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Why You Should Create a Formal Goal Plan

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Why should I bother putting together a formal goal plan? I know in my mind what I want and how to get there. Isn’t writing it down a waste of time?

Remember when you hadn’t established daily and weekly routines and life just sort of happened?

You struggled to get up in the morning because you stayed up too late the night before; you put off doing the things you didn’t like to do and succumbed to however you felt at the moment. And most of the time, life was chaotic, unpredictable and unsatisfying.

Without a formal goal plan, our goals remain vague.

Without specific, defined goals, our lives often resemble a piece of wood floating down a river; at the mercy of the current, wind, rocks and sandy beaches. We live life so fast we lose control, or become beached, stuck, with no way to move. We set ourselves up for disaster.

A formal goal plan keeps us on track.

Why You Should Create a Formal Goal Plan | FocusWithMarlene.com

Everyone has big dreams and good intentions, but the formal plan of action is the vehicle that will help us achieve them. It keeps us motivated when we are tired or when unexpected obstacles arise.

Setting goals puts action behind dreams and desires and involve careful thought on what is important to you.

Goals focus on what you can do – instead of what you can’t.

It is saying to yourself there is more to life than simply getting up every morning, going to work, grabbing some fun time whenever you can and living the same static life day in and day out. When we set goals, we are saying to ourselves, we are worth more than that. It is saying, I have talents and abilities that I can and want to develop.

The goals we set are for us, not anyone else.

You may be motivated by a desire to take care of your family, be a better person, or live a more meaningful life. But these are still your goals.

Many people set goals that reflect the wishes of parents who wanted us to be successful by making a lot of money or to be in a particular profession. Many times, we unconsciously live in ways to meet the demands from our childhood or from others. But goals that are defined in that way seldom make us or anyone else happy.  Instead we will feel unsatisfied and discontented.

Setting personal goals energizes our life.

There are costs and benefits to everything we do. The benefit to doing whatever you feel like in the moment is you don’t have to plan. The cost is you rarely feel good for very long and you are at the mercy of people and events.

Although the cost to setting goals is time and effort, the results are satisfaction, pride in accomplishment, lower stress levels and knowing that you are in charge of your life.

Goals take time, determination, hard work, and dealing with setbacks.

Goals will require you to be flexible. Sometimes we will be required to change our goals. But when we take charge of our lives, setting goals becomes a habit that allows you to maximize the most of your time and your talents in any situation.

There is no greater energizer than saying, yes, I can, and figuring out a way to do it. There is no greater satisfaction than knowing you have set out to do something and have accomplished it.

In setting goals, it is important to consider all the areas of your life. Don’t just set goals for work.

Take a piece of paper and draw a large circle, like a large pie.

Then divide this circle into slices that represent the different areas of your life. We can break it down something like this:  a slice for physical needs, another for spiritual, financial, one for educational or mental, another for social, family, and relationships.

As you look at the circle of your life, and the divisions you have made, what percentage of time would you estimate you spend in each of those areas?

How does the amount of time spent in one area affect the other areas?

If you spend all your time working on one area in your life while ignoring other areas, your life will suffer.

In my post, “What Goals Are Right for Me?” you will find a goal development inventory. It will help you complete this process more effectively.

Stay tuned for my next few posts, where we’ll create a goal plan step-by-step, and I’ll show you a case study of one of my own goals.

Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC


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Use It or Lose It: 10 Tools to Help You Communicate Effectively

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“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

-Nelson Mandela

We live in an age when information is available 24/7. Just install the right app and push the right button and you have anything and everything you want.

But do we?

We sign up for interesting and exciting courses online thinking when we have completed them, we will be able to bake a cake, take apart a car engine or know the best ways to travel. While all of this is wonderful and exciting, there is one step missing. Application.

Throughout this year, my blog posts have offered information, tools and strategies to meet the everyday challenges of life. But that information is just that – information – until it is used. Until we personally apply the information that can help us, it will simply remain good ideas.

Use it or lose it

Application isn’t easy. Making new habits isn’t easy. I know; I struggle too. It requires more than knowledge about what will and will not work, it requires a commitment and little steps forward.

“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count.

It’s the life in your years.”

-Abraham Lincoln

What’s in your toolbox?

Use It or Lose It: 10 Tools to Help You Communicate Effectively | FocusWithMarlene.com

When I think of tools, I think of screwdrivers, drills, saws, nuts and bolts; things that can help me build, repair or fix a problem. Each has a specific purpose. In our life toolbox, we need tools to help us communicate effectively, navigate conflicts, be less reactive and more proactive, and apply problem solving skills.

Here are 10 tools I find useful to have in my toolbox:

1. Positive self-talk.

Our internal dialogue on 24/7. When we constantly tell ourselves that we are not capable and never will be, we will have difficulty making plans and following through.

Challenge repetitive negative self-talk every day. Make it a top priority. Replace with positive statements that affirm your abilities.

2. Proactive mindset and attitude.

There are situations that will demand a quick response. Having a proactive mindset and attitude in place will help us stop and evaluate and think before acting in most other situations.

3. An expanded frame of reference.

A telescopic lens focuses on only one detail while a wide-angle lens reveals an entire picture unfolding before us. When we remain stuck on only one aspect of a problem, we block anything that might be helpful.

Expanding our frame of reference is like putting a wide-angle lens on our camera – it allows us to look at extenuating circumstances, see another’s point of view, and find ways to work together.

4. Valued relationships.

Do the people you hang out with share similar objectives, beliefs and values?

Are you a good friend who is supportive and available when needed?

Do you take time to reach out to others in need and develop friendships based on sacrifice and a willingness to invest?

5. An authentic self.

Authenticity means we accept all sides of us; both the good and bad – the perfect and not so perfect.

Can I accept myself just as I am, with my shortcomings and limitations as well as my strengths?

When we are honest with ourselves and others, we become genuine and real, and work to improve.

6. A sense of gratitude.

Research shows that just the attempt of looking for things to be grateful for changes the brain in a positive way. It may be difficult at first if you have experienced many setbacks. But blessings are there, even in the worst of times.

Share that gratitude with others. Let others know you appreciate and are grateful for them too.

7. Emotional stability.

Take your emotional temperature. High sustained levels of fear, anxiety, worry, hate and resentment will have a serious impact on your health.

Emotions give us important information and are driven by our thoughts, beliefs and interpretations of life. Use that information wisely.

Hate destroys.

Fear can become a monster.

As we extend grace and empathy to others, we accept them as fellow travelers on the road of life. We can vigorously disagree with someone but respect them and their point of view.

8. Good communication skills.

Messages are more than just words spoken to one another. Within those messages are meanings difficult to put into words.

  • Ask for and give feedback for clarification.
  • Convey your objectives clearly when speaking.

Developing good communication skills is as important as learning effective problem-solving skills and begins with listening.

Use “I” statements and take responsibility for what you bring to any discussion and how you respond in kind.

9. Conflict negotiator.

We will be confronted with conflicts all the time. Some will be minor while others are complex and far reaching.

Our first response is usually to blame, attack and defend.

  • Ask yourself, what is the outcome I desire?
  • What is my part in the conflict and how can I resolve that?

Separate behaviors from the person. Develop a positive stance to work together.

10. Defined values.

As a Christian my core values come from God’s word and Jesus as my Lord and Savior. So much of the psychology and behavioral science that I have studied embody those same values. ]

Take some time to reflect on what you believe and why. Articulate those values clearly so they become a part of your everyday living.

Enormous stress is created when we act and live in opposition to our values. Explore and develop a relationship with God. I have received love, peace, strength and wisdom over the years from God through prayer and the reading of His word.

Let me know if these are helpful. Do you have others you would like to share? Send me an e-mail.

Marlene Anderson


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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.

Character Matters

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Life is a question and how we live it is our answer.

-Gary Keller

What is character and why does it matter?

As we go through life, we are putting in place those qualities that identify and define who we are. It is a combination of things such as generosity, loyalty, devotion, etc., but even more important, our moral and ethical standards and principles.

  • Am I honest? Can you trust my word?
  • Do I live my beliefs and values?
  • Do others know I have integrity and will stand up for what is right, even at a personal cost?

My principles, values, morals and ethics not only define who I am but help me make sound decisions that maximize my talents in positive and constructive ways.

Character matters.

Character Matters | FocusWithMarlene.com

With character comes wisdom.

Wisdom is the insight and knowledge gained over time that helps us make good judgments and discern right and wrong.

It helps us make sensible decisions and judgments based on the accumulated knowledge of what life has taught us over time.

Developing character is taking the ancient teachings and wisdom passed down throughout the ages and applying it to the here and now.

Mistakes can be costly and have lifelong consequences.

Character and wisdom are based on the values and beliefs we hold. A belief is what we accept as truth about something, someone, and ourselves. Each of us will develop our own perception and interpretation of the world. Reality is always filtered through this perceptual belief system.

A belief is also the acceptance of some thought, supposition or idea.

It may be a religious belief or a belief about how you should act, etc. Beliefs form the foundation of our value system.

Values, then, are the personal worth we place on an object, thought, belief or idea.

They tell us what is fundamentally and essentially important to us. Values are learned and become a blueprint or guideline for all our choices and decisions. They are more than just a set of rules and regulations. Values affect our choice of occupations, marriage partners, family and social interactions, political and religious activities and future goals.

Moral values are based on right/wrong, good/evil.

They form the basis for moral responsibility and guide ethical behaviors such as telling the truth, keeping agreements and not injuring others. It is our values that caution us to make thoughtful choices and keep us from making catastrophic mistakes.

We know what we are, but know not what we may be.

-William Shakespeare

Each new challenge in life will test our resolve, ability to think and analyze and choose the solutions that fit our values and beliefs in order to live a life that is rewarding and happy.

How we live makes a difference to ourselves, our families and communities.

The University of Life will hand us some tough assignments, many filled with painful lessons attached. To gain from these lessons requires a willingness to learn. When I make dumb choices and blame others for the results, I am doomed to repeating similar mistakes. If we cover up, deny, or avoid addressing these errors in judgment, we also lose. Avoidance by shifting blame, doing drugs or indulging in alcohol will only compound problems.

While we try to run away from pain, pain serves a purpose.

Our values have an enormous impact on our satisfaction and happiness. Until we adopt values that we are willing to apply on a day to day basis, we will continue to search for meaning that will fill that empty spot within us.

Here are 5 ways to maximize character development:

1. Identify your personal beliefs.

Many beliefs left over from childhood reflect those of our parents and other adults. Reflect, evaluate and decide if they are yours as well. Know why they are important and why it is important to live by them.

2. Consider carefully the outcomes before you act.

Growing up, we learn the basics of right and wrong. As adults, we need to understand the truths behind them. Just doing whatever you feel like doing or following the culture crowd of today can result in serious consequences. There is a cost and benefit to all our decisions and behaviors. It is up to us to think about them beforehand.

3. Live your principles and values.

Decide what is important and why it is important. Make your values the centerpiece in governing your life. This will aid you in choosing your friends, finding good mentors and ability to live by the standards you put in place. Take charge of your life and become responsible for what you do.

4. Use character and wisdom to help you set and achieve goals.

Character and wisdom help turn dreams into reality. They enable you to risk time and energy in their pursuit. If you set goals or do things that are contrary to your values and beliefs, you will become dissatisfied. Enormous stress is generated when our beliefs and values are not in alignment with our actions and behaviors.

5. Character development answers the question, “who am I?”

Who am I to others and to myself? It gives you the opportunity at any point in time to evaluate what you are doing and adjust your thinking and refine your beliefs and goals. Develop personal boundaries and maintain them. It takes courage to stand up for what you believe.

Marlene Anderson


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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.

Become the Director of Your Life Story

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Important people from our childhood have a huge influence on who we become. We are part of a family and culture and we don’t want to lose that.

Sometimes, however, we are faced with tough decisions that go outside those early expectations. Sometimes we feel we cannot follow our own dream or develop the talents we were given without hurting someone.

It is never easy to become the director of your life story.

Become the Director of Your Life Story | FocusWithMarlene.comYet we need to be truthful and honest with who we are. To do that we need to know and accept ourselves, know what we want and why it is important so we can live honest and meaningful lives.

It isn’t just enough to know what we want and why, but what it will take to achieve that. Anything worthwhile takes time, careful consideration, planning, effort and persistence.

Make a list of the important people in your life as you grew up.

Add to that list all the people who are important to you right now.

  • What makes them important?
  • How do they encourage a belief in yourself?

List all the specific ways in which their influence has facilitated your growth and development. How can you thank them or let them know how much their interest and positive reinforcement has meant to you and helped you become the person you were designed to be?

Sometimes, in order to be the director of our life story, we are required to make some drastic changes in how we think and the associations we keep.

  • How do we build positive and nurturing relationships?
  • How do we maintain and respect the differences of those we love?

To make good choices we need to know what is important and valuable and how we can put that into action. It means examining our inner strengths and using it to help us clarify and attain important goals.

As you listen to today’s podcast episode, I share a story of someone who faced some difficult life circumstances, made some tough choices, and became the director of her life story. She was able to grow and become genuine and heal old wounds and rebuild important relationships.

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.

Gaining a Positive Return in the Relationships You Invest In

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“A friend is a gift you give yourself.”

-Robert Louis Stevenson

Perhaps you have experienced misplaced loyalty, broken commitments and trampled expectations from those you considered friends, colleagues and spouses.

If you have been hurt in relationships, you may ask: relationships – who needs them? Wouldn’t it just be easier to stay out of any serious relationship all together?

And yet, we are social animals and require social interaction to survive. As we learn more about the human brain the research reveals that we are hardwired to connect with each other.

Creating secure bonds is important for our health.

  • Socially isolated people are two to three times more likely to die prematurely than those with strong social ties.
  • Divorced men before the age of 70 are more likely to die from heart disease, cancer and strokes as married men.
  • The rate of all types of cancer is about five times higher for divorced men and women.
  • Poor communication and the ability to resolve conflicts within our relationships contributes to coronary disease.

Investing

When you want your money to grow, you check out investment options. What amount needs to be invested to bring a good return over time?

As I was growing up, I was taught to save 10% of everything I earned. From the berry fields to my first job after high school, there was little left to put into savings after expenses. But it was a principle I took seriously, abided by and was always amazed at how those little deposits added up over time.

When my husband and I got married, we started out barely able to make ends meet and pay the bills. But over the years, we continued with that principle of putting away whatever we could and investing it for later years. It required discipline, self-regulation, sacrifice and commitment. But it was a diligence that more than paid off in dividends.

Investing wisely took a while to learn. Some stocks were too risky, others gave hardly any return; but over a short period of time we learned how to invest wisely and prudently, maximizing our return while minimizing the risks.

Relationships are like investments

“Many people will walk in and out of your life,

but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.”

-Eleanor Roosevelt

Just like we use a dollar amount to invest for financial growth, so investing in relationships require a commitment of time and energy. To gain a positive return on our relationships, we need to invest time, energy and dedication.

Gaining a Positive Return in the Relationships You Invest In | FocusWithMarlene.com

Early childhood relationships meant playing with anyone who was near. Over time, friendships became more complicated. The kids we hung around with gave us social identity and status and we shared a commonality in our doubts and fears. Our camaraderie made us loyal. When that loyalty was betrayed, we experienced the sting of rejection.

As we entered adulthood, we began to choose more wisely. Our circle of friends gradually extended from party times to who shared the same goals and values as we did. We began to make a different investment in our choice of friends. Over time, we realized that important and valued relationships required commitment, loyalty and sacrifice; being willing to endure those tough times as well as enjoying the good times.

“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, then walk alone in the light.”

-Helen Keller

The friendships where we have invested the most time, energy, love, commitment and loyalty will be those that give us the greatest return, which cannot be measured in monetary means. Some friendships last a lifetime – others go by the wayside – others we drop because those early moments of compatibility were really shallow and had no roots to grow.

What relationships have you invested in?

  1. How do you choose your friends? What are the most important criteria for you?
  2. What kind of friend are you? What qualities do you believe make for a dependable and long-term relationship?
  3. Are there friendships you continue to invest in for the wrong reasons such as status, popularity, inclusion, someone to party with, use as a bargaining chip, etc.?
  4. Are you able to be yourself in your relationships, feeling the safety to disclose and be genuine and real?

We need each other. Can you find ways to invest in the relationships that mirror your beliefs and values making them the best ever with the greatest return?

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.

That’s Not What I Meant! 12 Ways to Become a Better Communicator

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We communicate every day in some way: texting, Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, etc.

But that is not the same as talking to a person face-to-face, where we can see facial expression, have a discussion about difficult issues, and ask for clarification.

What are you saying and what is being heard?

“But you said. . . .”

“No, I didn’t. . . .”

“Yes, I heard you say. . . . .”

“Well, that’s not what I meant!”

Sound familiar?

Communication travels both ways. It is both what is said and what is received.

Because each of us has a different outlook on life, the words we use are often perceived differently by both speaker and listener. They are often colored, distorted and sometimes misleading based on our perspective. Add to the mix anything that is happening in the moment that impedes our ability to listen and discern and we are headed for trouble.

12 ways to become a better communicator

  1. Check your emotional state.

Are you feeling stressed, anxious, fearful, tired, depressed, etc.? Your feelings will affect or influence what you are saying. Your approach to solving problems will be reflected in your words, facial expression and body posture.

  1. Body Language.

All communication is both verbal and non-verbal. Does your body posture and facial expression match what you are saying?

We pay attention to body language first and words second.

  1. Think before you speak.

Know specifically what you want to convey before you start talking. What is your intention? Keep focused on what you want to get across and ask for feedback. Think, ask questions and verify.

  1. Check your perceptual filters.

We each see the world differently.

When emotions run high, we rarely stop to consider how what we are saying is affecting someone else.

Are you being honest and upfront? Do you have a hidden agenda? Be aware of the responses you are getting. What is said often triggers impulsive and offhand replies.

  1. Ask for wants and needs – don’t just hint at them.

Don’t assume others will know what you need or want. Don’t assume you will always get what you want either.

That’s Not What I Meant! | FocusWithMarlene.com

  1. Respect the rights of others.

Respect their space, their feelings, their integrity and their intelligence. Are you attentive and show an interest in the person you are speaking to? Can you reinforce that attention by eye contact, smiling, nodding and other appropriate gestures?

  1. Ask for feedback.

Don’t assume the other person heard everything and automatically understands what you are trying to say.

  1. Use reflective language – validate feelings.

People who are emotionally upset, angry or conflicted may feel they shouldn’t feel this way and become defensive. Validation says it is okay to have those feelings.

  1. Let people know you are listening.

Use “uh-huh,” “I see,” and other verbal and physical ways to let others know you are paying attention.

Really listen – don’t just pretend.

Turn off the response mechanisms for a short while and focus on what the other person is saying, both verbally and physically.

  1. Use “I” statements.

An “I” statement tells others how you feel, what you are thinking and what bothers you and what you want. It accepts responsibility for how you feel.

Example:  “I get upset when I hear words that tell me I shouldn’t be doing this or that.”

  1. Eliminate “You” statements.

“You” statements hold the other person responsible for what you are feeling. “You” statements blame, accuse, label, judge and evaluate. They are meant to intimidate and create defensiveness and are used to manipulate. For example:  “You are always telling me what to do.”

  1. Eliminate powerless talk.

If you have something to say – say it. But say it politely, specifically and firmly.

Powerless talk is tentative and hesitant. It hedges or qualifies what you say with statements such as, “I guess, or you know.”  Powerless talk adds disclaimers to their statements such as “don’t get me wrong, but…”

Take some time out this week to spend with your friends, face to face. Have a conversation. Listen and validate and share.

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.

Conflict – “He Said – She Said”

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“That’s not what I said.”

“Yes, it is, I heard you.”

“You always try to pin the blame on me. If you were here instead of out golfing, this wouldn’t have happened.”

“Oh, and how about you – out shopping again….”

And round and round and round it goes, ending with two angry people who continue to find ways to attack, defend and destroy each other.

Many of the problems we face are interpersonal conflicts of some kind. They are usually laced with anger and blame and persistence that I am right, and you are wrong.

How do we get into these conflicts in the first place? And how do we get out of them?

Everybody wants their needs met. Everybody wants to win. Everybody wants to be liked and appreciated and respected.

When we find ourselves in constant ongoing conflict, we believe that if only the other person would see my point of view, we wouldn’t have to have such discussions. If you cared, wouldn’t you understand my needs?

The only problem with that is the other person is saying the same thing. And since neither person at this point is listening to the other, the conflict simply intensifies.

Conflicts are problems that will not be resolved until we are able to see the opinions of others that are different than ours.

We make assumptions that everyone sees the world in the same way. We don’t. But as we face our disagreements and work to resolve them, we will grow as individuals. We begin to see more of the world than just our own view. We learn to take responsibility for our responses when in disputes. And we learn to respect differences.

Here are 5 ways people deal with conflict:

Conflict – “He Said – She Said” | FocusWithMarlene.com

1. Denial or withdrawal.

The benefits to this are that we gain time, defuse the tension or rethink the importance of it. The dilemma is the conflict often gets worse because of avoidance until there is an emotional explosion.

2. Suppress or smooth over.

While this might keep the peace for a short time and avoid confrontation, the conflict will arise again in a different way.

3. Power or dominance.

When we inject power into the conflict there is no room for negotiation or compromise. It becomes a win-lose position. Power is used through threats, rewards, money or intimidation of status or position.

When decisions need to be made quickly, such as in life-threatening situations, power can be an important means to an immediate solution. The problem with power and dominance is that it breeds resentment and defensiveness and people stop trying to cooperate.

4. Compromise/negotiation.

With this approach both people give and take so each person gets something. Nobody actually loses. A word of caution. Don’t accept the first solution you agree upon without exploring other potential ones.

5. Collaboration/integration.

This is brainstorming to create as many solutions as possible. It combines the abilities and resources of everyone involved to work for common solutions and includes everyone’s input, thoughts and expertise.

Before we work on disagreements and discords

Here are some questions that are often hidden within our conflicts that need to be addressed before we can be successful in working through them.

  • What do I really want?
  • What do I need from the other person?
  • What does the other person need from me?
  • What will be different – what will remain the same?
  • What is the most important priority in this conflict?
  • And am I willing to work towards a win-win?

When you have gone through these questions, you will be prepared to work on the disagreements you find yourself involved in. These will help identify your patterns of denial or withdrawal, power or dominance or just trying to keep peace without resolution.

Conflicts may be divisive, but they can be great teachers

We enter relationships because we need people. We want to be loved and accepted for who we are in spite of our limitations and faults. We want to be heard and understood. It is where we discover who we are.

We want what only a relationship can bring us: inclusion, respect and being heard. But we aren’t always prepared or willing to work on making it happen.

Relationships are never perfect. But it is where we learn we are not the end all – the greatest thing on God’s green earth, and we don’t always get what we want. It is where we learn about ourselves and learn to appreciate our differences.

Compromise and negotiation and sacrifice of personal wants is part of the package. It is here we learn our need for one another and understand the concepts of love and grace. And it is where we learn to sacrifice, give and receive.

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.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions (Problem Solving)

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“You think you’ve got problems – you should hear what happened to me last week…”

…And on and on it goes – we cannot wait to get together and share our stories of what new disaster we faced.

Life is ongoing problem solving.

And as much as we hate to have yet another unexpected intrusion in our well-laid plans, life would be pretty dull without them.

Problems of any kind demand some kind of resolution.

Most decisions we make are so insignificant we rarely think about them, such as, what will I wear to work today? or, what shall I plan for dinner?

But others are more complicated and demand more thoughtful consideration. While symptoms keep us edgy and anxious, it may take a while to actually identify the problem that is creating those symptoms.

Emotions are always an integral part of the problems we face.

They can be as small as frustrations or annoyance. Or they can be heavy with worry, concern and anxiety, knowing that the decision we make will have a long-lasting impact on those involved.

For example, an aging spouse with health issues may require additional care.

  • Should they be put into a long-term care facility?
  • Can you afford it?
  •  Should you try to take care of him or her or hire home care?

To deal adequately with any major life challenge, we need to know ourselves, recognize our strengths and weaknesses, imperfections and shortcomings and how they can intensify our emotional responses.

So, where do we start?

To begin resolving problems, we need to first step out of the emotional arena and put on our rational thinking cap. One way to reduce emotional reactions is by repeating some calming statements, such as “I can do this” or “There are answers to all problems” or “I can ask for assistance and input” along with slow, even breathing. It is hard to think when our fear and anxiety levels are high.

Next, identify specifically what the actual problem is. Sometimes it is obvious, other times it may be difficult to separate the problem from the symptoms.

If others are involved, include them in this process. How does each person perceive the problem? This is especially important for couples and requires listening skills and clearly communicating your wants, needs and goals.

Once the problem is defined, sit down and make a list of all the options that might resolve it. Ask others to help brainstorm. Then evaluate each, prioritize and choose one to try. When other people are involved in the outcomes, their concerns, time, and association need to be considered as well. Even simple decisions like family times or family vacations require a willingness to work together and negotiate.

Many problems can be avoided by planning ahead.

Parents who have periodic family meetings listen to their kids concerns to resolve issues and put in place household rules, responsibility for chores and duties, play time, etc. While kids are included in the discussion, the parents maintain the last word on resolutions.

Problems connected to aging can be reduced by putting in place end of life wishes, thinking through a retirement financial plan, etc. Even with pre-planning, however, problems will arise that you had not anticipated.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions (Problem Solving) | FocusWithMarlene.com

5 basic components of problem-solving

  1. Identify and define the problem. Separate it from the symptoms. Is this an ongoing problem or a recent development? Gather and analyze as many facts as possible to determine the underlying problem.
  2. What and who is involved? Separate individuals from behaviors. The focus is not on people but what is happening. Work together with others who are directly involved to seek acceptable resolutions. This requires active listening and communication, taking responsibility for your emotions, expressing your needs and preferences and a willingness to work together to find solutions instead of blaming.
  3. Brainstorm. Generate as many possible solutions as you can think of. List whatever comes to mind even if they seem far-fetched. In reviewing your list these can often stimulate further options that might be important.
  4. Evaluate and implement. What are the pros and cons, positive and negatives of each? Select one, create a plan of action and implement it. If several people are involved, be sure everyone understands their part.
  5. Make an assessment. Is the problem being resolved? If not, try another one. Don’t feel as though you have failed. We won’t know if it will work until we have tried. Some solutions create additional problems we hadn’t anticipated. Don’t hesitate to keep searching. It isn’t how quick you find the right solution, but that you methodically and consistently worked through it to find one that will work.

Exercise your problem-solving skills

Here are some typical life problems that you might be facing. Using the example above, how would you look for solutions?

  1. My teen is having difficulties in school. What do I do?
  2. My parents are aging and having difficulties. How do I assist.
  3. I have been offered a job that requires me and my family to make a major move. Should I accept?
  4. I am having difficulty with my in-laws. How do bridge that gap?
  5. My spouse and I keep fighting and blaming each other for the problems. How do we resolve it?

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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.

Self-Correcting When Life Takes You Off Course

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My husband and I loved to sail. We moved to Washington so we would have more opportunity to cruise the beautiful San Juan Islands.

If you plan on doing serious sailing or cruising, you need to learn the “rules of the road,” must be able to read charts and navigate the waters to avoid hidden reefs and shipping lanes. What is the significance of the different sizes and shapes of buoys? How do we chart a course from here to there while taking advantage of prevailing winds, tides and currents? Without these basics it is easy to get into trouble.

Sailing requires adjusting your sails to the weather and water conditions. The wind is the energy source that propels you through the water and as the wind shifts, your sails need adjusting to maximize power. Sometimes that means zig-zagging a course in order to move forward. When the weather and wind is steady and consistent, you can set your sails and relax. But you need to be alert to changes and be ready to take the helm.

When we cruised using the engine, we would chart a course and activate the automatic pilot. While the automatic pilot could self-correct within a limited predetermined set path, it couldn’t anticipate the unexpected. Although you could relax, you never left the cockpit. You continued to monitor the water and where you were and were ready to take control of the helm when necessary.

Cruising Through Life

Self-Correcting When Life Takes You Off Course | FocusWithMarlene.comWhile there are times when we can put our lives on automatic pilot, we need to take control of the helm to navigate through waters of personal development, careers, raising our families and planning for the future. We need to know where the rip tides are and be able to avoid submerged rocks to find safe passages.

As with boating, life requires knowing where we want to go and how to get there. But it also involves how to prepare ourselves for the journey. We can make our goals and develop a course of action. But if we don’t chart a manageable course, we won’t make it. When the winds of life whip of waves of adversity, we need to know what to do and how to do it.

Life is a series of ongoing problem-solving. Problems are like the wind changing direction or increasing in velocity. We need to slow down, identify difficulties so we can adjust, resolve, move through and beyond.

Anticipating the Unexpected

In boating you learn what to do in anticipation of the unexpected. Unless you are in immediate danger of running aground, crashing into a barrier reef, or being run over by a large ship, correcting the boat’s course usually takes only a small action.

Do the situations in your life require drastic action or some minor adjustments?

If you have panicked in the past when faced with unexpected changes, your first response to any perceived or real danger in the present will be the same. While fear and panic can motivate us to take immediate emergency action, if the situation doesn’t warrant such action you will overcorrect and overcompensate. You become reactive to anything you are not prepared for. Becoming proactive requires changing that first reactive response into a thoughtful evaluation and resolution of the problem.

5 ways to change impulsive reaction to proactive assessment and evaluation

  1. First, know yourself. How have you handled catastrophes in the past? What is your typical first reaction? What worked? What didn’t work? What made it more difficult to take charge of your situation?
  2. Our first response to catastrophes is panic and fear. Resist the impulse to think about how bad it is. Instead, take a slow deep breath and tell yourself, “I am capable of meeting this demand. I will be okay. I will remain calm as I think through options.”
  3. Put in place some basic, simple strategies to use the next time you are faced with a challenge or unexpected tragedy, such as affirming you can handle it no matter what. Reminding yourself, Yes, I can. Who can you call to get some non-emotional feedback and clarification? Will he/she brainstorm options or possible solutions with you?
  4. Look at uninvited challenges as a way to grow and develop your reasoning skills. Refuse to remain in a reactive mode. Focus on the details of the problem. Write down all the parts or characteristics of it. Does this involve a minor correction in your life or potentially a whole new change of direction?
  5. Do whatever is necessary to stabilize your position while you work on finding a long-term solution. After evaluating your options, decide on a course of action and try it out. Remember if it doesn’t work, you can try another approach.

There will be times when you can run on automatic pilot. Just be prepared to take back the helm and correct or change directions when needed.

Marlene Anderson


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When Everything Goes Wrong

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Everything was going wrong that could go wrong that morning.

First, I dropped a contact lens and spent 10 minutes looking for it.

Then I received a warning about an unpaid cell phone bill. After my attempt to pay online failed, I hurried into town to pay in person. But the office was closed.

I returned home and tried again to pay online and finally after a lot of resets the bill was paid. The morning had been spent frantically trying to resolve problems that seemed to come out of nowhere.

As I fixed myself a late breakfast, I found myself in a funk, frustrated for not being more careful putting in my contacts, angry with technology that seemed to make the simplest things more difficult and at myself for forgetting to pay my bills on time. I had planned on completing some writing projects that morning and instead my time was spent taking care of unexpected emergencies.

As I grumbled about my lost time, I started to question the significance of writing. Why was I bothering? It took a while before it dawned on me that I was allowing myself to fall into a go-nowhere trap that was holding me hostage to anything negative.

Why was I allowing those unexpected problems to sabotage my thinking?

Yes, it was frustrating given what I had planned to accomplish. Yes, I do make mistakes. But I can learn from them. I can accept there will be frustrating times. I don’t have to let it ruin my day.

When everything seems to be going wrong, it is easy to get ambushed by ongoing negative thoughts and feelings. It’s normal and natural to be upset, criticize and complain about this and that, finding fault with anything we think may be making life difficult for us. But remaining in that space is counterproductive.

Grumbling, blaming and complaining can quickly become a habit.

It is easier to be a victim and find reasons why we should be excused from the rough and tumble demands of life. But we miss out on so much when we do.

I remember watching a program that highlighted a remarkable person. Nick Vujicic was born without arms and legs, but he was not sad, depressed, disheartened or discouraged.

Instead, what you saw was a confident adult who was comfortable with himself. He had an enthusiasm for life that was infectious. Happiness and contentment radiated from his face – something difficult to fake.

He has authored many books, keeps an exhausting worldwide speaking schedule, swims and even plays golf. He is married and has a family. I may have had difficult times in my life but whatever was required of me I did with use of my arms and legs.

In my last podcast, I talked about how reframing our circumstances can change the outcome. At any moment in time we can choose to look at things differently. In my example, I reframed my frustrating morning into acknowledging that life isn’t always what we want, but it doesn’t have to ruin the rest of my day.

Nick Vujicic reframed his life from, “how will I ever survive without arms and legs” to a world-wide ministry.

Yes, I Can!

When Everything Goes Wrong | FocusWithMarlene.com

When things go wrong, we get angry and forget to change our focus. We can accept and start looking for solutions. We can remind ourselves that we don’t have to stay depressed, angry or down.

I have made some personal rules that I use on a regular basis. One is “Yes, I can,” that reminds me not to give up. And the other I use in conjunction with it and is, “I refuse.”

I refuse…

  • To give up
  • To think badly of myself or others or feel sorry for myself
  • To allow hatred or resentment govern my life
  • To judge myself or others harshly
  • To believe there are no solutions
  • To allow myself to sink into a depression
  • To isolate myself instead of reaching out for help and feedback

This complements my “Yes, I can” mantra.

I can choose…

  • To be happy and to make happiness a priority in my life no matter what happens
  • To be nonjudgmental – I can evaluate without judging
  • To not dwell on the past
  • To go back and heal old wounds when it is necessary
  • To be open and genuine and honest
  • To accept both the good sides of me and the not so good
  • To refuse to put labels on myself or anybody else
  • To be compassionate and caring
  • To respect the opinions of others even if I adamantly disagree
  • To develop my values and live them without expecting others to follow them
  • To forgive

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.