Category Archives: awareness

Size Matters


Oftentimes, we try to pass through small windows of opportunity with old beliefs that don’t fit.  It’s like forcing a huge square peg through a small round hole.  We bang, push, cry, yell and say “This is so unfair!”

We expect to make friends with people who want to be treated differently than our old pals; the ones who are used to our usual behavior.  Yes, some people will stick around and take the same old crap.  It’s called low self-esteem.  But to have new and maybe even better opportunities with different people, the same old crap won’t work.  The size of our baggage blocks our ability to see this.

Maybe our old beliefs have worked in the past.  We put value on how many times the loyal friends and family members kept coming back, no matter how insidious we acted at times or maybe even all the time.  We tend to look at this as being worth more than the potential for new experiences that foster real growth.

Remember that thing called “inflation”?  How many times have we refused to drop a useless pattern of thinking or an outdated belief, because of how it serves us in the name of comfort?  It’s like refusing a job that can possibly reap ten times more money, but the level of initial discomfort keeps us in a job that only earns a meager salary.

No Magic To It


Some people assume that their words have magical powers; like when a father tells his son to concentrate and worker harder.  How many times does he have to say this?  Does his son’s brain automatically change gears and get right to it?  Test the idea and watch what happens.  Just stand there and say “work harder and concentrate”.  Write down the number of times you can say this in a day and mark down the amount of progress noted.  If you have to say it, there isn’t much of a chance, until you do some work.

In order to see new results, we sometimes have to mix in new types of activities and boost our vocabulary.  Our brains and bodies have a hard time running on empty when we’re expected to pick up on a different way of doing things.  To expect otherwise is like waiting for some magic potion or fairy dust sprinkled, or the wave of a magic wand.

This is why I carry around a kitchen timer and other tools in my therapy bag when visiting the schools.  It helps a person to know where the limits are, so we can establish a direction (and get out the timer).  If concentration fails after thirty seconds, then we obviously need to work towards a minute.  Of course there has to be some personal motivation behind it.  Maybe the kid wants to get something done right the first time and not spend hours on homework in detention or after school.  But then, maybe he likes this kind of punishment.  There maybe some gain in attention from adults in this respect and he likes it.

Nevertheless, this persons brain may not know how to just get with it at will.  And so we educate.  Knowledge is power right!  Yeah, the reader can fight me on this, but he or she may want to know how I help the client with an awareness of their own type of thinking.  And this is where the drawing pad comes in handy.  Over the course of many sessions, I have observed the results in black, white and color how different people (kids) respond to the directive “make a picture”.  The subject of a drawing could be an emotional situation or a simple description of the family.  If markings are made all over the paper in an erratic fashion and the picture is not being completed, I will take back the pad and draw an outline of something; number the parts and have him color it in by the numbers: 1-10.

If the child or preteen responds well to competing for stickers, I say “Each part has to be colored in order.  If you start with any number but one, you don’t get a sticker”.  The task sounds elementary.  To some artistically inclined people, the exercise of coloring in parts by correct order probably goes against the virtue of creativity, but let me explain.  There is my observation of how relaxed and methodical a person becomes when doing such an activity.  The brain, hand and use of coordination has to work in a step-by-step manner.  The task gets done and it actually makes sense!  And here, we have a prescribed way of doing things many times over.  Repetition is the mother of skill.

Build Your Vocabulary


English: Emily Chrisman and teacher Joseph Pas...

English: Emily Chrisman and teacher Joseph Pascetta role play a situation during the Oct. 10, “Tying the Yellow Ribbon” event in Elgin, Ill. This is one of the many ways instructors with the Children’s Reintegration Program teach kids how to deal with difficult situations when their parent comes home from deployment. Pascetta is one of eight teachers from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology that help with the children’s program. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You have a loss for words when sitting around at a party or some other function.  Your memory is fishing for something nice to say to a peer and there is nothing but a blank.  To fish anywhere in the world requires the body of water is stocked or naturally populated.  Otherwise you are dipping the hook with no results.  You might also have to learn how to fish.

In many of the psychotherapy sessions I facilitate, there is an all too common challenge for the client to communicate in a positive and productive way with others.  I see whole families who come off with a tendency to talk down to each other and act confused when directed to pay a compliment.  Along with this, we usually discover that the family members are sorely lacking of a personal vocabulary for positive-based phrases and words.

To help with building a new track in the memory banks for the positive verbage and productive use of it, I propose an active use of role-play and an immediate goal to meet.  The development of skill and a change in memory takes repetition of a particular task, which in this case means saying the words out loud.

In my next post, I will talk about the art of motivation for this task and the different and fun ways to help get it started.

Olympian Factor Of Relationship Skills


Fasce Olympians

Fasce Olympians (Photo credit: Marco Crupi Visual Artist)

Ever notice how Olympic athletes bring on the “edge of your seat” level of anticipation when performing a feat which would most likely kill the rest of us?  About twenty years ago, I started paying attention to the kinds of events which starred a single athlete either skating to a song or making a death-defying move off the bars.  And I have also read about what goes into accomplishment of such moments.

An Olympian eats, breathes and dreams the moves over and over on a daily basis.  The practice and honing of moves are a lifestyle and habit.  The observer into a period of this athlete’s life would shake his head in amazement and think “Wow.  Get a life.”

Why?  Because the life of an Olympian is not the life of an average person.  Average means influence of emotion and desires.  Average has no focused  path to follow through on.  Reaching sub-goals on the way to achieving an goal is not everyday and mediocre practice.  Devoting hours and days to a ritual that gradually trains the body to respond automatically to a certain stimulus, is not for the average life of just getting through the days until the weekend.

Quite a few people who come to my counseling office are familiar with the observer’s stance on the practice of implementing relationship skills.  For example, most friends and family members in any given person’s life are casting doubts and surprise when personal boundaries are announced.  The new behavior of setting a time-limit on phone calls with negative people is labeled as “selfish.”  And the therapy assignment to saying “No” to the usual requests at home or in the company of friends is sometimes met with astonishment, silly questions and the expression of anger.  This person is changing the game.  He or she (client) is not only working on a healthy relationship goal, but is also refusing to act like the same old piece of furniture in other people’s comfort zone.

In this case, average is not the rule of thumb.  The client’s determination to reach a healthier level of response to bullying or co-dependent behavior, will not permit the act of submission.  The remark “Well now you’re just being crazy” or some other kind of guilt trip will not influence the training.

 

The Trouble With Self-Affirming Statements


Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) leads brother Ral...

We are encouraged by many to produce inner-motivation towards our goals through the work of self-affirmation.  In recent years there has been the prominent referral to “I’m Okay and You’re Okay” kinds of statements.  Some of the self-help gurus make “positive inner discovery” a staple of their programs.  One thousand percent of this makes sense and is effective.

To say “I can” and then of course finish the statement is a very healthy and even courageous declaration.  It beats sitting crouched in a corner with your thumb in mouth, while rocking back and forth.  It sure as hell beats standing by and hiding your abilities while someone else takes off with the opportunity.  Do you agree?

What we’re missing here is the challenge to saying “I can” or “My strength is..” when much of life has been a focus on what a sibling or cousin or classmate can do better.  I will venture to say that the challenge has a lot to do with what communication many of us receive in these different environments.  Have you ever been told “Why can’t you be like..?”

In chapter five of “The Strong-Willed Child: Birth Through Adolescence” written by Dr. James Dobson (1978), there is the conclusion arrived at on how comparisons are made between siblings.  A child in the family or at school hears spoken messages by his adult leaders which stick in his or her mind.  An older brother or sister is praised for winning the trophies.  And at every turn, upon misbehavior of the failure to perform up to snuff, the other sibling is told “Why can’t you do..?”  And the competition ensues.  For this boy or girl, the focus becomes more about what the older sister or brother or classmate has, and less about what is yet to be discovered within.

How To Curb Your Impulse To Argue


Argument

Argument (Photo credit: andrewmalone)

First, I will ask the reader to look at the difference between “argue” and “debate.”  Quite a few of us in American culture can run into some confusion, because of our pioneering spirit.  We cherish our independence.  A lot of early training in the families of this country, reflects the value in standing up for what we believe.  Otherwise, there would not be much protest against government agencies trying to dictate how to raise the kids and run the household.  We don’t like being told what to do, period.  I for one, hope that this healthy attitude continues.  Human beings are not sheep.

When a person is in debate of an issue, he does best when ready with a convincing set of facts.  His platform for debate may not guarantee a win of the most votes, but he can at least pavé the road to a later credible battle.  Unlike argument, which is a behavior based on emotional defense, the act of debating serves a purpose.  The opponent is invited to share information and the goal here is to clarify the gravity of the issue.  A solution is eventually reached.  In arguments, there is nothing but an angry push from each person to see who is the strongest.  And when emotion is ruling the behavior on each side, the information (if any) is only distorted and both parties are further from a solution.  So another day goes by without anything productive happening.  It’s just a cycle of futility.  To argue needlessly is akin to climbing a mountain made of butter with cellophane shoes.

My way of helping to curb the impulse to argue or be led into an argument is simple and easy.  Of course, this works best when there is a personal acknowledgement of the costs about such behavior.  The method has to do with using physical cues to help monitor the rate of impulsive acts.  Your job is to cut down on the number of times per day, that a disagreement or behavior triggers an emotional reaction.  For example, if six-year-old Johnny says the “No T.V. after 7:00 at night rule” is stupid and you are starting in with “No it’s not” then go ahead and put a colored chip labeled “I argued again” in the designated can.  I’ve been known to label the cans for this kind of process, with words that remind the client of what we talked about in the session.  Bringing a souvenir home from vacation has the same effect.

Your Mind In 3-D


English: Kitten hiding behind some stuff in ou...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ever done the “pocket of rocks” exercise?  It entails filling your pockets with rocks and only taking one out to drop it on the ground when you let go of a usual behavior.  We’re talking about self-defeating behaviors such as avoiding the person who you have a problem with.  In order to get rid of a rock, talk to the person and bring up the issue.  There’s no guarantee of you and the person straightening things out right away, but the avoidance is over.  The pain-in-the-ass action of hiding your feelings and thoughts is past, at least in this respect.  To talk is a way to add dimension to the issue and offer yourself and other people with a choice of what to do on the matter.

Many of us assume that because our thoughts and feelings exist, the other people in our lives will automatically know how we stand on everything.  Because of this, we expect these people to behave a certain way.  But we end up being surprised and hurt on a daily basis.  And it turns out that none of us have acquired the ability to read minds.  People young and old, whether you think it’s right or not, are going to go about their business towards needs and wants of the moment.  No amount of protest is going to make any lasting difference.  An occasional demonstration of anger is much like hearing a car backfire while walking down the street.  Some people might feel startled and look in that direction, but are soon continuing to walk on.  So a noise was made.  Big deal.

Most of us do pay attention to established rules.  Rules are based on the costs and benefits of certain behaviors.  The cost of my son yelling and screaming while I’m on the phone, is that I’m only hearing part of what the other person says.  I’m missing out on information and have to ask the caller to repeat himself.  Now I have to spend a longer time on the phone.  More time on the phone, means less time doing something else which is important to me and my son.  This means we lose all around.  New household rule: Quiet when someone is on the phone.  The consequence to disobeying this rule is…

The rule is made aware by discussing the costs and benefits with all household occupants and then posting it in a central place.  Now it’s out of your head and on paper or poster board.  Everyone can see it and you don’t have to rely on the fantasy of mind-reading.