Saturday, October 9, 2010


         Here's a 2 minute video that will put some rocket fuel in your tank. These folks--you'll recoginze a name or two--lost once or twice or more, but they got up and kept on truckin`.
         It's a good one. It's worth 2 minutes even if you've seen it already.
         Enjoy your weekend, and don't give up.

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Friday, October 8, 2010


You look at your thoughts, and you see dark clouds. What do you do? You look for the silver lining.    
That’s old wisdom. Life gives you lemons you start thinking lemonade.
Now researchers, Swiss, no less, have confirmed that this is the way to go.  They studied what is technically called ‘cognitive reappraisal’, where a subject is asked to consider a situation and view it in a positive light. In this study, subjects were told they were going to see some images, some disturbing, some not. They were asked to reassure themselves that they were perfectly safe no matter what they saw in the images.
In the second part of the experiment, different subjects were told the same images were coming but were not instructed to reassure themselves in any way.
In both cases, the subjects’ brains were observed with an MRI scanner while they were shown the photographs.
The people in the first group were able to calm their amygdala.  Their emotional brain was less active, and their prefrontal cortex, or decision-making brain, was more active.
They had effectively modulated their emotional responses to the disturbing photographs.  Meditation or mindfulness was shown to have the same effect. It increased the subjects’ ability to regulate their emotional state.
So, remember that the next time you’re being whacked around emotionally. Take a full breath or two. Become aware of your body. Notice your thoughts. Go positive. Then remember what I shared in an earlier article about questions being a more powerful way to get your brain and mind to do what you want. Don’t tell it what to do, ask it for what you want.            
“May I be safe from inner and outer harm.”
“May my mind and body be calm and peaceful.”
            “May I be happy just as I am.”          
            “May I have an amazing weekend!”

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Thursday, October 7, 2010


             Here’s some basic, but valuable, information from research by Smith, 2002, and Henderson, 2010, about how best to talk to one another, especially about the difficult stuff.
             I found some of this a bit surprising. 
When you are negotiating with someone even an intimate other, it’s best to sit across from each other and face one another. I kind of like side-by-side myself, when it’s with Lisa, my partner, but I guess that’s for when there’s no real disagreement to be resolved. If there’s a third person acting as mediator, the two people negotiating sit face-to-face and the mediator sits to the side. 
If you are hyperventilating and about to go nuclear, that is probably not the best time to begin a negotiation. Do what you must to calm down. A walk. A prayer. Some time alone.
You will get better results if you are negotiating about something that has more time rather than less before the change or new behavior will begin. So, it’s better to talk about and settle the details of that summer vacation months in advance, rather than the week before the vacation starts.
Negotiating face-to-face is better than on the phone or by email or text, BUT if you can’t do it face-to-face, then the further away you are from one another the better!
If you know you don’t have the nerve to break up face-to-face-- YOU COWARD! --are you  supposed to go to India and send a text to your jilted other back in California? Not sure what to make of that one, though it seems separation by space and/or time can help keep the emotional brain from becoming over-active.
            Listen, really listen, more than you speak. Yes, I know this sounds absolutely god-like, given the depths of the injustice you’ve suffered, but you can do it.
Look for the win-win rather than the me-me. Give a little to get a little, can often get both of you what you really want.
 A lot of us have been turned on to the power of “I” statements when we have difficulties to negotiate with others. We know that, “I feel unappreciated when I am asked to work late and no one says thanks afterwards,” works much better than, “You never, ever, appreciate anything I do around here, ever!”
            Start your sentences with “I” and share how you feel in response to what happened. And then state specifically what you want or need. “I feel disappointed and angry when you don’t show up for lunch. If you can’t make it, please call me at least two hours in advance to let me know. Thanks.”
Surprisingly, “I” statements come in handy even when you’re dishing out the good stuff like compliments. Turns out it’s a lot easier for most people to digest, “I like the way you cook,” rather than, “You are a good cook.” This is important, because hearing and taking in the good stuff makes it easier to hear the hard stuff.
            Of course, play fair. No attacking. “You are a flaming idiot,” is not a helpful way to begin a conversation.
No defending. “You know how busy I am at work!” is probably not a good opening response to why you did not show up at your wedding.
No hogging all the air. If your opponent drops to the ground because you have used up all the oxygen in the room that does not count as a win for your side.
And only one issue at a time, please. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Statistics are crazy and sometimes they’re tossed around like rice at a wedding, but if you’re not a statistician and a specialist in the field it’s hard to know what they mean.
That having been said here are a few stats for your consideration.
In her book, The How of Happiness, Sonya Lyubormirsky, states that 40% of our happiness is set by genetics and possibly unchangeable effects of early experience, 10% is due to our circumstances, like being rich—though money only helps make you happy when you are close to being poor, above that, money has a rather small effect on your happiness—and a whopping 50% of our happiness is due to us, to what we do with our lives, and more importantly, what sense we make of our lives, what meaning we give it, how we think about it and how we respond to it.
This is not a new idea, but old wisdom is no less wise and no more common simply because it’s been around for a while.
Epictetus, in “The Art of Living”, said, “People are not disturbed by things, but by their view of them.”
William Shakespeare, no slouch when it comes to understanding human nature, wrote, “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”
Of course this is often a lot easier said than done, but no one said it was easy, just that it was possible.
The performance artist, Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed’s partner, said in a recent interview, “There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re a human being, and being human is hard.” 
It’s up to you to decide whether you want to pick up the gauntlet and fight for your share of happiness, or whether you want to live your life at the mercy of that 50% that you seem to have little or no control over.
But before you go off thinking that it might be too hard for you to make yourself a good life, take a look at this guy’s video clip, and know that no one has a monopoly on hardship, nor on happiness. Your life may not always be easy, but there’s a lot you can do to make it a good one.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


We all know that difficult life experiences can often help us to grow, deepen, and learn. Many of the wisest people we know are those who have gone to some very dark and challenging places and returned wiser, clearer, more resilient, more loving, and more spiritual, their suffering seemingly having transformed them. These positive changes after traumatic events are known as posttraumatic growth.
And then we know others who withered from their challenges, becoming smaller, hardened, and embittered. We don’t know all the factors that lead to a breakdown in one person and a breakthrough in another, but research by Ullrich and Lutgendorf offers some clues as to how we can help ourselves to a bit more growth and a little less breakdown.
In a 2002 study, Ullrich and Lutgendorf gave college students who were struggling with a personal trauma the following instructions:
“We would like you to keep a journal of your deepest feelings about this topic over the next month.”
            This may sound familiar to us. Many of us keep journals, some of us have been doing so religiously for years. 
Ullrich and Lutgendorf found that these students, “reported more physical illness.”
That’s more, not less, physical illness.
They also found that with these students, “posttraumatic growth over time…showed no change.”
            Physical illness reports increased. Posttraumatic growth unchanged.
Wait a second. Isn’t journaling supposed to be good for us?
Wait, there’s more.
A second group of students were given the same instructions as the first group, plus they were told, “We are particularly interested in understanding how you tried to make sense of this situation and what you tell yourself…to help you deal with it and…describe how you are trying to understand it”[.]
They were asked to write, and therefore think, about the trauma in a constructive or instructive manner, and to find meaning in it.
These participants “reported increases in positive growth from trauma over time”[.]
            So, contrary to what a lot of us, professionals included, might think, spilling your guts by itself won’t do it—it can actually make it worse, since it increases the liklihood you’ll get sick.
The study also concluded that, “The passage of time alone does not seem to facilitate positive growth from a traumatic event.”.
But writing, and possibly sharing in general, about your deepest emotions about a traumatic event plus thinking about it in a way that helps you to understand it, deal with it, and find some meaning in it, leads to positive posttraumatic growth and increases the liklihood of you becoming that wise old granny you’ve always secretly longed to be.

Monday, October 4, 2010



            Worrying, along with depression, anger, sex and substance abuse, and stress-related illness are some of our favorite, but oftentimes least helpful ways of coping with life’s challenges.
“If I didn’t worry, the bad thing I am worrying about would certainly happen.”
This is what we might call, ‘preventative worrying’, like brushing our teeth to keep cavities away.
Of course, worrying about cavities doesn’t decrease the likelihood of cavities as well as brushing our teeth does. But worry can serve a function. It can get us to act. Can we take action, and then let go of the worry? Can we brush our teeth, and then forget about the cavities?
For many of us, it seems not. And there are reasons why.
When we worry that X has happened, it makes the reality of X more certain to us and we can prepare for the worst. This gets rid of the uncertainty and gives us a sense of control. For some of us, it’s the uncertainty that’s unbearable.
My husband is late. He hasn’t called. He has probably gotten into an accident. I better call the highway patrol, and then the hospital. This can be less distressing than sitting with the uncertainty of not knowing why he is late.
Just knowing this can be helpful.
We are all biologically prone to worrying.  We are hard-wired to register negative or dangerous signals over positive ones. It’s adaptive from an evolutionary perspective. Worrying helps keep you alive in the jungle, where missing a danger signal can put a quick end to all your afternoons.
We had a cat once, named Alex the Black, sweet as could be, a real lover, always available for petting and making friends. Unfortunately, Alex was a bit too friendly, a bit too relaxed. He lived four months before the coyotes got him.
Turtle, our next cat, is as skittish and skeptical as a cat could be. Not much fun, in some ways, but she’s alive after 14 years. She’s lived long enough to mellow out a bit, but she’s as wily as any coyote.
So, don’t knock yourself if like Turtle you’re the worrying type. Worrying was invented way before you showed up.
Your worry is real. Accept it. With the energy freed up from fighting with your worry, you can pay attention to it. Oftentimes, excess worry comes from older brain regions like the amygdala, and though the amygdala is usually not impressed by a good argument, it can be soothed by watching your breathing, and how you are tightening your muscles, or clenching your teeth, or biting your nails.
You don’t have to change anything, just pay attention, and keep breathing. It’s a form of meditation or mindfulness that allows your emotional and reptilian brain centers to calm themselves.
            Now, after accepting your worry and watching your body, you can look at what you are worried about. Are those real coyotes out there, or imaginary ones? Remember, the fear and the worry are real, but the coyotes may not be. Is what you are worried about a ‘real’ probability? Of course it’s ‘possible’ that your partner was abducted by aliens, but is it probable?
Keep breathing. No one is trying to take your worry away from you. Pay attention to your body, and your thoughts.
            Pay attention especially to those thoughts that seem automatic, thoughts that have a life of their own, thoughts that seem to go off like a string of firecrackers, one inexorable thought after another until you’re left feeling exhausted and hopeless, certain that the worst has happened. It can help to write down these thoughts as they are happening. Keep a worry journal. This can help you gain some distance from your thoughts, and you can begin to see them objectively, as ‘objects’ separate from you.
You may have heard the saying, “Don’t believe everything you think.” This is what we’re working on here.  You can develop the space to see that what ‘you believe’ or ‘think’ is different from what ‘you know’ and who you ‘are’. A daily mindfulness or meditation practice helps immensely in this area.
Allow yourself to consider less distressing explanations as to why your partner is late. Maybe there’s traffic. Maybe his or her cell phone is dead or lost or left on the office desk. Maybe she has an appointment she forgot to tell you about.
Look at the evidence. Look at the alternatives. Look at that string of automatic thoughts, and take some time to question them.
It is true that your partner is late.
It is true that you are worried.
It is true that your breathing is strained.
Is it true that your partner is hurt?
You don’t know that.
Is it true that your partner is dead?
You don’t know that either.
Is it true that your life as you know it is over?
You don’t know that either, though you may feel like it.
Keep paying attention to the body. Keep breathing.  Push back at the automatic chain of thoughts. Find counter-arguments and possibilities. Remember other times like this when you worried, and things turned out all right.
Accept that we are hard-wired to worry. For each worrisome explanation, you may need to write down ten calming ones. You may need to stretch or exercise or call someone to help calm your body.
You may find that if you can really let yourself feel what is going on when you worry, that something from your past comes up. You may remember a difficult or even traumatic event from childhood when someone did get hurt, or died, or simply left, never to return.
Our cat, Turtle, was abused before we got her. She had a right to worry about being hurt.
Well, if that’s the case with you, be gentle with yourself and accept that you may worry more than someone with a different background and temperament. You may benefit from working with someone who can help you—or more precisely, help your emotional brain--to work through some of the old fear and worry locked up in your nervous system, fear and worry that is waiting to be re-stimulated whenever someone is late or some other taxing situation arises for you to deal with.
            And of course make sure you’re taking care of the basics. Get enough physical activity, sleep, and good nutrition. And throughout your worry, or your depression, or your anger, or your bout of binge eating or reckless sex, or whatever it is that you have done in your attempts to cope with your life, it may be helpful to remember the Buddhist prayer, “May my heart be filled with compassion for all beings, especially myself.”