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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.

5 Factors that Lead to Loneliness

Denver counselor and coach Gideon Killion shares some ideas about loneliness and what to do about it.

denver-counseling-lonely-manThese days, a lot of people — particularly men — struggle with feeling lonely and disconnected. Sometimes loneliness can be a motivator to connect with new people, as when we change jobs or move to a new city. But for many people, loneliness is a chronic problem. We want close friends and meaningful relationships, but we don’t know how to go about finding and building them.

Aside from being a really uncomfortable emotional experience, loneliness also has negative health repercussions. A lack of close friends can contribute to both mental and physical health problems. One study of senior citizens found a tie between loneliness and the likelihood of developing dementia. Chronic feelings of loneliness have also been linked to heart disease and other serious health issues.

Almost everyone experiences periods of loneliness, but it’s helpful to identify the main factors in your particular situation. Which of these statements describe you?

  1. You have tons of friends, but you still feel lonely or like you don’t truly belong anywhere.

It’s common nowadays to have lots of superficial connections that we call “friends” and yet still be lonely. These friendships lack closeness. They are people who will do stuff with us, but not ones who actually care enough to ask how we’re doing. In the end, it’s the quality of friendships that matters most for your health, not quantity. Without close and meaningful friendships, we are emotionally isolated.

  1. You had devoted and emotional friendships as a kid, but your adult friendships aren’t as deep.

In the book “Deep Secrets,” Niobe Way explores the emotional intimacy that young boys often experience with peers—a connection we tend to lose in adulthood in favor of friendships that are activity-based but not emotionally significant. Much like the phenomenon of “work friends” that don’t remain friends after changing jobs, these activity-centered friendships tend to fade out when the shared activity is no longer a priority for both men.

  1. You have several close friends, but none of them are friends with each other.

Most people find that they have lots of one-to-one relationships with people who are not connected to each other. When our key friendships all happen independently, we are more likely to feel lonely. In contrast, when some or most of our closest friends are also friends with each other, we have a greater sense of belonging due to being part of a like-minded group.

  1. Most of your social interactions happen through social media—online, not in person.

The ubiquitous presence of smartphones in our lives means that we constantly have texts, email, Twitter, and Facebook at our fingertips, giving us the illusion of connection with others but in a very superficial way. We may feel as if we’re “connected” 24/7, but there may not be much substantial connection really happening. Meanwhile, we’re missing out on potential real-world connections all the time by never looking up from our phones.

  1. You’ve had successful romantic relationships, but you have no idea how to connect emotionally with male friends.

Our culture is incredibly focused on finding a mate, to the point that all of our energy goes into finding and keeping romantic or intimate relationships. This has taught us not to prioritize finding and keeping friends in the same way, so we haven’t really developed the skills it takes to maintain platonic friendships. Our culture has also made this more difficult by offering a limited notion of what it means to be a man. Many men constrain their expression of emotions with other men out of fear that they may be perceived as “unmanly” or gay. Unfortunately, this keeps us from being able to experience significant friendships in which we can support our male friends on an emotional level and receive that support from them in return. (This narrow understanding of manhood or manliness has many other negative effects both on men, whether gay or straight, and on society in general.)

These are some of the factors in modern life that can lead men to feel lonely. Some men are able to get unstuck from this pattern of aloneness on their own. But sometimes a long-term sense of loneliness can only be untangled with the help of a therapist or life coach as a trusted companion on the journey. Click here to learn about counseling and coaching for men in Denver, or here to learn more about all the services LifeCraft Counseling & Coaching offers men and women in Denver.

How to Find Fulfillment at Work
(Even When You Don’t Like Your Job)

Denver counselor and coach Gideon Killion shares some ideas about what to do when you don’t like your job.

unhappy-worker-denver-career-counseling-coaching

Are most people happy at work? The answer depends on who you ask. According to one 2016 study, about 88% of Americans surveyed felt satisfied in their jobs. On the other hand, a different survey in the same year found that only 49% reported satisfaction with their work situation.

In my Denver counseling practice, I meet a lot of people who are unhappy in their professional life. Some of them are not sure they are in the right career, while others believe they’re on the right general path but feel unsatisfied and unfulfilled in the day-to-day experience of their current job.

If you’re unhappy at work, you may not have the option of immediately leaving to find something better. But there are concrete steps that you can take to increase your sense of fulfillment.

Identify Your Purpose

One of the most important factors in job satisfaction is having a sense of purpose. It can be helpful to deliberately reflect on the ways that your daily job tasks benefit other people—including specific clients/customers, your co-workers, and society at large. Take a few minutes to think through this in writing, or discuss it with a friend. In addition to thinking about how your work benefits others, consider the ways in which it is personally meaningful to you. Then, see if you can distill all of these thoughts into one or two sentences, like a personal mission statement. You might choose to write these sentences on an index card and place it in your work area where you can see it each day as you arrive to begin your workday.

In his book “Drive,” Daniel Pink identifies purpose and mastery as two of the three key motivators in human behavior. Mastery, or becoming more skilled over time in a specific task, can be a significant influence on work satisfaction. What skills have you developed in your professional life that contribute to your sense of purpose at work? Consider how you might complete this sentence: “I am skilled at [significant job task], which helps others by…”

Improve the Big Picture by Tweaking Small Things

Sometimes, seemingly insignificant aspects of our work life can become obstacles to fulfillment. When we find a way to make even a small shift in these areas, there can be an exponential improvement in overall happiness in the work environment.

Consider these ideas for improving your work experience:

  • Think of the co-workers you enjoy the most. Look for small ways to connect with them, whether it’s a simple compliment or inviting them to have lunch together. Now, notice which co-workers you enjoy the least. For each one, decide whether it feels best to minimize your interactions with that person—which can be a healthy choice at times—or to actively reach out with a peace offering of some kind.
  • Set boundaries between your work life and your personal time. Commit to devoting your attention to work during your designated work hours, and then let go of work concerns as you transition from work to home. If your job allows, don’t bring work home or check any messages from work during your personal time.
  • If you’re allowed to customize your workspace, go crazy with it. Make yourself at home in your work environment as much as possible. On the other hand, if your employer has rules against personal items on the job, look for subtle or even secret ways to bring your personal life into your workspace. For example, if you play guitar on the weekend, you could keep a guitar pick in your pocket.
  • Build humor and a playful attitude into your workday. What about pulling up Spotify on your break and challenging the person in the next cubicle to a lip-sync contest? If your corporate culture doesn’t welcome outward expressions of humor, try finding subtle ways to remind yourself to lighten up—like wearing goofy socks, or using the reminder function on your phone to send yourself a funny message several times a day.

What do these suggestions have in common? They all focus on finding small ways to take control of your experience at work.

Create a Transition Plan

When the only thing that will significantly improve your experience at work is the vision of a future elsewhere, it’s time to make a plan. Identifying the steps toward finding a better job will provide a sense of hope for the future as you transition to a different employer that fits your current career needs.

One key to a successful transition plan is to consider how your current job can act as a bridge to something better. What skills in your work today can transfer to a different and more satisfying position later? What learning opportunities in today’s job can start you on the path to tomorrow’s new career?

Consider whether it might help to enlist a guide who can support you as you plan for the transition. Here at LifeCraft Counseling & Coaching in Denver, I help men and women find satisfying and fulfilling work that gives them a feeling of purpose every day. Request a free consult to find out more!

Stuck, Unfulfilled, or Dissatisfied? How to Find What’s Missing in Your Life

unsatisfied_unfulfilled_man_denver_counselingMany men have a feeling that something is missing, or have a longing for something more. Some may even have a sense of what is missing, but feel trapped by commitments, responsibilities, or practical realities. For others, though, the dissatisfaction, unfulfillment, or stuckness shows up in symptoms like anger, depression, anxiety, or addictions.

If you struggle with some of these things, it may be a sign that you have an unacknowledged and unmet need. By identifying what is missing or needed, and figuring out how to find it, you may end up resolving other issues.

Sometimes we hesitate to ask for help on problems like this. I get it—I’ve been in that place of not wanting to admit vulnerability or struggle. I thought I should be able to handle it on my own. What I came to realize is that there are so many other areas of life where we enlist help to get us where we want to be, from finances to fitness. It just makes sense to save time and frustration on personal struggles, too, by collaborating with someone who can provide a better toolkit for getting what you want.

I know what it’s like to feel stuck, and to know that change is needed but not know what direction to move in. That personal experience is part of what led me to begin providing therapy for men in Denver. I’ve taken on a personal quest of sorts—to figure out not only what I needed, but what most men need in order to be happy and fulfilled.

This is not to say that we can or even should get exactly what we want. But, to borrow an idea from the Rolling Stones, we can usually get what we need. Yes, each of us is unique, and we don’t all want the same things. But most of our desires are representative of deeper, more basic and fundamental needs that all humans share.

In fact, I’ve created a list of 10 fulfillment factors to summarize those fundamental needs. This list is distilled from significant influences that have shaped my approach to counseling for men, including Sebastian Junger, “Tribe”; William Glasser’s “Choice Theory”; Daniel Pink’s book “Drive”; and the work of Tony Robbins.

The 10 Fulfillment Factors:

  1. Belonging (to be part of a group)
  2. Purpose (bigger than yourself; or meaning)
  3. Significance (to know you matter)
  4. Identity (to know who you are)
  5. Mastery (or competence)
  6. Control (or autonomy, power, freedom)
  7. Stability (or certainty, safety)
  8. Variety (or uncertainty, fun)
  9. Love (to be someone’s priority)
  10. Hope (that the future is as good or better than the present)

Once these basic needs are understood, it is much easier to figure out how to meet them. You could get there on your own with years of work. Or you can take the direct route to a fulfilled and purposeful life by enlisting a professional helper.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself:

  • Do you find yourself fantasizing about a different career, or even a different life?
  • Do you feel trapped or held back by some part of your life?
  • Are you disappointed in how life turned out?
  • Do you feel like you were made for more than this?
  • Do you sometimes wonder what the point of your life is, or whether you matter?
  • Do you wonder why you aren’t as happy as other people seem to be?

If you’re not satisfied with your life, and you aren’t sure why (or what to do about it), or if it’s something you’ve tried to change and haven’t been able to, then it may be time to let someone help you. Click here to learn more about counseling or life coaching for men in Denver.

 

The 5 moves of relationship drama – VIDEO

This is a great video. Two experts in the field of relationships and human behavior, Drs. Sue Johnson and Ed Tronick, describe and demonstrate the five basic moves that occur in the dance of attachment and bonding. They show how these moves are present both in the relationship between parent and infant as well as between intimate partners. When I do marriage counseling or couple counseling with clients here in Denver, we identify where these moves occur in their conflicts and try to understand the underlying attachment needs they represent.
The dance begins when one person senses a lack of connection with the other. The first move is to (1) “Reach” for a response. If the person does not get the needed response from the other, he or she may (2) Protest/Push or (3) Turn Away. The other partner may also Protest/Push or Turn Away in response. If the disconnection continues, eventually one or both partners lose the ability to regulate emotion, and a sense of panic, or (4) Melt Down occurs. Finally, in a healthy relationship, the partners make an effort to (5) Reconnect and repair the relationship.
When you watch this video, think about your own relationships, either now or in the past, and see if you can find all five of these steps.

How do you know if you need counseling?

I think a lot of people wonder from time to time whether they need counseling. But there are a lot of barriers — cost, time, fear, shame — that keep them from giving the question the attention it deserves. I thought it would be a good topic to write about for peoplehouse.org, where I have been guest blogging since July.

Take a look and let me know what you think. I have been told it’s pretty funny.

peoplehouse.org/do-i-need-counseling

Do we need marriage counseling?

One good reason you and your partner might need marriage counseling or couple counseling is that you have a issue you can’t agree on, or a problem you haven’t been able to solve. And no matter how many times you’ve gone around in circles with each other, having the same conversations or the same fights, it never gets much better. For many couples, these fights create emotional wounds that make it even more difficult to resolve the problem.

During therapy sessions with a marriage counselor or couple counselor, you and your partner will probably gain a deeper understanding of the pattern in which you are stuck. You will probably also learn more about the underlying, basic needs that you are both trying to meet through your relationship. And hopefully, in the process of learning these things, you and your partner will gain greater appreciation and empathy for each other.

Bottom line? If your marriage or relationship seems stuck, think about marriage counseling or couple counseling. Yes, it takes courage to admit you need some help, but isn’t your relationship worth it?