Your self-help toolbox

So you're looking to live your best life, and you don't feel like you're making progress. Chances are, you might need a different set of tools to jump start your self-help process.

"I once went to a psychologist who didn't relate to my feelings or experiences, and it was so bad I just didn't go back," said Linda Burd Howard, a licensed psychologist and author of the book "I Can Relate to That! A Toolbox For Life's Journey."

Howard created her "healing toolbox" by drawing from her own experiences with anxiety, ADHD, depression, eating disorders, drug abuse, multiple divorces and family suicide.

"It's possible to be joyful in spite of, or even because of the pain you experience in life," she said. "I found that when I shared my struggles and experiences with my patients, they could relate better and heal faster."

Howard said our thought patterns or belief systems are formed in our early childhood through our parents, community and friends. These beliefs then becomes the filter we use to view the world, she said.

"So if you have a mother who tells you that your father cheats, you will grow up thinking it's a fact that men cheat," she said. "Everything that you see or do is going to have gone through that screen. So if you have a relationship and the guy comes home from work late, you won't have any evidence that he's cheated but that's what you automatically think."

And while these habits are hard to break, they can indeed be broken if we change our thoughts, Howard said.

"It's estimated that we have between 50 and 60 thousand thoughts a day and 95 percent of those are the ones we had yesterday," she said. "We keep feeding ourselves the same erroneous information everyday and we wonder why things aren't changing. The minute we recognize the patterns, we can start to change things. This cycle doesn't have to run you as an adult."

Here are just some of the tools Howard recommends we bring into our self-help tool box:

Binoculars and a magnifying glass.

"Binoculars enable you to look at your past so you can trace your behavior patterns over time. The magnifying glass is so you can see those issues clearly.

One of my issues from when I was a kid was being left out. So whatever happened to me in my life — I could be on a yacht in the Bahamas and I might still feel that I wasn't where the action was. If we know what our own issues are, then we get to have responsibility for how we act toward them. The great bonus of this is once you realize that these are your issues, it occurs to you that everybody has different issues. So then the whole world opens because you don't take their actions personally. It's just their issues coming to the surface."

Mittens.

"If you're wearing mittens you can't point your finger and blame somebody. Kids love to say, 'Susan made me eat this' or 'Johnny pushed me into the chalkboard.' Everything is everyone else's fault. Unless you are in an abusive situation where escape is physically not possible, nobody can make you do anything. And parents really need to explain to the child the importance of taking responsibility for your actions."

Life preserver.

"You have to know when it's time to surrender. We push and push when we feel resistance. Sometimes people will try to get somebody to like them and they do everything they possibly can to make this happen. It's a useless way to extend energy. You have to know when it's time to let go and stop swimming against the current. Just allow this life preserver to come to mind whenever you feel you're doing your best and getting nowhere. The moment you let go is when things will come to you."

Notebook and a pencil.

"This is bonding made easy. If you really want to bond with people in your life, just listen to them. Make a mental note of what it is that they like. Remember their birthday and send an actual card. Even calling someone and saying you're thinking about them. The minute you do something like this, you feel better about yourself. Whenever you open your hand to give something to somebody, it's also open to receive."

jweigel@tribune.com

Twitter: @jenweigel

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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