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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How to pick your next partner

Originally published by Expert Beacon:
https://expertbeacon.com/dating-after-divorce-how-pick-your-next-partner/#.VPb6mC7KMW7

 

 

You found the courage to end your last relationship. Maybe the relationship ended amicably. Maybe it had a dramatic and painful ending, perhaps in divorce. Either way you are finished with the relationship and are looking to begin to date. You may have some fear and apprehension about getting back in the dating game. To find the right person you need a plan. Here are some dos and don’ts for your plan to finding your next partner.

Do

allow time for healing

Ending relationships are hard. It is normal to have feelings of grief and sadness as well as anger and fear. Give yourself the time to heal and process these feelings. If you need additional support, find a good therapist who can help you with loss as well as to look for possible patterns in your relationships.

make the right choice

Most of us don’t make a major purchase impulsively. We research, talk to others, and identify what our needs are. Why wouldn’t you do that for your next partner? Identify what you want in a relationship and don’t settle for someone who doesn’t meet your needs.

pay attention

You started dating again but there is something about this person that bothers you. Pay attention to it. The old adage, “If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right,” is true with people as well.

talk to others

There is no reason to keep your date a secret from family and friends. Let everyone meet him/her. They will have opinions and insights to share. It’s more data to work with in order to make your decision.

feel the chemistry

There is no reason to keep your date a secret from family and friends. Let everyone meet him/her. They will have opinions and insights to share. It’s more data to work with in order to make your decision.

 

 

Don’t

repeat the past

If you are paying attention to your relationship history, you know what types of people you are attracted to. You also know which people didn’t work out the first time. It probably won’t work the second, third or fourth time either!

date everyone

Just because Mary from bookkeeping is single or Bob from shipping is available doesn’t mean that you should date them. Be clear about who you want to be with and stay with that plan. No one has ever died from being lonely. It feels crappy but probably won’t cause death.

ignore the “flags”

You know what flags are: they are the comments that are made, the illogical behaviors that occur, the stories that you question. Communicate about them. Pay attention to them. Don’t excuse them because you really like the person.

listen to everyone

Everyone thinks they know everything about relationships. They are more than happy to share their beliefs, opinions, feelings about who would be best for you. You have an idea about who your ideal partner is — listen to yourself.

think that the relationship will get better
If you are dating someone and there is regular conflict, major areas of disagreement, or addiction/mental health issues, these will not improve by themselves. The relationship will continue to be affected by these issues — they won’t go away. Love will not make them better; only the other person can make them better.

 

Summary

In order to pick your next partner, you need to look inward. You need to pick “the best athlete available” — the one that fits your needs! It’s ok to be afraid and apprehensive. Collect data from both your heart and your head. Don’t be afraid to eliminate people from your search. Pay attention to the “flags”, listen to yourself. You will know when you have found the right person.

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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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Love songs of the season

Only love, only love can leave such a mark
But only love, only love can heal such a scar

Bono

As the fall is now upon us, we can all use some inspirational love songs.  Here are 3 that I’ve picked that capture the mood of the season

If you celebrate the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, have a happy, healthy, sweet new year!

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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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This Train

“There are many ways of getting strong, sometimes talking is the best way.”
Andre Agassi, Open

We all want to be stronger. In order to do that  psychologically, many people go to therapy.  However, according to recent studies less than 4% of the American public utilizes psycho-therapeutic services.  This  shockingly low number speaks to the ignorance of many people, and the apparent stigma of therapy.

In my 30 years of being a therapist, I have my own observations. Starting therapy is one of the hardest things to do. When people find the courage to pick up the 10,000 pound telephone to make an  initial appointment, they don’t leave messages.  Other people call, leave messages, and never return a follow up call.  If people return the call and make a first appointment, 15% of them  cancel late or do not show up at all.  Anxiety and fear of change  is running wild!

For years, therapists have made many statements about when people will attend therapy.    We have said things  like “when the person is ready to change, they will attend”, “when the pain is great enough..”  “when they hit  bottom…”  These well intentioned bumper sticker statements don’t help a scared and running like hell population. They only rationalize the person’s behavior and put little band-aids on our inabilities for more people to get better.

The question about how to get more of the population to attend therapy is a huge issue.  Psychological groups have started awareness days for disorders(alcohol, depression, anxiety, etc.) in an effort to give people access for help.  There is  “National Psychotherapy Day“(this year on 9-25-14)in which supporters of therapy are requested to wear turquoise to show support.  We’ve given people more opportunities to have health insurance and created parity laws to “level the playing field”. It is unknown if any of these macro movements produce change.   My pitch for more people to attend therapy comes via Bruce Springsteen.  Springsteen recently recorded a song entitled “Land of hope and dreams”  I think the refrain serves as a great invitation to come to therapy. Watch the video and see if you agree.

This train
carries saints and sinners
This train
carries losers and winners
This train
carries whores and gamblers
This train
carries lost souls

This train
carries broken hearted
this train
thieves and sweet souls departed
this train
carries fools and carries kings
this train
all aboard
I said this train
dreams will not be thwarted
This train
faith will be rewarded

this train
hear the steel wheels singing
this train
bells of freedom ring

 

The train will soon be boarding…

Change is possible

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