Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Conflict Observed

I can't believe that it has been over a month since I have updated this blog. I have started another blog The Neophyte Counselor that is geared more towards new therapists. But I recently heard that I should be updating this blog a bit more as well. OK, on to today's post.


Nobody likes conflict. I often hear clients say that they "hate" conflict. We would prefer to go through life without having to say "no", hurt anyone's feelings, or disappoint anyone. But conflict is inevitable. We have lines that are not meant to be crossed. We discipline our children because they have crossed "the line". Most of us have difficulty with conflict because it means that we have to take a personal stand, which is often very uncomfortable.

I recently have walked through a significant conflict. In some ways I expect the conflict to carry on for a few weeks. This conflict has caused heartache, stress, and has affected how I relate to people. It has also taken a tremendous amount of energy, which I suppose I can use as an excuse for not writing more. Without naming names and specifics I would like to share some of my insights of walking through a conflict that made me consider what I value.

After reading Cloud & Townsend's Boundaries I have been encouraging people to set boundaries in their lives. Simply, a boundary is an invisible line that marks where you begin and other people end. It also describes who and what you allow to influence you. Weak or non-enforced boundaries can lead to conflict. If we do not clearly define our boundaries and then enforce them other people are quick to take advantage of them. Setting boundaries, especially if you have never done so, can be difficult as the other people in your life will not like be told that they can no longer take advantage of you.

What have I learned? I learned that if something "doesn't sit right" then something is probably wrong. Listen to your "gut". We usually know when not to do something or when something goes against our values. Secondly, know when to say "no". Even if your "no" is not respected it does not mean that you are wrong. Other people may be trying to force or manipulate you into giving them more time, money, resources, etc. than you are willing to give. Thirdly, only say "yes" when you are willing and able. Do something against your will or out of a sense of obligation produces resentment. Save yourself the trouble. Say "no" in the beginning and risk disappointing someone. People will likely respect you more when you stand up for yourself and define how much time other people can have.

I learned that when I decide to give myself to a project that I must be willing to make a contribution. I must have my heart in it. No one deserves to have a half-hearted team member. I should be willing to work towards the goal of the project, organization, or committee. Not caring as much as I should likely contributed to the conflict more than I realize.

Most importantly, I learned that there is great value in communicating clearly. Words have meaning. Authors strive to have their readers understand what they are communicating. Say what you mean. Do not be vague and hope that the other person "guesses" your meaning. Part of the conflict I have walked through involved each of us not understanding one another. He failed to be direct with me and I failed to listen to his point of view and instead decided to respond with anger. Being direct with other people can be risky. It puts your true feelings out there. Yet, in the long run, people will respect you more because you do not "beat around the bush".

Conflict will happen. We can't control that. But we can control our reaction to it by stating where we stand. By setting boundaries you are being true to your self, which can be unpopular because you will no longer be going "with the flow" but will be deciding your own course.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Better Steps, Better Resolutions

It's February now. For a lot of us in the Midwest the beginning of this month meant digging out from under a pile of snow. February is also a good time to see where you are at with your New Year's Resolutions. I applaud those of you who are doing great six weeks in to the New Year. This post will be for the rest of us.

Why are New Year's Resolutions so popular? A new year brings promise. January 1st marks a new beginning and it is natural for us to want a new beginning for ourselves. But in what areas do we want a new beginning? I am sure that we have already thought of a couple of areas in which we could do better. Yet not a lot changes for us during the year. We lack motivation, we lack focus, and we lack results. Achieving some measure of success pushes the snowball down the hill.

So, what to do when we are falling flat on our resolutions but we still want things to be better for ourselves?
  1. Identify your problem area(s): What seems to be causing the most stress? Relationships, health, work, anxiety? The more specific you can be the better your results.
  2. Dream a little: When you are doing better in your problem area(s) what will you be doing differently? Take some time to imagine what your life will be like when things are different. Write these ideas down. 
  3. Take baby steps: A small step forward is still a step forward.What will bring you one small step to impacting your problem area? How will you know what you are one step closer? What might be different or what might have to happen? 
  4. Fake it until you make it: Envision yourself living better in your problem area(s). Keep that in mind. Don't beat yourself up for small setbacks. Continually imagine that you have already arrived and start behaving like your future self. 
  5. Don't ride the blame roller-coaster: Don't sell yourself short and wait for others to initiate change in your life. Take respnsiblity; you will feel better. 

 These may seem like simple steps and I know that they are hard to put into action. It is my hope that these steps prove helpful in your quest to improve your life over the next ten months.

    Saturday, January 29, 2011

    Looking for a Solution?

    We all have problems and we all dream of finding a solution that takes our pain away. Often, when something goes awry, we search for relief from friends, spirituality, health, and our families. These are all good things and are necessary if we are to lead a "good" life. But where do you turn when your friends and family don't want to listen anymore and exercising does not ease the depression?

    Counseling is an option that some may or may not consider. Unfortunately there is a bit of a stigma attached to seeing a counselor implying that there is something "wrong" with the individual. People do not want their friends to see their car parked in front to the clinic.

    Counseling is what you do when the wheels fall completely off your marriage. Counselors are there when your children turn down the wrong path.

    Counselors are indeed available and help with the above scenarios. But what if counseling was perceived as a "wellness" activity? That is, what if we sought counseling to improve our relationships, to stop problem behavior before it got out of control, and to learn to be better parents?

    Wellness is a popular buzz word in health care. Bryan LGH in Lincoln, NE offers a complete program that focuses on healthy activities for all age groups. They even have a healthy cafe on site. Healthcare is seemingly focusing on teaching people to live better lives so that they do not have serious health problems later.

    Therapists are also focusing on how to teach people to live the best life that they can. Many offer workshops, webinars, books, and other such things.

    I believe that more of us counselors and therapists need to promote our business as helping people live betters lives now so that they can live the best life in the future. Perhaps this would be a way to remove some of the stigma surrounding our craft.

    If you are searching for ways to improve your relationships and your life perhaps it may be good time to consider finding a counselor to walk with you on this journey. Call your human resources department and find out if your company offers an Employee Assistance Program. Many do and EAPs are free to employees. Ask a friend. Search online directories for a counselor, such as Psychology Today's.

    Seeking help from a counselor does not mean that there is something wrong with you. It means that you are seeking to live your life in the best possible way.

    Friday, January 21, 2011

    Bridging the Gap: Texting at Work

    Texting is ubiquitous. It has become the perferred mode of communication amongst the younger generation. Some consider it less intrusive than a phone call, while others (usually the older generation) find it less efficient and rude.

    Over the last few weeks I have met a few people that have shared with me their struggles with younger coworkers texting or using their cell phones while at work. Texting while at work is seen as disrespectful to clients and coworkers. Also, the texters are not as focused on their work, which may lead to safety issues in some workplaces.

    Yet, on the other end of the spectrum younger workers may view texting as socially acceptable and not disruptive to their work duties. Some may even argue that it is better than spending an inordinate amount of time actually talking on the phone.

    Conflict can arise in the work place because the generations do not understand each other. As more people are retiring many workplaces have seen an influx of younger workers. Sometimes the younger crowd are able to take on supervisory or management roles. In such cases people closer to retirement may have a hard time adjusting to a new supervisor who appears to not be working as hard as he or she should.

    Many companies have adopted policies that define cell phone use during work hours. Yet, policies are not likely to ease tensions, especially if they are not enforced. How are we then to get along? I am a big fan of helping people take responsibility for their actions and choices. On the other side of that coin is the fact that we cannot let the behaviors of others to unduly upset us at work. The caveat is that we must allow our supervisors handle the issue and concentrate on our own work.

    I am in my 30's and feel a bit caught between the two different worlds. A woman in her 40's commented that she saw using cell phones at work as the equivalent of reading a magazine. What a great insight! We all use down time differently. Perhaps it is just an issue of perspective. The same woman also said that the use of cellphones cut down on the number of phone calls to the workplace from family members.

    How should we bridge the gap? By appreciating that we all have our distractions and that they tend to change over time.

    Wednesday, October 27, 2010

    Is Your Hobby Worthwhile?

    My brother-in-law from Canada visited the other weekend and asked me if I still "played". I had to answer "no" because I have other things in my life that I am concentrating on. Such as ending bad habits, starting to form a plan for a counseling private practice, and spending time with the children.

    What was he referring to? World of Warcraft (of course!). We started gaming together over Christmas break in 2008. We joined the same guild, a group of people who unite to meet goals, and enjoyed the game together. He still plays periodically while I have had to walk away.

    Online games such as World of Warcraft use operant conditioning in order to motivate players. That is, players will earn rewards rather quickly in the beginning, which results in continued play. Starting out in the game these rewards are typically levels and gear for players' avatars. Over time the rewards take more time and in some cases skill to earn. This is evidenced by end game content that takes several hours to complete. Players usually experience a period of burnout in which the effort that it takes to earn rewards becomes too costly.

    Players, such as my brother-in-law, often consider video games a hobby. Video games have become more engaging in recent years and now require several hours in order to complete. I have heard people say that a game was "short" because it only required 6-10 hours of gameplay to complete. Ironically, after such an investment there is nothing tangible produced.

    When we invest time it should be in worthwhile endeavors that produce something in our lives. Wether it be a finished product, such as a gourmet meal, a table, or knowledge, these activities leave us with a sense of enrichment. Such activities make our lives more worthwhile.
    All of us need down time. However, we should be wary that not all of our free time is spent in activities that do not create anything. All of us could do better to focus on enrichment and self-growth. Doing so would increase our own well-being. So, is your hobby worthwhile? Do you gain an increased sense of self-worth? Is there something produced internally or externally? Does it bring enjoyment for its own sake? Can you share the fruits of your hobby with someone else?
    Just something to think about.
    No one but other World of Warcraft players cared that I have a level 80 character. It was not something that I could share with someone and the knowledge of how to play the game did not help me grow as an individual.

    Next week I will begin a series on preparing for the holidays with less stress!
    For more information on motivations of online gamers see the Daedalus Project.

    Saturday, September 25, 2010

    The Power of Choice

    Everyday we are face with and make hundreds of choices. We may not be aware of them all, but they are there nonetheless. William Glasser, author of Reality Therapy and Choice Theory, states that individuals have the power to decided to change things for the better in their own lives. Yet, one must not be naive, there are circumstances quite beyond our control that affect us. Abuse, job loss, and our work environments are some of these. Nonetheless, within each of us is the power to choose something different for ourselves.

    Glasser's Choice Theory can be boiled down to this nugget: If you do not like the results you are getting, then change your expectations, change your behavior, or change both. Simple, right? Truthfully, this is much harder to put into practice.

    Changing expectations may mean letting go of unrealistic goals, of other people's behavior, or of high standards. We may have to simply let some things be, such as the house being unorganized or accepting that our boss is unrealistic in his expectations. Changing expectations can also be positive. For instance, a person may decide that she has had enough of her weight gain and expect a higher standard for herself that motivates her to change her behavior.

    Changing behavior may be more difficult for some people. Behavior is often habitual. We have become comfortable with the manner in which we handle things. It is when our behavior causes so much pain that we begin to seek to change. Changing our behavior often means that we must form new habits that are better for us. Healthy habits can include anything that we enjoy doing but does not harm us physically nor destroy our relationships with others.

    Lasting change is hard to come by as it involves commitment to a choice to want something better out of life and believing that it is obtainable. Many alcoholics have chosen to be sober and have believed that they could obtain sobriety. People who loose weight and engage in a healthy lifestyle choose these things and believe that they can become healthy.

    What about you? What can you do to change things in your life? The short answer maybe "nothing". That may be where you at today. But you can choose something better. You can choose to engage your marriage, your children, your career, your schoolwork. What do you need to let go of in order to be closer to those around you?

    Change is hard work. People may oppose your efforts. Find support in friends, family, and support groups if needed. Change is possible, but it starts with a choice.