Thank you for all the great feedback! I look forward to continuing to have discussions.
Sorry for the delay since my last post. Recently, I have had a few changes occur in my professional life. You may have noticed that I changed my website very drastically. I am in the process of closing my private practice in the City of Fairfax. As of May 31st, I will no longer see clients there. I have recently been offered a position in a higher educational institution in another part of Virginia. However, I have had some people ask me to continue blogging, since they have found some of the information I share as being useful. I have decided to do this. The blog topics will vary but will relate in some way to resiliency and building psychological resiliency. Hopefully, you will continue to find this information useful and incorporate it in your life.
Thank you for all the great feedback! I look forward to continuing to have discussions.
So here in my office in Fairfax City, I can observe the change in seasons (finally!). Winter is receding and along with the cold temperatures and wintery mix (we don’t really get show showers here in Northern Virginia). The days are growing longer (it’s nice being greeted by the sun when I walk outside my office at close of business) and warmer. One of the other tell-tale signs that the season has changed is the increase of people at my gym. Along with the warm weather, people start thinking about vacations and long weekends, especially at the beach, so people head to the gym to start toning up.
Maybe you have thought about doing this as well. So how motivated are you to do this? Several years ago, a group of psychology researchers decided to look at this very question: how does a person go about changing behavior? The stage based model they came up with after conducting their research was the Transtheoretical Stages of Change Model. This model has been used extensively for smoking cessation programs, as well as alcohol abuse treatment .
The model has five distinct stages that a person may experience when considering their behavior, however, not everyone will quickly progress from one stage to another, relapse is always a potential and one may progress from one particular stage to another very quickly and suddenly slow at the next stage. After all, we’re talking about human behavior here, not computer programs. I encourage you to read about each distinct stage. So rather than regurgitating what you can read on Wikipedia or some scholarly journal, I have taken each stage and given common examples of people’s different responses when in these stages (based upon my clinical experience), so here goes:
Precontemplation – “Problem? What problem?! What are you talking about, dude?!”
Contemplation – “Okay, there’s some sort of issue going on. But I’m not sure we agree on what it is. And even if we do, I’m not even sure I want to do anything about it!”
Preparation – “Alright…there’s a problem. We can finally agree about what it is, and I’ll concede that it probably has something to do with me. I’m thinking I’m ready to do something about it. I just need to figure out what that is.”
Action – “Okay, I’ve worked super hard to figure out this thing. There’s a problem. I contribute to it, or at least I can see my part. We’ve mapped out what to do about it. Here goes nothing!!!”
Maintenance – “This change thing is hard. But I’m willing to keep working at it. This needs to keep going, I like it”
Do YOU see yourself in any of these stages? What are your thoughts about this theoretical model?
Many times here in my office in Fairfax City I get asked many of the same questions. One question that I get asked a lot by clients who are also parents is: what activity do you recommend for a child/adolescent with ADHD or who simply struggles with paying attention. Since I have written several blog posts on the positive benefits of training in a martial art, I thought this would be a good time to address this question. At this point, I'm sure you know what my answer is going to be right? However, lest you think this is simply the opinion of a counselor who has been hit in the head one too many times, evidence in my favor is starting to build up. Doctoral dissertations are starting to be written and researched on this subject. The prestigious Mayo Clinic even advises parents to have their children try Karate as way of mitigating ADHD symptoms.
While there are millions of adults suffering from ADHD, the condition sets in during childhood and the teen years can be the hardest time to cope with ADHD and its effects. Although children face very different problems from ADHD than adults do, it is at this stage of development where we start building our coping mechanisms, now these mechanisms can be either positive (e.g. sports) or negative (e.g. illegal drugs and alcohol). Don't get me wrong: the essential symptoms are the same either way. In can involve an inability to concentrate or focus, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior at any age. But the social responses to these symptoms are different for kids and adults.
For adults, ADHD can affect work life, professional reputation and personal relationships. But often adults have some experience coping with social situations and some are lucky enough to have understanding friends who accept them. This is much less common among kids and teens. ADHD almost always affects their schoolwork, and parents or teachers may not take their condition seriously. So in addition to stressing their social relationships, they are also told over and over by authority figures that they are not good enough.
This leads to self esteem issues.
Martial arts may or may not directly help organizational issues But one thing it definitely does is improve self esteem for kids. In fact, at least one martial art instructor (who has ADHD himself) specifically works with kids suffering from ADHD, designing classes to play to their strengths. I'm sure this is just one of many ways to help a child with ADHD build up their self esteem and overcome their symptoms. But I believe it's a highly effective one. Have any of you tried martial arts for your own kids with ADHD? What changes did you see?
I mostly counsel adults but often they ask me about their kids. Kids face a lot of stress growing up, especially at school. It's hard for most of us to relate to it because compared to adult responsibility it seems like kids have life easy. But sometimes, kids can feel lost and inadequate.
Just like adults, one of the major problems children and teens face is low self-esteem. The difference is that most of us have weathered a few storms and have a sense of how to handle adversity...in other words, we can tap into previous experiences. Kids don't always have this. They can turn inward and feel like everything is their fault. When other kids bully them they take those words to heart.
In the past, I've recommended martial arts practice as a great way to build self esteem. Does it work for kids too? Certainly every martial art studio advertizes that it makes children more confident, but I think that's more than just marketing talk. Even West Point recognizes the role that martial arts plays in developing not just confidence as an athlete, but overall calmness, self esteem and a better ability to overcome hardship. How does it work? In my previous entry I outlined various reasons martial arts builds confidence, and all of those reasons definitely apply to kids as well. But for kids, there's something else at play.
Martial arts are a different experience from most other sports or activities. It gives your child direct face time with a positive role model. Most kids look up to their instructors. Younger children are impressed by any martial artist, and teens are challenged to try to match the same seemingly incredible feats their instructor can perform. Unlike most authority figures your child encounters, their instructor is there to build them up. They get personal attention from someone they respect.Personal attention is always valuable to kids, and when it comes from a positive role model it has a huge impact. This type of physical training does have a positive impact on those kids being bullied, as a female boxer in Chicago describes in her program here.
I admit it! I don't always feel confident. This is a big issue for many people because we all want to be more confident but it's not easy to do for a variety of reasons. In my last post, I wrote about using martial arts to boost confidence. This has worked very well for me but is it really something I can recommend as a counselor?
Here are my four reasons why:
1. Individual focus. Most of the time we learn in a graded, pass/fail environment. You have limited time and when it's over you get a grade. Martial arts moves at your own pace. Let's say it takes you 6 weeks to learn a new technique. It really doesn't matter if other people take seven weeks or five. There is no grade. You'll test when you're ready.
2. Overcoming challenges. Much of martial arts practice involves being given a challenge and then training till you can overcome it. More than that, eventually you can do it with ease. Some take a week and others take years, but we can see our progress. Overcoming challenges will give you positive feelings. Positive feelings mean you're calmer in the face of various stressors and make better decisions during times of stress.
3. Physical improvement. A side-benefit of martial arts is physical improvement. It may not be weight loss; it might be increased strength, flexibility or range or motion. When you feel more physically fit you feel good in general and that confidence and happiness carries over to many parts of your life.
4. Social Interaction. Martial arts can certainly be practiced alone but some of the benefits come from attending a group class, meeting new people and engaging with them. Do this long enough and you start to develop friendships and a support network. Social connectivity has a positive correlation in terms of impacting the symptoms of depression as well.
Sometimes I wonder if we'd all be healthier if we grew up practicing martial arts. Or would it lose its impact if it wasn't something we sought out and chose?
Confidence is supposed to be this magic ingredient that makes us great at everything. It solves all your problems. Can't find a date? Be more confident. Not promoted at work? Be more confident.
Well, it's true in a way. The more confident you are, to a point, the better you are at overcoming obstacles and the more likely people are to respond to you in a positive way. But most of us have insecurities even if we'd never admit it. And building confidence is hard. I observe this all the time in my work with counseling and coaching clients here in my Fairfax City office.
One of the reasons is that confidence isn't something you can approach directly. It's a function of self-esteem. Our self-esteem is how we see ourselves, how we value ourselves, and what we think we're capable of. This is determined by many factors including how others treat us and what successes or failures we've experienced in the past.
That means that self-esteem can be developed, but it's a process. A motivational speech might get you temporarily fired up, but it doesn't change how you view yourself. The same goes for being pushed to do something. That's why many personal coaching efforts fail – because they're more about firing encouragement than they are about creating multiple little successes that change your self-value.
Is there a better way?
Accomplishing something tangible truly helps in this area One thing that has worked for me is martial arts practice. Martial arts are different than most sports because they focus on personal transformation. They're more about the “I” than the team. You learn at your own pace, regardless of the pace of others in your class. And every week you see yourself become better, mastering something that you used to struggle with or overcoming a personal fear (anyone who has sparred against an opponent knows this). In other words martial arts helps build a track record of successful experiences in your life. The more you come back the more successful you become. This affects how you value yourself, and that higher self-esteem translates into multiple areas of your life.
Martial arts isn't the only pastime that does this, it's just what has worked for me and many others I have met. What have you done that helped improve your self-esteem? Do you think it would work for others? If you're lacking in accomplishments in your life, perhaps it is time you started talking to someone about remedying this area.
Recently, I was catching up on all my books that I never seem to get too and constantly but aside. Many of the books I have recently been working my way through discussed the new research into Emotional Intelligence (EI) or what used to be called in non-psychobabble speak: empathy. Empathy relates to a set of skills that many companies and other industries/businesses are really in need of nowadays. What is often referred too in corporate speak: soft skills. What are soft skills, simply put soft skills are those abilities one needs to be successful in a workplace where interpersonal connection and communication is vitally important, which is pretty much every professional job out there (unless you’re some lonely researcher collecting data in some remote part of the world).
Hard skills on the other hand are those specific technical skills one needs to acquire in order to competently complete an occupational assignment. Usually these types of skills are learned in a specific training program or on the job. For instance welding or computer programming can be considered hard skills. On the other hand, customer service based skills can be considered soft skills. You are involved in a direct relationship with someone (albeit it may be brief), perhaps selling them an item or assisting them in some manner. A person without soft skills cannot understand the subtle nuances which may occur in this type of interaction, both verbal and non-verbal (and most interpersonal communication is non-verbal by the way). Empathy helps us relate to a person; therefore it is an important aspect to cultivate. Many times empathy comes across to others through facial expressiveness if one is interacting in person or perhaps a tone of voice. Think about this, have you ever had an interaction with a customer service rep that you felt could have cared less about your situation or needs? How did that feel? Empathy, face it, you need it and others want it from you!
Martial arts serve many purposes. Rather than just self-defense, they can be a vehicle to whole-body wellness. Most martial arts are physically demanding in some way, and as you know I've struggled with my own challenges of practicing martial arts in my life. But if done properly these arts can actually help you stay healthy as you age, even into your 50s and 60s. Here in my counseling office in Fairfax City, I have many clients who struggle to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Martial arts can help in this area.
What's great is that this is increasingly recognized by Western medicine. Tai chi, for example, is recommended by doctors for elderly people who face pain from arthritis. Tai chi is a slow art, which was supposedly developed to help aging Chinese monks stay fit and healthy. Despite being slow, it's also physically intense. Many times you hold postures for moments at a time that require significant muscle and flexibility – so you tend to build up both as you practice.
It's actually these same challenging postures that help with arthritis pain. When people suffer from arthritis in a joint, they naturally avoid using it. This leads to stiffness, muscle loss and ultimately even more arthritis pain. It's counter intuitive, but movement itself is what helps preserve joint tissue and relieve swelling and pain. Practicing tai chi gives you the stretching and exercise your joints need in a way that's gentle and gradual.
So in a way it's like yoga, except you get a sword if want.
I think this same theme runs through many of the challenges we face. Often, the more difficult choice is the one that will heal us the most. For someone facing chronic knee pain, a half hour of exercise a day must sound incredibly daunting. But choosing that hard work results in the least pain and the best range of physical motion.
How many other things in life are like that?
As my regular readers know, a few years ago I returned to martial arts, something I hadn't done in years. It's been good for me in many ways, and I think some of the benefits would surprise someone who's never practiced martial arts themselves.
Many people associate martial arts with violence. After all, the movements are designed to hurt or at least stop a human body. And yet, the effect of practicing martial arts does not seem to make people more violent. If anything, it has the reverse effect: it makes you more peaceful.
Maybe this isn't universal. There are definitely people who base their pride on winning fights. But the arc of martial arts training is that it gives you a sense of confidence in your own abilities. It changes the way you move and, ultimately, even the way you think about yourself. This is why it truly is an art form: it's transformative.
Most students don't start with this in mind. They come to the mat because they want to be able to fend off a mugger, or they want to lose weight. There's nothing wrong with these goals, but they're very focused on what's “wrong” with you. Over time, you start to realize there's nothing wrong with you at all. You see yourself overcome challenges every single time you spar or learn a new technique.
The spiritual side of that kind of sneaks up on you.
This is where inner peace comes from: confidence. When you're comfortable in your abilities and your body, you don't feel threatened. Your ego doesn't need to crush others.
From this inner peace comes peaceful action. You know you could raise your hand in anger, but from a place of strength it's easy to choose not to.
Most of us face doubt and uncertainty every day. How much easier would life be if we could respond from a place of strength?
So many people have noticed a new change on the wall in back of my couch in my counseling office in Fairfax. Some comment on it, others smile and more than a few have looked at it and given me a quizzical look. It is a large, framed poster of Bruce Lee in a fighting pose, in the shadows with a quote attributed him, along with his signature. The quote is: Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.
So…many people ask me, why Bruce Lee? I’m assuming what they really want to know is why does my therapist have something like this on his wall??? Should I be worried? Shouldn’t he have a picture of Sigmund Freud or something? I get this. I struggled with whether or not this was appropriate for an office where mental health counseling is conducted. The more I thought about this though, the more it made sense to me. I don’t want to say something trite like, “everything I learned about counseling, I learned from Bruce Lee.”
However, I have discovered that my basic counseling philosophy is very similar to Lee’s philosophy towards the evolution of his martial art and life in general. In his book The Tao of Jeet Kune Do, which I keep in my office (and read and reflect upon on occasion), Lee discusses how one must go through a transformation process, a continual process of learning and experimentation and ultimately as he succinctly states, “absorb what is useful and discard what is not.” This is my favorite Bruce Lee aphorism; unfortunately, I could not find a poster with that one on it. Over the next few months I am going to be publishing several blog entries which discuss the intersection of mental health and wellness and the practice of martial arts. Why? Why not! I hope you will enjoy them and maybe learn something new or better yet, go out and try a new activity yourself.