How to maintain your focus– even at a time like this.

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How do we realistically keep our focus on our personal goals and values, at a time when the world seems to be falling apart? 

There is no universally applicable solution to this problem. The truth is that it involves a lot of trial and error.

The way YOU will be able to maintain YOUR focus might be different than the way other people maintain THEIR focus. 

A lot of it depends on the resources you have available and your learning style. 

Even though there are a variety of ways that we can maintain our focus on our personal goals and values even in the midst of the social, cultural, and political hurricane raging around us right now, the really important thing is that we remain committed to not abandoning our persona projects at this time. 

Because you will be tempted. 

There will absolutely be a part of you that tries to convince you that it’s “selfish” to be focused on your personal projects right now. 

There will be part of you that tells you that it’s “too stressful” to be focused on personal projects right now. 

There will be a part of you that tries to use what’s happening out there in the world as an excuse to abandon the tough work of the projects you’d taken on. 

The voices that you’ll hear in your head that tell you those things are lying to you. 

They don’t care about what’s going on in the word out there. 

They just want you to give up. 

Those are the SAME voices that say similar stuff WHENEVER your personal projects get hard or anxiety-provoking. 

You probably recognize those voices. They’re the voices that, when you decide to quit drinking, try to tell you, “you NEED to take a drink at this social function, or else you won’t fit in.” Or sometimes it’s, “you NEED to have a drink, just to relax a little bit so you won’t come off like a weirdo.” 

As if that voice ACTUALLY CARES about you fitting in, or coming off like a weirdo? 

I assure you: it doesn’t. 

Similarly, the voices that are right now trying to get you to abandon your project of quitting smoking, or quitting drinking, or sticking to a diet, or whatever other emotional or behavioral project you’re tackling right now, because of what’s happening out there in the world…they don’t actually care about any of it. 

Those voices will ALWAYS be looking for a reason to get you to have a cigarette, or have a drink, or crash your diet. 

Acknowledging this is the first step to keeping your focus where it needs to be. 

You have to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that you WILL have those voices trying to knock you off track— and you have to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that those voices are trying to trick and sabotage you. 

If you start out from that understanding— if you are expecting those voices to pipe up, and if you’re crystal clear on the fact that they add NOTHING productive to your journey— then you can have strategies in place for dealing with them. 

You can be ready to respond to them. 

Usually such responses go something like this: “Nice try. But I’m committed to making this behavioral change.” 

Keeping your focus on your goals during stressful, upsetting times means setting aside time, every single day, to catch your breath and refocus. 

You’re going to want to sit down, at least once a day, and list the reasons why you are committed to making the change you’re making. 

You’re going to want to sit down, at least once a day, and make a list of the things that you have in your life that are HELPFUL to you in making this change. 

Your brain responds to conditioning. 

It may not be easy or natural to stay focused on your goals at times such as this…but you can condition it to do so by engaging in certain rituals— journaling, visualizing, affirmations— over and over and over again. 

It may not be easy to keep our focus on our own personal development projects and goals right now. 

It is possible— but only if we make them a priority. 

And you are worth making your personal projects a priority. 

 

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When you have to cut the cord…cut the cord.

You’re going to lose people from your life. And it’s going to be painful. 

I’m not talking about death, although that, too, is an inevitable way we lose people from our lives over the course of time. 

I’m talking about the fact that there will be people who we decide not to have in our lives anymore, because their presence in our lives is inconsistent with who we are trying to be and the life we are trying to create. 

I’m also talking about those times when someone else makes the decision to excise us from their lives, for the very same reason. 

Sometimes we just have to draw a line. 

Sometimes the presence of someone in your life— the feelings they facilitate, the situations they seem to bring with them— is just too much. 

This is one of the most important types of boundaries to set in life. 

It’s also one of the hardest. 

Most of us don’t LIKE the idea that we sometimes have to cut people off. 

Many times we feel mean and guilty for cutting someone out of our lives. 

This is especially true if the person we’re talking about is a family member or someone we’ve had a close association with for years. 

Many of us have been taught that we HAVE to tolerate the behavior of someone, because our history with them does not give us the option of cutting them out. 

Sometimes setting this kind of limit with someone is difficult because you have shared responsibilities, such as coparenting. 

Many times it’s difficult because, somewhere in our history, that person has been helpful to or supportive of us, and we feel a debt of gratitude to them. 

None of this is fun. None of this is easy. 

But it’s very necessary. 

Often times, we want to think we can work something out. 

We want to think we can tough it out. 

We want to think we can tolerate whatever pain and chaos a relationship brings into our lives, because we was to be the “bigger person.” 

Sometimes we even realize that its not that person’s fault or intention to bring chaos and pain into our lives. 

Whether it’s their fault or not, we have to be realistic about what they do bring into our lives. 

And it’s absolutely the case that sometimes there really is no other option than to just cut the cord. 

When you get to this point, be gentle with yourself. 

Acknowledge your own conflict. 

Acknowledge your reluctance. 

Acknowledge the grief and loss cutting this person off will entail. 

Accept that this person (and others in your life) might do everything in their power to guilt you into changing your life. 

But if you’re at that point with a person…do it. 

Cut the cord. 

Block them. 

Block their number and delete it from your phone. 

Do not respond to their attempts to reach out. 

Do not respond to their apologies. 

Do not be persuaded by that hopeful little voice in your head that says “Mayyyyybe we can work something out…?” 

Its a bummer when you need to set that firm and final of a boundary. 

But do it. 

Do it, and move forward. 

Do NOT let your self-help guru talk down to you.

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A lot of self-help gurus start out by declaring that “many” of the people who come to them are looking for a “quick fix.” 

They decry what they label a superficial approach to personal development that they say many of their prospective clients take. 

I’m…not sure who these people are working with. 

Because I have YET to meet someone interested in personal development who has assumed it was going to be quick or easy. 

To the contrary, most of the people I’ve met who are interested in personal development, or who have sought my input on their journey, have been very prepared to buckle down and work— and, for the most part, very receptive to my approach and interventions, even when they’ve been difficult. 

Yet, you see it over and over again in the self-help community: gurus proclaiming that if you’re one of these people who expects a quick fix, than they’re NOT THE GURU FOR YOU!

You know what I think? 

I think these gurus are making it up. 

I don’t think they run into all that many people who think that personal growth is about “quick fixes.” 

I think these gurus PRETEND that’s the case, because they want to brand themselves as the “REAL DEAL,” and by implication they want to band their competition as peddlers of “quick fixes.” 

Over and over again, you see this nonsense from the self-help industry. 

One guru in particular loves to recount imaginary interactions with clients where he just BLOWS THEIR MINDS by telling them that MONEY ISN’T EVERYTHING; or that they’ll have to make some SACRIFICES in order to succeed; or some other nonsense that they (the guru) thinks makes them sound deep and profound. 

Give me a break. 

One of the things I love about the self-help community is that it is filled with seekers who are open and curious and passionate about personal development. 

One of the things I hate about the self-help INDUSTRY (as opposed to the COMMUNITY) is that so many wannabe gurus take such a condescending approach to their potential clients. 

If you’re reading my page, it is unlikely that I am smarter than you. 

It is unlikely that I am telling you anything you don’t already know. 

It is probably the case that you ARE smart, motivated, and authentic. 

And you don’t need me, or anyone else, talking down to you. 

Do not put up with anyone talking down to you, who then turns around and asks you to pay them money to help improve your life. 

One of the huge parts of self-help and recovery is remembering who you are and what your strengths are. 

You don’t need to be reminded of of beaten over the head with your limitations or mistakes— by me or by anyone else. 

Notice whether a professional starts out from a place of respecting and empowering you…or telling you all about how you’re doing it wrong. 

You can’t learn to respect yourself from someone who doesn’t respect you. 

That’s true in self-help, it’s true in recovery, it’s true in therapy, it’s true in relationships. 

It’s true in life. 

How to make a habit change stick.

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If you want to change a habit, you’re going to have to figure out a way to “sell” that habit change to your brain in such a way that there is a recognizable upside. 

The unfortunate truth is, many habits that are ultimately self-destructive— smoking, eating unhealthy foods in unhealthy amounts, unrestrained substance use— are pleasurable. 

We are not wired to give up pleasure easily. 

This is ESPECIALLY true if we struggle with mood or anxiety disorders, or have had a traumatic past.

If we don’t have a lot of pleasure in our lives in the first place, and if we have brain chemistry that doesn’t make it easy to feel good, our brains are DEFINITELY going to fight to hang on to the pleasure we DO have in our lives. 

For many of us, that means self-defeating behaviors. 

It’s true that, in the long term, if we want to crawl OUT of that hole of usually-feeing-bad, we need to give up those self-defeating behaviors…but our brains don’t often want to hear about the long term. 

They’re preoccupied with the here-and-now, specifically the balance of feeling good or bad in the here-and-now. 

Why, our brains will quite reasonably ask us, should we give up this behavior pattern that actually gives us SOME pleasure in a world in which pleasure is hard to come by…all so we can MAYBE experience some pleasure eventually, in the long term? 

Nah, our brains will usually say. We’re going to stick with the behavior we KNOW will give us pleasure in the here-and-now. The long term can take care of itself. 

This is what we’re up against when we’re trying to change a behavior pattern. 

So we need to think in terms of salesmanship. 

We need to think in terms of the VERY REAL upside to whatever NEW behavior pattern we’re trying to adopt. 

We can’t just get obsessed with the pleasure we’re giving up. 

If all we think about is how much of a bummer it is that we won’t be able to smoke anymore, or we won’t be able to eat what we want when we want, or we won’t be able to get high anymore— if we don’t then transition into thinking about a new, replacement behavior that will lead to positive, potentially pleasurable experience that we WANT to feel…well, the behavior change just isn’t going to stick. 

We need to get very clear on the benefits we’re chasing. 

We need to get very clear on the UPSIDE of change. 

If that upside is in the distant future, we need to use the tools of visualization and self-talk to bring that upside into the present moment, so we can viscerally experience a “preview of coming attractions.” 

I get so dismayed by people who try to diet, and count on “willpower” to get them through. 

People who try to quit smoking, counting on “willpower.” 

People who try to swear off bad relationships or quit using drugs, and their only plan is “willpower.” 

“Willpower,” if it even exists, is vastly overrated. 

What you NEED is a vivid, realistic picture in your head of the GOOD STUFF that can and will come from this behavior change. 

What you need is LISTS of the BENEFITS of the new behavior pattern, that you can review and review and review and memorize. 

What you need to do, in short, is sell yourself on how AWESOME this change is going to be. 

Then you need to get used to using those feelings of deprivation and loss that are attached to the behavior you’re giving up as the trigger to review the benefits of the new behavior. 

If all you’re focused on in changing a behavior is deprivation and loss, it’s just not going to stick. 

Focus on upsides. Focus on benefits. Focus on what you eventual victory over this behavior pattern will look and feel like. 

Focus on these again, and again, and again, and again. 

 

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How to figure out who you really are.

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How do we know who we are, and what we’re all about? 

After all, it may not be obvious. 

Some of us have been through a LOT on this journey. 

We’ve been through storms. We’ve survived attacks. 

We’ve been betrayed. We’ve been momentarily silenced. 

After all that…it’s not weird that some of us have forgotten who we are and what we’re all about. 

The struggle to meaningfully develop your personal identity can be at the core of basic psychological struggles, such as depression or anxiety. 

Trauma, in particular, has a way of making us forget who we are and what we’re all about— or burying it under a hurricane of OTHER things to pay attention to, for the sake of survival. 

So who are you, really? 

Part of you knows. 

Part of you hasn’t forgotten. 

Part of you has hung on to what makes you tick. What’s important to you. 

What you have to do now is rediscover it. 

That involves a lot of listening— which, itself, involves a lot of patience. 

Rediscovering who you are and what you’re all about requires paying attention— and refusing to judge. 

Remembering who you are requires you to approach who you MIGHT be with compassion and curiosity…as opposed to scorn and impatience. 

Many of us have spent years trying to be who someone ELSE wants us to be. 

We’ve spent years trying to be someone we think won’t get made fun of. Someone who won’t get bullied. 

We’ve spent years trying to be someone who is acceptable to “them.” 

But what makes YOU smile? Like, really smile? 

What makes you laugh? Really laugh? 

What makes you cry? Authentically, spontaneously cry? 

The project of developing and affirming your personal identity begins with you sitting down and writing about who you MIGHT be. 

Your emotional life has clues. 

Your fantasy life has clues. 

What turns you on, what excites you, even what repulses and repeals and enrages you. 

These are all clues about who you are. 

Sit down and write out a list of people you admire. People you respect. 

People you like, people you are attracted to, people you love, even people you hate. 

Sit down and write out the music that moves you. The movies that captivate you. 

Then, step back, and look at what you’ve written. 

Themes will start to emerge. 

Who you are will start to take shape. 

What kind of person is into those things? Who loves those people? Who hates those other people and things? 

Form some hypotheses. 

Imagine who you could be, who you might be. 

Develop that picture slowly, consciously, patiently. 

This is your life’s work. Take your time with it. 

 

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Taking control of your interior world.

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How do we deal with the fact that the world around us is going to be not so great sometimes? 

How do we deal with the fact that people are going to betray us— even people who we should be able to trust?

How do we deal with the fact that many times, we just don’t get what we want or need? 

Even if we do everything we can to achieve our goals, to nurture good relationships, to get our needs met…there are going to be times when we lack, we hurt, when we’re disappointed. 

It’s GOING to happen. If you’re reading this, I don’t need to tell you that much of life is figuring out how to cope with disappointment and pain. 

The truth is, there are lots of things we can do to feel and function better, even when we’re in situations that aren’t ideal, situations that hurt, situations that remind us of how little control we have over our external world…but all of these things begin and end with influencing our internal world. 

I call it the Kingdom Within, or the Interior Castle, or the Memory Palace. 

We shape our interior world…though many of us grow up assuming that we do not shape it. 

The fact is, growing up, we’re not really taught that we are in control of what happens in our minds and hearts. 

We kind of grow up assuming that the things we think and the things we feel are the result of the things we experience…and, to a certain extent, that’s true. 

The things we experience strongly influence what happens in our interior world— what we think and what we feel. 

But the real truth is that the things we experience don’t have to completely determine what happens inside our minds and hearts. 

We can change the patterns of what we think and what we feel through conscious, intentional, disciplined effort. 

It is not a process that is easy— and I would never imply that it is. 

But it is doable. And it’s really, really important to figure out how to do. 

It’s kind of the most important skill any of us have to learn in our lifetimes. 

If someone struggles to do this, I would never blame that person for this struggle. Changing what we think and feel is hard— and we don’t get a lot of support or guidance from the world around us. 

(In fact, the world around us very often tells us the opposite— that we need to purchase products or services in order to change what we think and feel. Advertisers would strongly prefer we forget that we’re in charge of our internal worlds…even without their products and services.) 

It’s a fine line between acknowledging that we are in control of our internal worlds, that we rule our hearts and minds, that with the right guidance and practice we can shape and define what we think and feel…and blaming ourselves for struggling, for not consistently feeling great, for not seeming to have a firm grasp on what we think and feel and do. 

Don’t blame yourself for not feeling great. Don’t be harsh with yourself for struggling to shape and influence your interior world. You weren’t taught how, and you weren’t programmed with the belief that you could. 

Self-blame isn’t helpful. You can’t bully yourself into empowerment. 

Instead…get curious. 

Start asking yourself what it might feel like to really believe that you are in control of your internal world. 

Start visualizing what that would look like. 

Start wondering what you would choose to feel, and think about, and do, if you had absolute control over what you think, feel, and do. 

All change starts with belief and visualization. 

And those activities cost you literally nothing. 

 

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The foundation of my internal communication model.

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Internal communication— fostering dialogue and cooperation between the various “parts” of yourself— isn’t terribly complicated. But it does take some specific steps, in a specific order, for it to work well. 

First thing’s first: the reason why your internal “parts” don’t want or like to talk to you— or to each other— is because they are used to you either denying their existence, or trivializing their needs. 

In our culture, we are really, really good at pretending that we are all of one mind about things. 

It’s seen as a mark of maturity or intelligence to be “consistent” in our thinking and feeling. 

We think that if we confide to someone that we are of very mixed feelings or of multiple different minds about something, we’ll be considered flaky and immature. 

So we get into the habit of denying and disowning the “parts” of ourselves. 

And we DEFINITELY aren’t comfortable talking to them, or encouraging them to talk to each other. 

That’s the first ting we need to get past if you want internal communication to work 

So you sit down with a sheet of paper, and you write out a statement that is addressed to the various parts of you, a statement that I call the “Statement of Solidarity.” It goes something like: “Right now I’m talking to the various parts of myself, those parts I know about and those parts I don’t really know about. I want you to know that what you think and feel and want are important to me. I want you to know that we’re all in this together. I want you to know I’m willing to listen to you, if you’re wiling to talk to me.” 

That might all sound like a mouthful. It might sound awkward. It might sound scripted. 

Doesn’t matter. Write it word for word. 

(If you get into the swing of internal communication— if you get good at it after awhile— you can start to tailor the Solidarity Statement with your own language. But until you get to that point, I really do recommend you write it out word for word as I recommend. It hits all the bases— and I can assure you that I’ve included all of those distinct bases in that statement for specific reasons.) 

Then you write out what I call a Statement of Support. It goes something like: “I want you to know that I am willing to do everything I can to get your needs met, if you tell me about them in a way I can understand and that is not harmful to me or someone else.” 

Again, might sound awkward, but it’s important that the Support Statement hit those specific bases. It’s different from the Solidarity Statement, but an equally important part of the formula. 

You start out with the Solidarity Statement and the Support Statement every single time you attempt internal communication. 

And, yes: you do it in writing. Every single time. 

I know, I know. Doing things in this structured a way— and especially doing them in WRITING— makes the whole thing a hassle. 

Do it anyway. 

Some things we just have to do in writing. Even if it SEEMS like you should be able to do it all in your head— write it down. 

It’s important that some processes take place somewhere OTHER than in your head. 

The Statements of Solidarity and Support are only the first two steps to effective internal communication— but they are the steps that are most often overlooked and underutilized when people attempt the process. 

Time and time again I’ve seen people wonder why they’re not getting results from their attempts at internal communication. They’re either not getting responses from their “parts;” or their “parts” are being oppositional and uncooperative; or the entire process is feeling like it’s going nowhere. 

It’s usually because they’ve neglected to set the stage for productive give and take with their “parts”— after years of trying to deny and disown their very existence. 

We have to keep in mind that communication with ourselves has many similarities to communication with others. 

You wouldn’t be open to talking or compromising with someone who denied your existence or belittled your needs. 

Neither are your “parts.” 

So start where you need to start: Get really good, word for word, at the Statements of Solidarity and Support.  

 

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