Friday, July 31, 2015

The Path of Uncertainty

A great paradox of emotional health is that we must know when to accept our feelings and when to work toward moving out of them; through them. We must know when to lean into them, accept them, and cherish them. That does not mean that we do not seek to change painful emotions by altering cognitions that are causing us harm, but instead means that we must become comfortable enough with them to not run from them.

Anxiety, on a spiritual level, is about our deep "need" to predict outcomes, to know, and to even control, the future. In order to not be ruled by anxiety, we must learn to accept the fundamental uncertainly of life. We must bend into and even embrace the path of uncertainty.

Such lessons of course apply to the fabric of our lives, but are also key in helping us become more productive and joyful scholars. All we can control is our effort. Even the completion of a paper, a dissertation, a book, is unknown. We put in the effort, and come to trust that our efforts, day in, and day out, will lead to possible outcomes. We invest in good habits, build skills, work to resolve our psychosocial barriers and maximize our strengths, and let go of future results.

Stay in the process, each day, and learn to bend into the path of uncertainty.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Academic Job Hunting Help

A few of you have taken me up on my summer job hunting package. I hope it has been of value and our work will lead to your crushing the job market!! (wow, what an aggressive but "modern" sounding wish!). I was recently asked when "summer ends", given that many academics are back pretty soon. Since I am on the quarter system, if you are interested in this package, I will extend it until Sept 15th, when I am officially back!

The package includes:
1.     Seven hours of individual coaching sessions on job hunting skills and strategies, writing and conducting your job talk, working together to identify and remove the psychosocial barriers that inhibit job hunting and interviewing (my specialty!), preparing for and role-playing interviews, and other topics individualized to your particular needs (including discussions of writing and scholarship)
2.     Three hours of individual consultation to review your CV and cover letter including in-depth feedback  (initial review and final review once initial changes are made)
3.     Two hours of follow-up coaching during the fall and interviewing seasons

$750 total!



80/20 principle-Applied to our work here!

During a coaching call with one of my favorite scholars, unnamed arts based researcher made the apt connection between the Pareto principle and finishing an article. It was an insightful comment. The Pareto principle, which has been applied far beyond its initial formulation, is taken to suggest that 80% of effort goes into 20% of the effect related to various outcomes.

The exact percent of the effort is not important. What is important to note is that there is a tendency for scholars to put in far more effort at finishing an article then is often needed.  Anxiety and fear, our current topics, play a powerful role here. Afraid of negative outcomes and anxious about letting go of their work, scholars often edit, copywrite, and fret over the number of citations. Did I find every article related to topic X? Have I really justified every discussion point? Double check. Triple check. Obsess.

The review process is so idiosyncratic, so whimsical, that we have to let go.  The goal is not perfection, but to do a strong, workperson like job and then let go.

To the degree possible, be aware of aligning your effort with your production. Don't spend an inordinate about of time on small details; its usually a waste of effort.  We are not able to control everything. Work hard, let go. Move on. Next article :).

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Radio Interview About our Book: Sex Crimes: Transnational Problems and Global Perspectives

Dr. Alissa Ackerman, my co-editor of Sex Crimes: Transnational Problems and Global Perspectives, is interviewed about our chapter on masculinities! Check it out, she does a great job.

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

The last words of Steve Job's powerful graduation speech at Stanford University, "Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish."

Those who know me, really know me, know that I am a crier. Not once in a while, and not only when in response to deep loss, but I cry when highly emotional: sad, angry, moved, nostalgic, joyful, ect.

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish- that did it to me today. Sitting here, listening to the power of his words, I really started feeling choked up.  The dogs in my lap, some moments to write before I start working on a grant review.

Life is so bittersweet. Careers are so bitter sweet. But how lucky we are, to be able to play with words. Writing, such a wonderfully foolish, foolish thing to do.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Anxiety:The Relaxation Response

Sometimes, we do not wish to engage in multiple measures to resolve a problem. There can be many reasons. Our lives may be so busy that it feels overwhelming and impractical to add more "things that are good for us" to our day. Or, perhaps anxiety, fear or stress are not as problematic for you as they are for others; you don't need a comprehensive, personalized, holistic program.

If this is the case, I would like to recommend a classic book for you,  The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson. An oldie but a goodie, it is a simple, evidence based approach that has stood the test of time. I highly recommend reading it.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Exercise: Correlates to Anxiety

As next week I will begin to explore anxiety (transitioning from the related concept of fear, although not done with it yet), I would like to suggest a simple, but "risky" exercise.

I want you to put yourself into a writing "situation" that makes you anxious. Consciously engage in some form of writing activity where you have, historically, experienced anxiety. As you engage in the task, I want you to notice your thinking, feelings, and behaviors. Make note of them. Try this a few times and see if your ability to identify them improves.

This ability to be self aware of the associated cognitive, affective, and behavioral correlates to your anxiety is the first step toward resolving it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Fear of Success?

Fear of success? What is that really? Is this one unitary condition?

I typical hear people refer to this "condition" when they engage in some type of self-defeating behavior. I firmly believe this is an unhelpful social construction, just like "writers block." It is a pop-psychology term used to oversimplify many potential constellations of self-downing and anxiety causing beliefs. Be careful of such glib oversimplifications; they can prevent you from really doing the type of work you need to do to change. Adopting cheap platitudes is not a replacement for dedicating oneself to growth.

Lucky Me...Thanks

A break from writing about fear and anxiety, although I am behind.

Before I start, I want to say that this is sincere. If you know me, you understand that pretense is not my strongest attribute. Banality, emotional flatness, and inauthenticity are not a really part of my behavior repertoire. It is probably one of the reasons why I am not an academic administrator any more! While I can play political games, I tend to be a bit too emotionally honest for such roles. So, a long preface when I could have said, this is honest. Its not website PR.

I love my coaching practice. No, that's not it, I LOVE the privilege of being part of the conversations that I have with people. When it was suggested to me that my skills as a therapist and as an academic mentor, and my knowledge of writing productivity could be synthesized into a formal coaching practice, I had this profound feeling that I was being given a gift. Its a gift that I am just starting to fully comprehend, several years later.

I love my clients. I love being a small part of their lives, of their careers, of their journeys. Over the past two days, I have had five conversations where I felt deeply honored to be witness to the growth of really, really smart and talented people. Five out of five that have felt powerful, where clients worked hard at translating cognitive/affective insights into real behavioral change.  People amaze me. When you help them focus on their strengths and capacities, they thrive, shine, reach new heights and thrive. Freud was wrong- people are more whole then damaged. I am going to hold to that, anyhow.

And no, its always this easy! Sometimes, my lack of skills get in the way; maybe my impatience, perhaps my not fully recognizing what is needed in the moment. My clients are always who they are; they start where they are, just where they need to be. When things go well, I know that my clients are the ones who are responsible for it; they are the one's who takes risks, who stretch, who push, who fight through resistance, who change. When things don't go well? It is on me to keep working, keep trying new approaches, theories, methods, new levels of self awareness, humanity, humor.

What am I trying to say?

I guess, I could have just said this: Thank you. Thanks to all of you, and you know who you are, for allowing me to be a small part of your journeys.

I look forward to laughing me, growing together. Lets do this.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Fear: An Exercise

Tomorrow, I am going to explore a positive psychology/strengths-based approach toward approaching fear. In preparation for this, I want you to engage in a ten minute freewrite.

Respond to the following question.

1) What strengths and virtues do I possess that can help me face my fears?

Don't worry about the source or origin of your fears, just focus on the resiliencies, capacities, virtues, and traits that you use to overcome them, or might use to overcome them with some help.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Fear of the new

I frequently have clients who are stuck. Really, why would someone pay a coach if they are not in some ways stuck? (of course, the answer is THAT question, is that some scholars and idea leaders want to move from merely getting by to really thriving, to really maximizing their strengths and excelling, but that is for other posts!).

In spite of their being stuck, some clients resist trying new things. They are afraid to try new behaviors and skills, even though their old ways of being/doing have not served them well.

This fear of the new is powerful. Humans need to be anchored, to be tethered powerfully to the earth. Being so grounded, we can take risks and reach new heights. Sadly, sometimes scholars confuse their behaviors and patterns that do not work for rituals that ground them. They hold tight, afraid that if they change, they will loose their mooring.

What are you afraid to let go of? Spend a few minutes thinking about the things that you are holding on to that do not serve you. Can you let go of one? What would it take? With what would you replace it? What help and supports do you need to let go and thrive?

Monday, July 13, 2015

Challenge: What Are Your Fears and Worries?

Before I start to explore fear and anxiety more, I want you to spend ten minutes or so writing, based-upon the following prompts.

1) What fears and worries stop you from writing and/or publishing?

2) What fears and worries block you from connecting fully to others in your field or university?

3) What does it feel like when you are afraid and "blocked"?

4) When you are blocked, what behaviors do you engage in that keep you stuck? What behaviors do you engage in that help you transcend your fears and worries?

After you do the exercise, put it down for a few hours or so. Come back to it within the next day and see what you learned from doing this exercise. Feel free to post it here, if you wish.  Read future posts on the topic, and see if you can work to make a change :).

Friday, July 10, 2015

Goodbye Self Downing, Hello Fear and Anxiety

For the last week and a half, I have been exploring the psychosocial barrier of self downing, its impact on you, and how you can overcome it.. The next series of posts will explore anxiety and fear. Anxiety and fear are related but distinct barriers with similar cognitive and affective correlates and cures. In the next several posts, I will explore them together when applicable, and separately as needed.

You may notice that I have written about them several times before, so some future explorations will be expansions of previous discussions, yet with a great deal more elaboration, both theoretically and practically. Some posts will provide very new information.

I hope that you not only read the posts, but use the tools and apply them to your own life. Let me know if you do.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Follow up to Pick A Tool Challenge

Reach out to a colleague, or friend, who is stuck and struggles with self downing. Pick a took that you have learned, and share it with him or her. Be of service. Pass it on; watch your mastery grow by sharing it. Watch you make it your own, and theirs :).

Challenge! Pick a Tool

Since I am finishing writing about self downing this week, and then moving on to other psychosocial barriers, I have a challenge for you today!

I want you to spend fifteen minutes responding to the following questions.

1) How does self downing get in the way of my life as a scholar/doctoral student/ professor?

2) What methods have I used to try to change them? How are they working, how are they not?

3) Considering the tools that Rich has explored over the last week and a half, what is one step I WILL take to further help me transcend the effects of my self downing?

Pick one. Practice it. Perform it. It requires work, but work that leads to psychological freedom and productivity. The internal work leads to external results.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Self Downing: My Story

Sometimes, our self downing lives in the shadows of our distant past. I will share part of my story with you.

I love writing. I love nearly everything about this most human, inspiriting, creative method of exploring our lives and the universe.I have loved writing for so long that sometimes I forget that I once hated it. Once, writing was the source of a great deal of humiliation, pain, and profound shame.

In elementary school I was referred to a tutor for “extra help” for terrible handwriting. In the days before computers, having poor handwriting meant you were viewed as a bad writer, and often, as not very bright. For many years I associated writing with failure. It was the most basic task of one’s education, and I was terrible at it. I was, by age 10, I believed, a failure. I know what it is like to believe you cannot write, and to be utterly humiliated by this realization. I know what it is like to feel like your future is not very bright due to the inability to write. For many of us, it is very old, this dread of writing. For some of us, it is newer, more current, yet equally painful, terrifying. For those without tenure, it can be an all encompassing dread, a fear of being “found out”, a fear of not making it

But, that can change.

As a teenager, I fell in love with poetry and writing. I had started to accept my poor handwriting and learned to type. I learned that I had things to say through writing, and that I could learn new forms and structures that were thrilling, challenging, and full of possibilities. I learned, slowly, to love to write. Coming to love writing, in spite of its pains and frustrations, was one of the most healing processes in my life.

Fast forward a decade; it was time for graduate school. My love of writing and my desire to “help” were in conflict. I was torn between graduate work in creative writing or social work. So torn, in fact, that a coin flip, and a relationship, decided my fate. I went into social work.

For the several years after my MSW I worked as a social worker and therapist. I developed a strength based approach to helping others that was informed by various theoretical lenses and tools. I studied cognitive behavioral methods and fused these with more humanistic, person centered approaches to treatment. This work actually foreshadowed the approach I adopted for one of my books, Social Work Practice with Men at Risk (Columbia University Press, 2010), and forms a large part of my skill set as a coach.

And all the while-there was writing. My final master's paper explored the congruence between poetry therapy and social work practice. I read every article up until that point in the Journal of Poetry Therapy, wondering if I would ever be able to publish in that journal.

While I practiced social work, I continued to write; I wrote poetry, I journaled-yet it wasn't enough. I wanted to make writing a central part of my work's life. I wanted to write about social work. I wanted to write about writing. I wanted to write about writing as tool of social work practice and research!  While directing a large and growing children’s mental health program and managing a small private practice with firemen and police in Philadelphia, I started my doctorate. I took a job at a community college while still in school in 1998.

In 2000, I started on the tenure track at Colorado State University and found that my love of writing served me well. I began to systematically deconstruct the “rules” of writing academic articles. I not only wrote them, but I wanted to “get” them, to “grok” them. I already had a daily writing practice, so used the methods of writing productivity that I had learned and developed and applied them to my academic writing.  By the end of the first year, I had almost enough articles needed for tenure and promotion.

Yet, in spite of how well I was doing, I felt the pain of failing to write and publish all around me. A couple of my new friends, mostly senior assistant professors, were not doing as well. If they did not increase their writing productivity, they were not going to get tenure. While junior in age and in time in higher education, I began to take on a quasi-mentorship role with two faculty. Afraid of inadvertently harming their chances, I began to systematically study what had been written on scholarly writing and publishing. I read everything I could. I began to view helping other faculty write and publish as a synthesis of my clinical social work skills and my love and knowledge of writing. It felt right (write :)). It felt like I was finding my calling. Both got tenure- I was hooked.

120 plus articles and over 15 books later; that little kid who shed many a tear over writing is now a slightly bigger kid who loves helping others to write, publish and thrive. The Journal of Poetry Therapy? I am pretty sure I have published in that journal more than anyone else. As write that, and I feel tears coming on; honest.

I have worked with many dozens of faculty and doctoral students as a mentor and coach, helping them increase their scholarly productivity through the methods I have learned, adopted and created. In 2007, I published the book, Practical Tips for Publishing Scholarly Articles, which has been used by thousands of doctoral student and scholars. I continue to write about writing, develop new methods, and coach doctoral students and faculty. I love this part of my work. I love being able to be a small part of empowering others to become the scholars they wish to be. I love helping people to write and publish work that gives them meaning and joy, and to sometimes be a small, small part of their doing powerful, important, or just fun and cool work! Mostly, I love helping people grow and change, to heal those wounds of the distant and not so distant past.

If you have similar pains, I urge you to share them. Even more, I urge you to transcend them.  This is my invitation, my challenge, to you. Find support on your journey. Find someone you trust. Do it. Now. Today. I don’t care if it is with me or not (although we would have fun!!). I just want you to fly.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Self Downing: Musterbation

Make certain you don't read that wrong. It is MUSTERBATION. Musterbation is a concept from Albert Ellis and his Rational Emotive Therapy (Now often referred to as Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy). It was also explored by one of the early post-Freudian's, Karen Horney,  as the "Tyranny of the Shoulds."

Both refer to core beliefs or constellation of thoughts where we tell ourselves that we "must" and "shoulds" do certain things, and if we don't engage in these activities or perform them according to these "shoulds", we judge ourselves by our self downing appraisals. There is a big difference between wanting to, planing to, and thinking it is a smart idea, than holding these internalized musts which are dogmatic, rigid, and punitive. These musts are not commitments, but internalized voices of shame.

While connected to self downing, these internalized demands on self rather might be thought of as the fuel that ignites our self downing. Let me explain. Perhaps you have learned that you should or must write almost ever day. You have read the research, and have decided you must develop daily writing rituals and practices. Also, perhaps you learned some good accountability methods from reading this blog or elsewhere, and now you tell yourself that you "must" use those tools as well.

So, what happens when (if) you don't engage in these "musts" ? Well, if you hold them as absolutistic imperatives, and you process and perform a well-developed self downing belief system, you will use them as further ammunition to prove that you are not good enough, can't really write as much as you "must", and are not going to thrive. You will become demoralized, anxious and perhaps try to extinguish these difficult feelings and thoughts through avoidance, denial, or compulsive behavior (cookies and ice cream, where art thou'!!??).

Getting the picture? Your unhelpful beliefs are now working to transform some valuable ideas into fuel that stokes the fire of your self downing. This is an other example of why processing the knowledge of good writing productivity is often not enough; you must work to transcend your "stuff" in order to thrive.

If you are resonating with these explorations of self downing, you own it to yourself to do something about it. If you are feeling stuck about what to do, email me. I would be more than glad to provide you with a complementary chat to help you explore your options. No commitment beyond that; I want you to have some options and get what you need. There are many paths to growth and change. Many, but you have to do something.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Self Downing Strategy: Ignoring

Thus far, I have been exploring how to challenge and alter your self downing thinking, in particular how it pertains to writing. Yet sometimes you don't want to get into all that emotional "work," or you just have not yet been able to alter the content of your thinking enough to make an impact, yet you still have to push forward and work.

Two strategies, if you can call them such, are ignoring and distracting.

I will write about ignoring first, and get to distraction another day.

While ignoring our thinking might not seem to be of value here, it actually can be quiet powerful and has some theoretical legs.

First, consider a few thousands of years of yogic practice and thought. I first became aware of the power of learning to ignore your thinking when I leaned to practice Hatha Yoga in the mid to late 1980s in San Francisco. During meditation, we were taught to focus on our breathing, and when thoughts came into our mind, we did not fight them, control them, or engage them. We simply "witnessed" them and allowed them to pass.

By coming to understand our thinking as something other than us, or beyond who we are, we learn that we can do several things with our thoughts. We can engage them, believe them, challenge them, or in this case, return to our breathing and let it go- ignore. Practice that. Actively think of something, hold these thoughts in your head for a while, and then actively follow your breath and allow your thinking to pass.

Viewing "ourselves" and our thinking as not being one and the same is part of many systems of change that rely on and facilitate mindfulness. On one level, mindfulness is about becoming witness to our various experiences and learning to choose where our attention goes. We attend to one thing fully and in the process ignore our own internal chatter.

You don't need to turn your thoughts to your breathing;  this is but one technique. Another method is to pat yourself on the head (literally, to concertize and embody the metaphor), and say to yourself " OK brain, you think what you want; I have work to do and am not paying attention to you while I am working." Of course, this takes a great deal of practice, yet consciously learning to disengage from our thinking and ignoring it is a powerful, powerful skill.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Challenging Self Downing: Keeping it Simple

Here is a simple method of challenging self downing beliefs. Make flash cards with the beliefs you wish to replace your self downing messages. Now, these new messages must be true and reality based, not Pollyanna-ish fantasies. If you can't believe them, you won't. Each day, several times a day, read the flash cards and repeatedly for about five minutes. Do this several times a day, and see what happens over time.