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The past year has hit almost everyone hard financially, and made many people rethink their priorities in spending and saving. Dealing with money isn’t a completely rational matter. If it were people wouldn’t have so much trouble with it. For example, we’ve all known people who in reality have a lot of money, but who feel and act poor. Then there are the people who really don’t have much money, but spend as if they do. Some people spend money as a way to get attention or to take care of others. Still others are so overly thrifty that it’s hard for them to enjoy simple pleasures. But before we can be rational about money, it’s helpful to look at how our attitudes developed.

Our culture sends very confusing messages about having money. Money means power and status, and brings admiration in our society. The media bombards us with the message that happiness comes from buying the right shampoo, the trendiest beer or the coolest car. But money is also seen as “the root of all evil”. And don’t forget that “money can’t buy you love”.

Cultural stereotypes about gender may also affect the way we think about handling money. In general, males grow up with more expectations that they will be financially responsible. Yet they are not always taught the skills to do this. Females often get the message that the man of the house will worry about the money, or that it’s somehow unfeminine to be too concerned with money.

Our attitudes are also shaped by the way money was handled in our original families and the messages that were sent about spending and saving. Many people grew up hearing and living by conservative adages as “Waste not, want not”; “A penny saved is a penny earned”; or just “We can’t afford it”. On the other side are more unrestrained views like, “Buy now, pay later”; “You deserve the best”, or “Go for it”.

Money is treated with more secrecy than sex in some families, so that children have no realistic sense of what is or isn’t affordable. It’s very hard to learn how good financial skills if money is never openly discussed. Other families have no consistent rules at all, and bounce between pinching pennies one day and reckless spending the next.

Think for a moment about what has influenced your handling of financial matters. What are your beliefs about spending and saving? What did your parents teach you? Have you tried to follow their guidelines or have you rebelled? How much influence do media messages to consume affect you? Have you denied yourself too much enjoyment in order to save money? Do you find yourself wasting money on things you don’t really need?

Once you have a clearer sense of your underlying beliefs, you can begin to make better decisions about handling your money. Use your rational side to figure out which attitudes have been helpful and which harmful. Assess what ideas want to keep and what you need to throw out. Talk with your spouse or family about their attitudes toward money. Read about financial management. Then you can control your money, not let it control you.



What do you think of when you hear the word “anger”? Some people imagine yelling, name-calling and cursing. For some, anger brings to mind slapping and hitting. Anger is associated with distress and conflict. It’s an emotion that many people try to avoid, seeing anger only as out-of control and negative.

Surprisingly, anger can be a very positive and healthy emotion. (I’m not talking about road rage here!) Anger has several psychological purposes. First, it’s a signal that something is wrong, that something needs our attention. Second, anger motivates us to take action, to do something. Third, anger feels powerful and gives us a sense of control.

Many people don’t seem to realize that anger doesn’t have to be aggressive or combative. Resolving a conflict with a loved one or friend can actually make the relationship stronger and closer.

Some simple rules apply to talking about angry feelings in a healthy way. Stay calm and look at the situation as an opportunity to resolve a problem. Don’t be blaming or accusatory. Starting out saying “You…”, as in “You’re always late, you’re so inconsiderate”, will put almost anybody on the defensive. When people feel defensive, they stop listening and start fighting back. A typical defensive response might be, “You’re exaggerating, I’m hardly ever late.” The “you” statement escalates the argument and goes nowhere.

Instead, anger can be discussed in a problem-solving way. One good way to talking about anger is using the framework of “…, I feel…”. For example, “When you are constantly late, I feel I’m not important enough for you to be on time, and that makes me angry and hurt.” Or “When you forget to do something you promised to do, I think you don’t care about me, and I feel angry and disappointed”. This comes across very differently than a statement like “You’re always criticizing me, I can’t do anything right”, and is much more likely to be heard.

The second part of this strategy is to say what change you want from the other person. Some examples might be: “I want you to call me if you are going to be late” or “I want you to work harder on being on time/keeping your promises/not promising things you aren’t really going to do”.

Of course, the best response from the other person would be, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t intend to make you feel that way, I’ll try harder”. But even if that doesn’t happen, it feels better to come out and say what you feel.


Stress is one of those things that no one wants, but every one has. Any type of change is stressful, and life is full of change. We’re all aware of how negative events cause stress, such as illness, demands at work, traffic jams, and family conflicts. Surprisingly, even happy events, like a job promotion, buying a new home, having a baby, or going on a vacation, can create stress as well.

What we call “stress” is actually a very primitive physiological response that prepares our bodies to fight or flee in dangerous situations. Adrenalin is released into our system, heart rate and breathing increase, digestion shuts down, blood rushes to the brain and away from extremities. This readies our bodies for physical exertion, increases alertness, and decreases blood loss from an injury. While we may be well prepared to hunt down a bear, or run away from a forest fire, this response does little to help us cope with deadlines, demanding customers, computer malfunctions or misbehaving children.

We all know the basics of stress management: exercise regularly, get enough sleep, eat healthy food, avoid alcohol and cigarettes. But one of the best ways to reduce stress is simply to change the way we look at things.

Studies of executives under high stress suggest the difference a healthy perspective can make. One group of executives looked at change in a helpless and pessimistic way. They feared failure and avoided any risk taking. They tended to deny problems and were unlikely to confide in anyone. Their relationships deteriorated under stress. Health problems and depression were common in this group.

In contrast, the group who coped well saw change as a challenge and an opportunity. They experimented, tried creative solutions, and learned from past mistakes. They were committed to family and friends, and had good personal support systems. These executives saw themselves as effective and in control of their lives. They stayed healthy and effective despite stress.

Try this in your own life. Choose something you currently find stressful and try to look at it in a different way. For example, a difficult project might become an opportunity for creativity, or a challenge to demonstrate thoroughness and attention to detail to a supervisor or teacher. The hassle of getting children off to school on time might become the chance to talk through the feelings of both parents and children, and to share responsibility for solving the problem. We can’t escape stress in our lives. But modifying the way we think is a powerful tool for coping with stressors.


As Valentine’s Day approaches, it’s natural to give some thought to our close relationships. Psychologists have studied both healthy and unhealthy relationships, looking for clues to what strengthens bonds between couples. Interestingly, researchers have found that a number of relatively simple assumptions and actions can foster more satisfying relationships.

First, healthy couples express many more positive feelings than negative in their communications with each other. Positive communications are approving, supportive, constructive, optimistic, and empathic. Some examples might be: “You look great”; “I know you’ll do well”; or “I appreciate how hard you worked today”. Smiling, showing warmth, and affectionate gestures are also positive. Negative communications are critical, disapproving, pessimistic, and contrary. Examples might be: “You can’t tell me what to do”; “You’ll probably screw it up, as usual”; or “You’ll never change”. Nonverbal behaviors such as glares, silence, or a sarcastic tone of voice are also negative. One study found that in marriages described as “happy,” four out of five communications were positive; in those described as “unhappy”, four out of five were negative.

A second characteristic of healthy relationships is the assumption that there is no absolute “truth” in human relationships. Many people behave as if there is only one right way of feeling, acting, or thinking: their own. Differences are regarded as a threat or rejection. This attitude leads to frustrating battles over who is “right” and who is “wrong”. In contrast, we can look at differences as the result of unique perceptions, feelings, and experiences. Differences then become opportunities for better understanding and better ways of meeting the needs of both partners. A final assumption is a dual one: everybody makes mistakes; and that the people we love do not mean to harm or hurt us. How can this perspective help us cope?

Inevitably, people we care about will make mistakes, forget, hurt our feelings, and let us down. Many people react to human failing as a sign of selfishness or not caring, as if the intention was to hurt. This view leads to anger and blame, and increases conflict and distance for a couple. In contrast, we can also view human failings as unavoidable, but not intending harm. This view encourages problem solving, cooperation, and increased closeness. (Please note that if you feel constantly hurt, let down, or disappointed in your relationship, deeper issues may need to be addressed.)

These “healthy” assumptions and actions are all relatively simple. With a little effort, anyone can give his or her Valentine the gift of an enriched relationship.


Many people make resolutions to change and improve their lives at this time of year. A new year is a good time to look back over the past year, to identify what’s been satisfying or unsatisfying, and to decide what needs to change. Exercising more, losing weight, paying off debts, making more money, or improving performance in some activity are common goals. Unfortunately, many people fail to follow through on their good intentions.
Here are some suggestions for making resolutions for 2010 that you can keep:

1. Be realistic. The easiest way to sabotage yourself is to setting a goal you’ll never be able to achieve. Set one goal at a time, with a reasonable time frame for accomplishment. “I will lose 20 lbs. before Valentine’s Day”, “I won’t buy anything new until my credit card is paid off”, or “I will be the number one player in my league/division/club,” are unrealistic for most of us.

2. Be specific and concrete in setting goals. Focus on the particular behaviors you want to establish. “I will walk/run/go to aerobics for forty-five minutes, four times each week,” instead of “I will exercise more.” Deciding to cut up your credit card and pay off $100 every month on the balance is better than “I’ll pay off my credit card this year.” Make sure you actually have the time or means to achieve these goals; if not, modify your goal to something more attainable.

3. Focus on improving over past performances (a competence orientation), rather than on comparing yourself to and/or defeating others (an outcome orientation). Sports psychologists find working toward self-improvement helps to maintain motivation and self-esteem, and increases ability to cope with frustration and failure. A competence goal (“Increase my total sales by 20%”) enhances performance more than an outcome goal (“Be the top selling sales rep.” )

4. Anticipate difficulties and decide in advance how you will handle them. What if you get sick or injured? What if bad weather interferes? What if other responsibilities conflict? What if your progress is slower than you expected? Write down some ideas on alternatives activities, who you could go to for help, how you might handle time conflicts. While you can’t anticipate every problem that may arise, it’s helpful to remember problems are inevitable, and to think about some possible solutions beforehand.

New Year’s resolutions which are unrealistic, vague, or unattainable are guaranteed to fail. That’s a discouraging way to start off the new year. For 2010, make a resolution to start off the year in a positive way, by setting goals that are realistic, specific and achievable.

Thoughts for the Month – Good Communication

Good communication skills are central to good relationships. But communication is not simple. It’s a complex process of sending, receiving, and interpreting messages between different people who inevitable see the world different ways. But misunderstanding can lead to anger, frustration, and hurt feelings. It can create a vicious cycle of conflict and unhappiness in relationships. Surprisingly, the most essential skill in being a good communicator is mastering the art of listening. As Stephen Covey says in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People says “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.

So how do we become better listeners? Being silent and paying attention to the other person are the keys. Many times we are so busy thinking about what we want to say, we barely hear the other person at all! Here are some “Do’s” and “Don’ts” for better communication:

* Jump in with advice or solutions, unless asked.

* Criticize or downplay feelings with statements like “You shouldn’t let it bother you” or “You’re too sensitive.”

* Give pat answers like, “Don’t worry about it” or “You’ll get over it”.

* Focus all your attention on the speaker. Turn off the TV, put the paper down, and look at the other person. Pay attention to the words, and also to nonverbal cues. What does their facial expression communicate? Does their tone of voice contradict what they say? Is their body relaxed or tense?

* Show that you’re listening by using neutral words like “Hmmm…, I see…, or uh huh”.

* Let the other person finish completely before expressing your thoughts.

* Practice “active listening” by restating or summarizing what you heard. For example, “That must have been frustrating for you” or “It sounds like you really tried but it just didn’t work out”.

* Keep communication going with questions. Ask a question, listen to the answer, then ask another question, based on what you heard. A simple example might be:
Me: “How was your day?”
You: “Exhausting, one problem after another.”
Me: “Sounds like tough day. What sort of problems came up?”

Being a good listener takes some effort. But it pays off in building trust and positive feelings in our relationships. And when a spouse, family member or friend feels listened to and accepted, they will usually offer understanding and caring in return. And this is the kind of “gentle cycle” we all want in our relationships.

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