Everybody wants to know how to build better relationships. Why is something everybody desires so very hard to find, create or maintain? Obviously, the way we communicate plays a huge role in the satisfaction we feel in our relationships. Additionally, there are some fundamental ideas that just plain make a difference in how we relate to each other and the world around us. Here, I’m writing about what I discover as I explore the world of relationship and how I can help myself do relationship better.

Wednesday, September 20, 2045

Building Better Relationships Matters

Unless you live alone in a cave in the Himalayas, you interact with people every day of your life. Everyone knows how important relationship building skills are. We all want to create better relationships and we all know how much the quality and satisfaction we feel with our current relationships matters. Most of us have felt the pain of relationships going sour and dysfunctional at some point in our lives and NEVER want to do that again. In these pages I'm writing about the ideas and practices that help create beautiful, satisfying relationships. We all want it; let's all work together to create it.

We can create connections that work. We can improve the connections we have. We can and we must.

Even if we are experiencing a hurtful or dysfunctional relationship, the more we understand interpersonal dynamics the better we can either deal or walk away and start over.  If you can't walk away, then learning better coping skills really helps. I know it's not easy. I've been there. But having been there, I also know we can do better. Doing better personally can change the dynamic or at least clarify your best options regardless of your circumstances. Even when our exterior situation sucks, we can improve the quality of our relationship to ourselves; and trust me, that makes all the difference in the world. It changes everything for the better. To love and accept yourself is the most important relationship of all. We can do this. We can.

Building Better Relationships Matters

Monday, May 26, 2014

Like Stars, We Burn Bright

         While transferring over my fourth Morning Moment from way back in 2003, I wrote an update. I decided it was relevant enough to post here in my relationship blog. Relationships are tricky things; but their trickiness is a fertile field filled with nuggets of gold that we can mine out.

         Last time we talked about ways that we distort our perceptions and project that distortion on others to escape our self-recriminating feelings from falling short of our own idea of who we are. In short, we betray ourselves and then begin to make up stories about why our betrayal is someone else's fault. It's a form of self-justification designed to make us feel okay with our choices because whatever whatever just wasn't our fault. This is a good thing to know and think about. It's a good thing to begin to recognize and then change.

         Reading a post I'd written such a long while back reminded me of another good thing to know and think about.
   Once, I lived with two beautiful women, Jennifer and Monica. I adored them both. Monica was my partner at the time and together, we were roommates with Jennifer. It was truly a lovely and treasured time in my life.

         One day, only a little while before Monica and I moved in with Jen, I was sitting on her couch and she was standing across the room from me, pouring out her heart. Confusion and dismay about a situation she was experiencing in her dating life poured out of her and washed over me. It was like I'd stepped from the beach into the swell of the ocean, expecting a gentle, rolling tide but smashed with a tidal wave.

             "Oh Holman," she'd cried. "Is there something wrong with me?"
         "Absolutely not," I reassured her and then went on to tell her precisely why there was nothing wrong with her. Life is just plain hard, and all to often we don't know how to walk through it with the grace and Divinity that is our birthright.

         I only vaguely remember the details. Nor can I recall what it was exactly that sparked a moment of insight; but as insight goes, I instantly knew more that I had known a micro moment before.

         Don't get me wrong, I love my Dad; but when I was a kid, bless his heart, my Dad yelled a lot. I quickly discovered that if I said anything to excuse or defend myself, he yelled more. As I write this, I'm realizing the hidden gold in that collection of seemingly unpleasant moments. I learned how to hold my tongue. I learned to be careful in my words. Since words matter; since words can hurt, or words can heal, learning to be aware of my use of them is truly a valuable gift. 

Finding hidden gold in difficult circumstances
         On the other side, I developed the mistaken idea that if I didn't engage, that if I didn't yell back, if I didn't say the snide and mean things that popped into my mind during conflict -- then I was  being the superior man. I mistook my self-righteousness for reality.

         So, I'm talking to Jennifer and suddenly, just like that, I know better. Monitoring and controlling my words, or even my body language is a valuable beginning; but ultimately, it's only half the ball game. To really win, I needed to learn to refine and monitor the energy that was flowing between me and my conflict partner, (thought and emotions are made of energy). Or more all-encompassingly, I needed to learn better ways of broadcasting between me and EVERYone.

          "If looks could kill," the saying goes. People can feel what we are broadcasting. Even if they are not consciously aware of it, people both feel and react to the energy of thought and emotion that we are projecting. If our thoughts or emotions are negative or violent, people know it, consciously or unconsciously, people know it. If our thoughts or emotions are loving and kind, well, people feel that too, and then they respond to it. 

         Think about it, our thoughts and emotions help determine and shape other people's behavior and response patterns. That's heavy stuff, man. This is the ultimate understanding of self-responsibility.

         We are stars and we burn bright! 
We are stars!

         We are unceasingly bombarding the energy of our being, the energetic quality of our thoughts and emotions in every direction, for good or for ill. And just like a star we can blast a concentrated beam of energy, our own solar flare, out into space. But unlike a star, we can project this solar flare directly at the target of our attention. In massage school, they frequently told us, "Energy goes where attention flows." There is no end to energy; it flows and flows and then keeps on flowing. Yet, for us, energy will flow where we direct it.

         If I am angry and I refrain from yelling mean and hurtful things, that is all to the good. Who wants to be mean  or hurtful? Yet, if I am angry and in my stony silence, I glare daggers -- I have formed my solar flare and shaped it into a nuclear missile and launched it, silent but deadly, at my enemy. When the hateful energy blasts over my conflict partner, it hurts them. They will respond to that hurt; consciously or not, their behavior will be altered. Their response to me  will be distorted. Even more sadly, that distortion might propagate itself in an ongoing cycle of negativity as the hurt I created is passed on as poison to others all around. 

         People have within them all possible human emotions and all possible human actions. We call out, we invite emotions and actions as direct responses to the energy we project as we interact, as well as the words we say and the way we behave. Why not invite the loving and beautiful parts of other people to come forth? Everyone has the choice of how they act and respond, but by broadcasting from the positive side of the human spectrum, we create the most welcoming and encouraging palette from which other people paint their responses. 

Like Stars, We Burn Bright
         My exchange with Jennifer that day taught me that I needed to take responsibility for both my words AND the energy of my thoughts and emotions. Both can be formed into weapons and prove hurtful. I don't wish to be either.         Obviously, it's taking the game to a new level. Plus, it's hard: this thing about being self-responsible. Becoming aware of the need to monitor and refine the energy I broadcast was the first step and all of life's experiences offer an opportunity to practice. I am grateful to you, my imaginary reader, for affording me a reminder. Reminders are good and necessary, lest we get completely caught up in the urgency of the game and forget the finer things of Spirit; lest we forget the greater value in refining the way we move through the dream of this world and slumber on. May we awaken to our finest being, the expression of Divinity that we truly are. 

         Remember! Just like the slings and arrows of negativity or the nuclear missiles of anger and hatred --  the gorgeous and comforting outflow of unconditional love and radiant acceptance likewise bursts from our being, broadcasting brightly outward in golden waves of love. The former hurts; the latter heals. Yes we are that powerful. From moment to moment, the choice is ours. What are we broadcasting right now? May it be filled with love and aloha,


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Getting Out of the Box! This Book Builds Better Relationships
-- Get it. Read it. Live it. --

Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box by the Arbinger Institute 

It may seem counter-intuitive that my first post on building better relationships centers on a beautiful and profound little business book. If you are like me, then a book aimed at the business world would likely not show up on your reading list. On the other hand, even if you devour business books for brunch, you might have missed this one.


It’s a thin volume fat with rich and delicious content. I’ve been whole-heartedly recommending Leadership and Self-deception ever since being required to read it in my interpersonal communication course at Utah State University.

I remember one night, lying restless and awake in bed, longing for sleep to rescue me from my own sour and negative thoughts. My feelings were pretty bright that night and I was wrestling with my own negativity. I think I was ahead on points, but in danger of being pinned to the mat of my own grumbling, critical mind when I suddenly remembered one of the main points of this little book, how we tend to make others wrong, to make ourselves right. On the one hand, it was like a slap in the face – I know better; and yet still I fell into old patterns of stinky thinking. On the other, it was more than just remembering something I know, I suddenly FELT myself acting out a role. I observed myself in the act of projecting my sins on somebody else. It was revolutionary and liberating. I reversed my opponent and suddenly I had my negativity squarely pinned and tapping out of the match.

The power and beauty of this book it that it can immediately help you to live differently and better. The changes you cement into your habits of thought, the changes you inculcate into the way you perceive yourself and others will immediately fertilize every relationship you are engaged in. I’m being serious, this is not hyperbole. To mix my metaphors, this is a game changer in the flower garden of your life.

Through this book The Arbinger Institute moves the unhealthy thought patterns that infect relationships into the operational theater of how people live and how people can create a conceptual framework that revolutionizes the art of living. It’s soul deep surgery for how we operate in relationship. They provide a scalpel, as it were, to remove unhealthy habits and to graft in a more successful strategy for relating to ourselves and everyone around us, be they our lover or friend, coworker or boss, parent or child.

            For the authors, the self-deception of the book’s title is defined as the cumulative effect of the attribution errors and other mind mistakes that people commonly make (stuff like projection, or inflating other people’s faults while minimizing our own responsibility, or just being wrong in the causes we assign for things that happen), which can be summarized as the need to be right. This leads to various forms of self-deception; or what The Arbinger Institute calls being “in the box.” 

         The box is a distortion we impose on our emotional reality. Self-deception puts you in the box because self-deception is a form of betrayal.  In this case, betrayal refers to any moment where we make the choice to ignore doing something we think we ought to. If we think we should and don’t, we tend to feel guilty. No one likes to feel guilty and therein lies the key to putting ourselves in the box.

They describe the process like this:
  • When I betray myself, I begin to see the world in a way that justifies my self-betrayal.
  • When I see a self-justifying world, my view of reality becomes distorted.
  • So – when I betray myself, I enter the box.
  • Over time, certain boxes become characteristic of me, and I carry them with me
  • By being in the box, I provoke others to be in the box

Like Einstein’s famous quote about the futility of trying to change a problem from within a problem, The Arbinger Institute suggests that affecting positive change from within the box is problematic, difficult if not impossible. They go on to suggest ways that we can get out of the boxes in our lives that create this difficulty needlessly.

            One clue I was in the box occurred during an argument with a former partner. “You’re not as perfect as you think you are!” she yelled. My public face includes an idea of being a kind, patient, loyal, and understanding person. So, every time I act in a manner that is less than kind, patient, loyal and understanding, I have betrayed myself. That feels bad, so I cleverly find ways, such as projection and other attribution errors, to justify my failing. I shift blame from myself to others. The behaviors that arise from this justification and shift are based in falseness and people can feel falseness, just as my partner did. My behavior put her in the box with me so that we could fight and I could blame it all on her. By subtly and unconsciously provoking her, I could feel hurt and misunderstood. Since she was clearly wrong, I could make myself right.

The magic of this book is that by recognizing that I am in the box, I have an opportunity to get out and by getting out, change my behavior. Changing my behavior changes the way people respond. It’s a powerful paradigm and your relationships will thank you.

            At its most basic, getting out of the box is a two part process. First, we as individuals need to simply realize and admit that we are in the box in the first place. We need to accept self-responsibility for our own attribution errors, filters, self-justifications, and mistakes. In other words, we need to accept our inherent humanity and forgive ourselves for our dark sides. Secondly, we need to relate to people as people, not projections, and give them as much slack as we ourselves desire. I didn’t know about boxes and how they invite unwanted and negative response behavior in others back then. I never got out of the box with that particular partner. I wonder how my relationship might have ended out differently if I would have known this life changing paradigm.

            Leadership and Self-Deception is a modern parable, an extended narrative, which settles in happily with our need to listen to and create stories. Since we both create our world and experience it through the words we think and say, and since we are eternally writing stories for ourselves and taking in the stories of others, this little book offers a profound narrative that is rich with the seeds of a new way of creating and experiencing our world. Why live a horror story or a conflict ridden drama when you can change you story into a fairy tale or a romance novel? The ideas in this book will have a profound effect on both you and all the people in your life that matter. Which ought to be everyone right?

Let’s all shred our boxes like bashing down the Berlin Wall and reunite with all that once separated us from both ourselves and others. Reading Leadership and Self-Deception is a just the sledge hammer we need to pound down the walls of our boxes until they are rubble at our feet. Let’s do it. I’m game if you are.

With Love and Aloha,