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.