Relationship Therapy for Couples & Individuals

Tony Davis, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

Month: January 2017

STICKING TO YOUR RESOLUTIONS

When I work with couples, I will often hear about it if “nothing is changing” in their relationship. I then ask what have they been doing in between sessions–if they have been doing the tasks I suggest to support the work we do in the office. The couples who do these tasks see change, and see it faster! The relevance of this to the topic of “sticking to resolutions” is that change requires work. There is no other way to put it!

Articles are written about change every new year, and it can be hard to sift out what is helpful! If you are hoping to successfully change habits this year, then let’s at least admit to the fact that change is difficult. However it is possible when you accept what you are up against going into it, and are prepared with useful tools. This month’s article offers three key points to assist. Let’s take a look…

DECIDE WHAT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU AND WHY: The first step of anything usually involves a plan. Having a plan does not mean excluding spontaneity–just that you go into the task with intention. Intention is formed out of what is important to you, and by knowing why that is important you have a chance of sustaining both the intention and the plan. 

Want to get in better shape? Great! If that is the “what”, then figure out what has been more important up to this point, and decide if you are okay with that continuing! You can want to eat donuts everyday andhave six pack abs, but you’d be better served decidingwhich one is more important to you because you can’t have both!

Eating donuts is certainly easier than getting a six pack (and tastier!), so this is where the why comes in. If you are going to change habits from an “easy” one to one that takes more work, I suggest that you know why you are doing that, and that your reason comes from inside, not outside. If you feel pressured by others to get in shape, it will be harder to stick to your goals than if you are motivated by wanting to feel good, or be alive to enjoy your grandchildren. WIthout a strong, personal why, resolutions weaken at the first sign of difficulty.The why is the carrot that will lead you to persevere.So what is important to you, and why?

PRACTICE CHANGE DAILY, AND “RELAPSE” IS OKAY: Most gyms report that members who sign up in January generally do not continue coming regularly after that month. In many cases, these new signups have never worked out at a gym before. Change is not something that we can just embrace on impulse–the status quo wants to maintain itself, even when uncomfortable! This is why I recommend practicing change daily, in both large and small ways. How are you going to commit to that gym membership is you can’t resist that donut? Small exercises in change can have a big impact on how we think and behave, and any rewards we experience as a result can serve to reinforce our efforts at bigger change.

Remember, though, that the status quo wants to maintain itself, so don’t be surprised if that donut wins out once in awhile! Relapse is going to happen, so why not think about it in a way that does not make you feel guilty or shameful? You might even work relapse into your plan–this is what people call “cheat days”. This goes back to the point in the opening paragraph about knowing what you are up against if you are hoping for success!

JOIN WITH OTHERS/ENLIST WITNESSES: One of the strongest tools to help maintain resolutions is support. When 12-step programs succeed with people, it is not because of any technique, but because of the community that holds members accountable and offers compassionate support. If your resolution is something that can be done with another, then try that as a way to hold each other accountable while having fun! It is a lot harder to hit the snooze button on the alarm if your buddy is arriving in five minutes to go running with you. 

This also ties into the final tip: enlisting witnesses. Before I took my licensing exam, I posted a Facebook message saying that it was “time to go pass a test!” Some friends said they would never do that, because what if they did not pass? But I did it to have others witness my goal. It did not feel like pressure to go into the exam this way, it felt powerful–I had made a declaration in front of the world, and I carried that intention and support into the exam room with me. By the way, I passed!

Witnesses do not need to be the whole world, even one trusted ally can prove effective. By enlisting witnesses, we are essentially closing down an “escape hatch” of anonymity regarding our resolution. It is a trick that has a positive effect on the mind by reinforcing our intention and sense of support. 

There you have it! Now go forth with resolve!

WHY VOLUNTEER: THE BENEFITS WE DON’T SEE

You know what I used to hear in the Navy? They would say that “NAVY” stands for “Never Again Volunteer Yourself”. Well, while that may be good advice in the military, I find that the opposite is true in civilian life.

Why I am writing about volunteering? For several years I have volunteered as a crew member in the AIDS LifeCycle ride, which travels every June from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise funds for AIDS health services in the two cities. So volunteering is on my mind!

Many people will ask me why I choose to spend my “vacation” time lugging bags and tents on and off the trucks, waking up at 4am, sleeping on a truck bed, and being away from the comforts of home. I tell them that I am no martyr–I do this because for two reasons: it helps change the world a little bit; and it helps change me a lot. The latter reason is what I want to talk about–so please keep reading.

Why Volunteer?
Every choice we make in our lives affects who we will be in the next moment. With consistent choices, those moments add up to become a “version” of us. For instance, if a person regularly chooses to “jump the line” instead of waiting their turn, they are most likely to become someone who lacks patience. For me, I have a strong vision of who I hope to be as I get older, and so the choices I make every day either move me closer or further from that vision.

If you think about it, volunteering is just another word for the idea of “community”, where all members contribute to the well-being of all. That is how humans survived for thousands of years before the advent of agriculture set us on a course of overriding self-interest. We call it volunteering today because it is not a “part” of our general agreement to live among others–but it should be! Let’s look at the benefits–volunteering can work on many levels:

  • If you want something, give it away: This may sound like a bumper sticker, but it really has to do with energy. Volunteering takes you out of yourself and into the world beyond your own difficulties. You will not feel so alone with your own stuff, and you may find your mood adjusted in a positive way so that you are in a mind-set to take on your challenges. Sometimes the most powerful tool against problems is a positive mind-set!
    Volunteering changes your focus: In our society, bad behavior is instantly broadcast on the internet for all to see and comment on. It can be hard to find the gold among all the rocks, but I notice that a focus on volunteering requires attention on positive resources. There is less time to pay attention to gossip and negative news. It is not about pretending that bad stuff isn’t happening, but about deciding what you are going to focus on: positive or negative action?
    It is a great way to be social: When you show up to a volunteer event, there are bound to be others there who don’t know anybody either. This is a great way to “be a part” of something without knowing many people at first. As you volunteer more, you will find yourself gravitating towards those who appeal to you, just like anywhere else, and you will find your social circle growing. Volunteering can lead to other social opportunities!

You can devote as much or as little time as you wish volunteering, and fortunately there are many worthy places to check out in Los Angeles. You may find, as I do, that the return is tenfold the investment!

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