Archive for February, 2007


Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

A headache can be a nightmare for the sufferer. Those prone to headaches may find them occurring frequently, disrupting their life and making both work and play difficult if not impossible.

Medication may be of little use in some cases. Just lying down and doing nothing is often the only treatment that brings any relief. Some people have resigned themselves to just suffering through the attacks, waiting until the agony has passed before they can resume their activities.

It has been estimated that one person in five suffers from chronic and disabling headaches. Some of these headaches are symptoms of other problems, and may indicate brain, eye, or sinus disease. A medical doctor should always be consulted to rule out these serious conditions. But the causes of most headaches are often unclear, and treatment may progress in a trial-and-error fashion.

Almost half of chronic headaches are called migraine, or vascular headaches. Migraine headaches can last for several hours or several days. They may be preceded by dizziness or sensitivity to light. They can be accompanied by nausea, excruciating pain, and vomiting. This type of headache is three times more likely to occur in women than men.

Some headaches are thought to be caused by muscle contractions in the face, neck, or head. These are often called tension headaches. They may be accompanied by pain in the back of the neck, or by muscle spasms. Bruxism, or grinding your teeth, may also cause headaches and tension in surrounding muscles.

The exact causes of many headaches are disputed by many doctors. Heredity, stress, and hormones are among the factors that have been linked to migraines. But hereditary predisposition, hormonal swings accompanying menstruation, and stress are probably factors in all headaches. Nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol can also trigger severe headaches.

Because there are so many possible causes of headaches, it is essential to have a medical checkup to determine if there is a severe underlying cause that will respond quickly to medical techniques such as medication or surgery. But if you are not suffering from an organic illness, and your headaches are frequent and severe, there are a number of things you can consider.

Try to keep track of when your headaches occur, and your emotional state at the time. If stress seems to be a factor, there are relaxation techniques that you can learn that can prevent or minimize future attacks. Learning to relax as soon as you notice physical tension, coupled with a real effort to reduce the level of tension in your life, can give you some control over your problem.

Biofeedback, which uses visual and audial cues to help you recognize tension you’re your body, is another effective treatment. Biofeedback training has been helpful for many people suffering from either migraine or tension headaches. With practice, sufferers can often learn to change patterns of circulation, or relax contracting muscles to forestall an oncoming headache.

The important thing to remember is that your body has the ability to forestall a headache, as well as to create one. In addition to lifestyle changes in diet and exercise, reducing stress and emotional turmoil can minimize the occurrence of headaches. Becoming aware of your headache patterns, and learning some simple techniques form an experienced professional can make a major difference in improving the quality of your day. You don’t have to just sit and suffer!

A Friend in Need or a Fiend Indeed?

Monday, February 26th, 2007

Do you realize what happens when you leave the ‘R’ out of friend? You get a fiend! That’s exactly what a friend can be if you leave Respect, Reality, and Reasonableness out of a relationship!

Some people complain that they have no friends, that no one knows how to be a friend nowadays. Rarely do they look to see if they know how to be a friend to others. You need to ask yourself if you really believe that a friend has to be somebody who agrees with you about everything.

Friends don’t always have to see eye-to-eye. Their differences may lead them to conclusions that conflict with ours. But talking about those differences can teach us a lot about ourselves. At the very least, they can make us think about our own assumptions about the world. Respecting the differences between friends is an important part of building valuable friendships.

While it may be nice to have friends we’ve known since high school, who have shared all of our life experiences, it does get a little boring. People raised in other state or countries can help broaden our horizons by sharing their differences as well as their similarities.

Reality is another important part of friendship. The ability to be open and honest with someone is what draws us together. You don’t have to lie to a friend, or pretend to be something you’re not. Friends are people to whom you can admit your mistakes and weaknesses. But this means you have to tolerate their imperfections too. A large part of friendship is relaxing and being yourself.

To be a friend, you have to allow others the same privileges you demand for yourself. You can’t turn on a friend because they don’t live up to your expectations of what they should do. You don’t criticize them behind their back. Doing those things to a friend-in-need makes you a fiend indeed!

Reality means you can talk directly to a friend when you are uncomfortable about his or her behavior. Maybe it’s your problem; maybe it’s theirs. But friendship means being able to sit down and discuss conflicts between the two of you. Seeing each other through the rough spots can create a bond that lasts throughout your lives.

Reasonableness is the third R necessary for good friendship. What do you expect from your friends? Do you ask more than you give? If you expect your friends to cater to your every need, and meet every demand, you are being unreasonable. How would you feel if the same demand was made of you?

No one can be there for you every time you need them. A friend is someone who will be there when they can. If you are their friend, you will realize that sometimes they just can’t help you immediately. They can’t be there every time there’s trouble. What counts is that they help sometimes, not all the time. A good friend won’t let you down very often. But if you are a good friend, you won’t force them to never let you down. It just isn’t humanly possible!

Friendship takes effort from both parties. The rewards are worth it. Don’t be a fiend to the people who care about you. Act with Respect, a sense of Reality, and Reasonable expectations and put the ‘R’ back in friendship!

Dealing With Daily Chaos

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

I hear a lot from people who feel overwhelmed by the chaos they have to deal with each day. And I do understand. All of us can relate to feeling like there are too many things on our plate.

People tend to daydream about a better life. But with a busy schedule, they keep their dreams simple. They dream of winning the lottery, or encountering as rush hour without traffic. They want a better job, or a bigger house. When those things don’t materialize, they might feel tense and harried. But when they get home angry and frustrated, the mess there may have them screaming (at their family, or just screaming!)

One of the difficulties in not falling prey to this disastrous cycle is that it’s so easy to lose sight of our objectives. Like hamsters on a treadmill, we can forget where we’re running to. We feel out of control in our own lives.

Struggling to keep your head above water, and anxiously glancing around for the next tidal wave, you can feel powerless to swim towards a goal. Any goal!

There is a big difference between living and making a living. And sometimes we forget that the second thing has no purpose if we’re not doing the first!

Stop and take stock for a moment. What are the reasons for the thing you do? Remember the joy of your wedding day? Remember why you took that job: the pay was needed or the opportunity good? Think of the first time you saw your child, the swelling joy and pride.

Stay in touch with those memories for a while. Get in touch with those feelings again.

Now write a list of the goals in your most precious memories. List all the objectives: providing for yourself and your family, enjoying your family’s company, keeping your body healthy, keeping your mind active. Be specific. Is buying a house on your list? Or planning a vacation with the family? Often we think of a material thing that we think is our goal, when really it is something more special than the thing itself.

List even the very small things. Do you wish for more time with your hobbies? Do plants or pets give you a good feeling?

Go have a cup of coffee (or whatever your beverage is) and leave the list for a while. Relax and think of other things.

After a short break, come back to the list and evaluate the items. Put a checkmark next to the six most important items on your list. Keep the list. Think about what you can do to have these goals. Understand that some of the things you are doing now are bringing you closer to your heart’s desire.

Live with the assumption that you are in control of your own life. Every activity you are involved in represents a decision or choice on your part. Compare your daily actions with your list of desired goals. Consider the possibility of not wasting time on the things you are doing that don’t bring you any closer to your goals.

If you don’t enjoy an activity and it doesn’t bring you any closer to what you do want out of life, ask yourself why you are doing it? Make the choices that give your life meaning. Don’t waste it. Keep sight of things you value most and let them be a guiding star that keeps you from feeling lost in the chaos around you.

Playing the Blame Game

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

I can’t think of a more useless pursuit than looking for someone to blame. The minute we say ‘It’s all your fault!’ to someone, we alienate them. And to what purpose? Laying the blame at someone’s door doesn’t change what has already happened, nor does it look for ways to prevent problems in the future.

This applies as well to blaming ourselves. Self-blame makes you feel terrible, without building any resources to help you avoid errors next time. It actually keeps you from taking responsibility for your life.

Blame makes you feel incompetent. Taking responsibility for your actions is easier when you feel competent and capable. In my experience, people often act most awful when they feel helpless and without power. Being a responsible adult requires a positive attitude towards yourself; blame creates a negative attitude.

Why then do people indulge in the ‘Blame Game?’ One reason is that it’s an easy way out. Pinning the blame on somebody else absolves the blamer of having to make any changes. It avoids the issue of what both parties can do to change the situation. It makes other people feel guilty, which may be used as part of a larger pattern of manipulation. The result of the ‘Blame Game’ is that nothing gets changes, and the hostilities between people increase.

Self-blame can be useful in manipulating people too. By wallowing in guilt and shame, the chronic blamer is asking to be forgiven for his or her actions.

Mind you, the blamer isn’t about to change any of those actions, just to make other people accept them. Self-blame thus becomes a substitute for self-growth. If the self-blamer is manipulative enough, someone else may step in and take over, thus leaving the blamer free to disclaim responsibility for any future events.

Let’s face it: it’s easier to blame than to work at taking control of your own life. Being responsible means thinking and planning.

It means asking ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’, and working hard at reaching an understanding of the situation. It means accepting mistakes, instead of hiding from them. It means looking at what you can do to change the situation, instead of leaving it all up to someone else.

Blame is the lazy way out. It’s ineffective, boring, and frustrating. It doesn’t change the situation, except by driving other people away. When you’re faced with a problem ask not what other people can do for you, but what you can do for yourself.

Saying No to Authority Figures

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

Do you have a problem dealing with authority?

Do you dread talking to your doctor? Do you jump when someone speaks in a loud voice? Do you break into a cold sweat when a police officer pulls you over? If the IRS called you on the phone, would you faint on the spot?

It’s amazing how quickly we react to people in a position of authority. Childhood memories of being scolded by our parents leap into our mind. Suddenly we’re afraid we’ve been caught breaking into the cookie jar, and instant panic sets in. We don’t even stop to consider our needs or priorities. We just take the path of least resistance, and kick ourselves afterward.

If you’re one of those people who can’t argue with the utility company, fight an undeserved ticket, or ask your boss for a raise, take heart! You can learn to speak up for yourself.

First, you have to mentally adjust your image of yourself. Then, you have to re-evaluate your perception of other people’s power. Finally, you have to practice. These aren’t easy steps, but you’ll be doing yourself a big favor if you try them.

First of all, you have to stop thinking of yourself as a victim. Authority figures only have power if you give it to them. You are paying for the services of doctors and lawyers. You have the right to ask questions about their advice. You are part of the company your boss is working for. You have a right to discuss policy that affects you, like your salary.

Police officers are there to support you and your community. If they make a mistake, you can discuss it without putting either yourself or them down. Even big utility companies and the Internal Revenue Service can only exist with your agreement to pay for the services they provide. (And if you feel that you’re not getting enough in return for your taxes, remember an election year is right around the corner!)

You are a very important person. Other people don’t have power over you. They are trying to accomplish something, and if their priorities conflict with yours, negotiation is in order, not capitulation. If you do run into a person with an insatiable need to control others, they have a problem. Bypass them and go straight to a saner, more rational adult with whom you can talk.

Finally, you have to practice actually saying the words of resistance. Practice at home in front of a mirror, or ask a friend to act like the person you are afraid of while you practice. Use your imagination to pretend you are in the situation you dread. Practice until the words come naturally. It’s okay to be a little tense when you try coping with the real situation. But each time you try, you’re practicing a skill that can change your whole view of yourself. It’s well worth the effort!

Remember, you’re a valuable person. Don’t be a victim and don’t give your authority away. Respect the other person’s job, but don’t treat them like your parent. You’re not a kid anymore.

The Self Fulfilling Prophecy

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

Back in the 1950s a number of researchers began to realize that when people act on a belief, they create a reality to match that belief. This idea was developed further by Dr. Robert K. Merton, a professor of sociology at Columbia University, who pointed out that even when the original belief is false, people make it come true. We humans seem to prefer that other people behave as we expect them to, and we will modify or distort reality until it conforms to our expectations. And we can do this without even being aware we are doing it!

One of the most famous studies done on the SFP was published in a book called Pygmalion in the Classroom.If you remember your Greek mythology, Pygmalion was the sculptor who carved a statue of a beautiful woman, then fell in love with it. He believed so strongly that it could come to life, that it did! Hence, the SFP is also called ‘The Pygmalion Effect.’

A Harvard professor, Dr. Robert Rosenthal, collected the results of over 300 studies showing the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy in action. In classroom experiments, a group of children were divided into two classes. One class was given to a teacher who was told that the students were high achievers and should do well. The other teacher was told that her class was composed of underachievers who needed special help.

At the beginning of the school year there was no difference between the two groups of children in terms of ability. By the end of the school year the class that was labeled ‘high-achievers’ was doing better than average work. The class that had been labeled as ‘underachievers’ was doing below-average work. Furthermore, a careful study revealed that children who made gains in the ‘high achiever’ group were generally better liked by their teacher, but the children who made gains in the ‘underachiever’ class were generally less liked by their teacher!

In summarizing this research, it can be said that people prefer people who live up to their expectations, and that people unconsciously create situations that encourage the expected behavior. If the expectations are positive, people (in this case, students) are encouraged to behave positively. If the expectations are negative, people (again, the children in the class) are encouraged to behave negatively.

There has been plenty of research that shows this Self-Fulfilling Prophecy effect in job situations. Since we do it so unconsciously, adults are no more immune to its effects than children are. Remember too that this effect usually occurs despite the fact that the person with the expectation is usually unconscious of the effect he/she is having.

For example: Dr. Albert King did a study with a number of welder trainees. All the trainees had scored approximately equal in aptitude testing before the training started. However, their trainer was told that five of the men had shown high aptitude on their tests. (Remember, this was not true!) AT the end of the training course, these five men had an amazing record. They had been absent fewer times than the other men, they had learned the welding skills in half the time, and they scored ten points higher than the others in a comprehensive welding test given at the end of the course.

Furthermore, when the other trainees were asked to rate each other in terms of whom they most wanted to work with, each wanted most to work with one of the five ‘high aptitude’ men.

Somehow, both the trainer and the other trainees had encouraged these five men to meet their expectation. They had created a true reality out of a false belief. In every possible way, without consciously meaning to do so, they gave the five trainees messages that said ‘Don’t worry; we know you’ll do well.’ With all that subliminal encouragement, it’s easy to understand why those five trainees developed a positive attitude towards themselves and their work.

In studying the Pygmalion effect close-up, we have found a number of ways in which these expectations are transmitted and encouraged to become reality:

1) Climate: The entire package of non-verbal signals encourages or discourages the worker. Think of how much a smile or a friendly tome of voice can mean to you.

2) Feedback: More positive responses encourage; more negative ones discourage. Even if a worker makes a mistake, you can respond in two ways. ‘Not again! You’d better learn to do it right’ is very disheartening. ‘Not bad, but you might find it easier to try it this way instead’ sounds helpful and encouraging.

3) Amount of input: If we have positive expectations about a worker, we tend to give that person more information to help them along. If we have negative expectations, we tend not to bother to give information.

4) Amount of output: We expect more work from a good worker than a poor one. Saying ‘Don’t bother to tackle that job; I know you’ll never do it right’ discourages an employee from taking on any new responsibilities.

What you expect to come true is often what you make come true. You may have seen this in everyday life. We all know at least one pessimist who expects things to go badly, and is always complaining about the things that have gone badly. And we all know at least one optimist who expects good things to happen. The optimist doesn’t dwell on the negative, but rather continues to work on the positive, making those good things happen more often.

It should be clear from this research that far more important than the skills you learn are the attitudes with which you apply those skills. You must look carefully at what you expect from the group you are working with. Of course, you need to develop realistic expectations. You cannot, for example, expect people to do a job in one day that logically requires a week to accomplish.

However, within these reasonable limits, the most important thing you can do to increase productivity is to expect the best of people. To expect that they will give you their best efforts. To expect that they will want to meet their goals. To expect that they would prefer to do a good job.

Whether you are unconscious of your expectations or not, those attitudes will influence how you treat everyone who works with you! The best way to ensure that your influence if positive is to become conscious of your expectations and to develop them into positive feelings for all your workers.

Working With People You Don't Like

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

We’ve just been through several months of singing about good will towards other people. We’re supposed to be filled with love towards our fellow human. Maybe it’s easy to smile at strangers, but I’m not sure it’s any easier for those who have to work with people they dislike.

It would be nice if every job we ever had was filled with friendly co-workers we liked and respected.

Unfortunately the law of probabilities (Murphy’s Law?) suggests that at least some of the people we work with will rub us the wrong way. How we handle this situation will have a big impact on whether our job is a torture or a challenge.

Some people turn their dislike into a full time feud that eventually destroys morale throughout the workplace. Others smile through gritted teeth, then take every opportunity to criticize behind the other person’s back. Some complain only to their boss; some only to their spouse each night after work. And some turn their anger against themselves, wallowing in feelings of loneliness and isolation.

None of these methods accomplish anything constructive. In fact their results can be ulcers, headaches, chronic aches and pain, and strained relationships. However, with a little effort and forethought, you can turn the whole situation into a growth experience. Since you will probably encounter people you dislike throughout your career, now is a good time to learn to cope with them effectively.

First of all, you have to figure out why you dislike them so intensely. Be sure you are not prejudging them on the basis of outward appearance. You probably already know enough to avoid letting any unconscious ethnic or gender bias affect your opinion of them. But are you sure their gestures, clothes, hairdo, body jewelry, or other style issues aren’t creating your perception of them? Not everybody is alike, and if you focus on what they do differently than you do, you may feel as though you’ll never understand them.

You should be smart enough to know that stereotypes are self-fulfilling prophecies. If you think you know who someone is based on their outward appearance, you will interpret all their behaviors to fit your preconceptions. Don’t deprive yourself of the chance to find out who they really are.

If it is a particular behavior that irritates you, why not just tell them? Say something simple, like ‘I get angry when I’m interrupted before I finish a sentence.’ Be positive, rather than critical. Let them know you’d like to resolve the problem with their help. Don’t be defensive, and don’t back them into a corner either.

If the truth is that you hate most of their behaviors, remind yourself that they are a co-worker, not a friend. They don’t have to be your kind of person, just the kind of person the company hired for the job. Respect them for what they do. Deal with them on a rational level, not an emotional one. You’d be amazed at how calmly you can deal with an unpleasant co-worker once you accept them as a fact of life like a crowded office or too few coffee breaks. No one ever said the job would be perfect!

And finally, if your main complaint is that the other person seems to dislike you, stop reacting. Take the initiative! Ask them why you get the impression they dislike you. Mention specific behaviors you have been aware of. Make it clear that you are not attacking, but simply seeking information. Maybe you’ll find you agree with the criticism. Maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll both feel less hostile. It’s worth trying, isn’t it?

If nothing works, face the fact that not everyone has to like you, and vice-versa. Don’t go out of your way to antagonize a co-worker, but don’t fake excessive courtesy either. Mutual dislike doesn’t make either of you a worthless person. You both deserve respect.

Not liking someone doesn’t have to mean you actively try to hurt them. Sometimes it isn’t even practical to keep them from hurting you, especially if they are high up in the office hierarchy. To paraphrase a line from ‘Fiddler On The Roof,’ maybe the best wish of all is ‘May God bless and keep my enemiesfar away from me!’