Tools for Conquering Conflict
in Your Life
by Deidre Combs
Sports gurus from around the world know that it is the mental
game that rules performance. As Yogi Berra is quoted as saying,
“Half this game is ninety percent mental.”
So often we find ourselves in a rut when it comes to conflict
patterns. We might say, “OK, this time I am going to stay
engaged, not scream at my husband or run away. We are going to
work together and find a solution.” Needless to say, often
we don’t work together and find ourselves yelling instead.
Rupert Sheldrake describes nature as governed by habits. Clearly
our constant patterns of behavior, from relating to others to
making breakfast, are habits. He believes we will continue to
repeat our habits until they no longer work. It may be an old
habit to use intimidation when someone confronts you. This may
have become a habit because it effectively got others to leave
you alone. However, you may now realize that you have little intimacy
or trust in relationships because of this habitual reaction.
To transform conflict it is critical not only to read about the
conflict practices described within this book but also to turn
them into new habits. For example, after reading, you may want
to become skilled at appreciating your opponents or to pause before
responding in a heated argument. The Hindu sacred text the Bhagavad
Gita reminds us that no one attains their goal without action.
Change takes practice. However, if I consistently tell myself
that I am terrible at conflict or have poor appreciation skills
while I am trying to learn new skills, these internal battles
will hinder progress. The following exercises will assist us in
creating mental attitudes that support developing new habits.
Affirmations: The Mind Talks and the Body Walks
We can talk and visualize ourselves into new habits. Our internal
conversations or “mind talk” are powerful determinants
of our behavior. Olympic sports consultants now spend hours training
the athlete’s brain as well as her body. Studies show that
if athletes believe that they will win, they often do. In the
2000 Summer Olympic Games Marion Jones would not be dissuaded
from her belief that she would win five gold medals. When she
left with three gold and two bronze on her chest, I’d say
that she was not far from the reality that she had visualized
The tenets of creative visualization are readily found within
the spiritual traditions of daily interrogatory prayer and chanting.
Christianity provides us with the wisdom that if we ask for something
and have the faith of a mustard seed, we will receive it. Of course,
we can tell ourselves that we want to be thin, rich, beautiful,
and a Zen master of conflict until the cows come home, and still
nothing seems to change. And we can pray for something that never
comes true. Experts in creative visualization offer the following
guidelines for turning your conflict dreams into reality:
To create a new reality, first begin by finding a quiet place
and allow yourself at least thirty minutes to do the following
exercise. This exercise focuses on developing a new way of approaching
interpersonal conflict, but it can be modified to create affirmations
in almost any situation.
Step one: see your goal: In their book Empowerment
David Gershon and Gail Straub suggest that to create a new reality
you begin by becoming quiet and walking in your mind into the
situation as you wish it to be, without any constraints. In the
best of all possible worlds, how would you like a situation, a
relationship, or yourself to look?
Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and center yourself.
Spend a few minutes clearing your mind of all thoughts, letting
them pass through. Now imagine yourself walking into a garden.
Color it with flowers and trees of your favorite variety. Create
the perfect weather and comfort zone for yourself. When you are
ready, invite a person with whom you are struggling (imagine him
in his best possible state) into your garden. Allow him to sit
down and talk with you in this place. Do not limit your vision
by saying, “He would never do that” or, “He
won’t listen to me.” Imagine the best possible situation
just for a few moments.
Now visualize how your best conversation would go. What would
you like to be able to say? How would you like to be acknowledged?
What would you like to hear? How would you like to respond? After
you have spoken, how would you like to leave that person and return
home? Again, in this vision, there are no “shoulds,”
“can’ts,” or “won’ts.”
When the conversation has ended, return home and spend a few
moments recording the internal garden and your conversation in
a journal. Include colors, sensations, emotions, and images since
these can hold symbolic clues about what needs to be included
in the resulting affirmation. Say I have just seen my brother
enter the garden and we have spoken about how important our relationship
is to each other. We have apologized for past wrongs and made
a commitment to develop a deep and nurturing friendship. I would
write down the details of our conversation, what my brother and
I were wearing, my feeling of peace and gratitude, and how I could
hear birds singing in the trees.
Step two: dig up the old belief system: Now
we look at the limits that we might have wanted to place on our
vision and that we have been placing on ourselves or on a relationship.
Since we all create our own reality, we have a set of beliefs
in place that supports it. Some are often obvious and others,
like many of the assumptions we make, are subtler and hidden.
Write down all the reasons that your vision would never work:
“My brother is inflexible,” “I always start
crying when faced with conflict, I am too emotional,” “I
am not good at conflict,” “I don’t know how
to explain how I feel,” and so on. Eventually, we often
land at “I am afraid I will be hurt,” or “People
who are ______ are _____” (fill in the blanks).
For example, I was raised in Minnesota. Just as in any location,
we Midwesterners share a set of collective beliefs, some of which
can be quite limiting. For example, “emotional people are
irrational or not to be trusted” might be one of them. So
if I want to approach another person with a full and open heart,
I first need to recognize and remove a belief or assumption that
limits my ability to create what I want.
Everything is possible; we, and the person with whom we battle,
are capable of every trait or action under the sun. Some things
might appear to be impossible, for example, having a meaningful
relationship with someone who has serious emotional issues. Your
initial position of how this meaningful relationship might look
might not come to pass, but if you are clear about your underlying
hopes and wishes and let go of any stumbling blocks, a new solution
can begin to take form. When creating a new vision, affirming
what is found underneath our iceberg, or the essence of what will
satisfy our longing, opens up all types of possible solutions
instead of just one. The power of expectations and vision cannot
Now take each belief or assumption that destroys your vision
and turn it around. Both versions could be equally true. It is
your choice. For example:
Step four: provide a picture to go with it:
Since humans have a great affinity for symbol, add a picture to
ground the phrase. If you want great abundance, see money falling
from the sky all around you. If your affirmation includes confidence
and peace in conflict, see yourself centered and joyful working
in a dispute. You may wish to gather symbols from your garden
to include in your mental picture.
Step five: say it until you see it: Simply repeating
your phrase while visualizing your picture ten times a day can
yield amazing results. You may have one to eight different affirmations
that you repeat at a time. You are teaching yourself a new story.
In the morning, as you awake, and at night, as you are going to
sleep, are powerful times to affect your belief system. Say the
affirmation until it becomes true. Shakti Gawain, in Creative
Visualization, explains, “Rather than saying affirmations
by rote, try to get the feeling that you really have the power
to create that reality (which in fact you do!). This will make
a big difference in how effective they are.” Gawain also
offers a beautiful phrase to seal this work that leaves you open
to even greater possibilities. After repeating the affirmation
she adds, “This, or something better, now manifests for
me in totally satisfying and harmonious ways, for the highest
good of all concerned.”
Step six: feel it in your body: The use of body
movement or positioning can further commit a new viewpoint or
discipline to reality. Body prayer, the reciting of scripture
or chanting praise taught by many spiritual traditions, brings
us this precept from antiquity. We find body prayer arriving in
many new and fun forms such as Gabrielle Roth’s Wave Dance,
Ananda yoga, and Phoenix Rising yoga therapy.
In Ananda yoga, for example, practitioners do many of the traditional
yoga postures with accompanying affirmations. In Tree pose, one
stands in the posture breathing and repeats, “I am calm,
I am poised.” In Cobra pose, one is asked to repeat, “I
rise joyfully to meet each new opportunity.” One way to
integrate your new stories or affirmations is to connect them
with a body movement. If you are hoping to be more flexible in
conflict, bending forward gently to touch your toes might be a
great place from which to say your affirmation. If you are working
to find more peace and relaxation, perhaps being in a quiet seated
position might help your mind and body to remember this truth.
Saying your affirmations as you exercise can be another way to
remember and connect to your new beliefs.
Teaching Your Way into a New Habit
An alternate approach to integrating a new skill and
shifting our mental attitudes is to teach it to another. Maria
Montessori based her revolutionary teaching philosophy on this
notion. She found that when younger children were placed in the
classroom with older ones who were expected to teach learned activities,
the older children integrated and mastered skills as they introduced
the activities to the younger children.
I invite you to teach a practice or activity from this book to
another. Please ask her permission first! The roles of teacher
and student should be voluntary; otherwise, we make assumptions
about our position and power in a relationship that might be disrespectful.
When we are asked if we want to learn something new or if we want
to practice a new skill together, it is rare that we refuse. It
is when we perceive that someone believes we are deficient that
we back away.
Essentially, as the old adage has it, we learn best what we teach.
I have found that a student’s tough questions are rallying
points to dig deeper into, clarify, and personally integrate what
I teach. To be a successful teacher, I must continue to practice
and experiment. We also teach best that which we have truly learned.
This belief supports our mental game; when we can effectively
teach a skill, our confidence increases and affirms positive expectations
about our future success using that skill.
Fifty to One Hundred Days of Practice Make Perfect
When I have wished to learn a new habit, teachers have
counseled me to practice it for at least six weeks. For example,
if you wish to add meditation to your daily routine, schedule
it on your calendar for the prescribed period. I find if I pick
a distinct time each day and see it as something I deem as important,
as, say, a conference call with my boss (which this is, isn’t
it?), it gets done.
Ritual can help in this practice. Spiritual leaders have long
used rites and rituals to create habits to support their followers.
For example, to teach detachment or letting go, the Catholic Church
has created a practice of weekly confession prior to communion.
The Sabbath meal in Judaism serves as a similar weekly reminder.
Fasting, a practice found particularly in many Eastern religious
traditions, is yet another ritual that teaches detachment.
You can easily create a ritual to help a practice find its way
into your day. One friend wears a rubber band around her wrist
to remind herself to breathe! When I enter a room to mediate a
dispute, I touch one hand to my head and then to my heart to remind
myself that I must listen for both words and emotions as intently
as possible. After years of doing this ritual, my hand moves almost
without my thinking, I relax, and my mind and body adjust.
When in conflict, I want to stop before yelling at my children!
So moving from theory to practice, I created a small ritual to
remind myself to slow down. When I feel my anger rising, by contracting
the back of my throat, I make a sound much like waves on the sand
or like Darth Vader, depending on your perspective! It is a basic
centering tool in yoga called “sounding breath” that
one begins to do instinctively when faced with a difficult posture,
or asana. This breathing has become a habit when anger appears,
and without thinking, I now inhale and exhale in this loud manner.
It has become a reminder as I hear myself that I need to stop
and reflect. It also tells my children that I have reached my
limit and need a minute to pull myself together.
Throughout human history we have created and redefined our habits.
This is evolution. Be kind to yourself as you attack your old
belief systems. We all have the ability to change our attitudes
about conflict today.
Excerpted from The Way of Conflict by Deidre
Combs. Copyright © 2004 by Deidre Combs. All rights reserved.
Excerpted by arrangement with New World Library. $15.95. Available
in local bookstores or call 800.972.6657 ext. 52 or click