Julie Mueller, LCPC -
Small Steps the Kaizen Way, by Julie Mueller, LCPC
Have your New Year’s resolutions crashed and burned?  You’re not alone.  People often set high, unrealistic goals for themselves to achieve in a short period of time.  This can be a set up for failure and discouragement.  Taking small steps toward continuous improvement can be a much better, motivating process.  The concept of Kaizen (meaning constant and steady, small improvement) is a Japanese term that has been circulated among Japanese businesses for decades and is used daily by individuals across the globe.  It is the essence of Kaizen that you seek small, often seemingly trivial steps toward the major goal in your life.  The philosophy is captured succinctly and beautifully by Lao Tzu:  “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”  The idea is to seek small increments and change without regard to the importance or speed of change.  For example, if you have set a goal to lose 20 pounds, this may feel overwhelming to you.  If you set a goal of losing 1 pound per week and stick to this goal, you may achieve this more effectively and will stay motivated.  Now you’re on your way.  Try it!

Getting Back to Basics, by Julie Mueller, LCPC
The world has gone mad!  Much of our consciousness is filled with job layoffs, rising costs, plummeting investments, government bailouts, climate change, wars, and other personal stress.  As we try to make sense of the multiple challenges that are impacting our lives, it occurs to me that we are faced with the need to think more simply about the ways in which we live.  Positive opportunities may emerge from crisis and change.  It allows us to be more creative and mindful about the choices we make. 
I remember watching School House Rock on Saturday mornings as a kid.  I was taught to “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”.  More people are coming back to this mentality whether it be out of necessity or a renewed philosophy.  The following are stress-reducing practices to try:  1) Mindful Spending – asking yourself, “Is this really necessary?”  This can greatly reduce your spending and help to prioritize purchases. 2) Cook from Scratch – It’s healthy and you can make it fun by inviting some friends over to cook together, share meals & recipes.  3)  Be Kind to the Earth - Use your own shopping bags, high-quality water bottles and coffee mugs. 4) De-clutter your Household - donate (or “freecycle”) to others who might enjoy the stuff you’re no longer using!  5)  Build Community – Make efforts to connect with friends, family and colleagues.  Host a movie night or a back yard BBQ instead of a more expensive night out.  If you change your perspective a bit, you won’t feel like you’re sacrificing too much, but making the most of what you already have.

Getting Back to Family Basics, by Julie Mueller, LCPC
Financial experts say that for many families, entertainment costs are a budget-buster. Who wants to consider the hidden costs of having fun?  Being creative regarding cutting costs doesn't have to mean a life devoid of movies, concerts, restaurants, and other activities. 
Here’s some ideas to maximize your fun and minimize your costs:  1) Most communities offer “Movies in the Park” and “Concerts in the Park” at no cost.  Bring a picnic and watch a flick or concert under the stars, 2) When dining out, most ethnic restaurants charge reasonable prices and a family can share entrees while you’re educating your children’s palettes!   Supporting your local, family owned diner for breakfast or lunch gives a sense of community and typically is a great buy as well, 3) Outdoor festivals in your community have great activities for the kids like arts/crafts, face painting and dancing to live music.  These are low to no cost activities, 4) Don’t forget your local library for free museum passes, story telling and other activities for the kids at no or low cost, 5) Invite the neighbors over for game night.  Families can play charades, board games or cards while sharing home made snacks/meals, 6)  Many kids love to cook/bake with their families.  This is a great activity to enjoy with extended family, friends and neighbors.
There are endless possibilities to explore that won’t destroy your budget.  Summer in the Midwest seems so short.  Take advantage of the many options available to you in your community and beyond, by getting back to basics with summer fun.

Downsizing That Everyone Can Appreciate, by Julie Mueller, LCPC
Over time our homes can accumulate large amounts of clutter.  This can produce a closed in, overwhelming feeling that can easily be remedied with a bit of Spring Cleaning.  Here are some tips adapted from “10 Ways to Declutter Your Home” on LifeOrganizers.com.  As the saying goes, “If you haven’t worn it or used it in over a year, get rid of it.” This can be difficult for most, but you’d be surprised at what you can really do without.  And how important is it really if you haven’t even thought about it for a year? Do you have a lot of hair and skin care products in the bathroom?  If they have hardened, soften or changed color, get rid of it.  Do you really want that stuff on you?!  There are so many inexpensive ways that help to organize items neatly and efficiently.  Get some stackable plastic storage containers for things that you do not use daily.  They come in just about every size too. One thing you must absolutely remember when decluttering is you have to throw or give away the not used or not wanted.  DO NOT just take everything out and rearrange!  That is a temporary solution and is not sufficient.  When you have less clutter and more things put away, your whole environment will have a more calm and peaceful effect.  Try and do this about once per year and see what a difference it can make in your life.

“Oh, Don’t Worry:  You’ll Find Someone…” by Julie Mueller, LCPC
This is surely a phrase that single people everywhere find a bit annoying.   We have many clients that struggle with being single in a couples-oriented world.  Some are trying to convince others that they’re really OK, even though they are not partnered.  Others are longing for that special life companion and looking in all of the wrong places.  Others are struggling with relationship issues of the past and are worried about how this will affect their future.  Here are some things to consider about finding happiness while single:  Self care and self-reflection is always time well spent.  Spending time on activities that help one to be more balanced, authentic, healthy, and optimistic is key.  When more of this is achieved, a person is more likely to project this energy outward.  Taking up great hobbies, reading inspiring books, taking charge of health, and spending more time with friends and family that you enjoy is a nice start.  Being aware of negative self-talk about being single is important.  This tends to zap energy and feeds the assumption that “singlehood” is permanent.  Life is ever changing and opportunities for growth are ever present.  Creating a positive relationship with self paves the way to great relationships with others. 

Transcending Holiday Blues, by Julie Mueller, LCPC
The holiday season is upon us again.  Balancing home, professional, social and community life can be especially stressful around the holiday season.  It is a time of year where expectations can take over and cause added pressure – we believe that everything will or has to be perfect.  Unresolved family conflicts can cause added tension when the family gets together to celebrate that “perfect holiday.” It is a time where some can feel especially lonely and experience grief and losses more intensely.  Commercial hype and societal expectations can pressure some to overspend, causing financial stress.  Excesses in food or alcohol can be especially problematic for those suffering from addictions.
Here are some quick tips to make your holiday season a joyful and healthy one.  Set realistic expectations and goals which are possible to reach.  Create new traditions that fit your life style.  For example, consider donating some time to a soup kitchen or other charity.  Have a “holiday cookie sharing party” where friends make big recipes of only one or two cookies then create holiday platters together. Take care of your health by watching food and drink excess.  At parties, put snacks on a plate so you may regulate the quantity of what you’re eating.  Watch your finances by making gifts or giving the gift of service (i.e. one night of baby sitting or help in the yard).  Play seasonal music to get you into the spirit while you’re decorating with friends or family.   Make a commitment to create the type of holiday that you desire and don’t forget to enjoy!


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