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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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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.


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!

Boundaries and Fences: A Visual Comparison


So I was meeting with a client over the course of the last week, and we ended up talking a bit about boundaries and how to apply them to her life. Much of the conversation had to do with how to set boundaries with family members and people she loves, which feels something like trying to spoon out spaghetti sauce with a fork. So we sat there and tried to define what boundaries looked like, and how we could define them a little better.

Now I hate to think that I’m anyone really inspiringly smart. I mean, there are a lot of people out there who know a whole heck of a lot more than me. But every now and then, God throws me a bone and gives me something really cool to share with people. I think this is one of those things.

When you think of boundaries, what comes to mind? Personally, I think of fences and walls. When I think of fences and walls, I think of all different shapes and sizes. If you can visualize those boundaries to look like those fences, it could be easier to set those boundaries with the people who are more likely to step all over them.

The size of the fence involves the size of the boundary. For example, there’s a small, 2 foot high wooden fence outside the parking lot of my office building. It wouldn’t take a whole lot for someone to step over this fence, right? A little effort, and the boundary doesn’t exist anymore. We can look at these boundaries like the ones we set with our significant others. We tell them that these areas are off limits, and based on our involvement with that person, we can hope that they don’t step over those boundaries. Think of them as fences that surround a flower bed, and that if the person you love doesn’t want to step on your flowers, they don’t overstep the boundary (even though they could at any time).

Now, think about fences that are chest high. You could climb over these fences and hop over to the other side, but its likely that the person who put the fence up, doesn’t want you in. The boundaries that look like this are more like clear areas that you don’t want people to overstep, and they can know right up front what the boundary is and why you have it there. So think about what kind of issues those are, and where you would set up a chest-high fence. Boundaries like these could be the punishments you set for your kids, or how long you decide you’re going to think about work after you leave for the day.

 Then there are the 10 foot high brick walls, like the ones you see at most mansions in Newport. These often have tall, spiked iron gates with vertical iron bars to prevent climbing. These boundaries are boundaries that mean business. These boundaries have a “No Trespassing” sign on them, and when you set boundaries like these, those who try to step over them should proceed with caution. Boundaries like this are areas that you don’t want to share with others, like personal details, sexual history, and the political discussions your family have at holiday dinners.

Remember, the things you can change are your boundaries, and these are things that are in your Inside World (the world of stuff you control, or your WATER). What other people do is part of the Outside World (or the world of stuff you can’t control), but telling them your boundaries and sticking to them is you way of taking charge of your life and whether or not you allow others to affect your world.

So what do your boundaries look like? How big are your fences and what do they represent?

No, Learning Doesn’t Have To Suck (We Just Do It For Different Reasons)


Recently Jonathan Fields did a blog post entitled: Does Learning Have To Suck? In case you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor and go check it out. I wanted to comment on it, but after some consideration, realized I had more to say about it than I thought. So, you get what you have here.

Now I really dig Jonathan’s style. I think he’s smart and articulate and has a pretty good grasp on most things involved with business. However, he recently wrote a post about  extrinsic motivation, and this really perked my interest. Seeing as I’m a behavior modification guy, especially with regard to children, I decided to take it upon myself to do a post about Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation.

If you don’t feel like reading his blog (a mistake to be sure), then I’ll sum up the story. Basically he offered his daughter an iPod if she was able to accomplish her homework goals. Through various trial and error, he was able to get her to do the homework she needed to do.

The conversation in Does Learning Have To Suck? then spilled over into whether or not learning has to be extrinsically motivated. The discussion went back and forth between those who thought that learning should be about things that motivate the child intrinsically (and not all this other stuff they’re taught in school) and that there is an importance to learning things in school, even if they’re boring.

I have worked on countless behavioral plans with my clients and their parents, many of which are frustrated with a child’s lack of desire to do the work effectively. Some would say this has something to do with the curriculum at the school itself, but I disagree. Here is my take on what the heck is up with some kids, and why they bore of information so quickly.

1. Television(and video games, and friends, and the internet) is way more fun. It could be that children are exposed to hours upon hours of television from the age of 2 onward. Compared to the bright lights and fast moving, cartoon weilding, technicolor circus, is it any wonder why school is so boring?

2. Curiosity and Playfulness are stifled due to being forced to be quiet in class. Children start learning in First grade that they have to be quiet and sit still in class. Order and routine are necessary for teachers to be able to handle such large amounts of students. The Montessori Method is different in this, as it teaches learning through all five senses, and encourages curiosity and a desire to learn through experience. This is why atheletes are motivated to excel, because they have an intrinsic desire to learn more.

3. Some parents just don’t want to fight with their kids over homework. Since the age of the elimination of corporal punishment, some children have learned that if they push the right buttons, they can get a parent to crack, and as a result, the parent gets held hostage. Some parents even avoid the homework situation entirely for fear of another blowout between them and their kids. This is when I encourage Extrinsic Motivation for children, simply because it allows the parents to use a motivator to get the child to do what they want. After all, that’s real world stuff, right?

Go ahead, tell me you’re bribing your kid, and then tell me you’re going to your job every day for free.

Ah, but it can be bigger than that, can’t it? What if the parent were to use an Intrinsic Motivator as an Extrinsic Motivator? Here’s what I mean:

I have a client who loves to skateboard. He always wants to learn new tricks, and is way more interested in learning this than his homework (duh, speeding down a halfpipe at 30-50mph and then breaking gravity? who wouldn’t want to do that?). The parent was frustrated and brought the kid to me. Turns out, the parent had the tools all along. All s/he had to do was offer time at the skate park as a motivator to do the work, and suddenly the work started to get done. The kid does his homework, and learns new tricks. Everyone’s happy.

Additionally, I worked with the kid and used skateboarding to illustrate cool science concepts, like gravity and velocity. We then talked about Geometry and Physics, and how a half pipe is really kind of a circle cut in half. Every time he goes up and comes back down (Newton’s Law in action), his speed allows him to break free from gravity, if only for a short time.

He then told me I was really smart. Little does he know…

Fact is, Extrinsic Motivation is kind of a cultural norm. Sure, it’d be nice if we could all just get along and do things for the fun of it. But there are a lot of boring jobs out there that pay well. Heck, I had to make that decision myself (Rock Star – because you know they hand out diplomas for those…or Shrink, which doesn’t pay as well as TV says we do…I’m still waiting for my awesome fountain).

Most jobs are in one of two categories: Ones you love (and pay poorly) and ones you hate (and pay well). Sometimes you get the short end of the stick on all fronts, but you get the idea. Anyone who sets out on a career does so for one of those two reasons, and hopefully you are able to find balance in there somewhere.

My point is, learning is part of growing up. Part of growing up is also figuring out what you want to do with your life. That changes as you grow, but I think its healthy for kids to understand how the world works, and also have dreams and goals to shoot for as well. Besides, even if you learn about “how the world works” doesn’t mean that it has to work for you the same way. You can always beat the odds, and do something different (like loving your job and getting paid well to do it).

Everyone is different. The way one person learns and gets through school might be completely different than another. I’m horrible at test taking, but breezed my way through college and grad school through writing papers. Some things we will learn because we have to, and some because we want to. If that means it sucks along the way, but we end up getting something for our efforts, I’m kinda OK with that.

What do you think? Can a kid have it both ways? To learn, love it and want to learn more? Gimme what you got!

Are You Sure You’re Making The Right Choices?

I’m not a marketing guy at all, just an average Joe trying to make his mark in life. I help people though, and I guess I’m good at that, but every now and then something hits me upside the head and gives me a halfway decent thought. Today I’ve decided to do a little post on marketing, because quite frankly, I’m a little fed up with what a lot of the “smart people” are telling me about marketing my business online. This is also applicable to everyday life, so if you’re here for that, this post is for you too.

Anyway, the story goes a little something like this: the Mrs. and I went one Saturday to a big box store. You know the type: you by 25lbs of sugar because its cheaper to do that than buy the lousy 5lbs they give you at the grocery store. Same thing goes for virtually every other product they sell you. Nothing small, always big. On our list was coffee, and we needed it in a big way! Just so you know, I would be considered a coffee addict. I have a cup when I wake up in the morning, and I have a cup or two at work.

Also little known fact: big box stores tire the hell out of me. I don’t know if its the really high warehouse ceilings, or the rows and rows of isles filled with stuff, or the dirty floors you can skate on if you have the right shoes…but something about them makes me really tired.  Well, when we hit that coffee aisle, I couldn’t have been more encouraged!

There they were in their giant orange plastic bags: 10lbs of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee! Moreover, my wife exclaimed that she had a coupon for said coffee! Bonus! Overwhelmed by the enticing aroma of coffee, we greedily snatched a bag, threw it in our cart, and sped to the register.

When we got home, I ripped that bag open, sloshed some water into the coffee maker and immediately made a fresh pot of coffee. Ah, exlixir of life! It was delicious, but somehow we were still tired. We chalked it up to a long day and took a nap.

Now we went to the store specifically because she was going to school all week and we wanted to be prepared. So the first morning she goes off to school, I got about 6 hours sleep, but I made the coffee and sent her on her way. Later on, I went off to work, and at around noon I had a wretched headache. I chalked it up to getting very little sleep and cursed the new schedule. I stomached through my clients and figured I would just go to bed early and make sure I got enough sleep this time around.

Next night, got 8 hours sleep. Same routine: go to work, splitting headache. This new schedule really is handing out the beatdowns! A few days later, I finally go through a day without headaches, so I figure I must have gotten my sleep schedule on target.

So we go on for a few weeks having coffee in the morning, but we notice that when we headed out to work, we were both drained. We figured it was the weather, because for the last few weeks, it had been raining almost every day. Here in New England, people get Seasonal Affective Disorder all the time, so we figured it was our turn to be bummed because of the weather.

Then one day I go about my routine and make the coffee. Only today, I did something a little different. I read the label. Just for the heck of it. And there it was in bright pink letters.

Decaf Coffee

For the last month, my wife and I had been drinking decaf coffee, without even knowing it. Moreover, we bought the coffee in our desire to wake up from our day. We were so caught up in trying to get what we wanted that we didn’t even take the time to read the label carefully enough. After all, only an idiot like me would buy Decaf Coffee (could someone please tell me what the purpose of decaf coffee is, because I have yet to understand it) and not intend to. (By the way, the wife didn’t get headaches because she packed Starbucks Mochas with her, so her caffine intake was just fine.)

Not only did we not believe we made a mistake, but we blamed everything under the sun BUT the coffee! We thought it had something to do with the sleep schedule, the weather, just being busy in general. We were so convinced that we made the right choice in coffee, that we didn’t even factor it into the equation.

So aside from the fact that I’m a complete moron, there’s a moral in here somewhere:

1. If something isn’t right, it might be because YOU made a mistake. Its so much easier to blame other things than it is to blame ourselves and the dumb choices we make. Don’t be so confident in your choices that you end up kicking yourself down the road. Be sure you are making the right choices for your life or your business, and if it isn’t producing the result that you want, then you may need to do something different.

2. Carelessness can create far reaching consequences. If I had taken just a couple more seconds to read the label, I would have saved myself from days of headaches that didn’t need to be there. I also would have been a lot more alert for my clients and I likely would have been a better counselor to people (try being empathic when you feel like you have a knife in your skull). Careless choices can cost you time, money and effectiveness.

3. Get all the details on a “great deal.” It might look good, and sound good, but it may not be what you want or need. Remember that any great deal is only there to sell product. We fell into the marketing hook, line and sinker. We needed coffee, they had it, and with a coupon! They sold us coffee, which is what they were trying to do to begin with.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, be careful, and know what you’re getting yourself into, especially with your business. Advertising is of course, a crap shoot, but other than that, understand the time or money demands on a project before you get into it. If you don’t know, there are plenty of people who do, so ask around. Also, ask people to critique your stuff. Maybe you think its totally awesome, but that’s because you like yourself and believe in yourself (all good things mind you). However, getting some constructive criticism can prevent those far reaching consequences.

Life is the same way. You may think you’re making all the right choices, but something doesn’t seem to be right, and no matter what, you end up with bad results. You’re miserable, but you’re not sure what you have to do to make things better. So try something different, and take a look at what you could be doing wrong.

Don’t be stupid like me. Discover what you might be doing wrong, and fix it before the headaches ensue.

E.A.R. – Emotions Running Wild!

One of the things I’ve noticed when people come to me with Anger, Fear, or Frustration, they usually don’t know how to control it. More often than not, there’s a pattern that’s going on here. Maybe you’ve noticed it in your own life. It starts with this emotion, and it feels like it takes control. Then, you do something that you likely regret later. You say something to someone out of anger, or you overdo it out of fear. And then you get hit with the reality that things didn’t turn out like you wanted them to.

This is what I call the E.A.R. problem. Using three letters from the WATER Method, this is another in my handy set of acronyms to help you manage this stuff. E.A.R. Stands for:




The emotions come first, with all their power and glory. Then they grab hold of our brain, toss it out the window, and take control of our actions. After that, you are hit with the often painful results of the emotion-action combo, and that is where it impairs your life.

How do you fix it? T.E.A.R. it up!

The T I’m adding is Thinking. Think about the process you’re going through and where its gotten you so far. It doesn’t seem to be working does it? So let’s do some creative thinking. With thinking at the start of the process, you can Think about the issue, consider how you want your Emotions to go. Act accordingly, and recognize that if you allow your emotions to take control, your Actions could get you into trouble. Then see the Results (or potential results) of the smarter choices unfold, and recognize that things could have gone/will go dramatically different.

So think about what it is that is causing you to feel the way you do when the emotions take control. Then see if there’s a different way you can look at it, or if you can use the WATER Method to determine if what is making you feel this way is something you can change or not. If it isn’t something you can change, sweet! That means that no matter what you do or how you feel, that problem is staying put. It doesn’t really care how you feel really, so its better to move your mind on to things that you can change. If its something you can change, now you can take Action and make some changes in your life.

Letting your emotions run wild is no good for anyone. Especially you. Taming those wild emotions by thinking about the process can really make a difference, and change the results that you want.

How to know when your anxiety is affecting your work.

There are a lot of people out there unemployed, and a lot of them have been having trouble finding work (which is anxiety inducing as it stands). However, there are some of us out there who are still working, and the situation can be tense. Some are concerned about their job and how they’re going to keep it. Some fear getting the boss angry, because that one day could be their last.

Here are some surefire ways to know that anxiety is getting the better of you at your job:

1. You work extra hours when your boss asks, because you don’t want him/her to get upset and fire you.

2. Simple tasks seem that much more difficult, because you’re worried that if you get it wrong, you could get fired.

3. The company downsizes, so as a result, you have to do someone else’s job and your own. If you don’t have enough time to do this, you’re having trouble finding the time to do all the work you’re supposed to do.

4. When you go home, you can’t stop thinking about work. Its there with you when you wake up, and there with you in the wee hours of the morning, keeping you from sleeping.

Sound familiar? Have I missed something? Is there soemthing at your job that is causing you anxiety that is not listed above? Comments welcome!