Understanding our habits

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To break the cycle of our bad habits it is useful to understand how they are formed and what keeps them in place. If we understand what caused them, then we can apply the right actions to change them.

Poor habits may be caused by any number of different events but what is important is that we ‘learnt’ them somewhere. As we grow up we experience a number of events; we are taught how live and we observe how things are done. As this happens, we interpret the information to create an understanding of how to live. For example, when dad is in a bad mood we learn to keep out of his way. As we grow older we may apply this to people who are angry or authority figures. This may have further impact upon our character in that we may become timid, fearful or angry because we perceive it as being unfair. When we experience these negative emotions we begin to look for comfort or release. The problem lies in what we find comforting and how we release the tension inside.

Here is a possible example:

The mouth is an area of comfort. The baby learns this as he/she latches onto the nipple of the mother. Later the nipple is replaced by a dummy, or as they say in the USA, a pacifier. Later when the pacifier is not available, it can be replaced with the thumb. Now whenever the child feels fearful, anxious or in need of comfort it will look for something to suck. At school it may be replaced with a pen or pencil and in later years with a cigarette.

As adults we may use cigarettes the moment we feel we are under pressure. This now becomes an instinctive habit. Unfortunately there is a side effect. We become addicted to nicotine and as our body become use to the nicotine it requires more to give a feeling of physical comfort.

Now, when we try to stop smoking, we concentrate mainly on the addiction side but forget about our deep-seated need for emotional comfort. In our effort to break the habit of ‘sucking on a cigarette’, we replace it with ‘sucking on sweets’. The result is that we may start putting on more weight. All we have managed to do is transfer the habit into another area.

Where do we start?

We need to enquire what is the ‘thing’ below the surface that is driving the habit. We need to deal with that at the same time applying all the aids to break the habit. We need to apply the tips that were outlined in the previous blog ‘Changing our habits’.

We must always bear in mind there was a time before the ‘habit’ took shape. We ‘learnt’ the habit somewhere, now we need to ‘unlearn’ it.

Changing our habits

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All habits have different conditions and constructs that keep them in place. In changing our habits it would be impossible for us to treat all our foibles identically. What I am proposing is an overall tactic to help us initiate change.

We frequently think that if we choose to change, then change will happen automatically. This is not true. Most of the time it takes a lot of effort and determination. We need to plan the changes.

For change to occur there has to be substantial, recognisable, meaningful benefit and reward. Most of the time we may want to stop a habit like smoking or cut out cream cakes but the long-term benefit cannot initially be seen as worth the effort. Only when we hit a crisis point (like being diagnosed with lung cancer) do we take drastic action. Most of us would like to think, ‘that will never happen to me’, but we all know it would be better to do something earlier.

We cannot just hope or wish for change to occur. We have to grasp the gravity of our current situation. To help us grasp the seriousness of a poor habit it is helpful to spend time with someone who is struggling with, as example, lung cancer. To see the consequences and to empathetically experience their loss of quality of life is a great boost to help us take a positive action. We can then consider, ‘do I want to live like that?’ It is useful to constantly remind ourselves what it is we want to avoid.

Having gasped the consequences, the next thing we need to realise that it is not a quick fix. The extra kilograms we are carrying around our middle, for most part, were created over many years of indulgence. It will require a sustained effort of many months to achieve our goals. What we need is perseverance and we can only persevere if we keep our eye on the goal.

It is important to set realistic and achievable goals. If our goal is not achievable over a set time frame we will quickly give up. To reduce our weight by 1 kilogram we first need to loose 100 grams. To give up smoking we need to begin with not smoking for one day. Setting small achievable steps is important.

We need to plan how we will achieve our goal. There is a saying that goes, ‘if we fail to plan, we plan to fail’. We need to plan a start day. We need to plan specifically what we will do, who we will be with and in what environment will we be. It is silly to begin reducing your drinking when you are meeting your friends at the pub.  This will also require some mental preparation. We need to ask the question, ‘Am I ready for this and what recourses do I have to implement my plan?’

The most important aspect of the plan is that we talk to someone about what we are planning to do. We should share our goals and listen to their ideas. Ask them to check up on us at the end of the day to see how we did. Very few of us will achieve it on our own. All great sports people have a coach because they need that encouragement and guidance; we are no different. Also it is simply no fun doing it on your own.

The Bible says ‘Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labour, for if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls, and doesn’t have another to lift him up’. Ecclesiastes 4:9 – 10

So, let us write down our goal, break it up into achievable steps, form a plan of action, share it with someone and set a start date.

Looking at nature to find answers to life

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Often the answers are right before our eyes
Sometimes we need to stop and realise
To stop and think and meditate awhile
And maybe to copy nature’s living style
Click on Ask_the_Geese

A time to change – how to keep those resolutions

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I wonder how many of us have made New Year Resolutions? And how many have already been forgotten by the end of the fist week?

All of us, deep inside, have some idea of what good habits should look like. Deep inside we have a desire to fulfill those ideals. Because our ‘normal’ routine is slightly different over the New Year and we are a bit more relaxed, we have time to think more deeply about life. The break at the end of the year is always a good time to reflect on our lifestyle.

Also in the gaiety of the celebrations we may over indulge. This brings home the awareness of the toll we are putting on our bodies. As we ‘suffer’ from our excesses, we realise we should do something about our lifestyle or attitudes. And so we make our New Year resolutions: ‘I am going to cut down on my smoking or drinking’, ‘I am going to eat better’, ‘I am going to exercise more’.

But why do they get forgotten so quickly? Why are they so difficult to implement?

There are a whole host of reasons but I will just mention a few here:

  1. Firstly there is the pressure of life. The moment the demands of work, school and our normal life cycle kick in, we run out of time.
  2. Often our poor habits are a result of deeper influences. We may be worried about our financial situation or may have other unresolved fears or pressures.
  3. Our goal may seem unattainable because we don’t see quick results.
  4. We have not done any planning to achieve it.
  5. We don’t keep the goal and desire alive.

The resolve to do something that will bring long-term benefit is always good. Our decision is just the first step.  What we need to understand is that our current behaviour, the thing we want to alter, is an ingrained habit born out of experiences and beliefs. Most of these are subliminal that we don’t think to counter them. An example of this is social drinking: a lot of people think they cannot have an enjoyable time without alcohol. Test yourself in this by going to a party with the intention of enjoying yourself without drinking alcohol. So if we are on a weight-loss regime we may find it extremely difficult to cut out alcohol.

We are all different and there may be many concepts, beliefs or attitudes that we may first need to be changed in order to achieve our goal.

Good on you that you have set a goal! Now, may I suggest that you write out that goal on some stiff paper. Cut it out into the shape of a medal and hang it on your mirror with some ribbon. Everyday as you look at the mirror you will be reminded of your goal and will be keeping the vision alive.

Over the next few weeks I will be giving a series of tips, strategies and ways in which we will be able to achieve our goals. Then, one day we will be able to hang our ‘medal’ around our neck and not just on the mirror.

Handling the challenges of meaningful conversation

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There is a natural tendency in all human beings to become defensive if challenged. Nothing is more threatening than when we are challenged on an emotional level. We can easily feel hurt or angry when our internal emotional opinion on a concept is criticized or challenged. A good example of this is teenagers and their music. Deep meaningful conversation often can leave us feeling exposed and emotional. As we engage in meaningful conversation, we need to watch how we respond and process our responses correctly.

When we have meaningful communication we will be expressing our own attitudes, feelings and conclusions regarding a topic. We need to understand that our opinion is not who we are. Our opinion is the current conclusion we have reach though our experiences, what we have learned and the conclusions we have come to. We need to allow our opinions and conclusion to be challenged if we are to grow. Ernest Renan put it this way; ‘Our opinions become fixed at the point we stop thinking.’ We need to keep a clear distinction between who we are and how we view things.

Here are a few pointers to help us guard our heart, not become wounded and withdraw from meaningful communication.

  1. It is important to know who we are as a person. Our self-worth and value is important in dealing with how we respond. If we have poor self-worth we will usually respond from feelings of inadequacy.
  2. We need to know we are loved and that our relationship is not threatened because we have differing opinions. If we can believe that their desire is for our good we can deal with differing opinions constructively.
  3. We should feel comfortable about our opinions being challenged. If they say something that is different to our point of view, we can re-evaluate our opinion. If we think our opinion is still valid, we can discard their opinion – we don’t ‘discard’ them. We can agree to disagree. They don’t have to agree with our opinion just as we don’t have to agree with theirs. What we need to be careful of is the feeling that they must agree with us.
  4. We need to nurture a curiosity and a desire to understand our partner. When we can begin to understand the reasoning behind their thinking we are then more able to explain the way we see things in a manner they can understand.
  5. It is helpful to know which are those areas within ourselves that we may find threatening. This helps us firstly to communicate that we find this topic difficult and secondly, we can then begin to explore why we feel vulnerable and threatened. Often we may discover that our fears are unfounded. This cannot happen if we continue to avoid a topic.
  6. It is always helpful to ‘get inside their shoes’, to try and experience emotionally what others are saying. A good example of this is the emotional feelings of women disliking the toilet seat left up. If, we as men could for a moment, experience their feelings of distaste, we would never leave the seat up.
  7. We should never take comments personally nor see them as an insult or an attack on our character. Rather we need to view comments as a platform for personal growth.
  8. By allowing ourselves to be challenged we can develop, learn and discover something new.
  9. It is useful to explore our own opinions and attitudes. We need to discover why we see things from a particular viewpoint. Have we just adopted a position because that is how we grew up? Is that viewpoint still valid today?
  10. One of the tasks of being an adult is to accept that we may have an incorrect or distorted opinion. None of us are perfect and we have all grown up in a broken world and as a result developed distorted viewpoints. Having a distorted viewpoint is not the end of the world but remaining in ignorance can be disastrous.
  11. Lastly, when it comes to differing opinions, we should always ask the following question: ‘How does this impact the future and eternity’. If is has no real consequence, it is not that important. If it does have a consequence, we need to explore it and find a resolution, not matter how difficult.

We need to remember, the one we are communicating with is also experiencing as much as we are. It may be an act of enormous bravery for them to discuss topics that make them feel threatened, so do not miss the opportunity to have a meaningful conversation.

To all my readers, thank you. Have a blessed Christmas and an enjoyable New Year.


Conversation killers that destroy relationships

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Good communication is the greatest single factor in keeping our relationships healthy and alive. When we fail to communicate on an intimate level, our important relationships begin to wither. This can lead to boredom. Once we become bored we begin to look elsewhere for stimulation, which is often the beginning point for breakdown of relationships. Boredom also creates ambivalence and when we are unemotionally involved with our partner we stop talking. It is vital for healthy relationships to have good, stimulating and even challenging conversations.

Here are a couple of things we should avoid if we want healthy communication:

  1. When our conversation become one sided, one person doing all the talking and the other just listening, there is no exchange of ideas, thoughts, opinions and emotions. The result will be that our relationships become dull. To avoid this we need to leave room for the listener to respond and this can be achieve by framing a questions.
  2. Our personal relationships are diminished when our conversation express statements that sound final and leave no room for comment, discussion or exploration. It is not wrong to have strong opinions but we need to allow others to express their opinions as well. We need to treat their opinions as valid and be big enough to listen.
  3. At all costs we should avoid talking ‘down’ to people. When we talk down to another person they will tend to withdraw. We will then never learn what they actually are thinking or feeling and as a result we may miss something poignant.
  4. We should never dismiss another person’s point of view if it clashes with our own. We can so easily be just as wrong as them and in our arrogance never grow into something better.
  5. All too often we look at our partner through our experience or understanding of yesterday. We need to look at one another in the present and talk to them where they are today. All of us should be continually growing and changing. Therefore our point of view should accommodate these changes.
  6. Avoid internal dialogues as much as possible. An internal dialogue involves us mulling over our own personal viewpoint and does not allow our point of view to be challenged. To the extent that we are involved in our own internal dialogue we stop listen to what is being said. This is completely different from positive self-talk.
  7. Not finding out or exploring how another person is feeling or experiencing a situation can cause them to feel left out. We should develop an enquiring mind to find out how others see and feel about a topic.
  8. Try not to cross talk, interrupt or answer until they have completed their story. If we do this it can cause our partner to feel we are not hearing them and as a result they could stop sharing.
  9. We should try to hear what they are saying rather than applying our own interpretation. A good conversation skill is to repeat what we think we heard them say before answering.

Good, deep meaningful conversation can take a lot of energy but it is vital if we want to remain healthy. The alternative is emotional stagnation and eventually death to the relationship.

Keeping our personal relationships fresh.

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When couples approach me for counselling regarding their marriage or relationships, their solutions can only be found though good communication. Our communication goes way beyond talking but includes our facial expressions, our body posture, our senses and most importantly, our ability to listen.

Relational communication is the process by which information about ideas, emotions, observations, thoughts, and opinions are conveyed to another person. Communication has two parts. The first part is how we communicate this information, which needs to be presented on an open and simulating manner. The second part requires that we don’t only listen to the words but we also ‘listen’ to what they are saying with their facial expressions and body language. We can also ‘listen’ with our other senses of touch, smell and even taste. In sever stress situations people often say that they could taste the fear.

Here are a few tips that we can use to improve our personal communication:

  1. We need to look at the person as we speak. This will help us gauge how the information is being received. Good eye contact without staring can help convey sincerity, openness, honesty and authenticity.
  2. Try not make closed statements or state facts as this closes the conversation. Rather than saying, ‘I don’t like him’ rather say, ‘I am struggling to like him. Do you also find him unpleasant?’ By ending with a question it leaves the conversation open for an exchange of ideas, opinions and thoughts.
  3. Where ever possible we should not use ‘you’ statements. A ‘you’ statement provokes arguments and what we need is communication. Rather than saying, ‘you make me mad’, try using an ‘I’ statement. ‘I am beginning to feel cross’. The ‘I’ statement allows the other person to evaluate and respond rather than having to defend themselves.
  4. There is always vulnerability with deep level conversation because we are expressing emotion. We can make statements like ‘I feel unhappy about …..’  ‘I am struggling to understand …’ The ‘I’ statement draws to other person towards us rather than cause the listener set up defensive barriers.
  5. I have often heard a parent reprimand a child by saying, ‘Stop that!’  What is that? We often assume they know what we are talking about. Be specific about what you are referring to. As example say, ‘Stop hanging onto me. It makes me feel uncomfortable’
  6. When they are unable to catch our meaning, we should rephrase rather than repeat what we have just said.

So how should we be listening? Here are a few ideas.

  1. We should stop what we are dong and look at the person talking to us. We need to look at their facial expression, their body language, sense with all our senses and ‘listen to the meaning’ of what they are trying to say, not just the words.
  2. We need to guard against jumping to conclusion of what we think they are thinking.
  3. To the degree that we are involved with our own internal dialogue is the degree to which we stop listening to what others are saying. The person talking will sense this and feel ‘unheard’.
  4. We have a tendency to receive every new idea negatively. We take all new ideas and we process it against what we believe to be true. If it does not fit with what we believe we tend to dismiss it.  We should rather explore their point of view before rejecting it. Maybe they are seeing something we are not seeing.
  5. We can create curiosity and interest by exploring why do they think that way. We should ask the question, ‘what have they experienced to see it that way?’
  6. Explore new ideas or concepts. So they come up with the idea of eating condensed milk on toast with cheese. Rather than rejecting the idea, wonder what it will taste like and maybe try it. Then express your opinion.
  7. Answer a question with a question. This will draw out ideas, opinions and thoughts.

To keep our relationships fresh, exciting and simulating we need to talk and listen. Good communication is not about one-upmanship. Good communication that keeps our personal relationships fresh produces something new and exciting. Good communication develops a deepening and fulfilling relationship.

What message are our children receiving?

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I was in a shopping mall the other day and I overheard a father telling his child, “I have bought you 2 presents, so now you have got to be good”. I found myself wondering what message was the child receiving? Did the child interpret it as, ‘you don’t have to be good unless you get a present?’ or ‘you will only get a present if you are good?’

Good behaviour should not be directly linked to a present or a gift. As parents we must teach our children how to behave correctly because it is the right thing and not to do it to receive a reward. We need to be teaching correct morals, not conditioning behaviour.

A couple of years ago I read the findings of a research conducted regarding the question, ‘why we should not steal’. In the fifties the answer given by children was, ‘because it is wrong’. In the eighties the children answered, ‘because you might get caught’. I often wonder what the answer would be today?

Bad behaviour must be linked with consequences and we should not shield them from those consequences. Similarly good behaviour should be linked to the outcome it will have upon us, such as harmony, peace, feeling secure and safe. It should also be linked to the impact it will have upon our family, our community and the environment. At no time do I believe that good behaviour should be linked to the concept of ‘now you should get something’. This makes behaviour performance based, whereas it should be based on good morals.

I don’t think we should use gifts and presents as a ‘bribe’ to create good behaviour. We give gifts and presents as an appreciation of who people are not because they behaved in the way we want them to. We give presents because we love them. Our Father in heaven gives us good gifts because He loves us not because we have performed correctly.

As parents, we should make a clear distinction between receiving a present and behaving correctly. A clear connection should also be made between love and receiving a gift. All behaviour has consequences but we love despite the behaviour of the person.

Moving on from self-pity

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Most of us struggle with self-pity at some time in our lives. Self-pity can be a real blockage to us being who we were created to be. As I Tweeted on the 19th of November, “There is nothing worse than self-pity to get us stuck in the ditch. It takes a lot of effort and outside help to get us back on the road.”

So what is self-pity?

Self-pity or feeling sorry for ourselves occurs when we believe we are being treated unfairly and not getting what we deserve. It is coupled with a lack of confidence and we believe we do not have the ability to deal with it. There is a sense of loss and sadness leaving us dis-empowered, helpless, angry and lonely. Self-pity is a way of paying attention to oneself, self-soothing or self-nurturing which in it own way is comforting and that is what makes it so very difficult to deal with. We can easily believe the lie that if we give up our self-pity, who will comfort us? The answer to that is if we don’t have self-pity we won’t need to be comforted, and we can enjoy life.

How can I deal with self-pity?

The first thing is to recognise that it is self-pity and not think that everything is stacked against us. We should ask ourselves, ‘what is the first thing that I notice? Is it a feeling? Is it a way I start thinking? Am I having internal conversations? What sort of situation causes me to feel sorry for myself? Once we have recognised it for what it is we can begin to deal with it.

So how do we move on and not cooperate with of self-pity?

The next step is to choose that we don’t want to co-operate with it. When self-pity is characterised by sadness we need to ask, ‘what do we feel we have lost?’ ‘Can we regain what we have lost?’ ‘What can we do to replace what we feel we have lost?’

We could also ask ourselves the question, ‘Who was not there for me when I needed to be comforted?’ A sample situation may be that of a child who experienced that their friends ‘deserted’ them. They may have gone to a parent for comfort and didn’t receive it. So they had to comfort themselves.

When we are able to discover the cause of self-pity, we are able to deal with it through forgiveness or some other intervention. We now have the ability to understand that it may have been valid then but it is not valid now and choose not to cooperate with it.

As we face self-pity, we begin to mature. We are able to learn our limit of personal responsibility. We can take responsibility for our actions and admit to wrong choices. We can begin to grow into what we were created to be.

Hemmed in by our own perceptions

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I am always amazed at the potential God has created in us. It is well known that we only use a fraction of our brain.

So what stops us fulfilling the potential in us?

Part of the reason may be found in what we believe of ourselves and what we believe others may think us. What we believe and think about ourselves is what we project.

An example will be an entrepreneur who is able to do business. He is able to project so much self-confidence that he is able to sell his product to someone who is reluctant to buy it. Then you may have another person trying to sell a product someone wants to buy but projects such negativity that the person who wants it won’t buy it from him.

We all have years of experiences that have strong emotional connections. Most of these experiences impact our daily thinking without us even knowing it. These recorded memories may act upon us subliminally from our subconscious. Our mind also has the ability to ‘lock experiences away’ without us being able recall them. This is referred to as dissociation, which occurs on numerous levels.

Let us take a person who feels they are unlovable. Because they believe that no one loves them, they are unable to receive love even when loved. This feeling that they are not loved is base upon experiences where they did not receive love or they interpreted their experiences as, ‘I am not lovable’. It may have been true then but it may not be valid today, but they still continually feel unloved. This has further problems in that they may begin to seek love in the wrong things or compensate in other ways.

The result of our emotional experiences is that as we project a ‘vibe’, people will treat us accordingly. We are the victim of our own erroneous thinking and beliefs. This then impacts our potential to be who we were created to be.

So how do we change our error based thinking?

Knowledge is an important first step. It is necessary that we realise we are not fulfilling our potential in a certain area. The next thing is to realise that we are capable of changing and then decide we want to change. Unfortunately just knowing a truth does not change our behaviour. Knowing we can stop smoking will not cause us to stop smoking. We need to look at what drives it.

Most of our error-based thinking is based in our experiences. We will need to explore the psycho-dynamic implications. We may need to unhook ourselves from the emotional impact of past experiences. We may need to re-program our behavioural and thinking patterns. We will need to learn new ways of doing things. And, most certainly, we will need to forgive and let go of resentments.

All this may take time but with the help of a good therapist we can change. As we change, we will begin to be all we were created to be.


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