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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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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!

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 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.

The Trust Equation

e=mc2

I was going to sit here and blog about death and how Halloween takes death and turns it into something we fear or something that we joke about. I was going to go off on a rant about how horror movies are bad mkay, and that we are trained by society to fear death.

Then I thought about it, and thought, that’s just no fun at all.

So I decided to share an equation that came to me in session one day. The simple equation below.

Trust=FactsOverTime

Let me explain this equation a bit further. See, I work with a lot of couples, and some of them have to work through issues of infidelity, lying and other acts of mistrust. As a result, many of them come into my office looking for a way to rebuild the trust that has been lost.

So this is what I offer them. You can not have Trust without Facts, and you can’t have Trust without seeing those facts for a period of Time.

Well, this is all well and good, but how can I apply this to my own life?

Well its not just as simple as that, is it? There are certain Facts that need to be understood in order for Trust to exist. What kind of Facts are we looking for? The kind that is necessary to ease the emotional distress of the other person. And not just any amount of Time will do, but we have to get specific about the amount of Time that must occur in order to regain this Trust.

Let’s make this simple, because I tend to make things more complicated than they actually are.

1. Decide that you want to rebuild the trust between you and the person who broke your trust. You have to decide whether or not you want to rebuild the Trust. This is where it has to start if you’re going to rebuild any trusting relationship.

2. Decide what you can trust this person with, and what you can’t. This separation has the WATER Method all over it. What you can and can’t change and what you can and can’t trust someone with are much in the same. The only difference is that with Trust, you can make a change in what you can’t trust someone with.

3. Give this person measurable goals with which they can rebuild your trust. Decide what you are willing to trade in return for your trust. Take in this process, and really think about what is worth trading for…what Facts and for how long do they need to exist before you feel comfortable trusting this person.

4. Decide to give back that trust. Make sure you make this decision, because if you don’t, you may find yourself wondering why this person is so bitter. I mean, you just made them jump through these flaming hoops, you have to make sure you keep up your end of the bargain.

So there you have it. Einstein had E=MC2, Newton had his laws of physics, Freud had his theories. Maybe this isn’t as amazing, but hey, its helped some people Maybe it will help you.