Wednesday, April 30, 2008

PSA wednesday

How often do you say,

"That's so gay" ?

Think its okay?

Not after PSA Wednesday:

Read three more essays on the offensiveness of "You're so gay" here.

Monday, April 28, 2008

just do it - talk to yourself

Professional athletes get advice from personal coaches and sports psychologists. A few weekend warriors do too, but most of us can't afford such a luxury. Try convincing your health insurance company of the medical necessity of improving your serve.

I'm lucky in that I get to take my own personal psychologist along with me to every tennis match. Some days she sleeps on the job. But lately I've been getting my money's worth. I've actually been practicing what I preach: Focus. Breathe. Plan. Positive self-talk. Win.

You can bring along your own personal coach too. If you follow Nike's three little words: Just Do It.

Do what, exactly? Here are a few of the tools of the sport psychology trade, basics that can help bring out your best performance:

1. Positive self-talk. Remember the Little Engine that Could? He was one smart little locomotive. He was using positive self talk. The rules of self talk that I recommend are The Three P's: Keep it Positive, in the Present, and Personal.

*Keep it Positive means giving myself encouragement. Saying nice things to myself instead of negative criticisms. But it also means telling myself what I want to do (sink this putt), instead of what I want not to do (don't miss this putt); telling myself what my plan is (move forward) instead of what I'm afraid I'll do (plant my feet). And positive talk is telling myself encouraging messages: "This jump shot will be nothing but net" instead of "Don't hit the backboard this time."

*Keep It in the Present means talking in the now, not the later, and definately not in the past. The most common mistake I see my partners make and hear in my own head is talking about our last mistake, our failed strategy, our goofs and our lost points. "What is wrong with me today?" "Here I go again." "What is my problem?!" Instead, decide what you are going to do next. What you will do to improve on the next shot. "I will breathe and I will keep my eye on the ball." Change it from, "I don't know why I did that!" to "I can do this." "I am turning this around NOW." "The game starts here."

*Keep it Personal means simply, use "I" language. People often talk to themselves using "you" statements. "You need to focus!" But replacing "you" with "I" helps your brain follow through better. Its that simple. When your brain hears "you" it doesn't always respond. It thinks you're talking to someone else. It tends to be a better listener when it hears "I can do this." "I will hit straight down the fairway." "I will hit a line drive." "I can win this point."

Here are several examples of the do's and don'ts of self talk:

DON'T: "Oh no. We're going to lose."
DO: "I can win."

DON'T: "Watch me double fault."

DO: "I am going to put this serve in the box."

DON'T: "Don't look up."
DO: "Keep my head down."

DON'T: "Why did I DO that?!"
DO: "I can put the ball where I want it."

DON'T: "Stop being so tense!"
DO: "Breathe. Stay loose. Shake it out."

DON'T: "Do not hit the ball so hard!"
DO: "Nice and easy. Keep the ball in play."

2. Absolutely no name calling. This includes telling yourself, "I'm such a LOSER," asking yourself, "Why are you so STUPID?" or the eloquent, "You SUCK!!" This kind of talk is the best way to guarantee your worst performance. So drop the negative labels, period. Clear your head. Look ahead to your next move. Look at your raquet. Ever notice how often professional tennis players look at the strings of their raquets between points? They've been coached to use their strings as a visual focus point. Look at my raquet - clear my head - let that last point go - what am I going to do next?

Focus on something else, anything else. A strategy. A game plan. It doesn't have to be a complicated one. Sometimes my strategy is simply, "keep my eye on the ball... eye on the ball... eye on the ball." Preferably something pleasant. Refer back to #3.

Almost anything is better than beating yourself up.

3. Breathe. Full inhales followed by long, full empty-your-lungs exhales. This helps relax and loosen your muscles. Relaxed muscles work better. When you are tight, your serve will make a bee-line for the net, your free throw will fall short, your baseball bat will swing and miss. So before each swing, serve, foul shot or chip shot, breathe.

One breathing strategy: Exhale as you make contact with the ball. Do you wonder why Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova grunt so loud when they hit the ball? This is a way of breathing, or forcing an exhale, upon contact. It helps them hit the ball harder and improves their accuracy. Again, the muscles will follow the brain's intent better when the muscles are loose.

4. Visualize. I admit, this is my least favorite exercise. I'm not good at visualizing. I have trouble holding an image in my mind, let alone seeing myself doing a sequence of things. But I'm working on it. Because it works.

Many have heard of the landmark visualization study. It was conducted at the University of Chicago. Researchers divided basketball players into three groups: those who practiced free throws, those who visualized themselves making free throws, and those who did nothing. The group who visualized improved as much as those who practiced. The group who did nothing, as expected, did no better.

Studies have repeatedly shown that the brain does not know the difference between what you imagine and what you're actually doing. If I visualize myself hitting the ball the correct way, my brain makes neurological changes as if I AM doing it the correct way. Pathways that help me "Just Do It" next time. Does it get any easier than this? Improving without lifting a finger?

5. Smile. Enjoy yourself. One of my favorites is to look up, focus on the beautiful blue sky, smile as I think about what a wonderful feeling this is, being outside, away from my desk, away from housework, playing my favorite sport. Life is good.

So it turns out, you can be lucky, too. The best instructor, the best coach, and the best psychologist resides right inside your own head. So bring her along and Just Do it.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

peeps, yo

Because it did not feel like Easter back in March and it feels like Easter weekend now, here are some peep shows. My favorite is Amy Winepeep. I wanna go to her Rehab.
And to think, a few short weeks ago I had to ask my friend who was knitting peeps, what the heck a peep was.

Monday, April 21, 2008

man talk

It seems like a day does not go by in my office without hearing the lament, "He won't tell me how he's feeling!" or "How can I get him to talk to me?" And if I don't hear it in the office, I hear it at home, in my own head.

Likewise, male clients, in my experience, present more of a challenge than female clients because "He won't tell me how he's feeling!" So take comfort women: it isn't you. He won't even tell his therapist how he's feeling.

And of course, the all important disclaimer. Not "all" men fall into this feelings-communication paradigm. Just as not all women are comfortable sharing their feelings.

Its amazes me, though, the variety of ways so many men dodge stating how a distressing incident made them feel. It also amazes me how persistent I am in the unlikely pursuit of extracting such a deeply rooted male taboo.

"That's a thinking statement, Mr. Client. Remember, I'm asking you to focus on how the event made you feel. We're looking for a feelings label."

Occasionally we get there, but pretty frequently we don't and I'm left scratching my head.

On my better days I rely on the work of Deborah Tannen, a linguistics professor at Georgetown University. When I read her book, "You Just Don't Understand," a light bulb bigger tan Dallas lit up. Ah. So that's why.

Tannen studied communication patterns in males and females and concluded, "For males, conversation is the way you negotiate your status in the group and keep people from pushing you around; you use talk to preserve your independence. Females, on the other hand, use conversation to negotiate closeness and intimacy; talk is the essence of intimacy, so being best friends means sitting and talking. For boys, activities, doing things together, are central. Just sitting and talking is not an essential part of friendship. They're friends with the boys they do things with."

So often women use language to get closer, to connect, to relate. Men most reliably use language to establish their independence and know-how, to set themselves off from others.

With a fervor akin to a sales rush at Filene's, many women engage in what Tannen calls "troubles talk." Picture yourself having lunch with one of your closest friends. How long does it take you to confide what is bothering you? Before the server brings out the water? We almost can't wait to get at the heart of our troubles.

Now picture your man and his friend. How long does it take for them to get beyond talk of sports, work and lawncare? And what is it about this sports talk, this exchanging of scores and stats. What does this serve? Tannen says it's a form of establishing status and dominance. Here's what I know about the high status team. Here's the player I admire, the team I like, who I think will win. I'm on the side of winners.

So back to the man on the couch. I have to reach for something different. Focus more on what he can do differently, what his plan of action will be. How he's been successful in similar situations in the past. What his strengths are. Let go of the feelings talk, at least until I gain more traction.

And that's what I suggest to many of my women clients (and my slow learning married self). Understand that often, a man's communication style is fundamentally different from ours. More importantly, respect it. Respect that troubles talk and feelings talk isn't something he's going to be good at. Certainly not something he's going to be eager to do.
Years of patience, practice and concrete examples of how you want him to respond to you, these are your best bet (depressing, I know). I've seen brain scan research that supports the notion that the male brain does not have near as many or as rich connections between the language center and the emotional center. So when they get emotional? They don't feel all fired up to talk about it. Often they want to distance from people, get their feelings under control, and then go hit some golf balls. Or mow the lawn. Or pop open a cold beer and watch the game. The Men Are From Mars guy called this "going into his cave." Whatever. He's not letting us in. He doesn't want his feelings on parade.

Ask me how I know this. It took me a long time, and a reading of Tannen, no, several readings of Tannen and a few bangs of the head against the brick wall to finally figure out I may as well have been asking for something in ANSI/ISO SQL programming language. You know how you ask your computer tech friend why you keep getting those virtual memory messages? And then he answers (because it's almost always a "he," isn't it?), you knod in feigned understanding, and then go home and call Computer Geek anyway? Well, its like that. He doesn't "get it." If Tannen's work has merit, and I believe it does (wish she was wrong) he's not going to like it at all if you insist he stumble around in a coversational domain in which he has little competence. In a language he can't establish dominance in. Instead he may just turn the Astros game up louder.

So if you're aiming for more quality talk with your man, start out with conversations he is comfortable with. Ask what he did today at his job. What basketball team he thinks is going to dominate in the NBA championship. How he is going to conquer his nemesis, the grass fungus.

Typically it's you and your women friends that have the need for troubles talk, not him. So help yourself fulfill your need with a receptive audience, your girlfriends, and often. Prioritize get togethers and phone calls. Take walks and go to lunch. Write in your journal. Email. Blog. Blog some more.

For a longer summary of Tannen's book, read here.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

hillary and the nonconvertible truth

I heard her apology the other night on the televised Philadephia debate. Which was good of her to offer and I accept it readily. Because I know that as years go by, the details get a little fuzzy. And generally, we like to reminisce about things in a way that improves the story.

I've been thinking about this from the start of this Bosnia Blunder. A recent email from a friend illustrates my point perfectly. She was recalling a time when she flew down to visit me from NYC where she lived at the time. We took a long drive out in the Texas Hill Country, winding up in Luckenbach. The place that Waylon Jennings made famous in the song by the same name. Her email said,

"Thinking back on see'n Willie [Nelson] in Luckenbach... Remember we drove Sam's big 'ole convertible?"

Two minor points.

1. The car wasn't a convertible. It was a '57 Ford Fairlane. Here is the actual car, on the very day of our road trip. A cool old car, but not the convertible version. Not as cool as that.

2. We didn't see Willie there, at least not the living, breathing Willie. There is a lot of Willie paraphrenalia about the place, and reverent Willie-talk among the visitors, as it used to be a favorite hangout of his and others in the "progressive country" movement. So we did technically "see" Willie, but didn't see him singing with his guitar (which she was implying in the email, as we were talking about the Stones and other concerts we saw together way back when). We did sit on the grass at Luckenbach, along side the creek, listening to a guitar picking, cowboy-hat-wearing, boots-tucked-into-pants songwriter sing "Down by the Aquiferrrrrrr." Sadly, very much not Willie. Below is a typical day at Luckenbach. Cowboy hats and guitar strumming. But no Willie.

So while Hillary made a major gaffe, I don't think its necessarily a deliberate misconstruance. She very well may have done what my friend did and what I undoubtedly have done myself. Remembering it better than it actually was. Remembering how it could have been, or in Hillary's case, how we feared it might turn out.
I talk a little bit about this on an earlier post about the slippery effects of memory as years go by, here. Eventually, the way you talked about it last time, becomes how you remember it.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

not disappointed

This evening my simply amazing man, Sam, and I went to see the Rolling Stones Imax movie, Shine a Light. It was excellent. I was transported back nearly three decades (damn, has it been that long?) And sap that I am, had to blink away tears. Sitting in a movie theatre. I don't get out much.

It was what I hoped, though. Seeing them up close from the quality of seats I never could afford when I used to see them for real. The Imax sound system made me feel like I was there. I had to resist clapping. Kept looking around to see if the Imax audience was clapping (they weren't).

They played several of my favorites from the Some Girls album. Just My Imagination: kick ass.
And definately not disappointed in Mick. He is still the cock 'o the walk, same stage prancing. I felt riveted. Kept wanting the camera on him. Wanting to see more. He hasn't lost that animated showmanship.

I thought Keith Richards guitar playing could have been tighter, but my goddess, the man is all but deep wrinkles on a stick and arthritic hands. There's this must see shot of him spitting away his cigarette butt. Worth the ticket price.
Never my idol, Ron Woods was amazing, too. He played the steel guitar
on Faraway Eyes, a treat. Some excellent acoustic guitar work, too. He wins my award for best belt on stage. Man belts: a most important criteria.

Saw some new eye candy, too. Jack White, III doing a duet with Jagger, "Loving Cup."
Gotta find him on youtube.
Even spotted Bruce Willis in the audience. A fellow South Jerseyian taking in the show from the real life good seats.

So all you Stones fans, if you're not up for the crowds and big venues, see them on the big screen. Even if you are up for the crowds, the up closeness of the film and old interview clips are bonus you won't see anywhere else.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

artful wednesday

e.beck.artist was reminiscing and asked us to show her a piece of art
we made a long time ago. Do we still love it?

Yes to this beaded bracelet I made several years ago. My mom brought me these handmade beads from a gulf coast artisan's shop. I love the earthy brown/black colors and the chunky beads.

Since taking up so much tennis over the past year, I've let my creative outlets slide. Want to get back into it. But I need someone to let me borrow a few extra hours from their week. Time anyone?

Monday, April 14, 2008

electric zombies

Speaking of research that states the obvious a la Mrs. G (my new favorite blog parking space), what are your predictions about the effects of excessive TV viewing on kids?
If you guessed poorer health ratings and lower academic performance you've either got excellent parenting instincts or you've been paying attention to the news. Additonal problems include sleep disturbance and an increased risk of smoking (even without cigarette ads).

So what percentage of kids would you guess have TVs in their bedrooms? 10% ? 20% ?

Now, let me preface this discussion by saying that I'm not a TV nazi. My kids have a small TV in their playroom. They watch their fair share and I'm fairly defensive about that. Cognitive dissonance isn't just a figment of social psychologists' imagination, afterall.

But I am a strong believer in moderation which is not to say I'm always a staunch defender of my own beliefs. But I am pretty sure my neighbors will tell you (maybe complain) that my kids see plenty of fresh air and sunshine.

And I don't want to leave the impression that prefrontal cortex abuse is something I reserve for my kids. I watch my fair share of TV, too. Life as I know it, afterall, would lose its meaning without The Office to remind me why I got my PhD in the first place (we all know a real life Dwight) and Jon Stewart's Daily Show to remind me why I need to vote every single election.

But there is one shining notation in my reluctant TV habits. I was over 40 before I "agreed" to have one in my own bedroom. This only happened because hubby, Sam, convinced me we needed a flat screen, and a "resting spot" had to be found for the old family room dinosaur. It found a permanent home on the master bedroom cedar chest which was conveniently positioned next to the cable plug. Voila. A third brain sucker is born.

Ok, so what percentage of kids have a TV in their bedroom? Studies say 50%. Maybe even as high as 70% for 3rd graders! As a mental health clinician, I often say "nothing surprises me" and this doesn't surprise me either -- it shocks me. Especially given the uber parenting age we live in and repeated warnings from children's advocacy groups (such as the American Academy of Pediatrics).

So at what age are kids getting TVs in their rooms, would you say? Try 30% in the 3-6yr age range. Wow.

Researchers and teachers have begun referring to the "zombie" effect: kids who come to school showing minimal emotional reactivity. Sadly, little television drones are being created in this great land of wealth and opportunity and 500 channels but nothing on.

So whatcha gonna do about it, Willis? Not much. Except maybe participate in and pass on the word about TV Turnoff Week beginning April 21st. Who else is game?

Thanks to the Anxiety, Addiction and Depression Treatments site for posting this summary of recent findings about kids and television viewing.
And in case you've noticed, I have only figured out how to insert one picture into my blog piece. When I try to add a second image (Arnold from Diff'rent Strokes), it sits right on top of the other, instead of in the midst of the text, where I want it. Anyone up for yet another tutorial?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

my virgin video

Embedded that is. Html miracles never cease. Thanks to e.beck.artist and motherscribe for their pointers. It was "easy-peasey" once I figured out to dump the embed code in the Edit Html window.

The video: NPR did a piece on Amy Winehouse and the rise of female U.K. singers with a similar sound, aka "The New Amy's". Welsh born Aimee Duffy is kick ass. I was blown away by Syrup & Honey. This girl's got it. I could listen to this all day long. I heard Mercy on my local progressive radio station a few days ago (yay!) so I'm not the only one who thinks so. I hope she makes her way to the states soon. I think its only a matter of time. It goes down as life's finer moments when I hear new music that moves me. The last time I liked someone this much, besides no-rehab-Amy herself, was Patty Griffin. I heard Rain in the car and had a "driveway moment." Sitting in my driveway waiting for the announcer to tell me who she was. I've listened to her for hours on end since.

So here's hoping I'm giving some of you a blog music moment or two.

Friday, April 11, 2008

school bus named desire

I just phoned the husband. Yeah, he's not allowed to call me "the wife" but I can call him "the husband". But to avoid offending the rougher sex, I'll refer to him as my simply amazing man, or Sam. So I was calling Sam from the office, checking to see which of us needs to be home to meet the school bus. Sam informs me that none of our kids will be coming off the bus today. Each has play dates or after school plans. Yeah??!! Really?! How did I miss this rare piece of news? This must be the first time since elementary school that we've have a kid-free afternoon at home. Wooohooooo! No dillydallying in the office for me! My kids are my world, but it sure is nice to enjoy interruption free conversations, not to mention interruption free activities of the nekkid variety.

Which brings me to the larger subject. The effect of kids on marriage. I could go on for a very long time about the joys of being a parent, like the heart sqeeze I still feel when I see them sleeping, the feeling of a family all my own. But I'm not as eloquent as some of the mommy-bloggers I like to read, so I'll spare you the token ode to joy.

Back when my girls were babies, I read that divorce rates skyrocket after having twins, at about the 2-3 year mark. As the months and then years rolled on, it made complete sense. The battle fatique. The endless work - diapers, baths, cleaning dried crust off of high chair tray tables. I still get PTSD when I see those cute pictures of spaghetti faced babies. Add to all this the sleepless nights. Argh, those nights of sneaking under the crib trying to locate the fallen passy, not once or twice, but dozens of times. Sick baby? Be prepared to feel wiped for a week AFTER the baby is healthy. (Goddess love all of you single moms and dads. You've got my lifelong admiration). So there's the physical toll. And of course, nobody is at their most patient or loving when they are under constant physical strain. We connubials turned slave workers suffer from the small, accusing looks, if not angry words flying. The slow burn of resentments, either imagined or earned.

But with tweens, the physical drain has diminished. At this stage, its more about the lack of alone time. Heck, the lack of complete sentences. On the weekdays, the kids are up later and later. On the weekends, they often stay up past mom and dad. And when we do steal a few moments of private conversation? Conversation interruptus. Can't share two comlete thoughts before "Mom!" or "Dad?" or "Hey Mom, I need to print my homework but the printer's not working!"

And so goes married life with pre-teen intimacy siphons. We're no longer gazing lovingly into each other's eyes across the candle lit dinner table. We're co-drill sargents, commanding our kids on proper table manners and polite dinner conversation. No, we don't want to hear about the kid at your lunch table who gagged on his shoelace. By the end of the meal, I'm ready to go into an underground nuclear silo and think very seriously about dialing the ignition code.

So I've resigned myself to the fact that sweet nothings are replaced by curt phone calls signaling the all's clear and get-your-ass-home-NOW. Its not excactly the advice you read about in "keep the romance alive" books but it is the call-to-arms of battle weary parents who need to grab alone time when they can get it.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

jagger's swagger

I really want to see Martin Scorsese's Rolling Stones concert movie, Shine a Light playing at Imax (more trailers, here). This could be better than being there, actually. Could be excellent, even. Close ups, bigger than life, select lighting. Aging warriors, they may be, but hey, so am I, sorta.

I loved the Stones since I can first remember. Singing along in the car backseat. Having no clue what kind of satisfaction Mick wasn't getting. Mother's Little Helper? I thought it was a box mix dinner. I was listening to it recently and marveled at Jagger's songwriting ability. To have written about such a sophisticated theme as such a young guy. Even moreso now that I'm helping actual mothers overcome reliance on today's supposed non-addictive equivalents.

In my high school and college years I saw the Stones in Philadelphia, in very large, very packed stadiums. Mick, in all his glory, strutting like a banty rooster, in his lemon yellow football pants and his Eagles jersey, oozing sex and rock and roll, all while draped in the flag (was it USA or Union Jack, or both?) No musical performance since has compared to the thrill of Jagger's total package.

This was in the age of Some Girls (I've kept original jacket with Monroe on the cover) and Tattoo You - my friends and I lived and breathed those two. No keg party was over until we were all up dancing to Beast of Burden, Miss You, Start Me Up, Shattered. I can't hear Shoo Shadoobie without breaking into a smile.

A long time ago I read a piece about the Stones that quoted a groupie who said something like, "being in bed with Mick Jagger is nothing like being in bed with Mick Jagger." The man didn't live up to the myth, apparently, or more likely, the fantasy. The quote has stuck with me. That what you see on stage and in print is an image, a mirage, and no human being, in bed or out, can approach such a loaded fantasy. Small consolation for never having a shot at him myself, huh?

I'm preparing myself for the fact that Shine won't hold a candle to those performances in the 70's and 80's. No expectations of the same level of musical greatness. Just hoping I'm not too disappointed. Either way, the Stones are still amazing, given their longevity, given that they are still alive after all that hard living. So I hope to enjoy the film, a final revel in Jagger's swagger and Keith Richard's grinding guitar riffs. I want to feel a little of that old thrill, and then go home and appreciate the normalcy and real offerings of family life (yeah, rrrrrrright!)

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

love by any other gender

smells as sweet.
Take a look at the video (below) of a photo montage.

I don't know how to imbed videos (un-doable on this blog host?) so a link will have to suffice.

This photo montage asks, What's the Difference?

Thanks to Dr. Deb for sharing this video on her blog.