The Dangers of Social Media (Part 1)

We lose something when our communication becomes limited to social media.

This weekend, my wife and I were at a restaurant. A family of three were at a nearby table; a mom, dad and a cute little girl about age seven. Our attention was drawn to the fact that the parents were deeply engrossed in their social mediaindividual cell phones. Their eyes were glued to their phones, with their thumbs rapidly texting. The little girl sat silently staring into space.

After about ten minutes of this, the little girl began to talk to herself. Neither parent noticed. She then slid toward father and leaned on his shoulder to view his phone, obviously trying to get his attention. Thankfully, the parents did put their phones away when the food came, and seemed to engage with each other as they ate.

On another day, I saw a family that seemed to consist of a grandfather, two parents and two teenage daughters. Everyone except the grandfather was similarly engrossed in a cell phone. The grandfather sat silently and stared into space.

I don’t describe these scenes to criticize the families. I don’t know these people, and they may generally engage with each other quite well. I describe these events because they are all too common. I believe we have all seen similar scenes where people are physically present with each other, but give all their attention to their phones. It’s an all too common scene.

Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, psychologist and author of “The Big Disconnect” notes that human beings are highly attuned to reading social cues, and that kids addicted to electronic communications are missing out on the opportunity to learn very critical social skills. Today, it seems that teenagers are learning to communicate by looking at a screen rather than another person. When children grow up with decreased opportunities to read social cues, they may suffer in their ability to do so.

Social media was touted as a mechanism for increased connection. In many ways, the opposite has occurred. With so much time being devoted to electronic material, we have little time for face-to-face conversations. We miss so much, and we don’t even realize it is happening.

Consider taking a break from social media, turning it off and unplugging. Sit down for a genuine, face-to-face conversation with a friend or family member. Look into their eyes as you talk to them. Really listen, as they speak. I think you’ll like it. True connection is hard to beat.

The Power of Setting Goals

You can get more done when you set and follow clear, written goals.

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.Proper goal setting can bring success.

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. This is the reason they 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.

When Life Is Difficult

We all experience painful times, but certain responses can help us cope.

Sometimes life is difficult. Things happen in life that are hard, that hurt. No one is immune. No one completelylife difficulties escapes those painful times. If you aren’t there now, you can be assured you will go there at some point. Sorry, but you know it’s true.

The difficulties of life may come on suddenly, like that dreaded telephone call with the bad news. A period where everything seems good can be shattered in a moment. Life can change forever in a heartbeat. Such events become the fuel for our fears, and sometimes keep us awake at night.

Sometimes our difficulties seem to take up residence. They linger. We wake up in the morning and they’re still there. We may have hoped that they would disappear in our sleep, but we’re disappointed when we wake to realize that it wasn’t a bad dream.

So, what can we do when we’re in the middle of life’s difficulties? How can we cope when faced with the major hardships of life? Here are a few ideas.

  1. Remember that you aren’t alone (Part 1). Reach out to those who love you. Talk to people who care about you and want to support you. Give yourself permission to lean on a loved one. Let them help you. You may fear that you’ll be a burden, but that may not be the case. Would you want them to reach out to you if they were experiencing the same difficulty? If so, shouldn’t you also share with them?

 

  1. Remember that you aren’t alone (Part 2). If you are a Christian, you know the promise that you will never be alone. This is one of the most frequent promises of the Bible. We are told to be dependent and to lean on Him. You may not know the future, but you can lean on the One who does. Simple faith has carried many through a multitude of hardships.

 

  1. Don’t create a second hurt. Experiencing a difficult situation carries its own unavoidable pain. Unfortunately, we sometimes add on a second pain by blaming ourselves for the situation. Of course, we must take responsibility if we made a bad choice or hurt someone, but we often blame ourselves when we are not at fault. We assume that we must have done something, but when we can’t identify what we did.

 

  1. Be compassionate with yourself. If a loved one was going through a difficult time, you would be compassionate. You would be kind, empathetic and supportive. Why should you be any less with yourself? If compassion is the best medicine for the loved one, why would it not also be the best medicine for you. A self-compassionate response will help you deal with many of life’s difficulties.

 

Everyone faces difficulties at times. When you face hard times, be kind to yourself and accept a little help from your friends. And remember, some events in life are so hard, that the very definition of success is…you survived.

The Responsibility of Being an American

Abraham_LincolnI like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives.  I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.  ~Abraham Lincoln

Each person plays many roles. We have many aspects to our identity; parent, spouse, child, family member, friend, co-worker, and more. Today, we celebrate one additional part of our identity; that of being an American.

Today, July 4th, we recognize and celebrate our nation and our independence. In doing so, we remind ourselves of this part of our identity. We enjoy the gift of being a part of this great nation. This is part of who we are.

Regardless of our political disagreements and despite our current difficulties, it is still a great nation. We are free to express those disagreements. We are free to choose our path and work to follow it. This is part of who we are.

You don’t have to travel to many other countries to realize how much we take for granted each day. We have so much. We often have too much. Having been so blessed, we have a responsibility to seek ways to give to others. This is part of who we are.

We have the opportunity to grow as individuals, and in doing so, follow any path we choose. As my father used to say, “You can do anything you want to do, if you set your mind to it.” As a young boy, I’d roll my eyes and dismiss the statement, but it must have sunk in, because I came to believe it. Fortunately, in this country we call home, it is true. This is part of who we are.

Enjoy celebrating our country this July 4th, and then every other day, live up to the inheritance. As Lincoln said, live so that your place will be proud of you.

The Violin Nobody Wanted

ImageThis post is a little longer than most. I have had several requests to share the following story from my book, “Parables for a Wounded Heart.” 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 corner. 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.”

The violin had always been precious. It was valuable because of its creator. The violin was valuable because its creator only made precious instruments, and it carried the unmistakable mark of that creator. The earlier homeowners who left it in the attic obviously didn’t know what they had and treated it like trash. The new owners didn’t know what they had either and left it in the attic with the trash. The yard sale shoppers who left it on the table didn’t know what they were leaving behind. They treated it as if it was not even worth $20.00. It took the old man to recognize the violin’s value. He didn’t have to play it to recognize that it was precious. The old man knew it was precious because he knew about its creator. He knew that it had the mark of its creator.

You may be like the violin. You may have grown up in a family that wasn’t able to recognize your true value. They may have acted as if you were in the way or just something to be tolerated. Or they may have made you feel that you couldn’t do anything right or were always messing up. Later in life, you may have dealt with others who also acted as you weren’t worth much, who acted as if you were trash.

It’s important to remember that the violin never actually lost its value. It was just as valuable when it was left in a corner of the attic as it would have been in a symphony hall. It was still valuable when it was passed over by the rest of the customers in the yard sale. The creator had left his mark on it, and that made all the difference.

Every child is valuable. Each child is as valuable as any other child. We all know this to be true. There is no defect, deformity, characteristic, or behavior that can make a child less valuable. We also know this to be true. A child’s actual value is not diminished when her family doesn’t recognize or act as if she is valuable. You know this to be true.

The child is hurt, of course. The child learns to believe that she is not valuable. Such lessons are learned deeply. Such beliefs are hard to change. Just because a belief is deeply learned doesn’t mean that it is true.

Question:  Share your thoughts about the meaning or moral of this story. Do you agree that all children are valuable and deserve to be treated as such? Can you apply that truth to yourself? Can you begin to do that now? What do you think?

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

Self-Esteem Versus Self-Compassion

Developing self-compassion can help anyone deal with self-esteem wounds.

For years now, I have been working on helping people identify and correct negative self-beliefs that were formed byself-esteem harsh criticism, rejection or abuse. I knew that these beliefs triggered negative thinking, depression, anxiety, damaged relationships and sometimes even suicide. I referred to these negative self-beliefs as self-esteem wounds. I said that my work focused on the self-esteem, but I never liked the term.

The term self-esteem is very overused, and has several negative connotations. Some earlier self-esteem programs focused on positive affirmations, such as “I’m very smart” “I can do anything I want” or “I’m a great athlete.” Several self-esteem programs were introduced into the schools in the 80’s and 90’s, but were later found to be fairly ineffective. Some went so far as to say that you shouldn’t point out a student’s mistakes, as that might hurt their self-esteem. Some programs were said to even foster narcissistic tendencies. The negative side of self-esteem work was epitomized by Saturday Night Live’s character, Stuart Smiley, who stared into a mirror, while reciting, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”

Many self-esteem programs seemed to foster feelings of superiority, or seeing oneself as above average. The reality is that everyone cannot be above average. Except, of course, in Garrison Keillor’s imaginary town of Lake Wobegon, where “all the children are above average.”

My work focused on helping those who saw themselves as inferior to everyone else. I wanted to help them recognize that they were human, with positive and negative traits, successes and failures like everyone else. I tried to help people see themselves as equal with others. I’ve tried to help them have compassion for themselves, while taking full responsibility for their behaviors.

Then I discovered the term self-compassion. Self-compassion can be defined as extending compassion to oneself in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure or general suffering. In other words, you recognize your difficulty, but show kindness to yourself, as you deal with that difficulty. Kristin Neff, Ph.D. has led the study of this concept. Research has shown that self-compassion helps us deal with the inevitable difficulties and failures of life. We bounce back more quickly, remain stronger under adversity, and show more compassion toward others, when we practice self-compassion. We see ourselves, and treat ourselves as being equal to other human beings. And after all, aren’t we?

The Impact of Terrorism

Terrorist attacks can change our perceptions and choices in more ways than we imagine.

Recently, the world woke up to yet another terrorist attack in Europe. A small group of men had killed several peoplepsychological impact of terrorist attacks and wounded many others. The victims were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. They did nothing to deserve the attack, and had no warning. It could have been you or me, and that’s the point.

Terrorism acts are usually small in scope. The number of people killed or injured are fewer than those killed in traffic accidents on that particular day. The force of terrorism cannot defeat an army or take over a country. So, how does it work?

The most obvious impact of terrorism is psychological. Those survivors in the immediate vicinity of the attack will often experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and family members of the deceased experience grief. More broadly, however, the terrorist attack impacts the psychological well-being of the entire society.

As humans, we maintain a constant background impression of our relative safety. We have a general sense of how safe we are in any particular situation. We tend to feel safer in our homes than we do in public places, safer in our hometown than when traveling, safer when surrounded by friends than when in the company of strangers, and so on. Of course, we feel safer in our daily routines than we would if we were soldiers fighting in a war zone.

Terrorism disrupts this impression of safety. Watching a terrorist attack, where people were killed or wounded while carrying on their daily routines, eliminates our assumption of safety. These victims weren’t fighting in a war. They weren’t doing some dangerous activity. They were doing what we all do. They were busy living their lives. If it can happen to them, it can happen to us.

Our estimation of the danger is exaggerated by our distorted perceptions of probability. When we see an event occur, we tend to overestimate the probably of it happening again. This can be illustrated in several ways. Watching news coverage of a plane crash creates the feeling that planes crash frequently. This feeling can occur, even when we remind ourselves that thousands of planes take off and land every minute, and that we are in greater danger while driving to the airport. Likewise, seeing some lucky winner of the lottery makes people buy tickets, even when the odds of winning are almost zero. So, seeing a terrorist attack makes us overestimate the danger that it will happen to us.

Since terrorist attacks increase our perceptions of danger, they tend to make us less trusting in general. We tend to become more defensive and hardened in our opinions. Brene Brown, Ph.D. has suggested that the 9-11 attacks had the impact of polarizing our country. She said that our decreased feelings of safety made us more entrenched in our positions. And the division between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals is greater than I have seen in my lifetime.

So, what can we do? Of course, we must take the necessary steps to identify and prevent attacks when we can, and to fight the groups that carry them out. But, we also need to remind ourselves of the truth that terrorism has a much greater chance of changing our lives than it does of ending our lives.

A Common Marital Pattern

They say that opposites attract, but understanding how we differ can be enlightening.

Through the years, I have done a lot of marital counseling. Couples usually seek help because of frequent conflicts, emotional distance or to recover from one member’s affair. They may disagree on finances, parenting decisions, or decision making. Sometimes they schedule an appointment more as a preventative, because they see the potential of a serious difficulty. Sometimes, they have already separated, and are on the verge of divorce.

While the specifics will differ from couple to couple, one pattern seems to be quite consistent. Over-and-over, I have seen this pattern emerge, often in the first counseling session. As we talk about the nature of their communications and their conflicts, I see that one of them is an Internalizer and the other is an Externalizer.

These terms refer to their personality styles, their emotional vulnerabilities and their reactions to conflict. The traits seem to be consistent over time, and the pattern holds true in about 95% of couples.

The personalities have nothing to do with being an introvert and an extrovert. An Internalizer can be an extrovert or an introvert, as can an Externalizer.

The Internalizer:

An internalizer reacts to hurt by withdrawing. He gets quiet or distances when he is hurt. He tends to not talk about his feelings. The more he is hurt, the more distant he becomes. Occasionally, however, he will react with an outburst of anger, and it is often intense.

Internalizers hate conflict. Arguments, relationship or emotional discussions make them nervous. Because of their anxiety, they often have trouble thinking what they want to say. Their minds go blank during a discussion. Their most feared words are “We need to talk.” They may not get anxious about other issues, but relationship issues do trigger anxiety.

Internalizers are most sensitive to being criticized or feeling inadequate. They are vulnerable to feeling that they have messed up, or that they can’t meet the partner’s expectations. They perceive the partner as being hard to please.

The Externalizer:

The Externalizer reacts to hurt by getting angry, irritated or frustrated. Her hurt tends to turn into anger fairly quickly. She may try to talk about her hurt, but it often comes out more as frustration or anger.

While Externalizers don’t like conflict, they really hate non-resolution of problems. They want to address issues. They need to talk about the problem and the feelings it creates. They want to feel heard and understood. They get more upset when their partner avoids talking about the issues.

Externalizers are most sensitive to feeling rejected, unimportant or unloved. They tend to feel that the partner doesn’t care about them or their opinions. They see the partner as distant, detached or uninvolved. They often feel alone in the relationship.

You can probably imagine how these opposite personality traits could cause difficulties. When the Externalizer feels unimportant, she reacts with frustration or anger. The Internalizer perceives her anger as criticism, which he is sensitive to. He reacts by withdrawing. When he withdraws, she feels that he doesn’t care about her or love her, which makes her angrier. The vicious cycle continues.

These two personalities can learn to live together in harmony, but they have to understand what is happening. Each person has to understand his own tendencies, as well as his partners. Understanding that your partner is different from you and thinks differently can help. Trying to express hurt, rather than anger or withdrawal, can make a huge difference.

On Being Judgmental

Judging others can make us feel superior, but we need to wait until we're ready.

I’m looking forward to it. I can’t wait. I imagine that it will be so satisfying. I’ve been trying to be patient, but it is difficult. I’ve seen others do it, and they certainly seem to enjoy it.judging

So, what am I talking about? I’m looking forward to being judgmental. I’m looking forward to judging everyone around me. First, I’ll turn up my nose to those who have messed up. Then, with my head pointed upward, I’ll be able to look down on those who have faltered. Finally, I’ll sneer at those who have stumbled.

The self-satisfaction will be sweet. The arrogance will be awesome. Like the kid, who is assigned the job of taking names while the teacher is out of the room, I will be sitting tall. My head will be scanning the crowd, searching for any infraction. My pencil and paper will be ready.

The advantages of being judgmental will be abundant. I will be able to feel superior. Looking down on someone will remind me that I am above them. I won’t have to examine myself, of course. I will be much too busy for that.

Unfortunately, for now, I’ll have to wait. I’m not quite qualified to be the name-taker. I fall short of the requirements to be judgmental.  But when I become perfect, I will jump at the job. That’s right, when I become perfect, I plan to become judgmental, and I can’t wait.

Hmmm, I guess I really can’t wait. You see, if I’m totally honest, I must admit that I’ve tried it out a few times. I’ve sampled that feeling of superiority that comes from judging others. I tried to resist, but the temptation was just too strong.

The bad thing is that practicing judgment prematurely isn’t completely satisfying unless I pretend. To make it work, I have to pretend that I’m already perfect. Acknowledging my own faults ruins the taste. Like the green apple, judging another before I reach perfection can be a bitter fruit.

So, I guess I need to wait to be judgmental. Until I reach perfection, I’ll have to remember that I’m in the same boat as everyone else.

The Loss in Loneliness

Loneliness or feeling disconnected from others can impact your mental and physical health.

We were created for connection. We are naturally social animals. It begins in infancy. From the moment of birth, the infant needs human contact and connection for survival. Years ago, we discovered that babies deprived of humanloneliness hurts mental and physical health connection fail to thrive, and sometimes die.

As humans grow, the impact of isolation continues. Disconnection from peers is a major reason for school dropouts. Teenagers, who identify themselves as outcasts, often slip into delinquency, other forms of antisocial behavior, violence or suicide.

In adults, extended loneliness can lead to depression, alcoholism, and physical illness. Studies show that a lack of social or family support can increase the risk of heart disease. It tends to elevate blood pressure, make the heart muscle work harder, and raise the levels of stress hormones. Loneliness can also heighten our perception of stress and cause insomnia.

So, is loneliness the same as being alone? Not really. Feelings of loneliness are experienced most acutely when other people are around us, but we feel disconnected. In his book, “Traveling Light,” Max Lucado points out that “Loneliness is not the absence of faces. It is the absence of intimacy. Loneliness doesn’t come from being alone; it comes from feeling alone.”

There are many potential causes of loneliness. As we get older, we experience the death of more-and-more relatives and friends. The older we get, the more likely we are to lose our core social connections. The feeling of disconnection is a major cause of depression in the elderly.

Sometimes, loneliness in adulthood can be traced to negative childhood events. Children who experience parental distance or rejection are more likely to feel lonely as adults. They tend to see themselves as less likeable or lovable, making them less likely to approach others. They may reject others before others have a chance to reject them.

Often, we feel lonely because of inaccurate perceptions. We do mind reading, where we assume others are thinking critical or disapproving thoughts about us. We assume they don’t like us or don’t care about us. We may assume we are disconnected, even when others like us or love us. We assume that we are different from others.

So, you were created for connection. Your mental and physical health will benefit from having positive relationships. Put some energy into reconnecting with old friends, strengthening current relationships or creating new ones. Don’t assume that they won’t like you or won’t have time for you. Make a call. Set up a lunch date. Start a conversation. You’ll feel better for the effort.