Problem solving strategies

Blog Post No. 43

17th February 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017

Magic models – how to get back your energy quickly after you’ve had a setback!

Coping with setbacks

emojiThere are lots of things that we have available in our popular culture to lift our mood after we’ve had a setback or hit a major problem which is stressing us. We’re often advised to do retail therapy, eat chocolate, get down the local for a drink, book a holiday, buy a DVD, get our hair done, go and watch the latest film, eat exotic take-out food, and so on. The list is endless. Generally, we try to do something which will take our mind off problems and distract ourselves. But does this approach work?

Actually, these popular solutions have a few drawbacks:

  1. They cost money (what if we have none spare, and are struggling to survive?)
  2. They may have a physical cost for us (a hangover, or weight gain, for examples).
  3. They are short-term palliatives, but they do not work in the long run. (They produce short-term pleasure, but they leave us open to longer-term pain!)

Basically, their effect doesn’t last very long – it quickly wears off. Have you noticed how soon we can forget a brilliant party that we went to, or how rapidly we get used to that new outfit we bought?

When I am fed up, or feeling low, I personally like to use techniques that I can use anywhere, work quickly, don’t cost anything financially, are easily understood, and quickly bring me back to that state of happiness and deep appreciation of the marvel of life and of human beings that I usually have!

Here’s­­­ an example of a way of ‘re-framing’ your problems, which can be really helpful at times.

smoky-robinsonThis was said by Smokey Robinson’s mother:

“From the day that you’re born, till you ride in the hearse, there’s nothing so bad that it couldn’t be worse!”

Good, isn’t it? Perfect if you’re stuck in traffic and you’re trying to get home for your tea after you’ve been grafting away at work all day, and there’s no way out of the situation. But the situation could always be so much worse than it is.

My approach

In this blog, I want to share with you two great models I use when I have a problem or setback and I’ll explain to you how they work and hopefully you’ll find them of value to you in your own life.

Actually, to be completely honest, they don’t cost anything financially, but there is a price. The price is making a mental effort to open your mind and try them out. Are you up for that? Or have you dismissed them already? We’ll see – here are my two favourite models:

The first model: The ‘Six Windows’ model

honetpieThe first one was created by Dr Jim Byrne, and is called the ‘Six Windows model’. This, like the Smokey Robinson quote above, is a way to re-frame your problem or difficulty so that it shows up as less stressful.

It consists of five perspectives which Jim borrowed from Buddhism and Stoic philosophy, plus one which I contributed!

How to use the ‘Six windows’ model

Six-windows-model3

  1. Firstly, you think about the problem or hassle that is getting you down at the moment. Have you got a clear picture of it in your mind?
  2. Secondly, holding this problem firmly in your mind, you look at it through each of the windows in turn (see the diagram above).

At the top and bottom of each window is a statement that is a viewpoint on life, or a world view – or what some people would think of as a helpful belief. Now experiment with taking on this view of life for a few minutes, as if you decided to agree with the statement for a short time.

Read the statement and then think about your problem, from that viewpoint. Or, to say it another way, try the idea on for size like you would if you were getting a new suit from a shop.

As you look at your problem through the perspective of each of the windows, see if the statements have any effect on how you see your problem. Do it slowly and carefully, finishing up with Window No.6.

By the time you get to window No.6, if you have really taken the ideas on board, there should be a change in the way you see your current problem. And window No. 6 emphasises the ‘pay dirt’ that is in every problem that we have – the reward that we get for having it. Problems strengthen us in different ways!

These viewpoints, or world views, have been created over a long time. You don’t need to know their origins in order for them to work. This process is a bit like the way we use electricity. Most of us don’t know how electricity works, but we still can use and benefit from it.

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The second model:

robert-holden-bookRobert Holden’s STOP technique

The STOP technique is very simple, and the four letters stand for the following words: Strengths; Teaching; Opportunities; and Positive.  The idea is to ask yourself the following questions:

Strengths: What strengths do I have that could be used to help me to cope with this problem?

Teaching: What is this problem teaching me?

Opportunities: What opportunism arise through this problem?

Positive: Putting the negative aspects on one side for the moment, what positive things could come out of having this problem?

How to use the STOP technique

Here are some general guidelines on how to use it. Sit down in a quiet place with a pad and pen.  Then work through this checklist:

  1. Think of a problem or hassle that you have at the moment. Check out how you feel about it.
  1. Now write down a list of the strengths that you have developed in your life as you have coped with all the challenges that you have had to face. There will be a lot. If you have no idea, ask a family member or good friend who has seen you go through various dilemmas or difficulties. Ask them for some suggestions. These strengths will help you cope with the challenge you are now facing. It is good for you to see what resilience skills you have developed.

montapert-quote

  1. Then when you have finished the list, and have read through your strengths, return to your problem and ask yourself, “What is this problem teaching me?” 
  1. The next step is to look again at your problem, and ask yourself, “What opportunities am I getting from having this problem at this time?” There will be new skills or experiences that you can’t gain any other way than having to deal with the problem. “Problems are sent to test and teach us!”  Humans are problem seeking beings! 
  1. Finally, we come to the “Positive” bit – What have you got so far from having your problem? What have been the positive gains from having it? Search hard and there will be positive gains if you keep looking. The worst case scenario might be that having this big problem has taught you that you can endure big problems; that they don’t have to defeat you! But they can also make you a better problem-solver.

Einstein-callout.JPGNow return to how you originally felt about your problem before you took it through the ‘STOP’ model. Do you see the problem in the same way or has there been a shift in your view of it?

Conclusion

In this blog I have described two models, or mental strategies, which you can use as a way of tackling a problem that is getting you down, or you want to resolve in some way.

Both models work by getting you to see your problem from a different viewpoint, and if you try them out, you will get the benefits of being less affected by your problem than you were. You will have some hope and sense of possibility that wasn’t there before, and your mental ‘load’ will be lightened.

Also, you’ve got the models there to use again and again in the future, when life throws up another challenge, as it inevitably will. The more often you use the models, the quicker you will get at recovering from an unexpected problem.

Book-cover-frontThe models are taken from “Stressbusters” by Robert Holden, and “Holistic Counselling in Practice” by Dr Jim Byrne, if you want to know more about the origins of the models.

And if you want to learn a range of such models, you can also consult me for coaching/counselling in the area of problem solving and decision making, using thinking skills.

Happy thinking!

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That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843 629

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Coaching & Counselling blog: Stress management post Brexit

Blog Post No. 42

27th December 2016

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2016

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: Stress management post Brexit:

How do we become more resilient in the face of bad news?

Introduction

In this blog, I will briefly describe some strategies which have been adopted by several universities to help their staff handle the disruption and uncertainty around Brexit – the impending withdrawal of the UK from the European Union – and the possible (probable?!) end of research funding for projects which are being undertaken by university staff all over the UK.

brexit

Then the effectiveness of these strategies will be considered, and alternative ones described.

Headline: “Dons in distress get Brexit therapy”

This “Dons in distress” statement is the title of an article that was written in the Sunday Times on the 4th December, 2016. The article describes the emotions (of “uncertainty, grief and anger“) that university staff are feeling because of the Brexit vote. Research funding has been disrupted and/or stopped, and in some cases people are totally uncertainty about their future employment prospects.

Nottingham University, the article explains, is now holding resilience workshops to help the staff understand where their huge amounts of stress originate from. This is so they will have an increased sense of control over what is happening to them.

Leeds University staff counselling department and the Psychological Services have created a written guide which clarifies that the feeling of grief, anger, depression and anxiety are stages which are part of the process of handling change.

stages-of-change

They explain to staff that if they don’t call a halt to their constant checking of the news, then they will continue to feel bad. “If you receive a lot of news shocks, your body is likely to experience fear”, they state.

In addition to feeling fear, another result of constant checking of the bad news is that the ability of the academic staff to get a decent night’s sleep would be reduced.

As an alternative to anxious worrying, the guide helpfully recommends exercise, resting and eating well.  (They could have added that “news fasting”, for long periods of time, would also help).

Resilience workshops

Offering workshops and printed guides to staff is a very constructive way to help them get a new sense of control over their lives. However, one of the major drawbacks are this approach the fragility of human memory: Because of the way human memory works, only about 20% of the information from the workshops will be remembered on the following day. And then as the days pass less and less detail will be recallable.  A special effort to record and retain the information would be needed: such as frequent reviews of the same helpful material, to get it into long-term memory.

The same applies to books and booklets: unless they are analysed, and notes taken and transformed into action steps, then their value is limited, and not fully realised.

The difference between declarative and procedural knowledge

Knowing all about how to handle change and the stresses that go with it, is a good start. And this type of knowledge is called ‘declarative knowledge’. Here’s an example:  many heavy smokers are very informed and knowledgeable about the risks of smoking. Does this knowledge help them to give up smoking? Not in the slightest!

To start new habits, or change old habits, we need ‘procedural knowledge’. We need to know how to do something, which is a very different matter. (If you look at my blog on habit creation this will show you a summary of the process).

How, then, do we cope in the face of life’s uncertainties; to manage our resilience levels; and to develop procedural knowledge of the process?

 Building our resilience.

ancestors

One thing that is easy to forget is that we are all human animals. We’ve evolved from our pre-human ancestors, which evolved into our African hominid and human ancestors. We humans originally lived in the trees and then descended from them onto the plains of Africa. Our ancestors lived and raised children in small groups, and were biologically shaped to adapt to an environment in which each day’s food had to be searched for.

Otherwise, as vulnerable humans, we would not have survived as a race. The innate ‘fight or flight’ response – an internal, non-conscious, physiological (appraise and respond) mechanism – kept our ancestors alive and able to flee from dangers, or to try to fight animals that threatened them.

We’ve got exactly the same mechanism within us as our ancestors had, and we have a need to handle threats and dangers through physical activity. Our ancestors dealt with their own problems as they arose. But now the resilience and energy of people is being sapped by a background of continuous bad news, as people try to work, and raise their families in a turbulent world.

T-V-screen.JPG

Handling bad news

Each day the most distressing news is carefully presented to us, and endlessly repeated, and our bodies register the negative information, and react to it physically. Unless we take action on a daily basis to burn off the stress hormones created by this endless newsfeed, we will get saturated with those hormones.

The Leeds University guide warns against news addiction, and recommends that staff manage their exposure to news. Apparently, according to the article, dons are having news programmes on continually and checking the news in the middle of the night.

stress-loop

Taking action to build resilience immediately

As a former lecturer at a FE college for approximately 35 years, I would like to share with you the three top techniques I used to survive in an educational environment which had a lot of waves of changes and uncertainty. Managing to emerge relatively unscathed, I’d like to recommend these three invaluable strategies for you to try out for yourself; and to experience the benefits of them yourself (assuming you don’t practise them already).

The first and foremost technique, in my opinion, to deal with massive change and uncertainty in the workplace, is daily exercise, which will burn off stress hormones from the previous day’s hassles. And not only does it quickly reduce feelings of anxiety or depression (or implosive anger) – our bodies make sure we find it a pleasurable activity, and release feel-good hormones.

Firstly I would recommend that you give up watching the evening news, and/or breakfast news on television each day, and instead do a bout of dancing, jogging, yoga, Chi-gong or any other kind of physical activity that you really enjoy. This is a great way to burn off the stress created by the previous day’s hassles, and it also releases endorphins, which are happiness chemicals, which lift your mood.

According to Robert Parry (2001) – in his book on Chi-gong – when we do exercise which involves deep breathing, like Chi-gong or yoga, then this type of breathing actually stimulates the parasympathetic part of our nervous systems, which is the part that helps the body rest, and restore; and renew itself through the digestive process. (This is called the ‘rest and digest’ part of our nervous system).

We activate this process by breathing from our bellies, not our chests. (That is to say, we breathe into the bottom of the lungs, which pushes the diaphragm downwards, and the belly outwards).

belly-breathing-frog

This means that if we deliberately breathe deeply (from our diaphragm, expanding our bellies) as we do our exercises, we are able to influence our physical state: our body then switches from a stressed state to the parasympathetic relaxed state.

Parry states that: “Tests measuring the electromagnetic resonance of the brain confirm that our brains shift into what is termed the ‘Alpha’ state of relaxation and deep rest during Chi-gong breathing exercises, a state in which not only the digestion but the body’s immune function too can operate at its optimal level. This is why Chi-gong helps us feel more in touch with our emotions and thoughts.” (Page 125).

For these reasons, I strongly recommend that workers need to exercise most days of the week in order to handle stress at work.

The second technique: using assertiveness strategies

In addition to physical exercise, I also recommend assertive communication strategies.

Robert Sapolsky wrote a fascinating book called ‘Why Zebras don’t get Ulcers’, which I strongly recommend. And the reason they don’t get ulcers, fundamentally, is that they can run away very swiftly from predators who want to eat them for lunch.

If we come across predators (or threats) at work, for example in the form of challenges to our sense of dignity and competence (like being insulted, harassed verbally, or shouted at by a member of staff [or told our funding has been removed!]), we can’t really run away. We have to stay in this stressful situation, and handle these sorts of problems, because we need the income to support our families and keep a roof over our heads.

Because we cannot abandon our jobs when the going gets tough, and because not everybody we work with will be charming and gracious, and good negotiators, life at work can become very difficult.  People can make our lives miserable if we don’t learn how to handle them skilfully.

So my second recommendation is this: Start learning assertiveness techniques to strengthen yourself in the workplace. Learning specific assertiveness techniques, and using them to communicate with colleagues, will mean that you will develop a strong sense of control over your life. This reduces your stress levels.

barbara-berkhan-book-cover

But how are you to learn to be more assertive?  Some good ideas can be found in books – as in Barbara Berckhan’s book on Judo with Words.  Or you can watch videos on assertive communication on YouTube.  Or you can go on an Assertiveness Training course, if you can find one.

A more available option is to go to a good coach-counsellor for help.  Role-plays with a supportive coach or counsellor (like yours truly) can really help to strengthen you. These techniques can be used immediately to create a better working environment for people, or help them come to terms with a situation in which their options are limited.

With role-play you can get descriptions of the techniques to use; coaching on how to do this; and immediate, constructive feedback on how you are communicating.  And it is a very powerful way to help you learn to protect your energy (and your dignity!) For example it gives you practice in expressing yourself confidently, handling requests and complaints, etc., and gives you very useful phrases to use to do your job effectively with reduced wear and tear on your nervous system. You quickly learn to ask for what you want; to say ‘No’ to what you do not want; and how to communicate your needs, wants and feelings to others.

The third recommendation: ‘Daily pages’ or a diary.

The-Artists-Way.jpg

The third recommendation is to write daily reflections on how your day went at work, or at home; and how you experienced events. The daily accounts are called “Daily pages”; or “Morning pages”, by Julia Cameron. She uses this technique to unblock creative people who have lost touch with their authentic selves and creative energies. She recommends writing three sides of A4 paper every morning. (This can be stream of consciousness, or deliberate, reflective logs of specific challenges at work, or at home) If this seems a lot, then aim to write at least one side of A4. This daily discipline works for the following crucial reason: our brains are designed to deal with incoming information – we are problem-solving creatures.  Ruminating in our minds, without committing our ideas to paper, simply causes us to go round and round the same old track, without learning or changing anything very much.

If we’re faced with challenges which we can’t handle, or need to ‘get (something) off our chests’ then we can write down what happens and our reaction to the events. This is externalising the information, and putting it out there on the page. Once the information is down on paper and out of our heads, we can see it. And because we can see it, our brain can then go into problem-solving mode and slowly a solution will appear from your brain-mind, magically.

philippa-perry-quoteLetting worries and fears about the future go round and round in our minds without expressing them in some way, is really bad for us and can affect our immune systems. Writing about what’s bugging us has an immediate therapeutic effect, and there is lots of evidence of its value.

It’s also private, with no financial cost, and it builds resilience in people because it puts them in touch with themselves and helps them learn about their own bodies-minds and responses to outside stressors.

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writing-therapy-bookIf you wanted more details about the value of writing, then a really good book written by Dr Jim Byrne, details the benefits and research findings which show what a very effective technique it is. You can find it here: The Writing Solution.***

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Conclusion

If you want to become more resilient in the face of constant change and challenges, then start to practice these three techniques on a daily basis:

# Physical exercise (preferably something like Chi-gong or yoga);

# Assertive communication skills;

# Daily writing in a journal or diary.

Immediately, and increasingly, these strategies will make you stronger physically and mentally, which is what you need to survive in the face of an incessantly changing society.

Daily exercise, assertive communication and daily written reflections are the foundation stones of self-care. With these three mind-body practices, you hold the key to protecting yourself and your energies in this crazy culture, so that you can survive and do your best for your family and loved ones, and get more enjoyment and relaxation out of the time that you have.

I hope you give them a try and enjoy the benefits!

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843 629

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References:

Sapolsky, R. (2004) Why Zebras don’t get Ulcers.  New York: St Martins Griffin.

Berckhan, B. (2001) Judo with Words: An intelligent way to counter verbal attacks. London: Free Association Press.

Cameron, J. (1992) The Artist’s Way: A spiritual path to higher creativity.  London: Souvenir Press.

Byrne, J. (2016) Narrative Therapy and the Writing Solution: An emotive-cognitive approach to feeling better and solving problems (Narrative Therapy Series Book 1) Kindle Edition. Available: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Narrative-Therapy-Writing-Solution-emotive-cognitive-ebook/dp/B01LNE73L0 

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Family conflict and violence at Christmas time

Blog Post No.150

By Dr Jim Byrne

Posted on 27th December 2016 (Originally posted on 6th December 2015)

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog:

Principles of couples counselling: The importance of negotiation and fairness between marriage and cohabiting partners

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2015-2016

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Introduction

domestic-violence-at-christmasEvery Christmas, the incidence of domestic violence increases significantly, because of the stresses and strains of the Christmas and Winter Holiday madness, whipped up by marketing gurus, to promote sales of unnecessary ‘stuff’. But also because of the lack of commitment to equality in relationships (which most often involves male domination, except when it involves female domination!)

But the underlying weaknesses, which allows domestic violence to emerge, is cultural conditioning, or the lack thereof.  A fully functioning democratic and humanistic culture would outlaw any form of the use of violence to settle our differences, at home, at work or in international relations.

In this blog post, I set out to review two principles that are important to happy and healthy couple relationships.

Those two principles come from the Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project[1].

However, because of pressure of time and space, I had to settle for reviewing just one principle this time. (I’ll review the second one next week!)

duluth-model-and-fairnessThe principle that I am reviewing is one of eight from the Equality ‘wheel’, and this is it: The importance of negotiation and fairness between marriage and co-habiting partners.

I review this principle in the context of the fact that Dr Michael Edelstein, a former colleague from the world of Rational therapy (REBT) refuses to discuss fairness issues with his couples therapy clients because (he says) he cannot identify any objective criteria for judging what is fair and what is unfair. 

However, in the process of reviewing the principle of negotiation and fairness, below, I will outline some very obvious criteria for assessing the presence or absence of fairness in couple disputes.

Elaboration

Just over a year ago, I introduced the Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, and I said I would return to that subject, and explore the two wheels which they use to teach the distinction between unhelpful and unjustifiable ‘Power and control’ approaches to couple relationships, on the one hand, and civilized and indispensable ‘Equality’ approaches, on the other hand.

equal-status-within-couplesEach wheel contains eight principles, and the Duluth project advocates the use of the eight ‘equality principles’, and rejects the use of any of the eight principles of ‘power and control’.  In brief, this means that the appropriate way for a couple to relate to each other is from a basis of equal status, and an immoral and illegal way to relate is through the abuse of power to control the other person.

It seemed to make most sense for me to tackle this distinction by reviewing pairs of principles, one from each wheel.  However, in practice I have found that, because of space constraints, I cannot review two principles in one blog post – so I will review one ‘equality’ principle this week, and one ‘power and control’ principle next week.

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Equality 1: The principle of negotiation and fairness

This week I want to begin by reviewing the ‘equality principle’ of ‘negotiation and fairness’.

michael-edelsteinMy way of going about this, to begin with, is to refer back to the debate I had, in 2010, with Dr Michael Edelstein, a former colleague of mine in the world of Rational therapy (REBT).  Michael is a clinical psychologist who lives in San Francisco, practices REBT, was born in Brooklyn, NY, completed his academic psychology training in New York City, attended the REBT Institute from its physical inception in 1965, associated with Albert Ellis beginning in 1963, authored three books on REBT, trains therapists in REBT, and so can be assumed to know his REBT very well.  (Michael is also known as ‘The 3 Minute Therapist’, whose website can be found at: http://www.threeminutetherapy.com/).

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On the importance of fairness, justice and morality

At the time when I was preparing to post my paper on ‘Fairness, Justice and Morality’[2] (back in 2010), Michael wrote to me to say that:

“Everyone has their own subjective view about what is fair. My preferences and hedonic calculi differ from that of others. Since there’s no cosmic or absolute criterion for evaluating fairness, I have not come up with a useful way to view it. Consequently, I advise my clients to jettison the entire concept”.

I was pretty sure Michael was overlooking something here about fairness.  So I argued the point with him, but I could not persuade him to take the concept of fairness seriously.

Today I would argue my case differently.  This is what I would say:

the-golden-ruleThere is a huge objective criterion of fairness which has been around since ancient Chinese civilization: the Golden Rule.  The Golden rule can be expressed like this: You morally must not treat another person less well than you would like them to treat you, if your roles were reversed.

And you must treat your marriage partner at least as well as you would like them to treat you in identical circumstances!

Contrary to Michael’s viewpoint, this principle is very easy to apply in situations of conflict with couples in therapy.  Each member of a couple either is, or is not, willing to treat their partner at least as well as they expect to be treated.

This couldn’t be clearer, and (in my opinion) the most likely potential explanations for Michael Edelstein’s inability to see this point, back in 2010, were: (1) that he was influenced by the amoral philosophy of Albert Ellis[3]; and/or (2) the nonsensical philosophy of Logical Positivism; and/or (3) the useless system of Act Utilitarianism (which is much less usable than Rule Utilitarianism); and/or (4) the ubiquitous philosophies of neo-liberalism and post-modern moral relativity! (Because of lack of space, I will have to defer further clarification of the distinction between Act and Rule Utilitarianism until next week).

The debate in 2010

Back to what I wrote to Michael in 2010:

drjim-counsellor9“I’m pretty sure most people would agree on this principle of fairness, no matter how subjective the concept of fairness might seem to be in some other cases.  In other words, although we humans sometimes have problems defining what we mean by fairness, from case to case, we (reasonable people) nevertheless find the concept of fairness indispensable, and we more often than not do find ways to define it which are ‘socially agreed’ (by some group or community, some society or country, some continent, or some strata of some culture, etc.).  In negotiations between individuals, we often find that the idea of what is fair is ‘inter-subjective’ (meaning, shared between several individuals; or common to a whole group of people), and not just ‘merely subjective’ (meaning – when used pejoratively – locked in the mind of one isolated, unrepresentative individual).

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At one point, Dr Edelstein got back to me to clarify that his problem with the principle of fairness was a practical one:  How can it be used in couples therapy with squabbling couples?  Surely this is not possible since there do not seem to be any objective criteria by which to define fairness.

Today, I want to test Michael’s perspective against one of the two wheels of the Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project[4].

Objective criteria in couple conflict

non-violent-partnershipThe equality wheel: The equality wheel is segmented into eight subdivisions, each containing one principle.  All eight principles are subsumed under two headings: either ‘Equality’ or ‘Power and control’.

In the remainder of this blog post, I will take a look at just one of the equality/non-violence principles: Negotiation and fairness.

Under this principle (which emphasizes the importance of negotiating outcomes, and doing so fairly), there are three ‘guidelines’, or ‘key points’, as follows:

# Seeking mutually satisfying resolutions to conflict;

# Accepting change; and:

# Being willing to compromise.

My response to Michael would be that, in my relationship with my partner, I can demonstrate fairness by (1) negotiating satisfying resolutions to conflicts; (2) accepting that changes are inevitable, and showing that I am willing to change when (reasonably) necessary; and (3) being willing to compromise when we have conflicting goals or desires.

To apply the ‘principle of generosity’ to Michael Edelstein’s argument, let us focus on his alternative to using the concept of fairness.

“As far as I can tell in working with squabbling couples, both justifying their own position with what’s ‘fair’, I have not arrived at any objective criteria to settle the fairness argument. I tell them, ‘Discussing what is fair is a dead end and often toxic to relationships. Discuss what works for both of you, instead’.”

What could this mean to a couple: (‘What works for both of you’)?

Here are my attempted answers:

  1. If they have a ‘mutual problem’, as defined by Helen Hall Clinard[5], then nothing works for both of them; because what Partner 1 wants is the very opposite of what Partner 2 wants and vice versa; or, at the very least, the two goals are mutually exclusive! (So Michael could study Chapter 4 of Helen’s book, and introduce his couple clients to the process of ‘turning conflict into cooperation’. That would provide him with some practical approaches to building fairness in practice, based on objective criteria.

But there is an immediate, and, I suspect, an insurmountable problem here for Michael, because of his rigid conformity to Albert Ellis’s belief system.  Let me explain:

In the opening paragraph of Chapter 4, Helen Clinard writes this: “Sometimes it is not easy for a person who is causing you a problem to change in the way that you want.  People who work or live together often have conflicting needs”. (Page 109).

But according to (Extreme) REBT theory, people do not have any needs at all (in the interpersonal area)![6]  Apart from air, water and basic food, everything else is treated as a ‘want’ or a ‘desire’ in Extreme REBT.[7] In other words, for Albert Ellis and his extreme stoical followers, ‘need’ is a synonym for the dreaded words – ‘should’ and/or ‘must’ – which “have to be” totally outlawed (and replaced with mere preferences)!

  1. If any of Michael’s couples lack clarity about how to compromise, Michael could teach them how to do that. For example, he could teach them the example used in Getting to Yes, by Fisher and Ury[8] – about sharing an orange – not by arbitrarily cutting it down the middle, but by finding out ‘the reason’ each partner wants the orange, and (perhaps) discovering that one mainly wants the peel (to put in a cake mix) and the other mainly wants the fruit (to squeeze as juice). But, to go down this route, Michael would have to believe that people have rights and needs, and that does not seem to be part of his belief system.
  2. If Michael studied Fisher and Ury, he could then teach his couple clients their basis system, which is:

(a) Separate the people from the problem. (Michael is officially good at this, since REBT theory teaches clients to distinguish between their partner, on the one hand, and their partner’s behaviours on the other).

(b) Talk in terms of interests rather than positions. (This is harder for Michael, because he has been trained to fit the whole phenomenal world into just two boxes – [1] Reality [which Must exist exactly as it is], and [2] Your Preferences [which do not have to exist at all!] Can he make the challenging shift towards considering that clients have real-life interests, {arising out of felt needs} which harden into positions?])

(c) Generate a variety of possibilities before deciding what to do. (This approach fits better into the Egan Model[9] than it would into Michael’s simple ABC model).

(d) Insist that the results be based on some objective standard. (Like the Golden Rule; or mutual influence.  But, would Michael be willing to use the Golden Rule?)

~~~

  1. Michael could also teach his couple clients the three ‘key points’ I extracted from the Equality wheel of the Duluth project, as follows:

# 1 Seek mutually satisfying resolutions to conflict;

# 2 Accept change; and:

# 3 Be willing to compromise.

He could cover #1 above with either the Golden Rule, or Helen Clinard’s Mutual Problem Solving process.  Point #3 is covered by Fisher and Ury’s negotiation process; and, again, by the Golden Rule. And point #2 is an expression of the Buddhist principle that “change is the law of life” (and the [moderate] Stoic principle of ‘accepting the things you cannot change’).  Point 2 is also subject to the principle (from Professor John Gottman) that we should “let our partner influence us” – and my refinement, which is this: “Let your partner influence you, up to, but not beyond, the degree to which they are willing to allow you to influence them”!

~~~

Moving on…

justice-and-fairnessIf a couple comes to see me, and Partner 1 says that Partner 2 is acting unfairly, I will explore that complaint in terms of how it fits within my understanding of how the Golden Rule – (of treating other people the way we would ideally like to be treated in our turn) – would apply to their situation. I would encourage the partners to compromise, and to seek mutually satisfying resolution to their conflict.

I will try to teach Partner 2 the costs (in the medium to longer term) of acting unfairly; of not compromising; and of not seeking mutually acceptable outcomes (on average). (The cost to the oppressive partner is the ultimate loss of the relationship. The second cost is gaining a reputation for oppressive behaviour and immoral and often illegal action against their partner).

I will teach each partner the absolute necessity to allow their partner to influence them (up to, but not exceeding approximately 50% of the time, on average), and to expect to be able to influence their partner (up to, but not exceeding, about 50% of the time, on average).

If the partners insist on bickering about the precise percentages that each of them gives, or takes, I will conclude one of two things:

  1. Either, one (or both) of them is stuck in exploitation mode; and they are not trusted by their partner; or:
  2. This is a ‘presenting problem’, and the ‘real problem’ is hidden; perhaps a deep, emerging incompatibility, or a serious lack of satisfaction with the love or sex or romance in the relationship. (When a couple is deeply satisfied with the level of love and passion and romance and comfort in their relationship, they both seem to be able to ‘cut their partner some slack’ in their partner’s areas of deficiency!)

My experience

jim-renata-counsellors-hebden-bridgeBut eight or nine times out of ten, when I work with unfairness issues in couples’ therapy, I can help the couple to resolve their problems, by teaching them to operate from The Golden Rule. And by allowing their partner to influence them, on a completely egalitarian basis – give and take.  (“If I do this for you [today], what will you do for me [tomorrow]?”)

I teach them that playing ‘Top-Dog/Under-Dog’ will lead to the dissolution of their marriage or relationship, normally after a protracted period of completely avoidable misery! Or, sometimes, all of a sudden, and without any possibility of fixing it after the fact! (“You had your chance, mate!”)

~~~

That’s all for this week.

Part 2 will look at a power and control issue!

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne – Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

~~~

 

[1] Source: http://www.theduluthmodel.org/about/

[2] Byrne, J. (2010b) Fairness, Justice and Morality Issues in REBT and E-CENT. E-CENT Paper No.2(b).  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT Studies. Available online: http://www.abc-counselling.com/id203.html

[3] Byrne, J. (2013) A Wounded Psychotherapist: Albert Ellis’s childhood, and the strengths and limitations of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT). Hebden Bridge: CreateSpace/I-CENT Publications.  For more information on this book, please go to http://www.abc-counselling.com/id432.html.

[4] See pages 244-245 of Manhood: An action plan for changing men’s lives, by Steve Biddulph: the 1994/98 edition.

[5] Clinard, H.H. (1985) Winning Ways to Succeed With people.  Houston, Texas: Gulf Publishing.

[6] Miller, T. (1993) Self-Discipline and Emotional Control: How to stay calm and productive under pressure.  A CareerTrack audio program.

[7] Miller, T. (1983) So, You Secretly Suspect You’re Worthless, Well You’re Not A Shit and I Can Prove It.  New York: Lakeside Printing.

[8] Fisher and Ury (1990) Getting to Yes: negotiating agreement without giving in. London, Hutchinson Business.

[9] The Egan Model, developed by Gerard Egan, asks three core questions: (1) Where are you now?  (2) Where do you want to get to? And (3) What actions could you take to build a bridge from (1) to (2)?  For more information on this model, go here: http://www.gp-training.net/training/communication_skills/mentoring/egan.htm

The ABC model asks only (or mainly) this: “What are you telling yourself to make yourself so upset at point C (Consequence) about point A (the noxious stimulus, or Activating Event)?” For more on the ABC model, please go to http://www.abc-counselling.com/id126.html (In other words, for a classic REBT therapist, the client is NOT upset (by definition) by their partner’s unfairness (or any other feature of their partner’s way of being), but rather by their (the client’s) own beliefs about their partner’s behaviour! This is an expression of the extremist stoicism of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. (Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius also developed more moderate positions, such as the principle that its best to accept the things you cannot change, and only try to change the things you can).

~~~

Happy Christmas for suffering souls…

Blog Post 149

8th December 2016

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: So here it is, Christmas madness…

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2016

~~~

Introduction

hollySo, Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat – (and the marketeers are hoping to make a killing in our mad rush to get the best gifts for our loved ones, and the best booze, cake and other unhealthy foods for ourselves!)

Of course, I am not opposed to moderate celebration of the Christmas/Winter/Yuletide/Hanukkah celebration, religious or secular.  Indeed, I will enjoy my own moderate celebration in my own way.

However: I dislike the cynical way in which commercial interests hook into the escapist tendencies of many humans, who, year after year, are persuaded that “…this time, this will be the magical turning point of your life.  All your problems will be resolved this Christmas – if you only buy this, drink that, and go here, there and everywhere”.

The mass psychosis of “Christmas fun” is beginning to swing into full gear.  All memories of last year’s “Christmas suffering” have been swept under the carpet.  “This time it will be perfect”, say the fantasists.  “This time it will be magic.  This time, all my problems will be dissolved by the Christmas magic”.  These are the non-conscious delusions that drive the Christmas madness.

marketing-false-hopeExpectations are being cranked up to unachievable heights.  Disappointment will, predictably, follow for those people who are duped by the hype.  To protect ourselves from upsets and disappointments, It is important to keep our expectations in line with reality.  In that way, our disappointments are likely to be less frequent and less severe.

But disappointments will come to us over Christmas, no matter who we are; and when they do, we can either get overly-upset about them, or we can learn to ‘reframe’ them, so they don’t look too unbearable.

Delusional frames and hyped expectations

As we enter the Christmas holiday period, many people will be (non-consciously) looking through one or more of these delusional frames: “It’s going to be great when (X) happens!”  “It’s going to be wonderful going to the (Y) event!”  “It’s going to be wonderful when (person’s name) turns up – which I’m sure they will – even though they said they might not be able!” And so on.

These ways of ‘framing’ your expectations are almost certainly going to lead to some disappointments, and often huge disappointments.

One way to clarify the concept of frames and framing of experiences is to revisit a problem I was addressing several years back, at Christmas time.  My concern was that many people would disturb themselves over Christmas, because (1) somebody had not come to visit them; and/or (2) because they did not get the present they desired; and/or (3) because they could not afford to give impressive presents to their loved ones.  Or – the “really big, horrible one” – (4) because they were “alone” at Christmas.  And on and on.  So this is how I addressed that problem:

The first thing I decided to do was to teach people the Mind Hut model.  It begins like this:

mind-hutThe Mind Hut model of E-CENT counselling

Imagine you are standing outside a garden shed – the Mind Hut – on a piece of lawn.  You are looking at some upset about Christmas – either in the run-up to the holiday, or during the festivities, or after it’s all over.  You think you are looking out through your eyes at “the reality”; “the truth”; but in fact you are looking through a non-conscious ‘filter’, ‘lens’, or ‘interpreting frame’.  So your upset about Christmas is really a distorted interpretation; but you cannot see that, because you, like all humans, mistake your interpretations for “reality”.

The windows in the Mind Hut

So now, come with me into the Mind Hut, and let me walk you, one by one, through the six windows, or frames, through which you had better learn to view your upset.

The Mind Hut has six windows, one in each wall, plus two in the sloping roof: one on each side.  Each window frame has a ‘view of life’ written around it.  Each view of life is like a slogan which claims to be true.  Here are the slogans from the six windows:

window1Window No.1 has a frame that says: Life is pretty difficult and frustrating for all people much of the time.

(It does not matter how wealthy or famous a person becomes, they still suffer; indeed wealthy and famous people may often suffer even more than most!)

Take a look through Window No.1 at your Christmas problem of unhappiness – imagining that your problem (or a representation of your problem) is just outside – and recognise that it is happening in the context that life is pretty difficult and frustrating for all humans much of the time.

Does that make your problems seem any smaller?  Any less distressing?  (Normally it will! If it does not, then you are most likely looking at this window frame through another (non-conscious) frame that says: ‘Life should not be this way!’  But this window frame is telling you the truth – (life really is difficult for humans, because we are humans); and your ‘should’ is completely unreasonable, unrealistic, and ultimately unachievable!)

Indeed, all of us do suffer somewhat, much of the time.  And this applies whether it is “Christmas time” or not.  “Christmas time” is a “cultural creation”, after all, which mainly has commercial drivers these days.  (And consider this: In December 1978, in the days before 24th and 25th, I was living in Bangkok.  I was eating crabs legs – or was it frogs’ legs? – and drinking Chinese beer.  I was looking forward to Chinese New Year.  It was not Christmas there!  “Christmas” is a social construct!  It is no more “real” than “Micky Mouse” or “the Tooth Fairy”!  Can you “feel it in your bones” when Chinese New Year arrives, or is arriving?  No?  Well in Bangkok the locals can!  Because they have been trained to think and feel that way).

If you realise that it is perfectly possible to suffer at “Christmas time”, just as it is at any other time of year, then what is so wrong with the fact that you are suffering (somewhat) “this Christmas time”?  Why must it not be happening, if it is?  Since all people suffer somewhat much of the time, why exactly must you not be suffering somewhat this Christmas?  It would be nice if it could be different, but is there a law of the universe that says you must get what is nice?  (Clue: No!)

~~~

window2

Window No.2 has a frame with this slogan: Life is without difficulty provided you give up picking and choosing.

In other words, if you look out through Window 2 at your problem (or a mental representation of your problem), and you feel there is any difficulty involved here, then you need to know that this is because you are picking and choosing how it should be!  If you give up choosing that it be the way you would like it to be, does it seem any better?  (Normally it will!)

If you are seriously emotionally upset because you did not like the present you got, you are (non-consciously) choosing (or electing) to have got a different problem; or at least to not have got ‘than one’!)  You are (non-consciously) choosing (or electing) to have got a different present – the one you did not get.  Is that sensible?
If you are upset because you ended up in the company of somebody other than the person you would have preferred, aren’t you (non-consciously, automatically) choosing (or electing) to have been with the one you were not with?  Aren’t you (non-consciously) choosing (or desiring) that it be Sunday on Monday, or evening time in the morning!  Aren’t you non-verbally and non-consciously implying: “What is happening should not be happening; and what is not happening definitely should be!”?

And if are seriously emotionally upset that you could not afford to buy the presents you would like to have bought, aren’t you really non-consciously and non-verbally implying that: “I live in this reality, but I should be living in another reality”.  How realistic is that?

To be really kind and accepting towards yourself, I would encourage you to think of this coping statement:

‘If this is the way things are this Christmas, then this is the way things are this Christmas’.  (This is a form of realistic acceptance of the unalterable aspects of reality!)

Or try this coping statement:

‘It’s tough stuff that my life happens to be the way it happens to be!’  (This is an implicit acceptance that the situation is tough, but not 100% tough.  It is tolerable! Not the worst thing imaginable).

Try these phrases out, and see if it helps you to feel better.  (It normally will!  But you might have to repeat them many times, day after day, until you get your strong negative emotions under control.)

~~~

window3

Window No.3 has this slogan: Life is both difficult and non-difficult.

When you look out through this window at (your imaginary representation of) your Christmas problem, do you notice anything?  Where in this vista are the non-difficult bits of your Christmas?  Isn’t it the case that you have filtered them out of the picture?

In other words: although your single-pointed angle of orientation towards your problem makes it look as if the world is “all bad”, there are lots of really good things about your life right now that you are filtering out of your awareness.  Choose to see the balance in your life, or choose to moan and groan about your distorted perception of your life.  But know this: It is you who is choosing your angle of orientation; especially now I have woken you up!

Another useful technique

Try “negative visualisation”.  This is a Stoic technique which involves imagining all of your current ‘possessions’, things and people alike, have been taken from you, including your own health, wealth and sustenance.

crossroadsEventually life will take everything from us, in death.  So think of all the things you will lose in the future which you are actually able to enjoy today.  Normally you do not even notice these ‘blessings’, because of a psychological phenomenon called ‘hedonic adjustment’, whereby, once we have something that we once valued getting, we now downgrade its significance to us, and we ask the world/life: “What else ya got for me?”  And then we feel bad if there is not much ‘new stuff’ (or ‘special stuff’) coming our way!  Negative visualisation is a way to wake up to all the ‘goodies’ we have in our lives, and to enjoy them now.

Gratitude list: Try to think of three things you can be grateful for, in the midst of your disappointment!  Write them down, and go over them many times, to remind yourself to be grateful for your blessings; and to enjoy what you have, right now.

Suppose you burned the turkey; the person you were hoping would turn up for the festivities decided not to come; you got crummy presents; and somebody did not like the present you gave to them.  So what?  Were there any good moments?  Did you eat anything that was nice?  Did you drink anything you appreciated?  Did you have any little conversation with anybody that was positive?  Did you meet, or notice, anybody who was worse off than yourself.  (We worry about the quality and quantity of our shoes until we meet somebody who has no feet!) Make a list of the things you can appreciate about this Christmas (including the fact that you have feet and can walk around in the world! Or that you have a wheelchair and can wheel yourself around in the world. Or that the pain has subsided again, for a while!), and then go over it many times until you overbalance your pessimistic ‘frame’ of mind.

…End of extract.

~~~

Conclusion

drjim-counsellor9Perhaps you have always been very sane about Christmas and the other major holidays.  In which case, you will be fine.  If not: Has this blog post changed your views in any way? If so, you might want to find out more. These are really valuable insights which can save you massive amounts of emotional and psychological energy! And there’s more…

Although this is the end of this extract from my 32 page pamphlet – How to Have a Happy Christmas – Despite the disappointments and frustrations of lifethere is more to learn.

You can find Windows 4, 5 and 6 – which are really helpful – in the pages of that pamphlet, which is available here: Happy Christmas Secrets – the pamphlet!***

There is also a good introduction to the psychology of human perception in this pamphlet, which clarifies how we very often misperceive our social situations through false interpretations. You will come to understand better how you are framing your life, and how to re-frame it so that it shows up as much more manageable and must less emotionally distressing.

And the pamphlet ends with a case illustration of how I used this model with a woman called Rita, and what she learned as a result.

The Happy Christmas Secrets pamphlet is available here: Happy Christmas Secrets – the pamphlet!***

~~~

Best wishes for a moderately nice Christmas and a realistically peaceful New Year.  (And please remember to keep your expectations in line with reality!)

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne – Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

~~~

 

Self discipline and therapeutic writing

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: Diary of a counsellor – Self-discipline and Writing Daily Pages

by Jim Byrne (c) 2014-2016

Posted on Friday 2nd December 2016 (Originally posted on Saturday 12th April 2014)

Introduction
Man-writing3I am currently (2nd December 2016) working my way through a three month course in ‘creative recovery’, based on Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way.

For this reason, I thought it would be instructive to re-post a piece I wrote about this process a couple of years ago.

~~~

What I wrote…

Today I want to share with you some insights into my own life; my own struggles with self-discipline; in order to help you to think about your own life, your own self-discipline; and to help you to become your own counsellor in this area.

In the past, I have posted about Julia Cameron’s wonderful system of Morning Pages (from her book, The Artist’s Way) – a writing activity involving stream of consciousness writing, designed to clear the clutter out of your mind, and to improve your creativity.

Of course, I have tended to advocate this system as a form of writing therapy, or being your own counsellor, using a process of self-reflection and emotional processing.

The problem is that we all have busy lives, and it is very easy to lose good habits, and to form bad habits.  So, even though I know the value of my daily pages as a writing activity (whereby I write two to three pages about whatever is on my mind) I do have a tendency to let this habit slip, especially when I am very busy.

CoverBut that is probably the time I need it most; being a counsellor who has to do a lot of very challenging emotional labour with my clients.

So sometimes I skip my pages; sometimes for days, or weeks, or even months.  This is like Popeye failing to eat his spinach!  Or Superman playing with Kryptonite.  It’s a good way to weaken myself; and to fail to take advantage of a good way to strengthen myself!

When I notice that I have let my pages slip, or drop completely, I sometimes try using ‘lines’ as punishment for skipping the writing of my pages.  Lines which include:

“I must not skip my pages.  I must not skip my pages.  I must not skip my pages”.

~~~

Why is the writing of pages so important?

But why not?  Why must I not skip the writing of my Daily Pages?

Because, as shown by the quote I recently put on my homepage:

Writing about your problems, in a diary or journal, can help you to process them and resolve them: “Diarists reported better moods and fewer moments of distress than non-diarists.  Those, in the same study, who kept a journal following trauma or bereavement also reported fewer flashbacks, nightmares and unexpected difficult memories.  Writing can itself be an act of emotional processing so it can help in many situations of danger, extremity and loss of control.  People who keep diaries are admitted to hospital less often and spend fewer days there than those who do not (keep a journal)…”

Philippa Perry, How to Stay Sane (2012). (3b)

~~~

So, if I return to writing my Daily Pages:

I will get better moods – automatically!  I will have fewer moments of distress than non-diarists (including about my business indicators, income, health, etc.!!!)

I will have fewer unexpected difficult memories, when I run into traumatic events.  By writing my pages every morning, I will be engaging in emotional processing, which will help me to stay emotionally healthy; to be happier; and to enjoy my work and my leisure; rest time, etc.

It will also help my physical health – thereby avoiding the GP and the hospital.

~~~

the-artists-way“I must not skip my pages.  I must not skip my pages.  I must not skip my pages”.

~~~

How to use penalties to keep up your good habits

Given what I know about the value of daily pages, of journaling, of keeping a diary, it would be a stupid act of self-sabotage to skip my daily pages.

So therefore, I must apply the “£2 down the drain” penalty to:

  1. My daily physical exercise (5 days per week);
  2. My daily meditation (5 days per week);
  3. AND MY DAILY PAGES WRITING (5 days per week).

If I fail to do any of these activities, by bedtime (on Monday to Friday), then I will either make up the deficit before retiring, or I will go outside, right there and then, and drop two £1 coins down the nearest drain.

That is to say:

£2 for my physical exercise (if I have not done it that day); and/or:

£2 for my meditation (if I have not done it that day); and/or:

£2 for my Daily Pages (if I have not written them that day).

This is now ‘carved in stone’.  From Monday to Friday each week I will do my meditation; do 20-30 minutes of physical exercise; and also write 2-3 pages of Daily Pages.

Make a commitment and then keep it!

This is my commitment.  I will apply the penalties shown above to keep myself on track.  I will also have a system of rewards.

If I do my meditation and my exercise and my daily pages today, I can go out for lunch in a café tomorrow, and also have a large Americano, and read the Guardian.

If I do not do my meditation and my exercise and my daily pages today, I cannot go out for lunch tomorrow, and I cannot have any coffee either.  Nor can I read the Guardian.

These three processes stand me in good stead.  When I have 3 or 4 clients to see in one day, I find I need to do all four of my exercise systems, in order to feel resilient in the face of my clients’ difficulties.  So this week, which was very busy, I did all four of my exercise systems every morning (taking about 30 minutes each time):

Warm-up exercises;

Zham Zhong (Standing like a tree)[1];

Press-ups and sit-backs; and:

Chi Kung (or Qi Gong).

~~~

If you want to learn how to use these kinds of writing therapy approaches, then please see my book on Writing therapy: How to do it.***

 

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

[1] See Lam Kam Chuen’s book ‘The Way of Energy’, http://www.amazon.co.uk/Chi-Kung-The-Way-Energy/dp/1856752151

~~~

A rave review of Dr Carol Dweck’s book – ‘Mindset’ – which is about mental attitude, resilience, achievement and success…

Blog Post No. 21

Posted on 27th November 2016 (Previously posted on 5th February 2016)

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2016

Renata’s Coaching/Counselling blog: A rave review of Dr Carol Dweck’s book – ‘Mindset’ – which is about mental attitude, resilience, achievement and success…

Introduction

carol-dweck-bookIn this blog I will explain a simple model based on the findings of Dr Carol Dweck and her university research team.

Then I will describe some of the ways in which the model has proved to be effective, plus some useful questions that can help children and adults maximise their potential and enjoy their talents and skills more.

The bottom line is this:

Most of us have been persuaded (falsely) by our educational experiences in the past:

  1. That intelligence is innate, and fixed.
  2. That some people are just innately more intelligent than others.
  3. That you cannot change your intelligence level.
  4. That ‘really intelligent’ people never make any mistakes in the process of studying new material.
  5. That people who struggle to learn are ‘losers’ – and, the corollary – that people who we believe to be ‘winners’ never make any mistakes.

But there is no really good evidence for any of these historical prejudices!  And most of them have been shown to be false by Dr Carol Dweck and her research collaborators.

Who is Carol Dweck?

carol-dweckDr Carol Dweck is a world famous Stanford University psychologist who has done many years of research into achievement and success in learning.

At the start of her book on ‘Mindset’ she describes going into a school to do research with children.

She gave them puzzles, some of which were easy to solve, and some which became increasingly hard for the children to solve. She wanted to see how the children would handle the challenge.

She describes one child, a ten year old boy, who did the following:

“He pulled up his chair, rubbed his hands together, smacked his lips together and cried out, ’I love a challenge!’ ”

carol-dweck-quote

She then went on to describe another child who was sweating with the exertion of solving the puzzles, and who looked up at her and said, with a pleased expression on her face, and with authority in her voice:

You know, I was hoping this would be informative.”

Carol Dweck was fascinated by their reactions and thought to herself, “What’s wrong with them?”

She couldn’t believe that they enjoyed learning, and didn’t get discouraged when they made mistakes.

She then went on to say:

“I, on the other hand, thought that human qualities were carved in stone. You were smart or you weren’t, and failure meant you weren’t. It was that simple. If you could arrange successes and avoid failures (at all costs) you could stay smart. Struggles, mistakes, and perseverance were just not part of the picture.”

So these children became her role models, and she created a theory based on what she found when she started investigating the attitudes of children towards learning.

The two mind-sets:

She discovered that there were two identifiable and distinct mind-sets (or perspectives) which affected how children (and grown-ups) learn.  One of these mind-sets (or viewpoints) assumes that we are fixed entities who cannot grow and develop significantly; and the other one states that we are growth-organisms who change and develop through experience and practice.

And she explains that: “For twenty years my research has shown that the view (or mind-set) that you adopt for yourself, profoundly affects the way you lead your life”. (Page 6)

~~~

Here is a video of Dr Carol Dweck explaining her ideas and research findings:

What this means, in practice, is that:

(1)  if you hold the fixed mind-set (regarding the possibilities of your own life) then you are stuck being the way you are today.  No really significant growth will result from that mind-set. Or:

(2) that if you hold the growth mind-set (regarding the possibilities of your own life) then you can set goals and struggle persistently towards those goals, without being dragged down by the fear of failures along the way towards success!

I will now present those two mind-sets in brief:

  1. A ‘Fixed’ mind-set means that:

# You think your qualities, skills and talents are carved in stone.

# You feel you have to prove your ability over and over again.

# You think that skill and talents should come naturally – that you shouldn’t need to make any effort. (Dweck considers that this is one of the worst beliefs anyone can have).

# You believe you have to hide your mistakes and deficiencies from others.

# You think you have to run from errors as quickly as possible.

# Basically, you are convinced that your traits are just givens: that you have a certain amount of brains and talents and nothing can alter that.

Questions that children ask themselves when they have this mind-set are:

‘Will I succeed or fail?’

‘Will I look smart or dumb?’

‘Will I be accepted or rejected?’

‘Will I feel like a winner or a loser?’

~~~

And now for the second mind-set:

  1. A ‘Growth’ mind-set means that:

# You think that your intelligence can be developed through receiving teaching, mentoring, and by applying yourself to what needs to be learned and practised.

# You know that making an effort consistently will lead to an increase in ability over time.

# You accept your mistakes and confront your deficiencies.

# You realise that being talented is just the starting point.

~~~

How do children get these mind-sets?

Dweck and her researchers wanted to find out how these mind-sets were transmitted to children. Over the course of fifteen years of research they discovered that indiscriminate praising of children’s behaviour was unhelpful. Praising them, and telling them how brilliant and talented they were, led to the children developing a ‘fixed’ mind-set. It made them avoid and fear challenges. They didn’t want to take risks because they wanted to ‘look good’ to others.

So how can parents help children develop a ‘growth’ mind-set?

Dweck recommends that praising the process that the children are going through, as they work at developing their skills, will be very constructive for the child.  So the take away message is: Don’t praise another person’s results or outcomes.  Praise their approach to the problem.

When children in a Chicago school were unable to pass a unit, instead of the grade saying ‘Fail’, it said, “Not yet.”  This kept the child on the learning curve. They had not been classified as ‘a failure’, but rather as ‘still learning’.

A question she recommends that parents ask their children round the dinner table is: “Who had a fabulous struggle today?”

She recommends that if the process of learning is valued, and acknowledged, then struggling and making mistakes is accepted as a crucial part of the growth process.

So she contends that a ‘Growth’ mind-set:

  1. allows students (or learners) to embrace learning;
  2. helps them understand the role of effort in creating intelligence, and:
  3. also helps them maintain resilience when they are faced with setbacks, instead of running from their mistakes.

~~~

An experiment conducted with 7th grade students in the US.

Carol Dweck describes, in her presentation to the Royal Society of Arts, in 2013, an experiment conducted with 7th grade students, who were assigned to two different groups:

# Group 1, the ‘Growth mind-set’ students, were given eight sessions of study skills.

They were also given one session on the growth mind-set which involved them reading an article entitled, ‘You can grow your intelligence’, which described facts about how the brain works and how the brain can be developed like a muscle.

Then they were assigned a task e.g. ‘Write a letter to a struggling friend using a growth mind-set’.

# Group 2, the control group, were given eight sessions of study skills, without the extra session on the growth mind-set.

After the input to the two groups, the maths grades of the two groups were tested and analysed. The results were as follows:

The control group, who had only had study skills tuition, continued to have declining maths grades. But the students who had the study skills input plus the ‘growth’ mind-set session, showed a sharp rebound in their maths skills.

This is one example of the value of using this approach, and Dweck mentions other research studies in her presentation, which also confirm that the students’ learning is powerfully enhanced by teaching the growth mind-set.

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Conclusion

How can Dweck’s theory and her research help children and adults?

Children have a very tough job of developing their skills in the hothouse of a school environment, with the spotlight of the teacher and their peer group on them most of the time. Who can blame them for forming (closed mind-set) limiting views of their abilities, when they are surrounded by judgments and constant evaluations of their progress (rather than their efforts and persistence)?

But they can be strengthened in their resilience and determination if the teacher and/or their parents use the growth mind-set when asking the children about their school work.

Here is a visual summary by Nigel Holmes of the two mind-sets and their differences:

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For adults, the rewards of experimenting with the growth mind-set would mean that they persist in the face of difficulty, and keep going until they learn a way forward.  Instead of seeing their errors during learning tasks as something that they have to flee from, they would see their mistakes as something that they could learn from.

They would give up rating themselves as a winner or a loser on the basis of the fact that it takes time to learn new knowledge and skills.

They would come to see the belief that we are a ‘winner’ or a ‘loser’ (during the learning process) as a dysfunctional belief based on a lack of understanding about the way the brain-mind actually works.

Here are a few questions which can develop our own ‘growth’ mind-set, which are suitable for children and adults:

Growth questions:

“What can I learn from this result?”

“What can I do next time when I am in the same situation?”

“What opportunities are there for my growth today?”

“What do I need to do to maintain and continue my growth?”

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I strongly recommend Dr Dweck’s presentations and books, and hope you find them very useful for yourselves.

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If you feel stuck in a situation where your current skills and knowledge will not take you forward, and you have the fixed mind-set, then you can’t make any progress.

Unless you figure out how to develop the growth mind-set, you cannot move forward.  I can assure you, despite what you have been taught, that you can grow and change and develop.  If you need help with that process, I can point you in some productive and constructive directions!

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843629

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Reference:

Dr.Carol Dweck (2006) Mindset. London: Random House.

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Don’t go shopping on an empty stomach: no glucose – no willpower!

The secret source of willpower; or how to be much stronger and tougher in dealing with the world of challneges.

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Blog Post No. 41

4th November 2016

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2016

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: Don’t go shopping on an empty stomach!

callout-1-shopping-image

Introduction

My last blog was about habits – changing them and starting new ones. But to make any changes in our behaviour, we need willpower. And willpower is fuelled by the glucose in our bodies that we get from our diet. Food is much more important and powerful than we realise.

Our willpower is strong if we have a good supply of glucose in us. But when we face the challenges of our daily lives, and the constant decision-making that we have to do throughout the day, slowly our level of glucose drops, and this can strongly affect our behaviour.

Yes.  Decisions take energy, which is provided by blood-glucose, which is provided by the foods that we eat.

In this blog I’m going to give you…

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