Interview With Dr. Christa Smith - How To Win a Man's Heart

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July 11, 2017

Interview With Dr. Christa Smith

1. What is mindfulness and how can it help us in relationships?

Mindfulness has many definitions, all of which get at the truth, but don’t totally capture it. Mindfulness, like love, is very hard to put into words.

I think of mindfulness as a mode of mind. Just like a bike has different gears that we can shift at will, so do our minds. We cannot totally control how we feel and what we think, but we can chose to be aware of it. We can also chose the quality of awareness. Are we aware and judging ourselves, do we resist what we are actually feeling? Or do we try to open up and approach ourselves with kindness and curiosity? Mindfulness is the latter kind of awareness. It’s the way we are aware that makes all of the difference.

2. How can women who constantly have thoughts about needing to lose more weight or not being happy with the way they look change their negative outlook? For some women, these thoughts may date back to their childhood or teen years and they may have a deep inner relentless critic that constantly reminds them of their perceived inadequacies. What is the first step and how can they take small consistent positive steps to change their thought process?

The inner critic is such powerful force! We tend to feel at its mercy. Many people feel very intimidated by their critic. It can be as painful as actually being yelled at in real life, even though the critic is just in your mind. But when you break it down, the critic is a habit. A painful habit and one that erodes your well-being. We need to be able to evaluate ourselves and our lives using critical thought, but critical thinking is very different than self-abuse!

The first thing to know is that, according to research, your inner critic is not actually good for you. According to Dr. Kristen Neff, who studies self-compassion, highly self-critical people are less likely to own up to past mistakes and less able to stick with goals like weight loss or exercise. She points out that beating up on yourself burns valuable energy you could be putting toward something positive.

It takes time, but start to recognize that the critic is a habit that needs to be changed, not a voice of wisdom. Ask yourself how you can stop buying in to what it says and start practicing self-compassion instead. There are many ways to do this including formal meditation practices. You can find practices and more information on Dr. Neff’s website.

The other thing to do is to change where you put your attention. Many of us have developed a negative bias so that we notice real or perceived mistakes but we ignore the good things we do. Make a list at the end of each day before bed of three things you appreciate about yourself or something you did that day. Make sure you think of three different things, big or small, each evening. Start to see your whole self, not just your perceived shortcomings. At the end of the month read the list to yourself and repeat the following month if you like. Gradually, you will become more fair and balanced in how you evaluate yourself.

3. Some of my subscribers have fears- fear of being abandoned by their partner, fear of being betrayed, fear of being single throughout their life etc. What are some practical ways to realistically deal with these fears and also realistically assess these fears because they may be grossly exaggerated in their minds?

Know what your personal fear signature looks and feels like. There are characteristic physiological signs of fear, such as increased heart rate, but fear also has some unique aspects as well. Look for behaviors that you engage in when you are afraid. For example, when I am anxious, I find myself writing a lot of to do lists and feeling overwhelmed by the task of balancing all my obligations and desires. For me, obsessing over to do lists is a sign that I am afraid or anxious.

There are also tendencies of the mind to look for. What does your mind do when you are afraid? When I’m afraid I find myself literally making up problems. I think about how to fix or plan things that don’t really need fixing or planning. It’s like my mind is working overtime. It’s important to explore whether your fears are realistic and to take action if it’s needed, but it’s equally important to know what it looks like when your fears are unrealistic because unrealistic fears compromise your ability to evaluate your relationship accurately.

I also recommend using cognitive restructuring. It’s a techniques used in cognitive behavioral therapy and you can find many free resources to learn this skill online. The idea is to rationally evaluate your fears using the evidence your life has provided you already. It enables you to take hold of our inner steering wheel and assure that fear doesn’t drive your life and decisions.

4. Sometimes women who have successful careers feel the exact opposite when it comes to their personal relationships. One of the challenges they mention is struggling to transition from their masculine energy that makes them successful in their workplace to a feminine mode to be more successful in their romantic relationships.

Can you share your advice on how women can overcome this problem?

How about a ritual? Can you find something that let’s your mind and body register that you are now home and that you can switch modes? Work can be a place where we feel competitive, defensive, and stressed. If we feel like we have to prove ourselves or battle to stay on top or push ourselves at work, our minds and bodies may register all that as a threat. When we register events as a threat our bodies undergo all kinds of physiological changes to enable us to deal with the threat. Adrenaline is released, our heart rate goes up, and so on. It’s hard to feel relaxed and feminine when this is happening. Of course we know logically that there is no real danger, but our bodies don’t know that. If we feel threatened our bodies will react by gearing up to deal with the threat. This is what’s known as “fight or flight” mode.

Our bodies need some soothing in order to come out of that mode. We need to register that we are safe. You can think of this as homeostasis. When we are safe we feel relaxed and able to share and receive love. We also find ourselves with more energy to offer our companions.

Try spending some time at night doing something that soothes you. If you don’t have any idea what to do, experiment with relaxation techniques, soothing guided meditations, or a hot bath. There are many effective relaxation techniques recommended by Ayurvedic medicine as well. Deepak Chopra has written numerous books on the topic.

5. During a conflict with a partner, most of what seems to happen is a natural, impulsive and reflexive reaction. Some of our subscribers have the tendency to yell at their partners, some criticize/complain/stonewall, some become silent and keep their feelings to themselves and some tend to bring up past issues that are not related to the current conflict.

Can you explain how mindfulness can help us better resolve conflict?

Your point about habitual patterns is a good one. We often know exactly what our liabilities will be when conflict occurs. We tell ourselves, “don’t do that next time!” Don’t criticize him or yell next time. But then in the heat of the moment, we do exactly what we vowed not to.

One way to understand why we do this is that the part of our brains that decides not to yell next time gets overwhelmed when conflict occurs. In essence, that part is no longer in charge. Instead, our emotional, or limbic, brain steps up and directs the action. I think every couple should know their limits. They should know when they need to simply step away from the interaction and take a break. We need to be proactive to do this and take a break before we are totally overwhelmed by emotion and unable to be proactive anymore.

Damage control is a big part of being in a relationship. How can we learn not to do and say things that hurt the person we care about and cause us regret? We have to know when we need to step away. I often suggest to clients that they create an agreement granting each other permission to step away from each other before the emotional brain takes over and reconvene in 10 minutes or whatever time frame is needed to cool down.

You can imagine a scale of emotion from 1-10. At 1 emotion present, but not overwhelming and 10 can stand for the strongest emotion you have ever experienced. Find out where on that scale you lose self-control and check in with yourself frequently during potential conflicts. Stop and take a break before your number gets too high. Let your emotions cool down. You may need to take walk or do something that helps your brain come back into balance. Then come back to each other at the appointed time.

Practicing mindfulness for even 5 minutes a day will also help you bring more emotional balance and wisdom to the difficult issues all couples face.

6. Can meditation help improve mindfulness? I have read that many have preconceived notions about meditation such as meditation being difficult to practice, some feel restless during meditation and think it’s not working for them and some feel it’s a time intensive practice. How do you overcome the objections that your clients may have about meditation?

The answer is yes! Meditation does improve mindfulness. I have been practicing for 18 years and it has been profoundly rewarding to me (and I suspect to the people around me). It’s usually easy for me to practice meditation because I know through my own experience that I will be rewarded. It’s like starting a running routine. At first you are bored and it’s not much fun, but later you start to feel more fit and you have more energy. So you naturally want to run, at least a lot of the time, and that makes it easier.

I encourage people to try meditation and see what happens for themselves. You can commit to a doable amount of practice for three months. It could be 5 minutes a day. Then at the end of those three months ask yourself whether, in your own experience, there has been any benefit. But until then, just do it. Or you can try a retreat. There are many week-end retreat as well as retreats that last longer. Going on retreat allows you to commit to trying meditation for a short period of time and will give you enough experience and instruction to actually taste what it’s all about.

The second suggestion I have is to explore the different kinds of mindfulness practice. You don’t have to sit and watch your breath. You could do 5 minutes of walking meditation per day. You could chose an activity, like brushing your teeth, and do that mindfully each day. Your starting point with meditation has to fit into your life.

You may want to use guided meditation at first. The sound of someone’s voice bringing you back to your breath can be a very helpful anchor for beginners. Consider talking with a meditation teacher who can give you some tips to help you tailor your practice and make it doable. Above all else, please don’t be discouraged when your mind wanders. My clients often say they can’t meditate because they can’t clear their mind of thought and they can’t stay focused on their breath. But everyone’s mind jumps around from thing to thing. It’s not a personal fault, so don’t mistake it as one.

7. Can you share other mindful exercises or practices with my subscribers?

I recommend starting with a supported mindfulness practice of some kind. By supported I mean have someone who is experienced support your efforts to establish a practice and teach you what to aim for in meditation. Find a local meditation center or join a class. Or you can use audio instruction. Many wonderful teachers have created programs for people who want to learn to meditate. You can go to Sounds True to find them. Experiment with the different types of practices. There are many flavors of mindfulness practice and it’s important to taste and find one that appeals to you.

8. What are your top 3 relationship tips that you would offer women who are looking for a long term committed relationship?

1. Love yourself

Whether or not you feel loved or feel you were properly loved when you were growing up, love yourself now. I am not saying we don’t need love from others, but you can actually give yourself what you may be craving from other people. Chances are you will be happier and more loving toward potential partners if you learn to love yourself. Happy people who treat others with love are very attractive to potential partners!

2. Do what you love

Make sure you are doing what matters with your life. Spend your days, as much as you can, doing things that reflect your true values, whatever they are. Research shows people who do what they love are happier and happy people are attractive. You will also have more energy for yourself and your relationship.

3. Be who you are

We all have rough edges that we need to work on, but try to be authentic with your perspective partner. That way you will find someone who’s the right fit for you.

9. What books or resources would you recommend for women that are looking to cultivate mindfulness and create long lasting fulfilling relationships?

I am a big fan of Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. I also like Kristin Neff, who studies self-compassion. She has written a book called Self-Compassion.

About Dr. Christa Smith

Dr. Christa Smith

For 18 years I have been studying mindfulness meditation and attending retreats and trainings.  This has been my way of understanding my mind and bringing greater clarity to my own journey.  I’ve completed over 50 days of silent retreat as well as the year long Integrated Study and Practice Program at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies.

I have extensive training in helping clients learn mindfulness skills, including a certificate in Mindfulness and Psychotherapy through the Institute of Mindfulness and Psychotherapy and training in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.  I serve on the board of advisors for the Anthropedia Foundation, an organization dedicated to the promotion of well-being in the 21st century.

To know more, visit my website www.drchristasmith.com.




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