It’s the end of July in the United States, and I suspect a lot of you are on the road enjoying your summer vacation. If you are out there, be careful and enjoy yourself!
When you arrive at your destination, whether it’s the pool, a lakehouse, or a state or national park, and you choose to unwind by reading a magazine or book, I wonder what book(s) made your summer reading list?
This summer I’ve been reading two of my favorite authors, Dr. Dan Siegel (UCLA, and the author of The Developing Mind: How relationships and the brain interact to shape who we are, 2015) and Dr. Tina Bryson (USC, and co-author with Dr. Siegel of The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind, 2012).
Together, their insights have led me to create and suggest to you a simple yet helpful strategy where you’ll identify, integrate then live by the practice of the value-oriented behaviors you’ve chosen.
I call this simple strategy “LoveWorks.” My goal is to see you use your energy to identify, develop and deliver to yourself and to others, mindful, strategic, intentional and deliberate actions that will help you to establish new patterns of behavior that not only suggest a positive transformation is occurring within you, but will also create healthy living outcomes in your relationships.
It’s my hope that as a result of “selecting then electing” to live by values that make sense to you and your brain, you’ll feel better about yourself, your actions and your relationships, in large part because you’re improving your connections and experiences with people you interact with, and with those you love and care about.
Here are two more reasons why I think implementing the LoveWorks strategy could be good for you:
First, electing to live by your chosen values helps you to say “I love you” to your self and to others when you implement and practice specific value-oriented behaviors that evidence esteem, honor, favor, respect, and devotion. When you develop the practice of “operationalizing” loving behaviors for yourself, then it’s a short leap to continue practicing those behaviors in all your affairs with others.
Equally, when you’ve elected to identify, practice and repeat value-oriented behaviors that make sense to you, then your behavior conveys a powerful message that you’ve made a commitment to foster and establish safe and secure environments where equality and empowerment are foundational operating principles you intend to live by in order to help you achieve mutual edification and improvement. Your actions simply indicate that you’ve made a conscious and mindful decision to travel through life with intention!
For me, this is the type of intentional living that I’d like to create and live by not only this summer but for the remainder of my life! Consequently, who wouldn’t want to use their mind to achieve and experience these and other constructive outcomes in their life and in their relationships?
So this brings us to the LoveWorks strategy that I’d like to suggest to you. Again, my hope is that this simple “A – B – C – D – E” strategy will assist you to stimulate your brain to identify, develop and deliver mindful, strategic, intentional and deliberate actions that ultimately translate into a collective “peace of mind!” So let’s take a look at the “A – B – C’s” of Love Works!
A – Apply AGAPE-oriented values liberally!
Agape is one of the Greek words for Love and is actually defined by ten other “action words” which when applied and delivered, helps us to know we are and have received love.
The action words describe one who “Loves, Esteems, Cherishes, Respects, Favors, Honors, Accepts, Prizes, Relishes and demonstrates Devotion to oneself and to others” in their lives. You can read further about their definition and description by clicking this sentence.
As you may have read in Choosing Change #10, it’s the saturation then practice of these words along with the integration and practice of the Nine Fruit of the Spirit (Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control) that create a strong and stable foundation upon which other spiritual disciplines, virtues, and value-oriented behaviors guide us to make good decisions that breathe life into ourselves and our relationships.
Dr. Siegel suggests other value-oriented characteristics that form the acronym “C-O-H-E-R-E-N-C-E” as a way to create “coherent flow” in our lives and in our relationships. COHERENCE stands for:
- C – Connection
- O – Openness
- H – Harmony
- E – Engagement
- R – Receptivity
- E – Emergence (which he defines as things arising in new and spontaneous ways)
- N – Noesis (a sense of nonconceptual knowing)
- C – Compassion
- E – Empathy
Dr. Siegel also supports the ongoing practice of Spiritual Disciplines (Reflection and Meditation, to which I’ll add Prayer, Study, Silence, Solitude, Service, Fellowship, etc.) as beneficial values to help us feel calm, gain insight and to know ourselves, which increases our ability to know others. To Dr. Siegel, developing and practicing these interpersonal processes facilitates insight, empathy, and compassion.
Dr. Christopher Petersen and Dr. Martin Seligman, supporters and authors in the study of Postive Psychology, suggest other “character strengths and values” for your consideration that I think are also “Agape-oriented” values. Their “CSV” list identifies “core virtues” and 24 measurable “character strengths” which are:
- Wisdom and Knowledge: creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective, innovation
- Courage: bravery, persistence, integrity, vitality, zest
- Humanity: love, kindness, social intelligence
- Justice: citizenship, fairness, leadership
- Temperance: forgiveness and mercy, humility, prudence, self-control
- Transcendence: appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor, spirituality
Finally (but I know there’s many, many more), I really like Dr. Carl Rogers “core conditions of Person-Centered therapy,” of which there are three:
- Empathy: The desire and demonstrated activity to understand the other person.
- Genuiness: The ability to be open and honest and congruent with another.
- Unconditional Positive Regard: Skilled behavior that creates experiences and environments where another is listened to, accepted and “prized.”
So these are just a few of the Agape-oriented values that I’d like to suggest for you to think about, develop, then deliver to yourself and others because they reflect how you wish to live the remainder of your life, and/or after you’ve assessed what “specific and healthy dose of value-oriented behavior” is needed at that particular moment in your life.
I’ve compared the process of identifying and living by your chosen values to driving a car that’s centered in its lane. The intentional and deliberate practice of your identified values not only helps to keep you on the road, but they also help you to get to the destination that you wish to travel to without risk, rupture or recklessness in your behavior toward yourself or others.
Borrowing from Dr. Siegel’s “River of Integration,” the application of your values help you to avoid the “ditches” of Chaos and chaotic behavior on one side of the road, and Rigidity and inflexibility, which is the ditch on the other side of the road. It’s when we integrate then live by our values that we position ourselves optimally to move through life situations with reduced distress, fewer interruptions and with greater success.
The identification and application of your values also serve as “gauges on the instrument panel in the vehicle of your life,” as they inform you if you’re too hot, too cold, or about to run out of the necessary resources that will either help you or complicate where you’re at and what challenges you’re facing in your life journey.
What makes the identification and application of your Agape-oriented values work the best is the continual practice of Awareness. Awareness implies that you’re taking or scheduling the time to look at your gauges and see how you’re operating, and when adjustments are needed you make them immediately. Dr. Siegel calls this “taking a time-in” (versus a time-out) to engage in inward reflection to discover and gain greater knowledge of your Sensations, Images, Feelings, and Thoughts. He call’s this process “sifting” your mind.
If you were to engage in the mindful practice of sifting your mind, what values would you expect to find that you’d like to keep and practice more of because they would be good for you and others? What behaviors or processes need to be eliminated and extinguished, because they’ve become all too familiar defaults, that harm you and others?
Your engagement in these and other mindfulness practices will help you to become calmer, increase your ability to focus, pay attention and remain self-aware of where you’re at, what you’re doing, and most importantly, help you to determine and deliver the loving value that is needed for yourself or another in that particular moment.
One final takeaway from this section: When you identify and practice healthy values and disciplines that you choose to live by, you’re actually “uploading” into the operating system of your brain ideas, ethics, mores, actions, processes, and procedures that your brain will recall and repeat when you most need it.
So I have a few questions for you:
- What are the Agape-oriented values and virtues that you wish to intentionally and consistently practice, get better at, and in the process, create peace, flexibility, adaptability, coherence, energized and stable outcomes (Siegel quoting David Olsen’s FACES model) in your life and in your relationships?
- Are you able to determine when you’re not operating by your values (and the vehicle of your life is drifting off-target)? What are those behaviors you’ll want to eliminate?
- What identified value(s) or mindfulness practices will help you to regain consciousness, resulting in better control of your thoughts and feelings so you’re able to be deliberate and be successful with your actions and outcomes?
Thanks for considering and “uploading” Agape-oriented values (“A”) into your brain. You can’t go wrong when you incorporate then practice the activity of Love into your brain and into your life! Which leads us to “B.”
B – Balance your Brain/Body via your Nine Middle Prefrontal Cortex functions:
It’s a scientific fact that when we give our brain and body the environment, opportunity, food, and information to make good executive decisions, it usually passes with flying colors and comes through for our benefit and usually for the benefit of others as well!
Looking at and understanding how this particular part of our biology (brain, mind, and life) works and could be helped to work better, helps us to learn how we could positively and in some cases, profoundly impact the biology (brain, mind, and life) of others. This is the foundational principle behind “Interpersonal Neurobiology;” our mindful, thoughtful, intentional, deliberate and strategic actions have the capacity to create safe and secure attachments with others if we “upload, operate and live” by Agape-oriented values and behaviors that make sense to us and to others.
So Drs. Siegel and Bryson identify nine functions of your Middle Prefrontal cortex that among other things, helps us to become and remain balanced and “regulated” with our emotions, “attuned” and connected with others in meaningful and purposeful ways, and helps us in our ability to be thoughtful, intentional and successful in living by our identified values. Let’s take a look at these functions.
Nine Middle Prefrontal Cortex functions (notice how they link together to help us!)
- Body Regulation: This helps us to create and maintain balance with the “Bio-Psycho-Social-Spiritual” (Biological, Psychological, Social and Spiritual) systems in our body. When we’re physiologically balanced in our body, we position ourselves to become better at…
- Attuned Communication: Attuned communication is a result of “tuning in” to our physiology to read our internal gauges (deep-breathing helps here), then making internal adjustments immediately to create calm in the Right hemisphere of our brain, which helps us to think, create, repair, reconnect, establish and maintain harmonious connections with others in our life (which tend to be Left hemisphere and logical actions).
- Emotional Balance: Helps us to stay within our “68° – 72°” degree range of identified and constructive behaviors, that is, the values you’ve chosen to live by. When you create emotional balance in your brain and body, you’ll increase your ability to remain centered in Dr. Siegel’s “River of Integration,” (where flexibility, adaptability, coherence, and the healthy appropriation and use of your energy, in addition to stability) will help you to become successful to recall and integrate other integral and functional Adult strategies, versus becoming “shipwrecked” on the shores of Chaos or Rigidity. Emotional Balance also increases your…
- Response Flexibility: …which increases your ability to be more mindful, intentional, strategic, deliberate and inclusive in delivering “Adult” responses to others. Response flexibility is like increasing the width of the lane you’re driving in. Working to develop a broader bandwidth means you’ll develop the mental capacity to “upload, recall and put at your disposal” more value-oriented and solution-focused options regarding the issues you may be dealing with at any particular moment. It’s like adding additional tools to your toolkit, and when I think about tackling then repairing problems that may arise in life, I’m prone to be successful in my endeavor when I have a well-stocked toolkit to competently address then resolve the problems!
- Fear Modulation: The Good Book states that “there is no fear in love; perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18 – TNIV). We’re not talking about delivering perfect nor perfectionistic actions here, just your willingness and effort to identify and deliver competent, effective and value-oriented actions to others when needed. When you feel good about the actions you’re practicing, and you can see and experience the “positive payoff” because of your work, then it significantly reduces internal worry, anxiety, dread, panic, and fear. Paradoxically, reduced fear increases and reinforces our…
- Insight: That is, your ability to see, discern, intuit, be knowledgeable about, then decide what might be the “next right step” that’s appropriate for you to make for yourself and for the mutual benefit of another because the situation deserves the value-oriented response that you’re implementing. Insight helps you to “tune-in” and connect with your own thoughts and feelings, and to accurately assess and determine “how certain things could be.” If you can “tune-in” to your own thoughts and feelings and integrate your value-oriented behaviors to develop and practice skills for your own personal benefit, then you’re also able to apply this template of behavior in your interactions with others. Doing this is a skill connected to…
- Empathy: When you can tune-in to, read, reflect, then accurately report what your own thoughts and feelings are, then you’re in a position to apply and demonstrate the same skill and action(s) with others. This is called Empathy. The formal definition of Empathy was translated into English by the British Psychologist Edward B. Titchener, who stated it is achieved by “projecting yourself into what you observe,“ but it starts with Introspection. An example of Introspection is when you’re able to identify what thoughts, feelings, and needs are percolating within you, then reporting what actions have come to mind regarding how you’d like to be treated (or what value-oriented actions might remedy the situation). Then, by engaging in a role reversal, you “mirror” and apply the same process to the person that you’re with, demonstrating to them the same value-oriented behavior that you just communicated you’d like to have delivered to you. If you’re able to deliver “empathetic responses” like this, then you also open yourself up to engaging in and delivering other forms of…
- Morality: Morality occurs when Self- and other awareness helps you to understand what specific, measurable, intentional, deliberate and timely behavior is important and necessary for the situation you’re in. Typically, the practice of morality will assist and guide you to deliver a “Golden Rule” response (“Do to others what you would have them do to you” – Matt. 7:12, TNIV), again, according to the Apape-oriented values and/or virtues that make sense to you, and, that you surmise that the situation deserves. When you integrate these thought and behavioral processes into your brain, then you’re creating new and different ways to look at, address and solve the life challenges that tend to arise in life. Continual practice will help you to grow in your…
- Intuition: Intuition helps you to author, create and demonstrate new, positive, and wise methods of living, which is a reflection of your ability to reflect and consciously create functional, flexible, adaptive, coherent, energized and stable Adult outcomes. Demonstrated growth with Intuition means no one has to lecture you about what to do, nor prompt you to take actions; your brain assists you to contemplate, research, “call up” then deliver the right, reasonable, strategic and often times, the necessary response that facilitates solutions and problem resolution.
I think one of the prime benefits of loving yourself by “tuning into and (re)training your brain” to function according to your value system is that you’re identifying new, creative, positive and skilled ways of living, which is not only empowering to you, but it also helps you to replace unhealthy and dysfunctional schemas with healthier and more functionally adaptive ways of seeing yourself, your world and others in your world.
If there is one major “takeaway” from this section on helping your brain to function effectively so your relationships improve its this: When your fear center (chiefly your Amygdala) appraises you’re threatened or about to be hurt, my hope is that you’ll recall how these nine Prefrontal Cortex functions could help you because you’ve done the work to regulate (calm yourself down), so that you’re able to create a broader “Window of Tolerance.”
Your Window of Tolerance buys you the extremely necessary and critical time to make constructive and “split-second” decisions that are more in line with your value system versus decisions (or reactions) that are akin to you becoming stranded on the shores of either Chaos or Rigidity with all of the old, familiar and destructive behaviors that you’d probably prefer to avoid.
Your engagement in devising strategic plans right now will determine how successful you are when your brain “sniffs out a potential threat or smells some form of crazy in the air,” that threatens to derail your ability to carry out the “fire drill” that will not only put out the psychological fire in your head but will also assist you in creating safety for yourself and others.
So will you do the strategic planning right now, to determine what values and behavior you’ll implement when you smell or become aware of the psychological smoke of fear, and rehearse and practice your plan right now, so that you’ll not only avert a crisis but will also protect your work and the valuable home that you’re currently building?
In closing this section, as always, I have a few more questions for you:
- When you get aroused, dysregulated or “emotionally flooded,” what practical behaviors will you implement that will help you to regulate yourself, so you’re able to think about then deliver functional and loving behaviors that are a reflection of your value system?
- When you think about engaging in attuned communication with others, what identified and practiced values are more likely to keep you at the “table of communication” and in your Healthy Adult Ego state?
- What are your top ten strategic values that are “must have, best practice or gold standard” that reflect your heart, soul, strength and keep you in your “68° – 72°” constructive outcome zone?
- When ruptures occur in your relationship and repair and reconnection are called for immediately, which value will you practice to help you increase your mental bandwidth so you’re able to accomplish your objectives?
- When the “Automatic Negative Thoughts” or “A.N.T.S” begin to creep around in your brain (and deserve to be extinguished), which values when practiced will help you to recalibrate your thought process so that you’ll constructively modify your mood and your environment?
- What process (or value) helps you to calm down and quiet your mind so you’re able to regain focus, recapture your intuition and receive information from your God?
- What value-oriented behaviors are most likely to accompany an empathetic response, delivered by you to another, at the right time, in the right tone to achieve the right outcome?
- If your “neighbor” is defined as the person who is in closest proximity to you, what “Golden Rule or Good Samaritan” value-oriented response will you practice when you witness a situation that is deserving of this type of response, that is,”to love your neighbor as yourself?”
- Intuition is enhanced when you’re able to grow and become skilled in the practice of awareness, knowledge, perception, recognition, thinking, insight, understanding, consciousness and wisdom. After reading the definitions of these words (click here), which of these value(s) would you consider adding to your top 10 list of values? What outcome are you looking to achieve by practicing it (or them)?
Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions! Before we move on to the next point in the LoveWorks model, I’ll ask you to think about how you could improve your state of mind (“B”) by focusing on, practicing and letting your values and virtues (“A”) saturate your brain, your body (“B”), and your relationships (“C”). That’s right, know that most of the outcomes listed in “B” tend to be developed and utilized more effectively by practicing them in the context of your relationships (“C”), which happens to be the next “building block” in LoveWorks.
C – Connect with Yourself and with Others:
Since you’ve been encouraged to identify, implement and benefit from the use of your own Agape-oriented values to navigate through life (“A”), in addition to how the integration and application of specific values could assist your brain, mind, and body to make good, basic and sound decisions (“B”), its time to get down to work and truly apply your values in your relationships (“C”) to obtain the personal and relational benefits that could accompany your work.
From time to time I’ll share with someone in my office “let’s hot knife through butter with this point,” which means let’s cut quickly and deeply into the issues at hand that need attention.
What follows are just a few of the real-life issues that people have sought therapeutic assistance with over the past couple of weeks. As you look at a few of them, it’s quite possible that some of their issues may resonate with a few of your own:
- The creation of an empty nest as the last child is preparing to leave for college.
- A student leaving for college who’s working to identify and live by his own values.
- Starting a new job, life and relationship post-graduation from college.
- Dealing with the recent break up of a long-term relationship.
- Dealing with the recent suicide of a family friend.
- Discovery of the use of pornography and the rupture it has created in a marriage.
- The experience of relationship trauma connected to his unfaithfulness.
- A couple working through complexities connected to her emotional affair.
- A wife working to grow beyond the effect of her husband’s infidelity.
- Overcoming maladaptive schemas (fear, vulnerable to harm) related to marriage.
- Working to rebuild his marriage and his relationships with his adult children.
- Remaining goal-oriented and motivated while separated due to addictive behavior.
- Integrating relapse prevention strategies to be successful with compulsive behaviors.
- Working through issues connected to a pending divorce.
- Working through complex grief due to expulsion from a family business while going through a divorce.
- Remaining goal-oriented and motivated after being laid off from work.
The people who came to see me, who could be called “Everyman,” want to change, heal and grow through their current life predicaments and challenges, and I applaud their courage, tenacity and their perseverance to work through very complex, complicated, wearisome, traumatic, frightening and in a lot of cases, devastating life circumstances. They want (and need) to connect with someone who’ll understand, problem solve, or help them to figure out a way to unlock doors where the rooms contain their unexplored or untapped potential for real and healthy change in their life or with others of whom they’d like to connect.
As they consider creating new ways or changing how they’ll live life, I’m honored that they’ve come to me as the first point of connection. Making good connections and doing good work with Psychotherapists (that is, someone who provides Therapeuo, or “care, attention, help, service, and assistance, while “ministering” to you so you’re able to regain your strength, perspective, and direction, and be able to minister to yourself and to others in your life), is like being given a “key” to a room that helps you to rest up, rejuvenate, envision, then plan and eventually implement the next “right” steps that lead to the helpful and often necessary changes you wish to make in your life journey.
What follows is probably one of the most obvious but equally most significant points in the Choosing Change series: Often the solutions and resolutions that you may be seeking to work on in therapy for your personal or interpersonal benefit are nothing more than identifying what and how a combination of your values or “intimacy needs” that you currently aren’t receiving or aren’t getting met in your life, could be met, and experienced consistently throughout the seasons of your life journey.
That’s why developing awareness of what you need at any particular point in your life, then devising plan(s) that will be implemented (which are usually varied and very complex in nature) to help you to meet or satisfy your needs, especially if other relationships are involved (which they typically are), is so important and makes up the bulk of the work we’ll do. The beautiful thing is once you do the work to cultivate these skills that help you to cultivate this form of love in your life, then hopefully I’ll become an effectual memory from this season of your life! How’s that for you!
So if you were in my office, I need you to know that I see my temporary role in your life as one who helps you to identify (or clarify) the Agape-oriented values that you may currently need, then make good decisions to select, implement then live by the values you’ve chosen that make sense to you, especially at this critical juncture in your life. It’s always my hope that as you identify then integrate the nutrient-rich and productive values that are meaningful in your life, that you’ll connect with the fact that you’re loving yourself in healthy and constructive ways, which tends to provide helpful insight and guidance regarding how to effectively treat and deliver love to others in loving, deliberate, mindful and functional ways as well!
Sometimes when I’m talking with someone in the office, the image comes to mind where I’ll describe their situation as someone who’s in a hotel, walking down a long hall with rooms on either side. I’ll explain that your task is to find the right door, with the right key to open the door, and upon opening and entering that room, you’ll be able to acquire or receive the precious and nutritious “intimacy needs” (another term for the Agape-oriented values) that will assist, satisfy or rejuvenate your self.
These same items or Agape-oriented values and virtues that you locate in the room will help you to look at, connect with, understand and love yourself because more than likely your first step in your healing and growth process is to unlock your own potential to care for and attend to your own wants and needs.
Then, we’ll talk about how the practice of your “top 10” Agape-oriented values (Question # 3 in the previous “B” section) are for your benefit first, and if done consistently, is like a key that has your values indelibly cut into it, while simultaneously removing unhelpful character defects from it.
The idea is that once you identify what could be your core Agape-oriented values that help you to open doors to access intimacy need fulfillment consistently, that you’ll not only integrate and practice these values daily but they will become an essential part of your character development. Like a key that’s unalterable after it’s been cut, the practice of your identified values are here to stay and when put into operation, will help you to access insight, love, connection, resolution, compassion, and any other intimacy need that you deem is necessary for your life and your relationships. It goes without saying that the continued practice of your core Agape-oriented values that heal not only will affect healing but will also translate into trustworthiness. This is why LoveWorks, because Love Works (hard, consistently, diligently, compassionately and maturely!).
So as you choose your top ten Agape-oriented values that you’d like to integrate into your life because they’ll be personally and interpersonally helpful in your effort to connect with yourself and with others, I’d just like for you to remember one thing: the key has to fit the lock.
What I mean by this is that in order to create repair, attunement and to connect or reconnect effectively with another person, the ridges or raised edges on the key symbolize that you’ve identified and integrated basic “go to” Agape-oriented values that are useful, noticeable and are appropriate to the situation you’re in (that is, you’ve intuited or discerned that you need to demonstrate Empathy, Understanding, Compassion, Tenderness, Trustworthiness, etc. right now because that’s what’s needed in the situation that you’re in right now).
Equally, the low points on the key symbolize that you’ve identified the character defects that won’t work for you and others because they impede, obscure and block your ability to effectively connect with others. Like a defective key that’s not cut well, they serve no useful purpose other than to hinder your ability to open doors (especially doors of the heart), which leaves everyone involved frustrated, irritated and exasperated, which is sure to increase rather than resolve interpersonal conflict!
You’ve heard me say earlier, “Love Works” the best, because Love, as appropriately applied in the right situation, tends to effect the correct and appropriate outcomes. So select the Agape-oriented values that you’ll “cut” or integrate into your life, that helps you to take care of yourself, as well as to smoothly open doors to enjoy a connection with others. Here’s a visual with a few questions for you to consider:
Another word about Consistency (as well as the values of Reliability, Dependability, Predictability). The application of these values is important because when you practice your Agape-oriented values repetitively, you’re not only helping yourself to make better connections with others, but the application of these values is key (no pun intended) to rebuilding trust and establishing trustworthiness.
Equally, know that the more you identify, implement and operate by your Agape-oriented values, you’re also making and establishing new neural connections in your brain, to which Dr. Siegel’s research has shown that “the cells that fire together wire together,” which is a point that we’ll look closer at in point “E.”
For now, it’s important to strategically focus on the values that are important to you and to etch and integrate them into your day-to-day behavior. The consistent practice of living by your values not only help you to connect with others in meaningful ways but it will also help you to open other critical doors as you go forward on your life journey!
So take steps to take care of yourself. I think Dr. Siegel would encourage you to “pay attention to yourself, your needs and the needs of your partner in order to move forward with intention,” that is, strategically, deliberately and therapeutically planning the “next right steps” that you’ll take as you return to the hall, which I like to call the “Hall of Possibilities.”
Returning back to the Hall of Possibilities means you’re ready to tackle more challenges in your life journey. Re-entry tends to be easier because the application of your values has helped you to sharpen your vision, develop essential life-skills, acquire necessary “supplies” to sustain life and become competent in opening a door or two.
When these skills, gifts, and abilities are present, we tend to experience hope, because our Hall of Frustration and Despair has transformed (because of our efforts and possibly due to the contribution of others) into a Hall of Possibility, and wherever possibility resides, you’ll tend to find hope in close proximity.
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” – Romans 5:3-5 (TNIV)
So I have a few more comments and questions as we sum up and close section “C”:
- Life will always present you with issues that vary in the amount of challenge, intensity, and complexity, and good psychotherapy could help you to develop skills to discern and become aware of the specific door(s) that could lead to the (partial or) fulfillment of your needs sooner than later. Keep in mind, that just when you think you’ve gotten through one door successfully, there tends to be another door that presents new challenges (and opportunities) in your life journey, and you’ll want and need to be able to use your skills to move through those doors successfully as well. Your task here is to use your resources and accept that your journey may be longer and may require a greater level of commitment and patience than you currently have. It’s not impossible to get to where you need to go, but you may need to row in the “River of Integration” longer than you’d like before you reach your next checkpoint to pick up more supplies. What do you need now, that will be helpful later or in your near future? Help yourself (and others) by taking the time to develop those nurturing, edifying and stabilizing intimacy needs now.
- You may wish to create a Master Key, that’s etched with Love. I’d like to suggest that your progress could be much easier if you “cut a Master Key” that is, a key that is cut with a few of your basic but “permanent” Agape-oriented values into it. In my personal and professional experience, I’ve realized that Love, in addition to other values such as Courage, Patience, Empathy, Understanding, Compassion, Integrity, Mercy, Support, Acceptance, Peace and Devotion will open more doors without difficulty if these values are “indelibly cut into the grooves” of your heart and life. Your task here is to develop a key like this and observe how many doors you’re able to open as you utilize values like these.
- Remember it’s “A” plus “B” that helps you with “C”: Identifying, applying, and consistently practicing values that create Safety, (re)build trust, facilitate transparency, promote emotional regulation and containment, heal trauma and deliver empathy are a few of the keys that you’ll want to create and keep close by because you’ll probably need to use them frequently, especially when you’re faced with serious issues like those mentioned earlier in this section. Your task here is to develop then discern which “Middle Prefrontal Cortex” key (point “B” above”) will fit the door of your own mind to regulate your own emotions, so that you don’t get mired in Chaos nor stuck in Rigidity, but will help you to move fluidly and eventually effortlessly through the challenges in your life because you’ve integrated and are living by skilled values that yield self-help and containment.
- Sometimes some halls have multiple doors, and some doors may have multiple locks. This is where your “A” + “B” Agape-oriented values that you’ve taken the time to study and integrate into your life will help you to discern where do I need to go (what direction, what steps, what needs are arising), do I need assistance (go it “alone” or with counsel, or with whom), what do I need to do now (take a break, rest then, resume my work), or, how best to proceed (inquire; become curious and not furious in your communication). Your task here is to accept that some if not all of your life-situations have complexity and require unique, varied and diverse responses from you in order for you to be successful as the challenges arise in your life.
A few more questions for you as we close out this section:
- What doors do you need to go through (or issues you need to address) because they’re in your life-journey and you can no longer avoid them? What feelings or fears do you have about entering them, and what identified and applied values (i.e. Courage, Collaboration, Support) could help you to gain access and proceed dauntlessly?
- What other “rooms or doors” might you consider stopping at, where you’ll either create or discover skills or values that will help you to develop internal strength, problem resolution, and relationship enhancement?
- What values would help to remedy or heal the current situation you’re in? Which ones do you envision then need to apply to make the outcome personally or mutually beneficial?
- What are your top 10 Agape-oriented values that you need to indelibly cut into your life so that these become a part of your unalterable character?
- If modeled consistently, how do you see your situation and/or relationships changing? What is the impact or goal that you’re trying to reach or achieve with others?
- As a result of applying your values, what “illumination” or enhanced insight, is helping you to see hope and solutions in your “Hall of Possibilities?”
- Are these Agape-oriented values a part of your day-to-day experience, in that they’re clearly seen and experienced in the “Living Room and Dining Room” of your life, or where most of your interpersonal connections are made? If so, what impact are you seeing, what healing is being affected and what growth is taking place?
- What “key or applied value(s)” may need a little work, that is, the “sanding or shaping” of your thoughts and behavior in order to create better connections with others, in your effort to unlock possible outcomes on the other side of the door and…
- What specific items do you expect to locate on the other side of the door that could be of great use to you (items like patience, recovery, containment, flexibility, serenity, choice, etc.)? What other potentials and possibilities have you unlocked for yourself, given the life issues that you’re currently working on?
- What else might you need to acquire that will adequately equip yourself for your life journey, given the particular juncture or location you’re at in your life?
Finally, as much as we’re capable of creating positive and constructive change within and by ourselves, our work to experience a positive and constructive state of mind is greatly enhanced when we involve others in our growth and maturation process. Involving others in our growth, maturation and change process helps us to use our neurobiology (our mind and brain) to positively and mutually impact their neurobiology (their mind, brain, and our relationships). This is one of the primary goals of Dr. Siegal’s interpersonal neurobiology model.
We are relational beings, and our brain develops and “learns” to function effectively when we do our own internal work and because we’ve connected with others who are safe, secure, creative, supportive, and respectful. In other words, connecting with others who are living by their positive and identified virtues and values!
This is never truer than when we’ve identified our dysfunctional and maladaptive schemas, schema modes, defenses and distortions, and/or try to overcome traumatic experiences from our past (or present). We need others who are able to validate our hurt, pain, loneliness and our reality, but who will also call us on our “B.S.” but will be patient with us while we work diligently to change our personal narrative about ourselves!
The Twelve-Step community knows this all too well, as they encourage us to develop safe, supportive and loving relationships with our God, ourselves and with other human beings, who hear us and help us to eliminate and replace confusing, painful and damaging narratives in our lives with constructive, connected, purposeful and empowering narratives for us to live by, one sentence, one paragraph, one page and one chapter at a time.
No matter what has been “written and read” about us in the previous chapter(s) of our lives, today, when we identify, integrate then elect to live by our Agape-oriented values, we move into a process of authoring a new, exciting, and purpose-filled “chapter two” for our life! These newer narratives are the new story that we get to envision, create for ourselves, write and upload into our brain for it to recall and demonstrate in a moment’s notice when we need to come to our own assistance or to the assistance of others whose lives that we wish to positively impact.
Equally, these new narratives become possible because we have the taken steps and risks to open ourselves up to be impacted by others whose “state of mind” is loving, caring, thoughtful, safe, secure and functional. Exchanging “life energy” with someone or a group of people who demonstrate love like this is empowering and spiritually uplifting.
Irvin Yalom documents the “curative benefits” that we experience in the context of working with others (especially in group psychotherapy), a few of which are imparting information, installation of hope, self-understanding and interpersonal learning.
Final questions in this section (I promise!):
- What do I need? What do I need from others? What do they need from me?
- How could an encounter or a relationship with someone in a 12-Step group or group psychotherapy help me to experience change, healing, and growth? How could I help them?
- What vision of myself and who I wish (and am committed to becoming) has come into focus as a result of my encounters with others?
- If the principle of “iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” is true (Proverbs 27:17, TNIV), then how am I becoming a better man or woman?
- What valuable life-skills have I developed that are helpful? What life-skills do I need to develop, to become maturer and fruitful in my actions with others?
I encourage you to reflect, meditate, pray, ponder, deliberate about and think through how your application of all the suggestions in section “C” could help you to love yourself, love your neighbor as yourself, “cut keys” and rewrite your personal narrative with the assistance of other healthy people who could help you to generate and facilitate love and other skills in your life and in theirs!
Don’t wait too long, just do it (“D”)!
D – Demonstrate (or Discuss) what Loving behaviors are appropriate:
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” – Colossians 3:23 – 24 (TNIV)
When you’ve identified the Agape-oriented values, virtues, mores, ethics, principles and processes (“A”) that help you to “do the next right thing,” whether the next right thing is engaging in and applying loving and functional behavior within yourself to improve your state of mind (“B”), or to lovingly and functionally impact the brain of others (what the authors call “Interpersonal Neurobiology,” point “C” in the section above), then I simply encourage you to demonstrate (“D”) your good values with intentional, strategic, deliberate and consistent actions. Wait for it now, “Just do it.”
Up to this point, we’ve been talking about you developing your own LoveWorks process that you’ll benefit from as it is implemented. It’s my hope that your engagement in a process like this has cultivated some form of change, growth, and fruitfulness in your life, and when you produce fruit, the next logical step is to share it.
Sharing your Agape-oriented values has many benefits for you and for others. First, as you develop and practice your values, I trust you’ll probably develop feelings of competency, self-satisfaction, and perhaps at some point even joy, as your hard work is paying off and you’re glad about the personal growth you’re experiencing.
Second, it goes without saying that when your brain is firing on all cylinders and you feel good about your own progress, then you’ll similarly impact the brain of others, because if you’re demonstrating fruitful behavior in your own life then others who come into your presence will also receive and benefit from what you’re producing!
What follows is a simple strategy to gauge your effectiveness when you implement and elect to live by your Agape-oriented values. No matter what value you’re developing, practicing or imparting into the mind(s) of others, you’ll always want to be mindful of what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, how you’re doing it and if you’ve accomplished what you originally set out to achieve.
When incorporated into your encounters with others, I’d like to suggest to you the “S – T – A – R” principle to help you achieve these objectives. The S – T – A – R principle is based on a couple of questions to think about, followed up with your engagement in a couple of actions to create the behavior and the outcomes that you’re targeting.
The S – T – A – R Principle
When faced with any situation, the first point in the S – T – A – R principle prompts you to pause and ask yourself…
S – Stop: “What’s the appropriate action I need to demonstrate now?”
Whenever you’re intentionally, deliberately and mindfully reflecting on what you want or need to achieve, ask yourself “what’s the best way to achieve it, and which of your values when applied will help you to accomplish or bring resolution to the situation you’re in?” When you pause to practice the spiritual discipline of reflection, introspection or contemplation in your attempt to gain additional insight into your thoughts or behaviors prior to engaging in action, you’re doing the right thing.
Per Dr. Siegel, pausing helps to increase our awareness, and increased awareness helps us to focus our attention to be “Curious, Open, Accepting and Loving,” or “C-O-A-L,” which Dr. Siegel stated is the essence of mindfulness and is another skill that will help us to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes for ourselves and with others.
T – Think: “What does the situation deserve?”
Being mindful helps us to remain open to (self-) knowledge, relevant data and valuable information that the “mirror neurons” in our brain use to help us notice what others may be feeling or thinking, which helps us to accurately assess then deliver the appropriate words or actions that are specific to the situation we’re in. This is one of the ways we demonstrate Empathy, and, it helps to broaden our “Response Flexibility,” which helps our brain to recall or create adaptive responses versus default to narrow, reactive or maladaptive responses.
Keep in mind that the key (or application of your specific values) that worked last week to resolve a particular issue may not fit a similar lock this time. You may need to apply different values or virtues because the situation, person, personality or inherent challenges that you’re currently facing deserve the demonstration of different, constructive or creative approaches to achieve your outcomes.
A – Act: Do or implement the Action (the next right thing)
When you’ve sized up the situation, the next right thing to do is to act and apply the value that you’ve assessed that the situation deserves. Don’t worry about being perfect, or procrastinating yourself into paralysis, which leads to inaction. Give yourself permission to go with your head, gut and heart knowledge and act, and if you’re a little off with your response then the recipient will let you know, which means you may need to “sand your key” a bit further to ensure you’ll create a “smoother opening of the heart.”
You’ll want to remember that what helps to create new connections and “re-wiring” in your brain is to engage in and practice the constructive actions that make sense to you, are part of your new narrative and value system, and define what’s important to you and how you wish to live, especially as you desire to create functional, attuned and cohesive relationships with others (“C”). Just practice it, apply it, and do it, and you’ll get better!
R – Review: Ask yourself “Am I satisfied with the outcome?” If you are, then good; you’ve accomplished what you set out to achieve. If not, then Stop… and immediately repeat the “S – T – A – R” technique until you’re relatively satisfied with your outcome (and you receive feedback from your partner that (s)he is pleased with the outcome too!).
Remember that the “E” in the “A-C-T-I-V-E” model calls for us to Evaluate our behavior and outcomes. Ask yourself “Did I do the right thing? Did I leave anything out? Do I need to improve my delivery/behavior or response? Did the key fit the lock? Did I say things that brought me closer to my partner or further away from them?
A good barometer that helps me to know that I’m satisfied with my outcomes is when I realize I’m applying Agape-oriented values that are within my “68º – 72º degree range of behaviors. When these values are a part of my disposition, thinking process and behavior, then my application of the S – T – A – R principle has served me well.
I’ve found that engaging in actions like this with others helps me to create and facilitate optimal environments where their (and my) state of mind is helped to thrive! This is especially important as we consider our relationships, especially our marital and parenting relationships. Equally, I don’t give myself permission to vilify, view with contempt, nor character assassinates those that I say “I love you” to. I’ve realized that really isn’t the best way for me to use my brain energy!
In closing this section I’d like for you to “finish well” as you apply the LoveWorks model. What I mean by this is that I’d like for you to develop the endurance to keep going and not give up on cultivating the love that you want for yourself and for your relationships. To accomplish this, you may have to develop Endurance to go the “extra mile” as you labor to produce worthwhile outcomes and to finish the course you’re currently moving through. But allow me to say a word about Endurance.
The Greek word for our English word “Endurance” is “Hupomenos.” Hupomenos is a compound word that is a combination of “Hupo” (“Under”) + “Menos” (“Remain”). It’s actually a “sister” word that’s used interchangeably with another Greek word “Makrothymeo,” which is our English word Patience, but the gist of the word encourages you to remain in your process, and not give up.
Makrothymeo involves exercising understanding and patience toward persons; Hupomenos involves being patient toward things or circumstances (like the one that you might currently be in!). Makrothymeo suggests a refusal to retaliate; Hupomenos is a refusal to be defeated, beaten, conquered or worn out. Both virtues are essential in the production of fruitfulness in one’s life as well as in the development of character that could be of great use to you.
I mention this because it may take a certain measure of Endurance for you to stay in the race that you’re in, and to remain engaged in it through to its natural completion. I’ve run in many arduous races in my life, and four of them have actually been on the road (I’ve had the privilege to run in and complete four marathons).
If I can pass along any bit of advice from my experience, it may be that your current situation may be akin to running a marathon (a distance of 26.2 miles). In your current race, which may feel like you’re running the distance of a marathon, you’ll probably get tired and you may wish to drop out of your race, but I’d like for you to consider a few points that could make a difference in your current (and possibly future) situation(s).
“In a marathon, you need to learn how to deal with pain. When I’m really pushing through pain, my mind cannot tell me to stop. It tells me to maintain because I know where there is pain there is success” – Eliud Kipchoge in ESPN’s “Endurance.” Kipchoge is the only person who has completed a marathon in 2:00:25.
Dealing with pain is an understatement when you’re running a marathon, however, if you run the race well, you may find that you’ll eliminate unnecessary pain or suffering. How could this occur? Allow me to talk about those points!
Do you remember this picture? It’s a picture of my safe place that I wrote about in Choosing Change #1: Safe People, Safe Places, and Safe Processes. I mention it here because yes, the practice of the principles written about in the Choosing Change #1 post will be of service to you as you consider running in and completing your race effectively. However, I’m also displaying it here because this was the starting point of my long-distance practice runs as I trained for the Los Angeles marathons that I competed in.
As you could imagine I learned a lot about myself, my life, life in general and how to run a legitimate race as I ran through the beach cities of LA county. Open to feedback? Here are a few things that I learned:
- It goes without saying that when you’re engaged in a long distance run, you’ll want to pace yourself. In a race of this distance, sprinting, fast starts and not using your energy wisely will hasten your demise as you use up valuable energy that you’ll need later in your race. There is no immediate gratification with a marathon, and likewise, with the situation you may be in, there may not be a quick resolution to your situation, so you’ll want to develop patience, especially with the people who hopefully are cheering you on toward your monumental goals! Where might you need to rethink how you are (mis)using your energy? What will you do differently? The old saying is true: “The steam that blows the whistle doesn’t do the work.”
- If by chance you don’t have anyone cheering you on (there were many solitary early morning runs where I’d be lucky to see someone on the bike path), then you’re going to have to find a way to motivate yourself. My inspiration came from prayer, listening to good music, having a front row seat to witness God’s handiwork in the form of dolphins, seagulls, pelicans, the beautiful colors of the ocean, sand and sky and of course being in awe of the power, sound and beauty of the ocean. What and where might you draw inspiration to help you on long, solitary and what could be “darker” and lonelier stretches of your journey?
- Engaging in other spiritual disciplines such as reflection, meditation, silence, contemplation, and solitude not only helped to quell the negative self-talk that urged me to quit running, but the practice of these disciplines helped to focus and strengthen my mind. This proved to be invaluable because at some point the race becomes a mental exercise to overcome fatigue in the body, and I needed my body to “cash a check that was written by my mind” in order to accomplish my goals. What are the spiritual disciplines that you might think about practicing regularly that could assist you to maintain your focus and overcome sabotaging yourself?
- Try to achieve body, mind and spirit balance in your effort and in your actions. This could be TMI, but I’ll never forget in my fourth marathon, which happened to be my fastest (and last) one, I didn’t need to use the restroom until the 23rd mile, which was also the first time I stopped running. Even though I took in fluids each mile to hydrate myself, I achieved a balance with fluid intake and sweat output such that I didn’t need to relieve myself. In your race, what “hydration and nutrients” are you taking into your system which helps you to remain fueled and able to keep going without growing weary? Hydrate and edify yourself wisely. You have a long race ahead of you.
- When mental fatigue did set in, I focused on the goals ahead of me. Literally. The towers of the Hyperion Water Reclamation plant were three miles into my training run on Dockweiler Beach. I remember when I looked down at the ground when I was running, then looked up at the towers, it always seemed like my initial goal that I was trying to reach was far off in the distance. I noticed that I became discouraged and engaged in negative self-talk because it seemed that it was taking a long for me to reach my goal. I eventually “changed my strategy” and focused solely on my goal, which meant I ran with my head up without looking down. Changing my focus helped me to feel more confident in my activity and simultaneously helped me to extinguish the negative self-talk and recrimination. So after the towers, my goal was the Manhattan Beach Pier, then the Hermosa Beach Pier, then the Redondo Beach Pier, then the hills of Palos Verdes. When I kept my eyes focused on my goals, I experienced success which helped me to overcome the triggered “Failure” schema. What goals are you focusing on? Is your strategy helping you to overcome your obstacles or feel overwhelmed? Would you consider a change in strategy? What change will you make?
- As much of the race created mental and physical challenges, it was the spiritual part that helped me to be victorious. Repeating the simple prayer from Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” and other scriptures helped me to keep going when my mind and body wanted me to quit. I don’t think it’s a mistake, coincidence nor random choice that the picture above is of my safe place. Asking God to help me in times when I couldn’t go on, and then seeing God come through for me makes that geographic (but also mental due to my memory) a safe and sacred place in my life. Do you have a safe place in your life where your God shows up and inspires, guides, uplifts, provides answers and motivates you to take the next right steps in your life? Where and what is it?
- Celebrate your accomplishments: In my training, I received and felt gratitude because I got to run where the scenery and panorama of nature were spectacular. During the marathons, I took in all of the positive energy from those who came out to cheer us on toward our goal. After the race, I celebrated by eating pizza, which I swore off while I was running, usually with family and friends who were part of my accomplishment. How do you celebrate your achievement and accomplishments, no matter how inconsequential or significant?
- The most important thing I learned about running marathons? I learned how to run a long distance race, and most importantly, how to finish strong. My last marathon brought me my fastest time, because I learned, integrated and applied skills and strategies over the years of my life that helped me to keep going, never give up, pace myself, keep my eye on my goals, listen to my coaches, who helped me to “finish and finish well.” What have you learned up to this point in your life that has helped you to finish well with the short-term, moderate and long-term goals and objectives you have for yourself and your relationships?
“My name is Nicolas Korir. I’m of 27 years. I always have one thing in my mind: Fighting Spirit. If you see maybe there’s another hill here, some obstacle, don’t give up. I have that feeling with my heart. I fight and then I get” – Nicolas Korir, Kenyan long-distance runner.
“Breaking 2 (Nike sponsored marathon) will be in the history books. It will be remembered forever because I have actually demonstrated that there is no human who has limitation. You are not limited at all” – Eliud Kipchoge, Kenyan long-distance runner
So the outcome of identifying, “uploading” and applying Agape-oriented values (“A”) so that you’re able to visualize, integrate and demonstrate adaptive and functional behaviors, as processed in your in your brain, body (“B”) and relationships (“C”), helps you to not only create a positive and constructive state of mind, but it also helps you to become more competent and proficient in your demonstrated actions (“D”) with others.
But there’s one more letter and outcome that accompanies your engagement in mindful, intentional, strategic and deliberate actions.
E – Empowering and “Epigenetic” Environments:
Research has shown that the more you do this “A – B – C – D” type work, the more you’ll feel encouraged and empowered due to the state of mind you’ve created for yourself and due to the healthier functioning in your relationships.
You should also know that by continued repetition of these mental processes, you’re creating new connections, “linkages” and what Dr. Siegel defines as “long-term potentiation in your brain (and since others are involved, in their brains too!) that prior to your engagement in working with Love in this manner, may not have been established.
This is the Epigenetic part of LoveWorks. Epigenetic (“Epigenesis”) is a biological term that means “above genetics.” It refers to a process where the DNA within our genes in our body is “turned on or off” (modified) due to some external causation or action.
Dr. Siegel described how these neurobiological connections within the brain (especially within the Prefrontal Cortex), are critical for our self-regulation and emotional balance, are “turned on” due to our learning (“A” + “B”) and due to the constructive and positive experiences we create with others (“C” + “D”). The longer we integrate and operate with our newer values, the more we strengthen neural patterns of firing within our brain so that we’re likely to repeat these new patterns of behaviors.
This is exciting because it means if we do our job to live by our own LoveWorks strategies that we’ve created for ourselves, then we position ourselves to overcome traumas from our past, and we position ourselves to create opportunities to convert that which we envision into a reality. Learning, especially in the context of constructive relationships, per Drs. Siegel and Bryson, will help our brain cells to “fire and rewire, which leads to inspiring” outcomes!
So in closing this post, it’s my hope that you’ve gained some insight into how you could create, experience and benefit from the healthy expressions of love that you’ve cultivated for yourself and to be shared therapeutically with others. Remember, by simply…
A – Identifying and living by your chosen Agape-oriented values, you could…
B – Impact your “Brain and Biology” to powerfully guide you to create…
C – Healthy and beneficial connections within and beyond yourself, that guide you to…
D – Do the next right thing, because when you live by your values consistently, you’re…
E – Empowering your brain and reinforcing behaviors that prove LoveWorks!
(Please note, I originally began and posted a shorter version of “Changing your Mind with LoveWorks” on July 4, 2018; In closing this post, I’d like to finish with what I wrote on that day – here it is):
“In closing this post (on July 4th), I’m reminded of Katy Perry’s song “Fireworks.” Even though some of us will see fireworks in a few hours, what inspires me are her lyrics that speak about us achieving our potential as human beings, to “ignite our light and let it shine,” no matter how dark life appears to be. Take a listen and have a great 4th and remember, to create a better state of mind, let love work in you! Take us out Katy!”
Make sure you read Changing your Mind in the River of Integration which is a companion to this post and to Choosing Change #11: Building Character and Building People!
Thanks for visiting drkenmcgill’s blog! As time permits, please visit the other blogs written by Dr Ken McGill: Daily Bread for Life and “3 – 2 – 5 – 4 – 24” for additional information that could be helpful.
I welcome your comments below or via email and your favorites, your retweets and your “+1’s” if you have a brief moment and find the information helpful. Again, it’s my desire to provide the very best info for your consideration.
Dr. Ken McGill