What exactly is outside the box?

think outside of the box
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Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD, BCBA, LBA.      1.15.20

We love it.  That phrase, “Think outside the box”.  It makes us think of creativity, progress, innovation, independence.  Thing is, there is so much creativity and innovation on display out there, and it is so easy to find now with the internet and social media.  It kind of makes us wonder, now that everything seems to be being done, what is outside the box anymore?

Well, let’s just take a look at our own lives, and what might be outside our own boxes.  Whether it’s looking at yourself and your own personal habits, or looking at your role at work, or looking at how you approach parenting, there might be some ways you have trapped yourself into a box.  So it’s time to ask yourself, what are your own boxes, and what is on the outside?

We all have habits we would like to change both personally and work.  Maybe you get stuck in the same routines?  Maybe you have a hard time keeping up with your list of things to do?  Maybe you have some difficulties with interpersonal relationships, and the things you’re trying to do to make this better aren’t working?  This is where your personal outside-the- box thinking can jump in and help you out.  There is that famous saying about doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity (apparently Einstein is NOT actually the one who said this).  But even though it is over-used and mis-referenced, it does make a good point.  Think a little about your past week, and how many should-haves and would-haves you can count.  Now, think about how you might have approached those things just a little bit differently to have had better outcomes.

Try making a list of what consistently works for you to give you the outcomes you need.  Setting reminders, using good coping skills, going to the gym, etc.  Now, make a list of the common habits you have that get in your way of having positive outcomes.  Some of these habits may be things you do or don’t do, and some of them may be things you think or don’t think.  I can tell you that sitting in my warm car outside the gym when it’s nasty outside can trigger some pretty compelling thoughts about why I don’t really need to go into the gym. These are not good thought habits.  So my list would have to include that particular thought habit – talking myself out of doing something I know will be good because in that one moment it seems just a little.too.demanding.  Thinking outside my box here will require me to stop and reconsider that habit.

Now let’s apply this to our interactions with other people.  If you’re a parent, you may struggle with managing difficult behaviors form your kids – some common things would include kids not cleaning up after themselves, not listening to instructions, or not putting their devices or video games away when asked.  What are you doing right now to deal with common difficulties you have as a parent?

Most of my posts include specific information for special needs or autism, but in this case the outside-the-box tools apply to all parents, and really to all relationships.  Think about what is difficult about one of your relationships, be it with a friend, a sibling, a spouse, or a child.  Answer the question about what you are doing to manage those difficulties right now.  What is working consistently?  What isn’t really working at all?  Make your lists and evaluate what kind of thinking you need to do to process these relationships and situations more effectively.  It is always best to build on what has been working, and think about letting go of the tools that are just not working at all.

So what is outside the box for you?

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for my next post!


New Year, New Ideas

blur bokeh bright burnt
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Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD, BCBA.     1.3.20

Time for a new year, a new decade.  Time for making resolutions you may or may not keep, and making plans for all things to come in 2020.  It’s a great idea to look at the new year as a blank page, a time to think about what you can do differently, what you can do better, what you can do more and what you can do less.  It is a good time to take stock of the things that have been going well and the things that have brought joy in the past year, to build on those things to move forward and a positive and productive way.

New Year’s resolutions date back nearly 4000 years, with ancient Babylonians making sacrifice and promises to the gods for the coming year.  This also happened in ancient Rome 2000 years ago with feasts and celebrations welcoming the new year with promises to the god Janus.  In the Middle Ages, the knights would renew their vows as part of the incoming new year ceremonies.  Modern New Year’s resolutions became popular in the early 1800’s, with people making personal commitments to themselves for improvement in the coming year.  These days, 45% of Americans report making resolutions for the new year, but only 8% complete them.

New Ideas

Some say that the best way to keep your New Year’s resolution – or any resolution – is to keep it simple, realistic and specific.  For example, a fitness goal might be to go to the gym 2 times a week or to walk 10,000 steps a day at least 5 days a week.  A social goal might be to do something with a friend outside work once a week, even if it’s just coffee, lunch or a walk.

While I believe that personal specific resolutions are a wonderful thing, and encourage everyone to try to make and accomplish them, this year I’ve been wondering about how many people make resolutions for giving back to their communities. I’m not talking about charitable donations, but about time and energy.  Because one of my primary interests professionally has been supporting people with different needs, I have seen a lot of positive changes with how much more accepting people and communities are of those who have different needs.  But, there is still room for improvement.  Some of this improvement may need to happen with the support of mental health professionals, educators, and policy makers.  But some things can change with a little effort from everyone else, too.

What if every single person in the country made a resolution to do one thing to help someone with a special need, or a group of people with special needs?  Imagine the impact that would have.

My simple, realistic and specific resolution:  Do one thing this year outside work to make a difference for special needs in my community.

You may wonder how to even connect with communities and groups, or how to do one thing in the coming year to make a difference.  You could start by looking into local organizations who support people with special needs, including local Autism Society chapters, Down Syndrome Association chapters,  and other organizations who support special needs on a local level.  There are also lots of national organizations who do good work for special needs.  You could help out by volunteering one time, participating in a fundraiser, or running in a 5K to support these groups.  They always need help, and they would welcome any time you are able to give.  Here are some great national organizations who do wonderful things to help people with special needs.  Consider adding a resolution this year to make a difference, even just one time, to make a difference to people who will always need a little extra support!

  1.  Autism Society of America
  2. Special Olympics
  3. National Down Syndrome Association
  4. Tim Tebow Foundation Night to Shine
  5. Easter Seals
  6. Ventures Travel (help people with special needs with travel adventures)
  7. The Arc
  8. National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth
  9. United Cerebral Palsy
  10. Friendship Circle
  11. Goodwill International
  12. Wounded Warrior Project (to support our veterans who have sustained physical/cognitive impairment serving our country)