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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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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.

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Why Are The Holidays Stressful?

So I took a sabatical from the blogging thing to take some well needed rest. From today forward, as long as I can, I will continue with my Monday and Thursday posting schedule. To kick things off, I figure I’d get a handle on one of the most stressul times of the year for most Americans. The holiday season is upon us, and the concept behind the holidays is to take time off and spend it with family, right?

At least that’s what I did, and for the most part, it went pretty good. I also took some time to take it easy and relax, and I think this is lost in the idea of the holiday season. As a result, I think it might be good to ask the question: Why the heck are the holidays stressful?

Well, duh, Jim. Its a no brainer. First, you have the shopping. You have lists from your kids and family members, and you have to go to the store and get those gifts. Not only that, but you also have to get the best price, because money is tight, and you have to make it all count. Let’s not forget the crowds, which, depending on where you go, usually requires you to have some kind of medieval armor on your body to protect you from the shoving masses and their own dreams of cheap gift perfection.

Then there’s the cooking. Holidays always involve food, and heck, someone has to make that too, so that involves more shopping, more money spending, more finding the best deal and more stress. Then the food has to be prepared, which is a job in and of itself.

Thirdly, you have the family gatherings themselves, which, as I mentioned in my last  post, you need a battle plan for. So at the very least there you can be somewhat prepared, but the December holidays always seem to have more punch to them than Thanksgiving.

Between all of these things, you have to maintain a job, go to various school shows, plays and sports, and manage the usual baloney that doesn’t come with the holidays. You also have the weather to contend with, depending on where you live, so that throws an additional monkey wrench into things.

Well what the heck do we do about all this anyway?

Well, here are a few things to manage all this.

1. Shopping: Shopping online is probably one of the easiest and best ways to avoid stores entirely, which means avoiding crowds. My wife and I wanted to go shopping on Black Friday, but we decided that we were going to stay home and shop online instead. Got some great deals and shopped in our jammies. The also allows you to compare prices easier than shopping all over town, and if you can get free shipping, it could very well be time well spent.

2. Cooking: Many hands make light work, so if you can get a team to help you, it can make all the difference.Get your family together and do a family event in preparation for the holidays. Get the kids in the kitchen and bribe them with a trip to the mall or something to get them to help you make cookies. The more you plan in advance the less you’ll have to do last minute.

3. Family Stress: Family can be annoying depending on the setting. The key is to keep it light and fun! Find yourself a game to bring with you to distract from the discussions about politics or religion. Bring some classic Christmas movies over like White Christmas (one of my personal favorites), or Miracle on 34th Street. Have a plan ready for how you’re going to handle your family so that when the time comes, you’re ready for any concerns you have.

All of these issues that come with the holiday season have things you can change, and things you can’t. The things you can change are what you do in preparation for all this, and how you spend your time. The things you can’t change, like the crowds, prices, and family members, will always be there, but how you interact with all of these things is up to you.

Decide to have a “Happy” Holiday, and you will have one. Don’t just wish it, want it!

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.

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!

Why Coaching Rules and Counseling Drools(?)

TonyAndSiggy

As Bob Dylan used to say, “and the times they are a changin’!” The climate is changing (no matter what your perspective is on who’s fault it is), the economy is changing (or is stagnantly bad, depending on your perspective), and in many respects, we seem to need to constantly be in tune with how times change.

Let’s face it, if you want to get a job now, you have to work substantially harder now than you used to in order to get it. Raising children is different than it used to be and seems to get more difficult. Technology seems to change rapidly, and despite our economic state we seem to continue to be obsessed with what’s next with regard to technology.

You know what else has changed? The desire for therapists to stay in the Mental Health profession.

A lot of therapists are ditching their previous career in exchange for the lucrative profession of “Coaching”. And why wouldn’t they?! After all, being a coach means you join the likes of Tony Robbins, Larry Winget and other “success coaches”. You can charge what you want, say what you want, work with whoever you want. Your previous counseling niche can be your “coaching specialty” and you can work with people who are “less crazy.”

By the way, every time I use quotes, just picture me doing finger quotes. Its much funnier that way.

Who wouldn’t want this job? Especially as therapists, working with people who are considerably healthier than most counseling clientelle seems really sexy. Not having to worry about insurance companies, and jet-setting across the country and around the globe to speak with hundreds of people seems like a really great idea.

There’s just one problem with that.

Anyone can be a coach. Anyone.

Hell, I’m a coach. My name’s coach Jim, and welcome to my coaching website! You don’t need to be certified and if you have good life experience, you can pretty much work with people. Whereas therapists have to go through 7 years of school, 3 years of additional work before you’re licensed, and then continued maintenance of that licensure in order to keep it in check.

I’m not knocking the coaching profession at all, as I think there is real value in the coaching process. My big issue is with therapists converting to coaches because its “quicker, easier and more seductive.”

So what’s the big deal? How does this affect you? Well it certainly doesn’t help if you are looking to get treated for Anxiety or Adjustment Disorder, ADHD or Depression.  But those are those really bad mental illnesses aren’t they?

So what’s the point? The point is that I got into the counseling gig because I wanted to help people. If I got into the coaching profession, I’d still be interested in helping people, and would probably use much of the same, if not exactly the same methods I use when I work with people. How is that possible? Because instead of doing the “And how do you feel about that?” gig, or the “tell me about your mother” gig, I do the, “how the heck can I get you feeling better and living better as soon as possible” sort of gig, and I do that now, with my counseling clients.

In case you didn’t know, this is a coaching approach, and not a counseling approach. 

This isn’t just about me. This is about you. Would you feel more comfortable going to a therapist/counselor? Or is it more hip and cool to go to a “success coach” or a “stress management coach”?  I think its important to understand this, because if the times truly are changing, and people are feeling less comfortable admitting that they need a “counseling”, then perhaps a change of a different kind is in order.

What do you think? I’m going to put in a poll for this too, because I think its important to have a conversation about stigmas, the process of therapy vs. coaching, and what that means to you. Talk to me people.