07/15/2014 03:56 pm ET Updated Sep 14, 2014

3 Simple Steps to Getting 'Unstuck' and Becoming Your Better Self

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In the early 1980s, I participated in a self-empowerment seminar created by Robert Fritz, a former musician who drew from spiritual disciplines as well as principles of good management. The idea was to look at what's swirling around you with fresh eyes.

One of the exercises featured in that course -- which I've since used often in my own life -- gave us a simple yet profound way of getting "unstuck" by telling yourself the truth.

The Tell Yourself the Truth (TYTT) mantra is the single most important secret to working through any problem that pulls you up short -- a Whoa! moment. It might be something that takes you by surprise (a telephone call with bad news, a comment or action by a family member). It can happen in the middle of an argument you've had a gazillion times before. Or it might be a thought or problem that's been brewing over time and is lingering on the edge of your consciousness. A Whoa! moment lets you know it's finally time to face it.

The fact is, Whoa! moments don't resolve themselves. However, you have the power to end pointless, repetitive and possibly angry discussions (with another family member or inside your own head!), dial down the negativity, and move on... if you take a moment to Tell Yourself the Truth.

TYTT has three steps:

1. Look around you. Put yourself outside of the action as a neutral observer.
What, exactly, is happening? What do you see? What do you hear?
What led up to this moment? Gather evidence about each of you, so that
you can act on what is. What were you each doing right before this interaction?
Are other family members involved, if only indirectly? If a decision
is looming large in your thoughts, is it really a matter of life or death--or
does it just feel that way?

2. Tell yourself the truth. Admit what is. Has a new element been introduced
that you haven't factored in -- a developmental change, other
people, other influences, the context? Is the situation really new, or does
this moment have a we've-been-here-before feeling? Might you have
seen it coming if you let yourself ? Could you have planned better? Don't
focus on what you feel as much as why you feel it. Are you telling yourself
everything -- your motivation, what you've contributed to the situation,
what it really means to you, and whether you have any control over it?

3. Take an action. Do something. It might mean starting or ending,
changing direction or doing it differently, getting more involved or letting
go. The goal is to figure out how to best cope with this particular reality
and to make a conscious choice. Do or say something that is true to yourself
and respects what you can give in the moment, but put the relationship
first. If you make a wrong move or a bad decision, you can always make
another choice later, but at least now you're getting past "stuck," which is a
bad and isolating place to be.

This might sound like a superhuman undertaking. But in the heat of the moment, the TYTT mantra inspires what Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls "slow thinking."

Our brains have two systems that guide our actions and reactions. The system responsible for fast thinking," Kahneman explains, "operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control." In contrast, "System 2" is the part of our brain that accesses our wiser self. It involves taking deliberate actions, making choices, and concentrating.

It isn't always easy to catch ourselves in the moment and change course. Even people who have been in therapy or have taken parenting or marital enrichment courses have a hard time calming down during a fight. Therefore, it's best, of course, to tell yourself the truth before a serious Whoa! moment occurs -- before you feel backed up against the wall, before either of you loses control.

If you practice telling yourself the truth on a regular basis and in everyday interactions, it will strengthen your better self, and it will become easier to make conscious choices that feed the relationship, even when things get out of hand.

The above post was adapted from FAMILY WHISPERING, co authored by Melinda Blau--better known as Dear Family Whisperer--and (the late) Tracy Hogg. It was first published online at

Follow @MelindaBlau on Twitter. And if you have a family question for her, tweet it to: #DearFamilyWhisperer or email Real names will not be used, and no topics are off limits. Adults and children welcome.