CHANGING YOUR STORY: You can decide that it’s just not worth all that anger!

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A while back, I had a brief chat with a rather impatient man on line in front of me at Costco. His impatience with having to wait was obvious. He paced next to his cart, sighed, and rolled his eyes at me. Since I can’t resist starting a conversation at moments like this, I returned the eye-roll with a friendly (I hoped!) smile and asked if he was in a hurry. No, he actually had lots of time! He just hated standing in lines for the privilege of spending his hard-earned money!

As I watched him ramp up his frustration and anger, I wondered what his life was like.
Was he often this angry? Did he have friends and family? What story was he telling himself about standing in line that merited all this angst? And what would he be like if he could only change the story he tells himself?

We all have choices as to how we interpret our world.
Maybe the story you tell yourself is, “This always happens to me! I’m tired of being taken advantage of and I deserve to be angry!” And maybe you tell yourself this story about events over which you really have little control. And then, just maybe, your anger takes over and your good common sense takes a brief vacation!

But, you can change that story you tell yourself – then notice how different your world might look and feel.
And, when your anger isn’t in control, you might just find that relationships improve and you can enjoy that in-line conversation with a stranger so much  more!

The new story: “Wow , that’s annoying.  But, I can’t do anything about it and it’s not really about me.”
Then – take a few deep breaths until you feel the tension fleeing, and look for a distraction (like that person behind you on the line!). Focus intently on the distraction, and you may find that your stress and frustration feel a lot less important now.

If you can do all this fairly easily, congratulations! You’re probably pretty good at self-care.
If you have difficulty changing the story, distracting yourself, understanding why you get so angry, you might think about sharing your concern with a trusted friend or doing a little research on anger management strategies. And if none of that is helpful, consider taking that next step and consulting with a therapist who can help you figure out the why of your struggles, as you develop the tools needed to make those important changes.

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS REVISITED: Communication, Conflict, and Goals – what’s the connection?

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A little while ago, I posted some tips on carrying out New Year’s resolutions. (See post below this one.) Then I re-read what I wrote and realized that it isn’t obvious how this topic fits in with my overall theme of effective communication, anger, conflict in the family and at work.

On-going challenges managing anger and resolving conflict usually don’t just appear out of nowhere! The sequence frequently goes like this: Stressful situations happen. Skills to deal with that stress just haven’t yet been learned and practiced. When we can no longer manage that stress, when we don’t know how to let others know what’s going on, when we don’t know how to monitor and cope with our own feelings, frustration grows and eventually, for some people, that results in anger acted out and conflict instead of communication.

So what does that have to do with New Year’s resolutions? Take a look at the resolutions you’ve made or have heard from others, and you’ll probably figure it out. Many, if not most, resolutions are born of stress and frustration. The plan usually is to make changes in all those areas that have been most challenging for us. And, of course, those are apt to be the areas that also cause us the most stress and frustration.

New Year’s Resolutions made out of desparation and frustration, if not carried out, simply become part of that circle of stress. Sort of like this: I’m stressed and disappointed that I’m not doing X. Now the new year is starting and I’m still not doing it – but now I will. I promise!! Then, predictably for many, X is still not done, and stress increases through the year – until we begin the next round of magical thinking we call New Year’s resolutions.

For tips on how to approach those resolutions, so that you can feel more successful and less stressed and angry, scroll down to the post just below this one.

   
   
   

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS DON’T REALLY WORK: Why you need more than just a promise!

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We tend to think there’s something magical that happens when we enter a new year. “New” implies change and hope. Maybe this time I’ll really, really do things differently. I’ll clean off my desk, lose weight, eat better, return those phone calls, reconnect with friends, read that book, save more money, stop getting so angry, spend more time with the kids, and whatever else you can think of that needs changing!


Hope is high when we make those lists.
Of course – this time – I’ll take care of all these life challenges. This year, it will be different. This year I will be different.

And somewhere inside, there’s that nagging voice that says, “What makes you think this year will be the magic charm?” And, if you follow your old patterns, that inner voice will be right. But it doesn’t have to be the way it always has been. You can make the changes that are important to you. And the good thing is that you don’t have to do this all at once.

  1. Resolutions are really just a promise to yourself to make some changes. But for that promise to become action, a little more is needed:
  2. Make your list. When that’s done, find a quiet spot, and take some time to look it over.
  3. Prioritize your list. Which item would be the easiest to accomplish? Make that #Which item is most important to you? Make that #2.
  4. If you still have more on your list, prioritize the other items in order of importance to you.
  5. And – now you can move on to making those resolutions “more than just a promise!”

For now, focus on resolutions 1 and 2. Put aside your other resolutions in an easy-to-find location.

Number one is the easiest, so let’s start there. Make a list of the tiny steps needed to accomplish this goal.

For instance, if you’d like to spend a few days with a good friend, but have been putting it off, these might be the steps you need to take: Call your friend; check your calendar for available dates; write up a very detailed to-do list; re-check daily until you’ve accomplished this goal. Contact your friend whenever you see a potential problem with the plan. Don’t just drop the idea, if it’s not working. Be sure to figure out another that would be equally wonderful!

Number two is the challenge, but once you’ve accomplished number one, it’s very likely you’ll be feeling motivated and hopeful. Taking care of the small stuff can be energizing!

 

Let’s say you’ve set a goal of saving more money. In the past you’ve tried to put aside whatever extra cash you have, but those unplanned-for expenses keep on coming………..  If you just leave it at that –  trying again the same old way – this resolution is just a promise, not a plan. You need a plan. A plan that includes lots of little details (feels good to cross them off your list as you complete each one!).

Here’s a sample of what that money-saving plan could look like (each is a separate item on your list):

  • Get out that calendar
    and make an appointment with yourself for a day and time you know you can be out of touch and alert for at least 2 – 3 hours.
  • Make a list of what you’ll need for that appointment (check book, bank statements, calculator, pens, pencils, etc.). Include on that list whatever else you’ll need to keep focused: water, coffee, something to eat; anything that works to keep you on task.
  • Gather together in one place all the non-food prep materials, at least a day or more before your meeting (with yourself).
  • Since this is a stressful task, do some positive self-talk to prepare. Tell yourself that all you need to do is start. You can always make a second appoinment with yourself. Allow yourself to feel positive about each small step you make.
  • Let someone supportive know what you’re doing. It helps to have a back-up partner you can call if you feel that you’re slipping. Don’t forget to report in whenever you’ve accomplished even a piece of your goal.
  • On appointment day, spend some time getting a clear picture of your challenges. Write down all you learn about your finances, current income, planned expenditures.
Since this is an article about planning and resolutions, not about finances, I won’t go into more detail about that piece. But  if you do need help, you might consider seeing a financial planner or getting a trusted friend/relative to plan with you. Consultation with others can make success more likely.

 

  • At the close of your appoinment (be sure you end on time!), leave with a plan for next time. And, hopefully, a plan that you can follow in order to save just a little more money than you’ve been saving.

Resolutions can work! Magic is possible! All you need to do is pay attention to the details and reward yourself for the little steps forward.

I wish you a happy and productive New Year, as you move toward achieving your goals for 2012!

If you’d like more information on how to make those resolutions come true, please give me a call at 310 475-1759 or contact me at karen@karenwulfson.com.

 

THE STORIES IN OUR HISTORY: Telling your story can mean writing about what matters and sharing with courage!

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Today turned out to be so much better than I’d expected. Tired, way too busy, and not feeling very social, I almost passed on being part of a magnificent experience! But, I’d made a commitment and couldn’t think of a good reason not to honor it. And, besides, a promise is a promise. Especially when my presence at a special event was a gift to me by its creator, the equally magnificent Terrie Silverman!

So, overcoming my reluctance to give up a few hours,
I managed to get myself to the Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center and, in the center’s small, bare-bones theater, became an enthralled witness to a “gorgeous” experience!

Participants in Terrie’s writing workshop were the stars,
sharing with us their very personal and moving “Gorgeous Stories,” with humor, poise, and an immense amount of courage. Check out Terrie’s website for more information.

If you’ve been reading this blog or any other of my writings, you might have noticed that I have an interest in how people communicate
– and how effective communication can change relationships. The stories we tell ourselves, the words we use are so important in reducing conflict and destructive anger. Terrie’s workshop participants have certainly found a way to use words to communicate feelings, and, I’d imagine, in the process, the feelings they write about so eloquently might seem more manageable and feel just a little less overwhelming.
 
My thanks to all who participated for allowing me to witness your courage, talents, and good humor in the face of challenge!

Words Really Do Matter! Which words we use, the tone of voice in which we say those words, and the body language that goes along with what we say. All of this matters – a lot!

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Families sometimes forget how important those words are. After all, we’re family. We know we love and care about each other. We don’t have to watch our language, be careful about how we say things – right? Well……  maybe. Sometimes.

With those close to us, it’s true that we tend to develop a kind of communication shorthand
that works most of the time. And it’s natural, and usually accurate, to assume that those who are closest to us understand the meaning behind our words, tone, and attitude.

Most of us could write a pretty accurate script of the family chatter
. And, families often have a shared, but hidden, understanding that everyone will go along with the “script.” And, usually, that’s exactly what happens.

Then, some change (or transition) takes place.
A child goes off to school. Marriage, birth, divorce, death – something alters the make-up of the family. And maybe those old ways of communicating just don’t work anymore.


Transitions, even positive ones, have the power to turn your life upside down.
All these changes require changes in you. Are you prepared to have lots of different conversations? Understand and explain those new feelings? Cope with old resentments and feelings that may arise when your world changes? Learn a new way of being with those same old people – and the new ones?

When times are ok, when stress is not as high, anger can often be masked or expressed without major family disruption. When stress is greater, when the challenges are larger and more frequent, communication in your once-loving family can often seem a lot less loving and a lot more combative!

Sometimes, it can help to just tell yourself that times are tough right now – and that you have the power to reduce the conflict – often just by stepping back and taking a deep breath! And – read through my previous blog posts for some communication tips that might be helpful to you.

COFFEE MUG THOUGHTS: JUST HOW RESPONSIBLE DO YOU HAVE TO BE?

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My favorite coffee mug has this inscription, “if I don’t do it, it doesn’t get done!” That sentence defines many parts of my life. And, usually, that’s fine with me. But, sometimes, I just don’t want to be the one who’s expected to “do it.”
Are you the one who usually solves the problem, gets the job done? Are you usually the responsible one, while others wait for you to do it? Personal experience has taught me that it doesn’t always have to be that way.
You can be competent and in charge most of the time, but you can also decide when to let others shine, when to ask for help. The next time you realize that you’re feeling stressed and angry, after agreeing to do one more thing for someone else, you might want to try something different.

You could try saying, “I know I agreed to do this, but I realize I need some help.” Then sit back quietly and see what happens.

If the response isn’t what you’d wanted and needed, that’s ok. Just take a deep breath, then restate your needs – clearly and without anger. My experience is that when others are in the habit of expecting that you’ll “just do it,” it may take some time, patience, and clear communication before you’ve altered those expectations.

And if you can calmly stick it out until your message gets across, you may find that you’ve won the respect of your family, colleagues, friends – and that you are feeling less stressed and angry. If you’ve done your best, and people still aren’t paying attention, this might be a good time to reevaluate your relationships.

   
   
   

CHANGING THE STORY YOU TELL YOURSELF: A different way to survive those family holiday stresses.

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So – you’re an adult now. In your 20s, 30s, 40s or older. It doesn’t matter. As soon as you get together with your family, you might end up feeling like that little kid or teen you once were. Families just tend to have that effect on most of us!

And – even if your youthful family experiences weren’t that bad
– maybe even pretty good, the holidays are likely to be part wonderful and part “when is it time to get out of here?”

For instance, you’ve worked hard to be independent.
 You’re fairly successful at that – most of the time. Then your mother says something like, “You look a little tired. Are you taking care of yourself?”

And maybe the story you usually tell yourself
is that your family always sees you as not quite competent, incapable of even figuring out how to get enough sleep. If that’s your story, the warm fuzzies of the day are now gone. And you can add to that story a little bit with: “See. I was right! They think I’m not quite ok!”

Would you consider changing that story you tell yourself?
  Finding a different story as your gift to self for the holidays? Would you try this out, even if it sounds a little silly?

Here’s a possible alternate story:
“My family doesn’t mean to offend me. They really don’t know what I’m like when I’m not with  them. They still see me as a kid and they’re trying to show they still care – in the only way they know how.”

It’s possible neither your original story nor this latest one are accurate.
Maybe there’s really a third story. But, since right now, you can’t really know for sure, why not tell yourself the story that feels the best? If this one doesn’t seem right, create any story that takes you out of that old kid place. Prepare yourself with your new story before you see your family.

You can’t control your family, but you can control your response.
When you get triggered by those familiar comments, take a deep breath, repeat your new story to yourself, and decide that this time you’ll act as though your new story is the true one.

One alternate response (said with a smile) might be,
“Thanks for caring. I’m fine.” Or, “Had to leave early today, so didn’t get much sleep. How are you?” Or, whatever works for you. The goal is to avoid your usual annoyance or anger. You don’t have to follow that same old script. You have the power to do at least one thing differently and see if even a small change can happen.

If you’d like some personalized help with your story, give me a call at 310 475-1759. Consultation is available by telephone or in person.

 
 
 

HOLIDAY CHALLENGES: Do we really “have to?”

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Overheard at the mall: “She’s just gonna do it again! It always happens, so why should I go?” And, the reply: “Because you just have to!” (A conversation between two 30-something women that seemed to be about attending a family event.)

Well…… adults rarely “just have to!”
More often, the story we tell ourselves is that we only have one choice, one path to take. And, we stay on that path, because other options seem way too risky, too challenging, too uncomfortable. And, we stay there because it’s human nature to take what seems to be the path of least resistance.

What I know from experience: doing something different, no matter how small, is empowering. Making decisions consciously feels so much better. And, just “doing” because that’s the way it’s always been – that can feel pretty awful.

Have you ever had the experience of “just saying no?”
Deciding that you really don’t have to do what you’ve always done? Following the path that’s most nourishing – and least destructive (for you and others)?

Or, have you ever made a conscious choice to join your family, even when you’d really rather not?
But, you’ve also made the choice that, this year, you’ll start out with a different attitude and new responses to the same old provocations?

Now is a good time to plan ahead for the holidays.
Now is just the right time to prepare for that new path that can make those family visits less challenging and less stressful. And now is a great time to start rehearsing that new story you can tell yourself.


In a few days, I’ll be posting some examples of how to create and use those new stories.
I’d also be interested in hearing from you about how you’ve survived those family visits by doing something different, telling yourself a different story, taking a different approach.

Would you like to share your experience, ask a question or request an appointment for a free phone consultation? I invite you to comment here, give me a call at 310 475-1759 or email me now, and I promise to respond within 24 hours.  

 

THANKSGIVING THOUGHTS: Change your story – just for one day!

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Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I’ve noticed that, as this holiday approaches, people seem to fall into one of three groups. Which group speaks to you?

Most obvious to
most of us are those who eagerly look forward to getting together with family and friends. These are the folks who are so excited about that yearly tradition of feast, familiar people and rituals of the day. Just listen to media commentators in the week leading up to that festive day. The excitement is contagious, and one could almost imagine that everyone feels that same eager anticipation!

Then there are those who mostly enjoy, and sometimes tolerate, the holiday.
It’s fun to get together with others, but there’s also some stress involved. Maybe family is distant or relationships aren’t so hot these days. Or, perhaps the approach of each Thanksgiving celebration also brings with it some anxiety. Where will I go? Who should I invite? Is there too much meaning attached to this day for my comfort?

And, sadly, there are some people who dread this day and the feelings it brings up.
Holidays have that effect on more people than you might think. Just the idea of going home again, having to cope with that same old conflict or distance can be a reminder of feelings perhaps best forgotten.

But, these groups may be more alike than you’d think.
Sometimes, all it takes to change groups is to change the story you tell yourself. Instead of reminding yourself of the old hurts and pains, you may want to come up with a way to stop yourself as you enter that self-critical space. Then, substitute a different story. List (on paper or mentally) all the positive things that, just for today, you can give thanks for. Repeat as needed when that other story intrudes.

And, just for today, resolve to smile as much as you can, even if you don’t really mean it!
Research has shown that moods can be elevated, just by the act of turning up the corners of your mouth! Try it and see if it works for you. You have nothing to lose and lots to win, if you can help yourself to feel even a little bit better.

Changing your story and smiling………. just try it out!
You might just find your mood lifted and your anger, anxiety or stress lowered enough so that you can enjoy that Thanksgiving meal.

If you have difficulty with self-help strategies, you might want to reach out for some help – before the next holiday challenge arrives. I offer a free phone consultation and would be happy to chat with you about how I can help you. Give me a call at 310 475-1759 or email me at karen@karenwulfson.com.

I wish you a happy Thanksgiving – or at least one that’s better than you thought it would be! I invite your comments and feedback on this or other topics in this blog.

 

FOR MORE EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION…LISTEN MORE THAN YOU TALK! YOUR TURN WILL COME: Many arguments happen when two people talk and neither really hears the other.

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Have you ever listened to two or more people doing what I call “parallel arguing?” Each person is so invested in making that all-important point, that no one hears anyone else!


I’ve been spending way too much time lately listening to some political talk shows
. Doesn’t matter which party, what ideology is being promoted, the result, for me, is often the same. The host or guest has a point to make. And – they often push ahead with a strongly declared “fact” or point of view, rarely pausing long enough for anyone else to express an opinion.

While it may be entertaining to listen to those on-air “debates,” that same style is unlikely to work out well for you in personal or professional interactions.

It’s not quite so amusing, engaging or satisfying, if your conversational energy is focused only on pushing your own point of view. When we don’t take the time to fully understand and calmly respond to those who doesn’t agree with us, it’s easy to end up with hurt feelings and anger.

If this sounds like a familiar pattern to you, you might want to try a little experiment. The next time you find yourself tensing up for that next passionate argument, stop! Take one long deep breath. And – ask a question. That’s all, just one question. And see what happens next.

Of course that question should be stated calmly and reflect curiosity about the other person’s point of view. If need be, assure your conversational partner that you really do want to hear his/her viewpoint. Then, prove it by listening well and reflecting back what you’ve heard.

Remember, this is only an experiment. An opportunity for you to try out a different way of having a conversation. A chance for you to observe whether or not a slight change in your style will make a difference. And, most important, you now have slowed down the conflict and given yourself the time to decide how you want to handle the rest of the conversation.

Sometimes all it takes is a few tweaks in your conversational style. And sometimes, all you may need is to remind yourself that you can learn and use specific strategies that will help you communicate without conflict and anger getting in the way.