What the heck is a “Self-Concept?”

This post took me forever.  I’d go off on tangents and then do another draft to remove the tangent.  I’d also get dangerously close to “what is a self” which gets controversial and speculative very quickly.   Here’s a draft that contains a small dose of tangents and a small dose of self-theory.

Although a “self-concept” is a very abstract idea, it’s really simple to describe what it is and how to access it.

If you take any element of your life – whether it’s an event, your hair color, your job, your family, your sleep patterns, your car, your age, your dreams, your pets, your sexual practices, your posture – truly ANY aspect of your life – and you stamp the question, “what does that say about me?” on top of it, then you’ve moved into the self-concept territory.

It’s as simple as that.

When you ask yourself “what does that say about me?” it immediately brings answers of “I am [such and such]” which is the self’s concept of self; i.e., self-concept.

But things start to get really tricky really fast.  Already, we’re talking about the “self’s concept of self.”  Wait, what? An entity possessing a concept of its… own self.  What??  The self-concept is a crucial layer to examine but it can also get pretty tangled.  Let’s dissect why.

If our vehicle for getting into the territory is the stamp [what does it say about me?] and we examine the vehicle, we notice how the word “say” (send) implies there must be a contrasting energy of “listen” (receive).

So the self is saying something to the self who’s also listening.  Hmm.  We can see why this gets tricky.  It’s like trying to see your own eyeballs.  You can’t… unless you recruit a mirror.  And, even then, it’s subject to how good your vision is and how clean the mirror is.  There can be a lot of error.

So let’s examine some polar frustrations that can happen from self-concept.  On the one pole, we could use the label: “self-conscious.” Here we find the frustrations of using a lot of energy to examine, filter, worry, and choose.  On the other pole, we could use the label: “lacking insight.” Here we find the frustrations of having to solve the same problems over and over again (because they’re repeatedly created and remain constant).

Now we need to introduce parts-of-self.  Let’s say you have a disturbing dream where you’re doing some really funky things. So far, we have the dreamer who dreamed the dream, yes?  Then if we add the, “what does this say about me,” stamp, we introduce another role. If a part-of-self is saying, “wow, you’re a weirdo for having that dream,” then the dreamer has become a *receiver* of this message and there’s a new part-of-self of judger/sender. This is why self-concept is such a critical layer to examine.  It shows splits and parts, the stuff of inner-conflict.  There’s a view-er and a view-ee; a do-er and a do-ee.

In “self-consciousness” the volume is turned way up for viewer (who also happens to be very judgmental).  There’s the self who’s the doer.  And then there’s the self who’s viewing and judging the doer. Self-consciousness is very frustrating because, ultimately, we all want to dance like no one’s watching.   If you’re on the dance floor and there’s an individual standing a few feet away from you scowling at you and mocking your movements, it would be tough to enjoy dancing.  It’s also probably worth noting that “self-consciousness” has a lot of projection.  Instead of fully realizing, “hey I’m sitting here and judging myself,” it’s projected and experienced as an external fear: “if I do such and such, what are YOU going to think about me?”

To the flip side:  repetition after repetition due to a lack of insight.  If a person *never* asks themselves “what does this say about me?” then they’re discrediting their creative efforts.  If we look at a problem in our lives (especially if it seems repetitive/familiar) and then we wonder “what does it say about me,” then the next automatic step would be diving into how and why the problem is created by our own movements.  If we don’t turn our *sight* *in* (insight) then we’ll be “seeing” (out there) a really frustrating problem happen over and over again but the odds of it changing are very slim because we won’t adjust our own steps.

Here’s a quick peak at theory. In theory, growth entails the self-concept becoming integrated to where, at any given moment, the messages are the same: what the person is *doing* is identical to the concept of *what it says about the person*.  There’s a congruence of intent and message, something like “what it says about me” = “what I’m saying.”  Instead of a gap between [an expressive, creative behavior] and [a concept of self], there’s a confluence and sameness between them, like: “what I’m saying is what it says about me is what I’m saying.” In growing, the two come closer and closer.

On the contrary, growth also entails self-concept becoming more and more irrelevant.  Health simply means having a vast range of abilities to respond fittingly to different contexts in different moments.  Attributes of “character” aren’t as relevant because different situations call for different responses.  A concept of “I am warm” might actually be a detriment if there’s a situation that would be best suited with a “cold” response.  Self-concept, seen this way, becomes more and more  flexible and dynamic with growth to where it’s basically rendered irrelevant.  The self actually loses any sort of a fixed structure.  Perls loved this and talked about how he felt more and more like “nothing” as he grew.  Bruce Lee talked about this in terms of “be water.”

When I began this post, my intent wasn’t to examine two polar frustrations that relate to self-concept, nor to talk about self/growth theory. I just wanted to paint a quick picture of what self-concept is – and how to access that layer – so that I can talk about how you can get a two-for-one for your efforts; a psychological snowball effect; a buy-one-get-one for the same energy cost.  So here’s what the post was originally going to include before I went off on tangents:

There’s a huge difference in the value of completing tasks depending on whether the task touches your self-concept or not.  If you vacuum your house, you get the reward of the satisfaction of vacuuming your house.  And you get a vacuumed house.  If it didn’t touch your self-concept, then that’s all the reward you get.  No more.  HOWEVER, if your self-concept is “I am a dirty person” -> “I vacuumed my house” -> “what does that say about me” -> “maybe I’m not a dirty person!”  Now you have an unspeakably larger reward for your output.  When you complete a task and it also touches your self-concept, the reward is so much larger to the point where it can snowball bigger and bigger into, “what else am I capable of?!”

When we realize how much dead energy sits around in our personalities because of self-concept – “I am [such and such]” – and then we start hunting for how to get buy-one-get-one snowball effects, we can really get some things moving.

Try playing with it.  Try to differentiate tasks based on whether they touch your self-concept or not.  If you’re not sure, just take a quick moment and think, “what does this say about me,” and it must mean “I am [fill in the blank].”  This layer of life called the “self-concept” can really open up avenues for getting a lot more reward for your output and unlocking a lot of patterns and stale energy.

Try it with this post.  What does it say about you that you read this?  Fill in the blank: “I am [blank].”

“I am a bad-ass who is going to keep challenging myself and improving so that I can keep getting more and more engaged with the world and make the most out of my life.”

“I am a hopeless case who reads mental health articles because I can’t quite get it together.”

“I am inquisitive about the inner-workings of my psyche.”

Big differences, yes?  Even though the fact was the same (fact = I read this article), doing a quick peak at the self-concept layer can make a world of difference. Try to choose the tasks that go straight at the parts of your self-concept that need the love.

Be the snowball.  (The devil whispers to the warrior, “you’re not strong enough to withstand this storm.”  The warrior replies, “I am the storm.”)

 

 

Indirect vs Direct Coping – How Do They Fit With Avoidance?

Sometimes therapists will “teach coping skills.”  I was about halfway through grad school, all jazzed up about counseling, when I changed from a behavior modification service (BHRS) to a therapy service (FBMHS).  Excited about the opportunity to work more deeply with people, I remember vividly being surprised when I heard several of my colleagues talk about “coping skills.” It took me a while before I had the ability to articulate why this was rubbing me in a weird way.

“Teaching coping skills” is a collusion of avoidance.

Therapists teach coping skills for the same reason clients avoid confronting their situations:

It’s a fear of not being able to change the problem – a fear of being consumed by the problem, in essence killed by the problem – a feeling of inadequacy and hopelessness.  Those are all really good reasons to avoid a problem!  If there’s a chance it’ll kill you, by all means avoid it!

So when people talk about coping skills, they’re often agreeing that the best idea is avoidance and maintenance of the status quo.

Let’s closely examine the concept of “coping” and let’s break it down into two categories:  “indirect coping” and “direct coping.”  It’s important to be skilled in both categories and it’s also important to see the difference between the two so you can choose mindfully and make sure you’re not settling for less than what you’re capable of.

An indirect coping skill is if my boss makes me angry and I go home and sprint a mile to blow off steam – or my dog dies and I have a beer – or my sister yells at my child so I beat up a punching bag. These aren’t necessarily unhealthy. Exercise is good and sometimes a beer really hits the spot. The only downside to indirect coping is if we never consider direct coping.  Indirect coping skills don’t actually change anything about the problem that’s causing the need for coping.

To go a step further, sometimes indirect coping skills can cause a more serious problem when it turns cyclical: being tired so I have a cup of coffee – being broke so I take out a loan – being mad at my boss so I yell at my wife, etc.

Direct coping skills, on the other hand, is a confrontation of the problem: an approach to the thing that’s causing the discomfort. It could be internal or external.

External: approaching the boss or the sister and trying to come to a resolution. Doing “chair work” to my dog and saying how much I miss him and I hope he had a great life.

Internal: searching myself to see why the boss bothers me so much. What are the self-concept messages that get activated? Examining myself to see if I have unresolved things with sister from before my child was even born.

Again, neither coping style is inherently better than the other. When we’re functioning optimally, they’re usually intertwined: like an indirect coping skill (deep breath) in order to gather my thoughts in order to do a direct coping skill (approach my sister to ask her to consider the impact she’s having on my child).

Let’s go back to the therapy side of things. We often utilize indirect coping skills when we don’t believe we have a fighting chance against the actual problem. If I feel hopeless that I won’t be able to create any change towards my sister, I won’t take the risk. If I feel inadequate in my interpersonal skills or in my value as an employee, I won’t approach my boss in order to try and make change. So when therapists “teach coping skills” (usually meaning the indirect kind), they’re often accidentally communicating to the client: “I don’t think you (or I) have what it takes to solve the actual problem and make things lastingly better for you.” Bummer, right? This is also closely connected to the difference between intervening to “treat the symptom” versus “treating the problem.”

The last crucial piece is the very-hard-to-reach attitude of viewing problems as opportunities. This is so difficult to do in real life. It’s much easier to type about while drinking coffee.

It goes something like this:

Each problem is an opportunity. Each problem is a lesson about yourself to teach you where you’re vulnerable to get your peace, joy, and grace stolen. Each problem shows you the perfect template for the exercises you need to do in order to strengthen the whole of your personality. Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” is a great resource to keep this part of you burning.

In sum, it’s important to recognize the difference between “direct” and “indirect” coping. And it’s important to really ask yourself how much change you think you can make.  If we only do indirect coping, we’re still spending a lot of energy… but the overall configuration doesn’t change.  Are you avoiding certain exercises? Are you selling yourself short? Is it worth the risk? Is there a growth opportunity if you directly confront the problem?

Exploration, Choice, and Payoff (an examination of the phrase, “I’m good at helping others but I can’t help myself.”)

I’ll occasionally come across the phrase, “I’m good at helping others but I can’t help myself.”  I want to break this down a little bit and highlight a few concepts.

If we hold the first part of the phrase under a microscope, here’s how it looks: “I’m good at listening to a person’s situation, making an assessment of their available options, and then giving them advice about what they should do next.”

There is nothing wrong with that.  That’s what some therapists do.  And it helps some people.  The downside is the frustration in the second part: that they “can’t help themselves.”

Here’s how the frustration looks under a microscope: “When I examine my own situation, I usually come up with advice for myself about what I should do.  But then I run into some serious difficulty in following through with the plan.  I can’t get myself to do what I should do.”

So let’s check this out.

It’s a problem of exploration, choice, and payoff – and ultimately, like everything else, energy flow.  To put it another way, it’s an insight problem followed by a stalemate of energy and behavior.

Whenever we fully want to do something, we move into it with grace, ease, passion, interest, care, eagerness (and many other really positive sounding words).

Whenever we partially want to do something, the behavioral flow loses some of its power and force.  The more partial it is, the harder it is to follow through with the task.  If I partially want to get my paperwork done but I partially want to go to bed, it’s going to be pretty hard to get my paperwork done.  If going to bed ends up trumping the paperwork (51% bed, 49% paperwork) then I’m going to bed.  I might not be able to sleep because some of me still wants to have my paperwork done.  Makes sense, right?  It’s pretty straightforward: desires come in percentages.  Some desires compete.  The largest one wins.  Unfortunately (in this culture – for most people – and arguably even due to the human condition) the times when we have a desire that has 100% fullness are rare.  Desires spend most of their time in conflict with other ones.

There’s a big difference between a “should” and a “want.”  A “should” is an encryption.  It keeps you from knowing the exact number of the percentage of “want.”  It conceals/hides the valuable data.  That’s why we encrypt things… to conceal the actual data.

People become a lot sturdier and free-flowing once they explore their personalities, find the “shoulds,” and become hackers: unencrypting them and uncovering the valuable data of the actual percentages.  Some “shoulds” become high-percentage-wants and they’re so much easier to flow with.  Some “shoulds” become low-percentage-wants and they can be more easily disregarded.  The tougher ones are when the percentages are close (like my bed-to-paperwork example).  When the percentages are close, that’s where we’ll feel stuck because any movement will be the loss of a huge chunk of energy/desire.  If I choose the 51% winner, that’s 49% of myself that’s not on board.  That’s a big loss of fuel!

So let’s head back to the “I can’t help myself” example.  Let’s also define “advice” as a “should.”  When we ask someone for advice, we’re saying, “please assess my situation and tell me what I should do.”  The sticking point ends up being a less-than-full evaluation of the wants.  So whenever someone says, “I can’t help myself,” they’re saying, “I’ve assessed my situation and given myself advice (shoulds) but I can’t get myself to behaviorally follow it through.”  This makes sense now, right?  There are encryptions.  The behaviors won’t flow unless there’s enough “want juice” flowing into it.

So here’s where it gets more complex because, if we want to rearrange the stalemate and create movement, we would need to develop the insight into functions.

Every whole wants to preserve itself – whether it’s a whole culture, a whole nation, a whole business, a whole pattern, a whole family, a whole creature, whatever.  An animal will gnaw off its leg if it’s trapped and it can’t think of a better way to preserve the whole.  Each human being is a whole.  We seek to preserve ourselves.   Every choice has a function of self-preservation.

So when we run into a problem where we can’t quite get ourselves to do what we think we should, we’re battling against a self-preservation desire that’s larger than the encrypted should.  Rather than beat yourself up about why you’re not following through, it’s much healthier to try and move downwards into your personality and start to look for the payoffs to the choices.   Give yourself more credit.  At the roots of you, there’s a perfect reason why you’re doing what you’re doing.  If you can’t quite see it yet, give yourself some time to fully examine your desires, your hopes, your fears.  Try to move into the confusion/frustration (where the encryptions live) in order to map out those parts of you.  They are obviously strong enough to influence you, so you might as well spend some time there.  You might as well try to ally with those strengths rather than beat yourself up about not being able to overpower them.  All the parts of you have vitality.  All the parts of you are attempting to serve you for the greatest good.  The goal is to tap into all of your vitality so you can move as one beautiful whole.

Once things are mapped out, they make perfect sense.  You make sense.  The world makes sense.  Give yourself some credit and some time.  Keep exploring.  Keep mapping.

Taking a Systemic Approach (to yourself)

There’s a phrase that gets used a lot in physical therapy:

“the symptom is the victim, not the criminal.”

This has incredible implications (truth) in our psychological functioning as well.  This post emphasizes and encourages a certain attitude you can take in order to boost your growth and create widespread change.  At the end of this post, I’m going to contrast a “systemic approach to yourself” versus “systemic therapy,” even though they’re definitely made of the same stuff.

So let’s examine “taking a systemic approach to yourself.”

It’s the idea there isn’t a singular thing going wrong.  The more you hunt for a singular thing –  the one root cause to your unhappiness – the one thing that needs to be found and fixed – the more time you’ll spend spinning your wheels and the less time you’ll spend enjoying living and reaping the benefits of your efforts. If you want to create change, the best approach is to try to turn over every rock. It will be rare to find a golden ticket under one of the rocks, but the landscape will look entirely different once you turn over enough of them.

This post is the encouragement to examine more aspects of your life… to get wider in your efforts.

How many minutes of your day are spent going through the motions? How much doesn’t get a second glance?  How many of your settings are set to default?

Here’s a range of examples:

How many steps a day do you take without feeling your feet on the ground? How many interpersonal interactions are completely routine (and lacking in satisfaction)? How many shallow breaths do you take a day?* More importantly, how many huge ones do you take on purpose? How much of your diet is habitual and hasn’t been adjusted in a while?  How many calories are in liquid form? When was the last time you changed your exercise routine? How long have you used the same mouthwash?   If you wear heels, do different pairs have different lengths?  When was the last time you made a really weird face? How do you normally sit? Which leg is the crossed-over one? When was the last time you crossed over your other leg? How much hazelnut creamer do you put in your coffee? How long have you done that? When was the last time you tried out some different pillows?  When was the last time you imitated your mom?  How different is your Monday morning from your Friday night?  Are you getting something auto-debited that you really don’t need / use?  Do you really like the tv shows you watch? What do you do during commercials?

Sure, your mouthwash isn’t causing your knee pain and your heels aren’t causing your depression, but how fast do you want change to happen?

Sometimes things stick around in our lives for far too long. The only thing that keeps them there is we’re not consciously choosing them anymore. They’ve become default. “Taking a systemic approach” to your self-improvement is taking the extra time to see what default motions could be adjusted. I deliberately put really big things and really small things on that list of questions. Your pillows probably aren’t killing you. But if you want to make some really significant change, the idea is to shake things up and get wider as opposed to having a magnifying glass on a ‘symptom’ and hoping a singular root cause will present itself. There are infinite causes. Things have been in motion for a very long time.  But we can only fully do one thing at a time. Taking a systemic approach to yourself takes thing-by-thing and examines it. It stops looking for the magical thing. It starts looking at moment-by-moment movements to see what can be examined – conscious choice by conscious choice.   This is hard.  It’s easier to wish for a magical thing.

The up-side:  this hard work is a safeguard against helplessness.  When we go directly at a symptom, we are agreeing to a losing battle. Everything else in the overall configuration supports that symptom and there’s truly no way to move it without reconfiguring the connections. We are webs. We are a “system of contacts” (PHG). If we go at a symptom and try to simply remove it from the field, we will eventually feel helpless – because we will lose.

In sum, taking a systemic approach to your development is the effort to get wider. It’s the understanding that everything is interconnected. It’s a commitment to the details, to the smaller things, to the whole of your growth.  We really can’t make this wide commitment to rethink our defaults unless we have the belief (hope) that it will pay off – that it will only be short term suffering and hard work – that we will yield fruit after the labor. That’s the purpose of this post: the encouragement towards that belief – the hope – that hard work pays off.  We pay for it now or we pay for it later.

* There’s a pointed phrase in yoga: “most people breathe just enough to stay alive.”

As promised, some contrast.  More often than not in this blog, I’ll be referencing a “systemic approach to therapy” rather than a “systemic approach to yourself.”  They’re made of the same stuff but there is a contrast that’s warranted.  This post emphasizes an attitude you can take on a moment by moment basis in order to boost your own growth.  I am encouraging you to shake up and second-guess as much as you can handle, even if it doesn’t seem immediately connected to a symptom or a goal.  If a therapist took this hyper-diligent approach with clients, it would be exhausting for everyone.  I literally just laughed out loud.  “Hey, did you notice how we just shook hands?  Maybe we could do that better.  How did I just shut that door?  Was that the best way? How did you engage your hamstrings when you sat down on the couch?  Want to try that again?  How’s your water?  Do you think we should try turning the fridge temperature up or down a few degrees?” Lol.  So when I speak of ‘systemic therapy,’ I’m really talking about the beliefs about symptoms.  It’s the interconnectedness and the embedded-ness of supports/symptoms.  It’s the understanding that a direct attempt at removing a symptom is playing whack-a-mole.  Another mole pops up.

Despite the contrast, the common ground is this:  it’s best when clients take a systemic approach to their own self-improvement (with this wide hyper-diligence) in between meetings and then use their therapists to co-create some different frequencies and find where even newer rocks can be turned over, rocks that wouldn’t have shown up on the radar if someone else didn’t call attention to them.

 

Full (Physical and Psychological) Makeover

I am extremely excited to finally offer this service to the public. My long term career goal to be a part of a facility that seamlessly integrates physical and psychological fitness is coming to fruition and I’m so excited to be turning the corner towards that goal.

I’ve trained a handful of people (friends and family) and have experienced immense joy from witnessing progress. There is nothing like achieving something today that you could not have done before. I am so excited to open this up for other people.

What I’m offering is a formal strength-training program (weight-training) coupled with gestalt consultations.  You can skip to the bottom of this post to see a quick outline if you don’t want to read the details.

Formal strength-training is probably different than any type of exercise you have ever tried. I became obsessed with it years ago when I started realizing the Central Nervous System adaptations and the psychological effects involved. I was an athlete through college and lifting weights in the off season was a regular part of the process. Once sports were done, I started learning about strength and weight-training from a very different perspective and, in conjunction with the health and psychological growth aspects of my formal education, began realizing what an amazing impact strength-training has.

I want to do a quick contrast between “training” and “exercising.” When you “exercise,” you do whatever fits for that day. Maybe you feel like going for a run, or doing some yoga, or jumping rope, or doing lunges. “Training,” on the other hand, has a very specific result in mind and it formulates a clear plan to get there. In this case, the result is functional strength. You literally get stronger.   And you KNOW you got stronger because pounds are an objective measurement.  One day, you won’t be able to move X pounds.  A couple weeks later, you move X pounds. You become able to do things that would have been laughable before. It’s very different than exercise.  There’s nothing wrong with exercise. I just get sad when I hear people who try exercising and then they get frustrated about the lack of results.

I also want to contrast strength-training with “body building.” Body building is a sport in which you train in order to go on stage and be judged for how you look. That’s not what this is. Yes, you will look better from strength-training.   Yes, you’ll be more comfortable in a bathing suit.  But that’s not the direct aim.  Understandably, a big component of exercise for a lot of people is the desire to look better.  I have no beef with body builders or people who exercise to look better. I’m just saying that’s not what this is about. You will feel better. You will BE better. And, as an additional bonus, you’ll look better.

Being a holistic therapist, the psychological and philosophical parts are where I find the deep worth and fascination. There’s a specific moment in strength-training when you feel yourself wanting to negate your responsibility.  You confront the realization that it’s you who needs to do the work in front of you. This realization starts to generalize to other areas of your life, your struggles, your challenges, your goals.  If there is any laziness down in the depths of you, strength-training will find it and give you the opportunity to clean it out.

Form and technique are crucial, for both safety and performance.  You learn how your body works as a whole.  You learn the correct structure of your parts in order to confront possibly the most difficult (physical) thing you’ve ever done – and to come out of the challenge unharmed. Focus and determination get developed. This, again, carries over: the confidence and focus from successfully overcoming legitimate challenges to your structure. You learn stabilization, groundedness, and centrality while taking on challenges to your range of motion. See how that phrase could be talking about the physical or the psychological? I love it.

In addition to the formal strength-training, you’ll learn two types of yoga.  I teach the opening portion of Ashtanga Yoga for the warm up.  It takes about ten minutes and this, alone, can change your life.  I was just talking to an experienced yogi the other day and she said, “if people would just take a few minutes everyday and do the first several Ashtanga movements, it will really clear up so much of what’s going on with them.”  Agreed.  That’s our warm up.  The other type of yoga you’ll learn is Yin Yoga.  Ashtanga and Yin are polar.  Ashtanga is active and powerful. Yin is passive. Yin is the “let go” yoga.  It is equally crucial to helping your body recover from the strength movements we’ll be doing.  The psychological and overall health benefits of both types of yoga are extensive and beyond the scope of this post.  If you decide not to utilize this service but you still would like to invest in yourself, learn Ashtanga and Yin.  In the Harrisburg / Camp Hill area, you can find Ashtanga at Befit Yoga and Yin at Om My Yoga.  I have no affiliation with either of them other than having gone to (and approved of) both.

Lastly, within this service, you’ll also receive two Gestalt Consultations a month.  In these, you’ll learn the functional flow of your awareness and techniques on how to clear your mind, free up space, and have more direction and control.  I’m not going to write too much about Gestalt in this post because it’s available elsewhere.

The training includes three weight-training days a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 6.30am – 7.30am.   Yes, you only train 3 days a week.  Yes, you’ll get serious results from only 3 days.  But I do HIGHLY recommend you do the Ashtanga and  Yin portions on the other days as well, preferably Ashtanga in the morning and Yin in the evening before bed.  You just need a few minutes.

The price is $530 a month, due at the first Monday of the month.  I can’t imagine working with you for more than 8 or 9 months.  By then, you should have a firm grasp of how your body works, the correct form and technique to keep you safe, understand how strength-training works (concepts of adaptation / over-training / over-reaching / linear progression / deloading / supercompensating), and what the other variables are (active recovery, sleep, hydration, nutrition) in order to carry on by yourself and continue having a blast with it.  You’ll have an Excel Spreadsheet with your lifting logs and you’ll know how to use it to keep making progress.

A great example for anecdotal purposes is my wife, to whom I introduced strength-training a couple of years ago.  She’s now having so much fun doing it on her own and she comes home and is proud to tell me about the “PR” (Personal Record) she set on a specific lift on that day.  You become excited about getting your body to do something that it couldn’t do before.  It also changes your relationship with those “other variables,” like hydration, nutrition and sleep.  Those things start to fall into place with ease because you quickly realize if you’re not fueling your body correctly, it’ll show up in your performance.  This is largely why I’m calling this program a “Makeover.”  And if you’re willing to track those other variables, I can help you stay accountable in that area as well.  Apps like Myfitnesspal allow you to track your food/water intake and easily email it to me.

Last but certainly not least, we can have up to 5 people in one training group.  It’s very valuable to watch others train in order to learn proper form.  To encourage you to find someone else to take this journey with you, I’ll drop the price to $600 a month ($300 a person) if you find a partner.  The only caveat:  the partner needs to be a similar height as you.  We will be squatting and it’s impractical to change the squat rack height for each lifter.   It doesn’t matter if you start at different levels of fitness.  Height is the only thing that matters.  If we have someone who is 4’10”, they can’t lift with someone who is 6’2″.

Please email me at kip@gestaltdevelopmentcenter.com in order to get things started.  The first person to respond will set the height requirement.  :-p

And since I’m so excited to get this service off the ground, I’ll throw in a free Withings Scale (“Smart-Body-Analyzer”) ($149 Value) no strings attached, yours to keep, to the first person who starts up.  I also have one. I love it.  It tracks your weight and your body composition (how much muscle / how much fat) and wirelessly syncs it with your PC and phone so you can see your progress.   It would be really neat to start tracking those things as soon as you get started and then watch the numbers change as you go.

This blog is still really new and there’s not a lot of traffic to it yet, so I’m not sure how long it will take to get the training group formed.  Please check with me via email to see where we’re at.  We might have gotten several groups formed or we might have different times and days for the training groups.  We’ll see.

 

Here’s the outline as promised above:

 

Price:   For one person, $530 a month.  For two people, $600 a month ($300 a piece).

Training schedule:   Monday, Wednesday, Friday.   6:30am – 7.30am.

What you get:

– Formal, linear-progression strength-training.

– The beginning portions of Ashtanga Yoga (active yoga).

– Yin Yoga (passive yoga).

– Two Gestalt Consultations per month.

– Optional: Other Variable Tracking (Nutrition, Hydration, Sleep, etc.)

– To the first person who begins the program: a free Withings Scale to keep ($149 Value)

Timeline:  The first month and a half will feel pointlessly easy.  The next month and a half will feel pointlessly hard.  After 3 or 4 months, you should be noticing some serious differences as your system adapts.  After 8 or 9 months, you should be ready to take over on your own and not need me anymore.  The timeline will vary slightly for everyone, depending on what your status is when you start, but it’ll be very close to those markers.

How to get started:  Email me ( kip@gestaltdevelopmentcenter.com ) to see if those times/prices are still available.

 

 

 

Freedom

A central concept within theories, systemic and existential.

The crux of family systems theory and the direction of the growth-work therein is we are born into a family system of rules, regulations, limitations and patterns. Let’s call these “forces.” We’re nearly blind to these forces by default, but we feel them. When we feel them, we tend to attribute them as “laws of nature” rather than “family forces.” Think of a couple who just moved in together: “this is just how it’s done. Why would you do it a different way!?” As opposed to, “this is the way my family did it. Wow, it feels strange to consider doing it differently.”

So the growth-work entails recognizing this beginning state as a family system state (as opposed to a blind state or a universal law state) and then moving away / beyond / or out of the limitations and regulations. The task is to chew on the forces (the beliefs, the patterns, etc) and digest the ones you’d like to keep and spit out the ones that don’t really fit you. In psychobabble terms, this movement is called “differentiation” towards “autonomy.” In the end, you are a *self* whose rules have been choicefully examined and moderated to fit your flowing life. You’re not operating on rules that may have been passed from generation to generation and you’re not restricted in your range of behaviors because someone else believed you shouldn’t behave that way. Your beliefs are yours. You are you.

I’ll do a quick contrast with “emotional reactivity.” This is where a person may *appear* differentiated but, upon closer examination, they’re largely doing the opposite of what the family forces were. This person is not differentiated because they’re still operating in relation to the family forces, even though the relation is opposition. “Wow, you are so different from your family” as opposed to “you are you.”

That’s growth from a ‘family systems’ perspective.

Now to existentialism.

There is a root fact that we inherit a ‘self’ without asking for one.  (Not to mention we have to figure out how to operate it and they can be pretty complex and difficult.)

We appreciate this ‘self’ in varying amounts (self-esteem) while we also know, on a very deep/core/mostly-unconscious level, that we’re moving uncontrollably towards death – the loss/end/destruction of this ‘self.’  We can’t stop this movement.  It’s happening.  It’s happening while I type this and it’s happening while you read this.

The way I visualize this concept is as follows: the “root fact” is at the bottom. It’s cement. It’s the base. You can’t go further down than that. It’s a brutal fact and it’s arguable we can’t fully accept it because of the amount of terror that’s actually involved. What we do in defense is we live “above” the cement. We get involved with things and we “forget” about the root fact. We forget we only have a certain amount of time here. We forget about the aloneness inherent in dying.  We forget about the burden of shaping our lives on a moment-to-moment basis.  We forget about the odds that no one will remember us in 50, 100, 200 years. Like we never existed. We float and dance above the cement.

To continue the visualization, there are ‘forces’ above the cement also, a lot like a tornado but a ‘fun tornado,’ if you will.  While we “forget” about the root fact, we float and dance inside the winds of the fun tornado, not minding how we’re above the cement.  We swirl around. We float and dance.  There are so many people swirling, floating and dancing in the winds of the fun tornado – it’s very normal.  That’s all well and good but sometimes the tornado’s winds shift. There’s a quick gust downwards and the forces grab a person and violently slam them against the cement.  Violently, I said.  Everything is different now.  It might pick the person back up and put them back in the current of winds (concussed and shaken) or it might leave the person laying on the cement.  This gust could be anything – the death of someone close to you, the loss of a tooth, a car accident, an illness, a movie, a bad grade on a paper, anything – anything that touches you near the core root fact.

Now growth from an existential perspective.

Lara Perls said, “your feet are for grounding and your hands are for connecting.”  Using the cement and fun tornado analogy, we want people standing on the cement and having fun with their hands.  We don’t want people floating above the cement; they risk getting violently slammed down.  And we don’t want people huddling or crouching scared on the cement; they’re missing out on the joy of living.  In addition, we don’t want people’s feet to actually BE cemented.  In tai chi, you learn how to move from step to step while staying rooted to the center of the earth.  Same here.  We want people to be able to move, in a grounded way, on the cement – even dance on the cement. But we’re grounded.  We’re rooted.  And we’re living with meaningful joy.

One of the reasons systems theory and existentialism fit so beautifully together is the “differentiation” towards “autonomy”.  In the opening paragraphs about family systems, I described that movement away / beyond / or out of the original family’s limitations and patterns.  In the existential paragraphs, it’s the growing movement from floating with the gusts of the fun tornado down to the cement.  It’s the same movement, the movement towards autonomy – ‘selfing’ – growing – developing – towards the deepest, fullest, most grounded, most defined “you are you.”  A developed self can recognize family of origin forces for what they are and can recognize culture for it is – and can see ‘self’ as embedded within, AND separate from, these forces.  That’s the concept of autonomy, crucial in both family systems and existential theories.

I like connecting dots. Two more.

This concept is very relevant in the Buddhist idea of “attachments,” the recognition of attachments for what they are and the ability to let them go and let them move.

This is also very relevant in Mark 7:6,7, “These people honor me with their words, but I am not really important to them.  Their worship of me is worthless. The things they teach are only human rules.”

The attachments, the human rules, the forces, the tornado winds: same idea.  They’re all descriptions of the value of the movement towards the fullest and truest version of yourself, to let go of the things that are not you and to embrace and utilize your true self.

Systems, Judgment, and Experimentation (Oceans and Inverted Twister)

I find the following analogy very helpful to explain some concepts. And I’d like to connect some analogous dots.

Systemic vision and judgment are mutually exclusive.  It is impossible to judge something (or someone) when you can see the way it fits into the larger picture, embedded within connections that make any other configuration impossible or, at best, improbable.  When student counselors are taught the Rogerian foundations (Counseling 101) of positive regard, nonjudgment, unconditional acceptance, etc.,  it’s often a stretch.  The counselor has to *try* to be nonjudgmental.  They have to disconnect from their judgment (vision) in order to *try* to connect with their client in a nonjudgmental way.  If the counselor continues to study systems, this [need to] disconnect begins to disintegrate.  Things just make more sense.  The counselor doesn’t have to *try* to be nonjudgmental because there’s nothing left to judge.  PHG talk about this in describing contact.  In contact, things just seem “inevitable” or “just right,” they say.  The more we are in true contact with our clients (and with life in general) judgment actually becomes impossible – or, rather, loses its function / becomes useless.

So here’s the analogy I want to use to describe systemic vision: if you look at the waves in the ocean, there is no way to locate a beginning point or an ending point, a cause or an effect, a do-er or a do-ee, an isolated part from the rest of the parts.  It is simply in flow.  It is completely connected.  All of the parts are moving in relation to all of the other parts.  One can’t ‘judge’ a singular wave and say ‘it shouldn’t have happened that way’.  When you see the whole: of course that wave is going to happen exactly the way it did.  It is simply just happening.  (The ocean also lends itself wonderfully for an analogy of ‘figure and ground’ – wave and nonwave – being made up of the same stuff (“self”) – and also in flow, inseparable, and inverse-able/relative. But that’s another post.)

Now let’s shuttle back to the application of therapy…  and let’s continue with analogies.

Are you familiar with the game of Twister?  Please imagine ‘inverted twister’.  Imagine a playground: monkey bars and other hanging apparatuses.  I’m picturing something like a rock-climbing-wall in a gym, only it’s parallel to the ground so you’re actually hanging parallel, belly up, with your feet, knees, elbows and hands holding and weaving onto certain pieces according to the colors of the inverted twister.  Very uncomfortable.  It’s this discomfort that brings a person to therapy – and the “stuck-ness!”  Inverted twister may have been going ok for a while (and the person is, without a doubt, performing with their best effort) but then a certain combination of color patterns presents itself, knees wrapped over this, ankle tucked under that, arm across one bar to grab onto the other bar, etc.  The configuration started to make any subsequent movement impossible / improbable.  The person is stuck and uncomfortable to say the least.  If we wanted to say more, we could certainly add ‘scared’ and ‘losing hope,’ I’m sure.  Again, this is when a person might choose to enter therapy to get some outside assistance.

I would hope no one would judge this person.  They have been giving their best efforts, responding to the color configurations presented (aka life), and moving along until they got stuck.  To return to the ocean analogy, we see how all of the movements up until now make sense.  We can’t look at any one piece of the picture and say ‘it shouldn’t have happened that way.’  The same with the wave: ‘yeah, of course it happened exactly the way it did.’  Without systemic vision in place, a counselor might think, ‘look at his arm! It’s wrapped under his knee, turned backwards and then only holding on with two fingers! Of course that’s not going to work,’ (with judgment) not seeing the larger picture of the interconnectedness.  Without systemic vision, a person/counselor also can’t see how the arm going under the knee actually supports the leg to keep the ankle wrapped around a different bar.  The counselor says, “just take that arm out and grab onto this bar over here!  You’ll be much more comfortable!”  The client tries and either falls off or simply can’t.  Counselor gets frustrated. Client gets frustrated/confused/shamed.  Client drops out of therapy. Counselor rationalizes, “that person just wasn’t ready for therapy.”

This is largely where the ‘gestalt experiment’ comes into play.  In gestalt therapy, we value (we understand the power of) the interconnectedness and we are interested in the ‘whole’ and in the ‘configuration’.  We want to see how parts relate to other parts to determine the whole of the functioning.  This is the gestalt approach to the unfortunate stuck individual on the inverted twister:

“Hmm.  Yes, you are stuck indeed.” “I am going to stand right here with my arm right here so that you can’t fall and we can take a look at things together.” (There is a fundamental supportiveness within gestalt therapy.) “Now you feel more secure, right?  Good.  Now, what happens if you try to wiggle this finger, does it move?” “Ok. I also see your shoulder is able to rotate a little bit, what’s it like for you to do that?” “Great.  Where do you feel the most range now? That knee? Ok, great, go for it.. what happens when you shift it?” “Are you happy with how your wrist is positioned? Or is it worth playing with that as well?”

There is an understanding that the configuration is paramount and that the work is investigative and experimental, both in the service of learning and developing, opening new options, harnessing creativity.  We value full range of motion and aware choice.  We don’t like stuck.  We want twister to be fun and meaningful.

Lastly, this term will probably show up a lot in this blog but I’ll make the first mention now: “response-ability.”  Gestalt is an existential therapy and in existential philosophy there’s the idea of “responsibility,” the acknowledgment of the authorship/ownership of one’s existence.  Gestaltists (Fritz first, I believe) have played with that term and broke it up into “response-ability.”  This works very well with the inverted twister analogy (life).  We can’t always choose the colors that are presented.  We choose our responses.  Earlier when I said, ‘we value full range of motion and aware choice,’ another way of saying that is, ‘we want people to have full abilities.’  The greater our abilities, the more apt we are at responding to the color configurations that life presents.  Sometimes the color configurations are ugly.  But we can be response-able.