Thursday, August 27, 2015

How to Stop Shooting Yourself In the Foot

Have you ever felt like nothing you were doing was getting you anywhere?  Like you're not getting any closer to your goals and can't figure out why?  You may be a victim of self-sabotage.

There are many ways in which we engage in this irrational behavior - and many reasons.  For some of us, it is a way to avoid doing something we know we should do, but don't really want to.  For others, it's a way to stop ourselves from having to deal with negative feelings.  But whatever the reason, we end up doing ourselves more harm than good.


Take procrastination for example.  We have probably all experienced this force of nature at one time or another.  When we should be working on that work project or school paper, we find ourselves more strongly drawn to our Facebook pages or that Netflix series we heard was really good.  Experts describe procrastination as the gap between our intentions and our actions.  We want to succeed at work or school, but feel overwhelmed by the task at hand.  The problem is, in order to act, we must choose to do so.  

Behavioral experts describe three basic reasons for procrastination: 1) to avoid doing something we find aversive; 2) because our intentions are weak and vague; and 3) because we're easily distracted and highly impulsive.  The first one probably makes the most sense and is the easiest one to catch ourselves doing.  If we hate writing, for example, it would make sense that we would put off writing that term paper until the last possible minute.   In the second instance, there may be a gap between knowing we have a task or series of tasks to complete and figuring out where to start.  In the case, a lack of confidence or feeling of overwhelm may be getting in the way.  In this instance, learning how to break a big project down into smaller pieces is a good skill.  It takes your focus off the scariness of the big picture and allows you to take just a small chunk at a time.  

The third reason boils down to our inability to really estimate the time a task might take.  For instance, we may assume it will only take a minute or two to go through our email, but then end up bogged down by the task for several hours.  It's important to remember that there is only so much time in the day to work on our goals, so prioritizing our tasks can be essential.

So, how do you stop procrastination?  Simply put - just get started.  If the task at hand is more than you want to deal with right now, then just do one piece.  As an example, if you hate writing that term paper, for now, just do the title page and the works cited portion.  Getting yourself moving often helps keep you motivated to continue.  Set yourself a hard and specific deadline and if necessary engage others to help you stay on track.  Also, eliminate distractions - turn off Facebook.  Work in a room away from the TV and make a rule that checking email comes after your goal for the day has been reached.  You can also work in rewards for getting unpleasant tasks done.


Another way that we self-sabotage is by allowing ourselves to escape negative emotions.  Everyone does this some of the time, but some people make it a habit.  Examples of behaviors that provide escape are comfort eating, substance abuse, excessive shopping and to some extremes self-injury and cutting.

With the exception of self-injury, most of these behaviors are not damaging if only done once in a while.  But overtime, comfort eating and shopping sprees can land people in some very uncomfortable situations.  Thus, creating more instances where engaging in these behaviors would be necessary.  A vicious cycle indeed.  In these instances, people quickly decide to give up on long-term goals for short-term periods of feeling good.  

In these situations, it's a good idea to keep a record of stressful situations and how you handled them. This way, it becomes easier to spot patterns such as what types of situations and what behaviors go with them.  Once these behaviors and their triggers come into your awareness, you can actively work to change the way you behave - replacing unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones.

Negative Beliefs

Another way in which we sabotage ourselves, is that we listen to our internal, negative beliefs.  These are beliefs that developed throughout our lifetimes, but most likely started in childhood.  They were caused by negative experiences that left behind a negative message.  Examples of such beliefs are "I'm not good enough" or "I'm a failure."  Oftentimes, these beliefs lie just below the surface of our consciousness, so they sabotage us without our knowledge.  

But think about it, if your underlying belief is "I'm not good enough" then it stands to reason you might not want anyone to confirm this by thinking your paper stinks or your presentation is lousy.  You may sabotage relationships in order to prevent being the one who's dumped.  When you behave in some way where you wish you could stop but don't know why you're doing it, it's usually a sign that there is a negative belief in play.  In these instances, if you stop and ask yourself what you might be believing about yourself in this instance you might learn what message is guiding your behavior.  

It's also good to remember that self-sabotage is not an act, but a process.  It begins long before the behavior that gets us into trouble.  But with awareness, comes the ability to fight back and hopefully win the battle.  

Thursday, August 13, 2015

It's a Privilege to be In My Presence

I was talking with a friend recently who was having trouble with an ex-boyfriend.  Her ex has not been feeling well lately and has asked her for some help.  Actually, he demanded her help and he demanded that help on his terms.  What this meant for her was re-arranging her schedule and going out of her way to do things like picking up dinner for him and doing some of his shopping.  When she was unable to get to it on his timetable, he became angry, sent her some nasty texts and then went out to take care of his needs himself.  Afterwards, he continued his barrage of irate text messages putting her on the defensive.  

My friend was afraid to be assertive with this man because doing so might cause him to stay angry with her and eventually remove himself from her life altogether.  This fear that if she stood up for herself she would end up alone controlled how she related to other people and opened the door for those who would treat her with disrespect.  So how do you turn something like this around?

First, it’s realizing the very basis of respect.  Respect is honoring that I have a choice in this relationship of ours.  That true, you might leave me, but I could just as easily leave you.  It’s a 50-50 partnership and you have to put up your half too.  It is understanding that you can make requests of other people, but not demands.  Because you don’t control others.  

In our society today, we LOVE control.  It’s in our very language.  Just do it.  Make it happen.  Control your child.  Control your dog.  Get a grip.  Man up.  You get the picture.  In reality, all we really have control over is ourselves.  Only our own thoughts, feelings and behavior - that’s it.  So, when you’re faced with a person who has forgotten this concept, in my opinion, it becomes my job to remind you.  Not in a mean way, but in an assertive way.  

Assertiveness is merely stating what I am and am not willing to accept.  No anger, no harshness is necessary.  It’s simply a statement.  It comes from a decision I have made that I am not willing to take on the responsibility of another adult’s emotions.  

I have this saying that I use a lot in practice and I wrote it down for my friend and told her to put it in a place where she will see it each day.  The saying goes like this: “It is a privilege to be in my presence.”  Think about this statement.  Think about what it says and what it means.  Being in my presence, getting the benefit of my knowledge, experience, empathy, you name it is a privilege - not a right.  It is something to be honored, not expected.  It is not guaranteed.  Therefore, in order to get my presence, you have to show me that you understand that it is a privilege.  At the same time, it is a privilege for me to be in another person’s presence and I must act accordingly as well.  

So when you look back at my friend’s story, you can see that her ex-boyfriend did not treat her presence like a privilege.  He also placed the responsibility for his emotional health in her lap.  Why cling to a relationship that has so little respect for you?  Sometimes cutting the chord of the old, makes way for the new.  But if you want to (or have to) keep someone like this around, you have the power to decide how the interactions go by your control over your presence.  When the ex became angry and decided to send nasty texts, my friend has the power to delete them.  If the ex came over pounding on her door for an explanation, she has the power not to open it.  When he asks for help, she has the right to decide the limits of that help.  She has power because she has choice.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

To Add Good Advice to Good Advice.....

I recently read this advice column in a magazine that dealt with relationships.  In it, this young man was discussing his relationship problem with an even younger woman who he believes was not showing him the amount of affection that he feels he requires in his relationships.  He described her as “indifferent” and “short on affection” even though he showers her with endearments and tender touches quite often.  Although he does mention her once telling him “I don’t like sleeping alone,” when he wanted to hear “I want you to stay with me.”  He feels her behavior “makes” him feel insecure, and then attributes her behavior to a lack of experience with long-term relationships.  

The columnist gave fairly solid advice, agreeing that it’s no fun to be in a one-sided relationship and suggesting that relying on external cues like being introduced to the girl’s family are not enough to guess at inner workings of the woman’s mind.  The columnist also suggests that each is acting out relationship roles they are familiar with from childhood - which is very likely true.  

However, my experience as a therapist has shown me that often people don’t ask questions when their insecurities have them fearing the answers.  Instead of having a frank conversation with his girlfriend, our lonely romantic is looking for external clues and trying to read between the lines of the woman’s actions and statements.  In this way, he can keep guessing without ever having his internal fears confirmed, although the opposite is just as likely.  

Another point forgotten is that couples are not often speaking the same language with each other.  Each of us gets different meanings from the words we hear and the inflections and body language that goes with them.  Have you ever had your statements misunderstood?  A lot can go wrong in the interpretation.  So, while she says “I don’t like sleeping alone” believing that she is letting him know that his presence is welcome and comforting, he interprets this as “well, that must mean anyone would do and it’s not exactly me she wants” or something along those lines.  Don’t you think that would be an opportune moment for some clarification?  When you hear “I don’t like sleeping alone,” the simple question “Does this mean you want me to stay with you?” can clear up a lot of doubt.  It can also open the door to conversations about this difference in communication and love styles.  Not everyone is as comfortable with touch, but that doesn’t mean that they cannot be taught to be comfortable.  It may be that she needs a sign that touch is safe and welcome.  That it doesn’t require permission.  

Don’t forget, no one comes to a relationship without a past behind them.  We are all carrying around various emotional baggage - remnants of old wounds that we collected in our childhoods.  These bags can be sprung open without notice and can weigh down our actions.  Without knowing it, you can pop open a big bag of hurt or fear and in this case, it sounds like each side opened a pocket on the other’s bags.  The easiest way out of insecurity is holding up your fears to the evidence and be brave enough to ask for confirmation.

If your fears are preventing you from communicating freely and openly with your significant other - then get help!  If you know there is lingering baggage that you can’t put down - get help for that too!  There is no shame and only a rewarding relationship experience to gain.  And that’s the best advice I could give.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The 10 Traits of People Who Love What They Do

Have you ever met a person who felt passionate about their career?  Who appeared to relish their work and the hours required to become successful?  Have you ever wondered what made them love what they do and how can you get to be like that?  Here is a list of the traits those people share:

  1. They always keep their personal goals in mind.

People who love what they do are internally challenged to succeed.  They’re the people who have laid out the five-year plan and refuse to let anything get in the way.  Although their career paths rarely resemble a straight path to success, they don’t get bothered by the twists and turns that can throw other people off guard.  That’s not to say that they don’t struggle with motivation from time-to-time, but they never fully lose sight of why they are doing what they do.  They fight their way back to that plan, which serves to recharge their batteries.

2.  They remember what energized them as kids.

Do you remember way back when what you used to tell people when you were asked what you wanted to be when you grew up?  People who love what they do still remember what sparked their passions long ago in childhood.  For some, it was building things with their Legos.  For others, it was taking care of “sick” stuffed animals.  Today, the work may not exactly resemble the play careers of the past, but the elements of those play careers that created excitement remain.  People who love what they do have found ways to integrate what they used to love into what they do today.

3.  They think Big Picture.

People who love what they do don’t get bogged down in the day-to-day, or even the week-to-week.  They understand that life has its ups and downs and they also understand that each state is temporary.  The people who love what they do are in it for the long haul and they understand that the long term return on their investment will make up for the short-term failures they experience along the way.

4.  They ignore the naysayers.

If you again think back to those childhood memories of your future career, what did the people around you say about them?  Did they encourage you or did they feel your career choice was cute, but unrealistic?  Was there a naysayer who dashed your dreams?  People who love what they do ignore the naysayers.  They don’t allow others to steer them away from what they’re passionate about.  

5.  They groom their replacements.

People who love what they do believe in abundance, not scarcity.  They believe there is always another opportunity to be had and so do not feel threatened by another person who shares their same passions.  They are happy to share the lessons they learned and help another person further their own career because they know their trajectory is always pointed up.  

6.  They’re committed to their dream - not their company.

While for many career paths, it’s important to have a good relationship with a company, for people who love what they do, they are not married to any particular company.  That’s not to say that they aren’t loyal, but their loyalty lasts as long as the company provides a means to reach their personal, internal goals.  People who love what they do are not opposed to moving on when the company they work for can no longer provide a place for them to do what they love doing.  Passion always comes before practicality.

7.  They don’t allow THEIR goals to be replaced by anyone else’s.

This goes hand in hand with those early year naysayers.  People who love what they do don’t allow present-day co-workers or managers knock them off their path.  And they don’t allow a company to replace their internal goal with the goals of the company.  You have to remember that the passion-driven worker seeks to continue to do what fuels their passion.  If what management has in mind for that person doesn’t fall in line with those goals, the passion-driven person may decide to move on.  People who love what they do may tow the line for a short period of time, but they will work to find a way through the roadblocks to continue on their own career path.

8.  Their passion is contagious!

Have you ever been around someone who was so passionate about their work that you couldn’t help being swept along with the excitement too?  People who love what they do share their passion with others and in turn can inspire others to follow their lead.  

9.  They’re mindful.

People who love what they do are aware of their goals for their future and their past wins and losses, but they spend the majority of their energy in the here and now.  They don’t wait for things to be perfect or the time to be right.  They seize whatever opportunity presents itself and they go with it then and there.    

10.  They don’t put limits on their visions.

People who love what they do can see unlimited potential in their long term goals.  They don’t fear competition, but at the same time know that there’s enough business to go around.  They know how to be productively competitive and avoid dealing in scheming or underhanded deals.  In other words, they don’t have to step on others in order to succeed.