Blog Short #29: How to Get Motivated

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

I was talking to a friend this week, and we got off on the subject of needing deadlines to get motivated to get something done.

My friend was saying that she puts things off until the deadline is so close that her adrenaline finally kicks in and she’s able to get moving enough to pull through it. She was complaining about how stressful this is and how she wishes she could get motivated earlier.

I agreed wholeheartedly as this was the way I wrote papers all through college.

Working by deadline is sometimes necessary, but in most cases it isn’t. We know that if we plan ahead and spread the work out over time, then it’s done well before the deadline. We also do a better job, and with much less stress. Yet, some of us still do it the other way.

Why?

I think it comes down to how and by what we’re motivated.

There are two types of motivation. They are:

  1. Extrinsic motivation
  2. Intrinsic motivation

Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation is the one we all know, and the one that’s used everywhere – at school, at work, as parents, and very often imposed on us by ourselves. The basic premise is :

To improve performance, increase productivity, or encourage good behavior, we are incentivized by the promise of rewards or the avoidance of punishment.

“If I study very hard, I’ll get an A in my class. If I neglect my studies, I could fail my class.”

“If I do well at my job, I’ll receive a raise in my next paycheck. If I do poorly, I could be placed on probation or fired.”

In each of these situations, we perform to get the reward or to avoid the negative consequence.

Most of the world works on this model.

Intrinsic Motivation

The premise underlying intrinsic motivation is:

The drive to engage in something comes from within rather than from an external source, and the reward is the personal satisfaction and enjoyment in doing it.

Daniel Pink, who is the author of a book called Drive, points to three factors that are involved in intrinsic motivation. These are:

  1. Autonomy
  2. Mastery
  3. Purpose

We work best when we feel in charge of the work, when we get better and better at it, and when we feel it has significance. It’s work that’s self-directed, and leaves us feeling that we’ve accomplished something that has meaning.

Intrinsic motivation is particularly useful and necessary when doing work that’s creative or requires a lot of brain power or physical prowess. It’s work that challenges us.

Conversely, extrinsic motivation does not work well for creative work. It can work well to an extent with things that are routine and repetitive, although I think you can apply some intrinsic motivation to these tasks too with a little imagination. We’ll get to that in a minute.

How does this apply to our deadline problem?

If we wanted to avoid the procrastination and resistance that seems to be dented only when there’s a strong deadline, how could we use the two models of motivation to help us?

The answer is to transform the task at hand to one that stimulates intrinsic instead of extrinsic motivation. As long as the deadline is the only thing that stands between performing or not, we’re in trouble.

Here’s my own example that might help illustrate this process.

I write this blog and deliver it every Monday, right? Monday at 6AM is my hard deadline.

If I used extrinsic motivation as my mode of completing this task, I likely wouldn’t start on it until Sunday. Maybe Saturday on a good week.

The purpose of writing it would be to:

  • Meet the deadline
  • Not disappoint my readers
  • And, get more subscribers

The first two are to avoid a negative consequence (not meet the deadline and have people upset with me), and the last one is to receive a reward (get more subscribers).

Fortunately I don’t use extrinsic motivation for this blog. I use an intrinsic approach. It’s based on:

  1. Wanting to help people by giving them information they can use to better their lives.
  2. Engage in writing, editing and research, all of which I love to do.
  3. Getting into a “flow” mindset when writing, and especially when editing.
  4. Getting better and better at writing as a craft.

All of these satisfy the needs for autonomy, mastery, and purpose. The work has meaning because it helps others, it’s self-directed (I do it on my own time), and the more I do it, the more I improve my skills. It also satisfies my curiosity and love of learning.

Although I have the weekly external deadline, the impetus comes from within, not without.

How you can use this.

It’s easier to use an intrinsic approach when you’re doing something like writing, but you can actually apply it to more routine things you have to do. Even things you’re not necessarily fond of doing. To do that, try this:

  1. Identify the internal reward. Whatever the task, ask yourself what satisfaction you can derive from doing it. Even if there’s an obvious external reward, what internal reward can you take from it. It may take a little thinking, but it’s there. Focus on that reward.
  2. Try to be present while engaging in the task or work. Enjoy the process of doing it, not just finishing it. Often while you’re doing something, especially something easy that you’ve automated in your mind, you let your thoughts wonder ahead to the next thing that needs to be done instead of attending to what you’re doing right now. Be deliberate in attending to the present moment. Focus on the process of it, not the outcome. Emerge yourself in it.
  3. Do it better. If you’re folding clothes, do it better. Enjoy putting them away and seeing them organized in the drawer. When you’re motivated by making improvements on something, you engage with your whole self, and that helps remove resistance.
  4. Set your own schedule. Take charge of the process. Plan out every task that needs to be done, and then apply the three suggestions we just covered to doing each of them. You can do this with household projects, on-the-job projects, or individual projects like writing a blog, or engaging in a hobby, or planning a trip with the family.

If you have difficulty in getting things done and you like to have deadlines, that’s not a problem. Go ahead and use them. Sometimes outside structure is helpful. Just work at increasing your intrinsic motivation so that you fully engage in what you do. If you do that, you’ll find you meet your deadlines without the stress.

That’s all for this Monday.

See you next week,

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #28: Focus on one thing to get multiple results.

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

Today’s blog post was inspired by James Clear who is the author of Atomic Habits. I love his book and also subscribe to his weekly “1-2-3 Newsletter.” Each week he sends out 1 question to ponder, 2 quotes from other people, and 3 quotes of his own. This week, one of his quotes was:

“Make the most of one opportunity and more opportunities will come your way. Moving boldly in one direction causes more paths to unfold before you. To get more, focus on less.”

He refers to this as the “paradox of focus.”

What inspires me about this quote is that it captures the wisdom of:

  • Starting small to go big
  • Taking some action before knowing the entire future
  • Recognizing that solving one problem may solve others at the same time
  • Focusing in can lead to multiple unforeseen benefits

I’m going to go through three examples that use this idea, yet apply it in different ways. Here we go.

#1 Working toward a big goal.

To work toward a big goal, the best approach is to break it down into smaller sub-goals (habits) that move you toward the final outcome.

Let’s say that you want to improve your health, and you decide that the way to do that is to:

  1. Start a regular exercise routine
  2. Improve your diet
  3. Undergo a complete physical with your doctor to check your cholesterol, organ functioning, blood pressure, etc.
  4. And lose 20 pounds

Those are all reasonable actions to get you moving toward your bigger goal of improving your health. The question is “Where do you start?”

The best idea is to select the one habit that you’re most likely to stick with, and that will easily lead into accomplishing your other habits/goals. This initial habit has been coined by Charles Duhigg as the “keystone habit” in his book The Power of Habit.

The keystone habit is the one that:

  • Appeals to you most
  • Is the easiest to get going
  • Is the one you have the time and energy to make happen
  • And the one that will bleed into the others without much effort

If I were to choose from this list, I’d likely start with exercise because it checks off all these criteria for me:

  1. It’s easy – I’d walk outside 15 minutes a day 5 days a week.
  2. It appeals – I like to be outside. I have walking paths in my neighborhood. I live in a warm climate. And I could listen to music while I do it.
  3. I have the time – I can fit this in my schedule without changing anything. It gives me the day off during the week that’s super busy, and the day off I use for downtime.
  4. It easily bleeds into the other goals – When I exercise regularly, I automatically start eating better. I also begin losing weight. If I’m losing weight and eating better, I wouldn’t mind so much getting a physical.

Just focusing on the keystone habit gets you going, and leads you automatically into the other habits or goals without too much effort.

In other words, if you accomplish the first one, you’ll likely finish them all. If you start them all at once, you’re more likely to drop off and abandon the whole project.

Just a little side note: I’ve used this strategy before and what happened is that after walking 15 minutes per day for a month, I found myself upping the time on some days because I enjoyed it so much. Eventually I walked an hour at a time on weekend days. This is often what happens when you start small.

#2 Focus on one skill and open up unknown opportunities.

In this example, you get really focused on learning about something you love or want to do, and it leads to opportunities you had never entertained or dreamt of.

This is a true story:

My son Josh was very interested in physical fitness (back in 2004), so he got a job at a gym. This led to getting certified as a personal trainer. From there he decided to open his own personal training studio. It was successful, and he sold it to one of his trainers so he could open a small gym. In the course of doing advertising for the gym, he taught himself graphic and web design because he wanted to create his own advertisements. He sold the gym and opened a web design company, and that led eventually to becoming the marketing director for a well-known real estate company, which is where he is today.

In this scenario, one interest and a strong focus on it led to a new opportunity, which opened up another one and another one and another one. When you don’t know exactly what you want to do, do the thing that’s in front of you as well as you can and see where it leads.

#3 Tackle one problem and others get solved.

This one is also best illustrated by a story.

Angie’s Story

Angie and her husband were having difficulty talking through problems. Every time they started, one or both would get angry or frustrated and they couldn’t continue. These conversations usually ended with tempers flared and a stand-off, and then sweeping the problem under the rug until it came up again.

Angie decided she would try to improve her communication skills to see if it would help. She read some books on the subject and took an online course to get started.

Angie began practicing her new improved listening skills on her husband. The more she did it, the more receptive he became to her. He began allowing her to express her thoughts and feelings without interrupting her, partly because he felt heard when he spoke, and partly because Angie was talking to him in a way that didn’t feel attacking as it had before. They both became less defensive, and soon were successful in talking through minor problems. They vowed to keep working at it until they could talk through anything.

As a result of Angie’s focus on improving her communication skills, not only were she and her husband able to talk through problems (which was the original goal),  their marriage improved and they felt closer to each other.

The unexpected silver lining was that she also resolved some internal issues that had caused her problems for many years. She overcame her fear of being criticized and rejected if she asserted herself. She was able to ask for what she needed whereas before she didn’t feel she had the right. And she learned how to talk about things that bothered her without being critical or attacking or defensive.

The Take-Away

If you start out working on one thing and throw everything you have into it, other things will get resolved in the process. That’s because they’re all connected. You don’t have to take on everything at once, and in fact, that usually fails. Start anywhere, and the rest will follow. Focus on that one thing and let the process go where it goes.

That’s all for now. Have a wonderful week!

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #26: The Observing Ego and Self-Awareness

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

Self-awareness refers to our ability to monitor our thoughts and feelings as we have them, and choose how to respond most appropriately based on what we see. The more self-aware we are, the better we can direct our thoughts and control our emotions.

It’s a meta ability that uses both:

  1. Meta-cognition which is to be aware of thought processes as they occur, and
  2. Meta-mood which is to be aware of moods as they occur.

Meta just means having dual awareness. Have you ever been dreaming and been aware that you’re dreaming at the same time? That would be called meta-dreaming. You’re both in it and outside observing it simultaneously.

Self-awareness is like that. It requires a “you” that’s thinking and feeling, and another “you” that’s watching the thinking and feeling while it’s happening.

The name of that second you in this process is referred to in psychology as the “observing ego.”

This term comes out of the psychoanalytic tradition, and although Freud didn’t coin the phrase, he referred to this idea as an “evenly hovering attention” that watched from a neutral position the workings of the ego. In “mindfulness” circles, it’s sometimes referred to as the “witness.”

The Purpose of the Observing Ego

The primary purpose of the observing ego is to increase self-awareness. By doing so, you gain:

  • A greater “sense of agency” which means you have more control in directing your moods and thoughts deliberately toward a desired outcome, rather than just acting them out. Knowledge is power in this sense.
  • Greater understanding of yourself and appreciation of your unique gifts. You become more aware of your strengths and weaknesses and can use this knowledge for personal and psychological growth.
  • Increased ability to perceive others with accuracy, and to connect and empathize. This ups your potential for satisfying relationships and social interactions.

How to Make Best Use of Your Observing Ego

#1 Label your feelings.

We’re language-based beings meaning that we define our thoughts and feelings symbolically through words. Even when thinking to ourselves, we use words and phrases to provide meaning.

You can increase your self-awareness by expanding your emotional vocabulary. The way to do that is to become more specific in labeling your feelings with greater accuracy and specificity.

What I suggest is that you Google “positive emotions” and “negative emotions,” and find a good list of each. Download or print it. You’ll be amazed at how many words there are on those lists.

Next, practice labeling your emotions as they occur. Using the lists, find the most accurate words for each feeling that you have. Get really picky about it. Sometimes more than one word applies. Use as many words as fit the situation.

What’s surprising about doing this is you realize how narrow your use of language has been in thinking about how you feel. By opening that up and increasing your word options, your self-awareness meter starts to go up, and your observing ego is sharpening and becoming more useful.

The exercise itself requires you to use metacognition and metamood, and hones your observing ego skills. As you label your feelings, you create some distance from them and aren’t swept away or overwhelmed by them. This allows you some control over them, and the emotional room to modify or change them to your liking.

#2 Journal it.

If you like to write, spend some time journaling with the specific goal of exploring and reviewing your thoughts and feelings. This can be focused on something you’re working on emotionally, or it can be free-floating meaning just write whatever comes to mind.

In either case, you can reread, review, apply better labeling, and gain some distance so you can see what’s actually there. Again, this allows you to modify or change what you feel.

#3 Practice mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a more formal method of tapping into your observing ego to improve your self-awareness. It’s the practice of watching your thoughts and feelings arise, acknowledging them, and then letting them go.

You do this much like watching a train of cars coming into view, getting closer and closer, and then passing by and receding out of view.

The idea is to not get caught up in your thoughts, but to see them with impartiality. You acknowledge them and let them pass by, without holding on or being swept away by them.

There are other mindfulness practices such as body relaxation, breathing exercises, and meditation. All of these help to increase self-awareness because they calm your mind enough to get just below the noise of thoughts and feelings, and allow you to experience them from a distance.

3 Things to Remember When Practicing Self-Awareness

  1. Don’t censor your feelings. We can’t help how we feel and there’s no right or wrong to feelings we have. The right or wrong comes in when we act on them. To do that well, you first need to know what’s there so you can make decisions based on all the information, not just some of it. What you censor or suppress just goes underground and affects you anyway, only without your direction. So let them surface, observe them, and then act.
  2. You’re more than what you think and feel. You have thousands of thoughts and feelings in a single day, and some of these come up from inside you while others are snatches of things or events you’ve been exposed to outside of you. For example, if you watch the news all day about mass shootings, you may have many more thoughts that contain violent content. That doesn’t mean you’re violent. It just means you’ve been inundated with that content. Thoughts and feelings have many sources. Don’t use them as measures of who you are, but more as information you can use to be more directive about where you put your attention.
  3. To not have an observing ego is to lack control over yourself and your life. It condemns you to repeating the same mistakes over and over. It’s living by instincts without using your thinking brain to help you order your life and guide it’s trajectory.

Having an active observing ego in good working order is making the most of what we’ve been gifted as human beings. We have the tools to self-actualize, evolve, connect, and feel comfortable with ourselves. It’s the tool that allows us to have a fully developed conscience. So use it!

That’s all for today. Hope you have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #26: The Up and Down Sides of Optimism

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

What image pops up in your mind when you hear the word “optimism?” For me it’s a little girl jumping up and down and clapping her hands in anticipation of something good with a big smile on her face. Her name is “Little Mary Sunshine!”

I have that image embedded in my psyche because that was the pet name my mother used for me while I was growing up. She knew I was an optimist early on.

Optimism is a powerful force that can help you get through all sorts of situations in life, as well as increase your happiness and sense of contentment. It can also sometimes blind you to things you need to see. This is today’s subject.

Optimism versus Pessimism

Let’s start with a definition. The best way to do that is to compare optimism to pessimism. Imagine this scenario:

Two women are preparing a meal for a dinner party later in the evening. Each of them makes a cake for dessert that falls flat and is not salvageable.

The pessimist reacts with this thought train:

This is a disaster! I’m a complete failure, and the dinner is going to be a flop. It’s all my fault. I’ll never get over this embarrassment. Things like this always happen to me!

The optimist has this reaction:

Oh my! Well that won’t work!! Let’s see, what else could I put together quickly for dessert? I’m sure I can come up with something. It’ll be fine.

These two different responses exemplify what’s called explanatory style. For the pessimist, the explanation for the event is to assume blame (I’m a complete failure!), assign stability for the situation (I’ll never get over it!), and ascribe a global impact to it (Things like this always happen to me.).

The optimist is just the opposite. She doesn’t identify the mishap as a commentary on her worth, but rather a situation (Oh my! Well that won’t work!). She sees it as an obstacle that can be overcome with some problem-solving (I’m sure I can come up something!). And she has a bright outlook on the future (It’ll be fine.).

Optimists:

  • Focus on what’s going well.
  • See obstacles as opportunities to problem-solve.
  • Don’t view mistakes as a lack of self-worth.
  • Make use of creativity and imagination to meet challenges.
  • Develop good coping skills.
  • Have a general outlook of hope for the future.
  • Have less depression and anxiety.
  • Practice gratitude.

Pessimists:

  • Assume things will go wrong more often than not.
  • See obstacles as stop signs that signal the end.
  • View mistakes as personal failures.
  • Become overwhelmed in the face of problems and give up.
  • Have poor coping skills.
  • Have a negative outlook for the future.
  • Are depressed and anxious more often.
  • Don’t see a lot to be grateful for.

Optimism Bias

Although optimism is a powerful force for success, there is a downside to it which is called optimism bias.

It refers to our tendency to overestimate the probability of things going well and underestimate the negative aspects of a situation that could occur. In other words, our expectations exceed the reality of what actually happens.

Entrepreneurs are a group that are prone to optimism bias. They start a new business with great enthusiasm, and have high expectations for success. Too often, they don’t accurately assess the value of their original idea, or the costs to make it happen, and the time it takes to build a customer base. In truth, 80% of new businesses make it through the first year, 70% survive the second year, and 10 years out, only 30% are still in business.

Another example is a parent who ignores his child’s increasing propensity to lie and manipulate, and assumes that it’s just a stage and will work itself out, even though this behavior is beginning to interfere with the child’s social and academic performance.

Optimism bias is based on denial and miscalculation. It’s turning a blind eye to possible negative circumstances or outcomes that should be addressed. These can be current circumstances as in the case of the parent ignoring his child’s alarming behavior, or future circumstances as in the case of the overly enthusiastic entrepreneur who doesn’t assess possible roadblocks that could cost him.

At it’s worst, optimism bias can take the form of magical thinking which is most dangerous.

If I think it, it is.

This type of thinking has become very popular in today’s culture of the “law of attraction.” There is some truth to the idea that what you focus on, you attract, and you can use that to your advantage. The danger lies in not understanding that you must not just think it, but also take action to make it happen. And as part of that, you must attend to real circumstances and events that have real consequences if ignored. Blind optimism and it’s buddy, magical thinking, too often result in very costly mistakes.

That brings us to what actually works, which is realistic optimism.

Realistic Optimism

realistic optimist maintains a mindset of hope, openness to possibilities, focus on what’s going well, and a can-do approach to problem-solving. She also addresses and maintains awareness of possible problem areas, pitfalls, risks, and negative outcomes.

Here’s how to make it work:

  1. Always begin with a real assessment of any given situation or challenge. Identify problems, review worst-case scenarios, and assess possible risks or consequences of your proposed actions. In other words, get a picture of how things are or could be from the negative point of view.
  2. Now focus on the positive and problem-solve. What are the possible solutions to the challenges at hand? What steps can be taken now? What are the best-case scenarios? It’s fine to visualize those outcomes, and focus on them daily. It’s also fine to think big, just so long as you evaluate possible consequences of your choices ahead. If things turn out better than expected, great! Go with it!
  3. Make a plan and go forward with a sense of momentum and hope and brightness. The optimist doesn’t give up, but will continue until a positive outcome is reached. Partial solutions are helpful along the way and often build momentum.
  4. Maintain a proper mindset. Failures are not personal. They don’t reflect who you are, but rather obstacles to be overcome. They’re learning experiences that point the way to a change in direction or perspective.
  5. Optimists take care of themselves. Keep activities at hand that help soothe, refresh, calm, and energize you. These come in handy when you feel stuck.
  6. Cultivate a sense of enjoyment in taking on challenges. Don’t view them as drudgery. Allow your imagination to take hold, get curious, and let your creativity provide ideas.
  7. Above all, practice gratitude in some regular way. A daily gratitude journal is invaluable as it helps you keep a balanced view of what’s going well.

That’s it for today. Hope you have a great week!

All my best,

Little Mary Sunshine:)

Blog Short #25: Relationship killers you can change before it’s too late!

John Gottman is a well-known psychologist and researcher in the area of marital stability and therapy. You may know of him already. He’s the author of a bestseller entitled The Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work.

His insights are based on research he’s conducted, most notably a study in which he watched couples through a one-way mirror discussing an unresolved issue for a period of 15 minutes.

In the course of this study, he identified four communication patterns that signal marital distress, and ultimately can lead to its demise. He calls them The Four Horseman, named after the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse.

They are: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness and Stonewalling.

I’ll go through each of them briefly, and then give you some strategies you can use to avoid them. Here they are.

Horseman #1: Criticism

The best way to understand criticism is to distinguish it from a complaint. A complaint addresses a behavior or act and is a normal type of communication.

“I didn’t get a call from you today per usual to let me know you were going to be late. I was worried!”

Criticism is more global and assaults someone’s character or personality.

“As usual, you didn’t call me to let me know you were going to be late. You’re not someone I can count on!”

The first statement focuses on the behavior. The second adds blame to the equation and launches a character assassination.

“You’re not someone I can count on!”

Horseman #2: Contempt

Contempt includes sarcasm, name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, hostile humor, cynicism, and scorn. The hallmark of this mode of communication is the message of “disgust.”

Once you lead with contemptuous gestures or communications, any chance of resolving an issue is lost.

“Once again you didn’t call me to let me know you were going to be late! How many times do I have to tell you this? What’s wrong with you? Can’t you remember anything?“

This statement not only criticizes, but it’s a full-on attack delivered with sarcasm and belittling.

Contempt usually occurs when there are unresolved issues that have been simmering for a long time, and attempts to resolve them have been unsuccessful. It’s an escalation of criticism, and Dr. Gottman sees it as the most dangerous of The Four Horseman.

He also notes that belligerence is a “close cousin” to contempt and is equally deadly to a relationship. It’s more aggressive and feels threatening.

Horseman #3: Defensiveness

Defensiveness is an attempt to escape the complaint (or criticism). It’s also an attempt to shift the blame away and back toward the partner.

Although it’s natural to try and defend against a personal attack, becoming defensive just escalates the conflict. It’s like adding fuel to the fire.

“So I forgot one time! Sue me! If you didn’t nag so much, I might remember. I might even want to come home!”

This defense is particularly deadly because it contains a counterattack, and uses contempt in the process.

Horseman #4: Stonewalling

Stonewalling is sort of the last straw and occurs later in a relationship when one or both partners feel unheard, and have concluded that it’s futile to try and talk things out.

During a conversation or dressing down, it can take the form of hiding behind a computer screen, leaving the room while the partner’s talking, turning on the TV and drowning her out, or becoming unresponsive. Regardless of the method, it’s an act of disengagement.

It’s not always done on purpose. One might become emotionally flooded and overwhelmed by the intensity of the other’s attack, leaving him defenseless, and so he withdraws or becomes paralyzed and checks out.

What to do.

For a full discussion of what you can do to help repair a marriage and strengthen it, I would encourage you to read Dr. Gottman’s book. For now, here’s some basic things you can do when communicating with your partner to reduce the occurrence of The Four Horsemen.

#1 Focus on behaviors only, not personal characteristics. Avoid these:

  • Labeling – “You’re lazy.
  • Analyzing – “You’ve got a real issue with money!”
  • Insulting – “You’re just an idiot!”
  • Diagnosing – “I think you’re bipolar.”

#2 Use “I” statements rather than “You” statements.

“When you do . . ., I feel . . .”

#3 Take responsibility for your feelings.

“I worry when you come home late without letting me know about it ahead.”

instead of

“You make me worry when you come home late.”

#4 Rather than defending, ask questions.

The goal is to understand what the other person is really saying and feeling. When you take that approach, you diffuse negative emotions and connect. Set aside your defense for the moment, and try to fully understand what’s bothering your partner.

#5 Pick the right time for hard conversations.

  • Are either of you sick or under the weather?
  • What’s the level of tiredness or stress?
  • Are there any mood problems at the moment?

#6 Make your statements clear and specific.

Don’t make your partner guess at what you’re really saying or how you’re feeling. And especially don’t expect him to read your mind. This is an expectation that many couples have of each other and it’s an easy way to create misunderstandings. Be clear, direct, and say what you mean.

#7 If you feel flooded and can’t continue, take a break.

Let your partner know what’s going on and step back for a while. Do something soothing until you feel collected and calm enough to reengage in the conversation. This is not the same as stonewalling.

Last thoughts.

It’s noteworthy to keep in mind that using The Four Horseman in your communications is not only detrimental to your marriage, but to any intimate relationship including that between parent and child, with other family members, or with close friends. Best practice is to try and remove them altogether from your repertoire.

Especially watch out for sarcasm which can be used playfully sometimes, but it’s walking a tightrope that often leaves a sting.

That’s all for today. I hope you have a wonderful week!

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #24: Stories We Tell Ourselves

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

Human beings are natural storytellers. We love a good novel, a fictional TV show, or a juicy bit of gossip about someone. So it’s not surprising that we also tell ourselves stories.

The problem is we often don’t recognize them as stories. We take them for fact. In actuality, most of the time our stories are a mix of fact and fiction.

Here’s how this works:

Everyday there’s a dance that goes on between things that happen or experiences we have, and our interpretation of those things and experiences. We think we perceive them accurately and recall them factually, but what we actually recall and commit to memory are our interpretations. And these interpretations are greatly colored by our emotions, histories, mindsets, and biases.

What this means is that your view of reality, and of your world, is filtered through your personal lens. You likely don’t consider it necessary to examine your perceptions or ask yourself what’s actually true or real before you emotionally react and respond.

You take for granted that what you perceive is true.

The fact is, our emotions have the biggest impact on our memory and recall. The more emotionally charged and impactful an event is, the more likely it will be stored in memory, and the more emphasis we give it. Also, it’s more likely to become distorted, especially when it triggers us in some way.

It’s almost like we create a fantasy and then react to that fantasy as though it’s true, when sometimes it’s partially true and sometimes it’s not true at all.

These are the stories we tell ourselves.

Our daily narrative.

In a way, our lives are long stories like sagas. We tell the story to ourselves (as the narrator), and have the leading role in the story (as the actor).

Everyday we have a running conversation in our head about what’s happening, and what we think and feel about it. We bring up previous events and go over them. We construct future events. We watch the story, expand the story, review the story, and edit the story, all at the same time.

This narration runs almost by itself, sometimes without our being aware that we’re doing it. We’re watching and interpreting the story continually, sometimes even while asleep.

The problem that shows up occurs when our interpretations don’t take in all the facts or all the information that’s pertinent to the story. We’re limited by our tendency to ruminate and narrow our focus to what affects us the most emotionally.

What we see is only a slice of the story. We miss parts, and our interpretations become distorted.

Here’s an example that recently happened to me.

Several nights ago, I got 4 hours of sleep because my 19-year-old Dachsie was having some problems (which turned all right by the way). The next day I repeatedly said to myself “I’m soooo tired.” I must have repeated that idea in my mind at least 50 times if not more. This is the slice I was focused on.

At one point I caught it. I realized that I was confining my day to the single idea that I was super tired at the expense of everything else. The more I said it to myself, the more tired I got.

I decided to let that thought sit quietly in the background, and shift my attention to other activities. As I did that, I forgot how tired I was, and got a lot accomplished in spite of it.

The story I had told myself that morning was:

  1. If I only had 4 hours of sleep, I wouldn’t be able to function.
  2. The day was going to be a drag because of it.
  3. I probably couldn’t get anything done but the bare minimum.

That was my interpretation of the event (4 hours of sleep), and I fed it with a single repetitive thought. Once I let go of that story, I found it to be greatly exaggerated and not altogether true.

Make your stories work for you.

You can use your stories positively if you become mindful in your story-telling. To do that, you have to:

  • Be honest with yourself.
  • Allow yourself time to recover emotionally from something before constructing your story.
  • Take responsibility for your stories, and be deliberate in creating them.
  • Widen your perceptions, and get all the information before coming to conclusions.
  • Question repetitive thoughts, and correct those that are faulty or too noisy.
  • Create stories that help you grow, rather than hold you hostage.

We’re going to tell stories. It’s the nature of who we are, so it behooves us to make the best use of this habit.

If you follow the above rules, your stories will be more accurate, and will reinforce your sense of self and positive regard.

If your stories are laced with these themes, they’ll be detrimental to you:

  • Repetitive self-criticism or disapproval.
  • Blaming others for your problems.
  • Justifying actions not in your best interest.
  • Catastrophic thinking.
  • Ruminating in circles.
  • I can’t.
  • Making snap decisions or being impulsive.

Don’t use your stories to beat yourself up or paint a negative picture of yourself. Use them to:

  1. Perceive what’s true.
  2. Help you attain your goals.
  3. Make your daily experiences worthwhile, enjoyable, and productive.
  4. Consistently grow and improve.

An exercise.

Watch your stories for a day. This means watching repetitive themes or thoughts, interpretations of experiences, and things you say to yourself about you.

As you watch, pull those thoughts out and see if you need to revise them, or lesson them, or discard them altogether. Replace stories that are largely fantasy with stories that are more accurate based on all the information you have.

The idea is to widen your perception and to remember that things pass, things resolve, and there are actions you can take to keep yourself moving in a positive direction always.

Instead of being “sooooo tired” all day, you can say, “It’s just one day and it’s not that bad and there’s a lot I can do with this day in spite of being tired, and tomorrow I’ll get 8 hours sleep.” I changed that story, felt a lot better, and got a lot done. You can do the same with your stories!

Hope you have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #23: 5 Things We Can Take Away from the Pandemic

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

Today’s blog is more of a thought piece than my regular information or “how to” blog. I’ll return to that format next week. Hopefully today’s subject will resonate with you and stimulate some thoughts and ideas.

The subject is COVID, however, not so much the virus itself, but the effects of this last year on all of us, and where we go from here. More specifically,

What have we learned from this experience that we can use going forward?

By the way, this isn’t about politics or world problems. It’s just about us.

Quarantine

Somewhere during this past year, you experienced some quarantine or lockdown time, and likely quite a bit. Depending on where you live, and who’s in charge, and what your level of fear has been, you’ve had to stay home much more than usual. If you’re like me, you’re still staying home to a large degree.

This has been a big adjustment for most of us. It’s meant being in your house or apartment all the time, possibly working from home or not being able to work at all. It’s also meant being in constant contact with your immediate family without breaks that are normally provided by school, work and extra-curricular activities. It’s likely meant cooking more unless you ordered in a lot, and unfortunately for many of us, eating more!

Maybe you did puzzles, watched more Netflix, embarked on some home improvement projects, and did your best to get your kids through online school. Maybe you got sick and survived, and sadly, maybe even lost someone or knew someone that didn’t survive.

It’s been stressful, and for each of us the stress is different depending on our circumstances and our personalities. Introverts who like to self-entertain were more likely to enjoy the time at home whereas extroverts found it taxing and boring.

The Good

There is a silver lining, and this is what I want to highlight today. We may not see all of it completely until we’re well out of the pandemic and can look at it in hindsight, but there are some things I’ve noticed already and thought about that I’ll share with you. I think it’s good to process what we’ve learned and are still learning as we go through this time. Here’s my insights, and hopefully they resonate with your experience too.

#1 Moving inward.

We’ve had to become more internal. That means being more reflective, more aware of our thoughts and feelings, and quieter. Without the distractions of activity we usually engage in outside the house, there’s been no choice but to move inward.

Whether it’s been comfortable or not, it’s a good thing. It’s allowed us to commune with ourselves and get in touch with what’s important, and what we value. It’s reminded us of who we really are and what we aspire to. It’s also brought to the forefront what needs attention that we should address.

#2 Confronting mortality.

Because we’re in a pandemic, and people have died, our mortality has been brought to the front burner. For me, it’s resulted in thinking a lot about my life span, and how long I have, and what I should do with that time. In those mental meanderings, I’ve questioned what’s really important, and based on the answers, asked myself how to change what I’m doing now to pursue those things more diligently. In general, it’s reminded us all that we can’t take life for granted.

#3 Spotlight on relationships.

Being quarantined has put a spotlight on our intimate relationships. For some it’s highlighted the pleasure in having more time with those we love, and brought us closer. For others, it’s highlighted problem areas that need repairing or change.

It’s also opened up other means of being together. It’s too bad we didn’t all have stock holdings in Zoom, because certainly it’s been a good year for them and we would be rich by now! I’m funning a bit here, but truly, online communication has become a necessary means of staying in contact with those with whom we couldn’t see face-to-face.

In some cases, families and friends have had more contact than they normally do through online methods, partly because there’s more time for it, and partly because it feels more important and necessary to be with each other.

For some, relationships have deepened and grown, and for other’s it’s signaled a need to shift away. Either way, we’ve had to attend to them.

#4 Boredom and creativity.

You have to be creative to cook this much, or help kids with online school, or quell your boredom, or deal with more people in the house at one time. It’s amazing what we can do when we have too, and interesting to see that when we’re placed in a position to come up with new strategies or new activities, we do it. It’s been good to exercise our imaginations, entertain ourselves, and make things work without outside activities. The art of creative boredom is a great skill!

#5 Gratitude and appreciation.

What’s the saying? “You don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone?” (From one of Joni Mitchell’s songs.)

  • Simple pleasures like going to the grocery store without trying to breathe through a mask.
  • Going out to dinner.
  • Having get togethers at someone’s house.
  • Traveling or vacationing.

I know that some people did some of these things anyway, but not always with great results. Regardless, a grayness has hung over us as we waited and waited for some break in the news that would tell us we have an end in sight. I don’t think anyone thought the pandemic would go on for this long.

Yet, there’s so much we can appreciate and be grateful for. For each of us, it’s personal. There are small things and small wins and small lessons that we’ve experienced, some of which I’ve mentioned above, and some that pertain just to you. You know what these are and it’s good to remind yourself of them.

Moving Forward

As we get on top of the pandemic, and things go back to “normal,” I wonder what we’ll remember and use when we return to our busy, rather frenetic lives.

Americans love busy. We’re a bit manic, and love to be active. We’re doers, and as a group, we seek outside stimulation.

Personally, I think we go too far in this respect. A better approach is a balance between the internal and the external. Reflection, downtime, staying put in one place for a while, dealing with boredom, being creative, and paying attention to relationships are invaluable and important aspects of living. Knowing yourself, and just being is as important (and maybe more) as doing and accomplishing.

My hope for all of us is that we’ve gained some permanent insight into the need for self-reflection, thinking, contemplating, and just being. If we do, I think our achievements and accomplishments will be greater, and certainly also our peace of mind.

Last Note

To any of you who lost someone in this past year to COVID, my heart goes out to you. I wish you consolation as you grieve, and hope that you find solace in time.

Until next week . .

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #22: 5 Things That Steal Your Time

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

Let’s start today with a question: “What do you do with your time?”

I ask because in truth most of us don’t know how much time we spend on any particular activity unless it’s tightly scheduled as in the case of a meeting at work. Usually we use ballpark guesses, and those guesses are often faulty because we tend to over or underestimate.

Unless you actually track your time and see precisely how you spend it, you don’t really know. You’re guessing.

Why is this important? Because time is ultimately limited in every life. We don’t know how much we have. What we do know is that in a single week, there are 168 hours, and if you sleep 8 hours a night (hopefully), you have 112 hours of waking time.

What happens in that 112 hours, and if you actually find out, will you be happy with what you find?

This blog has two parts:

  1. How to track time
  2. Identifying time-robbers

How to Track your Time

Before you set up a general process to track your time, track what you do for a full week from the moment you get out of bed to the moment you turn off the lights to sleep. Write it down. It’s a bit tedious, but it’s worth it. You can use 15 minute blocks to make it easier.

I’m guessing you’ll be surprised at what you find. You’ll get an accurate view of how much time things take, and what amount of time you spend on work, housekeeping, leisure, care-taking, chatting, resting, etc.

Now that you know how you spend your time in real numbers, what would you like to change?

There’s several possibilities. You may see ways to stack certain tasks together to be more efficient. You may also decide you need to cut down on activities that waste your time. You’ll see if you’re spending enough time on the things that are most important to you.

When you think about time, you can usually divide your usage into 7 categories:

  1. Activities that move you toward your most important goals
  2. Maintenance activities like cooking, cleaning, laundry, errands, hygiene, etc.
  3. Work or job
  4. Leisure and entertainment
  5. Relationship time
  6. Sleep
  7. Wasted time

As you look over the week you’ve just tracked, try placing your activities in one of these 7 categories. You can make sub-categories if you like. You’ll also find that some activities will overlap into several categories.

When you’re done, see if you can tweak things to spend more time in the categories that are most important to you.

Now for things that steal your time.

Time-Robbers

These activities often take much more of your time than you’re aware of, and for the most part don’t give you a sense of accomplishment or real relaxation. Here’s my list:

#1 Social Media

You knew I was going to list this one, right? Scrolling through social media or watching videos on Youtube (unless you’re watching something instructive for a purpose), robs you of time you could spend on more productive activities. It can be relaxing, and maybe you want to continue doing it, but not to the extent that you do.

Make rules for yourself about how much time you want to allow for these activities, and when. To help you with this, it’s wise to remove social media apps from your phone. If you do that, you’ll automatically cut down the time spent on social media. It works!

#2 Multi-Tasking

When you multi-task, you actually take more time to get things done. There are some things you can have going at the same time like clothes in the washer while you cook dinner, and even several burners going at once. There’s an art to that.

But in general, you spend your time more wisely if you allow yourself to fully focus on one activity at a time, and finish it before you go to the next one.

If you have kids in the house, this is often difficult to pull off. But even with kids, you can structure your time so that when you have to do something, you can instruct them to self-entertain, and then follow this up by giving them your undivided attention at an agreed time later.

Structure is the key here. Try to become very deliberate about what you’re doing, and do it completely and without distraction if possible until done.

#3 Not Planning Ahead

When you don’t plan ahead, you lose time you aren’t even aware of losing. This can create chronic anxiety and overwhelm.

It’s best to keep a running “to-do” list for each day of the week. On Sunday make this list for all 7 days and spell out everything you need to do on which days. Then check your list the night before so you know what’s on your agenda for the next day. Undoubtedly you’ll move things around as other things interfere, but you’ll have a plan to start with. If you do this every week, you’ll get good at knowing how much time things take, and you’ll waste less time.

Be sure to keep your list somewhere that’s easy to access and easy to alter. I keep mine in Notes on my iPad, so I can also see it on my phone and computer.

#4 Procrastination

We all do this, and some more than others. The problem with procrastination is that when you do it, things hang over you and drain you emotionally, even if you aren’t aware of it.

If procrastination is a problem for you, there’s a lot of advice out there for how to curb it. But in a nutshell, taking action is the only way to break the habit. There’s just no getting around that. Put it on your list, and don’t allow yourself to deviate unless there’s an emergency. You can reread this blog for help with that.

#5 Digital Communication

This includes texting, emails, and to some extent phone calls. I gave this a separate category rather then lump it in with social media because it has a different impact.

Texting is a wonderful invention for quick communication. But – and this is a big but –

Constant texting creates anxiety.

Research shows this to be true. You get a text and feel like you need to reply. It becomes a demand. Sometimes that’s fine, but sometimes it really isn’t.

Same with emails. When you’re accessible all the time, there’s a sense of impending invasion even when you’re alone. Your phone beckons, and demands your attention. It might as well just call your name out loud! Even having a smart phone in view creates some distraction.

Some people get upwards to 200+ emails a day on the job! That’s horrifying! Who has the time, and how important are all those emails?!

Phone conversations can also be time-robbers. If you really want to communicate with someone and maybe catch up, the phone is great. But if you get stuck on it, you feel like a hostage.

The key is to get those modes of communication under control. You can tell your friends or family that you only check emails twice a day if that’s the case, or that you don’t respond to texts while at work, or you don’t answer the phone after 7pm in the evening. You make the rules that fit for you.

The idea is to balance your contact with those you care about with the time you need for other things, including down time. Structure it and don’t feel apologetic if you don’t want to text for hours or answer every email. Besides, there’s no real replacement for face-to-face conversation if you really want to connect.

I didn’t mention TV as a time-robber, but certainly it can be. If you’re an avid TV person, then add that to your list and track how much you watch so you can decide if it’s in your best interest or not.

All right, I think that’s it for this week. This blog was a little longer than usual. Hopefully it wasn’t a time-robber for you!

As always, I hope you have a great week, and I’ll send you a new blog next Monday.

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #21: How to Handle a Dispute

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

There’s a well-known Indian spiritual teacher who lived in the late 1800s and early 1900s, who often answered questions posed by visitors who sought him out at his ashram where he resided in South India. His name is Ramana Maharshi.

Someone asked him once about how to handle disputes. Here’s the exact question posed and his answer:

Q: “Bhagavan! It happens to all and at many a time too. Two friends get entangled in heated arguments on a commonly accepted issue. Each sincerely feels that his stand is correct. And most assuredly that the other is wrong. A stalemate results. In such cases, how can the issue be resolved to the satisfaction of both? Or is there no practical method at all to settle such tussles?”

A: “Bhagavan replied, “Yes, there is! It is very easy too!” He continued, “Since both are sincere, and are not arguing for argument sake, if you completely give up your standpoint for a moment, and accept the other’s point of view as your own, then there will be clarity in your mind. If possible, both should adopt or be persuaded to adopt, this method. If the other refuses, it doesn’t matter. Just make such a change of view in yourself. You will then experience a release from the stalemate. This change in you will release the other too from the stalemate. Neither of you will be arguing anymore.”

The wisdom in this response is subtle yet powerful, and something we can all use when we find ourselves in a situation where we’re having a dispute with someone.

The instruction is to completely abandon your point of view for a moment and put yourself in the other person’s headspace and see it through his mind’s eye as though it is yours.

Hah! This is not so easy to do, because it requires setting aside any emotional reactions you may be having to what’s said, and letting go of the need to defend your position, at least for a time.

That’s a big order, especially when the stakes are personal. And the more intimate the relationship, the higher the stakes, and the more likely you are to dig your heels in and raise your defenses.

The question is “How do I do that?”

Here’s what to do.

There’s a way that works if you use it early in the conversation before it gets out of hand. It has to do with your initial response to the other person’s statement(s).

Instead of rebutting, defending, or denying, ask one or several of these questions:

“I’m curious. How did you arrive at that conclusion? What led you to that idea? How’d you get there?”

When you ask questions that focus on his thought processes instead of responding to the actual content with a defense, you begin to turn down the emotional temperature while opening up some space for understanding and connecting.

By positioning yourself in the role of curious explorer instead of defensive debater, you change the direction of the conversation. You take the force of the other person’s drive to convince you of his point of view, and use it to open things up instead of lock them down.

By investigating instead of reacting, you get some time and space to cool yourself down by suspending your responses while you just listen. That will come in handy when you’re ready to start talking again.

Once the initial question is asked, keep asking questions and clarifying what you hear until you feel like you’re seeing his viewpoint as though it’s coming through your mind as well as his. Follow his mental steps as he tells you what led him to his conclusions. Drop your need to defend and focus only on understanding what he’s saying.

If you’re successful . . .

You’ll recognize that he’s right! He’s right based on his reasoning, his emotional perceptions, and the information he’s chosen to use. That doesn’t mean he’s necessarily totally or truly right if some of those factors are faulty, but from inside his mind he’s right and you now know how he’s gotten there.

Once you understand how he thinks and feels, and he knows you get it, four things happen:

  • He gets calmer because he feels heard.
  • You’re calmer because you’ve controlled the emotional trajectory of the conversation, and you have much more information to work with.
  • He’s much more likely to hear you now.
  • You’re much more likely to explain your point of view in a way that can be received without a defensive response.

By seeking to fully understand before replying, you create a connection. You’re both on the same side, even if you continue to disagree on the content.

There are three ideas you need to cement in your mind to be able to pull this off:

  1. Just because someone says something doesn’t make it true.
  2. No one wins an argument if one of the parties is hurt.
  3. Defenses don’t need to be launched immediately to be effective. To the contrary, they can only be received when there’s a connection between both parties based on a desire to understand. If you take the lead and understand first, you have a much better chance of being understood when it’s your turn to speak.

When not to use this strategy.

This tactic will almost always work if you use it before a conversation moves into a full argument. But, there are situations where it won’t work, and that was pointed out in Bhagavan’s answer to the question. He qualified the situation saying, “if both are sincere and are not arguing for argument sake.”

There are people who want to argue, and will turn any attempt to come to an understanding into more conflict. This can happen when someone’s anger is out of control and they aren’t receptive, or worse, they simply like to fight so they twist words or purposely misunderstand what’s said to continue to escalate an argument.

When that’s the case, step back. Leave the conversation. Either you can come back when everyone’s cooled down and try again, or in the case of the person who just wants to fight, abandon any further attempts until he’s earnestly willing to work at reaching an understanding.

Last note: This is a strategy that not only works for intimate relationships, but it’s also very helpful when talking to our kids, or co-workers or friends.

Have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

Blog Short #20: Helping versus Rescuing

Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!

This is a subject that’s near and dear to me because I’m a “Helper” on the Enneagram, which means I can easily fall into rescuing when I should just let someone solve their own problems. That said, sometimes rescuing is a good thing, and I’ll tell you when that is as we get into the discussion.

Let’s start with differentiating between the two activities.

Helping is assisting or aiding someone to do something for herself. You provide the tools or resources to overcome a problem or get something done, and she uses what’s given to do the work.

Rescuing is saving someone from a distressing set of circumstances she find’s herself in, or from harm (either psychological or physical). You remove her from a difficult or dangerous situation. In this case, you do the work.

There’s nothing wrong with either option if the situation truly calls for it, but chronic rescuing is a problem when it evolves into enabling, and that’s where things get sticky.

So how do you determine when enough is enough?

It’s not always clear, but here are some guidelines you can use to help you decide. Let’s start with helping.

Guidelines for Helping

  1. Always ask first. Helping should be something the recipient actually wants, not something you impose.
  2. Examine whether what you have to offer will be in the other person’s best interest. Is what you can do actually helpful? When you don’t know, ask: “Would this be helpful to you?” If the answer is no, you might followup with: “What do you think would be helpful?” Let the other person be your guide.
  3. Make sure your help won’t be harmful or hurtful to you. Sacrificing can get very tricky, because you can fall into a martyr mindset which doesn’t help anyone. Helping should not feel like a sacrifice, unless it’s a sacrifice you wish to make. You should be able to give without needing something back, and without resentment later on. It should be free and clear. I might give up watching a TV show I like to give my child an hour of time to chat about a problem she’s having. That’s a choice that feels good.
  4. Provide help that will allow the recipient to go forward, or overcome an obstacle, or figure out a way to resolve a problem. Your help gets him moving, but allows him to work on the issue himself.

The caveat here is that sometimes helping is doing something with someone. You might help your friend move into a new apartment, or work on a project together. That’s still helping. You both do the work.

Now for rescuing.

Guidelines for Rescuing

Sometimes circumstances require a rescue. For example:

You might offer to pay for your son’s unexpected car repair because you know he doesn’t have the money.

A friend becomes ill and can’t fend for herself, so you stay with her a few days until she’s better enough to navigate alone.

Your neighbor’s babysitter cancelled on her last minute, and you offer to watch her daughter for a couple of hours.

These are all rescue situations that are isolated events. You offer your help on a one-time basis, and it greatly relieves the person on the receiving end.

The difficulty with rescuing occurs when you get into a chronic situation of repeatedly pulling someone out of the ditch, only for him to fall back in and need rescuing again, and again, and again. In cases like these, you’re enabling and there’s nothing good about that!

Here’s some questions you can ask yourself to avoid doing that.

  1. Is this a one-time situation? And will what I do help this person get back on the horse and keep going?​
  2. Have I made clear the boundaries around what I’m offering and for how much or how long?
  3. Is the person I’m rescuing someone who values solving his own problems, or does he chronically allow others to take care of him? If the answer is the latter, you need to consider carefully what you offer and make sure the boundaries are stated up front. You may also decide to just simply refrain from rescuing.​
  4. What’s in it for me?

This last question is important, because rescuing is sometimes driven by the wrong motives. Here’s some examples.

  • You rescue someone to relieve your anxiety. This happens all the time with parents. We rescue our kids because our anxiety about their distress or safety is so great, we’ll do anything to get rid of that feeling. The problem is, that’s not always the best decision for their growth. We don’t allow them to work on the problem themselves and learn how to cope with adversity.
  • You use “rescuing” and “helping” to ward off feelings of depression. It’s not always a bad thing to help someone when you’re feeling down, because it can lift you out of a negative mood. But if it’s a pattern, you’re likely using it to avoid dealing with your own issues.
  • You need to be needed, and when you’re not needed, your self-esteem plummets. You feel alone. Again, rescuing is a means of avoidance.
  • You don’t have faith or trust in the other person to solve his own problems. There’s two possibilities here: (1) You don’t allow space for him to struggle with the problem because you know you can solve it faster and better, or (2) he’s not willing to tackle it. Either way, you’ll rob him of an opportunity to learn something if you step in and take over. Sometimes the best decision is to step back and let someone wrangle with their own distress.
  • You can’t stand to see anyone else suffer. It makes you suffer. It’s hard to see someone you love in pain, and it’s natural to try and take that feeling away. However, sometimes we need to suffer in order to learn. We’re all ultimately responsible for the consequences of our actions, or our inaction. Are you fostering that responsibility, or helping someone avoid it?
  • You’re a caretaker and always have been. You might be the oldest child in your family, or the one everyone comes to for help. Being a caretaker is part of your identity, and you feel guilty when you say no. If this is you and you can’t get around it, now’s a good time to learn how to set boundaries without the guilt. Click here.

If you’re not sure what to do when someone needs help, ask yourself this one question:

Will what I have to offer benefit the other person, and will we both feel good about the outcome?

If you truly feel good about it, you won’t feel taken advantage of. If the recipient feels good about it, he will feel both helped and respected, and will want to continue to do his own work.

That’s all for this Monday. As always, I hope you have a great week!

All my best,

Barbara

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