Setting realistic expectations and living within those realistic expectations…

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Quick summary: When you desire a change or when you desire a certain set outcome, it is helpful to offer acceptance to your limitations so as to live with realistic expectations. To attain a sense of self which is congruent with our most basic intention is can be helpful to allow certain boundaries and guidelines into your life. By setting up realistic expectations we can limit the prevalence and influence of certain stimuli in our lives.

I have long been puzzled as to why those with spiritual pursuits often have rituals, boundaries and rules that feel a bit obdurate. I have found it hard to understand why a person on a path towards acceptance, which moves away from resistance, would choose to live with so many codes of conduct.

Then it came to me… the rules are put in place to offer acceptance to the inherent limitations of the human condition. The rules are then in place so as to live within a setting which will likely harvest the desired spiritual results. 

Why are people celibate? Why are people vegetarians? Why do people get married? Why do people have set exercise schedules? Why do people censor themselves from certain content? Why do people pray a set way at a set time? Why do people follow laws, ethics, commandments etc?

Having realistic expectations is one possible answer.

Realistic expectations are a way for us to have a degree of control over the settings we participate within; settings inevitably have a degree of control over our minds and bodies.

It is unrealistic for most people to believe that they can control all of their body and mind’s impulses… therefore people set up their environment to succeed by accepting their limitations.

Examples:

note the rules people make in order to live within realistic expectations should differ from person to person. One person trying to loose weight might need all their meals prepared by a nutritionist while another might simply need to limit restaurant visits.

1.) It may be an unrealistic expectation for a person who is trying to stop drinking to participate in social events at bars. If the expectation is to limit drinking then the person might set a rule that they do not go to bars. For some, it is more realistic that a person will be able to stop drinking if they are not visiting bars; it may be unrealistic that they will have the willpower to avoid their impulse to drink in such an alcohol-centered setting. By setting a boundary or a rule a person is lessening the external pressures which encourage them away from their goal.

2.) If a person is trying to eat healthy it can be an unrealistic expectation that they will be able to avoid their impulse to eat junk food if that junk food is located in the setting where they spend most of their time (ex. office and/or house). If the expectation is to eat healthy a rule can be made to not store junk food at the home or in the office. For some, it is more realistic to limit the ingestion of junk food if the option is not available in the home and office setting. The impulse to eat the junk food might always be there, but it is a far more realistic expectation that you will be able to avoid that impulse more successfully if you limit your exposure to the stimulus.

Perhaps we need boundaries to break the boundaries of our spiritual evolution. Without boundaries we might fill our time exaggerating the ego (the minds created self – the person we believe ourselves to objectively be) and satisfying the survival needs of the body (long after those needs are adequately met).

 

Perhaps a common error that humans have made all over the planet is the over generalization of rules and boundaries.

Limitations and the ability to control impulses differs from person to person… therefore for each person to reach a desired goal they would require different boundaries and rules. When we attempt to make rules and boundaries the same for all people (universal law)… we end up putting unnecessary rules on certain people… these rules can limit a person’s potential. We also likely create a resistance to rules and boundaries in general; if we see most rules and boundaries to be unhelpful or hurtful we may come to the conclusion that following rules in inherently unhelpful.

  • Who do you want to be and what gets in the way of that goal?

 

  • What are the impulses of your body and/or mind that you feel are difficult to control?

 

  • What can you realistically expect from yourself given your knowledge of these impulses?

 

  • What boundaries or rules can you accept into your life so as to better navigate the traps of these impulses?

 

My personal examples:

 

I try to live a healthy lifestyle by eating well and exercising regularly… my health goals necessitate strict rules and boundaries.

I have strong impulses to eat quick food and junk food (usually the same thing)… for me, it is an unrealistic expectation for to not eat chips if those chips are in my house. If I am feeling hungry and lazy I am far less likely to take the time to make a healthy meal and I am likely t fall prey to my impulse to grab some quick food… If the quick food is not available, then I don’t have an option. I don’t have to have my wife hide my car keys or something as I can control the impulse to get into a car and go buy the junk food… It is realistic for me to expect myself to not drive to get the junk food… it is unrealistic that I wont eat it if it’s in my cabinet.

Like most people I am good at making excuses for myself… it is an unrealistic expectation that I would exercise the amount that I desire to if I allowed excuses to be relevant… I work out at least 4-5 days a week… my rule is no excuses.

I am also a creature of habit… it is very unrealistic that I will exercise the amount that I desire if I cannot create a habit of doing so… I have a rule that I do not take breaks from my exercise routines.

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Creating Motivation for the Change Process – Why creating a mental image of the ‘new you’ works

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Quick summary: I am going to explain a theory as to why visualizing the ‘changed’ or ‘new’ you can have a positive impact on your motivation and therefore a positive impact on your ability to meet your goals. Pop psychology and positive psychology have been telling the public to ‘think positive” and to “tell the world what you want instead of what you do not want” for years. The strategy can be effective for some, but it seems that the concepts have been so oversold that skepticism has arrived. I am going to offer a very simple visualization technique with a new reason as to why I believe this technique is effective (I have been using this technique for myself quite a lot lately with awesome results). Visualizing yourself as having achieved your goal can give you a positive feeling that may counter the impact of the negative feelings you consciously or unconsciously associate with the process of changing.

Often change requires sacrifice and personal restraint… often we associate sacrifice and personal with negative emotions… in other words the thought of engaging in the process of change makes you feel bad.

You are often restraining your self from immediate gratification (enjoyment) in order to reach your goal of self-improvement… you are therefore sacrificing a degree of enjoyment on the ‘change’ journey.

Examples:

  • If you want to quite smoking the benefit will be greater health… you will have to sacrifice all the positive things that smoking cigarettes makes you feel until the cravings diminish and the health benefits arrive.
  • If you exercise more there will be benefits to your physical and mental health… you will have to sacrifice the positive feeling associated with getting to simply relax and to not feel sore etc.

 

Generally when we desire a change we can see that there will be a personal value to having made that change once the change is manifested… the problem is that we often also believe that there will be a lot of sacrifice before we reach our goal.

So to put this all together in a logical form it looks like this:

  • Change takes sacrifice… sacrifice is accompanied by negative emotions… therefore change is accompanied by negative emotions.

 

In short, we carry a strong belief that the process of change feels bad or negative.

So where is the motivation to change?

Why would you delay positives and experience difficulties in the present for the sole purpose of possibly attaining something positive in the future?

It is going to be really hard to motivate yourself to change if you associate engaging in the ‘change’ behaviors as being negative.

This shouldn’t be all too big of a surprise to people… most people don’t seem to be able to motivate themselves to stop engaging in a vice or to start engaging in a health promoting behavior that is difficult.

Why I believe the proposed visualizing technique works:

  • Visualizing yourself as having achieved your goal can give you a positive feeling that may counter the impact of the negative feelings you consciously or unconsciously associate with the process of changing.
  • You are offering a positive association to the process of change.
  • Animals are motivated by positives… if you can create a positive association you can create motivation.

 

Technique:

 

  • Visualize yourself as successfully having completed the change process…
  • Create a mental imagine of yourself after you have completed your goal and in the image try and place as many positives as possible.
  • The positives in your mental imagine can be related to this question – “How will achieving the goal affect your: relationships, personal health, abilities, work, life goals, values, beliefs, morals, values, self-esteem, self –worth, and access to material items, etc?”
  • Hold this image in your mind and become familiar with it… observe this image until it feels relatively easy to re-imagine this image of the changed you.
  • Open your eyes and then close them again and re-imagine the image.
  • Allow yourself to feel what the changed you would be feeling.
  • What does it feel like now that you are living with all these positive outcomes?

 

This is where the technique changes just a bit.

 

  • Now when you feel a strong urge to engage with your vice (to smoke a cigarette, to gamble, to go to a fast food restaurant) I want you to move your attention to your visualization of the new you.
  • Or every time you feel the impulse to refrain from engaging is a health promoting activity (when you think about running but then get an urge to turn on the TV) I want you to move your attention to your visualization of the new you.
  • Let yourself view the image until you feel the positive emotions that will be present when you have completed the change process.
  • Every time you have the impulse to engage in counter-productivity move your attention to your visualization.
  • Allow yourself to be motivated and positively influenced by the emotions that the new you is feeling in the visualization.

 

Basically this technique mixes NLP and CBT to allow positive associations with the change process as opposed to simply having just positive associations with the change outcome.

The basic premise is that humans are not always motivated enough by the benefits of the outcome if the are deterred by the negatives of the process.

This technique uses a mental image which consists of symbols which represent positive narratives. We have emotional reactions to our internal narratives… the idea is then to use the technique to link positive emotional states with the change process.

A mental image is just one of a multitude of techniques that can be used based on the same theoretical foundation.

Create positive self-narratives, images, cognitions and emotional associations with behaviors involved in the change process to enhance motivation towards achieving the relevant goal.

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

the 7 things you need to create meaningful change – precursors of change

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Quick summary: Dr. Fred Hanna did some excellent work on identifying the variables which must be in place in order for a person to experience change. He not only studied these 7 variables he also came up with specific techniques to encourage those variables into existence. According to him, the seven precursors of change are:  a sense of necessity  –  a willingness or readiness to experience anxiety  –   awareness  –   confronting the problem  –   effort of will towards change  –   hope for change  –   and social support for change.

Dr. Hanna Currently works at the University of Northern Colorado you can find out more about him and his publications at http://www.unco.edu/cebs/counsed/faculty/hanna.html

He wrote an excellent book which I believe is a must read for anyone working in the mental health profession –

  • Hanna, F. J. (2002). Therapy with difficult clients: Using the precursors model to awaken change. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. 
  • I learned about Fred’s model as I was lucky enough to have him as a professor and I have read his book and most of his research – his philosophically themed investigations are awesome… He exposed me to some super facinating literatureon subjects like phenomenology.

    The 7 Precursors of Change

    The seven precursors of change are those qualities that must be at least partially present in a client for a client to change.

    Clients must have:

    A sense of necessity  –  a willingness or readiness to experience anxiety  –   awareness  –   confronting the problem  –   effort of will towards change  –   hope for change  –   social support for change

    The Precursors

    (These are not linear and they are all interconnected)

    I will provide a definition, one example (using a person with alcoholism to be consistent), one technique to develop the precursor, and one common belief held by people lacking the precursor.  Note: Dr. Hanna has over ten techniques for every precursor. Many techniques can be used with more than one precursor. (if you life this basic summary – you will love his book)

    A sense of necessity:  the client must feel that a change in circumstances must take place. The client essentially needs to have a reason to change. The goal is to create anxiety in the client so that they feel a sense of necessity. 

    • Example: If a man doesn’t quite drinking his wife (whom he enjoys) will divorce him. 
    • Subpersonality technique:the therapist asks the client if there is a small percentage of him/her that wishes things were different. The therapist asks what percentage of the client holds that belief. The therapist then asks permission to talk with that part of the person’s personality. The goal is to increase the subpersonality’s influences so that the majority of the client feels a need to change. 
    • Belief without the Precursor: “I am just fine the way I am.” 

    A willingness or readiness to experience anxiety or difficulty: The client must be willing to deal with the inevitable discomfort which arises naturally with the onset of change. Often the maladaptive thought or behavior etc is in place to reduce anxiety.

    • Example: The alcoholic man must be willing to face the hardships of temptation and the anxiety surrounding the process of finding new ways to cope without alcohol. This often means that one must accept that new environments and new habits must be found.
    • Educational metaphors technique: metaphors are used to teach the client that things will get better once they face the anxiety.  The intention is to use a metaphor that the client can relate with to display that very little is accomplished without effort. The workout metaphor, ‘no pain no gain’, is used to display the idea that if you do not let your muscles feel tension they will not in fact grow.
    •  Belief without the Precursor: “if I have no feelings I have no pain.”

    Awareness: This is simply knowing that a problem exists and then being able to isolate what thoughts behaviors and feelings are connected to the problem. This is closely related to accurately perceiving your environment.

    • Example: an alcoholic must be aware that he drinks too much and he must be aware of what thoughts feeling and behaviors occur within him and around him when he drinks too much. 
    • Role plays of others technique: the client is asked to role play someone whom he/she trusts very much. This is essentially an empathy building exercise where the client is asked to perceive him/her self from the vantage point of a trusted companion.
    • Belief without the Precursor: “If I am not aware of something it can’t hurt me.”

    Confronting the problem: This is when the client is willing to focus his/her attention on the problem so that they can fully understand all of its’ attributes. Essentially this is knowing and accepting all the effects of the problem and admitting the truth to yourself.

    • Example: the alcoholic man might know that he drinks too much but he has not focused on the problem enough to find that his drinking is inhibiting him from spending quality time with his family 
    • Representational or concretized confronting technique: this technique is used to make a tangle object (such as a pen or a paper weight) symbolize the problem. As the clients acknowledges the problem, but then quickly changes the subject the therapist can hand them the concrete object and tell her/him that it represent the elusive problem. This forces the client to stay with the problem so they can investigate its’ nature 
    • Belief without the Precursor: “if I ignore a problem it will go away. I can deny the negative repercussions of my problem.”

    Effort or will towards change: this is when a client takes action to solve the presenting problem. This is the actual effort.

    • Example: the alcoholic man will actually make effort to stop his drinking. This would likely manifest itself in actually attending AA and/or actually stop ingesting alcoholic substances.
    • Assigning graduated tasks technique: First it is important that any goal is both reasonable and is something that the client wants to do. This is a behavioral technique which focuses on getting the client to start small so they are reinforced by success. If a person wanted to start eating better for example you would have them eat a healthy meal just one time a week to start. Gradually the goal would be to eat healthy meals 80% of the time etc.
    • Belief without the Precursor: “I know that if I try I will fail.”

    Hope for change: this is having the belief that change will occur. This is a realistic expectation based on ration. Hope in this sense is not synonymous with wish. Hope involves seeing how things will change and believing you can accomplish and overcome all you need to. 

    • Example: hope for the alcoholic man would be that he actually believes that he will succeed in controlling his drinking and that his life will in fact improve as the result of his efforts.
    • Reframing negative behaviors as skills technique: a great way to instill hope is to reframe negative behaviors to shed light on the usable and positive aspects of such a behavior. For example the same skills that are needed to manipulate someone can be used to help someone in that manipulation necessitates a firm awareness of the person in front of you. If you are great at manipulating situations for yourself, it would not be a huge stretch to manipulate situations for the better of everyone.
    • Belief without the Precursor: “no matter what I do, things will never really get better.”

    Social support for change: this is having people in the client’s life that are supportive of the relevant change to be made by the client. The relationships help the development of the other precursors. This obviously does not encompass those people who inhibit the development of the other precursors. 

    • Example: for the alcoholic man this would be having relationships with people who believe that his life will be better when he controls his alcohol. Those people might also being willing to help.
    • Concentric circles technique: the therapist draws five circles each representing a level of intimacy. The counselor tells the client that the outer most circle is for people who simply know surface level stuff, and the inner most circle is for people who know or have known the client’s most intimate and personal secrets. The two then discuss which people are instrumental towards the desired change and which people are hindrances. This could bring up past relations that were dissolved do to the problem.
    • Belief without the Precursor: “people really only care about themselves.”

    William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.