Sunday, September 9, 2012


"Everything in your life is a reflection of a choice you have made. If you want a different result, make a different choice." --Unknown

     Believe it or not, just about every single moment we experience in our lives (especially once we reach adulthood) is the result of a choice we have made. This might seem like an extreme position to take for some, but the more I’ve been thinking about it (which has been quite often over the past year), the more I realize just how much power we actually have to affect our own lives. It might very well seem at times as if the “powers that be” (institutions, other people, life circumstances) have a direct influence on our existence; however, I’d like to make the case today that this perspective is merely an illusion.

     Everything that happens to us (from cataclysmic events, personal issues, and daily struggles) can be traced back to a choice. I’ll use some examples from my own life to support my claim:

     Cataclysmic Event: I experienced the October 17, 1989 earthquake while living in San Jose, CA with my family. I was only 10 years old at the time, yet I remember the event vividly. Knowing very well that the area in which I lived was susceptible to earthquakes, I have chosen to continue living in the Bay Area of California for the time being. When and if another large earthquake occurs, I will understand that I chose to live in this “earthquake prone” area, and I will have to accept the consequences of my choice. No, I will never believe myself to be an ‘earthquake victim’--no matter what may happen to me as a result of a future quake. I choose to remain optimistic about this situation anyway...

     Personal Issue: I recently undertook the opportunity to walk for 45 minutes to an hour every single day since the end of July 2012. Essentially, I chose to begin this exercise routine to lose excess weight and feel better overall. So far, I do feel better, and weight is beginning to come off very (agonizingly) slowly. When I’m out there walking each day (this could very well fall under the category of “Daily Struggle” too), I don’t always enjoy every second of it. Sometimes I even grumble to myself about how “unfair” it is that I “have” to do this at all. “Why couldn’t I be naturally thin and fit?”. First off, I don’t ‘have’ to walk--I ‘want’ to walk. Second, my needing to walk excess weight off can be traced back to other choices I made in the past (to eat more than I needed to during multiple meals because I enjoy food and its many enticing flavors). I never had to eat more than I needed to--I chose to. Can you see how patterns of choices can influence the lives we (choose) to lead?

     Daily Struggle: I seem to have always struggled with getting enough sleep ever since I was a child. As a lifelong “night owl”, I’ve always fallen easily into the habit of staying up late and sleeping late into the morning. Do I like this habit? Not always. In fact, as much as I enjoy sleeping in, I always tend to feel guilty when I do it--as if it’s “not appropriate” and I should be using the time I sleep in to get more things done and accomplished. It’s difficult for me to relish the satisfaction of sleeping in wholeheartedly. The guilt feelings don’t necessarily come from anyone but myself. Nobody gets on my case for sleeping in but me. But this part of my struggle is beside the point. Being a ‘night owl’, I have to discipline myself to go to bed earlier than I usually like to during the week in order to get enough rest for work. For the most part, I succeed fairly well in this endeavor, but there are quite a few evenings when I get to bed later than I would like. This creates annoyance inside of me, but the reasons that I don’t get to bed when I want to can always be traced back to choices I made earlier in the evening (maybe I chose to stay online longer than I intended--which often happens, or maybe I chose to watch an additional TV show when I could’ve been getting ready for bed, etc.). No matter what the reason, I have no one to blame but myself. Even if I had children to take care of, I would still be making choices regarding balancing their care with my own need for sleep. When I get caught up in a conversation with my husband instead of getting ready for bed, I am making choices regarding caring for my marital relationship over getting enough sleep--the two are both important to me, but sometimes one becomes more important than the other. I try to balance my needs with the needs of others, and it's an ongoing challenge--but a necessary one.

   These examples above illustrate the notion of how I can trace events back to choice: I would have chosen to have children, and I did choose to get married. Do you see where I’m going with this perspective of choices here...? I can even trace my choices further back: I chose to work in the job I do, and I am accountable for working the hours my job requires. Thus, I must make sure that I make choices that will allow me to get enough rest and do my job well. It always goes back to choices and accountability.

     I challenge you to look at everything going on in your life that is currently going well (and not-so-well) and trace these events back to choices you made in your life. You might surprise yourself (or you may not), but my goal is to help you better understand the power you actually wield in your life. When a choice gets you into a situation that you may not want to continue going through, making a different choice has the potential to get you out of that situation. It’s the process of becoming accountable for your own choices that’s the issue here. Yes, things will happen that you do not necessarily foresee or directly control, but you can always control how you respond in these situations--with your choices. I encourage you to choose your responses wisely.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


"If you focus on results, you will never change. If you focus on change, you will get results."
--Jack Dixon 

 "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." --Aristotle

     I’ve learned a lot about myself during the time between now and my last blog posting. Though my intentions have been good in trying to change the way I approach maintaining various aspects of my life, I’ve since learned that my focus has needed to shift away from the results and towards the process itself. Doing this has brought a renewed energy and motivation to my life. I’ve been working on things that I’d been trying to work on for many years and feeling continuous inspiration within the process.

     So, what am I now doing differently? Well, first of all, I’m only writing today because I’ve felt inspired to do so. Rather than force results on myself (e.g. “I must make sure I have a blog posting every month--no matter what”), I’m paying attention to my life and looking for specific moments of value that I believe will help others learn, and this is what I understand the purpose of my blog was to be all along. I had been primarily concerned that if I didn’t have a certain number of regular postings, that I was somehow not to be taken seriously. The problem with this perspective is that I believe it encourages people to write something--anything--everyday, whether it contains much forethought or not (such as a personal journal or diary). It’s great that some folks are truly capable of producing well thought out blog entries on a daily basis; however, I know my boundaries well, and writing only when I’m inspired to do so is one of them. Priorities shift quite often for me, depending on what’s taking place in my life at the time, and I find that going with the flow rather than against it makes far more sense. This has brought some well-needed peace and relief to my consciousness.

     I’m finding that when I focus on changing long-standing patterns of belief and behavior in myself, I must look at the process first and the results will certainly follow. I used to look at days and weeks going by and criticize myself every time something wasn’t accomplished by the end of a day, weekend, month, etc. My self-talk was quite bullying and mean, as I was basing my self-worth on what I could get done. When I didn’t have the motivation to move forward with a task in the time I set for myself, my inner bully kicked in calling me “lazy” and making me feel even less motivated to do anything. It became a repetitive downward spiral, as negative thoughts tend to perpetuate negative thoughts. I was becoming trapped in my usual pattern that left nothing done and me feeling like a failure--again.

     What’s changed lately is that I now look at what I want (yes, a result--as that’s usually the goal in the first place), but I remind myself that I don’t have to do anything to work toward it, I want to do things to work toward it. I learned the “have to vs. want to” perspective in the Career Development course I teach at work.
     To illustrate: If a person wants to reach the goal of, for instance, graduating from a program (such as the ones we have at the school where I work), this person (now a student) might approach each class with self-talk that consistently says, “I have to get up and get ready for school”, “I have to take notes for this class”, “I have to get my homework done”. This is a common perspective, and one that many of us don’t think twice about. The trouble is that it has a tendency to be demotivating and energy draining. If said student looks at school not as a “have to” but a “want to”, then his or her perspective is more likely to brighten and energy seems to flow back towards motivating the student to move forward. Tasks that might have seemed tiresome before may now appear less so once the student begins thinking: “I want to get up and get ready for school”, “I want to take notes for this class”, “I want to get my homework done”. This psychological shift takes away the seemingly coercive aspect of “have to” and replaces it with choice: “Do I want to do this or not?” Sure, the student might still end up doing things he or she doesn’t necessarily want to do in the moment, but the choice always remains, and no one is forcing anyone to do anything. In addition, if the student were to choose not to do something, that’s fine, just as long as he or she accepts the consequences of his or her actions.

      I have the choice to do whatever it is I want to do as long as I accept the consequences of my actions. For example, I used to eat--even when I wasn’t hungry--because I enjoyed the feeling I got when I ate something particularly decadent (still do). When I found my clothes getting tighter, I didn’t like that consequence and no longer wanted to accept it. Now, I exercise everyday and watch what I eat, when I eat it, and why I eat it. Do I want to do this everyday? Not always, but if I choose not to do this anymore, I know I don’t want the consequences that may follow from that choice. So I refuse to whine and complain about it and I just do it--because I want my clothing to fit comfortably and I want to feel better physically and mentally. I don’t have to, I want to.

      It’s far too easy to fall into the same negative patterns and downward spirals over and over again, but it takes consistent desire and motivation to become aware of these dysfunctional patterns and step out of them. I’m a work in progress, as I always have been, and I’m grateful for the lessons I continue to learn and continue to share with others. Thank you for reading.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


As you can see, I'm still working on this affirmation process. I'm hoping to have my next posting up soon. Thank you for staying tuned...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Changing Habits

“The only proper way to eliminate bad habits is to replace them with good ones.” - Jerome Hines

   You may have noticed that the name of this blog has changed slightly. This is because I’m finding myself going in a different direction with the topics I plan to write about. While the main focus of this blog will still focus on interpersonal communication, I’m opening it up a bit to include the just as important self-talk that we all engage in on a regular basis: the ongoing conversations we tend to have with ourselves through our thoughts. I’ve been wanting to bring self-talk officially into the mix, so I’ve decided to pursue it and see where it takes me—or rather, where it takes all of us: myself as well as the readers of this blog. Feel free to leave your feedback in the comments section and let me know what you think.

   So, keeping in the spirit of this blog entry’s theme of change, I’ll now write about some personal habits of mine that I’d really like to change. I’ve recently become much more aware of the habits I’ve developed over the years than I’ve ever been. Just this past week, I had a stark realization that I
have been following patterns of behavior throughout the course of my life that really haven’t helped me move forward in certain respects. This realization hit me a bit hard because I’m very dedicated to developing effective and successful habits when it comes to my field of study and what I do for a living (communication and counseling). However, in terms of maintaining my home (maintenance, cleaning, and all that busywork that keeps the system running), I’ve followed a lifetime habit of storing it away and telling myself, “I’ll do it later”. Sadly, I’ve done it with my blog and other things that mean a lot to me too.

   So I tell myself, “I’ll do it later”. Later. When exactly is “later” anyway? During the past six months of working in post-secondary adult education, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity of learning the curriculum that we teach to our incoming students relating to succeeding in college and their future careers. We emphasize positive thought management as a means of being aware of how thinking influences behavior: whatever you tell yourself and think about essentially leads you into your future. So, if you know that you’re capable of doing well, you will ultimately do those things well. It really can be that simple in most cases, but you have to do the work to get there. Issues such as drive, motivation, and desire to succeed play critical roles.

   Going back to the realization I had about my habits: when it comes to my work and other areas of my life, I hold strong beliefs that I am completely capable of success; consequently, I’ve developed habits leaning towards success that help me accomplish what I set out to accomplish. The trouble is that those beliefs don’t seem to stretch into other domains of my existence—the stuff I discussed at the beginning of this entry: regular maintenance of my home and blog—things that are easy to procrastinate with when I work full-time and feel like I don’t have the energy or extra time to devote to them. Obviously, I can’t procrastinate forever—something always gives inside me and I eventually buckle down and do what needs to be done. See, I really am capable whenever I set my mind to something. We all are.

   So, in order to develop effective and successful habits, one must first have a goal in mind that one wants to achieve. In my case, I could say, “I want to devote more attention to my housework and blog”, but there’s already a problem with my goal—it’s not quite specific enough. What does “more” mean? An extra hour or two a week? A day? What? Let’s revise the first sentence of this paragraph: To develop effective and successful habits, one must first have a clear and specific goal in mind that
one wants to achieve. Now, I could say, “I want to devote at least a half hour a day to my housework—doesn’t matter what I do just as long as I clean something that needs to be cleaned—and two to three hours a month (at minimum) to my blog”. There. Now I just need to follow the goals I’ve set down and everything will get done, right? Well, almost…

   Beliefs about one’s self-efficacy are important to be aware of whenever goals are set to change one’s habits. I could have every good intention in the world to change myself; however, if I don’t see myself as a person that devotes regular time and attention to doing so, then all bets are off and I’ll most likely fail in my endeavors. This is part of the reason why many people will set New Year’s resolutions on December 31st or January 1st and forget about them after one or two weeks: because even though they’ve imagined themselves behaving differently, they haven’t yet changed how they actually believe themselves to be on the inside.

   So how does one go about changing self-beliefs? One way of approaching this (and the way I’ll be trying) is through developing affirmations about myself and seeing myself as if I’m already the person I aspire to be. I can say to myself, “I keep a regularly maintained household and blog” and “I used to have problems keeping up with my housework and blog, but I don’t do that anymore”. Sure, it might sound a bit simplistic, but if I say these affirmations to myself everyday and then I don’t follow through, I’ll start to feel like a hypocrite—and I hate hypocrisy! For me, it will feel too odd to talk about myself in a manner that’s blatantly false, so I have to start making my affirmations come true. My behavior will begin to match my beliefs, as it should.

   I suppose a way out of the whole thing would be to stop saying my affirmations or decide to give myself a break whenever I fall back into the habits I’m seeking to change, but that would certainly be
counterproductive. This affirmation system may or may not work well for me, but it’s worth a try. If I begin to believe that I’m the type of person that has the capability to achieve the (clear and specific) goals that I set for myself, then maybe—just maybe—I might actually begin achieving them and changing my habits in the process. It may not end up being an easy thing to do, and it may take a few tries before I get the hang of it, but I’ll let you know how it goes either way. And maybe you’ll once again see me posting fairly regularly each month. ☺

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Just wanted to let readers know that I've needed to take a brief hiatus until I can focus more time and energy on giving this blog the attention it deserves. I'm hoping I can get back to posting monthly by April or May. Thank you for your continued patience. :-)


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Never Too Busy To Communicate

"It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice."--John Cassis

    I have (unfortunately) often encountered people in various social, academic, and professional situations that seem to communicate at a bare minimum. It tends to leave me feeling baffled, frustrated, and (in certain cases) hurt. It's as if the act of communicating is such a monumental task to these folks, and it takes them an unbearable and unacceptable amount of time, so they refuse to do it. I'm left to wonder in these situations what could possibly be more important than treating others with courtesy--like human beings.

   I understand that I hold a very large bias when it comes to issues of communication (obviously). I value it highly when so many others appear to take it for granted. Some people may not even realize how daily communicative habits and behaviors can affect their relationships and their lives in general. When I get to thinking this way, I usually remember that this is why I'm here. This is why I started this blog in the first place--to apply my education, training, and experience to helping others who are interested in becoming aware of some of their own communication behaviors and to help them change what no longer works into something that does.

   Here's the point where I confess that I have begun behaving in ways I was complaining about in the beginning of this post. It's no secret to me that it's been a good 2 or so months since my last posting. Though I wasn't writing, I was thinking of my blog often. Shortly after writing my last post, I started a new job in the education field. Though my personal business (Communication Counseling) remains open, I have been primarily focused on my new job--getting settled, learning what is required of me, becoming used to new routines, and everything else that comes with new jobs. Everything has thus far worked out pretty well...up until I began noticing how I was neglecting my other work--my own work here on my blog. I felt pretty guilty and torn about it for a bit. I started thinking, "Who am I to act as if my job is somehow more important than maintaining the work I have created from a field I hold so dear and value so highly?" True, I need to focus on my job, but I also need to become better at time management so I can avoid ignoring my blog too. It's a work in progress just like everything else in my life, really. Anyway, when I began noticing myself becoming what I do not like and have little patience for in others--a minimal communicator--I had to finally do something about it...and here I am today. I can't say that I'll become perfectly able to avoid putting off writing in my blog in the future, but I can say that I'm aware of the issue and I will put more effort into doing better.

   You see, it's completely OK to be busy and temporarily put things off. It's OK to take care of yourself first if that's what you need to do. But, when that little voice in your head starts telling you, "Enough's enough! You need to get back to your other responsibilities and you know it", that's supposed to be the part where you heed it. You will not be able to successfully quiet that voice (your conscience) until you do.

   Turning back to the idea of minimal communication, for these past couple of months, I had begun noticing more and more evidence of people behaving as if they were too busy to properly communicate, and I started noticing the negative effect it was having all around--not just on myself, but on others and the communicative environment in general. Negative behavior begets negative behavior, it seems, so I have begun trying to break the cycles that I notice around me--and you can as well.

   For instance, people need context--a way to understand where you're coming from and what you mean when you make a request, observation, comment, or ask a question. Until the day we are all telepathic and can read each others' minds, we will need context to understand each other effectively. My advice in the meantime is to do the best you can when communicating to avoid assuming that everyone around you already knows exactly what you're referring to before you say it. This goes back to assuming in general--just don't do it! If you truly don't have the opportunity in the moment to properly explain something, make a note of this to the person you're communicating with and be open to receiving questions.

   For example, at work, you could say the following in this situation: "I need you to help me with completing a project (or task), but I don't have time right now to fully explain what's involved. Let's please set aside some time later to discuss details." You could then either ask what time works for the other person or be willing to field follow-up questions from that person. All in all, it really doesn't take a whole lot of time to ask for more time. Ironically, people end up wasting a lot of time they claim they don't have by trying to request things from others after providing little to no context. All the confused back-and-forth conversations and emails that result from those situations never cease to boggle my mind. If you take the proper time at the very beginning to state your needs, you will eliminate a lot of issues and wasted time in the long run. By doing so, you're showing respect for others and yourself, and it goes a long way towards overall productivity and morale on the job.

   At home and in social situations, the same rules apply: when talking to friends or family, always let them know if you happen to be too busy in the moment to give them the context or attention they deserve. Aside from applying the same type of example discussed in the previous work scenario, other situations may arise. For instance, if someone is speaking to you and you're not really listening and processing what they're saying (but pretending to), rather than going on with a charade that will inevitably be revealed and potentially create hurt feelings; instead, say: "I'm sorry, but I'm distracted by (fill in the blank) right now. Would it be alright if we continue this conversation in half an hour?" Obviously, specific circumstances will vary; however, by making such a request in the first place, you're also telling these people that you value their time and your own. You're stating your needs (always a good thing) and attempting to respect theirs as well. It can be a win-win situation for all involved. But maybe certain people will ask that you not postpone some conversations until later times. Sometimes it's best in these situations to respect the needs of those who are stating them by asking that you stop whatever it is you're doing and tend to the moment at hand. Either way, you want to gauge what's more important in each circumstance, and more often than not, it's the relationships with your friends and family that will win out over completing tasks.

   Remember that no one is ever too busy to communicate. Like everything else worth doing, it takes practice to give up old habits (like assumption and avoidance) and begin behaving in a more mindful way. I only see positive effects and results whenever I apply these communicative tools in my own life, and I hope it brings you wonderful results as well.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Negotiating Boundaries

"The purpose of having boundaries is to protect and take care of ourselves."--Robert Burney

   We're approaching that time of year again: the holiday season. With it, there tends to come many expectations and obligations--from others as well as from ourselves. Never knowing exactly what will be happening in my life and those of my family and friends this time of year; I usually play holiday plans by ear. Sometimes, I make plans well in advance. Either way, I usually encounter situations that test my personal boundaries. What are these boundaries?

   My boundaries are the limits to which I'm willing to extend my time and attention to others and to myself during any period of time. My boundaries go both ways: I may stop people and situations from coming into my life at a certain time, as well as allow other people and situations in. My boundaries are flexible at times and rigid at others. My boundaries can shift, transform, and change at any time, as they are always in a state of evolution. My boundaries--just like everything else about me--are a work in progress.

   Negotiating boundaries are an important aspect of communication because the process of doing so enables people to get in touch with their own needs and express them to others. It is usually best to explain one's boundaries in the form of feelings and/or needs and offer future options and suggestions. For instance, "I feel that this time won't work out for me. Can we reschedule another time to spend together?" or "I need to take care of some things this weekend. Can we get together next weekend?" are two ways in which one might negotiate a particular boundary involving spending time with someone in the near future.

   When it comes to negotiating boundaries with family and friends during the holidays, the same boundary negotiation examples expressed above might apply or not. It can be difficult for people to say no to loved ones--especially when there is fear of potential hurt feelings involved. The best way that I have found to deal with these situations is to be open and honest. If you're not up to traveling for a particular holiday, then say so. You can offer options that work for you, such as hosting people in your home instead or rescheduling a visit for a later time. If you can travel and want to stay at a hotel instead of in a loved one's home, then make sure to express your appreciation for your potential host's offer before stating your needs and feelings. For example, "I sincerely appreciate your kindness and generosity in offering your home to me. Right now, I need some extra quiet time and space, and I feel like a hotel would be more appropriate. This has everything to do with me [or this is my issue], so please don't take it personally." Obviously, we cannot control how others will respond to what we say, but we can take courage and comfort in the fact that we were honest and true to ourselves and our boundaries. We can continue to treat our loved ones with love and respect despite having differing needs and feelings, and my hope is that they will respond in kind.

   A therapist once gave me an interesting and useful way to think of boundary setting. She provided the following example: "I'm not saying no to you. I'm saying yes to me." I found her words enlightening because I do not believe that boundary setting is a form of selfishness--as some might presume it to be. I think of it as being present to what's going on within us: What do we want? What do we need? What do we this moment? What will we want, need or feel in the future? Of course, the present moment is all we really have, yet I do not see the harm in doing some preventive maintenance too. Most importantly, however, is the need to make your boundaries clear to yourself so you can clearly express them to others. Avoid the potential temptation towards vagueness and obscurity in your boundary setting, and resist the urge to put off making decisions. No one really likes to be left hanging. Treat yourself with patience, love, and kindness as you navigate your needs and feelings when determining how best to set your boundaries. It might take some practice, but eventually the process will become much easier.

   I wish you all the best in your journey towards strengthening and negotiating your boundaries.