Finding Your Ruby Slippers--Tips for Overcoming Personal Obstacles in 2017

Not everyone has the time or money to regularly visit a therapist, but veteran psychotherapist Lisa Ferentz provides the key strategies that can be implemented on a person’s own terms to reach their goals in the New Year and beyond. 
Through her work, Ferentz empowers those struggling with personal and professional obstacles with the strategies they need to grow and thrive, and provides compassion and guidance for using the tools already at your disposal to overcome the issues, struggles and symptoms she’s been addressing in traditional therapy throughout her career.

Here's what you should know about Lisa.  She is a clinical social worker and psychotherapist who has been in private practice for over 30 years. She is the founder of The Ferentz Institute and author of the upcoming book, Finding Your Ruby Slippers: Transformative Life Lessons From the Therapist’s Couch. An internationally known speaker, clinician and consultant, Ferentz participates in documentaries, webinars and podcasts related to trauma, self-care and wellbeing. She is also the author of Treating Self-Destructive Behaviors in Trauma Survivors: A Clinician’s Guide and Letting Go of Self-Destructive Behaviors: A Workbook of Hope and Healing.

I had the honor interviewing Lisa.

Faten Abdallah (FA): Every New Year's, people make resolutions. Is it a good idea?

Lisa Ferentz (LF): The problem with making New Year’s resolutions is that by the end of January, nearly 90% of us lose our enthusiasm, determination, and focus.  As a result, vows quickly fall by the way side- again!  This repetitive cycle of declaring goals and then failing to achieve them can negatively affect self-worth, confidence, and competence.  Although it’s beneficial to take the time to clarify and express values and priorities in the New Year, given the incredibly low success rate for achieving those resolutions the real focus should be on understanding why resolutions don't ever seem to stick. Rather than focusing on making-and then breaking- resolutions, a better idea is to focus on why and how you are making them in the first place!

Consider the following question: Are you resolving to make that important change for you or for someone else in your life? If it’s to please or accommodate someone else, know that your resolution will be hard to sustain. In order to achieve true change you must have genuine, personal “buy in.” It’s great to be sensitive to other people’s needs, but unless you can identify how you’ll personally benefit and grow from those changes you’ll quickly lose your motivation.  And making changes for someone else can breed resentment. That becomes unfair to the other person as well as to you.  You also need to be clear about how realizing your goals will impact your life. Can you tangibly describe the benefits and the rewards?  Will they outweigh whatever you will potentially lose when you modify, give up, or change the “unwanted” behavior?  Achieving your resolution must conjure meaningful and motivating emotions. Otherwise the changes probably won’t last.

FA: How can people plan for goals? How many goals should they plan?

LF: Once you’ve decided to focus on goals that really meet your needs and desires, it helps to focus on the how of resolutions.  When setting new goals for yourself, think “small and doable” rather than big.  The more you make a goal tangible, specific, and manageable the greater the likelihood that you’ll reach it.  Vague goals such as “I’m going to lose weight” are impossible to measure because they aren't specific enough.  And that makes them easier to let go of.  Start with “baby step” goals such as “I am going to cut back on one snack a day,” or “I’m going to replace eight ounces of soda with eight ounces of water each day.” If you take enough baby steps the cumulative effect is a lot of forward movement, and each smaller success sets you up to achieve the next goal.

FA: What are some of the obstacles that make it difficult for people to follow through with their resolutions and goals?

LF: It’s definitely worth taking the time to look back on your history of resolution making.  In all likelihood, if you’re like most people, you’ve been making the same resolutions for years!  It helps to understand the roadblocks, triggers, or vulnerabilities that compromised your goals.  Often the biggest obstacles is believing success only counts if you achieve the goal without help. This usually means your not allowing yourself to get enough support from safe and trustworthy people in your life.  The main question to ask yourself is, “Are you letting others know about your good intentions and enlisting their guidance and encouragement throughout the process?”

When you go it alone, it’s much harder to resist temptation and it’s easier to give up. Be accountable to someone: not so you’ll feel guilty if you slip up, but rather so you can celebrate each little success with someone else as you move ahead. Brainstorm with others about how they can help you stay on track.  Have personal “cheerleaders” send you encouraging text messages, e-mails, and voicemails. If you know you’ll be in a situation that’s tempting or will potentially compromise your goals, ask friends to provide extra support so you stay strong. Or enlist their help in avoiding a situation that threatens your ability to realize your goals.

Remember that if something isn't working don't do it more and harder-do it differently.  If you’ve been unsuccessfully making the same resolution for years, think about how you can approach the goal differently this year.  Maybe you’ll realize this time around you’ll need to strengthen your network of support, make the goal smaller, or decide you need a different goal- one that accommodates your needs and best interests-not someone else’s.

FA: You wrote a book, please tell us about it.

LF: “Finding Your Ruby Slippers: Transformative Life Lessons From the Therapist’s Couch” is a book that helps to empower you to connect with and act from your own inner wisdom. I was inspired by Dorothy’s journey in “The Wizard of Oz.” She spends much of the movie trying to reach the wizard, believing he alone holds the key to helping her get back home. In fact, all of the characters accompanying her to the Emerald City believe the wizard has the answers to what they’re missing.  Of course by the end of the movie they all come to realize that he’s just a powerless man hiding behind a curtain. Everything they need to feel “whole” has always lived within them. Dorothy’s been wearing the ruby slippers all along! Through simple ideas to expand your thinking, gentle words of encouragement, and lots of journaling prompts, the book invites you to take your own personal journey.  It helps you let go of thoughts and behaviors that have kept you stuck and held you back, while opening you up to beliefs and behaviors that increase self-compassion, self-care, personal and professional growth. It's not about reinventing yourself. It’s about re-claiming yourself!

Having worked with thousands of people in my psychotherapy practice for over 33 years, I can tell you with great confidence that it's never too late to grow or to realize the goals that truly matter to you.  I’ve watched countless people let go of negative and debilitating thoughts and behaviors, experience sustained inner peace, learn to dream big dreams and heal old wounds. And even sustain their New Year’s resolutions! When you tap into your own creativity, resiliency, and inner wisdom, it's amazing what you can achieve! There’s nothing more exciting than realizing that you’ve been wearing the ruby slippers all along!

Connect with Lisa Ferentz on Facebook, TwitterLinkedIn, at, and through her column for Psychology Today.

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