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Lovehacking: Quick fixes to improve your marriage or relationship

How Love-Hacks can give your marriage a tune-up

To fix a truly troubled marriage takes much effort and commitment. But, many marriages or relationships just need a tune-up. One psychologist, Dr. Eli Finkel, calls these “Lovehacks” in his new and very well-researched and well-thought-out book “The All-or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work.”

Lovehacks provide an efficient method for keeping our marriages afloat during challenging or busy times. There are times when we simply lack the ability or the motivation to make hefty additional investment, and there’s no shame, says Dr Finkel, in doing little things to make the relationship a bit stronger than it would be otherwise.

Lovehacks, according to Dr Finkel, have three defining features. First, they don’t take much time – which is crucial for today’s very busy and stressed couples. Second, they don’t require any coordination with, or cooperation from, our spouse. This is very important in those marriages wherein one partner is working harder or is more motivated than the other to resuscitate things. Third, they don’t require a major change or shift in expectations as many other marital therapy interventions do.

Love-Hacks fall into two major categories: those focused on countering weaknessesin your marriage and those focused on savoring strengths.

Lovehacks focused on countering weaknesses in your marriage

Marriage research clearly shows that how we think about and behave in conflict-relevant situations in our marriage is the factor that most reliably distinguishes successful from distressed marriages. As Dr Finkel says, some reactions are like a can of kerosene, others like a bucket of water.

Lovehack #1-Give your partner a break.

Practice perceiving negative behavior differently. It isn’t what they do as much as HOW YOU REACT AND INTERPRETE WHAT THEY DO that causes a problem – or not! Psychologists call this “attribution.”

For instance, your partner is late getting home from work causing you distress. To what do you attribute his lateness? Here are some possibilities:

  • He is late because he is a thoughtless jerk
  • He is late because he forgot to look at his watch at work
  • He is late because his crappy car broke down again
  • He is late because he got stuck in traffic

If we’re confident that our partner is, by and large, a decent person who want to do well by us, we should make attributions that give him or her the benefit of the doubt.

Lovehack #2-Reinterpret conflict.

Using this lovehack, spouses think about a conflict in their marriage from the perspective of a neutral third party who wants the best for all involved. This helps both partners gain perspective of the conflict with high empathy – so each can see the issue from the perspective of the other.

Lovehack #3-Adopt a growth mind-set about marriage.

You have a wide latitude in considering whether problems in your marriage are fixable. People with destiny beliefs think that partners either are or are not “meant to be.” They view conflict and other problems as indicators that they are simply incompatible with their partner.

On the other hand, people with strong growth beliefs think that partners can cultivate a high-quality relationship by working and growing together. So they are willing to try and fix things more when inevitable conflicts occur.

Lovehacks focused on Savoring Strengths:

Lovehack #6-Cultivate gratitude.

Gratitude serves as a “booster shot” for romantic relationships. Research shows that people who experience elevated levels of gratitude also experience stronger relationship commitment and are less likely to break up.

Lovehack #7-Help each other celebrate life’s achievements and successes.

When you respond to your partner’s positive life events in an enthusiastic, celebratory way, ask questions about it and show positive emotion about it, love often grows between you.

Lovehack #8-Affectionate touch.

This lovehack is particularly promising for helping our partner look at us with new eyes. Touching our partner makes them feel more loved by you and more secure in their relationship with you.

Road Rage In Reverse. An Act of Kindness.

This is a personal story.

Yesterday I was tooling down the 405 freeway in Southern California when suddenly I heard a loud pop which I assumed belong to another vehicle. I was in the center lane of a very crowded freeway and suddenly realized that the bang was coming from MY car. A blowout! Behind me was a huge semi 16 wheeler who was not sympathetic to my plight. His behavior telegraphed to me that he just wanted me to get out of his way so he would not have to slow down.

As I tried to limp to the right shoulder, the flop flop flop of a blown tire turned into a metal- against- the- pavement sound. I was down to my rim trying make it to the very narrow shoulder while traffic kept sailing past on my left side at about 80 miles an hour. Finally on the shoulder, I remembered the warnings not get out of the car this situation, so I called 911 hoping that a patrol car would help me get off the freeway somehow so I could start repairs on my tire.

In the meantime, I looked in my rear view mirror and saw a pony-tailed man approaching in a hugely wide pick up truck. He said that he had witnessed the whole thing, had circled around and had come back to help. Would I mind if he changed the tire for me? Yea, like I am picky about whom I allow to change my tires when I’m incapacitated on a shoulder off the 405 freeway! So, change it he did, risking his life by exposing his backside to streaming fast-moving traffic as worked on the blown tire and rim which was exposed to the freeway.

When finished, I offered to pay him, but he would not accept any money. He said his name was John (“I am a Greek”) and he would accept a hug as payment. So, that sounded like a fair exchange to me. What a strange site it must have been to other drivers to see an older silver-haired man (me) hugging a middle-aged Greek guy with a pony tail on the shoulder of the freeway! And what a contrast to seeing people yelling at each other, cutting each other off, cussing at fellow drivers, or giving each other the one finger salute.

Thank you, John for reaffirming my faith in the inherent goodness of human beings. Hope soon I will share more driving advice and positive driving experience.

AngerCoach Online

Anger Management in Action; Setting Realistic Expectations

How high should you set the bar for yourself or others in term of what you expect?

This was a recent discussion topic brought up by Robert in a recent fast-track anger management seminar that we held in Newport Beach, California. Set the bar too high and the gap between what you expect and what you get can cause disappointment, anger, and other undesirable emotions.

Yet, hope springs eternal, especially in regard to family members.

We can spend our whole lives hoping against hope that others will finally change, see the light, treat us better, or acknowledge us in the way we need to be acknowledged.

Yet, as Robert discovered, sometimes this is not to be, despite our best efforts and our noble intent. Robert is 65 years old, yet has almost daily angst over his relationship with his 90 year old father who lives in the Midwest. They talk to each other perhaps 3 times a year, with Robert always having to initiate the calls. His dad says “children should call parents; parents do not have to call children.”

In his dad’s mind that is just a fact, the way the world is. This rule of family interaction is written in a book somewhere, known only to parents.

Despite a lifetime of not being able to emotionally connect with each other, Robert decided enough was enough and made arrangements for him and his wife to visit his father this summer. He emailed the old man, asking if the visit dates were satisfactory. Robert had expectations that his Dad would be thrilled to get a visit (at 90 years old, one doesn’t want to wait too long). He also asked for hotel recommendations nearby.

The father’s response was two lines: “Those dates are OK. Will send you a list of hotels to your home address.” The coldness of it all made Robert’s head reel. Robert experienced immediate sadness, and frustration. These feelings “pulled up” a lifetime of memories of other similar encounters with his father that generated the same negative feelings. Continue reading “Anger Management in Action; Setting Realistic Expectations”

Anger Management In Action: Let sleeping dogs lie?

Silenced

“How did your week go, Samuel?” I asked my married patient who  consulted me for anger management and anger management skills to deal with his wife.

“Much better,” he replied, “because I kept my mouth shut this time when I desperately wanted to argue with her because I knew I was right. I decided to apply one of the anger management tools you taught me.”

“What did you do instead?” I asked him.

Sam replied: ” I took your advice and simply left the house, went into the back yard for 10 minutes to cool off, then came back in and everything was OK. I didn’t argue with her over the issue because it wasn’t that important. I didn’t have to win this time; I just let it go.”

We continued our therapy session pet hair vacuum guide by agreeing that “talking” about an issue doesn’t always solve it. In fact, sometimes it makes it worse. In intimate relationships, sometimes it is best to let sleeping dogs lie, as they say.  Believe it or not, over-asking about the issue sometimes becomes the issue.

Have you ever had this conversation with your partner?

“What are you upset about?”

“I’m not upset.”

“Yes, you are. tell me why you are upset. Was it something I said?”

“OK. if you insist. I am upset because you keep asking me if I’m upset.” Continue reading “Anger Management In Action: Let sleeping dogs lie?”

Anger Management in Action: How Can I Be More Patient?

body language-angry young woman

Meet 25 year old Julia who came to our local anger management class for help with the question “How can I be more patient?”

Seems that Julia was constantly irritated with other people.She tried not to be, but her impatience and irritability constantly leaked out with her body language, her attitude, and her sarcasm.

She was not angry in the classical sense of the term- that is, she did not blow up, she did not yell, she did not explode. But she was constantly frustrated, she was often very stressed out, and she found herself almost always disappointed in people around her. This included co-workers as well as loved ones at home.

Inside her head she was saying to herself things like:

  • how can they be so stupid?
  • why they they do it right?
  • why can’t they think like I do?
  • Julia was very bright. She was also a very quick thinker, often two or three mental steps ahead of those around her.This made is difficult for her to be accepting of others who might not have been quite as mentally agile as her, or to tolerate people who had a different thinking style from hers.

    Julia’s problem has its roots in her expectations of people and things. Learning to recognize and adjust expectations is anger tool #6 in our system of anger management as is explained in detail in our anger management book titled “Anger Management for the Twenty-First Century.”

    The gap between what we expect and what we get creates many negative emotions including disappointment, anger, and chronic unhappiness. Learning to adjust expectations is a process which begins with being mindful of what are expectations are to begin with. Mindfulness involves becoming aware of what is occurring in your or body without judging it.

    Awareness without so much judgment is not easy because we live in a society in which we are constantly taught to judge things. Often we “should” ourselves to death throughout our lifespans – convinced that we “know” what is best, what he truth is, exactly how to do things, how others should be or live, etc.

    On the job, we get frustrated because employees don’t “own” their work or don’t buy into the company vision like we do as managers. Adjusting your expectations involves reminding yourself that if they saw things as you did, they would have YOUR job.

    Adjusting your expectations at home requires you to remember that much of what you get upset about involves opinions about how things “should” be – not absolute facts. Just because you believe something doesn’t automatically make it true; your partner may have an equally valid belief or opinion.

    As Julia learned these thought skills, she gradually did become more patient and less angry. She was able to accept that sometimes truth is a point of view, that others have a right to their opinions (even though they may be wrong), and that just because we want something or someone to be a certain way does not mean that they are that way, want to be that way, or that they necessarily even should be that way.

    Finally, Julie learned to accept that many people do indeed have limitations; that does not mean we should get angry at them because of their limitations. Yes, some people are indeed mentally slow, have an irritating personality, have limited skills to do things, have the wrong values in life, are lazy, etc etc. But, I ask, why get ANGRY over these things? Other response possibilities would include ignoring them,having compassion for them, helping them, giving them much more latitude, etc.

    Think about it! Feel free to leave a comment below.

    Mindfulness and Anger Management

    Mindfulness and Anger Management- Guest Article

    We all have moments when things slow down and we are suddenly very present for life. We often have this ‘tuned in’ experience when we are in nature, or it it may happen when we are highly focused on some activity, or sometimes it occurs when we are simply relaxed and available for whatever is going on around us.

    The word ‘mindfulness’ evokes images of spirituality and eastern religion, but surprisingly mindfulness is just the ordinary human capacity to be fully present. It is mindfulness that allows you to be here long enough to read these words. You can be mindful of the wind, the taste of your evening meal, a conversation with your partner, or the various sensations in your body.

    When we are spinning in thoughts of the past and future we are not at all present, and our mindfulness has faded. When we check out from the present moment in this way, we spin off into a mental world and we lose our center. We lose touch with our body and emotions, and we become susceptible to stress and anxiety, and various conflicted emotions, such as anger. Fortunately mindfulness is natural to human beings, and as such we can train it and strengthen it.

    This is where mindfulness meditation comes in. Since it was first introduced to the western world in the 1960’s mindfulness meditation has been incorporated into a range of modern day applications. For example mindfulness is utilized in corporate environments, in various forms of psychotherapy, athletic training, medical care, educational systems, stress reduction, and yes, anger management. Whole departments at major universities such as MIT are now dedicated to the study of mindfulness and its application to a broad spectrum of contemporary issues.

    It is safe to say that mindfulness is a 2500 year old anger management methodology. Extensive research shows that mindfulness is helpful with anger management issues in a variety of ways. Studies show that mindfulness decreases rumination associated with anger, it increases cognitive flexibility, boosts emotional well being, and improves overall satisfaction with life. Modern science is increasingly showing what the ancients have known for millennia, that mindfulness really works.

    A Mindfulness Anger Management Exercise: Working with Uncomfortable Feelings

    A common issue found in individuals with anger management problems is a difficulty dealing with uncomfortable feelings. We become hyper sensitive to life’s loose ends, we are triggered by the slightest inconvenience, and we have a low threshold for anything edgy or uncomfortable. The following mindfulness anger management exercise can help.

    -Choose a day and set your intention to notice whenever you feel uncomfortable.

    -Throughout your day, every time you find yourself feeling uncomfortable in some way, simply notice what you do with your body. Do you start fidgeting and bite your fingernails, does your chest tighten up, or do you clench your jaw, or maybe you hold your breath?

    -Take a notebook with you and write down what you notice. The idea isn’t to try and change anything, just simply notice what you do and write it in your notebook.

    This ‘paying attention’ is a form of mindfulness, and it will shine the light of awareness on how you avoid uncomfortable feelings. That light itself is enough, change will come naturally from your simply being present, so don’t get in the way by trying to change anything. Just notice, write it down, and let it be. That’s it.

    Once you’ve tried this for one day then you can apply it any time, and gradually you’ll become more and more familiar with your patterns of avoidance.

    Craig Mollins is long time student and teacher of mindfulness, and specializes in a mindfulness approach anger management. You can learn more at his website, mindfulnessangermanagement.com

    How Important is Emotional Intelligence (EQ)?

    In a recent session, 65 year old Dan, a retired insurance manager, was reflecting on mistakes he had made in his life. At the top of his list was an incident twenty years earlier when he received a home visit from a corporate V.P. who was vetting him for a large promotion as a district manager of a large insurance company. Things were going smoothly and the promotion seemed like it was going to be a shoo-in, at least in Dan’ s eyes. Then, came the subtle test which Dan didn’t even realize was a test: The V.P. asked Dan if  it would be possible to drive him to another office, about 100 miles away, the next day so he wouldn’t have to rent a car. Dan politely declined, pleading work obligations at his current office. In his mind, Dan thought the V.P would be impressed that he was so dedicated to the more important office tasks on the job instead of wasting time driving 200 miles (round trip)  the next day.

    As time went, Dan learned that he was being blocked from promotion by one vote. He never did get his promotion and to this day he is certain that this was due to the fact that he completely mis-read the real “test” that the V.P. had exposed him to. It was a failed test he could never recover from. Dan, like many people, lacked a quality for both business, personal, and marriage success called “emotional intelligence” or “EQ.” It differs from “IQ” (regular intelligence) in that it deals with one’s people skills, sensitivity to emotional isses srrounding factual issues, the ability to understand the emotions and feelings of others, social sensitivity, and accurate perception of how your actions are perceived by others.

    Dan did not understand that the V.P. was probably testing Dan’s loyalty to him, Dan’s ability to be a “team,” player, or possibly Dan’s sense of priorities. Dan was completely unaware that his decision would be viewed negatively by the V.P. and did not even perceive the subtle change in the V.P.’s demeanor and attitude after being refused the special favor he had asked for.

    In my experience as a marriage therapist, consultant, and anger coach, lack of or limited emotional intelligence leads to conflicts in the workplace, in relationships and in families. Often  people with low EQ don’t realize they have low EQ, and honestly can’t figure out why people react so negatively to them. Take the example of a couple I had worked with in marriage counseling. Thirty five year old Dorothy was pregnant for the first time. In session, she said to her husband, “I am fearful that I won’t be a good mother.” Instead of reassuring her, his response was: “Why?  that’s a dumb thing to be worried about.” You could see the change of emotion in her face when she heard that, but her husband didn’t have a clue that his remark might upset her.

    In our anger classes we teach the skills of empathy and social awareness to increase a person’s emotional intelligence. In short, one way to increase EQ is to step back and see your behavior or response from the viewpoint of the other person. It is the ability to realize how you might be coming across to others and how your remark or behavior might or might not be seen or heard from their point of view – not yours.

    Persons with high EQ are sensitive to the feelings of others and look beneath just the content of a question or behavior to the underlying emotional issues – and then responds to these emotional issues. Had Dan had higher EQ he would have asked himself how his refusal might be seen by his V.P. That interchange wasn’t about his getting to his next appointment. It was about trust, loyalty and priorities. Likewise, the pregnant wife was really communicating insecurity and also asking if she could count on him for help and support.

    Work on increasing your emotional intelligence and you might be surprised that your life will work better for you. It is worth the effort because research shows that persons with high EQ are more successful, have better relationships, and are actually healthier than others.


    AngerCoach Show – Episode #11 – Anger and Sex

    This months episode we discuss the relationship that sex and anger share. As a practicing Psychologist and Marriage Therapist, I have come across many couples who experience sexual frustrations in their relationships. Often times anger can arise from sexual frustration, and as this episode discusses, sexual frustration can result from anger. In this podcast we teach four practical and easy-to-employ techniques for reducing sexual frustration and anger in your relationship.

    Please note: This anger program and these anger tips are not meant to substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or advice. If you have intense, serious or chronic anger problems, or you have to deal with someone else who does, you should immediately consult a mental health or medical professional for help.

    AngerCoach Show – Episode #10 – Is Humor a Remedy for Anger?

    This months episode we discuss the positive effects that a sense of humor can have in dealing with anger. Appropriate humor can help all of us deal with difficult situations better, and if we have a problem with anger humor can gives us new ways to respond to frustrating situations. Humor shifts the way we think and helps us to be response-able – capable of handling stress, frustration, tension and other hard to deal with emotions. In this episode, we also teach four easy ways to develop a sense of humor.

    Please note: This anger program and these anger tips are not meant to substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or advice. If you have intense, serious or chronic anger problems, or you have to deal with someone else who does, you should immediately consult a mental health or medical professional for help.

    AngerCoach Show – Episode #9 – Managing Expectations

    This months episode discusses the benefits of managing your expectations. Learn what your expectations are, where they come from and understand how the world around us influences our expectations. When we understand these things, then we can better adjust what our expectations are when it comes to our lives, our relationships, our families, our possessions and our jobs. If we find ourselves frustrated by these things then it’s possible that we have formed unrealistic expectations about these goals. By adjusting our expectations to more realistic levels, we can avoid the anger that comes from being let down, and we will find ourselves living happier lives as a result.

    Please note: This anger program and these anger tips are not meant to substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or advice. If you have intense, serious or chronic anger problems, or you have to deal with someone else who does, you should immediately consult a mental health or medical professional for help.

    How To Tank Your Relationship – Lesson 1

    tanking relationship

    Miguel has just gotten off the telephone with his buddies with whom he made arrangements to play basketball Saturday morning. Unfortunately, he did not discuss this first with Maria who obviously is very upset over this. From her point of view, Miguel often makes plans independently, just as if he was still a single guy. She had other plans for them Saturday morning and now she has to re-plan her whole day. Worse, she wanted more time with Miguel and was looking forward to it this weekend. Miguel, on the other hand, doesn’t have a clue as to why Maria is so upset. To him what he did was “business as usual.” Besides, he felt that a man shouldn’t have to get “permission” from his wife to play basketball with his buddies.

    With this blog, we begin a series of reports on how to tank your relationship.  Researchers now know which habits predict relationship success and which predict disaster, so we herein present a tutorial on what to do to increase the probability that  your relationship won’t succeed or that you will never get from your partner what you need.

    On the other hand, if you learn how to respond differently to your partner (that is, use better relationship habits)  when you feel that he or she is not treating you well, you might just start seeing changes in both your partner and in your relationship.

    In our example, it is obvious that Miguel  acted in a way that Maria saw as selfish and, from Maria’s perspective, he should have talked to her  before he made his plans. But, partners often act  in ways that the other sees as selfish, uncaring, misguided or just plain wrong. (Miguel  sees the situation very differently, as he has a different perspective). May marriage survive and even thrive with one or both partners having these negative traits. So, it is not the traits  themselves that tank a marriage.

    According to marriage research, because of this difference in perspective,  what causes additional damage to the relationship is how Maria responds to Miguel’s behavior (and how Miguel responds to Maria’s upset).  So, let’s now look at different ways Maria could handle the situation:

    HOW TO TANK THE RELATIONSHIP: Lesson 1–   If Maria wants to cause more relationship damage and decrease the chances that Miguel will change, she should repeatedly do the following:

    • Take the attitude that Miguel did what he did because he was selfish, uncaring, or immature.
    • Take the attitude that he did not care enough for her to think about it before he made his plans with his friends.
    • Assume that there is a clear “right” and “wrong” way to deal with same-gender friends and same-gender activities when in a marriage.
    • Seeing Miguel as the whole problem instead of seeing the issue as  their having different opinions, priorities or ways of navigating life.

    Alternatively, Maria can respond differently and increase the probability that Miguel won’t do this again in the future, if she does the following. These are relationship “habits” that research has found are related to better success.

    • She should avoid jumping to conclusions and keep an open mind, asking Miguel calmly why he did what he did.
    • Hear Miguel out and refrain from disputing or debating what he was saying before he was able to explain fully.
    • Tell Miguel in a loving way that she feels hurt and unloved when he makes plans without including her and she would appreciate it if he did not do that in the future.
    • Rather than criticizing Miguel, ask him to work with her to find a solution that takes both  perspectives of the situation into account.

    In our next blog, Lesson #2 on ways to tank your relationship and how to avoid that outcome, if you wish.

    Is humor a remedy for anger?

    funcouple

    I recently returned from Phoenix, Arizona for a visit with a high school buddy that, save for a brief visit two years ago, I had not seen for fifty years.

    What an experience that was – catching up with each other’ s lives covering a half of a century!

    He had heard that I had become a psychologist, but  he had a little trouble wrapping his mind around how he thought I would be versus how he remembered me as a 17 year old adolescent. As old friends often do, we kidded around a lot as we reminisced, after which he asked, “‘How can you be a successful psychologist seeing people with serious problems when you kid around so much?”

    The answer to that question is that appropriate humor is a valid therapeutic technique that can have much therapeutic value, even with people who have quite serious problems.

    As Bill Cosby said: “You can turn painful situations around through laughter. If you can find humor in anything – even poverty – you can survive it. “

    Comic Bob Newhart (who played a television psychologist) said: “Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.”

    Actually, considerable research shows that humor is a powerful strategy to lower your stress level, dissolve anger and instantly give you new ways to view situations and thus new ways to respond. Often, mood is elevated just in the process of striving to find humor in difficult and frustrating situations. Laughing at ourselves and the situation helps reveal that small things are not the earth-shaking events they sometimes seem to be. Looking at a problem from a different perspective can make it seem less formidable and thus more solvable.

    As we teach in our local anger management classes, as well as our online program, humor shifts the ways in which we can think and thus opens opportunities to be more “response-able” in dealing with whatever  is triggering our anger – without being overwhelmed by it. As Henry Ward Beecher (clergyman and activist) observed: “A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs. It’s jolted by every pebble on the road.”

    Laughter can also help us release pent-up feelings of anger and frustration in socially acceptable ways; it also reduces tension because it is often followed by a state of relaxation.

    So, give it a try.  If you are truly humor-challenged, here are some suggestions to improve:

    • Start collecting amusing (but tasteful) jokes that you can use to brighten the moment.
    • Take anger situations and flip them to see the funny side.
    • Learn to laugh at yourself; it shows you are secure about who you are and what you want.
    • Try seeing the situation from a different perspective

    Can you change? Maybe. Maybe Not. Probably.

    lightbulb

    Have you heard this psychologist joke?

    Question: How many psychologists does it take to change a light-bulb?

    Answer: Only one – but the light-bulb has to really want to change.

    In my experience as a psychologist and marriage therapist, I have often see people struggle with the question of how much they are capable of actually changing. At social events, when people discover my profession, they will sometimes ask, Can people really change, even if they want to?

    Can it change its spots?
    Can it change its spots?

    Some folks believe in the philosophy that “A leopard cannot change its spots” while others believe  “anything is possible”  in terms of ability to change. As is often the case in psychology, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Obviously, certain habits and some personality traits are changeable, many psychiatric conditions (such as phobias, depression, sexual dysfunction and anxiety) are now very treatable,  but certain core character traits, attitudes toward life, core personality traits, and personal beliefs are not.

    A question that often comes up in therapy (or socially) is: “Can an unfaithful partner change or is cheater  always a cheater? Too bad questions about human behavior are not more easily answered with a simple “yes” or “no.”‘  Truth is, some unfaithful partners can and do change and others don’t. Depends on the circumstances (the type of affair) and the character structure of the offender.

    The reason the “change” issue  is an important question is that it lies at  the core of setting expectations about people. It is our expectations that determine to a large extent what we will feel toward others or certain situations. If we have in our minds that someone could change if they really wanted to, but, in fact, they cannot, we may unjustifiably  get upset with them.  We may also get unduly upset with ourselves for not changing something about ourselves when, in fact, we need to accept  limitations in that particular area of our lives. People often have unrealistic expectations about themselves and then either unduly berate themselves (expectations too high) if life turns out differently than they anticipated or, give up too easily(expectations too low)  when they could have done more!

    What does change require?

    Can You Change? It Requires Ability To Do So

    The philosophy that “anything is possible” does not square with life experience,  although this notion is popular in our society. For example, for ten years my first wife was convinced she could teach me how to sing. Being a music teacher, she saw me as a real professional challenge the first time she heard me, even though I told her that I couldn’t even carry a tune in a box. Poor woman really tried..and tried. We both eventually gave up, bowing to the harsh reality that one has to have the proper brain structures to be able to sing, no matter how hard one tries, desires it, or commits to it.

    Is It Worth It? Change Requires Motivation

    On the other hand, we can we learn to change how we communicate, how we handle anger, how we function or show love as a wife, husband, partner, or parent! Many times it is not innate limitations holding us back, but simple lack of skills. If you didn’t get the skills earlier in your life,   you can still acquire them, but this will involve motivation to do so, assuming the thing is changeable in the first place.  Take the young women who comes to our anger management classes because she has just lost her third boyfriend in a row because they could not deal with her anger. Is she motivated to change? You bet! Was she motivated during her first conflictual relationship? No, because at that point she did not see herself as the problem. But, now she does!

    Should You Change? It  Requires Trait of Flexibility in Your Personality

    Some people do not believe in change. My late mother was one of those people. She did not believe in personal change and could not successfully deal with change in others or change in circumstances. At age 63 she was proud of the fact that “I am the same person today as I was at age 19.”

    When I went away to college  and then returned home with fresh ideas and life views, she was very upset because she did not see me as the same boy that had left home (“College has changed you” ). Change requires the flexibility to accept it rather than being scared of it or threatened by it. It requires the ability to be adaptable (instead of rigid) in a changing world and to see the necessity of changing in order to be a more effective person. It is the attitude: “Well, if that doesn’t work for me, I better try something else.” Unfortunately, many people are the opposite: they hold onto what obviously doesn’t work any longer in the hopes that somehow it will work again for them.

    Are You Ready To Change?
    Are You Ready To Change?

    When Should You Change?  Often it  is required to Deal with Life  Stages. Most people realize that children go through  developmental stages, but fail  to recognize that adults do too. What you need and how you see the world is often quit different at age 60 than at age 20. People sometimes naturally change at different life stages. The man who was a terrible father because he was always gone to support the family when younger,  may be an excellent grandfather at age 60. The 19 year old girl who was attracted to the “hot” young men , at age 40 may value stability more than muscles in a man now. To some extent, nature forces us to change as we age, but some people fight it more than others or become frightened because different survival skills are now needed.

    Some people mellow as they get older while others sour. Perhaps one reason for the difference is that of adaptability – or change.  It seems to me that happier people are better at accepting change as natural and as part of the universe while sour people are often bitter, disillusioned, disenchanted or unfulfilled with their life or life situation.

    Believe it or not, old dogs CAN learn new tricks. Life is change and the wise person asks themselves what they need in THIS life stage to be happier, to be more effective, and to deal with the current as well as future personal challenges.


    Is Happiness Contagious?

    Mood Setter In House
    Mood Setter In House

    When I was a boy growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, it was my Italian-American father who was the mood setter of the house. If he was happy, everybody was happy. If he was angry, the home atmosphere turned ugly with discontent spreading like an August fog in San Fransisco, from one family member to the next.

    Like many psychologists, I was attracted to the field of psychology to find answers to the many strange and vexing questions about my dysfunctional family, including why one person’s mood in a family can so drastically affect everyone else in the family, and beyond.

    I am happy to report that new research now provides some answers. This research shows that  everything we do or say tends to ripple through our social networks, having an impact on our friends (one degree), our friends’ friends (two degrees), and our friends’ friends’ friends (three degrees). That means when you feel happy, your friend’s friend’s friend has a higher likelihood of feeling happy too.

    The implications of this finding for family  members is gigantic, especially if family members also happen to be your friends.  As famed researcher Daniel Gilbert of Harvard University points out:

    1.Happiness is not only an individual matter.
    The research shows that taking control of our own happiness can positively affect others. Happiness is not one’s own business anymore.

    2. One plus one does not necessarily equal two.
    Happiness does not spread among people in a ‘1 to 1’ manner, but infuses up to three degrees of separation. Your happiness thus depends on the pleasure of individuals beyond your own social horizon. The power of this transference of happiness is no more 1+1=2.

    When you stop and think about it, how many people “up-line” contribute to your happiness or unhappiness? When I grew older, I realized that my father’ s moods were being influenced by His mother, who maybe was being influenced by her relatives or social contacts.

    Thinking about all this reminds me of how important it is to (1) be aware of whom you associate with (and who they associate with) as they may be influencing you more than you realize, and (2) You can greatly influence many people in the world with your own moods, including happiness.

    So, set the tone positive for your social networks at home, at work, in peer-based activities and on your virtual social networks.

    In our anger management classes in Southern California as well as in our online anger management programs, we try to teach people how to be happier as an antidote to anger. What we are  discovering now is anger reduction replaced by happiness not only greatly affects the individual, but many people around him or her.

    Now for the drum roll……

    Remember, before you decide to laugh with someone, you are not only laughing  with him or her, but with everyone they have laughed with before you!

    More on happiness: Click here for Daniel Gilbert’s video on youtube.


    Gratitude Skill Important For Anger Control

    Learning to respond instead of react to frustration and anger triggers is anger tool #3  in our “tool kit” of anger control strategies. An important skill to use this tool is the skill of being grateful for things in your world and in your life. It is almost impossible to be angry and grateful at the same time. But, it is very challenging to be grateful when you look around and see only negatives in your life. You want to ask yourself: “what should I be grateful for exactly?”

    Being able to answer that question for yourself is a major step toward anger control and increased happiness in your life. Following are some resources to help you do just that. We begin with a Budhist quote:

    “A wise man, recognizing that the world is but an illusion, does not act as if it were real, so he escapes the suffering.”

    – Buddha

    We continue with a concept promoted by David Block, creator of the “Gratitude Balls” to be squeezed whenever you feel depressed, angry, or discouraged. We hand out these balls to participants of our local (Southern California) anger management classes. David recently organized  The First Gratitude Tour of San Diego: Here is his you tube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7NKhHGIlzM

    Finally, we turn to the master,  Deepak Chopra, who teaches you how to meditate in order to get in touch with gratitude which he believes is the quickest way to “get in touch with your soul.” His video can be seen also on you tube at  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TIXIwdhOmSM

    Research backs up the claim that being grateful leads to increased happiness! Try it and see if it works for you!

    Dr Tony
    www.angercoach.com
    www.angercoachonline.com




    Can you control happiness?

    As I mentioned in my last blog, psychologists are now doing major research in determining what makes people happy. These researchers are called Positive Psychologists and some of what they are discovering is fascinating. Take Sonja Lyubomirsky at The University of California at Riverside who wrote a book based on her research called “The How of Happiness.” She addresses the question of what determines happiness? and finds the following:

    (1) about 50% is due to genetics; that is, we all have a biological “set point” that probably cannot be modified. Some of us are just naturally more dour than others. On the other hand, are the disgusting people who wake up chirping like a bird every morning.

    (2) About 10% – yes, only 10% – of happiness is due to life circumstances. This includes circumstances such material wealth and beauty.

    (3) About 40% of happiness is due to intentional activity. Wow! What a finding. This means that at least 40% of your happiness is under your control and includes specific behaviors and ways of thinking that will increase or decrease your happiness.

    So, what are these activities and which ones will work for you? Lyubomirsky discusses and describes 12 happiness activities that seem to have a positive effect on people’s happiness.
    Which ones will work for you depends on your personality, needs and circumstances. Many seem to be commons sense, yet unhappy people have not yet learned these basic life skills.

    In future blogs, we will be discussing some of them, especially the ones we regualrly teach in our live anger classes and in our online anger class. Stay tuned………

    Is Happiness an antidote to anger?

    I just returned from a 3-day conference in Philadelphia sponsored by the International Positive Psychology Association. The positive psychology movement is about ten years old but has really “taken off” in the last year or so. It is about scientific research related to concepts like optimism, happiness, resilience, courage, love, achievement, and goodness. The emphasis is on helping people develop positive traits or enhancing what is right and good rather than focusing on fixing what is wrong with a person. The movement believes that we are not so much victims of our past as we are motivated by being pulled into what we want in the future.

    Being an anger management expert, my listening at the conference was mostly how all this fits into anger management. Would developing “happiness” or “well-being” skills decrease anger? Can a positive emotion like happiness offset a negative emotion like anger? Rather than trying NOT to be angry, should we instead focus on skills to be happy?

    As is the case with most things in psychology, the answers to these questions is probably “it depends.” For some people, practicing and mastering happiness skills probably WILL make them less angry. For others, anger might be very situation specific so that they could be happy in most areas of life, but still have anger in a specific area of life (like in their marriage).

    To see which category you fall in, I would recommend starting with a happiness skill that almost all happiness experts recommend- expressing gratitude. This is defined as “a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation of life.” Research clearly shows that those who count their blessings on a regular basis become happier as a result. It is simple to do; once a week, simply write down in a journal or log what you are grateful for that week. Seems to work better if you only do it once a week, rather than every day.
    If you have an Iphone or Itouch, you can even download a free app that allows you to keep a gratitude journal.

    Sounds simple-minded, but sometimes simpler things are amazingly effective. Try it, keep track of both your happiness and your levels of anger, and see if this works for you!

    What is the opposite of anger?

    In a recent anger management class, someone asked the question: “what is the opposite of anger?” If we don’t want to be angry, what emotional state do we want to be in that would be the reverse of anger? The answer, of course, is something like “inner peace” or maybe even “happiness.” 

    So, the discusssion continued, does inner peace or happiness occur naturally or do we have to do specific things to achieve these states of mind?   New research sheds some light on this question and reveals that people who have happiness make conscious decisions to be happy- or not angry. It is a mental skill set that we can acquire and learn. According to a prior president of the Amercian Psychological Association, happiness is something that we consciously choose.

    In our classes, we teach eight tools of anger management, one of which is the tool of learning to respond to stressful situtions instead of just reacting to them. This means being mindful of the choices that we have. “Mindfulness” creates a mental distance between one and one’s behavior which increases self-awareness and the opportunity to choose and direct our actions, rather than being on automactic pilot.

    Individuals who flourish in the face of adversity are those who believe that they have control over their emotions and employ the necessary actions to alter their behavior when faced with stress or anger triggers.

     

     

     

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    Anger Vs. Happiness

    What is emotional happiness? Can people predict how happy they will be in the future? When people look back at their lives, do they regret inactions or actions more?

    These and many other questions are answered in a fascinating best seller by Harvard Professor Daniel Gilbert titled “Stumbling on Happiness.”  The answer to the first question is that emotional happiness is a very personal and subjective feeling. There is no way to compare the experience with others or measure it with anything in the physical world. If someone says they are happy or not happy, you must take their assessment at face value, even though you have no way of knowing if their “happiness” is the same feeling you are having when you say you are “happy” or “unhappy.”
    As for the second question, research show that people are very poor at predicting their future happiness, which may explain why people make all kinds of life decisions thinking they will be happy, but many times, they are not.  He argues that our brain is wired to base future happiness on how we feel when we make the prediction (the present) which may be quit different than how we feel when the actual future event occurs. Thus, things get confused and distorted.
    Finally, studies reveal that at the end of life, people more often regret what they didn’t do than things they did do. This means that maybe we should do more things for happiness.

    This book has hundreds of other fascinating conclusions and findings about happiness and well-being. Many of these concepts are part of our anger management live classes as well as our online classes; our thinking is that the more we achieve happiness the less angry we will be, as the two emotions are pretty much incompatible. More informations at www.angercoach.com