Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Why Don't They Do the Right Thing?

Why can’t people just do the right thing? Wouldn’t that make life a whole lot easier for everyone?

These are rhetorical questions, of course. People aren’t always going to do the right thing. They’re not always going to make life easier for everyone.

What, after all, is the right thing? What I believe is correct in a given situation is, much as I hate to admit it, colored by my own beliefs and perceptions. There may be information I’m lacking. I may be blind to something others can see.

Think about what happens when a child explains to you how they got into a fight in school, they were just minding their own business, someone picked on them, they merely defended themselves. Open and shut case, right? NOT!

Turns out, according to the principal, they were not just minding their own business when they made the snide remark “accidentally” overheard by the other kid. Nor were they being picked on when they “accidentally” shoved the other kid passing them in the hall. Nor was it merely self-defense when their friends circled the pair cheering them on to an all out knock-down drag-out. Not so open and shut after all.

Many of life’s more complex dilemmas share this type of scenario. What seems quite clear is really a bit cloudy. What seems black and white turns out to have a lot of gray.

When people don’t do the “right” thing and life becomes more difficult as a result, there are some ways to try to ease the anger and frustration that inevitably results.

First, try to keep an open mind. Remember, there are two sides to every story, at least. Try to see things from the other’s point of view.

Maybe you’re not seeing everything or getting all the information. Collect more data. Find out as much as you can before drawing conclusions. And I don’t mean just getting your friends to side with you and support you in the conflict. Although there’s nothing wrong with a little healthy social support.

Is the other person pushing your buttons? Stay calm and act calm. Or, don’t act until you can do so in a calm, cool, collected manner.

Try to see the things you like and respect about the other guy. Sometimes noticing these strengths helps calm us down and act more responsibly.

Make sure you own house is in order. Have you run into this type of conflict with others? Have you had problems handling similar situations in the past? How can you approach it differently this time? What’s keeping you from solving the problem? Are emotions that have no place in the conflict getting in the way? Are your typical (i.e., not always useful) behavior patterns keeping you from solving the problem?

Bottom line, it would be great if people always did the right thing. Life would be so much easier. But a little boring perhaps? So next time you’re quite sure you’re in the right, take stock and figure out what to do next. Right or wrong, it’s always good to be past the conflict.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Ethics in Blogging

I know, where did this ethics idea come from? It's pretty simple. In reading about web ethics for psychologists, it occurred to me that my blog goes even a step further in self-disclosing.

As it is, if you look at my website ( you'll know I like running, yoga and movies, among other things. Some of my psychotherapy clients have known me for years and don't know these things.

In therapy, the idea is that it often isn't helpful to have personal information disclosed. It's sets up issues of good-bad, right-wrong and what's ok to talk about and what's not. If you see I'm into healthy lifestyles, maybe you'll wonder if I think less of you since you live on McDonalds. Once I had a picture of my dog in the office and don't you know I had a client who was neglecting her dog and had a lot of trouble talking about it as a result (situation slightly changed to protect the innocent).

In coaching, it's not as problematic, since the relationship with your coach can be more real. This is not to say that I spend half the time talking about myself. Not at all. It just doesn't matter in the same way. Coaching clients are generally successful, resourceful and creative. This makes them tougher and generally less sensitive than my psychotherapy clients. They're not as likely to worry about whether I approve of their decision to supersize their lunch. They'll talk about it if THEY have a problem with it. I'm generalizing here, since many coaching clients are also psychotherapy clients.

It doesn't mean I'm not real with my psychotherapy clients. But I don't share a lot of personal info unless someone asks or it's pertinent.

So for now, I'm going to keep on blogging and disclosing. I'll have to see if it seems to be useful or if it creates issues.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

How to lists

I forgot I was supposed to post something on "how to" lists. Why do they irritate us so? Here's how I changed my opinion on the how to list.

One reaction I used to have is that if I could do the five or eight things on the list, then I wouldn't NEED help.

True, and not true. It's all a matter of timing. I was reading a how to about clutter. I'm not a big clutterer. Not that I'm a neat freak, no way. But things around me are generally fairly ordered. I thought the article might be helpful to my clients.

There was a bit about how physical clutter sometimes reflects what's going on in your mind, i.e., psychological clutter. That's when I knew.

I started to go through all my stuff putting together all the jewelry that remained from my former marriage. Things related to the jewelry too, like little bags to travel with jewelry, little boxes in which gifts of jewelry arrived.

Other reminders I'd previously expelled from my life, but the jewelry seemed like it was mine. I'd worn it after all, some of the pieces for years. I realized as I considered that article and my relationship to these objects, that I didn't need them around me. Much as I'd loved some of the pieces, it was too similar to the way that I loved the giver. Time to go.

I'd already found someone to sell a few pieces to, but I hadn't moved on it. I took him everything. He knew what it was about having worked with both remodelers and rebuilders. Some people renovate (you know, you take the diamond ring and add it to the ruby earrings making a lovely pendant) , others tear it down and build from scratch. I'm of the rebuilding ilk. You might be a remodeler.

Either way, the decluttering felt like a weight off my shoulders that I didn't even know was there. The point about the lists being that sometimes you just get one idea from the list that works for you, that's super-helpful at that moment. So you never know what help you might get from a how to list, but they're well worth the few minutes it takes to review a few ideas.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Learn Optimism

Did you know that optimism increases resiliency and longevity? Check out for some interesting bits on the mind-body connection.

Optimism is one of those things we think we have, or don't have. We all believe that certain personality traits or characteristics are inborn. How often do we hear people say, I'm just an introvert, or I'm just a pessimist?

Martin Seligman talks about it in his books "Authentic Happiness" and "Learned Optimism." He suggests arguing with yourself against pessimistic thoughts. Looking at the evidence, seeing alternative ways of thinking, examining the implications of our beliefs and even questioning the utility of our beliefs are some of his methods.

An example might be my son's frequent concern that he's lost his game, i.e., he suddenly can no longer be a soccer star.
  • What's the evidence? Usually the evidence is that he's played primo soccer during his last game but for a variety of reasons the team didn't win, didn't win as big as he though they should or his missed a shot or two.
  • What's an alternative? Maybe he just was a little off on that shot or he's not perfect but still playing a great game. Maybe he's not playing his game because he's distracted. None of these suggest he's "lost" it.
  • What are the implications? Maybe he's not perfect, but he's still a great player. Next time he can do something differently, depending on his analysis of the problem.
  • What's the usefulness of the belief? Obviously, it's not very useful to think you've completely lost it. It's not particularly helpful to think in such catastrophic terms. Maybe he could consider that he'll try his best next time and see how it goes before quitting the game.

Ergo, trying to make these kinds of changes in thinking can actually create a more optimistic outlook. Bingo, no fixed personality trait. Rather, we have beliefs and characteristic ways of thinking (that's why they call it character I suppose) that are sometimes useful and helpful, and sometimes useless and downright harmful.

The trick is to work on the ways we think about things and try to come up with more positive and useful ideas. Like a new haircut, it sometimes takes a while to feel comfortable in it, but if you believe it looks good, you live with it until you're sure. Of course you don't have much choice with a haircut, but you do have a lot of choice in how you think about the world.

So live long and prosper, otpimistically.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

My Guilty Secret (of the day)

Tonight I practiced my yoga for the first time in about two weeks. As I was practicing it felt so good. And I noticed my stiffness. I thought it was absurd that I'd been away from it for so long. My guilty secret. How could I?

This is how life happens. I'm busy. I'm running. I'm doing. I forget to do the things that help me take care of myself.

Least I sound too smarmy and righteous, I will admit that instead of yogacizing, I did continue running and I read the new Harry Potter book. It was as if I had to give up one thing I do for myself in favor of another. And I might consider this Harry Potter business another secret, since I think of it as a guilty pleasure. Not great literature. Not biography that I'll learn from. No new themes. Just the usual good versus evil. Just FUN.

So, how to prioritize "me" time. I'm often reminded of the oxygen on the airplane example. You know, you can't help your child unless you help yourself first. In order to be there for anyone else we have to be there first for ourselves.

I anticipate your complaints. Not selfishly. Not excluding the desire, needs and wants of others. But taking care of your own needs. Sometimes taking care of them first.

When I finish this, I'm going to consider what I can do for myself that will equal the pleasure I got from reading the Harry Potter book. There's got to be something. Another book? Playing the piano? Meditating? Writing?

Guiltless fun. Maybe I'll re-read the first six Potter books. Or maybe just paint my toenails.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Beating Performance Anxiety

Truthfully, one of my peer-coaches helped me with this situation. I was absolutely dreading doing a demonstration in one of my classes. Although I've received positive feedback in the past and have a long history of successful public speaking of one sort or another, I was filled with anxiety. Anticipating volunteering resulted in shortness of breath, racing heartbeat and a slightly sick feeling. It was like facing a pool from a high diving board; I know I can do it, but it doesn't seem like fun until it's over.

I tried to understand why this particular situation called up my gremlin. My gremlin is the little elf-like creature that lives inside my head evaluating me. In this particular situation he (yes, mine is male) was telling me that I was going to look like an idiot. Sometimes after the fact he informs me that I looked like an idiot or outlines the ways in which I looked stupid. Check out "Taming your Gremlin" by Rick Carson.

But why this situation? One of the big things was that I could not over-prepare. That's one of my strategies for giving a talk in public. Practice, practice, practice. You know, like the way to get to Carnegie Hall. It reduces my anxiety in a variety of ways: I get more confident knowing I'm able to get through the material without too much umming; I have a chance to actually feel myself getting less anxious by the third or so time I go through it; and I'm able to prepare for where I might not be able to be spontaneous when I'm nervous by putting in examples or jokes to use. Practicing quiets my gremlin.

When you do a demonstration with an unknown partner and unknown subject, you can't over-prepare. You don't know what's going to hit you.

So this is how I handled it. I went over all the things I was prepared with, identifying the skills I possessed to handle the situation. I reminded myself of all the similar situations in which I've been successful int he past. I came up with several extremely positive outcomes that could conceivably occur (e.g., people would love me and think I was just the hottest coach around; it IS conceivable, I swear).

Probably most important was my coach's suggestion that I inject some humor into the thing and plan for a celebration afterwards. I picked a song that would lighten things up for me and listened to it beforehand. I got two of my son's funny hats and had them on my desk. On one occasion I was actually wearing the hat. I decided I'd have some champagne when it was over, even though it was a work night.

After all this preparation I was much less anxious. My gremlin was now silent. I was viewing the demo with a lot more humor, not taking myself as seriously as I'm sometimes prone to doing. It went wonderfully. That glass of wine (okay, I didn't spring for the champagne) really felt well-deserved. And it was fun! Next time you have to "perform," figure out some creative ways to quiet the little voice in your head and calm your nerves. Then, take the plunge.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

When Saying No Is Really Saying Yes

How do you lose weight when you love pasta? How do you stay in shape when you hate exercise? How do you get that project finished when you have an opportunity to go to the beach instead?

OK folks, it’s time to grow up. Yes, just face reality. Not everything we do is fun, exciting or pleasurable. Do we strive to fill our lives with pleasant activities? Yes! Can we do it all the time? No!

Sometimes we just have to do things we don’t enjoy in order to achieve a desired goal. We’ll enjoy it when we get to that goal. In fact, we’ll probably feel quite pleasantly righteous when we go from that size 10 to size 8. We’ll feel a sense of accomplishment when we realize that the snug fit of the shirt is due to more defined muscles, not more fat. We’ll feel empowered when that project is complete and we can move onto the next exciting assignment.

The way to achieve the tough goals sometimes involves figuring out how to say no. Or in coaching terms, if I say yes to the pasta, what am I saying no to, i.e., I’m saying no to that size 8.

Achieving the tough goals sometimes requires not indulging every whim or pleasure. Happiness experts struggle with understanding the differences between lasting happiness and momentary highs. The momentary high of having that steaming bowl of pasta is satisfying. I’d argue it’s not nearly as satisfying as the pleasure of dropping down to that next dress size.

Want to reach your goal? Start practicing how to say yes to your goal, and no to the stuff that gets in your way.