We learn in many ways. When we are little, we learn by experimenting: falling down, getting hurt and gradually learning what not to do. We also learn by observing: what did our parents do – not just what they said, but how did they live their lives. How do other kids respond to what I say or do? We rarely think about it at the time, but simply absorb it into our consciousness.
As we get older, we learn from information we gather and apply to our lives through college, taking specific classes such as parenting or communication or other life strategy enhancing classes or private study.
There are many experiences we either don’t learn from or are unable to construct a clear picture of what it is we ought to be learning. Often we put together complex or incomplete information and add the missing pieces.
In the process, we often construct an inaccurate picture of what is happening. But we take that incomplete or inaccurate picture and formulate our opinions, attitudes, beliefs and act upon them as if they were the truth.
When confronted with a problem or situation that isn’t working, ask yourself the following questions:
1. What is it I want to have happen?
2. What am I doing that furthers that goal?
3. What is under my control to bring about my desired goal and what is not?
4. What things can I do that would help me arrive at the desired solution without compromising my values, principles or position?
Exploring our patterns of behavior, attitude, expectations and assumptions can give us clues as to whether we are working for or against our best interest.
We create unenforceable rules through the expectations we hold about what others must, should or ought to abide by and act on them instead of the goal we want to accomplish.
Here is just one example: You want to improve the relationship in your marriage. If you focus on all the things you don’t like in your spouse instead of the good things, you may be defeating your purpose. The goal no longer is to develop a better relationship; it has shifted to whether or not your mate is abiding by the rules you have put in place.
In a previous blog, I suggested looking at a prior situation that didn’t go well and ask yourself what you might have done differently (see “Our Internal Critic, 9-27-12).
This time, think about a time when your goal was met. What did you do? How did you respond to what was happening? What attitudes and expectations did you have? Were you an active participant who both listened and shared? Did you negotiate? How could you apply some of these same strategies to other situations?
In my upcoming blogs, I will give more examples of defining what you want and ways to work towards that goal.
Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC