4 Strategies for Effective Living
CORE is an acronym I developed to summarize four overlapping, non-linear sets of practices or strategies that I believe are essential (or core) to well-being, healing, and growth. These strategies are reflected in all my clinical and consulting work. I refer to these strategies as CORE practices for several reasons.
In physical health, exercise specialists frequently refer to the need to work out our core (the muscles around our trunk and pelvis). Core strength creates physical stability and balance, which supports all our physical activities. Similarly, the strategies discussed in this book focus on strengthening our psychological core, and practicing them creates psychological stability, flexibility, and balance that supports life.
Most importantly, CORE is also an acronym that simplifies and identifies the four complementary sets of practices that create psychological stability and balance. Specifically, CORE stands for Centering, Opening, Releasing, and Extending. Finally, the word core also means fundamental or essential and these strategies are, in my opinion, fundamental for well-being.
Let us describe each of these four strategies in turn. When I was involved in aikido training, I heard several ideas that stuck with me not only as essential for martial arts training but also for life training. One such saying was “first center then extend into the field.” If you are not centered in an aikido competition, you will quickly get knocked down. Similarly, if you are not centered in life, you quickly collapse in the face of any challenge.
Centering strategies involve helping ourselves cultivate our capacities to regulate our thoughts and emotions so that we can meet the challenges of life without becoming overwhelmed. Mindfulness, time in nature, body-based activities, and creating experiences of safeness are various ways in which we can get centered.
The second set of practices can also be illuminated by another expression I heard associated with aikido. A teacher of mine, psychologist Stephen Gilligan, who was also a student of aikido, once stated that it was important “not to give your eyes away.” My interpretation of this is that if we fixate on the challenge (or challenger) we get stuck in reacting rather than responding. Instead, if we open to the whole field, we can see the challenge but also the many ways we can move to respond to what is in front of us.
Opening strategies, then involve developing our ability to expand our mindset to the possibilities that life affords. Metaphors that reframe our experiences (discussed in a previous article, see link below) are examples of how to open our mindset.
The third set of practices involve reclaiming wasted energy. Frequently, in therapy, I hear people talk about how they wished things could have been different or they speak of historic slights and resentments. I typically ask these clients, tongue in cheek, where they have their time machine stored. Many people spend a tremendous amount of energy focusing on things that they cannot change, especially from their past. Learning how to wisely release energy that is being siphoned to the impossible task of changing the past can be tremendously helpful in shifting one’s focus back to health and life.
Releasing strategies also focus on reducing internal and external signals and beliefs that drain energy and lead to reactivity or suffering. Various therapeutic modalities, including clinical hypnosis, can be useful here. I also suggest people get a felt sense of letting go by closing their fist tightly, perhaps on a symbolic object representing what they are caught up in, and then opening their hand to experience a felt sense of letting go.
For the last set of practices, we can go back to that initial expression I mentioned. The latter part of the “center then extend” idea is that we must inevitably move into the field. This is where the action exists, where life exists. The last set of practices then, involve attending to and energizing what we wish to create in our lives. Creating a life takes more than belief and faith; it requires taking affirmative action even without guarantees of success.
I identify three elements to extending effectively: direction (focusing on where we want to go/what we wish to create); community (attending to with whom we wish to create); and process (attending to how we wish to live as we create). See my Full Brain Integration article for an exercise that focuses on extending.
If you are interested in my books you can find them at Amazon, follow the link by clicking on the book title below. You can also find the scientific references that support my assertions in the books.