Friday, July 22, 2011

All the fixin's

photo: by comedy_nose

I have been hesitant to write this post because it seems like trite advice you can find in any relationship self-help book, but I'm going ahead because it keeps coming up in my office. 

A woman has just told me about something difficult in her life.

Me: "Have you told your boyfriend/husband/partner about this?"
Woman: "I tried, but he doesn't get it. He tries to tell me how to fix the situation, but it only makes me feel worse."

(Note: To keep the language simple, and because guys are more often fixers that girls, I am making the guy the fixer in this post. Please note that any gender can try to fix, and any gender can just want to be heard.)

Guys, when your woman is upset, your go-to move should be to listen. Not fix. Get her. Understand. Convey that you understand. If you don't understand ask questions until you do. Don't fix. At least not until she feels understood.

Here is how you do this:

1. Get out of your head. Your head will try to find a problem and offer a solution. Do this by concentrating on your breathing and by putting as much of your attention on her - her words and her body language - as possible. 

2. Listen closely to what she says and what her body language is telling you. Get the feeling behind it. Is she sad, angry, overwhelmed? 

3. Let her know you get what she is saying and more importantly how she is feeling. Do this with words, (ie, "That sounds like your co-worker was really mean to you. No wonder you feel so hurt.")

4. If you don't get it, either the content of the story or the feeling, ask. Just say, "wait, there is a part I don't understand..." Or, "how did you feel when that happened?"). It is also good to ask, "Is there more?" to offer her a chance to get it all out. Make sure your questions are without an agenda beyond understanding.

5. If it is not obvious she feels understood, ask if she feels like you are getting it. Be patient. People don't always communicate clearly when they are upset. Also remember it's most important that you get how she feels.

6. If you really can't understand where she is coming from - and this is most likely to happen if she is upset with you - then do your best to let her have her experience. Just accept that she is feeling something you don't get right now, and give her space to have her feelings. Let her know that you are ok with how she feels.

Note: It is much harder to do this when she is upset at you for something, but that is when this skill is most important.

Women, if your man is not good at listening and getting you and instead he tries to fix the problem (and you are not looking for fixing), you can coach your man. Tell him you don't want him to fix the problem. Tell him just to listen and to try to understand you and your feelings. 

Be patient. Most guys are fixers by nature, especially guys who are problem solvers in their professional life, and they haven't had any training in just listening. Cut them some slack if they relapse and try to fix. Reiterate as kindly as you can that you just want him to listen.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


I want to point you to the Advanced Riskology blog which helped influenced me to quit my job at a big hospital and strike out on my own. I've been thinking about this blog recently, specifically the 1% list on the blog. The 1% list is a list of goals that the blog's author, Tyler, wants to complete.

He calls it a 1% list because he says less than 1% of the world's population will complete the goals. On it are things like mountain climbing, running a marathon on every continent, and selling a business for $1,000,000. These are big, lofty, exciting goals.

My goals are more humble, but perhaps not easier to accomplish. They have to do with creating a life that feels sane, meaningful, and fun. I am more concerned with the day-to-day fabric of my life than with accomplishing something big.

Why goals? I have traditionally had a little resistance to goals. As a Myers Briggs (free test!) perceiving type, I have a disinclination to having regular, scheduled time commitments necessary to accomplishing goals.

When I think about signing up for guitar lessons, for example, I think, "yeah but what if there is something I would rather do on Thursday at 3 pm?"

Having a free schedule feels relaxing to me, but I have learned over time, doesn't make me happy. I end up with too much time on my hands, and tend not to enjoy the unstructured time as much as I thought I would.

In his book Happier, Harvard professor Tal Ben-Shahar writes that having a goal allows us to relax. It is, he writes, like having a destination on a journey. If you know where you are going, it is easier to enjoy the sights along the way. Without a destination, humans tend to worry about where they are going.

So, I am embracing goals. Writing down goals, whatever their size, makes it more likely you will accomplish them. So does sharing them with others. With that in mind, I would like to take stock of goals I have accomplished and those I have not in the six months since I quit my hospital job.

Goals I have accomplished:
  • started this blog
  • began work at Affiliated Psychologists, a group practice of therapists in Cupertino, CA
  • started a private practice in Oakland, CA
  • got hired to teach two classes to psych students at Argosy University in the fall
  • exercised regularly 3x per week at least - gym, yoga, running, boxing 
Goals I have yet to accomplish (with deadlines which increase likelihood of completion:
  • start guitar lessons (August 1, 2011)
  • Visit local meditation groups and choose one to go to 1x/week. (September 1, 2011)
  • create a website for my private practice (August 1, 2011)
Goal I want to add:
  • Go on ten new hikes in the Bay Area (October 1, 2011)
So, it looks like I have been on track professionally, but I could boost my hobby/personal development activity.

What goals, humble or grand, do you have? Remember, sharing makes it more likely you will accomplish them, so by all means, share.