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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.

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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.

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?

Why Coaching Rules and Counseling Drools(?)

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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.

The Nobel Committee Doesn’t Believe In Classical Conditioning; a.k.a. Life’s Not Fair

Before you go getting on my case, I’m not criticizing the President. Hell, I’m not even mad at him for getting the Nobel Prize on Friday. I’m more upset at the fact that the Nobel Committee decided to give him the Prize based on presumed accomplishment, whereas so many others worked hard and could show their accomplishments before receiving their Nobel Prize. Don’t believe me? Go here and take a look at the other winners. Each of them obtained a prize for an accomplishment they did over the course of their lifetime.

This is totally stuff I can’t control, but I can at least share my feelings about it and the possible impact for children. Yes, that’s right, this is more about what we tell kids. I’m sure teachers after the Columbus Day break will be teaching kids about the Nobel Prize and what have you. Maybe they won’t, but with such a newsworthy piece, I’d be surprised if children didn’t learn about it.

And then disaster hits. You ask a child to do something first before they get the prize and you get the response, “Well, the President didn’t have to do anything, and he got the Nobel Prize.” At that point you can tell them they aren’t the President, but if they work hard, maybe they can become one someday.

I guess the problem here is again, something that is beyond our control. So it begs me to ask a question: What is a prize worth, and under what criterion does someone receive it?

My whole theraputic modality is around behavior modification with children, and encouraging parents to provide an incentive for good behavior. When stuff like this comes up, smart alec kids throw it in their parents’ face, defying parents’ interpretation of the “real world,”  because in that same world people get prizes even though they may not necessarily deserve it (and the President himself admitted this in his press conference, which I think is admirable).

However, this opens up another topic: Fairness. Now I’ve already gone on a tangent about this, but I think this is the reason why so many people are upset or amused about the President getting the award is because they think its not fair. Well, as my father still says…

“I’ve got a flash for you. Life isn’t fair.”

Is it fair that he got the prize for what they percieve he is going to do? No. Could he turn around and do the exact opposite of their perceptions? Yup. What are they gonna do? Take the prize back? Not likely. Is any of that fair? Nope.

But life isn’t fair, and the sooner I realized that, the less upset I got about it. I mean, how many things happen every day of our lives that really aren’t fair at all. We hear news stories and read the papers or listen to our radios, and we absorb all this information about the world we live in. Wealthy people get wealthier. Irresponsible banks get bailed out. People ignore their financial and family responsibilities. It happens all the time.

So I had to ask myself, what the heck am I whining about? Because life isn’t fair, and I need to get over it. And its OK that life isn’t fair, because as a self-proclaimed underdog, I should expect that some others have an unfair advantage. All the better when I beat the odds and accomplish something.

So I guess my message here is simple: Just accept it. Accept the fact that life isn’t fair, and that a guy who is already a millionaire got $1.4 Million for projected accomplishments. Get over it. It happens all the time, we just don’t see it because the news doesn’t report on that stuff.

Don’t let something like this get you down, and sure as heck don’t let it get you mad. I wasted a couple hours of my life getting upset over this, and that’s time I can’t get back. So this comes back to the WATER Method and separate the problems into what you can and can’t change.

Unfairness will always be there. Put in the pile of stuff you can’t change and get stuff you can change done!

P.S. – When the heck is Ross Geller going to get his Nobel Prize? The guy was whining about it Season 9, and he still didn’t get one.

Boundaries and Fences: A Visual Comparison

MuseumFence

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?

Life Going By Too Fast? Take Time To Slow Down!

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I recently had a surprise birthday party for my sister where I invited all her nearest and dearest friends. We were super stealthy about it, and kept it top secret! We even had a friend of hers kidnap her for the day and bring her to our home! Sure enough, we pulled off the surprise hook, line and sinker.

During the planning phase of the party, I was not sure how to manage my dog. See, my dog Arwen (Lord of the Rings Elf, in case you were wondering) is very….how do I put this…fast. She’s friendly and fast all at the same time. So the minute she saw all the people at the house, it took her all of two seconds to sniff each and every new person. She ran through the house at an alarming rate, and I tried to get her out the door and in the back yard before she jumped from chair to chair, pouncing on every guest in the house!

The group of partiers commented on how crazy she seemed, and one person got a picture of her. She posted the picture on Facebook, and said “I’m surprised I didn’t get motion blur, because the dog was going so fast (or something like that).”

It got me thinking: How often do we speed through our lives, saying quick hellos to the people that we meet; not really making strong enough connections with them before they’re wisked away and moving on to their own lives?

When we get into our routine, days seem to blitz by, don’t they? Get up, get the kids up, go to work, come home, have dinner, get some chores done (if you’re lucky), help the kids with their homework (during school) , and maybe have some downtime before you head off to sleep and do it all over again.

How much of our lives are really meaningful? How much time do you spend actually doing what you want to do? Don’t we all, to some degree, speed through our lives, and before we know it, months and years have passed, and things are not the way we wanted them to be?

So what do we do about it? Well you can complain, which I don’t suggest…or you can use the WATER Method.

You Can Change: What you do every day. Take a little time to just take it slow and realize that there’s more to life than your routine. Maybe take a moment to kiss your spouse, spend quality time with your children or take up a fulfilling hobby. This comes down to time management. You can decide how to spend your time, and use it wisely.

You Can’t Change: How much time you have. You get 24 hours a day, and that’s it. You also can’t change everyone else’s pace, how they see their world, and how they spend their time. You also can’t change how they see you. Its OK; don’t feel like you have to change these things, because you couldn’t if you wanted to. So accept and resolve that you can’t change them.

See, my dog tends to go a million miles an hour when people are around. After a while, she slows down, hits the floor or her favorite papasan chair, and enjoys just laying there, watching us live our lives. Before long, she’ll take a nap and be much like the picture you see above. Maybe people don’t see that side of her, but that doesn’t mean its not there. Maybe others need to see the side of you that wants to slow down and take a moment to breathe life in.

This comes back to the “R” in WATER, Results! You have the results you have because you’ve continued to do, feel and think the way you have over the course of your life. Change just one of those things, and your results can be dramatically different!

Too anxious to change? Can’t slow down? If you have a similar experience, share it here. I respond to every comment made!