Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The hardest lesson to learn in life - you can only change yourself

A few small hiccups this week & long lengthy discussions in the car, frustrating and frustrated children who are learning one of the hardest realities we have to face (and many never get there) that we cannot change someones behaviour, we can only change ourselves.

If you stop & think about it long enough, it's rather rude, ignorant and even borders on arrogance; to think we can know everything we can about a person. Of course we do get to know each other well in close relationships, yet no one will ever fully understand the mind of another. Stop and think about you for a while (I tried this exercise with my children), what you think to yourself as someone is berating you or what you think in those quiet moments, those thoughts you never share, why you do what you do (what makes sense/what doesn't make sense), what you keep to yourself, what you hold back.  I could go on with a multitude of hidden agendas and motivations behind your behaviour.  We react to someones behaviour based on our own values & ideas. No one said we have all the answers or our beliefs are the be all of everything.  We are all learning here & learning to understand someone else is the first step to doing something different yourself.  If you are not getting the reaction you expected, then change what you are doing. The definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over & over again & expecting a different response.

Most people rarely understand their own behaviour & yet tend to be more focused on someone else as it is much easier to observe another persons behaviour than our own. The reality is whatever is occurring in a relationship the interaction has two behaviours interacting.  One is not to know what triggers or pushes the others buttons.  How ridiculous does it sound when you are driving down the street & a person makes a silly error on the road & you exclaim "what on earth were they thinking".  How could you know that, as much as they could know what you are thinking right then at that moment.

I use to travel with a person in the car (usually driving) who was easily irritated by other people on the road. I would throw in a "well maybe his wife is dying & he is rushing to the hospital" or "maybe she just had bad news & isn't concentrating", "maybe they have bills up their eyeballs & need the job that they are rushing to the interview for" we respond to someone elses behaviour says more about us than it does about them.  Too often we impose our values & ideas onto others with expectations that if you were in their shoes you would do things differently.  Maybe you have a friend who is over reacting, a partner who is behaving in a way that you don't understand; at the end of the day we are not them, yet how we respond to their behaviour is about us & will alter or not their behaviour.  If you want something different, you need to do something different.  If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got. 

There is that interesting story some years ago about the woman in a lift somewhere in Vegas & an African American man enters with a group of friends & says "hit the floor" and the woman.  Before the brain has actually even registered what the words mean, the woman is spread eagle on the floor & the lift bursts into laughter. Later that day the woman is checking out & apparently as the story goes her bill has been paid with a note "thank you for the best laugh ever" signed Lionel Richie.

Assumptions are at the core of over reactions, fear is at the core of jumping to conclusions.  If we stay in the present, if we look at what is happening right here, right now, what triggered the behaviour, we have the power to change our response. One of the most common discussions in relationship counselling and parenting intervention is the victim of the relationship stating something must be done and done as soon as possible as their relationship or home is out of control. Dealing with victims stuck in the 'everything is happening to me' is rather challenging for any therapist and even more so when the behaviour they are the victim of is violence or threatening to their safety. There are no doubts there are victims of violence & victims of situations which no one would want in their lifetime; yet to stay a victim is a choice.

The thing about change is this - there are always choices.  You make them every single moment of every day.  You may think you are not a willing participant & many things will influence your decisions, even the unconscious ones; fear of hurt, fear of pain, fear of loss, terror, fear of abandonment, of being alone, of suffering. For many families I've worked with, many parents over the years, too many are caught up in the fear associated with what people will think, about being more concerned with acceptance by their family, friends, peers than they are about actually changing the crap life they are stuck in.

You have to let go of the past in order to move into the future. You need to let go of who you think you are supposed to be in order to move towards who are are destined to be. Let go of the expectations & the assumptions, stay in the present, do what works/matters to you, what someone else is doing is irrelevant.  Put it this way, if they stuff up & you follow that path, you end up with the same result.

Many victims of domestic violence know all these real fears too well.  Many parents of violent children also know these feelings, coupled with the love you feel for the perpetrator of the violence at the same time; this makes decision making something too hard to tackle on your own. Get advice, reach out for support & keep knocking on doors until the right ones open. 

If you are stuck & you have a problem situation that seems to be going nowhere fast & you feel like you are stuck on a revolving treadmill, mopping up spillages, picking up the pieces & sticking tape on a broken & fragile relationship; then take stock of the choices you are making & those you are choosing not to make.  Get a clear picture of what is going on, what your role is in the situation, even if you are scared out of your brain - this is not a judgement, it is taking stock of the facts, what is actually happening & the roles people play.  We cannot change a situation unless we know what is occurring. This is your first step to taking back the steering wheel of your life.

I've seen people continue to stand behind lies that are just too ugly to face & continue to claim they want change & do something different.  Yet sometimes until we get to the ugly truth about what is going on, we take off the band-aid & clean out that wound, nothing is going to heal until we let the light in. Nothing will change, we will be destined to repeat the same behaviour over & over again. 

Some years ago I read an article on diets & weight loss. There are so many diets out there & people telling you what you can & can't eat, forget the fact that we all have different sizes, metabolisms, cultures & health issues; if you are to believe the magazines & hype, you too can have the perfect body if you just follow this diet plan. In reality, people eat for a multitude of reasons. I know tiny people who eat well & large people who eat little, yet both just different types of foods, different types of activites/lifestyles/choices.  People who over eat have formed a multitude of behavioural habits over long periods of time. Many people who over eat do so out of emotional needs; comfort eating. Some over eat & the wrong foods due to poor education, convenience, budget requirements.  Eve tried eating organic healthy food while travelling? Much cheaper to get a $2 cheeseburger than a a bowl of organic tofu & salad at $12. There are foods and substances (alcohol/drugs) which meet our immediate needs when the crap hits the fan & stuffing a packet of chips or chocolate biscuits in there eases the pain long enough to catch your breathe.  Yet unless you get to the bottom of what is happening before you start stuffing your face or wasting yourself, you will never find a diet that can maintain a good healthy weight for the rest of your life.  You will still have that underlying habit, that every time life gets a bit stressful, you reach for the one thing you know that brings you comfort. Take the traveling example - to understand how to change the over eating on the road, you need to look at what is happening. The most obvious solution is to plan ahead, pack your food, stop in a nice park/stretch your legs, don't stop at takeaway or drive thru. Take more time to drive, enjoy it, make it more about the trip & less about the junk food on the way.  School lunches are no different. Food in the house is no different.  If you can't control your binge eating, then don't buy it in the first place. Don't give up movie nights or doing things which involve food, do some research, choose different recipes.

In the last few months my daughter has progressed from vegetarian to vegan. I have been learning more about her needs every day & I am pleasantly surprised at her enthusiasm in the kitchen, the yummy meals she has been serving up & where there is a will there is a way.  What was once a saturated fat dripping nachos, we now have beans (my daughter) or my youngest & I have lean mince with beans, goat cheese, gluten free/organic chips (my daughter also makes her own sweat potato chips, they are delicious).  We have over halved the fat & unnecessary health destroying crap in the original meal by altering a few ingredients & I go back for seconds it is much nicer than the other recipe.  We use fresh herbs & spices, make our own fresh sauces/pastes straight from the nuts/herbs/chilli etc. These were choices we made to reduce our crap intake & improve on the additives my youngest was absorbing in order to also improve her behaviour.

Naughty or destructive behaviour is no different.  Yet if you take a long close look at the age old behaviour modification technique 'punishment' which we use across our justice systems, in parenting, in cultures around the world, punishment rarely works. It may cease the behaviour immediately (arrested, pain, death, fear) yet it doesn't have long term capacity to create change in the behaviour that requires modifying.  If it did, our prisons would not be full of repeat offenders, we would all have perfect children & when you scolded a child for doing something they would never do it again.  In reality punishment just doesn't work. It is short pain without long term gain.

What does work is positively reinforcing the behaviour you do like/want. If someone does something nice for you, tell them & they will do it again.  Try telling someone how beautiful they look today & then try telling them how they look like crap or their backside looks big in that outfit, see how different their behaviour is purely by what you say & do to start it off. You have the power in your hands, in your voice & thoughts, in your behaviour to change what is going on around you. Before you can get started you need to identify what is the behaviour you want to change & what is happening right before the behaviour starts.You have got to get to the ANTECEDENT of a behaviour (what was happening right before the behaviour) to understand where to go & what to do next.  Sometimes it is a matter of changing the antecedent & the behaviour changes automatically.

What we sometimes do without thinking about it (when we are tired, exhausted, have no more ideas up our sleeve, down on resources, frustrated or angry), is we reinforce a behaviour & make it stronger purely by our actions & how we respond.  It happens in parenting every day.  A child demands attention, you may negatively reinforce the behaviour by responding to the child (even if it is screaming & you are the one doing it), the child receives the attention.  You may positively respond by re directing the behaviour or doing something different - either way if you reinforce the behaviour either negatively or positively you make THE BEHAVIOUR STRONGER. One of my first behaviour modification assignments involved altering a child's sleeping patterns (get the child out of the parents bed).  I researched techniques & wrote another paper challenging our western perspective of what is actually appropriate sleep for children anyway. The white-way isn't by matter of dominance the right-way.  If your goal in your house is to get your child into a routine because that is what you need, then you have the tools right there already.  Your voice, your behaviour.  Try all the techniques you like, yet the moment you put them back into your bed you will be starting all over again & this time the behaviour is going to be stronger as the child has learned you have a breaking point. There are many techniques to use, yet it all comes down to changing your behaviour in order to change your child's, there is no other way around it. YOU are the instrument of change.

I'm not suggesting a one rule fixes it all, every single person & every single behaviour requires examining to look at what the antecedent & plan the best approach for each person. In relationships matters are far more complex & if you have gone into a relationship with the intention of changing a person you will be fighting a losing battle.  For real change to occur a person must first know they have something to change, they then must be willing to change it, then have the skills/capacity to change & then have the means to actually go about it & then above all the capacity to sustain change. For so many people they stumble at the first hurdle, many people are so busy looking at what is happening to them, they don't realise they need to change in order for change to occur. Sometimes change brings us to our knees, it begs us to look at how stubborn or stupid we can be, it tells us to look closely at the decisions we are making & if we don't do something different, nothing of course will change.

I heard a conversation the other day about a person who has refused to see a psychologist as "they've seen them all", they are frustrated their behaviour hasn't changed.  Interestingly enough the last time I spoke with this person they were telling me how their new psychologist had reassured them their issues related to their childhood experiences, their unconscious attachment issues....etc etc. If someone is telling you that your behaviour is something outside of your control then what motivation would you have to alter your current behaviour? There is no doubt we have thousands of influences on our behaviour.  There are many people out there who can interview a child & as a dog handling friend once stated "it follows down the lead". I can see my reactions to situations in my child's behaviour & their opposing behaviours.  I can see the influences of their friends in poor decision making, in likes & dislikes; I can see the influence of television advertising, the latest craze, I can see the influence of creative & interesting people they have had in their lives & by sharing those experiences they have picked up on areas of interest they would never have found in me.

We can all look back in reflection & take stock of who we are & how we got here.  How we react in relationships, to being held or not, to being confrontational or passive, to being aggressive or resistant to someone controlling us/telling us what to do, maybe completely different for someone who is happy to follow instructions & direction.  Everything we do & say is a result of where we have been, what we have seen & who has been in our life. We are examples of our life experience & our behaviour reflects this.  I can tell you it is like reading a book; analysing human behaviour is both fascinating & yet predictable at times.  How we live, how we set up our homes, what we wear, what we eat, the friends we have, how we communicate in person & on line, you can take all those parts of ourselves & it helps to profile a person.  We are predictable, we are creatures of habit & routines & we stuff up time & time again until we can come to terms with who we are & what needs to change.

Psychologists are no different to doctors or tradesman when it comes to what you need.  Every single psychologist has their own beliefs, underpinning values, training and experience.  Just like you can have doctors that specialise in different areas, psychologists are the same.  You can, as the person has identified above, psychologists who identify with a psychodynamic approach, that your issues arise from unconscious thoughts; you may have a a psychologist who has an underlying theoretical approach where your issues arise from your innate human responses (evolutionary theory), there are cognitive psychologists & behavioural psychologists & you need to find the one that works for you. Teachers are the same; we have Montessori & Steiner, we have emergent curriculum, Regio, we have structured boring theme based approaches - every single teacher is going to be influenced by the theory they identify with & their own beliefs/values. Some may have a blend of different theories, a holistic approach to treatment. Find where you belong, find the person who is going to best meet your needs, don't settle for this will do. There is someone for everyone & if you have something you need to change, then dig in those heels & don't give up. Don't give up on the first try or the 2nd or the third.  Work out what it is you are needing & find someone who can meet those needs.

When my son had a lazy eye at birth, I spoke with an early childhood nurse, it was dismissed. I went again & again, then a GP, another GP, then a paeditrician, several of those. I even spoke with a Neurologist & at 16 months of age & one suggested referral for a psychiatrist for myself as "there is nothing wrong with your son", my son was diagnosed with a brain tumour in the brain stem, he died at 3yrs and 4mths of age. Don't give up on your self, on your child or what matters to you.  If at first you don't succeed, then go again. Find someone who will listen.  Ask friends for referrals, use what resources you have.

For change to occur, for life to change, you need to suck that fear of failing in & you need to put your head down & your bum up & keep going.  There will be criticism, there will be opinions & people will pass judgement.  Keep going. There will be labels & people will call you pushy or persistent or stupid (gotta love the negative ones). Don't give up. If it matters to you & if you want change to occur keep going. The only difference between something failing & something succeeding is persistence.

If you have behaviour to change, then find a psychologist or professional who has the skills to modify behaviour. Of course there are many people out there for a number of reasons need to see a therapist so they can hear themselves speak, tell their story, cry a little, share their pain.  If that is what you need, then so be it.  Yet if you seriously want to change a situation you are in, change a behaviour, YOU & ONLY YOU need to do something different & you need to arm yourself with a great behaviour specialist in order to have a full understanding of what needs to occur.

There are thousands of successful stories of using behaviour modification in chronic conditions; children with autism, ADHD, children who are unable to eat, speak or toilet themselves. Behaviour modification has been used for criminal behaviour, in mental health/violence & in goal setting.  The basis of dog training is using behaviour modification principles. Yet many psychologists have never even taken behaviour modification in their degrees, it is an elective.  I had a situation the other day regarding a sports psychologist who is now working in vocational assessment for insurers.  Basically her background & experience is in motivating sporting professionals & she is now giving an opinion on chronic psychological disorders in order to reject insurance claims for superannuation, yet has absolutely no clinical experience or qualifications, by the flick of a pen & a few phone calls placed a family at risk by disclosing sensitive information because she had no idea how to case manage complex cases.  If you want the job done properly then get someone who is trained to understand behaviour. You wouldn't go & see the heart surgeon to talk about your gynae problems, then why would you go to see a sports trained psychologist or a general psych to dramatically change complex behaviours?

So yes I use this stuff with my own children, I wish I was more conscious of using it with myself & sometimes wonder if it is less a benefit to understanding when you've stuffed up then it is knowing why when you have an interest in behaviour modification. I wasn't sold on the whole theory to start off, I tested in out at home. I used prompting words for each child in order to get their attention to test whether something so simple could alter whether they hear me speak or not.  I said "chocolate" to my 6 year old, "Xbox" to my son; I stopped nagging my son about forgetting to do the rubbish & I started placing it in front of his door so he had to move it to go past.  When he came back inside after taking it out I was full of praise & gratitude!!  I used a reward chart & a little reverse psych with my youngest to get her out of my bed. I let go of the control & I changed what I was doing prior to their behaviour & like magic it worked time & time again.  So I extended these new found skills to all my relationships, even at the supermarket, to my dog (who responded the most positively).  I still have many weaknesses & I'm in the middle of doing things completely differently at present in order to change what has been a long term issue for us it all. I decided to allow people to be more accountable for their actions & words. If they said they would call & they don't, I wasn't going to chase it up anymore. I decided more on what I was willing to do & there are times I know I am negatively reinforcing something & yet there will be a time that will cease.  Sometimes people need help, sometimes a cuddle, sometimes its about picking your moment as a parent or partner to change something for the better.

If you are exhausted & you are out of options, know that there are options.  You are not an endless resource, two heads are better than 1 and 3 better than 2 and so on.  If you are really wanting change, then try something different.  Friend's may have insight that you can't have because you are too emotionally involved. A professional will have knowledge, skill and years of scientific research practice of tried & tested approaches that remove all the hard work for you or trying & trying again.

You could start today by;

* keeping notes, start a journal on the behaviour you need to change.

*Maybe it is a child that is out of control or maybe its an eating habit or a relationship issue.  You could start  by making notes about what is happening & what is happening right before it happens.

* Then you will have something to recall & discuss with a professional.  Make a note of all the things you have tried in the past, those that have worked & those that didn't work.

* Make a list of the people you have seen about the problem behaviour, names of professionals; it helps to understand where you have been & what resources you have accessed already. Arm yourself with the facts.

* If you  would like more information on behaviour modification, Google the articles, there are plenty on line, look at behaviour modification principles & the different technqiues used, these are not for everyone & it will all depend on your personality, your capacity for change, your willingness to engage in a behaviour modification program & your pattern & history of sustaining change.

* Don't be too hard on yourself. Problem behaviours wear us down & altering something complex requires nerves of steel & good friends/support. If you are about to tackle something new & you have a good support network, let them know what is going on & how you might need their help, be armed with reinforcement for when you need it.

If you look at all the dot points above, not one of those involve the other person.  This has always been about YOU, just YOU.

YOU are the change that needs to occur.  YOU need to do something different for the problem behaviour to change.  It may not be the outcome you want, yet that is why you may be holding back from making different choices in the first place; maybe you know where this could go & you are reluctant to go there (fear/anxiety/stress/what will people think).

If you settle for 2nd best, you will get 2nd best.  You cannot expect to win a race & never put on a pair of running shoes.  If you want that dream job or to fit into a bikini or whatever unrealistic or realistic goal you have, YOU have the power to do what needs to be done.

A long time ago I was in a department store, with a looooong walk way up the middle.  I was right down the back with my daughter, she was around 3 I think at the time, we were looking at toys & she decided to have a temper tantrum.  It was one of those moments when as a parent you are about to either screw up or step up & I told her we were going.  Of course my behaviour escalated her behaviour; she threw herself on the floor, the legs & arms waving & I stood my ground & told her I was going & started to walk.  My little person latched herself with arms around my ankle & I kept walking.  Fortunately it was lino on the floor & she dragged behind me easily.  Oh I had looks from all the people in the store, my daughter had nice big lungs & when she decided to open her eyes near the end of the store & realise I was actually going, the noise stopped & she stood up, to the smile of several elderly ladies in the store.  My children often tell me I'm a bit harsh, yet I respond with my role as a parent is to parent first & if we are friends in the process then what a bonus; to raise healthy, responsible, respectful adults & that isn't going to happen by saying yes & by giving in & by going weak at the knees every single time they make demands.

In my roles I've been hit, punched, spat at; I have a long list of creative words I've been called.  Once a child hit me in the chest and then called me a "fu**ing fat skanky whore".  I responded with "just a minute" I can do the f**ing skanky whore thing, yet fat? did she honestly think I had gained that much weight? At which the child smiled & I said it was time to get in the car (& no this wasn't at home, it was work).  We must think on our feet, be willing to bend, let go of the life we have expected, stop expecting people to be what we imagine they should be, they have their own ideas about that & they are relying on us to guide them in the right direction, not tell them where to go! Let people make mistakes, let them make their own choices & your responses to their behaviour will determine whether they change or they repeat the same behaviour over and over again.

This is not easy stuff & I've lived those nightmares, so I'm not talking from inexperience & I'm not suggesting for one moment this won't test you.  There are no miracle drugs or cures here for behaviour.  You can suppress the behaviour by medicating it where it is needed & yes there are people who have no other option than to pursue that path, if neurologically the brain is not making those happy feel good chemicals to regulate your behaviour then do what must be done.  Yet ask yourself, has it changed? I know so many adults on medication to alter their behaviour yet still have the same behavioural issues - am i missing something here? If you had a physical symptom requiring medication & you were still sick after taking the drug for 2mths would you still take it? In treating cancer patients with chemo or radiotherapy, if the tumour keeps growing & the obvious conclusion is the treatment isn't working, then alter the treatemtn! Simple. Mental health & behaviour modification is no different.  Expect there to be change & expect it to improve your quality of life, you deserve it! The idea is to treat the behaviour, to modify & improve your quality of life.  If the treatment isn't working, do something different. See someone else.

I recently had a lengthy discussion with a professional in the US who specialises in trauma treatment & we were talking about how how complex trauma is on behaviour (about the over simplification & acceptance of combat stress & heavily medicating thousands of soldiers each year with no rehabilitation or improvement in their quality of life, many suicide).  The quick fix solutions are not always the best ones & if we are losing people, soldiers, children, victims of violence & nothing is changing; we need to take a long hard look at what is happening with these behaviours in our communities & we need to change, over haul our approach & start saving lives, improving lives & doing something different.

There are so many empowering things we can each do to help ourselves through times of stress & struggle, things w can do ourselves & for each other; to arm ourselves with more resilience & capacity to cope.  Something as simple as a hug releases the same chemicals in the brain that anti-depressants supply! You don't get it in milligrams yet you get an immediate release of endorphins, oxytocin, you feel better, physically you feel supported, loved, nurtured. Hug more people, hug those who matter to you & let people hug you.

Everyone experiences crap in their lives, there are so many areas of behaviour we can change, we are not alone, it's how we manage & respond to those emotions, the struggles we experience, the stuff that is happening to in our lives that sets us apart.  If you are increasing your substance intake then already you are going to struggle with managing your symptoms; diet plays a major role in managing behaviour (stimulants make you hyper vigilant & less likely to regulate emotions & more likely to over react, deplete energy levels). Exercise is a major contributing factor to managing behavioural issues; walking if you can, swimming if that is your thing, find what works, even if it is laying on the floor in the yoga corpse pose & closing your eyes & breathing - breathe! Our lives are sometimes so chaotic & out of control we don't know how we got to where we are, take time to take stock.  Go somewhere quiet, use a moment you have a lone, even if it is rare, don't do the washing or a chore you will have to do later anyway, sit & reflect on where you are at, dream big, write down hopes, dreams, goals, inspire yourself - you need to have food for the brain just as much as you need food in your body; mindfulness, yoga, meditation, reading/relaxation, quiet time.

Where you aware that the majority of the world health disorders, diseases and deaths are preventable? Were you are aware that our societies have become victims of their own behaviour? Their own choices?

We need to stop telling children what to do & start empowering them to be responsible adults, to take charge of their health, to have respect for themselves, respect for others & have responsibility for their actions.  I had someone last year whose child had stabbed the other parent with a pair of scissors & was running the house which was out of control, in front of younger children. When I asked the parent what they did in response, they gave the child (17yrs of age) no access to driving the car & the 2 days later needed the child to go the store & so gave the child the car!!! I asked what she would have done if it was a stranger in the house & she said "call the Police".  If you keep doing the same thing you will keep getting the same behaviour.  If we do not hold people responsible for their behaviour, they are destined to repeat it, we are in fact negatively reinforcing the behaviour over and over again & just making it stronger.  Nice people do not pop of eggs, they are made, they are made with hard work & consistency.  We do not arrive in the world with disrespect & ugly attitudes, they are made & they are reinforced when the people around that personality continue to fail at providing consequences or change in order to alter the behaviour.

Our communities need more responsible adults, we need more responsible children; we need adults who can make hard decisions & professionals to stand by them to help them get there. We need communities to support each other, through times of struggle, so we can modify our own behaviours & be the change we want to see in the world.

Save yourself a lot of wasted energy, plenty of heartache & frustration.  Stop trying to change others & start taking ownership of your own behaviour. Throw out those expectations you have of others & start deciding what it is about you that needs to be different.  People can only treat you the way you allow them to, they need your consent & you standing there taking it. Put the focus light onto you, start with simple changes & start bearing witness to the amazing life you deserve. If you want change, you need to change yourself. Once you embrace that reality, the power is in your hands to do anything & everything you every imagined life could be. Be the change!

Go get it xoxoxo

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