In my profession as a psychotherapist specializing in couples work I have often encountered client complaints about positive gains they had achieved, but no traction around them in the past.
It reminds me of the old cynical joke the “regulars” at the gym would make about the Newbies who joined every January: that come March, these crowds would be gone, and we’d have the place to ourselves again. Sadly, it was always true – all the positive intentions and energy the January crowd brought didn’t last more than a month or two. They weren’t able to build traction in their exercise endeavors. And, whether you’re talking about sustained change in your exercise habits or sustained change in your marriage, the requirements are very similar.
If, as an example, you and your spouse would like to communicate more effectively, (the most common goal I encounter in my work with couples), you’ll need to use these five tools:
1. To make sure you’re moving steadily in the right direction it will require that you use a “map” of sorts. Where would you like to go? What is your destination? Be clear about what “getting there” looks like. Will there be more attentive listening? Will there be more clarity about wants and needs or more focus in your conversations? Establish clearly understood and definable goals.
2. Be clear about what you’ll each need to stay with the journey. Reassurance from each other? Some type of break or pleasurable time out from the work? Positive feedback about the emergence of better conversations? In other words, what will you each need in the way of “supplies” to maintain your efforts?
3. Establish markers of progress. What “sign posts” will you see on your “map” that will tell you you’re either moving in the right direction or going off course? Will you be spending more time together? Will you be sharing more confidences? Will more problems be solved? Will you feel calmer / happier together?
4. Reward yourselves with acknowledgment about the meaning of the gains you’ve made. What has made your efforts worth it? Do you feel closer? Do you feel more committed to your marriage? If you have kids, are they calmer or happier around the two of you? Establish clear motivations to maintain the gains made.
5. Celebrate your success as you reach your “destination.” If, as an example, your conversations are flowing more freely with less defensiveness, celebrate your positive gains with something meaningful to both of you – go away for a special weekend, get a new “toy”, like new skis, or an upgraded TV, or even a special book you’ve wanted to read together. Celebrate your success with some material or quality time indulgence that punctuates your efforts and achievements.
Use these five tools to achieve traction around any gains you’ve made individually and together, so you don’t become like another “March dropout” at the gym!
If you look carefully at this badge you’ll see that Feedspot has named my blog as one of the top 100 Marriage Counseling blogs on the internet! This is a big deal, as I seem to be in the company of some real big shots like John Gottman and Sue Johnson, world famous therapists and authors of several best selling books. Little ole me! (Here’s the list link, in case you think I’m pulling your leg): http://blog.feedspot.com/marriage_counseling_blogs/
This is an example of how when passion and determination intersect, you can accomplish things you never would have believed you could. In my case I started out not even knowing how to turn on a computer about ten years ago – really! But I was determined to share some things that I did know in an effort to market my business, and empower others through psychological information I’ve acquired about relationships.
In the process I discovered that I absolutely love to write, even though the writing may not always come out so smoothly. I also discovered that the technological functions needed to maneuver around a blog and website aren’t all rocket science! I taught myself how to upload and download, insert links and widgets, adjust different design elements, and even in some cases how to manage HTML code!
I must admit that some of my biggest meltdowns have been internet related, especially when I didn’t have a clue about what the problem was or how to fix it. A few years ago in the midst of writing a compelling blogpost I accidentally spilled a fresh white wine spritzer onto my laptop, and bang! Blogpost vaporized and no more laptop! So, it’s been a bit of a rocky road getting to this point, but there’s no stopping me now – I have so much I’ve learned over many years of working with individuals and couples, such great information I’ve accumulated through trainings and mentors, fantastic things I’ve learned from books and podcasts, and some real bits of wisdom I’ve picked up from other blogs. (Not to mention some vital life experiences of my own)…
So, whether your passion is writing, styling hair, building bridges, or breeding dogs, honor it with time, teachers and patience, and you’ll be giving yourself and others a precious gift.
PS. Another admission: I still haven’t figured out how to find the time to respond to the thousands of comments I get on my posts. Readers are so courteous, smart, helpful and supportive, and I hate the idea of using automated responses. It seems cold and rude. Time continues to be the enemy, as I also love my full time job as a psychotherapist, and am not about to give that up until they drag me away in a cart. So, if you’ve left an unanswered comment, please forgive me, but know how much your feedback means to me!
I've often been described as a "pit bull," especially by my husband. He's not referring to the kind of bite, but the trait of tenacity, thankfully. Friends and family will regularly remark that they don't know what drives my passion and perseverance at my age, especially when so many of them are slowing down. I think they think I'm a little crazy. I think they're onto something, but I like to think of myself as a little obsessive, with happy, episodic "manias." (Case in point: We've been updating our house and land, so I've often found myself edging and mulching garden beds, lifting out huge rocks and hauling cuttings until well into darkness. When I get a "bug in my bonnet" about the preferred new color of a room I'll repaint it three times until it's right. I've been practically living at Home Depot and Homegoods, picking out materials, pillows, and general stuff, all in a driving unstoppable desire to improve the form and function of our house). My husband should be nominated as a CNN Hero, for his enormous patience and support, putting up with what I think is my big supply of Grit.
The dictionary defines grit as "People refer to the quality of "grit" as the presence of persistence and passion. It's the "drive" you see in some folks and not others, and often seems to be related to the daily grind around some project or situation. People who demonstrate laziness or "wimpyness" aren't thought of as having much grit.
Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, identified a Grit Scale to assess how much of it you may have, and also to identify traits that might predict success. The complete test appears in her bestselling book, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance." If you're curious about your own score go to the "Resources" page of my website www.SusanLager.com to take the quick ten question test. With all my own crazy tenacity I wasn't surprised when I scored high on the scale. See what the test may reveal about you!
When was the last time you got out of a warm bed at the crack of dawn to sweat on a treadmill – with eagerness? Or relinquished the beach on a gloriously sunny Saturday to do tax preparation? Or gladly put your openly introverted self in front of a group of 300 peers to give a lecture? You may have done all or any of these things, but chances are that you had to push yourself out of your comfort zone to do them in the name of some kind of benefit or reward. If, on the other hand, you’ve made a habit of staying in your womb-like routine without taking any risks into the unfamiliar, then you’ve probably missed out on some novel experiences, learning, excitement and rewards.
So, if you’d like to be less risk averse and get better at pushing yourself to do new things, here are a four of my seven tips and tools I’ve developed from my years of working with individuals and couples in therapy:
- Create a clear vision for your goal, defined specifically. (Ex: By tax time in April I will have all my financial data tabulated and formatted, ready for the accountant in Quickbooks).
- Identify your potential saboteurs and what your options are to head them off at the pass. (Ex: Self, wanting to do more fun stuff. Fix: Reward self with the fun stuff after I’ve done the work each week).
- Formulate a clear action plan for the “Push,” defining it specifically and behaviorally. (Ex: I will do two hours of Quickbooks entries every Saturday from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM regardless of the weather or invitations I’ve received to do fabulous things).
- Identify the intrinsic and concrete rewards to yourself / others in making this effort to move out of your comfort zone. (Ex: I will feel more organized, centered, and prepared for tax time. My accountant will appreciate the timely, orderly data. My friends and family will get to see a cheerier version of me more frequently on weekends).
For more free tools and tips about this and many other issues, subscribe to my list on the right. “Pushing Yourself” is the 92nd free article you will get about all kinds of issues related to the relationship with yourself and with others.
In addition, if you’d like individual help with self-motivation or any other dilemma, feel free to contact me at my Portsmouth, NH office anytime for an appointment at: 603-431-7131. I’d be glad to help!