Tuesday, February 26, 2013

"Always Stay in Your Own Movie"

"Always stay in your own movie," a statement uttered by the late Ken Kesey, is one of my favorites. Like all good nuggets of wisdom, it's a gift that keeps on giving: it's continuously instructive; it can be applied to any number of situations; and it speaks to many aspects of our personhood.

What does it mean to you?

To me, it means a lot. It reminds me that I, and I alone, am responsible for my actions. It's empowering: it reminds me that I choose my actions, whether I'm aware of it or not. It's scary: it reminds me that I am the captain of my own ship, so to speak, and am ultimately the only person in charge of my life's direction. If I'm not satisfied with something, the onus is on me, and no one else, to change it.

Most of all, perhaps, it reminds me to be mindful of the degree to which I am ensnared by other people's actions and opinions.

I recently posted a Carl Jung quote on Facebook that said, "Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to a deeper understanding of ourselves." I've worked and spoken with quite a few people whose chief complaints include "other people" being annoying, ungrateful, shallow, self-centered, etc. You probably see it, too. There are memes all over the Internet, humorous enough, which echo the sentiment, "Other People Are The Worst."


I agree that other people can be very annoying (haha), for a million different reasons. But I think such annoyances are also, as Mr. Jung implied, an important opportunity to turn one's focus back on oneself, and get curious about the annoyance. (This isn't always necessary, of course, because annoyance is usually just a fleeting experience. But if it's persistent, or if it compounds into frustration and anger and preoccupation, well, that's a lot of energy to be giving to something.) Get specific with yourself: "What is it exactly that is frustrating about this, as opposed to something I can just ignore or leave alone? Why is it exactly that I'm having a hard time just letting it be?"

I've posed these (and similar) questions to my clients, my acquaintances, and myself, and the responses have invariably opened up new and interesting avenues of discussion. A common theme among the responses, however, has been a heightened sense of Justice, i.e., what is Fair and Unfair.

"It isn't fair..."
"I can't believe..."
"Why would she say that..."
"How could he do that..."
"What was I supposed to do..?"
"People always take advantage of me..."
"People are so ungrateful..."

Et cetera.

Okay, folks, it's "tough love" time. I may lose some readers over this, but that's okay. I'm going to say this, because it's not anything I haven't had said to me -- and because it's true:

Most of the time, no one can do anything to you, or make you feel anything, without your permission. Most of the time, you are a willing participant in the experiences of your life

For some people, those words will feel empowering. For others, those words will feel like an attack.

Listen, I am not discounting the fact that horrible things can and do happen to us. They do. What I AM saying, though, is that many of us become all-too-easily attached to the Victim Mentality. The Victim Mentality represents a kind of fatalism, because at its core are the assumptions, "my life is hard; people always treat me badly; bad things always happen to me; I never got the opportunity to do what I wanted to do; there is no way I can now live my life the way I want to..." Again, 'et cetera.'

The Victim Mentality is a thief. It steals your ability to perceive your own power.

Victim Mentality statements are nothing more than a systematic giving away of power. I'm here to assert there is always a choice. If something is lousy in your life, you can change it. I don't know how, because I don't know you, and I don't know your life. But what I DO know is this:

You have the power to walk away from anything that hurts you, diminishes you, or otherwise makes you unhappy. You have the power to make manifest what you want. 

All it takes is a willingness to accept the responsibility implicit in these statements, and the determination to take back the reigns of your life from the Victim Mentality.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Boxing Jello

When I was younger and having a really hard time, I would try to change the way I felt through sheer, willful force. I would perform mental gymnastics that would make a Russian Olympian jealous in my futile attempts at retooling my savage emotional life. Initially, I didn't realize my efforts were just that -- futile. And now that I've learned the lesson, I've come to think of that process as being akin to punching a giant cube of jello: it might yield at first, but it just coagulates around your fist and reforms after you pull back; and all you, the puncher-in-earnest, are left with is your frustration: the jello remains.

The first step for me was to realize that hey, maybe I should just let myself feel however I happen to feel at any given moment. That, in turn, opened the door to the important realization that negative feelings, even powerful ones such as anger, are not intrinsically bad. I had affixed a lot of meaning to anger in particular; I believed -- very strongly -- it was just that: bad. When you believe something to be bad, you generally try to avoid it; and I had practiced a lifetime of avoiding anger and other negative feelings -- to deleterious effects, as it turned out.

The problem with attempts to outright reject, change, or avoid thoughts and feelings is that it doesn't really work. The harder you push, the harder they push back; your efforts just amplify their force. Avoidance seems to do the trick, because you sort of don't have to experience the feeling for awhile. But instead of going away, the feeling gathers strength, becomes toxic, and forces its way out, one way or the other -- maybe as explosive, uncontrolled rage, or passive-aggressiveness, or drug abuse, or overeating, or under eating, or self-harm, etc.

And that's the tragic thing, folks: when you try to avoid, reject, or otherwise forcefully control your feelings, they gather strength and seize control of you.

So what's a person to do? To be sure, it's an uphill battle, for a couple reasons. The first is that the behavior pattern I described above is complicated, and can be difficult to change; it can take time, effort, and patience. The other reason is that our society reinforces and encourages those behaviors. For example, men are supposed to square their jaw and "lock it up." Traditionally, in many cultures, men aren't supposed to talk about their feelings. They're supposed to be dominant, stoic. And if they fly into the occasional rage, punch a wall, scream at their partner, get into a fight, etc., well, then, boys will be boys, right? Drink a six pack on a Tuesday, and all is right with the world. Women, on the other hand, are supposed to be emotional. As a result of their "emotional dispositions," tradition holds, women are supposed to be irrational, manipulative, passive-aggressive, and have hidden agendas. As long as they're deferential, obsessed with their appearance, modest, into gossip, and really interested in shopping, what's the problem?

My view is that there's a big problem there. These roles, these "supposed to's," destroy people. These roles and rules render behaviors taboo which might otherwise promote clarity, calm, and health. God forbid, right? Not everyone fits into those tidy little buckets. I'd venture to say that, given the problems those roles create, no one actually fits into those tidy little buckets.

Our thoughts and feelings are part of us, but they are not our entire person, any more than our hands, feet, eyes, or nose are our entire person. When we get a head cold, our body lets us know what's happening; we get achy, we get a sore throat, we get tired. These "symptoms" are messages from our body, saying, "Hey! I need you to rest, drink lots of water, and dial it back a notch or two!" Our thoughts and feelings are messengers, too, and they operate in a similar manner. Instead of seeking to change or reject them, it's helpful, in my experience, to get curious about them: "Hey, I'm really sad, and I don't know why. What's that sadness trying to 'tell' me?"

That's it: acceptance, curiosity, and compassion. Have a good day, folks!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Addendum to "A Certain 'F You' Sensibility"

I want to clarify my use of the word "control" in my last post. Control is a precious commodity, and it's something we don't ever really possess in great measure; i.e., we control very, very little in our lives. So when I said "control," I meant it; but the things I was really referring to were mindfulness and autonomy. The more mindful and autonomous we are, the better-equipped we are to take the reigns, so to speak, of our own lives, as opposed to being knocked around by our feelings, our thoughts, our automatic behaviors, and our fears.


A Certain "F You" Sensibility

(This post contains some adult language.)

I can't remember if I've ever mentioned it here, but I studied theater in college with an emphasis in acting. (In fact, I went on to pursue a career in theater for a few years after I graduated, but that's a story for another time.)

It was really difficult.

Before you start laughing ("Haha -- I studied engineering; you have no idea what "difficult" is), know that an intensive study of acting basically equates to human behavior boot camp. Learning how to "live truthfully within imaginary circumstances" (Sanford Mesiner's definition of acting), i.e., live onstage -- in the moment, natural, free, listening, focusing, responding, speaking, etc. -- while other people are watching you, is a very difficult task. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you it entails learning how to be a person all over again, from the most basic tasks, such as walking, on up.

As you might imagine, learning how to act is a process unique to each person. We each have our own learned restrictions, both conscious and subconscious, which stand in the way of the kind of truthful living required of a person when they're acting. Many of those restrictions are there for good reason in day-to-day life. But if you're going to be an actor, you have to be willing to face them, break them down, and proceed in spite of them.

That's a tall order, believe me. Letting go of defense mechanisms is really scary. After all, they're called defense mechanisms for a reason: they're in place to ostensibly protect us from vulnerability and danger.

The revelatory part, though, is that this frightening process of constantly letting go of your defenses eventually teaches you that you are far stronger than you had ever previously imagined. That's a very cool thing to realize. And it's empowering, furthermore, because you begin to realize that, hey, maybe I don't need to carry all these defenses around with me; maybe I can be more selective with them.

Maybe, by letting go, I'm actually opening the door to being in greater control of myself. 

That's awesome. That right there is real self-awareness, mindfulness, and control.

The path to letting go is not smooth and straight. It's a bumpy road, with lots of switchbacks and intersections. You've got to buckle up and be willing to stick with it, and have patience. It's a tall order.

Many of my acting classes were very Socratic in the sense that they involved a lot of dialogue between the students and the professor. In one class in particular, the dialogue largely concerned identifying defense mechanisms and the do-able process of moving beyond them. I remember my professor saying to us, "It takes a certain 'fuck you' attitude. You're saying 'fuck you' to your fears: your fear of what will happen if you let go; and your fear of others' judgment."

It was a powerful statement. Little did I know at the time, it contained a wisdom which transcends acting and applies to many of our struggles in life. For example, many people have a hard time being assertive. And when they decide to give assertiveness a shot, they feel anxious and out of control -- as if they're being aggressive, in fact. The truth of the matter, though, is that their emotional barometer isn't on point: it's fogged up by their fear. So what feels like aggression is simply fear trying to maintain its grip, and keep the person from doing something new.

If there's an aspect of your life you want to change, or if there's something you want to let go, or if you want to behave differently in some regard, take heed. Know that the restriction which is keeping you from doing what you actually want to do is nothing more than fear. Most of the time, the fear is simply a byproduct of old hurts, and is not applicable to your present circumstances. Tell the fear, "Fuck you, you can't keep me from being the person I want to be," and leap into action.

It'll be scary, but it'll be worth it. And with practice, you'll find that it gets easier, and that your courageousness takes flight.

Monday, February 18, 2013

An Ax to Grind, and a Suggestion: Our Mental Health System

I have an ax to grind with the mental health system in our country. I've long suspected that our mental health treatment systems are probably inefficient, but my views came into sharper focus over the past few years as I attended graduate school for social work, completed my internships, and, following graduation, gained employment as an outpatient substance abuse counselor -- a position which I have since relinquished.

To clarify: an inefficient system, to my way of thinking, is one that consistently fails to produce the outcomes it is purportedly designed to produce.

One thing that many people, and many organizations, have been really good at throughout American history is making money.
(dollar dollar sign, y'all, from Google Image serach)

Think about it: each of the products we all know and consume -- from McDonald's to automobiles to clothing to gasoline to TVs to music to computers to cell phones -- started with someone having an idea and creating processes by which to mass produce, market, distribute, and sell the manifestation of that idea for a profit.

Put another way, many people throughout history have made a lot of money because they turned their idea into a commodity, i.e., a sought-after, even needed, object. Consumers spend enormous sums on the products I listed above (and many others, of course); and, as many of us know, banks and lending institutions have expanded the availability of credit to consumers over the past 50, 60, 70 years, thus making it easier for us to spend even more on these products. Money flows out of consumers' pockets and trickles up, if you will, the organizational chain, with the result that lots of people -- not just executives making millions -- earn a good living.

I'm not here to criticize that model. It brings its problems, of course, but it's also brought a lot of good in terms of facilitating a better way of life for many people. No, the thing I want to underscore about that model, rather, is that it is a highly efficient system. Capitalism is explicitly about making money, and many systems created within the capitalist paradigm -- successful businesses -- have done a very good job of doing just that: making money. Like it or not, that's efficiency. Like it or not, it can teach us something here.


When I got to grad school, and I learned more about the realities of mental health provision in our country, I found myself asking, "Why haven't we figured out a way to make our mental health systems efficient?"

An indicator of the systems' inefficiency, to me, is the abysmal pay, generally speaking, of mental health professionals. Having a systemically underpaid professional workforce creates numerous problems. For one, many mental health professionals find themselves needing a second job to make ends meet. Sadly, lots of folks do that these days, so it isn't unique, per se; but the issue is that an exhausted mental health worker is less likely to be an effective mental health worker -- which means, of course, the client suffers. Another issue here is that systemically low pay contributes to high rates of employee (therapist) turnover. After all, if you have a master's degree (or a doctorate, even), and you're working your ass off, but you aren't earning enough money to cover your expenses, you're probably going to seek other opportunities, right? And who suffers when there is high turnover among therapists? Again: clients.

Agencies also suffer when there's high employee turnover, actually. The process of recruiting, hiring, and training new employees is very expensive. It stands to reason, then, that if an already cash-strapped organization is hemorrhaging resources on employee turnover, there will be even fewer resources to allocate to other aspects of organizational upkeep; this, in turn, adversely affects the clients. Once again.

That, folks, is a horribly inefficient system. I'm going to go a step further and call it what I think it is: broken. It's ironic that a system which is supposedly intended to help people find a more satisfying equilibrium is itself so out of balance.

(from Google Images)

In many of my more entrepreneurial, ambitious moments, I've thought, "What we need to do, basically, is commoditize mental health services. We need to educate the public and our elected officials about the realities of mental health issues; i.e., that they aren't just about being "crazy" or not. We need to sell the public, and our elected officials, on the reality that having excellent mental health services is both vital and highly desirable (just like cell phones are highly desirable). Yes, we need to market and sell these ideas, because right now, mental health is erroneously seen as a liability -- something the government takes care of. We need to help folks realize it's a need, and see the benefit of having that need fulfilled; and once we do that, political and systemic changes will follow."

Admittedly, that's a rather innocent line of thinking, but I stand by the essence of it, because I think it's true. What occurred to me, though, is that this magical system is already in place in the mental health world. Who, or where, is it? It's the pharmaceutical industry, folks. The pharmaceutical industry has done an amazing job of turning mental health into a commodity, they really have. Feeling depressed? Take this pill. Having some psychotic tendencies? Take this other pill. Anxious? There's a pill for that, too. They have successfully raised awareness, via ad campaigns, about their products; and they have created the perception of need -- i.e., a market -- among the general public.

Listen, psychiatric medication is, or can be, an extremely important variable in the mental health equation. I support their provision when they are deemed clinically appropriate -- period. What I mean to illuminate, rather, is that the pharmaceutical industry, from a policy, process, and fiscal standpoint, is getting the lion's share of mental health resources in our country. I do not blame them for this, because they have only done what they were designed to do, after all: create a product, and sell it for a profit. Since they have done it well, they have been given the resources they need, politically speaking, to keep it up.


It is my position that non-pharma mental health systems can take a cue from their pharmaceutical colleagues. I'm not suggesting that they seek to outright emulate the pharmaceutical industry, but I do think there are lessons to be learned there. I don't have the answers as to how those lessons should be learned or implemented, but I think it needs to happen.

I understand that many folks have negative feelings about the pharmaceutical industry for a variety of reasons; I also understand that many folks are very "down" on capitalism. My view is this: whether you're down on it or not, the bottom line, for now, is that it's the system in which we operate, and in the meantime, people who need help are not having their needs adequately met. To me, if taking cues from an already-existing, highly profitable industry model could help us fix our mental health system as a whole, then why wouldn't we do it?

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Simple Way to Feel Better

An old acquaintance of mine who is in the military recently shared an insight on Facebook as to what has helped him become a calmer, happier, kinder person. This particular practice, he said, has proven more effective than any single method he had previously tried. So what is it? Drumroll please...


(Ok, I can practically see some of you rolling your eyes, having just read that. Bear with me.) Granted, the person I'm referring to indicated that his daily regime involves being pushed to physical exhaustion every day; and while that might be plausible for a person in the military, it's certainly less so for most of us. I'll go out on a limb and say it's also not really desirable for most of us. (It isn't for me, I'll tell you that.) Nevertheless, his insight -- the positive effects of exercise on one's mental health -- is valid for everyone.

Now, this isn't necessarily news to you, I'm sure. You've probably encountered a veritable media mountain of articles, news stories, and advertisements concerning the benefits of exercise. I'm throwing my hat in the ring, though, because I can tell you from personal experience that it's very, very true: physical exercise has a hugely positive impact on a person's mental health. Most of the stuff we read focuses on exercise's physical benefits, and maybe mentions mental health benefits as an afterthought or aside. No. I'm going to say that physical exercise has at least as important an impact on mental health as it does on physical health. It's that powerful an influence. (Need further proof? Exercise is often "prescribed" as a behavioral component of mental health therapy.)

Physical exercise can come in many forms. In other words, you don't have to join a gym, and you don't have to push yourself to exhaustion, to get its benefits. In fact, I've seen plenty of articles which suggest that even ten minutes of continuous, moderate physical activity can improve a person's mood. "Moderate activity" can mean a lot of different things. It can be achieved in things as simple and routine as a walk around the neighborhood or the grocery store or the mall, or in cleaning a room of your home. And of course, it can also be achieved via activities which are more traditionally thought of as "exercise," such as playing a sport, doing yoga, hiking, biking, jogging, swimming, etc.

I don't really like giving advice, per se, but I'm going to do it anyway: do something you enjoy. For me, I love taking walks, for example. I can't tell you how many times a simple, short walk has helped me gain clarity, relax, and simply feel better. I started with walking, and gradually have picked up several other activities I enjoy. It might sound simple, but for me, for whatever reason, it took me awhile to grasp it: I'm much more likely to exercise with regularity if I do something I enjoy. So it's a double benefit, you know? Doing a physical activity you enjoy will bring you immediate, positive feedback; and when you've completed it, you'll have the additional benefits of knowing you've done well by both your body and mind.

Have a good one!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Implausibly, crazily, I find that I'm writing this post from a coffee shop in Boulder, Colorado. It's mid-February, and chilly, but the sun is blazing away in the sky, as it does most days here. Those things aren't necessarily remarkable in and of themselves, but for a kid from upstate New York who has spent basically all his life living in the Northeast, the change of venue -- exemplified by the blissed-out scene I just described -- has been amazing. (The Northeast is awesome, by the way; but it's good for me to be doing something different.) And so, unsurprisingly, perhaps, I find myself thinking about love.

Many people have expressed brilliant things about love in literature and the arts, but for now, I'm thinking of a few things said by one person in particular: Khalil Gibran. Are you familiar with his book, The Prophet? If not, go to a book store, buy it, and read it. I'm not kidding. It contains within it so many pearls of wisdom, and so much guidance for the intrepid life traveler; it's an invaluable resource for anyone willing to consider its content. Anyway, The Prophet has chapters, as do many books, and his section entitled, "Love," is a source of inspiration right now. (I found an excerpt of it online, here, for your reference.)

The passage should be read in its entirety to be fully appreciated, but here's a choice excerpt nevertheless:

When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams
as the north wind lays waste the garden. 

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.

Naturally, those words will evoke different impressions and interpretations in each of us. The messages, however, are clear. And I want to be clear, too: as I sit here thinking about Love, I'm not only thinking about romantic love. I'm also thinking of the love we infuse into our deeds; our dreams, hopes, and goals; the words we utter; and the thoughts we think. I'm also thinking of the love we experience from the sights we see; the sounds we hear; the textures we feel; and even the very air we breathe.

Love is everywhere, both within our hearts and minds, and in the world and universe which surround us. "But wait," you might say, "I'm heartbroken and angry; I'm tired of myself, and of the pain which others inflict upon me. I'm tired of being disappointed and hurt. How can you say that love is everywhere? I don't see it. How do I find it?" 

Good question. Think on this quote by Rumi: "Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it."

Think about the meaning of those incredible words for a moment. It may be one of the most powerful things you ever realize -- it certainly has been for me. Namely, the onus is on each of us to open our hearts to the love within and without. It is no one else's responsibility. The power, and the responsibility, are yours, and only you hold the keys to it.

And now think about the implication of Rumi's words in tandem with those of Khalil Gibran. Here's what I think: Love is the Driving Force of Life. Love is powerful and pure. Love utterly raises us up and utterly tears us down. It makes us feel as though we have everything, and it makes us feel as though we have nothing -- and that we are everything, are nothing. It's tempting, then, to build those barriers, those defense mechanisms, and those cynicisms against love. It's very tempting, because we don't want to get hurt. Sometimes, though, we must hurt in order that we may learn and grow. Sometimes we must hear the thing we don't want to hear, or experience the disappointment we don't want to experience, that we may learn and grow. If we follow love, and love hurts us, then it is our task to hurt, learn, and open ourselves right back up to love's re-entry into our hearts. It is only thus that we will proceed; moreover, if we follow those steps, we must trust that we will proceed intact, with ever-growing capacities for wisdom, understanding, compassion, acceptance, and forgiveness. It is thus that we will become ever more efficient conduits for Love.

Life, and everything that happens to us in it, is a gymnasium in which we train to become better conduits for Love. It's a process, replete with apparent highs, lows, setbacks, and progress. And it's all good, if we let it be as such.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Levity, and Bagels

This morning, I learned that yesterday, February 9th, was National Bagel Day. I was a little sad, because I love bagels and would have gladly partaken in the holiday had I known. No matter -- better late than never. I had some bagels in the freezer from a great bagel/breakfast place down the road, so, a little earlier, I thawed one out, whipped up the fixins, and chowed down. De-friggin'-licious. :)

Have a delicious day, folks.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


Guilt, like anger, is an experience I could discuss here in exhausting detail. I could write a freakin' dissertation on guilt, replete with footnotes and citations and agita. But since B is for both Blog and Brevity, I will do no such thing. Ahem.

As the byproduct of both the Catholic and Jewish traditions, I know a thing or two about guilt.

Okay, I'll stop now. While that was an entirely valid thing to say, it's a goofy way to kick off this post. It's Saturday, gimme a break! Okay, enough. Here goes:

To my way of thinking, guilt, like just about every human experience, is OK in and of itself. I think people often think of uncomfortable feelings like guilt as being "bad," but that just isn't so -- not intrinsically, anyway. (The labels we ascribe to experiences are incredibly powerful, and can obscure the true nature of the thing being labeled; guilt fits that bill, to be sure.) Furthermore, guilt can be an adaptive, healthy, and pro-social learning tool. If we didn't have guilt, we wouldn't have made it very far as a species, you know? After all, in a vacuum, if you do something that hurts another person and you feel guilty, the guilt is probably good, right? In that example, guilt lets you know, at a gut, instinctive level, that you've inflicted harm on another person, and should probably 1) make amends, and 2) do something different the next time you're in that situation, i.e.., learn from your misstep.

Like anything taken out of Moderation Station and into the Fiefdom of Extremes, though, too much guilt can be very harmful. We all know someone -- maybe even ourselves! -- who feels guilty about everything, down to the very fact they exist, it seems. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, follow the proverbial breadcrumb trail of constant apologies and you'll have arrived at your destination.)

Guilt as a habit, then, is not helpful. It's distracting, it obfuscates the point of the matter at hand, and it destroys one's self-confidence. Constantly apologizing for basically everything is also a rather self-absorbed practice, ironically. Think about it: when you apologize to someone, you probably do so with some expectation of a response, such as, "hey, no big deal -- don't worry about it." Apologizing when no apology is called for, then, basically amounts to nothing more than a cry for attention and validation (which, un-coincidentally, is a common by-product of low self-esteem). The ironic part is that apologies are generally seen as the mark of a considerate person -- so you can see how this is an especially tricky habit to unpack, yeah? It basically amounts to just a whole lot of pain wearing the mask of a sweet little lamb.

Let's take the mask off.

You might say, "This sucks, dude, and you're being kind of a jerk about it, but I'm willing to stick with it for now. So...what's the antidote? If I have low self-esteem, I can't just wave a magic wand and suddenly have confidence, right?" Well, right...sort of. In my experience, this is where it's helpful to recall there is a direct relationship between our feelings/perceptions and our overt behaviors. And sometimes we have to change our behaviors first before our feelings follow suit. In other words, I have found -- in myself and in others -- that making small shifts in behaviors, such as cutting down on apologizing, has greatly facilitated the expansion of my confidence.

Let's bring it back to guilt. If you're plagued by guilt, and you've identified it as something that's interfering with your happiness, well-being, and ability to move on with your life, try the following:

Step 1: Take an hour or two out of a random day in which you interact with other people. Take note -- without judgment -- of your apologies. Ask yourself, "Did I really need to apologize? Did I really offend the other person?" (Hint: The answers to those questions will almost always be "no." )

Step 2: You have now cultivated a burgeoning self-awareness around this unhelpful habit of yours, so it's time to try something different. In your next conversation, catch yourself whenever you're about to apologize, take a breath, don't apologize, and move on. (Hint: This is going to feel scary and uncomfortable.)

Step 3: Repeat step 2. Over and over and over again.

Here are a few closing thoughts, folks. In addition to improving your communication and increasing your self-confidence, this practice is going to help you 1) take greater ownership of your feelings, and 2) cultivate deeper, more authentic connections with other people. How so? You'll be freer to just be yourself, which will in turn enable others to get to know you for who you *actually* are, thus ensuring the people who stick around are more accepting of you in all your awesomeness. Most of the time, we don't offend other people -- but sometimes we do. And you know what? Who cares! Chances are good the other person or people will let you know if you've offended them. If and when they let you know, then you can apologize -- if you want to. And if you do apologize, it'll be an authentic apology, which the other party is then responsible for accepting or rejecting. Either way, you've dealt with it, together, and can move on. Life is weird, you guys, and human interaction can likewise be very weird and imprecise and confusing and whatnot. So just go with it! Let 'er rip -- be yourself. Everyone, including you, will be so much better off if you let yourself be yourself.

Enjoy the day!

Thursday, February 7, 2013


(Image from Google Images search of "anger." Subtitle: "A Rant on Anger & Ranting: Robots Don't Rant" comedyrants.com)

I have some disjointed thoughts on anger that I'd like to share.

Anger can be a very useful experience. Most of the time, anger incites us to action; that is, when we get angry about something, we usually feel impulses and think thoughts that involve us doing something about the situation about which we are angry. So in that regard, anger is adaptive and normal, you know? After all, sometimes we need to feel all fired up about something that isn't working for us before we can do something to change it.

Anger can be a very destructive force. There's a saying that goes something like, "Anger is like a hot coal: the only person who gets hurt by it is the one who holds onto it." And that's true. Anger that isn't somehow released gets sublimated into any variety of negative, even destructive (as I said) experiences. One of the laws of physics and nature is that energy can be neither created nor destroyed. Similarly, buried anger (and buried emotions of any kind, for that matter) always find a way to the surface, whether it manifests as passive-aggressive behaviors, muddled thinking, or explosive, disproportional responses to frustrations, for example.

The habit of suppressing anger has a particularly destructive potential. Folks who don't know how to release their anger oftentimes exhibit frightening, abusive, or otherwise dysfunctional behavior. Such behavior can be directed outward to others, or inward toward themselves, and create all sorts of problems, issues, and heartache.

Anger is a powerful force, and is to be respected.

Anger, by my way of looking at it, is a "secondary emotion." That is, anger is usually an automatic response to an internal or external experience which leaves a person feeling powerless, vulnerable, helpless, confused, or sad. It is important to recognize and assume ownership of these more "primary" feelings, because they are usually the key to the anger's release.

More on this another time. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Link: Vague Notions (Web Comic Series)

Hello! You may have noticed that I've provided links in the sidebar to other sites I find useful, entertaining, or otherwise engaging. One of them, Vague Notions, is a great web comic I stumbled across a few months ago. In the author/illustrator's words, Vague Notions, "is a comic about depression, anxiety, and all that fun stuff!" It's content is honest and poignant, and often very, very funny. 

Check out this comic from January 31st, which includes the main character (sitting at a desk in a hoodie sweatshirt in the first panel), and the dual nemeses of what I refer to as anxiety (shouting at the main character in the first and second panels) and depression (whispering horrors to the character in the 3rd panel).

The comic is updated three times per week, and any visitor can look through the archives for free.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013


I took a trip home to upstate New York this past week to visit with family and friends. It was great to see everyone, truly. But it was an unfamiliar experience for me, too, because I've never lived as far from home as I do now, and I haven't ever gone as long as I did, furthermore, without coming home for a visit. In that regard, it was an unexpectedly strange experience: things were familiar, but I wasn't. And it wasn't a major shift I perceived within myself, either; it was subtle, as if a sea captain had changed the ship's course a mere degree or two.

Awareness of the role I've played in relation to my family and friends kept occurring to me during my visit, which led me, in turn, to consider more generally the nature of self in relation to the external world, and the roles we assume in all our social interactions. (Not coincidentally, a book entitled, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life by Erving Goffman is coming up on my reading list.) I also found that I was revisiting what I learned in graduate school about Murray Bowen's Family Systems Theory (click here to learn about it from his organization -- it's very interesting stuff).

I digress.

What I found during my visit was that I was able to sort of measure my personal change based on the subtle dissonances I perceived in my cognition and emotional processing while in (temporary) relation to my surroundings back home. Actually, I don't think I measured it as much as I simply perceived it. Old habits of mind, imperceptibly shed since moving to Colorado, felt unfamiliar. I was caught off guard by them, too, because I hadn't even realized I was shedding them.

It dawns on me now that this post is about change, plain and simple. I'm changing, and my trip home helped illustrate the fact.

You know what? That's a validating thought, and I think it's pretty damn cool. Change can be difficult to contend with, you know? It requires, by definition, that something be altered, and most of us tend to like our familiarity. Moreover, it seems to me that this little realization of mine is in keeping with the nature of life, which is, after all, a continual process of things changing. To build walls against change is natural, I suppose, but change must be yielded to, sooner or later. Huh.

I'm grateful to be getting out my own way, and letting myself be moved, consciously, by life.