How Much Do You Want It?

There is a big difference between wishing for something, and deciding to make it happen.

I like to collect psychologist jokes. They help me to not take myself too seriously. Here ismotivation to reach your goals. my favorite psychologist joke. Question: “How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?” Answer: “Only one, but the light bulb has to really want to change.”

 

I like the joke because it is so true. I learned a long time ago that I can’t help someone change unless they really want to change. Even with the right motivation, it is hard, but without it, it is impossible.

 

A new year brings thoughts of change, starting over, and resolutions. We may want to stop some bad habit, or start some new one. We may want to change our job, our house or our relationships. We may want it, but is that enough?

 

There is a huge difference between wishing or wanting something, and deciding to make it happen. Many people wish for a better job, more education, better health habits or improved relationships, but a smaller number are determined enough or motivated enough to put in the hard work to make it happen.

 

After all these years, I can still hear my high school football coach asserting that the game would be won by the team that wanted it the most. He was usually right. High school athletic talent is usually fairly evenly distributed, so performance differences can usually be attributed to the player’s motivation and willingness to work.

 

The research is now fairly well-known that showed that mastery of any task or skill takes about 10,000 hours of practice. That’s a lot of hours. That’s also a lot of dedication, determination and motivation.

 

I recently heard the following from a business consultant. “If you want to make something happen, you figure out the necessary cost, and then you pay it.” You do what needs to be done. You don’t have to do it all at one time. You will often take baby steps, and sometimes you may not be able to see progress, but with absolute determination and persistence, you will get there.

 

A student once asked Socrates how to get to Mount Olympus. The question was more spiritual than geographic, since the ancient Greeks believed that Mount Olympus was the home of the gods. Socrates’ response was simple, “Make sure every step you take is in that direction.”

 

Every step we take either takes us toward or away from our goals. The steps can be small, but if taken in the right direction, they will get us to our goals.

 

So, in this new year, remember the importance of proper motivation and dedication in the pursuit of your goals. If the goal is good, right and worthwhile, it is worth the effort to make it happen. Change can happen, if you really want it.

Fine Tuning Those Resolutions

Here are six steps you can take to help you reach your goals.

As we approach a new year, we tend to think about new beginnings. For many, Januarygoal setting 1st suggests a time for starting some new habit, starting a new project, or simply starting over. The idea of setting new year’s resolutions has become cliché.

Yet, most of us have things we would like to improve about our lives. We think about changes that could make us happier or more comfortable. Unfortunately, our wishes or dreams don’t seem to be enough to change our reality.

So, what can we do to turn those dreams into reality? How can we most effectively improve our lives? The answer is deceptively simple. We get more done, create positive change, and realize more of our dreams when we start with written, specific, and measurable goals.

In “What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School,” Mark McCormack relates a study in 1979, where graduating students were asked whether they had set clear, written goals for their future, and made plans to accomplish them. Only 3% of the students had written goals and plans, 13% said they had goals, but not in writing, and 84% had no goals at all. Ten years later, the 13%, who said they had unwritten goals, were making twice as much as the 84% who had no goals, while the 3% with written goals were making ten times as much. Other studies have shown that people who set specific, written goals accomplish much more than those who don’t.

But, it’s not quite so simple. Here are a few guidelines if you want to tap into the power of goal-setting to improve your life.

  1. Your goals need to be specific. A goal of “I want to lose weight” is too vague. A specific goal like, “I want to lose 25 lbs.” is much better. The subconscious mind seems to connect to a specific number or amount, in a way that charges our motivation and determination.
  2. You need a deadline. You will be much more motivated by a goal of “I will clean out the closet by 5:00 Saturday,” than you will the goal “I will clean out the closet.” Try to make it a reasonable deadline, but set one.
  3. Make the goal measurable. This may be accomplished by making the goal specific, but it may not. There needs to be no question whether you met the goal. Anyone should be able to tell whether you succeeded.
  4. Determine a strategy to meet the goal. Make a plan. How do you plan to accomplish the goal? What are the intermediate steps you will have to take?
  5. Post the goal where you will see it. To be successful, you will need to be reminded of the goal. I’m sure that this is the reason someone invented refrigerator magnets.
  6. Tell a supportive, encouraging friend. Having an accountability partner can really help. They may be aggravating, but nonetheless helpful.

Give it a try. You have nothing to lose. See if goal-setting can work for you in changing your life for the better. And there’s no better time than the beginning of a new year!

A Love Letter with Tinsel

Christmas is a reminder that we are loved, but we often have trouble accepting it.

At this time of year, we all often see reminders of the real reason for Christmas, and we do need them. The onslaught of holiday events, family gatherings, shopping Loved at Christmasfrenzy and commercialism can be pretty overwhelming. In the midst of the chaos, we need a nudge to center our focus on a simple, humble birth in an ancient, middle-eastern stable.

 

So, we remember that Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’ birth and that’s good. But then we have to remember that He was born for the specific purpose of dying. He was born as a sacrifice for us. The first Christmas gift was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.   

 

But why? Why did He do this for us? We certainly didn’t deserve it. We didn’t earn it. We had messed everything up royally. So why?

 

We’re told that it was because He loved us, and I believe that to be true. But, it’s too easy to let those words slip out without really considering their meaning. I think most of us have trouble letting that idea fully sink in.

 

We can accept God’s love when we think of others. We have no trouble accepting that God loves our children, our family members and our friends. We can even accept that He loves the world. But, we have a little more trouble accepting that He loves us, individually.

 

We may intellectually believe that God loves us, but we have trouble feeling it. We have difficulty accepting it, because we often feel so unlovable. We see our faults, failures and mistakes. We know that we don’t deserve that kind of love.

 

I believe that the biggest stumbling block for many is their inability to fully accept, and feel God’s love. It’s easier to imagine a wrathful, disapproving, punishing God. The idea that we could be completely and unconditionally loved, when we are so inadequate, seems to be too far a stretch.

 

But then, here it is. That annual reminder that you are loved completely, unconditionally and sacrificially. The reminder that you matter, that you are precious. Try to accept it.

 

Recall how it feels to sit in the sunshine on a warm, summer day. You can feel the sun’s rays soaking all the way through you. Imagine God’s love doing the same, soaking through every cell of your body. Accept the gift. Hold onto it. Enjoy it. Let every light, ribbon and tinsel remind you that you are loved this Christmas. And when you read the Christmas story, remember that it is actually a love letter to you, wrapped in tinsel.

As Slow As Christmas

As we age, time seems to move faster and faster.

I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately. By lately, I mean the past few years, but ittime perception seems like just a few days. It’s interesting to me, how time seems to pass at different rates at different times.

When we’re children, time seems to pass very slowly. I remember the phrase “as slow as Christmas,” because it seemed that Christmas came so slowly. The days would drag on, as I closely examined the Sears toy catalog, imagining the possibilities of Christmas morning.

Back then, time also seemed to drag on, as I anticipated the end of the school year. I didn’t think about it much until spring, but the time between April and June seemed to take an eternity. I never considered my teachers feelings back then. I just assumed that they lived somewhere in the schoolhouse, and never imagined, in a million years, that they were as anxious to get rid of me, as I was to get away from them.

Then, around middle-age, something strange happened. The laws of time and space began to shift. The clocks began to spin uncontrollably. Time passed more quickly. A year seemed more like a month, which seemed more like a week, which seemed more like a day, which of course, seemed more like a minute.

This shift in the speed of time seemed so obvious, that I assumed everyone would notice it. Strangely, only those my age or older seemed to see it happening.  For some reason, young people we’re under the delusion that time was still moving very slowly.

 

The perception that time passes more quickly as we age is almost universal, and has been researched for years. Studies show that our perception of short periods of time doesn’t change much as we age. Our perception of longer periods, such as a decade, does change significantly.

 

Research shows that, when we are learning new tasks, time seems to move more slowly. This prompts the theory that we perceive time more slowly in younger years because we are having to learn many more new tasks. If true, this suggests that we might be able to slow time in older years by being life-long learners.

 

Some have suggested that a year seems much longer to a child than an older adult because it represents a larger proportion of the child’s life. A year is 1/10th of a ten-year old’s life, but only 1/40th of a forty-year old’s life.  The theory that the year seems longer to the child, because it constitutes a larger portion of his life does seem logical.

 

The issue has also been examined from a neurological perspective. Most researchers now believe that specific parts of the brain are used for time perception. Further, certain parts of the brain seem to be involved in perception of longer periods of time, while other parts gage shorter time periods.

 

Perhaps someday we’ll understand exactly why time seems to pass faster as we age. But, for now, I’ve done my own scientific study. I was once very young, and it took forever for Christmas to come. I am now a few years older, and it seems to come and go before I blink. Absolute proof. I guess I’ll just try to enjoy the season while I can.

 

 

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

Unrealistic expectations of holiday gatherings can deepen self-esteem wounds.

One of my favorite Christmas cards was given to me by a client. On the front of the card, there is a photo of a beautiful snow-covered farm scene. The farm house is beautifully decorated for Christmas. The caption at the top says, “I’ll be home for Christmas.” When you open the card, the words read, “And in therapy for the next year.”

 

The card is funny, but expresses an unfortunate truth. I talk to so many people who grew up in dysfunctional families. They recall a parent’s substance abuse, an abandoning or critical parent, or constant drama and infighting through childhood. Like all children, they carried this overriding hope that the parents would change and they would at last feel the love they had longed for. Like all children, those family experiences created self-esteem wounds, where they believed that they were at fault. They mistakenly believed that they were defective, unlovable or inadequate.

 

Many of those children carry this hope of family change into adulthood. As adults, they still long for that negative, critical parent to finally be proud of them. They hope to see expressions of love, or attention from that distant or abandoning parent. Their hope is fueled by the mistaken belief that their worth is measured by the parent’s behaviors toward them. They believe that loving or accepting behaviors from the parent will mean that the defective child has finally grown into a competent and lovable adult.

 

Now, here’s where the Christmas card comes in. These people carry the hope that this time or this visit, things will be different. They hope that this Christmas, they will see the change. They may not be conscious of this hope. They may consciously realize that the negative parent won’t change until they decide to change. But, subconsciously they carry hope.

 

The person who returns home for a visit, carrying this unrealistic hope, is primed for disappointment. When the family member once again behaves critically, is rejecting, or gets drunk, that hope is shattered. The result can be anger, depression, or a deepening of an old self-esteem wound.

 

Of course, the truth is that the parent’s critical or rejecting behaviors reflect a problem with the parent, not an inadequacy in the child. And, the parent won’t change until he or she realizes the problem and has a desire to change.

 

The holidays can be a very special time of year. Enjoy the good parts. Establish your own traditions, but remember that people basically act like themselves. Try to be realistic about your expectations when you make that Christmas visit. It might save you some of the cost of therapy.

 

The Violin Nobody Wanted

Your true value isn't determined by the way you have been treated.

I have had several requests to share the following story from my book, “Parables for a Wounded Heart.” The story addresses the true source of our value. I hope you enjoy it!

 

Once there was a family that bought an old house. The prior owners had moved out of the house some time earlier, so this new family never met them. On the day they moved in, they had some items that they wanted to store in the attic. When they climbed up the attic stairs, they found that the previous owners had left some junk piled in one self-worthcorner. The new owners didn’t have time to go through the stuff and throw it away, so they just stacked their things around the leftover pile. They didn’t think of it again.

After several years, the family decided to do some spring cleaning. They planned to have a yard sale to get rid of some of the things they had stored in the attic. When they went up to get their items, they saw the pile of things left by the previous owners. They decided they might as well try to sell those things too. Perhaps they could make a little extra money.

As they sorted out the pile, they found several items they could sell including an old violin in a case. The violin looked in pretty good shape, but the case was very dusty and all scratched up. They decided to put a $20.00 price tag on it and see what they could get.

On the day of the yard sale they put all the items on tables, and people began to stop and browse. They sold many of their items and were about to call it a day. There were a few stragglers milling around the tables checking for any last-minute buys. A car pulled over and a tall, thin older man got out. He too browsed the tables for a while.

He came to the table with the violin in the opened case. It seems no one had needed a fiddle this morning, not even for $20.00. He leaned over and studied the dusty violin for a couple of minutes before he spoke to the owner behind the table. He inquired, “Do you mind if I take it out of the case?”

“No”, the owner replied, “Help yourself.”

He picked the violin up very slowly and carefully, as if it were going to fall apart in his hands.

“May I tune it?” the old man asked.

“If you can,” the owner answered.

The old man slowly tuned the violin until he seemed to be satisfied with each string. The owner waited patiently since most of the crowd had dispersed; and this seemed like the most promising chance of getting rid of the instrument.

“May I play it?” the old man asked.

“Sure, see how it sounds,” was the owner’s reply, now feeling that a sale was in the making.

The old man slowly placed the violin under his chin and began to play. The straggling shoppers stopped and stared as the notes drifted across the yard in the spring sunshine. The old man crafted the most beautiful music for several minutes before he stopped. He lowered the violin from his chin and placed it very gently back in its case. The owner moved in to make the sale. “You make that thing sing, mister” he said with a grin. “You can have it for only $20.00.”

The older man’s face was somber. “I can’t give you $20.00 for that violin,” he replied.

“Well, how about $15.00?” said the owner, now thinking a sale was slipping away.

“Sir, you don’t understand.” noted the old man, still serious. “I can’t take that violin from you for $20.00. It wouldn’t be right.” Looking directly into the owner’s eyes, he lowered his voice and smiled slightly, “I don’t know how you came upon that violin, but you don’t know what you have there. You see, that violin is a Stradivarius. You can tell from the markings in the sound hole. It was made by Antonio Stradivari in Cremona. His instruments are the best in the world. You see, his mark is there in the sound hole. This violin is worth at least $1,000,000 and probably much more. It’s a very, very special instrument and very precious. You just didn’t realize what you had.”

 

This story was inspired by the poem, “The Touch of the Master’s Hand” by Myra “Brooks” Welch (1921).

 

Why Assertiveness Matters

Being assertive can benefit your self-esteem, even if the other person doesn't listen or change.

In my counseling practice, I frequently include assertiveness training, where I work with my client to help themassertiveness become more assertive in their everyday lives. I find that many of the interpersonal difficulties we experience can be improved when we express our feelings in a kind, but clear manner.

First, let’s look at the distinction between assertive, non-assertive, and aggressive behaviors. Non-assertive behavior is when we honor the other person’s rights, but we don’t honor our own. We don’t speak up for ourselves when we should. We treat other people well, but don’t treat ourselves very well.

Many times, children are taught to be non-assertive. They may be punished when they try to express their needs, even when they do so respectfully. This can occur directly, where the parent chastises the child, or it can occur indirectly, where the parent has a harsh temper, and intimates the child. When that child grows up, she will often feel extreme anxiety at the thought of standing up for herself.

Aggressive behavior is the exact opposite of non-aggressive behavior. This occurs when the person stands up for his rights, but does so in a manner that infringes on the rights of the other person. This behavior makes the other person feel defensive, put down, or diminished. Aggression can be expressed by the words spoken, or by facial expressions, body language or tone of voice. Aggressive behavior can also be learned in childhood.

Assertive behavior is in the mid-point between non-assertive and aggressive behaviors. When you are assertive, you stand up for your rights, but do so in a manner that also honors the rights of the other person. You say how you feel, but express it in a way that respects the other person. You speak your truth in a kind, but serious manner.

It’s also important to remember that assertiveness is not a one-time conversation. You must be persistently assertive to make any impact on the relationship. This means that, to make any real difference, you speak up almost every time the other person infringes on your rights.

Sometimes my clients argue that any efforts to be assertive are useless because the other person won’t change. They say that the other person will just argue back, but that they will never listen. They explain their years of non-assertiveness by this feeling of hopelessness.

I then point out that there are two reasons to be assertive. The first, and most obvious, is to try to change the

 

situation or the relationship. Even if the other person is capable of change, they won’t if they don’t know how you feel. I have seen many relationships improved when one person learned to express her feelings in a respectful, but assertive manner. When the other person realized that they meant what they said, they made the eff

ort to change.

The second reason to be assertive has nothing to do with the other person at all. Even when the other party makes no changes, you benefit from being assertive. The change occurs within you. When you are appropriately assertive, you are taking care of yourself. You are saying to yourself, “I deserve to be protected and respected. I have as many rights as the other person.” You feel better about yourself.

Consider this example. A little boy is playing on the playground minding his own business. Another little boy comes up to him and pushes him down for no reason. The first little boy cries and walks away. That boy has experienced two injuries. The first is the physical pain of being pushed down. The second is the emotional pain of not standing up for himself. He feels diminished and inadequate. The emotional pain far outweighs the physical pain.

If the offended boy had stood up for himself in any way, he would have avoided the emotional pain of non-assertiveness. Whether he pushed back, verbally confronted the boy or told an adult, the emotional outcome would have been better. He would have experienced the physical pain of the push, but he would have felt better about himself.

If you are in a situation where you feel the need to be assertive, consider this. If someone you love were in the same situation, would you hope that they would be assertive? If so, then you should as well. Make sure that your assertive response respects the other person’s rights as well as your own. It may help to write down what you want to say to the other person. You can even state your feelings in a letter, if that is easier for you. Being appropriately assertive can provide a major step toward a more positive self-esteem.

Healing the Divide Between Us

We can heal some of our divisions by having a few civil conversations.

Last week, I shared my concerns about the growing divide between the various factions of our society. I expressed social media miscommunicationsmy belief that our positions on political and social issues have become more extreme, and that we seem to have lost the ability to engage in civil disagreement.

In her recent book, “Braving the Wilderness” (2017), Brene Brown, Ph.D. discusses our need to feel that we belong, and how that need makes it difficult for us to deal with those who disagree with us. She points out that we have an innate fear of not belonging. Research even shows that loneliness contributes to illness and death as much as smoking or obesity.

Dr. Brown asserts that our divisions widen, and our positions become more extreme, because of our fears. Her research suggests that our fears have grown stronger since the terrorist attacks of 911, and that those fears have changed us. She points out that our national conversations have focused more-and-more on “what should we fear, and who should we blame.”

She defined terrorism as “time-released fear,” and stated that “the goal of terrorism is to embed fear so deeply in our community that it becomes a way of life.” This fear then fuels our anger and blame so that we begin to turn on one another. We become divided.

So, how can we narrow our divisions? One of Dr. Brown’s recommendations is to make a deliberate effort to engage in honest, but civil conversations with those who hold different views. She points out that it is difficult to hate someone close-up. As we get to know someone personally, we see more of our similarities and fewer of our differences.

There is, of course, a major difference between a debate and a conversation. We try to win a debate. We don’t listen in a debate, except to find a weakness in their position to strengthen our own argument. We walk away from a debate feeling we have won or lost, but with no shift in our original opinion. Debates tend to deepen our divisions.

A conversation is different. The point of a conversation is to communicate. A conversation doesn’t require a winner or a loser. Listening is at least fifty percent of a conversation. At the end of a conversation, you may still disagree, but you feel heard and respected. You have done nothing to lessen the other person, and they have done nothing to lessen you. You may actually find that your positions became a bit less extreme.

Of course, our national divisions are massive and the underlying reasons are complex. The very thought of healing the divide feels overwhelming and way beyond any individual’s reach. But, just because we can’t do everything shouldn’t stop us from doing something. Perhaps we could begin with a few simple, honest, civil conversations.

The Divide Between Us

Will we allow ourselves to be divided?

Recently, multiple news reports indicated that Russian government backed organizations purchased $100,000 worthpeople divided of ads on Facebook. There may be more, but these are the ones that have been identified so far.

We are now learning about some of the content of their ads and the populations they targeted. Many of the details are still unclear, but we are seeing one factor. The ads seem to have the intent of dividing us from each other. They picked sensitive or hot-button issues, and then posted extreme stories promoting both sides.

For some time now, I have expressed the concern that our country has become more polarized than ever. We are dramatically divided on so many issues; Democrats versus Republicans, Conservatives versus Liberals, race versus race, Trump lovers versus Trump haters. These positions have divided neighbors, friends, and family members to the point where some are not even speaking to each other. I know of family members who have not spoken in many months after a political disagreement.

Our divisions are deepened by our perception that our side is completely right and the other side is completely wrong. We stereotype the other side as ignorant, stupid, selfish or evil. We don’t trust the other side. They become the enemy.

Perceptions become extreme when we limit our communications to our side. We talk to those who share our position about how wrong the other side is. The negative statements are often accompanied by anger, dismissive laughter, sneers or expressions of disgust. We don’t really listen or try to understand the view of those on the other side. Even when we do communicate with someone expressing an opposing view, we don’t really listen because we are too busy formulating our argument. We become even more entrenched in our position.

What if we remembered that those on the other side are our fellow Americans, our neighbors, friends and family members? What if we honored them as human beings, who simply hold a different opinion? What if we engaged in a civil conversation and actually listened? We might find that those on the other side did have reasons for their opinions. We might be able to disagree, while still respecting the person. We might be able to work together on more issues.

I certainly don’t claim to know the answers to our current issues. I do believe those answers will only be found when we work together. I believe the path lies in real communication, respect for each other, negotiation and compromise.

There is still much to learn about the recent Russian actions and their intentions. But, if their intent was to deepen America’s internal divisions, they are on to something. They seem to understand that they don’t need to attack us. They just need to help us attack each other. We have to choose whether or not we will let that happen.

The Impact of a Narcissist on Self-Esteem

A child with a narcissistic parent often suffers extreme self-esteem wounds.

The term narcissist is often used as a negative label to describe a person who seems conceited or arrogant. Most people are familiar with the term. But, the actual diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is more serious andnarcissistic parent can wound self-esteem can create severe damage.

Personality disorders are a distinct category of mental illness. Most diagnoses, such as depression or anxiety disorders, have a specific beginning and ending point, and impact only certain areas of functioning. Personality disorders affect the persons entire personality. The symptoms are long-term, and usually resistant to treatment. They impact the way the person perceives himself and the way he relates to others.

In general, those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder see themselves as being better than most people, lack empathy, and have a strong need for admiration from others. The diagnosis requires five of the following symptoms:

  1. Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  2. Expecting to be recognized as superior
  3. Exaggerating your achievements and talents
  4. Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power or beauty
  5. Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by superior people
  6. Requiring constant admiration
  7. Having a sense of entitlement
  8. Expecting special favors and compliance with your expectations
  9. Taking advantage of others to get what you want
  10. Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  11. Being envious of others and believing others envy you
  12. Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner

I don’t see many patients with Narcissistic Personality Disorder because they don’t think they have any problems. I do see many patients who have had to live with such a person. The damage is particularly severe for children are a narcissistic parent.

Narcissistic parents subject their children to frequent and severe criticism or neglect. They often seem intent on letting the child know that they not good enough, that their feelings are unimportant, and that their primary role is to take care of the parent’s needs.

The impact seems to be most severe for daughters of narcissistic mothers. The mother may perceive a competition with the daughter, and work to remind the girl that she is not pretty enough, not likable and unimportant. Sometimes, when there is a daughter and a son, the boy is treated like a prince, while the daughter is subjected to denigration.

As you can imagine, the self-esteem wounds are severe. The children often believe that they are inadequate, unattractive, and defective. They assume that others are disapproving of them or attacking them. Even with therapy, these beliefs are resistant to change. People will often hold onto the negative self-beliefs, even when they recognize that the parent was narcissistic.

If you have a parent or spouse that fits the above criteria, and if you suffer from depression, anxiety and self-criticism, seek counseling. Don’t let the wounds from a narcissistic parent or spouse continue to impact your life.