Saving Your Relationship: One Exercise at a Time
Most of us have either been to or seen family footage of (lord help us all) that 50th wedding anniversary where some smug young videographer and Scorsese wannabe went about the round tables, capturing meaningful angles of the parquet floor, the loafers and high heels before finally arriving at his principal players, the octogenarian couple at the head table and asking “So how in the heck did you make it work for 50 years?” Almost assuredly one of them delivered the classic “Never go to bed angry” line. And that is some damn solid advice. Getting the hutzpah to resolve this evening’s dustup before settling in for a good night’s sleep or some quality make-up sex and cuddling is next-level shit. Much like exercise, it’s the bazillion-dollar cure they can’t package and sell in a bottle.
As a dating and relationship coach, my new world addition to those timeless words of wisdom would be two more relationship salvaging mantras: “What else could that mean?” and “I will not pile on.” In brief, “what else could that mean” gets us out of our preconceived notions of what someone else’s words, text message, facial expression, or pregnant pause really means on a given occasion while “I will not pile on” serves as a reminder to keep life present and in front of us, rather than tacking on this particular perceived faux pas, failing or fuck-up onto those that seem strikingly similar, and would undoubtedly, when added into the historical chain of evidence make for a positively damning indictment of your partner’s character, intent or judgment.
The relationship-salvaging balm at work in both of these mantras is a bit of mindfulness–in this case reminding ourselves to remain incredibly present in our lives, particularly when we’re under duress, like just after an argument with our loved one. More easily written than done, no doubt. When we fail to take the time to consider this current flare-up or perceived slight on its own merits, and instead pack on all the baggage we meant to or felt we should have addressed previously, we do both ourselves and our partners a great disservice. Even when a strikingly similar annoyance triggers our predictable reaction, by taking a breath and a moment of reflection and addressing this situation and this situation only – considering what’s going on at this precise moment for our partner and for ourselves, we are acknowledging the incredible complexity of human behavior and the manifold influences that can pitch any of us into our bad habits, annoying behaviors or bitchy states of being.
Let’s dig a little deeper into some examples of what I’m trying to say in my longwinded fashion. You text your partner some question he or she’s already answered like a half-dozen times, well because you have ADHD and you’re a bit unsure of yourself when it comes to recipes, technology or whatever. Your partner isn’t writing you back. Obviously, you’re getting the cold shoulder because this fucking question has been answered, see above, half a dozen times already. So now besides being a bit befuddled, you’re positively pissed off. Hey you just wanted to make sure, right. Perhaps if you had taken that deep breath, kept this moment present and asked yourself “What else could that mean… that lack of a responding text message?” you could have surmised “well he or she may not have seen my text,” or “maybe they had a bad day at the office and my nagging question just set them off a bit”, or even “well, I can be pretty damn annoying, Christ, I even annoy myself; I’ll just let it go.”
Obviously, the above example is a fairly low-key scenario, but let’s be fucking honest, isn’t it the stupidest shit that we let snowball, turning relatively harmless issues into heaping, rolling, out of control piles of shit that can bowl us over and bury us. The “what else could that mean” tool also works for that silent simmer you may encounter on a given evening, or even something hurtful said right to your face. Remaining empathetic to someone else’s obstacles and issues can help you put behavioral outliers into perspective, as you acknowledge your own ability to let the day or the moment get the better of you. “What else could that mean” might just mean you may have unintentionally or passive aggressively pushed your partner’s buttons. “What else could that mean” may get you to see more from your lover’s perspective as you acknowledge difficult facets of your own behavior that have not only set off your wife or husband before but pissed off friends, coworkers or family members on occasion. It could just mean that it’s time to give your significant other some time to work through their own shit, because not everyone spills all the beans on what went wrong in their day like you do; some people need to process their issues another way.
What if your spouse comes home late from work and not only did you not start making something for dinner but you didn’t even clean the dishes from your own meal; you sat there and watched Netflix then fell asleep. Well, despite their very difficult day, if they’re able to take a deep breath and vow “I will not pile on” perhaps they’re graciously refusing to link this time you forgot to make dinner or do the dishes with those other two times you screwed up several weeks ago. In their mind, they might allow that you also had a shitty day and you may have arrived home late too or just relapsed into an old, annoying behavior due to excessive stress.
When we live more in the present and remain mindful of adding past grievances, no matter how closely related or how valid onto our existing beef with our loved one, we are literally uncocking the weapon and putting the safety on our emotional guns. Now as I alluded to above, this is not easy to do. Our memories codify and collate all perceived slights into efficient little file systems retrieved on a hyper-second’s notice when we are triggered. These thoughts, reactions and behavioral responses literally become habits (see related article) that are hardwired old-brain, amygdala-fueled mechanisms that we have to consciously disentangle and pour over using our executive brain function – a long way of saying we need to think about our own behavior and how our reactions pour fuel on the fire.
All of this is not to say we don’t address the underlying issues or instances of fuck-upery, we do. But we choose our moments wisely, refusing to try and defuse a bomb when our nerves are so fried our hands are shaking. We need to become better about discussing our feelings and perspectives in times of calm, rather than unloading both breaches of our emotional sawed-off shotgun in times of stress. Again, easier said than done. One of the best ways I’ve found to address these issues is to really help my clients understand that we cannot view our loved one’s behaviors and reactions from our own perspective, oversimplifying things by putting yourself in their shoes and believing “I’d never handle it like this.” It’s about “how would I feel if I were them” not “how would I feel if it were me”.
To get a bit deeper into our own personal biases and begin to unravel them I write customized meditations so my clients can gain a deeper insight into their subconscious states of being. Reflecting on ourselves in a relaxed, meditative state can bring a much deeper understanding of ourselves and our own hypersensitive triggers, defensive posturing and annoying ticks. I also go over journaling techniques and assign writing exercises for individuals or couples, because when we start to express ourselves on paper (as in pen and paper-not your laptop), the act of writing itself begins to untether our tightly held beliefs and biases. It doesn’t mean we won’t still have them, it means we become more aware of them, and in doing so allow our partners their own particular quirks.
One particularly effective writing exercise involves writing a recent argument out as if a scene in a film or play, creating two fictitious characters (including introductory background blurbs) who are in fact our avatars. This allows for some emotional distancing and perspective. It’s easier to express ourselves and allow for our very human frailties and failings by creating avatar stand-ins. I encourage my clients to make these brief scenes way over the top in terms of dialogue and emotional pitch with highly exaggerated stage directions like “He looked at her with that eye… that all-judging, evil eye” or “Her scornful tone scraped upon his ears like press-on nails on a chalkboard” and things like that. Then I tell them to rewrite the scene in the most empathetic manner possible… “She raised her eyebrow, it was a lovely eyebrow really, as she lifted it in that way; she was at her wits end, well because he was being an asshole.” The point here isn’t to become Neil Simon or worry about the writing, the point is to get ourselves on the page so we can see ourselves from a broader perspective…someone else’s perspective–getting back to the mindfulness approach that underlies much of my work as a coach.
This is but one exercise you and your loved one might try in the days following your next argument. I guarantee that minimally you’ll both get some laughs out of your over-the-top dialogue and cartoonish characterizations. A good laugh can be that crucial step preventing you from going to bed angry…which could be the precursor to some awesome makeup sex, which cures everything of course. For some reason should this single exercise fail to “cure everything,” drop me a line, we’ll have an in-depth, complimentary coaching conversation, see if our chemistry sets combine and decide how we can proceed further.
Neuroplasticity: Changing Your Life by Changing Your Habits
You’re probably aware of the long held scientific wisdom that suggested once our brains were fully developed (at around young adulthood, aged 25) their physiology was pretty much carved in stone. You also may have heard something about the latest buzz-worthy brain science that debunked that theory known as neuroplasticity–basically the brain’s ability to create new cells, rewire existing neural networks in response to new knowledge and reprogram healthy brain regions to take over for those affected by injury. Now of course, that all sounds great, and is great and all that but like anything else, what in the hell does it mean for me practically, in everyday life, you rightly ask. Read on, brainiacs.
Evidence suggests that chemical brain changes – which amount to more neurons firing at once – drive our short-term learning. Let’s say you’ve been practicing that guitar scale and finally got it right at the end of an hour-long practice session…that’s those chemical messengers coding the information into your short-term memory. But then you come back to practice the scale the next day and feel you’ve regressed to square one…why? Because those chemically-induced routines have not yet been performed, replayed or practiced enough to convert themselves into long term memories which are represented by actual physical changes in our brain structure… physical transformation of the shape and routing of our neural networks.
Now while it’s true that our brains retain their plasticity throughout our lives, it is also true that younger, developing brains (say between our adolescence and young adult ages) have way more synaptic development in their prime than our adult, fully-developed brains. That mass of synapses was necessary as our younger minds wove overly complex pathways and stored information away with all the efficiency of an 8-year-old librarian. As our intelligence amassed and we began to build efficient little memory macros, that synaptic mass dramatically reduced through a process known as synaptic pruning – our brain’s ability to discard, deemphasize or recode overly complex connections no longer needed like “that’s a tree”, “that’s a bird” and “that thing could eat me,” and creating the vital space necessary for relevant transactions like “what kind of bird or tree” and “how can I avoid that pissed off grizzly bear?”
While the associated behavioral implications of all this neuronic silly putty are still in their infancy, the above transformation and efficient reduction of our synaptic mass could easily explain why it’s so difficult to recover from childhood trauma or change poor habits that formed early in our lives. Our brains developed such efficient little firing patterns that ensured complex experiences, emotions and memories have now receded into densely-packed coding blocks that are hard to consciously disassemble or rework for our betterment, but can still unpack with little effort on a moment’s notice due to stress or trauma. Actually working on those long-term pre-adult memories or habits we’d rather not revisit isn’t ideal or really even possible when they’re barfing themselves up at inopportune moments. We have to consciously unpack them in our safe space – preferably while wearing Kevlar in a room lined with bubble wrap. But that’s another coaching article.
Basically, I’m reiterating what you already know: change is hard. The science says that we can’t really just “stop” bad habits; our mind doesn’t work that way. We have to overwrite a habit we don’t want with a habit we do want. This is where coaching comes into play. I work with my coaching clients on creating new little habits and repeating them with the frequency and dedication necessary to transition them from chemical-based to physiologically imprinted actions that overwrite the old, unwanted habit or behavior. Old habits are like old well-worn trails you’ve plodded over and over again; they lie dormant in our brains waiting to be revisited. To keep the old, unwanted trails at bay, you must overwrite them with new, healthier, better habits that serve your better self. This “overwriting” of habit pathways has proven so far to be the most effective method of changing undesirable habits that no longer serve your long-term interests.
The first step to overcoming habits you want to change is to identify those habits that don’t serve you. Sounds so frickin’ easy but this, my braniac friends, is the hardest part. Through some strategic mindfulness coaching I get my clients to step outside themselves and actually see themselves as if an audience member…experiencing their lives and routines from a third-person perspective. Once we begin to really experience the results or consequences of our everyday actions, it becomes easier to choose which ones to quit… or to really want to quit, I should say. Careful not to mistake “Well I shouldn’t really “blah” anymore,” or “My wife/husband tells me I should probably…” for actual determinations. “Should, could or need” will get you nowhere when it comes to change. “Want” and “will” are the operative words. Guilting yourself into action never really works in the long-term… the science tells me so, but again, that’s another article.
Step two is understanding all that “neuroplasticity” crap I spouted above. To change a habit, you have to replace it with a new shinier, healthier one and really see that habit eclipsing your old behavior “in your mind”. You want to have a strong goal and add some sense-memory weight to that sucker…no not the kind of sense memory that leaves Daniel Day Lewis acting like he can’t fucking walk off set when he’s playing some jackass having problems with his left foot. That shit’s just annoying. This sense memory visualization is you seeing yourself as that fitter person, feeling healthier, wearing those aspirational jeans you haven’t tossed yet. Make it specific… see yourself not smoking or vaping, having more energy, running that half-marathon, wearing tight spandex pants showing off your taut butt cheeks on your bad-ass carbon bike. Attending your reunion looking like you just trained with the damn Avengers. Hell, I don’t know, just really see, feel, hear, smell and Daniel Day Lewis this fucking vision.
Now that you’ve done all that woke shit, make sure you really drill into this new behavior – the more attention you give this healthier habit, the more powerfully it imbeds itself into your neural pathways and buries that unwanted habit. You must link the two in your mind…out with the old, in with the new. For example, when I decided to tackle my sugar addiction I realized that despite committing myself to buying less shit-food at the grocery store that I was still able to cheat by raiding the refrigerator for orange juice, or stealing my wife’s chocolate chips reserved for occasional baking. I still walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge, intending on chugging some OJ (everyone knows chugged calories burn faster than poured ones) but I’d catch myself at the last moment and pour a glass of filtered water instead. I concentrated on the act of pouring water, slowing down my chugging sugar-fix haste and ended up getting closer to the twenty gallons of water Tony Robbins suggested I drink daily to live powerfully and all that shit.*
Now that you’ve begun to really concentrate on this new healthier replacement habit, don’t fuck it all up by getting on your ass when you don’t get it perfect. Give yourself a break and allow for a setback or two. More importantly reward yourself for the things you’re doing right. Reward yourself through self-praise, and maybe an extra episode of Stranger Things. I liken my own course corrections to training my little bitch pug. Admonishing Sophie with “Don’t shit on the floor, why would you shit on the floor” got me nowhere, but a little sweet potato treat for crapping outside… well that fixed the little bitch in a couple of days.
The science says that you get a spike of dopamine every time you reward yourself with your little power phrase, “Damn right I did that” or someone else gives you some sugar “Looking good, Frank”. That little hit of dopamine (whether it comes from you or someone else) can become addictive and start a reward structure for our new healthier habit. This probably explains those rather intimidating ultra-fit people in the gym I’m so jealous of… people tell them how awesome they look with their cantaloupe biceps and Hemsworth abs and then they check themselves out in the mirror and add some self-sugar “damn I do look good.” Your new addiction to looking like a Hemsworth has been locked and loaded.
Now how long does this whole “I kicked some habit ass” process take? Well, it varies from person to person, but to really start clearing the shrubbery and saplings on your new path, while simultaneously burying that old, unwanted route, expect it to take at least one to three months… and as many as six depending on many variables. In my coaching experience, I like to see some real progress within the month and signs of transformative change by three months ideally. It ain’t easy. Real, long-term change takes tremendous dedication and a willingness to be dogged in your determination while also remaining optimistic and supportive of yourself in times of struggle. Hollering at Sophie to not shit on the floor accomplishes nothing. A little scratch behind the ear, a belly rub-rub and a sweet potato treat for Little Push-Face… and you’re golden.
*Reflected amount of water may not factually represent Tony Robbin’s ideal daily intake necessary for “powerfully transformative living” or “definitively unleashing your due destiny… Hackensack?”
A Good Resume May Be Killing You
There’s an excellent chance that most of us can pull off a good resume with a bit of advice from the right YouTube video, a bit of borrowing from some dude’s resume online and a bit of help from your friend the aspiring novelist – that guy Paul who never had time for a wife, but he’s happy to b.s. with Davy who’s still in the Navy… okay I’ll shut the fuck up now. Alas, I digress. My point is that a good resume isn’t good enough.
When we think about our resumes we usually think of them one dimensionally: will this thing get me in the door. Without a doubt that is one of the single most important criteria of any resume because if doesn’t open the door, you’ll never be able to stick your foot in there and keep it ajar. So, if we look at the resume from a broader perspective the next most important attributes to consider would be: “does this resume spur killer questions that in turn make me look better in the interview – does it in fact remind me of what a bad-ass I am?” and “is it strong enough to sell me past my closest competitors as it sits idle on a desk?”
That last point is crucial…really understanding that when all is said and done, after your four or five or god knows how many interviews, when they’re making that key final decision between you and your closest competitors, they lift that resume and take a final look under the hood. You’re not there with pat answers to tough questions… that job falls to that sheet of paper or two. Woe be the applicant that didn’t pay attention to the finite details, tighten their language and dig deep to express not just their day-to-day contributions, but the essential qualities and accomplishments that separate themselves from tight competition.
With the massive amount of readily-culled online bullets just waiting to be repurposed, most resumes out there do a decent job of describing the day-to-day elements of any given position, but they fail to include the most important element in your job history…you, of course. Simply borrowing from your HR department’s job description, adding some bad-ass content from that chick online and filling in a bullet or two here and there certainly won’t get the job done. But of course, most of us put a great deal more time and painstaking effort into trying to craft the perfect resume, so what is it that relegates 95% of the resumes I see to the “poor to decent” file? Perspective.
It is simply impossible to interview ourselves and cull all the necessary nuances of character, integrity and grit that should be interstitially dispersed among our day-to-day responsibilities, initiatives and accomplishments. We are simply too close to our own work history to be persuasive narrators that cut to the chase and deliver a tightly branded message. While I’m on the subject, the next most overlooked resume elements beyond the “you” factor in your resume would be initiatives and accomplishments. An employer wants to know that you take initiative, see things that could be done better and take action. Most of us know to sprinkle as many accomplishments as possible among our daily routine, but I’m still amazed at how many resumes I get from my free review button that simply look like a Glassdoor, Monster or Indeed job posting. Bloodless bullets veering way off target.
A great deal of those missing resume teeth might be chalked up to noble self-deprecation, not wanting to be seen as braggadocious or self-serving. And no doubt, there’s a fine line that we don’t want to cross but in general what I’ve found out to be the killer recipe is an appropriately aggressive, non-apologetic resume that complements confident, down-to-earth you. Now there are some caveats here, which is why my clients pay me the big bucks: when you want your resume to be flexible enough to not only give you greater opportunities outside your current employer, but also enable an internal promotion, we walk our wording back a bit. Even if we’re the sole engine on a particular project, we might put “Worked closely with C-level staff, fellow managers and Chuck, that back office guy to accomplish this amazing fucking thing that increased this good shit while decreasing that other bad shit by a number so specific it has to be fucking real.” In other words, know your audience. If you like your company but also feel you’re due a promotion, it helps to have a wordsmith create a resume that sings the praises of your partnering with all kinds of people to get all kinds of shit done.
Another key element missing from 99.9% of the resumes that pass my review inbox is superior writing. When promoting yourself it’s best to treat yourself like the brand and business you are in today’s marketplace. If you’re not really a graphic designer, don’t fart around with Illustrator, hire someone on Fiver to whip out that marketing sheet. If you’re not really a writer, hire one. Even if you are a writer, gaining that outside perspective is still a great idea and worthwhile investment. The one thing I learned in business long ago is to know what I’m really really good at and sticking to that while either delegating or outsourcing everything else to someone else better than me.
There are a million other reasons to hire an expert resume writer (it doesn’t have to be me) including the importance of formatting long-term employment with varying titles, how to minimize unrelated employment, where to put your education if you just graduated (it depends), where to cut off your experience, should I use a functional bullshit resume (hell no), how do I switch careers, do I need an objective (again, no-handle it in a more creative way), do I need to say this was my spouse’s company (not unless asked), I haven’t worked in a while, what the hell do I put? (we’ll figure it out) and many others.
The graphic design and logical formatting of your resume is way, way fucking more important than you realize. By simply looking at a resume at one glance, a clean, well-designed document presents you as put together, whereas a somewhat disorganized or out-of-date format (on taupe paper god forbid) makes you look like an antiquated, disorganized candidate. Appearances matter. And logical indentation, clean lines and appropriate spacing make a huge difference in the overall effectiveness of the document. Yes, you also have to have all the key words, and relevant skill sets… there are an overwhelming number of elements you have to get right, and after we do that we have to make sure you can talk to every bullet point we create.
In some following columns, I’ll try to get into more particulars regarding the do’s and don’ts of resume content and formatting so those of you wanting to beef up your documents on your own can take some swings in the big leagues. For now, just know that having a kick-ass resume doesn’t only get you in the door but it reminds you of why you’re such a bad-ass in the interview, prompting better questions and more impressive answers and literally makes the difference between being considered in the lower or higher end of an HR department’s salary range for any given position.
I can literally make a 5-figure difference in your new salary which can result in a 6-figure difference over time. On occasion, I get the opportunity to make a 6-figure difference in a person’s income in one resume, but those are highly unique circumstances and far from common occurrences. The point being, underselling yourself comes at a hefty price that is more difficult to address as time marches on. Whether you choose to utilize my resume genius skills or someone else’s, please make the investment in yourself and your future. You won’t regret it.
Don’t settle for a good resume, because the competition is fierce and people way less qualified than you may be hiring the services of a certain resume genius to get a leg up. And in fact, that’s one of my specialties, helping my clients that may not quite be there yet jump into the bigger tank and swim with the sharks. Stretching boundaries is important; we don’t want to put you into a position you’re completely unqualified for, but we also want to give you the opportunity to let the company make that determination after meeting you.
Should you hire a professional resume service, make sure they give you a thorough analysis of what’s going on in your resume, what needs to be addressed and whether they’re going to add on some extra bullshit fee for a profile or executive summary or some damn thing. You’re looking for some specific answers regarding what’s wrong with your document, as anyone who’s been doing this for a long time will be able to immediately dissect your resume. And by all means, you’re welcome to take advantage of my own complimentary resume review or career coaching consultation. I’m a frickin’ resume genius. Feel free to contact me with any questions.
 But seriously, how many of you had to almost blurt “and probably will be for life.”