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John Ernst, Ph.D.

Talks about…

In my practice, I often meet people who find that they’ve misplaced the ability to move forward in their lives.  They feel dissatisfied with their existence and they don’t like how they feel. Although day-to-day functioning may not necessarily be a problem for them, they just aren’t as happy as they’d like to be.  Quite simply, they’re ‘stuck in a rut’, wishing that they could get more satisfaction out of their lives, but without an effective plan to make changes for the future.


Obstacles to change:


Some of life’s ‘trickier’ problems are often the subtle ones.  They don’t necessarily need immediate fixing, yet they can exist in the background for months or years. For example:


-Procrastination: (“I should do that tomorrow”) can result in inactivity.


-Denial: (“I just don’t want to think about that because it’s too depressing”) can cause a person to ignore truly important issues.


-Daily routines: (job, household activities) can tempt us to focus only on immediate details while ignoring the bigger picture in our lives.


Adjusting your outlook:


An important first step toward making personal changes is to develop an appreciation that over a life span, a person has just so much time to live.  But the quality of a person’s life may be even more important than the quantity of it.  This raises an important question: Do you want to ignore opportunities to better yourself, or will you instead begin to take greater charge over the direction of your life?  You don’t need to wait until the New Year to make a commitment to personal progress.


A few tips to aid personal change:


- Take some quiet time to jump off the ‘hamster wheel’ of daily routines and reflect on the direction you’ve allowed your life to take – are you spending your life the way you’d truly like to?


- Take a personal inventory and make a list of the positives and negatives in your life as well as outlining specific goals that you choose to achieve.


- Break down your goals into attainable short, medium, and long–term categories in order to achieve them in a step-wise fashion.


-Remember that good intentions are worth very little unless they’re linked to action. Don’t wait for motivation to knock on your door; if you take action first, motivation will soon follow.


Some final thoughts:


Performing this type of personal maintenance is a powerful way to live in a conscious, intentional, and focused manner.  It can help people to take active control of their lives rather than having life simply act on them. The sense of accomplishment obtained from setting and pursuing new directions in life can often lead to enhanced self-esteem, increased personal satisfaction, and greater happiness.    


John Ernst, PhD, LPC, treats children, adolescents, families, individual adults and couples. He is presently accepting new patients. To establish an appointment, please contact Dr. Ernst at 414-329-7000.



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Although the ideal 'story book' image of Christmas and New Year's is one of happiness and celebration, some individuals trudge through this time of year burdened by feelings of stress and frustration. Fortunately, by recognizing and guarding against a few of the major holiday pitfalls, you can make this year's holiday season a much more pleasant and enjoyable experience. Here are a few tips to avoid some holiday 'Grinches' that can steal some of the joy from the holidays (but only if you let them).


Watch out for stress


Daily life has its moments of stress but the demands of the holidays (shopping in crowded malls, wrapping presents at the last minute, balancing on a ladder in 30-degree weather to decorate the house, and rushing to visit people at several differents homes) can place extra stress on everyone. The question here is "How much stress am I placing on myself by my own doing?" It's possible to avoid experiencing a holiday 'crunch time' by scheduling activities and duties so they don't all fall at the last minute. Also, delegate some activities to other family members rather than attempting to be superhuman during the holidays. In short, set realistic expectations for what this time of year can and cannot provide for you.


Time and money - set some limits


Setting realistic spending limits can help you to avoid the post-holiday blues that come when your credit card bill arrives in January, so think ahead to what the mailman will bring you a month later while you're doing your holiday shopping. Merchants would love to have you succumb to impuse buying. Instead, create a budget containing specific, worthwhile gifts and stick to it while pushing your shopping cart through the mall. Remember that how you spend your time can be a very precious gift that you can give to yourself. Maybe this is the year to say 'no' to some less important holiday activities. If an event feels more like an obligation than a celebration you might want to spend your time doing something more pleasant and meaningful. Perhaps it would be more fun just to bake a few dozen cookies with the kids rather than cranking out forty dozen at 2:00 am.


Decide what the holidays mean to you:


Finally, take charge of this year's holidays by reviewing the previous year's experience; holidays are a pocess, and they'll be whatever you choose to make them. Consider replacing ineffective holiday 'habits' with fresh traditions by doing something creative and different. Remember that gifts to others don't always have to be material or worth a lot in a monetary sense. Long after the toys have lost their luster, the memories of laughter, enjoyable activities, and human interaction will live on as memories for years.


John Ernst, PHD, LPC, treats children, adolescents, families, individual adults and couples. He is accepting new patients. Please contact Dr. Ernst at 414-329-7000 to schedule an appointment.



John Ernst, Ph.D.

Talks About....