Blog Short #110: How to Stop Lying


Photo byKateryna Onyshchuk, Courtesy of iStock Photo

Is there ever a time when lies are okay?

Some people believe white lies told to protect someone’s feelings are okay, and others think we should never lie, no matter the situation.

You have to decide for yourself whether lies are okay in certain circumstances. Brutal honesty is often not the right choice. I lean towards being truthful yet using tact in situations where total honesty could be hurtful.

Today I’ll give you a list of strategies to avoid lying or stop lying if it’s an issue.

A Little Understanding

For starters, if you find that lying is something you engage in more than you’d like, and it’s habitual in some circumstances, take some time to review your history. Many people learn to lie growing up.

For example, when I was growing up, avoiding hurting someone’s feelings was a desirable value, and telling white lies for that purpose was acceptable and encouraged. If someone asked you if you liked their new haircut, you would say it looked great even if you didn’t think so. Lying, in this case, was considered being kind.

You might also have learned to lie as an adaptive strategy to avoid conflict. People who grew up with a volatile or abusive parent lied to avoid severe punishment or physical or emotional abuse. It was a safety measure in these cases.

Others learned to lie because they perceived their parents didn’t want to know the truth. These kids recognized that their parents weren’t able to handle problems and often reacted to them with significant anxiety. They’d rather not know.

In all these cases, lying was an adaptive strategy in childhood but is no longer effective as an adult.

Habits take significant effort to undo and replace, and chronic lying requires consistent efforts. The first step is to recognize the problem and commit to changing it. Don’t spend time being hard on yourself about it, but take action instead to correct it.

Strategies to Try

Step 1: Figure out why you lie.

Using our list from last week, which you can access here, identify why you lie. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Under what circumstances do I lie?
  2. What’s the purpose of the lies in each of these circumstances?
  3. What do I gain?
  4. What prevents me from telling the truth?

People who lie habitually sometimes lie for no apparent reason. It’s a habit that occurs almost involuntarily. Research, however, has shown that most people attempt to be truthful and are honest most of the time. You might find that one or two specific areas compel you to lie, and it’s good to identify what they are.

Step 2: Make a plan to focus on truth-telling.

There are two parts to this:

  1. Make honesty a part of your identity. Get specific, and avoid exaggeration, embellishing, fibbing, or distorting. Work on being accurate when talking or telling someone something.
  2. Secondly, pay particular attention to those circumstances where you’re more prone to lie. You could plan ahead for them. If hurting someone’s feelings is one of those, decide what else you could do to get around lying while still not causing someone pain. You may choose to tell white lies anyway but work towards not doing that if possible while being tactful.

Step 3: Set boundaries.

A common reason for lying is to get out of something you don’t want to do, or that’s awkward. Here are some examples.

Someone’s holding you hostage.

A work friend is chatting your ear off and won’t let you get a word in. You had planned to leave the office early to get home and relax before dinner. It’s okay to say, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to go. I need to be home earlier today. I’ll chat with you tomorrow.” That’s all true. You don’t need to explain any more than that.

You’re afraid someone will become angry with you.

Your partner spoke to you harshly in a social setting where other people heard. You’re upset but don’t want to say so because you’re afraid he’ll get angry and defensive.

You have a right to your thoughts and feelings and to be treated well. It’s necessary to learn to bring up upsetting or contentious matters.

You can wait a bit or do it when you think the receptivity is better, but it’s not good to let it go.

If you’re involved with someone with significant anger issues, get some help and let them know it’s not okay and can’t continue. If safety is an issue, then, by all means, get help before tackling this.

But if you generally tend to give in to other people to avoid upsetting them, work on setting boundaries rather than lying or omitting important information.

Step 4: List all the negative consequences of lying.

How does lying work out for you? It might get you off the hook for something temporarily, but it has a residual effect that stays with you. Some possibilities are:

  • Loss of trust. When you lie to a partner, friend, boss, or work colleague, the experience remains in everyone’s mind. You lose some credibility that’s hard to recoup.
  • Lying creates internal anxiety. If you have an intact conscience, lying creates an internal dissonance between your behavior and what you value. When this happens, there’s a hit to self that manifests as anxiety and sometimes depression.
  • The more you lie, the easier it is to do it. Chronic lying reduces your brain’s natural warning signals that something’s amiss. Specifically, your amygdala (the brain’s alarm system) becomes less reactive to lying the more you do it and doesn’t signal that you’re headed for trouble.
  • Heavy lying can confuse you as to what’s true. People can start to believe their lies. They engage in self-deception.

Step 5: Make a distinction between self-deception and deceiving others.

Self-deception is a particular type of lying that most people don’t put in the same category as lying. Yet it is a type of dishonesty that’s detrimental to you and ultimately to your relationships with others.

Identify ways you deceive yourself. It’s easier to be truthful with others if you’re first honest with yourself.

Step 6: Make this vow to yourself.

Make a vow to become someone who tells the truth, is known for being honest and forthright, and can be counted on to do what they promise.

How to “Lie-Proof” Your Relationships

This is a more extensive subject, but I’ll give you a quick list of characteristics that apply.

  • Make honesty a primary expectation for all parties. As a parent, that was one of my rules with my child. Lying will make whatever you did wrong much worse than the thing itself. Always tell the truth, so we know what we’re dealing with and can decide what to do about it. Trust is a must!
  • Practice talking about things that matter. A lot. This requires exposing your most vulnerable feelings and thoughts and getting comfortable verbalizing and exposing them. It’s good to be choosey about doing this based on the trustworthiness of the other person involved, but for close, intimate relationships, it’s necessary. Honest conversation and self-exposure encourage truth-telling and inhibit lies of commission and omission.
  • Be clear on expectations, so everyone knows what they are and is in agreement. Know your deal-breakers.
  • Practice empathy. Honesty is good, but being brutal about it is not. Make sure you approach honesty with care and understanding.

For more on relationship building, I refer you to John Gottman, an expert in this area.

I’ll close today with a quote from William Shakespeare:

“Honesty is the best policy. If I lose mine honor, I lose myself.”

That’s all for today.

Hope you have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #109: Why People Lie


Photo by francescoch, Courtesy of iStock Photo

Have you ever told a lie? Of course you have! Everyone has.

But not all lies are equal. Some lies are told to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or to be polite. At the other end of the spectrum, the purpose is to manipulate and take advantage of someone for selfish gain.

Does that mean that lies are all right in some cases?

Some think not, and others believe yes. Regardless of where you land on that question, it’s best to strive for honesty.

Researchers classify lies by looking at two factors:

  1. The purpose of the lie.
  2. The volume and prevalence of lying.

I was surprised at some of the findings, and I’m betting you’ll be surprised too.

Today I’m reviewing the most common reasons people lie, along with some statistics regarding the prevalence of lying. Next week I’ll talk about how to stop lying and review relationship practices that help prevent lying.

Let’s start with the statistics.

How often do people lie?

These stats come from a major study examining 116,366 lies told by 632 participants over 91 days. Here’s what they found:

  • Around 75% of the respondents told between zero and two lies per day, much less than you might have thought.
  • These were mainly little white lies or “inconsequential,” meaning there was no intent to cause harm.
  • Another 6% had low levels of lying on average but had days where they lied with greater frequency.
  • Another 1% rarely lied.
  • Prolific liars, the last group, had a much greater frequency of lying, and their lies were more consequential. This was especially true for the top 1% of liars who lied on an average of 17 lies per day.

I found these statistics surprising because I think the general perception is that people lie much more than that. It’s encouraging that the majority of people still honor being truthful.

Who do people lie to?

Another statistic has to do with who people lie to. This one seems more in line with what you might think. Here they are:

  • 51% – friends
  • 21% – family
  • 11% – school/business colleagues
  • 8.9% – strangers
  • 8.5% – casual acquaintances
  • We lie more to people we know well. That would make sense because we have more interaction and intimacy with them. We care more about what they think of us.

Now let’s go on to why people lie.

9 Reasons People Lie

1. Avoid punishment or repercussions for a wrong action.

You tell your boss you finished the report he asked you to do and mailed it off on time even though you haven’t finished it and are scrambling to get it done so you can get it in the mail tomorrow.

Your teen skips school, and when the school calls, you tell them he stayed home today and isn’t feeling well.

Lies to avoid punishment can apply to you or someone you wish to protect. In both cases, you’re hoping you (or they) won’t be found out and can save face or avoid negative consequences.

2. Get out of an awkward situation, or be polite.

You use this one when you want to avoid a situation or avoid hurting someone’s feelings unnecessarily. You might say you have an appointment and need to be on time in order to extricate yourself from a long-winded conversation. Or if your friend asks you what you think of her new dress, you say, “It looks great!” even though you don’t particularly like it.

3. Make yourself look good.

There are many versions of this one. You might exaggerate your performance, embellish a story, boast, or purposely leave out details that make you look bad.

Lying to look good can get serious, depending on what you’re lying about. A typical example is putting something on your resume that’s not true. It’s a misrepresentation, no matter how you cut it.

4. Maintain privacy.

There are things you want to keep to yourself for whatever reason, and you tell a lie to avoid exposing them.

Maybe you started a new diet and are out to lunch with your friends. You order a salad with no-fat dressing, and one of your friends asks you if you’re on a diet. You say, “No, I’m just not all that hungry today.” You don’t want to share that you’re dieting because you don’t anyone to observe your progress or lack of.

5. Be safe.

If someone comes to your door selling something, but you get a bad feeling about them, you mention that your husband’s at home even though he isn’t, so they don’t know you’re alone.

These lies feel necessary. You don’t bat an eye at telling them because it’s a matter of safety.

6. Fear of disappointing or angering someone.

You lie to avoid a conflict or cause disappointment. The lie can be benign, like forgetting to make dinner reservations for date night with your partner. Or it can be serious, like cheating on your partner.

In the latter case, you’re also avoiding the consequences of your behavior if it’s exposed.

7. Cover a previous lie.

This is when things get messy. You’ve lied about something else before, and now you have to lie again to cover that lie. Prevalent liars are more likely to find themselves in this situation, but not always.

What if you have a credit card bill you’re keeping from your partner and previously told him you were managing your spending well? Later, he asks you if you wouldn’t mind using your credit card to purchase the new couch you’ve both chosen, and he’ll pay the bill when it comes in. Now you have to make up a story because you don’t have enough credit available on your card for that purchase.

Covering a previous lie is anxiety-provoking and harder to keep straight if you lie a lot.

8. Experience the thrill of it.

Some people want to see what they can get away with and take some pleasure in succeeding.

An extreme example would be someone dating two people simultaneously without either of them knowing about the other. It would involve lots of lying to make it work.

A less extreme and more normal example is a 9-year-old child lying to his parents about brushing his teeth before bed. He’s testing the waters to see if lying is a viable behavior.

9. Get someone to do what you want them to.

In other words, manipulate for your gain at their expense.

This type of lying is calculated and often predatory. There’s a lack of concern for the other person.

On a large scale, marketers, politicians, and corporations may lie to sway you and get what they want. On a personal level, a seeming friend might purposefully manipulate you to do something that will benefit them, even if it doesn’t help you or does you harm.

Two Last Things

You’ll note that some reasons for lying are more focused on preserving your reputation or good standing. Although this lying is dishonest and not something to do habitually, the intent is not to cause harm.

The last category we discussed is devoid of concern for the person being lied to. These lies have a sociopathic quality. The sole aim is to get something regardless of whether or not someone gets hurt in the process.

One other item of note is that research has shown that the more someone lies, the easier it is to be dishonest over time. Changes occur in the brain that quiet the signaling of danger when you’re lying. Like any habit, lying gets easier with repetition.

I’ll talk more about that next week.

That’s all for today.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

All my best,

Barbara


FOOTNOTES

Garrett, N., Lazzaro, S., Ariely, D., & Sharot, T. (2016). The brain adapts to dishonesty. Nature Neuroscience 19(12), 1727-1732. DOI:10.1038/nn.4426

How often do people lie? (2021, November 17). Currents, University of Wisconsin-LA Crosse Blog. https://www.uwlax.edu/currents/how-often-do-people-lie/

Serota, K., Levine, T. & Boster, F. (2009). The Prevalence of Lying in America: Three studies of self-reported lies. Human Communication Research, 36(1), 2 – 25. DOI:10.1111/j.1468-2958.2009.01366.x

Serota, K. & Levine, T. (2014). A few prolific liars. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 34(2) 1-20. DOI:10.1177/0261927X14528804

Serota, K., Levine, T. & Docan-Morgan, T. (2021). Unpacking variation in lie prevalence: Prolific liars, bad lie days, or both? Communication Monographs, National Communication Association, 89(3), 307-331. https://doi.org/10.1080/03637751.2021.1985153

Blog Short #108: 2 Cognitive Distortions that Pile on the Guilt

Photo by Ethan Sykes on Unsplash

A couple of weeks ago, we went over two cognitive distortions that paint the world negative. This week I’m describing two more that are known for piling on the guilt.

They are:

  1. Should Statements
  2. Personalization

You’ll easily recognize them. Let’s start with “should statements.”

Should Statements

You might be thinking that “should statements” (the “shoulds” for short) are normal and necessary, so why are they classified as a type of cognitive distortion? Good question.

The answer has to do with their rigidity and punitive nature. I’ll explain that in a minute.

“Should statements” pertain to things you “should” do, “ought” to do, or “must” do. They represent expectations that apply pressure to comply.

“I should lose a few pounds.
“I ought to read more.”
“I must budget my money better.”

The issue is that all these statements imply that you’re lacking in some way. There’s something you should be doing but aren’t, and you “should” feel some guilt or shame about it.

They’re also very all-or-nothing. Each one leaves no room for other considerations that might impact your ability to perform them. The distortion is in the “pass-fail” aspect of these statements. If you don’t comply, you fail. There’s no in-between.

Our natural response is either to sidestep the issue to avoid feeling guilty or rebel (even if we agree) and not cooperate.

What to Do

There’s a better way.

Turn your “shoulds” into “wants” and “goals.” Instead of “I should lose a few pounds,” you could say, “I want to lose ten pounds. Let me figure out how I might tackle that and set up a reasonable system I can follow.”

When you set a goal, you create energy and motivation to work toward it. When you hammer yourself with a “should,” you’re more likely to push back. You’re also more likely to feel anxious or depressed when you hit a roadblock. Not always. A stick works better than a carrot for some, but there’s a greater sense of failure when you don’t succeed.

“Shoulds” don’t allow for roadblocks, pivots, or mistakes. They’re punitive.

Try this:

If you’re hounded by a list of “shoulds” right now, list them. Take each one and reframe it as a goal. Make it specific and list what actions you can take to meet that goal without putting yourself under great stress. Allow for pivots and roadblocks in your plan, and make a commitment to keep going in spite of them.

Doing that makes you far more likely to meet your objectives and expectations while preserving your self-esteem.

The Worst “Should”

The worst “should” is telling yourself how you should or shouldn’t feel.

You can decide how you want to behave or how you want to react, but how you feel is how you feel. Let your feelings come up, and sit with them for a while. After taking some time to think them through, you can channel them productively.

Suppressing feelings doesn’t work and isn’t healthy. Working with them is. “Should” has no place in that equation.

Personalization

When speaking of personalization, David Burns, who wrote the book Feeling Good, describes it as “the mother of guilt!”

Personalization can take two forms: self-blame and other-blame.

Self-Blame

You see yourself as the cause of someone else’s behavior, or you find fault with yourself for things that may not pertain to you or that you have no control over.

Here are a few examples:

A friend doesn’t have a good time at a social event you planned, and you decide it’s your fault. It doesn’t occur to you that something else may have been bothering her.

You see two of your work colleagues talking in the hall, and you decide they don’t enjoy talking to you and avoided you on purpose.

A friend you know drinks and drives and has an auto accident, and you beat yourself up for not getting her some help, even though she refused it multiple times when you mentioned it to her.

Self-blame is focused on either your perceived character flaws or on feeling responsible for other people’s struggles and happiness.

Other-Blame

In this case, you see other people and circumstances as the cause of your feelings of guilt and shame. You’re the victim of their character flaws and behavior.

Using the examples above, we can turn them around to fit.

Even though your friend was suffering from an argument with her spouse, she didn’t need to make you feel bad by not showing a little more excitement and appreciation for all you did to put on a good party. (It’s her fault.)

Your work colleagues shouldn’t exclude you by talking in the hall without inviting you into their conversation. They’re making you feel left out. (It’s their fault.)

Your friend shouldn’t drink and drive and shouldn’t put you through worrying about her and making you feel guilty by continuing to do it even after all you’ve tried to do to help her. (It’s her fault.)

You’ll notice in the “other-blame” examples that the word “shouldn’t” comes up several times. Should statements and personalization overlap and work together. Both lead to the same feelings of guilt and shame aimed either at yourself or projected onto someone else.

What to Do

1. Review and reframe.

Review your thoughts objectively and ask yourself if other explanations might exist for your assumptions.

Are your colleagues leaving you out of their conversation? Is it possible they just happened to find each other in the hall simultaneously and stopped to converse? Isn’t it likely they would have included you in the conversation if you’d been in the hall?

2. Set boundaries.

The boundaries, in this case, are for you, not for the other person. There are two of them.

Misplaced responsibility. When you extend your sense of responsibility to someone else’s circumstances, you’re the one who needs the boundary. It could be challenging to recognize this because of your need for control.

Let’s go back to our scenario with the friend who drinks and drives.

Your need to have control is initiated partly by concern for your friend and fear that she could be seriously hurt. But you’re also personalizing her actions as something aimed directly at you because you’ve invested yourself in helping her. If something happens, you’ll end up feeling significant guilt and anguish. You’re carrying her responsibility and, along with it, the emotional consequences. You can offer help, but you can’t control the outcome.

Owning your reactions. The second boundary is accepting your thoughts and feelings as your responsibility. If you blame others for your emotions or circumstances, ask yourself what your part is in that equation. Keep asking until you recognize that you have control over what you think and feel, and be proactive in taking responsibility for that.

3. Recognize.

Keep in mind that people are not thinking about you as much as you think they are. If you could see the thoughts going through everyone’s minds, you’d find that they’re thinking about themselves much of the time. We think about other people, but the primary focus is on our own lives, problems, relationships, work, kids, what we’re doing this weekend, and who knows what else. It’s freeing to recognize that, and it helps you reduce personalizing.

Keep This in Mind

Cognitive distortions involve engaging in runaway emotions that obscure your ability to think objectively and see the big picture. It’s like being in a dark room with a single beam of light that allows you to see only a tiny portion of what’s in the room. Think of reframing them as turning on the lights so you can broaden your perspective.

That’s all for today!

Have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

PS – David Burns has a new book out called Feeling Great, which I like even better than Feeling Good. If you’re interested in delving more into cognitive distortions, it’s an excellent read.

Blog Short #107: A Simple Trick to Keep Your Emotions in Check


Photo by Selvan B on Unsplash

If you were to ask me, “What’s the most important thing you’ve learned?” here’s what I would say:

I’ve learned that I am not my thoughts, feelings, or actions. I’m the one who engages in them.

Sounds like double talk, doesn’t it? It isn’t. It’s simple but profound. It’s also nothing new, although it feels fresh when you get it in a way that changes your overall perception of things. Once you know it, it affects everything else. It’s self-awareness, but not just in thought. It’s self-awareness in action.

Let me go through the benefits and how it works.

1. Creates Space Between You and Your Reactivity

I’m starting with this one because it’s the most valuable benefit.

I imagine you’ve tried several strategies to separate yourself from your emotions when they get out of hand so you don’t overreact. Some common ones are taking deep breaths, getting some time alone, taking a break, exercising, talking yourself off the ledge, and temporarily distracting yourself.

All of these are helpful, but they’re after the fact. They’re things you do to bring down your reactivity.

When you focus instead on the space between you and the reaction, you step in front of the reactivity, which allows you to head it off before it gets rolling.

Here’s how you do that:

As soon as you feel yourself ramping up, ask yourself, “Who’s having this reaction?” or “Who’s feeling this?” The answer, of course, is “I am.”

So what? What’s that going to do?

Upon asking the question, your attention diverts back to you, which separates you from the emotional reaction you’re moving into. It creates this little space between you and those emotions.

It’s subtle but powerful. And if you keep asking the question as the emotions try to move in, you keep that space. You don’t stop the feelings, but you interrupt your engagement in them – a little at first and more as you practice.

This process is like mindfulness, but it goes a little further. It’s not just watching your emotions and thoughts but disowning them in a sense, even as they march on.

Practicing this regularly will make that space more accessible and prominent. Eventually, you don’t have to work at finding it. It’s just there.

You can use the same question when thoughts arise, or you need to make decisions or feel compelled to act or behave in a particular way. The question is always the same:

“Who’s having this thought? Who’s making this decision? Who wants to do this or act this way?”

These questions are not literal but rather a device to bring your attention back to you – the “you” who’s engaging or not engaging in any of these activities.

2. Increases Your Ability to Act Deliberately

When your sense of self moves back into your feeling of “I” instead of being pulled outward by your thoughts, emotions, and actions, you have more room to make decisions deliberately rather than compulsively. You can stand back, evaluate, and decide the best course of action because you have that space between you and what you’re doing or choosing.

That space you gain by asking the question “Who’s deciding?” or Who wants to do this?” allows you to be more objective and intuitive because you feel more grounded in yourself.

3. Inhibits Overthinking

The other great thing about this continued questioning of who is thinking is that it cuts right through runaway thought trains. Instead of getting sucked into a circular labyrinth of overthinking that you can’t seem to stop, you bring yourself back to your sense of “I.” You lift yourself above the maze.

You get lost if you try to think your way out of it. More thinking increases overthinking – it doesn’t stop it. By asking, “Who’s thinking?” you halt it. You may have to ask a few times. Our minds are very pushy and will persist toward our established habits. But you can successfully create the habit of focusing on “I” instead of being pulled into other thoughts. You focus inward instead of outward.

4. Intention without Attachment

This one’s a more subtle effect that occurs after more practice, but it’s interesting. The more you ask the question, the more you become aligned with that sense of “I” outside of what you do. So when you do engage in something, you do it with some detachment. However, because you’re calmer and have that emotional space, you can exert more focus and act with greater intention. It’s a paradox that allows you to perform better.

Aids to Help You With this Practice

The calmer you are in general, the easier it is to use this practice. Three habits help: meditation, exercise, and a clean diet.

Meditation

No other practice can help you manage your mind like meditation. The positive effects of meditation are quickly felt when you begin. But with regular meditation over time, you acquire a blanket of calm that lies underneath the surface of your mind and is always there regardless of what you do or what comes your way. It’s subtle and powerful. Simply watching your breath for 10 to 20 minutes daily will quiet your mind and leave you less vulnerable to stress.

There are other types of mediation, and I encourage you to research them if you’re interested, but you can always start with watching the breath. Click here for instructions on how to do that.

Exercise

Besides all the physical benefits of exercise, regular aerobic exercise (walking counts) increases your stress threshold while also helping you recover from stress faster (Ratey, 2008).

When you exercise – especially when you get out of breath – your body mimics the physical symptoms of anxiety or stress. Your heart rate and blood pressure increase, breathing speeds up, and you’re in a state of arousal just as you are when you’re stressed or anxious.

When you stop exercising, your body recovers and returns to a relaxed state. And the more you exercise, the faster it recovers.

Regular exercise allows you to practice experiencing and recovering from stress, thus increasing your ability to handle it and recover more quickly.

Clean Diet

A clean diet means opting for whole foods prepared with small amounts of non-saturated or mono-saturated fat, and including an abundance of plant food, including fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes.

Eat real food without all the additives and chemicals, and keep it clean. A high-fat, heavily processed diet creates mental sluggishness, intolerance to stress, and energy drain. Working with difficult emotions, thoughts, or situations is much more challenging when you feel that way. More importantly, a poor diet can lead to states of depression and anxiety without any other stimulus. A clean diet creates a quiet mind.

Last Note

Each practice augments the effects of the others. If you try them all, you’ll find you can handle stress more easily and experience a stable and reliable mood, which we all would like!

That’s all for today.

Have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara


FOOTNOTE
Ratey, J. and Hagerman, E. (2008). Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Little Brown, Spark.

Blog Short #106: 2 Cognitive Distortions That Paint Your World Negative


Photo by mohd izzuan, Courtesy of iStock Photo

If you’re interested in psychology, you’ve likely heard of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – CBT for short. It’s a method of uncovering distorted thought patterns that affect your emotions and perceptions.

That’s a quick definition and doesn’t include anything about the process, but it gives you the basic idea.

Most clinicians agree that there are fifteen cognitive distortions that people most commonly use. Knowing them is helpful so you can be aware of when you use them and how they color your world. If you catch them as they come up, you can correct them and get a more accurate picture of how things are.

Today I’m going over two of them that paint life in a negative light. If you’re familiar with Saturday Night Live, you’ve likely seen an older skit with a character named “Debbie Downer” played by Rachel Dratch. She’s the poster child for these two distortions!

They’re called “mental filtering” and “disqualifying the positive.” Let’s take them one at a time.

Mental Filtering

Mental filtering means picking out a single negative detail in any situation and focusing on it exclusively so that your overall perception is colored by it.

You sleep through your alarm and arrive late at work, so you decide the entire day is a wash.

You go out to dinner with friends, and one of them seems more distant than usual. You decide none of them actually like you and probably wish you weren’t there.

You give a talk to your colleagues at work. You stumble once during the presentation but recoup quickly. After the talk, everyone tells you how helpful the presentation was and what a good job you did, but you’re stuck on the single stumble you made, and ask people if they didn’t notice how you screwed up.

In these cases, you’ve honed in on one negative event or detail and used it to color the entire experience. A common metaphor is watching a single drop of ink released into a glass of water darken all of it.

Mental filtering is most apt to occur when you’re already in a bad mood or feeling depressed or anxious.

Another cause can be an underlying belief that filters through most of your perceptions. For example, you might believe you’re not good enough, not likable, or competent, and these beliefs alter your perceptions of events. You’re more likely to interpret details that confirm and magnify your views rather than see the bigger picture.

Now let’s go to the second cognitive distortion.

Disqualifying the Positive

With mental filtering, you focus on something negative to the exclusion of the positive. “Disqualifying the positive” is just the opposite. You start with something positive and discount it as though it doesn’t matter or hold any weight. It’s an underhanded way of leaning into the negative.

You get a coveted promotion at work and explain it as “My boss felt sorry for me” or “He didn’t have anyone else to hire.”

Someone compliments you on how articulate you are, and you pass it off with, “Oh, they’re just being nice.”

You get an A on an exam you studied diligently for and say, “I lucked out. It was easy. I bet everyone got an A.”

In each case, the positive is minimized and discounted. Sometimes people use this distortion as a means of staying humble. However, this is different than genuine humility. Being truly humble includes affirming your strengths and achievements, but without inflating your ego.

Disqualifying the positive is essentially removing it instead of a direct negative take. There are several reasons you might do that. For example:

  1. To avoid disappointment in the future.
  2. Not having to live up to the same expectation again.
  3. To reflect a negative view of yourself or a belief you hold.

In all of these cases, the underlying cause of engaging in the distortion is to protect yourself from either fear, disappointment, or expectations you might not be able to fulfill.

So what should you do to counteract?

Before I talk about strategies, let’s outline a few essential points.

1. Sometimes situations are negative. Should I ignore that and always try to be positive?

No, and this is an important point. You should seek reality, meaning getting the broadest picture of what is. If something is adverse, you need to see that. And if something is positive, you also need to see that. But that’s not all: You must also see all the grays in between. Seeing “what is” is the best and healthiest option. The key is to avoid looking at things through your preconceived notions or current emotional status.

2. Cognitive distortions can be positive as well as negative.

We usually go more toward the negative because of our natural negativity bias, but we can also get caught up in positive distortions. A good example is magical thinking, where you ignore alarming facts of a situation and pretend everything is rosy.

The goal is to see what’s accurate as best you can and react with deliberation rather than reflexively.

The strategies below will help you with that.

Strategies

The primary strategy is something called cognitive restructuring. It’s a more involved process than I’m giving you today, but here’s the gist of it.

Step 1: Be aware.

When you’re aware that you’re using a cognitive distortion, stop yourself momentarily and label it. Catch yourself in the act and interrupt your train of thought.

Step 2: Challenge it.

Next, challenge the accuracy of the distortion. Go through your thought processes and ask yourself how valid your assumptions are. Measure them against facts. If you sleep through the alarm and arrive late to work, ask yourself what else happened that day. What went right? Were there positives as well as negatives? What did you get done or accomplish? Asking questions that challenge the initial thought usually alters your perception based on the new information.

Step 3: Reframe it.

Now that you’ve taken a closer and broader look at your thought(s), reframe it to include the new evidence you’ve uncovered during your investigation. You might say, “Well, I did have a late start, but despite that, I got a significant amount done today. Maybe not as much as I might have, but I feel good about what I did.”

Reframing helps you formulate a realistic and more accurate picture of what occurs, which also keeps your emotions in check and appropriate to the reality of the situation. When done correctly, this process helps you see your thought processes and feelings from a distance so that you can evaluate them for accuracy and take actions more deliberately based on what you find out.

When to Get Help

If you use either of these cognitive distortions often, it’s a good idea to try some therapy. You need to uncover the issues and beliefs underlying your regular use of them. The distortions are not the source of the problem. The cause is more likely trauma of some sort, relationship issues, historical problems growing up, or other experiences you’ve had that have left an imprint. This is where CBT has limitations. It’s great for working on the distortions but not so much for uncovering and working with underlying issues and triggers.

That said, I’ll go through the rest of the cognitive distortions over the next several months because I think it’s beneficial to know about them and become familiar so you can catch yourself when you use them and make corrections.

That’s all for today.

Hope you have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #105: 4 Coping Strategies for Unexpected Stress


Photo by fizkes, Courtesy of iStock Photo

A friend recently asked me, “How should I deal with stressful situations that arise unexpectedly?”

That’s a great question and something everyone struggles with. I’ve written on this subject before (see ), but I’m expanding on it today. I’ve got four strategies I use myself and suggest to clients when they’re faced with surprises that catch them off guard and cause stress.

Before we start, let me go through the psychological obstacles that get in the way, and then I’ll give you the strategies to get around those.

Two Obstacles

The two psychological obstacles that get in the way are resistance and rigidity.

Resistance

When something comes out of the blue, several things happen:

  1. First, your current plan, schedule, or what you’re doing at the moment is interrupted. Usually abruptly.
  2. Secondly, you’re forced to shift your attention to the interruption. You can’t avoid it.
  3. Third, you resist it. We all do. Some people are better at it and can shift without getting upset or reactive, but most have a stronger emotional reaction. It depends partly on how significant the interruption is and how difficult it will be to resolve. A simple, quick interruption that takes you ten minutes to fix isn’t too much of a problem. Something that will take up the rest of the day or longer creates stronger resistance.

Either way, resistance is the natural first reaction, and it’s felt emotionally.

You might be mildly or intensely reactive, depending on the situation. You could get angry, anxious, overwhelmed, paralyzed, or just irritated and annoyed. If the issue is an emergency, you might also feel fear.

Now for the second obstacle.

Being Rigid

If your natural temperament is “go with the flow,” you’re less likely to react to a sudden change because it’s easier for you to switch gears without much notice. Transitions aren’t difficult for you.

But if you like things organized and well-planned and get invested in your schedule, you probably react more significantly to sudden changes that require you to pivot. You might get more irritated and need time to adjust. And even though you do make the shift and do what’s needed, you probably don’t do it quickly. You might complain your way through it.

If you’re very rigid, these situations make you angry or overwhelm you and leave you quite anxious. You need additional time to adjust. Your resistance is substantial.

Now let’s look at the coping strategies you can use to reduce both resistance and rigidity.

Strategy #1: The 5-Minute Rant

This one is good if you’re someone who needs to express your emotional reactions before you can make a transition. Give yourself five minutes to complain out loud and verbalize how you’re feeling. Allow yourself to say anything that comes to mind. No censoring.

There’s nothing wrong with doing this. By acknowledging how irritated you are, you’ll get some breathing room and be able to lower your resistance.

The trick is to limit how long you do it so it doesn’t get out of hand. Excessive ranting can inflame your emotions and make it hard for you to let go of them. By timing your rant, you give it some play, but not too much.

When you’ve finished, do one round of square breathing. Exhale completely to a count of four, inhale slowly to a count of four, hold it four counts, and exhale again to a count of four. Do this as many times as you like to calm yourself down. Now go to the next strategy.

Strategy #2: Channel Your Self-Talk

The next step is to use your thinking brain to help you shift your focus from where you were to where you need to go. To do this, you can create some statements to say to yourself that will facilitate this shift. Here are some examples:

“I can handle this situation. Take a deep breath. It’s not the end of the world. I can shift my day around and make it happen.”

“I don’t need to get crazy here. I’m fully capable of handling this.”

“Things happen. I can flow with it.”

The purpose of this strategy is to let go of your resistance and make a shift. Self-talk is an effective way to accomplish this.

Strategy #3: Be Deliberate

Once you’ve made that transition and you’re focused on the situation you have in front of you, it’s time to take action.

You may need to plan and prioritize what needs to be done before starting. It depends on what the situation is. It may not require planning if it’s just an undesired interruption you can easily take care of. But if it’s more involved, take a moment to think it through and get help if needed. Get your ducks in a row.

The key to this strategy is to be very deliberate with your actions. That means doing what you need to do slowly with full focus.

That sounds counterintuitive because most of us start moving faster when something stressful occurs, but doing things slower actually gets you to the finish line faster.

Get granular about it. Watch yourself as you do things. If you dropped your briefcase in the driveway before getting in your car and papers are everywhere, pick them up slowly and watch your hands as you do it. Stack them one at a time and put them back in your briefcase gradually until you’re finished and satisfied, and then close it quietly.

When you focus this way on each movement or motion, you curtail your mind from spinning out and anxiously obsessing.

Being slow and deliberate calms both your emotions and your body. It slows your breathing, reduces your heartbeat, and relaxes your muscles.

Strategy #4: Play Baseball

This strategy is more global. It’s not just a step but a way of looking at situations in general. See yourself on the baseball field playing any position you like. You can try several in your mind. As you get into position, you’ll notice your knees are slightly bent, you’re looking ahead, and ready to field the ball wherever it goes. You’re focused and flexible at the same time.

Focused and flexible. That’s the way you want to be day to day. You can attend with concentration to what you have planned and scheduled, but you’re also flexible and aware that anything could interrupt you and require a pivot on your part.

If you tend to be more rigid and need to know how things will be ahead, you can do your best to counteract surprises by planning for them, but even then, random things will happen. It’s better to practice getting good at fielding the unexpected.

Challenge yourself to use these strategies the next time something crops up and the next time after that. See it as a skill you need to learn and get good at it. Reward yourself when you do it well.

When you do that, you’ll find you sidestep that ugly resistance that brings on the rant, and you won’t even need to rant. You can be organized, scheduled, and persistent in getting things done well and be flexible at the same time. Make it a partnership, and life will be easier. The mantra I use when I need to shift is “Play ball!” Try it out!

That’s all for today!

Have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #104: Ignoring Feedback Can Hurt You


Photo by DjordjeDjurdjevic, Courtesy of iStock Photo

Today I’m starting with a quote from James Clear, the author of Atomics Habits (one of my favorite books!). He says:

“Keep ignoring feedback and life will keep teaching you the same lesson.”

How true this is, and it explains why the same things happen over and over. More to the point, they will keep happening until you acknowledge the problem or issue and master it.

This quote struck me because of the word “feedback.” When problems surface, we rarely think of them as feedback. Maybe you do sometimes, but I’m guessing another more common response is, “Why me? Why is this happening? Why does it keep happening?” and so on.

A better response would be,

“Okay, this is the second time this has come up. What am I missing? What do I need to attend to?”

Obvious things like bouncing a check don’t require much thinking. You know what that problem is.

Having repeated conflicts with someone or repeated experiences in similar situations are harder to figure out. And if you don’t get a handle on what’s happening, the issue keeps coming back until it’s screaming at you. Even then, sometimes you’ll avoid it.

How should you respond?

Let’s start with how you shouldn’t.

  1. You pass it off. “It’s not me – it’s you (or him, or her, or them). It’s the situation.”  You blame it on another person or the situation at hand.
  2. You avoid it. “I’ve got bigger things to worry about.”
  3. You deny it. “It’s not really a problem. Everything’s fine.”

Step 1: Acknowledgment

A better way starts with acknowledging and accepting that an issue keeps appearing and is trying to tell you something. It’s no different than having a repetitive physical symptom that you investigate by going to the doctor. The symptom is a warning that something’s amiss.

After acknowledging that something’s amiss, it’s time to apply some real thought and investigation to see if you can figure out what the issue is and devise a plan to make changes.

Doing that requires emotional energy and sometimes facing something you don’t want to see.

The thing is, when you face something, it’s always better than if you don’t. Because once you do, you break through your fear or annoyance or whatever emotion that’s keeping you from taking that look.

And when you attend to it, it feels good to get on a path to repair it. Eventually, you master the problem, and it’s gone. Otherwise, it’s like a mosquito that continues to buzz around your head until it morphs into a huge horsefly that you can’t ignore.

All right. You’ve acknowledged that there’s a problem. Now what?

Step 2: Define

Step two is to define it thoroughly. Depending on what it is, you may need some time for this.

For example, if you seem to get into conflicts with people at work, and this has happened at the current job and two you had before this one, then you might not immediately know what’s causing this. A problem like this requires more investigation.

You could begin by seeking out more feedback. Ask people you know who will be honest with you about their take on the issue. Read up on it if you can, or Google it. There’s information available for every problem conceivable.

You can always seek help from an expert with more knowledge of the issue. For a psychological problem, see a therapist. If you struggle with money, you might contact a financial planner. A health problem might require a physician, fitness trainer, or physical therapist. Find the person or persons who have the knowledge you need to both define and work on the problem.

Step 3: Plan

Step three is to construct a plan, including the steps you need to take to master the situation. This part’s important because it’s easy to think you’re home-free just because you’ve thoroughly understood the issue and defined the problem. You’re not. You still have to do the work.

This is where many people lose interest. They start the work but don’t finish. Then the problem resurfaces later; only it’s worse now.

So do the work. Make the plan, outline the steps, write out the specific tasks, and put them into real-time so you know what you’re going to do.

You might know everything you need to do right away. Or you may start with an initial plan that will give you the information you need to go to the next phase but will need refining as you go along.

Pivot when necessary.

You may need to pivot as you uncover additional layers of the problem.

For example, if your health is an issue, you might start with a complete medical exam. From there, you might learn that you need a specific medical treatment but also need to lose weight and improve your overall fitness. So you investigate diets and exercise plans and choose how to implement those. In the course of doing that, you narrow down the specific fitness regime you need and the type of diet you need. That may lead to learning more food preparation skills. You get the picture. Keep drilling.

As you work, you’ll continue to get feedback that lets you know how you’re doing and when you need to make another adjustment or pivot.

Keep up your momentum.

What’s great is that once you fully get into working on something, you gain momentum and part of your success impinges on keeping it going. That requires two attitudes:

  1. Setbacks and wrong turns provide information you need to keep going. Nothing more. Don’t look at these as failures.
  2. Momentum needs consistent attention to keep it going.

The first one’s obvious. Learn from the mistake, get back on the horse, and keep riding.

The second one is a little more complex. If the issue takes time and consistent effort, you’ll likely experience lags in your interest and focus. For instance, if you’re in a lot of debt and the plan to get out of debt will take three years, you’ll have to create milestones along the way that are close together so you have something to celebrate and feel good about. Those milestones will help you keep your momentum going.

If the issue is psychological, then you’ll need to recognize small gains as you make them, especially when you have setbacks and get into a failure mindset.

These issues are more challenging to work with because gains are not so noticeable or concrete. You work on something for a long time and think you’ve made no progress, and then suddenly, you have some big insight. The time leading up to the insight was necessary, and sticking with the work facilitated it. You need a system to remind yourself regularly that you’re putting in the work and that change takes time

Watch out for the myth.

One of the myths we’re all subject to is the belief and hope that life will be easy. You likely know that’s a myth, but I’m guessing you don’t jump up and down when you meet obstacles and clap your hands in glee because you get to solve them.

Most of us automatically draw back when adversity blocks our path. That’s okay as long as it doesn’t stop you from meeting the challenge. It helps to remember that ignoring a problem only makes it grow. Meeting it head-on leads to mastery, learning, growth, and ultimately more satisfaction.

That’s all for today!

Hope you have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #103: How to Handle Negative Thoughts About Your Partner

What can you do when you’re inundated with negative thoughts about your partner or someone you’re close to?

You might feel you have reasons for those thoughts, and you may, but our human tendency is to veer toward our natural negativity bias. You pick out those things that bother you and give them more focus. When you do that, you forget about the things you like. And the more you do that, the more it takes a toll on your relationship.

There’s a way to counteract that tendency, which is the subject of today’s blog.

Let’s start with some background that will give you a big-picture view of how intimate relationships evolve.

Highs and Lows

If you think about your development and growth over your life, you recognize that you experience highs and lows, progress and setbacks, and times of regrouping and starting again. That’s the nature of growth. It can be no other way.

Relationships also go through a similar path of development. They start in infancy and move through old age. And some die an early death while others last throughout a lifetime. Generally, that’s up to the people involved, just as our growth individually is something we take on and own.

So, if you understand and expect that there will be highs and lows, you’re already ahead of the game because you’re realistic and know that relationships require work. You get many benefits from that work but still have to do it.

It’s very easy to become negative – and sometimes really negative – about your partner during the lows.

You can find yourself ruminating about all the things that are wrong and all those quirks that drive you nuts. You might daydream about the perfect partner or imagine yourself single again. It’s easy to get immersed in “grass is greener” thinking during these times.

Sometimes there’s too much wrong, and the relationship is in trouble, but often it’s part of a developmental phase in the relationship. It’s important to put your negative thoughts in perspective during these periods to keep your equilibrium.

Here’s what you can do.

Use these prompts to get your thoughts about your partner back to a more realistic appraisal.

Think back.

Go back in time and remember when you first met each other and how you felt, what you liked, and what drew you to this person. Sit with these memories and savor them.

  • What attracted you to each other?
  • What things did you have in common?
  • How did you feel?
  • What experiences did you have together that made you want to continue?

Focus in on what you like.

Make a list of everything you’ve ever liked about this person. As you do this, be careful not to turn it into a “yes, but” exercise. “Yes, I really like how hard he works, but he pays no attention to me.” Leave off the “he pays no attention to me.” Make this a list of likes only. If you stretch your mind and allow yourself to be open to what you’ve liked and still like now, you’ll gather a pretty good list.

I would do this in a single day and not allow any other negative thoughts to intrude.

On the next day, write down the things you don’t like and see if you can look at them differently.

Ask yourself,

“Is this something I don’t like but maybe benefit from a little?”

An example might be:

You have a partner who doesn’t help with cooking or cleaning up after dinner, but he’s great with the kids and keeps them entertained while you’re busy, and tucks them in later so you can relax.

Is there another side you should consider? There are often hidden benefits that offset those things that bother you. Not always, but when you can see them, it helps to keep things in perspective.

Imagine how you would feel if your partner was suddenly gone.

Imagine all the situations you might experience. What would you miss, and how would that affect you? Allow yourself to sink into this thought and go through your feelings.

Sometimes the day-to-day experiences narrow your perspective and keep you focused on the same issues so that you get far removed from the bigger picture. That, too, is a human tendency. We tend to fold in and get tunnel vision, especially with things we find problematic or don’t like.

This exercise’s value is stretching your vision back out, which is a good practice in general. You do need to attend to problems and details, but you do that best when you see these within a more panoramic view. Try to keep that panoramic view of your relationship.

Review the strengths.

The last thing to do is to list the strengths of your relationship. What have you accomplished thus far together?

This list can include things like:

  • Having children and raising them
  • Creating a financial base through one or both of your jobs
  • Buying a home
  • Learning how to communicate with each other effectively
  • Knowing and understanding what’s most important to each of you
  • Setting up routines that facilitate daily living
  • Spending time together
  • Engaging in activities you both like
  • Having good conversations
  • Resolving conflicts successfully

I’m sure there are many more you might add to this list. List everything you can think of, even those small things you might not usually notice.

Don’t allow yourself to list the weaknesses yet. Just stick with the strengths.

Now what?

If you’ve completed the exercises, you’ve reminded yourself of your partner’s positive qualities and become aware of your strengths as a couple. You’ve got a fresh view that will help to work on problem areas. You can see that your relationship has enough going for it that you can continue building on what you’ve achieved and the feelings you have for each other.

All relationships have problems, and you do need to address them. It’s never good to ignore issues that can create distance over time or, at worst, destroy the relationship.

You have deal-breakers, and it’s good to define those for yourself and your partner so you both know the limits and agree to them.

Expectations are different. Depending on your growth as a couple, you can adjust them as you go along. The better you know someone and the greater your understanding of each other’s needs, your expectations will change.

Stay balanced.

Balancing the positives and negatives, especially seeing the good in you and your partner, helps you work more as a team rather than be at odds with each other.

There must be more good feelings than negative ones for a relationship to succeed and evolve.

During those lows, remind yourself of what you’re working toward, the value you both bring to the relationship, and what you have together.

For significant issues you can’t solve, seek some help. A third party can benefit you when you hit a brick wall. Sometimes the relationship is unhealthy, and in spite of looking at the positives, the negatives can’t be overcome.

There are also programs you can go through that help heal relationships. For that, I would guide you toward The Gottman Institute. Founded by Drs. John and Julie Gottman, their work in marriage and intimate relations is untouchable! They have books, programs you can go through, and therapist recommendations. Check them out!

That’s all for today.

Hope you have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #102: Negotiation Works Better Than Compromise


Photo by gorodenkoff, Courtesy of iStock Photo

What do you think when you hear the word “compromise?” Do you think you’re going to get something or give something up? I think most of us believe we’re going to give something up.

Even the word “compromise” has a negative vibe because it means caving in some way or another, and it assumes a competitive relationship between you and the other person.

“I want this, and you want that. How much will I have to give up to settle the issue?”

That’s the question. And there’s always the fear that you might have to give up everything to avoid escalating the conflict.

A better approach, especially when it comes to personal relationships, is to use negotiation.

Today I’ll explain the difference between compromise and negotiation and give you some strategies that facilitate successful negotiation.

Differences Between Compromise and Negotiation

Compromise

Compromise starts with a problem between opposing sides.

Imagine two people standing on either side of a line, with their wants and needs stacked up on their side. They begin moving toward the middle, with each person making concessions to get to a point where there’s agreement. They chisel away at their wants and needs to make things work. That doesn’t necessarily mean either of them gets something they want.

For example, if one of you loves to go out for dinner and the other likes to stay in and cook together, you might compromise by ordering out, which doesn’t really satisfy either one of you. Yes, you get restaurant food, and you stay in, but you both lose the experience you each wanted. In this case, you have a lose-lose situation.

In the above example, two people cater equally to solve a problem. But compromise doesn’t always work this way. If one person is more dominant than the other, and the other is conflict-avoidant, you end up with one person getting what they want and the other accommodating them to avoid a fight. In this case, you get a win-lose.

Negotiation

Negotiation is based on equal consideration of each person’s wants and needs.

You start on the same side of the line and tackle the issue together. You work as a team to redefine the problem in terms of each other’s needs and then decide how to meet them, so you each get something. When done successfully, the outcome is win-win.

Using our example above about whether to go out to eat or stay in and cook, the solution would be to eat out one weekend and stay in the next. That way, you both get what you want.

Negotiation is a proactive process, whereas compromise is passive. With negotiation, you acknowledge issues willingly and work as a team to solve them. The approach is collaborative. Each person has equal power and asserts their ideas and desires while the other listens with respect and interest. No one needs to guard their territory or give it up.

With compromise, there’s a reluctance to dive in. The power base is often unequal, and you operate with the mindset, “What am I going to have to give up?”

Negotiation leaves each person satisfied, while compromise can lead to resentment and a resurfacing of issues because they’re never really resolved.

So you might ask,

“Aren’t we just talking semantics here? Isn’t negotiation actually compromise?”

Yes and no. It is compromise in the sense that there’s a problem and a solution both people agree to, but the difference is that negotiation maintains the power balance and focuses on each person getting something, not giving up something.

The process is positive because you start with the mindset that you’ll be happy with the outcome. You don’t approach with wariness and fear that you won’t be heard or considered.

Let’s outline the benefits quickly, and then I’ll give you some strategies that make it work.

Benefits of Negotiation

  • Both people get their needs met.
  • You get something you want in exchange for something the other person wants.
  • You each get to verbalize what you need and know you will be heard and respected.
  • The power base is equal.
  • You find satisfaction in satisfying each other’s wants, which bodes well for the health and longevity of the relationship.
  • Each feels that the solution(s) is fair and was arrived at as a team. You feel good about working together.
  • True negotiation solves issues, so they don’t keep coming back up.
  • Negotiation enhances the connection between you and the other person.

Strategies for Negotiation

For negotiation to go smoothly, it is necessary to follow basic guidelines for communication. If you don’t, you might sabotage the process. Remember that negotiation is a collaboration. For best results:

  1. Voice your ideas, opinions, beliefs, wants, and needs directly and clearly.
  2. Focus on behaviors instead of personal characterizations.
  3. Let each person have their say without interruption.
  4. Ask questions to clarify and uncover any additional needs not spoken. For example, someone may want to spend an evening in just talking without the TV running in the background. Further probing might reveal that the underlying need is to have more quality time together. Knowing that opens the door for more discussion and possible solutions. Ask both “what” and “why.”
  5. Avoid criticism, contempt, or sarcasm. All of these will close down the conversation quickly.
  6. Keep an open mind which means accepting that the other person has ideas that may differ from yours but should be honored just the same. Try to see it through their lens, even when you disagree.
  7. Don’t censor ideas. The more you know, the more creatively you can come up with solutions. You can have wildly opposing views and still come up with solutions that give both of you something you want.
  8. Stay connected while talking. See yourselves as a problem-solving team, not opponents.

What if the issue is more complex?

Complex issues like where to live, whether to buy a house or keep renting, or how to parent require continued negotiation.

In cases like these, it’s good to break down the issue into parts and work a little at a time. You might need to do research or get more information. You can both do that and come back together as often as necessary to share what you’ve learned and see how it sits with you.

What’s most important in these cases is to:

  • Keep the power base equal, which means maintaining respect and consideration for each other’s ideas and points of view.
  • Be forthcoming in expressing your thoughts and feelings. Don’t withhold information out of fear or resentment. Honesty breeds trust and trust is necessary for collaboration.
  • Agree to work on a complex problem over time. It’s easy to get antsy about resolving something because no one likes to be in limbo, but hurrying a solution without allowing the time necessary for emotional reactions to settle is a mistake and often comes back to bite you.

Relationships flourish when you learn how to resolve conflicts equitably. All problems can be solved and done in a way that leaves both parties with a win.

If you practice negotiation with the strategies we’ve outlined, you’ll be successful and improve your relationships simultaneously.

Keep these words in mind, and you’ll succeed:

Collaborate, equal say, respect, teamwork, win-win

That’s all for today.

Hope you have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #101: Setting Boundaries – Part 2


Photo by Kostikova, Courtesy of iStock Photo

This blog is Part 2 of our work on learning how to set boundaries. If you didn’t read Part 1, it would be good to go back and read it first by clicking here.

Briefly, we covered signs that indicate you need to work on setting boundaries and the myths that hold you hostage and keep you from doing it.

Today we’ll continue with strategies you can use to decide what boundaries to set and how, and then talk about how to maintain them.

Let’s dive in!

The Strategies

Before we start, it’s good to recognize that setting boundaries is more challenging with family and friends. That’s only natural because your involvement is deeper, and your ingrained behavior patterns are more likely to show up in your interactions with those you’re closer to. Keep that in mind as we go through the strategies.

Strategy #1 – Setting expectations

This strategy sets the stage for all the others. Take some time and review people or situations you think need some boundary-setting. Write out how you would like things to be different from how they are now. List your expectations of those involved, including yourself. Doing this will help you identify where you feel taken advantage of or are giving too much of yourself. Be specific and realistic.

Strategy #2 – Set time-related boundaries.

Now that you’ve defined some expectations, review your time. If you have more to do than you have time, the only solution is to shrink down what you have to do or farm some of it out to other people. Strategies that help with time are as follows.

Delegate. You don’t have to do it all. Delegating requires letting go of the need to control everything and checking your guilt when asking for help.

If you have a partner, review the workload and reshuffle tasks to even things out, so you both participate. Work as a team, and check in with each other weekly to adjust as needed.

If you have kids, give them more responsibilities and chores. They should see themselves as part of the family team and learn to contribute based on their ages and capabilities.

If your job takes up 60 hours instead of 40, talk to your boss and see if you can whittle down the hours.

Schedule all your activities on a calendar, including time for family, friends, and yourself. It helps to see it visually. Then track it until you have a good handle on where your time goes.

Extracurriculars. Resign from your role as entertainment director. If you have kids, allow them time to self-entertain, deal with boredom, and use their imaginations (without Youtube, TikTok, or social media). Let them choose only one extra-curricular activity at a time, so you limit the time spent toting them to and from activities.

Other commitments. Don’t agree to any new commitment for at least 24 hours after being asked. Give yourself time to evaluate how it will affect your overall schedule. Pick and choose what you want to do, and say no to the rest. Say this mantra to yourself: “I’m not the only person who can take this on. Someone else could do it.”

Strategy #3 – Set digital boundaries.

Review these three activities that can eat up a lot of your time.

  1. Texting. Don’t feel you need to answer texts right away, especially chat texts. Let people know when you’re unavailable for texts except for emergencies. People will learn and acclimate to your boundaries.
  2. Social media. The best practice is to hold yourself to no more than 30 minutes daily on social media. Try it. If you do that, you’ll have lots more time. You’ll also not get lured into comparing yourself with others, trying to make people happy, and getting stirred up by negative posts.
  3. Emails. If you have a job, make it a rule not to respond to after-hours emails. If you have a job that requires you to respond to emails in the evening, discuss it with your boss and see if you can’t set that boundary. We live in a 24-hour access world, so you have to get diligent about not allowing that access during the hours you need for you and your family.

Strategy #4 – Set self-related boundaries.

These are the boundaries you need to set with yourself. By doing so, it will be easier to stick with the others.

Accept responsibility for being taken advantage of. You undoubtedly have good intentions by going the extra mile to help everyone. However, you are the only one that can stop the onslaught. Allow people to be responsible for themselves.

When you’re not sure if you should offer your help, ask yourself if the person in question:

  1. Has your best interest at heart.
  2. Is shirking their responsibilities by relying on you
  3. Is expecting too much.

You’re not helping if you’re enabling someone to take advantage and avoid their responsibilities.

Carve out some time for yourself. Do this even if it’s just 30 minutes per day. Figure out where you can squeeze that time in and how best to use it to nurture yourself. Then schedule it and stick with it.

Ask for help when needed without overstepping someone else’s boundaries. Don’t be a one-person show. If you’re a parent, check into carpooling or exchanging babysitting. If you can afford it, hire a cleaning service for your home. Even once a month is a huge help. Take some time and assess where you might get some help and what you can offer in exchange.

Say no! Saying no is more than setting a boundary; it requires revamping your identity. It means seeing yourself as deserving of respect, consideration, and appreciation for what you contribute. It’s being a team player and allowing others to do their part. Most importantly, it means letting go of unfounded guilt because you can’t be all things to all people. You can use all your wonderful talents without being exploited or taken advantage of. You do that by choosing when, how, and under what circumstances. Draw the line when offering help is done at your expense. It should be win-win, not win-sacrifice.

Maintaining Boundaries

Just because you set a boundary doesn’t mean others will uphold it. Here’s how to get around that.

Spell them out clearly. Don’t expect anyone to read your mind or wait for them to recognize when they’re overstepping. Let people know what you expect and where the line is. People capable of healthy relationships will appreciate this and honor your boundaries.

Restate it when tested. Some people will push the boundary to see if you mean it. This might happen because someone’s used to you being available whenever they need you, but it can also occur because they want things to remain as they were. A friend who’s used to taking advantage of you won’t like the change and will likely test it to see if you’ll stick with it. Setting boundaries can result in losing friends who weren’t good friends to begin with. Know this upfront and accept it. It’s in your best interest.

Be firm but not rigid. When you set a boundary, it’s good to stick with it until it’s easy to keep and others know it without thinking about it. However, sometimes you stretch a boundary just that once because it feels like the right thing to do. Be firm yet flexible when the situation calls for it. Just make sure that your flexibility isn’t a relapse but a well-thought-out decision.

The Fallout

If you’re not used to setting boundaries or have avoided it, it might feel uncomfortable for a while. Likely it will. Start slow. Choose easy ones first and establish them before moving toward bigger ones.

Remember that setting boundaries is a shift in your identity, which requires a shift in how people see you. That’s why it’s good to go slow and allow everyone to keep up.

Let me know how it goes. Leave a comment or email me. I’m always open to questions.

That’s all for today.

Have a great weekend!

All my best,

Barbara

P.S. – Suggested reading: Set Boundaries, Find Peace by Nedra Glover Tawwab

Sign up!

Sign up to get weekly Blog Shorts, Articles, and a free e-Book entitled “How to Stop Being Defensive."

    © 2020 - REDZERO, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED