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Why Should Couples Consistently Set New Year’s Resolutions Together? By Dr. Matt Eschler, Ph.D, LMFT

I have counseled couples for twenty-five years. Panicking, anxiously pacing, wringing hands, couples have wandered into my office, hoping to find some peace in their relationships. In the counseling arena we explore some very principled foundation ingredients that, when mixed together, produce peaceful, passionate relationships.

There are three fundamental ingredients that all of us need to exercise for a shot at a sound relationship. My challenge to you is to sit with your lover and assess the following three principles, and set specific goals to learn a little more, stand a little more firm, and increase your skills in these three areas:

The first foundation principle is friendship. Friendship is unilateral. Increase your friendship with your lover every couple of hours. You do this by sharing information, being trustworthy, and being transparent—without conditions.

The second principle that relationships will not survive without is influence. You must accept your lover’s influence. Men seem to have a slightly more difficult time with this, but both partners will benefit from allowing influence. Think about a time when there was disagreement in direction of relationship or activity. Did you allow your lover to have influence? Did you argue until one of you gave in? Was their healthy negotiation until a mutually satisfying result occurred? The hope is always influence and no competition. Get a little better at this in 2018!

Finally, the third principle is generating a governing purpose for your marriage. This is the North Star that holds you both accountable to a result that is desirable and cherished. If you are seeking the same purpose, you won’t go after hostile results. For example, my wife and I want to travel the world. If I sneak out and spend our travel money on a new truck and lots of clothes, we won’t have resources available to travel. That causes issues. If I save and we put our travel fund together and watch it grow together, we will eventually accomplish our common goal.

I invite you all to accept this challenge: In 2018 be a little bit better in all three of these areas. Sit with your lover and map out a specific strategy to accomplish these three goals to improve your relationship.

 

About the Author: Matt lives in St. George, Utah where he and his wife Chris are enjoying their life with each other. Since their kids have grown and moved out perusing their dreams Matt and Chris travel the world. They want to visit 200 countries before the are done. Matt and Chris are active in their community and enjoy working out, training for marathons, and spending time participating in numerous activities with their adult children.  Matt has received his PhD in Psychology. He is focused on the arena of resolving personal conflicts and improving interpersonal relationships. In addition to his Doctorate Degree Matt has earned a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy, studied Criminal Justice and received a category I licensure with Peace Officer Standard of Training along with a degree in the Arts of Business Management. Matt is a professor at Dixie State University and hopes to be part of the positive growth of Southern Utah.

The Holidays: Remembering What Matters Most by Cecilie Ott, LMFTA, MS

Man Looking at Cooked Turkey, Blurred.The holidays can be a wonderful time of the year with the sparkle of lights, family gatherings, and good food. However they can also remind us of what we may be lacking, and leave us feeling less than completely happy. We want so much to give of ourselves and yet often get overwhelmed with the stress that tends to accompany this special time of the year. If we are dealing with a major change or loss it can become even more challenging to feel the joy amidst the sorrow. One thing I have learned over the years is that no one is immune from pain and stress. Life is hard. However, I have also found that those tough times are when I have been pushed to dig deep and recognize what it is that matters the very most to me.

Here are some lessons I have learned that have helped me over the years to remember that which matters most.

Choose to Be Present
traditionWhen life becomes challenging we often focus on the future or on things outside our control. We may tell ourselves that we will be happy when we land a different job, make more money, find a new partner… the list goes on and on. We waste a lot of time waiting for happiness to happen down the road and fail to notice the little blessings right in front of us. Choosing to recognize the moments of goodness today enable us to be more ready to embrace the moments of greatness when they do enter our lives. If we only keep our sights focused on the destination, we will miss much of the journey.

Choosing to Love Deeply
MP900289480When we are suffering, we sometimes forget that we are not alone. There is strength in connecting with others. There is power derived from leaning on each other and receiving/giving support. Part of loving is accepting what another is able to give. It is also accepting what we are capable of giving and knowing when enough is enough. We may not always be able to extend ourselves as much as we would like, but loving ourselves gives us permission to give what we can and let that be sufficient. Loving those in our lives means slowing down and listening. It may be taking the time to notice the little things before they are gone.

Choosing to Slow Down
I cannot count the times I have been rushing around, checking if the kids teeth were brushed and gathering my stuff for the day when I have miscalculated the countertop and watched a cup of juice fall to the floor, almost in slow motion. It is in those moments that I am rushing, that I tend to make my biggest mistakes. Sometimes it is just spilt juice, but sometimes it is a hurtful word or a lack of sensitivity. Being hurried zaps the joy out of the little moments that draw us closer to others and hinders us from being more centered on those things that mean the most. Sometimes I have to remind myself to breathe, sit with a child, laugh, and listen.

I hope that at this special time of the year, we will remember what matters most. May we each find ways to lengthen the fleeting joyful moments and nurture those around us by being present today and loving more deeply. These principles can be the greatest gift we can ever give, not just to others, but also to ourselves.

CecilieAbout the Author: Cecilie Ott is an Associate Marriage & Family Therapist. She received her bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University in Psychology and her Masters degree in Marriage & Family Therapy from Utah State University. She has worked extensively in the area of addiction (substance abuse and sexual addiction), and loves working with couples to help strengthen and heal relationships. Cecilie is a native of Northern California and has called St. George home since 2006.

For Busy Parents: Increasing Quality Time With Your Kids by Carol Kim, LAMFT

tradition 3Life can get super busy. There are so many things we have to do in a day… make breakfast, feed the kids, change diapers, clean, make lunch, feed the kids, clean, work, clean, go shopping, put toys away. And we do it all over again the next day and the day after that. When we get into this kind of routine, it feels like there is no room to make time to connect with our children. We often feel stuck or too exhausted to problem solve. We don’t have to make drastic changes in our routine. The secret is that little moments every day add up. Here are several simple things you can do to better connect with your children.

1) Let your children help out. This can be challenging. For example, I’ve found that involving my toddler in the kitchen makes tasks longer and often creates a big mess. However, I know that she loves helping me mix things and measure ingredients. I also know that I feel happy when we spend this time together. In addition, helping can also teach kids things such as math and motor skills.

2) Talk with your children while driving. Engage them in conversation. Talk to them about how their day is going. Sing songs with them or sing to them if they are too young. They will enjoy it.

3) Watch TV with your kids. I sometimes find myself needing a break and put the TV on for the kids. This break time can be a great time to connect with your kids through cuddling or talking with them about what they are watching.

singer 34) Take 10-15 minutes out of your day to have one on one time with your child. This can be challenging, especially for mothers with many children or who work. Be disciplined in scheduling 10-15 minutes a day for the purpose of connecting with your child. If 10-15 minutes isn’t feasible, try 5 minutes, or if circumstances demand it spend time with one child a day . The important thing is consistency. During this time, play with them and give them your undivided attention.

5) Bedtime. Make it meaningful and a time you look forward to. Chat, tell each other stories, read books, sing, pray, or any other calming activity that allows you to connect..

As parents, sometimes we feel like we are in survival mode. Life gets busy but it is important to mindful of being present with our children. If we practice being in the here and now, our children will take notice and we will have a stronger relationship.

CarolAbout the Author: Carol Kim is a Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist who has spent the past 6 years practicing in several cities across the United States, including Boston, San Francisco, and now, American Fork. She is passionate about applying the principles of therapy to improve lives and relationships, and is committed to creating a safe, comfortable, and supportive environment.

The Pursuit of Happiness by Dr. Mike Olson

Portrait of FamilyAs a licensed marriage and family therapist, I was trained to assess, diagnose and treat mental and emotional illnesses in individuals, as well as relational patterns/problems in couples and families. The standard reference for classifying diseases (nosology) is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-V)(1). This manual provides a standard system for naming and categorizing (nomenclature) mental and emotional illnesses.
Competence to make sense of complex physical, emotional, and psychological symptoms in a manner that can lead to successful treatment is of paramount importance in healthcare. There is, by necessity, a place for the deductive and circular reasoning that guides professionals in helping clients.
This approach, while critical to the formation of an accurate clinical picture, is insufficient. What do I miss when I only wear the glasses of pathogenesis and psychopathology? I may miss some of the key factors that can lead to health, wellness, and ultimately, happiness. The term “salutogenesis” is a term coined by Aaron Antonovsky, a professor of medical sociology. He used this term to describe an approach that focused on factors that support human health and well-being, rather than on factors that cause disease. He also argued against falsely dichotomizing or separating health from illness but rather thought of this as a continuum (2). Antonovsky pointed that more than just disease and illness need to be considered in our scientific approaches to help others. The pursuit of happiness is a multi-billion dollar industry in the U.S. An article published by Forbes revealed that Americans spent 11 billion dollars on self-improvement books, CDs, seminars, coaching, and stress management programs in 2008, alone, a 13.6% increase from 3 years previous. We are clearly looking for happiness in a lot of places, but is there a science to uncovering it? A branch of psychology, called “positive psychology,” is beginning to shed light on this question. In a “Psychology Today” post by Christopher Peterson, Ph.D., he states “positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living. It is a call for psychological science to be as concerned with strength as with weakness; as interested in building the best things in life as in repairing the worst; and as concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling as with healing pathology.”(4) Positive psychology, he points out, is not to be confused with untested self-help, footless affirmation, or secular religion, no matter how good these make us feel. Peterson cites a few of the findings from positive psychology science, which include:
1. Most people are happy.
2. Happiness is a cause of good things in life and not simply along for the happy ride. People who are satisfied with life eventually have even more reasons to be satisfied.
3. Most people are resilient.
4. Happiness, strengths of character, and good social relationships are buffers against the damaging effects of disappointments and setbacks.
5. Crisis reveals character.
6. Other people matter mightily if we want to understand what makes life most worth living.
7. Religion matters.
8. Work matters if it engages the worker and provides meaning and purpose.
9. Money makes an ever-diminishing contribution to well-being, but money can “buy happiness” if it is spent on other people.
10. As a route to a satisfying life, eudaimonia (Greek origin, referring to a state of having a good indwelling spirit or being in a contented state of being healthy, happy and prosperous) trumps hedonism.
11. The “heart” matters more than the “head.” Schools explicitly teach critical thinking; they should also teach unconditional caring.
12. Good days have common features: feeling autonomous, competent, and connected to others.
13. The good life can be taught.
Attractive couple portrait.This last point speaks to the reality that one can learn to be happy and it is not simply, as Peterson put it, “the result of a fortunate spin of the genetic roulette wheel.” A physician colleague of mine often starts his conversations with his patients with a simple question, “What do you want your health for?” or “What gives your life meaning or purpose?” What a brilliant and simple way to change a focus in a system that often starts with “What seems to be the problem?” I’ve thought about practical ways to introduce this into my own life and family. An easy starting point for me was asking my children, “What was the best or most meaningful part of your day today?” This doesn’t mean we don’t talk about issues/problems that have come up and work to develop solutions for them; it just means I intentionally shift our focus to the good, the resourcefulness, the beauty, and the strength that lies within each of us and those around us.
References:
(1) http://www.psychiatry.org/practice/dsm.
(2) Antonovsky, A. “Health, Stress and Coping” San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1979.
(3) http://www.forbes.com/2009/01/15/self-help-industry-ent-sales-cx_ml_0115selfhelp.html.
(4) http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-good-life/200805/what-is-positive-psychology-and-what-is-it-not.

michael3About the Author: Dr. Michel Olson is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He is the clinical director of both WholeFit and the Centers for Couples and Families in TX. He earned a doctorate degree from Kansas State University and completed a post-doctoral fellowship in Behavioral Medicine at UTMB, Galveston

Fun and Play by Dr. Jeremy Boden, LMFT, CFLE

When was the last time you and your partner really had fun together? When was the last time you were truly playing together?

Family in PoolWhen working with couples at the Center for Couples and Families, one of the most consistent questions I ask to evaluate the current vitality of their relationship is about their level of fun and play. I’ve found in both my therapeutic and educational settings that couples overwhelmingly underestimate the power of play and fun in their long-term relationships. In fact, two findings consistently show up in the research: 1. Couples give too little notice to fun and play in their relationship and, 2. playing together and having fun is a key contributor to marital happiness among couples.

You might contend, “We are too busy for fun.” If this is your sentiment, let me be the first to validate that concern. Yes! our lives have become increasingly busy. Having fun just doesn’t seem productive when there are jobs to go to, rooms clean, kids to feed, and activities to attend. I know. It’s tough. However, humor me and let’s see if I can bring in another perspective to the importance of fun and play in marriage.

MP900309139Dr. John Gottman, an award-winning marital researcher, has interviewed and observed couples in his “love lab” for the last twenty-five years. He found that when couples maintain at least five times as many positive interactions as they do negative interactions their relationship is more likely to be stable. However, few people have wedding vows that state, “I promise to make this relationship stable all of our married life.” At the genesis of most marriages, couples hope for their relationship to be full of vitality and happiness for the length of their lives. Thus, the goal for couples should be to have 10 to 20 times as many positives as they do negatives. I believe the main reason this is important is because during times of tension, conflict, or frustration, if you don’t have a reservoir of positive interactions stored up, the negative interaction can drain any positive feelings you have for your partner and create more tension than the issue probably deserves.

MP900289480So, what is a positive interaction? A positive interaction is any pleasant interaction (great or small) where a bond is strengthened and fortified. Therefore, having fun and playing together as a couple is a form of positive interactions. This can include dates, surprises, romantic acts, flirtations, appreciation, physical affection, or just plain silliness. An example of a simple positive interaction occurred the other night between my wife and me. As we were winding down from the day, she found an app on her phone where one can take a picture and manipulate a self-photo with crazy hair, make-up, morph their face, and so on. We sat there for about 15-20 minutes making a variety of different silly pictures of me, her, and other family members. It was fun, silly, and, most importantly, bonding. That simple act, created a positive interaction between the two of us.

In my experience with couples, those relationships that do the best are those that are proactive and intentional about positive relationship habits. Most relationships don’t just accidently succeed but rather it is two partners committed to intentionally nourishing and enriching their relationship daily. So, let me help you be a little more intentional by giving you a little homework or, what I like to call, Home Practice. Tonight, set aside 20 minutes when you are both relatively relaxed and wound down. Then, with your partner, engage in the following activity:
1. Separately write down five ideas of things that would be fun.
2. Together share your ideas and be open to your partner’s ideas.
3. Do your best to engage in activities that are, for the most part, fun for both partners. But also try to stretch yourself a little.
4. Make a plan for this upcoming weekend to engage in one of the activities.
5. Finally, make a point to not shy away from moments in your day together where you could be more spontaneously playful, affectionate, flirtatious, and/or silly.

Make fun and play a healthy habit in your relationship and watch the fruits begin to blossom.

Jeremy2(1) (297x221)About the Author: Jeremy Boden, PhD, LAMFT, CFLE is a therapist at the Center for Couples and Families. He has a PhD in Family Studies and is a Certified Family Life Educator as well as an instructor at Utah Valley University.

Spring Cleaning Your Marriage by Chad Olson, LMFT

yellow 3How do you “Spring Clean” when it comes to your marriage? When I was growing up, I knew that every spring at the Olson household we would have a major cleaning session. It was time to dejunk, get organized and deep clean for the coming year because the house and yard tended to get neglected during the long winter.

As I reflect upon those “spring cleanings,” it was not an event I really looked forward to; in fact, I dreaded all the work. Yet, if I am honest with myself, there was something satisfying about working hard to get organized and make things look good again. These experiences have always reminded me that spring is a wonderful time of year because it’s symbolic of new life and rejuvenation.

Attractive couple portrait.New opportunity
Because of this, spring can offer an excellent opportunity to reflect on one of the most important relationships people experience during this life, their marriage. Because of “long winters” that occur at various times in marriage, there is value in taking time with your spouse to do a marital spring cleaning.
Sometimes when my parents asked me to complete a big project during spring cleaning, it seemed overwhelming and I didn’t even know where to start. My parents would then help me break down the bigger picture into smaller parts which made it possible for me to eventually complete the whole task.

If you feel overwhelmed by the prospect of analyzing your whole marriage, consider the following suggestions to start the cleaning. You may even want to share with your spouse these ideas or ideas of your own that would be helpful for your own personal marital spring cleaning.

Take a look back at your wedding
First, I would suggest that you take some time as a couple to look through your wedding album or watch your wedding video. As couples reflect upon their wedding, they start to remember the reasons why they decided to get married in the first place. They can think about everything they did in their dating and courtship that made their relationship strong.

Relationships are governed by laws and it will come as no surprise that couples who spend time together talking and doing fun things together are more attracted to each other. On the other hand, that same law states that for couples who neglect doing the fun things they did during dating and courtship, their relationship gets stale and mundane.
I realize that life gets busier after the wedding with careers, children, and challenges, yet couples who want to keep their relationship fresh will make time to do the things that made them fall in love with each other in the first place. So, get that photo album out and remind yourselves of that deep attraction you once had.

MP900440326Improve your friendship with your spouse
The next suggestion is to improve your friendship with your spouse. Research from the Gallup Organization indicates that a couple’s friendship could account for 70 percent of overall marital satisfaction. In fact, the emotional intimacy that a married couple shares is five times more important than their physical intimacy. This research is in line with other research studies asking happily married couples who have been together for over thirty years to what they attribute their marital happiness. The number one response was their friendship.
It seems simple, but friendships require time and effort. So what makes a good friend?
Simple qualities such as thoughtfulness and showing appreciation are a good start. Try to remember the little things throughout the day that your spouse is involved with and ask how they went. Make birthdays, anniversaries and holidays special by doing little things that remind your spouse they are your best friend.
A true friend is loyal, fiercely loyal. A genuine friendship is also based on principles of reciprocity, wherein both spouses are contributing and the result is mutually beneficial.

Consider the following quote from a well-respected ecclesiastical leader, Marlin K. Jensen:
Friendship is … a vital and wonderful part of courtship and marriage. A relationship between a man and a woman that begins with friendship and then ripens into romance and eventually marriage will usually become an enduring, eternal friendship. Nothing is more inspiring in today’s world of easily dissolved marriages than to observe a husband and wife quietly appreciating and enjoying each other’s friendship year in and year out as they experience together the blessings and trials of mortality.

Remember that even though spring cleaning can seem a little daunting, it can be very satisfying as well. So, let’s get cleaning.

OlsonAbout the Author: Chad Olson is a licensed marriage and family therapist in the state of Utah and the clinical director of the St. George Center for Couples & Families. He enjoys working with couples, families, and teens on various issues.

Stress: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly by Dr. Mike Olson, LMFT

stress 1The Good. We often think of stress as a bad thing, something that we must eradicate from our lives. Yet, without it, we would not be able to survive a single day. There is, deep within our brains, an amazing little factory called the hypothalamus that produces/secretes thousands of very powerful and potent chemicals called neuropeptides and neuro-hormones. The hypothalamus works with the pituitary and adrenal glands to secrete these hormones which include cortisol and epinephrine or adrenalin. The levels of these neuro-hormones rise and fall naturally daily (diurnal rhythms) and help us to wake up in the morning, focus and deal with the challenges of each day and finally allow us to drop off into sleep at night.

The Bad. The problem that most of us have is not the presence of stress or the stress hormones that flow through our blood stream each day. It is however, the excess of these hormones as they build up in the body without release. Take a car engine for example. The engine revs and shifts as the gas pedal is pressed. The RPMs continue to climb as the demands rise on the engine. If the pedal remains pressed down without release, the RPMs will reach a critical level and eventually the engine will overheat and breakdown. The brain and body work in a similar way. When the stressors of life place demands on us our brain produces the chemicals necessary to deal with that stress. The branch of the central nervous system (CNS) called the autonomic nervous system controls the “gas pedal” and the “braking system” of the body, called the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The beauty of these systems is that they are self-regulatory and will, if left alone, rebalance.

Power Struggle Between a Man and a WomanThe Ugly. The problem is that with repeated stressors (worries, financial stress, work and family problems, etc.) these systems fail to rebalance and keep the “gas pedal” pressed. Chronic elevation of stress hormones has been shown to lead to a host of health problems including auto-immune disorders, skin problems, musculo-skeletal pain, arterial/heart disease, inflammation, and the list goes on. The relationship between stress and performance is not linear; meaning that increase in stress will lead to increase in performance or functioning only to a point and then it deteriorates, leading us to function less and less effectively.

balanceWhat to do? Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardio-vascular surgeon and researcher from Harvard and founder of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine has spent the last 30+ years studying what he calls the “relaxation response.” His work has shown that with a few simple steps, entirely within our control, we can activate this relaxation response, or brake system in the body.

The first step is diaphragmatic breathing (slow inhaling breath through the nose, slow exhaling breath through the mouth with pursed lips to slow flow of air down). Deep and slow breathing increases and decreases pressure on the vagal nerves and flow of blood from the heart to the brain. The rhythm of the heart is affected (more variability or change in the rhythm) which is connected to the brake system of the body as well.

The second step is to focus on a word, a number or a short phrase that is repeated in the mind as you take deep breaths. As thoughts come into your mind (random, distracting, intrusive, worrying thoughts), you passively disregard or let these thought flow through your mind and then return to your repetition (word, phrase, number). Dr. Benson has shown that within 3-5 minutes of following these steps, there are measurable reductions in cortisol, epinephrine, increased oxygen in the blood, increased delta/theta waves in the brain (slow, undulating, relaxed brain frequencies), among others. Finding the place/time to practice this basic skill on a daily basis can have measurable positive effects on health by significantly reducing stress in the body.

If any of our therapists or health coaches can be of assistance in your quest for wellness and stress reduction, let us know and we will be happy to help. Our staff has experience and training working with stress reduction and management using this technique among others (biofeedback, psychotherapy or talk therapy, autogenic techniques, EEG neurofeedback, etc.).

MikeAbout the Author: Dr. Michel Olson is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He is the clinical director of both WholeFit and the Centers for Couples and Families in TX. He earned a doctorate degree from Kansas State University and completed a post-doctoral fellowship in Behavioral Medicine at UTMB, Galveston

How Fear Gets in the Way of Your Relationship by Erin Rackham

MP900387501Every couple I see in my practice comes in needing help with one thing in their relationship—connection. They may not know how to put it into words, or may have other concerns on top of this, but after a few sessions, it always seems to come down to this core need to feel connected to their partner. It may seem like a bold statement to say that every single couple needs help with this, but I believe it to be true because so many of our problems could be solved without outside help if we were truly connected to each other.

Now, it might be important here to define what I mean by connection—true connection—because I’m not just talking about the “Hi, how was your day?” after-work-greeting in the kitchen. The connection I’m talking about involves being emotionally attuned to one another so intimately that we can sense when something is off and we can create the space in our relationship to share and talk about it with each other. But again, this sharing and talking is not the typical problem-solving that most couples do. This sharing involves being willing to explore our deep, dark, scary emotions of fear and inadequacy and allow our partner to comfort us through each of these feelings instead of pretending they aren’t there.

MP900309139This is difficult work to do in therapy because for most people, they’ve never experienced a relationship that was safe enough for their insecurities and pain to be divulged in, let alone for it to then be listened to, respected, and taken care of. Most of us have dealt with this lack of emotional safety our whole lives by either anxiously pursuing for reassurance that we matter to our partner, or by withdrawing to avoid the feeling that we aren’t good enough for our partner. In therapy, we ask you to break your patterns and take a risk with your emotions, knowing that they will be held precious by your therapist at first, and eventually by your partner as well.

The neat thing about all of this is that when we are in love, we have a natural tendency to protect ourselves with defense mechanisms because the person we love has more power than anyone in the world to hurt us, but we have another even more powerful desire to love and cherish that person, we just let fear get in the way of our execution sometimes. Therapy is a safe place to start trying to put aside the defense mechanisms and the fear and start practicing emotional vulnerability with one another, which can lead to that true connection we all so desperately need to feel.

Erin-Rackham-HeadshotAbout the Author: Erin Rackham is a licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. She earned an M.S. from BYU and is currently completing her PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy. She is currently a therapist at the Provo Center for Couples and Families.

How to be a Fearless Public Speaker, by Jonathan Decker, LMFT

leaderHow do we become a fearless public speaker? “According to studies, most people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. This means, at a funeral, the average person would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.” – Jerry Seinfeld
About a decade ago I performed with a comedy group in college. Some nights I was “on,” but other nights I’d get nervous about the crowd. Fear of embarrassment led me to forget my lines or stumble in my improv attempts. Joel, one of my fellow performers, was an audience favorite who never seemed to choke on stage. When I asked him for the secret to his fearlessness, his answer surprised me: “I just try to remember that there are people in the audience who are going through hard times. I have the privilege of helping them to laugh and feel happy, so each performance is my gift to them.”

Close-up of four business executives standing in a line and applaudingI had committed the cardinal mistake of public speaking and performance: I had made it about me. I got wrapped up in wanting people to be impressed by me. I worried about embarrassing myself if I forgot my lines or that my ad-libs would fall flat with the crowd. Joel taught me to take myself out of the equation. Instead of worrying over what people would think about me, I started to focus on what I could do for the people in the audience.
It changed my entire approach and has helped me to find my courage as a comedian, a presenter, a group therapist, and even at church. Great presenters, preachers, speakers, and performers don’t get that way by mechanical adherence to “tips” on vocal intonation, talking with their hands, or maintaining eye contact with the crowd. They’re great because they care about, and connect with, their audience; those other things are just tools.
To be great in front of a crowd, shift the focus away from what they think about you and to what you can give them. You can better their lives! Whether it’s a message, information, a product, or humor, have confidence in the material and the service you are providing. Then talk to your audience intimately and personally. I don’t mean that you should share personal secrets. I mean that you should take down the wall which distances a speaker from their audience.

To do this, think of any teacher, comedian, or speaker that you’ve really enjoyed. Odds are that you felt that they were speaking to (or with) you, not at you. We speak at a crowd when we want to distance ourselves for protection. We speak to (or with) a crowd when we care more about them (and what we are offering them) than ourselves.
This isn’t to say that nervousness isn’t part of the equation, nor do I wish to imply that this is the one and only key to overcoming public speaking jitters. Some cases of social anxiety, for example, are intense and require more than what I’ve outlined here. But forgetting myself as much as possible in order to lighten the burden of others has been a tremendous help to me whenever I get in front of a crowd. I hope that it will be for you as well.

jonathan - CopyAbout the Author: Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist at the St. George Center for Couples and Families and is the Clinical Manager of the Online Center for Couples and Families. He can be contacted at jdeckertherapy@gmail.com or by phone at (435) 215-6113.

Day to Day Traditions: How they Strengthen Your Relationships by Camille Olson

traditionDid you know that the day to day traditions strengthen your relationships? Growing up, the holidays were a magical time for my family. We looked forward to the beautiful china that was set on the Thanksgiving table, the Danish Christmas breakfast of bread and gravy, and preforming the holiday plays we spent endless hours creating. Why did we care so much about what was done during the holidays? Because it was a Tradition!
The online dictionary defines a tradition as “a time honored practice,” or “customs and beliefs that are handed down from one generation to another.” A tradition is “something that comforts us and makes us feel grounded-regardless of what’s caving in around us.”*

When we think of traditions, we think of holidays and the special things we do to celebrate together with the people we love. However, some of the best and most important traditions are celebrated daily. These daily traditions do not have to be complex or expensive, but they do have to be consistent (or they wouldn’t be traditions ). “Celebrating a tradition with somebody says “I love you” or “you’re important to me”-with actions, rather than just words.”*

There are many little traditions that we can do daily that will make a difference in the lives of those we care about. Here are my two favorite traditions that I remember growing up.

tradition 2Reading: One of my favorite times of the day was when either my Mom or Dad would sneak away from my other siblings and climb into my bed, pull the covers up, and read with me. We would always read, but a lot of the times it ended up in laughter and talking about the day’s events. It was my time to spend with my parents.
Reading aloud is the most effective ways to model language and improve language skills. In addition, reading with a child has also been shown to improve emotional and social development. It is a time when the child can form appropriate bonds of love and attachment. Barry Zuckerman, of the department of Pediatrics at Boston University, School of Medicine said, “most importantly, reading aloud is a period of shared attention and emotion between parent and child. Children ultimately learn to love books because they are sharing it with someone they love.”**

tradition 3Mealtimes: The other time of the day that my family spent together without fail was dinner time. My parents were very diligent in creating this time for us to come together as a family. At the time, I didn’t appreciate the stability it brought into our family. In a world of fast food and busy schedules and activities, it is hard to slow down long enough to eat together as a family. Eating “on the road” (not road kill, totally different article) seems like the norm these days. However, having mealtimes together is probably the most natural of all the traditions because everyone needs to eat and we’ve been doing it in social groups throughout time. “A telephone survey of almost 2000 teenagers indicated that frequent family dinners were associated with decreased risk for smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and smoking marijuana. Family mealtimes can be seen as a positive context for emotional and physical well-being among youth. The rituals developed by families during mealtimes and the repeated behaviors over time can build a sense of unity, identity, and connectedness that may be particularly important during adolescent development. These shared repeated rituals help to stabilize families and form a sense of tradition and structure.”***

It is never too late to start new traditions, or to “restart” old traditions that have dwindled over the years. Try it, you might like it! Find something that is important to you and your family, and start doing it daily, weekly or monthly. Research has shown that behavior change takes time and practice to stick. In fact, if you can stick to something for six months it will likely stick around for much longer. It is worth the effort!

*“Pay Tribute with Tradition” by Jan Denise
**Zuckerman’s research is published in the Journal Archives of Disease in Childhood
***“Family Dinner Meal Frequency and Adolescent Development: Realtionships with Developmental Assets and High-Risk Behaviors”, Journal of Adolesent Health, Volume 39, Issue 3

camille2About the Author: Camille Olson is currently working in the marketing department at the South Shore Center for Couples & Families. She received her B.S. degree from Brigham Young University in elementary education. She is married and is the mother of five children.