Archive for the ‘Cassandra Kirkland’ Category

How is your thinking?

October 21, 2010

The other day I was in bed about to slip off to sleep when I realized there was something on my FACE!!! Do you want to know what it was? I was surprised that I hadn’t felt it earlier. It was right beneath my nose…it was incredibly large and almost left an imprint on my pillow. Okay, it was big—no, it was huge; well, it was one big, huge SMILE. It almost took me by surprise—the fact that I noticed there was a smile on my face. You know, I am generally a pretty happy person, but the type of happiness that I was experiencing was almost subconscious—it seemed to be emanating from a deep serene place in my heart.

So, as I pondered about what I was so happy about. I thought, and I thought, and I thought some more, and it eventually came to me. My smile was stemming from the fact that I felt extremely fortunate. I started thinking about all of things in my life that are truly gifts: having the opportunity to grow and develop in a field that fascinates me; being surrounding by people who don’t just like me, but love me; and having my health and a nice place to stay. After all that pondering, I was almost moved to tears because at that moment everything was okay—it was ALL GOOD! I was full of gratefulness, happiness, and serenity; there was no room for my anxious thoughts, insecurities, or problems. I was in such a good place, and I think it was due to what I was choosing to focus on in my life.

All of this reflection caused me to consider the power of one’s thought life—how you think shapes not only your mood, but your entire world. Positive thinking can possibly prolong your life. For example, the Mayo Clinic indicates that positive thinking may provide health benefits such as: increased life-span, lower rates of depression, greater resistance to common colds, reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and better coping styles when faced with hardships. You can’t control what happens around you, but you can control your perspective on the things that happen to you. So, in an effort to promote positive thinking, I have a few questions to ask you.

  • What is going well in your life?
  • What do you like about yourself?
  • What are the best qualities in the ones around you?
  • I know work can be stressful at times, but what is it that you like about your job?
  • What are some of the amazing opportunities that you have been afforded?

When you spend a lot of time thinking about the things that make you feel fortunate, it depletes your time to think about how things could be better. Even when you find yourself in situations that are far from ideal, when you have practiced applying a positive perspective to life, it is easier to apply that perspective to less than optimal situations. I would like to leave you with one last thought from a popular saying by an anonymous author:

           “Watch your thoughts, they become words.
            Watch your words, they become actions.
            Watch your actions, they become habits.
            Watch your habits, they become your character.
            Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”

So, I say cheers to thoughtful, meaningful, and appreciative living!

Cassandra Kirkland, M.S.

Little Ms. Perfect

August 27, 2010

Have you ever forgotten that you are human? Not with regard to having arms, legs, fingers and toes, but with regard to acknowledging that you are capable of having imperfections. Not only are you capable of having them, but they are inherent to this experience we call life.

Well, at times, I must say that I have forgotten this basic nugget of wisdom. I guess it stems from my desire to be perfect in all that I do—especially when it comes to how I interact with the ones around me. You know, when I am not being a good perfectionist, and the reality of my imperfections comes within plain view—it is as if someone turned the power off of “Little Ms. Perfect,” and I am left immobilized…frozen…stuck…

The good thing is that after I regain the ability to move again, I am comforted by the realization that my imperfections are real, but they aren’t inherently bad. They provide opportunities for self-reflection, self-examination, and ultimately growth.  Challenges and shortcomings are the process agents in life that help to shape us as individuals—the defining factor is how we choose to use them. They can be stepping stones or obstacles, acknowledgements or excuses, addressed or dismissed—the choice is ours.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be stuck in this “cycle of perfectionism” filled with failed attempts at being perfect and realizing again and again that I am indeed not perfect.   Instead, I want to set realistic expectations to address obstacles and challenges in my life without the false expectations of perfectionism.

Interestingly, Dr. Carol Dweck—a world renowned psychologist who studies achievement and success at Stanford University—has found in her research that people are more likely to succeed when they adopt a growth perspective (an understanding that achievement requires continuous and concerted effort). This growth perspective involves addressing shortcomings instead of overlooking them.

This tidbit of information reinforces the fact that I that I don’t have to leave my imperfections unattended. But, I think that it is important to address challenges in a manner that isn’t self-defeating. No longer should the goal be to be a perfect person, but I want to be a better person—a person who is successful with improving the areas in which I am weak and reaching out to others when I need a helping hand. Embracing this side of life helps me to love myself more, and it also helps me to love others more.

Not requiring perfection from myself has naturally caused me to stop requiring perfection in others. Perfect things and perfect people are often like robots—lifeless and set to following programs, which leaves no room for creativity or learning experiences. With that being said, I have a lot of classrooms to enter and many outlets for creativity. But in the end, I will be in the process of becoming a better person, not a perfect person. So, I say cheers to creative and meaningful living! What about you?

Cassandra Kirkland, M.S.

Finding Your Center

April 16, 2010

“The most important part of this exercise is to make sure that your core is tight and strengthened. This technique will assist you in keeping your body balanced as you complete this plank exercise.” This is a familiar message that one of my past physical trainers would frequently tell me. The plank exercise consists of holding your body flat to the ground as you rest the pressure of your body on your forearms and tippy toes. Take a look at the following picture:

The trick to this exercise is to divert your attention from your extremities to your core, because keeping your core tight will assist you in balancing your body. For me, focusing on keeping my core tight can be very difficult due to the pressure that is exerted on my tippy toes and forearms—I have fallen often. However, it is very encouraging to learn that after continuous effort your core muscles get stronger, and it is easier to hold your body up for prolonged periods of time.
Interestingly, I think that the plank exercise is very similar to the exercises that we experience in life—especially when it comes to dealing with stress and leading a balanced life—a couple of constant challenges for a graduate student, or rather for us all regardless of a particular work/student status. Oftentimes, it is extremely easy to focus on those pressure points/stressful issues, and I have come to realize that we all have a natural tendency to focus on areas that may seem to demand our most immediate attention to stay afloat in the midst of many pressures. But once again, what I have found to be extremely encouraging is that focusing on strengthening my center helps me to remain joyful and at ease. For me, strengthening my core consists of strengthening my spiritual life and relationships with family and friends. For you, it could be a plethora of different things that help keep you grounded in life. Interestingly, there was a documentary on individuals who were 100 or older, and they shared many important nuggets of wisdom. A common thread of information that they all provided was that they led easygoing lives and avoided getting overly stressed about life occurrences. Also, researchers have found that doing simple things such as finding a quiet space for 15 minutes a day can help to reduce stress levels. So what would you consider to be your core/center? And what are some exercises that you could use to strengthen the aspects that are central to your life? After continuous effort, you may find that you will have a rock solid core that helps you stay afloat in the midst of anything. So, whenever you may feel unbalanced, it may be a good idea to ask yourself if your core is strengthened. All in all, I say cheers to a strengthened core, a balanced life, and meaningful living!
Cassandra Kirkland

Cherished memories

December 10, 2009

This summer changed my life forever.  I know this sounds a little corny, but my experience abroad in Italy did indeed change my outlook on life and my commitment to helping families!  The magnitude of the greatness of this experience is hard to put into words.  At times, when people ask me about my experience abroad, I almost feel like a deer in headlights.  How can I explain standing in front of Michelangelo’s statute of the David, sitting on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica, eating authentic Italian cuisine, and becoming a part of the Romani Castelli community (the list could go on and on)?  Well, words just do not measure up.    At times, it almost feels like my time in Italy was a dream—almost too good to be true.  Whenever I feel this way, I will take a look at my photo album in order to remember my cherished memories.

As I was thinking about how easy it is to forget the wonderful experiences that have occurred in our lives, I also contemplated on how it is easy to forget some of the wonderful experiences that we have in our relationships with others.  When I think about the goodness that I have experienced in my personal relationships, I feel like a deer in headlights again—mere words just do not measure up.  Remembering the cherished memories from my relationships helps me to appreciate my loved-ones more.  And in essence, when I am conscious of those memories, I have positive expectations for my interactions with them that usually come true.  You know, it is interesting how researchers have found the same experience to be true for couples.  For example, research has shown that when individuals generally have positive attributions (explanations) for their partner’s behavior, their partner tends to act in ways that reinforce those positive assumptions.  Also, I think that it is a little easier to make those positive attributions of our loved-ones’ behaviors when we remember the cherished memories we have had with them.   So, what are the cherished memories that you have of your relationships?  Why did you decide to marry your partner, or be in a relationship with your significant other?  At what moment did you know that you were “in love?”  How has someone made you feel like you are irreplaceable?  Thinking about these moments may help to fuel the development of future cherished memories.

~Cassandra Kirkland, M.S.

Graduate Research Assistant

Alabama Community Healthy Marriage Initiative

Your Bank Account

April 9, 2009

What is in your bank account? And when I say bank account, I am referring to the emotional bank account of your relationship. Researchers from the marriage laboratory at the University of Washington suggest that the concept of an emotional bank account incorporates the idea of turning-toward or turning-away from your partner when he or she elicits your attention. Turning-toward your partner could be as simple as giving a nod when he/she comments about weather or it could include providing your undivided attention when he or she is in need of your emotional support. When you turn-toward your partner, you add to your emotional bank account by increasing the levels of emotional commitment and intimacy. However, when you continuously turn-away from your partner by ignoring his/her bids for attention, you deplete your emotional bank account.

It is so funny how even our relationships operate on economic terms. I thought about the sheer joy that stems from being truly heard and understood by my significant other. But what is even more humbling and empowering is understanding that I have an important role to play in bolstering the emotional bank account of our relationship. In being a busy graduate student, it is easy to get inundated with all of the demands that school provides. And when you are busy or overwhelmed it is so easy to overlook your partner’s bids for emotional support. Sometimes bids can be very subtle—usually a very slight alteration in one’s normal speaking voice that exudes vulnerability and support seeking. I have come to realize that there is truly an art form involved in quieting the noise of your own social/work pressures in order to hear the more vulnerable bids for emotional support from your partner. But the level of intimacy that results from this art form is totally worth the effort. And surprisingly enough, you also feel comforted and supported by simply turning-toward your partner and providing the invaluable assets of an open heart and a listening ear.

For more information about the concept of an emotional bank account and building a sound marital house, you can refer to the chapter written by Ryan, Carrere, and Gottman in the book entitled Marriage in America by Martin King Whyte.

Cassandra Kirkland, M.S.

Can you do it all–pursue a career and love?

February 16, 2009

Over the break, my significant other and I had an opportunity to meet with an extraordinary couple. They are a young couple who have been married for about five years, and both individuals are pursuing demanding careers. They are family friends of my significant other who told me that they have stores of wisdom on healthy relationships, so we thought it would be a great idea to talk to them. The husband is completing his doctorate in religion, and his wife is currently a gynecologist. With their busy schedules, we were delighted that they took the time to talk with us. We all met at Cracker Barrel for breakfast one Saturday morning, and it was so refreshing to listen to such an inspiring couple—they were not just inspiring for what they are pursuing in life, but also for the way in which they love and support one another. We felt like we would be able to relate to them because they are just a little older than us, and they are trying to find a balance between developing their careers and fostering a healthy relationship. They said many encouraging comments that touched my heart and helped me to realize that getting married doesn’t mean that your personal pursuits have to end, but marriage could be used as a catalyst to achieving your goals.

Looking at this couple caused me to rethink my ideas about the right time for marriage. I always thought I could never do both—be in a serious relationship/marriage and pursue my career goals/school. I guess this is why I have not been in a romantic relationship since high school (8 years ago). I received further support for my ideals on pursuing my education without pursuing love from many friends and family members. I can hear their voices say “marriage can wait—get your education.” Research indicates that many people feel this way about postponing marriage until after their careers have been established. But is it possible that marriage could provide support for pursuing your career goals? Because research also indicates that married people have more consistent emotional support than singles, and this support could be essential in pursuing career goals. I am not saying that I am getting married tomorrow or even within the next few years. But my ideas on it all have changed. I can do both—I can pursue love and my career. For far too long, I put my career on a pedestal and thought it would define who I am. But now I believe that how I love determines who I am as a person. Therefore, I can do both because my career is predicated on who I am, which is determined by how I love.

Cassandra Kirkland, MS

Alabama Community Healthy Marriage Initiative

The Boy Next Door

November 13, 2008


In my last blog I mentioned how I was venturing out into the unchartered territory of dating.  I had not dated for about five years—I was so busy with school that I put dating on the backburner.  Well, it appears that I have been very successful in connecting with a very special guy, but who would have ever thought that he would be one of my best friends for seven years!  In the back of my mind, I always thought that he would be a wonderful partner for someone, but I tried to force my mind and heart not to think of myself as that someoneJ.  To be sincere, it was fear of the unknown and fearing that our friendship may be negatively altered, which kept me from thinking of us as a couple.  I believe that intimate relationships require a degree of vulnerability and fearlessness.  So, I am putting fear behind me and walking in the joy of allowing our relationship to naturally develop.  What makes me feel very encouraged about our relationship together is the fact that it started with friendship.  

Being immersed in the study of relationships, marriages, and families, I know firsthand of the importance of having a strong friendship with your significant other.  I was reading for class the other day, and one of the articles indicated that a friendship is a collaborative relationship where each person is concerned about the satisfaction and success of the other (*+children%22&source=bl&ots=N6TVTvd0_O&sig=ZjymrasSureKX2tGVV7mpr3yH-Y&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=6&ct=result#PPA291,M1).  I truly believe that this defining feature of friendship should be a part of all relationships, and it is most essential for the success of romantic relationships.  I truly want to see my significant other achieve greatness in his life and be happy in the process, not just because he is my significant other, but because he is also my best friend.  Who would have ever thought that my special someone would be right under my noseJ! 

Cassandra Kirkland

Do opposites really attract?

August 21, 2008

I am pretty shy when it comes to the dating world, but I am venturing out into this unmarked territory with optimism as my compass. As you could probably guess, I am single—happily single that isJ. But, I do hope to be happily married one day. So, what is the secret—how do I get there? Fortunately, there is never a shortage of dating advice from family, friends, or a favorite talk show. However, at times, it is necessary to filter this massive flow of dating tips in an effort to retain only helpful advice. I decided to do a little filtering of my own by looking more closely at the popular adage: “opposites attract.”

So what happens when you have people who are polar opposites in a relationship with one another? How lasting and stable would their union be? Research on relationships indicates that drastic personality differences are problematic for intimate relationships, but minor personality differences can be complimentary and enhancing. When major differences related to belief systems and core values are involved in relationships, the outcome could be less than favorable; research shows that having similar values is very important for a stable relationship. It seems that extreme opposites that are magnetic in the beginning may end in catastrophic repulsion. And considering what researchers have found, it may be best to look for a dating partner who has similar values and complimentary personality traits.

Well, it appears that opposites may attract, but one may be cautioned against drastic personality and value differences. I am glad that I did a little filtering of the information on relationships. And while opposites may attract, they may not necessarily stay together.  It appears that “birds of a feather flock together” – and may have happier marriages!

Cassandra Kirkland, M.S., Alabama Community Healthy Marriage Initiative (ACHMI)