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.
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.
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.
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.
I base my writing of The Jungle Pack Workbook (counseling), on the results witnessed from using finish-the-statement prompts. I find that a lot of the question-asking comes across as trying to trick the client, to give up the gold (hidden personal information). Also, I recognize the minimal education for growing kids and full-grown adults, in the context of how to build personal awareness.
Most people have a hard time with understanding their personal strengths and what triggers emotions in both themselves and others. The prompts mentioned earlier, were designed to take the focus off of the person’s struggle to meet expectations of a counselor’s question. One of the main elements I do my best to drop is any sense of testing. Most people have experienced enough school-type testing to have a “right or wrong answer” state of expectations to deal with when posed a question. When asked about information the child or adult is defending, the inquiry is thought of as a demand. Obviously this did not work the first few hundred times in school, at work or in the home.
If a person is coming to me for counseling at any age, he or she has already met many reasons to defy trust in others. Along with this, is a reoccurring propensity to feel angered with people. The world already looks scary at this point. Otherwise, the promise of confidentiality wouldn’t be considered so appealing. But even in the counseling session, trust must be earned by the therapist. And we find many times, this is no easy task in regards to the information which keeps a person stuck.
Aside from making sure that therapy sessions are actually effective, I also want to facilitate conversation or play in a way that uses time management. The Jungle Pack workbook is with the intention of helping other therapists tune into their client‘s struggle with themselves and each of the multiple environments (school, home and community). The prompts which cover universal situations for human beings of any age, gender and circumstance are meant to draw out conversation items. On a week to week basis, I and others in my field are faced with a client’s sense of confusion and struggle to set priorities for conversation. I will go ahead and speak for the lot of us and say that a therapist’s aim is to help the client (or consumer) to quit spinning his/ her wheels and move ahead. Time management and having an anchor for conversation go hand in hand for effectiveness in the direction of feeling better and out of idle.