I remember listening to a professional basketball star talk about discipline and the importance of practicing. He shared an incident about a man who wanted to be a basketball star like his brother. The man said that no matter how much he practiced, he never seemed to get better. After watching his brother practice, the star told him, "It's good that you practice each day, but the problem is that you are practicing the wrong skills. You can practice all the time, but you will never get the results you want because you are not practicing the right skills."
With this illustration in mind, we need to ask ourselves whether the ways we think and relate to others are the reasons we aren't getting the results that we want.
We bring to our relationships the tools that we observed while growing up. For instance, we may be using the conflict tools our parents used and finding that they seem to make the conflict worse instead of better. We are like the rat that goes down a maze looking for cheese. If it finds the cheese, it goes right back along the same route. If we take the cheese away, the rat will go the same route but will stop after a while when it realizes there is no cheese there. The problem with a lot of us is that we keep going down the same path even if we do not find any cheese.
There are some relationship tools that seem to damage our relationships, but we keep using them. These ineffective tools include yelling, criticizing, not taking the issues seriously, blaming the other person, not fighting fair, belittling, and not being responsible for our own actions. One of the advantages of going to counseling is that the therapist will offer tools that work.
Not only do we need to examine the tools that we are using in our relationship with others, but we also need to examine how we relate to ourselves. Sometimes, when we make a mistake, we beat ourselves up by labeling ourselves, name-calling, and turning the mistake into something larger than it actually is.
One good rule is to label the behavior, not ourselves. When we label the behavior, we can change it. If we label ourselves with such words as "stupid," and "dumb, we will most likely prove ourselves right. We need to be our own cheerleaders and talk to ourselves as our best friend would talk to us when we make mistakes. This is one of the positive tools we should practice over and over.
Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through www.amazon.com.
Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700
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