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What if…

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“For we live by believing, not by seeing.”

—2 Corinthians 5:7, NLT

What if

We stopped trying to live the perfect life.

Would we become real?

What if

We stopped pretending we had it all together.

Would we fall apart, or would we finally recognize our need for help?

What if

We saw the Ten Commandments as a gift from a loving Father trying to teach us how to live non-destructive lives.

Would we follow more of them?

What if

We really believed God cared about us more than any earthly being could.

Would we finally trust and believe?

What if

We could actually say, “I’m a sinner, Lord; forgive me.”

Would we finally set down that bag of garbage we’ve been carrying around all these years?

Would we stop struggling and find rest and peace?

What if

We gave our “hearts” to God instead of our good intentions and good works?

Would we be able to let go of our fake facades and be transformed?

What if

We accepted God’s forgiveness.

Would we find peace?

What if

We forgave ourselves.

Would we be more forgiving of others?

What if

We actually loved ourselves because God loves us?”

Would we be able to love others more?

What if

We saw service as a joy instead of a duty.

Would those we serve see the love and compassion of a God who loves them too?

What if

We came and sat with God every day:  talking – listening – being still?

Would we hear His quiet but strong voice?

What if

Instead of asking “Why, why, why? – Why did this happen?… Why did God allow this?… Why did I screw up again?… Why can’t I ever get anything right?… Why, why, why?” We simply said, “I don’t know why, and I don’t care. I just know God loves me – period. He said it; I believe it.”

If He has the power to create this entire universe, this world, all the laws of science that maintain it, and you and me, then do I really need to know all the whys?

What if

There was no God?

It would be the day I died, and life no longer had meaning. The universe would no longer reflect light. The earth would stop rotating and on that day I would be joyless, lifeless. There would be no love – no laws – no protection – no joy – nothing! The earth would be full of nothing. It would consist only of facades, distorted mirrors, and no way to get out of the endless cycle of lies, deceit, and greed. Everyone would be left with a life that had no meaning, rotating around and around on a merry-go-round that never stopped, and we would experience hopelessness and despair.

No God? Impossible!

Lord, help me to believe when I struggle, to have faith when everything seems to be going wrong and to know that You are always there for us.

Lord, Teach Me to Pray

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As a young mother, I attended a Bible study group of women from all faiths and denominations. Listening to the women talk about their prayer life, I felt inadequate in my own.

I asked myself, How do I establish a meaningful prayer life?

Every day, I sent heavenward a constant stream of doubts and concerns as I chased after an ADHD son, tried to meet the needs of my daughter while helping my physically handicapped son learn to walk.

When I “prayed,” it was with the formality of praying to a stern father who listened only when you had cleaned up your act.

I understood and believed in grace, but that meaning hadn’t sunk in yet. To me, God felt like a puritanical God who expected and demanded a “right spirit within me” before I could approach Him.

Years later, after gaining a little more wisdom, I realized that all those times when I prayed the right words of petition, praise and worship, I was trying to live up to a standard imposed by man.

God heard my prayers, but I didn’t experience God in the way I so desperately wanted because I believed He cared more about perfection than the person. My “real” prayers were the constant stream of petitions, doubts and concerns and thanks as I struggled through my days.

Throughout the Bible we read the prayers offered up to God – prayers of pleading, complaint, confession, and blessing. The people of the Old Testament prayed for strength and endurance. We read the prayers of Abraham, Moses, Hannah, David, Elijah, Nehemiah, Daniel, and Jeremiah, to name just a few.

Old Testament people talked to God anytime and anywhere about anything and everything, using everyday language.

And yet, how seldom do we “talk” to God. We struggle to find the appropriate words to express our concerns.

woman praying

So, what is this thing called “prayer”?

Prayer is a conversation. It is developing an intimate relationship with God. He is the ultimate Father and friend. As Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven.”  While God is not to be taken frivolously or lightly, neither is He cold and aloof. He is our Heavenly Father.

Prayer is a relationship – an ongoing open dialogue between God and us.

Prayer is reverently acknowledging that He is Almighty God and humbly giving thanks for all the blessings in our life.

Prayer is studying, meditating and simply ‘being” with God, listening quietly for that small, quiet voice deep within us.

Prayer is becoming honest with ourselves before a God whose love will transform rather than destroy us. It is there we find peace and hope.

God graciously allows us to be real and free to be ourselves when we come to Him. In prayer we can bring our tears, frustrations, anxieties, doubt, anger, grief, and depression to Him along with our joy, humility, awe, thankfulness, and praise.

Prayer heals our wounds, gives us strength, and helps us gain a servant’s heart. It is where we find that “peace that passes all understanding.”

Thank you, God, that you hear and answer our prayers.

Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Lord, teach us to pray.

Teach us how to be real. Teach us how to be free to run and experience you as a child, as our father. Teach us how-to live in accordance with you.

“Come,” He says. Come honestly. Come as a child. You can even come as a hardened adult, but at some point you will want to check your baggage at the door, for your sake, not His. Just come. You will never be able to prepare yourself or be good enough. God is bigger than you think.

“Come unto me, all ye that labor who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

—Matthew 11:28-29, KJV

That means you.

That means me.

His love doesn’t depend on our feelings, state of being, sacrifices, or anything. His love is a free gift to each of us.


Come as a child or hardened adult.

Come as a doubting Thomas or a killer with blood on your hands or heart. Come as a thief who has stolen lifeblood from another.

Come broken-hearted. Come rejoicing.

Just come as you are – dirty – doubting – bleeding – beat up – defiant – arrogant – cynical – self-righteous – self-centered – proud – humble – faithless – faithful.

He will give you a spiritual bath and transform your life. He will kill the fatted calf and make a feast for you. He welcomes you with open arms as you bring awareness of your need – even if that is buried under the grossest garbage of this world.

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I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs, or women’s groups.

How to Reduce Stress During the Holidays and Throughout the Year

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Holidays often create high levels of stress and tension. Last-minute shopping, forgotten items on our to-do list, planning get-togethers, last-minute invitations, etc.

When under pressure to get everything done, we constantly work without taking breaks. However, unless we take purposeful breaks, that constant tension will soon exhaust us. When we learn relaxation techniques, we can apply them at any time to reduce stress and tension.

Only 15 minutes a day

It is difficult to learn how to relax on our own, as we try to “make” it happen instead of learning how to “allow” it to happen.

Relaxation Audio - Marlene Anderson | Focuswithmarlene.comA good friend of mine, Ron Jones, an Emmy award-winning composer, and I collaborated to create a Relaxation Audio (available on my website).

Ron composed the music specifically to go with the simple script I read that teaches the listener how to relax all parts of the body.

The script is based on relaxation techniques taught by a physician years ago working with biofeedback. I ask you to tense different parts of your body, breathe into that tension, and then slowly release both the air and tension.

As I breathe on the tape, you breathe.

When thoughts of work intrude, you don’t push the thoughts away – you simply allow them to pass by while you re-focus on the relaxation exercise.

The recording is both relaxing and instructive.

In the process of going through the exercise, you discover where you hold your stress and tension. We all have different areas of the body that seem to tighten faster under stress. While doing this exercise, you experience both the tension of muscles and the relaxation of those muscles immediately while breathing.

As you follow the sequence, the brain begins to associate the words, “letting go, relaxing deeper and deeper” with the intake and release of deep breathing, making it easier to release stress any time.

Our brain responds to words.

Without realizing it, we are constantly streaming thoughts and statements all day long in our mind, a lot of them loaded with stress that has an immediate response in the body. Purposefully choosing different words that associate slow, deep breathing with instructions to let go of tension, helps return the body to a restful state.

It takes about 30 days to put a new habit in place. If you listen every day to this 15-minute MP3 audio, you will experience lower stress levels.

Other Quick Stress-Reduction Techniques

Our brain not only responds to words, but also to the pictures we hold in our head. Here are some quick stress-reduction techniques that you can use any time.

Five-Minute Walk Away

Get up and walk away from your work. Physically remove yourself from your work and find a quiet spot by yourself.

Stand with arms at your side, take a deep, slow breath and slowly raise your arms, stretching them high over your head.

Hold them there for a minute and then slowly expel your air and gradually bring your arms back down to your side.

While doing this exercise, focus your mind on relaxing. Repeat several times. Before returning to work, take a few additional minutes to walk around, stretching muscles and focusing on anything other than work.

Ten-Minute Time-Out

When you have an especially busy workday, schedule longer breaks throughout the day, even if you think you absolutely have no time. Do it anyway. Set your watch.

Go for a walk outdoors even if it is cold.

Focus on the world around you and on relaxing your breathing. Pay attention to the beauty of nature, the trees, colors, shapes, textures, and sounds.

Healing Waterfall

Here is a quick visualization I use when I’m on the run and want to maximize time spent waiting in line, on the elevator, waiting in the doctor’s office, etc.

Since I have already taught the mind to respond to both images and accompanying words, I can use them both effectively in quick moments when I am not doing anything else. They reduce tension, time pressure and stress.

If you can, close your eyes for a moment. If not, you can still visualize. Focus on breathing calmly and deeply and imagine myself standing underneath a beautiful, warm, gently cascading waterfall.

Feel the gentle stream of water wash over you. As it does, feel your tension washing away as well. Let go of your stress and allow yourself to relax.

Positive Driving

Nothing can create tension faster than being late for an appointment with the traffic reducing progress to a crawl. Your thoughts increase the tension in your body, and you feel angry, anxious, frustrated, pressured, helpless, aggressive, etc.

Use your mind to bring calm instead. You can’t go faster. You are stuck in traffic. You will not arrive at your destination any quicker by feeling angry and getting more tense. You are berating yourself instead of going with the flow of events.

Use this time to monitor your thoughts and attitudes, let go of stressful events, reframe your situation, and relax.

Tell yourself you can’t get there any faster than what the traffic will allow. Tell yourself you will use this time to relax and think positive thoughts.

Stay in the moment rather than thinking about where you must be or what you should be doing. Whenever you feel tension rising, breathe into that space and release it.

Small new habits; big changes

It is amazing how our life will change when we apply relaxation and visualization techniques that are easy to learn and available anytime. These are new habits that can make a huge difference in your life.

Happy Holidays.


Thanksgiving Psalm of Blessings

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Blessings – they are there in the everyday routines of life. But we seldom see them because we are so caught up in our work and worries. In fact, we seldom find time to spend any time with a God who has blessed us in so many ways.

Sometimes in our tragedies and sorrows we think there is nothing for which to be thankful. Yet I have found it is precisely in my tragedies and sorrows where I have found God waiting to provide comfort, strength, and hope.

“You’re blessed when you stay on course, walking steadily on the road revealed by God. You’re blessed when you follow his directions, doing your best to find him.”

—Psalm 119, The Message

I am blessed because every day I have the freedom to make choices. I can make them by myself, or I can choose to make them in harmony with God’s Word.

Turkey, Stuffing and Thanks

Thanksgiving isn’t just a time for turkey and stuffing. Giving thanks is an important value humans need every day. It isn’t some corny, left-over virtue from the past that we don’t need any more.

Learning gratefulness and humility is important to our health: mental, spiritual, and physical.

It motivates us when the world looks black. It energizes us to pick ourselves up and begin yet again. It gives us hope when our future looks hopeless. The more we practice it throughout the year, the more we benefit from it.

Here are some things I continue to be grateful for:

  • The freedom to develop my talents and use them in service to others as well as myself
  • The opportunities to express myself in positive and helpful ways
  • The ability to choose how I will respond to whatever life throws at me
  • The freedom to worship a God who is gracious and forgiving and gives me wisdom and strength
  • The capability to reach out, encourage and help another in their struggles
  • The assurance that I live in a free nation, where I have the opportunity to work and choose positive principles and values

This Thanksgiving, as I give thanks for all of those who have shed their blood to keep this country free, I am humbled by their sacrifice. I give thanks to God who has blessed our nation and our freedom.

“Oh, that my steps might be steady, keeping to the course you set; then I’d never have any regrets in comparing my life with your counsel.”

—Psalm 119, The Message

giving thanks

Blessings to you this Thanksgiving.

May the bowing of your head in prayer and thanksgiving give you the greatest blessing of all.

May your Thanksgiving be filled with remembrances of all the blessings God has given us as a nation and to each of us personally.

May you find in those remembrances the strength to meet tomorrow’s challenges, the peace you seek as you walk with God, and the hope for a future where God’s love is more evident than man’s hatred for one another.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving.

How Purpose, Optimism, Values, and Beliefs Work Together

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We can have all the goals and plans we want and work hard to achieve them. But without purpose, all that would be meaningless.

Purposiveness can be defined as “finding meaning in life.”

Without a sense of purpose and meaning, we might accomplish things, but they would feel insignificant.

Victor Frankl wrote that our search for meaning “is the primary motivation in life.” (from Man’s Search for Meaning)

Martin Seligman wrote, “Optimism and hope cause better resistance to depression when bad events strike, better performance at work, particularly in challenging jobs, and better physical health.” (from Authentic Happiness)

Optimism doesn’t just happen – it is learned.

The science of psychoneuroimmunology teaches us there is an interaction between the brain, endocrine system, and immune system and to this degree belief becomes biology.

Optimism is a biological phenomenon that creates a definite physiological response within an individual. It reduces anxiety and stress and its accompanying physical symptoms. Other studies reveal that when optimism was used as a primary coping strategy, people were less anxious and had fewer physical symptoms.

—Witmer & Rich, 1983

How do we develop the skills of optimism and purpose for our lives?

In studies by Maslow, we learn that having a definite philosophy of life and religion are as important as sunlight, calcium or love.

We can have the most beautiful and desired of homes, but without a meaningful purpose, we remain unhappy, constantly searching for that next thing.

We cannot live and survive without strong ethical and defined moral standards.

Valuelessness is the ultimate disease of our time. It leads to vague illnesses: apathy, alienation, hopelessness, and cynicism which lead to psychological, physical, and social illnesses.

Having a meaningful purpose in life helps us develop optimism.

Understanding the value of our beliefs enables us to develop a moral compass to guide our behavior. Morality guides behavior that maintains our well-being, along with giving respect and compassion to others.

Spirituality and optimism and a belief in God go hand-in-hand.

optimistic women

What do you believe and what do you value?

Beliefs form the foundation of our value system. Values are the personal worth we place on anything we deem important to us.

Sometimes we learn those values growing up, often by observing the role models in our life, such as parents, teachers, etc.

For some kids it is the movie and TV characters they see.

Other times it is a discovery as we go through tough times.

Our beliefs and values guide most of our behavior.

What do you value most in life?

Your kids, your marriage, your relationships? Perhaps it is your career or achieving success. Maybe you put a high value on your iPhone, iPad, or other electronics you have come to depend on?

We spend time with those things we value the most. If family is important, we will spend time with them. If our relationships are important, we will spend time with those we care about. If God is important, we will value the time we spend with Him and His Word.

The values we hold form a blueprint or guideline for the choices and decisions we make. They affect our choice of occupations, marriage partners, family and social interactions, political and religious activities, and future plans. Are values are more than just a set of rules and regulations.

When our beliefs and values and behaviors are incompatible or at odds with each other, we will experience conflict and stress.

If we are doing things that go against a deeply held belief or value, we will find ourselves in internal conflict. This creates a stress that will affect every aspect of our health: psychological, emotional, spiritual, and physical.

Identifying our core beliefs and the value we place upon them is crucial to living a healthy life.

Moral values are based on right/wrong – good/evil. They form the basis for judgments or moral responsibility. They guide ethical behaviors such as telling the truth, keeping agreements and not injuring others, etc. They often contain words such as should, never, always.

Non-moral values are based on tastes, preferences, and styles. There is no sense of obligation or moral responsibility attached. It is preferred vs dictated. They express our attitudes towards all kinds of things.

Both beliefs and values are very powerful. We will die for them. We will kill others for them. We will give up comfort and safety for them. We need them.

Healthy values are life-enhancing, realistic, flexible, and owned. They allow us to meet our basic human needs.

Healthy values encourage us to live in the present while still learning from the past and making plans for the future. They encourage us to problem-solve based on current situations and expand our learning base.

Unhealthy values, on the other hand, are rigid, introjected, unrealistic, and life-restricting. They diminish self-esteem and create a life that holds little joy or pleasure. They form rules that discourage thinking, problem-solving and evaluation. The rules are laws that cannot be broken – you must and have to follow without question.

In a fast-paced world that gives us little time to think and evaluate, we often find ourselves at odds with what we believe is truly important. But the time spent stepping back and evaluating our beliefs and values can be critical for our lives and that of our children.

What are some of the beliefs and values that govern your life?

Why do you place a value on them? Why are these beliefs and values important for you and your children?

What beliefs and values do you want to live by?

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To receive a free 15-minute consultation to help you create a personal plan of action, email me.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs, or women’s groups.

Problem-Solving, Step 4: Try It On For Size

Part 6 in my series on problem-solving

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Final Steps – Implement and Evaluate

When I go through department stores, I am constantly on alert for that good bargain or unique pair of pants or top I might enjoy wearing.

If something grabs my attention, I hold it up in front of me in a nearby mirror to do a quick assessment.

  • Does the color look good?
  • Do I like the lines of the garment?
  • What draws my attention to it from all the others on the rack?

If I still like it after a quick evaluation, I will try it on.

Only after I have tried it on will I know whether it is right for me. Does it look as good on me as it did on the quick preview?

Many times, after I put the garment on, I discover it looks completely different. The cut is all wrong, the color isn’t as complimentary as I thought, and it isn’t comfortable even though it is my size. While I still like it, it isn’t for me.

In the final steps of problem solving, look over your list of options, make a choice, implement it and then follow up with an assessment.

While I choose an option I think will be the solution to my problem, only after I “try it on” will I find out whether it is the right choice for me. It might seem to be the right answer on paper, but may not work out the way I thought it would in real life.

If my choice doesn’t work, I look at my other choices again. I do a new assessment.

  • Have I identified the problem accurately?
  • What new information can help refine the problem and its outcome?

As you’re assessing your own situation, on reflection, you might ask whether this is your problem to resolve, or perhaps it belongs to somebody else?

If it is yours, then keep trying different possibilities.

If it isn’t, focus on how you are responding to this situation. This can be a time of valuable insight.

For example, when I try on clothes, the bulges, extra weight and changing profile that I would rather forget are revealed.

Our solutions to problems can also be revealing.

If this problem includes other people, remember that each person involved needs to be included in the implementation in some way.

  • Has everyone been honest about how they feel?
  • Has everyone agreed to try out this potential solution and are they willing to move forward?
  • Who evaluates whether the problem has been solved?
  • How will you know if it is a successful solution?

It is easy to get discouraged when, after doing all the preliminary work, you find that the choice you’ve made isn’t working like you thought it might.

Don’t give up.

Refine, revise, or throw it out if necessary.

If others are involved, negotiate.

After executing the best solution, ask yourself, “Has my problem been resolved?”

How do you know? If it is working, what makes it work?

Be specific. In complex solutions that require a longer time frame, this follow-up helps keep you on track or continuing to refine your solution.

There is always some kind of resolution to our problems.

It may simply be an internal resolution that asks for a change in attitude and response in a different way. We aren’t able to make everything happen the way we want. Sometimes, what we learn in problem solving is a greater understanding and acceptance of ourselves and others.

Go back and look at the areas of your life where you want changes to happen. How can you use these problem-solving steps to help work out new strategies and results?

Choose one change you want to make and put it into a goal statement and plan of action. (click here for My Goal Plan.)

Remember that goals take time and energy.

Goals are not just about solving problems but achieving the things we want to accomplish.

If goals are too big or expansive, they need to be broken down into manageable chunks or we will get discouraged and abandon them.

But when our goals have personal value and reflect what is important to us, we will remain motivated.

Goals are both liberating and demanding.

We are required to use discipline and restraint to stay on course. Even when we have made a very detailed plan on how to reach our destination and have explored and made provisions for potential obstacles, we can run into unexpected setbacks that require adjustments or even a major redesign of our plan of action.

My husband and I were sailors.

Self-Correcting When Life Takes You Off Course | FocusWithMarlene.com

After determining where you want to go, you choose a route to follow and a timeframe. On a sailboat, the wind determines how your sailboat will move. With a headwind, you are required to tack back and forth in a zig-zag fashion to move forward.

If the wind is too strong, you reduce the amount of sail you have up. If the wind dies down, you put up a lightweight sail that can capture the slightest breezes.

The wind is the driver – the  source of energy that moves you from place to place. The expert sailor knows how to take advantage of it so that you arrive at your destination.

Goals are the driving force – the source of motivation that energizes us to get to a new destination.

The winds of life at the moment will determine the adjustments or corrections that must be made. Knowing how to adjust your “sails” will allow you to compensate for whatever conditions you are facing, keeping you off the rocks and shoals.

When we run into problems or are not making the headway we want, it is necessary to step back and evaluate the situation.

While solving problems sounds simple, identifying the problem accurately is often more difficult and complex. We see the symptoms but may need more information and input to correctly identify and resolve the problem.

When our goals follow our passions, we will become excited. We can see ourselves doing this for the rest of our life. Those passions are the result of the skills and unique talents God gave each of us.

When we develop these skills and talents we serve others as well. Those passions are for the good of all, not just us. When they are, our goals will not only give us pleasure and joy, but that sense of contentment and satisfaction.

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To receive a free 15-minute consultation to help you create a personal plan of action, email me.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs, or women’s groups.

Problem-Solving, Step 3: Evaluate, Prioritize, and Choose

Part 5 in my series on problem-solving

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

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Step 3 – Evaluate, Prioritize, and Choose

In step one, you identified the problem, looked at it from different perspectives and expanded it to include all possible contributing factors.

In step two, you listed potential solutions. As you brainstormed and generated possibilities, fresh ideas were added to your list without preliminary judgment or comparisons.

Now, in step three, it is time to evaluate, prioritize and choose.

Which solutions are relevant and helpful? Which might point to another possibility you hadn’t thought of yet?

Let’s continue to work on the problem we chose earlier – problem #1. Here it is.

You are the primary caregiver for an aging parent. This may include taking them to doctor’s appointments, shopping, or visiting them at a care facility, etc. As your parent ages, you are becoming overwhelmed with both the care and decision-making. You want to do what is best for your parent.

Some potential solutions we came up with:

  • What caregiving can be shared with others in the family?
  • What social services are available that might assist me?
  • Are there adult day care centers? How safe are they?
  • Are there family members who could periodically visit their parent?
  • How can I let my aging parent know that I still love and care for them and am not deserting them if they need to go into a care facility?
  • Encourage grandchildren to become a part of their grandparent’s life.

Let’s evaluate each option and make a choice.

There may be some potential solutions that can be lumped together. For example, you may want to start with family, their availability and potential help, as well as their input. From there you may want to look at the resources that are available and what the costs would be.

As you review the list, are there others that you hadn’t thought of? If not, go over the potential solutions, prioritize and number them in order of their importance.


Here’s an approach I might take to this problem:

First, I would is gather as much information as possible.

  • What is the prognosis for the aging of my parent, as seen by their physician?
  • What services are available to assist in caregiving? That includes in-home daycare as well as facility daycare, part-time or full-time. What are the costs?
  • What social services are available in my area? What are the costs per visit, monthly fee, etc. If I hired them three times a week would I get a reduction?

Next, I would ask people I know about the reliability of their services. Who has used them and what was their appraisal?

I talked with two friends who were dealing with this problem but who lived in different areas of my state and had used the social services available to them. One was very pleased with the care that was available – another said she had to constantly be on top of things to be sure they were doing an adequate job.

Next, I would reach out to family members who lived nearby and give them an update on the health of our parent and the options for care.

  • Could any of them be available to help and how often?
  • If finances were a major problem, perhaps family members who lived farther away would be willing to contribute some financial help.

Whenever working with family members, respect where they are as you share your concerns. Make a decision beforehand not to blame or create resentment.

After I had a consensus of some kind, and if I remained in charge, I would need to decide which services I would begin with – perhaps home care every day or several times a week as needed.

  • Can my parent remain in their home or would it be more practical to have them move closer to me or set up a large spare room in my house as their new residence?
  • If decline of mental capacity becomes more apparent, looking at in-person facilities would be an important step.

What additional information is needed to move forward?

Have a discussion with your parent(s). You want them to know your concern is both for their safety and well-being. Share your concerns about safety and some of the ways you can make them safer while still being independent.

Help them to know the viable options before proceeding further. If a care facility is needed, let them know you are not deserting them, but that you care for them. Immediately removing them from their home can be very traumatic.

As you gather additional information, you will be able to better assess what you can afford and where specifically you need help. Then you can evaluate each step towards more full-time care and choose an option and go with it.

Give yourself permission to think outside the box.

Take your choices and look at them in different ways. Allow yourself to formulate a fresh perspective of the problem and potential solutions. Give yourself time to properly evaluate the options you have.

Play devil’s advocate. See your position from alternative points of view.

  • How do other members of the family see the problem and how we proceed with solutions?
  • How do you express precisely what you want and why, and then listen thoughtfully to others point of view?
  • What outcome is wanted by all involved?
  • You may have considered a plan that works, but this is a family problem. How do they feel about it?
  • What objections do they have, and can they be worked out?
  • How can everybody offer something without being hurt or left out and still get the results needed for your aging parent?

Here is the time for good listening skills and mediation.

Before initiating a plan of action, visualize how each of the possibilities may work out.

There are some problems for which good solutions are not easy to find. But with a desire to seek the best for all involved, you will be able to find solutions.

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Problem-Solving, Step 2: Brainstorm Possible Solutions

Part 4 in my series on problem-solving

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

Step 2: Generate a List of Possible Solutions

Once a problem has been identified, we can start looking for solutions. In this step, we begin brainstorming all the ways we can find a solution. Be as creative as you can. Don’t dismiss any possibilities even if they seem bizarre or impossible. Writing them down often helps us see alternatives we wouldn’t have thought of without this free flowing of ideas.

There are so many variables, both to our problems and their potential outcomes. Ask friends and others you know to help you brainstorm. You want as many suggestions as possible.

Sometimes those who are not directly associated with a problem can have great ideas we might not have thought of because we were too close to the problem. Take time to do this.

Whenever others are directly associated with this problem, find a way to work together. Avoid pressure to compete or insinuate that there is only one solution that says, “My way or no way.”

Try to defuse tension, strife, or rivalry as you go along and be as honest and thoughtful as you can when considering another’s input. Believe that you will find a solution.

If you find yourself getting emotional, stop and address it. You can’t find solutions if you are after revenge or retribution or trying to outdo one another. Avoid blaming others and ask for a ten-minute break if needed.

Address anything that may be contributing to this problem. And again, take the “person” out of the problem and focus instead on actions that may be contributing to the problem. That includes your emotional reactions.

As you work on any problem, remember that none of us is perfect, and we can learn from our mistakes. Use downturns, failures, and defeats as an opportunity to learn and grow. It can be the spark of creativity and ingenuity.

People who have been successful learned how to use their mistakes and failures to their advantage. When we do, we are well on our way to solving many of the problems we face. If we dwell on our insecurities, lack of experience, shame, anger, etc. these emotions become a stumbling block to finding good resolutions.

Be honest. Humility is a good thing and occurs when we face our vulnerabilities, weak points, and failings. Be willing to learn, not only from your mistakes, but from the mistakes of others as well. Be willing to look at the other’s point of view. This can be difficult, especially if you believe you are right, and the other is always wrong.

Examine how another might see the situation or conflict. Then come together to negotiate and mediate a solution that works for both parties.

Take responsibility for your actions and allow others to do the same. Become proactive instead of reactive and let your values and principles guide you through difficult decision-making.

Generating Solutions

Since we started working with problem number one (in the previous post in this series), let’s continue with it.

family discussing a problem

Here is the problem:

You have been the primary caregiver for your aging parent and are feeling tired and overwhelmed. You love your parent and want to find a way to keep him/her safe. But you also recognize you need help in doing this. Family members need to be informed and included in finding a reasonable solution.

Before you do any serious brainstorming, you must identify anyone who might be affected by this problem. In this case, the problem involves all the family, from siblings to relatives who might be available to help in some way.

Remember, when others are involved, their input is important to both help define the different aspects of the problem as well as options they might suggest.

Here are some things that might be included in that brainstorming list. You will notice that the problem is expanded as all aspects of it are defined.

  • Who in the immediate family may be helpful?
  • Have I alerted family members of the seriousness of the situation?
  • What social services are available that might be of assistance?
  • Are there adult day care centers? How safe are they?
  • Are there family members who could periodically visit or help?
  • How can I let my aging parent know that I still love and care for them?
  • Have I discussed my concerns with that parent?
  • Are grandchildren available to visit occasionally? This is important for them as well as for their grandparent.

When we remain open to possibilities, we can discover many alternatives to resolve problems.

At this stage we want to promote innovative thinking and discourage restrictions. Encourage and solicit ideas from family members. There is plenty of time to evaluate and eliminate in the next step.

Next week we will evaluate and choose one to implement.

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To receive a free 15-minute consultation to help you create a personal plan of action, email me.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs, or women’s groups.

Problem-Solving, Step 1: Identify the Problem and Define the Conflict

Part 3 in my series on problem-solving

Problems usually demand a 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 other decisions are more complicated, demanding thoughtful consideration.

When symptoms keep us edgy and anxious, it may take a while to separate and identify the problem from the symptoms it is creating.

Problems need to be resolved as soon as possible. Sometimes we can put off for tomorrow or a later time. But usually, problems only get worse when not addressed.

How heavy is your problem?

glass of water

A professor was giving a lecture to his students on stress management. He raised a glass of water and held it up in the air. Then he asked the class, “How heavy do you think this glass of water is?”

The students’ answers ranged from 20g to 500g.

To which the professor replied, “Does it matter how absolute the weight is or does it matter how long you hold it before it becomes a heavy burden? If I hold this glass of water for a minute, it won’t be too heavy. But if I hold it for an hour, I will have an ache in my right arm. If I hold it all day, you may have to take me to ER. It is the exact same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.”

We are created with a huge capacity to do impossible things, carry many burdens, and resolve difficult problems. When we use our energy to resolve problems, we will be amazed at what we can accomplish.

However, if we carry our problems and burdens and never put them down, we will become exhausted. Eventually our bodies will begin to break down under the strain and we will suffer mentally and physically.

Just like the glass of water that becomes heavier and heavier the longer we hold it, your problems will get heavier and heavier. If you put it down from time to time, rest in between, or figure out ways to hold it up, you can go on for a long time. You may even decide it isn’t worth holding at all.

How do you know when you have a problem?

Are you able to separate problems from the emotional reaction you have?

  • What is your first reaction when faced with a problem?
  • If others are involved, how do they respond?
  • How do you talk about problems with them?

Problems can be obvious or not so obvious. Decisions as to what restaurant we will go to for dinner tonight or what we could do to relax over the weekend are fairly easy. But others are more complex, requiring adequate time to think through and resolve so we don’t create more problems.

We get so caught up in the ongoing emotional turmoil that we do not recognize why we are so upset. When couples continue to fight and have disagreements about anything and everything, their emotions are in charge. They can’t think logically and coherently, unaware that neither is listening or concerned about how or what the other person thinks or feels.

(Further reading: That’s not what I meant)

Complicated problems are those that extend over time and often include other people. For example, my husband is getting older and wants to sell our home and move into a condo, but I’m not ready to give up my home.

Or, if I live alone, is it time for me to give up my home and move closer to my kids? I am still in good health even though I am getting older. Is this the time to sell my house or wait until I can’t live alone anymore?  

Step 1 – Identify the problem and define the conflict

Whether the problem is…

  • How I can improve my life?
  • How should I prepare for my financial future?
  • How can I take care of family?
  • How do I have a significant and meaningful relationship with others?

…We need to know what is the root cause of the problem.

We need to step out of that turbulent emotional arena and focus on resolving that underlying cause of our anger, worry, unrest, or distress.

3 sample problems

Problem #1:

I am the primary caregiver for an aging parent. This includes taking them to doctor’s appointments, shopping, or visiting them if they live alone. My days keep getting overloaded with caregiving and there’s no time left for anything else. How can I find time for me as well as caring for my parent?

Problem #2:

My spouse and I constantly aruge. Discussions often turn into quarrels that separate us instead of coming to a satisfactory resolution. How can we have a conversation without immediately fighting?

Problem #3:

The high cost of living keeps increasing, making it difficult to meet my obligations. Where do I begin?

Who is involved?

Let’s look at problem #1. In this problem, you may be the one who has stepped up to respond to this family need, but it still involves other members of the family. It takes time, patience, and a willingness to work together to find solutions. If there are no other family members, then problem-solving is on you alone.

Whenever others are involved, choose a time and place to have a discussion. This might be a Zoom meeting or an in-person meeting. Perhaps you can host a family get-together where the issue is discussed, and everybody is encouraged to have input.

Respect everyone’s contribution, even if you dislike or disagree with their ideas.

Problem-solving includes working with feelings and behaviors in a proactive way and requires active listening and perception checks for accurate interpretation.

If conflicts directly involve another person, such as in problem two, where there is ongoing conflict with your spouse, considering how the other person sees the situation is critical to reaching any agreement.

(Further reading: 4 catastrophic traps couples can fall into)

How do each of you see the problem? How does it impact each of you? (I will be posting about communication and conflict at a later time.)

Within intimate relationships, emotions can run high, and emotions are often accompanied by misinterpretation and misunderstanding. Everybody sees the world differently. When both people feel free to talk and be heard, points of view, assumptions, expectations, and personal perceptions can be discussed.

This is important not only when working through conflicts with a spouse, but when working with family members on other issues.

What outcome do you want and why is it important?

For example, is it more important to win an argument, or to be able to work together for a positive outcome? If the latter is your goal, then it requires a sincere willingness to negotiate and compromise.

In relationships and families, strong, passionate emotions are often triggered. When both parties feel free to articulate their point of view, assumptions, expectations, and personal perceptions, it can help us see the world from their perspective. But it requires active listening.


Recognizing/analyzing/defining problems

  • What is the problem? Who says it is? How do you know?
  • Who does it impact?
  • What are the underlying causes? Name as many as you can.
  • If there is more than one central problem, identify any substrates and separate or break them apart.
  • What has to occur for a solution to be reached?
  • Define specifically and clearly. Focus on the problem or task versus just the feelings. Eliminate unnecessary vocabulary. Stay on task.

Today’s challenge

Choose a simple problem you may be experiencing and try to identify accurately why it is a problem. Then think about how you will resolve it.

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To receive a free 15-minute consultation to help you create a personal plan of action, email me.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs, or women’s groups.

Work on Problems, Not Symptoms

Part 2 in my series on problem-solving
Part 1: Problem-Solving: 5 Basic Components

Listen to this episode of the Focus with Marlene Podcast:

Get caught up with all episodes in the Developing a New Focus series.

We often confuse our initial emotional responses as the problem itself. However, our emotional reaction is the byproduct of problems.

For example, you find yourself reacting with anger whenever your spouse suggests something. Before you even take time to consider the request, you have already identified the problem as your spouse.

The real problem – unresolved conflicts between the two of you and inability to communicate appropriately – hasn’t been identified.

For further reading: Information Emotions Give Us

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.

The problem comes when we go with our first emotional reaction instead of considering in-depth the actual problem and options.

It’s not just anger or anxiety we experience, but fear. Nothing perpetuates fear faster than regenerating it through our thoughts.

What are you saying to yourself about you and your situation?

While we need to commiserate with friends and share our problems and concerns, it is the continual stream of conversation we have with ourselves 24/7 about that problem that becomes harmful over time.

If your brain hears you constantly saying how bad things are, how little control you have, how helpless you are, how others are so much better off than you, etc., you will begin to act in that way.

If you think there is no use in trying, you will have little creative energy to move forward.

Our thinking can produce a self-fulfilling prophecy. Negative beliefs soon become a reality.

We can perpetuate the problem, or we can find ways to resolve it. We can give up or we can generate determination and an “I can do it” attitude and mindset.

5 Ways to Rationally Identify the Problem

Before we start resolving problems, we need to step out of the emotional arena, put on our rational thinking cap and properly identify the problem.

1. If you find your emotions taking over your rationale, stop and deal with them first. Repeat some calming statements to yourself, such as, “I can do this,” or “There are answers to all problems,” or “I can ask for assistance and input.”

2. Focus on taking slow even breaths. It is hard to think when our anger, fear, or anxiety levels remain high.

Tell yourself: No matter how hard it is, giving up is not an option.

Woman looking into cracked mirror

3. Focus on the things you can do, not what you can’t do. Problems can become like a mirror – we stand in front of them and all we see is the problem. We polish it; look at it continually, and our problems become our frame of reference for life.

Put up a new mirror that reflects possibilities and options. Let go of what is not working, even if it worked at one time.

4. Next, identify specifically what the actual problem is. Sometimes it is obvious; other times it is difficult to separate problems from their 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 wants, needs and goals.

5. Once the problem is defined, list all the options that might resolve it. Ask others to help brainstorm.

Then evaluate each option, prioritize, and choose one to try.

When other people are involved in the outcomes, their concerns, time, and association need to be considered. 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 and establish basic 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.

5 Components of Problem Solving

Let’s expand on the 5 basic components of problem solving that I introduced in last week’s post.

1. Identify and define the problem. Separate it from the symptoms. Is this an ongoing problem or a recent development? When does the problem emerge? What has helped to minimize intense emotions in the past? What has worked and what has not? Gather and analyze as many facts as possible to determine the underlying problem. There may be several problems. Identify and clarify each.

2. Identify what and who is involved. Separate individuals from behaviors. The focus is not on people but actions and 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 potential solutions as you can. Make a list of whatever comes to mind, even if it seems far-fetched at the time. In reviewing your list these can often stimulate further options that might be important.

4. Evaluate and implement. What are the pros and cons, positives 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. You won’t know if it will work until you have tried.

Some solutions create additional problems you may not have anticipated. Don’t hesitate to keep searching. It isn’t how quickly you find the right solution, but that you methodically and consistently work through it to find one that will work.

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

  1. My spouse and I keep arguing and blaming each other for the problems we have. How do we resolve it?
  2. My parents are aging and having difficulties. How do I assist?
  3. Our families are always arguing and fighting. How can I help resolve conflicts?
  4. I am having difficulty with my in-laws. How do I bridge that gap?
  5. The high cost of living keeps increasing making it difficult to meet my obligations. Where do I begin?

Creative solutions usually come after much thought, patience, and a willingness to fail.

It took Edison 9,000 times of failure before he was able to discover the right filament for his electric light bulb. His response to why he kept at it was, “I haven’t even failed once; nine thousand times I’ve learned what doesn’t work.”

Think more about the process of discovery than the results.

Expand your view of perception from one of tunnel vision to thousands of options. Become like children who love to explore, experiment, watch and observe.

Problem-solving is a skill that once learned will become automatic in your thinking.

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

Subscribe today to receive a notice in your inbox about each week’s new blog post and podcast episode: http://eepurl.com/baaiQ1

To receive a free 15-minute consultation to help you create a personal plan of action, email me.

I am also available for speaking engagements, retreats or teaching workshops for your church, clubs, or women’s groups.