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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.


Personal meditation:

In this approach we will carry on a self-dialogue using the OSCARmethod.

  • Step One (observing):

In Circle One, write out what we are saying to ourselves about our concern. In Circle Two write out the emotions, thoughts, behaviors, expectations, assumptions, and ideals that we are experiencing about our concern. In Circle Three write out whatour situation could be, that is, the realization of our ideals such as,love, integrity, excellence, respect, etc. In Circle Four identify thedominant irrational tendencies (confusion, dependence, rebellion, skepticism i.e. I can't trust anyone including self), rational tendencies(order, control, system, certainty) and supra-rational tendencies (vision, freedom, change, creativity) that we are feeling in relation toour concern.

  • Step Two (sorting out):

In this step we want to sort out our negative emotions, thoughts and behaviors in each circle. Then, we want to identify what changes that we need to make to move in the direction of our ideals. For example, as a manager of some disgruntled employees I want to spotmy own negative emotions, thoughts, behaviors and irrational tendencies that I need to change to positive ones. I also need to get in touch with the ideal that applies to this situation, so that I can do creative thinking to come up with positive and practical ideas that will change the situation.

  • Step Three (connecting):

In this step we want to use our creative imagination to visualize ourselves behaving and thinking in ways that are consistent with the ideals that we identified in step one. For example, what types of thinking and specific behaviors does the ideal of harmony require ofme to communicate effectively with my employees? The practical concept of listening attentively to their concerns seems to be a usefulway to build harmony.

  • Step Four (act):

Now it's time to plan a course of action to change 'what-is' in Circle One to 'What-could-be'. The question to answer is, "How will I effectively use the practical concepts that I discovered in Step Three to behave according to my ideal?" For example, I will use the practical concept of listening to my employees ideas and emotions and of reflecting them accurately to show themthat I understand them. I will set up a convenient time and place to do this.

  • Step Five (re-evaluating):

After carrying out my plan I will review whether my actions broughtthe consequences that I expected, i.e., more openness and less tension; more spontaneity and less defensiveness, etc. If I'm disappointed with the results, I will observe, sort out and connectagain to make improvements.


Dialoguing with a friend:

First, explain the OSCAR method to your friend, or just have him or her click on to the website. Second, ask your friend to take on the role of a listener who will reflect your thoughts, feelings and behaviors about your concern. The friend can help you in step three by brainstorming to come up with practical concepts to realize your ideals. In step four, you and your friend can role-play your plan. The friend can play you, and you can take the part of the other person in your concern. On the next go-around you can switch parts.


Groups:

Vision Circles can be used in groups focused on developmental themes e.g. marriage, parenting, career development, etc.

The group leader can have one member at a time present his or her concern. As each member proceeds through the five steps of the OSCAR method the other members will practice the skill of listening to and reflecting the presenter's feelings and thoughts.

The aim here is to help the presenters to clarify and accept their thoughts and feelings and to engage the group in the practice of listening and creative thinking. Instead of each member presenting in succession the group can proceed through each step of the OSCAR method together. Each member of the group will complete step one of observing his/her emotions, thoughts, behaviors, and tendencies related to her/his concern.

After all the members have completed step one, then the group will proceed to step two and so forth.

Groups that focus on psychologically sensitive issues should be conducted by a trained leader.


Training and development:

Vision Circles can be used with groups focused on managerial concerns such as, strategic planning, personnel morale, communication concerns, etc.

The Vision Circles Program keeps executives and managers in touch with the human element that ultimately accounts for the success of the development and execution of a strategic plan.

There is no strategy or method that is human proof.


Committee meetings:

Vision Circles can be used at committee meetings to ensure that the discussions are being guided by the ideals stated in the mission statement of the organization.

Instruction:

The Vision Circles Program can also be presented in an instructional format such as, a lecture, workshop or Socratic group discussion.

The focus of this approach is to present information and theories from different disciplines that will enrich the audience's understanding of each step in the OSCAR method. For example, in step one, observing, we can show the differences between scientific observation and personal observation of our mental and emotional experiences. We can discuss the differences between irrational and rational beliefs and demonstrate the connection between faulty thinking and negative emotions.


Ideals

Of particular importance is the meaning of our ideals in Circle Three. That everyone tries to realize her or his ideals in all the dimensions of life forms the corner stone of the Vision Circles Program. For this reason the program is more than a psychological 'how-to' formula that can be mechanically applied to feel better. In step three the OSCAR method asks the participants to think reflectively and creatively about the practical meaning of their ideals.

Only the individual participant can discover how to use the proper, practical idea at the right time in the right place.

The Vision Circles Program can be used in all the dimensions of life - secular, spiritual and religious - because in all these areas humans want to create with their bodies what they see with their minds.

Problems get solved in any area of life (in business, in politics, in science, in personal issues, in mundane concerns like fixing the broken boiler or renovating the basement, etc.) because we have an ideal in mind that tells us what-could-be. The range of ideals extends from those of character such as, love, integrity, justice, truth etc. to those of performance such as, excellence, reliability, perseverance, etc. An attentive mind using common sense and creative thinking can make the ideal real. Then, we will experience the joy of making our world.

Note: The section in the menu entitled "Programs", consists of sample self-dialogues that show you how to use the OSCAR method. Since I want to demonstrate the applicability of Vision Circles to a variety of issues and to show you how to use the OSCAR method, I have made the contents of the problems rather simple. These programs are demonstrations of how to go about solving your concerns in these areas; they do not pretend to be definitive solutions. Keep in mind that the aim of Vision Circles is to help you discover your practical ways of realizing your ideals. Specific information that will help you discover more practical ideas consistent with your ideals can be sought in books, in workshops, on the web, etc. written and conducted by professionals.

The Vision Circles Program can also be used in workshops, lectures, consultations, etc. by professionals with expert knowledge in a particular area such as, marriage, parenting, leadership, financial planning, etc. to help people resolve their concerns within the framework of their ideals.