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  • Hey, This Is A Blog, Not A Therapy Session!

    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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Bottle Up Your Feelings

Bottling things up. When you hear someone say this, its usually perceived negatively. After all, you can’t bottle up your emotions, right?

Well, to make this a little easier to understand, and less boring, I’ll tell you a little story that I learned from therapy school.

In order to listen to people’s problems every day, and not go insane, you have to set some sort of boundaries with your emotions. Sometimes you have to do this on the fly, because you might get a phone call from a family member or something that could throw you off your game. If you have to work with someone in the next few minutes, and you don’t have time to manage your issues at the time, you gotta figure out a way to put those problems aside and help someone.

So I created the Bottle. But its not like your usual bottle…its a special bottle.

See, this bottle allows you to manage the boloney you’re dealing with in a way that encourages you to deal with the problem before you go to sleep. It takes a bit of discipline, but if you do the technique right, it should work for you too.

So without further ado, and so you know what the heck I’m talking about, I’ll share this simple technique with you:

1. Take the issue you’re dealing with and put them in an imaginary bottle. After I wrote that, I think I sound a little crazy, but just humor me for a moment. Whatever it is you’re dealing with in the moment, take that issue and throw it in the bottle. Don’t worry, its not going to stay there too long.

2. Put it on a shelf. You’re putting the issue aside temporarily, with the purpose of going back to it when you don’t have to save the world or something. Visualizing the shelf allows you to recognize that bottling the problem is temporary. Most people skip this step, bottle the problem, and try not to think about it or try to forget it. This doesn’t work, as you need time to process the issue.

3. When you have time, take the bottle down. Take the bottle down off the shelf, open it up, and deal with the issue before it gets buried with all the other nasty stuff you may have buried in your life. If you don’t have the time, make the time to deal with these things before they affect the other areas of your life.

See! Bottling things up isn’t as bad, so long as you take whatever’s in the bottle out, and manage it at a later time. Keeping it bottled up is usually a bad idea, so you have to find time to let the issues out of the bottle.

What do you think? Can you put the issue aside and take the time to manage it? Talk to me people.

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?

The Nothing Box

nothingbox

I’ve often said that if a woman can multi-task, she’s normal, but if a guy can multi-task, he’s got ADHD. I am about to introduce you to a very strange and magical place that men frequent often, but women may be unaware of. I’ve run into a lot of clients and friends who go to this magical place, and one of my clients finally put a name to it, which I thought was pretty clever.

Its called the Nothing Box.

Now what is the Nothing Box? Its a place where men go when there is absolutely nothing going on inside their head. Jerry Seinfeld once said, “Wanna know what men are thinking about? Nothing. We’re just walkin’ around….lookin’ around.” This happens more often than we men would like to think, or even admit. At times, the Nothing Box serves as a valuable tool to focus on the task at hand.

Now how do I know that this Nothing Box even exists? Well for starters, I go there often. One of the more common places I go to my Nothing Box is when I’m driving. All I’m doing is focusing on driving, and that’s basically it. When my wife is with me, sometimes she’ll ask me, “What are you thinking about?” To that I respond, “Nothing.” I wish I were kidding, but that really is the case.

I’ve worked with clients that will go to their Nothing Box as long as they are focusing on a task that requires concentration. These same men will ignore their wives for sex, insensitive to their wives, and have ignored small innuendo during conversation because too many people are talking.

So how do you avoid the Nothing Box? Here are a few tips:

1. Be aware of the outside world. Don’t be so drawn into what you’re doing that the rest of the world doesn’t shake you from your concentration.

2. There’s a time and a place for your Nothing Box. Don’t go there all the time, just certain times when you don’t have to be conscious of others needs or Emotions.

3. Increase your capacity for awareness. Sometimes you don’t recognize that you’re in your Nothing Box until you’re already there. Use your Thoughts to consider when and where you are most likely to go to your Nothing Box, and decide whether or not you want to go there.

For you ladies, there’s some stuff here too:

1. Realize that your man may vey well have a penchant for the Nothing Box. Cut him some slack if he’s decided to be there. Its not because he’s not thinking about what’s important, it may just be that he’s a guy and can focus on only one thing at a time.

2. Educate your man about his Nothing Box. He may not even know he’s going there. Kindly letting him in to what he’s doing could help you understand each other better.

3. Give your man some time to be in the Nothing Box. He’s got to be there sometime, so give him a chance to be there. Talk about when might be a good time for him to go there, so that it doesn’t get in the way of stuff you need to do.

So let me ask you this: Have you ever gone to your Nothing Box? Ladies, do you have a story about your man and his Nothing Box? I’d love to hear it!

P.S. – This isn’t a new concept. Cindy Holman talked about it here, as well as Robb Lewis, and Carolyn McCulley. Check out their stuff on this topic and enhance the discussion.

Processing vs. Stuffing

CottonBalls

More often than not when I work with men, a common theme that I run into with them is that they have tried hard to manage their problems by “not thinking about it.” This is a pretty common idea for guys, because hey, if we don’t have to think about stuff, then we don’t have to feel any of the other girly emotions, like fear or sadness. We can just be angry, because that’s really the only Emotion we’re supposed to feel, right?

This choosing not to think about problems is what I affectionately refer to as “stuffing.”

So when guys come to me, and tell me that this is how they’ve tried stuffing their problems, they are surprised when they tell me it doesn’t work.

But why doesn’t it work? After all, thinking positively is the way to go, right? If you control your Thoughts, and choose not to think about stuff that hurts you, then it only makes sense to just stuff it so you don’t have to bother feeling that way.

Sounds good in theory, but you know what I’ve found? That most of the time, when people do this, it turns into unresolved conflict. Sometimes that unresolved conflict turns into addiction, or other negative behaviors designed to keep the negative feelings at bay. You try so hard to stuff your emotions, that eventually you run out of room.

Its as if you have a soda bottle, and you start putting cotton balls in it. You figure, “What’s one cotton ball?”, right? So then you keep putting cotton balls in there, hoping that the bottle will continue to have room for them. But eventually, you run out of room, and now you have to figure out what to do with all those cotton balls, and the ones that are coming your way.

So what can you do instead? Just a couple extra steps.

1. Decide if the issue in question is something you can change. If you can change it, great! Take initiative and do what you can to change it. Done deal.

2. If its something you can’t change, resolve that its OK that you can’t change it. Sometimes we have to let ourselves realize that we can’t change the world, and that really is OK.

3. Accept this resolution, and come to terms with it. Make the fact that you can’t change it part of your belief system. Its OK to resolve that the weather is beyond your control. Its OK to accept that you can’t control what your mother-in-law says to you about your soul patch. Accept this. Embrace it.

4. Once you’ve resolved these things, let it go. By letting the issue go, you effectively give yourself a way to let the stress of the issue loose, rather than hanging onto it, and bottling it in.

This is how I teach people to process issues. It really is better than choosing not to think about it, and even though its just a few more steps in the mix, it makes a world of difference, merely due to the choices made.

Does this sound like you? Let me know what you think.

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.