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Too Loose or Too Tight?

Posted 2014-03-13

Finding the Middle

“I want the cute new boy to like me, I want my parents to stop bugging me about homework and I want to get straight A’s,” said Sarah. “But the new boy drinks a lot and you don’t drink at all. How is that going to work?” I asked her. “I’m sure it’ll work out,” was Sarah’s response. I put that conversation on hold for the moment and moved on to another topic. “Why do your parents keep bugging you about homework?” “Because I have lots of missing assignments,” she pointed out. “How are you going to get straight A’s with missing assignments?” I pressed. “I don’t know. I guess I’ll just get them all done,” said Sarah.

“Within the next five years I am going to graduate with a doctorate, move to a warmer climate, get married, adopt a greyhound, and start working at a fortune 500 company. Here is my detailed spread sheet that outlines all of the steps necessary to meet these goals,” stated Fred. “Wow, that’s several pages of steps,” I exclaimed. “But what about the parts of your plan you’re not in control of?” I gently asked him. “For example?” he asked. “Selling your house before you move, meeting a person that you want to marry, getting hired at the right company. You can’t control all of those variables.”

Buddhists frame these conversations into two extremes: too loose and too tight. They might suggest that Sarah is not taking enough of an active role in her own life and that Fred needs to back off some and leave room for the unknown. Psychiatrists could have a different opinion. Sarah’s lack of motivation and inability to verbalize realistic steps to reaching her goals all potentially point to depression. Fred on the other hand could be diagnosed with anxiety, with his frenetic energy and somewhat obsessive behaviors (a technique to reduce anxiety).

Either way, the solutions are very similar. Teach both cognitive and behavioral skills (or mindfulness skills as Buddhists would say) to bring in more tightness or looseness. Address where these patterns started (as long as they can remember or recently with a big change?), learn coping skills for addressing the underlying feelings and send them on their way. What is your experience with this spectrum?

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