Friday, April 27, 2012

Spending our 30's and 40's undoing our 10's and 20's.

This phrase...spending our 30's and 40's undoing our 10's and 20's is one I repeat often in my private practice with clients. At one level, its a funny phrase that makes clients laugh. But on another level, its a truth.  Many people had childhood experiences that didn't provide an environment that gave them the opportunity to learn what it is to be a whole human being. Whether traumas, neglect, abuse--these "Adverse Childhood Experiences" disrupted the learning pathway to building a whole and dynamic SELF.

The result is that this growth interruption led them to find other ways to cope and negotiate the world--often leading to addictive patterns which helped them survive childhood.  Now, in their 30's and 40's those behaviors are so usual and customary for them that they don't know any other way to live. But sitting in my office, they are admitting that they can see those behaviors are now seriously limiting their lives. They've hit on one major reality--they want to stop but they have no idea what they would replace these behaviors with instead.

Just the other day a client said to me, "I've been in therapy for my addiction many times.  We all agree that I should stop drinking. But then the therapists say to me "What will you do instead?" and that's when I go totally blank.  I want to scream at him or her--"If I knew how to live without alcohol, don't you think I'd be doing it?  I don't know how to answer your question--if I did, I wouldn't be here!!!"

The whole time he is saying this during our session, I'm shaking my head in agreement. I know he is being honest and truly doesn't know how to make choices from a strong inner-SELF because that is something that emerges slowly throughout our childhood learning experiences. But he didn't get that information--instead he got abused, told repeatedly he was a terrible child and useless.  For him, childhood was spent learning to find ways to get away from the constant onslaught of pain, fear and anger that represented his home life. His 10's and 20's were spent trying to survive this and alcohol gave him relief.

What he should've been getting is guidance, support, good dialogue and communication and someone who knew how to help him journey to adulthood and wholeness.  That's why he's arrived in counseling--he doesn't quite know what he's looking for, but he knows he doesn't have it.  So, when we start out together, I know our work has to begin with a short check in on his early years but then most of our time is focused on what should've happened.  Here's the tasks you would have completed on the pathway to adulthood if you'd had a different upbringing.  Let's spend the next few sessions learning this now.  Time and again I hear clients say--finally something to work towards!

And that's the great thing about Life Puzzle--you can be 30 or 40 (or older!) and yet, its not too late to go back, pull out the jammed in pieces and learn how to replace them with new, healthier lifestyle behaviors.  Then instead of drinking to avoid pain and fear and LIFE, you'll wake up able to take on the day and deal with what comes because you have new skills to manage pain and fear and choose to fully live LIFE.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Wholeness or Wellness

I recall in the mid 90’s when completing my graduate/post-graduate work in counseling one of my professors saying to me “Before I met you—I had never heard the term wellness. At that time, Wellness represented a new approach to health—moving beyond the removal of disease and instead, putting the attention towards building vibrant health. Wellness entailed primarily diet, exercise and stress management. This was pretty radical stuff. Words like prevention, body/mind/spirit and being proactive began floating around.

There were even calls at that time to have the counseling profession be a leader in Wellness—teaching our clients how to create lifestyles that would help them be more resilient and capable. This was in stark contrast to the “disease/disorder’ model that forced us to define a client by what’s wrong and work on removal of that ‘problem’. I’m sad to report however that wellness has not won as the primary foundation for the counseling profession. We are still tethered for the most part to the disease/disorder system as is the entire medical system.

Though there are some promising cracks in the system. Martin Seligman, past APA president announced in 2005 that, and I quote: “For most of its history, psychology has concerned itself with all that ails the human mind: anxiety, depression, neurosis, obsessions, paranoia, delusions. The goal of practitioners was to bring patients from a negative, ailing state to a neutral normal, or, ‘from a minus five to a zero’*. I realized that my profession was half-baked. It wasn’t enough for us to nullify disabling conditions and get to zero. We needed to ask, What are the enabling conditions that make human beings flourish? How do we get from zero to plus 5?

Martin Seligman, American Psychological Association Time magazine, January 2005. The Science of Happiness.

When I first saw this I was hopeful that Wellness was finally going to get a shot in the big systems and we could finally move beyond disease.

But I’d like to suggest that we not adopt Wellness after all—I think we should by-pass this mid-step and head straight to Wholeness. Wellness implies the opposite of Illness (well not ill), but simply because we are “well” does not mean we’re “whole”. Wholeness implies something far more than simply being well. It is a framework on which to build a life while wellness is more an orientation about not being ill.

Wellness was groundbreaking in so many ways. It was the first challenge to the illness/disease model and provided a new view that allowed us to see where we could take charge of our lives. It inspired many (me included) but it didn’t fully deliver because even many in the wellness movement found a need for something deeper and more….well, whole.

This is certainly one of the motivations for my creating the Life Puzzle model—first for myself and then for others. Wholeness has always been the foundation for Life Puzzle making. It essentially sets a framework for building a life that results in each of us trusting that we are potentially whole beings. That we are physical, emotional, thinking, sexual and spiritual beings and that our journey is to develop a lifestyle that will enable us to enhance our wholeness. This is reflected in the 16 core areas of one’s life and the 5 edges the create the SELF—the very self that takes responsibility for building a whole and dynamic life.

While Wholeness may see far more daunting than Wellness, in reality it is far more satisfying. Wellness leaves us searching for something more but it’s a big of a blank of what this ‘more’ may be. Wholeness on the other hand provides the full framework on which to build a lifetime.

As we enter the 21st century, let’s acknowledge that we’ve accumulated a vast amount of information and knowledge. We now know that Wholeness is possible—and its time to bring it into view. Wellness is sufficient but wholeness is dynamic.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wealthy or Well-being?

As we sit in the aftermath of the 2008 financial meltdown, the reality of $1.3 trillion dollars no longer circulating in our economy has become to hit home everywhere. Practically every state in the country is faced with deficits and budget shortfalls requiring cutbacks in state services, education, health care, police and fire.

Ironically however, Wall St. investment firms continue to hand out massive, multi-million dollar bonuses to its staff while teachers are laid off and communities around the country see the lives of their children being impacted. Yet, there are no protests anywhere. Somehow, we've come to accept that this massive accumulation of wealth by a small group of people is normal now and but for the opportunity to be in their shoes, we don't begrudge them the right to be where they are.

How did we get so out of balance? When did wealthy overtake everything else in importance? When did financial wealth become more important than well-being?

I recently had a discussion with a man approaching his 60's who is now actively engaged in his well-being every day. Yet, as he said, he spent most of his life--until almost 50, focused only on being wealthy. And he did accumulate great wealth--but at the expense of his family, his community, and his health. Only after he'd accumulated more than he could possibly know what to do with, did he stop and when he stopped--he discovered he had no idea how to live life.

As he said, "I didn't know there was any other option than to put my nose to the grindstone and make lots of money--because that was the ticket to happiness. Then I got lots of money and was trapped by it because it had prevented me from really participating in life--people, relationships, connection to the earth--all of what I now consider important. But I was totally unaware that there was even another option. I'm angry about that--now that I can see the difference between wealthy and well-being, I'd take well-being any day."

And I think that has become true of so many people--especially those trapped in the Wall St. mania of 'wealthy at all costs". We've traded wealthy for well-being and in doing so are creating a country that's lost connection with what is truly important. Our well-being is being decimated as we close schools, leave millions unemployed, watch our earth being destroyed in the pursuit of ever-greater wealth.

Wealthy or Well-being? Its a choice. In Life Puzzle terms--wealthy is the 0-5 unconscious, well-being is 6-10 proactive, conscious, whole life making. Which do you choose?

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Dear Bill Gates

Your Feb 27th Washington Post article, How Teacher development could revolutionize our schools holds a lot of very good points. Clearly we have a great need for good teachers and good schools and our current system has gotten bogged down in producing both of these. I think one of the key reasons is as you say, "we do very little to measure, develop and reward excellent teaching". And the way our systems are set up, it will be very hard to change that any time soon.

I would like to suggest another approach to this issue that would enable not only greater outcomes for our children and their learning but could improve our economic system as well. As we sit in the Great Recession--with 15 million unemployed and an expected 'jobless recovery', we have in front of our eyes a solution that could result in a stronger economy, healthier and smarter children, more resilient communities and even a way to improve the environment. That solution is to recognize that a successful economy in the 21st century will require high functioning humans and the best place to start this is not in our schools, but in our homes.

I am proposing Mr. Gates that we begin to invest in a new business sector altogether. Let's invest in the business of human capacity development. Let's hire, train and manage Human capacity development professionals who work in their homes and as part of a community team network to provide human capacity development to their children.

Now, you might be thinking that this is to pay for parenting--but that's not it at all. Because while all the hired staff of Human Capacity Development professionals may be parents, the reality is that not all parents are Human Capacity Development professionals. There-in lies the difference Mr. Gates. Human Capacity Development Professionals are just that--professionals trained in whole person/whole community development. They go to work every day, will be highly networked using technology and all of them will be focused on the high achievement outcomes for their children with developmentally appropriate measures.

While of course we want our schools to improve--in truth, long before a child ever reaches school there is so much human capacity development work that needs to happen. If we fund this new sector of Human Capacity Development Professionals, we will be taking a quantum leap forward and enabling our schools to receive children who are far more ready to learn than what our current schools are receiving. And we know this also has a huge impact on teacher's success although they have no control over their student's readiness at this point. Thus, many teachers spend far too much time having to deal with this primary issue--all of which could be solved if we created a new business sector to address this need.

Your foundation is working with 3000 teachers, I would like to ask if your foundation would also support a pilot project of 30 Human Capacity Development Professionals and a management team? If you are interested in this concept, I would be pleased to provide more details.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tying shoelaces

One of the core reasons I created the Life Puzzle model was to address this fact: Human beings have to be taught how to be human. I came to realize that most adults--even those having children, truly do not understand that simple, basic fact. I've had adults tell me again and again that they assumed children, after a certain age, would just figure it out. That as parents, they needed to provide food and shelter and some schooling--but then it was up to the child to figure it out for themselves.

Yes, we know when they're quite young we have to take care of them. But it seems to me that about the time a child can tie their own shoelaces or pour their own milk...we begin to see them as capable of figuring out how to do the rest of their lives.

But the honest truth is--children don't figure it out by themselves. Left to their own devices, they'll end up making lots of knots with their shoe laces instead of tying it correctly. They need lots of guidance and they need adults to show them the big picture of what it takes to be a human being--and then the little steps to get there--as in how to correctly tie their laces or build a great life.

If all of us adults understood this, we'd engage in more dialogue with our children, spend more time helping them practice so many of the things they need to learn--just as we sat patiently and practiced tying shoe laces with them. Don't assume they'll figure it out--assume the opposite in fact--that a good conversation about every little thing they need to learn is worth the time to show them you care and that its okay to 'not know'. Then they'll assume their parents are there to fall back in when confused and unsure.

Every day on our streets you can see the impact of children being left to figure it out for themselves. It isn't a pretty picture. Changing it starts with us adults--realizing human beings don't just happen--we have to be taught to maximize our human capacity. We needed help learning to tie our shoe laces so they didn't come out all knotted...and we need help learning to become human so our lives aren't a knotted mess too.