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    I post insights that I have here about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and various techniques that I've used to help people. Cool as that is, you gotta make your own choices. Its no replacement for professional advice or counseling, so just bear that in mind before you go taking my advice.
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Diversity Can Not Coexist With Exclusion

I’m going to break one of my cardinal rules when it comes to talking about stuff. I hate to do it, but it seems to me that in the year and a half of me blogging I haven’t done one post about this topic.

I’m going to talk about religion and politics, all in one post.

Now if you’ve been reading me for a bit, you know by now that I’m a fairly balanced guy, and that even if I do have personal feelings or core values about something, that I don’t go letting my core values get in the way. I merely ask questions, and ask you to judge for yourself.

Moving right along, today’s topic is about the Holidays. More specifically, the schools in Massachusetts that don’t allow expression of Holidays, merely because the Holidays at this time of year involve some form of religious connotation. As a result, children perform boring depressing songs about snow, which is nice the first time it shows up, but if you live in New England, you get sick of it after a while.

Now, this is only from what I’ve heard from my clients, and other Massachusetts residents that I’ve spoken to, but it appears as though there is some unwritten rule about NOT being able to have any holiday cheer whatsoever in the schools. As I hear this, I realize that times have really changed since I was a kid (aaand I’m sounding old just saying that). Back then, we decorated the classroom for Christmas, and we had a trip from Santa Claus every year (one year, Santa was my dad) and he handed us puzzles and board games.  I don’t recall any discussion about Hanukkah, but if we had celebrated it, or at least learned about it, I probably would have been OK with it.

So what the heck has happened? I mean, I understand the side of the argument that says we can’t encourage any specific religious belief at school – separation of church and state and all. I get it. At the same time, how many people celebrate holidays without any real religious connotations to them at all? Just because people celebrate Christmas, that doesn’t mean they’re protestant or Catholic. Could you imagine witholding Christmas from you kids merely because you had a different religious belief? Of course not.

So what am I getting at here? My question here is: How can you exclude holidays from schools, and still encourage and celebrate diversity? Why not take the opportunity to teach kids about every religious holiday that takes place during that time, and show how cool diversity really is? Why does it have to be something that we shy away from, simply because we’re afraid someome might be offended? Heck, I make no bones about the fact that I’m a Christian, but I don’t shove my beliefs down people’s throats. You wanna know why? Because America is a cool place, and people have the freedom here make their own choices. That’s what makes America cool.

I guess this really comes down to core values, and really the bottom line here is that we can’t do much about what a few paranoid people are doing. I’m certainly not going to let it ruin my Holiday, but I suppose this topic got me thinking: My wife is pregnant, and as a result, it got me thinking about what my children are going to have to endure at this time a few years from now.

So rather than offer some suggestions, which is what I usually do, I’m going to ask you, my extraordinarily intelligent readers, to answer the question: Can Diversiy Coexist With Exclusion? Can we celebrate diversity, or is that just a cute thing to say? Is tolerance merely “tolerance of me?”

I’d love to hear what you have to say!

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Battle Plan For Holiday Stress

The holidays are coming, and for some of us, that means a lot of fun with family we haven’t seen in a while. It means spending time and sharing stories and eating food til we burst. 

But for some of us, that means a lot of stress and frustration around spending time with people that we may not like, and for some of us, really secretly despise.  I’ve realized that I haven’t put up something about holiday stress on this thing, so I figure now is as good a time as any. After all, if you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering how you’re going to get through the upcoming Thanksgiving, and forthcoming Christmas insanity.

Well, that’s what I’m here for. So let’s focus on the usual issues that people have to deal with over the holidays, shall we? Mostly this involves interacting with your family, right? You know what I’m talking about: Overbearing parents; aunts and uncles that make stupid comments about what you should and should be doing; grandparents that pinch your cheeks; and that one relative that always says insensitive things about your life and no one has the stones to say anything to them about it.

So what do you do about all this insanity? It can be really overhwelming even thinking about dealing with all these personalities in one room, not to mention adding in there all the food and drink that goes along with it.

Well, the good news is that large amounts of family only come to these events once in a blue moon. So at the very least you can deal with them in small doses. However, if things get especially stressful around these times, we need to have a battle plan in place.

OK, so here’s the Battle Plan. Simple, but Powerful.

1. Set Boundaries. If there are issues that are off limits, be very clear to your family that these issues are off limits. You can do this very calmly, and matter of factly. If you’re worried about what others will think about your boundary setting, remember that you are not in control of other people’s Emotions, but you are in control of how others treat you.

2. Manage the stress appropriately. The last thing you want on your holiday is a big argument about something foolish and ridiculous. So find ways to take a break throughout the day. Find little breaks in the action to relieve some of the stress. If you have to, put the stress aside for the moment, manage the situation at hand, and after the family leaves, do something to relax at the end of your day.

3. Remember that you can change your Emotions, not other people’s. Decide what you want to feel and be prepared for the usual barrage of nonsense that comes from some of these family members. Also, allow other people to feel whatever they want to, and separate yourself from their feelings. Pretend there’s a bubble around you, and that’s where everyone else’s Emotions stop and your Emotions begin. By setting that boundary with yourself and others, you can then keep your Emotions in check without allowing anyone elses Emotions to affect you.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all seen family get togethers go wrong. The key is whether or not you’re going to let it get to you.

The Known and the Unknown

My approach to problems is very simple, as you probably know from reading this blog. Still, life gets complicated, and sometimes we tend to make our problems out to be more than what they actually could be.

One of my clients told me a story about a person who annoyed her a lot. It seemed everything about this person was annoying: clothing, hair, what this person said and did….all of it seemed to frustrate my client to no end.

We thought about how to handle this person. After all, other people’s WATER is all stuff we can’t change, right?

Then, as it tends to happen, we came to a remarkable conclusion.

What makes this annoying person any different than anyone else?

Moreover, we thought about all the people in the world, and all the information in the world, and how we really don’t care about it, because we don’t know a lot of it; those people and that information is meaningless to us.

So how could we put the annoying person’s WATER into the realm of the Unknown? How could we make that person’s WATER meaningless?

It then seemed clear that all we had to do was make that choice in our minds, that the annoying person’s WATER was meaningless, and it removed all the power that person had from the client’s life.

Anywho, I figured I would share this story to help you with stuff that annoys you. Maybe you need to put some of that stuff from the Known into the Unknown meaningless sea of information that has no bearing on your life. Couldn’t hurt, right?

Change the Scene, Change The Ending

If you’ve ever called yourself an idiot (like me), then you’ve probably kicked yourself for doing something stupid. More often than not, its probably not the first time that you’ve done it either. Why is this the case? Because humans are creatures of habit. This is nothing new really, but sometimes I wonder if we take the time to think about our habits.

Better yet, we probably don’t think about them in a way that changes our behavior. Well, that’s what this post is here to change.

Ever watch a movie that has a scary moment in it? I’ll admit I haven’t seen very many, mostly because I think horror movies are a waste of oxygen. Be that as it may, if you’ve ever seen something startling in a film, it probably had that desired effect the first time you saw it.

Meaning, see it once, get scared. See it again, and yawn.

Why did this happen? At first, you were scared out of your wits (for me, this was Bilbo trying to grab the ring from Frodo in Lord of the Rings). After the first time though, well, that’s just crazy old Bilbo grabbing the ring again.

You’ve seen it before, so the effect is lost.

But what if we looked at our Actions this way? Or our Thoughts? If we could recognize that anything we want to change has been done before, and that we’ve seen it play out in our lives over and over again, then we can change that scene and make it better. I mean, why have a sucky ending to your life? Make the scene and thus the behavior what you want it to be.

How do you do that? Here’s the breakdown.

1. Take a look at your negative habitual Actions, Thoughts or Words.

2. Look at the triggers that happen before those Words, Actions or Thougts.

3. Once you’ve set the “scene” you know when its coming. You’ve seen it before, so you know what’s going to happen.

4. Decide how you want your future to turn out, i.e. How you want to change things, and make an effort to change your future.

If you think about how you want your future to go, and how its been acted out in the past, you can change the scene by implementing a new script. The key is recognizing what happens before the problem issue, remembering how this event has happened before, and then deciding how you want the event to turn out in the future.

Do this enough times, and you can change your habits.

Simple and Powerful

I’ve recently realized that in the process of blogging, I’ve had to revisit the purpose and title of said blog. One of the things that hit me was that everyone manages stress differently, and some of you may not even have an effective way to manage your stressors.

So as a result, I’ve decided to throw a few stress management pointers out there. This may seem a bit redundant, but if you don’t know what you need to do to relax, stress can seem overwhelming at times. So here’s some basic stuff that has worked for me and for the awesome people u’ve worked with.

1. Take Deep Breaths. This sounds so lame, and yet its probably the most powerful technique you could use. By taking a moment to put the stressor out of your mind and take some deep breaths, and I’m talkin’ really deep here, you tell your body to be at a state of relaxation. Your body can’t be stressed an relaxed at the same time. By breathing deeply you give your heart the oxygen it needs to slow down your heart rate. This can reduce your chances of an Anxiety Attack.

2. Exercise. This is yet another no brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people know this, and make excuses as to why they can’t or won’t exercise. 5-15 minutes of exercise can help with both anxiety an depression, and more than that its natural.

3. Find a Creative Hobby. Doing something creative, social and constructive can have some really positive effects on you. I had one client who picked up a creative hobby, and as a result, gained not only relaxation, but assertiveness as well. Getting you thinking in a creative way can not only distract you away from the stress inducing problem, but it can also get you problem solving as well.

Those are just 3 of many ways you can manage stress in a positive way. They seem simple, but Tony Robbins once said that the definition of profound knowledge is knowledge that is simple and yet powerful. You probably know that these can help, but maybe you haven’t applied them before. What about you? Do you have something better or different?

The Cultural Contrast of Light and Darkness

LightAndDark

I’ve been watching the Firefly series over the course of the weekend, taking advantage of some much needed R&R. If you’ve watched the show, you know that for the most part, the heros in the story are a sort of anti-hero. It has a western outlaw sort of feel to it, and the boundaries between right and wrong are blurry if you look at it closely enough. However, there is a definitive line between the “good guys” and the “bad guys”.

Throughout American culture, we see these contrasts in movies and TV all the time. My personal favorite is the Star Wars series, where there is a definitive Dark Side and a definitive (though not directly called) Light Side. We recognize these sides by the nature and choices of those who follow each of those sides. It is our culture’s way of showing the struggle between good and evil, which we know exists in the real world, but we can only hope that the good wins out over the evil more often than not.

So then it got me thinking about the concept of good and evil and what it means to us and our actions. Its easy for us to see good and evil in these movies, because they are defined by the characters and their choices. But what about with us? Can we say that about our actions? And if so, what do we say to ourselves about ourselves depending on our behavior?

Let me give you an example. When we see someone in the movies cheat on their significant other in a movie, we see them as evil in some way, depending on the justification made in the film. In real life, however, if we are that person that cheats, we have justifications for our actions, and reasons why we do what we do. We do this so that we do not see ourselves as evil.

And what good would that do really? If we perceive ourselves as evil, then that affects our Words about ourself, which eventually affects our Actions. However, if we justify our Actions, no matter how “wrong” they may be, then we absolve ourselves easily. Some theraputic approaches believe that this is best, so that we don’t bear ourselves down with guilt, and that we’re all just a bunch of victims. Where anything that isn’t nurturing is abusive. So all our actions are justified in the context of what has happened to us.

Personally, I think this is a bunch of crap.

Let’s face it. Guilt exists as a result of our core belief system (which is your set of rules about what is right and wrong). Having these rules is what allows our society to exist with a level of civility. No matter what you believe, you have some idea and semblance of what is right and wrong.

So what’s my point here? I mean, I can sit here and pontificate about right and wrong, darkness and light and sit here and tell you how to live your life based on what my Core Beliefs are. Truth is, whether we like it or not, we take our cues about our Core Belief System from these TV shows and movies. We want to be like those characters we identify with, and take on their values as our own to justify what we do.

Don’t believe me? Think about the shows you watch…did you start watching them because of the things you believe, or did you change your beliefs based on the show and the characters you like?

I’m not immune to this. I play all kinds of video games and played through them as various characters, both good and evil. What guides them through the story is based in some way on their goals or ideals, and whether or not we buy the reasons why they justify their actions.

I guess what I’m trying to say here, is that our Words and Actions are judged in some way, either by ourselves or those around us. Fact is, everyone screws up and does something wrong, and the point is not to define ourselves as good or evil the way we do in these fictional shows. Its better to learn from these screw ups, decide the kind of person we want to be, and take your life by the horns and be that person.

See, these sterotypes can be both harmful and helpful. The key is to use them as a tool to be a better person. Now what that means is different to each of you, but the idea (at least to me) is to use your Core Belief System and the ideas you want to pursue to become a better person. To strive to be better than who you are today, isn’t a new concept, but without a road map of who you want to be, you will continue to stay who you are.

Light and Darkness are a daily choice. Which choice will you make, and what does it mean to you? Tell me what you think!

Like The Flu, Emotions Can Be Contagious

With all the talk about the H1N1 virus, people are being more careful than they ever been about trying to stay healthy. Its at a point now where the wipe-grabbing behaviors of Adrian Monk don’t seem so out of the ordinary, when everyone is worried about getting sick. However, its a very real fear. People are getting sick, getting in contact with other people, and then those people become sick. Contagious sickness is like that.

What about emotions though? Have you ever thought about the people you spend time with? What kind of attitude do they have? Are they positive or negative and how does that affect your day? I’ll give you an example of how I “caught” an Emotional Cold.

One day my wife and I were just hanging out. It was your normal day off, and we had a ton of things we wanted to do. With a list as long as our arm, we figured the best thing to do would be to start with breakfast. So we hit our favorite pancake joint, grabbed some pacakes (you know the kind I’m talking about: strawberry syrup, whipped cream, etc.), some coffee and figured we’d be all set with our day.

Then something strange happened. We got home, and my wife was suddenly really tired. I, who is all about being flexible when it comes to days off, shrugged it off and suggested that she take a nap. Before I knew what hit me, I was right there next to her taking a nap. We woke up hours later with the sun down, and a list still as long as our arms that needed to be done.

I could have just gone and done my own thing, but I was open to her emotional state. I caught an Emotional Cold, and let it get the best of me. This has much to do with boundaries, but it also has to do with social conditioning.

See, we want to do what everyone else is doing in a group setting, even if the group setting is small. Sure, there are times when we want to go against the grain, but for the most part, as a society we value a cohesive group think, so we don’t have confrontations (because those are bad after all).

However, this can also be a good thing! Because you can make your emotional state contagious as well. Consider how you can influence someone in a positive way with your own attitude. Let me give another example, this time of someone giving a Positive Emotional Cold.

I worked with a client who’s boss would emit anxiety toward this person. As a result, my client picked up her anxious behavior and state, and it made my client more and more anxious as the days went on. We talked about setting emotional boundaries, and how her anxiety is hers, and my client’s Emotions were my client’s.

The next week, my client came in all excited, because after we had discussed setting those emotional boundaries, the boss’s anxiety stayed where it was…with the boss. My client envisioned making a protective bubble, and behind that bubble, my client was safe. Outside of that bubble, the boss did her own thing. Eventually, my client became emtionally assertive, and was able to transfer their calm state onto the boss!

So by choosing to be calm, the boss picked up on this, and started to calm down as well.

So what’s the bottom line? Here’s the breakdown:

1. People are social animals: We’re going to pick up on each other’s stuff whether we like it or not.

2. Recognize where you’re catching a cold: Decide if you want to pick up on someone else’s emotional state or not. Also, decide if you want to continue hanging with people who continue to give you an Emotional Cold.

3. Decide if you want to feel something different. You can always feel differently than those around you.

4. Do you want to be contagious? How can you pass on your state to others?

5. Should you catch a positive cold? Maybe you’re a Negative Nancy and its time you hung around people who were passing on positive Emotional Colds.

So consider how emotions can be contagious in your life. Are you a carrier or a reciever? I’d love to hear your experiences!