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Everyone wants to live a happy, joyful, meaningful, and productive life. A positive psychology and philosophy that we construct for ourselves will show us how to do this. Vision Circles is a simple method for keeping you in touch with your ideals and for discovering the practical beliefs that will translate your ideals into concrete actions.

In life and in science we are problem solvers. We are always trying to close the gap between what-is and what-could-be: from ignorance to knowledge; from confusion to order; from feeling flat to feeling energetic; from feeling alone to feeling connected; from feeling useless to feeling wanted; from performing my work in an average way to becoming excellent at it; from behaving impatiently to behaving kindly; from being inattentive to being focused; from being dependent to being free; from being bitterly angry to being creatively engaged; from complaining sarcastically to complimenting generously; from worrying endlessly to planning daily; and so many other gaps between the way that we are living and the way that we could live.

We could also write up several lists of gaps and contradictions that apply to the institutions to which we belong such as, the companies where we work, the schools that are children attend, the churches where we worship, the local, state and national governments that affect our lives, and maybe even some of the social clubs that are supposed to be our "escapes". But, any problems that we have with institutions will ultimately come back to the problematic people running them or participating in them.

When weighed down by our personal or institutional concerns, we too often tell ourselves that we are under a lot of stress. In that state of mind quick and easy solutions become appealing to us. If in this vulnerable and emotional condition, we do not monitor our thinking, we will use ill-fitted techniques and methods to resolve our human problems. When I have a headache, I reach for the aspirin bottle. If my tomato plants are not growing, I look for the fertilizer. If my computer is giving me trouble, I call the technician. But, whom do I call or what magical words do I use to change my frustration and anxiety about my teenage daughter's poor academic performance? Or, what technique can I select from my psychological tool kit that will immediately improve the morale and productivity of my employees? In our gut we know that there is no quick fix for these problems. And deep down we know that we solve our human concerns mindfully, personally and creatively

Clearly, the first step in solving our problems is to pay attention to our self-talk, so that we don't make ourselves frantic. By taking apart the internal conversations related to our concern we will be able to label accurately our thoughts, feelings, emotions, behaviors, expectations, assumptions and ideals. This simple and useful habit protects us from talking ourselves into stress, from distorting the facts about our concern and from erroneously expecting some quick-fix solution.

At least fifty-percent of the solution to a problem is to assess accurately the kinds of gaps, contradictions and inconsistencies that make up our concerns. Too often our impulsive desire for an immediate and available solution twists our understanding of the problem to fit our packaged answers. When I have only a hammer, a screw that I need to drive into the wall begins to look like a nail. The end result of this impetuous thinking about our concerns turns out to be more frustration, because we are trying to solve human problems with a mechanical mentality.

All the different ways of using Vision Circles will begin by carefully taking apart our self-talk so that we can observe our concern accurately. At the outset we want to make sure that we are developing the mental habit of talking to ourselves sensibly and specifically about our problem. We can easily fall into the habit of telling ourselves that we are under stress, especially, when so many people around us are complaining about how "stressed out" they are. The negative emotional fallout from our loose language clouds our mind with confusion. Whether we are experiencing authentic stress or something else that we are mislabeling as stress, the first step on our return to well-being is to wipe away the distorted perceptions and irrational thinking fogging up the windshield of our mind.

In reality we are all experiencing the everyday strains and challenges of life. Obviously, we need to muster up extra mental and emotional strength to respond courageously and perseveringly to extraordinary strains that eventually test all of us such as, serious illness, death and combat. And many people do shoulder these burdens with stellar grace and determination. The kind of mental attitude through which we assess our problems will determine in large measure whether we handle them effectively or whether we are overcome with stress.

Stress is mainly the result of not responding in a mentally effective way to the natural tensions of life such as, success versus failure, acceptance versus rejection, too much work and too little time, measuring up to what other people expect of me versus living up to my own standards, long term illness versus spiritual courage and perseverance, etc. We will experience distress when we do not mindfully respond to the expected and unexpected challenges of life. If we don't pay attention to the thinking behind our self-talk, we can drive ourselves deeper into the hole of stress by telling ourselves how "stressed out" we are. By labeling the emotions, hidden assumptions, unreasonable expectations, and veiled ideals wrapped up in our self-talk we will take the first step of changing our faulty thinking to ways of thinking that are consistent with our ideals. At that point we will see our concerns realistically, and we will feel hopeful and confident about changing what-is into what-could-be. (For more information on stress see A Clinical Guide to the Treatment of the Human Stress Response by George Everly, Jr. and Jeffrey Lating.)

The Vision Circles Program will guide you in slow-motion thinking, so that you will develop the mental habits: 1) of observing accurately your ways of thinking, your behaviors and your emotions, and 2) of staying in touch with the powerful resource of your ideals. These habits of mind will help you: 1) to state your problem realistically, and 2) to translate effectively your ideals into productive actions.

The Vision Circles Program can be used in a variety of ways. I will describe several approaches to use the OSCAR method (observing, sorting out, connecting, acting, and re-evaluating) for each of the four circles (Circle One: our self-talk about our concern; Circle Two: our emotional, behavioral, and mental responses to our concern; Circle Three: the ideals pertaining to our concern; Circle Four: the irrational, rational and supra-rational tendencies at play in our concern). The goal of all these approaches is to change 'what-is' (eg.broken down communications between me and my children) to 'what-could-be' (an open, spontaneous, genuine, trustful sharing of thoughts and feelings of love for each other). 'What-could-be' will be the outcome of using our discovered practical ways of translating our personal ideals into personal actions.

The first major idea underlying all these approaches states that we are all in touch, sometimes vaguely and sometimes clearly, with our ideals, and that we want to realize them concretely to some degree. The second major idea is to discover the obstacles within ourselves and outside ourselves that are preventing us from achieving our goals. And, the third major idea is to strengthen the vision of our ideals in order to discover the practical ways to make them concrete.