“Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.” – Mark Twain
In a recent blog (July 6th, 2010), I focused my writing on “tips for taking action.” Because any lasting change requires some kind of action, I’m returning to this topic with more ideas. “I’ve had the symptoms of depression (or anxiety, or problems in marriage, or whatever) for a long time now—I’m in a total rut and I don’t know how to get out of it. How can I make changes when things have been going badly for so long?”
It’s true that the longer a problem has been in place, the more creative you have to be in dislodging it, but that’s only because humans are creatures of habit, and often don’t notice the potential benefits for changing. For those of us who live in the Pacific Northwest, a good example can be seen in winter driving. When the roads are icy, and a car gets stuck, it can become entrenched unless the driver uses a few skills to generate even small movements. Snowbound on ice, a driver will need to get the vehicle to move forward, or backward, even inches at a time—the direction is not so important as the momentum built by simply generating movement. Back and forth, back and forth, just a bit of motion overcomes the rut and the slippage that may occur in this kind of circumstance. In just the same way, small movement, even in directions that seem unproductive at first, can build the momentum needed to get on track and moving in the right direction. (more…)
Some of you may know that I took some time off this summer. I had a great time in a wonderful setting on a lake, with my wife and a group of friends. It was a time of sharing lots of activities and really good food, as well as just having some time together when we didn’t have to do the things from our everyday lives. I enjoyed it tremendously.
And some of you may also know that I took a trip to Austin, Texas this fall, and I went by myself. It was the trip of a lifetime for me. I got to see great music played by people I’d admired for years, and great music played by people I’d never heard of before! And I enjoyed that trip tremendously.
I talk about this with patients, and even my students in classes, because the idea of being independent and doing things apart from one’s partner or spouse is sometimes looked at as a negative. And for some, the idea of only doing things with one’s spouse or the family, or close grouping, is also thought of as a negative. In general, boys are brought up to stand apart and assert their independence, while girls are encouraged to blend in, and associate more closely with friends and the family; what researcher Shelley Taylor calls the “tend and befriend” response. As we grow up, these values and skills are continued, and if we aren’t careful to learn how to do both, our lives are less full, perhaps less rich and rewarding.
Every so often a patient comes into my office carrying “the book” that has all the answers they need for a wonderful experience in life. Whether it is a metaphysical book or the latest pop-psych bestseller, I listen patiently while they describe how everything is going to work out smoothly now because they know the secrets to success!
But, they come back the next week, with a different book—or they come back disappointed in the last one—because they only “knew ABOUT something” they didn’t really “know”. This thought is not original to me, of course—not many thoughts are—but rather comes from years before I began my psychology training. Someone made the remark to me that “knowing about something is not the same as knowing”. The remark puzzled me—aren’t these two the same things? (more…)
Apologies are interesting. There are people who offer apologies in order to smooth things out for the moment so that a conflict can be avoided—maybe even a conflict that would do their relationship some good. There are those who offer an apology, in hopes that next time the misdeed will be forgiven without any notice or further apology. And, I hope, there are apologies that come from those who take responsibility for poor behavior, regret their actions, and have a desire to refrain from (or limit) inconvenience or harm to another in the future.
When I look at dictionary definitions, as I often do in thinking about a topic, I notice that “apology” comes with some contradiction that seems to be borne out in the way people offer their “regrets” about things they’ve done: (more…)
Over the years I’ve met with many dozens of patients who say that they’ve reached a point (and some are quite young when they say this, while others are past middle age) where they just don’t like who they’ve become. In one way or another, they feel as if they’ve hit a point of stagnation in work, love or another important aspect of life. Sometimes they are struck with the sense that time is passing by and the high hopes they had for what might be accomplished, achieved, obtained or experienced in life—have not become realities.
In our culture, it seems we are urged toward “bigger and better,” toward “progress” and “having it all.” A friend of my wife says she is quoting the Duchess of Windsor when she states, “A woman can never be too thin or too rich.” To that, she adds, “or have too many silk blouses.” But I’m not so sure. Beyond the basics necessary for life, I’m not sure that we benefit from all that striving, all that wanting more. In the final analysis, it probably comes down to a couple of questions that one can answer only for oneself—and the answers might change as life offers opportunities to address these things. (more…)
Okay, I’m breaking my own rule right now, but I’m thinking about this so it’s time to take action—that’s another rule that I try to live by—so here are my thoughts about vacations.
I’m spending a week away from my therapy practice, away from my life as an educator at The Evergreen State College, and I’m enjoying the company of friends and family in a setting that almost demands relaxation and reverie. What occurred to me is that this is such a rare experience for most people—rare for me, too—and that without a plan and practice, slowing down is tough to do. I know that I’ve written and talked about how our brains grow tired in much the same way that muscles wear down from overuse and strain. We take on greater and greater responsibilities, almost without recognizing that we’ve added one more thing to our plate of obligations, and we tend to fulfill our commitments at work, and at home, but gradually as we take on these additional tasks, concerns and cares, the ability to manage competing demands is diminished. (more…)
The masterful marriage researcher and therapist, John Gottman, has developed the term “softened start-up” for those occasions when you hope to address a potential conflict issue with a loved one in a way that leads to a more productive interaction rather than arguments and fights. For married couples the most common conflict topics that come up again and again are money, sex, kids, and in-laws. But in my practice, I often see couples who end up fighting over such seemingly silly and unimportant things (what movie to rent, which direction to take in getting somewhere, etc.).
While I know the skills of softened startup are helpful in romantic relationships, I think it is smart to learn these skills for use in countless situations that come up on a daily basis, particularly with family members, close friends, and at work. (more…)
From time to time, all of us have to deal with someone who seems determined to make life more difficult. It might also be good to recognize that, on occasion, every single one of US are guilty of making life more difficult for someone else, too! There are a few things to think about concerning this matter however, because the way we choose to deal with a particular difficult person may depend more on the situation than on the behavior that seems so frustrating. Here’s what I mean:
Let’s imagine that you are driving on the freeway and find that another driver consistently passes you, then slows down, requiring you to pass—and then repeats that behavior, or cuts you off at the exit ramp, etc., or that the other driver honks and behaves discourteously to you. Certainly, these are the behaviors of a difficult person, but what kind of response is appropriate? I’ll let you think about that question while I outline another kind of situation involving a difficult person. (more…)
Okay, let’s face facts: we all procrastinate sometimes. There are things we dread doing, things we like to “put on the back burner” because they’re no fun, and so on. A lot of times, we even fool ourselves into thinking that the task we put off will be completed by magic somehow, requiring no thought—and certainly no effort—from us! I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We all do from time to time. Often we aren’t even aware that it is procrastination preventing that particular thing from being done. So what’s going on?
Although someone has probably made a life’s work out of studying procrastination, I am inclined to put off extensive exploration into the topic… That was a joke. Honestly though, we can understand procrastination quite easily by recognizing that it comes out of a few basic human attitudes and that it can be overcome with specific self-management techniques. The trick to it all, like in a lot of things, is to increase awareness of when it is happening, and to substitute something new. Understanding why anyone might procrastinate could be a beginning point: (more…)
Robert Biswas-Diener, a graduate of The Evergreen State College, is known as the “Indiana Jones” of Positive Psychology because of his life satisfaction research from around the globe (Greenland, India, Kenya, etc.). Join us on Friday night, April 17th at 7 p.m. in the Olympia Community Center when Robert will read from and discuss his book, “Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth” (co-authored with his father Ed Diener, the greatest life satisfaction researcher in psychology). The community center is located at 222 Columbia Street NW in downtown Olympia. This event is sponsored by Mark A. Hurst, Ph.D.