Letting Go

We are passing into October now, and rolling out our spotlight on “Letting Go”, a theme which was suggested by Christy our clinic manager. We were in a brainstorming session, laughing to tears when Christy blurted out “Letting GOOO!” On a side note, I believe in the value of laughter because it builds comradery, makes us love going to work, and because we are in a more cognitively flexible and creative space when we are able to laugh. So, it is by design that our brainstorming sessions tend to look more like an amateur hour open-mic. So, as I gasped for air, Christy repeated, “Letting Go” and then offered thoughtfully, “like the trees let go of their leaves to make space for something new.” *sigh* She went deep. 

Make room for change by letting go of things that no longer serve you.

Do we need to let go? Let go of what? Why can’t we let go? How do we let go? Can talking about it really help us let go? Is letting go of thoughts different from letting go of behavior? These are the angles that our team will explore, each from their own perspective and area of expertise. It is so amazing to see how approaches from our dietician, social workers, and psychologists weave together to form a complimentary and yet differentiated fabric. I’m excited to participate and learn this month. I am excited to explore how we can make room for change by letting of of the things that no longer serve us.

Over the last 10 or so years I have become increasingly enticed by the inner culture of the human mind, and eager to learn how contemplative neuroscience may inform the pursuit of wellness. I was excited to engage with clients in a way that seemed more intuitive to me; one that moved beyond examination of how a client thinks, to one that delves into what a client gives their attention to. Undoubtedly there is much to be gained by reframing catastrophic interpretations of events (i.e. I am such an unlovable idiot) to more balanced thought (i.e. I really messed up there, I don’t like it but I don’t have to be perfect), but this generally does not address one of the most negative mental health habits that we have. Self-obsessed thought addiction. 

Self-focus leaves us feeling isolated and yet strangely over-estimating the amount amount of interest we capture from others. It is like a return the ‘world is my stage’ period of earlier development, with all of it neurosis along for the ride

Most of us are just a little too invested in our own story-line, and convinced in the importance of our thoughts. This is problematic as most of the narrative generated by our survival-driven-problem-focused brains is incorrect. It’s wrong, its unneeded, but we buy it. Reframing thoughts about yourself is still thinking about yourself, but before you take it personally I should mention that it is the western-world-brain default mode. That is right, there is circuitry in our brain that is geared to direct attention and focus to ourselves, to keep us occupied with who we think we are, what we’ve done, what to do next, and how others see us. As this self-focused network drives attention inward, habituation helps you to stop noticing things in the world around you.  During habituation, the brain produces fewer neurotransmitters in response to a stimulus, so you don’t have to keep paying attention to it every time you see it. Really this part is for the sake of efficiency, so you can focus on tasks at hand instead of noticing the mundane, like the feeling of your clothes (which you may now be thinking about because I mentioned it). Makes sense until it becomes a general way of being. 

Without perspective, thoughts consume us, and cloud us from reality and each other.

There are costs associated with the habituation / self-focus habits such as decreased wellbeing, increased stress, and emotional volatility. I know as a mom I am far more reactive to the family when I am stuck in my own thoughts. I am also far more likely to feel amped up, have difficulty sleeping, and make absent minded moves (like the time I drove through the underground parking lot with the back hatch of the SUV open… *smash*). In cases of anxiety and depression the self-focus becomes quite skewed through lenses of fear and negativity, and thoughts become drawn further out into the future or focused on the past. We end up living in an alternate version of our lives, one that hasn’t happened (and likely won’t) or that didn’t happen the way it is being played out (human memory is incredibly flawed) Intuitively I also wonder about the cost of self-focus on our collective compassion for and connection to each other. How can we love each other, if we don’t notice each other? 

Letting go of the mental health habits can start with simple noticing. Noticing the narrative of your brain and how often it pulls you away from the experience you are having now. Be curious, you don’t have to judge it, and you don’t have to give weight to the thoughts. Just practice observation. Of course, there’s more to it than that, but this is a starting point. Start by letting go.

Change is slow, but really where else do you have to be?

When Change Helps School Success

“Is my kid just being lazy?”, is one of the most common questions parents ask when their child fails to thrive in the educational system. It is equal parts heart breaking and frustrating. The student swears that they are trying, you see them on their phone. They could do more, couldn’t they? Then we turn our angst on the teachers. Why do they keep calling? Why can’t they teach my child? If they can’t help, how am I supposed to? It is a helpless place to be, and one that often drives a rift between parents and their children. 

HW can be peaceful

People want to feel successful, to be successful. When a child underperforms it is rarely true that it isn’t because they don’t care. It is more often because they have given up or can’t succeed. When they give up, it is rooted in frustration, and it is important to get to the source. Common sources include undiagnosed learning differences, attentional challenges, low self-esteem, and / or peer issues. When they ‘can’t learn’ it may be due to a host of issues and again including distractibility, anxiety, and /or unknown learning differences.  It is important to understand that learning differences are neurological / cognitive in nature, and require more than effort to overcome. 

Psych-ed assessments are important to consider when there are concerns relating to performance, effort, and interest in school. These assessments may or may not lead to a formal diagnosis; however, they will often lead to suggestions or accommodations for the student. While some parents are reticent to allow for accommodations (i.e. not ‘real world’) or fearful of accommodations (i.e.my kids will be ‘different), these are myths of the past and accommodations have emerged as one of the most critical actions that can be taken to help kids succeed. 

Dr.Liann Meloff took a few moments to share her thoughts on why accommodations matter:

Dr.Liann Meloff R.Psych, is passionate about removing barriers to learning success.
photo credit: SuperCorporatePeople

“Every child has areas of strength and areas that are weaker when it comes to learning.  Many children are able to adapt to the requirements in a classroom and be successful. However, there are also many children who require accommodations to their learning to help them be successful (and reduce frustrations).  Accommodations are changes that remove barriers to learning.  Accommodations are not changes to what children learn, rather how they learn.  For some children it is clear what accommodations they require to support their learning whereas for others it requires more in-depth assessment to determine what the barriers are to their learning, and determining how to remove them. Accommodations are important to help children be successful whether they are gifted, have a learning disorder, are slower processors or have ADHD.  Examples of accommodations include providing extra time for children who have slower processing or experience anxiety; using a keyboard for writing assignments to promote increased written expression; and reducing the number of questions on a test to promote quality and success.”

Interested and have more questions? Please join An Evening with Dr.Liann Meloff, October 1, 2019. 5:30 pm. Please call to reserve your spot! Location TBD.

Preparing for Change

We’ve been away from social media, more or less, for the last couple of months. This was on purpose. Christy and I have been working behind the scenes to realign, revision, and launch new initiatives for The Practice Calgary. That’s the official statement, and it is true. But the deeper truth is that I was taking a walk with uncertainty.  It really does not matter how ‘successful’ a person has been, or capable they have felt or been perceived as, insecurity and uncertainty don’t care. It is Ok to acknowledge it.

Full stop, or at lease pause.

I took a step back because I wasn’t entirely clear where I was at, and where we were going. I recognized it when I observed where my energy was going, and it seemed that somewhere along the line I began promoting instead of communicating. I was second guessing, and looking at the likes, instead of focusing on who we are and what our vision is. When I could see this, I allowed myself to ‘not know’ and reminded myself that there is no urgency. The timeline is false, as timelines generally are. In this period, I really focused on what I know to be true for me; working with clients, friends and family, meditation and reflection, running, and fun. Amazing things happen when you let go.

Uncertainty doesn’t have to stop you.

The clarity came when Christy and I returned to the original business plan. We could see what had been pushed aside, what no longer fit, and what we are doing very well. During the weeks of sitting with uncertainty, who had become like a rather annoying child as opposed to a frightening adversary, my clarity grew and with that came confidence. “Ok, so uncertainty, you’re still here. You can come along, but I’m going to go ahead and ignore you”. Finally, I could see our vision, mission, and goals. Together we could dream out loud again! Another thing happened during our retreat, at the exact moment that I felt the welling surge of insecurity rearing to a point of killing my plausible deniability, our business surged (amazing, thank you <3). Planned happenstance. This is what we have been waiting for; three wildly talented and experienced professionals joined our team (amazing story for another time). Christy and I have learned a great deal in the years we have fostered The Practice Calgary, most important we learned to lean our intuition. We have long-identified a need for experienced clinicians to grow our team, but countless interviews have ended up with us going with our gut “not the right fit”. So, in spite of my predicament, when the right people emerged, we felt it was the only move was to welcome new team members. Ever felt compelled forward, even though internally you are feeling more than a little lost? When exactly what you have been dreaming of manifests into reality you don’t exactly tell the Universe that you need a minute to collect yourself.

Christy, our fearless clinic manager, with new team member Derek Robinson, R.Psyc, who is our resident sports and performance expert. Derek has worked at the last four Olympics and helped top performing and professional athletes across countless sports!!

The vision for The Practice Calgary is to normalize emotional and mental health by being a team of real and approachable professionals. The vision is to truly be a safe and welcoming health and wellness home where the helpers are transparent and experienced, and where the guidance is real (no, you do not have to look in the mirror and Guy Smiley it). Mental health should be as acceptable as physical health. This means internally we must have people who want to be there, who are happy to be there, who live well and hold a genuine place of non-judgement. If we are not supporting each other, then we have no business supporting you. Socially responsible. That is an absolute actionable goal and this is what, in hindsight, caused my Instagram energy to morph into a brick wall in perfect time for me to hit it. To me socially responsible means honest. Social media can be great, but it can do a lot of damage by skewing our perception of life. Honest, real, and thought provoking. Never for ‘likes’ and never staged. The intention is as important as the action.

Our new logo! It represents the principle of doing no harm in the efforts to help others, and recognizes the return of the energy you give in your journey.

So, thank-you uncertainty for causing us to hit pause. Thank you to an amazing team and community that allowed us to sit quietly. Now we feel energized and excited to continue making mental health real and relatable, break down barriers to getting support, and to have a lot of fun while we do it! We’d love for you to keep in touch with us. We’ll be introducing our team, letting you know about community engagement evenings (starting with a no-cost Evening with Dr. Liann Meloff, R Psyc on “Preparing Your Child for Success”), and putting out lots of real content on all sorts of mental health and wellness topics!

Best, Carmen

Why Motivation is Problematic

Does motivation precede action or does motivation build after actually doing something?  The question is valid, but it’s also false. Why? It’s too simplistic.

We all do things each and every day that we don’t want to do, but we do it anyways. On some days, this includes getting out of our pajamas…  but when it comes to the things we need to do to get to the bigger goals in our lives, the things that are meaningful to us, people talk a lot about not being able to gather the motivation to do it. Given that a person is in reasonable health, and actually has the ability to do the things they are trying to do then the it generally boils down to one of two issues; 1., they don’t really want it, and 2., they don’t think they can do it.

I talk a lot about the first block, with my clients and in public speaking or blogging content because I see it all the time and it is a really hard message for people to get. A lot of people set goals and ambitions based on what they think they should want, what their parents or partner wants, or what society has blatantly promoted as their way to happiness. These can be macro goals like going to university, choosing a specific career, or their relationship status. Assumed goals can also be more micro like being organized, thin, or what to look like.  These false assumptions even corrupt how we think about introversion, personality, and how quickly we talk (seriously, it’s true).  So, people set off on fitness goals, try to be ‘more organized, better students, learn how to find happiness in relationships, and yet never actually manage to take the steps to get there in any consistent way. It’s hard to push yourself to study the needed hours to ace the exam if you don’t really buy into the idea of University. This is one I see all the time. Parents tell me they want support to help their teens be better students and not be lazy, but the kid tells me that they have never wanted to go to University because they want to be an artist or take a less traditional occupational path but they are afraid to tell their parents.  I’m not saying that parents shouldn’t encourage their kids to work hard, and I am not against University or nontraditional paths. What I am saying is that it’s not a motivation issue, if you never really bought into the goal in the first place.

The other reason that people do not engage in the goals that they set for themselves? They don’t believe they will be successful. This is a self-confidence and esteem issue, and it is incredibly sad. Maybe it is lack of confidence because they were never given permission to disagree or fail. It may be that being given participation awards and trophies for 18thplace has undermined their ability to tolerate failure and disconnected perseverance and hard work from their success equation. Other times lack of self-belief is a result of very difficult pieces of a person’s origin story including; trauma, enduring hardship, health issues, mental health diagnosis, physical and mental health challenges, or learning / neurological differences. I have a very real and deep compassion for anyone who is struggling to engage in their life with their own goals because of esteem. Building yourself up so that you can get out of your own way is very, very difficult, but it is possible. I wish everyone in this camp could access excellent mental health support.

It you have goals that you know you want to achieve, truly (take a long and sober look at this), AND you have the confidence to accept failure on the way, but you are still not engaged? Then you have to wrap your head around the following idea; motivation often follows action. Let me back up, FIRST, you don’t have to want to do something to do it, THEN,  motivation follows action. I don’t have to want to get to work early in the morning so that I am better positioned for the promotion, I just have to do it. After a few weeks of doing it I will probably get a comment here or there ‘nice job’ or ‘noticed your dedication’, which will provide positive reward and a little surge of dopamine in my brain to help seal the deal. Then, I will be more likely to continue getting to work because I am seeing small gains and getting used to the routine and then before you know it I actually want to be there early.

I should make a quick point also that this is where passion comes in. You’ll notice that I said most of us do things every day that we don’t necessarily want to do. Well, I have built my life around doing as little of that as possible. I did this by pursuing things that I am absolutely passionate about. I don’t have to convince myself to go to the clinic, take an extra call, or work on content for The Practice Calgary because I am passionate about it.  I thrive on clinical work, see a vision for The Practice, and find the entrepreneurial challenge enticing. We’ve grown from sole practitioner to a team of seven in as many years and just had our largest client service month to date.  I love this and so motivation is never a challenge here. Discouragement, only temporarily. Exhaustion, sure on days. But never, ever a motivation issue because I am passionate about it.

Figure out if what you think you want is what you want, identify your blocks to believing in yourself, and find your passion. Motivation or action first depends entirely on the context.




Carmen Dodsworth, R. Psyc

Founder & Clinical Director, The Practice Calgary




You’ve got to start thinking of your mental health provider as a salesperson. Here’s why.

If you are a consumer of mental health services (which most of us should be), then you should think of your provider as providing a consumer-based product.  The reason that this is critically important is that it puts you in the customer mind-set, which immediately makes you more likely to speak-up when something isn’t working for you, or advocate until your needs are being met. People don’t necessarily like that, but it Is true. I’m not suggesting that you start bombarding your doctors or therapists with needs for immediate attention or threaten to withhold payment unless a demand is met, but you should be making sure that the service provider is meeting their end of the bargain.

But many people don’t. They return to therapists or mental health services that do not meet their needs, or do not deliver the service in a way that they can digest. And yet they return time and time again. This is a serious problem for me, a psychologist and clinical director of The Practice Calgary, and genuinely caring human, because it undermines mental health services everywhere. The number of times I have heard someone say that they went to a therapist and it was unproductive or unhelpful or weird, is staggering, but what is more astonishing is the overwhelming response when I ask the person what they did in that situation to get the better services…” nothing”, or “stopped going”. There are two problems here; 1. they now don’t believe in mental health services, and 2. they did not get the help they need. I am not sure which is the larger issue – perhaps it’s an issue of scale.

I am not afraid to issue both criticism and deep respect for the profession I make a home in. I am deeply humbled to be amongst colleagues who have endless appetites for understanding their human behavior in such an intense way that they believe they will somehow break through a vortex and emerge on the other side with a new and profoundly different approach or understanding of our species. I am also aware that as a profession we have a reputation of being either weird or broken. I understand that. However, if you do
not think your therapist and you live on the same planet, then how likely is it that you are going to take their advice? Seriously, think about it. People are more influenced by others who are relatable to them, and they like and feel liked by. I do not agree that a therapist needs to be removed to be objective. In fact, I believe that so much of the positive results I have seen with clients has linked back to a fairly basic start. I get it, and I care. And it’s not hard to find see what I am into or where my energy is going. I am on social media daily, I post, I blog, and I include real photos of my life. If that does not do it, then you’ll have a pretty good sense of who I am after a few minutes of talking to me, and that should be enough for you to have a bit of an inclination as to whether or not we’d work well together. The same goes for every clinician on our team.

Board, board, and Wilson

OK, this is not going to fit everyone. Some clients do want the medical-model approach. I respect that, but I am far less inclined to offer it. I can, but it is not my favorite. Some of the best experiences I have had since opening The Practice Calgary have been demanding and vocal clients, who have asked more of me, I have delivered, and they have been equally as vocal with their thanks.

This is not a blog about me being the greatest therapist. This is a blog about giving you encouragement and permission to expect more from your provider. Need notes after sessions? Great, ask for it. Need different service delivery? Great, ask for it. Need to include your dog in the session because can’t leave him alone but also need your mental health support? Great, ask for it (true story, shout out to my dog buddy N… you know who you are). Your provider is allowed to say no, but there may be a bigger conversation, a compromise, or another provider for you.

Why does this matter? Because I care deeply about my profession and hold accessible and effective mental health highly. I am a sales person. I think constantly about our consumers, meeting their needs, and going above and beyond what people expect from a provider. I value greatly the trust, time, and financial obligation of seeking out a therapist. Our team works as a team, which means that we understand that because of personality, history, demeanor
and an entirely different list of reasons (I was once declined by a client because I have a nose ring) you may not fit with

Just waiting for ‘his’ reply

your therapist. No one person is a good fit for everyone. That is why we encourage people to be verbal, tell us you love our energy but not your therapist and let us match you better. It is why we have a client care manager who follow clients from start to end to check-in with clients periodically through service to understand their experience. It’s also why right now we have “Letters to Santa” station in the waiting room for siblings (and I guarantee you I will be hand-writing replies in about 3 weeks). Service delivery and genuine caring.





When Your Kids’ World is Hit by Suicide

I have been compelled to write on the subject of parenting through death by suicide, because this has been something that has recently touched the lives of many young ones in our community. One blog post is not going to be enough, but there are not enough clinical hours in the day to provide care to all to families who deserve to be cared for during this time.

I spend a lot of time talking about being present, focused on right now as a way of not buying into the ‘problems’ in life, but there are times when the now in inexplicitly painful. You can’t wish or breathe your way out of the pain. Death by suicide is one of those times. People who experience a loss this way are profoundly impacted, and often feel consumed by a whirlwind of sometimes conflicting thoughts and feelings. It is a difficult time to navigate, and realistically can be hard to even know what you are feeling. Even harder to know what to do when you are trying to support your child through the loss of someone through suicide. So, I am putting here some guiding framework, from the perspective of a psychologist, parent, and mother, who has experienced the loss of clients by suicide, cared for those who lived through it, and walked the journey with spouses and children who have lost their person this way.

Talk about it. Please do not buy into the fear that talking about suicide will give your child the idea that they should die by suicide. You child already knows about suicide and is already thinking about it right now, so give them permission to talk about it. “Have you ever thought of hurting yourself on purpose?”, “Thank you for sharing, can you tell me any more about it?” are good places to start.

Do not judge the person who they have lost. Do no label suicide as ‘selfish’. First of all, because it’s wrong, suicide is not selfish, it is a loss of hope. Secondly, when you label suicide in a derogatory way, you immediately bring shame to the discussion. If your child has ever considered suicide, or does in the future, then you have immediately conveyed to them that they are a bad person for those thoughts. They will judge themselves and they will be less likely to share the thoughts with someone (like a parent) that can get them the help they need.

Do not give answers that you do not have. Speculation about what was wrong, why the person died by suicide, and what you think are possible causes are unhelpful. You don’t know, and even if you think you do know, you probably don’t (or don’t know it all). Just acknowledge that it is normal to want to know why, and that it is hard to have unanswered questions. Acknowledge that this is an extremely difficult part of suicide.

Guilt is normal. It is normal to think back to times you shared with the person, to look for signs you missed, and to find fault in yourself. This is part of trying to regain a sense of control. Sometimes it feels easier to blame ourselves then to have the audacity to be angry at someone who has died. Give your child permission to feel angry. Assure them that it is normal to feel guilty, and that the guilt is misplaced. Decline the invitation to guilt. It is not their fault.

Let them feel what they feel.  Instead of telling them what they feel, let them know that it is ok for their feelings to be everywhere. This is messy, and messy is ok. Invite them to talk about it, but don’t make them talk about it. Let them know you’ll be thinking of them and that you are always there to talk to about it, but that you won’t ask them about it all the time. Set a time when you will check back in with them about it. Do not try to bubble wrap them, and do not turn into a helicopter.

You don’t have to be their therapist. Lots of people think about suicide and although parents get uncomfortable when I say this, it is true. Many, many people have vague thoughts about suicide and sometimes this can reflect a desire to escape. However, it should still not be dismissed. A professional can help you figure out where these thoughts are coming from, and can appropriately assess for risk. Trained professionals are not being a parent to your child, they are asking safe questions to help them understand if your child has made plans to end their life, and if there is intention associated with those plans. A psychologist will develop a plan to keep your child safe, and help develop a language that you and your child can use to communicate around their safety. You can also provide your child with the number for phone or chat crisis-counselling if you are concerned, and make sure they know that you will let them keep what they discuss private.

Help them be a friend, not a therapist. When suicide strikes a community of youth, everyone will react in their own way. Some will move through it quickly, others may take a while. Encourage your kid not to judge that, because no one really knows how each person is doing with it and if they are grieving or suppressing. It is good for them to share and provide comfort to their community, but do let your child know that it is better for them to talk to an adult if they are concerned about how their friend is doing. There are many, many different subtle ways to get help for their friend without your child being identified, so don’t let that be a barrier.

Everyone is allowed to be impacted. Knowing someone who dies by suicide is shocking. Even having met someone who had died this way is shocking. You are allowed to have a reaction. Parents, you are allowed to have a reaction. People stifle their emotions or dismiss their thoughts because they do not think they knew the person long enough, well enough, or have not seen them recent enough to grieve. Wrong. Grief is grief and you feel how you feel.

Self-care, self-care, and more self-care. Experiencing a death by suicide is a shock to your child’s heart and brain. They may have a hard time sleeping, concentrating, or remembering. They may be different from their normal emotional selves for a little while, and may be more emotional overall. If they are having moments, help them calm and when you can you could ask them if they think this is grief showing up. Don’t tell them it is, but you can ask.

Tell the School. I am a big proponent of solid communication between the school and home. Your kid brings their whole

Teenage Student Studying Hard — Image by © Randy Faris/Corbis

self to school, and they bring their school experiences home. The teacher may notice your child is not paying attention or is overly frustrated, and knowing the context equips them with the information they need to appropriately respond to your child. Look at it this way, telling the teachers won’t hurt.

Guide Social Media. Social media means that there’s a good chance your child learned of the death before you could tell them, and that they may heard many sensationalized pieces of information about what happened. It’s normal for kids to talk to each other about this; however, sometimes the recycling of half-truths and speculation and experiencing the shock of others over and over can be overwhelming. Although I am a proponent of social medial, this is a time for heavy parent involvement. Talk to them about taking a break from it for a night, and see if they will share with you the kinds of things they are hearing on-line.  Be involved and try to drive the conversation to how they are feeling over the on-line content.

Early in my career I heard that suicide is like standing in a burning building, the person sees death by fire or death from jumping out. I wish so badly I could remember where I heard this. I gravitate to this because it reflects the loss of hope that is at the core. If we can talk about suicide, remove shame from mental health challenges, and not judge a person by their struggle then maybe people will be able to open up more.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please do not try to carry this alone. Go to your local emergency room, or contact the police.


Carmen Dodsworth

Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868

Distress Center 403-266-4357 (HELP)

Resource: The Canadian Association of Suicide Prevention

Ever feel like positive intentions aren’t enough?

Today is a grind, and although I really do believe in positive intentions and focusing on good stories in my life there are times where that seems too far away. Since Thursday I have been driving nonstop, to work, volleyball tournaments, shopping, and home. It has felt like I have lived in my car, and only used my house for 8-hour stop overs in between. I am under-slept, under-exercised, and under-laughed. I added fuel to the fire by seriously eating garbage all weekend. Now I have stopped, the kids are at their work, Geoff is away for work, and now it is me and a houseful of unmet responsibilities staring each other down. I’m looking over at Wilson, and he’s giving me that look. He know’s I know better. Now I’ve got to dig out of this deflated state and stop this from becoming a downward spiral. 

First things first, throw away the clock. I tend to stare at the clock on days like today, and constantly think about how quickly my down time is slipping by.  And it’s natural for people to make everything around them seem more important than it is when they are feeling down or under pressure. This adds an unneeded sense of urgency to the day, and overall breeds discontent. I end up rehearsing everything that I have to do today, which rents a lot of space in my brain and leaves very little to even notice let alone feel grateful for the things that I appreciate. There are things that would be good to get to, but realistically what I ‘need’ is oxygen, water, and usually food (although after this weekend the latter is debatable). The rest of the things on the list may be important, but they are not urgent and my life will go on fine if I don’t get to them. People need to focus more on the quality of what they are doing (whether it is the quality of the task or the quality of the life experience while the task is being done) and less on what they think about the task or what is next. It is your life and it is made up of small moments, so if I were to turn to day around it would mean that I was fully in the moment rather in my complaint or list of what was next.

Re-focus. Look big picture. Although executing today will require me to sit and look at the small picture to work out of a slump (that’s coming next), the big picture perspective can help. In the big picture, I want to build a community are The Practice Calgary, have a loving and fun home environment, serve the people I interact with by giving my best in each moment, and take care of myself in a way that facilitates me fully being in and enjoying my life. When I remember these things then I can see that being rundown today does not stop me. It does, however, mean that addressing my fatigue becomes my first point of focus because I understand that all of the other goals I have rest on how I am doing. I know that I won’t get to 100% today, but I right now I feel way, way too close to the bottom of that scale to manage for more than a day. It is my responsibility to do something about it.

When I hit a wall I generally coach myself to take the next step, and then the one after that. Whether very low, or overwhelmed the best place to start is the single step. Make it simple and think about a 1 – 10 scale, 1 is the lowest and 10 is the highest (think vacation, receiving gifts, winning the lottery) and put yourself, right now on the scale. Then just think about what you have to do to move up or down the scale. I always include the down, because too much focus is on the up and it is important that we realize that we play a part in pushing ourselves further down too.  So if I choose to eat junk, go back to bed, or binge on my favorite shows I am sure I’ll go to bed tonight feeling at least as rough.  If I try to eat something that is close to green, exercise, or at the very least get out of my pajamas (keeping it real here), then I am more likely to turn it around. If I really want to try to dig out then I can do some laundry (accomplishing simple tasks helps with feelings of overwhelm) or get to some of The Practice Calgary work that is sitting the corner of the room beside the vacuum waiting for me to notice it.  Scale it. Once you take one or two steps to move you in the direction you want to go, you’ll probably be at a different number and can continue on the trend. Even if you don’t make it to a 7, you can at least not hit a 1. Also, managing it this way can open up our minds to tomorrow being OK, waking up in a better place, and helps us not allow the snowball of a down day to start an avalanche.

Do these things really matter? Can you actually make a difference in your life by doing the laundry, or making a point of working out? Yes, every time.  Long term success, change, or wellbeing (whatever your focus is)  occurs when you figure out the minutia of what you need to do daily, and then commit to do it.


Carmen Dodsworth

No, its not your OCD; probably

Language matters. The words you choose to use to talk to yourself have a profound impact on your beliefs and actions. Words spoken out loud have the power to shape thoughts, beliefs, and public discourse. They also have the power to perpetuate stereotypes or put the light of day on discrimination.

“It’s my OCD” is one of the least favorite things I hear people say. For people living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, daily life can be an excruciating challenge. An extraordinary amount of personal energy can be expended to push back intrusive thoughts, and stave off the compulsive, ritualistic behaviors. The thoughts are not intentional, they are often not logical, they are not controllable, and they cause significant distress. To make matters even more exasperating, people with OCD are often very aware that their thoughts are not rational, and yet they are undeniably afraid. Having thoughts that you did not plan on having, thoughts that are appalling to you, that you do not want to think, brings about an intense loss of control. The lack of control, coupled with fear from the intrusive thought, drive a need to do something to regain control, and this is a perfect breeding ground for compulsivity. The behavior lessens the panic, and it is often the only thing that will initially bring about the much-needed sense of relief. However, the intrusion and anxiety return, and thus the behavior must be repeated. As the intrusive thoughts persist and breed, the behaviors continue and expand, and the association between relief and compulsions grows stronger. I have seen people’s lives shrink to fractions of what they once were due to the hours on hours spent enslaved to ritualistic and compulsive behavior. I have seen families fractured because the illness holds a loved one captive, and forbids
them from touching, hugging, kissing their own child, sibling, or spouse. I have watched kids lose friends, drop activities, and live in absolute shame often terrified to allow their parents in to their thoughts for fear that they will be unlovable. I have been witness to the excruciating pain and embarrassment that people feel as they watch their lives fall apart at the end of their own behavior. I have heard the number of times individuals have tested others, shared even the most minuscule detail of their anxiety as a test of others, only to hear ‘don’t worry’, a confirmatory piece of evidence to remind them of how ridiculous their behavior is. So, when I hear anyone flippantly state that ‘their’ OCD is making them clean, with a chortle, I cringe. Not only does it make light of a serious mental wellness issue, these statements also kind of make fun of people facing OCD.

OCD is not the only one that is thrown around. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is another common ground for misguided fodder. ADHD is a serious neurological condition that can have a significant impact on a person’s ability to regulate their attention, focus, organization, and overall consistency in life. ADHD is not laziness, and it is extremely frustrating for people with the condition. People who have ADHD often miss social cues, make comments they didn’t mean to make (or would not have made if they had a chance to stop the thought, and find it excruciating to try and hold their attention on something that is not of high interest. Once something is enticing enough to cue the attention centers of their brains to focus, it then becomes extremely hard for them to stop focusing.

Silhouette of a child. Back to school. Doodle image. Stock Vector illustration.

In reality, ADHD is about a significant impairment in the regulation of attention, so the common misperception that a kid who can play guitar for hours because they love it is therefore only choosing not to focus on school, is wrong. And it is damaging. The people I have worked with who are diagnosed with ADHD often carry a sense of shame about it. At our core, most of us want to belong and being different is not generally embraced. And that is what is so hard to see because ADHD also brings with it creativity, energy, an ability to multi-task that far exceeds most. It is also associated with high intelligence and a wonderful ability to approach problems from a unique perspective. However, it takes a long time for people to see ADHD as a possible strength, and it takes even longer to undue the negative stereotypes perpetuated by flippant remarks. I was at a junior high school function last year where one teacher started goofing off and acting obviously over the top as he gave out awards to the students, the principal of the school replied, “time to wrap up, his ADHD meds are wearing off”. My heart sank. I actually had to hold back tears because I know all too well that the gymnasium was populated by many beautiful teens and parents who have to deal with the reality of ADHD every day. Even writing this makes me feel upset.

You can’t see mental health. You have no idea what the person next to you has overcome and what people in ear shot of your remarks have had to face. We’ve grown-up a lot as a society. I hope that we have all progressed from jokes about mental retardation, sexual orientation, and equality. Let’s challenge ourselves to do better. Try saying, “I like a clean table” when you stack dishes for the server in place of “it’s my OCD”. Try “I don’t know why I said that” instead of “I’m so ADHD”. Try asking someone about ADHD if they tell you they have it. Think about remarking “I heard that people with ADHD are known creativity and giftedness”, or “wow, I can’t believe how many projects you have on the go, I can’t switch my focus like that!” Don’t minimize anxiety by telling an anxious person “it’s going to be fine” or “stop worrying”; believe me if it were an option they would have. Try instead to ask, “how can I help” or “what do you need from me”? It’s a small shift, which to me means that it is manageable and likely repeatable. Change the way we talk, and it will change the way we think. Softly and gently we can change.

“Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard” Lao Tzu

Carmen Dodsworth, BSc., MA.
Registered Psychologist

Goal setting

Now it is time to pull this together. We have spent time tracking where you actually are and looking at what you have valued the most in your life. The next step is to line them up, and see what you get.

Take out another piece of paper, and draw a circle that you can divide like a pie, to represent where your time is allocated (yes, it is actually a pie chart). Roughly estimate which of the activities you identified are allocated the most of your day to day life, and therefore should take up a larger portion of the pie. The reason it is best to do this after a week or two of tracking is that, as per my previous blogs, most of us are all too willing to lie to ourselves about how we live our life. So, look at the data and translate it to a chart. When I looked at mine, I saw a great deal of time spent driving as a result of living in a rural setting but having school and work in two different urban areas. I also see that I spend a fair amount of time doing absolutely nothing with my family. I mean, just sitting and being in the same room. I am not clear as to how that started because I wouldn’t have guessed I have room for that, but as it turns out I do. As many of you do, I also spend a lot of time at work, which for me means providing therapy and consultation, supporting the clinical team, and developing The Practice Calgary in terms of client care and community engagement. Outside of the clinic I scour research as a final stage of my PhD, read health studies to use in social media engagement (I am passionate about informed practice), and read for pleasure (yes, mostly related to wellness… I know what I know). And then there is exercise, cooking, sporting adventures, and friends. Then of course, there are the things I will just throw in the “I don’t even know why I am doing this” category, such as reading the news repeatedly, all idle social media viewing, and …. Endless list ensues.

Take this pie chart and look at it through the lens of what you value. Does it line up? Are the things you value clearly shown in the way you spend your time? Find ways to anchor goals to the things you value, so that you are more likely to stay with them. Stop and make sure the goals you have are in-line with things you truly value. I have realized that for me, fitness goals need to be anchored to an activity and to community. What that means is that I bring my kids in to work out with me in the morning, and I specifically choose to train in ways that will improve my snowboarding or wakeboarding, or take running to the next level in terms of distance or time. I have signed up for a half marathon in September and set a goal of getting a personal best. This will drive my commitment to training. When I look at expression and creativity which are values of mine, I can set goals of spending more consistent time writing or painting. I have no interest in publically displaying my painting, so I can focus my energy on time spent rather than achievement. However, writing and speaking (value: influence) also should be expressed in order for me to feel deeply satisfied, so I am mindful to set up speaking engagements, and have set a goal around presenting my dissertation research in 2018.

The second piece to consider is how you will define the metric or measurement of success. If your goal is weight loss, you need to measure success by something that will reinforce you along the way. You could focus on days in a row at the gym, avoiding added sugar, or reducing portion, which will all lead to the ultimate goal of weight loss. Tracking the actual weight loss will help you adjust your plan, but will not be enough to keep most of us going for the long haul. The metrics of success I am using for my running are the number of times I do cardio a week, and if I am able to push myself in duration or intensity (time, hills, speed). The metric for presenting the dissertation research, is making sure that I am working on the research at least two days a week. Keep track of these metrics so that you can gain momentum.

Pick goals that are likely to make the most impact in your level of satisfaction in life, ones that are easy to accomplish and ones that are going to be more of a grind. Try not to pick too many or else each one will likely lose charge. Pick what is fun, pick what is meaningful, and focus on the steps along the way.

Carmen Dodsworth, BSc., MA.
Registered Psychologist

Where Am I Going?

Last blog I encouraged people to take time to figure out where they actually are, not where they want to believe they are. So, if you have joined in and are indeed tracking your time, then keep at it, because next blog we will put the data to good use. I can already say that I’ve seen a few surprises in how I spend my time and have become quite convinced that nothing good comes from the amount of news I read. It is actually kind of ironic that I do it, because I generally loathe talking about the news and often tell clients of mine to be careful of how they interact with news stories. Still, I am just keeping track and raising my own awareness of where I actually am before I make knee-jerk changes that tend to be fleeting. In addition to media use, I am noticing habits in my daily life, people I interact most with, and am becoming aware again of things I spend inordinate amounts of time thinking about. All of this by just tracking myself for a couple of weeks. It is not too late to start if you want to make meaningful changes in 2018….

OK, so that is the exercise of ‘where’ I am, now before I jump on any particular change-train, I need to consider where I am going. As a clinician, I can honestly say that one of the most commonly missed steps in goal setting is taking the time to figure out what you want and why. Given that the world we live in today is fairly instant, stopping to think deeply about something we do is somewhat passé. But if you don’t figure this out then you may end up with goals that aren’t meaningful to you, or going about achieving them in ways that are not motivating to you.

Here’s an example from my own life to drive this point home. I don’t exercise because of a deep interest in health, I actually exercise because I have made it about belonging and adventure. When I tie weight exercises with snowboarding, it is very easy for me to get myself to the gym. Similarly, when I included my kids in the 6 a.m. sweat fest it became about something so much more important to me than weight loss or health, it became about belonging in our family. The kicker is that when my community and belonging needs are satiated, as they were over the holiday or in the summer when we have an endless roster of guests gathering with us for long lazy days, then my commitment and resolve for the gym vaporizes
quickly. It also means that for me, if I want to achieve a specific fitness goal, it would be extremely helpful to tie it to something other than fitness. Hence, why immediately after writing this blog I enlisted the interest of family to run a half-marathon in September. It is also one reason why I rally The Practice Calgary team to participate in the Scotia Bank Marathon as a fundraising effort in May of most years (I was lucky enough to be abroad last May so I did miss it).
Of course, I believe in fundraising and fitness, however if I am completely honest I gain a lot more out of the motivation of a specific adventure and my spirit in absolutely filled by the experience of coming together with others and connecting to the broader community of Calgary. Because I know this, I also know that weight loss goals on their own will generally not hold enough motivation to carry me through the lows. You may end up at the same place as someone else, but your how and why may be different – and knowing that could be the difference between persistence and dropping out.

Obviously, you are now completely convinced that knowing you how and why are important, so how do you figure that out? Shockingly I am going to ask you to do some more self-reflection… There are a few different ways, and yes, the time tracking that we are already doing will help, but one of my favorite ways is to stop and think about your “Personal Highs”.

What moments in my personal and professional life am I most proud of?

What moments in my personal and professional life stand out to me as a time when I was Happiest?

Why? What stands out at you or what are you focused on in /about that moment?

Write out as many moments as you come to mind. Once these are written down do a quick internet search (I refuse to use “Google” as a verb… or “journal” for that matter), of “Personal Values”, and you should see roughly 30,000,000 results in about 0.51 seconds (search results stats add to the heap of ridiculous information out there). Pick a list, any list that you like. Then stand back, look at the moments, and see if you can group them together according to a core value from said list.

Here’s an example with my grouped events that came to mind, and the value(s) in bold.

My Personal High Moments

Acceptance into doctorate; opening my own business, research – Achievement and Challenge.

Residency, The Practice Calgary, Shuswap, dinner parties, marathon / half-marathon Carm-a-palooza (not the time to explain) – Belonging and Community

Travel, snowboarding, water skiing and boarding, marathon – Adventure

Writing, public speaking, blog, painting – Expression and Creativity, Influence

You may notice that I put some events in a couple of categories. I did this because it seemed right to me, it makes sense to me that some events hit on multiple values but if it doesn’t for you then don’t do that. I selected each category by looking closely at ‘why’ I am proud or happy in a specific memory. I am so proud of my doctorate education because the odds seemed insurmountable at one time. I had two kids, my own business which means a certain precarious nature to my income, and I had been out of school for a while. It was tough to put my name in the ring of potential applicants, to risk failure or to not have the stamina if I did get in. I am proud that I was accepted and that I have been successful in my endeavors. I am happy when I paint because I love the feeling of creating and seeing the end result (I really don’t need others to see it). I am happy when I am on the side of a mountain because I constantly think to myself how wild it is that I am on the side of a mountain with no real certainty what will happen next. The why helps me define my value.

One thing that was surprising to me is that some of the values that I would have said I have, prior to this exercise, didn’t come up at all. I would have expected; compassion& authenticity, fun & humor, openness, trustworthiness, and generosity to be critical to me. I have often said to people how much I value fun, but when I really look at it, I may have a lot fun but I value the adventure, challenge, and community and probably experience something as fun because those needs are being met. It makes sense then that putting fun as the driver to an event in the past has left me unsatisfied. Light bulb moment.

Take the time to explore values, see what surprises you, what is predictable, and keep tracking your time. Next blog we will pull this together with defining meaningful goals with the right motivators and useful metrics to help you get there!

Carmen Dodsworth, BSc., MA.
Registered Psychologist