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Keeping an Open Mind

Studio 5 Clinical Psychologist Dr. Liz Hale helps us bring some of these old ancient truths into our own millennium.


So much has been written about Michael Phelps and his incredible Olympic performance and, no doubt, he deserves every one of those accolades and then some. His coach, Bob Bowman, was interviewed recently and he shared his approach to coaching Michael and helping shape his destiny.

This was a fantastic interview of the support behind this gifted athlete. Coach Bowman is a student of success literature and this is what he concluded: Successful people make a habit of doing things that others aren't willing to do. Success is not an accident; it is not about good luck versus bad luck. For each one of us, there have been a series of steps we have taken to get us right here to where we are today at this very minute. It has been your choices and decisions that have inevitably determined the condition of our life today. The good news is that if we don't like where we are, we can begin today to take different steps to achieve different results.

It's so important to keep an open mind of the infinite possibilities we have in this life. But, it's so easy to get discouraged, depressed, and withdrawn because everything takes such effort and hiking up is harder that coasting down! It probably goes without saying but when we maintain an open mind we are open to possibilities. When I have a closed mind, I'm closed to possibilities and I can't see anything positive. Since flexibility is the key to mental health, maintaining an open mind is imperative!

In keeping an open mind, I'd like to propose a memorable acronym, O.P.E.N., to remind us the key variables of an open mind:

O = Optimistic.

Perhaps the most important quality to develop in achieving greater happiness and goal achievement is learned optimism! Even if you're a pessimist, you can start to think the way that optimists do most of the time. Motivational expert Brian Tracy conducted thousands of interviews with the most successful and happiest people in their field and determined that optimist have two special qualities.

1) Look for the good. They look for the good in every situation, especially when they experience reversals and setbacks. They look on the bright side, the silver lining, to every problem and they're never disappointed….they always find something!

2) Seek the valuable lesson. Optimists believe that each temporary failure or obstacle has been sent to teach them something. They often ask, "What am I to learn here? What's my lesson?" And, again, they're never disappointed; they always find something!

My mother was a great mentor in seeing the bright side and the positive in any situation. About 15 years ago, I was in private practice for the first time in Seattle and after a year of being in a building and location that I loved and was very comfortable with, the building was purchased and all the tenants lost their lease. Just like that….we all had to find new office space. For some reason, this example stands out to be because I was so inflexible in my thinking: I was stuck in thinking that this was absolutely the worst thing ever! There was no way I was going to find another building (because I had looked for months to find the one I was in), I'd never be able to afford a new lease or larger space, etc. My mother was very calm, reassuring, and said, "Liz, it's going to be all right. It's going to be better than all right! You're going to find a place that is better than you could ever imagine."

As always….she was right. I was in that second location for a number of years, developed relationships with psychiatrists that were upstairs in that same building, and created an opportunity to utilize their office space when I had to relinquish my personal practice in order to afford to return to school for a doctorate.

P = Pro-Active

A women came into my practice questioning her marriage and her love for her husband. She feared she had made a terrible mistake in marrying him and didn't know how long she could go on being miserable married. She found herself daydreaming about all the guys she had been in love with and let slip away, and listed a litany of crimes her husband did to cause her great distress. For example, he always left his socks on the floor, the cars were not immaculate, he wore clothes and said things that embarrassed her, and he had gained a fair amount of weight since they married. My client wanted a picture perfect house and she was a fitness fanatic!

After a great deal of hard work and opening her mind, she became pro-active in resolving her marriage woes. But who she became pro-active with made all the difference. She stopped nagging her husband, she ceased finding fault with every little thing, and she refrained from bugging him about his weight and health. She did a complete turnaround. Here's what she recently wrote:

"In stead of cursing his name with every article of clothing I picked up off the floor, I started doing it because I like a clean floor. I also "let go" of being the fitness marshal and said no more…..two months later he caught the bug and has since lost 45 pounds and runs for ENJOYMENT?! It isn't him that changed, it was me. Oddly enough, when I backed off he stepped forward. Even though questioning my marriage was hurtful and emotional for both of us, we have grown so much closer together. I had to "let go" of who I wanted him to be so I could embrace who and what this amazing man really is."

E = Engaged

An engaged mind is a connected mind. I work with so many couples who have become unengaged in their marriages. When you're frustrated and feel that you hit your head on the wall over and over and over, again, you realize how you're head hurts and you stop efforts all together. Suspend your negative thinking and be willing to show up - true intimacy is likely the scariest thing we do with each other. We have a fear that another will find us unlovable if we show our true selves.

So many times life hits us with the unexpected and we want to disengage instead of face the truth. I've received a few e-mails from viewers about the painful difficulty of a child who discloses that they are gay. It sends a family reeling in disbelief and confusion. How we ponder a particular situation makes all the difference. This happened in my own family. I have a cousin who is a lesbian - she is one of the most outgoing, adventurous, and loving souls I know. When she was in her mid-20's she finally disclosed to her mother that this was her sexual orientation. Her mom said nothing; there was no reaction at all. At after awhile, my cousin said to my aunt, "Mom, is this really the end of the world? I mean, would you have rather said that I just killed someone?" And my aunt said, "Yes, I would have rather heard that you just killed someone!"

After months of struggling with her daughter's orientation, my aunt was at work one day and co-workers were mocking gays and making fun of their lifestyle. Out of nowhere, my aunt said, "I'd appreciate it if you refrain from talking like that; my daughter is gay and she is a wonderful, wonderful person." My cousin caught wind of this and that alone has helped mend the distance between them.

You do not have to understand another person to stay engaged and loving. Stop seeking understanding for something you may never understand. As my cousin often reminds me; "Look, there is more to me than my sexuality….there is so much more to me than just that!"

N = Nurturing

Literally and figuratively nurture your mind. Be careful what you take-in in the way of food, thoughts, focus, and exercise. When you're in line at the grocery store in stead of letting your mind be troubled with how long the line is try doubling numbers. Start at 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, on up and see how far you can go. Mentally list all your favorite Merle Streep movies or name all your grade school teachers. Nurture your mind by exposing it to different activities and opportunities. Recently, at the downtown SLC library, they had exhibits on the human body with actual cadavers to show the nervous system, brain, and other intricate details of the human body. Be open to chances that are before you.

Give your eyes a feast by going to art galleries, the U of U still has the wonderful art showing from Picasso to Matisse series. Give your ears a change of venue by listening to a different genre of music; allow your kids to introduce you to what they're listening to these days. Read the lyrics; be open to hearing what the words mean to them. Relieve tension; exercise, deep breathing and relaxation are relevant to maintaining an open, active mind.

I challenge our viewers to maintain an open mind, form impressions and make decisions for yourself. If you have come up against a brick wall in your life and either don't know how to maneuver around it or you have learned how to, I want to hear from you. Please e-mail me at drliz@ksl.com.


Dr. Liz Hale is a licensed clinical psychologist and a regular Studio 5 Contributor. Your comments and questions are welcomed! Please visit www.drlizhale.com to add your thoughts to today's discussion or learn more about her private practice.

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