Category Archives: Do’s and Don’ts

Planting a seed

Planting a seed

When you think of a leader, what do you think of? Many of us think of teachers, bosses, or someone like Ghandi or Mother Theresa. The truth is that all of us have the ability to be a leader. The moments that come back to me, that people tell me they remember the most aren’t the ones that I see myself as being a leader, they are the moments in which I was kind, open, and present with someone.

Usually the moments that I am told are the most impressionable are the ones in which I plant a seed. They are the moments that I tell someone that their hair is amazing that day, or that the hat they are wearing looks amazing. They are the moments that I sneak up on someone, unknowing and let them know that in that moment they are doing amazing. The moments I want to be teaching moments often have little impact. It is the tiny moments that have the biggest impact. It is the moments that I am kind during a moment of someone’s darkest moments that I lead the best.

The scary part is that I have no idea when this moment is. I have no way of knowing when someone’s low point, or when they are vulnerable. So in order to lead, this means I just have to be present, open, honest, and kind with people all the time. Think of a moment that you remember someone making an impression on you. The things you hold on to, that teach you a lesson. Some of these moments for me are the ones that are during actual teaching moments. And many of them are during random moments when someone did something that spoke to me in a way that I remembered.

These teaching moments are all around us, and they can’t be planned. A lecture to a kid isn’t going to be remembered. The moment when they are low and you cheer them up will be. The moment when you are in the check-out line at the grocery store and you ask the person in the wheelchair behind you if you can help may be the moment they learn that people can be nice to them they just need to trust.

Ultimately, this is a long winded way to say “be nice to people, you don’t know when they will need your kindness”. We all have the chance to be leaders. We all have the chance to plant seeds in people. When we honk and flip people off in traffic we plant a seed of violence and anger. When we give the person behind in the check-out line the penny, nickle, or even dollar they are short of their bill, they are taught a lesson of kindness. These moments sneak up on us, and often we don’t remember them as others do. We just need to be kind. As often and as much as we can, we need to be kind. This is how we plant seeds.

I want to be a leader in kindness. This means all day, every day I need to plant seeds. When I wave the guy in that is trying to merge on the highway, or say something nice to someone on the street. When I pick up the dropped object from the person with full arms, or even pay it forward at the coffee shop I plant a seed. These are the seeds I want to plant. I want to be a leader. I try to do so in my practice, but the moments people remember the most are the ones in which I was genuine, honest, and kind. Go out in to your day and be genuine, honest, and kind. You will plant more seeds than you know, and be more of a leader than you ever thought you could be.

Our double standards

Have you ever noticed the double standard we have for ourselves? I remember before my divorce  I held no judgment for the friends that were divorced, even my parents.  I knew fully in my heart and head that the friends and family that had divorced were better off.  Divorce was OK for everyone else.  But I was ashamed of my divorced status. It meant I was a failure.  In one of my personal writings I wrote; “part of me felt like I had a big D written on my chest. “D for Divorced, D for deficient”.”  I had an absolute double standard, what was OK for everyone else, and what was OK for me. 

A double standard I see frequently from clients is a belief that no one is perfect, and everyone is allowed to make mistakes, everyone but them.  We already know that we are our own worst critics.  Often the little foibles we see in others we don’t even give a great deal of notice to.  The same foibles in ourselves become mountainous warts on our own character.  It may be time to give ourselves a proverbial break.  The standards we hold others to are not light.  And yet we are more tolerant and forgiving of everyone else than we are of ourselves. 

The conversations we have with ourselves tend to be cruel and harsh.  The mistakes we make create an internal dialogue of words like “stupid” and “idiot”, along with many more.  I see someone trip out on the trail around the lake here in Austin and I think; “I hope they’re OK”; I trip and I call myself a clumsy idiot.  And while those are just words, and we all know; “Stick and stones may break out bones…etc”, words do have power.  They create labels, and put us in boxes.  Think of the word “slut”.  “Clumsy” and “Idiot” also create a label, putting us in a box.   Not a very nice one.

For those of you with children, you know when they make a mistake you (hopefully) tell them that their mistakes don’t define them. You hopefully tell them that they are good even when they screw up. Because they messed up, they aren’t screw-ups. We need to start having the same conversations with ourselves. You aren’t a screw-up just because you screwed up. The heartbreaking thing is that our kids will learn from the language we use for ourselves, not the language we use for them. If we tell them they are great even when they make mistakes, but then call ourselves idiots when we make our own mistakes, they know that mistakes really aren’t acceptable.

For the most part we allow those around us a great deal more leeway than we allow ourselves.   This is not to say that we should become lax in our desire to hold ourselves to high standards, to be the best person we can be.  It means that when our life doesn’t turn out the way it was supposed to, or when we trip and fall, we give ourselves the chance to learn from our mistakes instead of making those mistakes define us. 

Love, Happiness, Safety

Have you ever thought about why we do what we do? Have you ever looked at someone and wondered “Why on earth would you do that”? This includes the people walking through hip deep water from the storm Katrina with a 54” TV, the person that split their tongue in two and has implanted horns, and the person tailgating you going 80 on the highway. Why are they doing what they are doing? Well, the answer is they are trying to find love, safety, or happiness.

“But that doesn’t make sense!” I hear you exclaim. How does a person taking a TV with them while evacuating from the flooding from a storm help them find any of those three? I didn’t say it made sense. In that moment, their brain is telling them that they need that TV to live and to find safety. Sometimes the panic brain doesn’t make sense. And yet they are still trying to find safety. And the person tailgating believes that if they get where they are going they will be happy. And the person that uses body modification to express themselves is working to find love in a way that works for them.

Our base motivations are usually pretty simple. Why do people lie, cheat and steal? They believe that they can find happiness or safety in money or things. I worked with someone that was horrible to all of the employees. The ideas he came up with were ridiculous, and he always had a frantic energy about him. We all disliked him greatly. We found out that he had a brain tumor and he was desperate to keep the job so that he could earn as much money as he could for his wife and children after he died. The ridiculous ideas were his attempt to keep from being fired like the last three people that had had the job before him. He was trying to find safety.

When we start to see people through the lense of attempts to find love, safety, and happiness then we can start to find understanding and even some empathy in their craziness. The behaviors may not be conducive to getting what they want, and in fact they may in all actuality be accomplishing the opposite. And yet, even in our worst moments and cruelest behaviors we are working to accomplish love, safety, or happiness.

Often the things that drive us the most insane are when someone we care for goes about trying to find love in a way that drives us further away. In that case, it can often be helpful to let them know what they can do to get your affection. Letting them know (kindly!) how they can change their behavior to get your love, kindness or affection gives helpful and constructive feedback. It actually helps both people feel less powerless, and often more connected.

As a professional I have done things for money that I probably shouldn’t have, taken client’s that could have been served better by others with more training, or taken too many clients in a day just because I wanted to maintain my feelings of safety. I have driven faster than I should have to get home and be happy. I have made choices that have hurt people to make myself happy. I think we all have. Then there are the times that people’s attempts to find happiness or safety actually compromise your safety. People that are happy to lie, cheat, and steal in an effort to provide safety for themselves or their family. I can understand their motivations. If I lived in Russia and the safest way to keep my family fed was to hack people’s accounts and steal from them, if I were desperate enough I would probably do it. I don’t have to understand, like, or agree with their behaviors. I may need to keep myself safe from them though. I need to set boundaries, I need to maintain my own safety. I need to watch to whom I give my money, time, and love. Unhealthy people are looking for the same things, and will find unhealthy ways to get love, safety, and happiness. I can have compassion without making myself a victim.

I had a conversation with a client today about their path. They are in a place on Maslow’s hierarchy where they are able to start thinking about the more esoteric path they want to be on instead of just working to make sure they don’t lose the basic needs for safety of food and shelter. The path that looks at how he wants to feel about himself at the end of the day, about how he wants to go about getting love and happiness. Like me, he wants to know that he is healthy in finding love and happiness, and he doesn’t do at the expense of others. We all want the same things. The difference is how we go about getting those wants met. I also want to be able to find compassion for those that meet their needs and wants for love, safety, and happiness differently than I do, even if I need to protect myself from them. Underneath we aren’t that different.

It’s time to play!

“The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression.” Brian Sutton-Smith

There are millions of toys for kids to play with. Kids are kind of like cats, and even without toys, they can make something to play with. We know that animals learn how to be adults through play (there is a video of an adult lion faking injury when bitten by a kit. This is play for both the adult and the kit). We watch adults in most animals play if give the chance. For some reason though, we think that once we leave childhood we are no longer allowed to play.

What we have learned is that play is as important for adults as it is for children. It helps mental acuity, it helps with connections and intimacy, and it helps manage depression. Play is time spent with little purpose other than fun. It is part of why Pokemon-go has helped so much. It is play. Hobbies, board games, and playful teasing. It eases stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as increases bonds among friends and partnerships.

Take time each day to find time to play. Don’t ever let yourself think that you are too old to play. Don’t let others tell you that you need to grow up when you play. I will play until the day I keel over. I encourage you to do the same.

It’s no big deal

Have you ever said this about something that has frustrated you? We say this about our job, our friends, and our partners. Something happens, and though it frustrates us we say; “It’s no big deal”. We say this once or twice, with no worries. How many times can you say this before anger and resentment start to take over?

We all walk the fine line between managing relationships and managing our identity. We all have what we want to have happen. At times what we want and what others want are not the same thing. Many people, in an effort to keep the peace and avoid conflicts, will sacrifice what they want. They will do this thinking “It’s no big deal”. So imagine your best friend asks to borrow five dollars. And then every week following for 4 months asks to borrow five dollars. Without ever asking your friend to re-pay you, you give the money. At first it is willingly. Then after a month or so, as you have given $20, then $40, then $60, how long will it take before you become resentful? How many of you will continue to give week after week, slowing simmering, but never saying anything?

We tell ourselves it isn’t a big deal. Week after week, time after time, we say these words. We convince ourselves that this is true. And underneath we simmer. The resentment builds, until eventually it erupts. The eruption may or may not be at the person or people that have created the resentment. And often when the eruption comes and the person on the receiving end is confused and befuddled when they are covered in emotional lava. They had no idea that you were angry or resentful, because you never set the limit.

“The givers need to set limits because the takers never will”. Even the most well-intentioned of people will take advantage of someone that gives again and again without setting boundaries on it. It is just human nature. We want to believe that human nature will keep people from taking advantage, and often that just isn’t true. Even I, and I would like to believe I am a good person, have taken advantage of situations and people when I needed to. I would have been perfectly understanding had the people set boundaries, and at the same time I also used the resources around me.

You don’t have to be an ass to set a boundary. “Sure, I can give you $5, I need you to pay me back by the end of the week”. And then when they don’t pay you back “Hey, you didn’t pay me back from the last 2 times, I need you to pay me back before I can lend you any more money”. If your friend gives you resistance for this, maybe they aren’t the best of friends, or the best of people. You don’t have to be an ass to say out loud what you want to have happen. “I’m interested in pizza tonight”, even though you know your friend or partner may not have the same interest.

The thought “It isn’t a big deal” is the warning sign that you may be sacrificing yourself more than your identity and integrity can handle. You can be kind and still say out loud what you want or need to have happen. Make sure you know what you want to have happen, and then think how you would want someone to say the same thing to you. Remember, using criticism, contempt, or blaming will make people put up their own walls.  Setting limits and standing up for your identity is just as much a part of maintaining relationships as meeting in the middle, and letting go of the small things.

Now Brain, Later Brain

This was a discussion in my head at lunch yesterday.

Now brain: Look! Chocolate pudding!

Later Brain: Wait. You’ve been working so hard to lose weight and be healthy. You know that this won’t help. You have some pretty big goals.

Now Brain. You don’t understand. Chocolate Pudding!

Later Brain: You’re eating salad. Don’t ruin all the work you’ve done. No.


Later Brain: This isn’t what you want. This isn’t what you want. This isn’t what you want.

Now Brain: CHOCOLATE PUDDING! Oh, and with Strawberries.

Take a wild guess which brain won?

The now brain and the later brain don’t always want the same things. The later brain often is focused on long term-goals; health, relationships, retirement, buying a house. The short term brain is often more focused on pleasure, or lack of pain. It is often focused on feeling good, or feeling better. These now goals won’t always work in favor of our later goals. The chocolate pudding didn’t work toward my later goals. Was it delicious? Absolutely. Was there guilt later? Yep!

More often than not my Later brain wins. I save the money, I eat the right foods, I don’t comment on Facebook posts and I do the workout. I don’t adopt all of the cats and dogs I see on the web begging for a home. If my Now brain won, I would need a couple of houses and acres of land just for the cats and the dogs that I want to love and save.  This is because I have learned the lesson that my Now brain wants to be rewarded. So I have to find ways to reward myself when I do what my later brain wants.

Now brain and Later brain are all about rewards. The Now brain wants the reward now, and the Later brain is willing to delay the gratification until a later time, knowing that the reward will be worth it. In an effort to get my Now brain willing to participate in working toward the goals the Later brain wants, it needs rewards in the short term. It wants some kind of recognition that it did something worthy when it gave up what it wanted. There is often a level of distress when the now brain doesn’t get what it wants. Not getting the desires met can lead to minor frustration, or considerable pain. If you make the effort to deny Now brain for a long term goal, make sure to give it something, even if it is only a congrads for a job well done.

We sometimes wonder why we aren’t able to achieve the goals we want. We often have very specific goals such losing weight, not calling the ex, saving money, and then we act in opposition to those goals. The Now brain is not interested in tolerating the distress that is caused by ignoring the wants. We have to learn to deal with the distress, and to give ourselves rewards when we do. Often when we give our Later brain what it wants, we are more fulfilled in the long run. We just have to make the Now brain know it is worth it.


why diets dont work

Now is not the time for more hate

Our country is in a place of mourning for tragedy.  We are mourning the tragic death of a young black man at a traffic stop. We are morning the death of Dallas Officers.  Now is not the time for hatred.  Now is the time for the helpers.  So many people are grieving today.  We should all be standing by them in their grief.  We should be letting them know they aren’t alone in their pain.

My heart goes out to the mother and the family of Philando Castile, and the other young men that have died in the last couple of days.  Their deaths are a loss that should be felt by all of us.  It is a loss of life that didn’t need to happen.  The family, and the Country does not need more hate right now, it needs the helpers.  It needs understanding that lives matter.

My heart goes out to the family of the Police officers that were killed in the line of duty last night.  They were working to protect a peaceful group and their deaths were needless.

The families of these tragedies will have no relief by “justice”.  The Country does not need more hate right now, it needs helpers.  These families will be swimming in a river of grief and loss and confusion.  Blame, hatred, and justification will not help them.  Criticism, Contempt, and conjecture will not help a Country wondering if their sons or their husbands are safe, be they Black, or Officers.

Remember to be careful about feeding in to the Media.  Their main purpose is to have ratings, not to give correct information.  They will fill the air waves with conjecture, and some with more hatred.  Be careful about listening to guesses and forming opinions about situations in which we don’t have all the facts.  We don’t know.  We have guesses, and opinions, but no facts.  Don’t let these guesses move you to anger and more hate.

Mr. Rogers said in times of tragedy to look for the helpers.  We need helpers right now.  We need those that can work to help the families stay afloat in their river of grief with loving kindness.  We need those that will help a confused Country find a reason to be loving and cohesion again, when so many people and events give push us toward division and anger.

Now is not the time for hate, or blame, or finger pointing. Now is the time for helping and for grieving.  If you do not have it in you to be one of the helpers, I urge you to find your own peace, and follow the rule “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”.  We need helpers.  We need kindnesses.  I know many of you feel powerless against a tide of hatred; toward the Police, toward Black Lives Matter, and towards injustices on both sides.  Find how you can give.  There are GoFundMe accounts for the families of the young Black men that died.  If there aren’t there hopefully will be soon for the families of the Dallas Police that died.  We can speak with our government representatives about better training for our police, along with better pay and benefits (If we can pay a basketball player or football player $5 million for 2 years, we can figure out how to pay the officers more).  There are many ways to help.  And if you can’t help, at least don’t hurt.  These people need our support and our love, not our hate.  Now is not the time for more hate.  Now is the time for kindness.

The school of life

Tips for a better life # 15: Realize that life is a school and you are here to learn. Problems are simply part of the curriculum that appear and fade away like algebra class, but the lessons you learn will last a lifetime.

We are all life-long scholars in the Hard-Knox School of Life.  Though a great deal of what we need to learn is actually taught in kindergarten , sometimes we take all our lives to remember these lessons and to find out what they really mean.  Ironically life is actually very similar to the game Chutes and Ladders. We all start at birth, and ultimately we all end at death.  Between the game board sometimes catapults us forward, and drops us back down.  Sometimes because of our own actions, and sometimes because life just happens that way, both good and bad.  No matter what though, we all end at the same place.  The lessons we learn, and how we handle both successes and failures, is entirely up to us.

All lessons, like all stories, have a beginning middle and end.  When we are in the middle of the “lesson” it sometimes seems that it will always be there, we will always feel the way we feel.  In the middle of the problem we forget the knowledge of that ending part.   There are many cliche’s  for endings: “Nothing stays the same”, “This too shall pass”, “The only constant is change”, etc.   Remember, cliche’s are generally true, for example; “a journey of 1000 miles starts with one step” annoying as they can be sometimes.  In the middle of a problem remembering that it will pass can sometimes be the only comfort we find.  If we allow it, problems will pass us by.  At times we for some reason we work to cling to our pain and keep the problem around, but that is always our choice.

In the classroom of life  we all walk away with a different lesson.  Because we as humans are not snowflakes we are not the only ones that have our particular life experiences, though not everyone walks away with the same perception of the experience. There is a level of control regarding the lessons we walk away with.

An elderly Cherokee Native American was teaching his grandchildren about life…

He said to them, “A fight is going on inside me, it is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.

One wolf is evil –he is fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity,guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, competition,superiority, and ego.

The other is good—he is joy, peace, love,hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship,empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.

This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too.”

They thought about it for a minute and then one child asked his grandfather,”Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied: “The one you feed”.

We all move through experiences.  The lessons we learn are our choice.  We can learn the lessons that bring bitterness, hurt, anger and pain.  Or we can learn the lessons in a way that help us find kindness, peace, and understanding.   Life is pain.  Anyone that tells you differently is selling you something.  Life is also joy and kindness.  It is how we handle the pain that defines us, and decides if we can experience the rest as well.  Just remember rule number rules number 18 and 19.   Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good, and Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.

Living with hate

For the first time in a while I’ve had a request to write about something specific.  As I can imagine you’ve heard, on Sunday morning in the early hours a man walked in to a night club and killed 49 people, injuring many more.  We have ideas about why, and we have his phone call to 911 claiming what he did for Isis, but there are many many unknowns.  What we do know is he had hate in his heart.  He has had hate in his heart for a very long time, long enough that the FBI had him on a watch list.  This hate, for whatever reason, was used to destroy the lives of hundreds of people.  The families and loved ones of those that died, the families and friends and loved ones of those that have been injured, are changed forever.  They  have been touched by hate.

There are many possibilities about why this man decided to kill as many people as he could.  A plausible one is that he himself was gay, and he was fighting the edicts of his own religion, his own mental health, his hatred for his own desires, and turned all of that pain on to others.  We will never know exactly what was going through his head, but we do know that he had hate in his heart.  Whether it was for others or for himself, or both we will never know.  But no matter his reasons for his actions, we now have a couple of choices.

The first choice we have is to turn to fear and hatred ourselves.  We can demonize his actions as being through his religion, through his mental health, or his race and we can start our own attacks through fear and hate.  We can spread the hate as far and as wide as we can.  Based on my Facebook feed this is what some people have chosen to do.  We can turn to blame, working to find the who to point the finger at.  We can demand an eye for an eye, and seek justice from anyone that shares anything with that man. If we choose that route we will have to remember that those that we hurt will want their vengeance as well.  They will want their pound of flesh, and their eye as well.

If we choose fear we will end up feeling bitter, angry and powerless,  terrified of full of hate.  With fear we have the choice of fighting or running.  We can run, and hide.  We can choose to never leave our homes, never get on a plane or go to a club or run a race.  We can hide, or we can fight.  And when we fight we will make more people have hatred as we hurt and maim and kill others in our fight for justice.

That is not the path I want.  I do not want to hide, cowering in my home to avoid all possibility of getting hurt by someone’s hatred.  There is a big world out there, and I want to experience all I can.  I also don’t want to keep the hatred going, punishing whomever I can for my pain and my hurt.  The other option that I have is to be one of the helpers.

Fred Rogers often told this story about when he was a boy and would see scary things on the news: “My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”

The helpers are the ones that will bring us back together.  Helping people heal, both physically and emotionally from the immediate trauma is the first step.  If you aren’t able to help at that immediate level, then help those closest to you that are reeling.  Remind them that people in general are good people.  Remind them that being a good person and spreading kindness is the best way to heal.

Don’t get me wrong, I do want to take action and make sure you cant get a magazine of 100 rounds for a weapon.  That is ridiculous.  I will write to my congressman and support legislation to this purpose.  I do want to take realistic steps when I can to make sure things don’t happen.   What isn’t helpful is pointing fingers, doling out hate, yelling at people that have no involvement, or cowering.

This has been a traumatic event that has affected so many people.  There are so many stories floating around, it is easy to get sucked in to the anger and the fear-mongering.  One man was able to cause all of this.  For whatever reason, he took a weapon and his hate and hurt and hurt as many people as he could.  I’m sure that each and every one of us has our own belief about this man, who he was, why he did what he did, and what should happen next.  What many of us forget is the kindnesses that are needed to grieve, survive and thrive.  I for one won’t let anger and hate keep me from living the life I want to live.  A life of exploration, of kindness, and finding beauty wherever I can.  This is how we heal. This is how we fight.

My heart is with every mother, father, sister, brother, boyfriend, girlfriend, and friend that lost someone in that club.  My heart is with everyone that was there and was part of the terror of a crazed man with a gun.  We won’t stop him with more hate.  He will continue to hurt all of us if we do this.  We will stop him with hope and kindness.  With reminders that there is beauty in the world, even when there is ugliness and hate.  That acts of great courage will always defeat acts of anger, fear and hate.