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What is the Problem? Yours – Mine – Ours

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

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When you learn the basics of problem-solving it will be a skill that you use automatically.

In last week’s post, I outlined five basic components of problem solving; questions you need to ask to find the solution you want. Today you will set the criteria to resolve your problem and learn how to identify exactly what the main problem is.

Identify the problem – define the conflict

Whether the question is how to advance beyond basic survival, how to prepare for your financial future, or how to better communicate with your spouse, it is crucial that the problem be correctly defined.

Unless the problem is correctly defined, you will be trying to rid yourself of emotional distress rather than resolving the actual problem.

Many problems involve our relationships with others: spouse, children, in-laws, neighbors, co-workers, bosses, etc. Until we know how this conflict is affecting all parties involved, we will not be able to adequately separate symptoms from the problem.

Step out of the emotional space for a minute and focus on what is causing you to feel that anger, worry or distress.

What is the actual problem? Do others see it the same way?

Symptoms

Symptoms are the emotional upset you are feeling, and the ongoing conflict affecting life on a daily basis. Problems affect the behaviors of everyone, sometimes through defensive actions, other times through aggressive action or inaction.

Sometimes problems will have us withdraw from any communication, fearful of making the matter worse. Unaddressed, the problem keeps us from listening or communicating at all. Sleep is affected, as are relaxation times. Life has lost all pleasure.

Who is involved?

When the conflict you are experiencing involves others, the perspective of both people needs to be considered.

  • Does the other person see a problem or just you?
  • How does the problem impact each of you?
  • Can you adequately define how you are being affected?
  • Can you listen with an open mind?

It is often difficult to hear another’s point of view. Everybody sees the world differently.

Before problems involving one or more people can be resolved, clarification of both person’s perspective is necessary.

In intimate relationships, emotions can quickly run high along with misinterpretation and misunderstanding. When both people are willing to take time to articulate their opinions, personal perceptions, assumptions, and expectations, and listen to the other person, problems can be successfully worked on.

You can’t tell another person how they should feel or what should be important to them, but you can stop and examine your motives and what is important to you and why.

Is it more important to win an argument, or to work towards a positive resolution?

Is winning more important than the relationship?

If your relationship is meaningful, you will probably have a sincere willingness to listen and understand the other’s point of view.

  • What can both of you accept and live with?
  • What can’t you accept?
  • What sacrifices are you willing to make?
  • What are the alternatives and the impact it might have over time?

Setting the stage for sincere discussion

Whenever a problem involves other people, choose a time and place when you can have a sincere discussion, a time when you both can listen as well as emote, without time pressure. If this is a conflict that involves all family members, ask for a family meeting where the problem can be addressed, and everybody can be heard. Set a time that everyone can agree to.

Holding regular family meetings can be very productive because kids are able to voice their concerns, and everyone has input. It is a time when parents can define the rules and explain why they are necessary. In my parenting classes, regular family meetings were encouraged. It can prevent many problems from getting out of hand.

Discussion includes feelings and behaviors. We become vulnerable and defensive. To actively listen, if you are unsure what was intended, stop, and ask for clarification.

Example: I want to better understand our differences and what specifically you would like to have happen. Is this what you meant? If not, would you explain it to me again?

Say it in a proactive way that encourages further discussion rather than defending/attacking. You can then share what you want and need.

Setting criteria for the outcome

Before you can brainstorm solutions, you need to have criteria identified and written down for what needs to happen for this problem to be resolved.

Gather all the relevant facts. Then brainstorm ways to reach that solution.

Set some rules you both can agree to while working together, such as showing respect, no name calling or labels, a willingness to listen, asking questions politely, and requesting a time-out if emotions get high.

Take the problem apart and look at it from every angle

What is the Problem? Yours – Mine – Ours | Focuswithmarlene.com

  • What are you personally willing to do to arrive at a solution?
  • What personal biases would keep you from working on finding a potential solution?
  • What obstacles do you put up preventing a positive outcome?

Look at the problem forwards and backwards, inside and out. Let it permeate your unconscious. Experience it in as many different ways as possible.

Visualize a solution

Challenge old expectations and assumptions. Break away from rigid patterns. Be willing to try something new.

Re-examine pieces of the problem rather than just rearranging it. Problem-solving assumes certain boundaries. There are things you will not do, and you share that.

Finding answers requires forward thinking and suspending judgement.

It is important not to prejudge any ideas before you have explored their validity. That is especially true for the ideas others present. When we suspend judgement, we can explore more options, think about how each idea might be useful and take the time to evaluate before eliminating.


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Questions I Need to Ask to Find the Solutions I Want

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss


“All problems become smaller when you confront them instead of dodging them.”

—William F. Halsey

How do I solve this problem?

We experience problems every day that require some kind of action. Most are insignificant, or require little thought, such as, What will I wear today?  Do I want to take the weekend off and get away? We make a decision and move on.

But other problems are more complex with more serious outcomes, such as, How can I make enough money to support my family or care for an aging parent? How do I survive this pandemic?

One problem often has a multitude of other problems attached, each requiring thought and consideration. An aging spouse with health issues may require additional care.

  • Should they be put into a long-term care facility?
  • Can I afford it?
  • Should I become the sole caretaker or hire home care?
  • What are the costs of home care?

You may have been laid off with no adequate jobs to be had in your area. The bills need to be paid.

  • Is this a time to move?
  • How will that affect the members of my family?
  • What will be the impact, both short-term and long-term?

When adversities come at a rapid and unexpected pace, we easily become overwhelmed. If we are not familiar with problem solving in the past, we will find it difficult to step back and out of the emotional arena and apply some logical steps to resolve our problems. Sometimes we are simply trying to survive, and any decision made is temporary.

“No problem can be solved until it is reduced to some simple form. The changing of a vague difficulty into a specific, concrete form is a very essential element in thinking.” 

—J. P. Morgan

Where do I begin?

To resolve any problem requires first identifying the root problem. Sometimes it is obvious. Other times, it can be difficult to separate the main problem from all the attached problems, or the symptoms it creates.

Example:

A wife and husband constantly quarreling. One problem is lack of communication skills and another problem is recognizing what each brings to the relationship from their past, etc. Other problems dragged into it are work schedules, things they don’t enjoy doing together, and in-laws.

The main problem, however, is the inability to work together on solvable issues to a negotiated resolution.

How does each spouse perceive the problem? Is it a workable problem or a personality trait they don’t like?

How have they resolved problems in the past? And what makes this problem different? Or is it the same problem, only enlarged? How does each person perceive the problem?

This is especially important and requires listening skills to clarify and communicate wants, needs and end results. It also requires a desire to work together.

A problem well stated is a problem half solved.

—John Dewey

5 basic components of problem-solving

Questions I Need to Ask to Find the Solutions I Want | focuswithmarlene.com

1. Identify and define the problem.

Separate it from the symptoms. Symptoms include how you feel, the behaviors that result, etc. Is this an ongoing problem or a recent development? Gather and analyze as many facts as possible to determine the underlying problem or problems.

2. What and who is involved?

Separate individuals from behaviors. The focus is not on people but what is happening, and the behaviors associated. If you focus on personality differences, no resolution will be attainable.

We can modify behaviors. 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 fanciful or unlikely. In reviewing your list, these can often stimulate further options that might be useful or important.

4. Evaluate and implement.

What criteria do you have for a successful resolution? What are the pros and cons, positive and negatives of each?

Prioritize, select one, and try it out. Create a plan for implementation. If several people are involved, be sure everyone understands and agrees.

5. Assess the outcome.

Is the problem being resolved? If not, try another one.

Have you accurately identified the underlying problem? Do not feel as though you have failed. You will not know until you have tried.

Some solutions create additional problems you had not anticipated. Consider them in your final resolution. Don’t hesitate to keep searching. It isn’t how quick you find the right solution, but that you have methodically and consistently worked through it to find one that will work.

What problem are you facing right now that you can apply these 5 principles to?

Maybe it’s one mentioned above or maybe you are trying to identify the root problem. Next week we will continue how to identify and resolve problems.


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Replacing Habits That Keep You from Being Successful

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.


“Successful people are simply those with successful habits.”

—Brian Tracy

To be successful, you need to be in charge of both your time and habits. Chores need to be done but we also need fun and relaxation.

In my recent post, Are Your Habits Sabotaging Your Efforts? you kept a record of how you spent your time each day for a week.

Last week, in Take Charge of Your Time – Take Charge of Your Life, you re-examined the log you kept, and formulated a workable structure for how you spent your time each day.

This week’s post will help you understand how habits are created and reinforced.

  • What habits currently in place are working for you and why?
  • Which ones aren’t?
  • And if they are not helping you, how can you replace them?

Why do we do the things we do

Before habits can be replaced, we need to understand what keeps them in place. Everything we do, we do because we get a payoff or reward of some kind. That payoff can be in the immediate moment or in the future.

We get immediate pleasure in eating that piece of cake. We rationalize our behaviors by telling ourselves we will only do it this once. Unfortunately, rationalizing can become a habit that keeps other unwanted habits in place.

Rewards and benefits

Habits are maintained because they are reinforced in some way through a reward or benefit we receive. Sometimes that reward is something that is removed (negative reinforcement) and sometimes it is something received (positive reinforcement). We are being reinforced by either of these.

Here is an example to better illustrate what I mean.

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

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

For behaviors to become habits, they need to be reinforced (positively or negatively), repeatedly and consistently over a period of time.

In the above example, the child soon learns that he will get what he wants by acting out and the mom learns that when she acquiesces, she doesn’t have to listen to his yelling and screaming. Once behaviors are in place, they only need to be reinforced intermittently to remain in place. Understanding this process, the mom can choose a better way to handle acting out to achieve compliance.

Another example:

Your child cleans his room and each time he is rewarded 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 once in a while.

The behavior has become a habit. Or a child might eventually clean his room because he doesn’t want to get yelled at anymore. In that case he is negatively rewarded (no more yelling from Mom).

Identify short-term and long-term rewards

As you evaluate your habits and what keeps them in place, it is important to identify the rewards you receive, both short-term and long-term. In establishing new habits, you may notice both something positive received and something negative removed.

For example, developing time management skills will give you control over your time (something positive received) while removing anxiety over not completing tasks (something negative removed).

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

—Will Durant, based on Aristotle’s teachings

Behavior modification summary

Here is a quick summary of how behaviors are reinforced and become habits. Remember that all behaviors can become habits if they are repeatedly and consistently rewarded.

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.

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.

Intermittent Reinforcement

Reinforcement is done once in a while to maintain a habit rather than consistent and immediate that is needed to put a habit in place.

Take charge of your time and your habits

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

The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression,One Small Change at a TimeAccording 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.

Habits that keep us from accomplishing our goals become a downward spiral.

To change that downward spiral of negative habits and routines, requires first recognition and then making a conscious decision followed by action. Taking that tiny step in a new direction begins the process of habit change. When you do, you are changing the dynamics of the neurons and neurotransmitters in your brain.

Remember the story of Arnold Beisser? Finding himself in an iron lung and unable to move, he decided to take charge of his life.

He recognized his position, made a decision to alter that and took his first few steps by engaging in things within his room. As he continued his quest to find a purpose for his life again, he not only left his iron lung, but became a psychiatrist, an administrator and author. He did this by first making a conscious decision followed by tiny steps in a new direction.

Habits are resistant to change.

Replacing them takes time, commitment and dedication. A lifestyle becomes a habit. When we are no longer satisfied with how we live, it’s time to question what we are doing. We not only need to know what isn’t working, we need to know why and what new habits can replace them.

Change starts now.

So, my challenge to you is to pick a behavior or habit you want to replace and start the process. Putting a new habit in place takes hard work and courage and we’ll often rationalize why it is just too difficult to change.

Put yourself in the driver’s seat. Setting up and following a daily routine does not have to be so rigid that you can’t enjoy life. But it is there where we begin to take charge of our life.


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Take Charge of Your Time – Take Charge of Your Life

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.


“You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.”

—John C. Maxwell

What is your daily time routine?

Habits and time management go hand-in-hand. If you want to maximize your time, you need to put habits in place that will help you follow those guidelines.

Next week you will learn what keeps habits in place. But first, let’s set up a time management program that works for you.

Time management is more than making to-do lists.

We all make lists of things to be done and then either abandon them or become stressed in the process of trying to get everything done. And we tend to do the things we like doing first and then put the rest on hold until we feel like it.

While to-do lists are helpful reminders, managing and prioritizing your overall time comes first.

Time management begins with reviewing how you currently spend your time every day.

  • What tasks are left undone and how does impact everything else you are trying to accomplish?
  • Are you substituting to-do lists for a time management schedule?

To-do lists involve incidentals that need our attention. Time management sets a structure with dependable routines, so you delegate your time to get things done.

“Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out.”

—Robert Collier

After putting together a time management plan for each day, revisit your to-do lists.

  • How much time is needed to accomplish each task?
  • How can I fit it into my regular schedule?
  • Does that task need to be done today?
  • If it is a large project, how can I break it down into manageable segments?

“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”

—Malcolm Gladwell

Last week you kept a record of how you spent your time for a week, your daily habits and routines, and what you did at various times of the day from morning to night. Review your record again with the following questions in mind.

  1. What habits keep you from accomplishing necessary chores each day? Perhaps it was putting off for tomorrow what could be done today. Write them down specifically.
  2. Did you schedule “down” times as well as work times? Without scheduled times for needed relaxation, we will neglect chores in favor of just relaxing.
  3. What problems are being ignored because you keep putting them off for tomorrow?
  4. What personal responsibility are you avoiding? Our denial systems can become very active taking us off the hook while blaming others.
  5. How does one problem area affect another and what habits of behavior are consistent between each of the problem areas? Example: putting off daily chores ends with an unorganized and messy home that then affects every aspect of day to day life. For example, not taking time to hang up clothes, ends with a pile of jumbled clothes at the end of the week and difficulty finding what you wanted to wear.
  6. Which areas create a domino effect, constantly affecting all the other areas in your life? For example, if 75% of your time is spent on work while neglecting family, social, spiritual life, etc. your life will become imbalanced.

“There is no elevator to success; you have to take the stairs.”

—Zig Ziglar

5 basic tips to take charge of your time and your life

Take Charge of Your Time – Take Charge of Your Life

Where do you begin to make the changes needed to take charge of your time and energy? Here are five basic ways to take charge of your time and your life.

Start with a sheet of paper that has time increment spaces for an entire day. Then as you look at the suggestions below, begin putting a dependable routine in place.

  1. What routines or schedules need to be in place and followed each day to keep life running smoothly? Make a list of them along with the time needed to complete them. For example: when you get up, mealtimes, work schedules, cleanup times, home maintenance habits, bedtime, etc.
  2. What needs to be done each week: laundry, general household cleaning, shopping, etc. Extend your planning to include a monthly calendar. Designate a time when you will do these things either weekly or monthly.
  3. List projects you want to work on. They can be pleasurable or things that need to be done. These can range from cleaning out your closet or garage, to gardening, planning trips, helping family members, taking on-line classes, etc. These are things you can work on after the basics are done. If a project or chore is large, break it up into small chunks. For example, your closet is a mess and it becomes an overwhelming task, so you put off organizing it. Break the job into manageable segments and do one at a time. Accomplishment is a great motivator.
  4. Once daily routines are established and followed, look at your to-do list and prioritize. Tackle first what is most needed even if that is least pleasurable.
  5. Set aside time each day for relaxation. This isn’t just for social activity. This is a time to rekindle your spirit and let go of your stress. It can be a time for meditation, reading or becoming immersed in a project you love that not only lowers stress but gives you great pleasure.

We have 24 hours each day.

  • How do you want to spend them?
  • Have you avoided making future goals because you haven’t been successful in the past?
  • What new habits can you put in place to make your time truly your time?

Next week, we will look explore what keeps our habits in place. How are they being reinforced? And how can I put that reinforcement in habits that are helpful to me?


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Are Your Habits Sabotaging Your Efforts?

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.


“Good habits are worth being fanatical about.”

—John Irving

It has been said that over 40% of our actions each day are habits. If so, much of our day is on autopilot, and it behooves us to look carefully at our habits to discover which are working for us and which are working against us. This is especially important as you prepare to make new goals for the future. Successful goals rely on habits that keep you on track.

“Once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom and the responsibility to remake them.”

—Charles Duhigg

As you reflect on the goals you have made in the past, why were some never completed while others were? What made the difference?

“Feeling sorry for yourself, and your present condition is not only a waste of energy but the worst habit you could possibly have.”

—Dale Carnegie

The importance of preplanning

My husband and I built two homes together, acting as our own contractors. The first was a house design already drawn up. In the second home, we designed the floor plan based on some important preplanning:

  • What did we want?
  • What could we afford?
  • What was and wasn’t necessary?

Because of that preplanning, we ended up with a home that we not only could afford with the essentials needed, but loved living in.

Similar to building a house, you are preparing a plan and blueprint for what you want moving forward. This preparation will eliminate a lot of unnecessary work down the road and will maximize the use of your time and energy.

“In essence, if we want to direct our lives, we must take control of our consistent actions. It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives, but what we do consistently.”

—Tony Robbins

Reasons we fail

As you explored the whys, whats and hows of past decisions, you investigated what worked and what didn’t and why. Here are some typical reasons we fail:

  • We lack long-term commitment and give up.
  • We lack the motivational habits that keep us on track.
  • We have an initial spurt of energy but not a plan to take us all the way.
  • We haven’t looked honestly at our strengths and weaknesses, accepting all of who we are, and haven’t reflected on behaviors and repeated errors. Until we analyze why we are doing the things we do, we won’t know how to replace those behaviors.
  • We haven’t adequately addressed diversions that occur every day.
  • We haven’t accurately and honestly identified why we did not succeed in the past, so we do not know how to keep from repeating the same errors today.
  • We allow old messages to keep surfacing that tell us we can’t make it.
  • We haven’t established our values and made a commitment to follow them.

There is little we can’t achieve if we set our mind to it. But it does require planning, a time commitment, a belief in our abilities, and motivation to follow through when the going gets rough. It also requires understanding the habits we currently have.

“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”

—Jim Rohn

Habits are a wonderful thing unless they consume our time and energy without giving us the results we want. Habits provide the structure we need to stay on track. They remind us to follow our intentions and not just what feels good in the moment.

“The trick to success is to choose the right habit and bring just enough discipline to establish it.”

—Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

What is your daily time routine?

Are Your Habits Sabotaging Your Efforts? | FocusWithMarlene.com

Habits and time management go hand-in-hand. If you want to maximize your time, you need to have habits that will keep you moving in the right direction. If you constantly put off chores that need to be done each day, you will find yourself consumed by trying to catch up.

To discover how effectively you use your time, keep a record of what you do each day for one week. On a sheet of paper, put down the hours of the day and then record what you do within that time period; the time you get up, morning schedules, daytime routines, after work, evening and then bedtime. Don’t try to change anything – just get the information you need to work with.

At the end of the week, review your time log. Did you have predictable routines in place? If not, how did that affect your ability to maintain order in your life? Were you able to complete necessary tasks, or where you constantly playing catch up?

Next week we will discuss ways you can manage your time. Then we will speak to the habits that need to be replaced in order to make time work for you instead of against you.


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Developing a Vision: Why, What and How

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.


“Whatever you focus on, your energy will follow…”

Developing a vision is more than just thinking about what you might want to do or to have. It’s also developing a new focus. Your focus determines who you are and who you can become. It makes you unique.

On the front page of my website I have defined my platform with the following:

Focus

  • On God – let Him lead
  • On what you can do – not what you can’t
  • On choices and possibilities
  • On solutions – not problems
  • On principles and values – live them

“If we think we are limited or have no choices, we will experience hopelessness, helplessness, anxiety and fear. But if we focus on God, possibilities and options, our energy will be released and directed toward finding the solutions that are right for us.”

These five important considerations can help you establish a positive focus for your life. This is especially important when recovering from a major loss, as grief often keeps us focused on the loss instead of planning for the future. When we focus on loss, it will be difficult to find solutions and overcome obstacles moving forward.

I have made goals that were never completed, primarily because I had not done the preliminary work necessary. I hadn’t created a timeline or adequately defined what I wanted and what was required to get there.

I hadn’t considered ahead of time the obstacles I might encounter or ways to overcome them.

And I hadn’t put together a basic plan of action.

Without these things, goals become more like exciting new ideas we try out but never get really serious about. It sounded like a good idea in the moment, but we hadn’t explored what was involved in making it an actual working goal.

Before you begin to set goals in earnest, let’s explore a little further what you really want and why. Ask yourself what made the difference between success and failure in the past and why some goals were abandoned while others were not. You want to be successful.

Why, What, and How

eveloping a Vision: Why, What and How | FocusWithMarlene.com

Remember to not abandon any ideas, wants or desires you have or may have had. As you go through the following list, consider any of your desires or thoughts a possibility.

Maybe you had thought about getting more education or starting your own business or putting time and energy into creating crafts that others would want to buy. It may not have been possible before, but is it a possibility now? Age is not a factor – finances are not a factor. If it is important enough to you, you will find a way to make it happen.

These three little words, why, what and how, provide questions to help you think through your wants and wishes and possibilities. Keep a notebook handy to write down any and all thoughts as you explore the questions. There might be some overlap in the questions. You may not have answers to all of them. Some are thought-provoking and could become more important later, such as some of the how questions.

Why:

  • Why do I want to do this or make this a goal?
  • Why have I hesitated in the past?
  • Why is it important now?
  • Why do other things take precedence and seem more important than reaching this goal? Example: Am I willing to become more disciplined and self-regulated?

What:

  • What specifically do I want to do, to have, or to attain?
  • What keeps me from doing it? (past attempts, failures, lack of commitment, etc.)
  • What obstacles, restrictions, setbacks do I face? (financial, age, lack of support, determination, fear, unsure, insecurity, etc.)
  • What interferences are there? (Demanding job, family concerns, over-committed in other areas, home to maintain, etc.)
  • What would happen if I didn’t make a decision and get started?

How:

  • How will I maintain other important and necessary commitments? (job, family, church, rest, important relationships, etc.)
  • How will I get through discouraging moments?
  • How will I keep myself motivated when I am tired and alternative diversions become more compelling?
  • How will I define my goal specifically, so I know exactly how to structure my plan of action?
  • How will I know when I have reached my goal and am ready for the next one?

As you explore what you really want and don’t want, what has kept you from succeeding in the past and how you will remain motivated in new goals, this enlarged dimension of who you are will aid you moving forward.


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Putting the Pieces Together: Who Am I Today?

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.


“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

—Jeremiah 29:11, NIV

Last week you reflected on all you have learned on this journey through loss. Now, you will use that information and take that next step in putting together the pieces of your life that were disrupted into a new picture of who you can become.

Early in my writing career, I did an interview with a Christian radio station host. Before the interview, I was given a set of questions to preview that would be used in our discussion. They included my years growing up, my family, my teaching and counseling career, and my new career goals as a writer and speaker.

The interview preparation made me pause and think about who I was before and after the loss of my husband, what I valued, and how the things I learned helped me achieve. Taking some thoughtful time to reflect gave me a deeper appreciation of myself, the attributes I had, what I had learned about myself, and the life experiences that helped shape and mold me.

Each of us can uncover similar things when we take time for reflection. We are a composite of DNA, personality traits, childhood experiences and core beliefs established along the way. We are a combination of strengths and weaknesses. When we’ve suffered a major loss, our thoughts revolve around why we can’t or won’t succeed that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Throughout life there will be turning points, defining moments where we can stop and reflect; opportunities to eliminate what isn’t working and put in place new resources. Beginning with a more measured assessment of who we are, and what helped us succeed in the past, we will be better equipped to make plans for our future.

Who Am I?

As you consider and anticipate the needs and wants for your future, think about what makes you “you.”

How would you describe your personality and attributes?

If we just met and I asked you to tell me about yourself, what would you say? Typical responses are often the roles we have in life such as teacher, mom, CEO, factory worker, mechanic, librarian, physician, etc.

But that is only a small part of our life story. That is merely the outside wrappings. How would you describe yourself outside of those roles?

Use the following questions to help you in this process:

  • What do you value and believe?
  • What do you think about on a daily basis?
  • What do you like to do and why?
  • What do you hate and why?
  • How would you describe life in general?
  • What creates problems for you? Do you consider them faults and failings that have more power over your life than the unrecognized assets and strong points that are waiting to be applied?
  • What achievements have you made? It is important not to minimize.
  • What do you consider your special talents and abilities?

Say Hello to Yourself

Putting the Pieces Together: Who Am I Today? | FocusWithMarlene.com

Take a sheet of paper and draw a circle in the center. Add a smiley face and put your name in the middle. Draw spokes leading outward like a sun. Each of these spokes radiating outward is a part of how you describe or define who you are.

As you consider the following questions, write on each of the spokes a descriptive word about yourself.

Be sure you put a balance of strengths and weaknesses. We are an amalgam of positive traits and those we might see as not so positive. We are not either/or. We are a wonderful combination of all of them and can benefit from all of them.

  1. What traits or strengths would you assign to yourself? For example: Do you see yourself as strong, determined, or hesitating and thoughtful, etc.?
  2. Describe some of your social skills. For example: do you consider yourself friendly, shy and aloof or engaging, talkative, social, etc.?
  3. What are your predominant attitudes or ways of thinking – dependable, trusting, independent, reliable, loyal, positive, etc.?
  4. How would you describe your typical emotional state? Are you happy, anxious, angry, contented, cheerful, compassionate, etc.?
  5. What talents and abilities do you have – artistic, computer savvy, athletic, good planner, etc.?

Be as honest as you can with this exercise. Add as many spokes as you need. You are a wonderful human being. Take this image with you as you move forward.

Next week we will continue our preparation for new goals.


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Where Do We Begin?

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s podcast episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.


“Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.”

—Henri Frederic Amiel

Since January, my articles have focused on strategies to heal and recover after your loss so you can focus on rebuilding – creating a new beginning.

You have grieved, accepted, let go and are now ready to put your energy into making plans for the future.

Before making any major long-term goals, some preliminary questions can help you avoid a lot of wasted time and energy. Some of those questions include identifying your strengths and weaknesses.

Have you given thoughtful consideration to what you would like to do in the future and what obstacles or barriers you may encounter?

Starting over is never easy.

When we started out in life, it seemed there was a more defined path to follow: going to college, establishing a career, getting married, starting a family, etc. Somehow it was easier to coordinate all the pieces and move in the direction we wanted to go.

But now, everything seems more difficult and complicated. Hanging on to what we had, we may find it difficult to define what we want, and we may struggle with where to start. If it becomes overwhelming, we may put it off.

A new approach is required – a new mindset.

One of the mantras I put in place early in my life when faced with difficult decisions was, Yes, I can. That mindset was especially helpful after my husband died. The problems I faced seemed overwhelming at times. Repeating those three little words, Yes, I can, gave me the encouragement and belief I needed to keep going and look for solutions. It was an affirmation I encourage you to apply.

Considering future options

As you consider options for your future, reflect first on everything you have accomplished or overcome in the past.

  • What have you learned that can help you moving forward?
  • What do you need to leave behind that wasn’t helpful, such as negative self-talk and a negative attitude?

Change is always difficult, but it is also exciting. You are taking the best of you and using it to create a new life that holds purpose and meaning.

Where Do We Begin? | FocusWithMarlene.com

To accomplish anything of value requires thought and planning.

Goals require a defined intention, a willingness to work, and ongoing motivation. It is setting a deliberate course of action and following through.

You will be required to set priorities and make some tough choices. What are you willing to do and not willing to do?

In my upcoming articles, you will learn time management and self-regulation skills that will keep you on track. There will be some tough choices such as postponing pleasure in the moment in order to maintain a course that has rewarding long-term benefits.

It isn’t just strengths and achievements from your past that you bring forward, but what you also have been learning through this grief journey. We often do not see the progress we are making.

The questions below offer a quick review of where you might find yourself today. I’ve included links to blog posts and podcast episodes you can revisit that address this.

Are you struggling with emotional conflict?

Review the posts on conflict, difficult emotions and solutions.

Are you accepting and letting go?

Are you reframing your circumstances and loss to see a larger picture of what was and what can be?

Are you putting in place a new mindset that will energize your plans?

Are you able to equate your loss with others who have gone through life altering changes?

What can their true-life stories teach you about making a successful new beginning?

Are you able to identify some of the major obstacles you face going forward?

Sometimes the greatest obstacle you may ever have to face is “you.”.What do you continue to say to yourself that stops you? How do you define your focus of future possibility?

Are you able to see blessings and be grateful?

Balancing your circumstances to include both what was lost and what was gained, helps you heal and normalize life.

As you review the articles, you will notice I have repeated important concepts, defining them in different ways and in different contexts. I did this purposefully, to help you gain a broader picture of what you are capable of doing and overcoming.

You can have a meaningful life again. It doesn’t mean there won’t be some tough spots and difficult decisions. But you are gaining the knowledge and learning the life skills that will help you meet those challenges. I want you to succeed.

Next week’s post will begin the process of picking up the pieces of a life shattered by loss and putting them together in a new vision for yourself.


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Gratitude: A Brain Changer

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s podcast episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.


“Gratitude is a powerful catalyst for happiness. It’s the spark that lights a fire of joy in your soul.”

—Amy Collette

You may be wondering why I am spending so much time on humor, laughter, blessings and gratitude in this series. I am because they are such powerful mindsets that can overcome depression, sorrow, and hopelessness.

They are some of life’s most powerful tools that can be used every day in many circumstances to lift our spirits and motivate us to look for ways to accomplish goals and be happy. This is especially beneficial when healing from a loss.

Gratitude

Did you know that just by searching for positive things to be grateful for, you are activating your brain to produce more feel-good hormones? Just by the process, you are changing how your brain is working. Wow – I think that’s pretty significant!

Then why don’t we focus more on all the blessings and things we can be grateful for rather than the things that make us upset and unhappy?

“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

—Melody Beattie

We have all suffered unspeakable tragedies, and people wonder how they will survive, go on, rebuild, find joy again. Yet we can and do.

Focusing on the positive doesn’t mean we don’t need to spend time identifying and resolving problems. Instead, it helps us recognize and specifically interpret the problems we need to resolve instead of just focusing on the symptoms that make us feel miserable.

“In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer

As a former teacher, facilitator and therapist, I encourage people to challenge negative thinking and replace it with a more positive and objective point of view. I do the same with myself.

How we react and interpret problems will help us find solutions.

While events and people can make us angry or discouraged, we do not need to stay in that position. We can alter our response.

This is not a Pollyanna approach where everything is okay. A positive attitude recognizes that if there is bad stuff happening, there is also good stuff. The good stuff, however, tends to be overshadowed or colored by the bad stuff that holds us captive.

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough.”

—Anonymous

In last week’s post, I asked you to look for blessings. We find gratitude the same way and they overlap in many ways. Gratitude can be as simple as I am grateful to be alive. I am grateful I can decide how I will use my time and energy.

Gratitude is being thankful for all the things we have. It is a recognition and appreciation for the unexpected blessings that pop into our lives and expressing that thankfulness in some way.

“Life is a gift. Never forget to enjoy and bask in every moment you are in.”

—Unknown

Consider the choices you are making

We are making choices all the time. We choose how we want to look at life. We choose the actions we will take. We can focus on constructive planning and managing our time, or we can focus on doing whatever feels good in the moment.

We can choose to worry, or we can choose to put our energy into problem solving. We can choose to be mindless, or we can choose to think of ways to develop a purpose for our life.

Some things to consider:

We choose our attitudes and responses to life situations

  • Bitterness or gratitude
  • Resentment or extending grace
  • Negative comparisons or personal self-worth
  • Anger or reconciliation
  • Anxiety and fear or faith and promise
  • Belief in God or being my own god
  • Integrity, honesty, generosity or self-centeredness, greed, what’s in it for me

 We choose our mindsets and patterns of behavior

  • What I can do vs what I can’t do
  • Finding solutions rather than remaining in a state of helplessness
  • Acceptance of events and moving forward or resisting and remaining stuck
  • Personal responsibility vs the blame game
  • Forgiveness vs revenge
  • Assessing options, taking a risk vs panic, fear and worry
  • Focus on similarities and agreement vs division and differences

We choose our lifestyle

  • Letting go of critical self-talk or affirming our strengths and abilities
  • Self-discipline and regulation instead of whatever feels good in the moment
  • Principles and values vs whatever the current culture dictates
  • Long-term goals vs immediate gratification
  • Developing good friendships and safe environments vs being one of the crowd

Take a moment and reflect on the choices you are making every day.

  • Which ones help you solve problems and energize your efforts?
  • Which ones focus only on what isn’t working and creates even more conflict?
  • What choices can you make that will activate more gratitude and maximize your happiness?

Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson

Blessings in the Midst of Tragedies

Listen to this episode of the Focus With Marlene Podcast

Click here to listen to today’s podcast episode.

Click here to get caught up on all episodes in this series on recovering from loss.

“If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.”

—Rabbi Harold Kushner

Most of us would agree that a blessing is something fortunate that has happened to us for which we are thankful. We think of them in the moment as a relief from pressure, something unexpected that reduces stress or makes us feel good.

I have discovered, however, that many times blessings come disguised and are only realized later. We are required to make tough choices within the challenges we face. Making those tough choices has taught me to think beyond the moment. This was especially true when I was creating a new life for myself after the death of my husband. I knew I not only could survive, but I could use my skills to rebuild a meaningful life.

There are blessings within our losses, but often we need to deliberately search for them. Is it worth the effort? I think so, because we gain a new depth of gratefulness, strength and confidence in the process.

“When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around.”

—Willie Nelson

Blessings are gifts that enable us to see beyond the pain and see hope in the worst of circumstances. Blessings ignite our energy; they awaken our passions and resolve. They give us a renewed desire to go beyond working through the tangles of life. They give us a time-out, a breathing space and relief from the immediate troubles of the day.

“Reflect upon your present blessings — of which every man has many – not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”
—Charles Dickens

Counting your blessings

To “count your blessings” is not some frivolous philosophy, ideology or precept.

Blessings in the Midst of Tragedies | focuswithmarlene.com

  • It can transform the ordinary and commonplace, putting a different “spin” on what you are experiencing.
  • It can give you a different perspective to an otherwise dark outcome, offering a way out or through, giving you more understanding, depth and meaning.
  • It becomes the paintbrush that paints rays from the sun shining through the dark clouds.
  • It captures that moment of hope and faith and transforms the world around you.

We are surrounded by blessings every day. Recognizing them, however, often requires thoughtful reflection.

Blessings let us know we are not alone – there is a God who has not only created this incredible world but continues to maintain it. We are not alone in our tragedies, challenges or adversities – He is with us all the way.

I am thankful for being alive. Yet, being alive is something we take for granted until we are faced with death. For someone who has dealt with cancer, watched a child struggle to live, or have missed a tragedy by seconds, being alive has a depth of meaning that most of us seldom think about. Modern medicine has enabled me to walk, replacing two hips and fusing a back. Blessings are there in all of it.

“When we lose one blessing, another is often most unexpectedly given in its place.”
—C.S. Lewis

Becoming a widow was painful. But the unexpected blessing has been that I have been able to devote my time and energy to sharing my training and life experiences through my writing and speaking. I have met some wonderful people who have become good friends. I have seen firsthand what motivation and inspiration can do against seemingly insurmountable odds.

Do I miss the life I had? Of course. But I also have created a new one that holds joy, happiness and contentment.

How would you describe your life? What are you thankful for?

Is life just one set of problems after another without any pleasure mixed in-between? Or is there more meaning to your life because of the troubles and hardships you have been given?

Perhaps your thankfulness is deeper than most of us because you just avoided a tragedy, learned how to live with a life-defying illness or survived a loss impossible to define. For those of you who have overcome so much, and remain thankful, we can learn from you.

It is easy to focus on all the things that go wrong and continue to focus on our misfortunes. We are rewarded at first by not having to do the work to overcome. But it is at a deep cost – a cost of creating and building a new meaningful life. We look at problems as intrusions instead of challenges to live more productively and become happy. In comparing ourselves to others, we only see what we don’t have and fail to see all the things we do have. But when we change our focus, our lives will take on a whole new dimension.

During this week, begin writing down the things you are thankful for – those blessings you hadn’t acknowledged. You will be blessed in doing the exercise.


Learning to Live Again in a New World, by Marlene Anderson | focuswithmarlene.comLearning to Live Again in a New World

We need validation for the turmoil of thoughts and emotions we experience. But we also need the tools necessary to create a new beginning that is both satisfying and meaningful. My new book, Learning to Live Again in a New World, offers those tools to help work through the problems you might be facing.

It is a guide to help you through the ups and downs of grieving a significant loss. And it includes a study guide at the end for use with groups.

Marlene Anderson