Strength Benchmarking

We may get knocked down on the outside, but the key to living in victory is to learn how to get up on the inside.”
― Joel Osteen

I had a trainer who periodically decided that the best external indicator of the improvement in my strength was the one rep bench press. This measures the maximum amount of weight that I could lift at one time. For example, if in October I could lift 100 pounds, and in April I could lift 125 pounds, it was clear to him that I was getting stronger. He could take out his excel spreadsheet, look at these two measurements, do some statistical analysis and draw the conclusion that I was indeed stronger.

We use the same statistical measurement in many other areas of life. We can look at the performance of a stock or at the speed of a computer. We can make a determination that the gold standard or benchmark should be this rate of return (stock) or speed (computer). We can then measure other stocks or computers against this benchmark.

Emotions can also have their own benchmarks if we measure them correctly. Our lives are full of tough events that push us into making hard decisions. Our automatic thought is “I can’t handle this, there’s no way I’m going to be able to do this” Some people unfortunately stay in that place and avoid issues–relationship conflicts, financial issues, their own poor self-care etc. The avoidance of the issues only makes them worse and reinforces the “I can’t handle it” approach. This pattern can go on and on and on and on until some crisis occurs. This crisis may mobilize the person’s internal resources in order to deal with the issue. If the crisis is resolved, the person realizes that they can handle stress and crisis and pain. They have just created a benchmark that they can measure other painful events against.

Strength benchmarking can also be used as a challenge to those automatic thoughts. We can ask ourselves “What is the toughest thing that I’ve ever had to deal with?” We can then recollect that situation and the skills and tools that were used to tackle that situation. We then can measure the current situation against the strength benchmark and see how it measures up. Most times, the benchmark will be much greater, giving us confidence that we can handle the new situation. “If I handled losing my job, then paying this bill is much easier”.

Life, however doesn’t always work in positive statistical measures. We may get hit with harder things —a major illness, a significant loss, or infidelity. These issues can be monumental and overwhelming. Strength benchmarking can be helpful in giving us the confidence and tools to handle these difficult issues. “I handled my job loss through exercise, prayer, meditation, and good eating. If I approach this other loss the same way, I know I’ll be working in the right direction”. Positive self-talk, through examination of our past struggles, can give us the confidence that we need to overcome the tough things that life can throw at us.

I no longer have my one rep trainer. His training methods, although statistically significant, produced many trips to physical therapy. I learned in physical therapy about the need to have a balanced core in order to prevent injuries. A balanced core makes you stronger in physical and emotional ways. When you are stronger physically and emotionally, you can handle whatever issues life throws at you. When we are aware our own benchmarks for inner strength, we can handle the weightiest of issues.

Change is possible.

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The Storm and the Sun

The sky is clearing and the night has gone out.
The sun, he come, the world is all full of light.
Rejoice, rejoice, we have no choice but to carry on.

Stephen Stills

Recently, I was watching many weather forecasts for a celebratory event that I was attending. There were many conflicting reports, most involving rain. I heard the meteorologist on one channel say ” the nicer the day, the stronger the storms we will have.” I thought “wow that’s an interesting metaphor for life.” We want to have a life filled with beautiful blue skies, sunshine and a slight breeze. However, we will also have times with stormy skies, and days that are dark, rainy, cloudy and cold. It is how we “weather” the storms that lead to how much sunshine we will have.

Many people who come to see me are in the midst of their personal storms. They are unhappy in some way and using whatever coping strategies they possess. Not all of these are the healthiest. Some people may use some “quick fix band aids”– addictions of some kind to numb or escape. In an effort to stuff the pain, the person may become anxious or depressed. These predictably unpredictable storms are counterproductive but ironically get the person to make a therapy appointment. Unfortunately, the weather may get worse as we start to explore the issues and identify the mechanisms of how the storm got created. It’s always hard to know if the problems are recent or long standing. The more recent issues clear up sooner, but the older the issue, the harder it will be for blue skies to appear. (I have written about weather and therapy before. For a more dramatic description go to:http://jeffbrandler.psychcentral.net/2008/02/08/you-cannot-have-a-rainbow-without-a-storm/)

As a therapist who has a website change is possible, you would hope that I’m looking for sunny days. Seeing positive change, and quality of life improvements are the “spring” of my work. I am well aware that positive changes have set- backs. Relapses are often signs that more changes need to be made. When the negative behaviors occur, it is an opportunity for the person to examine their own willingness to change. Some people are done at the first raindrop. They enter the “therapeutic witness protection program” and are never seen or heard from again. Others are willing to examine every facet of their life and understand how and why the negative change occurred. The clients who handle the wind and darkness end up with the beautiful weather days that they want and need.

The event went off without a hitch. The weather forecast of the apocalypse did not occur. We were all grateful that our weather was cloudy with no precipitation. Late in the afternoon, the sun peaked through the clouds. It was an unexpected joy. On this day, like many days in my office, when the sun came out, a tear came to my eye.

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The Same Old Song

I write the same old song with a few new lines
And everybody wants to cheer it
Pete Townshend

Our scene is your local music club. The house band is the same week after week. They play covers of very popular songs. Their set is very singable. The audience knows the words, the riffs, the rhythms and beats. The band plays 10 songs for their set. They play it the same way each night. Not faster, not slower, not louder, not softer. The audiences loves the band. Their music is predictable, it is familiar, and it feels right.

One day the house band gets a new guitarist. He does not play the songs the same way as the old guitarist did. He takes some musical risks with the songs. He in fact plays the songs differently. He is much more unpredictable in his playing. You never know how the song will sound. In fact, in backstage meetings with the band, he wants to change the set list. He wants to play different songs. He challenges his band mates to play some different music. The band is afraid that the people won’t like their new style. They are afraid the people won’t sing along. Their worst fear is that people will stop coming to the show and they will lose their regular “gig”.

Change is possible is not just a marketing slogan, it’s a fact of life. Everything changes. The seasons change, the clocks change, technology changes, we change. We change for the better and at times we change for the worst. Paul Watzlawick in his landmark family therapy book entitled Change . says that “change is inevitable”. If it’s so inevitable, then why do we stand in our own way and prevent change from occurring? Why do we sing the “same old songs”

Most people who come to see me are your predictable house band. They do what they do. Not faster, not slower, not better, not worse. The same. Sure they have pain, but it’s predictable. Sure they feel crappy, but they know the crappiness. Sure the pain causes problems and consequences in their daily life, but to change is incredibly scary. When people have addictive behaviors you can set your watch by their schedule of self-destructiveness. It doesn’t matter if it’s a drink, a drug, a bet, a buy, or a relationship. Their weapons of self-destruction are masterfully predictable. Their song remains the same.

Other types of problems fit the same pattern. The solutions to anxiety and depression are fairly simple—do the opposite of what you usually do and feel better. To do these things however requires me to change the “set list”. I know these songs, I play them well. To change what’s known to the unknown is way too scary! What will happen if I give up my old ways? Will I know what to do? Will others like the changes? Will I like the changes? Can I conceive of new music that sounds radically different than the old set list? Is it ok to even have this thought?

In order to make change, I need to utilize a very powerful five letter word, trust. Trust is defined by Webster as “belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc” If I trust myself, I believe at my core, that I am a good person. This goodness can lead me to make change because I want to feel better. However, many people cannot see their own positives. They can only see their own negatives. They may need to supplement this trust in self by using positive affirmations. When people utilize this ongoing self-talk dialogue, they begin to change negatives to positives. (for specific directions on how to use affirmations go here) .

One other tool that many people use for change is to develop faith in a higher power. Higher power is defined as being a power greater than self. By believing in a higher power, people begin to give up control. They then can use this higher power to have trust and another great five letter word, faith. With faith and trust on board, change is possible and inevitable. The music can change. We can play different songs instead of the same old ones. We can challenge the fears of change and hear new music. We might even go to a different club and hear a different band. We can get away from the old destructive patterns and find new healthy ones. We can find new happiness and have a rewarding life. Let’s change the music.

Change is possible.

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Commitment to Excellence

Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.
Pat Riley

The NFL season is about to begin. The summer brings optimism for all 32 teams who believe that they can win the Super Bowl.
One of those teams, the Oakland Raiders, became a dominant franchise in the 1970’s and mid -1980’s. The team’s philosophy was preached by its president, Al Davis. Davis told his players “Just Win Baby”. This goal- directed, arrogant approach produced 3 Super Bowl winners. The Raiders franchise promoted one other useful and famous phrase. This phrase was on a banner which was located in their home stadium, the Oakland Coliseum. This sign speaks to the organization’s goal:

raidersWhen a person commits, according to Webster, they promise to do something. “Commitment to Excellence” is an overall philosophy of being the best and not settling for anything less.

In my office, many of my clients carry their own “signs” with them. Most of these are self-fulfilling prophecies that describe their current beliefs. They accept these signs as being the script that they must follow.

Here are some examples of their signs:

  • I’m stuck
  • I’m afraid
  • I’m comfortable
  • I’m willing to have less
  • This is the best I can do
  • I’ll never be happy
  • I can’t ask others for help
  • I can’t get sober
  • I’ll settle for any relationship
  • I can’t leave this relationship
  • I’ll stay in this relationship even though it’s bad for me
  • I want what I can’t have

With these beliefs, there is no commitment to excellence. If anything, there is a commitment to mediocrity. It appears that it’s not ok to strive for excellence. People act and think that “less is better,” so familiarity wins out. “Why bother to do that something extra? It might not work anyway”.

It’s imperative to challenge these old patterns in order to make change. This challenge would sound like this: “Why only strive to be average? Why not try to be excellent? If you strive for excellence, what’s the worst thing that could happen?”
The worst thing that could happen would be having feelings. A person might feel disappointed, or hurt. Feelings like these never feel good. Having feelings however, means that you have moved out of your comfort zone. You took a risk. That risk may or may not work the first time. Sports franchises do not win all of their games. Through risk, dedication, and commitment to excellence they learn how to win. If you want to win and put down those old habits, behaviors and patterns, you have to start the process of change by taking that first risk. You can incorporate the philosophy of “Commitment to Excellence” each and every day. No more settling for less, no more accepting someone else’s idea of what’s good for you. Total self-care, and a COMMITMENT to change.

Change is possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Nothing Else Matters

“Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it.” – Eckhart Tolle

On a recent trip to Italy, I set out to find a particular destination.  My map reading skills were failing me. Every turn was the wrong one.  Using Google maps kept me turning and turning but not getting me to my destination.   A stroke of luck(brought on my actually going in the opposite direction) took me to the Pantheon.  The Pantheon is the most intact artifact of the Roman empire. It is nearly 2000 years old.  As I was standing in the plaza(Piazza) of the Pantheon there was the sound of music.  In Rome, it is not unusual to have street musicians playing for money.  Most of the music is hardly noticeable and noteworthy. Today’s musician’s were different.   There was an excellent trumpet  player and an  amazing electric guitarist.  They were playing songs that were familiar to me, but didn’t shake me out of my frustration. I was highly preoccupied with our current location and how we were WAY off course. I was feeling hopeless, defeated, and frustrated.

The guitarist then starting playing this very familiar riff:

 

 

As I was hearing this amazing rendition of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” I stopped immediately took a deep breath and said to myself:

” Nothing else matters.  I am right here in Rome, Italy, enjoying a gorgeous day at one of the most historical sites in the world.  Who the f@ck cares that I am not where I am supposed to be.”

At that moment every thing slowed down.  I kept repeating the phrase “nothing else matters”.

Being in the moment is the hardest thing to do.  We are usually projecting all our “what if” anxieties into the future, or ruminating about our past failures.  Eckhart Tolle  in 2004, wrote the book The Power of Now.  The book gives us good meditative ideas about how to be “right here, right now”. To learn how to be in the now will require us to have patience with ourselves and to practice this art regularly.

One of the best tools that can be part of this practice is that of mindfulness.  Mindfulness is the way of experiencing thoughts, feelings, and sensations that occur right now.  A recent article about mindfulness describes how to use this tool for difficult feelings.  If we can practice mindfulness and the Power of Now, we can learn to be in the moment better.  As we learn mindfulness skills, we can be calmer, more productive, and less stressed.

On that fateful day in Rome, armed with my new self talk phrase “nothing else matters” I found my destination and had an amazing day.  The frustration of not being where I wanted to be left.  It was replaced by the melodic sounds of peace, calm, and letting go.  In order to practice living in the moment, it would be better to start changing how you live now. Musical “coincidences” don’t happen everyday.

Change is possible.

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Darkness into Light

Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself.

Imagine that you walk into a room.  It is dark.  The shades are pulled down.  The curtains are pulled down.  There is no light.  All you see is the darkness.  While in this dark room with out lights, you become aware that you are wearing dark sunglasses to keep out any light that might even creep into the room.   You live in this darkness for days/weeks/months, even years. Why would a person want to stay in this dark room?  It’s safe.  It’s familiar.  You can’t see anything that you don’t want to see.
I’ve worked with people who live in the dark.  They’re very good at it. They miss out on seeing :
  • alcoholism
  • drug addiction
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • sex addiction
  • domestic violence
  • physical or verbal abuse
  • dysfunctional family patterns
  • infidelity
  • things that everyone else sees

With that list of issues, we’d all choose to stay in the dark room of denial, avoidance, lack of awareness, and cluelessness.

Many years ago I worked with a woman whose boyfriend was an intravenous heroin addict.  She said ” I had no idea he used heroin.. He wore long sleeves a lot but I didn’t think much of it..Come to think of it, whenever he was around, I was always short on money… I just thought I’d spent it on something…Now that I’m talking about it, there’s a pair of earrings, I’ve never found.  You don’t think he took them do you? ”    DARKNESS

How about this one.  “I love my wife with all my heart, but she’s been acting strange lately.  She’s always on the phone.  When I ask who she is talking to, she says a friend.  If I walk into the  office and see her writing an email, she’s quick to close the computer down.  Again when I ask her, she says it’s just work.  The other day, she didn’t come home until real late like 2 or 3 in the morning.  When I asked her where she was she hesitated an said she was with her friend Dawn and must have fallen asleep.  She looked awfully dressed up to go out with Dawn by the way.  You don’t think she’s cheating on me do you?  She wouldn’t do that, would she?      DARKNESS

Darkness is pervasive.  We don’t want to know what we do not want to know.  If I don’t look, I don’t see.  If I don’t see, I won’t be upset, or scared, or hurt, or angry.  If I’m this in the dark, I don’t have to do anything to change.  I can live my dark bliss forever.

Is there a cost to living in the dark?  Yes, but if you are in the dark, you don’t recognize the cost.  Ironically you only see the cost, when you find the courage to:

take off the dark glasses

open the blinds

open the curtains

open the shades

When the light comes into your dark room, you begin to see what you don’t want to see and begin to ask the questions that you don’t want to ask.  At that point, the feelings come in and now it’s time to recognize what you didn’t want to see.  The more that you allow the light to come in the more that you can answer the hard questions:

Why did I not see this?

Why did I put myself in this place?

What am I going to do?

Can this situation be changed?

Will I be OK?

Will I ever be the same?

 Asking the questions turns on the lights, and begins your healing,  and your changing.  The more you ask, the more you see, the more you heal.  This process will take time and patience.  You don’t have to do it in one hour, or one day, or one week, or one month, or even in one year.  You owe it to yourself to find the courage to turn on the lights.

Change is possible.

 

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Digging in the dirt

I’m digging in the dirt
To find the places I got hurt
Open up the places I got hurt

Peter Gabriel

 

 

Recently,  the Rock and Roll Hall of  Fame inducted Peter Gabriel.  As the front man for the band Genesis, Gabriel’s elaborate costumes got the band noticed.  His unique singing and writing led to the band’s success. In 1986, Gabriel left Genesis and released the album So which sold five million copies. His next album Us was released six years later.  On that album you will  find the  song Digging in the Dirt.

According to Gabriel,Digging in the Dirt  is a song about his therapy.  There are many interpretations about the song.  These include domestic violence, murder and many others.(you can find more of those here.)  Since there are no factual interpretations, please indulge my therapeutic perception .

This is the chorus of the song :

This time you’ve gone too far [x3]
I told you [x4]
This time you’ve gone too far [x3]
I told you [x4]

Don’t talk back
Just drive the car
Shut your mouth
I know what you are
Don’t say nothing
Keep your hands on the wheel
Don’t turn around
This is for real
Digging in the dirt
Stay with me, I need support
I’m digging in the dirt
To find the places I got hurt
Open up the places I got hurt

The beginning part,

This time you’ve gone too far [x3]
I told you [x4]
This time you’ve gone too far [x3]
I told you [x4]

Don’t talk back
Just drive the car
Shut your mouth
I know what you are
Don’t say nothing
Keep your hands on the wheel
Don’t turn around
This is for real

 

I believe  this is Gabriel’s fear and  shame  speaking.  He wants to run, avoid, and not deal with the places he got hurt.  Gabriel is shaming himself with the repeated yelling “this time you’ve gone too far/ I told you”.  He knows that he should not be sharing his innermost thoughts with anyone( a message perhaps that he received in childhood).  In the next part of the song, Gabriel sounds like a small boy who is hearing what he needs to do :

Don’t talk back
Just drive the car
Shut your mouth
I know what you are
Don’t say nothing
Keep your hands on the wheel
Don’t turn around
This is for real

Gabriel’s inner shame and self loathing have taken over.  He is worthless, afraid, and ashamed.

Although afraid and ashamed, Gabriel is aware that he is in need of the therapist’s help. Later in the chorus he finds his healthy voice:

Digging in the dirt
Stay with me, I need support
I’m digging in the dirt
To find the places I got hurt
Open up the places I got hurt

The phrase “stay with me I need support” is a request to  the therapist to be with him on this journey of “finding the places I got hurt”.  He knows that he is in a trusting therapeutic relationship because he not only wants to find those places, he wants to “open up the places I got hurt”.

Gabriel sounds calmer, less shamed, and very aware in the next verse:

The more I look, the more I find
As I close on in, I get so blind

He knows there’s a bunch of issues that he has to find.  He gets overwhelmed as he starts to uncover the pain.

This song is a great example of the therapeutic process.  The chorus is so appropriate for many people that I have seen over the years.

I  have seen  clients having a  “this time you’ve gone too far” reaction  many times by doing the following:

  •  having “hot flashes” (men too)
  • getting uncomfortable physically–fidgeting, playing with pens, keys, pillows, etc
  • needing an immediate bathroom break
  • standing up
  • abruptly changing the subject
  • leaving the session

Like Gabriel’s experience, therapy is scary.  It’s full of fear, pain, shame and guilt.  People keep looking and finding.  They keep asking “why” sometimes without answers.  Sometimes they find answers that they don’t like. Sometimes people become aware that they need to take action and those actions are overwhelming and scary.   Sometimes there are no answers, only questions.  Sometimes, my best and only contribution, is my understanding of the pain, sadness, and loss that my client is feeling.

I’ve seen many clients over the years go through storms in order to find their rainbow (If you’d like to read more on this topic,  go to one of my old blogs “You can’t have a rainbow without a storm”).   I enjoy the experience of seeing people make changes in their lives.  As we “dig in the dirt”,  we get to plant seeds and crops that grow year after year.  They are fruitful, they are plentiful, and they are healthy.  Don’t be afraid to dig–Change is Possible!

 

 

 

 

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Thank you

You didn’t have to love me like you did
But you did, but you did.
And I thank you.
Issac Hayes

When I say “thank you” I mean it as it is intended. Thank you for helping me. We probably don’t say it enough. We don’t acknowledge those people who do the simple mundane tasks or even those who go out of their way to do more. For whatever reason, we have decided that thanking people isn’t all that important. We move on to the next thing that we are doing. For those who still have these words in their vocabulary, thank you for using them!

It’s good that we take the time to thank people. However, there are some people that we would never thank. These are people that we feel hurt, resentment and pain towards. These feelings are the venom that pervades our souls with blackness. We are much more likely to use some other two word greeting than the kind and gentle “thank you”. But what if I said “thank you” to this resented person? What if the “thank you” could actually help ME?

If we have venom towards an ex-partner, family member, boss etc, these feelings follow us everywhere. They invade our day, our night, and our sleep. We constantly bombard ourselves with these intense feelings. We can’t stop thinking about the damage that has been caused. In the worst of circumstances, we are engulfed when thinking about the upcoming family gathering, work meeting, sporting event. There is no way that we could possibly be in the same room as that person, let alone in close proximity. By constantly obsessing about this person, we are giving him/her tons of power. This person is “taking up rent free space in our heads”. We can do something different to make it better for us.

Doing something different implies taking a risk. The risk involves thanking the person for their help. For example, I have to ask my ex-partner to pick up the kids from swimming class. My automatic thoughts might be “I have to ask this person to do this; s/he should know the schedule and should be volunteering to help. I mean after all s/he did to me…..etc”. My healing and empowering new thoughts can be “I’ll ask him/her to pick up the kids”. When the ex-partner fulfills the request, all I have to do is say “thank you”. I don’t have to rant, rave, harangue, tell everybody about what a jerk -off my person is. All that is necessary is a thank you.

When we use our own power instead of a reaction to the past, or obsess in the voluminous rent free space zone, we get to have a new version of ourselves. The partner may or may not see the difference but we end up of free of agita, anxiety, rage, hurt and resentment. This healing “thank you” gives us the freedom to change, the freedom to be better, and most importantly, the freedom to be myself. Sly Stone of Sly and the Family Stone said it best “thank you for letting me be myself again”

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Don’t You Want Me

In the fall of 1982, I was a graduate student in Baltimore, Maryland.  Every morning, I got up early to go to my job that started at 7AM.  From work it was onto class at 4PM .  This was what I did every day for 6 months straight.  Part of my morning ritual was listening  to the radio en route to work.  It seems that I heard this song every morning:

Over 30 years later, this song is still playing on the radio. I hear this song today  differently than I did then.  This song has a therapeutic theme which I have heard many times.  For example-

How many of my clients :

  • have told me this story?
  • got involved with a controlling possessive person only to have to extricate themselves from that relationship?
  •   did not or could not get out of that relationship?
  •   have been with that “love of my life” only for their partner to drop them and move on?

It’s always interesting how people choose their partner.  In previous blogs, we focused in on the communication patterns that stirred up “old stuff”.  I  often wonder what each person looks for in a relationship and what “old stuff” is contributing to that decision.    I’ve worked with countless number of women who grew up in addicted families and married another addicted person.  It was a familiar match made in hell.  I’ve worked with men who had a cold, rejecting, hurtful, mother who married a woman who was cold, rejecting, and hurtful.  Some of these decisions were consciously made.  The person thought that their partner needed fixing or that they would get better.  Other times these discoveries were made in my office after the fact.  Regardless of the motive, the question that I hear is “why did I do this”?  “Why did I marry him/her?”.

Michelle Weiner-Davis is a therapist, and author of the book Divorce Busting.  Her approach is to save marriages  because of the costs, both financial and emotional, of divorce.  However, when people are married to the wrong person, or have a dysfunctional, magnetic connection to a partner, those marriages can not work.  The cost of staying is far greater than the cost of leaving.  Staying in bad marriages, strips self-esteem, self- worth and self- love.  People tend to deal with these partnerships through “quick fix band aids”–addictive behavior, infidelity,  or by developing physical illnesses or mental illness such as anxiety or depression . These costs are chronic, painful, and some times leads to worse problems.

The “Should I Stay or Should I Go” decision  is difficult and scary.  It requires weighing out the  advantages and disadvantages of staying or going.  If you follow the Divorce Busting     approach,  you stay and you work it out.  If you are in a dysfunctional, painful, empty relationship, you have a lot of thinking to do.  Don’t You Want Me Baby is a painful refrain full of rejection; it’s also a song of getting away and getting healthy.

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