Category Archives: counseling

Procrastinate or Take Shortcuts?

procrastination shortcut

I’ve told this story before about a road trip that Nan & I took where we were first married. One leg of our journey required that we cross over the Sierra Nevada mountains. Rather than taking the well-traveled route, I looked at a map and determined that I could get over the mountains quicker if I made a couple of changes. The result: Nan & I almost got stranded on a precipitous and deserted dirt road, and ended up at our destination much later than expected. I was worried. Nan wasn’t impressed. I repeat this story because it is still so vivid in my memory.

As I go through life, I am tempted to procrastinate or take all kinds of shortcuts. I like to rationalize those choices as smart or efficient sometimes, but often it’s just laziness. Why wash the dish or put it in the dishwasher now when there will just be more piling up soon. Wouldn’t it be more efficient to deal with them all at once? The same logic applies to the mail, or bills, or anything else. No, the truth is that really I just don’t want to put out the effort in the moment. So I surround myself with a bunch of delayed or half finished tasks. And later I feel overwhelmed by all that needs attention and how much extra time it actually takes because of the postponement. When I procrastinate, I may limit myself in what’s possible to accomplish in the remaining time. When I take unnecessary shortcuts I may eventually make life more stressful.

We can do the same with our relational life as well. I think of someone that needs to hear from me, but I tell myself that I will send out emails all at once – later. But often later never comes, or the important moment has passed. Perhaps I am anxious about a confrontation that needs to happen but I wait until it is more difficult or painful. Or just the opposite, I have kind words, loving words, or affirmations that would mean a lot to someone, but I think I have all the time in the world to speak them. But again, the moment may pass.

Look around yourself. Does your environment give you peace? Are you afraid to open closets, drawers and cabinets? How about mail, snail or electronic? If you left the earth today would the people you care about see the person you would want them to remember? Or would they discover a person who lived in chaos as they settled your affairs?

I must confess that there are a lot of undone things in my world. Not all of them are because of laziness. Some are because I am undecided. I am not always sure what holds value for me but will not for someone else. Will someone else see the value in the books I have collected or the Christmas ornaments that were given to us as gifts over the years. Should I keep them, dispose of them or pass them on? But sometimes it’s just an excuse for not wanting to expend the necessary effort to complete the task.

I think we can live a “Cliff Notes” kind of life if we are not careful, just doing the minimum necessary to survive, but not experiencing enough depth to add richness to the journey. That’s a shortcut, for sure. The result might be that I build a negative self image that prompts me to self sabotage some really important things.

I also want to extend grace and caution those who are perfectionistic by temperament. You are already too self critical, so this post is not for you. For you, I would have you evaluate other criteria. If everything seems essential, then you need perspective. You need to be more selective in your diligence to manage everything or everyone.

When faced with any decision or task, ask yourself this question: “Could I follow this through to the end and make life less complicated?” If the answer is “YES”, then be your own best friend and just do it!

We Need To Talk

Talk

There is probably no phrase that a woman can utter that strikes terror in the heart of a man more than:

“We need to talk!”

Guys hearing this may start to feel their heart rate climb, their blood pressure escalate, and the anxiety and fear level skyrocket. Calm down guys, I will interpret this for you.

What you hear is: “You’re in trouble, mister!” (And so you brace yourself for the danger ahead.)

What she most likely means is: “I have an unmet expectation that I want to discuss.” (And she is afraid that what is important to her is going to be discounted.)

I want to emphasize that the expectation may or may not be realistic. At this point it is inconsequential. Again, calm yourself down, put on your listening ears and make some time for her. This will de-escalate her emotions, even if it doesn’t seem like it to you at the moment. She may hold an expectation that you can actually meet that will not be as painful as you fear.

Single ladies (in particular): a word of caution. Be very careful when using the phrase (We need to talk about) “The Relationship”. These days those are hot button words. You don’t want a guy to go defensive on you. “The Relationship” is really you and him. It does not exist outside as a separate entity. There seems to be a lot of anxiety around DTR (determining the relationship), but it doesn’t need to be that way. Having a non-anxious conversation might be as easy as choosing a better way to initiate a discussion.

So what might be a better conversation starter?

How about: “I have some thoughts. Would you be willing to listen to them?” or “I’ve been thinking about you (us) lately and would like to process some things.”

He (or she) may still be skeptical, but will be less likely to throw up the deflector shield. A sure way to steer the conversation in a good direction is to lead with an affirmation. It could be anything. “I know you’ve been working hard” or “I know you never intend to hurt my feelings…” Any phrase like that is likely to reduces defenses and pave the way to a better discussion.

I have written this before, and I will state it again. Before you bring up a volatile or touchy subject, be sure to check your anger at the door. If you need to emote, do it where it won’t be heard by the one you are upset with. Process with a trusted same sex friend if need be. Then bring the “sanitized”, less toxic version to the other person.

You’ll thank me later.

Is It Hard To Say or Accept “No”?

 

boundaries

It’s really common for a two year old child to say “no” even if they mean “yes”. It’s age and stage appropriate and any parent would readily say “Yup, don’t I know that one.”

But as an adult it can be just the opposite. How many times have you reactively said yes to someone because you really didn’t want to disappoint them or didn’t know how to gracefully give a turn-down? Did you say yes even though you doubted you had the time, energy or motivation to follow through? I know I have done this more times than I want to admit. I think I have also been a lot like a two year old at times – or at least I’ve said “no” too quickly.

Living in Los Angeles (perhaps Southern California) carries a stigma of being insincere in social commitments. I would like to say that it’s a total myth, but it isn’t. Probably because of overly committed lives which lack margin, we have often succumbed to the label of being flaky. But that is not a reputation we want to carry.

I have a lot of compassion, especially when it comes to (often overly) busy, productive people like business leaders, pastors, entrepreneurs and parents of small children. It’s really hard to turn people down when they have legitimate requests. But it has to be done to maintain one’s balance of life: a.k.a. sanity.

The Solution

I have often used the self-test I call “play the movie forward”. This is where I take a few seconds to predict possible outcomes to my answers. What will be the result of saying yes or no? I want to operate from a foundation of integrity, so I need to consider my answer carefully. It’s hard to tell someone “I don’t think that is going to work” in the moment, but it will preserve your reputation as a trustworthy person.

When it comes to relationships, this is particularly important. I have always felt that Nan has an endless amount of requests. And Nan would agree that she does. They are not unreasonable requests, just more than I can always accomplish in her time frame. So I must be thoughtful in my responses. It is better for me to endure the momentary discomfort of a turn-down, than the future possibility of disappointing her. The trick is to be firm, but kind.

Often the best answer can be a realistic offer of what you actually can do. There have been times when a client has been too specific on an appointment time that they desire. Our reply is to graciously offer any time slots that are open or supply a referral to another counselor that might have that time available.

When You Hear “No”

I would also ask if you are the kind of person that can take “no” for an answer. Are you too persistent or even hostile when met by a turn-down? Do you treat everyone as an equal or do you categorize come people as your servants? I am always horrified by how some people treat customer service representatives or service technicians. We are not to demean anyone, but treat everyone with respect.

I am ashamed to admit, but there was a time (in my pre-Christian days) that I had a measure of contempt for certain people. When I became a Christian I had to correct this. Whenever I encountered that sin within myself, I would say “This is a person that God loves and values as much as He does me.” It really helped to heal a corner of my heart.

If you are one of the people who struggle with saying or hearing no, I suggest you read any of the “Boundaries” books by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. It might really help you feel good about setting limits.

Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one. Matthew 5:37 (NLT)

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Philippians 2:3 (NLT)