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Tired of having your emotions run your life? Do you feel an edge to your life that causes you to worry? Alan offers easy-to-use, practical help to make your life and your relationships happier, healthier, and whole.

4 Guidelines for a Happier Life »

The one practice that will improve any relationship.

In my first book, Partnership Tools, I discussed in great detail why making requests needs to replace complaining in healthy relationships. Requests focus on what we want instead of what we don’t want, they are solution oriented, focus on the future instead of the past, and, if done well, address behavior, not personality. Many clients of mine were able to successfully replace complaining with making requests and consequently enjoy healthier and more loving relationships. But in some instances requests, even though well presented as requests, not complaints, were heard and reacted to as criticisms.

As an example, let’s consider a client who had repeatedly arrived late for appointments. I might at that point simply request that my client make the effort to arrive on time so that we could have the full time to work together each session. Sometimes my client would feel criticized by me even though I had merely made a request in a matter-of-fact, non-critical tone of voice. This response was very interesting to me and awakened my curiosity. I wondered why people felt criticized when faced with a simple request and what would enable people to hear a request as only a request?

After some consideration, it dawned on me that the crucial context for whether someone will hear a request as merely a request is feeling appreciated. When people feel unappreciated, they easily and often hear any request as a criticism. In contrast, when they feel appreciated, they can easily hear a request as a request that they are free to honor or not.

I immediately began to test this theory out with my clients and in my own life. The results were astounding. My clients came back to my office reporting amazing improvements in their relationships. Along with their partners more easily hearing requests as requests, almost every other aspect of their relationships improved. Their partners became more attentive, more affectionate, more playful and more thoughtful. It worked in almost every case.

I now consider expressing appreciation and acknowledgment the single most powerful tool to improve any relationship.

In my own life, I began to verbally appreciate my wife and two daughters more. Their response was amazing. After my wife wondered who I was and when her real husband would return, she told me that she felt more loved and acknowledged by me. My daughters seemed to be more emotionally available. Surprisingly, I wasn’t saying anything that I hadn’t been thinking all along. The difference was that I was saying it out loud directly to them. The key is verbally expressing your appreciation and acknowledgment to those you love.

The power of appreciation and acknowledgment largely comes from the fact that throughout our lives most of us have not been appreciated and acknowledged as much as we deserved to be. We all have some hurtful memories of not being sufficiently acknowledged for something we did well. Maybe you weren’t acknowledged for doing well in school, taking care of a sibling or trying out for a sports team. Think back now to times in your life when you were not appreciated or acknowledged when you should have been. It is the rare person who does not have at least some memory of this. Many also have memories of being criticized when we didn’t deserve it. These memories are even more painful.

With all these experiences of not having been appreciated when we should have been, finally being appreciated is like water to a thirsty man in the desert sun. Being appreciated changes everything. It is the oil that greases the engine of any relationship. Without it, relationships become dry and difficult and eventually broken. Verbally expressing appreciation and acknowledgment to those you love is the one change you can easily make to dramatically improve every relationship in your life!

You might be wondering, how much is enough? Kind of an interesting question that presupposes you could express too much appreciation and acknowledgment. My advice is to express your appreciation and acknowledgment just short of ad nauseum. If you’re not making them nauseous, keep it coming. Express your appreciation for what they do and what they don’t do. Include the little things, washing the dishes, and the big things, caring for the kids. Periodically, let the people in your life know how important they are to you. Don’t wait until they get sick or go away to college. Never say something you don’t believe and feel. Be authentic. There is plenty that we have thought and felt that we haven’t said to those we love. Focus your attention on what you appreciate and people will live into this, giving you more things to appreciate and acknowledge. And know that what goes around comes around. The more you express your appreciation to others the more they will express it to you.

Imagine the wonderful life you will have living and working with people who feel appreciated by you. A life where those around you will freely consider your requests and, feeling acknowledged by you, want to fulfill your requests. Think of all the love you will have in your life and how much fun you’ll have playing together in relationships where everyone freely expresses their caring and appreciation for each other.

As always, take care and enjoy.


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Moving Through Emotions with Grace and Ease

When bad things happen, it’s reasonable and understandable to feel bad. Whether it’s some unexpected calamity or some anticipated good event not happening, we can easily feel angry, hurt, frustrated, disappointed, victimized, worried, anxious, helpless, hopeless or confused. And once we feel these emotions, it can be extremely difficult to let them go. The challenge is learning how you can genuinely experience your emotions without getting stuck in them. This requires a better understanding of how your emotions work.

Traditionally, we’ve dealt with our emotions by questioning their validity. We’ve operated as if some emotions were okay to feel and some were not. Those that were okay to feel, our valid emotions, were those we had good enough reasons to feel. I could feel angry if I had a  good enough reason to feel anger. I could feel sad only if something sufficiently tragic had happened to justify my sadness. Those emotions we can justify are okay to feel, but those we can’t justify are not. We can feel what we feel only when we have good enough reasons to feel it. Read More »

Emotionally Managing Hard Times

With all the bad economic news most of us have been feeling incredibly stressed out lately. Even if you still have your job, it is likely that your savings have taken a big hit. Our retirement plans have been run through the shredder and for many of us our job security is now hanging by a thread.  Despite the drop in gas prices Read More »

An Antidote to Worry

Nobody likes to worry. Usually people think that whether they should worry depends on what is going on in their lives. You worry because you have good reasons to worry. It’s easy to worry if you lose your job or a loved one gets sick. But if you believe that you have good reasons to worry, then you can’t stop worrying until your circumstances change. This is what we’ve all been taught, that worry is a natural part of life.

When you have a good reason to worry, you’ll get a lot of support for your worries to continue. Your friends and relatives, because of their good-intentioned compassion, will understand and support your worries. They will listen to you and understand. This is not a bad thing. It’s a way we connect and care for each other.

But if you can realize that you can not worry and still handle something, and that many circumstances are actually outside your influence than worry becomes undesirable.  If you recognize that worry gets in the way of solution, and that the only problem about worry is not what you are worrying about, but that you are worrying, then I have a proposition for you.

I would like you to join me in an experiment. Every day for a week I would like you to take a few minutes to practice being grateful. Here’s how I would like you to practice. Each day, at a time you choose, in a setting where you won’t be disturbed, I would like you to close your eyes and think of something that you are honestly and purely grateful for presently having in your life. Imagine being with this person or thing. For example, I might imagine being with my wife, one of my daughters or a close friend. I might imagine the osmanthus shrub in front of my house that fills it with an angelic fragrance every time I open the door. It doesn’t matter whether you think of something big or small, as long as your grateful feeling is pure and brings a smile to your lips. I then want you to repeat this four more times for a total of five things for which you feel grateful. Take the time to fully associate the experience and enjoy yourself. It should only take a few minutes.

Then I would like you to test my theory. After your gratefulness practice try to worry about the things you tend to normally worry about. I suspect it will be much harder to worry for at least a short period of time. Please let me know how you fare.

Gratefulness seems to be an effective antidote for worry, and also for regret. While you’re feeling grateful it’s impossible to worry or regret something. I hope you enjoy your little experiment and let me know about your experience. I’m particularly interested in whether regular practice has some longer-lasting, more pervasive positive effect in your life.