Limitations

“A man’s gotta know his limitations” says Harry Callahan.  The admonition makes sense  as one crosses the fine line between competence to incompetence.  Dirty Harry remarks frequently about the incompetence he sees in his superiors making for some great one-liners.

Sometimes people are advanced up the ladder of success only to find that their previous, stellar performance has little to do with the challenges they face in their new role.  Known as the Peter Principle, they fail because sufficient consideration was not given to whether or not they were indeed competent for the demands of the advanced position.

Similarly, the Icarus Syndrome describes the super-competent person who exceeds expectations at every level and knows it, exhibiting a confidence, self-assurance and hubris that borders on narcissism.   These people advance quickly without the necessary emotional and psychological discipline that empowers them to endure the stresses that come with added responsibilities.  Like Icarus who fell to his death because he flew too closely to the sun, their failures can be cataclysmic.

Through education, life-experience, training and discipline it is so important to develop a wisdom that is able to examine one’s self, to discern between good and bad counsel and to keep praise and criticism in perspective.  Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits for Highly Effective People offers a great model for proceeding through life with these reality checks based upon one’s values.  A man does need to know his limitations but he must test them and, in many cases, exceed them.

 

SEEING BEYOND LIMITATIONS

At the other end of the spectrum is the motivational challenge to “Reach for the stars”.  My inspiration for this article came when I happened to catch a recent commercial for a lumber store!

I loved the ingenuity of their presentation, taking a job that might be perceived as common, every-day work and catapulting it to a level of second-string astronaut that inspires, challenges and celebrates the value of the individual…the kind of person we’re looking for in our company.  Great commercial!

CONCLUSION

Navigating through life requires the kinds of skills that are able to deal with limitations both from without one’s self as well as within.  At other times opportunities arise that allow us to exceed limitations.  Sometimes the most limiting of all limitations are those we create for ourselves; i.e., those little voices within that tell us we’re not good enough, not smart enough or not gifted enough.

The truth is that this inner battle is the locus for the power of the Gospel found in the first and second Beatitudes that form the basis for most recovery programs.  In the face of a “Higher Power” who knows no limitations outside of the human heart we are immediately confronted by our own incompetence to save ourselves.  The ultimate cosmic paradox rests in this observation by the apostle Paul:  “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent….” (2 Corinthians 3:5-6).

Buckets

For most of us a bucket is defined pragmatically as “a typically cylindrical vessel for catching, holding, or carrying liquids or solids”. Perhaps coupled with the colloquial expression “kick the bucket” to describe death, the idea of a “bucket list” to describe a pail full of tasks one wishes to accomplish before dying was popularized by the 2007 movie: “The Bucket List.

This unique list of specific accomplishments that an individual hopes to experience or accomplish before they can no longer do them is probably a product of a free society.  Individuals who struggle to meet their daily needs probably don’t dwell much upon what they want to do before they die.  The priority is making it through each day and waking up the next morning.

When we are young and optimistic about the future we don’t really think much about what we want to do before we die.  So, the entire project holds little interest because we have the whole world ahead of ourselves.  However, in time, our bucket lists can be quite extensive.  Travel to distant lands, financial accomplishments, personal goals and dreams all materialize on this list that has the potential to become ever expanding and inclusive.  At this stage of life our ‘bucket list’ has a tendency to grow as we experience more of
life and appreciate the world around us and within ourselves.

However, in my own observations of human behavior over the years I’ve begun to notice an interesting thing about bucket lists: the bucket seems to get smaller as we grow older.

For some, this may mean that they were able to accomplish most of the things on their lists during their lifetime, meaning there are fewer remaining things for them to keep on this list.  They have stopped adding to the list and, perhaps, establish a final goal of accomplishing everything that remains.

For others, it means that their desires for accomplishment begin to wane as they lose interest in the dreams and ambitions of their younger days.  In fact, it would seem that this list is more easily misplaced or even forgotten as we age.

In one sense this can be very sad.  At one extreme we can imagine someone whose life has become devoted to accomplishing everything on their list.  Once the list is finished, the next logical question is: “Now what?”  At the extreme we can imagine someone finding that their purpose in life has now ceased to exist.  I don’t think there are many people in this category…or, could I be wrong?

The writer of Ecclesiastes–most commonly believed to be King Solomon in his final days–had lived life to the max to experience everything “under the sun” and to uncover the secret to happiness and contentment (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18).   His conclusion?
Meaningless!

What a tragedy!  To have lived life to the fullest, experiencing everything the world has to offer only to conclude it was a waste of time, like a crazy man in a field chasing after the wind.  Of course the Byrds version of the popular 1955 Pete Seeger song, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” capitalized on this theme based upon Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.  I’ve often wondered if people understood the context within which these words were written more than 3,000 years ago.

CONCLUSION

In the end, it seems to me that bucket lists are useful when they point towards something greater than one’s self.  As we age we begin to appreciate our finite nature. We also begin to realize that the author of Ecclesiastes actually had it right for life lived “under the sun” without a view of what lies beyond.  Having eternity planted in one’s heart is more a source of despair than encouragement leading to a type of epicureanism or existentialistic way of viewing life.

As I, myself, age and begin the process of attending more funerals than weddings I have also had the humble experience of observing my own parents as they have aged.  In fact, mom and I talked about buckets recently and how they seem to get smaller as fewer things of this world capture the imagination.  What is happening is that those things of this world are being replaced by a longing to be where my father is, in heaven, looking into the face of God as He wipes the tears away (Revelation 21:4): the ultimate bucket list for which there is great worth in living and in dying!

 

 

Insanity

We have all heard the insanity quote before.

We’ve probably quoted it ourselves as we observe the behavior of others.

We rarely quote it about our own personal behaviors because, well, that would be insane!  Why would I do something like that?

The Urban Dictionary defines “Insanity” as “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

And yet, that is our nature, isn’t it?  It’s certainly a part of the ‘disease’ of addictive behaviors…”just one more time!” and it is at the core of the relentless pursuit of perfection: the belief that getting it right is only one tweak away.

When it comes to human behavior it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking “more of the same” will bring about better results.  The logic goes something like this:

  1. At least once before, when you acted inappropriately, I responded with a word or behavior that caused you to stop acting inappropriately.
  2. Logically, I deduce that this word or behavior must have contributed in an important way to your decision to change your behavior.
  3. Hence, I conclude that applying the same word or behavior to your inappropriate behavior should have precisely the same effect every time.
  4. Yet, I observe that the greater frequency wth which I apply this remedy, the less likely you are to comply with my word or demand.
  5. Conclusion: I must apply the remedy with greater intensity (e.g., yelling, screaming, sky writing, billboard advertising) to help you pay better attention  whenever I apply the corrective response to your inappropriate behavior.

I’ve observed this occasionally when people try to communicate with each other but do not share a common language between them.   A tell-tale sign of an American tourist in a foreign country is his belief that understanding will occur when he speaks English more loudly, slowly or dramatically.

So many times this “more of the same’ mentality is subconscious.  We don’t even realize it when we are doing it.  When we do catch ourselves, we sometimes blow past the warning signs and continue to operate on the belief that I must speak more clearly or more loudly one more time…then they will understand!

EVERYBODY’S INSANE!

The reality is that this ‘insanity’ quote applies to most of us most of the time.  Positively, it adds predictability to life and consistency to the many dances of behavior in which we all engage.  A quality of problem solvers is the ability to work something until success is achieved based upon a belief that the goal is within the realm of possibility…in spite of a plethora of failures.

However, there are times when we cross that fine line between regular, predictable behaviors that build trust in human systems and relationships into the realm of the dysfunctional, toxic, enduring,  patterns that provide their own bizarre sense of security.  Here are some examples that come to mind:

  1. Abusive relationships where the abused, secure in their miserable state, are afraid of change because of the insecurity and unpredictability that freedom portends.  The tactics of the abuser never change, rather, they become increasingly intense (i.e., more of the same) with every expression of dissatisfaction by the abused.
  2. CEO’s who see their company hurdling to market insignificance but are afraid to innovate and re-think their business model to catch the next wave of customer-based needs, interests and desires.  To coin a phrase of Tom Peters,
    there are those who learn to ‘thrive on the chaos’ of the modern marketplace and those who will be buried by it.
  3. Many churches see the next generation slipping through their own fingers but they are afraid to do what it takes to instill a thriving faith.  Fear rules as they are afraid of losing their salvation by tinkering with established, comfortable patterns that lost their relevance on the previous generation years ago are now proving their tone deafness to the cries of the next one.
  4. School systems that see the evolving needs of their neighborhoods yet refuse to shift their organizational structures to anticipate needs that will facilitate student progression.
  5. Government bureaucratic systems that change only when incentivized by lucrative compensations or threatened with severe consequences.  All bureaucratic inertia strives towards self-preservation and system maintenance, avoiding change at all costs  and eschewing innovation by dis-incentivizing the mechanisms for doing so.

HOW’S THAT BEEN WORKIN’ FOR YA’?

Someone, at some point, must step forward to ask the elegantly simple questions such as Dr. Phil’s “How’s that workin’ for ya’?”  For the therapist we look for the family dance where everyone knows their part and plays it out predictably every time the family–or a member of the family–moves into it’s crushingly devastating cycles of painful interactions.  Close alliances with truth telling confidants can prove helpful for discerning the patterns and offering interventions to break up systems, initiating new, hopefully, healthier cycles.

CONCLUSION

If insanity is defined as “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result” then we all must plead partial insanity because of the benefits we derive from it.  At the same time, the desire for security can lead us to more of the same behaviors that hold within them the potential for dysfunction that can be troubling to marriages, families and other organizational systems.

Awareness is the key.  If we are critical of others who exhibit the signs of our definition of insanity, yet are not aware of our own tendency–and even, need–to do the same, we may find ourselves actually “in a state of mind which prevents normal perception, behavior, or social interaction” due to an illness of the mind.  Actually, Jesus said it best:

How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:4-5)

Reboot!

A friend of mine was investigating his home heating system.  It was making a terrible squeaking noise.  Fearing a fan motor that was going Dirty-Furnace-Fanbad he dissected the necessary components, cleaned them, put them back together and then hit the power switch.

Nothing.

Pilot would not lite.  Fan would not come on.  No hum.  No noise.  Nothing.

Concerned that he must have missed some detail he repeated the cleaning process another time or two.  Same result: nothing.

In the dead of winter this is not good; so, he called a technician to diagnose the problem and offer a solution.  When the technician arrived he reached around the side of the fan motor where the reset button was located.  He pushed the button.  Suddenly, everything fired up.  Problem solved…except he was still needing a new motor.  The terrible noise was back.

resetWith computers we call them reboots: “If all else fails, reboot!”

Modems and routers, power tools and electric motors…many appliances have reset or reboot buttons.  Why?  Well, sometimes commands get crossed, power brown-outs or surges occur and the engineers build in a simple mechanism that shorts out before the motor or appliance is destroyed; the computer reboots to straighten out software conflicts or memory overloads.  It is a means of putting everything back on track and to protect more expensive components from destructive overloads.

Rebooting Life

Life is filled with resets or reboots as well.  Personally, we need new year resolutions to help kick us off the couch and into healthier living.  New days offer new opportunities to change routines, alter bad behavior patterns, create new opportunities or to simply settle down and center our lives to face new challenges.

Many changes we can do on our own, privately.  Other changes may require another friend with whom to confide, to hold us accountable,  to give us alternative ideas or suggestions or to just listen as we work through our own thoughts and feelings to get motivated.  Some changes are best made in a group setting with others to cheer us on as we reboot aspects of our lives to lose weight, stop a bad habit or instill a new value that changes the priorities of our lives.

The truth is that rebooting or resetting seems to be a consistent reality in all areas of life.  From the changing of the seasons to the ‘circle of life’ there are times when it is good to start over, to refresh and to give it another shot.

Hence, this dynamic can be true for individuals, groups, couples, families, etc.   It’s just good to make a fresh start now and then.  When the challenges seem more complex than expected or when those changes effect other members of a family or one’s partner it is sometimes good to consult with someone who specializes in communication and behavior change such as a marriage and family therapist.

 

Preparing For The Holidays

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Preparing For The Holidays: For Those Who Grieve

Holidays can be tough after losing someone, especially during the first year since their passing.  So many adjustments must be made every day; but, as the holidays approach the challenges can be overwhelming.

On Thursday evening, November 10, from 7-9 p.m. we are hosting a seminar at the Church of Christ of St. Joseph entitled “Preparing for the Holidays.” Our purpose is to provide a place and time where we can share stories, tears, and ideas for making it through the tough times ahead.

The seminar is free and open to anyone who grieves.  If you know of someone who may find this time helpful please invite them to come with you so they won’t have to come alone.

The seminar will be led and facilitated by Stephen Pylkas and Russel Hicks, both of whom have experience in leading grief groups and guiding discussion.

A grief support group will be available through the holiday season.  A sign-up sheet will be offered at the seminar.

For more information, to let us know of your interest or for any questions or comments, please fill out the form below and Steve will reply.  Registration is not necessary so you can wait until the last minute to decide.


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Stephen “Steve” Pylkas is the minister of the Church of Christ of St. Joseph where he also has his private practice (Southshore Counseling, LLC) as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.

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Since losing his wife, Carol Jean Hicks, to cancer in 2008, Russell Hicks has led grief groups at Lori’s Place for several years.

 

Unconscious Incompetence

“Sure, I can do that!”

These are the words of someone who believes that they are competent enough to accomplish a task or set of tasks.  Whether or not their confidence is based upon personal experience or if it is wishful thinking will need to be determined by the performance and outcome of the person.

I recently experienced this dilemma in my own life.

I love to cook.  Over the years I have become fairly proficient in doing so in my kitchen.  Give me the recipe and the tools I will need and I believe I can approximate the desired outcome most of the time.chef

So, of course, working in a restaurant should be a natural next step;  a piece of cake!

When I found a restaurant that was willing to give me a chance I leaped at the opportunity, ready to go.

Wow!  Was I surprised!

Rather, I discovered that the Swedish Chef and I had a great deal in common!  In the swedish-chefprocess of struggling to remember stuff it was easy to become flustered, helping me realize that it is one thing to rapid-slice cucumbers for a salad for two people and quite another matter when  prepping massive quantities using someone else’s recipe in someone else’s kitchen!  The tasks required a completely different set of skills that I had not fully appreciated…until I tried to do it.

It reminded me of the four stages of competence that come with learning a new skill as referenced via Wikipaedia:

 

  1. Unconscious incompetence
    The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit. They may deny the usefulness of the skill. The individual must recognize their own incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage.[2] The length of time an individual spends in this stage depends on the strength of the stimulus to learn.[3]
  2. Conscious incompetence
    Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit. The making of mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage.[4]
  3. Conscious competence
    The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.[3]
  4. Unconscious competence
    The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become “second nature” and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.

The key is being persistent until stage 4 is achieved.

Here is the point.  The biggest room in anyone’s personal house is the room for improvement.  When one of those ‘rooms’ is discovered, it is important that there may be a learning curve that begins with an uninformed sense of competency that is, in actuality, an unconscious incompetence.  Whether it is simple areas of learning such as the skills involved in being thoughtful and courteous all the way to fundamental communication skills to deal with conflict….

There is always a learning curve to be conquered, a skill to be mastered, a task to perform.  The speed at which people can more through these four stages of competence depends upon many things.   At times there may be great advantages to learning a new skill by employing the service of a Marriage and Family Therapist who can assess the interpersonal needs, help people devise a strategy for accomplishing their task, and move quickly to the goal, stage 4, unconscious competence.

 

Family Time

FamilyVacationAs summer begins to make way for the fall a whole host of challenges open up for many families.  Preparing for school and all of the activities associated with sports and other special opportunities present all kinds of scheduling challenges.

During the month of August many families squeeze in their vacations and special activities and events before the rigors of the new school year’s demands begin.  As the end of summer breaks approach there are a few things to keep in mind that might be helpful.

  1. Quantity versus Quality – Family quality time often happens spontaneously and  unexpectedly.  So, quantity time makes quality time more likely to occur any time, not just during summer vacations.
  2. Communication Is Critical – It is impossible to not communicate.  Therefore, it is important to be consciously intentional of what we are communicating to increase the likelihood that people are hearing the messages we are wanting to send.  This is especially true as family members work to navigate through times of transition.conflict-in-family
  3. Golden Rule Rules – Treating family members as we wish to be treated will go a long way towards fostering considerate behaviors.  Power moves such as raised voices, belittling comments and other forms of intimidation may bring immediate compliance; but, the long-term consequences are often less desirable.
  4. Loving Listening – In all of the hustle-bustle at this time of year a listening ear can go a long way towards helping family members work through their own difficulties on their own.  Just listening to ourselves out loud can help strengthen our reasoning abilities and self-governing behaviors that will internalize over time.  In an age of instant messaging and electronic noise, we all need a good listener who will take the needed time to actively hear what we are trying to say.

These simple guidelines may help make this hectic time of year less trying as everyone works together to make the new school year the best ever.

Family Care: The Value of the First Call

As ‘problems’ go most of us move through a wide variety of them daily without much fanfare.  Who is going to pick up the kids after practice and when do they need to be there?  What to toss into the crock pot for dinner tonight or checking the bank account balance before picking up the laundry.  Squeezing in a workout while trying to decide whatmeworrywhere to eat between work and soccer practice for the kids.

Problems come and problems go.  Then again, there are those problems that linger.  Nagging resentments, annoyingly repetitive behaviors, bad habits, frustrating neighbors, overbearing bosses.  These problems nag at us; but, in general, we learn to live with them.  We must learn to live with them because more important things overshadow the urgency of addressing these things.

Then there are those significant problems that pound on the door for our attention.  These challenges don’t care about whether or not their timing is convenient, nor do they pay attention to whether or not you are ready for them.  They are here.  You must deal with them. You cannot ignore them.  Deal with them, NOW!

This is not to say that we do not try to put them off for a more convenient time or when we feel that we are ready to address them.  We workaround them, change our behavior patterns, elephant_in_the_roomseek out new relationships or drop old ones.  The problem becomes the elephant in the room that we have walked around, ignored, avoided and refused to talk about; but, it is still there, growing, devouring our resources, smelling, making more messes and behaving rudely.

Sometimes delaying action on problems is wise. Indeed, Aaron Burr is credited for contrasting the maxim ‘Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today’ with ‘Never do today what you can as well do tomorrow.’  While often used derogatorily in reference to the procrastinator’s excuse, his logic was that premature action may cause regret when a better option may have materialized by delay.  There is wisdom for timing the intervention.

Nonetheless, in the end, there comes a time when we must deal with our challenges and there are times when we need help.  It’s ok.  Oftentimes, it is that first dialing of the number of a trusted friend or family member, pastor or counselor that truly indicates that you are moving in the direction of resolution.  That first phone call or the first conversation about the problem can be among the healthiest signs of all.

 

 

So, You’re Getting Married?

By now many will have picked the setting for the wedding, worked out the invitations and the mailing list, chosen the reception and honeymoon locations and taken care of many of the details in between.  Now it is just a matter of planning for and going through the wedding itself.

With the time, energy and expense that goes into preparing for a wedding might I suggest that one expense worth considering is pre-marital counseling.  Usually 4-6 sessions can encourage thoughtful conversations before the knot is tied rather than risk potentially explosive confrontations later.

More importantly, there are times when certain insights and new understandings before tying the knot can enrich our lives afterwards.  Especially when it comes to communication skills, conflict resolution coaching to help couples push through tough issues constructively can be priceless.  The skills needed to produce more win/win situations can make all of the difference in contrast to the win/lose scenarios that can be so destructive.

 

Evil, Innocence & Traffic

traffic jamDriving through Detroit recently I was impressed by how much we all depend upon everyone else obeying the rules of traffic.  For example, anyone who has been through driver’s training knows that the rules of the road are to obey the speed limits, use your turn signal when changing lanes, keep proper distance between your car and the one in front of you, slow down in construction zones, etc.

When people obey the rules it is often appreciated by other rule-abiders who are grateful for simple things like predictability, a shared commitment to minimizing dangerous situations, thoughtfulness and consideration on the road.  When accidents occur among rule-abiders, it is easy to believe the best and assume the fault was due to a malfunction of the car, an unanticipated road hazard or some health issue such as a heart attack, sudden kidney stone or some other natural, unpredictable event.

Others who appreciate those who obey the rules are those who do not have regard for the rules.  While they share some of the same values such as an aversion to pain from serious accidents, they are also grateful for people who keep a safe distance from the car in front of them so they can weave back and forth through traffic.  Also venerated are law abiding people who choose to obey the speed limit and stay in the right lanes except to pass.  This honorable practice gives freedom to the anarchical motorist allowing wide-open left lanes for traveling at excessive speeds, knowing that if a legalist wishes to change lanes he or she will use the turn signal giving the speeder time to quickly accelerate and race by before the car’s lane change begins.

This tongue-in-cheek perspective on traffic rules leads me to a more serious reality that involves the fingerprint of evil.  Enamored by those who assume shared core values for life, personal responsibility, deference to others and respect for the individual, the person consumed by evil intentions perceives these behaviors to be weaknesses upon which they choose to capitalize.  Surrounded by people who choose to trust, believing the best in others, evil people see opportunities for doing as they wish in spite of the rules with one governing principle: don’t get caught.  These people laugh in the face of victims and sneer at law enforcement personnel, marvel at their own ingenuity for beating the system and covering their tracks, leaving behind little more than circumstantial evidence…and, of course, the victims of their crimes.

In Psalm 36:1-4, David writes:

I have a message from God in my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before their eyes. In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin. The words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful;  they fail to act wisely or do good. Even on their beds they plot evil; they commit themselves to a sinful course and do not reject what is wrong.

The point is that a the total disregard for others begins many times in the small things done in secret.  We first note it as a twinge of conscience that informs that what we are about to do is wrong and we choose to blow past our own internal warnings to stop.  As James observes in James 1:13-15,

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

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“Cain” by Lovis Corinth

This is not to say that minor infractions of our consciences will make us into mass murderers.  I am simply observing that the inkling for doing good or evil begins somewhere among the little choices we make every day and the fruit of those decisions impacts our own inner compass as well as the lives of those around us.

As God told Cain shortly before he decided to murder his brother, Abel, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7).

It seems to me that the nature of man’s struggle with God has not changed very much: it still comes down to those little choices we make every day.

Helping people overcome obstacles, manage transitions and reach potentials.