Thursday, September 1, 2016

Systematic Desensitization

Systematic desensitization translates quite literally -- you develop a system to gradually desensitize yourself to a feared situation. The best written resource I've found is Chapter 6 in Thoughts & Feelings: The Art of Cognitive Stress Intervention, by McKay, Davis, & Fanning (New Harbinger Publications). 

"With Systematic Desensitization," the authors write, "you learn to relax while imagining scenes that are progressively more anxiety provoking." They provide a "Fear Inventory" and detailed instructions on how to develop a hierarchy of threatening scenes.

In The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook (also published by New Harbinger), Dr. Edmund J. Bourne outlines a hierarchy for a common phobia: giving presentations at work. Visualize:

  1. Preparing a talk you don't give.
  2. Preparing a talk and delivering it to a friend; when comfortable with that, visualize delivering it to 3 friends.
  3. Giving a brief presentation to 3-4 people at work you know well; when comfortable with that, visualize a longer presentation to them.
  4. Giving a brief presentation to 10-15 acquaintances; when comfortable, a longer presentation to them.
  5. Giving a brief presentation to 3-4 strangers; when comfortable with that, visualizing giving them a longer presentation.
  6. Giving a brief presentation to 10-15 strangers.
  7. Giving a brief presentation to 50 strangers.
Whatever the situation, visualization works best if you first learn a relaxation technique and visualize the scenes while practicing relaxation, moving up the hierarchy only when you feel comfortable.

  • Visualize a scene as if you're actually there -- emotions, colors, sounds, tastes, temperature, smells, other people/objects. First create a peaceful scene where you feel completely safe. As you move up the hierarchy, if you experience more than moderate anxiety after 30 seconds to a minute, go back to your peaceful scene for a few minutes until you feel relaxed enough to try again. 
  • The best way to gauge your change from anxiety to comfort is to create a 10-point scale, where level 2 or 3 is mild to moderate anxiety and 10 is blow-your-socks-off terror. When you feel low or no anxiety visualizing the least anxiety-provoking scene, move to scene #2 and repeat the process. You'll gradually develop comfort with the scene at the top of your hierarchy (#7 in the example above). Also, you can build up to 30 minutes of visualization/relaxation. Eventually, you'll find you can master 2-3 scenes in 30 minutes.
One of my most interesting consultations on this topic occurred almost as an aside. I reviewed personality styles with a client's team members before a team session, and one of them ("Ned") said "I really identify with the driving force of fear. My anxiety is not so bad at work, but I've developed a real phobia of snakes. I like to ride my motorcycle on country roads, but I haven't been able to do that for a couple of years."

"Well," I replied, "snakes can act as a metaphor for all the 'snakes' you have to deal with on the job. Let's work on it." I asked him to describe his worst possible imagined scene with snakes and the least scary scene. We then created seven or eight scenes between those two associated with increasing levels of anxiety. After we completed his hierarchy, I taught him deep relaxation and visualization techniques so he could mentally rehearse, moving up to the next most difficult step only when he felt relaxed at the step he'd just practiced. 

Apparently those few minutes motivated Ned to continue on his own. I didn't see him again until six months after the team session. As I was heading toward his boss' office, Ned stopped me in the hall and said with a grin, "I'm so glad to see you. I wanted to tell you my fear of snakes is gone!" 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

How to Give Feedback

If someone you're trying to give feedback seems defensive in response, take a look at how you're framing your words. Are you using general and blaming terminology? ("You never initiate a conversation about our relationship." "You come across as arrogant." "You've been disrespectful to me." 

It's a natural human response to defend ourselves against feeling we've been wrong or bad. If you really want someone to change, it's vital to frame your comments in a way that bypasses those defenses. The other person needs to be able to take in what you're saying and consider whether they want to change and know how to change. 

If someone asks, "Why didn't people didn't warm up to me at the dinner party last night?" saying "Well, you came across as arrogant" will be difficult to hear and accept as true. Even if they can accept it, they might change some behavior that's entirely different from what you meant to point out. What behavior, exactly, seemed "arrogant" to you? 

Effective feedback is specific, descriptive, nonjudgmental. It communicates whether or not someone's behavior is "on target" in relation to a shared goal.  

While these examples are from work situations, the elements of effective feedback apply equally well in personal relationships:
Instead of judging someone as wrong -- using words like should, always, never, don't -- describe what you've observed.
Judgmental: "You're still not delegating enough."
Descriptive: "We talked about your delegating more to Larry and Helen, yet you're still putting in overtime. Tell me how things are going with them."  
Instead of a general comment that's open to interpretation, be specific. 
General: "You're not a team player."
Specific: "At the quarterly team meeting last week you noted how you improved profitability but didn't mention the work we put in behind the scenes." 
Instead of criticizing the whole person, direct your feedback toward behavior that can be changed.
Personal: "You're a buffoon!"
Behavioral: "Your introduction today took 30 minutes. Your stories were funny, but we were pressed for time, and after about 15 minutes I quit listening because I was anxious to get started."
The simple formula?  Describe specific behavior.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Responding to Criticism and Manipulation Without Defensiveness*

Often other people don't give effective feedback. Sometimes we feel defensive no matter how descriptively and helpfully feedback is given. In either case, most people think their only options in response are to (1) take it, (2) explain/defend themselves, or (3) fight back. 

There is another option. You can agree to a partial truth, agree to a probability, and/or agree in principle, followed in each case by probing for more information.

For example, if someone says you're not serious enough, you could: 
Agree to a Partial Truth -- "It's true I'm not as serious as some people we know," followed by, "In what way has that been a problem?" Or "Is there something in particular you suggest I change?"

Agree to a Probability -- "Maybe I haven't been serious enough," followed by, "Tell me more" or "What would you like to see me do differently?" 

Agree to a Principle -- "I agree it's important to be serious sometimes," followed by, "What have I done or said that's out of balance?" or "Let's talk about how my being more serious would be helpful here."
It may take a round or two or probing for details and/or moving to a solution before the other person stops making judgmental ("You're not..., you should... you shouldn't") or global statements (what does serious mean to that person in reference to you?). But if you remain non-defensive and show you're open enough to look at yourself honestly, eventually you'll have specific, behavioral feedback. You may or may not choose to act on it, but at least you'll know exactly what the other person is perceiving.

Then you can explain yourself, if necessary, and show your appreciation, if appropriate. Benefits of responding this way:
  • Even when the other person is being manipulative and/or passive-aggressive, this will lead to a more direct interchange.
  • Your questions will require the other person be more specific, less judgmental.
  • You'll buy some time and lower your defensiveness as you think through which way to respond: Is there some truth to it? Might there be some truth to it? Can I at least agree to an implied principle?
  • You may learn something about yourself you need to know.
  • The other person will gain respect for you instead of thinking, "Forget it! You can't tell that person anything!" 

*Dr. Manuel Smith calls this technique Fogging (see When I Say No I Feel Guilty and When I Say No I Feel Guilty, Vol. II, for Managers and Executives).

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Two Types of Creativity: Kirton Adaption-Innovation Indicator

In his book Adaptors and Innovators, Dr. Michael Kirton describes Adaption-Innovation as a cognitive style, a "preferred mode of tackling problems at all stages." He emphasizes that scores on the Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory (KAI), are value-free: "Very high, very low or intermediate KAI scores are neither laudatory nor pejorative." All of us can use both styles of creative problem solving, but we have a preference for either Adaptive/Resourceful or Innovative/Original Creativity.
Adaptive/Resourceful

People who score on the KAI as Adaptive tend to accept the paradigm within which a problem is embedded (current theories, policies, points of view). They're likely to produce a few ideas that aim at continuity with the practices, norms, and current way of doing things, but bring about a better way of doing them. They often (not always) show a preference for Sensing on the MBTI. To be successful over time, most organizations (except the most innovative in their products and/or services) will necessarily be adaptive in their orientation. It's more costly and risky to continually do things in a different way. Kirton remarks that Adaptors are at their best "in the smooth, efficient operation of an existing system; creatively refining, improving, and extending the thinking that underlies it."
Innovative/Original

People who score on the KAI as Innovative tend to "detach the problem from its cocoon of accepted thought," to step out of the "box" or paradigm. They tend to redefine a problem, produce many ideas, break through what the organization perceives as givens and restraints, provide solutions aimed at doing things differently. They often (not always) show a preference for Intuition on the MBTI. While a company is growing and maintaining itself in predictable ways and in a predictable market, innovative solutions are not necessarily preferable; but organizations cannot survive if they're unable to break through with new thinking when necessary.
The Dilemma of Differences
Studies at the Center for Creative Leadership suggest that each problem mode has its advantages, and the most successful organizations (and leaders) are those able to use both problem solving styles flexibly. In many organizations, though, Innovators experience problems in communication because it's difficult to get others to see outside the box, and they're often met with skepticism.

Perhaps as a consequence, Innovators tend to be condescending to Adaptors, who can be very resourceful and come up with excellent solutions to ongoing problems, but who tend to work within the rules, to seek consensus, and to prefer change that occurs gradually. Thus Adaptors are often seen by Innovators as unimaginative, stuck, resistant to change, always focused on problems vs. solutions, and/or lacking a view of the big picture.

Because innovative solutions are less easily understood and have unpredictable outcomes, and because such break-through change is threatening, Innovators are often seen by Adaptors as undisciplined, impractical, irreverent, abrasive, and/or insensitive to people. Clearly, a better understanding of these different creative styles -- and the value of each under certain circumstances -- can lead to stronger, more flexible teams and more successful organizations.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Follow Your Nose

I've sometimes said of myself, “I’m like a mole, I have to smell my way along.” More accurately, I might say “swim my way along” because moles have small eyes and lack external ears. To compensate, their long snouts and paddle-like forefeet allow them to “swim” through the soil. 

My learning style is kinesthetic, compared to auditory or visual channels for learning. For example, I tried to learn Adobe InDesign to use in self-publishing e-books. I bought the software. I bought the InDesign book. I had a video tutorial. I did NOT swim along!

In contrast, a friend with an auditory learning style says, “Give me a book and I can learn anything.” He hears the words in his mind, and understands.

A student of music whose learning style is auditory would focus on pitch, rhythm, phrasing, articulation, tempo. Another with a more visual learning style might picture rice being spilled on the floor to remember a certain passage. And a kinesthetic learner might touch the instrument and feel the vibrations or compare the music to the sensation of riding a horse at full gallop. 

When I created my web site many years ago, I bought a package deal, for the consultant to spend a few hours with me setting up the web site and showing me the basics, then to be available to answer my questions. Don’t take “showing” literally. He quickly saw how important it was for me to put my fingers on the keyboard and try things out myself. A whole variety of kinesthetic metaphors would fit here. I paced. I tore out my hair. I stumbled. But bit by bit I got the “feel” for it. I nosed my way into it. 

So if you find yourself frustrated when trying to learn something new, give yourself credit for having a preferred way of learning that may not have been addressed. Here's a general way to assess your learning style:

When you..
Visual
Auditory
Kinesthetic & Tactile
Spell
Do you try to see the word?
Do you sound out the word or use a phonetic approach?
Do you write the word down to find if it feels right?
Talk
Do you favor words such as see, picture, and imagine?
Do you use words such as hear, tune, and think?
Do you use words such as feel, touch, and hold?
Concentrate
Do you become distracted by untidiness or movement?
Do you become distracted by sounds or noises?
Do you become distracted by activity around you?
Meet someone again
Do you forget names but remember faces or remember where you met?
Do you forget faces but remember names or remember what you talked about?
Do you remember best what you did together?
Contact people on business
Do you prefer direct, face-to-face, personal meetings?
Do you prefer the telephone?
Do you talk with them while walking or participating in an activity?
Read
Do you like descriptive scenes. imagine the actions?
Do you hear the characters talk?
Do you prefer action stories?
Do something new
Do you like to see demonstrations, diagrams, slides, or posters?
Do you prefer verbal instructions or talking about it with someone else?
Do you prefer to jump right in and try it?

For a free, detailed learning style assessment, go to 
Colin Rose's Accelerated Learning.

 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Creative Problem Solving

(Based on J.W. Eiseman's "Reconciling 'Incompatible' Positions* and C. Hampden-Turner's Charting the Corporate Mind)

Most conflicts are dealt with by Avoiding, by one party winning (Competing) and the other losing (Accommodating), or by each party giving away something to get something else (Compromising).

However, there is another option -- to reach a creative solution that meets all parties' objectives, generates trust, and gains everyone's support. This level of Collaborating requires letting go of polarized, compartmentalized thinking and opening to perspectives that integrate instead of separate.
Most of us unknowingly operate from a paradigm that includes some sort of resistance as a way to justify what is right or what we desire... and this way of seeking to create one thing by resisting its opposite is what keeps us from fully tapping into an unbridled capacity to create. Debra Wilton-Kinney and Sam House, Polarity Pathways.
The components of creative problem-solving need not be followed in a step-by-step sequence. At times the concepts overlap:
  • Clarify terminology: Conflicts can often be resolved merely by discovering that each meant something different from what the other thought.
  • Understand the other's frame of reference (seek information in order to create a vision together). Ask about:
    • objectives (articulating these often identifies common goals),
    • assumptions (about the relationships among relevant factors),
    • options (perception of available choices),
    • methods (beliefs about the steps that must be taken to meet objectives),
    • values (what is important to the other person; e.g., being fair -- these may be implicit),
    • predictions (beliefs/concerns about following the suggestions of others): This can be especially powerful because it is disarming -- instead of trying to persuade others why your ideas are "better" you invite them to clarify what they like and don't like about your (or others') suggestions.
  • Search for new perspectives: 
    • Create a continuum whenever two sets of ideas seem opposing (no matter how "opposite" they seem); e.g., instead of "People do/do not have the right to challenge their boss," ask, "Under what circumstances is that particularly wrong?" "When might it be acceptable?" "What might make you respect someone for doing it?" "Under what circumstances would it be wrong not to?"
    • Increase the number of dimensions: In the process of creating a continuum you will discover underlying dimensions, each of which may also have seemingly incompatible "opposites" (e.g., "When certain results are critical to our success, people should/should not make independent decisions," or "When one person has more experience, the other does/does not have the right to..." etc.) Then create a continuum for each of these dimensions (e.g., How do you define independent? What would you consider critical circumstances? Under what circumstances would experience play a large factor?).
  • Be visually and verbally creative--use anything that encourages right-brain thinking (e.g., humor, pictures, metaphors, symbols, analogies); draw/write on a board or flip-chart where everyone can see and build on the ideas being generated.
  • Search for integrated solutions:
    • Develop both/and thinking: Notice when you or others are communicating in either/or terms (good/bad, right/wrong, my way/your way, success/failure, etc.), when you are saying "I can't do X because of Y." Ask "How can I do both X and Y?" Make it a group guideline that anyone can point this out; open up your thinking.
    • Connect opposites on a continuum; e.g., if you are arguing whether to focus on the task or focus on the relationship, imagine circumstances where it would be possible to do both at once. How would you go about that?
    • State apparently competing perspectives within an integrating question ("How can we...?"); e.g., if you've been arguing competition vs. cooperation, you might ask, "Given the necessity to compete so that we dominate the market, how can we cooperate in a way that strengthens competition?"
  • Verbalize the degree to which agreement is occurring. It should be clear: 
    • why the initial positions were embraced,
    • why the initial positions appeared incompatible,
    • how the current way of thinking reconciles the initial positions.
  • Map the two perspectives on vertical and horizontal axes.

*The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, Vol. 13, No. 3, 303-314 (1977), © 1977 NTL Institute

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Three-Step Self-Coaching Process

A.W.E. Three Steps to Self-Coaching

Awareness of your unique patterns of motivation and behavior. 

If you'd been hypnotized in a nightclub act to do something silly afterward at the hypnotist's command, would you then ask, "Why am I clucking like a chicken?" No. You volunteered to let someone make strong suggestions about your behavior. As a child you were even more suggestible. Read more. . . 


Watching, without judgment, how those patterns operate. 

Instead of backing away from an aspect of yourself you don't like, get to know that troubling part and see what there is to learn. Read more. . . 



Experimenting to interrupt patterns and invite transpersonal change. 

When you allow yourself to fully experience your typical reactions, you'll discover a new meaning for the baseball phrase, sweet spot. Read more. . .

 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Focusing

Eugene Gendlin discovered that. . .  successful clients. . . allowed themselves to experience and tolerate feelings that were vague, blurry, and unclear; and they allowed these feelings to unfold in their own time and way. They attended to their inward, bodily-felt world, rather than spinning their mental wheels. Dr. John Amodeo
"Focusing," wrote Dr. Gendlin in his book of the same name, "is a process in which you make contact with a special kind of internal bodily awareness. I call this awareness a felt sense. . . when it comes, it is at first unclear, fuzzy. By certain steps it can come into focus and also change."

The six steps to focusing:
  1. Clear a Space - Relax and pay attention in your body; ask yourself: What's going on with me right now?
  2. Felt Sense - Select one problem, stand back from it, and let yourself feel a sense of it.
  3. Handle - Let a word or phrase or image arise (e.g., heavy); hold it along with the felt sense.
  4. Resonate between the felt sense and the word, phrase, or image; let either change, if it does, until it feels just right (e.g., As if I weigh 300 pounds).
  5. Ask yourself, What is this sense of weighing 300 pounds (or whatever word, phrase, or image fits for your felt sense)?
  6. Receive whatever comes up and notice what happens, even if it's only a slight release.

It doesn't matter whether the body shift comes or not at a given time. It will come on its own as you practice sensing where and how your body holds its concerns.
"If nothing happens, back up and slow down! The most likely difficulty is that you are pushing too hard, expecting too much. See if you can hold the attitude that you are primarily building a trusting relationship with the inner senses in your body. Any information that may come is extra. Be there and be interested." Ann Weiser Cornell, Ph.D., The Power of Focusing: A Practical Guide to Emotional Self-Healing, p. 38.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Whatever You Resist Persists

My client Jack used to have such acute panic attacks while planning for public speeches he'd go to the emergency clinic, convinced he was dying. He learned to stay with his feelings of panic instead of running from them

Even though the idea seemed a little crazy to him, every time he started to feel anxious he'd focus on the specific physical sensations and exaggerate them. To Jack's surprise the symptoms quickly diminished and he stopped having full-blown panic attacks. 

You may have heard the expression, whatever you resist persists. In contrast, every source of resistance responds positively when you welcome it without judgment. Think utilization. You can use whatever happensblocks, tasks not done, so-called relapsesto see how your patterns play out and to reframe your thinking in ways that invite change.  

Gail, for example, wanted to lose ten pounds. She said she'd gained weight because she ate fast, often while standing up. She'd been trying to get herself to eat less by pushing to overcome her eating patterns, telling herself to SLOOOW down! That hadn't worked and she was disappointed in herself. 

Looking for a way to go with her stated problem of eating fast, Gail decided to clock her mileage, imagining a gauge where 20 mph is a healthy rate of eating speed, and to do so as a neutral observer, to get to know her eating pattern without self-criticism. After clocking her typical eating rate at 55 mph she agreed to following week to consciously eat at 60 mph, then decrease it by 7 mph, then increase by 3 mph, continuing to experiment with her eating gauge. 

Gail had fun reframing her old pattern of focusing on her failures. To her surprise and great delight, she lost three pounds in two weeks without any conscious effort to diet.

Practice  
  1. Think of a change you've wanted but haven't accomplished. 
  2. If you've tried to stifle or ignore your resistance, find a way to welcome it.
  3. Reframe any self-criticism as an opportunity to learn something about yourself.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Lagging on Commitment to Change?

Five Tips to Help You Stay Focused
  1. Be an objective observer of yourself. Habits are only patterns of behavior. They're not good or bad. If you were an experienced birdwatcher you'd want to identify particular birds, know about their habitat, plumage,  shapes. You would not be looking through binoculars and thinking, "Oh no! Those swallows aren't migrating in a perfect V!" A bird is a bird, a pattern is a pattern. Let go of judging yourself. You need to know a pattern before you can change it.
  2. Instead of trying to stop being something you don't want to be (whew! think of all the wasted energy THAT takes), get to know your pattern: How often does it show up? What triggers it? What does it look like? How long does it last? Then what? You'll know you've got it when you can teach someone else exactly how you do it.
  3. When the patterned behavior shows up, stay WITH it. Let's say you have a fiery temper and you promised yourself you'd keep it in check. The next time it gets triggered, notice where in your body you feel the anger and exaggerate that physical sensation ("It's like I'm about to fly apart"). Continue exaggerating the physical sensation until you know the label you've given it is an exact fit ("No, it's like my guts are being torn apart by rabid dogs!"). By the way, by this time, your anger's lessened and you don't have to act on it.
  4. Once you've gotten a grip on your pattern, do it consciously but with one small change. Humor helps. Gail, for example, ate fast while standing and tried to lose 10 lbs. by telling herself to "SLOOOW down!" That didn't work. When challenged to eat fast consciously but with a small change, she "clocked her mileage," increasing her speed from 55 mph to 65 mph and then back down to 25 mph. To her surprise she lost 3 lbs. in two weeks without any conscious effort to diet.
  5. It's quite natural to resist change. Unfortunately we tend to beat ourselves up when we don't follow through. All that energy you've wasted criticizing yourself just feeds the old pattern. Instead, if you find yourself procrastinating, feeling anxious, losing hope, or being distracted from your goal, recognize these as signs you've challenged a deeply embedded pattern, which means you're on the right path. Go through the first four steps again, and remember: If something you've tried hasn't worked, do something different!
More ideas like these in Out of the Box Self-Coaching Workbook

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Are You Trustworthy?

Effective partners in life and high-performance teams work cooperatively, are guided by shared goals, trust each other, give and receive feedback openly, and take risks/assert themselves with each other.

Below are behaviors that build or lessen trust. For each one, ask yourself Am I more likely to . . .

  1.  seek new ideas/information  OR  act on my own opinions?
  2.  help my partner/team-mates  OR  focus only on my own needs/goals?
  3.  listen and play back what I hear  OR  focus on my own ideas/views?
  4.  be above-board, direct  OR  be indirect, non-disclosing?
  5.  tell the truth  OR  tell partial truths/what I think others want to hear?
  6.  say what I'm thinking/feeling  OR  send mixed signals?
  7.  accentuate the positive  OR  stress the negative?
  8.  remain calm under stress  OR  explode/overreact?
  9.  honor my agreements  OR  behave opportunistically?
  10.  see people as individuals  OR  categorize/stereotype?
  11.  show friendliness, compassion  OR  remain distant, aloof?
  12.  give specific, accurate feedback  OR  give evaluative feedback?
  13.  encourage/empower others  OR  insult, ridicule, diminish others?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Time to Change?

If you're in a business or personal situation where it's time to change whether you like it or not, you may feel stuck because it all feels so overwhelming. A structure that shows how to fit the pieces together can help.

Cynthia D. Scott and Dennis T. Jaffe's classics, Managing Personal Change and Managing Change at Work, provided practical and clear descriptions of ways to move through a transition. 

Their four-stage model shows our typical progression from denial ("Oh, my God, this can't be happening"), through resistance ("I'm sick," "I can't stand this," "How dare they?"), and exploration ("Hmmm, I'm beginning to see some options"), to commitment ("Let's get moving").

You may be stuck in one phase more than another, and you may go back and forth a bit, but it's especially important to not push toward commitment without recognizing the importance of the middle two stages. Anyone who's gone through a sudden downsizing, divorce, or loss of a loved one knows if you rush it, sooner or later the emotional reactions have to be recognized, allowed, and healed so we can be open to new possibilities. 

Denial: The natural first reaction is to focus on the past, to question why the change needs to take place, to wish "If only I'd done this or that," to avoid thinking about the future and keep plugging along without getting much done. People can get rigid, hunker down, or even freeze. To help yourself move through this phase, let the reality sink in, one step at a time. Gradually seek information about your options, what exactly will be happening, and specific steps you can take to maintain your stability throughout the transition. 

Resistance: It's vital to let your emotions in, recognize any signs of stress such as anger, blame, anxiety, depression, or even losing all interest in your life or work. Find someone who will be encouraging and supportive without hammering you with advice. Write in a journal. Whatever you feel is OK to talk or write about. The purpose here is not to judge or fix anything but rather to acknowledge whatever would otherwise bubble beneath the surface.

Exploration: Once some blocks have been released, new energy will begin to flow. You may still feel a bit overwhelmed, and perhaps you'll find yourself confused or at the other end of the spectrum over-preparing, but now you'll begin experimenting with new ways of thinking and operating. Try not to move too quickly to closure. Keep options open, do some brainstorming and visioning, and set short-term goals.

Commitment: You'll know when you're in the new groove, feeling fully engaged with your future, excited about what's unfolding. Fear, anxiety, self-doubt, grief have all been transmuted into energy and growth. Now's the time for longer-term goals, pulling together with your family, group, or work team, and appreciation for the courage and insight you've shown throughout the change.





Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Real Deal

Just as actors with a good director can portray a role that's completely believable to the audience, all of us have developed self-images to fulfill the roles expected of us as children, resulting in habitual, patterned behavior.

Although you may not be conscious of exactly how that happened, you were programmed as surely as if someone said, "Act this way and you will be accepted/ loved/ admired/ protected/ supported/ (add your own word)."

Furthermore, we all want to win the Oscar, so we've learned to interact with others in ways that reinforce the patterns and maintain the image.

To find the real you, the first and most basic practice is neutral self-observation. If you were an experienced birdwatcher you would want to identify particular birds, to know about their habitat, habits, plumage, and shapes. You would not be looking through binoculars and thinking, "Oh no! Those swallows aren't migrating in a perfect V."

A bird is a bird; a pattern is a pattern. Engage your curiosity instead of self-criticism.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Active Imagination

Carl Jung, in Memories, Dreams, and Reflections, described how therapeutic it could be to translate his own emotions into images (a process now referred to by Jungian therapists as active imagination). He described being visited by a "friend of Gandhi's... a highly cultivated elderly Indian whose guru was a 'commentator on the Vedas who died centuries ago.'"

Jung was a bit embarrassed to talk about this, remarking on the irony that a psychiatrist should discover within himself "the same psychic material which is the stuff of psychosis." He was relieved to realize he'd only experienced "the sort of thing that could happen to others who make similar efforts." 

We all talk to ourselves, but we sometimes do that as part of a negative cycle of worry, blame, or guilt. Active imagination personifies the "parts" of us that are talking – to create more clarity or even resolution that might not be possible with ordinary linear problem-solving.  

Anything could stimulate active imagination. You might be seeking clarity on a key decision, or puzzled by an emotional reaction you've had to someone, or curious about a dream you've had. Here's how one of my clients used active imagination to help resolve her performance anxiety.

Sue had always loved giving pep talks to her own team, so when she was promoted to Vice President, she was surprised to find herself "freezing" when required to give formal presentations in the corporate Board Room.

While agonizing over this, she had a dream in which her aging mother wanted to die and asked Sue to kill her. Sue imagined herself talking to the mother in her dream and wrote down the conversation below. This dialogue is fascinating because it shows the creativity of active imagination – it can move in any direction if you just let yourself go:
Sue to Dream Mother: "Why are you here? What role are you playing in this dream?"
Mother: "Think of the pampas grass in your yard and how you're attracted to it, the way it grows luxurious, seductive, how it feathers itself for attention, how it says, 'Look at me! Look at me!'"

Sue: "I know I want to be heard, I want to make a good impression. But why are you showing up in my dream?"

Mother: "I'm the mother in you who tells you your wishes and what you have to say are unimportant. Everyone loves me because I'm nice, because I hide my critical nature, because I'm not aggressive, because I have no voice."

Sue: "Why are you asking me to kill you?"

Mother: "It's time for you to 'kill' your fear of speaking out, your urge to be 'nice' at the expense of your own wishes and ideas. Meditate on loving what's within, discover your voice is already there, you speak from it every day of your life. Speak to the part of you who doesn't yet see that."

Sue: "It's hard to find that part, to give form to how hard it is to speak out. I picture a murky cloud."

Cloud: "I'm murky because the sun feels blinding. I'm not sure if I can stand the excitement. I've covered the sun so long I've lowered my tolerance for energy, for light, for seeing things clearly, and for saying things clearly.


Sue: "So, how can I move past that?"

Cloud: "Picture yourself in the space where you're anxious. Imagine the light is set low on a dimmer. Slowly turn the dimmer up until your eyes get used to the bright light."
This internal dialogue helped Sue better understand the nature of her anxiety. She also used the visualization as she prepared her next Board Room presentation. She was delighted (and a little surprised) that her anxiety dimmed as she allowed herself to shine.