What Do You Really, Really Want?

my resolution - napkin conceptI’ll tell you want I want; what I really, really want!

Wait! Why are the Spice Girls coming to mind?

Before I forget, Happy New Year everyone!

The New Year is an important marker in many people’s lives. It marks the end as well as, and more importantly in my mind, the beginning of exciting possibilities. The vision of the future is bright and we have plans (damn it!) of all the wonderful things we want to accomplish and see in our lives. Because we are creatures of ritual, many of us have been spending days, if not weeks, writing and fine-tuning our New Year’s Resolutions.

Honestly, I hate New Year’s resolutions. I have spent many years making resolutions; starting strong, succeeding in accomplishing some and others that have fizzled out. My experiences with resolutions have been one of frustration (regardless of whether I accomplished my goals or not), futility and just downright disappointment. In particular, the fizzle out factor was high when I was not emotionally connected to my goals. No passion; no success.

Eventually, I realized, I was doing the whole resolution thing wrong! I was actually setting goals and not making resolutions.

Yup. There’s a difference.

I could give you a formal definition of the words “resolution” and “goal” but, I would sound unnecessarily serious-like. For all intents and purposes, a resolution is a decision to do something, be it more different, less, or new. It is about deciding the direction we would like to go. It is an intention. A goal, on the other hand, is the activity which (once completed) will help us realize and manifest our intention.

I love the subtle nuances of language!

In other words, a resolution is a mental state as opposed to the result of an activity. It is, ultimately, what drives not only our goals, but every choice we make. It is what motivates us. I truly truly believe that once we know what motivates us, energizes us, helps us to feel connected to our authentic selves, and helps us to feel consistent with our values, everything else falls into place.

So, I did things a little differently this year. I focused on what motivates and drives what I do – my feelings. I drilled down under my goals to the core of what I want to feel and got to the foundation from which to do everything else. At the end of the process, I realized I had honed in on how I want to feel this year at the core of who I am. I truly believe that the same holds for everyone – each individual is driven by how they want to feel.

I eat because I want to feel satiated and comfortable.
I spend time with my family and friends because I want to feel connected.
I became an entrepreneur because I want to feel creative and generative.
I share resources and information with others because I want to feel generous and expansive.
I strive for my financial goals because I want to feel secure.

Underneath it all, it is fundamentally about how I want to feel. Drilling down under my goals, I found treasure!

The beauty of this perspective is that core intentions, once you figure them out, never change – they are foundational. However, the ways in which an intention gets expressed is limitless. It’s also a great way for those with ADHD to set their goals because we are so driven by our feelings and our energy levels. The less energy we have, the more prone we are to distraction and procrastination. And, don’t get me started on what might happen if we’re not feeling so great physically and/or emotionally; it’s game over!

Brilliant, right? I thought so too. Then I went to my research assistant – Google.

I discovered Danielle LaPorte’s book “Desire Map”. I would like to say I hate the woman because she retroactively stole my great idea but, she is a Canadian. Seriously, how can you hate a Canadian?

I have not read “Desire Map” as of yet, but it will be arriving on my doorstep courtesy of Amazon any day now. I’ll keep you updated and maybe do a review.
In the meantime, head over to her website and check out the first chapter of her book. (And, no, I am not an affiliate member for Danielle and am not receiving compensation in any way.) Scroll down and almost to the bottom and click on the left hand corner of the large image for the book where it says “Sneak Peak”. You will then have access to the first full chapter. Frankly, this seems like enough to get you started in a serious way. The last few pages list feeling words if you need help with generating them.

The process of working through your resolutions in this way has several benefits:

1. It forces you to language what deeply satisfies you. Often, we experience a feeling or sense of something which cannot be articulated because we have no language for it.

2. It brings clarity about what matters to you and what you value.

3. Once you know and can clearly articulate what is deeply satisfying to you, you can make more conscious and intentional choices about what activities will get you there.

4. Difficult, cumbersome, tedious, overwhelming but, necessary tasks take on a different shape and become energizing as opposed to draining. For example, financial planning is now a pleasure for me because it has moved from being something I hate to do to something which I do because it results in the experience of several of my core feelings. If you know something will benefit you on a deeper level than just getting it done, you have more energy to stick with it and get it done.

5. It allows you to course correct; changing, tweaking or even abandoning a goal if you realize it will not get you what you want to feel. Without the guilt or the feeling that you have failed in your bid to be an adult!

6. It encourages and invites you to ask different questions. Is what I want to accomplish going to bring me these feelings? What can I do today to feel one or more of my core desired feelings? What do I want to feel more of today? What can I do about those activities that take me away from my core desired feelings?

So, what did I come up with as my core desired feelings?

Core Desired Feeling

1. Generous abundance

2. Authentic connection

3. Passionate femininity

4. Purposeful focus

5. Graceful strength

6. Daring creativity

(Note: I described my desired core feelings with two words because I’m just a stickler for specificity when it comes to language.)

These feel good to me. They resonate with who I am as an individual. Collectively, this is the mental state I would like to sustain. These feelings are what drive me and my choices in positive and productive ways. They are energizing!

I am probably not alone in the experience of it being much easier to accomplish a highly defined and quantified goal when I feel good. I find goals alone pedantic, hard task-masters and rigid. As such, I experience them as soul sucking and exhausting. In my opinion, these are not the feelings that drive both a successful and satisfying life. Success comes when we accomplish things. However, success and satisfaction are not mutual propositions. Those instances where I have felt both success and satisfaction have been because they connected at a deeper level.

In terms of the original definitions of resolution and goal at the beginning of this post, my core desired mental and emotional states are my resolution. My intention is to feel in these particular ways. My goals are those things which, once accomplished, will result in the manifestation of my intentions; intentions then become a reality. (I could go into a long discussion of how, in this perspective, the intention and the goal, or destination, are the same while you define the path by which you would like to get there. But, I won’t ‘cause this post is already too long.)

Now that I have set a foundation, I feel free to write my goals for the year – or anytime for that matter.

On the first day of 2014, my status on my private Facebook page, read “Today feels shiny, new and exciting…full and pregnant with possibilities!”

(I do have a Facebook business page, by the way. Hint. Hint.)

Again, Happy New Year, everyone! May this year bring and be filled with treasure in all areas of your life!

Spirituality in Therapy (or “M.Div.?”)

hope, freedom and spiritualityWhenever I give my business card out, people are quick to point out the “M.Div.” after my name. It is usually followed by, “You went to seminary?” Often followed by, “Do you only work with Christians?” And, then, “Do you only work from a religious perspective?”

So the answers to the questions are “yes”, “no” and “no”.

“M.Div.”, by the way, stands for “Master’s of Divinity”. And trust me, there is no such thing as “mastering the divine”. The more I learn, the more questions I have and the more I realize I don’t know.

Before going any further, I do have to start off by saying that I did grow up in the church and I self-identify as someone who has a relationship with God. My spirituality is a very big part of who I am as a person, how I choose to live and greatly informs my life and work with respect to the nature of relationships, problems and being human. It helps me to understand myself, myself in relation to others, myself in relation to the human collective, and that I am a work in progress.

Notice that I am using the word “spirituality”. By this I mean having a sense of connection and/or relationship with something that is bigger than myself. Relationships can be life-nourishing or they can be life-diminishing. In other words, you relate somehow to a greater being, energy or power. Not having a relationship is also a relationship of sorts, in the same way that not communicating is communication. (Surprise!)

I had two main reasons for attending seminary. First, when I began my undergrad in Psychology (go U of T!), there was no discussion of how spirituality could be addressed within a therapeutic context. I had noticed there was almost nothing being discussed about how spirituality impacts (both positively and negatively) many areas of a person’s life. Some find it comforting, others painful and others still who want to have nothing to do with it or are simply indifferent. The dominant conversation came from a Christian perspective and focused on how to quote scripture, praying in sessions and, to a large degree, using the therapeutic context as a means to proselytize (a fancy word that means to encourage someone to convert to a particular religion). Even today, the question of whether therapy is an appropriate place to discuss spirituality is passionately debated. The conversation can get quite heated and often ends with some reference to Hitler. (I am always fascinated by this phenomenon, by the way. There’s even a name for it – Godwin’s Law.)

The silence regarding spirituality in the mainstream literature, I believe, got translated into “you can’t talk about your faith/spirituality in therapy”. However, not discussing someone’s spirituality in therapy doesn’t make sense to me if it is important to my client and if they want to make it a part of the conversation. Spirituality is strongly linked to ideas of meaning, values, purpose, and direction – the very stuff of therapy. How can you not discuss something that someone thinks of as a serious component of their well-being (or their not well-being)? If spirituality is an important part of your life, you should be able to talk about it in therapy. In this sense, discussing spirituality in therapy becomes a discussion just like any other discussion and not a tool used by the therapist for the purpose of therapeutic change.

…many of life’s most basic questions (who we are, our purpose, why we are here, etc. ) are directly connected to spirituality….

During my years at seminary, it was really important to me to figure out how to discuss spirituality in ways that are respectful, nonjudgmental, from a position of curiosity, and detached from my own beliefs. For those who are spiritual, many of life’s most basic questions (who we are, our purpose, why we are here, etc. ) are directly connected to spirituality and, for many, these same questions have a profound, existential, and spiritual meaning that shouldn’t be ignored. And, I wanted to be able to have these conversations regardless of how people self identify in terms of religion, spirituality or faith.

I remember the first time I asked a client, “Is spirituality or faith an important part of your life?” The client looked at me in shock and asked, “I can talk about that here? I didn’t think I could.”

Being sensitive to the role that religion and spirituality play in a person’s life potentially opens the door to more and different solutions as well as possibilities that may have not been previously considered. It can also bring a very beautiful aspect of the human experience into therapy.

My second reason to choose to attend seminary came as a result of hearing from others about their negative experiences with therapists who claimed to work from a spiritual perspective. More recently, I often get clients who have come out the other end of therapy with a previous therapist having been harmed rather than helped when their spirituality came up.

The complaints I often heard, and continue to hear, are:

1. “I felt judged.”
2. “Our sessions turned into a debate. The therapist was trying to convince me that what I believed was wrong.”
3. “He only quoted scripture at me and we didn’t really get anywhere.”
4. “She told me I had made the wrong decision. I should have done it her way.”
5. “I came out of sessions feeling like I was bad or there was something wrong with me.”
6. “He turned everything into a spiritual issue.”

So, if you are hoping to discuss something from the perspective of your faith or spirituality, here are some things you might want to look for in order to spot a therapist who knows what they are doing:

1. They ask more questions than make statements. Questions are geared towards understanding your particular perspective and the quality of the questions will tell you whether they are listening to you.
2. They will not assume what you mean if you use jargon that is particular to your beliefs. To me, “I’m a Christian” says nothing more than there might be some belief in there about God and Christ; “Muslim” means some type of beliefs around Allah and the Prophet Mohammed; “a higher power” could mean Gaya or collective consciousness…or something else altogether. They will look for clarity and will not assume their understanding of what you said is what you actually meant. So, again, they will ask lots of questions.
3. They will not tell you what the “right” thing to do is. They will explore your options with you and discuss the potential consequences of the choices you feel might be possible. Then you will make your choice because it is yours to make.
4. They will not say, “I told you so.”
5. They will support you in your choices and allow you to own your choices even when they are worried about the choice you eventually make and the impact it may have on you.
6. They will help you generate the solutions you feel may help to resolve the questions or struggles that you have. In this way, the solutions sit comfortably within your beliefs, make sense to you and resonate with who you are.
7. You feel free to say, “I want to pray about that this week”, “I want to meditate on that before next session”, “I would like to discuss this with my priest”, “This is not a spiritual/faith issue”, or “That sounded like you were judging me.”
8. They are sensitive to not only religion, faith and spirituality but also to age, gender, ability, sexual orientation, power and privilege issues, and race.

So, yes, I have an M.Div., but it might not mean what you think it means.

A Genuine Apology Requires Empathy

Fotolia_16345577_Subscription_XLHere’s a frequent conversation couples have in my office:

“Why do you always have to bring that up?! I have apologized for that so many times. I don’t understand what you want from me.”

“No, you don’t understand. It still bothers me.”

“You need to let it go. Why are you hanging on to it? There is something so wrong with you.”

This is usually where the offended partner ends up crying or emotionally shutting down. I can literally see the shutters fall over their eyes; they have left the conversation and everything comes to a standstill.

I think one of the most basic human needs is the need to be known as we are. This need to be understood and validated is what causes a partner to continually bring up an offence. I see this happen often in my office. The injured party repeatedly brings it up in an effort to resolve something that does not feel closed to them. It is not an effort to punish, but to bridge the continued disconnection they feel with their partner because of an unresolved issue.

Human beings come to conclusions about another’s sincerity and authenticity in very complex ways. They take into account a number of sources of information: content of the message, how the content is delivered (tone, volume, speed, and language), emotion, and body language. People can feel a disingenuous apology and will reject it because of its insincerity. The result is that the offense keeps being brought up because the offended person feels neither understood nor empathized with.

It’s frustrating when someone does not acknowledge your apology and tells you they do not believe that it is genuine. The truth of the matter is…

…they are probably right.

Repairing a relationship after a rift is a skill that most couples struggle with and, if not mastered, can cause the relationship to flounder. Repair helps you to draw closer to one another instead of drifting apart; rebuild connection as opposed to causing greater disconnection. Ultimately, it cannot happen if empathy and understanding are not present.

The foundation of an effective apology rests on two key words: “understand” and “empathy”.

To understand means to grasp the significance, implications, or importance of something. And to have empathy for someone is to directly identify with and understand the vicarious experience of another person’s situation, feelings, and motives. There’s a subtle difference between the two – understanding is about acknowledging the importance of and its impact on someone else. In other words, it might not be important to you, but to them it is more serious. Empathizing is literally feeling what they feel; seeing things the way they see it.

Steps to identifying with someone else’s experiences:

1. Initiate the conversation.

Someone has to go first and your apology can’t be a condition of your partner doing something first. Take the first step because this is the kind of person you want to be. There’s nothing more unconvincing than someone who apologizes while in the middle of a fight or as a response to, “You never apologized.” You know how that goes. “I asked for an apology so, I doubt that it’s sincere.”

2. Put your feelings aside.

In other words, momentarily put aside your personal feelings, needs, wants, and complaints. Note that I said momentarily. You are not negating, diminishing or ignoring yourself in any way. You are simply putting them aside for the time being.

True empathy demands you put your own feelings aside to understand and validate someone else’s. When you have behaved badly and made poor word choices, it is particularly difficult because it requires that you push aside the need to defend yourself. It also requires you to be vulnerable and consider the impact you have had on someone else.

An apology is negated when it is followed by:

  • Countering with your own accusations – “Yesterday, you did this….”
  • Keeping score – “Well you did this to me so,….”
  • Judging – “I would never have come to that conclusion” or “I don’t know anyone who thinks like that….”
  • Defending – “I am not really like that, but….” or “I didn’t do that, but since you’re feeling bad about it….”
  • Minimizing – “Aw, c’mon. It wasn’t that bad.”
  • Not taking responsibility – “Well, if you hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have…. If you just changed….” or “You brought this on yourself.”
  • Justifying – “Well, I was really upset at work. You just have to accept that I was in a bad mood and wait for me to get out of it.”
  • Diminishing – “You’re overreacting”, “You’re being silly”, “That’s the stupidest thing that I’ve ever heard”, or “Get over it.”
  • Define your partner’s experience – “Oh, you don’t really feel like that. You feel….”
  • Compare – “Bob’s wife would never do that to him.”

3. Get behind your partner’s eyeballs.

See the events from their perspective.

Here are some questions to help you move to greater understanding and empathy towards your partner:

  • How would you feel if a stranger on the street had done the same to you? Name a few feelings that would be probable for you.
  • How would you respond? What would you do?
  • Would you do the same to one of your parents? To your child? To your best friend? To your boss?
  • What would be the consequences if you had done the same to a stranger on the street? To your boss? To your child? To your best friend? To your parent(s)?
  • If someone treats you poorly, how would you relate differently to this person? Would it draw you closer or farther away? Would you avoid them? Would you walk on eggshells when you were around them? If you feel fear, how would you protect yourself? Would you question your value to them?
  • What could a stranger conclude about you as a person if they had witnessed what you did and/or said?

You can’t fake understanding and empathy with someone who sees you regularly, if not on a daily basis.

Once you get past your own defenses and into your partner’s experience, here’s the formula for an apology:

“I’m sorry that I….” (Describe briefly what you did or didn’t do.)

“It must have felt….” (Describe your guess about their feelings about what you did.)

“If I was in your place and someone had done that to me, I would feel….” (Insert your “behind the eyeballs” insight.)

“It makes sense to me that you feel this way….” (Again, get into their experience and understand in what ways it makes sense for them to respond the way they did. No judging.)

“Please forgive me.” (Yes, you have to be open to the possibility that your partner may not offer forgiveness and you will need to accept that.)

“What can I do to make this better for you? I was thinking maybe we could….”

This is what it might sound like:

“Honey, I’m sorry that I haven’t spent much time with you lately. I can only imagine how I would feel if I were you – neglected, frustrated, overlooked and maybe even like you are not the most important thing in my life. It makes sense to me that you have been feeling frustrated and disappointed. I want you to know nothing in my life is as important as you. I’ve been selfish and have allowed myself to be distracted from our relationship by other things. Starting tomorrow, I promise that I’ll commit to working fewer hours, and I’ll make every effort to come home in time to have dinner with you every night. I’d also like to make it up to you, so please, let’s go out sometime next weekend and do something nice, just the two of us. You mean the world to me, and the last thing I ever want to do is make you feel lonely. Please, I hope you can forgive me for the way I’ve been acting lately.”

Okay. That was a bit of a speech. But, you get the picture.

So, how do you know you have understood your partner’s experience? They will let you know. It doesn’t matter if you feel you understand. What matters is whether your partner feels you have understood.

Remember, what I have outlined is only the bare bones of an apology. However, a simple formula will not result in the connection you want unless you add understanding and empathy. Only then can sincerity come through naturally.

The more you apologize, the better you get at it….

…and, funny enough, the less you need to do it.