Running a social skills group for kids ages 7-11 has taught
me a lot about the benefits of flexible thinking. Flexible thinking in kids
produces turn taking, transitioning smoothly to new activities, and the ability
to adapt mentally, emotionally and behaviorally to a variety of situations.
Flexible thinking in adults also enables mental, emotional,
and behavioral adaptability. It is the ability to consider situations from
multiple perspectives, include context clues to inform decision making, manage
rising emotional responses in appropriate ways, problem solve, and balance and
prioritize competing desires and goals. Flexible thinking also allows for
spontaneity in our romantic relationships that can increase excitement and
Flexible thinking looks like letting someone else pick the
restaurant for dinner, cancelling plans to be with a friend or spouse who’s had
a difficult day, finding solutions to problems instead of ruminating on the
endless escalating spiral of “what if…” scenarios, truly listening to
understand what others are saying, and not telling your boss what you really
think of them when they take credit for your work during the company meeting.
Inflexible or rigid thinking in adults is often manifest in
all or nothing (Black and White) perspectives and doesn’t allow for nuances and
mitigating circumstances. Doing something because, “That’s how we have always
done it” is an example of rigid thinking. Other examples include not listening
to other’s ideas, struggling to consider the feelings and experiences of
others, and obliviousness to opportunities around us because we are locked into
our self-appointed expectations, rules or ideas about how something is
“supposed to be.”
There is a popular Huffington
Post article (“Reasons my
son is crying will crack you up!”) that is unknowingly
highlighting inflexible and rigid thinking. In each of these pictures, the
child is having an emotional meltdown because they are stuck on one thought and
the associated feeling so deeply, they become overwhelmed, abandon all reason
and rebuff efforts to console them; for example, “He wouldn’t fit through the
doggy door. Note the open-door right beside him.” With toddlers and adults
alike, inflexible thinking can lead to unhelpful and stressful situations.
As a caution, let’s be clear that not all rigid thinking is
unhelpful. There are areas in life that being inflexible is necessary and
protective. With regards to physical safety and personal and emotional
boundaries, it is advantageous to be rigid.
We all have times where we utilize both flexible and rigid
thinking, the important part is to identify where we, as adults, teens or kids,
could benefit from more flexible thinking.
Is there an issue with your friends or spouse
that keeps coming up, how could you change your perspective or response in the
situation to increase connection with that person?
What could be a different way to address the
issue? What about that issue is the real problem?
Could any of these same questions be applied to
work relationships and circumstances?
You need to be a pipe cleaner.
Here is a visual way to conceptualize flexible thinking. During
one of my first weeks running the aforementioned social skills group I came
across an activity highlighting the importance of and difference between
flexible and rigid thinking using a popsicle stick, a pipe cleaner and a piece
A popsicle stick is sturdy but rigid. Attempts
to bend the popsicle stick typically result in it breaking. Not helpful.
Pipe cleaners are soft and fuzzy on the outside,
come in multiple colors, bend easily, hold their shape and have sturdy wire in
the middle: the creative options are endless. They are so adaptable they can
bend to whatever the situation requires while maintaining their inner core
(read: personal values and goals).
A piece of yarn can barely hold any shape at
all, it’s too flexible. It can’t stand up for itself or hold a boundary and can
be easily manipulated with no resistance.
Thinking like a pipe cleaner allows flexibility, adjusting,
shifting, adapting and changing as needed without compromising our values. What
areas in your life are you like a pipe cleaner? Are there some relationships,
situations or events where you are more like a popsicle stick? Which of these
scenarios or people would benefit from you being more like a pipe cleaner?
Look for Flexible Thinking Part 2: Mental Health, where I
will review how flexible thinking impacts and effects our mental health.
People have many reasons for why their life is so stressful. Why they can’t de-stress. Why they feel so out-of-control. Why they believe it will just never change.
While many reasons exist, my experience is that people have three key reasons why they can’t seem to de-stress their lives. Here are a few to think about.
1) My life is too complicated to change!
I’ve heard this reason or derivations of this excuse many times. Whether it’s multi-tasking a crazy schedule or simply feeling there is nothing I can change, this line of reasoning hamstrings us.
2) Life never gives me a darn break!
While this reason sounds similar to number 1, it’s actually quite different. Whether it’s a mom who is exhausted by their 3 kids or a dad trying to close that important deal to support their family, it’s exhausting. By the way, these roles can be switched and aren’t gender exclusive. The point is, we need to SEEK a break in our lives.
3) Stress keeps me young!
I’ve spoken with people who have told me that stress is “motivating” or that stress keeps me “involved in life.” And yes, even that it “keeps me young.” The latter has been spoken with a knowing chagrinned glance that it actually isn’t helping. Which actually begs the question of “how well is that working for you?” The reality is, it simply is NOT helping.
Ideas That Work!
Here are 50 wise and proven ways to de-stress your lives (Hint: The hard part is actually making the time, not in doing them!)
Read Garden Movies Hike Piano Affection Backpack New outfit Vacation Work (job) less Bucket list Friends Work out Increase Intimacy Get away Spirituality Sex Travel Education Walk Step back Make Love Change careers Re-connect Healthy Emotions Trail Run Date Flower Garden Exercise Religion Journal Volunteer Arts Ski Creativity Crafts Mountains Yoga Rock Climbing Symphony The Mighty 5 Bear Lake Sunset Opera Sunrise Thunder The Beach Work smarter Self-care Alone time Switch it up!
There are easily 50 more ideas to add to this list. However, that’s not the point, i.e., to add more stress. The critical point is that unless we make changes and do more for ourselves, we suffer. We’ll just experience more and more stress that just simply perpetuates itself. That. Makes. No. Sense!
What makes perfect sense is choosing several of the items from my list and just doing them. Hiking is amazing in the Wasatch. Watching a summer movie rocks. Journaling is helpful. Reading a book energizing!
And, I can (almost) guarantee that your stress level will drop. You will want to do more for yourself. Become fiercely loyal to it!!!
Michael Boman, LCSW has 20 years experience in helping people de-stress and reconnect. Reach out to him at 801.944.4555,
if you feel this blog has moved you to want to take back your life.
“Technology has changed you!” is a phrase that my daughters throw around jokingly when I am on my phone, tablet, or laptop when they think that I should be engaged with them. They’re right though, as much as I hate to admit, and be called on, my behavior; technology has changed me. However, with the influx of digitally charged interactions comes the opportunity to connect with friends and family that, previously, was difficult to stay in contact with, but there is also the increased ability to disconnect from in – person interactions and relationships.
So, just how much is technology impacting our relationships? According to a recent study conducted by the market – research group Nielsen, American adults average 11 hours per day reading, listening, surfing, posting, or just generally interacting with media. 11 hours per day! Now, it’s true that a lot of us use a lot of media sources for our jobs, school, and hobbies, but how much of that 11 hours per day is spent on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat, Pinterest, or the social media site du jour? What are we giving up interacting on a social media platform for nearly half the day? How are our relationships with our kids, spouses, friends, and other family members impacted? How is our relationship with ourselves impacted? What is social media doing to strengthen or damage your relationships?
Interestingly, when I ask those questions of clients most look completely dumbfounded for a minute. Then as they begin to evaluate the function that media serves in their lives and their relationships, they often come to an answer quickly…it’s a distraction. Media is an escape hatch from real life, but it’s often “sold” as being reality. This seemingly innocent incongruity, fantasy vs reality, can cause some real issues. Ok, so what are some things that we can do to counteract the negative effects and heighten the positive effects?
Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries! That’s right folks let’s talk about how social media, and media in general, is going to be used within our relationships. There isn’t an easy button for this discussion, each relationship is different and so are the boundaries established within those relationships. Some families may have a social media moratorium during the week, others may have limits on what media influences are allowed, and still others may have a more laisse faire approach…no one solution is fundamentally better than the other as long as the people involved have been part of the discussion, even teens and kids. I’m not saying that the kids get to decide but allowing children to be part of the decision – making process and have a voice is empowering and models respect and compromise.
Set media free time aside every day and use part of it to connect with those you care about. Most people are not going to be in a situation where they must be “plugged in” 24 hours a day. Media free time is crucial to balancing mental, physical, and emotional wellness. Go for a walk/run with your best friend, take a hike with your family, go on a bike ride with y our spouse, or just sit around the kitchen table and eat dinner without cell phones or the TV on in the background. Also, allow yourself some time to disconnect from media and sit with your thoughts and feelings. Give yourself the space to really connect w ith yourself and understand what’s happening for you mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Be wary of the comparison trap! All media, but social media in particular, is rife for falling into the habit of comparing ourselves with those in our neighborhood, school, church, or the world in general; this is a harmful mindset. Remember that social media is being sold as reality, but it is fantasy. Often it is used as a “highlights” reel to life, but we don’t get to see the “bloopers” reel. Real life is not a series of perfect moments like what is featured on someone’s Instagram story. Comparing our lives to that well curated presentation can lead to feelings of failure, inadequacy, and hopelessness.
Lastly, take breaks from media if it feels like it is becoming obsessive or is dominating your “real” life. Recently, my college age daughter went on an “electronics fast” for one of her classes for a week. She was only allowed to use a desktop computer and the university’s website to complete homework, otherwise she had to be digital free. I admit, I had a hard time not being able to shoot her a quick text or message, but I think that it was an experience that we could all use from time to time. We have convinced ourselves that life would cease to exist without media …that is not reality.
While I’m slightly embarrassed to admit this, I have to let you in on a guilty pleasure of mine; I love watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Most reality TV leaves me scoffing, changing the channel or, commenting with ridicule and judgment (I can’t help it), but when it comes to viewing Kim K and the rest of the family I walk away from each episode thinking “huh, amid the chaos there is something going well with this family”. It took me a while to sift through the grandiose- ego driven aspects of the show to find what I consider to be 3 real strengths that they demonstrate that could be applied to family therapy.
Pit and Peak
In one episode, the family sat down to family dinner, something they seemingly do often, and over the course of the meal each member took turn talking about the “Pit and the Peak” of their day. In other words, they were all present to check in with each other and share their experience of the day. There wasn’t much problem solving going on, but that seemed to be okay. The purpose of the exercise was more to hear and be heard.
*How this applies to family therapy: Spending meal times together and disclosing how your day went can be a great way to understand where people are emotionally, as well as offer support and praise. When we check in (and do it often) we are better able to avoid personalizing someone else’s bad day and this reduces conflict.
Be Real (real assertive that is)
For those of you who watch (and I know you’re out there), it is clear to see that this family has no problem putting themselves out there. While it may be a bit narcissistic or over the top in the show, what is also happening is self-validation. The Kim, Khloe, Kourtney, and Kris are willing to be vulnerable and verbalize when they are dissatisfied with one another. Rarely does this family let things get swept under the rug. When they are frustrated they let the other know and this creates the opportunity (for drama) AND for resolution. Yes, there are many times where they do not demonstrate assertive clear communication, but they are willing to put themselves out there and work it out.
*How this applies to family therapy: Passive communication often creates resentment and stress in families. Practicing assertive communication (like letting people know how you really feel) on the other hand, leads to a higher likelihood that those un-met needs that are causing conflict, will be met. Families that can “Be Real” with each other in respectful and validating ways are more likely to resolve and rebound from conflict and build secure attachments to one another.
From creating their own music videos on family vacations, to wrestling, or playing pranks on each other, this family prioritizes play. No doubt that they are not short of drama or chaos, but their efforts to play and have fun with one another help counter balance the pandemonium and strife.
*How this applies to family therapy: When we forget to have fun with our families it limits our opportunity to learn and grow together. Play can be a stress relieving and bonding experience. With children, play can help them learn and develop various skills such as motor skills, cognitive skills, and social skills. Play teaches the parents to be patient towards their children and can have the added value of increasing the child or teens self-esteem knowing they will be attended to. Families who take the time to play together, are often more cooperative, supportive and have better and more frequent communications.
While I am not suggesting that we all start emulating the Kardashians, these few point may be work trying to incorporate into your family dynamics.
“Boundaries can be understood as processes of contact and exchange,
moments of knowing, and movement, and growth.” Judith V. Jordan
Knowing how to set healthy boundaries is an important part of living a life where you feel honest with yourself because you are able to interact honestly with others. This isn’t a skill that comes with all of us into life. This isn’t a skill we learn in our formative years either.
We learn it, oftentimes, through experiences of pain and trauma, both emotional and physical. Because of our experiences, we learn to have boundaries. Because of our experiences, we also gain the tough challenge of doing 3 life-altering things:
Learning to value ourselves;
Actively creating our identity;
Balancing the ways we share our personal space.
Often times we are expected to share our personal space without regard to personal needs because of our roles in life – such as our families, our friends, our occupations or hobbies, our roles as as parents, siblings, spouses, or relatives.
We each have a long list of personal responsibilities: our finances, careers, bodies, families, etc. It’s critical to be aware of our lives and our needs. But when does self-awareness become self-obsession? Do we think about ourselves too much? Here’s how to determine if you’re self-aware or self-absorbed: