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Welcome

Thank you for visiting my blog ==> two important points:

I. ACCESS the INFORMATION you seek:

INDEX to ALL my POSTS….

There is a TON of useful information in the 100 + posts available to you.

But, finding what you want can be challenging. 

So, in order to help you to find what interests you, I have posted an INDEX to all of my posts. This is like a Table of Contents in a book.

Here is the link to the Index:

This will take you to an updated PDF which lists all posts. When you know the date, you can go over to the “Archives” (right side of home page), click on the month you want and scroll down to the post you are seeking.

LINKS to my BOOKS (on Amazon)….

Should you want to take a look at my books, here are the links for you.

Emotions as Tools: A Self-Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings

 

Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool

Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool

II.  THE DISCLAIMER:

My focus in this blog is two fold. First of all, I want to educate people about their emotion, relationships and other topics and, secondly, I want to publish information that you can use to improve your life and your relationships.

But, this blog is INFORMATIONAL only!

  • It is not intended to, and CANNOT, diagnose or treat any specific mental illness or psychological condition.
  • So, if you hurt, psychologically, please get professional help.
  •  If you get sick or your car gets “sick”, you see a doctor or a mechanic.  Hurting psychologically is no different, does not mean you are weak, and is telling you that you need some professional help or advice.   PLEASE… GET IT!
  • Therapy works!

And now… Here is my most recent post.

 

How to Recover from Abuse Part 1

This is the first of a two part series on how to recover from abuse.  I decided to publish this early in the new year for three reasons…

  1. I know that dealing with issues related to abuse (current or past) can be difficult.
  2. This is a subject that is difficult for people to discuss.
  3. If abuse issues are relevant to you, perhaps you will take something that I say in this article, make it a “New Year’s Resolution” and implement the suggestion in your life.

Bur before I get into it, a serious note of encouragement….

If you are dealing with issues related to your past history of “abuse” and these issues are having a negative (however you define this) impact on your life, please seek professional help.  Therapy works.  When you need help with your car, you seek out a competent mechanic.  When you need help getting your life together, seek out a competent mental health professional.

During my 30 year career as a Psychologist with the California Youth Authority, I treated young women whose history included multiple types of abuse including physical, emotional and sexual.  While some of my clients may not have been “abused” over time, many had been raped.

Let me explain that when I talk of abuse, I am referring to inappropriate interactions with parents, siblings and caretakers which occurred repeatedly and over time.  While the offense of rape may only have occurred on a single occasion, the distinction I make between abuse and rape in no way implies that one type of mistreatment is worse than or more difficult to deal with than the other as this is not the case.  Rather, I am attempting to include all victims of these abusive victimizing interactions as the way to recover from theses traumatic events is basically the same whether the abusive was perpetrated over time or occurred as a single event.

One caveat before I describe for you how you can recover from “abuse”.

While it is relatively “easy” to describe the recovery process, it is by no means easy for a victim to go through this process on her (or his) way to recovery.  The recovery process is often painful time-consuming and difficult (but not impossible) to do alone.

How past abuse keeps impacting you in the present.

Maybe, you’ve had the experience of sharing your history with someone who says to you (or you have said to yourself) something along the lines of “That (event) happened long ago.  Let it go and move on.”

Okay, maybe they were a little more caring than that.  But the idea that something that took place so long ago continues to impact you is often difficult to comprehend.

The reason that your past continues to bug you (and may even feel as if it happened yesterday) has to do with the relationship between your past and your present.

The best way to understand this was offered by Albert Ellis in his description of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).

I explained REBT to my clients this way using the “formula”  E-T=>F.  In this formula, E stands for the event(s) you experienced, T stands for your Thoughts about the event(s) and F stands for the feelings which follow from those thoughts. This is a simplification of REBT but it works to understand Dr. Ellis’s approach.

By the way, just about everything you ever wanted to know about feelings can be learned by visiting my blog (TheEmotionsDoctor.com).

Dr. Ellis was one of the first psychologists to emphasize the connection between your thoughts and your feelings.  It is your feelings in the here and now about the event which keep that event current in your life.  When someone says that the event was in the past, they are correct about the actual physical event (or events). And, it is factually the case that the past can’t physically impact the present.  However, the actual facts are not important here as we are talking about your psychological reality wherein your feelings about the past are in the present and they can (and do) significantly impact you in the here and now.

The important insight offered by REBT (which, by the way is one type of cognitive therapy) is that your feelings are elicited by your thoughts. The good news here is that you can change your thoughts.

And, when you change your thoughts, you change your feelings.  Changing your feelings allows you to move beyond your past and recover from your abuse.

Your Problematic Thoughts

There are three “elements” which define your abuse.

  1. The abusive event (or events): What you actually experienced and your perception of what took place.
  2. Your perpetrator: That person or people who victimized you.
  3. You: How you view yourself through the lens of your abuse, what you think about your “involvement” in your abuse, and your view of yourself post-event.

Now, I need to point out that while these three elements are, indeed, separate, psychologically, they may be experienced as interconnected in the same way that a red, a blue and a white strand of rope, while initially separate, become intertwined when we braid them together.  Ultimately, you can learn to separate these elements, as I will discuss them below, so you can change your thoughts about each and move on.

The event(s)

What happened to you is burned into your brain. Your “recollection” of these events may be very vivid (like it happened yesterday), detailed, or fuzzy.  What you remember may be accurate (in the details) or may not match a video (if one existed).

None of the above matters!

The reason for this is that your thoughts (memories) are real to you and combine to create the feelings which are problematic and which negatively impact your life.

I am assuming that some sort of victimizing event or events occurred and, as we are dealing with the “court” of your psychology and not a Court of Law, the “facts” are not critical.

The way to move beyond your past can be summarized in the acronym IWBNI which stands for (I) It   (W) Would (B) Be (N) Nice (I) If.

Here is a link to an article I wrote on IWBNI_s IWBNI’.

Again, let me emphasize that the process I am laying out is easy to describe but challenging to complete.

To put it another way….IT MAY BE DIFFICULT, BUT IT IS DOABLE!

 

Happy 2020

Today is New Year’s Day.

Happy New Year!

My hope for you is that 2020 will be a productive year of learning, growing and succeeding (whatever those words mean to you).

As we enter a new year, let me thank you again for being a loyal member of this site.  If there is a topic related to mastering emotions as tools, mastering relationships, or any other topic you would like addressed, let me know in a comment or in an email (TheEmotionsDoctor (at) gmail.com)

If I can address the topic in a useful way, I will attempt to do so.

Regular posts will resume every two weeks beginning on January 15.

 

Part 4: Holiday rage… Where does it come from and what you can do about it.

This is Part 4 of my 4 part series.  In this post, which is a republication and update of a post I originally wrote in 2017, I address an issue which might be useful to you as you are most likely in the middle of your “Holiday Season”.

Publishing NOTE:  I normally publish every two weeks.  However, as Christmas is in two weeks, I will be publishing my second December post next week.

……

The upside of the holidays is that most of us are in a festive mood with all the decorations, the music, the food, getting together with family, and so forth.

But, there is a darker side of holiday feelings. This darker side can include feelings of extreme anger (or rage), feelings of depression, and so forth.

In this article, I will address holiday rage.

During this season, we may find ourselves scurrying around to do last minute tasks (get somewhere or do something) and someone (or something) wrongly gets in the way and thwarts our efforts to accomplish our goals.

When we in a hurry, we may feel stressed and outside of our comfort zone (the place where things are going along as they should be).  When stressed, the threshold at which we get angry is lowered.

Note the words in italics.  “Scurrying” implies that you are under some pressure and “wrongly” implies that the person or thing that is blocking your goals is doing so intentionally. “as they should be (going)” implies that we are less in control of our and what is happening to us.

Let’s look at each of these “issues” and see how they relate to increased anger.

Scurrying

When you are “scurrying”, you are already in a heightened state of arousal.  In other words, you are on an emotional edge. This sensitizes you to (and amplifies or magnifies) any possible impediment (or threat) to your goals.

This magnification is similar to what happens when you speak into a microphone.  The amplifier attached to the mic takes your voice and makes it louder.

Because you are in a hurry, behind schedule, over-scheduled, late, or just trying to do too much at one time, you are overly focused on your immediate goal and you will tend to perceive anything (or anybody) who gets in the way of your goal as not only a threat but, because of your heightened state of arousal, as a mega threat.

Remember that the message of anger is that you perceive a threat that you believe you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it.

Consequently, you will tend to get very angry and energized to overpower the mega threat which is impeding your completing the task at hand. Notice the implication of the italicized words. The arousal of your hurrying about magnifies your perception of threat and amplifies the arousal of your anger.

The slow line, poorly written instructions, or distracted clerk which under “normal” conditions would elicit a feeling of frustration or mild upset, now elicits extreme anger or rage.

Wrong and intentional.

To see another person’s actions as both wrong and intentional will always push your anger button. In fact, the element of intentionality is a key component of anger that is often overlooked.

As an example.. you are walking down the street and someone forcefully bumps into you.  Your initial reaction might be to “push back”.  If the person apologizes or if the person is visually (or otherwise) impaired, the “bump” is now viewed in a very different context and there is no anger.

Or, if the actions of another are viewed as inappropriate but not as intentionally attempting to hurt or damage you in any way, you might feel annoyed but you don’t escalate into anger.

So, if someone makes you late by intentionally taking your parking place or cutting in line, the inadequate instructions prove that the company doesn’t give a rip or care about you, the end-user, or the distracted clerk is only there for the money, is poorly trained, or would rather be somewhere else, they are a mega-threat and your anger is completely justified to nullify the threat.

Again, notice the implication of the italicized words.

The way things should be..

This implies that you have a model of your world in your head which you may or may not be aware of.

Your model might involve wishful thinking along the lines of “I wish the lines would be shorter.” This is experienced as The lines should be shorter! It isn’t right that the lines are this long! or All these people are making it more difficult for me to get my shopping done!

The discrepancy between your model and reality may be perceived as a threat which can then elicit anger.

So, what can you do about it?

There are four actions you can take:

  1. take a breath
  2. Assess the nature of the threat, your model of the “world” and whether or not a real threat exists.
  3. Think about what could happen if you react in the way you are just about ready to do.
  4. Choose an appropriate response.

Take a breath.

The first step when you are dealing with any of the threat detecting emotions (anger, sadness, fear, disgust, anxiety) is to take a breath. Taking a breath lowers your arousal and gives you some psychological distance between you and the threat.  The few seconds or that you gain give you an opportunity to assess the nature of the threat and your options.

Note: If you are experiencing fear (not anxiety), you always want to escape from the situation.

The second step is to assess the nature of the threat and your model of the world.  Perhaps your model of what should be happening is inaccurate given your timing, the nature of the situation in which you find yourself, and so forth.

Thirdly, think about the the actions you are contemplating doing.  This is really a cost-benefit analysis.

Some examples:

Stolen parking place

Is it really worth risking an accident to try and get that parking space? Probably not. Yes, it should have been your space but there is no “mega-threat” as you can find another.  What if you stop your car and cuss out the other driver and you get into an argument? Now, not only has a scene been created but you will be delayed even more.

To illustrate this, I remember years ago when I got a speeding ticket and went to driving school.  The instructor made a comparison on the board between speeding and getting a ticket.  He noted that speeding might save me maybe 10 minutes on my arrival.  If I got a ticket, the time it would “cost” me to deal with the cop would be more than the time I would save by speeding.  Other costs included fines (if any) time spend in driving school and so forth.  The cost-benefit analysis of speeding clearly showed that the benefits did not outweigh the costs.

Person cuts in line

You can say something to the person who cut in line.  However, if you approach this person with all the energy of your heightened arousal, the reaction you get might not be the apology you deserve but an aroused angry over-reaction. Is it worth it to get into an argument when an apology would restore the situation?   Probably not.

Poorly written instructions for the toy you are trying to put together at 11:00 PM…

well, I have been there and done that. And, no, getting angry at the company, the person with inadequate writing skills, or the editor accomplished nothing.  I still had to do the best I could to figure out what I needed so I could build the bicycle and get it under the tree.

I think you get the idea.

If someone directs their anger is at you..

The process is similar to the that outlined above.  The only difference is that when someone directs their anger at you, you need to take a breath to lower your arousal so that you don’t react and, remembering that he sees you as a mega-threat, apologize for any misunderstanding (not for doing something wrong). You can then ask him how you can help to make things right.

The exception to the above is if you feel fear in the presence of someone directing their anger at you.  If this is the case, walk away.

So, my suggestion is that you enjoy all the great feelings that the holiday season elicits and be alert to anger if you experience it.  Master the anger so that it doesn’t escalate and potentially ruin your holiday.

I hope these last 4 posts have been helpful.

Part 3: The Benefits of “Gratitude”. Happy Thanksgiving.

This is Part 3 of a 4 part series of posts.

In this post, I discuss the emotion of gratitude.  Being involved with others can lower the possibility that a disagreement escalates into a conflict.

To put it another way…people don’t care what you know until they know that you care.

In the US next week, we will be celebrating the Thanksgiving Holiday.

This Holiday is supposed to commemorate a feast that took place between  native Americans and the Pilgrims who landed in America.

Today, however, It is basically an enjoyable time off from work during which we get together with family, eat too much, and watch parades or football on TV.

In my house, we’ve attempted to emphasize the “thanks-giving” part of the Holiday.

This post is an extension of that focus.

Most of us think of being “thankful” and being “grateful” as the same thing.

Well, while they are very similar, they are not the same.

Indeed, being “grateful” goes beyond being “thankful” and the emotion of “grateful”(gratitude) is both misunderstood and underutilized.

“What”, you say. “misunderstood and underutilized?”

Yes. On both counts.

First, let’s take a closer look at “thankful” vs “grateful”.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (online), “thankful”and “grateful”are the same with the exception of two significant words. Thankful is defined as “conscious (emphasis added) of benefits received” while grateful is defined as “appreciative (emphasis added) of benefits received.”

Being “conscious” implies only an awareness while being “appreciative” implies an involvement with whatever it is that you are choosing to acknowledge and highlight.

Here is an example of the difference between these two.

You go into work and your colleague says to you, “Hey, there, how are you doing?”  In most instances, you say (often automatically) “Fine.” or “Good, and you?”

This interaction reflects ONLY an acknowledgement, or awareness, of the other person.

Now, in contrast, you meet up with an old buddy from your past and he asks you, “How are you doing?”  You most likely would begin to fill him in on what has happened to you since you last met.

This is involvement.

Imagine the surprised response you would get at work if you responded to “How are with you?” with an indepth explanation of your whole weekend, the argument you had with your spouse, and so forth.  This would be an example of confusing involvement with acknowledgement.

Misunderstood

Sure, you are very familiar with saying “Thank you” whenever appropriate and maybe even being “grateful” when someone does a favor for you.  But, in most cases, the emotion just sort of happens and you don’t really think about it.

Someone holds a door open for you and you say “Thanks.”  Sure, you appreciate the gesture but you aren’t really involved in the interaction.

And, in fact, why should you be involved?

This is a casual interaction in which someone has done something nice for you and you have acknowledged their actions.

That’s it. You go about your business and they about theirs.

But, think for a minute about being caught in a  downpour and having someone specifically notice you and the packages you are trying to keep dry, run toward the door, and hold it open so that you can run to get out of the storm.  In this case, you might be both thankful and grateful.

Holding the door is the same in both cases. Going out of one’s way to help you out, as in the second example, is a step beyond.

Unlike anger, anxiety, and sadness, gratitude, as an emotion, doesn’t get much attention. It is not problematic, is easily expressed, and often only becomes an issue when someone else, who we think should be grateful for something we’ve done for them, fails to express this emotion.

Hence, it is misunderstood.

Underutilized

Anger, as an emotion, is also underutilized and  can, therefore, be used as an example to illustrate the concept.

Because angry people and the inappropriate things they do are often seen in the news, we tend to think that there is too much anger in the world.  These folks could benefit from reading my book Beyond Anger Management: Master Your Anger as a Strategic Tool.

The flip side of this coin, however, are  many people who suppress, or choose not to show, their anger because they are concerned their anger might “take over” and lead to unwanted behavior or because, as is often the case for women, anger is perceived as unfeminine, unwelcome, or even threatening in some environments.  In these cases, anger is underutilized.  These folks could improve their lives and their relationships by utilizing their anger more but doing so in a more adaptive way.  For them, mastering anger would also be an improvement.

For gratitude, however, the situation is different.

Gratitude is most likely not expressed more because it just is not considered relevant.   People don’t usually avoid feeling gratitude.

But, going back to my Headline: The Benefits of “Gratitude….”

Did you know that, based on research, there are numerous benefits that come to the person who is grateful.

Keep reading…

According to an article posted on  positivepsychology.com, gratitude can:

  • help you make friends
  • improve your physical health
  • improve your psychological health
  • enhance empathy and reduce aggression
  • improve your sleep
  • enhance your self-esteem

Look, I have not verified these studies and I am not saying that they are all true or that you will experience any of these benefits.

I am, however, suggesting that  there is a real possibility that expressing gratitude or appreciation toward the good things that people do for you or, if you believe in a benevolent “Universe”, the good things that are bestowed upon you, could very well benefit you.  And, at the very least, will not harm you any way.

So, you have nothing to lose and lots to gain.

So, how do you begin to do this?

While the article I cited above does have some suggestions, if you are not psychologically minded, the suggestions may seem a bit wonky.

To me, something you can do right now is to begin to be more mindful of your interactions with others.

Mindfulness involves paying attention to and being aware of what is happening to you in the moment. Being mindless is to react to what is going on out of habit.

In other words, take yourself off of “auto-pilot” in your relationships with others and attempt to consciously think about how others interact with you and how you want to respond to them.

Let me give you an example of being on “auto-pilot”.  And, I am not suggesting that you eliminate “auto-pilot” because, when appropriate, being on “auto-pilot” enables you to multitask.

When you shower in the morning and go through your hair-washing routine, have you ever found yourself wondering if you used the conditioner?  You did, of course, but it is as if you weren’t even there.  And, the interesting part is that on the level of consciousness, you weren’t there because you were thinking of something else.

The same thing happens when you can’t “remember” where you put your car keys.  Memory isn’t the issue, you were thinking about something else (You weren’t mindful) when you tossed your keys down.  So, the location never made it into memory in the first place and wasn’t available to you when you tried to access it.

So, regarding gratitude, stay in the moment.  Someone does something nice for you, consciously thank them and think about appreciating their interaction with you.

It will take some time to begin expressing gratitude as an ongoing part of your interactions with others.

But, stay with it and it will happen.

If you are in the US, Happy Thanksgiving.

If you are not in the US, Happy Thanks-giving.

Part 4 will be published in two weeks.

 

 

 

Part 2: Seven Top Conflict Resolution Tips Using Emotions As Tools

This is the second of a three part series of posts covering conflict.  During this Holiday season, issues may come up between you and members of your family or between you and complete strangers. In this post, which was originally published on 9/14/16, I have updated and discuss 7 strategies, based on using your emotions as tools, for dealing with that conflict should it arise.

……

If you have not done so, already, I encourage you to download the first chapter of my book Emotions as Tools: A Self-Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings  by scrolling back up to the top of this page and clicking on the “EMOTIONS as TOOLS TOC_Intro_Ch 1 PDF link.  This is not an opt-in.

If you have ever found yourself facing another person who is angry with you because of something you did (or did not) do that the other person thought was important, you have experienced conflict.

When this happened did your conflict resolution strategies include using your emotions as tools to gain valuable strategic information?

If not, the 7 step process below will teach you how to use the information provided by emotions to resolve conflict between you and someone else or between two other people.

So that we are all on the same page, here are some basic working definitions:

Difference of Opinion: A misunderstanding between two people that may involve some mild emotions and can be usually be dealt with through discussion, clarification, and compromise.

Conflict: A strong disagreement between two parties that involves some action that was taken or some action that was not taken. Conflict is always accompanied by strong emotions. With human beings, conflict is almost impossible to totally avoid.

Emotions as Tools model:

1. States that our emotions are created by our thoughts and how we perceive the environment

2. Every emotion has an underlying message which reflects the perception of the individual that created it.

3. By reading the emotion and understanding the underlying message, we can address how a person perceives his or her situation and help them change that perception.

4. When the perception changes, the emotion changes.

The three steps of conflict resolution:

1. Finding out what the presenting issue is by asking questions and actively listening to the answers.

2. Using the information provided by reading emotions to determine the real underlying issue.

3. Taking the necessary time to address the underlying issues and come to an agreement about how to best deal with the presenting issue so that both parties are satisfied (win/win) or at least agree to live with what is agreed upon (compromise).

The 7 step process:

Please note that you may not need to use all of these steps in dealing with your particular conflict.  Learn the process and improvise as you need to.

Step 1: View all disagreements as a difference of opinion NOT as a conflict.

With a difference of opinion, the presenting issue is what it is. Two people have differing opinions. Depending on the situation, the emotions that go along with misunderstandings or differences of opinion are surprised, confused, possibly frustrated, or maybe even amused. These tend to be milder emotions that usually do not get in the way of further discussion.

Differences of opinion can escalate into conflict if not resolved.

Step 2: Recognize a “conflict” by identifying the emotions (specifically anger) that are present.

If you notice that you or another person is getting angry about an issue, it is likely that a conflict has developed.

This is why.

The message of anger is that the angry person both feels threatened and believes that if he demonstrates his power through his anger, he can eliminate the threat.

When we are in threat prevention mode, we are not in problem solving mode.

The specific threat may be to his (or her) ego, to some goal, or to an ideal such as fairness. When you see anger, it means that, in addition to the presenting issue such as when a teenager gets angry when her parent sets rules for dating, there is an underlying issue of perceived threat which must be addressed first for successful conflict resolution to occur.

The presence of a perceived threat is what leads to a conflict.

Step 3: Keep your own head level.

Adopt a conflict resolution mind set.

This includes:

-Acknowledging and understanding your own perception of threat if you are angry.

-Having mutual respect for everyone and their position.

-Remaining non-judgmental.

-Being willing to actively listen to the other party and hear their story

-Expressing your own story without accusing the other party.

-Remaining open to possible solutions other than your own.

Step 4: Address the underlying issue of perceived threat.

In most cases, when anger is present, one (or both) party perceives a threat. Examples include:

(i) Threat to Autonomy

Strategy: Reaffirm the maturity and independence of the other person.

(ii) Threat to a sense of Fairness

Strategy: Reaffirm that any decision made will only be reached after all sides have been heard and an agreement reached that is agreeable to both.

Note: If the issue is between a parent and a child, a different approach may be needed

(iii) Threat of Loss

Strategy: Acknowledge their sense of loss and reaffirm that each loss also may involve a gain.

An example is when you give up some autonomy to do your own thing and gain cooperation and harmony in an office setting.

(iv) Threat to one’s beliefs or values

Strategy: Acknowledge that while you may have a different perspective on an issue, you accept their right to believe what they want and that you are not trying to impose your values on them.

Step 5: Address the presenting issue.

Once the threat is addressed, the conflict becomes a difference of opinion and the presenting issue can be addressed.

Step 6: Resolve the conflict

Once the issue is addressed, a win/win solution or a compromise can be agreed upon. Or, you can agree to disagree. Always seek a win/win solution first.

Step 7: Finalize the agreement

State the agreement or write it down with information about who will do what by when and any consequences that will happen if “WHAT” and “WHEN” are not done by “WHO”.

Part 3 will be published in two weeks.

The darker side of the Holidays: A four part series of posts.

November marks the beginning of the Holiday Season starting with Thanksgiving and moving through Christmas and New Years.

The holidays are times when families get together and celebrate.

Hopefully, the Holidays and the celebrations are happy times for you. 

Sometimes, however, there is a darker side to the Holidays.

In some families, Holiday gatherings might involve disagreements over politics or other topics.

And, when people are stressed while shopping, driving, or standing in line, emotions can get out of hand and result in rage.

While I hope that none of these posts apply to you, my intent is to raise your awareness in the next four  posts and provide you with some useful information to help you weather any challenges which may arise.

Part 1: You Cannot NOT Communicate

Part 2: Emotions as Tools- Seven Top Conflict Resolution Tips Using Emotions as Tools.

Part 3: The Benefits of “Gratitude”. Happy Thanksgiving.

Part 4: Holiday rage: Where does it come from and what you can do about it.

I hope theses posts are useful.

You Cannot NOT Communicate

Today’s post is a reprint from September 2016 and addresses the idea that you are always communicating eventhough you may not be saying anything. 

In other words..”You cannot not communicate.” 

Your non-verbal language is always “on” and sending messages to others.  In the same way, those people with whom you interact are always communicating to you. 

And, if you, or they, don’t like these non-verbal messages, conflict can result.

The title of this post may look like I added an extra word.

I assure you, (no pun intended) that I did not..

The point I am making, and that most people miss when they interact with others, is that we are always communicating something whether we intend to or not.

Most people believe that communication is a fairly simple process. This is an unfortunate myth.

The process of communication, while I admittedly am simplifying the process, can be illustrated with two examples.

Example #1: Think back to the days of the telegraph.  If you wanted to send a message, you had to write out the message, the telegraph operator had to convert it to Morse Code, the wires had to be in place between you and the place to which you were sending the message, the receiving  operator had to get the signal, decode the message, and write it down so that your target person could receive your message.

The first example illustrates the verbal communication process.  Most of us can easily encode an idea into words, deliver the words, and expect the receiver to accurately decode the message and understand what we mean and intended to say.  And, in most cases, when it is factual information we are communicating, this process works.

There are some underlying assumptions here.

  • Both of the participants speak the same language and can understand the words being used.  Words can be thought of as one “filter” through which ideas are processed. (One way to understand the idea of a filter is to think about what happens when you take a black and white picture with your camera or smart phone. The filter takes out the color.) Words can have a multitude of meanings and, therefore, can be thought of as a filter in that you choose the words you eventually use based on what you want to convey.
  • The message is clear, does not involve emotional issues in either party, and is not easily misinterpreted. (Emotions are another “filter” through which ideas are processed.)
  • Both participants are paying attention to each other, are not distracted by “noise” in the environment (think about having a conversation in a loud lounge), and are “actively” listening with the goal of receiving and understanding the message.  They are not  “passively” listening while engaged in some other activity such as texting or planning tomorrow’s schedule.

If we are dealing with issues involving emotions (or complex issues), the process becomes more complicated.

Example #2: Think about the last time you sent a text or an email thinking that you were being very clear only to have the person to whom you sent this electronic message get upset because they misinterpreted the message they received.

The second example illustrates a situation in which the message has several different “layers” but the only layer of information that is “available” is what is “written” down.

There are several possible complications here:

  • The message may contain implied emotional overtones. For example, you are upset with the person and have not directly expressed your feeling.
  • You may have directly expressed your feelings but the meaning of the emotional words you have used were misinterpreted when “decoded” by the recipient of the text.
  • You tried to use humor in your text or an emoji.
  • And so forth.

By the way, the above process is why we are frequently advised, and warn our kids, to be very careful about what they send in an email or a text.

There is a quote from the Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) literature that says: “The meaning of a communication (to the receiver) is the response that you (the sender) get regardless of what you intended to say.”

The receiver’s (upset) response clearly suggests that he (or she) viewed the message as “threatening”. This is the “real” meaning of the message to him.

If the communication process is to be successful, you will need to determine where the “disconnect” is. Perhaps, the misunderstanding occurred because the message contained implied emotional overtones that were included in the message (either intentionally or unintentionally) or the receiver read emotional overtones into the message that were not there.

When you are involved in a face to face conversation, there are additional complications that can take place because of the nature of non-verbal signals.

  • Non-verbal signals comprise a significant (perhaps, major) portion of the communication process and involve your tone of voice, the expression on your face, the way you are standing and so forth.
  • An important part of the emotional process is the constant scanning of our surroundings that our senses engage in, our Amygdala monitors, and our bodies unconsciously react to if there is a threat.
  • Our primitive brain is programmed to “read” non-verbal signals because they are often a more accurate (though not always so) indicator of possible threat. This is because humans are not very good at modifying their non-verbal signals (unless they are trained to do so).

Consequently, you are always communicating non-verbally and your listener is always tuned into your non-verbals.  Hence, the title of this blog: You cannot NOT communicate.

An example of this potential conflict is  the saying “Your actions speak so loudly, I can’t hear what you are saying.”

Communication problems can arise for at least two reasons:

  1. The meaning of non-verbal signals is not always clear and can easily be misunderstood.
  2. The non-verbal signals you are communicating with your tone of voice or body language are not consistent with the verbal message.

You master your emotions (and the emotions of others) when you are aware of and utilize the nature of non-verbal (and verbal) signals.

  • In your own communications, take extra care to insure that the message you are conveying non-verbally is consistent with the words you are using.
  • Be aware of the non-verbal signals your receiver sends to you, the emotions indicated by those signals, and the message those emotions tell you about how he or she has interpreted your communication. Using this information, you can seek clarification if what you see in their response is different from what you expected and you can clear up any misunderstanding.

Part 2 will publish in 2 weeks.

What are some sensible things to do to calm down, when a person gets angry or frustrated?

This is a reprint of an answer to the above question I received on Quora.com.

Madhura:

This is an interesting question and two of the answers you received which suggest taking a deep breath are correct but limited.

The third answer suggesting that you won’t get angry as you mature is problematic as it doesn’t seem to understand what anger is and may perpetuate a myth that anger can (or even should) be eliminated. The answer, however, is correct, in noting that anger can be mitigated or, as I talk about, mastered by using your ability to think through what it is that is eliciting (not causing) your anger.

That being said, you have asked about two feelings: anger and frustration. While frustration can certainly lead to anger, these two are not the same.

The quick answer to your question is that when you experience either anger or frustration there are two physical actions you need to take. The order in which you take these first two actions is not important. That you do both is important.

The first action involves taking a step back from the situation and the second is to take a deep breath.

Taking a physical step back from the situation creates a physical space between you and the situation. This is particularly important if anger is the emotion you are dealing with because this step backwards creates some safety for you.

The second action (again, order is not critical) is to take a deep breath. The purpose of taking a deep breath is to create some psychological space between you and the situation.

The deep breath does this in two ways.

First of all, a deep breath is a natural relaxant. The deep breath can lead to you relaxing your muscles just enough so that you release some of the natural muscle tension that occurs when the emotional cycle (anger) prepares your body for war. The message of anger is that you perceive a threat that you can eliminate if you throw enough force at it. Anger prepares you to attack and muscle tightening and a focusing of your attention on the “threat” occur without your having to think about them. Both of these reactions are mediated by the Limbic System in your brain.

Secondly, taking a deep breath provides some psychological space because it temporarily shifts your focus away from the threat. The purpose of creating psychological space is that it enables you to engage the thinking part of your brain (your cerebral cortex). Your cortex allows you to assess the nature of the threat and choose how you want to respond to it.

The emotion of frustration is different. The message of frustration is that a goal toward which you are moving has in some way been blocked. Put another way, your frustration is another way of saying “This (whatever the block is) should not be happening!”

With frustration, the same two steps of taking a physical step back and a deep breath are also appropriate. The step back from the situation which is blocking you isn’t for safety but to reinforce the deep breath which prepares you to think about what is going on, assess it, and choose what you want to do to correct it, learn from it, and move past it.

I have written two books dealing with mastering emotions as tools both of which are available on Amazon. The first is Emotions as Tools and the second is Beyond Anger Mastery.

The focus of both books is that all emotions can be viewed as tools which, just like your cell phone, computer, TV remote or fancy sewing machine, can be understood and mastered so they work better for you.

Emotional mastery involves understanding that:

  • each emotion both communicates how you perceive your current situation and prepares your body to deal with it. This is the message of the emotion which I’ve discussed above.
  • the initial perception of the situation and the initial message may not match what is actually going on
  • with each emotion, you need to assess the match between what is actually going on and your initial perception the message of the emotion, which I’ve given you above, and
  • you need to choose a response that fits what is actually taking place

So, Madhura, when you experience either anger or frustration, the “sensible things” are physical and mental. Physically, you need to take a step back from the situation and take a deep breath. Mentally, you need to assess your situation and choose an effective response.

Finally, let me address the third answer about anger.

While it may be true that as we mature, we are less likely to get angry, the reason for this is that maturity changes the way we perceive threat. Less threat leads to less anger. It is important to note that anger is always appropriate when we are threatened regardless of age or gender. Consequently, maturity should lead to more focused and strategically applied anger not necessarily less anger. The myth that many people believe is that anger is somehow bad and should be minimized. This myth disempowers women in particular (“Women should not get angry. it isn’t feminine.”) and older people (“An older person who gets angry is just being crotchety.”)

It is quite likely that this is not what the respondent meant but I wanted to clear up any implication that might be made from his answer.

Can you please motivate me (to finish what I started)?

This is the third in a series of posts addressing issues related to productivity.

This post, which also originated as a response to a question on Quora.com, looks at productivity through a different lens.  Here the writer was asking if motivation could be external. He is a composer who apparently hit a rough spot.

In other words, he was asking me to improve his productivity.

While someone else can motivate you if they have enough influence over you as I discuss below, internal motivation leading to increased productivity is what most of us seek to achieve.

If you have ever found yourself avoiding a project, procrastinating, or hoping some external miracle would come along and build a fire under you, you might benefit from my response.

By the way, if you are a writer, you might benefit from my looking at my own loss of motivation when I was writing my first book and how I overcame it.

My quick answer to this question was: “No, I can’t motivate you.”

Here were my suggestions to this individual’s query.

The reason behind my answer is that unless I have some influence over you which I could use to push you into action, only you can motivate yourself.

I can, however, provide some information which may help you look within and generate the motivation you seek.

Clearly, you have talent and a unique gift. This is a point you probably don’t give yourself enough credit for. You can, as other answers have suggested think about how much you will bring to others if you complete your work.

To you, my reader… To what extent do you  denigrate yourself and your abilities because you believe that you do not measure up to some external standard or because you are not “perfect”?  If you do and this prevents you from moving forward with your project, I suggest, as do all experts on writing, that you put these concerns aside and complete your project. Once this is done, you can get some feedback from someone who can be objective.

Let me ask you this. What emotions are you feeling that seem to compel you to stop composing? Are you feeling anxious and stop to make the feeling of anxiety go away? Do you start out being excited about the work you are composing and, when that excitement begins to dwindle, do you stop because you believe your lack of excitement is telling you that you have lost interest in the project? While this feeling is similar to boredom, it is different in that boredom implies that the work is no longer holding your attention and the lack of excitement is simply saying that the work you are doing is not “new” to you (although still important) and you need to tap into a different emotion to “motivate” you to complete the work.

I have written two Amazon best seller books on emotions (Emotions as Tools and Beyond Anger Management) and I have experienced both anxiety and a decrease in excitement (never boredom) while writing.

So, let me explain what I did as it may help you.

If you have read any of my other posts, you know that all feelings communicate a message to you about how you perceive the situation in which you find yourself.

Anxiety is a future based emotion, the message of which is that you perceive a possible threat which might cause you some harm in the future. For me, the future threat was that I would write my book and no one would buy it or people might be critical of it.

If you stop composing because you project yourself into the future and see your work as “failing” (however, you define this), then you are experiencing anxiety.

The flip side of anxiety is the emotion of anticipation.

The message of anticipation is that your work might be well received by at least one person who hears it (and possibly more). Anticipation may help you to find the motivation you seek.

By the way, I do not believe that all the works of Beethoven were well received when he wrote them. This did not stop him from composing.

Let’s talk about getting excited about what you are composing.

I almost stopped writing my first book because the excitement that initially “motivated” me to write quickly wore off as I struggled with how to get my words right and doing more research when I needed to.

This is normal. Your initial excitement won’t last.

When this happened, I did not assume that I was no longer interested in the project.  Rather, I realized that the project I was working on was just as important and relevant as it was when I originally got all excited about it and used this realization to propel me through the process until I once again became excited. Excitement goes up and down until you are finished.

To my readers:  I hope that the above comments have been helpful to you if you have ever found yourself “unmotivated” and stuck. 

Motivation, or the emotional drive to move forward, happens because you view what you are doing as valuable. 

Productivity flows from motivation.

This perceived value can flow from several different perceptions including:

  • your anticipation regarding the impact what you create will have on someone else   or
  • your desire, however your work is received, to “give birth” to your  creation just because it is yours to create

The important point to keep in mind is that motivation is an emotion.  You create your emotions so you can create motivation by changing how you perceive what you are doing.

It is completely up to you.

How do I get over the fear of being wrong and the fear of failure?

This post was originally published in October 2017,  I am republishing it here as a follow-up to my last post covering emotions and productivity.

The author of the title question posted this on Quora.com.  While he doesn’t mention procrastination or productivity directly, the “fear” he asks about, while actually anxiety as I discuss below, is the emotion that holds people back, leads to procrastination, and results in decreased productivity.

Here is the original post.

As an expert on emotions with two Amazon bestselling books, Emotions as Tools and Beyond Anger Management, I would offer a bit different perspective on your question.

You have used the word “fear” as it is commonly used. You noted “fear of being wrong” and “fear of failure”.

Unfortunately, both of these uses are incorrect because the emotion you are really referring to here is anxiety.

I should mention that, for all intents and purposes, it doesn’t really matter which word you use. When you understand the difference between anxiety and fear, you enable yourself to master both emotions and the suggestions I make below will make more sense to you.

Fear is an in-the-moment emotion, the message of which is that you are perceiving a threat that will “kill” you unless you get out of that situation. Fear is the hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck raising up. The best response to fear is to get out of the situation. Too often, women, and sometimes men, experience fear but ignore it to their own peril. An example is when your feelings tell you the guy standing in the elevator is bad news eventhough he looks fine and has done nothing wrong. While you might be wrong about him, trust your feelings and take the next elevator.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is a future based emotion the message of which is that there might be a threat that might hurt me.

Notice in your question that you are concerned about what might happen if you are “being wrong” or if you experience “failure”. Both are future possibililty. If you were wrong or had failed when you were writing the question, you would have asked a different question.

So, let’s address your question.

The antidote to anxiety (fear of being wrong) is to ask two basic questions about what might happen in the future.

The first and most important question is this:

If the worst possible outcome happens to me (however you define “worst” and “being wrong”), can I survive (however you choose to define “survive”) it?

If the answer is “I won’t like it but I could survive it”, then you no longer have to dwell on the issue and can move on to the second question.

By the way, there are very few situations in which you would not “survive” if you made a mistake. So, the answer to question #1 will usually be yes. Now, if you are talking about being wrong about whether or not the mushroom you are about to eat is poisonous or not, or whether you have chosen the right rope to repel down the side of a mountain, well it will be in your best interest to get more information before you make a decision.

Whether you could survive the future or not, question #2 becomes your next focus.

Question #2 is:

What do I need to do, learn, make happen in order to reduce the possibility of being wrong.

I need to explain that there are two types of anxiety. The first is called distress and the second is called eustress.

Distress is disabling, focuses on the worst case scenario, and leads you to act as if this outcome is inevitable. It is distress that you are most likely referring to when you talk about the “fear of being wrong”.

Eustress is enabling, uses the same motivating energy of anxiety, and focuses on what you need to do to make the right decision. This is the energy my students use to motivate them to study for an upcoming exam. When you prepare for a future event, you no longer have to avoid it because you are now prepared for it.

So, if you are prepared for the future event and you can survive it if goes bad, you will no longer have the “fear of being wrong” you asked about.

Finally, let me give you a different definition of “failure”.

Most people think that “failure” is a destination. You either “succeed” and reach your goal or you “fail” and fall short.

This is a disabling definition as it only gives you two options.

A more adaptive definition of failure is to see it as a process. As a process, failure is defined as “falling short Y times and getting up X times, where X > Y” It is this definition the person who quoted Edison is referring to.

As long as you pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes, make the corrections you need to make, and move forward, you can’t fail. You only fail when you give up.

And, for you readers seeing this for the first time, when you learn from your mistakes an move forward, you are more than likely being productive.