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Drop the Gun and Embrace Your Emotions

Society tries to convince us that we can control our internal experiences. We constantly hear messages like “Don’t worry about it. Relax. Calm down.”

That’s dead wrong.  Just hearing the words “Don’t worry” can make us anxious.

Telling yourself “Don’t worry” isn’t much different.  The more often we think, “Don’t feel anxious you can’t feel anxious don’t be depressed don’t be sad you shouldn’t be upset” the more anxious, depressed, sad and upset we’ll become.

Let’s take a metaphor from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy as an example of how this process works. Imagine that you’re hooked up to a very sensitive polygraph machine. This polygraph machine can pick up the slightest physiological changes that occur in your body, including any changes in heartbeat, pulse, muscle tension, sweat, or any type of minor arousal.

Now suppose I say, “Whatever you do, don’t get anxious while you’re hooked up to this highly sensitive device!”

What do you imagine might happen?

You guessed it. You’d start getting anxious.

Now suppose I pull out a gun and say, “No seriously, whatever you do as long as you are hooked up to this polygraph machine you cannot get anxious! Otherwise, I shoot!”

You’d get extremely anxious.

Now imagine I say, “Give me your phone or I’ll shoot.”

You’d give me your phone.

Or if I say “Give me a dollar or I’ll shoot.”

You’d give me a dollar.

Although society tries to sell us the idea that we can control our internal experiences the same way we do objects in the external world, the truth is that we actually can’t. We can’t control our thoughts, feelings, and sensations, the way we can control objects in the world. In fact, the more we try to control or change our internal experiences the more out of control we feel. The more we try to get rid of distressing thoughts and feelings the stronger they become.

This is what many of us do to ourselves when we experience uncomfortable feelings.  Our minds, like the polygraph machine, pick up sensations in our bodies.  Then we pull out the gun against ourselves and tell ourselves not to have certain emotions. We start struggling with trying to control and eliminate certain thoughts and feelings. The more we try get rid of our experience the more they intensify.  What if we dropped the gun and were kind to ourselves instead?  Thoughts and feelings shift and change like the weather. They are temporary. They intensify when we bully ourselves, and fade away with acceptance and self-compassion.

Painful feelings such as loneliness, fear, sadness, deprivation, rejection, and disappointment are an unavoidable part of life. They are just a part of being a human being. Although we don’t have control over having painful emotions that are a part of being alive, we always have control over our actions. We can always choose to respond in ways that are consistent with our values, regardless of how we feel. We may sometimes think that our emotions force us to act a certain way. We think our emotions are in charge. They’re not. We are. We are never ever truly trapped into actions we don’t want. We can always choose to respond to our emotions in ways that leave us free. So, how can we drop the gun and embrace all our internal experiences?

  1. Notice when you’re pulling out a gun on yourself—judging or struggling with your internal experience.
  2. Drop the struggle. Instead, give the emotion a neutral label. Say to yourself “I feel scared,” or “I feel hurt.”
  3. Notice the sensations in your body that comes with that emotion. Stay present with the sensations. Notice the size, shape, color, and texture of the sensation.
  4. Drop the story in your head about “why” you’re feeling this way. Focus on sensations and feelings rather than ideas.
  5. Open up to the emotional experience. Practicing self-compassion and loving kindness helps us soften up to our emotional experience without pushing it away. Put your hand on your heart and speak to yourself as you would to someone you love. You might say, “This is really difficult” or, ““it makes sense that I feel sad now. “
  6. Remember we are all in this together. Think of all the people right now in this world who are feeling helpless, lonely, deprived, or rejected. You are not alone. Being human comes with pain.

Those steps are the essence of self-compassionate care. Self-compassion is embracing your humanness.

Choose self-compassion and you will be free to act in line with your values.

For now, please take this message to heart. Much of the time, you’re the one with the gun. Don’t pull out the gun and you will be free.

The following questionnaire will help you determine which schemas are most relevant for you in relationships. Schemas are core beliefs or stories that we have developed about ourselves and others in relationships. When we are unware of these stories we are more likely to engage in behaviors that create a self-fulfilling prophecy and reinforce these beliefs. Your responses can provide you with insight into your relationship patterns and dynamics as well as information that will help you deal more effectively in your relationships.

Note: This questionnaire is for informational purposes only and is not intended to function as a psychological assessment or a clinical diagnosis. If you have any questions about your results, please speak with a qualified health professional.

Instructions: 

For each statement, choose the answer that best describes you. At the end of the questionnaire you will receive your results for each schema and how it may be impacting your relationships.

This questionnaire has 110 questions on 4 pages.

 

8 Ways to Procrastinate Effectively

8 Ways to Procrastinate Effectively

Most of us were taught that procrastination is not an effective strategy for getting things done. The common belief is that we shouldn’t put off assignments or projects until the last minute. The implication is that completing a task at the last second would mean being doomed to stress, chaos, and maybe even total failure if things didn’t come together as planned. But is it possible that procrastination may actually be an efficient strategy for some?

Some individuals are happier when completing a task immediately because they derive satisfaction from completing the task. As soon as the task has been completed, they feel relieved and are able to easily let it go. We’ll call these people “non-procrastinators.”

In contrast, procrastinators don’t experience that relief in the same way. They are perfectionists and therefore, even once the task is complete they continue to worry, ruminate, and work towards improving it. Because of this struggle, they only feel satisfied once they have achieved closure through meeting the deadline. If a project is due on Friday and they expect it to take about a day or two to complete, they prefer to begin working on the project on Wednesday and meet the deadline, rather than starting it sooner and still worrying about it for just as long.

Procrastinators also work more efficiently under time pressure. Therefore, they tend to get more done under less time. You may wonder, why not just begin the project on Monday and get it done faster? For people who are natural procrastinators, if they were to begin work on Monday, it’s likely that the project would still stretch out until Friday as they continue tweaking and correcting the work until the deadline. For procrastinators, it can actually be more productive to wait until Wednesday to begin the project.

We know now that procrastination can actually work more effectively and efficiently for some people depending their style of accomplishing goals.

A new perspective on procrastination

When our teachers warned us against procrastinating, they assumed that all procrastination is detrimental and leads to failure. However, some people are inherently inclined to complete work immediately prior to the deadline and are just as successful in doing so.

In fact, research has shown that people who procrastinate can be highly effective. It’s important to distinguish between ineffective procrastination, which causes missed deadlines and doesn’t result in work getting done, versus effective procrastination in which the work happens close to the deadline without sacrificing quality.

If you feel naturally oriented towards procrastinating, you can choose to stop beating yourself up about it and instead actively and mindfully practice effective procrastination. Rather than struggling to change your natural inclination, focus on learning effective procrastination. Below Dr. Lev provides 8 techniques to practice mindful procrastination:

8 tips for procrastinating effectively

1. Use “structured procrastination” to your advantage. Also called “active procrastination,” this phrase means that if you’re avoiding one thing on your to-due list, you use that time to accomplish something less imminent on the list instead. For example, if you are procrastinating on finishing your paperwork, rather than using that time to look at Facebook, you could make several phone calls, clean the dishes, or return emails and check those off the list.

2. Find ways to create external deadlines or consequences. Involving other people can be a good way to keep yourself accountable. Create a deadline by letting another person know that you’ll give them something by a specific date. As an example, if you’re procrastinating on tidying up your guest room, inviting a friend for dinner will motivate you to accomplish this task before your friend arrives.

3. Learn the skill of time allocation. Get good at knowing how much time to allocate to get certain things done. If it only takes twenty minutes to accomplish a certain task, then there’s no harm in waiting until half an hour before the deadline to do it. If there’s a larger project that may take several hours but the typical advice of working on it for an hour a day just doesn’t fit your work style, then you will need to accurately assess how many hours are needed and then block off that time in one or two marathon sessions to get the work done.

4. Accept that this strategy works for you. Don’t feel guilty for procrastinating—there is nothing inherently bad about it. Make procrastination a deliberate choice for yourself, call it a work style instead of a bad habit, and create systems around it that feel right for you. Beating yourself up for having a different work style is not going to help you be more efficient or successful. Accept that you are an effective procrastinator and treat yourself with kindness and self-compassion. Remember, that If you’re finding yourself missing deadlines then its no longer effective procrastination.

5. Know when it’s time to let go. Some items on your to-due list simply may not be that important to accomplish. If you have been putting off dealing with a particular item on your list for weeks or even months and no negative repercussions have occurred, it may be time to take it off the list entirely. It’s also possible that this item still needs to happen but you’re not the person who should do it, in which case you can find someone to delegate to so that it will get done.

6. Use passive preparation. There are a lot of ways to work on a task or project, and not all of them seem obvious to others. You can passively prepare a paper or a project in several ways: read articles about it, think about it creatively, talk with people about it, write down thoughts about it, or create a timeline. This approach means that you can allow yourself to explore ideas without the pressure of needing to get the actual product done just yet. 

7. Get better at prioritizing tasks. One challenge for procrastinators is to decide whether a task is urgent or can wait. Identifying the true degree of urgency for each new task will help you order your to-due list so that “structured procrastination” can be seamless.

8. Reward yourself when you’ve accomplished a task. Treat yourself when you’ve accomplished tasks by their deadline. Give yourself permission to celebrate, eat your favorite dessert, watch a movie, or buy yourself something you’ve been wanting. This will positively reinforce your behaviors in the long run.

Procrastination is what you make it

Procrastination can be a destructive force or a productive one—it’s all about understanding your style and learning the right tools. So, if you’re a procrastinator stop judging yourself for it and start doing it effectively. For more information on effective procrastination or to take a procrastination quiz click here.

Schema Chemistry: The Entitlement/Self-Sacrifice Trap

Schemas are the core beliefs we develop as a result of our early childhood interactions. They can inform many things about our adult lives, including the way we approach romantic relationships.

For example, if you have ever found yourself feeling resentful and lonely in a relationship, a self-sacrifice schema could be at work. This is a pattern in which you tend to be vigilant about others’ needs while ignoring your own needs.

“Schema chemistry” refers to the human tendency to be drawn to people who reinforce our own core beliefs. A person with a self-sacrifice schema may notice a pattern of being with partners who view their own worth and needs as a priority in any situation—in other words, partners who have an entitlement schema. That’s because the self-sacrifice schema and entitlement schema reinforce each other. With every new interaction, both people in the relationship have their core beliefs strengthened by the ongoing dynamic.

At the Bay Area CBT Center, we want you to be able to break this cycle and enjoy a relationship that is positive and uplifting for you and your partner. We help couples develop effective communication and healthy boundaries so the relationship feels more reciprocal—a collaborative effort between you and your partner. The first step is to understand how this “schema chemistry” works and where it’s showing up in your relationship. Then you will be able to implement specific strategies to change that dynamic.

Before we describe some of the specific strategies taught to clients in our practice, here is a closer look at the characteristics of these two schemas.

Self-Sacrifice/Subjugation Schema

If you have a self-sacrifice schema, these characteristics may describe how you interact in intimate relationships:

      • You prioritize taking care of other people above yourself. You feel overly responsible for other people’s feelings and may put your own feelings aside.
      • Taking the blame. You claim responsibility for other people’s behaviors.
      • You struggle with asking for what you need. You feel guilty or selfish if you make your own needs a priority. You may be afraid to ever do this because you sense that your partner may dismiss your needs, get angry at your request, or even leave you.

    Entitlement/Grandiosity Schema

    As someone with a self-sacrifice schema, you may be drawn to relationships with partners who have characteristics of an entitlement schema, such as:

        • They feel entitled to get what they want in any situation.
        • They use controlling and manipulative tactics to get what they want.
        • They see themselves as special—the rules don’t apply to them.
        • They believe they are victims and should not be accountable for their own actions.

        People with an entitlement schema are drawn to self-sacrificers who are unlikely to challenge the entitled partner’s beliefs. Since the entitled person’s needs are always getting met, that person has no incentive to change the dynamic.

        What Can I Do to Get My Needs Met?

        With the help of a trained therapist, it is possible for you to learn how to assert yourself in your relationship so that it is rewarding and fulfilling for you—not just for your partner.

        Here are some of the skills that your therapist may help you build:

        • Discern between needs and wants. Identify your needs and recognize them as non-negotiable, while also recognizing your wants as negotiable and becoming more flexible with your requests.
        • Practice saying “no.” No matter how small a request is, try saying “Maybe, let me think about it” instead of automatically complying with the request. Give yourself more time to explore whether it’s something you’re willing to do, rather than agreeing out of fear or guilt.
        • Clarify and prioritize your needs. What is most important to you in a relationship—honesty, affection, encouragement? What is non-negotiable—respect, safety, fidelity? It’s okay to have one or two “deal-breaker” needs that absolutely must be met in order for you to continue in the relationship.

        Remember, a healthy relationship is one in which both partners are able to express needs on an equal basis without fear of retaliation or abandonment. A trained therapist can help both you and your partner to understand and practice relationship skills that create a balanced, fair, and reciprocal dynamic between the two of you.

        In couples therapy at the Bay Area CBT Center, we help partners clarify the values they wish to emphasize in their relationship. To learn more about how we can help, you can click here to book an appointment online. We have office locations in both San Francisco and Oakland.

Is Social Media Damaging our Relationships?

The excitement you feel when your social media post is “liked,” or otherwise validated, is due to the release of dopamine in your brain, which is also released during sex or a delicious meal. Increasingly, our brains are becoming conditioned and rewired to associate this boost of happiness with our online behaviors like social media, online games, email or aimless surfing.

Unsurprisingly, this leads to a host of emotional and social problems. But how serious is our dependency on mobile internet and social media, and what can we do to live with it in peace?

How Pervasive is Internet Addiction?

Internet addiction affects nearly 6 percent of the global population. Symptoms of online addiction include anxiety, depression, euphoric feelings around devices, lost sense of time, weight gain and the avoidance of work. It also has serious ramifications for those in romantic relationships. Excessive usage of Twitter and Facebook has been linked to cheating, breakups and divorce, often rooted in conflicts over time spent on these platforms.

How Do We Get Hooked?

Healthy self-soothing behaviors such as  exercising, reading, or meditating help us build effective coping strategies in the long run . Avoidance behaviors are automatic behaviors that  we do in order to try to get rid of distressing emotions such as boredom, insecurity, loneliness, shame, hurt, or uncertainty. internet addiction and social media - Oakland therapistThese behaviors usually make us feel better in the moment, but lead to more pain in the long run. Avoidance behaviors are short term solutions to long term problems and end up exacerbating our pain in the long run. These behaviors may include include drinking,  drug use, isolating, internet addiction, yelling, overeating, gossiping, and many others. Since similar chemicals are released when you get a “like” on Facebook and when you take drugs, many are turning to using the internet and social media as a way to escape negative feelings, like boredom or loneliness.

However, when we don’t cope with those feelings, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to better our lives. People who are able to tolerate uncomfortable emotions have more behavioral flexibility, they are better creative problem solvers, and are more likely to engage in adaptive coping responses such as reaching out to friends or make new acquaintances.

Online Identity Confusion

Beyond this addictive chemical reaction, another key issue with heavy internet use is in users identifying more with online identities than real life. Online, you my find it easy to frame your life as one of total fulfillment, and it’s likely many in your network are doing the same. Because of this, it’s often easier to interact online, as it is simple to avoid awkward or vulnerable moments that reveal our insecurities and problems.

And there’s evidence that this is leading to an increasing preference to online interactions over those in real life. According to one study, one in four spend more time on social media than in real-life social situations, and as many as 11 percent of adults prefer to spend a weekend communicating online than socializing.

When Social Media Makes us Feel Bad About Ourselves

Beyond their addictive properties, there are many occasions where social media, in particular makes us feel bad. My clients frequently tell me that Facebook makes them sad, and research bares this out. According to a sturdy from the University of Michigan, the more participants used Facebook, the worse they felt. This, researchers said, is likely due to social comparisons. You most likely have experienced social comparisons when looking your social network’s glamorous photos, happy messages and feel your own life pales in comparison. Repeated exposure to these comparisons can lead to unhealthy beliefs about our self worth.

 How to Use the Internet Mindfully

  • Though there are serious concerns, there’s no need to cancel your social media accounts or throw your cell phone in a lake. There are ways to live mindfully with the internet. We can enjoy its benefits without it draining us of our self-esteem and free time. Try these tips today to live with the internet in peace:
  • Track the amount of time you spend on social media and in real-life interactions.
  • Call a friend. Even if you haven’t spoken to this person in months, ask to spend some time together.
  • Make a point of silencing your mobile device when around your friends.
  • Pay attention to how often you pull out your mobile device out of necessity, and how often out of impulse, or urge. Note the emotions you experience.
  • Note the overall purpose of your social/mobile usage. What are you trying to accomplish with each post, text or interaction? Ask yourself if the message feels genuine.
  • What do you value in your relationships?
  • Are you behaving authentically—like you would in-person—or are you trying to put on a good face?
  • Limit how frequently you check your email and phone.

 

After you recognize which parts of your connected life make you feel good, and which make you feel bad, you’ll feel more confident in cutting out the latter. You’ll begin to feel more power over your device, rather than the other way around.