online coaching using mind and body for a life worth living

De-Fuse Explosive Situations

“We have met the enemy and he is us!”-Curly Howardcurly

There is an innate ability that all humans seem to have, we are experts at what other people should do. This skill is honed throughout the lifespan as we learn through television, movies, novels, and works of literature the courses of action that characters should take. For some this is a valuable skill. The irony is that if we could apply this skill to ourselves we’d certainly be much better off. We frequently get caught up in our own internal emotions and make poor choices as a result of our faulty logic and poor internal dialogue. The reality is that these poor choices are self inflicted wounds, metaphorical bombs that we throw at ourselves. We indeed can be our own worst enemies. In my last post we discussed the internal world of our mind and how it influences us. (See “Dimension Of Mind”, February 26, 2014.) This post will discuss some strategies to walk through the minefield of our dysfunctional thinking.

In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy there is a strategy called Defusion which attempts to teach a more realistic, and less emotional connection to our thoughts. We usually believe our bombthinking because, after all, it must be true because we thought it. Most of us usually run with it from there, making snap decisions, quick judgments, shooting from the lip, and doing things that we later regret. Such things done consistently over a long period of time can create many of the emotional disorders that people eventually seek treatment for. The goal of Defusion is to disengage, disarm, and disconnect from such thinking so as to allow for better decision-making, improved self talk, and better outcomes. At times it is almost like being a member of a bomb squad, trying to defuse an explosive device. It can be tricky, but this is a skill that can be learned, and it is a valuable intrapersonal skill to develop.

When faced with triggering situations we don’t always have the ability to literally walk away from them. The goal of defusion is to mentally “take a big step back,” see the larger picture, and make a more rational choice.” Better choices lead to better thinking, and thus less stressful and painful feelings. While there are countless strategies that one can use I’m going to develop a few of them here. Your task is to see which ones work for you, expand upon and develop your own skills, and to use them regularly. Over a period of time these skills will become automatic and increase your ability to cope with triggering situations that now cause difficulty .

Gaining some separation from this style of thinking is the first goal. Notice your thoughts. For example, instead of having the thought that, “I am really angry,” it’s far more helpful to say to yourself, “I’m having the thought that I am angry,” or “I am thinking that I am angry.” This creates a subtle, but important distinction-I am not my thoughts. “I can’t take anymore of this,” would be replaced by “I am having the feeling that I can’t take anymore of this.” Noticing what you are saying to yourself is important here. By noticing, you have to evaluate and are stepping back and viewing the events as if it’s happening outside of you. Remember that we are all good at telling other people what to do. That’s what you’re doing here, viewing the situation as if it is happening to someone else, stepping out of your emotions and looking at the bigger picture.

Another thing to take note of early on is what’s going on physically with you, at that moment, in a mindful way. Be aware of the present moment rather than being “in your head.” Notice things either in your environment or internally that you weren’t aware of before to slow down what’s happening. The best strategy is to breathe. Take a few breaths and mindfully breathe if at all possible. There are many suggestions in the categories section of this blog that can help you use the mind body connection to improve your mindfulness skills. These strategies, practiced frequently, are excellent for stress relief but also help with defusing triggering events.

Other strategies that people find helpful:
The Helicopter- Imagine that you are in a helicopter at that moment, viewing the situation from above, as if you could literally see the entire situation as if it was happening to someone else. (Remember how great we are at telling other people what they should do?)
tunnelThe Tunnel-imagine that the task you are working on is being done in a tunnel. Imagine during the performance of the task where you are in the tunnel at that time. Imagine “the light at the end of the tunnel,” and work toward getting there.
The Third Person-Tell your story to yourself as if it was happening to someone else. This is one of the reasons why psychotherapy tends to be effective. People tell their story to a therapist, and in relaying the story they have to step out of the emotion in order to explain it. You don’t need a therapist to use this therapeutic technique. You can tell the story to yourself, but use someone else’s name by changing the first name in the story from your own to that of someone else. This creates distance from the emotion, tends to diffuse, and leads to better outcomes.If need be, write the story down.
Voice Changing-Change the voice of your internal dialogue to something novel or humorous. For example, if negative dialogue is discussed in the voice of Homer Simpson, Elmer Fudd, Bugs Bunny, or some other cartoon character it’s likely to feel different, less threatening, and less real.
Recognizing Your Story-Over time we carry inside us stories that become our truths, but are not necessarily factual. Being able to look in the mirror and say to yourself, “Oh, here comes my I am ugly story,” or being able to say to yourself, “Here comes my I’m incompetent story,” tends to allow you to see the bigger picture and defuses problematic thinking.
The Mind-View your mind as a separate reality from what’s really going on. Remember the format: the way we think, affects the way we feel, the way we feel effects the way we act, and the way we act leads to consequences and behavior.


This formula can help you be more objective when analyzing thoughts and behaviors. The thoughts and feelings are bracketed because they are internal experiences, and we have control over them. If we control them then we control our actions and, as a result, the consequences of our actions. This acronym is best remembered if it is converted into a word “TEEFAK.” This basic formula in essence is cognitive behavioral therapy made simple. (Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org for my free e-book, “CBT Made Simple: A Quickstart Guide To Cognitive Behavioral Therapy” for more information on easy implementation of CBT.)

These are merely a handful of some of the strategies you can use to defuse problematic situations and make better choices. Study your own behavior and find out what kind of things you do that could be put into the category of “self inflicted wounds.” If you are honest with yourself, you’ll find that there are quite a few. If you are willing to work on yourself, you’ll find there is a lot you can do to change them.

“CBT Made Simple: A Quickstart Guide To Cognitive Behavioral Therapy” is available for free by contacting me at john@mindbodycoach.org. It’s my Thank You to you for following my blog.

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A Dimension Of Mind

“You are traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, the Twilight Zone!”                             – Rod Serling

serlingA “dimension of mind.” Not just science fiction, but a real, although intangibile, part of all of us. It’s what’s going on in the mind that most influences us during the course of our everyday life. When it comes to what humans do, and how they feel both physically and emotionally, it is truly what goes on inside the mind that makes the difference. Examining human existence from a mind-body perspective shows the importance of balance and equilibrium among a host of opposing forces. Being in balance is the critical component in how all living things in nature  function. It’s just as important for humans and it’s vital that we are aware of all things needed to be in balance, especially the interaction of our external and internal experiences.

As humans we are creatures of both mind and body. No other living thing possesses what we call a “mind.” Much of our mind functions out of our awareness, constantly working to keep literally millions of sensory inputs in balance and in check. Positive/negative, intake/output, energy in (food)/energy out (activity), activity/inactivity, and many, many other forces  constantly striving to remain in balance. Much of this goes on below our level of consciousness. We are constantly fighting off viruses, infections, and environmental threats to our physical being. We’re not often aware of any of these, yet we all know it’s happening. Equally important is the balance that takes place inside the part of us that we call mind. It’s this part of us that determines how we feel about our lives and the value judgments we place on our very existence.

We live two very distinct levels of existence, an internal and external one. The external world is that which occurs outside of our being and is interpreted by our mind. At any given point your mind is taking in inputs from the environment, processing and attaching meaning to these inputs, analyzing and determining courses of actions. Walking, talking, movement, and all behaviors are performed in the context of our minds interpretation and selection of a course of action. The selection process can be slow and planned or instantaneous and spontaneous depending on what our mind feels is necessary. This process is chemical and can be viewed and studied as a very complex, confusing activity. Like all things behavioral it’s easier to simplify the process so that we can use it to our advantage.

3 eyeThe internal world that we live in has fascinated philosophers, shamans, religious figures, and critical thinkers throughout the ages. In Hindu culture, for example, they believe that humans see with three eyes. We have our two physical eyes, and between those two approximately an inch above there is a “third eye” that allows us to visualize. To understand this think of the term “in your minds eye.” This is the part of the mind where visualization takes place. (For a better understanding of how we visualize see “So What’s In Your Wallet,” January 12, 2014 from this blog. Use the search feature at the top of this page.) In Chinese philosophy there is the story of Chuang Chou which illustrates the internal-external world interaction:
b fly   “Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamed I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I woke, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.”

For us, what is important to consider here is what goes on in our mind and our internal world. In previous articles we have discussed the relationship of thinking and feeling on our behavior. Thinking and feeling are aspects of the internal world and are our reality but not necessarily reality. In other words, we perceive things, but our perceptions could be incorrect. To illustrate this point, consider court cases. The evidence most likely to be incorrect in any court case is eyewitness testimony. What people think happened and their interpretation of what happened has statistically been proven over and over again to be the most likely incorrect information. Despite this, juries are most likely to believe eyewitness testimony. Witnesses truly believe the testimony that they are giving, but it is most likely to be incorrect and inaccurate.

Humans are emotional beings and often behave in ways driven by emotions. While no one is spocksaying you need to be Mr. Spock here, it does make sense to question your internal world now and again. Checking in with yourself, questioning yourself, slowing down the instantaneous process that leads to behavior, can avoid a lot of mistakes and suffering. Emotions and all feelings physical or otherwise are the result of chemical events taking place in the brain. Repeated behaviors become addictive and habitual because our brain creates chemicals that we can literally become addicted to, and neural pathways that become the brain’s preferred connections. This is how habits develop. Habits can be behaviors or they can be preferred ways of thinking and interpreting. No human behavior or feeling can change without awareness. By learning to question and analyze what goes on internally, in the place that we call the mind, we can gain the ability to change and improve the quality of our existence.

I hope this didn’t get too deep, so let’s simplify for a moment. We have an internal life and an external life. We are constantly switching back and forth from the internal to the external. Our minds determine and interpret all of this. Our mind is part of our internal life, but it drives and controls the whole process. Your mind determines what you think and feel, and thinking and feeling determines what you do. Awareness of this process can lead to better choices.

“A wondrous land of imagination.” Remember this next time you are processing an event that brings up intense feelings or emotions. See if it helps you cope a little better. I’d be surprised if it doesn’t.

P.S. Email me and give me feedback at john@mindbodycoach.org. Follow this blog, and follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more info on the mind body connection.

Need Motivation? Cut To The Chase!

Cut to the chase! Common expression that a lot of people use to cut through what’s not necessary to get at what is. Where does the expression come from, and how can it help you get motivated?Keystone-Cops-300x187

This often used expression dates back to the early days of silent movies. In the absence of audio, films had to convey excitement and drama through action. Most movies had a very predictable theme and viewers knew what was probably going to happen. Because the movie industry was new viewers did not demand much and were excited to watch despite the predictability and obvious outcome. The highlight of each movie was the “chase scene,” where the good guys chased the bad guys and vise versa. Naturally good triumphed over evil and everyone lives happily ever after. The chase scene was accompanied by frenetic action and dramatic music. By the end of the silent film era such scenes became predictable and boring to viewers. And the expression “cut to the chase” was born. Today people usually say this when trying to get to what is essential and important in a conversation or situation.

So how can one “cut to the chase” to get things done and accomplish goals? The “cut to the chase” strategy is a great one because it can be done cognitively to restructure, and reframe a situation to motivate us towards getting it done. Let’s say that you are struggling to get the deskmotivation to do something. For example, Monday morning going to work. Upon inquiry a person will usually state, “I have to go.” On further examination however this isn’t necessarily true. You have a CHOICE. You could decide not to go into work and deal with the fallout. You could also dwell on all the bad things that would happen if you didn’t go such as your boss being angry, not wanting to let down coworkers, not getting paid for that day, and so on. These reasons are all negative or what are called MOVING AWAY VALUES. You go to work because of something you are trying to avoid. Such strategy can work but isn’t the most motivating. You’re going in to work to AVOID SOMETHING BAD.

With a little mental gymnastics you can change this logic and make it more positive. What’s the positive reasons to go to work on Monday? If you logic it out, it may come down to financial reasons. Money is a powerful reinforcer of behavior. And with some jobs the logic may be “a little money is better than none.” Focusing on why you are CHOOSING to go is more productive. Remember, it’s very rare in human behavior that one has no choice. By changing your logic in focusing on the fact that YOU ARE CHOOSING a behavior it restructures your interpretation of the event and changes your feelings about it.

Another example: your wife, husband, or significant other wants you to attend their high school reunion and you have reservations about going. Remember, the “I have to go” logic is B. S. You do have a choice here. But “cut to the chase.” Why are you going? Because you want to make him or her happy. That’s the MOVING TOWARD VALUE here. Notice that the value is stated in the POSITIVE. And be honest with yourself, you are CHOOSING this behavior. By “cutting to the chase,” you are eliminating the victim mentality, choosing a different course of action, and finding a positive reason for doing so. Makes sense doesn’t it?

Throughout a typical week you’d be amazed at how many times “cutting to the chase” can change your interpretation of a negative events and make unpalatable things seem a little more bearable. Combining this strategy with other types of cognitive restructuring and reframing is a great way to stay motivated. (Check the “Therapies” section to the right of this article for more ideas.) A big key to happiness is tolerating what you have to do in order to get to what you want to do. Skillful use of strategies like this make that more likely. What I really like about the “cut to the chase” strategy is that it is designed to be instantaneous and done on-the-fly, in the moment, and it flat out works.

bullUsually upcoming week to notice what goes on internally with you when facing a task or event that you might be dreading. Find a positive moving toward value and “cut to the chase.” Don’t B. S. yourself! You do have a choice in almost everything you do. If your choice is positive and perceived as your own it will certainly be more likely that you’ll get through it in a positive frame of mind.

So there it is, a quick, news you can use, strategy. Email me and let me know how this works for you.

Now I just got to figure out where Dodge is, and why everyone’s trying to get out of there.

P. S. Email me with comments at johnmindbodycoach.org. Subscribe to this blog and follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

Washing Life’s Rice Bowls

“When washing the rice bowl, be washing  the rice bowl.”- Zen expression

zenThis Zen expression, like most, initially comes off as trite, cute, and simplistic. On further examination, like most Zen expressions, it leads to deeper thought. Think about that expression for a moment. What the heck does it mean? Why is a rice bowl meaningful? And why wouldn’t I merely put it in the dishwasher, close it, and go do something else? But if you consider the rice bowl as a metaphor for the daily grind then, Grasshopper, maybe you’re on to something.

Expressions such as the one above were probably developed hundreds of years ago so that people living a subsistence existence could find joy and meaning in the difficult lives that they were forced to live. These expressions also have great value for those of us living in the 21st century for a different reason. For us they are reminders that we should slow down, pay attention, take it all in, and enjoy the moment. Life comes at us at a much different and faster pace than it did in ancient China when that expression was first coined.

What could the rice bowl metaphor mean in the 21st century? The rice bowl, and washing it, iscubicles a metaphor for our daily routine. Self-help guru Tony Robbins discusses it as something of a Box Theory of Life. He says, “We sleep on a box, we live in a box, we drive to our jobs in a box, we eat a box lunch at our box office, drive home in the box, get our dinner from a box, and stare at a box for a few hours, and then repeat this thing all over again!” Pretty depressing, huh? Finding meaning and significance for this kind of life is perhaps the biggest challenge of modern living.

“When washing the rice bowl, be washing the rice bowl,” means to pay attention and attend fully to each task we have to face every day. Whether or not it is significant is not the issue. The bigger picture is that it is a part of a larger whole, our lives, and therefore has some significance. Attending to these daily routines in a fully present manner, doing the best we can nonjudgmentally, is the best way to approach things that otherwise could be viewed as boring and mundane.

washing dishLet’s break this down a bit. If you were literally “washing the rice bowl” you could be paying attention to the water temperature, the stains on the bowl, the sounds of the water, the sounds of the bowl, how clean you could get the bowl, and many other sensory inputs available to you at that moment in time. Such careful, nonjudgmental attention to detail, would make that otherwise routine task seem timeless and significant. And this is the essence of Zen and mindfulness, as well as the essence of life.

With some activities we engage in it’s easy to find the Zen application. In the 1970s much was written about The Zen of Golf, the Zen of the Martial Arts, or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It’s a little easy to see how one could be more in the moment and mindful when focusing on golf, sparring, or wrenching a motor. Certainly it’s much more challenging than  facing the day to day routine activities that could be considered boring and meaningless. sparrigWouldn’t it be great if washing dishes was as exciting as sparring or riding a motorcycle?



Such expressions take on even greater meaning when you consider how quickly life can pass by. A characteristic of living life is the distorted sense of time that develops as we age. “It seems like just yesterday that…” comes up more and more in daily conversations. And as you ponder this you can’t help but notice how true it appears to be.

So when washing the rice bowl, or performing any other task that could be viewed as routine and insignificant, pay attention. Attend to what is happening at the moment. Don’t judge or evaluate. Judgment and evaluation comes from our Ego, and anything coming from the Ego, is likely to bring suffering. Doing things with full attention and without judgment leads to better outcomes. Stringing together better outcomes = success.

Time to leave the Temple Grasshopper, I’ve got some rice bowls to wash.

P. S. Email me and give me feedback at john@mindbodycoach.org. Please follow this blog through the email box to the right of this article. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more information on self-help topics.

Anger Management Damn It !

angerAnger management. An often used expression, something people joke about, and something we tell our friends that they need. But what is anger management? How does it work? What does it do? And do I need it?

Anger is a primal human emotion that is hardwired in the brain. It serves to protect us from real and imagined threats, makes us stronger, more aggressive, and readies us for self-defense. It is a normal emotion with a wide range of intensity, from mild frustration all the way to black out rage. It is designed to protect us from physical and emotional threats both real and imagined. While it serves a purpose, it often gets people into trouble when they react too strongly to its powerful effects.

There are three components to anger:
1. Physical reactions. Anger often begins with a surge of adrenaline, increased heartbeat, and muscle tightening. This is the classic “fight or flight” response.
2. Cognitive factors. What we say to ourselves, and how we internally interpret outside events is a huge factor in how we handle the powerful chemical events that can take place and I brain. We may a label events as threatening, dangerous, or unfair. The way we think determines how we feel, how we act, and the consequences of our feelings. (Check the “Therapies” category to the right of this article for more information on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.”)
3. Behavior. People often shout, slam things, hit, and become aggressive. People could also verbalize that there upset, take a deep breath, and respond assertively rather than aggressively.

In order to gain control one must first recognize their “anger script” and slow down the 0 to 60 anger phoneresponse. People who are prone to anger frequently enjoy their anger on some level. They’ve been frequently rewarded for the behavior and often get their needs met by a display of bluster, threat, or rage. This makes the cycle very difficult to break and requires considerable insight that can only be developed through introspection. Willingness to do this work is the biggest reason why anger management training succeeds or fails. Many who attempt anger management try strategies halfheartedly, then fail with a “see I told you I couldn’t do it,” attitude. Willingness to change is the critical factor in mastering this emotion.

The first step is trigger identification. What events are most likely to trigger anger in a person? These sensitive areas or “red flags” usually refer to long-standing issues that can easily lead to anger. In some cases just thinking of these events creates a chemical change. Long waits to see your doctor, traffic jams, being wrongly accused, having to clean up for someone else, or having something stolen from you, are all good examples.

fistThe next step is your internal triggers need to be identified. How does your body respond for example. Do you ball your hands into fists? Does your breathing change? Does your face feel hot? Does your pulse throb by your temples? What do you say to yourself at that moment? Do you swear? Are there certain swear words that you use either to yourself or out loud? These questions are key in slowing down the chain of events that lead to an anger outburst. The first step in changing any behavior is always awareness. A person simply cannot change an unconscious response.

The third step is to choose an alternate behavior that is more appropriate and under your control.

So what are the actual steps that need to be taken for one to get control of their anger? Anger management can be learned through classes, in individual counseling sessions, and through the systematic self study. While I believe in both classes and individual counseling, this article will address self-study.

GET A NOTEBOOK and make a list of things that evoke anger for you. Don’t judge or overthink, JUST WRITE OUT ALL THE THINGS THAT MAKE YOU ANGRY! Think hard about this as some of these triggers may not be things you are consciously aware of.

Begin to analyze the point in this process where you begin to “lose it.” What’s the point of no return with each of these triggers? LABEL your anger on a scale of 1 to 10. This is your Anger Meter.

At what point do you lose it? When does the traffic jam cross the line? At 6? Or at 8? How angry did he make you before you got violent? At 8, or was it 9? This is the point where resistance begins to emerge but if you’re patient you will begin to see points where you may be able to control your behavior. Labeling and evaluating emotions quantitatively enable you to see that behaviors such as anger can be evaluated, and therefore potentially controlled. This activity done consistently teaches emotional control. And angry outburst is by no means automatic. The goal here is to enable you to fly over the hurricane without landing in it. Become an observer to situations rather than an unwilling participant.

Daily reflection using this labeling with a number system is vital to success. Breaking the chain of events will not occur automatically. SLOW THINGS DOWN, THINK IT THROUGH, and MAKE A BETTER CHOICE.. DECIIDE what to do, rather than let events dictate your reactions.

Change the way that you talk to yourself about these events both before, during, and after. Review and analyze after events to assess how well you did. This is important because it reinforces the key concept that these internal of events are not necessarily what really is going on. Your INTERPRETATION is the key here.

In addition to the mental changes required for anger control, there are physiological skills thatbaldwin make it easier. Calming the mind regularly through meditation, exercise, proper diet, and relaxation techniques will certainly help. The catch 22 here is that usually people who are prone to anger don’t have the discipline to engage in these practices on a regular basis. In future articles I’ll go into detail on strategies to calm the inpatient but for now we’ll just look at one strategy. Progressive relaxation where one that tenses each muscle and then relaxes it is often the best way for an inpatient person to learn to relax. Start either at your face or your toes and tense each muscle group as strongly as possible for 5 to 10 seconds each. Relax after, noticing the contrast in feeling. This feels good, relieves stress, teaches muscle control, and enables one to relax on demand. Breathing techniques take a little more patience but often creep their way into progressive relaxation. Diligent practice of progressive relaxation usually inadvertently teaches some level of breath control.

Like most behaviors that need to change, the key is PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! This must be pursued daily. Anger management classes generally last at least six weeks in duration. There is no magic here, you must be motivated to change. Focusing on the side benefits of anger management makes things a little easier. You’ll feel better physically, your family and friends will react more positively to you, and you will probably find that you get more of your needs met than you did when you were blowing up on a regular basis.

“You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished BY your anger.” —The Buddha

“If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape 100 days of sorrow.”-Chinese Proverb

P. S. Let me know if you’d like me to write more on this or any other subject. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org. Please follow this blog by signing up through the box to the right of this article.

I’ve Fallen Down, And I Can’t Get Up!

” I’ve fallen down, and I can’t get up!”

fallenThis is a tagline from a popular commercial that probably that you probably laughed at, and then felt bad because you found it funny. It is for a company that provides a service for people who are at medical risk for falling and other sudden problems that need help when there’s no one around. The commercial shows a woman lying on her side unable to get help after a fall in her home. This commercial has been around for over 10 years and it’s been effective because people remember it. It also is every person with an elderly parent living alone’s nightmare. Over time, however, it becomes something of a wake-up call for all of us. The reality is the older we get the more prone to injury related falls we are. Such falls as those depicted in the commercial are a serious medical risk to people over the age of 65.

Studies indicate that falls in people over 65 can be devastating. It is the number one cause of walkerinjury and injury related death in that age group. In the United States there are over 300,000 hip fractures annually in people over the age of 65. A quarter of those patients with hip fractures will die within one year and half will suffer a major decline in independence, requiring long-term residential care.

What causes these falls? A study by Simon Fraser University in Canada of 300 incidents occurring in Canadian nursing homes revealed some surprises. Victims usually believe that falls occurred because of tripping or slipping over something in the environment. Video cameras of the incidents showed that slipping or tripping accounted for approximately 20% of the falls. Much more common, was “incorrect transfer or shifting of body weight,” which accounted for 41% of the incidents. And most of these involved a body movement that caused the center of gravity to improperly shift while transferring to a bed, chair, or from one piece of furniture to another. Only 3% of falls occurred from tripping over or slipping on something.

Many believe that older persons cannot react quickly enough to a fall to brace themselves and break the fall. The Simon Fraser study showed that this was not the case either. 75% of the falls involved hand impact, indicating that victims could react quickly enough. The study concluded that upper body injuries are not from lack of reaction time but from lack of physical strength. In other words, there is not enough upper body strength to sufficiently break the fall.

old lady liftThere are a number of short-term and long-term solutions to the prevention of falls. Obvious short-term solutions involve checking the environments for hazards. Throw rugs, unstable surfaces, furniture that is either too high or too low, ice, stairs, etc. are among the more obvious. Less obvious and more long-term are careful attention to physical preparedness for the aging person. Osteoporosis is a major physical problem for the elderly. Although usually associated with women, it also is problematic for elderly males. Diets rich in calcium and vitamin D while helpful are not sufficient to prevent it. One of the most effective ways to prevent osteoporosis is through weight bearing exercise such as weight training, calisthenics, and any form of resistance exercise. 15 minutes or more at least three times a week will maintain bone health and strength as well as improve muscle tone and coordination. Walking alone is not enough as upper body strength is not sufficiently stimulated.


An overall program of wellness to combat age related problems should include both cardiovascular activities, weight bearing exercise, and exercise that improves coordination. toyamaWalking is probably the most convenient as it can be done virtually anywhere. Treadmill, exercise bikes, and other cardio fitness machines are good but walking tops them because of its convenience. Convenient activities are more likely to be done consistently, and are therefore more effective. Weight bearing exercises can be done anywhere as well. Too often people set a goal of “going to the gym” two or three times a week. It soon becomes an all or nothing thing where if they can’t get to the gym then they don’t exercise. Life usually gets in the way and  the 2 to 3 time per week plan fails. Home equipment, while helpful, is not necessary for a good in-home weight-bearing workout. Push-ups, dips between chairs, sit ups, and light dumbbell work done at home consistently is much better. Even going to the gym may not be productive. Most gym goers gravitate towards weight machines and exercise machines. Machines build strength but are not as effective for coordination as exercises where you move your body through space. A combination of strength training, cardio, and a mind-body activity such as yoga, tai chi, or karate is the ideal.

craneOf the simplest ways to develop coordination to protect from falls is the simple act of learning how to get off the floor. Google “corpse pose yoga” and start from that position. (Yeah, I think the name is creepy too.) Lie flat on your back on the floor and simply rise from the floor to a standing position. Get back on the floor and repeat, working up to sets of 10 or more varying the way that you rise as often as possible. You’d be amazed at how effective this simple activity can be. Highly effective, doesn’t cost a dime, and no equipment necessary. Any exercise where you are lying on the floor, moving through space, and using multiple muscle groups at the same time is perfect. Yoga or a simple routine of stretching where you alternate being on the floor and standing is best.

treeExercises that improve balance while challenging are easy to do. Use a chair to practice standing on one leg as part of a regular routine. Think yoga “tree pose” or karate “Crane stance” to get an idea of what you’re shooting for. Use a chair or wall for assistance, and build to the point where assistance is not necessary. Another highly effective easy to do, simple activity.

It’s never too late to incorporate some of these ideas into your exercise regimen. The best time to introduce these concepts is while young. Making these exercise principles part of your lifestyle increases the probability that they will become habits. The goal here is consistency, action, and enjoyment of body movement and awareness. Asian culture has numerous examples of successful aging due to lifestyle. (See also “Mind, Body, And Mr. Miyagi” January 31, 2014.) Functional, useful, fitness should be our goal. Exercise, if pursued in a mindful manner, can be productively done throughout the lifespan.

So next time you see that commercial maybe you’ll think a little bit about how to protect yourself from being in that situation. We all will get old but perhaps we can age at our own pace. Get started as soon as possible, NO EXCUSES!

“Growing older isn’t for the weak.”-Unknown

P. S. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org and let me know what you’d like me to write about. Like me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter.

Cause Or Effect? Your Choice

Many things in life are viewed by humans from the perspective of contrast and comparison. In order for us to make sense of events we need to compare the event to something we have already experienced. The human brain is wired towards pattern recognition, meaning we process things based on previous experiences and learning. Many of these processes occur quickly and automatically in a yin/yang, coffee/tea, paper/plastic, Ginger/Mary Ann, manner so quickly that were not even aware that it is happening. We literally make hundreds of automatic mental choices unconsciously every day. These choices become habitual ways of thinking, effecting decisions and the quality of the life that we have.

controlOne of the most important conscious decisions that we make daily is called our Locus of Control. Locus of Control is the degree to which we believe we can control and have impact on our environment. When things happen in your life why do you think they occur? Are your successes and failures because of your actions or something in the environment? Are you a big believer in fate or luck? Do you believe that you can make your own luck and that fate is subject to interpretation? If you have an internal Locus of Control then you believe that you are responsible for most things that happen to you. If you have an external locus of control your probably a big believer in fate and luck. In simple terms it’s easier to understand these concepts if an internal locus of control is called living at “cause,” and an external locus of control is called living at “effect.” Are you creating causes in your life or are you waiting for the effect?

Consider the following statements: I didn’t get the job because my boss’s wife’s friend did. He has that great house because his parents left him a ton of money. She’s had a ton of plastic surgery. I could have those grades too if all I did was study. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. It’s who you know, not what you know. All of these are examples of an internal locus of control, or living at effect. Do you see the pattern?

The distinction between these two life philosophies is important for all of us to recognize. A significant question for self-exploration is, “What is the degree to which I believe I can impact and control my environment?” There are many reasons why a person would prefer one thought process over the other. Those living at effect rarely feel like they have failed. Those living at effect do not have to take responsibility for failure because their thought process blames somebody else or situations out of their personal control. Those living at cause who fail accept responsibility for desired outcomes and thus bear some responsibility if failure occurs.All humans strive in varying degrees to control and master themselves and their environments. Those that are living life at cause are seeking to gain control either consciously or unconsciously. Those that are living at effect are relinquishing control, and their payoff is that it they do not have to accept responsibility for failure. The control paradox for those living at effect is that while they need some degree of control they don’t believe that they can have it.

People often don’t truly want things that they claim they do. This occurs because of beliefs thatswitch they have about themselves. If we don’t think that we are worthy of the good job, great partner, great family, success etc., we will probably find ourselves acting in ways that sabotage our chances to have those things. And the irony of it all is that if one is living at effect then “it’s not my fault,” and there’s no personal responsibility.

When people realize where they are in the cause-effect continuum it can be pretty scary. There is often resistance, and excuses that emerge as defenses to protect a sense of self or deeply held beliefs about success, money, our looks, self-image, spirituality, and a host of other values we may not even be aware of. (See also “The Dangers Of Self Inflicted Head Butts” from January 27, 2014 from the Therapies section of this blog.)

So now that the cause or effect question has been answered, what can be done about it? As with virtually all behaviors and attitudes the first step is recognition. The second step is to examine and question the beliefs we have about our ability to impact events around us. Ask yourself more empowering questions and seek to find ways that situations can be controlled. Notice negative words such as can’t, never, and always that occur in your thinking process. Focus on what you could do and possibilities rather than your current perceptions. Psychotherapy can be helpful, but spending some time in thoughtful introspection can be an eye-opener. Writing out on paper can also clarify a lot. All good psychotherapy is really about empowerment and self-discovery. A lot of the self can be discovered in a quiet moment within notebook, a pen, and a willingness to delve into your deeper self and your true motivations.

elephantTake an honest look at the things that you say to yourself about what you possess and way you are in your life. Be honest. This is guaranteed to be scary but revealing. The goal here is to give you the ability to: “Accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Finding that difference allows us to live at cause. A little risky, but certainly more exciting.

P. S. Email me with feedback at john@mindbodycoach.org. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Let me know what you’d like more information about.

Ready, Fire, Aim!!

“Why did I do that?”

How often have you done something that you didn’t want to do and later questioned yourself for Homerdoing it? How often do you find yourself repeating some unproductive behavior that you don’t want to do, but find yourself doing it anyway? We sometimes think that some of the things we do are out of our control and occur out of any state of awareness. Such logic takes away our responsibilities for the things that we do and exonerates us from our role in what happens to us. The behavioral cliché, “Take responsibility,” replies to these situations. The first step in assuming responsibility is awareness.

triggerA trigger is anything that we are exposed to or feel internally that has the capability to compel us to action. A trigger can be external or internal. External triggers are often categorized as specific people, places, or things, they generate a reaction from us. Television commercials are calls to action created by advertising agencies with the intention of triggering us to purchase, drink, eat, drive, or consume a specific product. Alcohol commercials are probably the best examples. The purpose of a commercial is to provoke you to do something.”He drives me crazy!” “My mother still makes me feel like I’m 16 years old,” and “You’re making me angry,” are examples of people as external triggers.

Internal triggers are emotional states and private feelings that can cause us to act in nonproductive ways. Mad, sad, glad, confused, happy, etc. are all examples of feeling states that can be internal triggers. How often have you been angry at something in your work life and taken it out on somebody in your personal life? How much of the role does your self-esteem play in some of your negative behaviors? Internal triggers, while less obvious than external triggers, definitely play a role in many counter productive things that we do.

angerThe first step in gaining control of these automatic responses is awareness. Pick a behavior that you would like to work on. For example, if the behavior is anger then the first step would be to generate a list of internal and external triggers. People often find that there are patterns that emerge during this self-study. The second step is identifying how you think about the things surrounding the trigger. Notice the connection between how you think and how you feel about what is going on. It becomes easy to see the connection between thinking, feeling, and actions when doing this exercise. As you become more aware of your triggers through daily review, you’ll find that the chain of events will slow down when you are confronted with triggers in real-life.

If you are engaging in excessive eating or drinking behaviors it is important to identify triggers that lead to use. Most compulsive consumption behaviors occur mindlessly and are automatic. With something like alcohol for example, identifying the external and internal triggers can go a long way towards ending excessive drinking, or at least help get it under control. Again, be aware of the subtle nature that triggers play in situations like this. Remember in the late 1980s when everyone was shouting “It’s Miller time!? Great example of Madison Avenue making the end of the workday and external trigger.

A review of these Cognitive Behavioral Strategies is the subject of blog posts from January 6, 9, and 12 from 2014. This was a three-part series I wrote to explain and simplify cognitive behavioral therapy. The take home, news-you-can-use point is: the way we THINK, effects the way we FEEL, which effects the way we ACT, which leads to CONSEQUENCES! This is more memorable if broken down as:


This acronym is more easily remembered if mentally pronounced as one word” teefak.”  Keep it in mind throughout the day and notice how true it is.. Daily review and work on trigger identification is the first step in progress begins to be noted usually within the first week. A daily, 15 to 30 minute review, can bring major results. The first step is to:

1. Identify a behavior you wish to change. Be specific as possible with the behavior.Specificity leads to better outcomes.
2. Identify what triggers or provokes you to engage in the negative behavior. It’s helpful here to ask yourself honestly, “what excuses do I make for this behavior?”
3. Identify the chain of events by utilizing the teefak model. What are you thinking and feeling that lead you to the negative behavior?
4. Repeat, repeat, and repeat daily as a written exercise to reprogram your brain to make the corrections.
5. Be patient! It took you to this point in your life to develop these negative behaviors so logic should tell you that it is going to take a while.

Bottom line here is this: you have been inadvertently programmed through an interaction of the external environment and you are internal interpretations. You are now consciously, and systematically, reprogramming yourself to make better choices. In a nutshell, this is the gist of all cognitive behavioral therapeutic interventions. CBT is one of the most effective treatments for  substance abuse, anger management, anxiety, and depression. A coach or therapist is without doubt of great benefit, but there is a lot you can do on your own if you have the self-discipline to set aside 15 to 30 minutes per day to work on change. All it takes is a pen, notebook, a quiet place, and a desire to change.


Don’t go off half cocked!


“THINK!!!”-Winnie the Poohpoohthink


P. S. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org. Follow me on twitter and Facebook. Let me know if there’s any topics you’d like me to cover.

Congratulations! You’ve Failed!

There is no failure, just feedback.”-Anonymous

failure“Congratulations! You’ve failed!” Probably something you’ve never heard anyone tell you and certainly something you’ve probably never said to yourself. But when you think about it, failure is really the only way that learning can take place. Learning and the acquisition of new skills is much like stumbling through a dark room looking for something. We must fail in order to succeed. This is something that we probably never thought about his children, and something that prevents us from succeeding as adults. Fear of failure, and how we interpret and describe failures to ourselves, prevent us from enjoying new things and new experiences and robs us of a lot of opportunity and possibilities.

When you look at childhood, it is truly amazing what a child learns and their skill acquisition kid bikefrom birth to adolescence. All of us learned incredible things such as how to speak a language, how to walk, how to tie our shoes, ride a bike, play a musical instrument, hit a baseball, and so on. As children we did not have the inner critical voice that develops in us during adolescence. This “wee small voice” we carry inside was not clear at that time to prevent us from trying. We simply tried, failed, and kept trying. At the time, although we did not know it, we accepted failure as feedback and continued to plug away until we succeeded. Think about it, if you were to take on as an adult some of the complex tasks you took on as a child would you succeed? Is probably more likely that that inner voice would hold you back with statements like “I’m not good at that,” or “that’s too difficult,” or “there’s no way I could ever do that.”

Although developmental psychologists recognize that there is a developmental window of opportunity for requiring certain skills, it is debatable as to where that window closes. For example, language acquisition and mathematical skills are best learned as early as possible. Anything requiring manual dexterity is also best learned while the brain is developing. Despite this, there are potentially hundreds of other things that we as adults could learn to do and enjoy if we ignore the voice of the inner critic. Think about it, if you thought as a child the way you think now you might be sitting on your parents kitchen floor, refusing to walk because it is simply “too hard!”diaper

The expression, “There is no failure, just feedback,” is a great one to keep in mind and repeat to yourself when learning new skills or working on complicated tasks. It tends to shut down the inner voice, the “Yeah but” guy that many of us have inside our head. (See also “The Dangers of Self Inflicted Head Butts” from the Therapies section to the right of this blog post.) It’s important that as adults we maintain a more logical rather than emotional state of mind when learning new skills. To not take on new challenges as an adult is to deny ourselves the joy of accomplishment, self-discovery, and success that we reveled in as children. One of the great joys of childhood is learning what we are capable of. As adults we all would do well to get back to that positive state of mind and self fulfillment.

Probably the most important factor that separates successful people from those that fail is the way that successful people think. High achievers do not accept failure easily. Thomas Edison, for example, estimates that he failed as many as 1000 times or more before successfully inventing the incandescent lightbulb. His thought process was, “I haven’t failed, I’ve discovered 10,000 ways to not make a lightbulb.” Stories of financial geniuses often have a rags to riches to rags to riches slant to them. Successful people focus more on the solution rather than the problem. The super achievers process “failure” as feedback and make adjustments as they work their way towards success. They have different mental wiring than most of us and as a result achieve and have more than most of us.
One of the most difficult challenges for people in sales is something called the “Cold Call.” These are phone calls where a salesperson makes unsolicited contact with a potential customer. Because such calls are unsolicited, the salesperson gets a high percentage of people that hang up on them and people in sales will tell you that cold calls are very difficult to do because the hang up feels like a failure. To cope with this some companies have a policy where new salespeople are encouraged to get as many hangups/”failures” as possible every day. New salespeople actually compete to see who can fail the most! The positive outcome of this is that the failure does not stop the process-in other words what would normally be be perceived as failure is simply a part of the process of making another call. The salesperson becomes more focused on making the next call rather than the last failure. This keeps the salesperson moving forward in the process an it becomes a numbers game. The more failures they receive, the closer they get to a successful sale.

Modeling the behavior of successful people can lead to attaining their results. Doing what they do, while certainly beneficial, is not the whole story. The most important factor is to THINK THE WAY THEY THINK! When learning a new task imitate behaviors and if you initially fail CHANGE THE WAY YOU ARE THINKING! Failure, if you think about it, is a self imposed term for many things that we attempt. As adults, in many things that we attempt, we often bail out at the first sign of difficulty. We quit far too soon in many new tasks that we take on.

It’s also important to be more process orientated with some new things we take on. For example, if you are taking a yoga class for the first time don’t compare yourself to others in the class that have been practicing for years. If taking up a musical instrument or some other complex activity set small subgoals for yourself. Look for small, incremental improvements. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment and failure. Be realistic, and have fun with it. If working towards some business, career, or financial goal be focused on solutions rather than problems. Keep “there’s no failure just feedback,” in mind and don’t be quick to label anything as a failure too soon.

RooseveltNext time you’re taking on a new task or challenge and feel you are getting nowhere, stop, think, and refocus. Remember some of the information here and ask yourself more empowering questions. Change the “why” to a “how.” Don’t ask “WHY” can’t do this? Ask “HOW” can I do this? This presupposes that success is possible.

“It ain’t over till it’s over”-Lawrence Berra

P. S. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org. Follow me at Twitter and Facebook. Give me feedback and let me know of topics you’re interested in.

I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues

depressed guyDepression is one of the greatest health risks in the United States today. The Center for Disease Control estimates that one in 10 Americans meet criteria for major depressive disorder and 80% of those afflicted receive no treatment. States with the highest rates of depression also have the highest rates of obesity, heart disease, stroke, sleep disorders, lack of education, and have less access to medical care. Depression is most prevalent in people ages 45 to 64 and is twice as likely to afflict women than men.

There is, however, hope in the treatment of depression. Up to 80% of all cases of depression can be effectively treated with brief psychotherapy and antidepressant medications. Greater awareness is necessary to combat this debilitating illness. Many people believe that depression can be pushed through and ignored. “If only he’d suck it up, and stop complaining, and just do it, he’d be fine.” In cases of depression this just simply is not the case.

As with most diseases, early recognition and prevention are critical. Most people who suffer from depression have no idea when it is likely to occur, or what their warning signs are. Knowing which life events and environmental stressors are likely to trigger a depressive episode is helpful. I often ask my clients to sit down and write out a brief history of their depressive episodes. What people often find is that there is a pattern to their episodes, and with a little work there can be some predictability. For example, some may find that certain times of the year are the most difficult. Others do not do well with interpersonal setbacks, relationship difficulties, and life events such as death, which test their spirituality. This information is useful if one is to prevent or cope with depressive episodes, and it can help keep a depressive episode from becoming a full-blown case of major depression.

wellnessA program of overall wellness is the greatest insulator for all issues that test our physical and mental health. Awareness of the mind body connection is important to understand. Thinking negative thoughts can create difficulty for the depression prone person. Awareness of this should be monitored, even in times when depression is absent. Good treatment increases awareness of the habitual ways that people talk to themselves about themselves and events in their lives. Challenging these dysfunctional thoughts and making them more realistic is important. (See Therapies from the Categories section to the right of this post.)

It is imperative that when one begins to find themselves slipping into negative thought patterns that they act immediately and systematically to get things under control. Starting the day with a routine that includes physical as well as mental rituals is beneficial. Most depressed people find that depression is worse first thing in the morning and tends to diminish if they just get started. Upon awakening, I asked clients to IMMEDIATELY identify either in writing or at least mentally what they are grateful for. Questions like: What am I grateful for? What am I happy about? Who am I happy for? What am I looking forward to? Who loves me, and who do I love? go a long way towards getting the day off to a good start.

A structured routine of positive BEHAVIORS is also critical. It is necessary to GET IN MOTION as soon as possiblebike so as to prevent negative thoughts from creating inertia. Lack of action is immediately reinforcing to a depressed person and tends to create more of the same. Depression tends to “spiral,” and it is vital that this downward spiral be nipped in the bud as soon as possible. Too much thinking and analyzing, especially first thing in the morning, can throw off the whole day and the immediately reinforcing nature of this tends to carry over into subsequent days.

phoneEveryone, even those who don’t think they are prone to depression, should have an idea of what they can do to improve their moods. Pay attention to things that make you happy and have the power to change your mood quickly and definitely. For example, what music tends to put you in a good mood? What thoughts? What people can you call or contact who have the ability to make you feel good about yourself and your life? What inspirational quotes get you fired up? Anything from Jack Dempsey to the Dalai Lama, makes no difference as long as it improves your mood. Pets are great for this. Are you a cat person or a dog person? The questions in this paragraph might appear trivial, but trust me, they’re not. Having an arsenal of “go to strategies,” is important if you struggle with depression. Knowing when to attack depression, and attack it early, is key.

therapyIt is important to distinguish some variations within the spectrum of emotions which we call depression. Major depression, A K A clinical depression, is physically as well as mentally debilitating and is potentially life-threatening. People who suffer with major depression may need a more comprehensive plan to keep it at bay. Studies show that for people with major depression the best treatment is a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy in combination with medications. Those suffering from major depression may need cognitive behavioral psychotherapy and the services of a psychiatrist. At the other end of the spectrum is varieties of low grade depression such as adjustment disorders which result from environmental and situational setbacks, and an ongoing type of depression called dysthymia. A dysthymic person tends to plod through life not quite feeling fulfilled, but not dysfunctional. Regardless of the degree to which one is affected by depression, treatment is effective and works well. The important thing is to match the person and their coping style with the appropriate therapeutic intervention. And, there is a lot that can be done independent of professional treatment to keep depression from interrupting our quality of life.

As is the case with anxiety, depression can be very responsive to self help if not too severe. Understanding of cognitive behavioral therapeutic principles and use of appropriate strategies can avoid a lot of problems and misery. My favorite self-help books for coping with depression are “Breaking the Patterns of Depression,” by Michael Yapko and “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy,” by David Burns. Both instruct, in simple terms, how to integrate cognitive behavioral principles as part of your lifestyle. Both are available on Amazon.com and can be purchased through the link to the right of this article.

Depression is one of the, if not the most treatable-untreated health problem in America today. Treatment works, and works well, for most who suffer from depression. As with most illnesses, applied knowledge is power. If you suffer from depression, put together a comprehensive plan to combat it, and use the plan often, even when you’re not depressed. The plan is like exercise, you need to exercise often to remain fit. You need to implement a plan regularly if you are going to be ready when depression decides to interrupt your life.

Please share this article and this important information with someone you know who needs to hear it.

P.S. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org. Please subscribe to this blog, and follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

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