Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Dreams and Goals


Back in September I wrote about "Making Changes" referencing stages of change. With New Year just around the corner I have decided to share specific steps for creating goals as stepping stones for reaching your dreams. How many times have your created a New Years resolution which landed on the floor with a thud after a few weeks. New Years resolutions usually don’t work because they depend on sheer will power and lack a clear road map and support system for creating change.


Steve Wells is a psychologist from Australia who uses Emotional Freedom Techniques as a key tool for achieving and sustaining Peak Performance in business, sports, relationships and life (http://www.eftdownunder.com/). He suggests the following exercise as a way to generate goals and to gain insight into your levels of commitment. If you want to play along, complete the following statements with the first thoughts that come to your mind (brainstorming).

  • “I wish………...”

  • “I want ……….”

  • “I plan to …….”

  • “I will………….”

  • “I am………….”

The above exercise takes you through the several layers of commitment involved with reaching your goal. Most of us struggle with the phase of taking and sustaining action (“I will”). Dr. Wells states, “goals are dreams with a deadline.” The following is an adaptation of information you can get from his website listed above. I have found his steps a helpful road map for setting a course of creating change and getting unstuck.

Step 1 to Peak Performance: Decide!
Decide to commit yourself to a high goal or ideal.

Step 2 to Peak Performance: Break through the Barriers.
Overcome your limiting ways of thinking about what is possible for you. Learn and use EFT to eliminate mental and emotional barriers.

Step 3 to Peak Performance: Goal Setting.
Set goals that will inspire you to reach for the best.

Step 4 to Peak Performance: Values Clarification
Make sure that you are climbing a ladder that is leaning against the right wall. Ensure that your goals will help you to achieve your most important values.

Step 5 to Peak Performance: Organized Planning.
Needed knowledge and preparation is what separates those who are committed from those who are only interested. Map out your chosen path. Identify role models and mentors and model their success.

Step 6 to Peak Performance: Commitment.
You must decide that you want this enough to take the next step and plan for it to happen. Real commitment though comes from the decision that you will do whatever it takes to make it happen.

Step 7 to Peak Performance: Consistent Action
Get started - Do the first thing first. Take action towards your goals - don't let another minute go by before you take a step, no matter how small. Then persist - This is the quality of true champions.

My Thoughts
In my experience it has been helpful to have a mentor, life coach, friend or therapist to help keep on track. Emotional Freedom Technique (see my Oct. entry on "Emotional Freedom") is an important tool for dealing with the emotional and mental blocks that emerge as you start to think about or make changes. I met with an Executive Coach for over a year when I shifted to self-employment and opened my therapy/consulting practice. The coaching process was helpful in identifying limiting beliefs and negative self talk. It helped to create a plan, to set goals and stay on track. Negative beliefs can create the largest obstacles to achieving your dreams. As I write this, it becomes apparent that it is time to engage in assessment and put to paper another "dreams and goals" road map. Maybe I will give Steve Wells a call :)

Monday, December 10, 2007

"Love Actually...."

Four years ago a movie was released entitled “Love Actually.” It is a Christmas romance comedy that interconnects twelve different love stories. The story reminds us that in spite of all the contradictory evidence, “love actually is all around us.” At the end of the movie many folk spontaneously clapped and cheered. What was all of the clapping about? Folk were celebrating that hope, good will and love won out in the end. People are looking for a message that hope is more enduring than despair and that mean spiritedness will eventually succumb to love.

My favorite scene at the end of the movie was the spontaneous proposal of the writer to the woman from Portugal. Catching his wife in the act of adultery, he moves to a self imposed exile over in Europe. While focused on the task of writing the final chapters of his book, he becomes enamored with his housemaid (a connection is made in spite of the language barrier). The evolving connection is severed when the writer returns to his homeland in the United States. We see him arriving on Christmas Eve, to be with his extended family. After stepping across the doorway, placing his gifts on the floor, he comes to himself and chooses (much to their protest) to fly across the world to propose to a woman who doesn’t speak his native tongue. Sometimes the heart communicates in ways that transcend spoken words.

During the movie I was caught up in the romance, hope and risk of “throwing all caution to the wind.” A day later, I was reflecting on the movie and knew there was a message within these stories that extends beyond the typical bromides of this season.

The end of the movie provided a kaleidoscope of images of everyday folk expressing affection, love to friends and family members. The message “love actually is all around us” is one of hope. Meister Eckhart, Christian mystic and author, stated that gratitude is the beginning of all conversions. Paradoxically when we become more grateful for the loving relationships’ that surrounds us, we actually increase the number of loving relationship in our life and world.

Solution / Possibility Oriented therapist frames being grateful in terms of “Noticing.” It is a simple activity of changing your view of the problem to a view of the desired solution or future. Instead of seeking deep-dish explanation for life’s problems’, choose to focus on what you want to attract and spend time counting (like the old math counters) or noticing when it begins to multiply (even the smallest of changes).

“Noticing” flows from the idea that we tend to create more of what we pay attention to in our lives (brain research indicates that we can become neurologically addicted to both our thoughts and feelings). If you want more love in your life, then dedicate yourself to focusing on and noticing the love that currently is around you. It is easier to state than to put into practice. Sometimes when obstacles show up we need a friend, or therapist to support us in the journey.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Spinning Your Wheels


Growing up in a small town offered plenty of back alleys and dirt roads. After a thunder- storm, some dirt roads would have a large pool of water at the bottom of a hill. It was always a thrill to drive through these “ponds” with my Dad’s ten year old 66 Chrysler. You could never be sure whether or not you were going to splash your way through the water, get stuck in the mud or flood out the engine.

At some point, everyone gets stuck. Then you get to learn the art of rocking your car back - n - forth to get unstuck. Life is a journey that offers moments of pleasure and times of feeling stuck. Like automobiles, there are tricks to getting unstuck in life.

Kenneth Halstead, Family Therapist and College Chaplain wrote a book on going from stuck to unstuck. He states that we must discern between “problems” and “difficulties.” Problems are solvable. They have a solution. Difficulties are something that people must live with and accept. Trying to solve a difficulty results in misdirected energy and increased frustration. Living with a problem that has a solution is tragic. Here are three ways we can get stuck and mired down.



  • "Oversimplifying" - When folk try to deny a problem exists they turn a “mountain into a molehill.” Usually there are warning signs of distress of being stuck but they are ignored. Action steps are needed but fail to be engaged.

  • "Isn’t It Terrible” - Trying to change a difficulty into a problem is in effect turning a “molehill into a mountain.” This level of “wheel spinning” results in taking action that is not necessary and makes life even more difficult.

  • “Unintended Results” - Addressing problems at the wrong entry point provides unintended results. It is a failure to distinguish at what level the situation needs to be addressed (molehill, mountain or mountain range). Usually, beginning with the simplest solution and explanation is the most effective. Assuming a problem has “deep dish” causes and taking action at a level of major intervention can paradoxically make the problem worse.

A friend shared with me how stuck he felt regarding conflicts that would occur with his wife while driving together. What would normally be disagreements at home would lead to intense and painful arguments in the car. He couldn’t understand why the polarization occurred only in the context of the automobile. The simplest solution provided lasting results. After a few simple observations regarding power dynamics and emotional safety, he concluded not to discuss issues that could lead to an argument while driving together. A simple agreement on when and where to handle disagreements practically eliminated highly charged arguments.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Winter Blues


Winter Blues, Winter Depression, February Blahs, Mid December Funk are all common references to what is described clinically as Seasonal Affective Depression. Some folk experience a milder version that is sometimes referred to as Subsyndromal Seasonal Affective Disorder (another way to say borderline). The symptoms are very similar to Major Depression. The difference is that the blues and depression are triggered by the decreasing sunlight beginning in the fall and ending by late spring (variance depends on your sensitivity and geographical location).

Warning: Possible "TMI" (To Much Information)
There is still some debate regarding root causes, but research seems to be leaning towards the impact of decreasing sunlight on the Pineal Gland in the brain. Melatonin and Serotonin balances get out of whack and result in the symptoms listed below. About 5 % of the populations have full-blown SAD. Another 14% has enough symptoms to be listed as borderline. Most folk are probably feel the effects as lower energy levels.

My symptoms can range from very mild to moderate. I have found the use of Light Therapy (what my friend Larry calls his “grow light”) to be very effective. Energy, mental focus and positive mood increase usually within five days of sitting in front of the Light Box.
One informational Web Site list the symptoms are as follows…

· Sleep problems - oversleeping but not refreshed, can't get out of bed, afternoon nap needed
· Overeating - carbohydrate craving leading to weight gain
· Depression, despair, misery, guilt, anxiety - normal tasks become frustratingly difficult
· Family / social problems - avoiding company, irritability, loss of libido, loss of feeling
· Lethargy - too tired to cope, everything an effort
· Physical symptoms - often joint pain or stomach problems, lowered resistance to infection
· Behavioral problems - especially in young people

Below are web sites that will provide you with more information than you probably need. The two therapy lights that I have purchased over the years can be found at Apollo Lights (http://www.apollolights.com/).

Web Links
http://www.webmd.com/depression/tc/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad-topic-overview
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/seasonal-affective-disorder/DS00195
http://www.lumie.com/help/quick-guides/sad
http://www.normanrosenthal.com/
http://www.nosad.org/

Monday, October 15, 2007

The “Wow!” Factor


It is time to sell my 36-year old trusted Sea Ray powerboat (a lovely pea soup green). If it were a car, it would be warmly referred to as a jalopy. This boat helped to launch my love affair with the ocean. Preparing to list my trusted 19-foot powerboat for sale triggers many fond memories with family and friends on the waters off of Cape Cod.

Several years ago I took some friends out for a trip over to Oaks Bluff. The crew included the free spirited captain (me), my equally fearless 10-year old son, his Sunday School teacher, her husband (who has “water issues”) and their studious 14-year-old son. My wife took one look at the seas and decided to stay home with our daughter (more about discernment in another blog).

As we neared Martha’s Vineyard, the seas were a little wobbly but not a big deal. Because of my love of the ocean and attraction to “adrenalin moments,” I have a fair amount of boating experience in difficult waters (particularly for someone who grew up on the plains of Kansas). As we were departing from the island, we encountered 12-foot waves running almost back-to-back (standing up, all I could see was a wall of water). Big waves are less threatening when they run further apart. These waves were running unusually close together. This means little time for corrections and adjustments before encountering the next wave.

As we engaged the first wave, I pushed the throttle forward to make sure we didn't take a one over the bow and swamp the boat. The old Sea Ray launched off that wave and went completely airborne. For a brief moment, it felt like we were suspended in air as if someone had hit the “pause” button. Then as quick as the press of a button, we dropped and the boat’s hull landed against the ocean with a jarring impact and spray of water. I let out an exhilarated "Wow!" The 14-year old standing on my left looked over at me and said, "This is way beyond Wow!"

Turning around to check in on the rest of my crew, I noticed that my son’s Sunday-School teacher was now the student, following his lead on how to stay inside the boat during rough seas. They were both hunkered down. Her husband Mike was sitting at the stern (backseat) looking surprisingly calm for someone who can’t swim. I wondered if he was numb with fear or living in a state of “ignorance is bliss.”

To my surprise, he later reported that he was just enjoying the ride. A buddy of mine who is a psychologist in New Jersey has written a short, simple and yet meaningful book entitled, “Enjoy The Ride” (Dr. Lee Monday, http://www.leemonday.com/) When I get around to my own book, it may be entitled “Embracing the Wow!” This story and Lee’s writing share in common the theme that life is a gift. When this gift is opened we share and experience joy, beauty and pleasure. Yes, there is pain, struggle and difficulty. But when we “embrace the wow” we find that moment of getting outside of ourselves where time stands still if for only a moment.

One of my favorite writers on Creation Spirituality calls this moment “ecstasy.” He writes, “Ecstasy is a memorable experience of forgetting oneself, of getting outside of oneself. Our ecstatic experiences are the memorable experiences of our lives. Ecstasy is our getting high, standing outside of ourselves if but for a brief moment – getting lost in time.” (Matthew Fox, Whee, We, wee All the Way Home…)

There are many natural divinely created paths to moments of ecstasy or wow: nature, friendship, intimacy, creating, sports, contemplation, travel, celebration and yes work as a labor of love. For others spiritual arts like service, prayer, fasting, meditation and study provide moments of grace

Anxiety, addictions, traumatic memories and depression are all conditions that can derail the capacity to see life as a gift. When feeling stuck, therapy can be a safe place to explore emotions, negative beliefs or memories as a way to get unstuck and discover what gives your life meaning and the capacity to “embrace the wow!”

Monday, October 1, 2007

Emotional Freedom



Wow! Seems like I should be able to come up with something more sophisticated, but that captures how I feel following four days of training at the "Boston Masters EFT Showcase." EFT stands for Emotional Freedom Technique, http://www.emofree.com/. Click on the above video for EFT success stories and a brief explanation for how it works.

EFT is an amazing technique for providing positive emotional and mental shifts. At the very least, it is highly effective in providing stress relief. When applied effectively it can heal fears, anxieties and traumatic memories. In my personal life, it is my “go to” mind, body and spirit healing technique. In over twenty years of practice as a Family Therapist it is the most effective tool that I consistently “reach for” in my work.

Two and a half years ago I went to an EFT training event in Arlington Ma. led by therapists Caitlin Williams and Steve Joseph (http://www.energytherapyassociates.com/). I arrived very skeptical but open minded. When it was my turn to be the “client,” I chose to target a bundle of painful memories while counseling relief workers at Ground Zero following 9.11.

To gain first hand experience and practice, we broke off into pairs. Terry and I drove up together from Rhode Island, so we decided to be each others guinea pig. He asked me to rate my “disturbance” on a scale from one to ten. It felt pretty mild so I said 5. When we started tapping and saying the phrase “Even though I have this Ground Zero memory” the lid came off the “memory box.” My body could feel the jolt as it jumped up to a 10! That spike in intensity was very unexpected. Three times we repeated the phrase, “Even though I have this Ground Zero memory, I deeply and completely accept myself.”

Within thirty seconds of tapping the EFT recipe “this painful memory” I could feel a major shift and relief. A second set reduced the emotional intensity to zero. “This is too fast, too painless and too easy,” I proclaimed. I dared my colleague to, “provoke me and test the results.” Terry is a good therapist, after several attempts he managed to provoke some intensity up to a three. I was down to a zero for good even before we finished with the setup phrase.

After observing several other participants clear out difficult issues with similar results, I was hooked. By the end of the day, I was highly impressed with the elegance, simplicity and outstanding results from this new technique.

You can read about EFT, but the best way to measure your results is to try it out firsthand.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Making Changes

Autumn and two teenagers in High School for the first time has stimulated my thoughts about change. Changes are constant. Sometimes it seems like “it” is happening to us. When we face change we are challenged to discern what to “grab on to” and what to “let go of.” My kids might say I am struggling to let go of asking to many questions (my perception is that I am trying to stay connected). Admittedly it is an occupational hazard. Most three year olds eventually out grow the phase of rapid-fire questions. I didn’t. Lucky for me that is in part what I do for a living. I help folk to get “unstuck” or to create positive changes and questions are an inevitable part of that process.

Asking questions leads to knowledge which can help to “connect the life dots.” Making sense of things can lead to new actions which can result in positive changes (at least that is one on ramp for making change happen).

Have you ever wondered about the process of change and why it is so difficult to sustain change through sheer will power? There are a few folk like my father who experience making change as a matter of simply making a choice. He describes the process of stopping smoking as simply making a choice and sticking to it. Long before Nike made the phrase popular, his motto was “just do it.” Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit the “just do it” gene.

For most of us exerting our will power will result in short term changes but fails to sustain significant changes in the long run. Making change happen is about setting goals (in writing), building in support systems and getting out of your own way. The following research might help you to understand the change process and where you are located in the phases of change.

Three clinical psychologists from the Rhode Island area conducted a study to discover if there was any structure to the process of making change happen. What they discovered is that “self changers” who were able to reach their goals and sustain them went through six stages. James O. Prochaska, John C. Norcross and Carlo C. DiClemente authored a book entitled “Changing for Good: The Revolutionary Program That Explains the Six Stages of Change and Teaches You How To Free Yourself From Bad Habits.” The stages are roughly as follows:

1. Precontemplation “Get off my back!” Folk confront you with the need to change but you feel helpless or aren’t ready.

2. Contemplation“I want to stop feeling so stuck.” You desire change but aren’t quite ready.

3. Preparation “I’ll start tomorrow.” You know change is best, but you’re not sure how to begin.

4. Action“Here I go.” Life is often exhilarating, sometimes terrifying. So is change. This is the time to learn the methods needed for change and to get the support you need.

5. Maintenance“Keep moving forward!” You are know reaping the rewards of change but are concerned with relapse. You need to create a plan for dealing with slips and lapses in order to achieve long-term success.

6. Termination“Home free!” Maintaining change is effortless: no temptations, total confidence.

I have found it helpful to place myself on this roadmap for change. It is easy to think that you in are in the action phase only to discover the reality of being stuck in endless “preparation.” Hope you find this research helpful in finding your path to making change happen.

“Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
Gospel of John 8:32 – 1st Century Blogger

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Way We Learn

With my kids back in school, I am reminded of a book written by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias, “The Way They Learn.” It is describes learning styles and suggest customized homework environments according to personality type. It is a good read for gaining some valuable information how kids learn, perceive and comprehend our world (we can all benefit for that matter).

In her book she writes about the startling discovery in World War II made by the United States
Navy. They discovered a critical difference amongst their fighter pilots even though they were of equal intelligence, extremely motivated, rigidly screened, and thoroughly trained. When flying through the fog bank, some of these pilots would fly out of the mist upside down. This seemed to be a problem for some of the higher-ranking officials within the Navy.

They called in psychological researcher Herman Witkin who conducted various tests and discovered a critical difference amongst the pilots. The pilots that came out of the fog flying right side up, tended to process information in an analytic fashion (see definitions below). They automatically broke down any information in component parts and focused on the details. The other pilots tended to approach information in a global way. They got the overall picture or “gist” of things, but didn’t worry about the details as much. Remember, they were equal in IQ, the only difference was in how they naturally processed information.

There are hundred’s of ways to label personality and learning styles. The point isn’t to compartmentalize folk; rather it is to increase better communication, understanding and to clearly help folk discover their gifts and passions. On a good day when I get annoyed with someone’s “point of view” on particular topic, I try to remind myself to step back and understand how that person’s way of perceiving and understanding is different than my own.


In Family Therapy speak we call this “bystanding.” It is taking that stance of observing and listening without reacting. Imagine having a conversation where you aren’t allowed to state your point of view until you have communicated clearly that you completely understand your partner’s position. You can only speak to your opinion after you hear the words “You Get It.” The method of communicating might seem tedious and drawn out, but it provides for deeper connection and understanding.


Different Styles of Understanding and Learning

Analytic (Field Independent) - details, focus, organization, remembering specifics, direct answers, consistency, sense of justice, objectivity, individual competition, doing one thing at a time
Global (Field Dependent) - seeing the big picture, seeing relationships, cooperating in group efforts, reading between the line, sense of fairness, seeing many options, paraphrasing, doing several things at once, giving and receiving praise, reading body language, getting others involved.