Learning To Accept

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Pikes Peak Ascent 2015I love to run long distance races.  I’ve never been someone who could go out and win races, but I am competitive when it comes to beating my own personal bests.  My older brother introduced me to a half-marathon mountain run called Pikes Peak Ascent in Colorado Springs, CO.    I decided to give it a try.  The first time I ran it, about a mile into the run, everyone around me started to walk.  I said to myself, “I thought this was supposed to be a race.  What are they doing?”  Before long, I understood why, as I was walking right alongside them.  It is not for the faint of heart.

Well, this year my 18 year old son Tyson wanted to run it with me.  After my wife had us both see a therapist to make sure we weren’t crazy, we signed up for the race.  I clarified how tough the race would be and the need for him to train and prepare himself well.  Of course, this was my 4th time up the mountain so I was an expert and should be able to lead him up the mountain.

As most of us know, the older we get, the harder it can be to do what we used to.  On race day, I learned two valuable lessons.  First, youth has some definite advantages as my son beat me up the mountain by 20 minutes.  Second, there comes a time in life when I need to find a different goal than beating my previous personal best, (which is probably about now).

I have found that for many, learning to accept things as they are can be quite a challenge.  In saying this, I’m not implying that we should not strive for change or improvement, but it is important to realize that many things are out of our control.  In the book “The Precious Present” by Spencer Johnson, it says “Pain is simply the difference between how things ARE and how we WANT them to be.”  When we are unwilling to accept things as they are (things out of our control) we experience pain and disappointment.

When I completed Pikes Peak this year, I had to choose a response.  Fact:  I ran the race over an hour slower than my personal best and both my son and my OLDER brother beat me (so I can’t blame it all on aging).  I could easily have been disappointed or beat myself up.

I’m glad to say I decided a less painful approach.   I focused on different facts, but which I found more important.  Facts:  I gave it my all.  I had an awesome experience running with my son Tyson.  My strained calf didn’t prevent me from running.  This was a wonderful experience we would never forget.  Not to mention the jelly beans at the top, dinner at Texas Road House, and the movie afterwards definitely made it all worth it.

With this approach, the only pain I felt was my sore muscles.

Strategies for Successful Foster/Adoptive Parenting

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Here is a list of parenting strategies that have been helpful to foster and adoptive parents in creating connection and managing difficult behaviors that often present when children have a history of abuse and trauma. 

  1. Flexibility and Patience:
    1. We have found that rigidity and high expectations are generally recipes for disaster with foster and adoptive children, often resulting in power struggles and diminished self-esteem.  Meeting and accepting them where they are at, then patiently and positively encouraging them to become their best selves often helps. 
  2. Respect the Intimacy Barrier:
    1. Children who have been raised with trauma and abuse often have different responses to love and intimacy.  What we interpret as a loving gesture may bring up fear and discomfort for them.  Listening to their cues will help you to know how to respect their boundaries, in turn decreasing their anxiety and fear.
  3. Don’t Take It Personally:
    1. Often, parents are too quick to assume their child’s choices are about them as parents.  More often than not, the children’s responses are about themselves and what is going on with them at the time.  The key is to try to understand the feelings driving their behavior and then address those feelings or unmet needs rather than getting caught up in controlling the behavior.
  4. Maintain Emotional Regulation:
    1. We are our children’s emotion regulators.  Children are still very underdeveloped in their ability to manage emotions.  We often assume they are more capable in this area than they are.  The better we manage our emotional distress, the better they will be able to work through their emotions and return to an emotionally regulated state of functioning. 
  5. Be Sincere and Straight Forward:
    1. Any form of negative sarcasm, belittling, or disrespect will generally lead them to react by either shutting down, pulling away, or lashing out.  Kids function better when they sense we are sincere, genuine, and respectful in the way we address them.  Even if we don’t think they deserve it, our appropriate communication will help minimize relationship problems.
  6. Remember the Relationship Model:
    1. There are two primary emotions, Love & Fear.  Behaviors are emotion driven.  So when children are feeling fear, their behaviors are generally more disregulated.  When they feel love and safety, they are able to manage their behavioral responses better.  The more we can help calm their fear, the better they will be able to regulate their behaviors.
  7. Listen to Understand:
    1. When children feel heard and understood, it helps to reduce fear and anxiety, even if we don’t fully agree with them.  When we take time to consider their thoughts, feelings, and opinions, they are more able to be open to our response.  Parallel dialogue is often effect.  This is where we are talking and listening from the side stance rather than face to face.
  8. Always Consider Where They Came From:
    1. Traumatized children come from different backgrounds than most people.  Their interests and motivation will often vary significantly from biological children.  Considering their trauma history, prior home environment, and prior lifestyle will often help us be more patient with their responses.  Remember, all behavior makes sense when we understand what is behind it.

Creating a Marital Vision

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It is helpful for couples to be clear on the type of future they want.  The more clear, focused, and united you can be on that vision, the more likely it will come to pass.  Here is a worksheet you can use to help clarify your marital vision with you and your spouse.  The “Three Second Vision” at the end is a quick phrase that sums up the essence of your overall vision, something that you can remember easy and can remind you of the goals and dreams you have set. 

Marital Vision

Vision Statement

–  What will our future marriage will look like?

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Guiding Principles and Values Statement

–  What matters most to us?

–  What principles and values govern our lives?

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Strategies

–  What will we do to get there?

–  What specific steps will we take?

–  (Measurable, Clear, Concise)

  1. _____________________________________________________________________________________
  2. _____________________________________________________________________________________
  3. _____________________________________________________________________________________
  4. _____________________________________________________________________________________
  5. _____________________________________________________________________________________

3 Second Vision: _____________________________________________________________________________

Relationship Signal Strength

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When talking on a cell phone when driving, we may get a call and it is very clear.  Over time, the course we take in the car may take us to spots where the signal strength is weakened and it starts to break up.  It can get to the point where we lose the signal completely and get a “Call was lost” message.

When we first get together, our signal strength is great.  We are close and engaging.  Our conversations seem clear and effective.  There is limited misunderstanding with the clear signal.

As time goes on, we might become more distanced and lose some of our relationship signal.  Mountains might get in the way or we might create some distance based on the directions we head.  This creates interference and lost signal strength, resulting in potential relationship conflict, distance, miscommunication, frustration. 

If the signal strength continues to weaken, you might lose touch with the other person, feeling like there is no connection, no communication, and develop a sense of hopelessness about the relationship.

It is important at these times to realize that it is likely not that you “can’t connect”, but that you are out of range with one another.  The solution is to get back in range, strengthen the relationship signal, and reconnect with one another.  In order to do this, you have to change course, get to higher ground, reduce the number of things interfering with your signal. 

There are a number of things that can create interference and distance.  The key is to identify these and eliminate them while moving in a direction that brings you back together and strengthens the relationship you had once before. 

With a cell phone, when the call is dropped, you can turn around and go back to where the signal is strong again.  You can move to a better location where signal strength is good again.  The signal never stops being sent.  It is always there available in the air.  We just have to re-attune ourselves to the signal again in order to reconnect. 

One of the best ways to reconnect is to follow the three steps that Dr. Sue Johnson talks about in her book “Hold Me Tight.”  She refers to the acronym ARE for “Are you there?”  A asks if we are Accessible to our partners.  We must be in a place where you can receive a signal in order to reconnect.  R asks if we are Reaching out to our partners.  We must be in a place where you can send a good signal as well.  Finally, E asks if we are Engaging.  Its not just good enough to have a good signal, we must use it effectively by communicating with each other in a healthy way.  The more we ARE there for our partners, the more fulfilling our relationships can be.  Always keep a strong relationship signal, then use it frequently.

Am I Attachable?

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Here is a little summary of questions you can ask yourself to better determine what kind of connection you encourage with others.  If you note that you are doing the majority of things listed, it is likely that you are setting up relationships where others can connect, be open, and feel safe around you.  If you note some you are stuggling with, it might help explain why your connections with others might be suffering.  Others may be too uncomfortable to directly tell you if you are struggling with some of these, but it is good to create your own awareness of how you are doing.  Afterwards, you can always double check with someone you trust to be honest with you how they think you are doing.  Here’s the list.

Am I Attachable?

 1. Do I come across as SAFE or as threatening?

 2. Can I be TRUSTED?

 3. Do I LISTEN TO UNDERSTAND or do I interrupt and focus on correcting others?

 4. Do I VALIDATE others points of view?

 5. Do I RESPOND from my “BEST-SELF” or tend to react (i.e., blame, criticize, defend)?

 6. Am I EMOTIONALLY REGULATED or do my emotions run me?

 7. Do I focus on the 80% POSITIVE in others or the 20% negative?

 8. Do I do more “GIVING than taking” or more “taking than giving?”

 9. Am I able to “LET THINGS GO” or do I tend to “hold grudges?”

 10. Do I have “REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS” of others or do I expect too much?

Relationship Oxygen

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Do you remember when you tried holding your breath under water in the swimming pool, seeing how long you could go without resurfacing?  I often have contests with my kids trying to see how many seconds we can go.  We try to go longer and longer, seeing who can outlast the other.   We have a good time competing, and I’m sure it helps us develop our lungs.

 We can do the same thing in relationships, but it has just the opposite effect.  We need oxygen from each other, something referred to as Relationship Oxygen.  This oxygen helps us to feel connected to one another, along with helping each of us feel a sense of value and fulfillment.  Without it, both the relationship and the individuals involved suffer.

Do you remember how it felt to be under water, nearly out of oxygen, trying to last just a little bit longer?  You remember the discomfort you were feeling and how much you just wanted to take that breath, but you forced yourself to wait, because you wanted to win.  It works the same with relationships.  You can go a certain amount of time without oxygen without feeling its effects, but eventually, you get to the point where the lack of oxygen is obvious, creating discomfort and pain. 

Its funny how approach the relationship game like the swimming pool game, trying to hold out as long as we can, waiting for the other to “cave” so that we can win the argument or get our way.  In the end however, both parties lose.  The goal isn’t who can go the longest without oxygen, but how can we keep a sufficient supply of oxygen going back and forth to keep the relationship thriving. 

When we understand this, we can approach relationship challenges differently.  We recognize that when problems arise, giving each other the needed oxygen is much more effective at helping things go right.  This is because we function a lot better when we have sufficient oxygen than when we are in pain, desperate for a breath.  The more oxygen we have in reserve, the more safe and secure we feel, allowing us to response better to one another.

Choosing The Best Christmas Gifts.

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presentsChristmas is a wonderful time of year where we unite together in the spirit of giving.  Often, for adults, we have found that giving tends to bring much more joy than receiving.   Our kids bring their Christmas lists detailing the gifts they hope to receive.  This year, I would challenge parents to think twice before running out and buying the things their children have listed.

Most of our children can easily identify what they “want” for Christmas, but how many can come up with what they “need.”  The “need” I’m referring to is not so much a having new pair of socks or pants as it is focused on having toys or items that provide both fun and learning.  Buying a new portable game player, I-phone, or designer jewelry may be what your child is begging for, but is it what will help them to develop into their best selves down the road? 

Often, you can combine both fun and learning.  When our son was three, he got a Leap Frog DVD called “Letter Factory” which focused on learning letters and their sounds.  He had so much fun watching it over and over again while at the same time learning the alphabet.  The DVD made learning fun and easy for him. 

There are many similar ideas out there for all ages which can enhance learning and development, while providing hours of entertainment and fun.  Our kids may not think of these because they are not marketed as heavy or as initially enticing.  Because we are afraid to disappoint our children, we may hesitate to deviate from their wish list.  However, the danger of this is that if we always give them what they want in order to avoid disappointing them, we may disappointment them more “in the long-run” by not giving them what they need. 

One of the best lessons one of my children ever learned was on Christmas morning when he “didn’t” get what he wanted.   As parents we decided it wasn’t the right gift for that year and that we couldn’t really afford it at the time.  Although it nearly broke our hearts to see his disappointment, he expressed to us later how much he gained from that experience.   

Tips for smart buying:

  1.  Spend within your budget.
  2. Focus on how the gift will “bring gain” rather than “just entertain”.
  3. Don’t allow guilt to drive your decision.
  4. Do some research yourself rather than just following your children’s wish list.
  5. Gifts where your child has to put forth effort (i.e., Lego’s) are generally better than gifts that do all the work for your child (i.e., DVD player).
  6. Prepare your children ahead of time about the possibility of not getting what they want, but still getting something fun and exciting that they will enjoy. 
  7. Gifts that are thought out and given from your heart are often treasured more over time than gifts which cost a lot of money. 

What Can We Be Grateful For?

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imagesCAAKPUB9There is a story of a grandfather who is sharing with his grandson how everyone has two wolves inside of them fighting a battle.  The one wolf he tells him stands for everything evil such as jealousy, hatred, resentments, self-pity, and dishonesty, where as the other stands for everything good such as peace, love, service, compassion, and truth.  After considering what his grandfather told him, the grandson asks, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?”  The grandfather answers “The one you feed!” 

This represents well the battles we are engaged in almost daily.  There seem to be things pulling at us from every angle, which contributes to stress and anxiety and tend to wear us down.  If we do not focus on feeding what is most important, it is easy for the distractions and less important things to begin to consume our precious time. 

One of the important things in life that is often neglected is what I refer to as “An Attitude of Gratitude.”   I see people who seem to approach life from a deficit perspective, focusing on problems, unmet wants, disappointments, or regrets.  Instead, people who approach life through an assets perspective seem to be happier and more successful.  When we focus on our assets such as our accomplishments, gifts, blessings, and friendships, we are feeding an important part of ourselves.  What we tend to focus on the most (or feed) is what we tend to create more of for ourselves down the road, as the story above illustrates.

This Thanksgiving season, I would suggest challenging ourselves to live more from a perspective of gratitude.  There is so much to be grateful for, no matter who we are or what circumstances we are experiencing.  Life is constantly filled with both problems and successes, which are sometimes out of our control.  However, the one thing we all have control over is which one we dwell upon or choose to feed. 

I recently completed my 5th St. George marathon.  I had been looking so forward to the race as I had set a personal time goal for myself and had barely missed it the year before.  I had trained hard and felt prepared to meet my goal, however, I ended up making some costly mistakes, and in the end missed my goal by quite a bit, running significantly slower than I had the year before.  It was easy to be disappointed, knowing I would have to wait a whole year to try again.

If I was to stay in that perspective, you could see how discouraging it could be.  A more healthy and effective way would be to focus on the many positives including the fact that I was able to run, that I completed the race, that I was injury free, that I qualified for the Boston marathon, and that I learned a lot from the mistakes I made.  How much happier and more rewarding is it to focus on these things rather than on the deficits.

I’m not saying this is easy to do, but when we choose to look at it from a perspective of gratitude, it feeds the positive rather than the negative, and we become more balanced, healthy, and able to engage with our family or spouse.  Focusing on what’s great about our lives is what this time of year is all about.  Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

What Are You Reaching For

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help-hands2Most people find it hard to be content with what we have at the moment.  This can be good and bad.  On the down-side, if we don’t learn to be happy with the things we have, we may never feel content or happy.  On the up-side, it can keep us constantly striving for change and improvement.  Learning how to balance between being happy with what we have and striving for more is crucial to our success in life.

When we experience feelings of discontent, stress, or pain, we generally want to get away from these and return to a state of peace, happiness, or fulfillment.  In order to do this, we generally have to reach for something that will change our emotional state of mind.  In our modern day society which is so fast paced and looking for the quick answers, many people are reaching for what we call “temporary solutions” for our pain or stress.  These come in a variety of forms such as addictions, affairs, or shopping sprees. 

If you have a tooth ache, it may be easy to get rid of the pain for the moment by taking some pain killer; however, it doesn’t solve the root of the real problem.  The same thing goes for our emotional pain.  Taking a drug, having an affair, eating a bag of chips while zoning out to the TV, or going on a shopping spree may bring temporary fulfillment or numb the pain, but ultimately, it isn’t a permanent solution and the stress or pain will likely return.  The quick fixes generally keep us stuck, while allowing the real problem to get worse as it goes untreated. 

When feelings of pain, discomfort, or stress come up in our lives, we need to find things to “reach for” which address the real issue.  One of the best things to “reach for,” which is often forgotten, is our family or spouse.  They can provide support, comfort, or advice.  It may be a conflict with the kids or spouse which seems to be causing the pain or discomfort.  Still, the solution is not to reach “outside” the marriage or family, but to reach “inside,” which can bring more connection to the relationship.  Often, a lack of connection is the underlying problem in the marriage and family, and reaching outside for a quick fix will only make matters worse.

Here are some quick tips to “Healthy Reaching.”

  1. Identify the specifics behind the pain, stress, or discontentment.
  2. Evaluate your solutions, determining if they are addressing the real problem or just providing an escape from your problem. 
  3. In reaching to your spouse or children, remember to share feelings and frustrations in a safe way that is non-blaming or attacking, but is instead focused on solutions, being sincere, and speaking from your heart.
  4. Be patient with yourself and the process, remembering that reaching for real solutions may take time, but will be worth it in the end.

Connecting With Your Family

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bearlake-smI recently celebrated a family reunion at Bear Lake, Idaho.  It is so rewarding to be able to relax and spend time with my kids and family away from the busy day to day life.   Our family didn’t realize how much we needed the vacation and the connection it could bring with each other.  

Our emotional connection is very significant in the way we treat one another.   Emotion Focused Therapy emphasizes how being emotionally disconnected tends to drive family problems and conflicts.  The less connected we are, the more likely we are to react to situations with defensiveness, frustration, or anger.  On the other hand, the more connected and loving we feel towards each other, the more likely we are to be patient, understanding, and respectful. 

A great way to reconnect is to do something fun together like a vacation.  Vacations don’t have to be exotic or cost a lot, you can take advantage of local deals and off season rates.  Our family reconnects just as well spending staying at a half-price local hotel using the Dixie Direct as we do going on an expensive vacation to Disneyland.  It isn’t the amount of money spent, but the time building and maintaing family connectxions that is important.