Month: December 2007

Change Your Framing, Change Your Life

Photography is, at its best, an art that captures a moment of life, preserving it for the ages.  A photograph, when framed and focused properly, can make something very ordinary into something of exquisite beauty.

The primary key, in photography, to take something from being ordinary into something extraordinary is the framing.  Essentially, you set up the photograph so that it highlights the things you want it to highlight, rather than being in the context that people expect.

When you understand the power of framing, you can take mesemerizing pictures of anything.  You can make people notice a single blade of grass… or put a looming skyscraper in context by showing it against the backdrop of a mountain.

This power of framing in photography makes for an excellent analogy with life.  The power and impact of any given event in your life depends on the framing that you have given it.

For example, if your paycheck this week was $1000 (after taxes), this could have a powerful negative impact if you were expecting $5000, no impact if it’s exactly what you were expecting, or make you happy for a week (or a month) if you were expecting $100.  The framing of what you were expecting determines the impact of the event… not the contents of the event itself.

This same effect holds true throughout life… if you frame your relationship in a negative way, then you will find that negative events happen in your relationship.  If you frame it in a positive way, you can see those same events in a positive way.

For instance, an event that virtually always carries a powerful impact is learning that you and your significant other are going to have a baby.  If you have laid out grand plans for your life, none of which involve babies, this event can be devestating.  If, on the other hand, you have been trying for years to have a baby, your framing, and how you perceive the event, will be extremely different.

It’s not just in relationships, either… you can apply the same thing to job instability.  It can be horrible to one person, while to another it provides the opportunity to finally make that move they’ve been waiting on for years.

Any event in your life works the same way.  Births, deaths, relationships beginning and ending, job, hobbies… they all go through our framing that we apply to our life, and that, not the event itself, determines how we perceive them.

That leads to a simple, yet profound, concept:  If you want to change your life, if you want to be happier and more at peace, what you really need to do is change your framing.  This might involve pulling back, to include more of the big picture of your life, or zooming in, so that you notice the details that were fuzzy.

You can even go back and look at events in your past with new framing, and have their impact on your life change.  Take, for example, the birth of a child, mentioned above… many people have had the first reaction, only to find out once the child has arrived that they look back, with their new framing, and can’t imagine that they wished it any other way than it is now.

Changing the framing that you habitually apply to life can have an incredible impact on every aspect of your life… relationships (not just the romantic kind), your personal happiness, and even other people’s perceptions of your success in life.

It can also easily lead to greater financial success, as you start framing events in the light of opportunity, rather than the light of risk.  Of course, that same change, framing in the context of opportunities, rather than risk, can lead to other kinds of success, as well, including the romantic kind.

So, that’s all well and good, but how do you actually go about changing your framing?

There is no all-encompassing answer, but here are a few suggestions to help you get started:

  1. Slow Down

    Even if you feel like you don’t have any time, that you have too many things you have to do (or maybe especially then)… slow down.  If you have too many things to do, prioritize, and drop the lowest priority items.

    Rushing from one task to the next wears the body, and the mind, down.  It also tends to lower the quality of all of the tasks you are rushing between.  If you have too much to do, pick just a few to do today, things that you can get done without rushing… and leave everything else for another day.

  2. Write A Description Of The 5 Best Things That Have Happened To You

    This is just like it sounds… write a description of the five best things that have ever happened to you, like you were telling someone else about them.  There’s no set amount to write, just keep it in the style of telling someone else about it… that will force you to write more than one or two sentences, which wouldn’t have much effect.

    The idea is to make you remember that good things happen to you, too, even if it seems like the bad things outweight and outnumber them (They don’t… you just framed more things in a bad way, which, admittedly can be easy to do, sometimes).

  3. Write Down Your Best Memory Of The 5 People You Care About Most

    Much like the one above, you write down the best memory you have of the five people that you care about most, as if you were telling someone else.  There are no minimum (or maximum) lengths, and spelling and grammar don’t really matter… just be descriptive.

    Try to paint a picture, with words, so that someone else could get an idea for how you felt when the memory was being made.

  4. Write The Most Disgustingly Positive Description Of Your Life That You Can

    Write a description of your life, or the last little period of your life (day, week, month), in the most absolutely ridiculously positive way that you can.  Use words like wonderful, breath-taking, spectacular, or whatever else you can think of, but describe the actual events.

    This may require you to focus on one aspect of a situation, rather than the whole thing (or in other words, framing).  For example, if you got in a car wreck, and your car was totaled, but you were unhurt, you might write about how you were miraculously unharmed, while downplaying the wreckage.

    The point here is to show how framing works, and how even the worst events can be seen in a positive light.  It also can provide a sense of balance to a normally negative framing, by making you look at the same events again with a different framing.

  5. Do Something Small For The People You Care For

    This could involve something like doing a household chore they normally do, writing them a letter, buying them something small, or generally any other way of showing your appreciation.  This serves two purposes… it reminds you that there are people that you care about in your life (something that sometimes fades when your framing is negative enough… you tend to zoom into just you), and it reminds them that you care about them, which likely will bring similar actions from them.

  6. Eat And Sleep Right

    It really is amazing how much of an impact your eating and sleeping have on your life.  Too much or too little of either tends to move your framing more and more in a negative direction.

    I can see this personally with eating… if I don’t eat lunch by about 1:00 PM, my attitude and outlook deteriorate rapidly.  When I do eat, they go right back to normal.  It’s really weird to observe in myself, but it is definitely there.

  7. Start A Hobby

    Virtually anyone who has a generally negative framing in life has a “hobby” they want to do, but never take action to do so.  It might be playing guitar, it might be woodworking (one of mine), or photography (another of mine), writing, painting, knitting, or whatever else strikes your fancy.

    Whatever it is, start doing it… acquire the necessary supplies, pick up an instructional book or video, and get started.  It can help you to feel like you can tell the rest of the world to take a hike, at least for a little while, and can also result in you feeling like you are getting something done (very helpful in having a generally positive framing).

  8. Say “Thank You” Sincerely

    This requires more action on your part than you might think… in order to say thank you sincerely, you actually have to be thankful.  That means looking at the situation from outside your own point of view, and realizing that someone is spending their time and energy helping you with something.

    It doesn’t even matter if they are being paid… if they are being helpful, that is worthy of you sincerely appreciating it and saying so.

    You might even be the only positive thing they remember from that day.

  9. Two Positives For Every Negative

    I’ve mentioned this one a time or two before.  It’s very simple… for each negative thing you say, or better yet even think, come up with two positive things to say about the same thing to the same person.

    In other words, if you say something bad about your spouse to your friend, immediately find two good things to say about your spouse to that same friend.  If you think something bad about your coworker, immediately find two positive things about them in your mind.

    This keeps you from focusing solely on the negative, and makes you think consistently about the good parts of the things most present in your life… it can’t force your framing to be completely positive, but it makes it much harder for it to be relentlessly negative.

  10. Compliment A Stranger

    Complimenting a stranger is a great way to bring a momentary bit of good into their life… and it makes you look around you for the good things at the same time.  After all, you don’t “compliment” someone on a negative attribute, at least not a genuine compliment.

    And, as a bonus, one I enjoy:

  11. Get A Great Dinner… And Enjoy Every Bite

    Sometimes it can make a big impact on your outlook when you just do something for yourself… a relatively easy one, that I personally enjoy, is to go get a great dinner, something that you really enjoy.  Then, instead of talking or thinking about your day, just let everything else take a back seat and enjoy each bite.

    Let the world around you fade away, and just enjoy your meal one bite at a time… it’s amazing how much difference it can make.

All of these things essentially boil down to one of two things:  being good to others (zooming out in your framing), or letting the rest of the world fade (zooming in).  A good photographer includes both, depending on circumstances:  close shots for things like butterflies or portraits, while zooming out for landscapes and sunsets.

Your life needs the same thing… sometimes you need to let the rest of the world go, and have time for yourself.  Other times, you need to let go of your self and pay attention to the rest of the world.  If you get out of balance either way, your framing is distorted, and you start to perceive more events in a negative light than is necessary.

So step back, become aware of your framing, and watch as your life slowly becomes more beautiful.

Step By Step: How To Make A Great First Impression

You’re not in a relationship, and you see someone to whom you are attracted, but who you don’t really know.  You want to approach them, but you don’t really know how, and you really want to make a good first impression.

It might be someone who is a complete stranger, like someone you see while you’re at a party (or a conference, if that’s more your style), or it might be someone with whom you have some sort of connection, like a coworker or the friend of a friend.  It doesn’t really matter, the steps remain essentially the same, though you’ll already have one or two of the steps covered if you have some sort of connection.

So, let’s dive right in:

How To Make A Great First Impression

  1. Know, And Be, Who You Are

    Most people, to be honest, don’t even know who they really are, and can’t really follow the old advice of “be yourself”.  The majority of people are a swirling mass of conflicts, trying to appear to be what they think other people think they should be.

    Buck the trend, be different… build yourself up, and people will notice… it will strengthen the impression that you leave.  It also takes away much of the fear of rejection that step #2 brings up.

  2. The First Introduction

    The best way to avoid instant rejection (being rejected before you even get a chance) is through social proof.  Social proof is showing that someone else likes something (in this case you) in order to get others to give it more of a chance.

    Your best social proof, for an introduction, is a mutual friend… if you can show that someone they like, and at least partially trust, thinks you’re okay, then you have a huge advantage.

    Your second best chance is to have a woman who is your friend with you… and this is true regardless of whether the person you are approaching is a man or a woman.  If you are a man approachign a woman, she will be less suspicious of another woman.  If you are a woman approaching a man, that man won’t have his guard up from the natural competition between men.

    With that being said, you are still better off approaching with a male friend (though not a group) than you are alone… it’s still social proof, showing that you’re less likely to be some creepy weirdo, and more likely to be a normal (in the good sense) person.

  3. Break The Ice

    Now that you’ve introduced yourself (or had a friend introduce you), you’re ready for step 3, breaking the ice.  Breaking the ice means getting past those initial walls people throw up when dealing with total strangers.  Once you’ve gotten past that point, you really have a chance to make, and leave, a good impression.

    So, how do you break the ice?  The easiest way is to ask open, not particularly private questions.  There are some very well known, generic questions that you can use (think “What do you do for a living?”), but if you really want to be effective, you need to ask creative, unusual questions.

    You can find some ideas for creative questions here.

  4. Find Shared Experiences And Interests

    This is where you go from establishing that you’re not a threat to really making an impression that lasts.  As you talk (see step #3), look for things that you have in common… shared experiences (moving a lot as a kid, watching the same shows, etc.), shared interests (musical taste, hobbies, pets… can be almost anything), shared beliefs (generally political or religious… somewhat dangerous territory here, though, not necessarily something you want to talk about when first meeting someone), and best of all, shared passions (you’re both avid photographers, etc.).

    Sometimes the shared interest may be hidden behind something else… you may be talking about what you’re each doing for Christmas and notice that you both are strong family people… that’s a shared interest.  Or you may both have the same Christmas tradition… that would be a shared experience.  Remember, be looking for these… but not so much that you’re not paying attention to what they actually say.

  5. Emphasize Your Shared Interests

    Once you find shared interests and experiences, focus on them, talk about them more.  Don’t “force” the conversation that way, just let it move that way naturally… otherwise you may come off in a creepy way, like you’re trying too hard.

    The more shared areas you find, and the more you talk about them, the more “connected” you are… it may even end up one of those things where you feel like you’ve known someone forever, even though you just met them the day before.  You can’t ask for a better first impression than that.

    One word of warning, here… shared passions can be great for that “connected” feeling, but people usually have very strong feelings about their passions, so if you happen to share a passion but not the same focus within that passion, you may want to ease up on that area.

  6. Mention The Future

    When it’s time for one of you to leave, after you’ve had a great conversation, make sure that you mention the future.  How you should mention it depends on just how well you hit it off… if it went reasonably well, but not great, then you can simply mention something about something you’re going to be doing in the near future that has to do with one of your shared interests.

    If it did go great, then you can do the same thing… but invite them to come along.  Alternatively, you can plan something new to do together… either way has its advantages.  Inviting to an already established plan means that you are trusting them enough to invite them into your existing life, where planning something together can make your connection a little bit stronger by building something new, together.

    Either way, though in the second case this is obvious, make sure that at some point you have mentioned at least one means of contacting you, and preferably have written it down for them somewhere… depending on how well it went, this might range from an email address right up to your cell phone number.  How personal the means of contact is tells the person how interested you are… so make sure you keep that in mind.

There you have it, step by step instructions on how to leave someone with clear memories of time with someone new that shares their interests.  They may even remember you (and you remember them) as someone with whom they “just clicked”.

A good first impression, of course, is just the first piece in building a relationship… but it’s a critically important piece, as without it, you’ll never get a chance to get to the next piece of the puzzle.


How Long Should I Wait Before Starting A New Relationship?

A good relationship is, without a doubt, one of the most wonderful things to have in your life.  It can contribute more to your happiness than nearly anything else, with only following your dreams possibly bringing more.

Unfortunately, not all relationships are good relationships, and even good relationships can end when something traumatic causes one of the people to change beyond what the relationship can handle.  And, sad to say, some good relationships end when one person dies.

When that happens, when you come out of a long-term relationship into which you have invested a lot of your time and energy, your very self, there is often an aching emptiness, a hole inside of you that used to be filled.  The pain from that emptiness, from the severed connections, can cause your mental clarity to falter, drawing in close, in the same way that physical wounds, if severe enough, can cause you to be unaware of your surroundings.

Sometimes, when that ache is strong enough, we reach out for anything to try to fill the hole.

That desperation to fill the hole inside can cause us to try to take whoever is available and project what we want them to be onto them, trying to force them to fit into a place in the puzzle of our lives that isn’t made for them.  That’s a recipe for heartache for both people… honesty and intimacy are necessary for a good relationship, and with one person (or both) pretending the other is someone they are not, honesty and intimacy are impossible to find.

Many people know this, mentally, and will tell you, if your relationship ends, that you need to wait a certain amount of time… 3 months, 6 months, or a year.  The ironic thing is that many times these same people will be the ones trying to hook you up with someone they know before that time has passed.

So, how long should you wait before starting a new relationship?

Anyone who tells you a specific amount of time is making it up… the length of time you should wait can’t be defined with numbers.  It can only be described by how it relates to something else… your level of internal peace.

That’s right… there is no magic number, no set length of time after which it is safe to start dating again.  Friends and family will likely be more than willing to offer you such numbers, and even psychologists and counselors will often do so, but the truth is that no one knows when it is time to start a new relationship except you.

There isn’t a little mental timer that counts down and then pops up and alerts you that you’re ready… it’s a gradual process of healing the open wounds left when the relationship ended.  This healing slows (and eventually stops) the drain on your mental and emotional resources caused by those wounds, giving you the ability to look beyond with much clearer vision.

How long it takes for those wounds to heal depends on several factors which are unique to your exact circumstances.  Some of the factors include how attached you were to the person to begin with, how much support you have from friends and family, your mental state other than related to the relationship, and your ability to deal with mental pain and find peace.

That’s the best way to know when it’s time… when you feel more peace in your life, when you don’t hurt every time you think of your old relationship.  Hurt, in this case, doesn’t necessarily mean sadness or that you want to cry, either… unthinking anger is a certain sign of mental pain, as is denial (it doesn’t matter whether other people tell you that “You’re in denial”… if you stop for a second, you know if you are), and even jealousy (if you are jealous of them, or someone new they might be with, etc.).

When all of that fades, and you can let go… when a feeling of that simply being in your past comes, then you’re ready to look for a significant new relationship.

Strangely enough, that often happens when you meet someone new who is simply a good friend, that you aren’t looking at as a potential relationship… the friendship fills enough of that void inside of you for you to move (and see) past it, and heal.  Then, because you already have a connection with this new (or rediscovered) friend, it is easier for it to move beyond friendship, and the person that you were not looking at for a relationship becomes the one that you start a new relationship with.

When you’re no longer looking for a relationship desperately,  then you’re ready to find a real one.


A Step By Step Guide To Rebuilding Your Self Worth

When people who do surveys for a living create the questions for a quality of life survey, they often ask about things such as your income, your relationship status, and your job satisfaction… but they almost never ask a question that has far more impact:  How is your self-worth?

Let’s step back for a moment… what isself-worth?  It is, quite simply, the value you place on yourself.  Do you think that you, as a whole, have no value, low value, average, or high?

Low self-worth often leads to depression, sometimes deep enough to bring on thoughts of suicide.  Even a small problem with self-worth can drain the energy from your life.

Are you satisfied with yourself?  Are you truly confident in your relationships with others (not just on the outside)?  When you think of yourself, do you think of the good things first?  Do you truly believe you are worthy of success, and have the confidence to go out and act like it?

If you answered yes to all of the questions above, you won’t need the rest of this article, unless you’re just looking for a refresher.  If you answered no, particularly if you answered no to all of the questions, read on.

A Step By Step Guide To Rebuilding Your Self-Worth

  1. Step Back

    The first thing you need to do to rebuild your self-worth is to step back from your current life.  You may need to take a day off to do this… and I mean a day off of everything.  No work, no school, no family… get a babysitter if you need it.

    This is a day to just be alone and be able to leave the rest of the world behind.  You spend enough of your time and energy on the rest of the world… take some time to just let all of that go.

  2. Understand Your Independence

    Ironically, low self-worth almost always comes from other people… in a way.  Low self-worth is very nearly always the result of your perception that someone, a person in whom you have invested a lot of your time and energy, doesn’t respect or doesn’t love you.  You may even be wrong… they may respect and love you, but that doesn’t matter… it’s your perception that counts.

    The key here is to understand that you are indepedent.  No one else has any control whatsoever over who you are…. even if someone does or says something horrible to you, it only changes who you are if you choose to have it do so.  The choice may be subconscious, but it’s still there.

    That means that your worth is also independent of everyone else.  Your worth only comes from you… because who you are only comes from you.

  3. Let Go Of Pain From The Past

    Once you have begun to understand your independence, it’s time to start letting go of the pain from your past.  You can start with the big things, the ones that caused the low self-worth in the first place, or you can start with the little things, as they ease the overall burden, freeing up more resources when you work on the big ones.

    Letting go of mental pain is seldom easy or painless… but when you let go of something big, the sheer relief of not dragging it around with you any more can be amazing.  Letting go of one really big thing can change your entire perspective on life.

    More detailed directions for letting go of the pain can be found here.

  4. Discover Who You Really Are

    The next step, after you start dealing with your pain (you certainly don’t have to, and probably shouldn’t, wait until it’s all done), is to figure out who you really are.  That means figuring out what your core values are, the things that really deep down inside are what drive you.

    You can find this by sitting down by yourself, in a time and place that you won’t be interrupted, and writing down each thing that comes to mind as a possibility, without thinking about it.  When they stop coming so fast, look back over what you’ve already written down, and see if there are any that simply don’t belong (there probably will be), and if there are any recurring themes (like helping people who need it).  Write down any new ideas inspired by looking back over the list, and keep going until you’re down to things where you can feel, not think, that they are right.

  5. Make Like/Dislike Lists

    After you discover who you really are, at your core, the next thing to do is to look at the next layer up, the things that overlay that core.  That means coming up with things that you like and things that you dislike about yourself.  Try to find something that you do like for each thing that you don’t like… it will help to keep you from focusing so much on the bad things.

    When making these lists, it’s a good idea to break it down into pieces… for example, when I did this myself, I used three categories:  physical, mental/emotional, and personality.  When making the list for physical, try not to focus too much on things that you can’t change (like your height) and stick to the ones you can, like your grooming, or your physical fitness.

  6. Make An “I Want To Do” List

    After you make you list of likes and dislikes, you can move on to making a list of things you want to do.  This can be things that are purely want, like learning to play guitar, or things that improve upon the things that you put on your dislike list, such as exercising (if you don’t like your physical fitness).

    My “want to do” list includes things like eating better, exercising more, writing a book (3, actually… already have ideas for two and started one a long time ago), and cooking more.  It’s considerably longer than that, but hopefully that will give you some ideas of the range of things you can put on this list.

  7. Take Action On Each Dislike

    Whether it’s on your “want to do” list or not, for each dislike that you listed in step #5, you need to find an action that moves you in the direction you want to go.  The hardest part about changing yourself and becoming who you want to be is the first step… once you get moving in the right direction, it’s much easier to continue that path.

    One thing to keep in mind, though, is that you don’t need to make massive changes all at once… in fact, that can be counterproductive.  Small steps still get you a little momentum in the right direction, and they add up without exhausting you.

  8. Get Started On Your “I Want To Do” List

    Fun is important, too… don’t make everything work.  Pick some of the fun, unimportant things off your “want to do” list and get started on them.  Sign up for classes, buy the necessary equipment, or whatever else you need to do, and get started.

    Fun and creativity are extremely important… they are, in a sense, “rest” for your mind, and any time you want to grow, physically or mentally, rest is important.

  9. Evaluate Your Progress

    So now you’ve made all these changes, and taken action, and started doing things that are fun and make you happy… it’s time to step back and evaluate how far you’ve come.  Look at not just the visible difference, but also the difference in the way you feel.

    Looking at how far you’ve come, especially if you write it down, too, can really help you to keep going.  Sometimes it’s easy to focus on the destination, and only see how far away it is, rather than looking at where you started from, and how far you’ve come since then.  That kind of focus, on what you haven’t done, rather than what you have, can sap your motivation, your energy, amazingly quickly.

  10. Repeat As Needed

    This isn’t a one time process… you’re going to need to go through most, if not all, of it again at some point.  And that point is probably going to come sooner than you think… in fact, you’re likely to only realize afterwards that you should have already started again some time back.

    It’s easy, sometimes, to switch from being in gear to being in neutral, and just letting your life glide along.  If you don’t take active control, though, things will start slipping away… your self-worth, your passion, your energy, and your success.

Your self-worth is probably the thing that affects your quality of life the most… because true quality of life is in your perception of life, not in abstract numbers.  Even if you have okay self-worth, if you follow the steps listed above, it will grow stronger.

And so will you.

How To Deal With Jealousy In A Relationship

Jealousy is an ugly beast, causing the person feeling it to all sorts of things that are self-defeating, and never really having any benefit.

That doesn’t really sound like something you’d want in your life, does it?  Unfortunately, most people who feel jealous aren’t consciously choosing to do so, and don’t know how to stop it.

Just because you’re not consciously choosing it, however, doesn’t mean that you have no power over it… jealousy is always a choice, just not always a conscious one.  It  comes about because of what you focus on in life.

Jealousy is caused by looking at what you don’t have, but want, particularly when you focus on someone else who does have it.  If you focus on what you do have, instead, jealousy will never rear it’s ugly head.

A word of warning now, though… you cannot cure jealousy in others, only in yourself.  All you can do for someone else is point them in the right direction, like this article attempts to do.

Now that we have covered what jealousy is, and it’s generalized cause, let’s move on to the real subject of this article… how to deal with jealousy in relationships:

  1. Identify The Source

    Jealousy in relationships very nearly always results from insecurity.  If you are secure in your relationship, there’s very little reason to feel any jealousy.  After all, what is there to be jealous of?

    Insecurity in a relationship, however, can have many causes… it can be from something that your partner specifically did, something a previous partner did, or something you observed in other relationships (particularly that of your parents).

    If you look at yourself, and realize that it is caused by insecurity, you may want to read this article on insecurity in relationships, and possibly this one on rebuilding trust.

  2. Realize The Damage Potential

    Once you determine the source of your jealousy, you should really stop to consider what the consequences of not doing anything about it could be.  Jealousy has been known to destroy relationships, either by causing you to become suspicious and controlling, or by eating away at you on the inside.

    If you become suspicious and controlling, that will wear away at your partner, especially if it doesn’t get any better… if you treat someone like they’re doing something wrong long enough, they may decide that they might as well go ahead and do it, since they’re being treated as if they did, anyway.  It can also wear away at the relationship from their side… if they feel like you don’t trust them, what kind of relationship do you have, anyway?

    If you let it eat away at you on the inside, it can kill the relationship from your side.  Lack of trust is deadly to relationships… relationships need trust like plants need water:  they die without it.  Letting things eat away at you inside can also cause you to slip down the emotional scale all the way to deep depression.

  3. Step Back

    Once you understand the source and the consequences of not dealing with your jealousy, the next thing to do is to step back.  Do you have reason for insecurity and jealousy in your relationship?  Look at it over all… do you have cause to not trust your partner?

    If you do have cause to not trust them, you’re going to need to deal with that first.  It is very difficult to deal with insecurity and/or jealousy if there is a lack of trust with reason.  Again, you might want to read about how to rebuild trust in your relationship.

    If you don’t have cause for mistrust in your current relationship, then stepping back should help you to realize and understand that what you are feeling is a carry-over from somewhere else.  As such, it has no place in your current relationship.

  4. Change Your Focus

    Once you have that perspective on your relationship, and you’re dealing with any trust issues, you need to work on changing your focus to the positive aspects of your partner and your relationship that you have built together.  Unfortunately, this is easier said than done… changing your focus can take time.

    The best way that I have found to make your focus more positive on something is one I wrote about in regards to how to make your life happier:  Every time you say something bad about your partner or your relationship, you must then come up with two positive things to say to the same person!  If it’s your coworker, you need to tell them the two things, if it’s your family, tell them… if it’s yourself, then you need to tell yourself!

  5. Keep It Up

    Once you have made the changes above, it’s important to remain aware, watching to make sure the jealousy doesn’t creep back.  If it does, repeat the steps above… each time you repeat them, it should make it more difficult for jealousy to return.

Jealousy is a nasty thing, creeping into your life and spreading to areas where it has no business being, obscuring reality and making it appear darker.  The world is a much brighter when you find it and cast it out of your life.

Ridding the world of jealousy makes it a better place… and each person who casts off their own jealousy contributes a little to making that happen.

Building Your Relationship One Piece At A Time – Sharing Hopes And Fears

Relationships do not come fully assembled, nor do they spontaneously complete themselves into perfect harmony.  Quite the opposite, in fact… they must be built one piece at a time.

There are, of course, many different pieces to assemble, like an enormous jigsaw puzzle.  And, to continue that analogy, there is no “right” order to put them together, though some ways may make it somewhat easier, like doing the border first.

Jigsaw puzzles and relationships share other similarities, too… like sometimes pieces look like they would fit together, but they don’t, and you have to try again.  Or the fact that some people look at them differently… some people try to find colors that match, and others look at the shapes.

One of the pieces of a good relationship that often gets overlooked, or passed over, especially farther into the relationship, is sharing hopes and fears.  It can be scary itself, sharing the things that drive you… you’re giving someone insight into how to hurt you and opening yourself up for the possibility of rejection at the same time.

At the same time, it’s incredibly difficult to build a future without each of you knowing what the other person hopes for, what would be their dream come true.  When you share your hopes, you can build a future together, one that includes what is important to both of you… and what is important to your significant other can become part of your own dreams for the future.

Sharing hopes helps you see the future together… sharing fears helps you avoid pitfalls on the way there.  The impact of your fears is often reduced simply by the act of sharing it, plus your partner can sometimes help deal with the cause of the fear, or simply help you manage it.

Sharing can really be difficult to do… so here are a few tips to try to help make it easier:

  1. Plan It

    It can seem like it is hard, maybe even impossible, to plan sessions like this… what if you’re not in the mood, or something comes up?  Well, to be blunt, those things are exactly the reason why you DO need to plan it… when something is as uncomfortable, mentally, as sharing your hopes and fears, you will almost never be in the mood, and something will almost always come up… your subconscious will be looking for ways to avoid the discomfort that it causes.

    Planning is essential, and you need to stick with the plan short of an actual emergency.

  2. Find A “Safe” Place

    If you want to get deep in a conversation, one of the most important things is to find a place that you feel is “safe”.  That means a place that feels like you can have privacy, with no one around and no interruptions, and often one that you somehow feel is “yours”, like your bedroom, your car, etc.

    Parents… when you’re going through step #1, and thinking about step #2, one of the things you need to think about is how to deal with your kids.  Kids running around is not conducive to deep conversation, especially deep revelations, and you’re going to need to find a place and time when they are going to be sleeping or watched by someone you can trust.

  3. Have A Few Things Ready To Share

    The hardest part of sharing hopes and fears, or any deep topic for that matter, is getting started.  Since you planned ahead (see step #1), that means that you have time to think of a few things to share… hopefully at least two of each (at least two hopes and at least two fears, that is).  They don’t have to be big things, although they can be… it’s just something to get the initial walls down and the conversation going.

    Once you have “broken the ice”, it gets much easier to keep going, and even easier to go more deeply into things not as easily shared.

  4. You Don’t Have To Cover Everything

    One fairly common mistake people make when trying to share their hopes and dreams is to think that they have to cover everything in one shot.  That’s not necessary, and in fact, might even make it harder… you only have so much capacity to deal with things, especially deep issues, and if you try to do everything at once, you may overwhelm that capacity and refuse to deal with any of it.

  5. Support Your Partner

    The whole purpose of this process is to get you and your partner to share, so that each of you can support the other’s dreams, and help them deal with their fears.  If you just look for what you can get out of it, then you’re going to get very little… the amount you receive is generally directly related to the amount you give (although some sessions may deal more with one partner than the other… that’s just the way it works, sometimes).

    Just to clarify something, “help them deal with their fears” is likely to involve more action from you than from them… it may simply be holding them, or telling them it’s okay, or it may be changing your behavior (like calling when you’re leaving work).  Telling them how to cure their fear is more likely to provoke rejection and closing up than it is to help, unless they ask.

  6. Find A Specific Action You Can Take

    One of the best ways to deal with a fear or start bringing a dream to reality is to find a specific step you can take in that direction.  This needs to be a concrete action that you can make, something that has physical reality and can be measured, not just a vague mental “I’ll think about how to do such and such”.

    When it comes to dealing with a fear this might be something like above, where you start calling your significant other when leaving work.  Building a dream could involve writing a business plan for that business you always wanted to start, or getting the supplies for your hobby.

  7. Repeat Regularly

    As mentioned in #4 above, you can’t really cover everything in one session, which means that you’re going to need to do this more than once.  Since people change as life goes on, and their hopes and fears change with them, you’re going to need to keep doing this for the rest of your lives.

    Setting regular times that you do it makes it much easier to keep up with it, not letting it slip down your priority list until you wonder why you’re never on the same page any more.  You don’t have to do it every week, although if that’s what works for you, go for it.  For most couples, though, once a month works well… especially if it’s always the same part of the month, like the first day, or the first Saturday, or something like that.  When you know when to expect it, you start shifting gears and getting ready for it beforehand, and you may even find yourself looking forward to it.

Sharing your hopes and fears is important… it’s one of the things that moves you from being two people who happen to spend time together to being a true couple, renewing your bond as (hopefully) soulmates.  When you forget, and stop sharing, you start to feel more isolated and alone.  You may even start to feel lonely, even if you’re married to your soulmate… and that makes it even worse, becoming another fear that you probably aren’t sharing.

So… there is one piece of your relationship to work on, one piece to fit into the whole.  Find some time to share your hopes and dreams… don’t let your fears and isolation (which exaggerates fears) drain them of their energy.

Don’t Let Your Mental Wounds Bleed You Dry

As we go through life, we will accumulate injuries, both mental and physical.  Some are minor, like stubbing your toe, and they heal quickly and easily, without any need for action on our part.  Others are major wounds, sometimes even requiring the assistance of others.

When it comes to physical wounds, the degree of attention needed is usually obvious, though even small injuries can get infected and cause serious problems if left untended.  The natural reaction is to do whatever is needed, to the degree needed, in order to take care of it.

Burying Our Mental Wounds

With mental wounds, however, the immediate reaction is generally to bury it, with the depth we bury it being directly related to the depth of the injury.

We then leave these gaping wounds buried inside of us, under layers and layers of distractions meant to make us forget it’s there.  And it often works… our conscious mind doesn’t even remember the original injury.

The subconscious mind does, though.  And it acts upon it, influencing our conscious mind, making us feel certain ways in certain situations and draining our mental resources just to keep it from getting any worse.

If you accumulate enough of these wounds, buried deep enough to be below conscious level, it can completely drain you of your fire within, the fire that keeps you going, makes you passionate about the things you love, the fire that IS you.  When this fire flickers and fades, it can be very difficult to build back up.

And the thing is, your conscious mind knows that your flame is dying, and that knowledge hurts.  So it does what comes naturally, and finds yet more distractions, attempting to bury that pain as well, adding yet another leak to the fuel that keeps the fire burning.

All of these buried wounds aren’t really “safe”, either.  You may not think about them consciously, but things going on around you can still touch them, and cause them to flare up, making you hurt (without even knowing why, if it’s buried deeply enough) and likely making you strike out at either yourself or others.

Much of the time this is undetectable from the outside.  People have no idea how badly you hurt, how weak that fire is flickering inside of you, and so they have no idea that you need help… even those closest to you.  They don’t know why you lash out at yourself or them, but they still get hurt (even hurting yourself hurts those closest to you).

So you are left hurting, maybe dying, inside and hurting those around you, particularly those who are closest to you, without even consciously knowing why, but either feeling guilty about it (which is yet another injury) or feeling nothing at all.  Because that’s the final response to all the pain… shutting down all feelings, good and bad.

None of this sounds pleasant, even if you’ve already shut down your feelings… you still know, in the back of your mind, that you are hurt.  There is something you can do about it, though.

Dig Them Up

What you can do is peel back those layers, and bring the wound back to the surface.  It isn’t painless… in fact, it usually hurts as bad or worse than when it first happened.  It’s like pulling off a bandage that has gotten stuck in the wound… it’s necessary, but it hurts.

Until you bring it back to the surface, though, you can’t heal from it.  Even once you make the decision to start, you have to keep your mind from running back to the distractions, trying to avoid confronting the pain directly.

You may also find that your mind tries to divert you to smaller wounds, keeping you away from the thing that’s really hurting you.  That’s okay, you can deal with those in exactly the same way, and then there will be less distractions for the next time.

Heal Them

So, on to the actual “dealing with them” part… how do you go about healing the mental injuries, so that you stop bleeding away the fuel for your fire?   There are two ways… you can do it by yourself, or you can do it with the help of another.

  1. DIY – Do It Yourself

    If you’re going to try to do it on your own, the first thing you have to do is get rid of all the current distractions.  This involves finding a quiet place where you can be alone, with no interruptions.  Once you’re there, close your eyes (having the lights low or our can help too, but isn’t required) and breathe slowly and deeply… the slow part is just as important as the deep part.  Count your breaths… you’ll need at least ten to start relaxing, and thirty is better.

    Now let everything that comes up go ahead and come up… don’t try to stop thinking, or try to bury anything, just let it go.  Keep your breathing nice and slow, and all of your current distractions should come up, get the consideration they want from your conscious mind, and fade away.

    Once they are gone, you can get down to business.  You should know, consciously, at least one source of mental pain… so intentionally bring that pain up.  Let yourself fully feel the pain and whatever emotions go with it… any attempt to do anything else will interfere with your healing.  That pain is going to be there until you let yourself feel it all, and like a loan from a bank, it accumulates interest until you pay off the principal.

    That means that the longer you wait to deal with it, the more pain it’s going to inflict… so don’t give in and let yourself be distracted.  Just let yourself fully feel the pain, and as you do so, you’ll be able to start letting that pain go.  It may take more than one time if the injury is deep enough… just deal with what you can for now, and come back to it in a few days (you need to give yourself some rest… healing old mental wounds is draining).

    You can repeat this process as much as you need… you may find some injuries heal more easily than others, being dealt with completely after one attempt, while others may take dozens of times.

    You shouldn’t expect to be completely healed of all wounds in a week… this is more likely to be measured in years, and is something you’re likely to continue to need as life goes on and you are wounded again.  You should, on the other hand, be able to feel progress after even just one time, as the weight of carrying all those old injuries is lightened.

  2. Using The Help Of Another

    The first thing you need to do is to find someone whom you can trust, someone who won’t judge you or criticize you for what you say.  This can be found in someone who does it professionally, a true friend, or, rarely, someone who simply wants to help.  Each type of person has their own advantages… a professional has experience, and so may be able to help you find things you didn’t even know were bothering you, while a true friend understands what you’re saying in reference to you specifically, and someone who simply wants to help… well, that just depends on who that person is.

    Once you find the person who is going to help you, you’ll want to prepare similarly to when you are doing it yourself… find a quiet room, close your eyes, and take a few deep, slow breaths.  This will help to calm and relax you, allowing you to lower some of the walls that you normally have up, which effectively keep the pain inside.

    Again, like when you’re doing it by yourself, you need to have a place and time when you can be free of interruptions… you don’t want to be interrupted when the wound is wide open.  Once you have this place, start talking about what bothers you, mostly a free flow of consciousness… say whatever pops into your head.  The reason for this is that your mind will likely try to stumble around a bit, avoiding the real injury, until all of a sudden it pops out.

    It’s likely that when it pops out, you’ll even be surprised at what the real source of pain is.  Mostly, if something hurts enough, it’s buried so deeply that you have no idea that it’s there, let alone the source of your pain.  The free flow of consciousness allows your subconscious to pop this up from that level to the surface, where you can examine it and deal with it.

    When it comes up, let it bring all of the pain and darkness with it.  Let yourself feel all the negative emotions, and the pain, and let them run their course.  Once they are gone, you’ll likely feel pretty drained, but you’ll also feel like you’ve given up part of your burden.

Whichever way you choose to go, healing by yourself or healing with the help of another, if you keep it up, it gets easier as you go along, because your burden keeps getting lighter and lighter, and so you have more and more mental resources available to deal with the next (and any new) injury.

You’ll also usually find that your life in general just seems better… you’ll react more positively to almost everything.  The people around you will notice, too… the ones who are closest to you may even comment or ask what’s changed.

Maybe you can even help them to start the process themselves… there are very few people out there who couldn’t use some mental healing.

One Slow Tip To Improve Your Relationship

There is a simple thing in relationships that keeps them strong.  This thing can slip away almost unnoticed, and takes conscious effort to get back.

That thing is slow time.  Slow time is time when you have nothing pressing, when everything else fades away into nothingness.  It is when you let go of all the distractions that of the rest of the world, and nothing else exists but the two of you.

In today’s world, there is always something going on, always something else you could be doing.  It’s easy to get caught up in the rush, only slowing down long enough to sleep, if that.

When you do that, though, you’re giving up something important, maybe even vital.  You’re giving up the enjoyment of the moment, the ability to let nothing matter but what you are doing right now.

With all those distractions and thoughts of what you could be doing, or need to do, or should do tomorrow going through your mind, you have no chance to rest, mentally.  The stresses, injuries, and emotional toxins just keep building up, with no end in sight.

Ask any body builder, and they will tell you that you cannot grow stronger without rest.  It’s true for your body, and it’s also true for your mind.  You work your mind, as a body builder works their body, but if you don’t give it time to rest, it has no chance to recover.

It also works that way with relationships… going and doing things together is important, but so is rest.  If you don’t have the slow time, where your mind, your emotions, your relationship, and even your souls can rest, the relationship will be slowly torn apart, unable to grow.

Slow time isn’t time when you actually do nothing, it’s just time when the rest of the world, and all your other things you are involved in, get left behind.

Here are some suggestions for things to do to enjoy your slow time:

  1. Hold Hands

    Holding hands is something that a lot of couples forget to do regularly, once they’ve been together for a while.  Holding hands, away from the rest of the world, is a great way to really show how much you love each other.

  2. Touch (Lightly)

    Just lightly touch your partner… trace their jaw line, run your fingers lightly over their back, kiss them very softly.  Like holding hands, this is a great way to tell someone that you love them without saying a word.

  3. Look Into Each Other’s Eyes

    The eyes are the window to the soul… any time you are feeling uncomfortable, you have a hard time looking directly into someone’s eyes.  When nothing else matters, though, you can look into each other’s eyes, past all the walls that are usually up, and see into the depths of your significant other’s soul.

  4. Talk

    Talking is also good… but only if you stay away from heavy topics.  Ask each other questions where the answer isn’t really that important, questions that let you get to know each other better.  If you need suggestions, you can look at my list of creative questions from yesterday.

  5. Listen To Music

    It can be good to listen to music during slow time, too, especially if it’s slower music that means something to the two of you.  Even if you both love heavy metal, though, I suggest staying away from it… something that fast, that driving, makes it very hard to take it slow and just be there.

  6. Go For A Walk

    Going for a walk together is good, too.  It gets you out a bit, away from the four walls that usually surround you.  It should be a slow, leisurely stroll, though, not a power walk.  This is time for your relationship, not your exercise.

  7. Watch Sunset

    Watching the sun set can be good quality slow time, too.  It is, by definition, a slow, leisurely activity, which is exactly what you want.  The quality of light at sunset is usually good for getting your subconscious to relax, too, telling it that the day is over.

  8. Have A Quiet Dinner

    You can really get great slow time together over dinner, too, if you eat somewhere with at least a reasonable amount of privacy.  That could be a booth at a restaurant, or a picnic in a park… whatever suits the two of you.

  9. Go To The Beach

    The beach is great for letting go of stress, especially around sunset.  The light and the sound of the waves can just soothe away your troubles, letting you get into the good slow time quicker.  Being there at sunset also means it’s a lot less likely to be crowded (crowds are generally not helpful to forgetting the rest of the world).

  10. Remember

    The last, but maybe the best, suggestion on this list is to remember.  You can talk about memories from things you’ve done together, or from your childhoods.  You can talk about what you remember from when you first met, or the best memory you have of them.

    Most importantly, though, remember the time you’re having right then… store it up inside of you, to pull out when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, depressed or sad.  Remember it so that you remember to do it again.

So, if you’re feeling stressed, or you’re feeling that your relationship is stalled, not going anywhere, do something about it… slow down.

Or, to paraphrase something I remember from my army days:  Hurry up and slow down!

Break The Ice – 10 Creative Questions To Get Them Talking

One of the hardest parts of meeting someone new, especially someone who has captured your romantic interest, is finding ways to break the ice without sounding cheesy.  Part of the reason this is difficult is because some really useful questions to ask are asked so often that they almost become parodies… things like “So, what do you do for a living?” or “What do you like to do for fun?”

The solution is to come up with creative questions (preferably before you meet) that get them started talking, but which they are not commonly asked.  It really doesn’t matter what topic, as long as it’s something which most people can relate to, something that gets them to talk about themselves and their experiences.

If you don’t know what to ask, read the examples below… you can actually use these directly, or use them for inspiration to come up with your own.  Either way will work… the key is just to get them talking, to get a flow of conversation started.

10 Creative Questions To Break The Ice And Get Them Talking

  1. If money were no object, what kind of car would you drive?

    Very nearly everyone drives… and very nearly everyone has thought about what their “dream car” would be.  This question lets you find out a little bit about them (what kind of car they like) and gets them talking.  You can continue by asking why, or possibly going to what kind of car they would never buy.

    Alternatives: Almost anything works here, just start with “If money were no object, what kind of blank would you get?”

  2. What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen?

    Here’s a chance to get them talking and laughing… and getting someone laughing is an easy way to lower their walls.  This question works particularly well if you have a truly bizarre story of your own to tell.

    Alternatives: Replace strangest with any other – est… it could be biggest, loudest, etc.

  3. What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever been to?

    This is a good way to find out what kind of food they like, if you’re thinking about asking them out at some point.  It also might give you an idea of a good place to eat, whether or not it’s with the person you’re talking to at the moment.

    Alternatives: You can substitute other things for restaurant, but most things have less general appeal, and the ones that don’t are usually asked all the time.  This is one where if you want to change it, you’ll have to base it on the particular person you’re talking to at the moment.

  4. Where is the most exotic place you’ve ever been?

    This is a chance for them to open up and tell a story… and that lowers their walls.  If you’ve been to the same place, you’ve got huge bonus points… shared experiencesare the fastest way to get closer to someone.

    Alternatives: Most exotic can be replaced with farthest, most dangerous, etc.

  5. What is the biggest event, by number of people, that you have seen in person?

    Another chance for them to tell a story, and another chance for you to have similar experiences.  One warning, though… don’t ask questions like this and always have abigger, better story to tell… even if you really do, it will make them feel small.

    Alternatives: Replace biggest with something like most expensive.

  6. What is the dumbest thing you’ve ever seen someone do?

    People almost invariably like to tell stories aboutthe dumb things they’ve seen, particularly when it was someone else that did it.  If you’re really lucky, the person might tell you about the dumbest thing they have done… you can lead the conversation in this direction by telling them the dumbest thing you’ve done after they tell their story about someone else.

    Alternatives: Really you can replace dumbest with nearly anything… nicest, weirdest, most spectacular, most dangerous, etc.  Very little gets someone to really go off like dumbest, though.

  7. What is the most expensive single item you’ve ever bought?

    You might want to add words to exclude houses and cars, it’s up to you… this question gives you an idea of what the person thinks is worth paying extra for, what is important to them.  That can be amazingly valuable both to continue the conversation right then, and in any future times you meet.

    Alternatives: What purchase did you regret the most is a related question that can be interesting… but it may bring up bad memories, and that’s not really what you want when you’re breaking the ice.  You might go for the most fun purchase.

  8. What is worst tasting thing you’ve ever eaten?

    This is another thing that people usually remember quite clearly and don’t mind sharing.  It can even be another shared experience, if you’ve eaten the same thing… particularly if you also didn’t like it.

    Alternatives: Most delicious, hottest, most sour… any of the major factors in taste can be used.

  9. What is the most vivid/realistic dream you’ve ever had?

    This is one that can also tell you a lot, but it’s also more dangerous than most on this list… not everyone is comfortable sharing their dreams  If they are, though, this can get you past a lot of walls they might have, moving you pretty much straight to the “friends” level of relationship (and not in the bad way, for those seeking romantic relationships).

    Alternatives: You could also ask what movie (or movie character) they most identified with… it’s basically probing for a deeper opening up.  If you get it, great… if you don’t, they may push you farther away than when you started.

  10. If you could make all of one kind of thing go away, what would it be?

    What would you make go away?  It can make you think of a lot of things, and things can come up and be laughed about (think mullets)… this question is very open-ended.  If you get together more in the future, it can even be something that you bring up regularly, on the spur of the moment… “Okay, THAT is what I would get rid of”.

    Alternatives: You can do the positive (and more common) side – If you could only have one kind of blank, what would it be?

Ten examples, with alternatives… there are more than twenty questions listed above that you can use to get someone to open up and start talking.  And, since they are unusual, they will make that person far more likely to remember you.  After all, how many people have you told the worst food you’ve eaten?

Being remarkable, in the dictionary sense of being worthy of being talked about, is just about the best thing way to establish a new relationship, whether it’s business, friendship, or romantic.  It also helps spread your “network” as they tell the people they know about the interesting conversation they had the other day… if you happen to meet those people, they will already know who you are, which means the ice is already half-broken right from the start.

By the way, the worst food I’ve ever had, that I can remember, is beer cheese.  Yes, I should have known… I tasted it anyway, and it was just as bad as it sounds.  Maybe worse.