Saturday, December 29, 2007

Cars, Guitars and Wars?

What do cars, guitars and wars have in common? They're all the subjects of video games, of course. Violent video games at that.

A friend suggested that my next newsletter be about how violent video games are affecting our kids.

It's not my thing really, but parenting and anger are two of my areas of expertise. At least professionally. Personally, I think my son might beg to differ. But professionally I have ideas.

1. Limit the time your kids can spend playing video games (any games) sensibly.

2. Talk to your kids about the things they see in games.

3. Talk to your kids about everything.

4. Listen to your kids when they talk.

5. Listen to your kids when they talk about everything.

6. Be interested in everything about your kids.

7. Be available to spend time with your kids so they don't feel like they have to play video games all the time.

8. Be a good role model regarding non-violent solutions to problems.

9. Talk about non-violent solutions to problems.

In short, while we know violent games affect kids' beliefs about violence and the acceptability of violence in the world, we also know that kids are affected most profoundly by how their parents treat them and teach them.

Teach your children well, their father's hell did slowly go by,
feed them on your dreams, the one they fix, the one you'll know
Crobsy, Stills & Nash

Thursday, December 13, 2007

When the going gets tough...

the tough get going. But how?

A friend thought a good topic for my next newsletter (check it out at ) would be: what to do, and what not to do, when things go bad, when stuff happens. Like losing a job, divorce, death of friends and family, and so on.

The first thing that came to mind was something I was reading about recently. Daniel Gilbert, in "Stumbling on Happiness" (a book for serious readers only) spends a fair amount of time talking about how resilient people are when dealing with traumatic situations. We're all familiar with the notion, which he also discusses, of personal growth occurring in the aftermath of tragedy.

So, step one, decide you're going to get through this and you might even be a better, stronger, fill-in-the-blank-er person as a result.

In addition to changing some of the thinking patterns we can get stuck in (see previous blog in November about Loss), there are other helpful steps to take.

Write about it. Write about feelings: good, bad and ugly. Write about thoughts: good, bad and ugly. Don't censor. Write what you think and feel. Sometimes this process helps move us through difficulties.

Talk about it. That's what friends are for. Don't tell me they're sick of hearing about it. They may be, but that's still what they're there for and, if the proverbial shoe was on the other foot, you'd listen to them, I hope.

Listen to people. Sometimes your friend, coach, therapist, even mother, has a good idea. Try to consider the input people give you and see if there's something you can use.

Do what works for you. Cope, by whatever means you usually cope. Exercise, clean, read, watch movies, listen to music, do anything that relaxes you, clears your mind, gives you a fresh start.

Try something new. Make a plan to move forward and try to get on with it. Keep moving even if you can only take baby steps.

Need more help? Try a coach or therapist.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Food Glorious Food

Why should we be fated to do nothing but brood on food, magical food, wonderful food, marvellous food, fabulous food/ Oliver! (Lionel Bart)

You can imgine how much time I spend listening to people talk about food. Too much, not enough, dieting, bingeing, purging, weighing, and so on.

What is the obsession we American's have with food, or should I say weight? As one of my psychiatrist colleagues once commented, all American women have at least a sub-clinical eating disorder, and a lot of men too. Which is a fancy way to say we're all a little crazy when it comes to food.

Indeed, generally when I have an idea I want to write about, it just flows. This entry, on the other hand, is slowly creaking along. How could it be that I would have no pithy input on this topic that I hear so much about and spend so much time talking about?

I was a little saddened to hear that the girls in my son's middle school class spent all day getting ready for the school dance. Hair, nails, makeup, I imagine. He, on the other hand, spent all day playing soccer and wandered in late, without time to shower, buttoning his (clean) shirt, apparently not too concerned about how he looked.

The food/weight obsession is linked to our general obsession about physical appearance. Are we that superficial, or does it relate to something deeper?

I am the first to admit that our appearance, be it clothing, hairstyle, weight, etc, signal things to observers. Gender identity, social class and interests, are all conveyed by our appearance. But can you tell whether someone is a caring, intelligent person, with a good sense of humor? I think not.

But could we try being more concerned with these characteristics, and less concerned with appearance? Perhaps the girls could have been reading the newspaper so they'd have something interesting to discuss at the dance. Okay, maybe reading a book? A magazine? Watching a movie? Watching a game? Anything other than worrying about whether to get French nails, tips or whatever?

How about some philosophical advice?

Happiness: a good bank account, a good cook and a good digestion.-- Jean Jacques Rousseau

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Go for the Grit

Positive psychologists search for variables that predict success. There are raw talent and ability, presumably immutable trait-like variables. But they fail to predict how some of us are able to turn lemons into lemonade, while others aren’t.

Grit, the combination of persistence and passion, seems to be something worth cultivating if you strive for success and greatness. Although the study of grit is still in its infancy, several possibilities have been offered as to how to facilitate its development in children. With a little tweaking, these suggestions are easily translated for adults.

Find your passion. Exposure to different experiences and possibilities can spark interest in one special area that may become your passion.

Forget balance. In today’s world, most of us strive to achieve balance among things like work, parenting, socializing and fitness, among other things. People who are high achievers and make brilliant contributions tend to be focused in one area.

Accept criticism. Trying to be less defensive and accept input from others may help you broaden your perspective. This might provide just the little nudge you need to get into something new and exciting.

Emulate successful models. Notice how others you admire have been able to accomplish things.

Challenge yourself. Identify what you want. Go for it.

Learn from failure. Although we tend to want to curl up and pull the covers up over our heads when things go wrong, don’t! Find a few things that help pull you up, and then analyze what went wrong.

Find your optimism. Think about the silver lining and success in the future. Set your goals high. Don’t dwell on the possibilities for failure. Don’t sell yourself short.

So it's a pretty long list. You don't have to do EVERYTHING. Just try a few things. Persevere. Stick to it. Go for the grit.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Dogs vs Cats

I've had some interesting responses to my first newsletter, The Power of Yes. Subscribe to the newsletter on my website if you'd like, at It came from a previous blog, When Saying No is Reallly Saying Yes (8/1/07). The gist was that by asking yourself the powerful questions (e.g., how much do I want this?), making things fun and mixing things up a bit, you can make some strides toward meeting your goals.

One friend replied that she'd already thought of all the things I mentioned, but still didn't seem to get on with it. Another, that it sounded good, but she was still having trouble getting it done.

Naturally, reading about a few things to do, and actually doing them, are two completely different animals. Like the differences between a dog (unconditional positive regard and slobering lovefest 24-7) and a cat (conditional semi-positive regard depending on their mood and occasional behavior that might be interpreted as love-like). At least I think that would be something that my readers would naturally know.

Here's the thing. Working toward difficult goals (after all, where's the fun in pursuing easy goals?) is, well, it's difficult. But immensely worthwhile. What could be better than achieving your goal of starting a new business, getting in shape or finding a boyfriend?

A little help from Jon Kabat-Zinn:

Lots of things intrude, carry us off, prevent us from
concentrating. We see that the mind has gotten cluttered over the years,
like an attic, with old bags and accumulated junk. Just knowing this is a
big step in the right direction. -from Wherever you go there you are. Mindfulness meditation in everyday life.

Although Jon's talking about meditation practice, I think it holds for anything we're trying to set are minds to do that's different. A lot of things get in the way, and we have to clear out a new path and start walking the walk.

There are some who find the occasional positive regard of their cats, because
it appears to be so hard-earned, more gratifying than the constant wet kisses of
their dogs. Of course, because we don't do anything to earn the latter.

Not to get on my soapbox, but it is my blog after all. Life coaches help people walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Right or wrong, being accountable to someone else tends to be a lot more motivating for most of us than simply being accountable to ourselves. And okay, they're a little more like dogs than cats, lots of positive regard. So maybe we need a little of both in our lives.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sleep Happiness not Apneas

Leave it to Americans to try to find happiness in a pill. This is a pet peeve I have as both a coach and psychotherapist. Last year Americans filled 49 million prescriptions for sleeping pills. Check out this morning’s Jon Mooallem interview on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday:

You can also see this morning’s NY Times Magazine cover story for more info on sleep and the mattress industry’s attempt to capitalize on our desire for better sleep

Did you know some researchers believe that the use of sleeping pills merely causes us to have a kind of amnesia for the night? Thus, we believe we had a better night’s sleep because we can’t recall tossing and turning.

Did you know that, historically, people didn’t sleep for eight hours straight? Getting up for an hour or so during the night to feed animals, have a chat or have sex was not unusual. In other words, our expectations for sleep might be a bit out of line. We may not have been made to sleep for eight consecutive hours.

As an ofttimes cognitive behaviorist, I can tell you that I too have observed that people sleep better as soon as they stop worrying about sleeping better. Cutting down on caffeine, vigorous exercise before bed (no, that doesn’t mean sex) and spicy food late in the day, and keeping a regular sleep-wake schedule and relaxing before bed (yes, that could mean sex) are also quite helpful. Warm milk also apparently does have some physiological effect that aids sleep.

As with so many things in life, a pill may not be the best answer. Apparently, being satisfied with one’s sleep leads to greater sleep happiness, not to be confused with sleep apneas.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


This is a week of losses. Actually, for a couple of weeks now I've heard a lot about losses. Like endings, it's a common theme, but these are new losses. The kind of permanent losses that only death creates. Close, painful and heart-wrenching.

As you might expect, I don't hold much faith in the stages of grief. I think it's just something we want to grab onto to help us navigate the waves of emotion crushing loss leaves in its wake. And the research is a little sketchy on the stages.

People turn to faith. To others for support. They isolate. Throw themselves into work. Run. Drink. Pretty much anything goes.

The first time I worked with a woman who had lost her son, I went and read about this very specific kind of loss. The lost of a child is thought to be the most difficult to cope with. She was devastated and I was not of much help. She wore a picture of her beautiful child pinned to her lapel, always. She was not planning to get over the loss, ever. I could tell.

I've since seen many women who have lost sons, and daughters. Fewer men. Men don't come to talk as often as women. And people who have lost others. Parents, lovers, best friends. Through accidents, violent random acts, natural causes. Some of these people have done remarkably well in moving on. Never forgetting, but going on with life. Some of the losses have become part of my life. I remember them as if I'd known them.

It is possible that we choose our reactions in these situations.

I am more and more convinced that our happiness or unhappiness depends more on the way we meet the events of life than on the nature of those events themselves.
-- Alexander Humboldt

or should never give yourself a chance to fall apart because, when you do, it becomes a tendency and it happens over and over again. You must practice staying strong, instead.
--Elizabeth Gilbert

Monday, November 5, 2007

People, Work, Love & Dogs

A high school student e-mailed me asking for a professional opinion about love. I thought it was quite resourceful of her. Here’s what I said:

There are many theories of love and there's been a lot of psychological research on the subject. I think there are different kinds of love.

I like the idea that love has 3 dimensions. One is intimacy. You might be intimate with a close friend. Another is passion. That's a feeling you might have for a potential romantic partner, even one that you've just met. The third is commitment. You might feel a commitment to your child or parent. These three dimensions come together in different ways, which are different kinds of love. For example, you might feel commitment, intimacy and passion for your boyfriend or spouse.

How do you know if you're in love? You ask yourself how you feel about the relationship along those 3 dimensions. It's very subjective. I think the manner in which love affects daily life varies a great deal among people. For some it's all consuming, and people have written about this type of obsessive love. For others, it's part of the fabric of life, like work. In my opinion, a good balance between love relationships and work is very healthy.

It sounds good, doesn’t it? I talk to a lot of people trying to figure out if they’re still in love. Often, they feel the commitment, sometimes the intimacy, but not the passion anymore. You know, I love him but I’m not in love with him. People have also talked about passionate love vs companionate love. The latter being the kind of love you have for someone you feel is a life companion, like a best friend and even more. Sometimes passionate love develops into companionate love. Sometimes vice versa.

Part of what we have to decide is what we need from a relationship at this particular time in our lives. It’s kind of like work. We might not always love our work, but at times we really do. When we love it, we can’t imagine being without it. Another decision facing you is whether you can make the commitment, whether it’s to work, to another person, to a dog even. Why is it we forgive our pets and children so much, but not our partners, whether in love or work relationships?

A final note: we need to decide what makes us happy and how to make that happen in all of our relationships with people, work and dogs.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Isn't it Ironic?

It’s like rain on your wedding day, the good advice that you just didn’t take.
Ironic, Alanis Morisette

How we struggle with life’s ironies. Or as we say in psychology, hindsight is 20:20. The key is to be able to move on. Preferably, we’d like move on and learn something.

I’ve heard a lot about unhappy endings this week. Actually, I hear a lot about unhappy endings most weeks. There are ways to look at these endings, whether it’s the end of a relationship, the manuscript rejected, or the job interview flubbed, in healthy, positive and productive ways.

Unlucky (not worthless). I’ve borrowed this from sports. It wasn’t a bad shot, it just missed by a hair: unlucky. The pitch was a little more inside than planned, but not terrible, just unlucky. It wasn’t stupid to try the relationship, it just turned out unlucky. The manuscript wasn’t awful, the editor didn’t like your sense of humor: unlucky. You didn’t totally blow the job interview, the interviewer just didn’t think you’d be a good fit: unlucky. I have a folder for certain editor communications called…you got it, unlucky.

Where’s the learning edge? Now that you’ve accepted that you’re not a worthless individual who doesn’t deserve a relationship, to be published or to have a job, it’s time to consider what you might learn from the experience. What is it about this relationship I do not want to repeat in the future? Similarly, what did I like that I would like to see in the next relationship? Do I edit the manuscript to change the tone, or just try another editor? Preferably one with a sense of humor more like my own. What was I weak on in the interview and how can I improve on it? What did I do well?

What opportunities does this present? As most of us acknowledge at the end of a relationship, it probably wasn’t going to help our happiness much in the long term. The manuscript rejected might be improved or it might force me to send it someplace that’s a bit of a stretch. If the interviewer didn’t care for me, I might not care for the company. And a better opportunity might come along tomorrow.

If all else fails, remember: whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.

And remember, even when you’re focused on the pain of it

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end
Closing Time, Semisonic

Saturday, October 13, 2007


To obtain the full benefit of this entry, while reading, listen to Changes by David Bowie.

I love it when a client says words to the effect of: you know, I just don’t care about [fill in the blank] anymore. It could be the job, the boyfriend, the thighs.

I love it when people say things like: you know, all of a sudden, I just did it; I couldn’t understand why it seemed so hard before.

That’s how change happens. It can be so easy, in that vaguely surreal way that some things simply seem to come to us. There is a confluence of events. Things collide, collude, conspire even, to make change happen. You feel different, you do something different, and almost immediately, there are ripple effects.

Why something is so isn’t as important as recognizing the need to change it, and making the change happen. Later, you can worry about why. If you still care.

I believe people have an amazing ability to make change happen. It might be controlling your anger, it might be getting sober, or it might be writing a book. It’s risky though. If I’m not angry, people might listen to me, and maybe what I say isn’t important. If I’m sober, I might have to have real relationships with people, and maybe I'll get hurt. If I write my book, maybe no one will read it, or if they read it, maybe they'll hate it.

In other words, if I try something different, I face the possibility of failure. But if I don’t, then something is lost to me. The choice between safety and risk is always a difficult one. I believe that we can take risks to live our dream. Sometimes we need a helping hand to get there, or a gentle kick in the pants.

Coaching and therapy generally ask that the client plunge deeply and quickly into the sometimes murky waters of change. My interest in therapy and in coaching both stem from my passion to facilitate change in people on an individual basis. And my belief that such change is infinitely more possible than many think.

I still don’t know what I was waiting for
And my time was running wild

Monday, October 1, 2007

Slow Starts

When I attended my first workshop in life coaching, Ben Dean, one of the life coaching gurus, said, if you don't get on this in the first two weeks (or four, or some ridiculously low number of weeks) chances are you won't become a life coach. Two years later I took my first life coaching course and I've been at it ever since.

I note that I started this blog in April, then no post til December, then a flurry since July.

Sometimes you have to break the rules.

Take smoking. One study showed that it takes people an average of approximately seven tries to quit, without treatment. For some it may be only one or two tries. For others, maybe nine or ten. That means that if you're in the nine or ten group, you ought not quit trying to quit. You can still get there.

Often I find myself interested in something and I'm all over it in no time. You may be like that as well when it comes to some things. The key is to try not to be so predictable that you can't think outside the box.

I am not a big fan of never and always. As in, oh he'll never stop smoking, he's already tried half a dozen times. Or, serious writers always write daily.

What's my point? I suppose I'll have to disagree with WC Fields', if at first you don't succeed try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it. I'd go more with Mason Cooley's, if at first you don't succeed try again, then try something else.

If you want something, keep going after it, or something like it, until you get it. Break rules sometimes and do the unexpected. Sometimes you get disappointed, but perseverance pays off. To quote Maya Angelou: Nothing will work unless you do.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Divorce Lessons

A friend was talking about her impending divorce and asking about my experience.

Yes, it's hell. Yes, it's devastating. I didn't know how I was going to manage, but...

Actually, after a while, being on my own started to suit me. It's nice to be able to call all the shots. It's nice not to have to answer to anyone. It's nice to be responsible for myself and my decisions. It's super nice not to have to feel responsible for another adult's happiness, satisfaction and general well-being.

Don't get me wrong. I am not a proponent of frequent and senseless marriages and divorces. Especially when there are kids involved.

I am an advocate of long-term monogamy and believe heartily in the sanctity of marriage. Hell, I'm even monogamous when it comes to hairstylists and physicians. According to, sanctity is defined as, I'm paraphrasing here, that which is inviolable, sacred. On inviolable, from the same source, not susceptible of being violated, corrupted or profaned. And sacred? Something inviolable.

Here's where it starts to get sticky. I believe that when the sanctity of marriage has been violated, there is no marriage. They don't call it a partnership for nothing. I think we can all come up with a dozen or so violations that would void the partnership.

Stickier yet, what if one partner is unhappy? It's not really a violation is it? But I also believe, as many if not most of us do, that we have an inalienable right to personal happiness. Yet how to define happiness. As I've said in an earlier blog, "when saying no is really saying yes," there's the quick fix happiness and the lasting, durable happiness.

I do not believe unhappy people should stay married for the kids. But in my opinion, working on the issues together is the way to get to lasting, meaningful happiness.

Check out "Grow up! how taking responsibility can make you a happy adult," by Frank Pittman. Lots of good ideas here about ways to think about relationships, needs, wants and happiness.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Give Yourself a Break

I finally figured it out. After finishing a writing project, I don’t want to write for a week or two, or more. I just don’t feel like it. But I feel a bit guilty. After all, if I’m serious about my writing I should write every day, or at least every other day, right?

I can look back and see the pattern. After something big is completed, writing project, a race, a class, I like to have a little break. I’ve trained (and I use the term loosely) for the run for months and my next run might be slow and short. I’ve studied during the class for months and when it’s over I might not look at anything related to the material for a weeks.

I used to feel bad about it, like I should always be keeping up the pace. Now I realize that I need the break. It helps things clear, or helps me rest or allow things to gel. With a writing project, I have to clear the decks and let my thoughts move on to something new. It takes me a little time to do that. With a race, I’m just plum tired of the push and I want my body to rest a bit and help me decide if I’m going to tackle another. With a class, I find when I leave the material and ideas for a while and then go back to file things away, I can see more clearly what’s really useful now and what I might need later.

Even when you love what you do, there’s pressure if you’re working hard. That’s why we take vacations. It allows us time to have a break and do something different. It’s similar to a suggestion which I’ve found really useful in my writing. Put it away for a day or two, or more, if possible. When you come back to the manuscript, you can see it more clearly from a different perspective. It often allows you to add some depth and clarity.

When you plan a break, like a reward, it feels good. It’s not like the guilty pleasure of sneaking time away which is bittersweet. Just give yourself a break. You worked hard and deserve it.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


As I stood in my kitchen eating my cereal, running water for the plant on the porch, putting away the groceries I'd just picked up, I ran out of things to do for a moment. I recalled something I'd just read before sleep last night: "when you brush your teeth, just brush your teeth;" and meditations on a shower: "Close your eyes and take some time to feel the water on your body." Both quotes from "Quiet Mind. One-minute Retreats from a Busy World" by David Kundtz.

I tried to stop and eat my cereal, savoring the taste, the feel in my mouth, the moment of doing just one thing. Being mindful we might say.

Soon after I was watering, picking up and considering what I'd do arriving home a bit early tonight. Should I run even though I'm going to yoga today? Is there someone I need to try to have dinner with?

Then, mindful of what I'd just been considering, I thought, no. Just come home, have a little time to do what you need to do. Take a little time to eat dinner quietly, alone while reading the paper and listening to music. This is a combination of things I relish doing and rarely have an opportunity to do. Give yourself permission to do it tonight I thought.

Yes. Slow down and enjoy.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Why Don't They Do the Right Thing?

Why can’t people just do the right thing? Wouldn’t that make life a whole lot easier for everyone?

These are rhetorical questions, of course. People aren’t always going to do the right thing. They’re not always going to make life easier for everyone.

What, after all, is the right thing? What I believe is correct in a given situation is, much as I hate to admit it, colored by my own beliefs and perceptions. There may be information I’m lacking. I may be blind to something others can see.

Think about what happens when a child explains to you how they got into a fight in school, they were just minding their own business, someone picked on them, they merely defended themselves. Open and shut case, right? NOT!

Turns out, according to the principal, they were not just minding their own business when they made the snide remark “accidentally” overheard by the other kid. Nor were they being picked on when they “accidentally” shoved the other kid passing them in the hall. Nor was it merely self-defense when their friends circled the pair cheering them on to an all out knock-down drag-out. Not so open and shut after all.

Many of life’s more complex dilemmas share this type of scenario. What seems quite clear is really a bit cloudy. What seems black and white turns out to have a lot of gray.

When people don’t do the “right” thing and life becomes more difficult as a result, there are some ways to try to ease the anger and frustration that inevitably results.

First, try to keep an open mind. Remember, there are two sides to every story, at least. Try to see things from the other’s point of view.

Maybe you’re not seeing everything or getting all the information. Collect more data. Find out as much as you can before drawing conclusions. And I don’t mean just getting your friends to side with you and support you in the conflict. Although there’s nothing wrong with a little healthy social support.

Is the other person pushing your buttons? Stay calm and act calm. Or, don’t act until you can do so in a calm, cool, collected manner.

Try to see the things you like and respect about the other guy. Sometimes noticing these strengths helps calm us down and act more responsibly.

Make sure you own house is in order. Have you run into this type of conflict with others? Have you had problems handling similar situations in the past? How can you approach it differently this time? What’s keeping you from solving the problem? Are emotions that have no place in the conflict getting in the way? Are your typical (i.e., not always useful) behavior patterns keeping you from solving the problem?

Bottom line, it would be great if people always did the right thing. Life would be so much easier. But a little boring perhaps? So next time you’re quite sure you’re in the right, take stock and figure out what to do next. Right or wrong, it’s always good to be past the conflict.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Ethics in Blogging

I know, where did this ethics idea come from? It's pretty simple. In reading about web ethics for psychologists, it occurred to me that my blog goes even a step further in self-disclosing.

As it is, if you look at my website ( you'll know I like running, yoga and movies, among other things. Some of my psychotherapy clients have known me for years and don't know these things.

In therapy, the idea is that it often isn't helpful to have personal information disclosed. It's sets up issues of good-bad, right-wrong and what's ok to talk about and what's not. If you see I'm into healthy lifestyles, maybe you'll wonder if I think less of you since you live on McDonalds. Once I had a picture of my dog in the office and don't you know I had a client who was neglecting her dog and had a lot of trouble talking about it as a result (situation slightly changed to protect the innocent).

In coaching, it's not as problematic, since the relationship with your coach can be more real. This is not to say that I spend half the time talking about myself. Not at all. It just doesn't matter in the same way. Coaching clients are generally successful, resourceful and creative. This makes them tougher and generally less sensitive than my psychotherapy clients. They're not as likely to worry about whether I approve of their decision to supersize their lunch. They'll talk about it if THEY have a problem with it. I'm generalizing here, since many coaching clients are also psychotherapy clients.

It doesn't mean I'm not real with my psychotherapy clients. But I don't share a lot of personal info unless someone asks or it's pertinent.

So for now, I'm going to keep on blogging and disclosing. I'll have to see if it seems to be useful or if it creates issues.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

How to lists

I forgot I was supposed to post something on "how to" lists. Why do they irritate us so? Here's how I changed my opinion on the how to list.

One reaction I used to have is that if I could do the five or eight things on the list, then I wouldn't NEED help.

True, and not true. It's all a matter of timing. I was reading a how to about clutter. I'm not a big clutterer. Not that I'm a neat freak, no way. But things around me are generally fairly ordered. I thought the article might be helpful to my clients.

There was a bit about how physical clutter sometimes reflects what's going on in your mind, i.e., psychological clutter. That's when I knew.

I started to go through all my stuff putting together all the jewelry that remained from my former marriage. Things related to the jewelry too, like little bags to travel with jewelry, little boxes in which gifts of jewelry arrived.

Other reminders I'd previously expelled from my life, but the jewelry seemed like it was mine. I'd worn it after all, some of the pieces for years. I realized as I considered that article and my relationship to these objects, that I didn't need them around me. Much as I'd loved some of the pieces, it was too similar to the way that I loved the giver. Time to go.

I'd already found someone to sell a few pieces to, but I hadn't moved on it. I took him everything. He knew what it was about having worked with both remodelers and rebuilders. Some people renovate (you know, you take the diamond ring and add it to the ruby earrings making a lovely pendant) , others tear it down and build from scratch. I'm of the rebuilding ilk. You might be a remodeler.

Either way, the decluttering felt like a weight off my shoulders that I didn't even know was there. The point about the lists being that sometimes you just get one idea from the list that works for you, that's super-helpful at that moment. So you never know what help you might get from a how to list, but they're well worth the few minutes it takes to review a few ideas.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Learn Optimism

Did you know that optimism increases resiliency and longevity? Check out for some interesting bits on the mind-body connection.

Optimism is one of those things we think we have, or don't have. We all believe that certain personality traits or characteristics are inborn. How often do we hear people say, I'm just an introvert, or I'm just a pessimist?

Martin Seligman talks about it in his books "Authentic Happiness" and "Learned Optimism." He suggests arguing with yourself against pessimistic thoughts. Looking at the evidence, seeing alternative ways of thinking, examining the implications of our beliefs and even questioning the utility of our beliefs are some of his methods.

An example might be my son's frequent concern that he's lost his game, i.e., he suddenly can no longer be a soccer star.
  • What's the evidence? Usually the evidence is that he's played primo soccer during his last game but for a variety of reasons the team didn't win, didn't win as big as he though they should or his missed a shot or two.
  • What's an alternative? Maybe he just was a little off on that shot or he's not perfect but still playing a great game. Maybe he's not playing his game because he's distracted. None of these suggest he's "lost" it.
  • What are the implications? Maybe he's not perfect, but he's still a great player. Next time he can do something differently, depending on his analysis of the problem.
  • What's the usefulness of the belief? Obviously, it's not very useful to think you've completely lost it. It's not particularly helpful to think in such catastrophic terms. Maybe he could consider that he'll try his best next time and see how it goes before quitting the game.

Ergo, trying to make these kinds of changes in thinking can actually create a more optimistic outlook. Bingo, no fixed personality trait. Rather, we have beliefs and characteristic ways of thinking (that's why they call it character I suppose) that are sometimes useful and helpful, and sometimes useless and downright harmful.

The trick is to work on the ways we think about things and try to come up with more positive and useful ideas. Like a new haircut, it sometimes takes a while to feel comfortable in it, but if you believe it looks good, you live with it until you're sure. Of course you don't have much choice with a haircut, but you do have a lot of choice in how you think about the world.

So live long and prosper, otpimistically.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

My Guilty Secret (of the day)

Tonight I practiced my yoga for the first time in about two weeks. As I was practicing it felt so good. And I noticed my stiffness. I thought it was absurd that I'd been away from it for so long. My guilty secret. How could I?

This is how life happens. I'm busy. I'm running. I'm doing. I forget to do the things that help me take care of myself.

Least I sound too smarmy and righteous, I will admit that instead of yogacizing, I did continue running and I read the new Harry Potter book. It was as if I had to give up one thing I do for myself in favor of another. And I might consider this Harry Potter business another secret, since I think of it as a guilty pleasure. Not great literature. Not biography that I'll learn from. No new themes. Just the usual good versus evil. Just FUN.

So, how to prioritize "me" time. I'm often reminded of the oxygen on the airplane example. You know, you can't help your child unless you help yourself first. In order to be there for anyone else we have to be there first for ourselves.

I anticipate your complaints. Not selfishly. Not excluding the desire, needs and wants of others. But taking care of your own needs. Sometimes taking care of them first.

When I finish this, I'm going to consider what I can do for myself that will equal the pleasure I got from reading the Harry Potter book. There's got to be something. Another book? Playing the piano? Meditating? Writing?

Guiltless fun. Maybe I'll re-read the first six Potter books. Or maybe just paint my toenails.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Beating Performance Anxiety

Truthfully, one of my peer-coaches helped me with this situation. I was absolutely dreading doing a demonstration in one of my classes. Although I've received positive feedback in the past and have a long history of successful public speaking of one sort or another, I was filled with anxiety. Anticipating volunteering resulted in shortness of breath, racing heartbeat and a slightly sick feeling. It was like facing a pool from a high diving board; I know I can do it, but it doesn't seem like fun until it's over.

I tried to understand why this particular situation called up my gremlin. My gremlin is the little elf-like creature that lives inside my head evaluating me. In this particular situation he (yes, mine is male) was telling me that I was going to look like an idiot. Sometimes after the fact he informs me that I looked like an idiot or outlines the ways in which I looked stupid. Check out "Taming your Gremlin" by Rick Carson.

But why this situation? One of the big things was that I could not over-prepare. That's one of my strategies for giving a talk in public. Practice, practice, practice. You know, like the way to get to Carnegie Hall. It reduces my anxiety in a variety of ways: I get more confident knowing I'm able to get through the material without too much umming; I have a chance to actually feel myself getting less anxious by the third or so time I go through it; and I'm able to prepare for where I might not be able to be spontaneous when I'm nervous by putting in examples or jokes to use. Practicing quiets my gremlin.

When you do a demonstration with an unknown partner and unknown subject, you can't over-prepare. You don't know what's going to hit you.

So this is how I handled it. I went over all the things I was prepared with, identifying the skills I possessed to handle the situation. I reminded myself of all the similar situations in which I've been successful int he past. I came up with several extremely positive outcomes that could conceivably occur (e.g., people would love me and think I was just the hottest coach around; it IS conceivable, I swear).

Probably most important was my coach's suggestion that I inject some humor into the thing and plan for a celebration afterwards. I picked a song that would lighten things up for me and listened to it beforehand. I got two of my son's funny hats and had them on my desk. On one occasion I was actually wearing the hat. I decided I'd have some champagne when it was over, even though it was a work night.

After all this preparation I was much less anxious. My gremlin was now silent. I was viewing the demo with a lot more humor, not taking myself as seriously as I'm sometimes prone to doing. It went wonderfully. That glass of wine (okay, I didn't spring for the champagne) really felt well-deserved. And it was fun! Next time you have to "perform," figure out some creative ways to quiet the little voice in your head and calm your nerves. Then, take the plunge.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

When Saying No Is Really Saying Yes

How do you lose weight when you love pasta? How do you stay in shape when you hate exercise? How do you get that project finished when you have an opportunity to go to the beach instead?

OK folks, it’s time to grow up. Yes, just face reality. Not everything we do is fun, exciting or pleasurable. Do we strive to fill our lives with pleasant activities? Yes! Can we do it all the time? No!

Sometimes we just have to do things we don’t enjoy in order to achieve a desired goal. We’ll enjoy it when we get to that goal. In fact, we’ll probably feel quite pleasantly righteous when we go from that size 10 to size 8. We’ll feel a sense of accomplishment when we realize that the snug fit of the shirt is due to more defined muscles, not more fat. We’ll feel empowered when that project is complete and we can move onto the next exciting assignment.

The way to achieve the tough goals sometimes involves figuring out how to say no. Or in coaching terms, if I say yes to the pasta, what am I saying no to, i.e., I’m saying no to that size 8.

Achieving the tough goals sometimes requires not indulging every whim or pleasure. Happiness experts struggle with understanding the differences between lasting happiness and momentary highs. The momentary high of having that steaming bowl of pasta is satisfying. I’d argue it’s not nearly as satisfying as the pleasure of dropping down to that next dress size.

Want to reach your goal? Start practicing how to say yes to your goal, and no to the stuff that gets in your way.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Quick Fixes

Don't you love the idea of a quick fix? What could be better?

You're tired: This amazing blend of nutrients takes two minutes to gulp down and you're energized.

You stressed, traumatized, anxious: This fantastic creme will restore just the right sense of balance and calm and takes less than two minutes to apply.

You don't have enough endurance: This energy drink will get you through whatever you need to get through, even when dieting.

You can't sleep: This little pill will help you get to sleep and stay asleep all nigh giving you the restorative rest you need.

I could go on to include products to eliminate toxins from you body, increase your youthfulness and make you feel whole.

Reading through one of the magazines in which I often find useful articles, I was astounded by the number of these ads. I guess you can tell where I'm going with this.

Naturally, I cannot argue with the benefits of energy, calm, endurance and sleep. Toxins I'm not quite sure about, and I'd like to see the product that can make us more youthful or whole. Yes, some medications are helpful for insomnia taken for short periods of time under the proper supervision.

But honestly, can we get real with all this? It takes effort to change any lifestyle that results in fatigue, anxiety, lack of energy and insomnia. And that's what's needed. A lifestyle overhaul. A change in direction and focus. A study of how to achieve a health lifestyle for yourself. It will be different for everyone, but it will always include a two pronged attack. The physical aspects of well-being and the psychological aspects must be included in your new life plan.

This probably won't be a quick fix, but it will be a lasting fix.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Change (or, how to stop smoking)

I think a lot about change. How does it happen? What makes it happen for some and not others? Why does tragedy become the watershed event leading to greater happiness and fulfillment in the lives of some, and a dead end for others?

The other day my son asked me how I stopped smoking. I just stopped. I'd struggled for years, had stopped for two whole years before, and had greatly decreased my dependence. I didn't want him to see me smoking and I knew he was getting to an age where I would soon be unable to hide it. I decided that when he "graduated" from kindergarten, I'd stop. And I did.

I suggest to people that they pick certain times, places or situations in which they smoke, and just stop in those certain times, places, etc. Often I get "oh I can't do that." Why not? That's the thing, isn't it, sometimes you just have to suck it up and get with the program.

I love to see people make these choices and make change happen in their lives. Nobody said it would be easy. Or fun. Or painless. It sucks to have nicotine withdrawal. But the alternatives are bleak: stagnation, dissatisfaction, stinky clothes, cancer. These are not fun either. It's so difficult to choose the unknown, even when the known isn't all that great. It's also liberating and exhilarating at times. Go for it. PS You find you have a tremendous amount of extra time when you quit smoking.

Monday, July 23, 2007

To Balance or Not to Balance

We all strive for life balance. I offer help to achieve life balance. People come saying they want more life balance. So what's the problem, right?

Secretly, I wonder if it is always the best course. The issue is simple: if high achievers who make major contributions to the universe tend to be highly focused in one area of excellence, what sense does it make to try to get them, or others, more balanced?

Take your most brilliant professor, coach, team leader, etc. Were they well-rounded individuals who spent time in their busy weeks on physical activities, personal development, relationship nurturing, fun activities, family activities, socially conscious contributions AND work? Or did they spend a lot of time on work and some small amount of time on the rest?

As usual, I conclude that what might work for me might not work for you, and vice versa. One tip I've found useful is the idea that we must focus mindfully on what we're doing at any given time. If you're spending family time, spend the time with family. Don't spent the family time on your cell phone or lap top multi-tasking.

And I don't mean a rigid adherence to these separations, necessarily. But in general, be where you are, not one foot in and one foot out. It's always interesting to me when a friend has to take a cell call during my lunch with them. I find that most "emergencies" can wait an hour until I finish what I'm doing.

Give it a try. Be in the moment. Put 100% on what you're doing or who you're with. Then, when it's time to shift, put 100 into the next endeavor. You might find that each experience is enhanced the more attention you can shine on it. So I say, to balance by being in each moment is the way to go.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

What Strengths?

It's a tough one for most people. What are you good at? What do you love? What are you good at that you love? Herein lie your strengths.

In "Now, Discover your Strengths," Buckingham and Clifton say the following: "Our talents come so easily to us that we acquire a false sense of security...Doesn't everyone want to avoid conflict...Can't everyone see the obstacles lying in wait..."

No, not everyone wants to avoid conflict. No, everyone cannot see the obstacles lying in wait.

My son says stuff like this all the time. How was the test, I ask? I did really was easy. I ask, did everyone do really well? No, he says. Well, then it couldn't have been that easy, could it?
I explain, it was easy because you knew it by way of your natural abilities, understood it through your history of hard work on the subject, or studied and learned it by putting in a lot of sweat and perseverance.

This propensity of many of us to explain away our successes--it was easy, they were just being nice to me--takes away our power. But a's a whole different story. Then we're stupid, will never get it or can never do it. It's a lose-lose analysis.

It's not conceited or narcissistic to acknowledge our strengths and consciously try to use those strengths. It's undermining and self-sabotaging when we minimize our abilities and fail to capitalize on our strengths.

Just try it. Relish your success. Savor it like a great piece of chocolate (okay, or a fine wine or cigar). Milk it for all it's worth.

Yeah, we fail too. Analyze it, learn from it and move on. Take divorce, one of the great equalizers and most humbling of experiences. Speaking as an expert in this matter, I know more women (moi included), who have taken the divorce experience and moved their lives forward in remarkable ways. The ability to bounce back is a personal strength. If you've got it, bravo. If not, figure out what you can use to move yourself ahead. It's worth the trip.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Disaster Junkie

My colleague is a disaster junkie. The sweet, baby-faced cherub of a social worker loves getting down and dirty helping people recover from life's worst nightmares: hurricanes, tornadoes, plane crashes. Why does the family-first mother of 2 who cooks Thanksgiving dinner for 40, makes fruitcake for all her colleagues and loves red hat luncheons with the girls, don her hiking boots, slicker and ball cap to spend 2 weeks a year without electricity and clean running water?

Having observed Eva (name changed to protect the innocent) for 10 years, I'd have to say it's her personal strengths that bring her to disaster sites, family trips and her career as a social worker.

She's first and foremost a people-person. Eva loves her alone time for reading and other solitary endeavors, but her main passion is people. She loves one and all. You don't hear Eva say a bad word about anyone but she isn't a Pollyanna. She loves adventure and novelty, but isn't a thrill seeker. Her passion for the new is modulated by a powerful sense of what's important in life. She loves learning--her reading and travel to new places feed the passion to find out more about people and places.

How can you pour your passion into your career, leisure time activities and life? Take the VIA strengths survey at It's cool and fun.

I took a class in positive psychology and read, read, read. I worked up a presentation to give to local school counselors. Have I mentioned I'm a bit of a ham? Voila, I'm enjoying it all because it capitalizes on things I love to do: learn, share, perform. OK, maybe I don't love to perform, but I can get a real buzz off it.

Think about this: How can I use my top strengths in new ways? Run with it. Try something new.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Be the Relationship

I've often tried to think of a useful way to frame this concept for clients and other consumers of psychotherapy: it's not something that I do "to you," it's a relationship. In that relationship you can change and grow, or you can remain the same, untouched, immobile.

It's like any relationship. Do you consider the ideas of others? Can you try them on for size and see how they fit? Have you opened your mind to something different that isn't exactly what you expected?

A client I hadn't seen in four years called. I remembered her easily--she was so difficult to work with. She arrived with a long track record of failed therapies: psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors. All had tried to help her and failed miserably. For some she had angry words, for others, merely indifference.

I thought my attempts to engage her as a unique human being failed miserably when she cancelled our 8th appointment and never returned.

Four years later, out of the blue, she appeared. I was the only one whose opinion she respected, she told me. What should she do? She was still having the same problems. Therapy and medications had failed. I asked about self-help books and the internet. All useless. I patiently explained that these were all the options I knew. She had called me, so perhaps psychotherapy was worth a try now. Sometimes we're able to use things at one point in our lives from which we could not benefit earlier.

I don't know the ending to the story, but it reminded me again how important it is to be present in your therapy, coaching, in your life. Don't just go through the motions; be there. All of you--heart and mind have to be present for change and growth to occur.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

LifeCoach Network

I should be terribly excited. I'm about to start networking.

Okay. I'll admit it. I've networked before. But this is pure networking. It's not part of joining a board to do good and networking in the process. It's not meeting someone who might be a friend and getting a little networking in. It's meeting a group of women I know nothing about for the express purpose of building my business.

So you thought you couldn't do it. True, they did call me the schmooze queen back in New Jersey. But I'm not a natural schmoozer. I learned how to do it (see the book Small Talk) and I'm a bit of a ham. You can learn it too.

I am secretly excited about it. My little gremlin friend tells me I can't be too excited, but I tell him to zip it. If I'm not too excited, I won't be too disappointed. But you have to have enough excitement to generate the appropriate level of enthusiasm.

So, to network, in a nutshell: Find a venue, commit to it, generate some excitement (the more the merrier) and put on the show. Break a leg.