May 25

WHY ARE WE SO ANGRY?

We seem to have evolved into an angry and hateful culture.  The anger is directed at our government, big business, organized religion, media, and even our own families.  We’ve been disgusted, appalled, horrified, and disturbed by how institutions and powerful entities have handled problems and conflicts.  The anger may come from feelings of betrayal/deceit, loss of control, or from tremendous fear regarding the direction and future of our society.  The incredible changes in the world that have occurred in the last 15 years as it relates to terrorism, the advancement of the internet, and the change in cultural norms have impacted us in a huge way.  Whatever the root of our anger, it is good to remember that anger is a secondary emotion and fear, hurt, and sadness often lay under the outward anger.  Our fears related to the future of our country and its leadership greatly contribute to the current,  simmering anger.

Unfortunately our anger has not been channeled for the good or resulted in positive change.  People tend to be more cynical, negative, critical, pessimistic, and downright apathetic these days.  We are more polarized as a nation and can’t seem to work together for the common good.  In addition, we have gotten caught up in the blame game avoiding taking responsibility at all costs.

So what can we do with our anger?  How can we use it for good?  It all starts with our immediate family which we have the most control and influence over.  If we can consistently be kind, supportive, and compassionate with the people we’re around the most, chances are they’ll respond favorably.  So much of our communication is in our delivery.  Using profanity, yelling, putting others down, or being overly critical and harsh only perpetuates anger.  Instead, find the positive in others and lift them up.  Practice smiling more often, even with strangers, and asking them how their day is going.  Don’t be in such a rush, let others go ahead of you, and spread good will.  In short, practice patience with others.

Of course, many people have strong opinions about what should be done with issues outside their own families. Most would rather voice their negative thoughts than take any action.  Some might say, “I can’t do anything about it,” which is just not true.  We can write letters, make phone calls, vote, volunteer, express a message on social media, and ultimately express ourselves.  Why would we chose to do this even if the outcome doesn’t change?  Because taking action helps reduce the anger and gives us some sense of control.  Another important way to manage our anger is to let go of the things we have no control over and accept our limits.  The serenity prayer summarizes this point best, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”  Don’t allow your anger to imprison you; free yourself from your anger.

May 18

SUCCESS TRUMPS EVERYTHING

Does your laser beam focus on success prevent you from seeing other aspects of life?  Do you find yourself thinking about work 24/7?  You’re not alone.  Many of my clients have spent their entire lives striving for success only to find that there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  And there were multiple casualties along the way while they were attempting to achieve the ultimate success through financial wealth and security.  We can get so caught up in the success engine that we lose our peripheral vision and neglect or ignore the important people in our lives.  We assume that others can function without our attention, time, and connection while we are consumed with our journey to success.  We even attempt to justify and rationalize our behavior by convincing ourselves and others that we’re working hard to create something special for them, but at what cost?

Many of my clients have made their careers and material success a much higher priority than their relationships with family and friends.  They may feel greater comfort with skills in the workplace along with a greater sense of power and control.  On the contrary, relationships require more emotional awareness, sensitivity and emotional intelligence.  The therapy process typically includes awareness raising, modifying thoughts, expressing feelings, and ultimately changing behaviors.  When a person applies the same determination and commitment that has enabled them to be successful in their profession to improving their relationships transformation happens.

Ultimately the hope is that individuals redefine success and broaden their parameters.  Creating a lavish and affluent lifestyle with no one to share in it doesn’t sound very appealing to most.  Over the years of my work I’ve seen thousands throw away or destroy their relationships and put achievement over connection.  Modifying our priorities and being intentional about our connections to our spouse, children, family, and friends can enrich our lives and create greater happiness than our material possessions.  How much time do you carve out during the week to listen, share, and connect through activities and words with people you love?  Make a commitment today to value the people you care about and show it through your words and actions.  We need to show the desire and commitment to connect less with technology and more with people.  Relationships can last a lifetime while objects lose their value overnight.

 

May 11

MAKE POSITIVITY A PRIORITY

We all have good and bad aspects to our personality.  Unfortunately many of us focus on the negative and minimize the positive.  We tend to be our own worst enemies and beat up on ourselves for mistakes, flaws, and miscues, instead of reminding ourselves of our value.  Many of our personality traits are like double-edged swords;  they are both beneficial and detrimental.  Even narcissistic traits can have some value since a healthy level of narcissism can help shake off failures, create self-confidence, and instill drive/perseverance.  Of course, the downsides of that trait are a lack of empathy and a sense of entitlement.  Can you think of some of your own traits that can have both a good and bad aspect to them?

We can become more aware of our personality traits that need to change from others’ feedback and through self-analysis.  Sometimes a sermon, blog, book, or TV/radio program can point out a characteristic that you can identify with and recognize you need to change.  On our journey through life we can constantly learn and grow through our experiences when we decide to use those experiences.  In fact, the key to success is not giving up when you fail.  Another factor is forgiveness since letting go of our past mistakes enables us to focus on our accomplishments.  So instead of focusing on the one thing that is negative (“perfect is the enemy of good”), pay attention to the many positive things that you have done.  Life is not a sprint but rather a marathon, so relax. You’ll get another chance to excel.

Sometimes it helps to make a list of 8-10 of your positive traits, write them on index cards, and every morning read the list to remind yourself of your positive attributes.  Once you’ve memorized the list, practice repeating that list in your head, using positive self-talk, and trusting that positive thinking leads to positive actions and outcomes.  For many of us identifying the positive in ourselves and others is very difficult, but over time it gets easier and more natural.  Make a commitment to find three positive things in yourself or someone else each day.  Remember we are what we think which translates into what we do.  Make positivity a greater priority in your life and reap the rewards.

May 04

WHEN POWER AND RULES COLLIDE

A recent article in USA Today highlighted a recent group of CEOs who violated their company’s code of conduct.  Many of the individuals, the most recent being Priceline’s CEO Darren Huston, were found to have engaged in inappropriate personal relationships with employees.  One can’t help but wonder, “Why would you jeopardize your career, lifestyle, and destroy your family when you have the world by the tail?”  Can power, success, wealth, and fame cloud our judgement and thinking that badly?  Or do most of these people believe they won’t get caught or can talk their way out of it?  Many highly successful people perform well, make their company incredibly profitable, yet misbehave and make some very bad choices.  Some may feel the rules don’t apply to them and that they deserve special treatment while others may minimize their misbehaviors and defend their position.

Power can make people crazy.  Whether the person is a CEO, professional athlete, celebrity, politician, physician, or entrepreneur, power, control, fame and fortune can cause people to choose self-destructive behaviors.  Some get bored easily and need the constant stimulation and challenges to keep the adrenaline rush going.  Others can justify their behaviors and claim that their amazing success entitles them to have whatever they want.  In my practice I witness how relationships are destroyed, violated, compromised, neglected, or damaged due to this common power failure.  Even subtle changes in workplace interactions and connections can compromise one’s position and effectiveness.  Trust is broken and respect lost when people use their power inappropriately and offend others with their words and actions. So can people change?

Yes, people can change, but only when the desire to change is there.  Some people don’t want to invest the time and effort to change or they are convinced change is not really necessary.  As part of my work, I am committed to making my patients aware of what needs to change and offer ways to make that happen.  Simply gaining awareness and sensitivity to others is a good start along with considering the impact your actions have on others.  Of course changing both thoughts and actions are part of the therapy process.  Also learning how to talk to people with respect and compassion which may seem simple, but some lack the skills.  In essence, learning people smarts and emotional intelligence can help relationships both at work and home.  Remember that positive connections with people enables us to have a greater significance and impact on their lives.

Apr 27

POWER COUPLES ON THE RISE

A recent article from the New York Times reported that marriages of equals is quickly rising. These are couples with similar education levels, career interests, shared passions, and similar goals for the kids.  Multiple reasons can explain this change including people marrying later, geographic flexibility, and advanced technology. In the past, in general, men sought homemakers and women sought breadwinners, but today high achievers seek those with the same aspirations.  Interestingly, couples today are focused more on companionship and tend to be with people more like themselves.  Ironically, when women earn more than their husbands they tend to compensate by building up their husband’s career or minimizing their own.

In spite of these egalitarian views, conflicts still arise in relationships where couples share in financial contributions, child care, and division of housework.  The conflicts may be over differences in perception, lack of appreciation or devaluing certain tasks over others.  In fact, although the power couple may both be driven to achieve, one may value relationships more than the other.  For example, working late on a project and missing time with the family may be more acceptable to one person than the other.  We all have our priorities but sometimes they aren’t aligned with our spouse which can create conflict.  Power couples may be aligned with their desire to achieve, excel, and succeed, but relationally there may be a disconnect.

In today’s hectic and rushed life we have such limited time to spend on our relationships and we need to figure out ways to maximize our time.  For instance, traveling to and from activities can be an opportunity to connect either face-to-face or via phone and share experiences.  Some couples prefer texting over phone calls, but recognize the limits of this and avoid deep or conflictual interactions.  One of the best ways to connect occurs when you shut down all electronics and intentionally disconnect from the outside world to be solely focused on each other.  Take turns planning dates and build the friendship part of your relationship by selecting activities that you know your partner will enjoy.  Spontaneity and surprises can also add some excitement and fun to the relationship as long as the objective is not selfish or self-indulgent.  Even individually spending time with same-sexed friends can help marriages since it takes the pressure off one person to meet all of our needs. Whether we’re similar or different matters less than how we adapt and assimilate into each other’s world.  You have to be a teammate first to be a team.

Apr 20

CAN YOU HANDLE THE TRUTH?

We say that we want to know what our spouse feels or thinks, but do we really?  The infamous line by Jack Nicholson from the movie “A Few Good Men” captures it best, “You can’t handle the truth!”  Sharing our feelings openly, honestly, and directly is often the best approach, but we have to be sensitive to our delivery and approach.  If we express ourselves with kindness and respect then the hope is that the recipient will respond appropriately.  Unfortunately it doesn’t always go that smoothly.  Sometimes when we’re expressing our disappointment, frustration, or hurt, the person reacts defensively and may lash back or shut down.

The best way to resolve negative emotions is to share them constructively and ultimately release them. The intention is not to hurt or harm, but instead to let go of the negative feelings instead of hanging onto them. However, if your partner often gets defensive, angry, and attacks back when you’re trying to share your feelings, it doesn’t motivate you to talk openly about your emotions.  We don’t have to agree or even fully understand each other’s emotions every time, but we need to acknowledge and accept them.  That’s what validation is all about, allowing our partner to express themselves without defending or justifying our position.  Many couples struggle with the implementation of this strategy, but it’s effectiveness is significant.

Opening up and sharing feelings can be very difficult for anyone, especially if the information is used against us at a later point. Remember that trusting others with our emotions can build greater connection, but how it is received is crucial.  Ideally we can talk through conflict, share emotions openly, validate each others feelings, and let go of the emotional pain.  It sounds so simple and easy, but it’s obviously more complicated and difficult.  The hope is that this framework will provide you with a guide to express and resolve your emotions rather than hold them in or constantly lash out.  It is normal for people to be hurt, angry, and upset with each other, but our job is to be able to accept feedback without feeling compelled to justify or defend ourselves and validate each other’s feelings before responding to the content.  When we can respond rather than react, the results are often more favorable.  As already mentioned, we can experience greater connection and intimacy when we successfully work through conflict and resolve negative feelings.  Believe it because it is true.

Apr 13

WHAT MOTIVATES YOU?

Where does your motivation come from?  Are you motivated by money, power, control, success, pleasing others, or altruism?  Often people are motivated at their core by either fear or guilt.  Our past experiences with parents, teachers, coaches, bosses and peers may reinforce these motivators.  Although fear and guilt motivators may provide an initial push to take action, in the long run they won’t help you finish the race.  Both fear and guilt are external motivators meaning they come from outside of us instead of being internally driven.  When we change a behavior for someone else (external motivation) it usually doesn’t stick. We need to have an emotional investment and ownership in the change process.  Consider choosing internal motivators like self-respect or self-love. For example, giving up smoking will be more successful if we do it for ourselves instead of based on the guilt others place on us.

Fear and guilt are powerful emotions which is why we often rely on them to change our behaviors.  The problem with these emotions is that not only does the change seldom last, but that we may resent the external source (or person) after a while because we never bought into the need for change.  When we focus our attention on ways to build ourselves up we ignite the internal motivators.  We need to be cognizant of our positive attributes and forgive ourselves for failures instead of perpetually punishing ourselves when we make mistakes.  Our perception of ourselves is tied into our motivation.

How do we get started? The first step is setting goals and ways to measure your progress. In many instances it takes action and impetus to get the ball rolling.  Remember it takes 30-66 days of a consistent behavior for it to become a habit.  We also need to have the right attitude and believe in ourselves even if we are “faking it till we make it”.  Like the little engine that could, we need to repeat “I think I can, I think I can.”  This positive and encouraging self-talk helps as does rewarding our efforts along the way.  We also can choose to focus on the process and journey rather than looking ahead to the outcome.  Adopt the AA mantra, “one day at a time.”  When we focus on our positive attributes and recognize our value it makes it easier to keep the momentum going.  Create the catalyst and recognize the benefits of change.  Motivation is an inside job and you can make it happen when you decide that you desire a different life.

Apr 06

NEVER DISCONNECTED

Do you or someone you love find it difficult to separate from work?  And do you find that your work personality doesn’t change when you arrive home?  Transitioning from work to home can be difficult with some people preferring to maintain their work identity because it is more comfortable.  Maybe it’s more comfortable because their skill set at work fits better than the one at home.  Often work relationships are limited, unemotional, and impersonal which some prefer.  For those in positions of authority, work allows them greater power, control, and independence.  And unfortunately with the technology of today leaving the physical environment of work doesn’t imply that work is over.  Many of us are required to respond to emails, texts, and phone calls even after hours.  This makes it even more difficult to separate our work lives from our personal lives.

So which is it, do you choose not to disconnect or do you not know how to turn your work life off?  Is your lack of awareness and your fixation on work destroying your relationships?  When we are preoccupied with work issues or tasks, we have difficulties listening to others. Our work stress can impact every aspect of our lives.

Not only can work consume us, if we allow it, but the work persona can follow us home.  At work, we’re expected to take charge, problem solve, motivate others, and lead the team. Changing to a more loving, give and take mentality upon pulling into the driveway is no easy task.  Some of us have a long commute and can use that time to decompress and transition into a different person upon arriving home.  Others have to make the switch while walking through the door and have very little transition time.  For me, changing into comfortable clothes and having a little bit of alone time before jumping into home life helps.  Being consciously aware of my role and expectations of both myself and spouse also helps reset my mindset to be more home focused.  Going for a walk, having one drink, or watching the evening news can be another way to establish a routine that reorients a person to being in home-mode.  Some couples limit the amount of time they spend talking about work.  Think about the person you portray at work versus home and ask whether they are or should be different.  In this case different may actually be a good thing. While treating both your staff and family with respect and kindness, recognize the value of interacting differently  depending on your environment.

Mar 30

WHAT MAKES A GREAT LEADER?

What are the characteristics of a great leader?  How do leaders influence work performance and productivity?  A recent study from the University of Texas at San Antonio found that great leaders communicate clearly, cultivate creativity, and foster good interpersonal relationships.  While ineffective leaders are abusive and humiliate staff in front of others, confident and effective leaders inject the power of positive thinking and build trust based upon mutual respect.  Ultimately, when the relationships are positive, confidence and creativity grow in both leaders and their staff.  What kind of leader are you?

Clearly the way we relate and interact with others impacts our ability to lead and influence others.  Using our power and authority in a controlling and aggressive way only creates stress and conflict in our work environment.  Leaders should be humble, acknowledge their mistakes, and commit to changing negative behaviors.  Treating people as equals regardless of their position imbues tremendous respect and loyalty from everyone on the team.  People respond well when they feel appreciated, valued, and have their contribution to the success of the business acknowledged.

Our relationships continue to pave the way for our success as a leader both at work and home.  When we deal effectively with conflict, communicate constructively, and accept alternative ways of doing things, we position ourselves for success.  Great leaders listen well and accept constructive feedback.  They ask questions, wait for the answers, and implement suggestions made by others.  We learn nothing by defending our position, but grow tremendously when we recognize the benefit of a different perspective or a new approach.  Effective leaders treat people with respect and encourage creativity and thinking outside the box.  Lastly, great leaders are consistent in their words and actions which builds trust and loyalty.  They genuinely care about the well-being of their people and are capable of being compassionate at times of hardship.  The bottom line is that great leaders focus first on the people and then on the task at hand.

 

Mar 23

EMOTIONAL POLITICS

Have you ever made an emotional decision?  Can you recall how you felt the day you purchased your first car?  Or made a decision to fire a staff person based purely on emotion?  We all have made decisions and choices based on emotion, but sometimes it backfires on us.  Our emotions, positive or negative, can drive us to make an impulsive choice without much thought or contemplation. Emotion motivated choices often come from fear, guilt, or anger.  Unfortunately, sometimes these choices lack adequate reflection, knowledge, and/or analysis.  We react rather than respond to a situation without taking the time to consider the consequences of our decision.  Do Americans have significant emotions related to government, politics, and the direction our country is headed?  You better believe it!

Emotions are running high during this presidential election and people are reacting with intense feelings.  These are often fueled by the media reporting sensationalized news to boost ratings.  Some politicians are very skillful at playing off of our emotions and convincing the public that these emotions require a drastic change and they are the one to make it happen.  Unfortunately these emotions not only can drive our decision-making, but can also create more conflict and division within a political party, a state and a nation.  While passion/emotion can emphasize a point and position, it can also alienate others.  Most of us are angry about the country’s state of affairs, but may I suggest looking for a leader who can constructively and effectively work  to unite people and find constructive solutions to the issues reflected by our collective anger.

How can we decide who is the best candidate without our emotions consuming our decision?  Hopefully, we spend time analyzing each candidate’s record, experience, and attributes.  We gather information about their plans for the country and attempt to discern their trustworthiness and genuineness.  Ideally we make an informed decision that takes into consideration their character, integrity, and leadership skills.  I recognize that all of the candidates have flaws and weaknesses, but consider the best choice based on knowledge, not emotions.  Our emotions matter, but not when selecting our next president.  Vote with your head, not your heart.

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