LifeCraft Counseling & Coaching of Denver

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How to Make Your Smartphone an Ally Instead of an Enemy

Denver counselor, therapist, and life coach Gideon Killion shares some thoughts on making technology work for you.

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If you’re like most people, you don’t go anywhere without your phone. Unfortunately, if you’re like most people, you have a love/hate relationship with it.

Smartphones can make our lives easier, more efficient, and more fun. They can also turn us into disengaged individuals who can’t look up from a screen to experience the world “in real life.”

For those of who struggle with this complex relationship, here’s some advice that has been effective for my coaching clients.

How to Let Your Phone Help You (Not Hurt You)

By making the most of what technology can offer you, it’s possible to turn your smartphone into a strong ally that support your values and goals. Here’s how:

  • Smartphones exist primarily for communicating with others, so find ways to use it in increasing quality time with friends and family. Have phone or video calls with family members who don’t live nearby. Get in touch with a local friend via text to set up a time for coffee or dinner. Or use your phone to sustain a long-running group email or text conversation.
  • Take advantage of smartphone apps that are designed to help you learn new habits, such as HabitBull, Loop Habit Tracker, or Fabulous. You can also use apps for specific types of activities, such as running, meditation, eating well, doing yoga, learning Mandarin, etc. Even the most basic reminder or timer app can be used to help you take a break from regular activities (especially sitting) to do things like taking a stretch break, drinking some water, checking in to be mindful of your current emotions, or making a call to a friend.
  • Use your phone to listen to books and podcasts while doing housework or driving. These mindless tasks can be enhanced by taking the opportunity to learn something new and connect with the world outside of your daily routine.

Don’t Let Your Smartphone Become Your Enemy

As you probably know, it’s easy to become addicted to the constant stimulation and distraction that your smartphone can offer. That’s because occurrences such getting an email notification or refreshing your social media feed to check for new posts can provide a dopamine rush in the brain—a pleasurable sensation that is comparable to the use of stimulant drugs.

And the idea of being away from your phone might be uncomfortable. In a 2015 study, researchers found that people who were separated from their iPhones for a few minutes actually experienced physical symptoms of anxiety, such as increased blood pressure.

If you don’t want to be dependent on your smartphone to get through your day, there are ways you can regain control:

  • Adjust your settings to turn off audio alerts for most things (other than emergency or weather alerts).
  • Decide which notifications are truly urgent for you, and which information you can wait to manually check at certain times during the day.
  • Set aside specific times of day to manually check voicemail, email, tweets, and so on.
  • Use a feed reader or news aggregator site to curate news from specific sources, then set a limit on how frequently you’ll look at it (and for how many minutes at a time).
  • Make a commitment to stay engaged with the physical world instead of always focusing attention on your phone. This is particularly important when you’re driving, biking, or walking across the street, when it’s not safe to be on your phone. It’s also important in most interactions with another human, when looking at your phone can come across as rude.

Smartphones can either help or hurt us. I believe that most people are happiest when they make conscious choices about how to use their phones and when to put them away. Remember, even when you’re waiting in line, sitting on a bus, or just out walking, there’s plenty out there in the real world to interact with—including other humans. Sometimes you might even use the opportunity to take a deep breath and relax.

How to Make New Year’s Resolutions That Lead to Real Change

Gideon Killion, a therapist, coach, and counselor in Denver, Colorado, offers some thoughts about New Year’s resolutions that work.

Funny man eating a donut.It’s natural to feel drawn toward change and growth at this time of year. For many people, the New Year offers an opportunity to turn the page and have a fresh start.

But with all the advice out there about forming new habits, setting “SMART goals,” and motivating yourself, it can be confusing to know how to begin. I’d like to share an insight about how to shift behavior patterns. It’s my belief that New Year’s resolutions usually fall flat, not because we fail to try hard enough, but because the goals we’ve set are lacking adequate support. It helps to have intent as a support framework.

Trying to force a new outcome can feel like an uphill battle, unless you determine a specific intention to support your goal. That’s because goals are set in the future, but what actually gets you to that finish line is the choice you make right now, in each moment. Intent helps you to identify which choices of today will help you reach your future goal.

Another way of looking at intent is that it allows you to clarify your values. Goals define “what” you want to accomplish; intent helps you understand “why” (the motivation for change). Goals are detail-focused, but intent provides the big-picture view of how your goals will get you where you want to go.

So here’s an example:

Goal: I will write one chapter of my novel by January 21st.
Intent: I am embracing a daily writing practice.

See the difference? The intent, which is focused in the present, provides the framework and mindset that supports the goal, which is placed in the future.
With this distinction in mind, here is my practical advice for creating real change in your life.Woman stretching in a tracksuit

1. Recognize that goals require sacrifices, and make your goal proportional to your willingness to endure sacrifice.

One of the most common mistakes people make with New Year’s resolutions is trying to go from zero to 60. Moving from inaction to full-on commitment is usually unsustainable because it’s just too painful to make the personal sacrifice required.
Using intention as a framework can help. If your goal is to do a cardio workout twice a week but you hate gyms, the personal sacrifice of submitting to an unpleasant environment may be too painful over the long term. Reflecting on the intent behind your goal can help you find a way to adjust the pain meter so that a smaller sacrifice is required. If your intent is “choosing to move more and sit less,” you could reconsider whether enduring the gym is the only way to get a cardio workout. What about playing Ultimate Frisbee with friends on Saturdays and going for a run with a friend on Thursdays?

2. Consider making a series of small achievable changes that together add up to something bigger.

Checking in with your intent every day can spark small changes that add up, over time, to a significant behavioral shift. The key is to focus on things that are easily achievable—just one step removed from what you’re already doing. In the case of “choosing to move more and sit less,” you might set a few related small goals that get you moving just a little more than before. If you’re famous for finding the closest possible parking spot, try parking one row over. Always take the elevator to the 4th floor? Decide that you’ll take the stairs to the 2nd floor and ride up from there. It’s true that one tiny change by itself doesn’t make much of a dent in your activity level. But several tiny changes can easily become new habits, and you can continue shifting your behavior in small increments until one day you find that you’ve made a major shift.

3. Don’t try to change behaviors without adjusting the supporting context.

When you try to create change in an environment that doesn’t support change, it won’t stick. The best way to address this problem is to come up with a structure for success—a plan that’s big enough to handle the change you want to make. The most effective plan will be one that anticipates setbacks and includes rewards for progress. That’s because you’re human: you will make mistakes, and you will be more committed to a plan that gives you positive feedback in the form of small rewards.

Scott Adams, the guy who created Dilbert, suggests that goals don’t produce changes, but rather systems do. For any goal he’s wanted to reach, he has put in place a system that is calculated to produce that result. I think “system” is an extension of intent—a thought-out plan for manifesting an intention on a consistent and in-the-moment basis.

And here’s the best part: when your resolution is based on a framework of intent, it’s more likely to produce beneficial and healthy changes even if you don’t reach the specific goal.

If you’re looking to create big or small changes in your life but aren’t sure how to take the next step, you might need a coach or counselor to walk you through it. Give me a call today, ask for a consult at one of my Denver locations, and learn more about how I can help.

The hidden cost of change

Anyone who has tried to change something big in life — such as giving up a bad habit, or starting a good one — knows that it isn’t easy. There are a lot of reasons why this is the case, and a quick Google search will probably reveal plenty. But one thing that makes it harder is that we often do not see the whole picture. We do not see all the things that we get out of the status quo — things we would lose if change actually happened.

A while back, I was working with a couple in marriage counseling. The big problem in this couple’s relationship was the male partner’s alcohol addiction. His wife wanted him to quit drinking, and he said he wanted to quit, too. Yet over and over, she discovered that he had been drinking and lying about it. We met a number of times, talking about wounds from his past, poor self-esteem, and so on, but after a while, it became clear that under the surface, probably unconsciously, he did not want to change. Promising to change but not actually doing it was actually working well for him.

The costs of the status quo were obvious — pain, shame, fights, fear of losing the relationship. But the benefits of the status quo — and the costs of change — were not. Every time he wept and apologized, and promised to do better, his wife would flood him with forgiveness, affection, and affirmation. She would tell him how much she believed in him, and how much good she saw in him. Now, obviously there is absolutely nothing wrong with forgiveness, affection, and affirmation. But counter-intuitively, his pattern of alcohol addiction had become a very effective means of getting them. And on top of that, he got to keep drinking.

Now, I am certainly not saying that this was the reason for his addiction, or that the addiction ended when the whole picture came into focus. Overcoming substance addiction is usually a long and difficult road. But this man could not begin to walk down that road until both he and his wife saw what he was getting out of staying where he was.