Monday, February 13, 2017

Hope: Optimism With a Plan

A Look at the Key Components of Hope

Recently I have noticed a commercial that plays frequently on television. It has to do with a couple, a young couple, who is trying to stay within their grocery budget. In the commercial they are known as “The Hopefuls.” They are hopeful in that they may be able to stay within budget the next time they visit their grocery. But, alas, they fail. Consistently they go over budget until the cashier at their market comes to their rescue. She introduces them to a new app that will help them stay within budget. They make a plan to use the new app in making their grocery list and to their amazement, they accomplish their goal of not overspending. The end.
The advertisement does include some of the key components of hope. First of all, hope is future oriented. The young couple is concerned with the future. And secondly, hope is based on a system of  belief that you can find a pathway to achieve your goal. For the young couple that is staying within their budget. And last of all, hope involves a plan. If the young couple uses the app that they have been shown, they will hopefully be able to reach the desired goal. That is their plan.
In the next few blogs, we are going to be talking more about hope and its relationship to resilience and to other positive states, such as optimism, self-esteem and side-efficacy. So I will take a few moments to define these terms. As we have discussed in this blog repeatedly, resilience is the ability to come back, to bounce back from a minor disappointment, such as having to spend more on car repairs than you expected, or from a major life event, such as the death of someone close.  It shares many similarities with hope, but it is distinct from hope.
Optimism is the belief that positive events will occur and negative events will hopefully be rare. It is similar to hope in that it is thought based, but it does not necessarily mean that the person is optimistic as specific goals are planned.
Self-esteem is the emotion that results from an assessment of ourselves in terms of our worth and value. It is similar to hope in that goal-directed thoughts are part of it, but it is different in that self-esteem is more emotionally based.
Self-efficacy, as we have discussed previously when we were talking about the readiness to change, is the belief in one’s ability to execute a change in your life or to complete a task that you have established for yourself. Self-efficacy focuses, like hope, on pathways to achieving a goal, but it is more focused on specific situations and is less emotionally based. And last of all is happiness, which is another emotional state. It is similar to hope in that both focus on positive inner experiences, but happiness is more emotion based and hope is more belief based.
In the next blog we will talk about the key characteristics of hopeful people.
Ron Breazeale, PhD

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Processes of Change: A Continued Discussion of James Prochaska's Theory

In the previous three posts we have talked about the processes that can help people move through the change process. In the last post we identified five of the processes of change, the first being a willingness to find out new information and facts and to explore community resources that could support you in being able to make the change that you are contemplating.
The second process involved being able to express both negative and positive emotions regarding the change process such as talking about your fears and anxieties and worries as well as your aspirations and your desire to change.
The third process we identified was doing a self-reevaluation. Looking at how making the change that you are contemplating will change the way you view yourself and others view you.
The fourth process we discussed was being able to reevaluate the impact of the change that you are contemplating making on your social and physical environment and the negative impact of not making a change.
The fifth process of change is the need for you to believe in your own ability to change and believing that you can make a commitment based on those belief and follow through with it.
There are five more processes of change that we will discuss briefly. If we assume that you have been thinking about the pros and the cons of making a change and been weighing those carefully and that your preparing hopefully to make a decision, a process that will be very helpful will be seeking and using family, friends and community support to help you make the change that you are contemplating.
It will also be helpful if you could begin to think differently and behave differently. In other words, substituting positive thoughts and behaviors for negative thoughts and behaviors that will keep you from making the change that you are considering.
Figuring out a way of rewarding yourself, both internally or externally, for making these positive changes and decreasing the rewards of not engaging in the new behavior will help you in following through with the action steps you are taking and with maintaining the changes that you have made.
You also want to remove reminders or cues that inhibit your new behaviors and you want to modify your environment so as to facilitate and encourage you to continue with the change. In AA, this means avoiding people and places and things associated with alcohol.
The last process that Prochaska and his colleagues identified was one they labeled “social liberation.” They defined it as realizing that the social norms and environment are changing and can help support the new behavior that you are engaging in, such as seeking a new job. This, in part, means realizing that the people around you and the new people you encounter will support you in making the changes that you are making and in maintaining those changes. Finding a new job, giving up a pattern of excessive drinking, not smoking, etc., will, in general, be reinforced by the social norms and the environment that you are a part of.
Change is a difficult process. Even positive changes are hard and produce stress.  Understanding the stages that we need to move through to make changes in our life will help us deal better with the adversity that we may face.
Ron Breazeale, PhD

Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Processes of Change: Exploring the Transtheoretical Model of Change

In the last two posts, we have talked specifically about the change process and about the stages of change identified by James Prochaska and his colleagues through their research. In this post and the next, I will briefly summarize some of the processes of change that can help an individual move through the stages of change.
If we assume that an individual is not thinking about making any type of change in their life, we would assume that they are in the pre-contemplation stage. In order to get them to move into the contemplation stage and to move through the contemplation stage, they need to be willing to find and learn maybe new facts or ideas or see what community resources are available to help them in making a change in their behavior. This may be finding out more information about addiction or resources such as AA. The second process to help people through the pre-contemplation and contemplation stages is the opportunity to talk about and express the emotions and feelings that they have about changing or to express either the positive or negative emotions that go along with engaging in something new and something that produces some anxiety, such as seeking a new job.
As people move into the third stage from the second stage of change, people need to look at themselves and reevaluate who they are and how they will be different and how they will identify themselves if they make the change that they are contemplating. They also need to realize the positive impact that making the change may have on others and on their physical environment, such as getting a new job. Through seeking a new job, they may develop new relationships that are more satisfying in their life and getting a new job may help them to finally get a car that runs. People also need to look at the negative impact of not following through or making the change; e.g., continuing financial problems in the old job, working for someone that they do not respect or with people they do not like.
And last of all, as I have said in the previous posts, a lot of making the change and making a decision to follow through with the change involves believing in one’s ability to change and making a commitment based on those beliefs. This often involves saying out loud to yourself and to others what you are planning on doing and what you are willing to make a commitment to do.
In the next post, we will talk more about the processes of change and those that can help people move from making a decision to actually taking action and maintaining the changes that they have made.  
Ron Breazeale, PhD

Making Changes in Our Lives: Exploring the Transtheoretical ModelofChange

In the last post we discussed the change process and what we know about it.  Specifically, we talked about the research of James Prochaska and his colleagues and the Stages of Change model that he has developed. His Transtheoretical Model of Change explains in part why people stay in bad situations and in toxic relationships either with another person or with a drug.
So, how do you change? Prochaska would say that you have to begin to weigh in a somewhat systematic way the pros and the cons of making a change in your life.  For someone who is an alcoholic, it means looking honestly at what the pros of drinking are and what the cons of drinking are. I often suggest that my patients make a list of the pros and the cons and put weights on each one. It also means that you evaluate your ability to make the change and to follow through with the change process. This has to do in part with believing in yourself and having the skills, many of those the skills and the attitudes of resilience, to follow through with the change that you have decided you will make. Prochaska believes that people will only make a change when the pros clearly outweigh the cons of making a change and when people believe that they can be successful in following through with the change.
The person is then ready to make a decision about what change they will make and to make a commitment to the change process. Once that is made, people can move into the action stage. This involves getting the help that you may need to make the change, such as attending AA on a regular basis or getting a sponsor or really connecting with a smoking cessation program that will support you in the process of giving up the bad habit. For many of us, the action stage is often the easiest. The hard work is often the weighing of the pros and the cons and making a commitment to action steps that we will take.
After we have made the change through the action steps, we move into what is called the maintenance stage. This involves being able to maintain the changes that we’ve made, and this is also a difficult stage for many of us. Changing is hard, but maintaining the change is often harder. This often means getting the support that we need to maintain the change that we have made.
In my next post, I will talk more about the processes of change that can help an individual in moving from pre-contemplation to contemplation, to decision, to action, and to maintenance.
Ron Breazeale, PhD

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Change-Exploring Prochaska's Transtheoretical Model

For most of us making a change is a difficult process, even  good ones. Change requires that we do something different and quite often demands that the people around us do something different. Many would argue that we are creatures who like routine and sameness. We get comfortable with the groove that we are in, even if it becomes a rut. So, as the research suggests, many of us feel stressed that we have to make changes in our life, even positive ones.
James Prochaska and his colleagues have been doing research on the change process for years. They have created what is called The Transtheoretical Model of Change which uses stages of change to integrate processes and principles of change that they have identified through their work. Prochaska became interested in the change process when he became involved in research on getting people to give up smoking. He soon realized that most of the existing programs were not terribly effective because they assumed that people were ready to make a change when most weren’t. In studying organizational change, Prochaska and his colleagues found that the majority of people in organization aren’t really ready to make changes when new management comes in. To be effective in creating change in an organization or an individual, the people involved in the process must be ready to change. This means that they have moved through the initial stages of the change process, what Prochaska has labeled as “pre-contemplation” and then “contemplation,” and finally have reached the decision stage where they can then make a decision and move into the action stage of actually making the change.
Most people in an organization, as I said, are often not ready to make a change because they haven’t really contemplated how the change would impact their lives or whether they can make a commitment to the change process. The same thing is true if someone is thinking about giving up smoking. They are often pre-contemplators. They aren’t even thinking seriously about making the change.
Pre-contemplators move to the second stage of change, contemplation, when you can get them to begin to think about the pros and the cons of making a change in their lives and whether they really have the efficacy, meaning the ability and motivation, to carry through with the change. Both are critical in determining whether people will make a decision to change and then follow through with an action plan.
So, how does all of this relate to dealing with adversity? To begin with, it may explain why people stay in bad situations — a bad relationship at work or a bad relationship at home, and why people continue to engage in behaviors, such as smoking, excessive use of alcohol and drugs when they “know” that these things are destructive to their health.
Understanding the change process could help people move out of difficult situations, give up bad habits and, in general, deal with adversity in their lives. We’ll talk more about this in the next post.
Ron Breazeale PhD

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Personal Safety- Will guns make us safer?

At a time when fear seems to be driving our society, safety is a major issue. Many people don’t feel safe. Many believe that the crime rate has increased over the past few years. The reality is that it has decreased significantly since the 1970s and that the ‘70s in many ways were the most dangerous times  for personal safety for people in this society. 
Unfortunately, the media does much to perpetuate the fear that exists. The old saying in the newsroom is, ‘If it bleeds, it leads.’ Shootings and personal tragedies are at the top of the news broadcasts. We are constantly bombarded with ads for personal safety systems, alarms that will tell us if our house is being broken into and will alert the police. Many people believe that they must own a gun in order to be safe, and they are fearful that their guns will be taken away by the government. I own a gun, an old service revolver that I wore when I worked for the sheriff’s department many years ago. I must say, though, that it doesn’t make me feel any safer having it in the house. In fact, statistics suggest that having a firearm in the home makes it more likely that someone in your family may die, rather than an intruder.
And do we really need assault weapons with huge magazines? I doubt it. I don’t think the Vandals are going to be at the gate anytime soon.
Whether we feel safe or not has much to do with our perception of the situation.  This is not to say that there aren’t places one should avoid on a dark night, but how we see things has a lot to do with whether we feel safe or we don’t. If we believe that one event can make everything good or everything bad in our lives, we are likely to not feel very safe. If we believe that when bad things happen they are permanent and will never change, we are likely to not feel very safe. If we blame ourselves or other people for the problems that we face, we are less likely to feel safe. This is not to say that bad things don’t happen and that people should not be accountable for their actions. But believing that one event -- for example a job promotion or lack of it -- can make everything good or bad, or that when something happens it is permanent, either good or bad, or being engaged in the blame game makes us more vulnerable to feeling unsafe. Changing our thinking may go a lot further to making us feel safe than buying a firearm.
Dr. Ron Breazeale

The 2016 Election - Part Two

Dealing with the issues that divide this country.

In the last blog we talked about the present reality that we find ourselves in presenting a number of opportunities for us to address the issues that have separated us and continue to divide this country. We talked about the importance of connecting with others and communicating with others, specifically listening to others, especially those we don’t agree with. Being flexible both in our thinking and in our behavior. Specifically, trying in a different way to address the issues that we have been struggling with in this country for many, many years.

We also talked about the importance of dealing with your feelings and discharging and venting them so that they don’t get in the way of you thinking clearly in the present. And last of all, we talked about the importance of being optimistic about the future.

Things will continue to change. Everything, both good and bad, is temporary. And few things, even an election, have a pervasive effect on everything in your world. This was an important election and indeed things have changed, but much has remained the same. Especially the issues that divide us. And last of all, we talked about not getting into the blame game. Don’t get engaged in the scapegoating that will be occurring now. We can hold people accountable and hold ourselves accountable without blaming others.

And here are a few more on my checklist of things to do.

1.) Act on your values. We assume that many people were doing that when they voted. But that was only the start. We now need to make realistic plans for action and we need to carry them through. So far, a relatively peaceful change has occurred. We can learn from that. On whichever side of the political fence you are, change usually occurs slowly. At least I think that is true for lasting changes. Action, patience and hard work are required on both sides.
2.) Be self-confident that what you can do has an impact. Change has occurred over the last forty years. Significant changes. It may not feel that way to some people today, but as a child of the Sixties who grew up in a segregated South, a lot have changed. Granted, a lot has not. Our generation needs to finish the job that we started. We need to at least help the present generation, our children, to do this. Too many of us have given up and too many of us have sold out to the “greed is good” model of capitalism.

3.) Humor. Don’t direct it at the people who are different from you, the people you don’t agree with. First, try directing it at yourself. As Americans, we have done many miraculous things. But we should remember that many people in other countries of this world are amazed at what has just happened in our country. They might agree with Bill Murray’s line in the old movie, Stripes, when he says, “We’re Americans and we have been thrown out of every respectable country in the world.” They might also agree with Churchill’s quote, that "Americans can be counted on to do the right thing after they’ve exhausted every other option.” Part of listening to others is listening to other members of the international community and their perception of us.

4.) We need to take care of ourselves during this time. We need to throw ourselves into whatever cause we are promoting at present, but we also need to make sure that we get enough sleep, exercise, and maintain a decent diet. We’re not going to be effective advocating for anything if we are not taking care of ourselves, physically, emotionally and financially.

5.) We also need to take care of others. We need to care for our brothers or sisters in this country regardless of their race, religion, sexual preference or politics. We need to make America kind...again. There’s only one ship for all of us, and it’s THE USS UNITED STATES.

Ronald L. Breazeale, Ph.D.
Author, Duct Tape Isn’t Enough and First Night