Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Women and Money Management

I've already started thinking about the next book in the Handbook #1 for Intelligent Women (envisioned) series of books  — Break the Overspending Habit. First one (not yet published) in the series, of course, is Break the Negative Self-Talk Habit. It's hard to change behavior of any kind when energy and time are spent ruminating and rehashing. NST has to go before you can get unstuck!

Here's an interesting short article with comments about women and money. The writer does give us credit for saving for retirement, which is something that wasn't happening 15 years ago. I agree with him even though I also agree that he can sound condescending. Here's the link:

What do you think? Doesn't fit for you? Hits the nail on the head?
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Monday, June 27, 2011

Not Detachment, not Avoidance: Just Letting Go

Letting go is another way to deal with stressful people, stressful situations. Here's a common situation for women. Someone has done something that hurt your feelings plus made you mad. e.g. started dating your ex-boyfriend, accused you of being a terrible sister, said she's going to "weed" you out of her garden of friends, didn't call or send a card for your birthday, gossiped about you unkindly and never apologized. Weeks pass with no additional information, comments, or questions from the individual. This is a relationship that you value.

You've tried pretending nothing was wrong — avoidance. You've tried detachment, which worked for a while, but then you started rehashing again, spending mental energy at a high rate.

Time to let go. Letting go means literally, letting the situation go off into space, taking with it your emotions. You don't have to forgive. You don't have to forget. You just let it go, whatever "it" is.
• You breathe it out.
• You visualize it sailing off into space
• You turn the volume on your brain rehash, ruminate radio station to OFF.
• You mail it away from your senses and your emotions.

Why would you want to do this? Because you realize that you have no control of the situation. The person or sister or coworker has made a decision over which you have no control. Whatever you might say or do isn't going to work. Generally they need to take the next step.

This is an advanced technique and takes practice. "It" still comes back at times for me, but I check with myself to see if I really want to take action now. Have I acquired added control? Do I have new information? If not, I let it go again. After about 6 months, when "it" comes back in my mind, it only stays a minute or two and disappears on its own, leaving no bad thoughts or feelings.

Give it a shot and see what happens with letting go. You can always change your mind, but you might as well see if you CAN let it go. If you can, you will feel a tremendous relief. One less interpersonal problem on your agenda.
Not Detachment, not Avoidance: Just Letting GoSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Friday, June 24, 2011

Cognitive Restructuring — Change What You're Saying to Yourself

Here's a simple and significant question to ask yourself as you head into the weekend.  When you feel stressed at home — kids grouchy, too much to do, friends for dinner, partner unhelpful, weeds overtaking the yard, no food in the house — notice whether your stress is due to an external stressor (outside demands) 
to an internal stressor (inside demands) from your inner critic.
"What's wrong with me? I am s-o-o disorganized."
"I'm really a bitchy Mom. I should be much more patient."
"Stupid to invite people  over for dinner when I'm such a lousy cook."

If it's inside stuff, substitute something else benign for now.

" I can do this. One step at a time."
"Take a 2 minute time out self — a few deep breaths."
"Slow down, cool down, you're OK."
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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Women, Men and Group Dynamics: Women Smarter?

 "What is it about women that tends to raise a group’s IQ?  Not even researchers Wooley and Malone claim to have solved the mysteries of complex group dynamics.  But  it doesn’t take a Ph.D to recognize what multiple studies repeatedly show:  women consistently score higher than men on social sensitivity test.   Who knows whether it’s because we’re culturally conditioned differently than men or because of biology and hormones.  The bottom line is that women tend to be much better listeners.  We’re more likely to draw others into conversations.  And we’re much less likely than men to dominate groups with our opinions."

 Here's the link from Anne Doyle, who wrote in Forbes about a Harvard Business Review article.

I'm going back to check out the Harvard Business Review article and will report back. Although I'd like to jump on the bandwagon and extol women's virtues as better group leaders and members than men, I have plenty of exceptions on my experience plate. I do recall research that said a diverse group takes longer to do problem-solving, but it comes to more creative, useful solutions, although the actual group process may be a bit difficuly, off and on. And the corollary: homogenous groups come to solutions faster with little conflict, but generally little originality. So a mix of women and men, older and younger might be expected to do bettter group problem-solving than all men or all women. Maybe the exceptions I'm aware of are in primarily all-women groups, where tangents can reign.

What's your experience with men, women and group dynamics?

Here's the link to HBR article. It's worth a read if the topic is of interest. It's simple and readable.

Below is the final paragraph from the researchers which is mind-boggling in one way, but  obvious in others. Women (and some men) have been saying for years that if women "ruled the world" we'd have more collaboration, greater collective intelligence, sensitivity to others, and consequently fewer wars.

 "Families, companies, and cities all have collective intelligence. But as face-to-face groups get bigger, they’re less able to take advantage of their members. That suggests size could diminish group intelligence. But we suspect that technology may allow a group to get smarter as it goes from 10 people to 50 to 500 or even 5,000. Google’s harvesting of knowledge, Wikipedia’s high-quality product with almost no centralized control—these are just the beginning. What we’re starting to ask is, How can you increase the collective intelligence of companies, or countries, or the whole world?"
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Monday, June 20, 2011

Avoidance versus Detachment

Last Monday's stress reduction technique focused on detachment, which is definitely different than avoidance. Men are more likely than women to use detachment, which can drive us crazy because it works so well for them. Women are more likely to use avoidance which doesn't work so well for us.

A study by M. Pilar Matud, a Spanish researcher, says that men use more active and instrumental coping (with stress) behaviors and women use more passive (e.g. avoiding the stress-causing issue) and emotion-focused behaviors. What's the difference? Why does detachment work and avoidance doesn't?

Avoidance is more likely to be gray; detachment more black and white. Avoidance might look like this:
• I leave work at a different time than usual to avoid bumping into someone that I've had conflict with
• You see the person who is the source of stress. You're churning inside. You smile and say, "Good morning, Sam," and walk on.
• You distract yourself from the inner churn with anything possible at the time: your iPad, a brief walk about, a cup of coffee, a conversation with a friend about good stuff.

 Detachment is Yes or No, On or Off.  I am either consciously deciding to disengage from my emotions or I am engaged fully with them. Here's how it might look if detachment is On.
• You look impassive, little expression in your face or body. Your inner self is quiet. You feel distant from the person or situation.
• You might physically remove yourself from the stress source, calmly. "I'd prefer to talk about this tomorrow."

Both  techniques can work — and also can be overdone. Detachment, by producing space and distance from emotionality, can often produce the ability to do problem-solving thinking or to choose to let go. Overdone,  detachment results in isolation from your feelings.

Avoidance is excellent for the moment and buys time to bubble up some other creative ways to handle the stressful situation. Continuing use of avoidance doesn't produce a functional long-term outcome and becomes an obstacle to development of more active coping skills.
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Friday, June 17, 2011

What 's Next After First-Round of Problem/Challenge Identification?

If you start to read this post and feel like you dropped in an hour late at the movie, check back to the June 10 and June 3 posts for some background.

Here are examples of problem identification, mundane and complex.

•  My colleague seems angry at me for no obvious reason and I have to work with him on a weekly basis.
•  The leaves on my newly planted lettuce are turning yellow.
•  Rivalries and hostilities are damaging a previously well run organization that I am involved in.
•  Very few readers comment on my blog posts.

Often, you realize that you haven't really hit the nail on the head with problem identification when you go to step two, which is gathering information. Then you  need to go back in your mind and re-identify the problem. E.g. when I started to gather information about my seemingly angry colleague, I realized that the problem really was my discomfort with his annoyed attitude toward me. We were still working together adequately, functioning as we needed to, not arguing. When I restated the problem as, "I'm uncomfortable with Joe's attitude toward me and I feel awkward with him," I became much more in control of the problem and its solution.

Sometimes you find that you need to be more specific in problem identification. E.g. Instead of focusing on my readers and their lack of comments, I would do better by restating the problem as, "My blog and posts aren't eliciting reader comments." Again, I then am more in control of the problem and its possible solution.

It's also not uncommon for new problem-solving thinkers to think you have to drill down to the real underlying problem before you can move on to gathering information. E.g. Why have rivalries and hostilities emerged? Who has started the cycle? What's her/his underlying motive? Ah-ha. The  real problem is that Sam is full of himself and Maria is afraid of conflict and one sub-group sides with her and one with him. Wrong.

The problem is that the organization is not functioning in a way that reflects its mission and values. The desired end point is that the organization is functioning well, as it was designed to do.  I am in a much better position to work collaboratively with the group to arrive at some solutions to the problem than if I'm continuing to try to find underlying issues. They may ultimately emerge and then they become a new problem to solve! The p-s thinking process is often an ongoing work-in-progress, recycling back and forth from one step to another and back again. It's often trial and error, back and forth, but eventually it can become almost intuitive, like many skills that you and I have acquired over the years. More to come on problem-solving next week. I'd like to hear from you about problem-solving thinking. Do you already do it? Did you learn it in school, in life, or intuitively did it as long as you can remember?
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Thursday, June 16, 2011

She Calls It Positive Thinking, I Call It Realistic Thinking

 Here's an excellent article by Polly Campbell, Psychology Today blogger, about self-talk. I'm all for it, except that what she calls positive thinking, I call realistic thinking. What she calls instructional thinking is also realistic thinking from my perspective. But, aside from that minor labeling difference, she and I are on the same track. Her comments are useful with good examples. You'll get it. Link below.

She Calls It Positive Thinking, I Call It Realistic ThinkingSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Oprah Magazine and Catherine Price are Talking — About Negative-Self-Talk

 If the topic is in O it must be big. And if you're a free-lance writer, whose articles are regularly published in O you must be a very cool, excellent, smart, writer. That's what I think after reading some of Catherine Price's articles and going to her web page. http://catherine-price.com/

In contrast, "Aiming Higher" in the January 2011 O magazine tells all that Catherine, the author, has "many flaws"; flat, lifeless hair being a top preoccupation right now. She confesses that she's not very compassionate to herself. "I have a gift for letting trivial things suck me into a vortex of self-loathing." Whew. Price labels it self-directed anger. I call it heavy-duty negative self-talk; always a harsh put down which can generate feelings of anxiety, helplessness, hopelessness, tension, and sadness too.

Price goes on to describe what comes next. "Anything can churn my mind into an emotional whirlpool that gathers strength by pulling in unrelated failings . . . ." Eventually she moves from flat hair to "Why am I so pathetic?" Recognize that kind of thinking?  Women Who Think Too Much by Susan Holen-Hoeksema addresses it as overthinking.

I'm writing about Catherine and her article because she is similar to thousands of women who have the NST habit. She is undoubtedly an intelligent, capable, attractive, successful woman, with what many of us would think are substantial credentials. And she has acquired a thinking habit that's bumming her out. Bah humbug. My guess is that any negative self-talking blog readers would think how silly Price is to dump on herself that way because wow she really is a star.  I would also imagine that many NSTers have friends and family who regularly tell them that they are being way too critical of themselves, who remind them of their strengths and attributes in realistic ways. But it doesn't work. As with Catherine Price, the habit hangs on.

She knows that her thoughts are irrational and silly, and asks herself, "Why can't I stop them?" That question implies more criticism. e.g. "Something's wrong with me that I can't stop thinking irrational and silly thoughts."  For action and potential progress, I suggest instead the question, "How can I stop them?" Price chose cognitive behavior therapy as her how. She says, "In the world of CBT, if you want to change the way you feel, you have to change the way you think."

In honor of Price's openness and her choice to take action I'd like to suggest cognitive restructuring, a CBT approach, as The Technique of the Week. If you want to dive into this stuff you can read Feeling Good by David Burns or A Guide to Rational Living by Albert Ellis and Robert Harper. If you want to get started, here's a beginning CBT approach.
• Start to pay close attention to your negative self-talk. Write down one "thought of the day" for a week: at breakfast, lunch, dinner and bedtime. If you're not having a negative thought when you check with your inner voice, just note that down too. If possible, do this exercise without judgment. Write the thoughts down as you would write down the titles of library books on a shelf or the makes of cars driving by. Next week I'll tell you the next step!


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Men Do Negative Self-Talk and Are Trying NOT to —Too.

Brad Waters, a Psychology Today blogger, wrote the rare article/post about men and negative self-talk. The only others I have found focus on getting rid of NST in order to be more successful at hooking up with women. Not of interest to me, although probably useful to some.
 The Waters post was inspired by Conan O'Brien's commencement speech at Dartmouth.The first quote is from Waters, then the link, then comments from me.

"Failure, disappointment, being wrong- distinct in their difference but all too often sharing the end result of feeling bad. How did we get to this time and place where being wrong or failing has such dire consequence? Is it nature or nurture that we end up feeling so emotionally wrecked when we fall short of perfection? Guilt and shame over even the most inconsequential of circumstances. I'm not talking felony crime and punishment, but those everyday/everyman mistakes and failures (and maybe even a misdemeanor here and there)."


I'm glad to see that men are recognizing the over-reaction to error, mistakes, or even failure that shows up in their negative self-talk. And delighted that they are perhaps ready to be more empathetic about women's NST,  plus give us some tips ( if asked for) about how to get rid of it. Maybe we can give them some tips too. Men and women can learn from each other what they haven't learned from nurture.
e.g. men need to learn to express feelings more freely in order to experience less stress and cope more effectively while women need to learn to do problem-solving thinking to accomplish the same ends.

It's worth reading the Water's whole post just to notice women and men's similarities and differences with negative self-talk.
Men Do Negative Self-Talk and Are Trying NOT to —Too.SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Monday, June 13, 2011

Monday's Stress Reduction Technique — Detachment

Detachment is defined as a state of being aloof and objective, a process of separating. Detachment is a great way to reduce stress by separating emotion and evaluation from a stress-producing situation, whether the stressor is external or internal. It's similar to watching, hearing, or reading about an event that unfolds — from a distance — with an amount of dispassion. For example, when the news first broke about the shootings in Tucson AZ in early 2011, we may have felt shock, disbelief, sadness, concern for the victims, but probably blood pressure didn't rise, hearts didn't pound, stomachs didn't tighten into knots. Most of us were removed by distance, political and personal ramifications, a felt threat, a personal connection.

Obviously, it's harder to get to that depersonalized state when your internal or external stressors, whether people or events, are on top of you. Distance has to come from your mind, not your geography. The research of Matud et al. tells us that women are more likely to cope with stress through emotion and avoidance, while men are more likely to cope with problem-solving thinking and detachment. The research also confirms what most of us know: women experience more stress than men do.

  I have had a tendency to act and react quickly to stressful people and circumstances, which often increases the drama and potential for trauma on both sides. I'm finding more frequently that if I detach from the emotion, whether it's pain, anger, irritation, frustration, anxiety, fear or another angst, I can move on with the rest of my life quite smoothly, leaving the unresolved situation behind me. Sometimes it reappears in the middle of a dream or wakeful moment at night. Occasionally, I'm forced to dealing with it; by the other person, the situation itself, or my own inability to detach. But when I can detach, for an hour or a day or a week, I have yet to experience any negative consequences. If I decide later that  I want to act on the stressful circumstance, I can do so. I'm generally calmed by my detachment and can handle it more smoothly and less disruptively than had I plowed through with my very engaged emotionality. Do you see the difference in detachment and avoidance?
Monday's Stress Reduction Technique — DetachmentSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Friday, June 10, 2011

Problem-Solving Thinking as a Stress Management Technique

I wrote last Friday about problem-solving thinking and am continuing this Friday — because I'm hooked! It's a useful skill in a variety of situations and one that men use to cope effectively with stress. According to research, it works. Men experience less stress than women, because they use more successful coping mechanisms. e.g. problem-solving. Women may use p-s in lots of situations, but apparently not routinely as a stress management technique.

Richard E. Mayer, a pscyhologist at U of Cal Santa Barbara says in his book, Thinking, ProblemSolving, Cognition, that problem-solving thinking is the "hallmark of human survival." In recent years, positive thinkers have preferred to use the word "challenge" for problem, which is OK with me. Three ideas need to be considered:
• the current state of a situation is not OK
• an end or goal state of improvement is desired
• there's no obvious way to get from the current challenge state to the desired end state.

Here's an example: Someone that I work with on a volunteer basis unexpectedly became angry at me and labeled me "mean and nasty."
I had no idea what caused that response. We previously had a pleasant, although not close, relationship. I am not happy with the current state. The goal state is a return to our previous pleasant everyday relationship. It's not obvious to me how to solve the problem. I have made no attempts to solve the problem — neither has the "someone". But fortunately, once I identified the problem, I'm no longer stressed.

But, I have identified the problem/challenge, which is the key to moving on to solutions, or to letting it go, or to coming up with a solution while sleeping, day-dreaming, running or staring into space in an intuitive way. So, I'm recommending that in the next few days if there's a problem/challenge opportunity you identify it clearly, then back away from it for a day or hour and see what happens. You have plenty of time to solve it, unless it's a crisis, plus you'll get better at challenge identification, which is the first step in effective problem-solving of any kind.

Then, we'll talk more about how to use problem-solving for stress management.
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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Are American Women Resigned to Married Men's Sexual Pecadillos?

A quote from Maureen Dowd's NYTimes article today. The link is below.

"In five decades, we’ve moved from the pre-feminist mantra about the sexual peccadilloes of married men — Boys will be boys — to post-feminist resignation: Men are dogs. And there’s no point in feminists wasting their ire at women being objectified because many women these days seem all too ready to play along." 

I'd be interested to see if you agree or disagree. Doud's Op-Ed piece is concurrent with the latest Weiner stuff, which I think is a national embarrassment. It epitomizes stupid, 15 year old behavior blown up by ridiculous public lying and a maudlin confession, all followed by "I won't resign."

I've always wondered, since Gary Hart days, how public men can engage in this type of behavior — and expect that they will not get publicly caught. We all understand that men and women are different in terms of their thoughts, feelings, and behavior related to sex, although women are catching up in terms of infidelity. Isn't that wonderful??

Is it the ego, arrogance, power thing that leads these guys to think they can do whatever they want and keep it hidden? I'd write a book on the topic if I could figure it out or read one on the topic of "What are they thinking?" if someone else could figure it out. Can you come up with a hypothesis? How are they able to believe that no one will find out? Maybe we can write a group blog devoted to our guesses!

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Monday, June 6, 2011

Reducing the Stress of Parenting Little Kidlets

Monday is stress reduction technique day since Monday is traditionally high-stress, if only because the whole work week is ahead. As my daughter was driving me to the airport this morning we started talking about the inevitable stress of parenting little kids. Moms wonder:

"How can I get Marcie to eat more vegetables?" "What are good solutions for Liam’s nail-biting habit?" "How much TV is OK for 5 year olds?"  "What can I do so Jerome will start talking more clearly?"

Part of the stress of course is caused by negative self-talk. “Have I done the wrong thing with pre-school?”  “I should be organized enough so I never just plop the kids in front of the TV.” Another part of the stress comes from the prevalent competitive parenting environment that exists here and there. “Jimbo slept through the night from the time he came home from the hospital, so I never had that worry.” “My children never eat anything unless it’s certified organic.” OUCH! Then of course there are comments, criticisms, advice from family, which doesn’t sit well sometimes and adds to stress.

One of the best ways to reduce the stress of parenting is to develop a community of moms who are supportive and realistic about solving problems of parenting; who can laugh at faux pas and not take themselves TOO seriously. It may take a while to find them. They might be neighbors, or friends, cousins or in-laws, soccer moms, or colleagues at work. The small group could be informal, un-named, but mutually recognized — or organized such as a Mom’s group or an online blog site. Asking is the modus operandi. “How do you handle this concern or problem?” Telling, giving advice and suggestions are freely given — when asked for. Laughter flows occasionally too.

The desired outcome is to “normalize” your feelings and thoughts and parenting practices and to provide useful options for solving the current problem. Your stress will definitely drop to acceptable levels — or might disappear briefly. Even if you only have one easy-going, realistic, non-competitive mom to share stories and solutions with that's enough if you become more accepting of  yourself .

Reducing the Stress of Parenting Little KidletsSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Friday, June 3, 2011

Problem-Solving Thinking

In my new book (looking for adoption by a publisher) Handbook #1 for Intelligent Women: Break the Negative Self-Talk Habit, I describe three categories of approaches to eliminating negative self-talk: problem solving thinking, cognitive restructuring and detachment. In the process of working on the three technique chapters I became particularly intrigued with problem-solving. I realized that I had learned problem-solving as a freshman nursing student at the University of Michigan. We were taught that the p-s process was superior to memorization in learning nursing procedures such as sterile technique, measuring vital signs, dressing wounds.

I recently realized how dominant problem solving thinking has been in my life. I started to do more reading and informal research. I contacted experts and authors.
Here's what I've discovered from my casual survey of adults over 50.

• Some people learn a specific p-s process in the course of their education or job training. A gender/occupation correlation seems to hold.
Men in traditional male occupations almost always have been taught and use a step-by-step system. e.g. engineers, MDs, pilots
          Many say that whether they had been taught problem-solving thinking or not, they have always used it. "It's in the genes," one       

 Women in a variety of occupations are often not sure what I mean when I talk about problem-solving thinking. They think they may not have been taught the process formally, but believe they are good problem-solvers naturally.

 Academic research about coping with stress finds that men use a problem-solving approach and detachment to reduce stress.
Women use an emotional approach and avoidance.And further, that men's approach works better for them, than ours works for us.
What's the moral of the story?
Women need to improve their use of problem-solving thinking? What do you think?
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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Are Men or Women More Narcissistic?

Here's the link to a Psychology Today article about narcissism — 
Here's a quote from the section of the article about gender.

"Josh Foster (of the University of South Alabama) and I are releasing a study today showing that narcissistic traits are increasing even faster than we previously thought. From 2002 to 2007, college students' scores on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) rose twice as fast as we'd found in an earlier study that covered changes between 1982 and 2006. (The NPI measures narcissistic traits among the normal population, not necessarily rising to the level of a clinical diagnosis).

The increase in narcissism was stronger for women than for men in both datasets. Men are still more narcissistic than women on average, but women are catching up fast. This makes some sense, as a lot of the cultural push toward narcissism (see below) has a bigger effect on girls and women."

What is of particular interest to me is that the increase in narcissism is stronger for women than men. Men have historically had greater capacity for self-aggrandizement, not necessarily diagnosable narcissim, than women. We know women (young and middle-aged) do more negative self-talk than men, which would seem to be in opposition to the research finding that their narcissism is increasing. Maybe their self-absorption is increasing, their desire for attention is increasing because of the plethora of their negative self-talk,  with which they are becoming more obsessed?  I don't know. Any ideas? I think I'm going to e-mail some authors on the subject and see what their explanation or expectation might be. I'll let you know.

The PT article as well as a couple of NYTimes articles (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/26/science/26tier.html    www.nytimes.com/2011/03/11/opinion/11brooks.html - and an OpEd piece by David Brooks, "The Modesty Manifesto" point toward a cultural shift in terms of exaggerated self-image, excessive needs/wants for attention, self-absorption — particularly in the college age group.
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