Posts By: DrDavid

Resistance Is Futile

The other day my husband and I were in our closet discussing how the space is utilized.  We have one of those “redesigned” closets, with all the extra cubbies for shoes and folded clothes and the maximized hanging spaces.  I was concerned because I was thinking that over the years my clothes have outgrown all of the spaces originally assigned to me, and I wanted to move around where we put our clothes and what spaces I was use.  I had an idea of what I wanted; Robert had his own ideas of what would work better, and we were discussing our ideas amicably, when I was surprised to feel an overwhelming surge of resistance to all this talk of changing things around.  I became aware of excuses and “yes, buts” starting to invade my thinking, close to shutting me down.

 

All this over moving around the clothes in the closet.  Remember, that I am the one who initially brought it up and said that I wanted the change.  When I was confronted with the actual prospect and reality of change, I suddenly didn’t seem to want it so much anymore.  You may think that’s weird or unusual, but stop and take a look at your life for a minute.  It happens all the time, probably every day.

 

We are so resistant to change,even change we want.  This is always a big challenge for clients in therapy and the primary reason why most clients don’t achieve the success they desire in therapy, or even manage to stick with therapy long enough to give it a chance to work.  Often times, clients blame the therapist, lack of time, or lack of money, but most often, it is resistance to change that is the culprit.  Outside of therapy, resistance to change is rampant and often times creates more problems in our daily life than we deserve or need.

 

Freud was one of the first psychologists to address the concept of resistance and he wrote volumes about it.  I would just like to simply say that I think a lot of resistance is based upon fear.  Fearof any type, even change that is desired, will result new responsibilities we can’t handle. New challenges, we won’t be able to meet. New expectations from ourselves and others, we won’t be able to fulfill.  One of the most common examples that I see every day is about people’s weight.  When I talk to clients about their weight issues and help them to really dig deep to see the most feared emotions underlying the weight problem, it is always revealed that the person is afraid of the responsibility and expectations they assume will be associated with being thinner.

 

There are many ways to treat resistance, but I feel the easiest and perhaps best way is a four-part process:  1) be on the lookout for resistance in your life every day. Look for it in the smallest of justifications, rationalizations, excuses, irritations, and tendencies to blame others for something…anything, 2) acknowledge that resistance exists and it is keeping you from being your best self and realizing your dreams, 3) simply sit with the resistance and let the feeling exist with you.  Don’t try to do anything about it.  Don’t try to rationalize it away.  Don’t try to get rid of it or deny it.  Just let the feeling be with you. 4) As you allow the feeling of resistance to co-exist with you, you will begin to understand that it is not a mandate to action.  We don’t have to act on every single thing we feel.  You will also realize resistance is like a Florida rain; it can come on very strong with a lot noise and fanfare, demanding attention, only to pass very quickly and be gone, allowing the sun to shine once more.

 

Resistance really is a waste of time.

There Be Squirrels Afoot!

Have you ever watched squirrels?  I think they are the most pissed off animals.  They seem to hate all other creatures (especially people and dogs) for no other reason than they seem to think we want something they are jealously guarding.  I’ve seen many a squirrel chatter away angrily in a tree at my dogs who are on the ground paying absolutely no attention to them.  There have been numerous times duringfitness boot camp in the park that we were sure squirrels were purposefully pummeling us with nuts from the trees.  I think they have a right to hate birds though.  It seems to me that birds torment them just for laughs.  I get a kick out of observing squirrels because they seem to always be either in a hurry to get somewhere, completely enraged or both.

 

I think the second most pissed off animal must be humans.  Like squirrels, I see a lot of people who are in a hurry to get somewhere, completely enraged or both.  Also like squirrels, people can be jealously trying to protect something they think you want to take away from them.  I think we all have an “inner squirrel.”  It is that part of our brain that is constantly chattering away cluttering up our flow, anxious and obsessed to be somewhere, anxious and obsessed with getting “done”, anxious and obsessed with protecting “things” in order to feel ok and absolutely ready to kick the butt of anyone who might even think about getting in the way.

 

Last week I wrote about how important it is to face our fears and how our fears seem so much scarier than they actually are.  We have the same problem with our inner squirrel.  We run from the incessant chatter in every way we can.  We have even retailored our culture to support activities and behaviors that help us to avoid confronting our own thoughts.  A Facebook friend turned me on to a book about how our culture celebrates extroversion and diminishes introversion.  I did some quick reading on the subject and was shocked to find that children in school are now encouraged to always work in groups whereas when I was a child, our school work was typically more individual. Actually, group work was discouraged because it usually meant we would talk about everything except the assignment and end up getting nothing done. The article also described how workplaces have become similar in nature, extolling the virtues of groupthink and group process while underplaying the value of individual contribution.  Even our addiction to social media supports the idea that it is better to spend idle time reading about what people-you-may-or-may-not know-very well had for lunch today, rather than spend that time getting to truly know yourself. That idea would’ve seemed absurd even as recently 15-20 years ago.

 

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not an enemy of group process, teamwork or even Facebook.  I love all those things.  I can’t help but think that the significant shift in perception about these things has been driven by an underlying desire to have everything up there simply “shut up.”  Without learning the tools to confront our inner squirrels, we have developed elaborate processes and conventions to avoid dealing with it all.

 

Squirrels are silly and unless gnawing on your electrical wires or nesting inside your walls, for all their noise and anger, are essentially harmless.  But you have to pay attention.  You have to know when to ignore them and when to call the exterminator.  They key is to not be intimidated or afraid.  You have more control than you think.

Fear, Shame and Resentments, Oh MY!

While I spent the last six entries of this blog discussing what I found to be the things we tell ourselves that get in our own way, I was also thinking about what is underneath all that?  Why is there a need to create an excuse at all?  We all actually want a better life, so why get caught up in the excuses to begin with?  So I looked underneath the excuses and what I found there was ugly.  I found fear.  I found resentments.  I found a whole lot of shame.

 

Actually, this discovery has evolved over many years.  It all started when I had more and more people in recovery come to work with me in my practice.  As I studied and learned more about the recovery movement, I tuned into the focus on dealing with resentments.  People in recovery (i.e. Alcoholics Anonymous) are taught to focus on confronting and dealing with resentments; unresolved anger easily becomes an excuse to drink.

 

I found that not only is that true, but most addictions are in reality, just distractions to keep people from dealing with something they would rather avoid.  When I start to put a wider view on addictive behaviors, I find that a person can become addicted to anything (i.e. video games) if it keeps him/her distracted and comfortably avoiding the emotions that must be faced.

 

We in America have become the most alcoholic, drug addicted, prescription pill-taking, overweight, and in debt society in the history of the planet.  Why is that?  Because we are AFRAID.  We are afraid, we have a lot of shame, and we are resentful about our shame and our fears and we create all kinds of reasons why other people, places, and situations are the source of our problems…and then we become resentful about those things as well.

 

It is no surprise that the title of this blog makes reference to a scene from the Wizard of Oz.  When Dorothy, Scarecrow, and the Tin Man were in the dark forest, they became very afraid of what they might find there.  What or who; rather, they found was the Cowardly Lion.  Not so scary when you get to know him.

 

Fears, shame and resentments are a lot like that.  They seem so overwhelming when they are pinging around in our heads that we don’t want to deal with them.  We are so afraid of our own fears that we create self-destructive behaviors to distract ourselves from facing them.  Ironically, we tend to create more problems for ourselves by avoiding our fears, shame and resentments, than we ever would have by facing them head on. Granted, it is a difficult lesson to learn probably one that has to be relearned every day.  Sometimes, I still find myself avoiding things that I know I shouldn’t.  I have to coach myself, and say, “Dr. Dave ( I don’t really call myself that, but it seems funny for this scenario, lol), you know that you will be much better off if you just do this and get it over with.  You would beso much worse off if you don’t”.  So, I do. Even today a client told me, “I’ve spent too much time not facing these things, and I’ve realized so much of it was just made up in my head.  It really is easier to deal with things and be honest.”

 

And so it is.

MASTER of Excuses – Part 6

  1. I am often surprised at how often people say out loud or to themselves, “Oh, I would like to do (achieve) that, but I wouldn’t even begin to know how to start.  Even if I did, I can’t do it by myself and I don’t have anyone who could help me.”  We often just automatically assume that if we can’t do it ourselves, certainly no one else will be able to help us.

 

We are very wrong in that assumption.  First, there are about 9 billion people on this planet. Someone around here can and will help you.  Someone has the knowledge and skills you need.  More importantly, research in this area shows that most people don’t get the help they need because they are afraid to ask.

 

Probably everyone knows, or has known, someone who has no trouble always asking for a favor.  That’s not what this entry is about.  Those people are master manipulators who have become adept at asking for handouts and getting other people to do what they can easily do for themselves.  What I am referring to is the act of setting positive growth goals for yourself and getting other people interested, and invested, in the things you want to build that creates a ripple effect of exciting and passionate energy.

 

Here are some easy tips I’ve found to get other people more involved in your ideas and your goals:

  1. Be able to identify and clearly state your goal. If you don’t know what it is that you want and how to articulate it clearly, how can you expect others to completely understand how they can help?  If you have an idea, but don’t know exactly what you need or the initial steps to take, then seeking the answers to those questions becomes the first priority in attaining the goal.
  2. Consider the consequences of not asking.  Many people do not ask others for help in achieving their goals because they are afraid they will be told no, or they will be afraid that others will laugh at their ideas or consider them frivolous.  I think those outcomes are actually less difficult to deal with than always wondering what could have been if you had only tried.  At first, people thought that the automobile, the copy machine, and television were ridiculous.  I myself even remember laughing with my friends at people with portable phones and how odd and pretentious they looked.
  3. Determine the best person to help you with what you need.  Carpenters always like to say, “The right tool for the right job.” Same goes with people.  Think about who you will be asking and why.  It also might be a good idea to explain to that person why you are asking him/her.  Meaning you believe he/she has skills or knowledge that is important to your mission.
  4. Most of the time it is not what you ask, but they way you ask it.  Delivery is everything.  Be specific and be clear.  Think ahead of time what it is you want to say and specifically what you will be asking for.  Speak confidently and with interest in what you are doing.  If you believe in your ideas, it is much easier to get others to do the same.
  5. If you really don’t know where to begin, ask the “oracle”.  Oracle is the pet name I give Google.  You can ask Google any question and it will give you the best answer it possibly can.  You may not receive the exact answer you are looking for, but you will get some ideas that will be of immense help.  I remember one time a client told she really wanted to work in graphic design.  She had the education, but lacked any knowledge of how to really get started and fear was stalling her progress.  So I asked the oracle, “How do I get an entry level position in graphic design.” I was delivered a link to a website titled “How to get an entry level position or internship with a graphic design firm.”  No lie.  The oracle works.  I use it every day.

 

So, there we are.  The set of excuses we typically employ every day that easily becomes our MASTER:  Money, Ability, Skill, Time, Energy, Resources.  By utilizing the outline for change that I’ve presented in these last six blog entries, you can turn your problems into possibilities, obstacles into opportunities, and barriers into bridges to success.

 

Good Luck!

MASTER of Excuses – Part 5

I remember from some time ago, I was watching a lecture on PBS given by Dr. Wayne Dyer.  During the presentation, he talked about things we tell ourselves which ending up holding us back and keep us from achieving our goals, much like this series on excuses I’m writing.  He mentioned how often people say to themselves, or out loud to others, “I’m tired.”  He went on to remark that such a statement can take the form of a habit to the point where a person can say it all the time without realizing how much he/she is saying it.

 

I remember a client from some time ago who certainly fit that description.  She would often say “I’m tired”, like it was some kind of mantra.  More importantly, she always looked tired.  She always seemed to have a half eye-lidded expression on her face.  She would sign exhaustedly, and frequently acted like her actual day had started about two hours before she did and trying to catch up to it was wearing her out.

 

Energy, which is the theme of this entry’s excuse, is a valuable commodity.  You can’t buy it, but it is free for the taking and plentiful enough if you don’t deny it.  A person can easily develop the habit of saying, “I don’t have the energy.” In doing so, people actually start to believe that energy is something that is elusive, or you have to go to incredible lengths to get, like making sure that you get enough rest, eat the right foods, etc.  While those things are definitely important, it is not the entire answer.

 

I know that “One Day At A Time” is a popular saying in the Alcoholics Anonymous recovery movement.  I’ve worked often with AA’ers for years and have heard that saying many, many times.  It wasn’t until recently, however, that I realized the true depth of that phrase.  “One Day At A Time” really describes the foundation upon which the unique universe of every single person on this planet is built. We may live in the same city; we may have shared interests; we may even be in the same family. But your universe is uniquely different than mine, no matter how closely our lives may intersect.  A good deal of that universe is constructed by what we think.  As the Buddhists say, “Think it today, become it tomorrow.”  Say “I’m tired” too regularly and it becomes a way of life.

 

I’ve mentioned before in this blog that our brains are like every other part of our body; they need daily exercise and discipline.  Whether you actually go or not, you know that if you want your body to be healthy, it needs to be exercised.  The same goes for your brain.  Thoughts must be monitored and directed in a healthy way every day.  I like to think of that as exercise for the brain.  For more information about exercising the brain, see my blog entry Think Right from August 2011.

 

I encourage my clients to be aware of when they say “I’m tired”, or anything like it to avoid building that reality.  Instead, look at what is currently happening in a different way.  Have you ever noticed that you can feel really tired, but then something interesting happens in your day, and you are suddenly revitalized?  Conversely, you might be eating and sleeping right, but the moment you show up to your job that you hate, you feel exhausted?  What does that tell you about how important your mindset is?  The antidote to a “tired universe” is interest and passion.  Be interested in something every minute of the day.  Find passion in places you’ve never thought to look.  Interest and passion are all around you, you need only seek them.

MASTER of Excuses – Part 4

As much as we have a relationship with money, we also have a relationship with time.  Other than the relationship that we have with ourselves, our relationships with time and money are the most enduring and ever-present.  We will typically always have to deal with money our whole entire lives, and equally, we will always have to deal with time.

 

Although I haven’t always had the best relationship with money, I am very fortunate to have always had a great relationship with time.  I’m not really sure why.  It most likely came from my upbringing, but I don’t remember many specific conversations about time, being on time, or having time issues.  I don’t remember my parents, or anyone else, talking about being overwhelmed, not having enough time, etc., as I was growing up.  Perhaps that is why my association with time tends to feel natural and relaxed; I didn’t learn that it could be any different.

 

As a matter of fact, I love time.  I like to challenge myself to see how many things I can get done in a day.  Sometimes I think I can even fold space.  I see a lot of people struggle with time.  I see them struggle with time in almost the same way that I have struggled with money throughout my life.  “I don’t have enough time” becomes a mantra that people role out even before they’ve had a chance to really consider whether or not they actually do have enough time.  Others are perpetually late and will look you in the eye and honestly state, “I have tried and tried to be on time, but I just can’t seem to get it figured out.” Still others feel constantly overwhelmed and they are chasing their own lives in order to catch up.

 

As I’ve been writing this series about excuses, I’ve realized more and more about just how automatic our thinking becomes. We need to know that we can, and must, turn it around, become more aware of how our automatic thinking impedes us, and discipline our minds by redirecting our thoughts to more positive, solution-focused, and problem-solving ideas.

 

I also realized that I have a good relationship with time because I love time.  Like all relationships in our lives, we tend to get from them what we expect.  If we expect trouble, betrayal and struggle, guess what?  That’s what we get.  When we expect to get good things from our relationships and have our investments pay off, then we equally tend to be correct.

 

Have you ever tried to love the time you have?  I’m certainly going to adopt this way of thinking about my relationship with money.

MASTER of Excuses – Part 3

I see skill as differentiated from ability in that skill is something you learn.  All skills are learned.  We are born into this world knowing essentially nothing but how to eat.  Every single thing that we know how to do today was learned at some point in our lives.  I continually marvel at the fact that we are somehow ingrained with the belief that learning only happens at school, and at school we only learn academic things.  I never see any emphasis put onto “life education”.  Where do we learn about “life” things? Where do we learn what to do in certain types of uncomfortable situations and what to say?  Where do we really learn how to problem solve the most common, and yet most important problems we will ever encounter:  interpersonal communication issues with others.  Nearly all of the most significant problems you encounter in your life will have no relationship to anything you learned in school.  They will all deal with the degree to which you interact and communicate with other people, and how you interact and communicate with yourself.

 

Since we, as a society, place little emphasis on learning “life” skills, we have to accept that it is our own responsibility to learn the things we need to navigate our own lives more successfully.  Fortunately, the educational opportunities are all around us.  There must be a million books, blogs, and online articles that offer tips and techniques for becoming a better life manager, problem-solver, and effective communicator.  Every one of us knows at least one person we respect enough to ask him or her, “What would you do in this situation?” Of course, not to be biased, but a therapist or life coach who works in this area is a great asset to have on your team of experts.  I think we spend too much time focusing on what skills we don’t have, assuming we don’t have the ability to learn, that we don’t consider that the answer and opportunity might be closer than we could ever imagine.

 

Last year, I started a monthly challenge withmyself; I would learn at least one new thing that seemed important to me.  It didn’t matter how big or small, just as long as it seemed important in some way.  Then I would document it at the end of the month, so I could go back and look at it, hopefully motivating me to keep with my commitment.  Last month, I went back and reviewed what I had written down over the last year.  What a pleasant surprise to see what new skills that I had already incorporated into my life. I had completely forgotten that a little over a year ago, they were skills that I had not previously had!  What a great moment that was!  We make the prospect of learning new life skills so much more complicated than it has to be.

 

You need only start with the question, “What do I want to learn today?”

 

Next week…time.

MASTER of Excuses – Part 2

Ability is defined as the physical and mental qualities that allow you to perform a task.  It is the precursor to skill and is basically founded on one little word: can.

 

How many times a day do you think the average person puts a cap on his/her own abilities without realizing it?  In my practice, I like to focus on results and outcomes.  Oh yes, I will definitely allow time for the processing and acknowledgement of feelings, because that is important, but the real goal in working with me is to find real solutions to real problems.  I’m as results oriented in my work as I am in my personal life.  However, I find when I’m talking to my clients about alternative solutions they shut down possibilities even before they take a second to consider it.  I don’t blame them.  I think it has become such an ingrained habit for most of us, we don’t even realize we are doing it.

 

How many possibilities have we missed, how many opportunities for positive change have passed us by because we dismissed our ability out of hand without even thinking about it?  The reality is, most of us are actually able to do a lot more than we give ourselves credit for.  You already know that the reason why you limit yourself in the first place is when you were small, someone important to you impressed upon you that “you’re not good enough”, “don’t try”, “You can’t”, in a way that significantly hurt you.  That it happened is not so much the issue today, as the reality that you allow it to direct your behavior unchecked.  You can do this.  You are not limited in your abilities.  We have all seen the You Tube videos passed around on Facebook of people who have not let significant physical or mental limitations stop them from achieving goals in life.

 

Even now, you might be thinking to yourself, “yes, but I’m different.  I have this and that and the other thing that keeps me from getting what I truly want out of life.”  Really?  Make a commitment to yourself that you will pay more attention to how often you automatically shut yourself down.  The next time it happens, stop, take a deep slow breath, and consider what would happen if you weren’t different.  Visualize in your mind that you can make things happen and do something amazing that you’ve never done before. Open yourself up to the possibility of being able.

 

Next week…skill

MASTER of Excuses, Part 1

As you know, I’ve been dedicating a lot of energy lately to figuring out new techniques and new strategies to help people live their best lives and feel optimally fulfilled through the achievement of goals and meaningful direction.  Equally, and perhaps more importantly, I’ve also been thinking and researching about the things that stand in our way.  I’ve realized we make a lot of excuses about why today is not the day we change our lives for the better.  I’ve identified that the excuses we make fall into at least one, if not more, of six categories:  We tell ourselves that we don’t have enough Money, Ability, Skill, Time, Energy, or Resources.  You know how much I love an acronym to get a point across, so if you put all of these excuses together to form a word, the excuses become our MASTER.  In the next several installments, I want to address each of these excuses, and we begin with MONEY.

 

We all have a relationship with money, and by relationship, I mean an attitude.  This relationship affects how we interact with money and anything we associate with money.  That typically means our jobs, our marriages or intimate relationships, our relationship with our children or parents, our daily living.  Most of us are not aware what our relationship with money is or that we even have one.  I didn’t know about my relationship with money until just about a year ago.  Primarily, our relationship with money falls on a continuum of depravation vs. abundance.  If you sit toward the abundance side of the continuum, you are comfortable with your relationship about money, tend not to worry about it, always assuming there will be money when you need it.  If we sit toward the depravation side of the continuum, we worry about whether there will be enough money.  Sometimes it can get really bad.  It can create an underlying anxiety and fear that permeates everything we do.  Moreover, the amount of money you actually have, or need, does not have to bear any relationship to where you fall on this continuum.  You probably learned about how people interact with money during your formative years and if you haven’t taken the time to explore and learn about your relationship with money it has probably not changed since then.

 

The other issue we can have with money resides along what I have identified as a mature vs. immature continuum.  Think of your relationship to money like a romantic relationship:  Do you see money as existing chiefly to satisfy your needs and console you (immature), or do you see money as something you cultivate and respect so that it respects and cultivates you (mature)?  If you find yourself spending money to satisfy your needs, make you feel better, or to give you an extra boost of power or energy, then you probably also find times when money is never around when you need it.  It can become like a drug.  You spend it to feel better, only to find you don’t have it when you need it, so then you begin to look for ways to spend money as soon as you can so you can feel better.

 

If we don’t have a healthy relationship with money, it will become an excuse that is our MASTER.  Do you, or does anyone you know, routinely say “oh, I can’t do that, I don’t have the money.”  Do you say to yourself, “I’d like to go back to school, but I don’t have the money.” “I need a vacation, but I don’t have the money.”  Yet, and this is absolutely true, when you positively decide that you are going to do something, somehow the money you need always appears.” If you are allowing money to keep you from your goals and living your best life, then you could benefit from examining, and improving your relationship to money.

 

Next time…ability.

Redirection

When I worked on the psychiatric adolescent unit, one of the dimensions we had to routinely address in our reports about the progress of the residents was whether or not the person “responds to redirection”.  At its surface, this is just a fancy way of saying, “Does he/she do what I tell him/her to do”, but it also assess the young person’s ability to realize that he/she has gotten him/herself into an undesired behavioral/emotional state, paused that direction long enough to consider an alternative, accepted a possible alternative, and thereby created a different outcome that hopefully is more desirable.

 

I find that we all can have that problem with our way of thinking.  While it may not be severe enough to warrant a stay in a residential facility, we still have to ensure that our brains can respond to redirection from…ourselves.  I know it seems weird, but that’s how our brain works.  Multiple levels of thinking occur constantly and we have to be able to tap in to our inner therapist to monitor, regulate, and redirect our thinking at all times.

 

We typically don’t think about having to monitor our own thinking, but it not only is it possible, it’sabsolutely necessary.  Here is a sample conversation that I might have with a client:

 

Client: “I have a lot of trouble thinking negative thoughts about myself.  I’m really hard on myself.”

 

Me: “When you become aware of those thoughts happening, you have to gently and lovingly redirect your thoughts to something more positive and useful.  Don’t scold yourself for having negative thoughts.  Then, you’re just adding to the problem.  The goal is to either think of something completely different to distract you, or to replace the negative thought with a positive counter-response.”

 

Client:  “that’s easier said than done.”

 

Me: “Of course, if it were easy, then everyone would be doing it, and I would be working at a fast food joint.  Ittakes focus and practice.  Every day.  Many times a day.  Whether we do it or not, we accept the reality that if we want physical health and fitness we need to exercise.  The same is true for our brains. We have to ‘exercise’ our brain everyday by monitoring and redirecting our thinking where appropriate.”

 

We need to be our own therapist and teach ourselves to respond to our own redirection. If you are plagued by negative thinking, it is probably the same negative thinking.  That is also the way of our brains.  We tend to think the thoughts that we have always thought.  So if you find yourself thinking the same negative thoughts all the time, spend some time really analyzing what is driving those thoughts (hint: fear), and start to think of creative solutions to quell the fear beneath the thoughts.

 

I bet you’ll be really surprised about what happens next.