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Searching for fact from the top down

In my consulting and coaching practice the truth of what is troubling someone is often not the first response they give.  So, I use the “top down” inquiry method.

It goes something like this:

Nell (N) asks, “What seems to be troubling you”?

The patient/client (p/c) states:  “I know I will never be married.”

N:  “Well, if  you didn‘t marry, what would that mean?  Why would that be bad?”

P/C:  “I would be alone”  “No one wants to be alone.”

N:  “And if you were alone – what would that mean?  Why would that be bad?”

P/C: “I would be lonely and sad”  “I would probably get depressed.”

N:  “And if you did become sad and lonely – even depressed – what would that mean?”

P/C:  “Well, I would get old and die – alone.”

We had reached the end of the top down and discovered the real problem – the fear of death and dying alone.

The session could have taken off with each of the p/c’s answers, helping her find rational solutions to each.  But the top down approach provided a complete picture of what was troubling this lady.  Try this with yourself.  When you run out of responses to “What would that mean?”  and “Why would that be bad?”, you will uncover your sincere thoughts.


Thoughts In Disguise

I talk a lot about thoughts.  The fact that thoughts cause our feelings and behaviors.  Where thoughts come from.  Our belief that our thoughts must be correct because we’ve had them so long, how to recognize if thoughts are rational and  much, much more.

When we become aware, or conscious, of our thoughts they are usually of the “in the moment” variety.  That is – “what sweater to wear .. the yellow or the black”? – or “turn right at light, then left at 1st intersection” or thinking through a plan or project.  These are not the thoughts that cause the greatest problems.

The troublesome thoughts are most often not conscious, but automatic – imbedded in our implicit memory bank from past experiences beginning at birth.  All well-learned, rehearsed, they spring forth when triggered – affecting our deepest feelings and behaviors.  These thoughts are often negative – without words, symbols or form, so well disguised that we don’t recognize them as thoughts at all. What we do know is that we’re feeling uneasy (angry, sad, rejected, hurt).  We say “that’s just the way I am.”

Truth is – that’s just the way you Think, it is not who you Are.  Retraining the brain takes desire and practice.  If you don’t like the way you feel it’s time to start replacing old, disguised and unhealthy thoughts.


No Phone Zone

I have just joined (and am encouraging others to join) the No Phone Zone. You can guess what it is. Over 60,000 have signed up so far – pledging to make their car a No Phone Zone by not texting or talking on cell phone while driving. Great idea right? Who could argue with it? A rational decision! So how hard can it be????

That’s the challenge. Depending upon how long the behavior/habit has existed. It can be very hard. My work consists of conducting seminars, workshops, speaking publicly and teaching the principles and skills for changing behaviors. I know change begins in the brain and I know it takes practice.

Consistent practice.

To cease talking/texting while driving I will have to”talk back“ to myself. My irrational left-brain thoughts & right-brain imagery will tell me “I will make this call short”, or “the traffic is calm” or “I’ll save time by getting this call out of the way”, etc., etc. I will refuse to respond to those irrational notions. But just refusing is not enough. The persistent thoughts must be replaced…..they won’t go away just because I will them to (that’s suppression). Instead I will replace those thoughts with rational ones like, “I am alert to everything around me”, “I am safe knowing I am fully conscious of my driving and the conditions ”, “I am in control of myself and my car because I am in control of my thoughts“.

Those who accept the challenge may save the life of someone you or I love.

To join go to www.oprah.com/nophonezone



Three kinds of problems

The Practical Problem:  Construction ahead has you stalled on the interstate.  You have the most important presentation of your career scheduled at 10 am.

The Emotional Problem:  Your thoughts begin a spiral.  “I should have left earlier”, “Come on, come on” (pounding the steering wheel), “Stupid government/contractors/cars”,  “I’ll never make it”.

The Imagined Problem:  Spinning out of control now – “I’ll probably lose my job”,  “There won‘t ever be another opportunity like this“, How will I pay the bills”, “What will my family do”?

What to do?  Focus only on the practical problem.  Refuse to allow the other two.  The emotional problem begins the negative cycle.  The imagined problem is projecting events that haven’t happened – yet, thinking them, your emotions and body react as though they are actually occurring.

Stay with the practical problem!  Logic, rational thinking and calm focus will help you avoid the other two.


Reacting to trauma

In the past weeks I have been called upon to provide critical incident stress debriefing (CISD) to Haitian staff members at a local hospital.  Trained and experienced in crisis intervention for over 10 years I’ve encountered all types of critical incidents.  So, aware of the most current developments a week after the earthquake in Port Au Prince, I was prepared to engage fully with the employees in addressing their shock, fear and grief about their country and their loved ones.

Many of the attendees had been successful in communicating with their closest relatives, some were still awaiting news, and others had received confirmation that family members and friends were dead.  No matter their personal circumstances, all responded as would be expected under such circumstances (reduced sleep, invasive thoughts, inability to concentrate, spontaneous crying, etc).

As they became more comfortable with my presence in the 2nd week they opened up to different areas surrounding their crisis.  All agreed that they were watching way too much tv.  Seeing, hearing, reliving the experience was paralyzing them.  They talked of their feelings of guilt because they were safe, their inability to eat because their families/countrymen had little or no food,  the heat, the exposure, what if it rains? Would that be good? bad?  How will the children go to school?  Some blamed God.  Some wanted to know if I thought Haiti was cursed and was not meant to survive.

Shared humanity…….an experience without definition.


Write – Rewrite

Most folks have heard me say “there’s no such thing as a history eraser.”  Conceptually, we get it…we know we can’t rewrite the past.  So why do we get stuck in it, keep thinking about it, saying such things as “I shouldn’t have”, “You shouldn’t have”, and “if only?”  Intellectually we know we can’t change “it” , and emotionally we blame “it”, or we long for “it.”

Here’s a thought.  What if we all decided to begin our past Today?   That’s right..this very day (and every day hereafter), write your own script for the next 24 hours.  What you will think, what you will do, how you will treat yourself and others, etc.  Externals and your environment will still exist around you, but you will decide how and what your perception of that environment will be.  What power this exercise yields.

The necessary requirement (if you choose to do this) will be to stay wholly in the present.  Mindful of each moment and all thoughts.  By writing your past today, you’re making tomorrow’s memories.  You can stop wishing for a history eraser.


I’ve changed my mind

Consider “changing your mind” to mean a different way of thinking.  Learning a new pattern of thinking that will change your “automatic” thoughts in any situation you find yourself.  Automatic thoughts are the ones that appear without our even “thinking” about them  They’re just there, and they “tell” us what another person means by a gesture, a behavior or a statement – even what they’re thinking.    We just “know” that’s all.  All untrue!

We learned how to think just as we learned to tie a shoe or button a shirt.  Only the teaching was more subtle (and usually unintentional). We learn how and what to think by our parents, caregivers, teachers, peers….. by the experiences we have encountered in life from birth.  Many of us learned to think about ourselves (and others) in unhealthy, negative ways.  And, we practiced and practiced…got pretty good at it…and now find ourselves wondering why we feel so badly – why do so many things go wrong?  Biggest problem is we learned to believe all those thoughts/beliefs, and ended up making judgments based on those perceptions and underlying assumptions.   Mostly untrue!

Relearning how to think takes some work and training, but (in this case, at least) changing your mind is the beginning of joy and peace.


When commitment isn’t enough

Keeping the romantic, idealized images of falling in love alive while undergoing the realities that have been brought about by time, is a sobering task for even the most committed couples.  Time, children, losses (interest, vitality, excitement) and sameness.  Good people in good relationships find themselves experiencing similar symptoms.  Symptoms that send nagging questions to each spouse – “What happened”?  “Is this all there is”?

Growing together is not as important as making the decision to evolve. Growth has been described as a developmental (think maturation) process.  You’ve done that.  To evolve is a powerful relational paradigm shift. This shift happens when the old model works no longer, and the evolution of a whole new relationship comes alive. Not attempting to “be like we used to be” but going forward in a new way.  Think of evolution in nature  —  constant testing to see what has the greatest ability to survive and thrive in a given environment.

The new relationship may look nothing like the old one.  A whole new emerging life of different qualities, roles and structure.  Evolution is different, exciting and thriving.

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The importance of Rational Thinking

Staying rational in an irrational environment challenges our cognitive resources regularly.  But it is only by thinking rationally that we make decisions that don’t persist in haunting us.  Haunting us with unintentional thoughts…the ones that annoyingly keep hanging around up there.

A friend of mine relayed the following:  She saw an email sent from one colleague in her firm to another.  The contents would appear insignificant to an uninterested reader, but this friend saw her name in the email, read it, and interpreted what she read as disloyal at best.- unnecessary at least.  Dismissing all rational thought, she created a downward spiral with (heretofore) two good relationships by filtering her thoughts through some common mental mistakes:

1.  Assuming
2.  Jumping to Conclusions
3.  Emotional Reasoning.

The outcome (for her) was a long period of feeling badly, being less joyful with her family,  and being aloof in the presence of the “offending” parties.

She had failed to apply the first important rule of rational thinking…..asking herself if her thinking was based on fact.


…changing lives one thought at a time…

Knowing why change occurs in people is important, but learning how to create change can have profound and long-lasting effects.  Every person has the ability to change the patterns that persist.  Patterns that hold them back from being their personal and professional best… and feeling the way they want to feel.   My purpose is to teach these principles and skills to others.