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That Unexpected Visitor – Your Internal Critic

Love is a gift – a gift God gives to us – a gift we give to ourselves –

a gift we give to others. If we have no love for ourselves,

we will find it very difficult to love another.

We will go through the motion of duty-bound traditions,

but duty is not love.

Life is going great when bam! The earth quakes and a landslide comes tumbling down, burying everything you had worked so hard on.

And without warning, as if on some internal cue, you are assaulted with doubts and misgivings. Buried under an avalanche, hidden from view, out of sight are all the things you have accomplished. You no longer consider and appreciate all the things you have done and are capable of doing. The rubble is not just life happening, it is a reminder of the bad choices you made and how inadequate you are.

In the blink of an eye, an old and unwanted visitor has just returned.

The voice is loud and clear. “You just won’t learn – you will never amount to anything, no matter how hard you try.”

On and on it goes, regurgitating messages from your past. You’ve heard it all before. Your unwanted internal critic has just showed up at your doorstep once again.

Each time you listen, however, this internal critic’s voice gets louder and more persistent. Over the years your critic has collected all the dismissive and disparaging messages and strung them together into an internal audio tape. When things start going wrong, the play button is automatically pushed.

But, if difficulties can push the play button, we can push the stop button.

Who is this internal critic and where did it come from?

We liken this internal demeaning dialogue to that of an internal critic because the messages are always negative. They are pessimistic, belittling and discouraging.

This internal critic has been around a long time and it has nothing of value to tell you. Unless challenged, it will be relentless. Here are some things you might hear your critic say:

  • Why do you always do such stupid things?
  • Won’t you ever learn?
  • What’s wrong with you?
  • If others knew how incompetent you are, they would have nothing to do with you
  • Why can’t you be like your sister or brother?
  • You’ll never amount to anything.

The job of our critic is to remind us of all the reasons why we fail or can’t succeed so don’t even bother trying. It has recorded all the times you failed in the past or were told by someone in authority that you were a failure.

It combines labels and judgmental words spoken over the years, playing them repeatedly in your head until it becomes a self-proclaimed truth. If I am continually reminded, then it must be true – right? Wrong!

If you are being bombarded with useless diatribe, it might be time to do something about it. We know it is important to pay attention to our emotional responses. But stop and listen to what you are hearing.

How does what your critic keeps repeating over and over help you rise above or solve your problems?

Do you want to keep listening to this soliloquy or are you ready to put a new recording on?

Stop – Consider – Start a New Soundtrack

That Unexpected Visitor – Your Internal Critic | FocusWithMarlene.com

If you have had enough, then let’s push the STOP button and start a new recording of affirmations. Affirmations are encouraging and motivating statements that direct us toward a positive outcome. They can be as simple as, “Yes I can, I have confidence in myself, I refuse to get discouraged, or “I will consider what isn’t working and replace it or I will get better information to help me find answers.”

Repeating them throughout the day can reverse the seeds of doubts, misgivings and fears. They rely on the possible instead of the impossible. They balance our need to critically think with words that help us do that.

We are not perfect. We will make mistakes. But that does not mean we can’t learn valuable lessons from them. Life can be a great and important teacher.

Doubts and fears are normal and natural. Like all emotions, they tell us something – they have a purpose. We need to pay attention. They warn us to stop and investigate before moving forward. They keep us from making knee-jerk reactions. But when doubts and fears continue to overshadow our attempts to find appropriate solutions, it is time to identify and challenge their origins and authenticity.

Because this internal critic has been around for such a long time, it will take some forceful measures to silence it.

Here are five steps to make that happen.

Step 1:  Give your critic a name. Call it whatever you want. It is much easier to communicate or speak with an entity than something subjective.

Step 2:  Address your critic by name. Tell it in no uncertain terms that you are tired of all the negative and destructive messages. They are not helping you solve your problems or life challenges. You will no longer listen to toxic and harmful messages.

Step 3:  When you become aware of your critic sabotaging your efforts by using criticism of any kind, tell it to STOP and BE QUIET in a firm and forceful voice. You are through listening to unhealthy, degrading and demeaning comments.

Step 4:  The messages from your past are a memory tape – the critic is the voice. Visualize yourself holding a remote control with a huge STOP and PLAY button on it. Whenever the PLAY button has been activated, visually see yourself pushing the STOP button.

Step 5:  The taped messages along with your internal critic have been around a long time. You will have to be very compelling and insistent. If you are alone, say out loud, “STOP! I do not intend to listen to this negative stuff.” Or say “STOP” forcefully in your mind.

It’s not enough to simply stop a reaction that has become habitual. We need to replace it with something else. Replace the critical words you hear with words of affirmation.

Here are some important ones to repeat throughout the day as often as possible:

  • I am capable, competent and discerning
  • I accept myself unconditionally – both my strengths and weaknesses
  • I am not my past
  • I am able to think, evaluate and find appropriate solutions to all my problems

These are just a sample of positive affirmations. Affirmations affirm your worth, abilities, beliefs and values. They draw you towards a self-fulfilling prophecy of possibility and choice. Repeat them every day to establish a new dialogue and confidence.

Marlene Anderson


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What Do the Words You Use Say About You?

 

“Love is like a mirror. When you love another,

You become his mirror and he becomes yours.”

– Leo Buscaglia, Love

What words do you use every day that tell another who you are, what you believe and what is dear to you?

What Do the Words You Use Say About You? | FocusWithMarlene.com

What words do you use that lift another up or tear them down?

Words! They become the paint and paintbrushes to open the windows of our soul. They are the toolboxes of our brain used to convey our thoughts and innermost feelings.

We construct and sculpt conversations with creativity and imagination in order to share with another how we feel – to tell our stories. We want others to understand the difficulties we are going through and emphasize with our losses. We want them to be happy for us and rejoice with us our successes.

Words become the connecting tissue, linking old experiences with the new, melding together the past with what we are experiencing today. Words enable us to “see” what we don’t see, “feel” what we don’t feel, and truly share in the common human experience.

As a writer I am both intrigued and challenged with the selection, juggling and putting together of words that form the creation of my stories.

An author uses words to paint scenarios that you can easily “step” into. A novelist’s descriptive expressions of action can have you literally ducking from flying rocks or an assailant’s punches; while yet another writer writes with such heartbreaking intensity that we cry as though we ourselves had been emotionally wounded.

As a writer, the words and phrases I use can turn on “ah-ha” moments for a reader or highlight our shared commonality. They allow us to search our memory banks to more accurately reconstruct the past. Every day, I become more aware of the creative use of words people use to bring to life otherwise mundane events.

What words do you use?

As a counselor, I see the darker side of words – words that become weapons in the mouths of everyday people who have no clue that what they are saying are ripping apart another’s worth and esteem. We are witnesses to such brutal attacks in our malls and on our streets when we hear children verbally attacked in the guise of parenting or when we hear spiteful, degrading and subtle demeaning exchanges between couples.

We tear our neighbor’s reputation apart by our gossip, tarnishing their image to others. It isn’t behaviors we talk about, but how bad a person they are. We do not see the shattered remains of a self-worth in tatters when we talk behind their backs, or whisper how they do not fit in. How do I know? Because the bruised, scarred and sometimes still internally hemorrhaging victims darken the doorways of most therapists’ offices.

But perhaps even more tragic are the words we use on ourselves. Growing up we often heard how bad “we” were when it was our actions and thoughtless behaviors that were in question. We were no good. Would we never learn?

When things go wrong as adults, those words come back to remind us of just how incompetent we are. Sometimes, it is just an ongoing dialogue in the background of our mind as we go about our lives. As adults, they too come to therapists wondering what’s wrong with them.

As authors, we are commissioned to write about what we see and witness. How do we report on what we observe without doing more harm? How do we choose words that will encourage in the face of overwhelming challenges while looking truthfully at what we are facing?

Whether fiction or non-fiction, the words we use will strip away facades, challenge our vulnerabilities and insecurities. But they can also inspire hope and courage and faith.

Author, speaker, Christian, plumber, president, engineer, teacher – the words we use can become weapons of destruction or a vehicle of rescue, motivation and hope in whatever role we have in life.

They can attack or bind up wounds.

They can support another as he gets back on his feet or they can take away his dignity and integrity.

The words we use have incredible power. It’s up to each of us how we use them – in articles, in our books and our daily conversations.

Marlene Anderson


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Become Proactive Instead of Reactive

Become Proactive Instead of Reactive | FocusWithMarlene.comThe key to making good choices is the ability to accurately assess what is happening in the moment.

If our responses to people and events are based on old, outdated and inappropriate past reactions, it will be more difficult to become proactive.

Identify, Challenge and Replace

My last three posts have dealt with emotions and how patterns of thinking and feeling are established. Understanding how and why we feel the way we do can help us take advantage of opportunities. When anxiety, fear, or anger constantly overwhelm us, we will have difficulty finding the solutions we need.

How do we know if our emotional responses are based on the here and now instead of past experiences? We do that by becoming aware of our patterns of behavior and challenging the logic and reliability of the automatic thoughts and beliefs associated with them.

Recognizing Automatic Thoughts

To challenge automatic thoughts, we need to first recognize them. If our first response to events is usually fear, anxiety, anger, helplessness and hopelessness, we will want to know what triggers these. We are seldom aware of the underlying thoughts and beliefs.

Take a piece of paper and make 3 columns with headings entitled Situation, Emotions and Automatic Thoughts. Here is an example of what that might look like.

Situation                                   Emotions                       Automatic Thoughts

Who, what, when, where?     What did you feel?    Thoughts going through your mind?

For a week, keep a record of situations that trigger intense and repetitive emotional responses. What thoughts were going through your head at the time? What mental images did you have that amplified those thoughts?

Then, take each situation and evaluate the thinking associated with your emotional response. How accurate or rational is it in relation to what is actually happening? Are messages from the past intensifying these thoughts or beliefs?

Here is an example of what the process might look like:

Situation: The firm is downsizing

Emotions: Fearful, anxious, and worried about my future

Automatic Thoughts: I will be the next one fired. I can’t survive without this job. I won’t be considered good enough to be kept.

Challenging Automatic Thoughts

Challenging our thoughts and beliefs is making a scientific premise and testing its validity through objective analysis.

  • How accurate is my thinking?
  • How can I prove or disprove it?
  • Can my thoughts be modified or expanded?
  • What are the underlying beliefs?

Using the example I have given, here is how I might challenge and expand my thinking.

I know I have excellent skills and am a good and valued employee. If I am laid off, I will be able to find another job or use my skills in other ways.

It might be rough, but I know I can make it. I will continue to do my job well and do some preparation in case I do get laid off, such as reducing the debt on my credit cards, putting money into a savings account, and sticking to a budget.

Businesses do downsize – it is a reality of today.

Unchallenged, our first automatic thoughts about a potential catastrophe can keep us in a fear, anxiety or panic mode.

Challenging those thoughts takes us out of the fear cycle and affirms our ability to be flexible, roll with the punches and believe in ourselves. It doesn’t say crises or disasters won’t happen; instead, it allows us to prepare through proactive measures.

Here are some ways to challenge your thinking:

  • Were these rational thoughts appropriate and applicable to what is happening?
  • Were the thoughts negative and limiting only?
  • How could I reframe the situation to allow a more measured response?
  • What beliefs do I have about myself that influence my thinking?
  • Do these beliefs serve me or hurt me? Do they help me improve or remain in fear?
  • What is the evidence in favor of my interpretation? Contrary to my interpretation?

Old messages from the past can dominate our thinking and reduce our ability to feel competent to make choices that are right for us in the here and now.

It is important to stop and evaluate what your emotions are telling you. Before reacting, ask yourself, is this something I legitimately should be concerned about? If so, what proactive steps can I take to resolve any problems associated with it?

Marlene Anderson


If you enjoyed this blog post, share with your friends.

Sign up today to receive the entire series: http://eepurl.com/baaiQ1

To Receive a Free Consultation for putting together a Personal Plan of Action for yourself, fill out the contact form beside this blog or send me an e-mail.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs or women’s groups on a variety of topics that affect our lives.


References:

Beck, Judith S, Cognitive Therapy, Basics and Beyond, forward by Aaron T. Beck, The Guilford Press, New York, 1995

Ellis, Albert, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, Overcoming Destructive Beliefs, Feelings and Behaviors, Penguin Random House Publisher, 2010

Creating and Taming Fear Dragons

“God does not give us a spirit of fear but a spirit of power and love and a sound mind.”

—2 Timothy 1:7

What scares you the most on a day-to-day basis? Are you concerned about your job, or your kids or testing positive for cancer?

Fears are normal and natural. They help us plan and think and prepare. But they can also become deep-seated anxieties that monopolize our thinking to the exclusion of problem solving.

Fears, like anger, can become excessive.Creating and Taming Fear Dragons | FocusWithMarlene.com

They can appear like huge dragons or monsters threatening everything we do to the point where we no longer see options or opportunities.

The excessive fears we create in our mind seem just as real as any physical danger we might encounter. In fact, they are probably more resistant and difficult to deal with because once created, we go to great lengths to prove to ourselves and others that they are real. When we do, we set ourselves up for a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There are valid reasons for paying attention to fear.

It is a survival mechanism that tells us to stop, be careful and proceed with caution. However, if our focus remains on the feelings only without searching for solutions to problems they may be pointing to, it creates a sense of helplessness and we stop looking for answers.

What triggers your fears?

Often, fears begin with what ifs:

  • What if I lost my job
  • What if my husband leaves me
  • What if I get really sick and can’t take care of my child
  • What if I don’t get this job
  • What if they don’t like me
  • What if I’m not good enough
  • What if I can’t pay off my college debt, mortgage, etc.
  • What if. . . .

Our lists of what ifs can go on forever. The problem isn’t that we shouldn’t pay attention to doubts and uncertainties, or that any one of them might happen. It’s when the what ifs activate beliefs that say we won’t be able to make it; we don’t have what it takes to meet the challenge.

We can become so consumed by the terror of what might happen, that it is what we hang onto and if anyone suggests an opposing view, we go to great lengths to prove why they are wrong, and we are right. In that moment, we have created a “fear dragon” that needs to be continually fed.

The problem with fear dragons is that they are created; they are not real. There might have been legitimate underlying concerns which have spun out of control.

But, if we can create fear dragons, we can tame them and make them work for us. We can look at our fears and ask, what are you telling me? Is there a problem in the real world that I need to deal with? Or are you telling me I’m the problem? You are not.

Here are ten things to consider when your fear and anxiety buttons are pushed:

  1. Is the fear I am experiencing based on identifiable facts and circumstances in the here and now? Or is it coming from old intense feelings of insecurity? If the fear comes from feelings of insecurity, challenge and replace the thinking associated with it. We can change our responses.

 

  1. Have past experiences intensified the feelings of fear today? For example, as you were growing up, you may have been constantly yelled at or punished leaving you hyper-sensitive to anything that might be threatening. Take the necessary time to work through past issues. Expectations become a by-product of how we think. Expect good things to come from any situation – even the most difficult ones.

 

  1. Fear tells us to stop and pay attention. Are you in potential physical danger? If your gut is telling you that you may be in a dangerous situation, stop, look, and listen. Don’t just automatically dismiss it. People have been assaulted in public places because they were too dismissive of that gut feeling.

 

  1. Fear is protective. It can protect us from doing foolish or careless things. Pay attention to warning signs. Are you minimizing risks when you should be paying more careful attention, such as hiking alone on trails because you want to do it and it looks like fun?

 

  1. Fear of failure reveals our insecurities. Face them and grow from them. Each of us has strengths and weaknesses. Don’t allow this fear to take over your life. Use it instead to find authentic ways to grow in confidence and become genuine.

 

  1. Fear can drive us to God. It is where I draw my strength and hope for the future every day. Understanding that we have a loving Almighty God who cares about us, guides and strengthens us is both humbling and empowering. Don’t leave home without Him.

 

  1. Fear can isolate us. We need the support of others. If we constantly fear rejection or humiliation, we will miss out on the wonderful relationships we can have.

 

  1. Fear challenges us to get out of our comfort zone. For example, public speaking is a challenge for most of us and is often avoided. While being pleased at being asked to speak, fear of failure can take over. We can overcome much of our apprehension by looking for opportunities to speak in small comfortable gatherings of friends you trust and share common interests. The more you do, the more confident you will become.

 

  1. Fear begs the question, “What am I really afraid of?” Listen to those inner thoughts. What they are saying to you? Healthy fear tells you to pay attention to what is happening. Excessive and unhealthy fear tells you nothing will ever be okay.

 

  1. Face your fear. Sit down and have a conversation with it. Everybody has fears – some rational, and some irrational. Just as fears protect us, they can also help us grow.

Speak to yourself from a position of strength. You have a multitude of talents and abilities.  Accept your weaknesses along with your strengths. Take that risk and step out of your comfort zone.

Marlene Anderson


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To Receive a Free Consultation for putting together a Personal Plan of Action for yourself, fill out the contact form beside this blog or send me an e-mail.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs or women’s groups on a variety of topics that affect our lives.

Emotions That Get You Into Trouble

“Don’t be quick to fly off the handle. Anger boomerangs. You can spot a fool by the lumps on his head.”

—Ecclesiastes 7:9 – The Message

Does anger, hate and discontent define your life?

Some emotions are more troubling than others, such as anger and hate. If you find yourself constantly feeling angry and resentful you need to explore their origins.Emotions That Get You Into Trouble | FocusWithMarlene.com

Such strong emotions over time erode your ability to think productively, make good decisions and accomplish your goals. And even more troubling, there are serious consequences to your overall physical and mental health.

How negative emotions start

But where do these underlying and constant feelings of irritation, anger and hatred come from? Why have they become my typical response to life?

To clarify patterns of thinking and behaviors requires looking at how they got started. We all will feel angry and irritated and even hateful from time to time. It is when it becomes a typical response pattern that we need to ask ourselves why and do I really want to keep seeing the world in this way?

Keep a record for one week.

Jot down the times when these emotions occurred and what triggered them.

  • What were you saying to yourself?
  • Was it reasonable or justified in terms of what was happening?
  • How did this response hurt or help you?
  • How might you have responded differently and how would that have produced a better outcome for everyone?

If you are constantly irritated to the point where you feel dislike towards everyone, it will soon become your typical response to any irritation you might feel. It doesn’t take long for dislike to turn into disgust and scorn or even hatred. And it is important to realize that hate is destructive to everyone.

While every emotion is necessary, important and valuable, it is the excessiveness that becomes damaging. We need to be able to feel anger, guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, and discouragement as well as love, hope, joy, excitement, contentment, and tolerance etc. Each has something of value to teach us. It is the typical and consistent response of anger that becomes excessive and damaging over time. It’s when it is directed to any minor infringement that we find ourselves in trouble.

Continual anger is like a fire out of control.

“Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way. . .”

—James 4:1-2

It is like an untamed beast, devouring everything in its path. It no longer activates a desire to make appropriate changes or to correct wrongs. We no longer can make legitimate distinctions between right and wrong and work to correct these wrongs. Instead it makes “force” and “have to” the designated way to deal with everything.

Anger out of control turns into rage.

We yell at the kids, we hold grudges against our peers, or we only see the bad in others. We find friends and people in general avoiding us. It is difficult to have intelligent conversations where we can argue our point of view without ignoring or trashing an opposing one.

“Rage is poison,” writes Bill De Foore, Ph.D., in his book, “Anger: Deal with it, Heal with it, Stop it from Killing you.” We can find this rage in both men and women. When anger is not channeled appropriately, it can simmer until with the slightest nudge, it turns into uncontrollable rage.

Where did this out-of-control fire or beast come from?

It typically has its roots in our childhood. While some of us may have a greater sensitivity of being more easily offended than others, we usually can recognize and change hurtful responses. Without understanding anger’s nature and roots, we can become its slave and continue to hurt ourselves and others.

It’s not enough just to recognize you have an anger problem.

It is also unhealthy to ignore it or try to stuff it. In the words of Bill DeFoore, “Buried feelings, like buried vegetables, don’t just lie there. They get hot and generate energy, which has to come out one way or another.”

How do I know if I have an anger problem?

The suggestions below are adaptations from the work of Bill Defoore, Thomas Harbin, and others.

  • When you get angry, you don’t get over it
  • You don’t recognize your anger – it is as though it isn’t in your range of emotions
  • You are constantly feeling “frustrated, disappointed or irritable”
  • Everything in life is awful or terrible
  • You have become “sarcastic or cynical” about everything
  • You are easily offended
  • You grew up in a home full of angry people
  • Anger has become your typical way of communicating your thoughts and feelings
  • You believe being angry is the only way to solve problems and conflicts
  • Anger makes you feel less powerless
  • Anger is your way to problem solve so resolutions are never found
  • We overgeneralize, catastrophize and personalize everything that happens

Three things to remember about anger

Simply venting or acting out might release some of your anger in the moment, but it will not take away the source of your anger. Remember:

  1. It is okay to be angry
  2. It is not okay to hurt yourself, someone else, or anyone’s property
  3. You are responsible for what you do with your anger

If you find you are always feeling angry, have a history of anger and it is your typical and first response to whatever is happening, I encourage you to read some of the self-help books I have listed on the subject that I have used in my teaching and counseling career. Or work with a trained therapist.

Life can be so much more than what your anger is offering you. While it is a survival mechanism, it can also work against your best interests.

Marlene Anderson


If you enjoyed this blog post, share with your friends.

Sign up today to receive the entire series: http://eepurl.com/baaiQ1

To Receive a Free Consultation for putting together a Personal Plan of Action for yourself, fill out the contact form beside this blog or send me an e-mail.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs or women’s groups on a variety of topics that affect our lives.


References:

When Anger Hurts – Quieting the Storm Within, by Matthew McKay, Ph.D, Peter D. Rogers, Ph.D., Judith McKay, R.N. New Harbinger Publications, Inc, 1989

Anger: How to Live with and without it, by Albert Ellis, Ph.D., A citadel Press Book, Carol Publishing Group, 1990

Anger: Deal with it, Heal with it, Stop it from Killing you, Health Communications, Inc., 1991

Beyond Anger: A guide for men, by Thomas J. Harbin, Ph.D., Marlowe & Co., N.Y., 2000

The Dance of Anger – A Woman’s guide to changing the patterns of intimate relationships, by Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Ph.D., Harper & Row Pub, NY, 1985

Emotions: Blessing or Curse?

“Just as man learns to be a human being, so he learns to feel as a human being, to love as a human being.”

—Leo Buscaglia, Love

What would life be like if we couldn’t experience the love and joy of holding our newborn baby, or that deep satisfaction when we achieved something we worked hard for?

Emotions: Blessing or Curse? | FocusWithMarlene.com

And who can forget that exhilarating feeling of cheering for our favorite sports team or the pride you feel when your kids work hard at doing something well?

Life would be dull, boring and depressing if we couldn’t experience the wonderful panorama of emotions available to us. Even when we are sad and disappointed, we know that it is temporary, and we will return to those good moments.

But life can be dark and threatening – bleak and depressing if we remain in the constellation of thoughts that hold us hostage to fear, discouragement, anxiety or anger. After awhile we lose sight of the good feelings and good times.

Emotions give us information.

Emotions help us know how to respond to what is happening.

Am I in danger? If so, what do I need to do to protect myself?

Is someone taking advantage of me? How do I determine if I am assessing the situation correctly?

There is a large body of research, such as RET (Rational Emotive Therapy) and CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) that help explain how and why we react to life’s situations the way we do. What this and other research reveals is that what we experience emotionally is not the result of events themselves, but rather how we interpret those events. We can alter or choose our responses.

Are you a hostage to your emotions?

As we grow up, we ascribe meanings to life that over time become our primary beliefs about who we are.

  • Who can I trust?
  • Am I capable?
  • How can I achieve my goals?
  • How do I establish a happy and secure future and home?

These become our deep-seated truths used to make rules and expectations about life. Because they are formed so early, however, they are often biased or distorted and need to be updated. When these beliefs become rigid and uncompromising, they can have a negative influence on how we live day to day.

Continuing to react to things based on early childhood interpretations, we become reactionary instead of using thoughtful consideration of the here and now. Unless we confront, evaluate and make corrections, we will continue to see life, ourselves and other people through the prism of old, outdated beliefs.

“What alone remains is ‘the last of human freedoms’ – the ability to ‘choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.”

—Victor E. Frankl

But my life is falling apart, and I don’t feel good about it.

Emotions are preceded by automatic thoughts that occur so quickly we are often unaware of them. Understanding how thoughts and beliefs influence our emotional reaction to events is critical in meeting the challenges we face.

We may not be able to change situations, but we can alter how we respond to them. And if our reactions are based on faulty beliefs and perceptions, the outcomes, while predictable, will not always serve us.

For example: If you experienced a lot of bullying as you were growing up, your first reaction to anyone who seems adversarial is that they must be a bully and against you.

Before we can alter persistent emotional responses that cause us so much distress, such as ongoing doubt, fear or anxiety, it is important to know that we have the ability to choose a different response.

Victor Frankl was a psychiatrist and Jew who survived Auschwitz during WWII. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he writes how he and a fellow prisoner purposefully found something of humor each day to share with each other in order to survive.

Your first automatic response to difficult situations may be that there is nothing you can do to either change the outcome or change how you feel. Yet we know that with a more proactive assessment of potential options, we can make a difference. We can take problems and setbacks and find new ways to deal with them.

Self-fulfilling prophecy

If you believe you are at the mercy of whatever is happening, you will continue to feel depressed and helpless. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Ascribing a different meaning or personal interpretation to whatever we face while understanding that life will have its ups and downs, will empower you to find new ways to work with it and through it.

In the blog posts for this month, we will be exploring some of the intense emotions that can make life difficult:

What continues to drive those thoughts of hopelessness and their accompanying feelings of despair and depression?

Why am I always angry, fearful or anxious?

How we choose to look at life’s events can make a huge difference in our ability to deal with even the worst of times.

Marlene Anderson


If you enjoyed this blog post, share with your friends.

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To Receive a Free Consultation for putting together a Personal Plan of Action for yourself, fill out the contact form beside this blog or send me an e-mail.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs or women’s groups on a variety of topics that affect our lives.


References:

Frankl, Victor E., Man’s Search for Meaning, Washington Square Press of Pocket Books, N.Y., 1984

Beck, Judith S, Cognitive Therapy, Basics and Beyond, forward by Aaron T. Beck, The Guilford Press, New York, 1995

Ellis, Albert, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, Overcoming Destructive Beliefs, Feelings and Behaviors, Penguin Random House Publisher, 2010

Buscaglia, Leo, Love, Ballantine Books< 1972

How to Replace Habits That Aren’t Working for You

How to Replace Habits That Aren’t Working for You | FocusWithMarlene.comLast week you recorded what you did throughout the day. Taking charge of your time and your life requires not only being aware of your current habits, but knowing how to replace habits that aren’t working.

Taking charge means putting in place a new time management schedule that meets your purposes and goals.

It will require self-regulation and self-discipline. The word “discipline” often triggers a negative response based on our childhood interpretation of discipline. But now it is a positive tool allowing you to do the things you want to do.

Self-Regulation

Self-regulation doesn’t mean every moment is regulated in some way or that we lead a regimented life with no pleasure or down times. In fact, when you put a time management plan in place, you will find you have more time than you did before. You are able to schedule in fun and pleasant times as well as the accomplishment of tasks and chores.

Giving into that momentary pleasure can quickly put in place an addictive habit you may not want. If you respond to the whims of the moment, you will eventually feel less and less in control of your life that can create a downward spiral of dissatisfaction, discontent, and eventually, depression.

Self-regulation includes how you spend your money as well as how you use your time.

Marketing ads are designed to convince us we need to purchase their product in order to be happy. That is their job.

Our job is to ask ourselves whether we really need that product. Will it really make you happy? Managing our finances requires setting up and monitoring a budget. It isn’t just about saving but prudent shopping.

There is a difference between needs and wants. Happiness doesn’t come from having lots of money or having lots of toys.

Taking Charge

To replace a habit, you must first be aware of what you are currently doing, why you are doing it, and why you want to change it.

  • What are the costs and benefits?
  • How do we move from good intention to actual accomplishment?
  • How do we change the behavior associated with the habits we want to replace?

First you need to know why this habit was put in place and what are the short-term and long-term costs and benefits.

To Replace a Habit

First – Why do I have this habit?

Second – What is the short-term benefit?

Third – What is the long-term cost?

Research on how our brain works has given us new insights into why we do the things we do and continue to do them even when they are not beneficial.

To change a downward spiral of impairing habits and routines requires first recognition and then making a conscious decision along with action.

When you do both, recognize and make a conscious decision and then add a step in that new direction, you are changing the dynamics of the neurons and neurotransmitters in your brain.

According to Dr. Alex Korb, author of The Upward Spiral: Using neuroscience to reverse the course of depression, one small change at a time, it takes both decision and action to change a downward spiral to an upward one. That tiny step in a new direction is enough to begin the upward process versus downward.

So, pick a behavior or habit you want to replace, and start the process.

  • Specifically, what do you want to accomplish?
  • How will you implement your plan of action and how will you maintain motivation?

Be prepared to evaluate as you go along.

Behaviors made through careful thought allows you to be in the driver’s seat. With thoughtful predetermined goals and plans, you benefit through achievement. You stay on track by reminding yourself of how good you will feel when you have put this new habit in place.

Marlene Anderson


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To Receive a Free Consultation for putting together a Personal Plan of Action for yourself, fill out the contact form beside this blog or send me an e-mail.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs or women’s groups on a variety of topics that affect our lives.

Love

               Love

People sing songs about it, create movies with love as its theme, and try to find words to express it in books. But can we ever define love?

“For God so loved the world….”        John 3:16

What greater love can anyone have than sacrifice something of great importance for another who really isn’t worthy of it.

Can there be a greater expression of love?

Love. It is a gift – we can’t earn it, we don’t deserve it and yet we find it so hard to receive.

Last Easter I published a blog post featuring a poem written by my friend, Darlene Dubay. I am republishing it again because of its great insight and depth. Thank you, Darlene, for your gift.

Tree of Hope

I remember being a seed, full of hope, dreaming.

 I would be the tallest tree, and proud.

Then, thrust into the ground, I shuddered.

Darkness overcame me and I broke.

No longer latent, I began to search for light.

Yet wanting to be anchored, I thrust my fingers deeper into ground.

They laughed at me as I broke free.

“A twig,” they said: Insignificant nothing.

Yet I dreamed of becoming—magnificent I’d stand, towering above—mighty.

When finally ready I would be mercifully cut to become

A pillar, strong and straight to hold the weight of majesty aloft.

Or maybe I would be fashioned as a cradle,

Holding precious life, or toy or tureen—useful—

bringing pleasure by being used.

I did not fear the saw; it was a long way off.

But when it finally came. I cried,

“No, let me grow a little more. I want to be the biggest and the best.

I want my glorious form to be admired.”

I lay there on the ground, helpless—

My fate in the hands of those who ripped me from my roots.

It did no good to protest. My voice could not be heard.

Lying prostrate, I imagined what I would become.

It was not good. Their evil tones were hinting shame and disgrace.

“No!” I cried. “I did not grow for this.”

My limbs were ripped and nailed into a form

So horrible—degrading—a mockery of what was meant to be.

Bitter nails drove into my flesh,

But worse was yet to come.

Dragged and carried in my ugly form, I tried my best to help the struggling one,

But felt my weight grow heavier with each step.

Then on the top of that ignominious hill,

They laid me prostrate to accept my fate.

I felt his flesh caress the roughness of my bark.

I groaned in shame that I would be the one

To lift His whipped and trampled body far aloft for all to see.

I felt the spikes drive precious flesh and blood into my wood.

Helpless, there I stood, as I was lifted with my treasure.

Oh, the shame! The agony! The jeering crowds saying,

“It’s the end. His suffering has no meaning. ”

All is lost. What victory lies in death?

What justice shines through bitter clouds of hate?

I felt his spirit leave and fear of being discarded racked my being.

The coldness of his absence permeated me

And I wished for burning fires of purification.

Better to be cleansed than to lie rotting in the dirt.

The emptiness of my ugly form was wretched. I watched them haul him off—just another lifeless piece of flesh.

And me? I only hoped that I could fade to nothing.

On the third day, though, he returned.

He held me close and promised—what?

I could not comprehend.

“I live,” he said. “I am alive forever.”

“How can it be?” I cried. “I felt your soul’s anguish

And despair. I know the emptiness of your departing.

I never want to be the one who displays

Your trampled, lifeless body up for all to see.”

He held me closer then and I knew it had to be this way.

My gift of self will be forever a symbol of great love.

My collaboration in his plan will always be

The means to life eternal.

I’m honored. I am cherished.

And every day and moment

Someone remembers by my sign—

True life awaits those who hold me closest to their heart.

Darlene
4-5-2010

I wish each of you a blessed Easter, knowing that it was the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, his death, and resurrection, that brings us this blessed holiday as well as the love, hope and grace we all desire.

Marlene Anderson

To read more about Darlene’s writing talent, visit her website at https://dmdubay.com/


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To Receive a Free Consultation for putting together a Personal Plan of Action for yourself, fill out the contact form beside this blog or send me an e-mail.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs or women’s groups on a variety of topics that affect our lives.

How to Evaluate Which Habits Impact Your Behavior Negatively and Positively

How to Evaluate Which Habits Impact Your Behavior Negatively and Positively | FocusWithMarlene.comAs I mentioned in my previous post, habits affect everything we do. They are behaviors we keep in place because we get a benefit in some way.

But habits and behaviors have consequences. They might make us feel good in the moment but have a negative long-term cost.

To make habits work for you, it is important to know which ones keep you from maximizing your time and efforts.

For example, you may decide that this is a good time for you to go back to school and get an advanced degree or training. Before you do, it is helpful to know how you currently use your time and what you do on a regular basis.

  • What wasted time can be redirected?
  • What current habits would interfere with completing your course work?

Become Informed

Do a quick test. For one day, record what you do, starting with the time you get up to when you go to bed.

Take a piece of lined paper and put on each line a time of day starting from when you get up in the morning until you go to bed at night. During the day, record what you do in each time period.

  • What is your morning routine?
  • How long did it take to get ready for work and head out the door?
  • If you work at home, when did you start, take breaks and finish for the day? If you are retired but want to accomplish more, keep a record of everything you do in a day.
  • What time did you return home after work? Did you make any stops along the way?
  • What were your dinnertime routines?
  • How did you spend your evening? Record time spent on the phone, relaxing in front of the TV or on social media, etc. Here is where we often lose track of time.
  • Do you have a regular bed time, and do you follow it?

While recording the specifics of how we spend our time, we are looking for patterns of behavior and habits that are governing our life. It is helpful to extend this recording exercise for a week to get a more complete picture of how you use your time.

Here are some ways habits may be affecting your life:

Negative habits:

  • Always thinking of reasons why you can’t do something
  • Relaxation is conditioned by how I am feeling in the moment
  • Time with family is hit-and-miss whenever everyone is around – there are no schedules
  • Chores are done only when I can’t stand the mess any longer
  • I would rather do something fun than what needs to be done
  • I’ll do it tomorrow – today I want to play
  • I continue to spend time with others who don’t self-regulate or self-discipline
  • I operate on a “feel good in the moment” rather than a scheduled time frame

Positive habits:

  • I have a time set to complete daily chores
  • I know what needs to be done within a week, such as laundry, shopping, preparing for work, etc.
  • I have a schedule for daily chores which I follow fairly consistently
  • I am aware of long-term chores, such as spring yard clean up, getting the car serviced, etc. and have a monthly calendar to remind me
  • I have set aside specific down times to relax, enjoy doing things that are fun, be with my family or doing something creative
  • My time allows me to be spontaneous when I want to be and I can adjust my schedules to meet unexpected interruptions
  • Being in charge of my time is freeing and allows many options

This exercise is for the sole purpose of helping you make some lifestyle decisions that can impact future goals important to you. It is not designed to put in place a rigid form of time management, but simply to expand the possibilities of choices you want to make.

Next week we will go through establishing habits and routines that are right for your goals.

Marlene Anderson


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To Receive a Free Consultation for putting together a Personal Plan of Action for yourself, fill out the contact form beside this blog or send me an e-mail.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs or women’s groups on a variety of topics that affect our lives.

Habits: Are They Working For or Against You?

Habits: Are They Working For or Against You?

We are creatures of habit. Habits are great because we don’t have to think about every move we make. It’s like being on auto pilot. But they can also keep us from achieving what we want in life.

We need to be aware of the habits that can help or hinder us. The next three posts will focus on understanding our habits and learning how we can replace them.

How did we choose the habits we have and what keeps them in place?

Connected to habits are behaviors of some kind. Behaviors continue because we get a payoff or reward that motivates us to keep doing what we are doing.

As behaviors are reinforced, they are repeated and soon become habitual. That reward comes either in the form of receiving something positive or removal of something we don’t want. We call one a “positive reinforcement” and the other a “negative reinforcement.”

Here are some examples of how that works:

A mother gives a child who is making a big fuss in the store some candy so he will be quiet. The child has just been “rewarded positively” for his yelling and screaming.

But the mother has also been rewarded. Hers was a “negative reward” because something she didn’t want was removed: the yelling and screaming stopped.

For habits to form, the behavior needs to be reinforced (positively or negatively) repeatedly and consistently. After they are in place, they only need to be reinforced intermittently. We call that “intermittent reinforcement.”

Example: Your child cleans his room and each time he does you reward him with a hug, positive comments and extra computer time which he highly prizes. Gradually, as cleaning his room becomes fairly consistent, only occasional rewards are needed such as “good job” comments or extra playtime. The behavior has become a habit.

When we evaluate our habits, it is important to examine the rewards we receive, both on a short term and long-term basis.

For example: it soon becomes a habit to come home from work and spend hours on social media sites. While it may be fun and relaxing after a long day, it can become addictive and other things do not get done—dinners become quick fixes, dishes don’t get washed, and children are sent out to play so we don’t have to be bothered. While there is nothing wrong with relaxing after a hard day at work, without limitations and time restraints that we set, those habits can soon take over our life.

Which habits do you have that are helping you over time?

We are the ones who establish the habits that soon become a lifestyle. And we are the only ones who can evaluate them and determine what changes we want to make.

All behaviors have a consequence of some kind. When evaluating our habits, it is important to consider how they affect us over time. If you want your life and goals to work for you, it’s important to know how you use your time.

Behavior Modification Summary

Here is a quick recap of how behaviors are reinforced and become habits. All behaviors have consequences – positive or negative, short-term and long-term.  And remember, habits and behaviors are kept in place because we are rewarded in some way.

1. Positive Reinforcement

Behavior = Consequence (something received) >> Behavior increases.

Example: Child cleans room, gets hug and extra TV time – behavior is reinforced and will continue or increase.

2. Negative Reinforcement

Behavior = consequence (something is removed) >> Behavior increases.

Example: Child whines at store for candy. Mom gives in, child is positively reinforced (gets candy); Mom is negatively rewarded because child stops whining. Child learns that whining eventually pays off if Mom at some point gives in. Mom chooses a quick solution to get peace, but with long term negative consequences.

3. Intermittent Reinforcement

Reinforcement is done once in a while rather than consistent and immediate.

Changing or Replacing Habits

To change habits, we change the behavior that is involved. Understanding our behaviors and the rewards we get is the first step in keeping those that are beneficial and replacing those that are not.

Next week’s post will discuss how to remove habits we don’t want.

Marlene Anderson


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To Receive a Free Consultation for putting together a Personal Plan of Action for yourself, fill out the contact form beside this blog or send me an e-mail.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs or women’s groups on a variety of topics that affect our lives.