Stumbling on Creativity
CHAD MORRIS, Ph.D., Director
It has been yet another snow-filled week in Colorado, which forced me to find a warm spot and hunker down. With fewer mental and physical demands, there was more space to check in. I had a few days to take a glance behind the curtain to assess whether I felt on track in life and work, something that is easy to put off with days typically scheduled to the brim. It is often easier to just keep the momentum of my daily routines, rather than intentionally slowing down and evaluating my present state.
When I do check in with myself, I often find that familiar routines are indeed consistent with where I want to be, but at other times there are clear signs pointing a different direction. It may be boredom, anxiety, or general angst that suggests that routine and habit may need some tinkering. I approach these signs with some trepidation. After all, once I have seen a bit of what is behind the curtain, there is no real return to a previous “normal.” And I am aware that cutting new trail demands a different type of energy and awareness. Any major shifts in direction can feel precarious. So I ask myself—why meander from the safety of the known?
But I know the answer. The “safe” life isn’t necessarily the fulfilling life. And while I have no desire to upend all the structure I have built over time, creativity is a crucible, and uncertainty is a key ingredient. As I follow my internal impetus to branch out, I do my best to temper any knee-jerk reactions with the knowledge that change isn’t always a balm. Even a desired shift will bring its own demands. But this check in is a good reminder that I want to live with intention, choosing my experience through a conscious process of creating.
CINDY WANG MORRIS, Psy.D., Clinical Director
Ever since I was a child, I have been particularly attuned to others’ emotions. Growing up, my parents’ emotions, particularly my mother’s, loomed so large in my experience that they often eclipsed my own experience. Over time, I became an expert in reading other people’s emotions. This skill has served me well over the years. It has helped me to be successful in my career as a psychologist. I can anticipate the needs of others. It makes me a great gift-giver. It also keeps me safe. I call it my superpower.
Recently, I’ve started to think differently about my ability to be aware of, connect with, and have empathy for the emotions of others. I still think it’s my superpower. But I am aware of something that I can miss out on when I am focused so intently upon others—me.
Sometimes, my awareness of others makes it hard to know where I stand. I can see things from so many different perspectives—and many of them make a lot of sense. Since it can take a lot of energy and focus to settle on just one opinion, my path of least resistance would often be just to go along with what others want.
But some years ago, I realized that this wasn’t enough. By listening to my broad spectrum of emotions, I learned that I have a lot of opinions and preferences—and some really strong ones. So I started a new habit of checking in with myself, several times a day. What do I think about ___? What do I want? How do I feel? Through this practice, I learned that my habit of shaping my preference based on other people was widespread. I also learned that through awareness and making a conscious choice, I could live differently.
Nowadays, I’m still at it. My new practice has become more of a habit. It’s not quite automatic. It takes focus, energy and attention. Well worth it, in my opinion. When my emotions call, I listen for their wisdom. The best part of it all is I’ve met someone that I really like—me.
CHRISTINE GARVER-APGAR, Ph.D., Research Associate
In the United States, “emotional wellness” seems largely synonymous with “happiness.” Americans are bewilderingly obsessed with whether they are happy enough. To wit, a search on the term, “happiness,” within Amazon’s self-help book section leads to over 12,000 results, 767 of which were published within the last 90 days. To the vast majority of people across the globe, Americans’ endless search for happiness must seem frivolous, to say the least. The Declaration of Independence notwithstanding, I don’t believe Americans have always been so focused on the literal “pursuit of happiness.”
I recently had an interesting (and honest) conversation with a friend and fellow pre-school parent, who transplanted to Colorado a few years ago from Denmark (the happiest nation in the world, by many accounts). We were discussing how easy it is to feel resentful when we haven’t had as much time to ourselves (read: away from our children) as we would like. What possible justification could there be for feeling resentful simply because we have to be parents, even when we don’t feel like it? I think resentment stems directly from its evil predecessor, entitlement. Clearly, I am not always immune from the poisonous effects of entitlement and resentment. But, why?
Women in my generation, Gen X, and younger, came of age during a time in this country when it was perfectly acceptable to admit that, for the good of our physical and emotional health and happiness, we wanted (and needed) help with competing demands: careers, running our households, and parenting (or other caretaking). If a nation can be said to “grow up,” I firmly believe this development is an excellent example of our nation’s increasing maturity. But along with relaxed gender roles and corresponding discussions about how working mothers might better achieve happiness, insidious notions of entitlement began to creep into the public consciousness. Nearly every day, I see an advertisement or read an article suggesting that I, as a working mother, am probably putting other’s needs before my own, not taking good enough care of myself, working too hard, and above all, deserve to do something just for myself. I deserve more ‘ME’ time. It feels wonderful to have my petty complaints validated again and again on a daily basis! But there is a very fine line between the freedom to request help from others, and feeling increasingly entitled to disengage from one’s responsibilities.
Towards the end of my conversation with my Danish friend about how entitled we as parents had become, another preschool mom (unwittingly, poor thing) walked by and told us this very sad tale: She had scheduled herself for a massage and pedicure that morning, and she was so upset because her preschooler was home sick from school, thus upsetting her planned ‘ME’ time, “TODAY OF ALL DAYS!” After she left, my friend and I shared a good laugh – not because we felt we had achieved a wisdom she lacked, but because we simultaneously sympathized with how she felt and recognized ourselves in her words. I can’t even pretend to hope that I will stop complaining to my dearest girlfriends about my perceived lack of personal time – truly, one of life’s great pleasures! But I have started to suspect that for some women in my generation (myself included), receiving constant validation of life’s minor challenges may not be leading to increased happiness or emotional wellness but quite the opposite.
Made to Move
JAMIE PFAHL, B.A., Community Liaison
If you’ve heard of this thing called “the Internet,” chances are you’ve seen at least one fitness meme with a motivating message like, “Stop wishing and start doing” or “Fitness is like marriage, you can’t cheat on it and expect it to work.” Since I’m interested in fitness and am also somewhat lazy, I tend to like messages that make me feel inspired to work out. I know I’m not going to run fast or far without putting in a lot of work, and it’s hard to maintain motivation over the months it takes to achieve fitness goals. An extra kick in the pants courtesy of an inspirational quote set on the backdrop of a hard-bodied fitness model or gorgeous landscape can only be a good thing, right?
Well, maybe not. Recently, a friend of mine posted an article on Facebook slamming the popular media’s obsession with Fitspiration or “fitspo” for short — a portmanteau of “fitness” and “inspiration” that you might otherwise know as the pictures and quotes that encourage people to work through blood, sweat, tears, and puke to get the results they want. Her argument was that we have an unhealthy obsession with an unattainable ideal of fitness and that the fitspo movement is causing a lot of physical and psychological damage. I know the physical risks are real – it’s common sense that doing any activity too intensely can cause serious injuries and even death. And I admit, our societal idolizing of the fitness model physique can definitely contribute to psychological issues like depression and eating disorders.
Despite all that, I wonder whether it is premature to criticize what many people use as a source of motivation to get stronger and healthier. But after a quick google search for fitness motivation, I was shocked at the quantity of messaging designed to make people feel inadequate and ashamed. Then I realized that I am also susceptible to those messages. As I skimmed dozens of pages devoted to fitspo, I found myself feeling disturbingly proud about my ability to skip a meal, work out when I’m tired, and fit into the same size pants I wore in high school.
Most of the time I feel great about my body but seeing these messages made me think about how entangled our emotional well-being can be with our body image and physical wellness. I still can’t help but wonder how much of my own motivation to stay fit has been influenced by negative and borderline unhealthy messaging. Although I joke about masochism with my runner friends, I believe positive change comes from self-love, not self-loathing. I tell myself that my sense of accomplishment when I reach a goal is far more important to me than how I look doing it. And let’s be honest, if you’ve seen anyone’s race photos, you know why running is not a spectator sport – it’s not pretty! So next time I find myself feeling obligated to work out, I will ask myself, “Is this something I am doing for me – something I am doing because I love myself something that will me feel good – physically and emotionally?” I hope the answer will be a resounding, “Yes!”
SARA MUMBY, B.A., Program Administrator
I’m trying to be more positive. I’m trying to be less critical. In my household, lengthy discussions occur around sometimes the most minute details of food. “I enjoy the creaminess of it, but I want something to cut through the fat.” “I should have deglazed with white wine instead of red.” “The fresh parsley is a little off-putting.” “The meat it perfect, but the vegetables are slightly overcooked.”
Normally I find these conversations to be informative, fascinating and nerdy. Honesty from people about my cooking helps me to improve and to try new things. And it’s normally a discussion with people who really spend hours considering why the Bolognese is better at one restaurant over another – is it the noodle, the quality of the products, the cook time, or fresh mozzarella versus aged parmesan? These are people who take food very seriously because they’re both passionate about it and obsessed with it. And I love that – we’re two prongs on the same fork.
But I also feel emotionally drained sometimes when I spend an hour or two preparing a meal and then spend the 20 minutes I’m eating it tearing it apart literally and figuratively. Does it have to be a science project where each ingredient and method needs to be scrutinized and questioned? No, it doesn’t. Especially not when I’m just proud that I got something on the table and didn’t resort to take out or frozen pizza. In the end, food is a source of pleasure, but it’s also a necessity of life. If I’m feeling frustrated, defeated or even insulted, I need to remind myself to step back, get a little perspective, and eat what I’ve made without discussion or criticism. It is just proteins, fats, and carbohydrates after all.
SUSAN YOUNG, Ph.D., Director of Research
My stepmother recently called to tell me she has been diagnosed with lung cancer, the same disease that took my father from me about a decade ago. Though cancer treatments have progressed substantially, she faces a tough battle in the coming months. I realize that part of my sadness comes, not from the poor prognosis itself, but from the fact that she is the last living grandparent in my girls’ lives. I’ve never gotten over the feeling that growing up without grandparents myself left a little hole. I never met my paternal grandparents, and my maternal grandmother passed away three days after I was born. My grandmother, my mother, and I were in the same hospital on that bittersweet day. It seems that my family manifests the cycle-of-life quite literally. In fact, just days after my father passed away, I found out that I was pregnant with twins.
I am so grateful that my daughters had 5 precious years enjoying my mother. She was 85-years-old when my girls were born (yes, late-blooming also runs in my family), but squeezed a lot of playtime and love into their short time together. Though my girls have limited memories of her, I make an effort to keep her legacy alive through pictures and stories, just as she did with her mother’s legacy. My mother grew up during the great depression, lost her first home to fire, lost her first husband in WWII, while pregnant with her first son, lost her father and sister in the same year, and survived breast cancer (twice). But these tragic events were not the focus of her life stories. She was a survivor—never a victim—and her stories were about learning from experiences and appreciating her blessings. She was my role model for resilience and optimism. So when I get down in the dumps, I hear her voice saying, “When you get down, just get busy,” a mantra that serves me well.
JIM PAVLIK, B.A., Program and Policy Analyst
When I was a social worker, I used play to help clients develop the skills they needed to express their own emotions and recognize emotions in others. For the most part, this was about building discrimination between “relieved” and “happy,” or “scared” and “worried.” One client I remember exceptionally well, because when I showed him all the telltale signs of “anger,” he repeatedly identified them as “sad.”
At first, I presumed he was being obstinate. The game had not been the first he’d attempted to sabotage. But as we continued, it became obvious he honestly did not know the difference between the two.
I had always understood, intellectually, that emotions are personal. In several trainings on grief, for example, we had been reminded, “there is no one way to grieve.” My analytical personality forced me to accept that grief may be individual, but I knew, just knew, that there must be a thing called “grief” that was similar enough between us that we had named it, could identify it in ourselves and others, knew roughly what events in life caused it, and so on.
My client forced me to realize that emotions truly are one of those areas for which access is exclusively privileged to the individual feeling them.
That experience didn’t just change the way I practiced. It made it clear that the gap between my emotions and other people was much more vast than I realized. Emotions aren’t words. They aren’t actions. Their existence is pre-verbal and invisible. Thus, any power we have over them begins with identifying them in a way that other people understand what we mean when we say, “I’m sad.”
And naturally, we have to be able to say, “I’m sad.”
We say in our trainings that Emotional Wellness, among other things, is being aware of our emotions throughout the day and expressing them in a way that is healthy and productive. My client had been told since he was very young that when he scowled and broke things he “needed to stop being so angry.” But he didn’t act that way when he was angry. He acted that way when he was sad, when he was grieving. His misperception was born in the language of those that observed him and made assumptions about his internal state based on observable behaviors.
His may have been a special case, but to some extent, where I started with him is a natural starting place for us all. To peel back the assumptions we have about how other people feel and what makes them feel that way. We need to talk to people about their emotions so we can refine the way we talk about our own. Engaging about our emotions with others makes us vulnerable, but it’s also a way of strengthening our emotional wellness.
The mission of the Behavioral Health and Wellness Program is to improve quality of life by facilitating evidence-based health behavior change for communities, organizations, and individuals.
The Behavioral Health and Wellness Program (BHWP) offers training, consultation and program evaluation to organizations, administrators, healthcare providers and peer specialists. We have worked in over 25 states and provided services internationally. Our offerings include:
Training Programs and Workshops
We provide comprehensive training and education for administrators, healthcare providers and peer specialists to build awareness and knowledge, enhance motivation, facilitate wellness groups and create positive social networks. Training participants learn to facilitate their own wellness while increasing their ability to build, administer and sustain effective wellness interventions. We have developed multiple evidence-based training curricula to increase health and wellness across the lifespan, including programs such as:
- DIMENSIONS: Tobacco Free Program – Tobacco cessation & tobacco free policy
- DIMENSIONS: Well Body Program – Nutrition & weight management
- DIMENSIONS: Work & Well-Being for Physicians – Wellness interventions & strategies for physicians
- DIMENSIONS: Peer Specialist Program – Core and specialized skills for peer specialists
- Motivational Interventions for Behavior Change
- Rocky Mountain Tobacco Treatment Specialist Certification (RMTTS-C) Program
Organizational Wellness Assessment
We evaluate organizational and employee wellness by collecting and integrating data from a variety of sources. We conduct workplace wellness surveys, site visits, focus groups and key informant interviews. We analyze the organization’s structure, employee benefits and wellness policies. Based on the information gathered, we provide comprehensive feedback and recommendations to support implementation of pragmatic and case-specific wellness solutions. In alignment with your organization’s mission, goals and objectives, we assist you to create, implement and maintain wellness programming that addresses the unique needs of your organization.
Program Evaluation and Technical Assistance
We provide consultation and technical assistance to organizations across the nation. We work with organizations to help them evaluate their current programming, define new goals, and implement effective wellness solutions. Our goal is to build the capacity for positive change through our ongoing, creative partnerships.
We work with communities, healthcare organizations, and government agencies to develop wellness policy initiatives that meet local needs. We have proven expertise in aligning policies and procedures with federal and state legislation on topics such as tobacco free policy and workplace wellness initiatives.
We develop evidence-based materials to assist those working in health-related fields. Our resources focus on information about health behavior change, health risks of certain behaviors, instruction on how to enhance motivation to change, and strategies and solutions to support movement through the change process. We develop resources that target the general population as well as priority populations who face health disparities.