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Questioning Your Way to Closeness

Summary: “Thirty-Six Questions That Can Create or Revive Romance.” 

Close relationships, especially close romantic relationships, have what you might call a hormonal shelf life. I’ve seen various comments by so-called experts that say this shelf life might be as long as two years if you are lucky. But what do you do when Mother Nature’s chemical cocktail wears off and the hormonally induced excitement begins to fade.

According to Arthur Aron and his research associates (and the results of their brain imaging and lab experiments) one of the things you can do is simply sit down with your relationship partner and ask each other 36 specific questions. In their scientific paper, they refer to the questioning process as “a practical methodology for creating closeness in an experimental context.” Those scientific folks really know how to make things sound like fun, don’t they?

The fact is, I think you will have fun doing this with a potential life partner, or a long-term existing life partner. Take an evening off from the TV, or whatever you do with your time when the events of the day settle down, relax, maybe pour a glass of wine and discuss the 36 questions with your partner. In the experiment, they suggested that you take 45 minutes to an hour to go over all the questions. Here’s a short article explaining Dr. Aron’s work that includes the questions.

As for the hormonal shelf-life of relationships, that just means you have to begin putting more effort into the relationship to keep it going and enjoyable for both of you. Discussing the 36 questions is a great way to do that. Here are a few sample questions:

  • Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.
  • What is your most treasured memory?
  • Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share … “

If you care about having an enjoyable long-term relationship, or keeping the one you have going, try the 36-question exercise. According to science, it’s a good way to joyfully participate in life.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

 

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Tripping Over a Dollar to Get to a Nickel

Summary: “Stop confusing frenetic motion with constructive action.”

My old boss used to love to accuse people of “tripping over a dollar to get to a nickel.” It was his folksy way of saying their priorities were all screwed up. He was usually right…and surprisingly, supported by a bit of brain science.

It’s relatively simple. A specific part of your brain, the prefrontal cortex, serves to help you control impulsive behavior.

  • When you are reasonably focused and calm, this part of your brain is operating at peak efficiency. It keeps you from checking e-mails or web surfing when you have much more important things to do.
  • When you are unfocused, overloaded, rushed or under stress, this part of your brain is dialed back or shut down completely. Unimportant tasks become the equivalent of shiny objects.

The lesson in all of this?

  • Carve out at least a part of your day to slow down and get highly focused.
  • I suggest starting with three 32-minute blocks of time. That’s a total of 96 minutes a day. Remember the old theory – you get 80 percent of your results from 20 percent of your efforts? Well, 96 minutes of focused effort is 20 percent of an eight-hour workday.
  • Block out all distractions and set a timer for 32 minutes. Stay focused on the “dollars” on your agenda and ignore the “nickels.”
  • Or if you are serious, try focusing for an entire 96-minute block of time.

I admit this is an insanely simple idea – my favorite kind of idea – but it absolutely works. It accomplishes at least two important things, it allows you to get a lot of important things done in a day and it starts creating new and more productive neural pathways in your brain to replace old pathways that cause you to confuse frenetic motion with constructive action.

Stop tripping over shiny nickels! It’s a good way to joyfully participate in life.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

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The Four Cs of Parenting

Summary: “Develop simple parenting guidelines and then focus on eye-rolling repetition.”

As your children get older, the complexity of the parenting situations you will likely encounter will be inversely related to your knowledge of what to do as a parent. One strategy for dealing with this unfortunate reality is to develop one set of simple, easy-to-articulate, easy-to-understand, umbrella guidelines that you can use over, and over, and over, and over.

There is, in fact, a bit of magic in the “one-set-of-guidelines and repeat-ad-nauseam” formula. There are way too many troubling scenarios for you to cover every time your child leaves your sight. It’s a good idea to establish simple guidelines that cover a lot of ground. I call my personal guidelines the Four Cs of Parenting (thanks to my sister-in-law for teaching Robin and me the first three Cs; we added a fourth catch-all provision).

C1Consider your choices. Although it will seem as if you have no other options at times, you will usually have multiple choices. Pause for a moment and seriously think about your choices. This step is simply about identifying your options.

C2Consider the consequences of your choices. Take each choice to its logical and long-term consequences. Think about the best and worst possible outcomes.

C3Choose – Considering your circumstances, make the best choice you can.

C4Class Act, as in…always try your best to be one.

Repeat these Four Cs over-and-over-and-over-and-over-and-over-and-over…and-over until every time you say them, you get the maximum amount of eye rolling and sighing from your child. Then use this four-part template to help them analyze past and pending decisions. Basically, this process is designed to slow things down a bit for them and get their thinking-brain circuits in charge of their behavior instead of their emotional-brain circuits. The Four Cs might not cover every situation you will encounter, but they will cover most of them.

I’ve been able to influence inappropriate teenager behavior…when they were on the beach…and I was one-hundred-feet away on an overlooking balcony…by simply holding up four fingers and nodding my head from side-to-side. How’s that for good parenting?

It’s a good way for you and your child to joyfully participate in life.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

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The Drama Triangle

Summary: “Eliminate the unnecessary drama in your life.” 

Consider eliminating or minimizing the drama in your life by learning about something called the Drama Triangle. Years ago, psychiatrist Stephen Karpman came up with an interesting way to look at what is actually going on during frustrating and unproductive human interactions. He referred to his idea and explanation as the Drama Triangle.

Drama Triangles often begin as Drama Duos with two participants, one playing the role of the Victim and another playing the role of the Persecutor. Then it’s not unusual for a third participant to jump into the fray and try to rescue the Victim. We usually think of the words rescue and Rescuer in a positive manner. Not so in this case, since by definition the Rescuer in a Drama Triangle encourages and enables the continued powerlessness and unproductive behavior of the Victim.

Basically Victims feel and act powerless. They are typically defensive, whiney, manipulative, and they avoid taking responsibility, or being held accountable. Victims are the central character of the Drama Triangle.

Persecutors are the perceived cause of the Victim’s woes. However, a Persecutor does not always have to be a person. For example, certain circumstances such as lack of money, a natural disaster, or political issues such as “government regulations” can serve as Persecutors.

Rescuers, often coworkers, parents or friends, inappropriately intervene on behalf of the Victim and further enable their powerlessness. Rescuers also do not have to be real people. For example, alcohol, drugs, or workaholism can serve as Rescuers for some Victims.

A great source for learning all about the Drama Triangle is The Power of Ted (book) by David Emerald (video). It’s a short, easy-to-read book.

Remember, the focal point of the Drama Triangle is the Victim. Although you can’t have a Victim without a real or perceived Persecutor, Victims usually do the most to keep the Drama Triangle going.

As you interact with people, look for signs that the Drama Triangle is forming. Try to become an expert at being the first person to recognize what is going on. If you detect a Drama Triangle forming, review the posting on Behavior Modes Alternatives first, and then try your best to stay in, or shift into, the productive behavior modes discussed in other postings on this blog titled Autonomous versus Victim, Curious versus Critical, Coach versus Rescuer (note that I use the term Critical rather than Persecutor in these postings).

Understanding the Drama Triangle and staying out of it is a good way to joyfully participate in life.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

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Avoid Getting Hooked

Summary: “If you get hooked, someone else is controlling your behavior.” 

Getting hooked is symbolic of what happens to you when you respond unproductively to other people’s troublesome or irritating behavior. Using fishing as an example, the minute a fish takes the bait and gets hooked, the person on the other end of the pole, or reel, is very much in control of their circumstances.

When you get angry and respond unproductively to real or perceived inappropriate behavior, you are playing the role of the fish and you are giving up significant control over your circumstance to your counter-party (who in this case, is playing the role of the person fishing).

Yes, it is human nature to get hooked, but it is simply not a good idea. It rarely helps you deal with the situation effectively. It rarely helps anything.

One technique for practicing staying unhooked is learning to stay in the productive behavior modes: curiousautonomous and coaching modes (see separate postings on these topics).

However you choose to avoid getting hooked, remember that if you do get hooked, you are giving up significant control over your circumstances. You are, in effect, advertising to others that you can be easily manipulated. Wouldn’t you prefer a reputation for remaining calm in stressful or troublesome circumstances?

Don’t get hooked! Staying unhooked helps you joyfully participate in life.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

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The Progress Principle

Summary: “Pleasure comes more from making progress on goals than from achieving them.”

When working on major projects that are important to you, maintaining a clear vision of what you want to accomplish is important, but it’s best to focus most of your attention on the progress you are making on the specific action steps you must complete to accomplish the vision.

Savor every step along the way that represents any meaningful progress rather the hoping for some significant rush of positive feelings at the end of the project.

In his book The Happiness Hypothesis, author Jonathan Haidt discusses the progress principle and advises us that, “Pleasure comes more from making progress on goals than from achieving them.”

As people approach closure on major life goals or projects, they have usually already integrated the expected outcome into their reality of what is possible for them and it no longer serves as a significant motivating factor. In other words, people have usually already moved on to, or are thinking more about, their next goal at that point.

In terms of your biology, dopamine is Mother Nature’s feel good chemical that rewards you each time you take a step in the right direction in life. If you focus on the progress principle when working on a project, Mother Nature will constantly reward you each step along the way with a shot of dopamine. Consider any pleasure derived from closure as a bonus.

Pay special attention to the progress principle if you are leading a team of people working on an important project. Keep members of the team focused on making progress, completing steps, and celebrating progress frequently.

Embracing the progress principle is a good way to joyfully participate in life.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

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Stop Trying to Control the Uncontrollable

Summary: “One of the main features of a well-trained mind is separating new matters as they arise into those you can control and those you can’t control.”

Beginning today, if you do not already do so, seriously challenge your concerns about matters that you cannot control. Take a moment at the beginning of each day, or any time you think it is appropriate, and ask, “Is this issue I am working on, or concerned about, or ranting about, or raving about, or worrying excessively about, something I can control in any way?” If your answer is yes, decide what to do next and do that? If not, accept it, deal with it the best you can, and then move on to something else.

Pay special attention to the factors you can control with important opportunities, risky situations, and important relationships. Stay intensely focused on those things you can control and do not waste time and energy on uncontrollable factors.

Time, energy and money are finite resources. If you use them for one thing, they are not available for another thing. It’s as simple as that. Therefore, time, energy and money used for things you cannot control are no longer available for things you can control.

Here’s a suggestion for getting started with this idea. Make a list of three things:

  1. Things I wish were different about me.
  2. Things I wish were different about others.
  3. Things I wish were different about the world.

Now carefully divide this list into things you can and cannot control. Then see how much time, energy and money you can free up by accepting the latter, so you can focus on the former.

Having a well-trained mind that focuses mainly on things you can control is a good way to joyfully participate in life.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

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Behavior Modes – Coach Versus Rescuer

Summary: “Help people learn to solve problems, don’t solve problems for them.” 

Being in the rescuer behavior mode is an ineffective way of resolving problems. Being in a coaching behavior mode is a good alternative for being in the rescuer mode.

A behavior mode is a person’s state of mind and the behavior associated with that state of mind. Some behavior modes are almost always unproductive. If you become aware that you are in an unproductive mode, switch to a corresponding mode that is productive and you will typically produce much better outcomes.

Rather than helping or teaching people to solve their problems, rescuers try to inappropriately intervene and solve problems for them.

Rescuers are often well-meaning people, but by attempting to solve problems for others, they enable continued unproductive behavior on the part of the person they are supposedly trying to help. They prolong feelings of powerlessness and keep the person they are trying to help from feeling and, in fact, being autonomous.

Remember, in sports contests coaches cannot go on the field or court and play the game. Coaches must stay off the field of play and get things done through others by teaching those they are coaching how to play the game well. Good coaches energize and empower people.

Being a rescuer sounds noble, but do not try to rescue someone else if it enables their continued unproductive behavior. And do not allow rescuers to enable your unproductive behavior.

Being a coach is a good way to joyfully participate in life and help others do so.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

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Behavior Modes – Autonomous Versus Victim

Summary: “The opposite of being a victim is being autonomous.”

Being in the victim mode of behavior is an ineffective way of resolving problems. The autonomous mode of behavior is a good alternative for the victim mode.

A behavior mode is a person’s state of mind and the behavior associated with that state of mind. Some behavior modes are almost always unproductive. If you become aware that you are in an unproductive mode, switch to a corresponding mode that is productive and you will typically produce much better outcomes.

If you are in the victim behavior mode (feeling powerless, defensive, whiney, complaining, resentful), switch to the autonomous behavior mode (reclaiming your power and control over your circumstances, taking responsibility for your situation). A person who is autonomous feels free to make their own choices and also feels in reasonable control of their circumstances. In other words, it’s the opposite of feeling like a victim.

Also keep this in mind if you are dealing with someone in the victim mode. If at all possible, help them reclaim their power and feel more in control of their circumstances. A good way to begin is by listening and making them feel fully heard.

If you find yourself in the victim mode, convert any negative feelings into concrete positive steps you can take, no matter how small, to begin moving away from victimhood to autonomy.

Staying in the victim mode is the equivalent of finding yourself in a hole and asking for a shovel so you can dig deeper.

Switching from the victim to the autonomous behavior mode (or helping someone do so), is a great way to joyfully participate in life.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

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Behavior Modes – Curious Versus Critical

Summary: “Think of troubling interactions with curiosity and empathy rather than anger and frustration.” 

Being highly critical of others is an ineffective way of resolving problems. Demonstrating genuine curiosity, and empathy if appropriate, is a good alternative for criticizing someone.

A behavior mode is a person’s state of mind and the behavior associated with that state of mind. Some behavior modes are almost always unproductive. If you become aware that you are in an unproductive mode, switch to a corresponding mode that is productive and you will typically produce much better outcomes.

For example, if you are in a critical behavior mode (criticizing, controlling, using negative words, voice tone and body language), switch to a curious behavior mode (get curious and try to understand what is really going on with the person you are interacting with).

Remember this general guideline to help with the behavior mode switch: When you feel like making critical statements (such as, “you are an idiot”), ask questions instead (such as, “help me understand why you feel that way”).

The goal, in this case, is to get the other person’s reasons, beliefs, assumptions and interpretations out on the table so you can better deal with them. You do not have to agree with them, but you need to try your best to understand them if you want any hope of producing a positive outcome.

Remember, when people are behaving inappropriately, they always have good reasons for doing so in their own mind. Whether you end up agreeing with them or not, you need to understand their reasons in order to make progress. The curious behavior mode will help you do that, the critical behavior mode will not.

People are often dealing with things you know nothing about when they behave in an unproductive ways. Being curious is a better alternative when this is the case.  For example, when people are using intimidating tactics in an effort to get what they want, in other words bullying others, it’s best to keep in mind that others almost always formerly bullied people who are bullies. Bullying others is what they learned to do if they want to get what they want. Until someone shows them an alternative, they will likely continue to use bullying tactics.

It is difficult at times, but if you want to successfully work through troubling issues with such people, it is best to look at them with empathy and curiosity, rather than anger and frustration. It’s a good way to joyfully participate in life.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

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