Sunday, November 28, 2010

Quality Time

One of the best things for me about the Thanksgiving holiday is the time my family is able to devote to nurturing our relationships. It is one of the times during the year that when you tell other people you have family coming in and you’re going to be busy with them—that you are granted a free pass to put off those other “pressing” matters for a moment. The only time we have is the present. And, when I’m given the blessing of my family all in one place, that’s all I’m able to focus on. And, while I like it this way, and I attempt to create this boundary of sacred family time on a daily basis…where the focus is my family (when we’re not at work and checking in or being plugged in to technology is not okay)...I wish we granted ourselves more leniency to give these relationships the attention they need on a daily basis. Quality time for me is one of the ways that my cup in life is not just half full, but brims over. It refreshes me when I am able to link back up with my family of origin in ways that are indescribable. It is such a joy to see them with my son and husband, and for us all to interact with my husband’s family too. The long runs and dance classes my sister and I were able to do together over the past few days did wonders for my soul…Playing soccer and football with the little one, okay, it was more like chasing the balls around up and down hills…but still, that precious outdoor time with my family…The time with my mom shopping and preparing the thanksgiving meal…The trip to the petting farm, s'mores, and the biting wind brought up memories of childhoods past, and the sharing of this tradition with new family members…Cramming everyone about the table to give updates in our lives and what’s most pressing on our minds coming from all over the country. We had deaths in both my family and my husband’s in the last year—and as we were saying our prayers of gratitude—I could feel them with us. In a way it is a marrying of the past with the present. There is so much busyness in our lives today. Why? There are good stressors and bad stressors, but often it seems as if there is no time to recover from these stressors. Why do we do this to ourselves? Our many to-do lists never seem to get shorter, only longer. Why? So let me get back to why quality time with those that I love fills me up to overflowing with gratitude and love. For me this “time” is the essence of life. It is what most of my memories revolve around; not grocery shopping, meal preparation, paying bills, working, house cleaning, etc. The hugs, belly laughter, and inane humor (which only your family understands), the stories, the playing, and enjoying each others company good moods and bad—it’s wonderfully rejuvenating. Why? I know the answer to this question…it’s because you can, because you are able, because you’ve been granted the time together. This quality time together for me is priceless. And, it helps me get through all those other days. Until we meet again. The sooner the better!

Now I know it’s not New Year’s yet (I wish a lot for many people on a regular basis—but this is a big one—and I’m putting it out there in print!), but my wish is that everyone who reads this finds that calm well of happiness. For me it’s quality time with those I love. For you, it may be something else. But, I hope you find it—and are able to tap into this well that makes you feel gratitude and alive with life. And, I hope you bottle it up for all those rainy days when it may be tempting to look at a half empty glass instead. Why do I wish this wish? So you always know you are loved, cherished, and that you are an amazing blessing.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Do We Really Want Healthier Relationships?

When do you get to the point that you realize what you are doing in your relationships are not working? How long does it take until you see a pattern with the way your intimate relationships keep failing? When is it okay to say, “hey, I know I need help, let me allow myself to find it?” If we read fitness articles and work out to have a healthy body, why not read about and do new things to have healthier relationships? When do you get to the point where you say, “stop already, tell me how to do it a better way?” Why do people sometimes get sex confused with intimacy? Why do we think everyone else has what we want, but we don’t clearly know what we want ourselves in a relationship?

How do you find and maintain joy? Living in the present moment, and learning new ways to deal with emotions, think more optimistically, and behave in ways that make things better...these have all helped me.

The fastest spring-board though lately for me has been dancing. The joy of celebrating my body as it is and turning off any past or future pressures in my works! It produces oxytocin, reduces my cortisol load, and clears out my perspective--so I can then make sound, logical, decisions. I can see clearly where I want to go, and I can kick out anything that is toxic or not working to move me forward relationship-wise.Dancing has gotten me away from thinking and analyzing, and trying to put information out there to help people achieve more happiness and healthiness in their relationships. Dancing has helped me to scrap any of the doubt or fears I have about what I'm doing to make my part of the world better. It has helped me to connect on deeper levels with others than I ever could have just by blabbing about how to learn new skills...

So I say, dance. Dance like your heart needs it to survive. Joy will follow. When you are moving in the moment, there is no room for fear, or anger, or any other downers. You empower yourself and give yourself permission to experience the joy of life, and the love of yourself. Imperfections and all. It clears out room--so you can get better at any of the areas you want to improve in your life. So I say, if you have a dilemma, or a big decision to make, or you downright want to curl up into a ball or go down into a hole and not come back up for a week--I say turn on the tunes and dance. Dance, and after you are laughing and out of breath--then ask yourself if you still feel the way you did minutes before that salsa or cumbia came on...

Dance like there is no tomorrow. Make it contagious, and when you are so full of euphoria, sweep others along with you in the whirlwind of Joy! Love! Laughter! Life!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Emotions: Helpers or Control-Freaks?

Recently my husband and I received some “great” news. In fact, it was so “great” it had a rock plummeting to the bottom of my stomach, and made me wonder if I needed to make a run to the bathroom. The news was so “lovely” the only thing we could do in those first few minutes was fixate on how we were being meddled, okay screwed, over by someone who has attacked something dear to us _____ (you may fill in the blank here). After the initial onslaught of emotions—I woke up. I could either let the emotions ruling my body control the rest of the perfectly lovely (not “lovely”) evening with my family, or I could choose to see the emotions for what they were…an indicator that something may be amiss with the way I see my world, and then I could decide how I’d like to re-direct my emotions so it wouldn’t ruin the rest of my evening. Oh, so you caught me out! The news wasn’t “great,” it was downright debilitating those first few minutes, you could even say our neighbors Despair and Frustration knocked on our door at the exact same time followed by Mr. Angry…, but then I remembered something I knew before the news came in through our door. Would you like to know what that newsy advice was that helped me flip the switch back to ON so our rock-and-rolling evening could continue? I remembered our emotions don’t control our actions; emotions are merely helpers to give us added information about whether we need to stay, scream, flee, or laugh. Emotions let us know if we like what we’ve heard or seen, or if we don’t. If we are able to identify our emotions, then we can keep that current flood of emotions ON and stay in that present emotion and situation, or we can flip that switch to OFF and CHOOSE to switch ON another emotion (one that makes us feel good) to help influence our following actions. The “great” news we had could have easily devolved our evening into one of anger (remember if you’re angry, then there is ALWAYS a secondary or underlying fear-based emotion involved as well) and frustration. Some may also know this as going down Victim Avenue. Sure we let the emotions roll through us, but we decided not to contain them or let them fester. In fact, we did spend a little time dwelling with the initial reaction, but then I chose to feel good rather than to feel bad. Now if you are wondering where my husband’s emotions were in all this—yes he was upset initially, but for men when someone knocks on the door with a problem, Emergency Man comes out of hiding, he gets a flood of testosterone (stress reducer in men)—and he is there ready to solve the problem. In women, when we are stressed our emotion centers of the brain light up like a Christmas tree. Not so for men. It’s just how we’re wired differently, and how our hormones react differently between the sexes. For women when under stress, because the emotion center of our brain is on fire, we tend to have to talk about the situation and ruminate about what we are feeling so that our stress reliever (oxytocin) may be released to calm us down. (If you’re more interested about balancing stress read Dr. John Gray’s Venus on Fire Mars on Ice; which talks all about how to balance hormones for both sexes.) The news we are dealing with, yes, it’s a threat to what we deem our safety and security, but it did not call for immediate action last night. It has called for some action today—and we’re still going through the motions, and figuring it all out…but let’s go back to last night. REWIND: I still had to clean up dinner, get the kiddo ready for bed, and spend some relaxation time with my hubby (DO YOU SEE THIS? WHATEVER THE NEWS---I STILL AM GONNA SPEND THAT DOWN TIME WITH MY HUBBY CUDDLING…etc. You know why? I need it to stay sane. And nothing, NOTHING, is going to come between me and my time with my hubby. Our relationship is more important than any other factors happening in our lives. Okay, then!)---so I decided to choose NOT to let the current emotions from the “great” news affect the rest of our evening, because given the news, it was not going to be solved tonight, nor the next day; in fact, it will be ever present in our lives for a few days, okay—a few months—to come. So, I chose not to let the emotions rule our roost. Instead, I turned me on some Zumba tunes, and I cleaned up from dinner, packed lunches, and danced away. This enabled me to re-center myself, go back to my hubby and say, “hey, I know we can’t solve this tonight, we’ll get through this, but let’s turn the tables. Let’s choose to make the ‘great’ news into a positive—something we can work with and grow from and that will make us stronger.” (Note—the definition of resiliency…) And, off we danced. Down went our son for the night. And, ahhh, the neighbors went home—and we had time all to ourselves. Sure we did some what-ifs and problem-solving, but it was more logical, clear-headed and easy to shelve so we could take some us time too before we hit the sack! And guess what? I chose right! How about you?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Do You Listen as Well as You Think You Actually Listen?

Often we think we are listening to someone, only to find out that we missed what they said. Either we were busy listening instead to the voices in our head, or we've become distracted by whatever is happening around us. When people ask how they can have better relationships with others, the first thing I point them to is active listening. What is the difference between listening and active listening? When you are "actively" listening, you are attending to what the other person is saying by silencing the voices in your head, paying attention to their verbal and nonverbal actions, and reflecting back what the other person is saying. The key to active listening is recognizing that there are blocks that prevent us from staying in the moment and paying attention to what the person is saying right in front of us. That is half the battle--knowing and acknowledging that there are these listening blocks. Once you understand what these blocks are--when you find them happening to you as you are trying to listen to someone, you can then choose to turn them off, and re-focus your attention on what the person in front of you is saying....verbally and non-verbally.
By the way, did you know that we gather most of our information from nonverbal cues, not verbal? That’s an interesting fact in light of how much time we spend on social media sites, and not interacting face-to-face with one another. (This is why I love SKYPE!) That's why it is so hard sometimes when we are using social media sites/texts/emails to pick up on the conversational tone of someone's posts!

Later on we can explore one by one how we can switch the listening blocks off, so we can become more effective listeners. First let's read about the listening blocks themselves!
For now though here are the twelve most common listening blocks (these blocks are commonly taught, and are also summarized at the above link):

1. Comparing
When you compare--it is hard to hear what the other person is saying, because you are busy seeing if you are smarter, more competent, more healthy emotionally, if you've suffered more, or if you're a bigger victim...An example of this is: "She said she ate that for breakfast, well I only ate an apple, and I'm so much thinner than her..."

2. Mind Reading
It is difficult to pay attention to what other people are saying when you are instead busy trying to figure out what the other person is "really" thinking or feeling. If you do this, then you may assume things without fully listening to the facts. You may also make assumptions about how other people react to you, and act on the assumptions, rather than what the person is saying. For example, "She said she hates it when her son's friend comes over to play, but does she really hate the kid, or does she dislike not being able to walk around in her pajamas?"

3. Rehearsing
When you rehearse what you are going to say after the person finishes talking, then your attention is on preparing and developing what you are going to say, rather than what the other person is saying to you. For example: You attempt to look interested, but inside your head your wheels are turning about, "first I'm going to say this, then she'll say this, then I'm going to say that..."

4. Filtering
You pay attention only enough to pick up on the other person's emotional state, and once you've identified that--you let your mind wander to other things. You listen to some things, and not others. Sometimes you're so good at this--that you block out anything negative or unpleasant--it's as if it never happened. Such as: Your girlfriend calls you up because she is pissed off again that someone cut her off on the road, you ascertain she's angry--let her rant--and think about what you are going to make for dinner. Or, your partner is talking about finances and you hear agitation in your partner's voice, so you decide to say "mm-hmm, I'm sorry" and think about when you can change the tire on your mountain bike.

5. Judging
When you judge, you afix a negative label to something, giving enormous power to a prejudice, which causes a "knee-jerk" reaction before you have actually heard and evaluated the content of the message. As judging pertains to listening, we should only make a judgment after the facts have been heard. For example: Someone driving a luxury car rolls down their window and asks you for money while you are pumping gas into your car. Before the window is even rolled down, you've already decided that the person is hypocritical and crazy to be peddling money. When, in fact, the person was asking for a few bucks so they could... (are you still passing judgment or listening to what the person was going to say? :o) )

6. Dreaming
While you are listening half-way, you hear the person talking to you say something..., and all of a sudden you're playing flashbacks in your head that have nothing to do with the conversation. We tend to daydream when we are either bored or anxious. We all do it, but if you find yourself daydreaming a lot with specific people, it may mean you are not appreciating them, committed to the relationship, and you do not value what they have to say. For example, Your mom is talking to you about going to the doctor for her asthma. Cheese and crackers would be great to serve when the neighbors come over to carve pumpkins. And the next thing you hear your mom say is: "thanks honey, I always knew I could count on you to tell me what to do."

7. Identifying
You take anything and everything a person is telling you, and refer it back to what has happened to you. Whatever they are saying reminds you of something that has happened to you, you've felt, or suffered through--and you are so busy busting into the conversation to tell your own story, before they've finished, that you neglect to hear or get to know the other person better. For example, a co-worker is talking about his broken toe, but this reminds you of when you stubbed your toe, and then your boyfriend stepped on it, and then your dog sat on it...

8. Advising
You love solving problems and are there to offer help and suggestions. Heck, you're so good, you don't even need to listen to the full story, how the person felt or what they were thinking. Instead you are thinking up solutions and how you can convince someone to "try it," before you've heard what is most important to them--and that could just be having someone listen to them re-tell their story, acknowledge their feelings, and just be there.

9. Sparring
This block has you arguing and debating with people. Consequently, the other person never feels heard, because you're so quick to disagree. In fact, a lot of your focus is on finding things to disagree with. You take strong stands, are very clear about your beliefs and preferences. The way to avoid sparring is to repeat back and acknowledge what you have heard. You could also find one thing they have said that you do agree with and start the conversation from there.
--The put-down is another form of sparring. When you do this you use sarcastic remarks as a way to dismiss the other person's point of view. Your wife is cleaning up the dishes and sighs. You say, "why don't you use your brain today, use the dishwasher so you can finish faster." You're feeling neglected, and want more of her attention, and you think this will help her finish up and pay attention to you. Her reply is, "Unlike you putting dirty dishes in the dishwasher, I actually like the dishes to be clean when I unload the dishwasher so I don't have to spend more time washing them again!" These kinds of replies can push you into hostile retorts.
--Discounting is another form of sparring. You do this when you are unable to withstand or accept compliments. "Oh, making fondue from scratch was nothing really..." The other person will often feel run down or discouraged, because they are trying to show their appreciation, and you are not acknowledging their feeling of thanks.

10. Being Right
Being right means you will go to any lengths (twist the facts, start shouting, make excuses or accusations, call up past sins) to avoid being wrong. You cannot listen to criticism, you cannot be corrected, and you cannot take suggestions to change. Your convictions are unshakable. And since you will not acknowledge that your mistakes are mistakes, you just keep making them.

11. Derailing
You change the subject—either because you are uncomfortable or bored with the topic. It could be you want to avoid feeling anxious, so you’ll make jokes or quips, so that you don’t have to have a serious conversation.

12. Placating
You like it when people like you, so you agree with everything. You like to be seen as pleasant, supportive, nice. Sometimes you may say things like, “right…oh, absolutely, …I know…mm-hmm, of course….really?...Oh sure, I think that too…” Instead of tuning in and examining what is being said, you may listen half-way to get the drift, so you can placate, but never really get involved.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sign me up for a lifetime of love like that!

Does anyone get excited about the fact they are married/committed, and their mate loves them warts and all? The fact that he or she will be with you until the day you die? That no matter what you or say or do, you’ll be forgiven? How about the fact that you get to bear witness to the greatness of your mate on his/her life journey? How awesome is that? You, and in turn he/she, gets to be privy to all the things you do and say in your life! So, when you are switching jobs or your babies are leaving the nest, or you find yourself dealing with grief, death, economic hardships—you name it—you have someone that is there to hold your hand and get you through life’s ups and downs! At the end of your life, someone will have witnessed and been a part of the greatness that is you. That even though ___-years down the road you’re not going to have the same body you did when you first met, but he or she is gonna love you sags, bags, and all, because you promised and made a commitment to each other oh so long ago… That you don’t have to be perfect, but you do have to be honest and real. And ladies, even though you look downright sexy with your hair and make-up done, your mate still find you sexy with hair mussed, and baby spit-up on your clothes…Sign me up! It is perhaps one of the most terrifying, but exhilarating things you can do in life, don’t you think? What makes it challenging I think at times is thinking of ways to keep things fresh. Playfulness and humor go a long way to making things fun in the bedroom! Silliness, for me at least, also helps with intimacy, no matter how strange that sounds. And, at the end of the day I know someone cares. They care what I’ve felt, said, or done for that one day. And the greatest thing I can do is to love him/her back, with no reservations or conditions. And in that loving, I can encourage and instill hope and I can cheer him/her on to be the best person he/she can be—to go after his/her dreams, to tinker on his/her hobbies, and to protect & provide for our family. I think this is pretty neat! Sign me up for a life time of love like that!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Balance--in relationships, with work, and achieving dreams

Balance. Balance with our relationships, our work, and marrying this to our dreams--do we have it? Are we willing to pay someone to work with us 1 on 1 to help us achieve these goals? No, seriously, I want to know. I'm willing to do what it takes to be the place you can come to work on these issues. I know the material and the interventions needed. I'm in the process of starting up my own small business to do just this, because I feel so passionately about getting the word out--to you.

That's what I am trying to find out. I have the requisite knowledge and interventions to help people out. I know what my passion and purpose in life is--to help others identify and achieve this balance in their relationships and to help align their work with what makes them feel alive and empowered to go and conquer their part of the world. The question is--how may I help you?

Would you prefer to do 1-on-1s in the privacy of your own home, and when you have a free 30 or 60 minute window? Are you interested in investing in yourself and beefing up your intra- (with yourself) and inter- (with others) personal skill sets?

I'm in the middle of trying to figure this out. I see tons of people connecting on social media sites, and tons more turning to online dating and matchmaking services. But then when I look at where the people are that have the knowledge & experience to share how you have a healthier relationship (i.e. not just an opinion, or anecdote--but actual skills you learn to change how you are coping with your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors), how you marry your dreams and visions to that of your work life so you feel balanced...where most people are going to find this information--it's not where these subject matter experts are located.

Yesterday I came across someone who has written a few books over the past 10 or so years delineating how to find the perfect mate..., and his books have been published, and you could say that he's successful. He's appeared on television shows, and I'm sure in newspaper and magazine articles as well. However, yup, here is the "but..." Until very recently, like in the past 2 years, he finally found someone and settled down. He even advertised that he was a serial dater. And, in my head, I'm going, "WHAT THE???" What? This isn't endemic to just one person, I've come across several people who fall in this category. And, it seems like it's the blind leading the blind, or babes teaching babes, however you want to cliche it. People are listening, paying even, this guy to give them information when he wasn't even heeding it himself? How is this possible? Where is the accountability and where is the actual verifiable proof that the tips he or she is giving is research and evidence based?

And the people who have have spent years of their life getting masters and doctorate degrees in the helping services (namely--counseling, psychology, marriage and family therapy--some may argue even social work)--now they are pouring their hearts into acquiring their state or national licenses...and all this wisdom and knowledge is kept in this arena. They tend to publish in scholarly journals, and conduct research, but when it comes to actually disseminating this information to the mass public--we (and I mean we as professionals with these degrees, gain credibility & experience, and we as a society) fall short. Divorce is over 50% in the U.S. now, and is highest among married couples in their first 5 years of marriage. I mean it's great if your insurance company will help you pay for the services or if you've been forced into receiving help, because you've received DUIs, etc., or have the time to take off an hour or two from work and drive to their office for a session--but these professions tend not to deal with people who for the most part have their life together...and are just looking for ways to do things better. I mean most single people looking for a committed relationship do not sign up for counseling or psychotherapy to learn more about the family system they came from, and what they need to know or learn so that they don't end up making the same mistakes they are running from with the new relationships they are forming--both with friends, co-workers, and in their partner.

So my question is this: if you are such a person who has realized whatever you're doing isn't working out the way you thought it would, and you want to know what you can do to get it right or have better relationships, not feel guilty at work, achieve that balance between happy/healthy mind/body/ you know where to go to learn this stuph? And, where would be the best place? Would you like doing email/phone/skype sessions? Would it be easier if you could just go online to a website and slot yourself in for a 30, 45, 60 or 90 minute session with someone who does know how to teach or coach you in these areas: relationships, stress management, conflict resolution, goal setting, parenting, family dynamics? Would this help you in conjunction with using online dating/matchmaking services so that your next relationship will be successful--b/c you are changing your behaviors, identifying what it is you want in that relationship? that job change? Or in raising your kids to be healthy, balanced individuals?

I know this service is greatly needed. I've talked to dozens of counselors and coaches who know this is needed. I know it is needed. My question is--if I focus on starting up something like this--are there people out there willing to connect in this way, pay for this service, and have better relationships and more success achieving their goals and dreams?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Stop Following Failed Celebrity Relationships! Stop!!! For Your Sanity!

So let me quickly say it's a quick post, because I have to go do a P90X workout before my son wakes from his nap, and my hubby comes home from work! I need the me time, but I also have a deep need to share this information and get the word out there.

No, I am not taking on the world's problems, but I get quite agitated at times when it seems like everyone is hanging onto the failing relationships of celebrities, and then thinking that these people have it together. Looking at the big picture, these celebrities who have not known their mate more than 2 years before they married, and have been in a relationship with their mate for less than 5 years...they have no clue what a committed relationship even looks like or what it means. Why do we think their relationships are something worthy of following? They are doing what everyone else seems to be doing these days, chasing that love high cocktail. In this fast-paced society we are living in--we read headlines and cheap literature (i.e. magazines and fiction), we watch reality TV, movies, and sitcoms--and we pass off what we are seeing in these relationships as what the ideal is for a "good" relationship. These celebrities--and if we've fallen into the trap of not being able to keep a romantic relationship longer than 2 years ourselves--we're deceiving ourselves; in fact, we are in love with falling in love. The moment the going gets rough--we start packing. In the case of the celebs--they move to another state. Or they say they are taking a break. Really? Are you serious?

Come on people, when you decide that you've fallen in love, and you commit to being with them, you don't take a break or move away from them! Bottomline, love changes--there's new love (falling in love, infatuation....those first glorious 18-24 months of pure bliss!--whatever you'd like to call it), and then there is what I like to call mature love. The mature love is a continually evolving thing--and if you don't work at it (read learn skills so that you stay connected to your mate), then you will freak out when the blinders come off, the love cocktail wears off--and you see the person you've committed yourself to for who they really are a unique individual. Sadly, the places we turn to for the latest scoop as we frantically fly through life chasing the next greatest thing, do not show what this kind of love looks like. So as a society we are losing focus of what is required in a loving and healthy relationship. Yes, there is much out there in the way of scholarly journals where the experts know what you need to do to have this kind of a healthy relationship, but most of us don't know where or how or have the time to go hunting for this information.

So what can we do to get our personal relationships more balanced & healthier? How about focusing more on ourselves--and finding balance within our own body--be it what we eat, how we keep our body healthy through exercise, and in nourishing our spiritual side. The only control we have is over ourselves. Choose not to focus on others' failed relationships, but on ways you personally can improve yourself and your sense of well-being.

The Basic Ways We Change

There are three ways in which we can actively monitor ourselves so that we may change how we interact with our surroundings:

(1) Thoughts (cognitions)
(2) Feelings (emotions)
(3) Actions (behaviors)

When you are in traditional counseling sessions--the counselor uses a variety of theories that typically focus on one of these areas to help you make changes in your life. In the best case scenario the theory that the counselor is using is based on their training background/when they received their masters degree, as well as what the current trend is based upon research on the effectiveness of the theories in actual practice. However, we won't delve too deeply into theories and understanding methodology, because this site is educational and for you to understand more of how you work.

The activities that are posted and linked on this blog are to help give you immediate tools to begin actively reorganizing how you interact with your thoughts, feelings, and actions.

People that are aware that they can use their feelings and thoughts to influence their actions are able to control what happens to them. Novel idea? This is because they recognize that they can influence their outcomes based on identifying the emotions they are feeling, then choosing what thoughts they would like to focus on, and then putting it in to action.

Latest Research on the Impact of Marriage on Family Life

This week check out your skills on how much you know about how marriage impacts family life.

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