in this new situation. There’s a conflict between what we’ve been doing and what must be done now. So herein lies the interesting, complex and exciting opportunity.

Incubation. This is the time where ideas are growing and changing and morphing into something you actually want to consider acting on at some point. Key here, for the divorce process, is the notion of at some point. People are always asking me how long things will take, whether it’s recovery from divorce, loss of a loved one, no longer feeling an urge to overeat after a successful diet, no longer wishing to smoke after quitting, etc. While I’d love to be able to consult my crystal ball, I’ve apparently misplaced it. Change takes a while to incubate. Just like the chick in the egg, it’ll come out when it’s ready.

Insight. Ah ha. Things come together and it all makes sense. This (fill in the blank) is what I want to do next!

Evaluation. Despite one’s initial ah ha, sometimes, after sitting a bit with the insight, we realize it’s not all that fantastic after all. It’s not necessarily back to the drawing board, but perhaps a tweak or reconsideration of another idea that had been incubating alongside this one might be useful. Not all chicks are created equal.

Elaboration. So you want to be a life coach (one of my post-divorce enterprises), great! How’s that gonna work along with everything else going on? Can I afford the time and money? Will it be worthwhile in the end? What’s it going to take? These are all questions worth considering, as is the case with most new enterprises. The elaboration period involves determining if the insight which you’ve just evaluated to be worth pursuing is really something you think you can see to fruition. Let me emphasize think you can. Anything new is going to have its risks and benefits.

If change was a no-brainer that would be easy. But you’ll have to do some serious thinking, considering, weighing options and then take a risk or two. And once your chick is hatched, you’ll have to let it venture out into the world.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Post Divorce Unconventional

I love red shoes, purses, backpacks and the like.  I also love stories of unconventional people. Life Uncharted, Jan/Feb 2010 Psychology Today (sorry, not on line yet) gives a little info about seven unconventional people. Several have moved out of the country, most have never worked for anyone else, some are married, a few are single, one is a single mom. The thing that they share is their desire to map out and control their own destinies, often in ways that others might find odd or scary.

Divorce is a perfect opportunity to get unconventional. This is your chance to do what you want, not what someone else wants, or what others want you to do. After all, we have unconventional work days and work arrangements, unconventional medicine, unconventional leaders, and unconventional careers, among other things.

One of the things the divorced often report is how great it is to be you own boss and not have to answer to anyone else. If I don’t feel like cooking, I don’t. If I want to spend the weekend reading, playing the piano and watching movies, I can. If I want to take a trip someplace, I go. It’s all up to me.

I know this can be a bit daunting at first, but think about it. To be the proverbial master of your universe. How freakin’ cool is that?

Don’t get me wrong, I love relationships. I just don’t love relationships that are controlling. Let’s face it, most marriages involve a lot of control. It may be mutual, but control it is. It’s difficult to be in a relationship where both individuals are completely independent. It’s almost an oxymoron. But what a great concept.  It's definitely something to look for.

If you were going to do everything you wanted to do in the next week, what would that look like? How would you describe it:  fun, relaxing, exciting? How would it be different from what you usually choose for yourself? Can you do that, or come close to it in your current relationship? This is your chance: consider those new red shoes.
Music to go unconventional with: Live your life. TI & Rhianna

Check out the Living Single blog and Used-Car-Driving, Non-Property-Owning, Unmarried Man Somehow Happy; Experts Baffled

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Music Therapy: Changeup the Playlist

I was delighted to hear Jimmy Rollins of the Philadelphia Phillies say that the Phillies came back strong in their 5th world series game because they changed the music on their playlist. Forget that they ultimately lost the thing, but they did bring in a great performance once they stopped listening to Empire State of Mind and watching Jay-Z.

In addition to replacing some of my Beatles CDs, which went the way of some of my other stuff, there was a frightening group of CDs I thought I had to have shortly after the separation. Lucinda Williams’ Essence, Annie Lennox’s Bare and Steely Dan’s Everything Must Go, among others. In case you’re not familiar, they’re all break up CDs. I’m not even sure I knew that when I bought them. Knowing is relative. Obviously, I knew on some level. And then there was Warren Zevon’s The Wind. Does final album after which he died mean anything to you?

I wanted to know that I wasn’t the only one experiencing pain. Naturally, in my line of work, I’m quite familiar with pain. I needed to know that others experienced the same specific type of pain I was experiencing. That shared pain was important.

It told me my experience was universal. Despite knowing I was not the only person in the history of the universe who had this type of pain, sometimes I felt like I was. The CDs told me otherwise. I was not alone. As studies have shown, misery not only loves company, it loves miserable company. We humans love to share.

And what’s better than knowing that some uber-successful, sexy thing has been as unceremoniously dissed as we have been? It doesn’t get much better than that.

So wallow with friends, real or imagined. But at some point, and you’ll know when that is, it’s time to move on. Coaches are great for giving you that little kick in the pants if you need it, and helping you find new directions. If you know it’s time and you can’t move on, it’s time for a shrink. Face it, we all need help sometimes. It’s New Year’s and maybe it’s time for you to change up that playlist.

Top of the breakup playlist: For No One, The Beatles

Best current changeup song: Jessie James, I Look So Good (Without You)