Saturday, June 25, 2011

Now is All There Is

We spend much of our lives planning for the future and thinking about our past.  And while I am certainly an advocate of preparing for the future and learning from the past, I believe too many hours are used in this manner.

Emotional discomfort exists when we think about the future and the past.  Inner peace comes from remembering that when we remain in the "here and now", in the moment, we are healthier.  After all, there is nothing we can do to change the past and we are limited to preparing for the future.  Therefore, at any moment in time, all you are required to handle is that exact experience and nothing more.

So, when you notice yourself getting stressed - when you are spending time ruminating about the past or behaving as though you should have a crystal ball to see the future - remember that now is all there is and if you will find yourself able to return to the present and, as a result, find peace.

Copyright 2011 Lynn Borenius Brown

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Becoming an Assertive Person

To be assertive is to assert oneself.  Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary defines this as, “to insist on one’s rights, or on being recognized.”  To be assertive is to “own” what you need.  This includes your emotions.  An assertive individual places responsibility for that ownership on him/herself.  This person communicates in such as way that people listen and are not offended, giving them the opportunity to respond in turn.  To be assertive is to act, and react, in an appropriately honest manner that is direct, self-respecting, self-expressing, and straightforward.  This type of behavior instills self-confidence that is goal-oriented and is defined by aboveboard negotiation where rights are respected.  Assertion is, however, a manner of behaving that needs to be practiced.  Few of us are raised to be assertive.  Part of this practicing is recognizing that assertiveness has two opposing behavior styles.  These are:  passiveness and aggressiveness.  Let’s clarify these by defining them.

Passiveness.  Passiveness is allowing others to choose for you.  It is being emotionally dishonest, indirect, and self-denying.  It is saying that “everything is fine” when it isn’t.  This type of behavior often leads to anger as a result of keeping score while denying things to others.  This concealed anger erupts unexpectedly at the slightest provocation.  A passive person believes that concealing anger is a way of controlling it.  But, it is really controlling the person.  The eruption is usually out of proportion to the event due to having been held down.  Passive people are usually burdened with myths about needing to be the perfect spouse, parent, provider, etc.  And part of this myth is they must never become angry.  There are times when each of us chooses to be passive.  And this is healthy.  However, for the most part, being passive will not get your needs met and it confuses other people.  The passive person believes s/he should never make anyone uncomfortable or displeased, except for themselves.  Dealing with passive people is difficult because they aren’t straightforward and they are known for the “surprise attack”.

Aggressiveness.  An aggressive person wants to have an inordinate amount of control over him/herself and everyone and everything else.  This person feels a need to choose for others and is “honest” to the point of being tactless and rude.  This person is constantly working toward self-enhancement, with no thought to the other individual.  The aggressive person sets up situations so they will be sure to win and they achieve their goals at the expense of others.

Passive and aggressive behaviors are both the result of low self-esteem.  And both patterns are based upon fear.  The passive person manifests this fear by being quiet and compliant while the aggressive person is loud and pushy.  

Assertiveness.  The opposite of these two is assertiveness, which is based on rights, self-esteem, and getting one’s needs met without infringing on the rights of others.  The assertive person may, at times, choose to behave passively.  But the difference between behaving passively by choice and feeling the need to be passive is the word “choice”.  The assertive person has options.  The passive person does not.

Practice becoming assertive by using the following assertiveness training exercises to communicate clearly and specifically to anyone with whom you have contact.  When dealing with others:

Describe the other person’s behavior in non-judgmental terms.  It is not your place to determine what is right or wrong for someone else.  Your values are not necessarily those of someone else.  By assuming your viewpoint is the correct one, you are closing off any opportunity for open communication.

Voice your feelings using “I” statements.  No one can make you feel anything.  Your responses to others are your responsibility.  Placing the burden on someone else often leads to resentment.

State your needs clearly and specifically.  Generalized requests lead to generalized responses.  And these are usually disappointing.

An assertive person takes care of him/herself, which results in having needs met and being free to work toward goals.  Take time to become an assertive person.  You’re worth it!

Copyright 2011 Lynn Brown

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Becoming a Positive Person, Part 2

How Can You Go About Changing Your Negative Thoughts and Put Your Life and Problems Into a Realistic Perspective?

You need to apply the principles of science to your own thought process.  The first step is awareness.  The second step is answering negative thoughts.  The third step is taking action.  Let’s cover these one at a time.

Step One:  Awareness.  Bring the unfocused, negative thoughts to the surface, to your awareness.  This may require some effort because these thoughts tend to be well-disguised.  Try using instant replay.  As soon as you find yourself responding in a negative way, think back to what just crossed your mind, what you just said to yourself.  This will take practice.  But it is worth it.

Step Two:  Answering Negative Thoughts.  Now that you have identified and clarified the negative thought patterns, you can answer them.  Do this by asking yourself good questions.  Become thorough, concise, and specific in your questions.  Ask yourself for evidence, identify the facts, and find the distortions.   Look at your thoughts through a microscope.

Step Three:  Taking Action.  After probing and answering your negative thoughts, you must act on the new thoughts and beliefs.  Test them to see if they are really true.  This will take time, but you are worth it.

Complete the BECOMING A POSITIVE PERSON exercise.
Start by identifying twelve negative thoughts.  For each thought, determine which distortion is represented, decide on an alternative thought, and find an action you will use to test it.  If you find you have more than twelve, use the same format.

Negative thought:______________________________________

Which distortion does it represent?_________________________

Alternative thought:_____________________________________

Action I will use to test it:_________________________________

Copyright 2011 Lynn Borenius Brown

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Becoming a Positive Person, Part 1

The thoughts we have not only affect our emotional health, but also our physical health.  When we think negatively, our body responds as if it is a tension-filled situation.  The fight-flight response is called into action:  your adrenalin flows, your pulse quickens, and you exhaust yourself.

Our thinking patterns are learned or automatic responses developed by years of experiences.  These responses are habits we form as a result of watching those around us:  parents, teachers, peers, etc.  Without being aware of what is happening, messages are being decoded in our minds, minute after minute, day after day, week after week, and year after year.  We interpret situations, make judgments, and carry on conversations with ourselves all the time.  The nature of this self-talk can result in self-doubt and self-criticism or in a continual reinforcement of positive messages.

Cognitive therapy, originally developed by psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck at the University of Pennsylvania, can turn the negative thinker into a positive one.  It has been found to be more effective than antidepressant drugs.  While it works well for depression, it can also help the person who wants to change that internal critic, that nagging inner voice whose dialogue leads to low-grade depression each time you make a mistake or face a challenging situation.  Cognitive therapists have discovered that negative thoughts almost always involve gross distortions.  And by recognizing the distorted thoughts process, you can then work on eliminating them.

Here are the six most common distortions:

Exaggerating.  Along with grossly overestimating the size of the problem, you underestimate your ability to deal with it.  You tend to jump to conclusions without enough evidence and believe your conclusions are correct.  Example:  I can’t do my job!

Over-generalizing.  You reach a general conclusion based on particular instances.  Example:  Nothing ever turns out right!

Jumping to conclusions.  This distortion has two parts:  mind-reading and fortune telling.  Mind-reading example:  He is ignoring me.  It must be something I’ve done.  Fortune telling example:  I haven’t heard from her.  She must not like me.

Either/Or thinking.  You are making everything black and white, with no gray.  Example:  Either I lose 80 pounds or I’m a failure.

Ignoring the positive.  You tend to remember only the negatives and view the positives from a negative viewpoint.  This helps you retain your negative self-image.

Personalizing.  You tend to believe that everything revolves around you.  This is, of course, a distortion of the facts.

After a time, negative thoughts all sound alike.  This is because they are.  A chief characteristic of negative thoughts is that they are usually wrong.  They are an exaggeration, a distortion, of the truth.  Negative thoughts are usually automatic.  They leap into your mind.  They are not conclusions you have reached through logic and reason.

Next week, we’ll discuss how you can go about changing your negative thoughts and put your life and problems into a realistic pespective.

Copyright 2011 Lynn Borenius Brown