Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Personal Development: You Are Not Your Roles

One of the classic questions in developing self-awareness is, "Who are you?"

Very often I'll have clients tell me they want to achieve something new, which is more a part of satisfying their role, than it is satisfying their "selves".

There's nothing wrong with getting another degree, having another child, or making more money, as an indicator of your achievement and expanding your horizons. But don't expect it to necessarily make you happy for long.

A role is only something you do to fulfill a need.

You can think of happiness as a byproduct of living your own life well, according to your authentic self, not your role.

We get so busy in doing all that needs to be done in daily life, that we can come to believe that we are what we do.

It might sound strange, but over time, we can believe we are our roles rather than our selves.

Think about the roles you play in your life, spouse, partner, parent, employee, and so on.

Others may define you by what you do, but you will be happier living beyond just your role.

So who are you when you dig through these roles and reach the foundation of who you are?

How do you ever find this authentic self?

Be conscious. Live in the present moment at all times, make conscious decisions about what's important to you, rather than just living your life to fulfill your roles. Learn to recognize the difference and get back on track when you need to do so.

I've seen people fulfill their roles exceptionally well, and yet not feel satisfied with their lives. They got that degree, married that "perfect" partner, made that amount of money, and yet it didn't touch them deeply enough for them to feel happy for long.

And this can be unsettling. You did what you thought would make you happy and yet it didn't last.

What else do you do?

Always connect and engage with life and make conscious decisions that come directly from your core self.

Consider meditation, even briefly, like 10 minutes a day to start, and focus on the present moment, and doing one thing at a time to make it easier to reach a better understanding of yourself.

Continue growing familiarity with your core by recognizing what satisfies you deeply versus what satisfies you temporarily.

Email me if you have questions.

Practice. You can do this. Live well in the here and now

-- Rich

Friday, September 5, 2014

Relationship Training: Time-Out of a Stressed-Out Mood

Relationships can be challenging even in the best of circumstances. But add the effects of stress to the situation and almost all of us will find ourselves in conflict with our partners.

Some predictable things happen when humans feel intense stress. Our heart rate quickens, our palms might sweat, we might be focused on a single thing mentally, and our vision can draw down to tunnel vision. All these physiological responses are intended to help us fight or flee from a threat.

If we reach this point in our body's responses to stress then we are virtually incapable of thinking through all the aspects that we should be considering and that means we are operating in a very inefficient mode for resolving conflicts.

In fact, in this stressed mode we are using more of our primitive brain areas and not our higher level reasoning center.

Using this fight or flight mode means we are more likely to be thinking, "how do I win at this?" And if one of us is trying to win an argument, that usually means the other has to lose. This is not how healthy relationships work. But you can get back on track.

Our preferred win-win scenario is one developed by the clear-thinking mind using reason, not that reactive one we have under stress. Knowing the difference takes a process of mental training of ourselves and our partner if we haven't used it already.

How we deal with stress, or in dealing with the threat we perceive, is an important part of successfully navigating an issue with our partner. And that means to resolve issues without damaging one another.

This is why we must calm ourselves, relax, and get into a more normal rhythm physiologically and emotionally, because that is how we get back to being able to reason and choose what we do next.

This relaxation process allows us to move from the more primitive parts of our brain that are activated by stress into the thinking and reasoning centers so that we can actually develop a plan of action to deal with the threat or the discussion.

In relationships, it's not uncommon to see two people who cause one another so much stress by simply trying to communicate their needs to get what they want, that it results in a high-level of reactivity and a decreased amount of actual reasoning behind resolving conflicts.

In this unhealthy scenario, the loudest or angriest partner often wins while the other gives up and both feel the exchange was damaging rather than helpful.

If we each recognize that this is how any human reacts to stress, then we can be able to feel that our partner is simply trying to figure out what to do to the best of their ability, rather than taking it as an assault.

So what is there to do about this?

First simply recognizing how human beings react to stress is the foundation for anything else we do. Recognize that all human beings react to stress this way, IF we do not stop it, and therefore they are not fully capable of being problem solvers or deep thinkers at this point. We cannot see reason when we're in the depths of an emotional reaction.

Next is to try to relax and calm ourselves. One of the easiest ways to do this is to take a time-out from the discussion or argument or activity that has upset us.

You can initiate this time-out process by having a discussion with your partner, ideally BEFORE you're upset, to tell them that you'd like to use time-outs as a way of calming and relaxing both of you.

Hopefully, they will see the benefit of doing this as it allows each of you to get back to thinking and coordinating things together, rather than having a disagreement evolve into an argument where damage can be done by one or both trying to "win".

You might say something like , "Honey, I feel that I am becoming too upset to be productive in this discussion and I'd like to take a timeout for 15 minutes" or 30 minutes or an hour. Take whatever period of time you think it might take to relax.

You might next say, "can we meet at that time and finish this discussion when we are both calmer and able to reason through it?" If you have discussed this beforehand, it will be much more likely to be acceptable to your partner.

We can each be triggered very quickly by the other and it can be difficult to know when we need to take a timeout. It is always difficult to see the forest for the trees when we feel upset.

Trusting in each other and giving one another the benefit of the doubt, that we are each trying to work this plan, makes our efforts feel coordinated and mutually beneficial.

Using timeouts to counteract the stress response we all cope with is a key element to resolving conflicts, and avoiding lengthy problems that feel unsolvable.

Perhaps you are one of the rare couples that has the confidence of knowing that even in a conflict, you will resolve it quickly and calmly, without damage to one another or your relationship, and that life will go on with another issue resolved successfully together.

You can see how that sort of confidence as a couple is a very strong bonding element for the future success of your relationship. That's what we'd all like to get to and you can.

Have this conversation with your partner and use time-outs when you need to get a calmer perspective.

Share this with others if you think it would help them. And email me if you have questions.

Good luck and Live well now, together.

-- Rich

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Coping with Anxiety in the Present Moment

Imagine being chased by a saber-toothed tiger or a velociraptor. You would want to be able to access your maximum survival effort instantly. The useful part of anxiety is a key component of that critical capability.

Anxiety has evolved to prepare us for a fight or flight response to the occasional physical danger that might have appeared in our primordial past.

Our current problem involves this ancient system that is now used to deal with a "new" environment. The continuous stress of modern life can help to keep us on our toes looking for threats, until we are preoccupied and exhausted.

Anxiety, if we don't stop it, can result in our feeling like we have overlapping, critical concerns that must be dealt with immediately or else something terrible will happen.

The process of slowing down and separating these concerns allows us to see them as individual elements we can do something about.

One of the best exercises to combat anxiety is to simply return our minds to the present moment.

Keep in mind that this moment is the only one we ever have. The moment before this one has already passed. The moment after this one has yet to happen. We physically live in the present moment, even if our minds are not always connected to it.

Especially if we are anxious, our minds might be reviewing the past. Or looking out for danger in the future by worrying about it. We can exhaust ourselves with our never-ending scanning for threats, both from the past and the future.

This is often when we can begin to feel nervous, shaky, worried, fearful, as we get stuck in a loop of trying to see everything and never feeling satisfied with what we find.

If we recognize that anxiety is our attempt to prepare for something that might happen in the near-future, then we can see if in a new light.

So we have to ask ourselves, is this approach to coping with our feelings and concerns working for us?

If it's not, then don't we want a better approach?

That better approach is to return our minds to the present. Stop our mental efforts to review the past or prepare for the future.

Remind yourself, "I am safe in the here and now. No lion is trying to chase me. I am not in immediate danger. I am fully aware and present in this moment".

There is much more to be incorporated, like maintaining boundaries, avoiding drama, developing a sense of control of your life circumstances (to the degree possible), relaxation and recreation, as well as prioritizing your life in your chosen direction.

We do want to learn lessons from the past, but then we need to stop the review process and use what we know about how to cope better. Slowing the process, and seeing the individual elements of it, is a good start to managing our anxiety.

Stopping yourself from this habitual mental process is an ongoing effort. And as always, the more we do it, the better it works for us.

Live well at your own pace and in your own way. And return to the present moment to touch base with what is real and most important.

And email me if you need help.

You can do this!

-- Rich