Monday, February 23, 2015

Confidence Rising

I love the combination of confidence and humility as character traits in people. How do we help nurture these qualities in our children? How do we build them in ourselves?

Our sense of worth is not static. It's dynamic and can go up or down based on events and our choices and responses to what happens.

Self-confidence is made up of self-efficacy (feeling capable), and self-esteem (a general sense of being able to cope with things, compete when necessary, and having a right to be happy).

If we have a high sense of self-confidence, we will do what we think is right, even if we are criticized for it. We will take healthy risks, and go the extra mile to achieve something. People with healthy amounts of self-confidence and humility will admit mistakes and learn from them. They will accept compliments with a 'thank you'.

Individuals with a low sense of self-confidence will modify their behavior based on what others think. They will stay in comfort zones and avoid risking. They may cover up mistakes or extoll their own virtues to others, or dismiss compliments altogether.

You can't get confidence from a relationship. You have to develop it individually.

Getting experience helps boost confidence, which is why it can take thousands of hours in a newly launched career or business to feel that way. It is normal to feel insecure at anything when you are just starting out. Preparing well for things, like business meetings and presentations, will help increase confidence.

Continuing in adulthood to learn new things and master new skills is important to aging well and staying mentally active. Some highly self-confident seniors I know have learned lots of things after retiring, like yoga, sailing, Pilates, foreign languages, meditation, advanced degrees, and serving others through volunteering.

Being assertive is another key component of self-confidence. You need to be able to effectively say 'no', and set boundaries and limits with others. You need to be able to speak up on your own behalf, and not let anyone mistreat you.

Confident people seek out others to spend time with who inspire, uplift, and encourage them. If you are trying to strengthen your confidence, spend less time with others who are negative and critical.

In building confidence, it's important to evaluate your strengths, weaknesses and your accomplishments so far in life. What are your ten most meaningful accomplishments so far? What are the ten next things you'd feel good about accomplishing? How can you take some baby steps to address your own weaknesses so that would make you feel more confident? Discuss this question with someone close to you who can offer suggestions.

Create intergenerational friendships, so that you have friends of all ages. It can help your confidence to have emotional support, and others to ask for wisdom who have been where you are.

Confidence is different from arrogance. Arrogance hurts relationships, because it assumes you know everything or know better than others. Being confident should have some humility mixed in it, so you know you don't know everything, aren't afraid to ask questions, ask others for their input or perceptions, and readily admit mistakes and learn from them. Confidence doesn't require perfection.

Extreme self care helps build confidence. Exercising, being active, and doing things you enjoy all help promote confidence.  Getting enough sleep, changing unhealthy habits, eating well and taking care with your grooming all strengthen it.

Take on projects you might have been procrastinating on. Clear your desk. Organize and beautify your surroundings at work and at home.

Acting with confidence will help, too. Stand tall. Smile more. Reach out to extend a handshake or greet or acknowledge others.

Manage your negative self-talk by watching how you talk to yourself. Be grateful, and express it. Don't whine or complain. Speak more slowly. Focus on solutions, not problems. Acting confident can help build confidence. Don't ever tell yourself you can't have or be what you really want. Don't limit yourself. Make a list of things you've been tolerating and make plans to get past them.

Living in a kind and generous way can build confidence as well. Volunteering and doing things to help others makes a person less self-conscious and more confident, too. Say 'yes' to invitations from others whenever you can to make your world larger.

Raising capable, confident children is also easier if you reflect same qualities.

Self-confidence can always be strengthened. As author Mark Victor Hansen wrote, "Don't wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles, and less than perfect conditions. So what? Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident, and more and more successful".

Monday, February 9, 2015

Keeping Things Fun

I've always liked Dr. Phil's line, "How much fun are you to live with?" It reminds us that as busy as work and daily life can get for couples and families, it's really important to have regular fun along the way. If we don't, life can become monotonous. When I'm counseling couples and families, I generally always want to check on how much fun they are having. When couples or families are struggling, the fun often stops. Getting regular and spontaneous joy happening helps relationships renew and regenerate.

For couples, date nights are essential. It keeps couples connected in a personal way that goes beyond sharing a household, tasks and parenting. Years ago, University of Washington sociologist,  sexologist and researcher Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D, found that two career couples with children are very likely to develop a brother-sister dynamic of two task-sharers if they aren't intentional about re-romanticizing the relationship.

How should date night work?

I like to have committed couples alternate who plans them. Everyone likes to be courted, and I like to get each partner involved in using their own individual ideas and personality in planning dates that would be different and fun. Ideally I'd like to see couples have a date night weekly, but sometimes we have to settle for twice a month. It can help to have a standing date, which makes it more likely to be a habit, such as Saturday night. This way you don't have to negotiate the time with your partner, and you can go ahead and make some plans.

Date nights don't need to be expensive. The primary focus is parallel play, where you can visit with each other as you share a meal and do a fun activity together. A movie is not ideal because you sit in the dark not interacting, unless you share a meal or coffee afterwards and discuss it. A date should take at least 3 hours. Mix it up, and check the local paper for creative ideas that interest you. Consider doing something active together if you are both up for that.

As soon as one date night is done, the other partner needs to make sure to get the next date time secured. This builds positive expectancy, and helps you begin associating your partner with fun, lightness and pleasure again.

There are topics to absolutely avoid on dates. These include: parenting, children, money, in-laws, and any other hot button issues. Remember, this is a date, not a time to problem solve. Help remind each other to stay off the forbidden topics you might normally hide behind. For example, if one of you forgets and brings up children, the other could smile sweetly and ask, "What children? We have children?"

Families also need to have fun together. Get your children or teens rounded up for a family meeting and brainstorm with their ideas. Perhaps they will be interested in a new tradition like a family board game night, movie night, international food night, craft night, etc.  Teens may protest and roll their eyes but generally enjoy positive family time as well. You can invite them to have friends join you.

Date nights are not just for couples. Creating one on one time between each parent and child is important connecting time, too. Your child or teen will love having your full attention. Focus on doing something they enjoy and listening. Avoid grilling them about grades.

In families that I work with after a crisis like a death or a divorce, beginning to make plans to have fun together again is hopeful for everyone who remains. It signals that the good times are not all behind us, but are still there for the making. 

Planning date night and keeping some couples time sacred makes you a better role model for your children, who will grow up seeing that as normal and desirable. They will likely want to emulate that same pattern in their relationship.

How much fun are you to live with? Hopefully you already are having fun, but if not, it's time to start instigating some this week with those closest to you. You deserve it, and so do they. Life's just too short not to mix some fun in regularly.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Best Valentine's Day Gifts of All

On the way into work this morning, I was listening to a radio show with the hosts discussing great Valentine's gift ideas: shaving kits, flowers to plant, perfumes and lotions, homemade cakes and macaroons. As a couples and family therapist, I can think of things your loved ones might prefer. Here are a few suggestions, and most carry the benefit of being absolutely free.

Spend time together - Whether it's your partner, your child, or your parent, planning a surprise day out or evening together is a wonderful gift of your time. It says, "You are a priority in my life," and "You're important."

Take initiative- Be the one who makes dinner, plans a date, finishes a home project, washes the dishes or the car, weeds the garden , or initiates affection. Doing anything sweet without being asked means so much.

Honesty- Be direct and honest with your loved ones. Communicate if you are upset, don't freeze others out. Don't keep secrets. Be honorable with your word.

Be faithful- Make your commitment to your partner meaning something. Set boundaries with others. Protect and nurture your primary relationship. If you have an issue with your partner have the courage and honor to talk with them directly about it, not to others.

Own your own part- Apologize if you overreact or behave badly. Make the effort to do better. Manage your own stress and anger by learning to meditate or quiet your mind. Take out your own mental trash.

Express yourself- Make your partner and loved ones a card or write them a letter that details exactly what you love about them. Be specific, and cite examples. Say "I love you" often, be generous!

Try to see it their way- In every relationship their are two perspectives, theirs and yours.
Make an effort to shift out of your perspective and see things from their perspective.

Have some fun together- Most couples and most families don't have nearly enough fun together. Clear the calendar for a regular date night and a regular family fun night, game night, movie night or whatever might be a blast for your loved ones.

Listen- More than you speak. So few people do it. Your partner or family member will be very appreciative. Intentionally focus on your loved one. Put down the phone and distractions. There is no better gift than your full attention.

Touch- Give a heartfelt hug or a kiss and watch your loved one light up. Hug like you mean it. Give your partner a back massage. Hold hands. Touch your partner lovingly as you pass them around the house. Children do better with loving, appropriate touch. Seniors especially need to be lovingly hugged.

Give compliments- Sincere and unsolicited compliments feel wonderful. Let your loved one know what you value about them or appreciate about them. Be specific.

Leave love notes- Put them in your child's lunch or your partner's briefcase, desk, closet or pillow. Teenagers get such undeserved bad press and like love notes, too.

Forgive- Don't hold grudges. Talk it out. Show your loved one you can work through difficult feelings like hurt, resentment and anger and make repairs.

Tiny little gifts- Big, splashy valentines gifts are nice, but how about a tiny, sweet little gift that says I thought of you on an ordinary Monday? It could be a piece of chocolate, a flower or a pack of gum, but what matters is the unprompted thoughtfulness.

Think creatively, and make demonstrating your love something that goes beyond Valentine's Day. These little signs of love are what make living worthwhile, and giving is every bit as satisfying as receiving them. In life, it's interesting that many of the most valuable gifts can't be bought. Being in loving relationships is essential for living your life well everyday.