Monday, May 14, 2018


Even though I have been learning and practicing psychology for over 20 years, there continue to be opportunities to learn that present themselves to me. It often comes out through interactions, particularly with my students and clients. Today I experienced one of those opportunities that I would like to share with you

Today I saw a lovely couple and they are good people. Both of them are loving and care for each other, but like all couples, they experience conflicts from time to time. Why is that? Well, while exploring and understanding the patterns, I came up with a helpful formula that most (fundamentally healthy) couples can utilize. This couple named it “ECU.”

E: First, as a couple, you want to “Express” your desires, needs, and wants to your partner directly. Many couples don’t express it directly, as a result, they  end up feeling disappointed, sad, angry, and so on. Yes, it is sometimes challenging to express your needs and wants out of fear of rejection, your desire for your partner’s spontaneous behavior, or because you just are not used to expressing your needs and wants. However, a lot of issues are preventable only if you express what you want to your partner in a straight forward manner. If both of you and your partner are decent individuals who are caring for each other, you need to express your wants and needs to your partner, so as to give your loving partner the opportunity to give you what you are looking for.

C: If you fail the first step of “Expression,” what tends to happen is that you experience some negative emotions. The negative feelings arising out of your feelings of not having your needs and wants fulfilled may lead you to distancing, avoiding, and/or shutting down from your partner. It may even create some fights and conflicts. Now we are stepping into discord. This is the time we need to get “Close.” Instead of pushing toward or pulling away, you get closer. You may have this second chance to express your wants and needs. You may be able to express your needs or wants while cuddling. You don’t go away or fight, but come closer. No matter how you are feeling or what you tend to do, just go forward to be closer.

U: Okay, we are not perfect and shit happens, therefore, you may fail to express what you what or get closer to your partner. You missed the first and second phase… Now it gets ugly. Both of you become frustrated, distant, angry, combative, cold, and so on. But because you are a healthy enough couple, you decide to talk. However, unfortunately at this point, your talk often results in further disappointment, because what we often do at this point is to try to express ourselves to our partner with the intention of being understood. For example, we try to explain what we meant to do, or explain how hurt we are feeling, or what we wanted our partner to do, etc. Too late. Once both sides are emotionally worked up, it won’t be received well. Then we try to explain ourselves even more, and end up feeling totally misunderstood, dismissed, and miserable.

Then what can you do? In this final stage, the focus needs to be “Understanding” your partner. At this point, you don’t try to express yourself. You just try to understand your partner’s experience as much as you can. How such loving couples end up in such a situation of conflict can be surprising, but starting out with your fundamental belief that your partner is a decent and loving person, you just try to figure it out. Therefore, you just want to understand what your partner’s experience was from the beginning. You do not impose your experience or feelings to justify your standpoint, but just try to fully understand your partner’s experience as if you are in your partner’s shoes.

If you do it well, you cannot help but ending up saying to your partner, “Ah, that was your experience then,” “I see, no wonder you said (or behaved) that way,” “Now I understand how and why you felt [angry/sad/frustrated/hurt…] at that time,” and so on. This will give you more clarity, empathetic understanding, and calmness. Also, this will help your partner feel understood and relaxed. Then your partner is now willing to understand you in return. As a result, you both will feel much better, understood, and ready to resume being a loving couple!

Doesn’t this make sense to you? In summary, first, do not hesitate to express your desire to your partner; doing so will help you avoid in the first place many situations ending up in conflict and hurt. However, if you or your partner neglect to express your needs or wants and start feeling negative, come closer to your partner. If you still fail at this point, then both of you now will have become quite negative and combative, and must just try to understand your partner’s experience and feelings selflessly. If you are both loving and emotionally mature, you will be able to resolve your conflict and move on and actually be closer and more loving for the experience. Once we can understand this dynamic, we can all avoid useless and meaningless fights in the future by “Starting at E”!

Well there’s one last letter in parenthesis: (A). Even if you utilize this formula and follow it well, you may still have some remaining discomfort, which can be impossible to fully resolve. Then what can you do? The answer is “Act.” This is your last chance to channel your inner actor/actress, and just behave as lovingly and sweetly to your partner. It may not be genuine, but who cares when it will resolve minor conflict in your relationship!?!? When you act this way, your partner will appreciate it, and become sweet and loving in return, and you will end up forgetting any small resentments. Because you and your partner are different human beings from different backgrounds, it is sometimes impossible to fully understand and accept each other perfectly. Then instead of focusing on small things, just act and appreciate what you can have as a result. It really works and will be one of the greatest relationship skills you will ever learn and have at your disposal to ensure a loving and life-long relationship.

By the way, why do you think this “A” is in parenthesis? Because “A” can be utilized at any time. Each phase could be challenging to some extent for anyone, particularly the later you leave it, the harder it gets. But no matter how you are “feeling,” it is an essential relationship skill and you “act” to make it work. I like to call it “channeling your inner actor/actress.” For example, even if you don’t feel like getting closer because of your “hurt” feelings, “just do it” like any good actor or actress would do. The first priority is your happy relationship and once it works, the relationship gets better, and you will feel better. SO WHY NOT??

Thursday, January 18, 2018

New Year’s Resolution – Behavioral Modification Strategies

So we are already well into the New Year now. Many people try to have New Year’s resolutions, but somehow they fall apart eventually (or already?). Have you had this experience? Why do you think it is so? Well, changing familiar behavior that are part of our daily routines is actually very, very difficult for most people.
Today, I am going share some wisdom Psychology has given us to help us achieve better behavioral modification.
By the way, I had an interview with the Coast Magazine some years ago about this topic, if you would also like to read that. Becoming the Best Version of You 

[Exciting Direction] First of all, you need to set a goal as something exciting, instead of depressing or punitive. Very typical resolutions/goals are, for example, “Lose Weight,” “Quit smoking,” “Get Out of Debt,” and so on…  Aren’t these already depressing and unmotivating goals? While the aims are good, expression of the goals are not fun.

When the goal is gloomy, we are less likely to keep at working towards achieving such goals because they seem painful. Therefore, it is important to imagine and visualize something really nice, still related to the direction, and have a better expression of the goal, such as “Be sexier and more gorgeous!” “Become smoke free so that I can run around with my child,” and “Feel financially peaceful.” The positive images are already making you feel a little more motivated toward that direction.

[Focus on the process] Secondly, the focus cannot be the results. It is very passive to stay focused on the result. For example, you lose weight as a result of some changes in your life. If your focus is the result, you will be more easily frustrated, helpless, and impatient, and you will eventually lose your enthusiasm more easily. Thus, the focus needs to be on the process, not the result. In this case, the focus may be “Exercise more.”

[Specific tasks] Rather than vague resolutions, the more specific and clearer they are, the better. If the wish is to “Lose weight,” then the direction is to “Be sexier and more gorgeous.” Your focus is to “Exercise more,” then the next step is to determine when, how, and what you are going to do to achieve your goal. For example, “Walking one hour every day.” If your tasks are unclear, you have more difficulty following through. Therefore, you will need to know what you decided to do.

[Schedule setting] Fourth, it is important to think of your daily routine, and where you want to insert your new habit. If “walking one hour every day” needs to be added to your daily life, you need to think of your everyday schedule and when the best time for that is. Just adding something new to our daily routine is very hard itself, so make it as easy as possible. The smoother things flow, the better.

[Easier transition] Fifth, it is helpful to make it easier. If you choose to walk in the morning, for example, you want to have all the clothes and shoes prepared by the bed, such that it becomes simpler and easier to make it happen. While half asleep, you won’t want to look for your walking clothes… You may rather go back to bed. Hence, it is helpful if the transition is easy. The more preparation, the better.

[Reward system] Sixth, having rewards keeps us going. Although we are much more complicated than mice or dogs, just like them, receiving rewards still really works. Simple rewards can be expressed as “If I do it for …, I will …” A reward can be something like going somewhere you like, buying something you wanted, and so on. That will keep you going. In addition, having something in your daily life is really helpful and sometimes just your daily routine may function as a reward. For example, what if you cannot touch your cellphone until you finish your walk? That may motivate you to finish your walk. If watching evening news is your relief after work, make it so that you cannot watch it until you finish walking. This kind of reward really helps. Just don’t make your reward anything that contradicts your goals. For example, if your goal is to “Look sexier and cuter” by not eating junk food, don’t make your reward a bag a potato chips! :)

[A little (potential) punishment] By setting up a “punishment” for failing in achieving your goals, you will add to your motivation. For example, let’s say you have someone in your life whom you think wastes money, you can promise them that you will give him/her a set amount of money when you don’t do your new task. For example, if you don’t walk as you promised, you give $10 to that person (*the amount depends on your finances. It needs to be something realistic and painful to lose). You don’t want to lose it for nothing! You will automatically be more motivated.

[Contract] Last, you can write a contract to yourself. You can write up everything above as a plan in support of your resolutions, and sign it for yourself. Now your goal is clearly set and it is more exciting and positive, your tasks are clearer, you know when and what to do, you have reward, and you seal the deal with yourself. If you ask someone close to be a witness, it becomes more accountable. That also helps a lot.

As you all know, changing our routines and bad habits is really, really challenging, and that is why these strategies above are important and helpful. In my life-coaching practice, I help my clients achieve their goals, while providing this kind of support and much more. It works. If you have any resolutions and you sincerely want to achieve them, give it a shot to utilize these strategies to make it come true! You will feel really better about yourself!

If you are interested in meeting with me to assist you with coaching you to achieving your goals in life, feel free to ask me questions to see if we can make it happen together.