Name that Emotion

We’ve all got things to do and people to see. Who needs unwanted emotions slowing us down? Just ignore them, and maybe they’ll go away. Right?

Here’s the hitch: emotions are hard-wired into our human experience. In other words, emotions are part of us and the more we push them away, the louder they become. When we deny and try to block out emotions, we starve them until the emotional hunger pains are so strong, we become overwhelmed with unruly, overbearing, unable-to-control feelings.  You know, that moment someone asks you something harmless like to pass the salt, and you completely lose your cool? When we suppress or don’t acknowledge emotions, they bubble up, and like water boiling in a covered pot with the burner on high, eventually they’re going to blow.

The solution? Don’t ignore the monster!

Emotions grow to become monsters when we ignore them, push through them, judge them and just plain do whatever it takes to try not to feel them. There is a better way! The next time you feel an unpleasant emotion, try noticing it and putting a name to it.

Scientists call this affect labeling. It goes something like this:

  • I am noticing a feeling of butterflies in my stomach. I’m nervous.
  • I feel a lifting, light feeling in my chest and shoulders. I’m happy.
  • I feel like it’s hard to move. I notice that I’m slumped and don’t feel like doing anything. I’m sad.
  • I can’t believe that guy just cut me off. I’m irritated.

When we give our emotion a name, it starts the process of calming it down. Instead of pushing the feelings away, we pay attention and engage our intellect to give it a name. Once emotions are acknowledged and paid attention to, they start to digest and let go of their grip. Relief can get his foot in the door, and we initiate the process of regulating emotions and feeling more in control.

 

Brain imaging studies explain the science behind affect labeling: When we experience an emotion, a part of our brain called the amygdala, gets activated. When our amygdala is very active and fired up, it is hard to access the reasoning part of our brain, the frontal lobes.

How to become Happy, Breaking through an Obstacle, Orinda Psychologist, Lafayette Psychologist, Berkeley Psychologist, Oakland Psychologist, Moraga, Alamo

 

When we use techniques like affect labeling, we begin to activate our frontal lobes (the organizing, planning, thinking-through part of the brain) and de-activate the amygdala (the “OMG!” emotional part of the brain).

 

How to become Happy, Breaking through an Obstacle, Orinda Psychologist, Lafayette Psychologist, Berkeley Psychologist, Oakland Psychologist, Moraga, Alamo

 

PRACTICE:

The next time you are “freaking out” or “stressed” or just “feeling off,” try getting specific. What emotion are you feeling? Can you put a label on it?

How to become Happy, Breaking through an Obstacle, Orinda Psychologist, Lafayette Psychologist, Berkeley Psychologist, Oakland Psychologist, Moraga, Alamo

Now, reinforce yourself by checking out the Reinforcement Practice Sheet and get some suggestions on how to reinforce yourself. You’ve just taken the first step toward processing and letting go of that unpleasant emotion.

LIFE’S TOO SHORT JUST TO SURVIVE. THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE!


Nonjudgment for Emotion Regulation

Earlier this month, I sent out a call for nonjudgment. In this time of chaos, violence, fear, and confusion, nonjudgment can be a place of refuge. Practicing nonjudgment gives us three profound gifts:

  • complete understanding
  • the power to move into compassionate, effective action
  • the ability to defuse our emotions

Let’s focus on that last gift, the ability to defuse emotions. In over a decade of working with clients, I have never once seen anyone be able to let go of and regulate an emotional response while clinging to judgments. Only when practicing nonjudgment, can regulation and emotional freedom begin.

Example:

Imagine you are quite unhappy with a manager at work. She is incompetent and makes ridiculous requests of you and the rest of her staff. You don’t know how she was ever hired for this job, let alone maintains it because most of the time, she is just plain wrong and inappropriate. It is unfair that you have to work with her.

Imagine the emotions you might feel if you were in this situation. Anger and a sense of injustice and self-righteousness, maybe? Every time you interact with this manager, you might feel like rolling your eyes, sighing and throwing up your hands in this hopeless situation.

Now try to feel better about it. Look at the situation detailed above and attempt to calm your emotions and let it go.

Not working? Impossible? Let’s try an easier way.

Look at the same example, with a line drawn through each judgment:

Imagine you are quite unhappy with a manager at work. She is incompetent and makes ridiculous requests of you and the rest of her staff. You don’t know how she was ever hired for this job, let alone maintains it because most of the time, she is just plain wrong and inappropriate. It is unfair that you have to work with her.

Without using judgment words, how would you describe this situation? Before you attempt, remember that nonjudgment is describing things as they are, without adding opinions or evaluations. It does NOT mean pretending you like or want something that you don’t. In other words,

nonjudgment = truth.

Let’s look at a nonjudgmental way of describing the same situation:

You are quite unhappy with a manager at work. You do not understand why she makes the requests she does and how they improve the function of the department or the company. After you engage with this manager, you often feel frustrated. Your peers have commented about feeling a diminished sense of morale at work due to interactions with this manager. You are disappointed by your daily interactions with her.

Notice that I don’t have to ask how you feel (as in the first example) because you’ve already described it – frustrated and disappointed. Now we’ve got something to work with!

 You might ask, “How does this help me regulate my emotions? The manager is still difficult for me to work with and I still don’t like the situation.”

This is true, AND you have gone from overwhelmed and hopeless to frustrated and disappointed. When your emotions are not bogged down by judgments and the helplessness or unrelenting anger that judgment creates, you have POWER. When we become aware that we are making judgments, we give ourselves choice – choice about whether or not it is helpful for us to proceed with our judgmental thinking, feeling, and behaving, or whether we would like to choose another path.

I teach my clients many emotion regulation strategies. Tools include step-by-step skills to come up with creative solutions to solve the problem, strategies to release the grip of the emotion and feel differently, and at times, complete and total acceptance (which often leads to emotional and environmental changes we previously didn’t know were possible). Practicing nonjudgment is a required prerequisite to these changes.

Nonjudgment does not eliminate the pain. It takes it down a notch so that you can breathe, get a bit of distance from the intensity of emotion, and regulate the emotions and/or solve the problem. If you are interested in further developing the skill of nonjudgment, try the practice suggestions below:

  • Practice noticing judgments throughout your day. When you are aware of yourself (or someone else) making a judgmental statement, or you have a judgmental thought, say to yourself “judgment.” (Over time, noticing and labeling judgments helps us become more aware of them and gives us a choice about the most effective way to proceed.)
  • Plan to sit and focus on your thoughts for 30 seconds to a minute. Imagine two different boxes, labeled “judgment thoughts” and “other thoughts.” For the next 30 seconds to a minute, notice any thoughts that come into your mind and imagine placing them in the appropriate box.
  • The next time you notice yourself being judgmental, see if you can describe (verbally or in writing) the same situation nonjudgmentally. That is, truthfully and descriptively, without judgment.

Notice the effect(s) each of these practices have on your mood, emotions, thinking. Feel free to share them on my Facebook page or in a private email. (While I may not be able to respond to all emails, I will read them and appreciate the feedback and being able to share in your experience.)

LIFE’S TOO SHORT JUST TO SURVIVE. THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE!


A Call for Nonjudgment

Given our country’s and the world’s current political and social climate, at times, it can feel like pain is all that exists. Daily reports of heinous acts causing harm and terror bombard our senses whether in the media, our real life, or both. Devastation and anger in response to feeling helpless to stop the madness are completely valid, and it can feel nearly impossible to practice being nonjudgmental.

 

This begs the question: Why practice nonjudgment?

 

Since nonjudgment is an essential component to mindfulness and everything I teach is rooted in the practice of mindfulness, this query has come up many times for me personally as well as with my clients.

 

What is the point of being (or practicing moving toward being) nonjudgmental?

 

Nonjudgment means describing things as they are, without adding opinions or evaluations. In other words, nonjudgment = truth.

 

Example:

Judgment: That man is a horribly rude, insensitive person.

Nonjudgment: That man pushed me aside, went in front of me in line, did not apologize or acknowledge his actions to me, and then left.

 

Do you see the difference? In the judgmental example, we have little information about the man or what happened. Being nonjudgmental gave us much more depth of information and understanding.

 

Let’s take this a step further. In addition to being able to comprehend what exactly happened, being nonjudgmental gives us two other gifts:

  1. The gift of being able to diffuse our emotion (in this case, probably anger).
  2. The gift of moving into compassionate, effective action.

 

If we believe that someone is a rude, insensitive person, we will treat him as such. Our minds are made up. He is rude, and there is no reason to treat him with any kindness, understanding or even courtesy.

 

If, however, we believe that someone engaged in behavior that caused us or others harm, this speaks to the specific behavior, rather than the person, and gives us room to react with compassionate, effective action. If I can practice adopting this nonjudgmental stance, I can respond in a way that is effective for my goals. I may be able to stand up for myself, tell the man I was in front of him in line and assert myself to be served next. I may be able to look him in the eye, tell him that he pushed me, that it took me off guard, and have a conversation about what happened and how we can resolve this. I may be better able to treat him as another valid human being who did something I don’t like and then go about solving the problem. There is no room for this if I maintain a judgmental stance. In my judgmental attitude, the man deserves to be dismissed, written off, and devalued. When this is my intent, there is no room for change. Judgment leaves no space for the possibility of a different interaction between the two of us.

 

Nonjudgment expresses the truth and allows for the possibility of another experience.

 

Now imagine applying the practice of nonjudgment to bigger issues that cause pain in your life or our world. How might things go differently if we practiced approaching them with nonjudgment, and therefore, compassionate and effective action? How can you practice this today?

 

Before attempting to apply the skill of nonjudgment to large issues in your life, start practicing with more every day, mundane, non-emotionally evocative situations. This approach will help you build the muscle of nonjudgment and then gradually apply this stance to larger, more important events in your life and the world around you.

 

If you are interested in developing the skill of nonjudgment, here are some steps to get you started.

 

  1. Write out a few sentences describing how your day has gone so far. Don’t censor yourself. Write how you think and feel, what you like and don’t like.

 

  1. Take a look at what you’ve written and draw a line through any judgments (e.g., good/bad, right/wrong, should/should not), opinions, or evaluations you notice.

 

  1. Practice re-writing the statement using descriptive, nonjudgmental language (as in the example given earlier in this article). Try to describe with as much factual detail as possible, leaving out opinions, evaluations, and assessment. Just the facts.

 

  1. Notice the difference between your original, more judgmental sentences, and your revised nonjudgmental statement. How is it different? Is the nonjudgmental statement more factual, or does it give more information? Do you feel differently when reading the judgmental vs. the nonjudgmental statement? How might you respond differently to the events of your day with these two different perspectives?

LIFE’S TOO SHORT JUST TO SURVIVE. THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE!


HOW TO FIND A RESULTS-ORIENTED THERAPIST

Maybe you have never been in therapy. Perhaps you have been in therapy, and it hasn’t gotten you the results you’d hoped.  This time, you want to try something a little bit different. You may even have a particular goal(s) and know what it is that you want to change. Now come the questions, “How do I get the results I want?” and, “Who is the best person to help me?” Despite the consumer-savvy world we live in, there is little information on how to find a therapist, let alone how to find a therapist who will truly help you achieve real results and change your life in the way that you want.

Here, you will find a five-step process to help you find a therapist who will help you achieve the goals you want to reach. Stop wasting time, money and effort with treatment that doesn’t work. Set yourself on the path to success today!

 

  1. Get COMFORTABLE. – Going to therapy can be a hard process, requiring courage to step outside of your comfort zone and ask for help. At times, therapy asks you to be quite vulnerable, talking with another person about your deepest, most private experiences. Treatment often requires you to be super uncomfortable, and even want to temporarily squirm out of your skin or run for the door. After all, you are in therapy to get help with areas that are likely challenging and possibly, quite painful. To venture to feel this awkward and uneasy, you must first be comfortable! It is so important that you are at ease in the presence of your new therapist and feel understood and not at all judged. In other words, think about whether this is a person to whom you would want to open up.
    • Ask for a PHONE CONSULTATION to get a feel for the therapist. Most therapists will agree to talk to you for a free, 10-15 minute phone consultation. During this meeting, you can give the therapist an idea of what you want help with and hear his or her response. It is important to ask questions and leave time for the therapist to talk so that you can start to assess your feel for this clinician’s competency and ability to help you. Trust your instincts. The therapist should give you a choice (or you can ask) whether you want to schedule an in-person appointment right then and there, want time to think about it, or do not believe that this therapist is a good fit for you.
    • MEET IN PERSON with the idea that you are still evaluating whether this professional is a good fit for your needs. During the first session, the therapist will likely ask you questions about why you are seeking therapy and many other detailed questions about yourself and your treatment goals. The more open you are will help you to experience how the clinician responds to you and gives you the opportunity to evaluate your comfort level with this person. Their response will provide valuable information about whether you would like to proceed or seek another’s help instead.

 

  1. Ask for a CASE FORMULATION. – A results-oriented therapist will be able to discuss their conceptualization of your problem(s) and what is currently missing for you to reach your goals. Likely, this won’t be obvious information that you already know. Rather, it should add more information to your understanding of your stuck point(s) and show you that this person has the education and experience to understand your particular problem area(s) expertly. Think of the analogy of visiting a medical doctor (M.D.). You may report your symptoms (e.g., poor digestion, feeling light-headed) and the doctor will not simply repeat your symptoms back to you: “You have poor digestion and feel light headed. That must be hard.” They will tell you, based on their evaluation (e.g., examining your vitals, blood tests), what is wrong (e.g., “You have high blood sugar.” “Your thyroid is malfunctioning.”). You can expect this same kind of expert information regarding your psychological and emotional health as well. A results-oriented mental health professional will not only repeat your complaints back to you; they will add information to fully conceptualize what is contributing to the problem and why you need help in solving it. For example, you may report repeated over-eating and sudden emotional outbursts. The results-oriented clinician may suggest after their assessment (e.g., conversation with you, standardized questionnaires), they believe these problems come from deficits in understanding how to change behaviors and regulate emotions successfully.1 The results-oriented therapist will explain this to you in detail and discuss precisely how this affects you. This explanation will be in language you understand, and the conceptualization should make sense to you. If you think the therapist is off-base, does not accurately comprehend your problem, or cannot communicate in a way that you understand and agree with, openly discuss this with him or her. If you still cannot come to an agreement, it may be time to interview another therapist for your treatment needs.

 

  1. Ask for a TREATMENT PLAN, including TREATMENT GOALS, prognosis, and length of therapy. – Just as your general medical practitioner will give you an idea of your treatment options, likely results, rate of recovery, and time needed to achieve these results, you can also expect this from a results-oriented therapist. For example, a clinician may tell you that in the first three sessions2, the two of you will collaborate to reach a case formulation. At that point (by the third session) the therapist will make a treatment recommendation. They will talk with you in detail about how the treatment he/she is recommending addresses your particular problem(s), will help you reach your goals, and the time you should expect to devote to attain this outcome, including frequency and length of sessions, and expected length of time in therapy. Alternatively, at the third session, the therapist may refer you to another professional with the expertise to help you meet your goals if you and the clinician have determined that is what is needed. Again, think of the M.D. If blood tests reveal you have a thyroid problem that is relatively simple and straightforward, the doctor may express this to you and lay out a treatment plan. If, however, the problem seems more complicated, the M.D. may then refer you to an endocrinologist or another specialist to help you achieve your health goals. Defining treatment goals in therapy is important because these goals will help you know if you are making progress and whether the therapy is working.

 

  1. Understand how you and your therapist will MONITOR TREATMENT PROGRESS and ask for HOMEWORK. – How will you know whether you are moving toward your treatment goals and making progress? This is a question a results-oriented therapist will be able to answer with clarity.
  • Together, you and your therapist may choose to use standardized measures of symptoms or progress and chart them on a graph, making sure your symptoms are decreasing, and skills needed are increasing. You may also choose to track behavioral markers, such as how often per week you are engaging in a particular behavior or have the urge to do so. Successful treatment would show a decrease in those behaviors (and possibly urges) the therapist has agreed to help you decrease (e.g., over-eating). You will also see an increase in the behaviors moving you toward your treatment goals (e.g., taking three breaths before a meal, stopping eating your meal when you experience a feeling of satiation regardless of the quantity of food left). Your therapist may ask you to chart each time you have the urge to or actually engage in these behaviors in between sessions to track your progress.
  • PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, and then, you guessed it, more PRACTICE is needed to make changes and reach your goals. Homework will always be present in results-oriented therapy. Homework doesn’t mean that you will be sent off to write a 5-page paper about what you learned. Rather, therapy homework is a way for you to put into practice what you are learning in therapy. Typically, therapy sessions last about 50 minutes once per week. What about the other six days of the week and 24 hours each day? 50 minutes is not going to change your life in the way that you want. A results oriented therapist will send you home with something to practice (e.g., filling out a worksheet about a skill you learned at your session, practice saying “no” and noticing in detail the thoughts that come into your head or sensations in your body). If you want results, you must practice. Change does not happen in our thinking. Change happens when we do things differently over and over and over again. If you want results, ask for homework!

 

  1. CONTINUE TO EVALUATE, on an on-going basis, whether your treatment is helping you move toward your goals and achieve the results you want. A results-oriented therapist will regularly review treatment progress with you using the techniques described in Step 4. Therapy is not meant to be life-long. Remember, you are hiring a professional to help you reach specifically-defined treatment goals. At some point, if therapy is working (as you are carefully monitoring), you will have achieved those goals and will either want to develop new treatment goals or decrease the frequency of your contact with this clinician or terminate your treatment.

 

Therapy can be an enriching, life-changing experience if you choose an effective treatment. Use the five steps above to help you get the help you need and deserve, and start shifting from surviving to thriving today!

 

NOTES

 

  1. This is provided as an example only and does not imply that all causes of over-eating or emotional lability come from the same source. These statements are meant to clarify the topics addressed in this article, not to assess or diagnose.

 

  1. Not all clinicians assess within one to three sessions. This is meant as an example only. Please check with the therapist you plan to see about their individual policy and of course, ensure that it makes sense and is reasonable to you.

Frequently Asked Questions:

  • What is the difference between a Ph.D., Psy.D., LMFT, LCSW, MFTi, etc., and will it affect the quality of my treatment?

A Ph.D. and Psy.D. both have doctorate degrees in psychology. LMFTs and LCSWs have a  master’s degree. A Psychological Assistant (someone with a doctorate who is not yet licensed) and MFTi (Marriage and Family Therapist intern) indicate this person is still in training and under supervision before they can become licensed. While the degree itself may show different types of training and specialties, what is usually more informative is how the therapist works with their clients. I have results-oriented colleagues with LMFT and LCSW licenses who work similarly to myself and other contemporaries who have doctorate-level training. I also have met professionals with doctorates who are not results-oriented and do more of a supportive-type therapy. In my opinion, if you follow the five steps laid out in this article, you will significantly increase the likelihood that you will work with a therapist who will help get the results you want, regardless of their type of license. Trainees can also be good options. I personally would choose to work with a Psychological Assistant or MFTi if they met all of my requirements in the 5-steps to finding a results-oriented therapist. The quality of work a therapist demonstrates to me is more important than where they are in their education and whether they have a master’s or doctorate degree. One caveat: if your problem is quite complicated and you have been to several clinicians before who haven’t helped, you may need a skilled and seasoned eye and choose a therapist who has some years of experience under his/her belt.

 

  • Should I look for a therapist with a particular theoretical orientation?

Some of my results-oriented colleagues may argue that it is imperative to receive treatment from someone doing “evidence-based therapy,” such as cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT). I like to be careful about making this generalization. There are certainly CBT practitioners who are results-oriented, and there are those who are not. Because someone professes to work under a particular modality is not an assurance that they do. More relevant is whether the therapist helps you develop treatment goals, assigns homework, monitors your progress, etc. I am less inclined to be concerned about the modality and more interested that the therapist can give you evidence that their treatment recommendation(s) works (has been researched to be effective) and the way the therapist is applying the treatment to your problem makes logical sense to you.

 

  • What if my therapist tells me that being uncomfortable with him/her or wanting to leave therapy is as a result of my problem(s) and I should not act on this?

This answer is not a straightforward “stay” or “leave.” Rather, it is a more nuanced answer: Use your WISDOM. On the one hand, if this is a new therapist, it is important to be comfortable and feel at ease in his or her presence right away. (See Step 1.) You will already be challenging yourself to grow in various ways throughout your treatment; no need to do this with the relationship with your therapist. I have talked to countless people who have stayed with a therapist they didn’t like or felt uneasy around because they assumed they (the client) were at fault and there was something wrong with them that they felt this way. I previously had a personal experience visiting a therapist with whom I was uncomfortable. I told her so, and she stated that she thought this meant I had significant problems with intimacy and needed to sit physically closer to her than I was comfortable with and work through the problems in my relationship with her. At that moment, I felt ashamed and unsure of myself. After leaving the session, and discussing it with a loved one, I determined that the only relationship in my life that I was having a significant problem with and wanted to get out of was the one with my therapist. I left, found a new therapist who I was immediately comfortable with, and therapy was successful. I have heard some version of this story from many clients about their past therapy, and often, once they remove themselves from that clinician, they find much success moving toward their goals with much more ease. On the other hand, it could be useful to ask yourself if your therapist has a point. Does this reaction toward your therapist happen in many other relationships? After visiting a few therapists, do you feel this same way about each of them? If so, you may want to consider whether this is something you want to target (work on) in therapy and may decide to stick with this therapist. You may want to consult with a trusted loved one and get some help tuning into your WISDOM to make this decision. Also, remember Step 5 and to continuously evaluate whether this treatment is helping you.


PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE

I heard that you might want to make some changes to become happier and more fulfilled.

Well, what are you waiting for?! Just do it! Do it now! Go! Start! Fast! Come on! What’s wrong with you?! Get it done!

That approach of hammering and berating yourself is not effective. In fact, it is quite unmotivating, especially in the long-term.

Did you know that it is scientifically impossible to simply change and create a whole new way of being suddenly and without practice?

Imagine you want to become a professional golfer. You decided one day that would be something you would like to do. So, you told yourself, “Just do it! It’s a matter of will. If I want it bad enough, I can have it. Just do it!” What then? Would you expect yourself, never having hit a golf ball, to go out the next day and successfully compete against Tiger Woods? Of course not. You know that is impossible.

Yet, we do this to ourselves all the time. We decide that we want to eat healthier, exercise more, act differently in our relationships, and we tell ourselves to “just do it!” Then we slip into behaving the same old way that didn’t work before and believe we have done something wrong and somehow should have gotten different results. What we are missing here is that change requires skill and

DEVELOPING A SKILL REQUIRES PRACTICE!

 Not just practice, but PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, and then some more PRACTICE.

You can start PRACTICING new behaviors to start to change your life today. Here are FIVE STEPS for successful practice:

  1. Think about what you want and make sure it is something that YOU want. (Not something you think you “should” want or a way that others believe you “should” behave.)

EXAMPLES: You want to feel healthy and vibrant in your body and want to change your eating to achieve this. (You do NOT set out to change your diet because someone told you that you should.)

  1. Now, think about some action steps that might be needed for you to be on the path toward what you want. Keep these actions steps simple and easy enough for you to do them in real time.

EXAMPLES: mindfully eat a nourishing meal, go for a walk, take a breath before responding when irritated, go to bed before midnight

  1. Write these action steps into your personal Reinforcement Practice Sheet (CLICK HERE).
  2. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, and then PRACTICE engaging in these behaviors whenever you can.
  3. Rather than focusing on or mentally beating yourself up for when you are not practicing, focus your mind on when you do PRACTICE, and reinforce it. (Use the Reinforcement Practice Sheet for ideas.)

Most importantly, give yourself a break! Smile, laugh, understand that you are human, and revel in the imperfections along the way. (More on this in a future newsletter.)

LIFE’S TOO SHORT JUST TO SURVIVE. THAT’S WHY I HELP PEOPLE THRIVE!


REINFORCEMENT is the most effective way to achieve lasting change.

If you know or have worked with me, you have most probably heard me say that REINFORCEMENT is the most effective way to achieve lasting change. Years of research and over a decade of my own professional and personal practice have shown this to be true again and again. When you want to change behavior, define steps toward your goals (that are possible for you to take) and reinforce them over and over again. Then what? Well, then it gets interesting.

As it turns out, change is not a linear process. Progress does not happen in a straight, upward moving way. It does NOT look like this:

How to Change, Orinda, Danville, Overcoming Depression, Berkeley, Oakland, individual counseling, psychologist, lifestyle change, breaking through obstacles

 

Even powerfully reinforcing a behavior does not produce change in an upward, no mistakes fashion. We do not go from eating processed food that drains our energy to reinforcing whole foods eating and suddenly, in 10 days, reform our eating for life, with no going back. Change just doesn’t work like that.

Rather, change is messy and looks more like this:

How to Change, Orinda, Danville, Overcoming Depression, Berkeley, Oakland, individual counseling, psychologist, lifestyle change, breaking through obstacles

What this means is that we will inevitably slip back into old, ineffective behaviors. Most of the time, you WILL go back to engaging in behaviors that you would like to stop. Even if you follow behavior-change protocols to a perfect “T”, you will find yourself engaging in old, ineffective behavior at some point. You will eat that food that drains your energy, blow off that walk to watch TV, stay up later and get less rest than you know you need.

My message to you is this: Be ENCOURAGED by this part of the change process!

Let’s look back at the messy model of change. The green line going through the graph represents the slope of the line or the rate of change. Notice that although there were setbacks in progress along the way, overall, progress is upward moving!

How to Change, Orinda, Danville, Overcoming Depression, Berkeley, Oakland, individual counseling, psychologist, lifestyle change, breaking through obstacles

Going back to old behaviors is part of the process of change, not failure! Going backward momentarily can mean that progress is happening. You are headed in the right direction and engaging in old, ineffective behaviors is part of making the changes you want. Now that you know this, you can give up on the illusion of perfection.

Isn’t that empowering?!

You can anticipate this process and give yourself a break when it happens. Instead of judging yourself, giving yourself a mental slap with harsh self-critical thinking, or giving up, you can reinforce yourself for noticing when you’ve gotten off track and decide the most effective step to take next. “Failure” is an opportunity to notice, reinforce, take a small step toward the path you want to be on, and reinforce! Practice this over and over and over until the practice becomes what you automatically do.

The more you engage in this cycle,

How to Change, Orinda, Danville, Overcoming Depression, Berkeley, Oakland, individual counseling, psychologist, lifestyle change, breaking through obstacles

the sooner you will notice lasting change happen and stick. Remember, going back to your old ways is a part of change, not failure! What happens is that the more we notice we’ve reverted to old ways, reinforce our noticing, and get back on track, the sooner we will get back on course and more quickly reach our goals.

Keep going, keep practicing and try to enjoy and laugh in the process.

Remember, life’s too short just to survive. That’s why I help people THRIVE!


The MOST EFFECTIVE way to change a habit

We have all been there. We want to exercise, change the foods we eat, stop eating late at night, make that health care appointment, or countless other important things. Today passes, then tomorrow, then a week goes by and we realize we haven’t made that change that we wanted at all. We just can’t seem to find that Motivation, so we get frustrated and feel defeated. Our self-talk becomes harsh: “Ugh, I am so bad at this!” “Why can’t I just do what I’m supposed to?! It should be easy!” “I’m hopeless.” “I’m an idiot!” We might give up for the moment and throw in the towel, abandon our goals, and try just to accept things as they are, giving up hope that we will ever change them.

Maybe we decide to finally get serious. We are disgusted with ourselves so we make a strict plan to ensure we adhere to the behaviors we “should” be doing. Then one day passes, then another, then a week, and then here we are: still stuck, still without change.

Perhaps we even make the change for a short time. Maybe we start eating in a way that makes us feel nourished and energized while helping to reach a target weight. Then, time goes by and we are sick of being restrictive and depriving ourselves, so we give in and indulge, feel stuck in old behaviors, staying unmotivated, and continuing the cycle.

PUNISHMENT: the least effective way to make lasting change

This cycle of being stuck involves a very ineffective long-term change strategy: punishment. A punisher is anything that weakens a behavior, and when we punish a behavior (e.g., critical, harsh words or self-talk), we are decreasing the likelihood that the behavioral change will occur. A very important thing to keep in mind is that punishment is the least effective way to create long-term change. Punishment works to motivate and change behaviors only in the short-term, but has the opposite effect in the long run.

Let’s take a look at an example: Imagine that you want to exercise more. You have defined specific goals and know that you would like to walk for 20 minutes, four times per week. Currently, you are sedentary and hardly walk at all, and never for more than about 5 minutes. Let’s look at two different ways of approaching this change.

 Punishment: Whenever you think about exercising, you practically roll your eyes. You know that you do not do nearly as much as you should (judgment) and are disgusted with yourself for not doing what you know is good (judgment) for you. You plan to go for a 20-minute walk that week and when the time comes, you just don’t do it. It’s like you can’t get yourself to make it happen. You internally beat yourself up, make a mental note about how you’ve failed, and then push it away and try not to think about it. You stay stuck.

REINFORCEMENT: is the most effective way to achieve lasting change.

Now, let’s look at another way of approaching this same problem, Reinforcement

You look at the REALITY of the situation and VALIDATE yourself: You know that walking regularly has been difficult for you but you also know that a value of yours is to be physically fit and strong.

You define a GOAL: You are aware that walking regularly (20 minutes, four times per week, specifically) will help you to move closer to this value.

You define SPECIFIC STEPS you can take toward that goal: You know that changes take time and practice, so you define some steps that you know you will be able to take in the next week to begin to lead you toward your goal. You set yourself up for success.

You notice judgments and turn toward REINFORCEMENT: When thoughts arise like “This should be easy”, “These are only baby steps”, and “I should be able to do more), you define them as “judgment thoughts”. You then shift your attention toward reinforcing what you are doing, instead of focusing on what you are not doing. You can use my Reinforcement Practice Sheet to help you reinforce each step you take. By the end of the week, your Reinforcement Practice Sheet looks something like this:

Change a Habit, anxiety, depression, overcoming depression, life coach, fixing relationships, relationship management, couples counseling, Alamo, Concord

In the above example, you have not yet reached your goal of walking 20 minutes, four times per week, but you are also no longer stuck. You will have gotten off the all-or-nothing roller coaster and have started to move toward your fitness goal. You will create an opportunity to make these steps a habit and be able to build upon them. By letting go of any judgments about whether these actions are “good” enough, you are able to identify steps that are possible for you to take, that are in line with moving toward your goal, and that give you an opportunity to use reinforcement.

A reinforcer is anything that strengthens a behavior. Reinforcement is presenting a reward (e.g., encouragement) directly after a desired behavior to optimize the likelihood that behavior will occur more frequently. Reinforcement is THE MOST EFFECTIVE way to achieve lasting behavior change!

How can you apply reinforcement? A reinforcer can be as simple as telling yourself, “Good job!” or “I did it!” You can give yourself a gentle and encouraging touch, like rubbing the back of your hand gently or giving your shoulders a hug. You can keep your favorite essential oil or lotion nearby and breathe in the aroma to reinforce the step you just took toward your values.

When can you reinforce? When you reinforce yourself is important. Your brain makes links and relationships. When we reinforce a behavior, the brain associates that behavior with something pleasant and we are then more likely to move toward it.

TIP: Make sure to reinforce as soon as you have engaged in the desired behavior. Do not wait! As soon as you do something related to the desired change you want to make, reinforce the hell out of it! Reinforcement greases the wheels of behavior change. When you reinforce desired behaviors right after they occur, the brain learns that engaging in that behavior is rewarding and over time, it becomes easier and easier for you to do these behaviors.

 

ADVANCED TIP: When the behavior you have been reinforcing becomes easy and you start doing it more automatically, only reinforce that behavior some of the time and start reinforcing new, harder behaviors. (Reinforcing behaviors only sometimes is called intermittent reinforcement. Intermittent reinforcement helps to lock in a behavior. Once a behavior has been intermittently reinforced, it becomes very hard to extinguish that behavior.)

 

If you read this article so far, you may have sparked some new ideas. That may feel exciting, but it will not help you change anything. In order to create change, you must PRACTICE! PRACTICE! PRACTICE! and then PRACTICE! some more.

 

Your CHALLENGE: Use the attached Reinforcement Practice Sheet to get started today. Decide what you want to change and fill out the worksheet with related behaviors.

  1. Choose actions that are possible for you to do this week. (Not behaviors that “should” be possible, and really aren’t. Choose behaviors you are able and likely to engage in.)
  2. Make sure the behaviors are specific (so that you know what to reinforce).
  3. Look at the back of the worksheet and choose how you are going to apply reinforcement. Pick a couple of options so that no matter where you are or what you are doing, you can reinforce immediately.
  4. Be on the lookout for the behaviors you defined and REINFORCE! REINFORCE! REINFORCE! every time you try to practice engaging in these behaviors.
  5. At the end of your week, re-evaluate. Fill out a new Reinforcement Practice Sheet for the upcoming week and make sure to follow the above steps. Keep what worked for you this past week and tweak what didn’t.
  6. Last but not least, HAVE FUN with this! Life’s too short just to survive! Let yourself enjoy and THRIVE!

 

Life’s too short just to survive. That’s why I help people THRIVE!


© 2017 Amanda Gale Bando Phd · Designed and Developed by D-Kode Technology

Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando

Dr. Amanda Gale-Bando