Letting Go – Reducing the Unnecessary in your life

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A common problem that I often encounter in the behavioral health clinic these days is the difficulty that others have to let go or move beyond emotional blockages to growth. Typically, these are a root cause of the anxiety, stress overload, and depression that generally presents as the problem. Non-clinical populations also exhibit the common problem of letting go, and may never manifest all the symptoms that lead to presentation for treatment. It appears that cultural conditioning, the social mirror, and the myriad of expectations both internal and external contribute to the problem.

Today, there are many, many influences in our lives. Some of them are simply taking up emotional and mental space, and thus need to be cleared, so we can focus on the most important things in our lives.

In the business and organizational world, the problem of letting go, is pervasive. In our driven world steep in high expectations, and underlying demands – both internal to the person and from others, it is sometimes a hidden problem that keeps us hostage to the things that we can simply let go of.

The problem is widespread, but like a computer CPU, we need a little soft reset, and that requires us to delete a few “unnecessary files” in our brains, thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. The work required on a personal level goes well beyond the suggestions here. There is often a journey required to let go of unnecessary issues, feelings, thoughts or behaviors. The items below are a sampling of things that may be key things to “let go”:

1. Personal slights
2. Old mistakes, guilt, shame
3. Unmet expectations
4. Current mistakes (what can we learn from them?)
5. Difficult personalities
6. Relationships – both personal and professional that are dragging us down
7. Excessive spending, poor diet, self-sabotaging habits
8. The past – which does not add positive memories

These of course, are not exhaustive. But you get the point. The concept to remember is that: The items above are preventing positive movement ahead. They are holding us hostage emotionally, behavioral, or through our thinking patterns. They are dulling our senses.

    Beginning steps to letting go of the unnecessary can include the following:

1. Identify what needs to be let go – Is it a thought, behavior, or a change in your job?

2. Ask yourself: What impact on my life will this make? Why is it important to let go?

3. Identify your support system. Create an accountability system that can support you through the changes that will occur once something is changed. More difficult things to let go – require more support. Supports can be personal and professional. Perhaps consulting with a trusted colleague.

4. Stressors, personal slights, negative cognitions, require more fortitude. It may require us to stop our negative thoughts, change a self-sabotaging behavior, or simply apologize to someone and rebuild a relationship.

Finally, consider the enormous payoff you will feel and experience when you let go of unnecessary things and situations in your life that weigh you down. Sometimes thoughts about the prospective payoff can be very motivating to make the change. Having deeper values and mission about the why, will help drive you toward how and what of any change you make.

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Do You Live Your Existence in the Red?

The financial “bottom line” is often a marker for mere survival, or measuring success in a business. Doing the right kinds of things help a business prosper, and likewise making bad decisions or not investing can lead to a company’s financial position to “be in the red”. In other words, you’re running your company with a deficit. This can translate to both emotional, physical or financial deficits.

Our lives and the way we run them, can be quite similar. We can either focus on significant things, and build equity, or we can be held hostage to insignificant things and merely exist, or run our lives “in the red.”

How does one really measure what is significant vs. what is less than significant? These days the importance of “demands” has slowly and intrusively taken on more significant place in people’s lives. Often measuring what is seemingly important is more about survival and distraction than about truly engaging the important.

Maintaining an awareness of these issues has become a chore – because we’re too busy meeting someone else’s expectations, and create so little time and value for our own. It’s not really about being selfish, but rather having quality of life. The parable of the slow boiling frog has become a common ailment, and seeking quick rescue is the way that others react.

How many of us question what we do on a daily basis? Does it provide joy? Are we even satisfying ourselves, or are we chasing a never ending set of demands that squelch out the significance from our lives. The following exercise may be important for you to try:

1.) Name the significant things you have done this week. Why were they important?

2.) Identify the insignificant things you felt drawn into this week. Did they add or subtract? Do you live your existence in the red, or do you have reserves?

3.) Did you feel too tired this week? Why? Was it for someone else’s purpose, or did fatigue have real meaning behind it?

4.) What personal or artificial barriers keep you living your live in “the red”?

From these questions, you should be able to gain insights into your actions, intentions and expectations. Determine whether it’s time to move your existence out of the red.

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Learning to Decipher the Big Things from the Little Things (in life)

In the course of the day the average person is bombarded with several dilemmas big and small. The problem of stress is an ever present danger when we fail to properly separate the “Big vs. Small Things” in our lives.

For some, learning to decipher what is insignificant and what is really important requires real skill. The same goes for leading teams, organizations, families, and our personal responsibilities. If we have a frail sense of who we are it is often difficult to decide what we should keep, and what we should let go.

In the end, we have to learn to accept ourselves so that we can put in proper perspective what we should be concerned with, and what small annoyances in life we just need to let slide by.

Unhealthy stress (most stress is unhealthy!) is often a product of paying attention to things that are incongruent with who we are – almost to the point that effectiveness suffers so greatly.

Deciphering what the (important) things are in our lives, requires the following questions:
1. How much, and to what extent does it contribute to our lives, the common good, our families or our reputations?

2. Is IT something that belongs to someone else?

3. Did we create the issue, or are we just the person in the middle?

4. What purpose does the problem have?

Hopefully the answers you receive, provide the right guidance to your heart. Learning to separate the big things from the really insignificant can be a great skill, and one that will help you fulfill your tasks wisely. It is also a great way to inoculate yourself from the daily stressors that almost everyone faces on a daily basis.

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Perseverance Is Just A Step Away

In my counseling practice, a daily task is the process of change. Individuals seek out professional counseling and therapy because they perceive that the problems they face are insurmountable. Making change requires perseverance, and this is often difficult to see when change is so often difficult to see.

Another difficult barrier for many is understanding the change has to be made by them, and not someone doing something to them. It also requires a commitment to do something.

Perseverance requires one to look at the problem one step at a time. Change is not an instant process. It requires taking the first step, then another, and another. Just taking that step “ahead” is often enough to motivate and encourage further movement for change.

The concept is simple: We manage adversity by implementing small changes over time, on a consistent basis. There are no shortcuts.

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Problem Solving

Problems are a part of life. If we did not have some kind of barrier, human beings would not learn to innovate, grow, and persevere beyond them. It is when problems become overwhelming, complex, and misunderstood, that creates stress and personal difficulties. Frequently the major problems in life are perceived as issues beyond our control. The key word here is perceived.

More times than not, the way we look at problems is the crucial element as to whether we persevere and manage the problem, or fall further into a problem which is most complex. Obviously, this simplifies the matter, and problems often cannot be explained in simple terms. The purpose of this discussion is how to mobilize your energies to address, and hopefully eventually solve problems. Below is a set of criteria that describes different kinds of problems.

1. The problem involves interactions with others and expectations.
2. The problem is perceived to be a certain way.
3. The problem has been created by a violation of responsibility, trust, or unfaithful behavior.
4. The problem is a natural consequence to societal expectations and generally recognized responsibility.
5. The problem is the result of something or someone changing.

Generally financial, personal and social problems include these elements. How do we tackle the situation when it arises? Below is a list of important steps that can be applied:

>Examine the root causes of the problem. Using the assumption that everything is a natural system, there is usually cause and effect in action somewhere.

>Evaluate your assumptions (beliefs) about the situation. Remember, the way you may be looking at the problem may be incorrect at first. Be able to test your assumptions to either validate or discard them. Keep the ones that can be backed up. Now you have a baseline for approaching the problem in a targeted way.

>Don’t guilt trip yourself, but truly examine the problem using the five elements noted above. Some of it you may own, other parts may be totally outside of your control.

>Now determine action steps that you can take to begin to intervene and resolve the problem. The intervention may require additional assistance from others, or simply some tangible changes from you. Remember, problems happen usually as part of cause and effect. Find the sequences in the system that can be modified.

>Conscious effort is required. Determine if the action plan requires you to eliminate an undesirable behavior, change a habit, or let go of something that is holding you back. All change should be socially respectful, lawful, and moral.

Apply this methodology the next time you have a complex problem. Evaluate the results. The approach is helpful on both an individual and organizational level.

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The Importance of Limits

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In today’s fast paced society, there are daily examples of the extraordinary. Individuals are subtly becoming scripted and children imprinted with excess. Lately, Christmas actually arrives at Halloween, and Halloween arrives in early September. There is the month of Halloween and the month of Christmas. By the time January hits, marketing will be gearing up for Valentines Day, which will incidentally start after MLK day! It appears that our culture is thoroughly saturated with advertisements, high expectations, and a fast paced movement. The Web, Social Networking, and yes, even Blogs, have increased the tendency that more is better. More knowledge, more access, more notoriety, more superficiality etc, and less depth in our interactions.

Christmas this year at my home and my experiences in my clinical work brought it home this year. There is a quiet, and subversive tendency to “go all out.” Many of us, including the well intentioned do this. Actually, we all do it. If we don’t go to the excess, then we’re guilty.

This year, my wife put fruit in the stockings: Apples, oranges and the like. This was a nice touch and alternative, and balanced out the candy the children received. After we opened presents, my father shared a story of how my Paternal Grandfather used to tell him that if he received “one orange” this was considered a good Christmas. This was probably true for all my grandparents. As this was shared, I peered over the landscape of my living room. It was full of multiple gifts. Did my children really appreciate what and how much they got, or did the overload of “stuff” represent our own need to comply with the societal expectation of a room full of presents? Did they get lost in the message of giving, with the excess of getting? This was humbling for me, and I felt a bit embarrassed with myself. We worked really hard to meet the expectation with the society now has scripted us to meet. Our dependencies with excess are real and problematic in these times.

The problem naturally, is how that can be sustained, or whether that is really healthy for people in the long term. My view is that we all could stand a few limits in our lives, and slow down. Having everything or more of it, is not necessarily good. It causes us to miss the hidden and valuable non-material gifts of our lives. It also keeps us from further investigating or exploring our existing resources. The problem goes beyond people, and is painfully apparent in government and spending.

A principle that I have subscribed to with my work changing people and situations is that: Where people do not have to pay the price (initiative, financial, or emotional), they usually don’t value what they got, and thus, don’t make the changes they want. It makes me wonder, with all the unlimited opportunities out there, has it made us slightly, or even significantly more inclined to live without limits.

Limits help us appreciate more what we do have, but also help encourage us to “pay the price” to obtain that which we would like to have. The lack of limits is progressively eroding our sense (and sensibility) or appreciation for what we do have. During this year forward, perhaps we can take stock in what we have, and set realistic limits – and avoid the excess trap. Look for what you’re missing in your life, but focusing on being and giving responsibly, and discovering for the first time what you’re missing as you filter the excess out and set limits in your life.