But out and start problem solving in earnest

Do you obsess, stuck in mental wheel-spinning, when you need to make a decision?

Thinking leads to solutions. Agitating builds anxiety.

Have you been thinking about how you’d like to handle, or wish you had handled, a challenging situation in your life like a communication problem in your relationship or a difficult dilemma at work?  Thinking is forward-moving.  Obsessing, by contrast, just agitates back and forth, back and forth.

Some people manage problem solving in a way that leads to creative solutions.  They then experience the calming relief that comes with having resolved a serious problem.  Others just get increasingly agitated and anxious.  What accounts for the difference?  The key may lie in one little three-letter word.

What word can cause your mind to agitate like a washing machine?  See if you can spot it in the following line of self-talk.

“I’d like to go to the mountains this weekend.”

“But there’s no way I can do that with my house needing to get cleaned up.”

“Maybe I can clean it up after work on Monday.”

“But I know I’ll be too tired to tackle it then.”

“But it looks like such beautiful weather and it’s been so long since I’ve gone hiking.”

Could you tell what three-letter word was the culprit in this frustratingly agitating inner dialogue?  If you guessed that the word that was so demoralizing was but, you guessed right.

But deletes whatever came before.  Like the agitator cycle in your washing machine, each time your thoughts move forward, but shifts them back to where you started.

The good news

Notice what happens if you shift from using but, which is like a subtraction sign, to using and, which adds each new piece of information to your data base.

“I’d like to go to the mountains this weekend.”

“And at the same time there’s no way I can do that with my apartment needing to get cleaned.”

“Maybe I can clean it up after work on Monday.”

“And yet I know I’ll be too tired to tackle it then.”

“And at the same time it looks like such beautiful weather. I’d love to go hiking.”

“I know!  I’ll just skip picking up the apartment this weekend and live with the mess for a week unless I have a surprise burst of energy one evening after work.  Then next weekend I’ll do a thorough cleaning.  Maybe I’ll even ask a friend to come over.  We could clean my house together, and then switch to his.”

What was the outcome of using and, or better yet and at the same time?

The thinking pattern was forward-moving.  Each additional piece of information propelled the thinking forward toward a creative solution.

Replacing but with and or with and at the same time can have a similarly positive impact on problem solving dialogues in your important relationships.  That is, whether the thinking is just within your own thoughts, or in talking with another person, the linking word determines whether you will end up feeling inccreasingly agitated or gradually calmer.

Anxiety builds when solution-building on problems ahead swirls in circles or feels stuck.

By contrast, once someone clicks into problem solving thinking mode, linking their thoughts with and rather than but, a plan of action is likely to emerge.  With a plan, anxiety is likely to dissipate.  Try it….


© Copyright 2014 Susan Heitler, Ph.D, All rights Reserved.
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Susan Heitler, Ph.D., is a Denver clinical psychologist who specializes in treatment of anxiety, depression, anger, narcissism, parenting challenges, and marital difficulties. An author of multiple books, articles, audio cd’s and videos, Dr. Heitler is best known in the therapy community for having brought understandings of conflict resolution from the legal and business mediation world to the professional literature on psychotherapy. David Decides About Thumbsucking, Dr. Heitler’s first book, has been recommended for over twenty years by children’s dentists to help young children end detrimental sucking habits. From Conflict to Resolution, an innovative conflict-resolution theory of psychopathology and treatment, has strongly influenced the work of many therapists. The Power of Two and , and also Dr. Heitler’s  website for couples called PowerOfTwoMarriage.com, teach the skills for marriage success. In addition to her clinical work, Dr. Heitler coaches boards of directors in skills for collaboarative decision-making and, in the world of professional sports, Dr. Heitler serves as mental coach for a men’s doubles tennis team. Education Dr. Heitler graduated from Harvard  University in 1967, and earned her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from NYU in 1975. Awards and Accomplishments The editors of the master therapist video series Assessment and Treatment of Psychological Disorders selected Dr. Heitler from all the marriage and family therapists in the US to demonstrate the theory and techniques of couple treatment.  Her video from this series, The Angry Couple: Conflict Focused Treatment has become a staple in psychologist and marriage counseling training programs. The editors of the Psychologist Desk Reference, a compendium of therapeutic interventions, selected Dr. Heitler to write the chapter onTreating High Conflict Couples. Other editors of books on counseling theory and techniques have similarly invited her to contribute chapters on her conflict resolution treatment methods. Dr. Heitler’s 1997 book The Power of Two (New Harbinger), which clarifies the communication and conflict resolution skills that sustain healthy marriages, has been translated for publication in six foreign language editions–in China, Taiwan, Israel, Turkey, Brazil and Poland. Dr. Heitler has been invited to present workshops on her conflict resolution methods for mediators and lawyers, psychologists, and marriage and family therapists throughout the country.  She has been a popular presenter at national professional conferences including AAMFT, APA, SmartMarriages, and SEPI and has lectured internationally in Austria, Australia, Canada, China, Israel, Lebanon, Spain, and the United Arab Emirates. Dr. Heitler is frequently interviewed in magazines such as FitnessMen’s HealthWomen’s World, and Parenting.  Her cases have appeared often in the Ladies Home Journal column “Can This Marriage Be Saved?”  She is often interviewed by Denver TV newscasters for her perspectives on psychological aspects of current events. In May, 2004 Dr. Heitler appeared on the CBS Early Show where anchor Harry Smith introduced her as “the most influential person in my life—my therapist.”  He encouraged his viewers similarly to seek therapy when they are emotionally distressed and pre-marital counseling when they are contemplating marriage. Most recently, Dr. Heitler, three of her adult children and one of their friends were awarded a U.S. government Healthy Marriages Initiative grant to produce interactive games for teaching marriage communication and conflict resolution skills over the internet.  Seehttp://poweroftwomarriage.com to experience their fun, low-cost, high-impact methods of teaching the skills for a strong and loving marriage. Personal Dr.  Heitler and her husband of almost 40 years are proud parents of four happily married adult children and are grandparents, thus far, of a a baker’s dozen grandchildren.