Just Keep Checking the Boxes

Just Keep Checking the Boxes

Just Keep Checking the Boxes

We often hear of people talking about “just checking the boxes.” Some of the tasks in life have to do with basic necessities and people talk about just checking the boxes as if it is a bad thing. I have recently found, especially for myself, that checking the boxes is one way to really get things done.

In the world of electronic media and social interaction through technology, I have rediscovered paper. What I find is that there are too many distractions on my phone and so even the most clever of apps often get me sidetracked to something else, especially as new notifications come in. At the beginning of the new year, I wanted to have a planner that I could custom design. In my younger days, I used the Franklin Covey system of planners and really enjoyed having the paper to check the boxes. What I didn’t like was the big bulky outer cover and notebook. Those things were beefy.

So I wanted to design my own daily planner pages and I did that on New Year’s Eve. My nine-year-old son and I stayed up until about 5 a.m. and he and I rang in the New Year while my wife and babies were sound asleep by about 9:30 p.m.

I decided that I would make a list of all of the roles that I have and create some little reminders and icons that I could look at everyday and have a visual hard copy reminder of the things I need to be doing. This includes whether or not I check my mail, whether or not I drink 8 glasses of water, whether or not I’m checking my pH levels and tracking my food intake.

As part of my monthly goals, I have that I want to call my parents at least twice a month. Now this is where some might be critical of my desire to just check the boxes. The truth is, I forget to call my parents and I want to change that. It’s not that I have anything against speaking with them or that the other duties in my life are more important, they are often simply more urgent.

So here is a little glimpse of my daily planner. I am a creative type and enjoy making things and when it comes to my own productivity and growth, I thought it was time for me to design something that was exactly the way I wanted it to be, with exactly the fonts I like to look at, with exactly the colors and spacing exactly how I want them to be.

My morning ritual consists of writing out some things that I feel gratitude for and the end of my day consists of journaling some inspirational thoughts that I have read throughout the day. You will see boxes where I am checking whether or not I “dressed for success” as well as spaces to write what ideas I have for the future.

So I’m only about four months in, but I am extremely happy with the little system I have created for myself. I bought the TUL system from an office supply store and I love the little disc binding that it has. I did have to buy a $40 hole punch but I highly recommend this if you want to customize your planner pages or any kind of notebook that you may use, because it can be used like a traditional loose leaf notebook but it doesn’t have the bulk of the notebook binding, and it can be opened all the way up like a spiral-bound notebook.

So, yeah I check the boxes! It keeps me focused. What kind of boxes should you be checking off?

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153 Years of Wisdom on Valentine’s Day

153 Years of Wisdom on Valentine’s Day

153 Years of Wisdom on Valentine’s Day

BRAD SINGLETARY, LCSW

Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Founder of the Alpha Quorum, Podcast Producer & Host of the Alpha Quorum Show

BRAD SINGLETARY, LCSW

Licensed Clinical Social Worker | Founder of the Alpha Quorum | Podcast Producer | Host of the Alpha Quorum Show

153 Years of Wisdom on Valentine’s Day

I guess I was in a talkative mood.

My wife eventually got upset with my enthusiasm but I felt compelled to survey three different couples at the Cheesecake Factory while she and I were waiting for our seats on Valentine’s Day. I wanted to find out a little bit about random people’s relationships, especially ones who were celebrating them on Valentine’s Day.

The wait was supposed to be an hour, but I knew this was where my wife wanted to eat so we chose to stick it out and wait for our table. Knowing that there could be a wait, I dropped my wife off at the door and tried to find a parking spot but even that was a challenge. As I’m circling the parking lot, I noticed a young couple walking toward the front door. A few minutes later as I’m still looking for a place to park my gigantic family vehicle, I noticed the couple coming back to their car. Knowing that they had likely changed their mind because of the wait, I ask them what they were told about the wait times.

The young man, probably in his mid-twenties, said there was a one-hour and 15-minute wait. Seems like he and his girl didn’t want to wait that long to eat. I wish I could talk to this guy in about 5 years and see how the relationship worked out. Maybe he is too impatient, or maybe he is smarter than most and has an efficiency about him that will help him somehow in his connection with his woman.

Knowing that we were going to be waiting a while, I introduced myself to an older couple sitting in the waiting area amid crowds of people, mostly young couples. Earlier in the day and at the beginning of that night, I heard someone say that Valentine’s Day is for young people. As I noticed all of the young lovers hand-in-hand, arm-in-arm, I started to think that Valentine’s Day IS an event for the younger generation of love birds.

But the couple that I spoke with, an immigrant couple from an eastern African country, I can’t remember the name but it was near Somalia and Egypt. He was a distinguished-looking man, maybe a man with a fairly simple job who had put on his very best sport coat, slacks, and collared shirt for his date with his beautiful wife. She was very pretty and looked much younger than she must have been. I introduced myself and said that I work with couples as a therapist and simply asked: “What’s your story? How long have you been together, and what are the things that have made it work.?”

The husband said that they had been married for 30 years. Suddenly I realize that Valentine’s Day is not for young people, but that those who celebrate it well, end up being like these people who had been married for three decades and had four children. I asked the husband what he felt was the biggest contributor to the success of their relationship. He said, “keep the negative energy away from your home.” He said if you’re having a bad day at work, leave it at work.

“Don’t bring any negative energy to your wife.”

“Listen to her. Listen to her.”

With his East African accent, I felt like I was speaking to a spiritual giant of some kind; a Gandhi type of person or someone with immense wisdom. I thanked the man for sharing and as their buzzer went off to finally get a table he said, “I’ll see you here on Mother’s Day. We will be here on Mother’s Day.”

The next couple on my left that I asked the same questions had been married for 25 years. They were from Mexico and he works as a mason. I asked him the same questions and again the man is the only one who spoke to me.

He said what has helped them in their relationship is to say you’re sorry. He says “you have to apologize in order for things to work out.” Things are going to get hard, stress will come along, things will get unpleasant at times, but he said if you just “admit your mistakes, you can make it.”

The third couple I spoke to was after we got seated. We were at a table that seemed to be cramped in between two other couples and an awkwardly close positioning. The couple to my right was a biracial couple, he was black and she was Hispanic. I asked him the same questions, “what’s your story, what has made things work for you, and what advice do you have for me and my wife?”

After talking to this guy, I realized that while the answers of all of these three men seemed somewhat simplistic, they really gave me some profound truth. This man said they had been together for 20 years and I couldn’t believe it again, because they looked so young. He said that the key to the relationship, was: speak your mind.” “Don’t hold anything back. Don’t leave anything unspoken. If you’re feeling good, say it. If you’re upset, say it. If you’re worried, say it. He said, just be honest and tell the truth about everything.”

We exchanged a couple of laughs and I asked him “okay what about for the woman–is there anything that your wife has done in order to keep things good between you?”

He said, “the same thing. She’s got to tell me what she’s feeling. She has to tell me where she’s at so I know how to deal with her.”

I was so proud of myself even though maybe I looked stupid. These three couples who had been together for a combined 75 years, gave me some profound insights. Here’s what they said

1. Keep your negative energy away from each other. Do not let any negative energy into your conversation or into your home. Refuse to let negative energy plague your relationship.

2. Listen to each other. The African man said listen to her, and she will listen to you.

3. The Mexican man told me to apologize when you’re wrong. He shared some examples and other insights, but that was his basic message, just say you’re sorry when you’ve done something bad.

The third couple said come on speak your mind. Don’t leave anything unsaid. Just tell it all, outright, flat-out, without hesitation. Say what you feel.

As I listen to these three men, I was at first a little disappointed that I didn’t get anything more substantial in their responses. They seemed a little simplistic. And then I realized how much time I spend in therapy with couples, trying to teach these very same principles. These were profound truths that these men shared with me. They shared them with a smile. They felt honored to be asked about how they had made things work for so long in their lives.

One last example: my Aunt Bobbie.

My Aunt’s FB post on Valentine’s day: “I see everyone’s flowers and candy, but I think I had the best Valentines Day, my sweet hubby of nearly 50 years worked along beside me as we cleaned out the flower beds beside the sidewalk, we talked and laughed, and huffed and puffed, as we hoed and raked, and it looks pretty good. You see candy goes to the hips and I would rather have a living plant to enjoy longer. Wonderful day babe, love you lots, now get the Bengay and rub my back…”

How awesome is that? Work together. Do a project side by side. Sweat a little and do something that really makes a difference in your daily environment. Then back rubs. 😉

Hearing and seeing these things taught me one important thing as I reflected on my work with people this Valentine’s Day: things work out long term for folks all the time and there is PLENTY to be hopeful about.

I’m Sorry: Apology Can Make All the Difference

I’m Sorry: Apology Can Make All the Difference

I’m Sorry: Apology Can Make All the Difference

Sometimes I find that people are unable to apologize. These are often the people that will say, “you can’t just say I’m sorry and everything be okay.” Perhaps to them apologies are empty and meaningless; but for so many, apologies mean everything in the world. I, for one, am a person who can forgive just about anything that a person sincerely acknowledges.

At the core of our psychobeing resides the ego.

Refusing to acknowledge mistakes is a sign of an extremely weak ego. Some people would often rather get a divorce, quit a job, abandon family members, lose out on privileges, or walk away from something amazing just to save a little face.

What I most often see is that people who refuse to apologize are afraid that admitting an error will make them appear as inferior. What I believe is that the opposite is, in fact, true.

It takes a lot of courage to say to oneself or to others, I am wrong. I have made a mistake. I apologize. I’m sorry, I didn’t want things to happen this way. The fear of being inferior seems to be motivated by an effort to maintain a connection. If I don’t admit my weaknesses, perhaps I still have a chance to maintain my favor in the eyes of the other person. But what happens most of the time, I believe, is that we lose favor when we are unable to admit our wrongs.

So here is a simple life hack that will make your life so much more pleasant: just say “I’m sorry.”

These two little words are maybe just as powerful and just as simple as saying the words “thank you.” We try to teach our youngsters to be polite and say please and thank you. Those words don’t really mean anything, and they don’t really have any measurable value . But saying thank you is a matter of improving the connection with the giver. Someone shared something with me or does me a favor of some kind, saying thank you is just an acknowledgement of grace. It just means I appreciate you, this is meaningful. And maybe half of the population is built to thrive on “thank you’s.”

Is it so different to teach our children to also say “I’m sorry”when they have done something wrong? I have a 2 year old and a 1 year old and things are pretty exciting at my house! The other day my two year old accidentally bumped the one-year-old in the head with something and the baby started to cry. Already sensing that he was in trouble, the two-year-old decides to run away. I gently persuade him back into the room, and try to teach him that he needs to acknowledge that he hurt his brother, give him a little hug, and say sorry.

It was so interesting his reaction, immediately, he clammed up. He couldn’t bring himself to say he was sorry. This isn’t a matter of his speech development, he is able to pretty much say any single word that we share with him. He doesn’t mind hugging, in fact he’ll hug just about anyone at the drop of a hat. But sensing that he maybe in a diminished state somehow because of an error, he closed up, put up walls of some kind, and just could not bring himself to say that. But this article isn’t written for toddlers.

One of my assessment questions as I begin working with couples is: who is the least likely to apologize when they have made a mistake or otherwise been hurtful. Almost invariably, there is someone in the relationship who virtually never, ever, apologizes. And maybe my sample is skewed, because the people I’m asking this question of are seeking professional help for their relationship. It seems that that is one very quick indicator of the defensiveness and resistance in the relationship.

Conversely, there is often a person in a relationship who apologizes all too often. They walk around on eggshells, hoping not to upset the other partner and end up taking all the responsibility, even when they have none. This is equally unhealthy. I think this is part of the accidental reinforcement of the unapologizers inability to say they are sorry. They feel that apologies are meaningless and are using the example of their partner always trying to escape tension with an apology as just a super annoying habit.

Another group that I spend a lot of time with are those who are addicted to substances or processes like pornography or gambling what is the most effective means of recovery from these types of addictions is engaging in and participating in the 12-step recovery groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous, or Narcotics Anonymous.

A good portion of these programs have to do with taking account for one’s own mistakes. There are specific steps to acknowledge the exact nature of one’s wrongs, make amends, and promptly admitting when they are wrong as a way of life to sustain recovery.

That fact alone, tells me that at the heart of some of the most troubling issues known to man, like addiction, relational problems and others, is the inability to own one’s mistakes. And perhaps the remedy is just as simple, although not easy to do.

A popular assignment of therapists and self-development coaches around the world is for people to keep a gratitude journal, or a gratitude list.

I wonder what good it would do all of humanity, and even our own little relationship circles, for us to go around and likewise make lists of our own mistakes, and share them with people. Self-disclosure is at the heart of recovery from problematic addictions, for example. That’s why people stand up in meetings and say, “I’m Joe and I’m an alcoholic.” Why the hell is that the first step? Because it’s powerful, and it works.

Whatever the fear, whatever the dark imaginings that follow the notion of the resistant and hard-headed person apologizing, those things almost never really happen. I don’t even know what people picture would go wrong if they were to ever utter the words, “I’m sorry.” Do they think they will look bad? Melt like the Witch of Oz? What? It’s as if we’re on the playground and we’re saying “step on the crack and you break your mother’s back.” It’s not going to break your mother’s back to say you’re sorry and take responsibility for your actions.

What it will do instead, is bring you closer to the people you’re afraid of losing. What it will do instead is make you actually stronger. What it represents is strength in yourself. What it shows people is that you are secure. What it develops in you is deeper self love so that you can feel less threatened by your inferiority or mistakes in the future.

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What It Means to Hold Space for Someone

What It Means to Hold Space for Someone

What It Means to Hold Space for Someone

So the phrase “holding space” has been gaining popularity in podcasts and blog articles out there in self-help land and I just wanted to share some thoughts about what it means and a few tips on how this can help your relationships.

Holding space is the phrase we might use to describe unconditional support for someone. Holding space means giving the person exactly what they need from us without being overwhelming, judgmental, or forceful about it. It is a gentle type of support focused on emotions and practical aspects of a problem. Holding space is very important for anyone but can be especially significant in difficult situations like an illness or a loss. However, it can also be applied in therapy, education, or relationships. The concept of holding space means that you are creating a safe and comfortable environment where the person can feel and express their negative emotions. Here are a few tips for how you might hold space for someone.

Avoid judgment and criticism
Holding space means that you are giving the person your unconditional support rather than the conditional support associated with judgment and criticism. You will not expect the person to act differently or follow your guidance. You will not shame them for the choices they make or their past mistakes. You will instead reserve judgments, whether these are verbal or non-verbal. This is a key aspect of holding space: helping the individual feel safe.

Avoid overwhelming them
Sometimes, information can be overwhelming. For example, when we first receive a diagnosis, we might not be ready to hear everything, all the problems and solutions associated with our condition. Instead, we might require just the basics, just a little guidance until we are ready to assimilate the rest of the information. Do not focus on educating. You need to identify the basics and offer them in terms of information, handouts, advice, but avoid overwhelming the individual with data. The same is true for emotions. Avoid excessive emotions to make sure the person can focus on their own rather than on the emotions of the people supposed to give support.

Respect the differences
When we hold space, we need to be aware that the person will have their own culture, their own ideas, beliefs, and opinions. We cannot force our own even if we feel we know better. We have to respect the person and their autonomy, which is associated with the idea that they will make different choices, even choices we might not approve of. For example, when people grieve, they do this differently. Some choose to cry while others cannot. An absence of tears should be respected as much as an expression of sadness.

Allow complex emotions
The emotions people deal with are not easy and, often, they are not pretty. Many cultures might punish emotional displays of anger, especially for women, or sadness, especially for men. It is important to let the person feel what they are feeling and express those emotions. When you hold space, you might need to provide containment for these emotions but containment is not the same thing as denial or judgment. Let the person express their feelings within the safe space you create, even if it is messy.

What does this look like in real life? A client of mine recently explained how he and his wife have had major problems with their sexual relationship because his recently-admitted use of pornography hurt the wife so much, she felt she could not trust him. It turns out, she had all kinds of previous trauma, including sexual assaults, which surfaced after it was discovered that he was acting out with pornography. The client chose to hold space for his wife, and even though he had done all kinds of recovery tasks, attended meetings for his severe addiction, and maintained an entire year of sobriety, he allowed his wife to work through her own issues however she needed to. Although in some ways he felt he deserved to be trusted again with intimacy, he allowed her whatever time it took for her to feel okay again.

Holding space for others means we let them be wherever they are. We don’t impose unrealistic expectations or selfish demands on them.

The hardest part for us who are doing the holding of such “space” is that we are often doing so when it is least comfortable. We may be getting yelled at, rejected, criticized, belittled, pushed away and even emotionally abused. The point is not to support others while continually allowing ourselves to be victimized by them, but not to do any accidental victimizing of them, ESPECIALLY when they are down and out.

I have seen some of this lately, even in relationships of my own sphere. And what I have become intimately aware of (once again) is that it’s really the only way to be. Anger won’t do it. Lecturing won’t do it. Ridicule and complaints won’t do it. The only thing we can do to change behavior is love, and holding space is one of the most difficult and yet truest forms of that.

You’re reading this because you’re looking for some help with your situation. I can do that, I promise. Make an appointment with me and let’s get started.

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Put Down Your Chisel. Let Be. Appreciate.

Put Down Your Chisel. Let Be. Appreciate.

Put Down Your Chisel. Let Be. Appreciate.

Tonight a client asked me to share this with her, so I decided to post publicly so you can read it as well.

This is a thought adapted from  book called Please Understand Me by David Keirsey which deals with difference: differences in temperament and personality characteristics.  So often, what brings couples into counseling is the inability to understand each other’s point of view.  Those perspectives are shaped by temperament or basic personality functions, among other things.  The passage below is absolutely brilliant, and no matter who you are, I’m sure that you can benefit from this profoundly enlightening rebuke of our occasional tendency to see our way as THE way.  I hope this is meaningful to you.  🙂

PLEASE UNDERSTAND ME

If I do not want what you want, please try not to tell me that my want is wrong. 

Or if I believe other than you, at least pause before you correct my view. 

Or if my emotion is less than yours, or more, given the same circumstances, try not to ask me to feel more strongly or weakly. 

Or yet if I act, or fail to act, in the manner of your design for action, let me be. 

I do not, for the moment at least, ask you to understand me.  That will come only when you’re willing to give up changing me into a copy of you. 

If you’ll allow me any of my wants, or emotions, or beliefs, or actions, then you open yourself, so that someday these ways of mine might not seem so wrong, and might finally appear to you as right – for me. 

To put up with me is the first step to understanding me.  Not that you embrace my ways as right for you, but that you’re no longer irritated or disappointed with me for my seeming waywardness. 

And in understanding me you might come to prize my differences from you, and far from seeking to change me, preserve and even nurture those differences. 

Abandon the project, that endless and fruitless attempt to change me into a carbon copy of yourself.  You do not have a license to sculpt me using yourself as a pattern to copy.  Put down your chisel.  Let be.  Appreciate. “

(Adapted from Keirsey & Bates, “Please Understand Me”)

 

References

Keirsey, D., & Bates, M. M. (1978). Please understand me: Character & temperament types. Del Mar, CA: Prometheus Nemesis.

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