Monday, December 20, 2010

Emotional Reasoning is Irrational Reasoning

Emotional Reasoning and Gut Thinking is the mental mistake of allowing your feelings to dictate your thinking, and to reason that your skewed thinking must be accurate because your feelings are validating your thoughts.  For example, if you are feeling anxious about something, you are likely to think anxious thoughts about other things that you might not normally consider fearful. In response to the anxious thinking, you feel more anxious. This results in a cycle of anxious thinking that can lead many into silly fear-based decisions or even to full-blown panic attacks.

It is important to understand that when we feel bad physically, such as when we are fatigued or dealing with an illness, we are prone to look at situations as much bigger or more important than they are in reality, and therefore fall into the trap of emotional reasoning. Below are some examples of how emotional reasoning and gut thinking could get us into trouble, and some solutions to help us overcome this mental mistake.

For Example:
Anxious Annie: I am so stressed out. I have so much to do today, and I'm afraid I can't get it done. If I don't finish my projects, pick up my kids, have dinner on the table by 5:30, run by the cleaners, the bank, the church, bring that meal to that family who was just in the hospital, pay all the bills, clean the house from top to bottom for the open house tomorrow night, smile while doing the jobs of the last two people who got fired plus take care of my responsibilities at work, coach the soccer team to a winning season and make my kids practice piano, karate, band instruments, and do homework, then I'll be a good-for-nothing lazy wife and mom who is a failure. I am so stressed out! If I'm a not good enough, then my husband will leave me and then my kids won't be well adjusted and they'll spend 30 years in therapy! That would be terrible! Oh no! Now I have the hiccups! I can't get a deep breath! I must have something wrong! I must be dying! My kids will definitely not be well-adjusted if I die! Now my heart hurts and my palms are sweaty and I feel nauseated!  What's happening? I don't know! I think I'm going to die!

Grumpy Gus: What a gloomy day. I am so tired. I have to deal with that client today.  He really ticks me off. I just get angry thinking about him!  And you know what? I have to go to that stupid meeting afterward. I can't stand that meeting! And when I go home, I bet my wife won't have dinner ready after I've worked so hard all day. You know, she really doesn't love me. UGH! I'm feel so frustrated and angry! I have nothing good to look forward to! My life is going all wrong! I feel so sad, alone, and abandoned, at that makes me mad!

How to overcome Emotional Reasonal and Gut Thinking:
1. Call it what it is. Just assigning a name to your thought patterns can pull you out of them enough  to change them.

2. Ask yourself, "Do I usually think this way about this situation, or do I only think this way when I am in a certain mood or upset about something else?" If the answer is that you only think this way about this situation when you are upset, refuse to allow this thinking to continue and apply the three rational questions.

Anxious Annie's new thinking:
I am so stressed out.  I have a lot to do today.  I am afraid I won't be able to get it all done.  I am probably especially prone to emotional reasoning right now, so I need to change my thinking. Instead of thinking that I'm a good-for-nothing lazy wife and mom if I don't get all this done today, I will just call myself a fallible human being just like everyone else. It doesn't necessarily mean that I'm a failure and my kids won't be well-adjusted if I can't get to a few things by today.  I will prioritize my day and work hard to get my responsibilities taken care of.  Hmmm...that's interesting. I just hiccupped.   Just because I have the hiccups doesn't necessarily mean that I will suffocate. I'll concentrate and take a few deep breaths, but I know the hiccups will go away soon.

Grumpy Gus' new thinking:
It's a gloomy day and I'm tired. I choose to meet with that client today. I usually look forward to that client, but I'm not today. I must be reasoning emotionally because I don't feel good. And most of the time I don't mind that meeting. My wife may not have dinner ready, but that doesn't necessarily mean she doesn't love me. Maybe she had a hard day, too. I guess life isn't as bad as it had seemed.

Watch out for emotional reasoning and gut thinking in your life, and your life will be better for it!

Pucci, A. R. (2006). The Client’s Guide to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: How to live a healthy, happy life… no matter what! Lincoln, NE: iUniverse.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Get Rid of That Magnifying Glass!

I love teenagers.  They are perhaps the most excited bunch of people in America.  They are also lots of fun.  Part of the reason they are so fun is that they tend to exaggerate things, and they can be terribly funny when they do it.

Magnification, “the mental mistake of exaggerating the importance of a shortcoming or minimizing the importance of a good quality” (Pucci, 2006) is one of those mental mistakes I see my teenagers making most often.  Have you ever heard a teenager say something like, “My life is ruined because I failed that test,” or “Everyone will look at me if I wear that ugly shirt,” or “That zit is so ginormous that I can’t go to school because everyone will look at me and I will be socially ruined!”?  These are examples of exaggerating the importance of a shortcoming.

We also tend to minimize the importance of a good quality.  A brilliant Julliard trained musician could sit at a keyboard, play for hours, and play just about anything by ear. He said that he could not have a career in music because he is a terrible public speaker.  Even though all his professors and peers said that he had great potential, this man limited himself in his belief that all of his talent didn’t count, and instead focused on how terrible he was at public speaking.

How can we avoid magnifying?

1. Ask, “Is this shortcoming really likely to interfere with me meeting my goals?” (Pucci)

2. Ask, “Does my shortcoming really affect me the way I think it does?” (Pucci)

3. Ask, “Might my strengths affect my situation more than my shortcomings?” (Pucci)

Accurately assessing our assets and abilities can be a great aid in avoiding magnification.

Pucci, A. R. (2006). The Client’s Guide to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: How to live a healthy, happy life… no matter what! Lincoln, NE: iUniverse.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Do You Have a Crystal Ball?

The second way many of us fallible human beings jump to conclusions is by fortune telling.  "Oh, I don't do that!  I don't have a crystal ball and try to tell people the future!"  That's what I said to myself when I first saw this, but then I got to looking into it.  Fortune Telling is forming an opinion on which you would act by predicting the future.  It is not saying, "This MIGHT happen", but rather, "I KNOW this will happen," and then acting on that "knowledge".

Here's an example of what fortune telling could look like:

Me: So, how is your dating life going?

Client: Not so good.  I'm going to break up with him.

Me: Really? What happened?

Client: Well, I know he's going to break up with me.

Me: How do you know he's going to break up with you?

Client: I just do.

Me: So what you're telling me is that you know he's going to break up with you, so you're going to break up with him first.  Seeing as you and I don't have a crystal ball that tells us what the future holds, what evidence do you have that leads you to believe that he's going to break up with you?

Client: He has never had a girlfriend past 3 months, and we're at 2 months and 25 days.  We had a big fight yesterday.

Me: Okay, so if we were gambling, we could probably make a lot of money betting that he will break up with you based on the evidence you've presented, right?

Client: Right.

Me: But since neither of us has a crystal ball that tells us for certain what the future holds, what prevents you from having an honest discussion with him about your thoughts and fears with the relationship?  What do you have to lose?

Client: I'm afraid he'll break up with me if I'm that vulnerable, and that would be terrible because it would mean that he has rejected me.

Me: Well, certainly no one enjoys being rejected. How important is this relationship to you?

Client: Very.

Me: Okay. Have you ever been rejected before?

Client: Yes.

Me: Did you survive it?

Client: Well, I'm still alive aren't I? Of course I survived!

Me: So do you think it might be worth risking rejection and vulnerability to save this very important relationship?

Client: Yeah, I think it would.

It is good to recognize when we are jumping to conclusions by fortune telling, because it can prevent us from creating self-fulfilling prophecies (SFPs). An SFP is the unintentional creation of the predicted outcome because the person predicted it.  In the example above, the client predicted that the relationship would not last past three months.  This led to the client being unwilling to be vulnerable and share her true thoughts and feelings with her boyfriend.  After closing herself off from the relationship and preemptively breaking up with him (creation of the predicted outcome), she likely would say, "See, I told you the relationship wouldn't last past three months!" An outsider can clearly see, however, that had she been open and honest with her thoughts and feelings even though she believed this to be true, the relationship might have lasted more than three months.  There might have been a different outcome.

There is nothing irrational about making an educated guess or prediction for personal guidance. It is when we become CERTAIN that our prediction WILL happen, instead of it merely being LIKELY to happen, that our thinking becomes irrational. Because we cannot accurately predict that we will even take our next breath, the only prediction that we can be CERTAIN of is that we will all one day die.

In order to avoid Fortune Telling and SFPs, make sure you are looking at your situation with all the facts, and you understand what your underlying assumptions are.  Take your time formulating your opinions and your actions.

For more on this topic, read Feel the Way You Want to Feel, No Matter What! by Aldo Pucci.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Stop Jumping to Conclusions!!

Ahhhh...jumping to conclusions, or "developing an opinion about something very quickly without gathering facts" (Pucci, 2006). It's pretty fun, huh?  If you are human, you have probably done this at least once in your life. Jumping to conclusions is by definition irrational, if we define rational as passing all three rational questions. Jumping to conclusions takes place when we get tired of looking for all the facts or we don't think we have time or it would be a waste of time to find all the facts for a certain situation.

There are two main ways we fallible human beings jump to conclusions:
1. Mind Reading, or acting as if we can read someone else's mind.  Mind reading occurs when we KNOW someone is thinking a certain way, and then we act on that "knowledge" without checking it out.  If we acknowledge that someone MIGHT be thinking a certain way, that is NOT mind reading.

How to stop jumping to conclusions by mind reading:
1. Recognize that it is impossible to know for sure what someone else is thinking. We may be able to see THAT someone is thinking (with an EEG or PET scan), but we cannot see WHAT a person is thinking.  Even if we know someone very well, we cannot know for certain what they are thinking. We can try to predict what they will say or do, but we will never know what thoughts they had that led them there unless they tell us.

2. Recognize that trying to know another's thoughts is pointless.  Because in the end what matters is how someone ACTS or TREATS US, knowing their thoughts is actually futile.  For example, I can have a less than flattering thought about someone, but unless I act on that thought, they are not offended.  I can also have a thought about giving someone a card or gift, but unless I act on that thought, that person will not receive the blessing.  If you find that someone is treating you badly, instead of trying to figure out what they are thinking, talk to them about their behavior and if they would be willing to begin treating you differently.

In my next blog I will discuss fortune telling, which is the second most common way we fallible human beings jump to conclusions.

For more in-depth discussion and illustration, pick up a copy of Aldo Pucci's The Client's Guide to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: How to live a healthy, happy life, no matter what!.

Pucci, A. R. (2006). The Client's Guide to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: How to live a healthy, happy life, no matter what! New York: iUniverse, Inc.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Discounting the Positive

Discounting the positive is a mental mistake that is very similar to the mental filter (Pucci, 2006). When people discount the positive, they are often believing some sort of negative thought, and any evidence that comes up to the contrary somehow "doesn't count".

For example, let's say a woman believes that she is bad.  After defining the word "bad" to mean that she is innately evil, is worthless, and has nothing good to bring to society, I bring up some points to counter her thinking.  Bringing up the fact that the woman has a stable job where she is in charge of several departments yields a response such as, "Yeah, but that doesn't count because they felt sorry for me and kept promoting me even though I'm bad." Bringing up the point that the woman has never harmed anyone, much less murdered them, she replies, "I haven't yet, but I could." Confronting her with the fact that she has a family who loves, supports, and needs her, she replies, "I will probably end up hurting them one day too."  This woman is discounting the positive evidence against her negative belief.  When she does this, she depresses herself and makes herself quite anxious.

How can we make sure we are not making this mental mistake?
1. To think rationally, we must base our thinking on fact. This means all the facts, not just the ones that we like or that fit with our current beliefs (Pucci, 2006). 

2. Ask questions that might disconfirm the already held belief (Roberto, 2009).

3. Decide to entertain competing beliefs (Roberto, 2009).

4. Probe the opinion of experts.  If an expert agrees with the already believed thought, ask him or her why they agree with you and what evidence they have that supports or refutes your belief (Roberto, 2009).

Pucci, A. R. (2006). The Client's Guide to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: How to live a  healthy, happy matter what! New York: iUniverse, Inc.

Roberto, M. A. (2009). The Art of Critical Decision Making Parts I & II. Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Are You “In Love”? You May be Making a Mental Mistake!

According to Aldo Pucci (2006), MA, DCBT, and author of The Client’s Guide to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Mental Mistake #3 is the mental filter, or, as professor Michael A. Roberto (2009) of Bryant University calls it, the confirmation bias.  The mental filter is described as acknowledging only information that is consistent with already believed thoughts.  In plain English, it’s like going through life with blinders on. 

Have you ever heard the expression “Love is blind”?  Well, that concept actually has some merit to it.  When we are in love, we often believe that the person we are in love with is perfect for us.  We will often overlook, downplay, or even change evidence to the contrary until it fits with what we already have our minds set to think.  Later on, after we’ve been married for a while, the blinders come down and we begin to tell each other, “You’ve changed!” While it’s possible that we’ve changed, it could also be that the blinders we had while we were dating have started to come down, and we’re finally seeing the other person as they actually are.

I’ve heard this mistake used in several ways.  Some people will believe that they are stupid (despite evidence that they are of at least average intelligence), others that they are worthless (despite evidence of their value), others that they are bad (despite evidence that they are no worse than any other fallible human being), others that their lives are no longer worth living (despite evidence that their unpleasant circumstances are merely temporary), others that their boyfriend/girlfriend is so wonderful and perfect (despite others warning of their criminal, murderous history), others that the Japanese would never bomb Pearl Harbor (Wohlstetter, 1962) (despite evidence that they were on their way), and others that they are the greatest thing that ever happened to the world (despite evidence that they are no better than the above average fallible human being).  When they present their evidence for these beliefs, I often chuckle to myself, because I see the mental filter in action!

What can we do about the mental filter?
1. Look at and acknowledge ALL information about a specific belief or situation, not just that information that confirms your belief.  Intentionally look for evidence that supports alternative views.  Identify a thought or belief that passes the Three Rational Questions but that you may have difficulty believing. Pretend that you are an attorney, and in one week you must present evidence that will convince a jury that the new thought is true.  Refuse to make up evidence and provide examples from your life that actually happen.  Write down all your evidence.

2. Acknowledge that you can be incorrect in your thinking. List the things you think about the world, yourself, and others that you HOPE are incorrect. Now, look for evidence to support the possibility that you are, in fact, incorrect in thinking these thoughts.
Being aware of the mental filter will help you in many areas of your life, including your love life.  Now, go out there and prove yourself wrong!

Pucci, A. R. (2006). The Client’s Guide to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: How to Live a Healthy, Happy Life…No Matter What! New York: iUniverse, Inc.

Roberto, M. A. (2009). The Art of Critical Decision Making Parts I & II. Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company.

Wohlstetter, R. (1962). Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mental Mistake #2 – Overgeneralization

Continuing the discussion on the 26 Common Mental Mistakes, number two on the list is overgeneralization.  According to Dr. Aldo Pucci in his book Feel the Way You Want to Feel, No Matter What, overgeneralization is the unintentional exaggeration of the frequency of something (saying something ALWAYS or NEVER happens), or an inaccurate extrapolation (saying that because one part of a group is a certain way, all parts of that group must be that way).

1. Unintentional Exaggerations
This mental mistake is particularly used in marriages and in families with teenagers.  You may have heard your loved ones say something like, “You NEVER let me do anything!” or “You ALWAYS get upset when I tell you how I feel, so I’ve learned not to tell you.”  If these are not statements of fact, then these loved ones are overgeneralizing.  They are not intentionally exaggerating; they are merely using the English language style they were taught.  Is it accurate to say that someone ALWAYS gets upset when feelings are expressed by someone else?  If it is, then this is not an overgeneralization, but a fact.  However, if there has been one time where the person did not get upset, then this statement is no longer fact.  It now implies that the person has the inability to feel something other than upset when the other person expresses his or her feelings.  The same is true for the NEVER statement.  If it is true that the person has not one time in the past let the other person do anything, then this is a statement of fact. If it is untrue that the person has never let the other person do anything, it is implied that the person in authority is a spiteful, tyrannical killjoy, and the statement is inaccurate.

2. Inaccurate Extrapolations
Inaccurate extrapolations can lead to many misconceptions.  For example, a person was driving down the road and noticed a crew of Latino workers quickly and beautifully landscaping a property.  The person told his wife, “You know, Latinos are hard workers.”   They continued driving and passed a road construction crew where everyone, including Latinos and other races, was taking a break.  The wife said to her husband, “You know, Latinos are lazy.”  Who was right?  Neither!  Just because the Latinos in one situation were working hard does not mean that all of them do, and just because they were not working hard in the second example does not mean that they all do not work hard.  Other examples of inaccurate extrapolations can include:
Asians are intelligent.

White people are money hungry and have no rhythm.

Black people are good at basketball and can dance.

Christians are stupid.

Muslims are terrorists.

Men are evil.

Women are crazy.

All hot dogs make me vomit. (The person who said this had vomited only after eating hot dogs from a certain
restaurant one time, and had never before vomited after eating hot dogs there)

Athletes are idiots.

Nerds are not cool.

Band members are geeks.

Teenagers are lazy.

Fords (or Hondas or Chevys or Pontiacs) are unreliable and will break down on you.

Inaccurate extrapolations like these can lead to prejudice, hate crimes, and other unhealthy fears.  They can also lead to mistaken underlying assumptions such as these groups of people or things being unable to be anything else than how they have been judged.

How to avoid Overgeneralizing:
1. Speak the facts, not what appears to be the facts or what is just easier to say.
2. Make judgments on a case-by-case basis rather than judging all things to be a certain way simply because one thing was that way.

For more information, read Feel the Way You Want to Feel, No Matter What by Aldo Pucci.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Look Out for Mental Mistakes!

Are you a procrastinator? A perfectionist? Prone to depressed thinking? Just a little “OCD”? Prone to panic, worry, or any other type of anxiety? Your problem may be that you are making some mental mistakes!

Dr. Aldo Pucci, the developer of Rational-Living Therapy, has identified 26 Common Mental Mistakes that most people make.  These mental mistakes are easily identified, and once they are understood, they are easily rectified.  Throughout the next few months I will be describing these Mental Mistakes, giving examples, and showing you what to do about them.

1. All or None Thinking:  All or none thinking is defined as “seeing no middle ground.”  This is often referred to as “Black or White thinking.”  People who think in terms of All or None often have difficulty with:

Procrastination -  “If I can’t get it all done in one sitting, I won’t do any of it.”

Perfectionism - “It’s not worth doing if I can’t do it perfectly.” “It’s not worth turning in if it’s not perfect.” “I’d rather take an F than turn in imperfect work.” “You either do the work completely or you don’t do it at all.”

Trying new things or staying with something they enjoy - “There is no use of me playing soccer if I can’t be on the USA’s World Cup soccer team.”

Marriage Issues - “You either love me or you don’t.” “The way I fold towels is the only way to do it correctly.”

Idealizing others - “He/she is perfect.”

Devaluing others - “He/she is absolutely terrible.”

Depression - “This situation is absolutely hopeless. There is no solution.” “Life is not worth living without _____.”

Dieting or Sobriety - “I indulged one time so I blew it.”

What to do:
1. REFUSE to think this way any longer.

2. Ask yourself if your statement is absolutely true all the time, or if there is some sort of gray area or continuum. Dr. Pucci states that most things in life are on a dimmer switch rather than a light switch.  What he is saying is that there are degrees in most things.

3. Replace your old thought with a new, rational thought.

4. Practice your new rational thought until it becomes your new habit.

For example:

Instead of thinking:Think this:
“If I can’t get it all done in one sitting, I won’t do any of it.”“If I can’t get all this done in one sitting, that’s okay. I will have less to do when I return to this project later.”
“It’s not worth doing if I can’t do it perfectly”“There is value in learning from my mistakes. If I can’t do it perfectly, there is still value in doing it.”
“It’s not worth turning in if it’s not perfect. I’d rather take an F than turn in imperfect work.”“I am a fallible human being. I can’t expect everything I do to be perfect. I would rather turn in imperfect work and pass this class than have to take this class over again because I failed to turn in an assignment”
“There is no use of me playing soccer if I can’t be on the USA’s World Cup soccer team.”“Even if I don’t have the skills or talent for the USA national team, I can still learn a lot and enjoy myself by playing in my recreational league. If I enjoy soccer, I can play as long as possible.”
“You either love me or you don’t.” “Some days your love for me will be stronger than other days.”
“The way I fold towels is the only way to do it correctly.”“There are several ways to do many chores, and even if it’s not my way, it still gets done.”
“He/she is perfect.”“He/she is a fallible human being with positive, negative, neutral qualities.”
“He/she is absolutely terrible.”“He/she is a fallible human being with positive, negative, neutral qualities.”
“This situation is absolutely hopeless. There is no solution.” “Just because I don’t see a solution doesn’t mean one does not exist.”
“Life is not worth living without _____.”“My happiness does not depend on ____. I can have happy days and a satisfying life without ___.”
“I indulged one time so I blew it. I quit.”“I indulged one time. I can learn from this so that I don’t do it again, and I can finish out the rest of today working on my goal of developing new and healthy habits.”

Removing All or None thinking can help to alleviate many problems.  How have you exhibited All or None thinking? What did you do about it?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

More Questions for Self-Discovery

We Americans have heard it said by many people that those people made whatever selfish decision they made because they wanted to “find” themselves.  Wouldn’t it be great if people could find themselves without making poor, selfish, or regrettable choices?  At the beginning of the month I posted some basic questions for self-discovery, questions that help us answer that age-old question “Who am I?”  I got some positive feedback from that blog, so I decided to present some follow-up questions to get us all thinking about who we are so that we don’t “find ourselves” in a big fat mess later on in life.

1. If I had all the money and resources I could ever need, what would I spend my time, money, and effort doing?

2. What population of people do I have a knack for attracting?

3. What population of people do I want to attract?

4. Do I enjoy being with children, teenagers, young adults, middle-aged adults, the elderly, or special needs

5. What is my passion?

6. If I were to serve in a branch of the military, which would it be?  Why? What job would I want to have?

7. What 5 things keep me from achieving my goals?

8. What 5 things helped me achieve my goals in the past?

9. What are the spiritual gifts that God has blessed me with?

10. What talents has God given me (remember that talents do not have to be fine arts like singing, drawing, dancing, or acting; talents can include being able to understand how and why things work, teaching, cooking, making things grow, encouraging others, setting and meeting goals, coaching others, etc…)?

11. What is attractive to me about my church?

12. What do I love about my closest friends?

13. What types of qualities do I tend to bring out in others?

14. Do I tend to follow the rules or break them?

15. Who do I respect?  Why? What qualities do they have that I respect?

16. Is there anyone I do not respect?  Why? What qualities do they have that I disrespect?

17. Do I control my emotions, or do my emotions control me?

18. What areas of my life would I like to improve?

19. What areas of my life am I satisfied with?

20. Am I willing to ask for help to change my life for the better?

These are great questions to ask to help us get better acquainted with ourselves. Another resource for us is the DISC inventory, which helps us understand more about our personality. Crown Financial Ministries offers a free version of the DISC on their website.  Just click on “Find out now” which is right underneath “What's your Crown Money Map Personality I.D.?” and take the short (5-10 minutes) personality inventory.  Make sure to read the instructions before taking the inventory.  Good luck, and happy self-discovering!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Who Am I?

It’s amazing, but this most basic question is one that so many of us ask but so few of us know how to answer.  Before you throw away your current life in search of the answer, take some time to do some self-discovery.  You might find you already like who you are!

1. What do I like?

2. What do I NOT like?

3. What are my values?

4. What do each of the words I used to describe my values mean to me?

5. How would I describe my reputation?

6. What kind of reputation do I want to have?

7. Who do I want to BE?

8. What do I want to DO?

9. What do I want to HAVE?

10. What other goals do I have?

11.  What are 15 things I want to accomplish before I die?

12. How do I want people to describe my life on my 80th birthday?

13. What is my proudest moment?

14. What moment in my life am I least proud of?

15. What are my top 5 strengths?

16. What are my top 5 weaknesses?

These are just a few questions to get you thinking about that most basic question we all ask.  Schedule 30 minutes into your planner this week and begin answering these questions. This could be one of the most important exercises you will ever do, because this exercise will help you find your identity and your purpose!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Make a Plan!

Do you panic?  Do you have flashbacks that are difficult to control?  Do you have suicidal or depressive thoughts that lead you to situations that may not be in  your best interest?  One thing that helps many people in these situations is to have a written plan.

How do you do this?  While you are calm, think back to a time when you were panicking, suicidal, depressed, having flashbacks, or generally just behaving in a way that wasn’t working for you.  Think of some things that you could have done in that moment to snap yourself out of that thinking.  Think of things you could have done differently that would have led to less exposure to trauma, more structured or rational thinking, or even just a healthier response.  Write those things down on a 4x6 index card.

Now think of where you are when you experience those symptoms.  Put your index card in an easily accessible and visible place in the area where you are when you experience those symptoms.

For example, if you typically experience panic thoughts and symptoms while driving, make an index card plan and put it on your visor.  That way, when you begin to feel the thoughts and symptoms coming on, you can easily see that you have other options and you know what to do to stop those thoughts and symptoms before they overwhelm you.

Here is an example of what this could look like for someone who often panics while driving:

1. Find a parking lot and pull in.  If no lot is available, pull onto the shoulder.  If no shoulder is available, pull into a driveway or onto a side road with little traffic.

2. Take a few deep, calming breaths.

3. Assess thinking.

4. Apply the 3 rational questions.

5. Read over the list of replacement thoughts that are located on the opposite side of the visor.

6. Continue to breathe deeply, read the list, and apply the 3 rational questions until calm enough to drive safely.

Having a plan like this can make all the difference in a panic situation, and can calm the situation down much more quickly than just riding out the panic with no plan.  Take the time today to plan ahead and take care of yourself.  You are worth it!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Better Sleep

I recently had the opportunity to speak at Sevierville’s First United Methodist Church’s WINGS (Women Inspired, Nurtured, Growing Strong) weekend on getting better sleep.  Here are some of the tips I found and taught.

1. Getting better sleep improves your life.  When you sleep well, your mood, concentration, memory and immunity improve.  Your motor coordination also improves.  Studies have shown that sleep deprived drivers often exhibit similar qualities as drunk drivers.

2. Avoid nicotine before bed.  Smokers often go through withdrawal at night.

3. Avoid caffeine. Caffeine, a stimulant, stays in your system for roughly 8 hours. Even if you don’t think caffeine affects you, try cutting back or cutting it out completely for a week and see if your sleep improves.

4. Avoid alcohol close to bedtime. It usually takes about 1 hour per drink to completely metabolize alcohol.  Even though alcohol is a depressant, it has been known to disturb sleep.  Make sure you have enough time after drinking for your body to fully metabolize alcohol in order to get a good night’s sleep.

5. Create a sleepy environment.  Most people sleep best in a cool, dark, quiet place. Use your bedroom only for sleep and intimacy with your spouse in order to promote cues for relaxation rather than work or stress.  A comfortable pillow and mattress will promote better sleep by allowing you to stay asleep longer.  Turn off the television so that the commercials and noise won’t stimulate your mind (thereby keeping you awake or waking you after you have drifted off to sleep), and so the light from the television won’t interrupt your internal clock.

6. Exercise a minimum of 20-30 minutes each day. This exercise can be broken down into 5 minute segments throughout the day.  Make sure to finish exercise at least 3 hours before bedtime to allow time for your body temperature to drop to optimum levels.

7. Stop eating at least 2 hours before bedtime.

8. Finish all liquids at least 2 hours before bedtime to avoid nighttime toilet trips.

9. Develop a ritual. A nighttime routine can send cues to your brain to start releasing hormones that help you relax and sleep.

10. Get your worries under control. Practice your deep breathing, meditation, prayer, scripture reading, journaling, and progressive muscle relaxation to relax both your mind and your body, getting your worry off your mind so you can rest well.

Putting these simple tips into practice should improve your sleep considerably.  For more help on getting your worries under control, seek the advice of a professional who can provide a world of new skills and ideas that will work for you.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Is Suffering Always Bad?

I don’t think so.  Suffering is bad when we get nothing from it, when we learn nothing from it, and when we are unable to use our suffering for our benefit or the benefit of others.  But suffering that leads to God is actually GOOD suffering.
I can hear the sneers now.  Really?  You really think that suffering can be good?  My answer to that is…absolutely!
A family was torn apart by infidelity.  The track that the parents in this family was on was not one that led to God.  It led to selfishness and greed.  When the divorce was final, one parent decided that seeking God was the thing to do.  The children were then raised in a much more godly environment, which led to much more godly marriages for them and lives full of the Holy Spirit.
Not enough suffering there? Okay, a single lady LONGS for a godly marriage.  While still single, her focus is on God and knowing Him more intimately.  She has served the Lord by educating and loving the children of missionaries in Africa, and by leading His people to more healthy and fulfilling lives here in America.  Does she suffer?  Every day.  Is her suffering in vain?  Absolutely not!  Her relationship with God is one that most people only wish they could imagine!
A young couple faced the unthinkable.  After being married only two years, cancer struck the husband.  He also had a stroke due to the type of cancer he had and was forced to push himself through over a year of rehabilitation just to be able to speak and to walk.  Another side effect of his cancer left them without the ability to have children.  This suffering was and still is tremendous for both of them.  Is it necessarily bad?  Well, the couple has begun the process of adopting children, and each of them has a stronger relationship with God due to what He has brought them through.  The husband is able to share his testimony in his blog.  Their friends and family have gathered around them in a way they never would have if this family had not faced such hardship.
Has all this suffering been in vain?  I don’t think so.  God is redeeming each of these situations and is using them for His glory.  Each of these situations is real, and each person has found hope and purpose in their situation as they have also sought God. When we understand that the purpose of life is to bring glory to God, we find that suffering has a real purpose, and it is not always bad.
For more on finding purpose beyond your pain, go to to read my friend, psychiatrist David Henderson’s, blog and book Finding Purpose Beyond Our Pain.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Writing…It’s Such Great Therapy!

Writing is probably the best free therapy around, other than talking to a trusted, wise friend.  Writing has so many benefits, it’s a wonder that more people don’t do it!  Why is writing so beneficial? 

1. Writing helps you forget.  Many people who come to counseling have a forgetting problem.  Something bad has happened to them, and they believe that they MUST remember it or it will happen again, or they won’t remember how bad the situation was when they need the emotional power that is triggered by remembering event, or they will cease to be the person they are today, or many other reasons.  Writing something down helps you get to a place where you can forget and let go.  One reason for this is the next benefit.

2. Writing helps you remember.  There are many things you need to remember, but most things do not need to clutter up your mind.  After you have written something down, you can go back to it to remember.  In much the same way as a shopping list works (i.e. you don’t have to keep repeating the list over and over in your mind and thus distracting yourself in the store), writing about emotional topics helps you release the responsibility of remembering but allows you to remember at appropriate times.  If you need to tap into the emotional energy that accompanies a certain event, all you have to do is turn to that page in your journal, and you’re right back there again.  When you need documentation of an event, you can always turn back to your journal for a more accurate picture than what your brain has allowed you to remember over time.  When you read the emotional journal entries you have written in the past, you remember just how good or bad something was at that time.

3. Writing is glorifying to God.  When you remember where you have been in your life, and you see how God has taken you out of those dark places, God is glorified.  When you share those experiences with others, God is glorified.  When you write now, you can look back in the future with this perspective.

4. Writing helps you discover who you are.  Looking back over your writings, you discover more about yourself than you really ever thought you would.  You will discover how you tend to react to things, who you tend to blame for the things that happen in your life, things that are important to you, your priorities, your hopes and dreams, how you deal with good and bad times, and how you have changed over time.  Writing helps you take a more objective look at yourself.

These are just four tiny benefits of writing.  What other benefits can you come up with?