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Amor Fati : How To Live Life On Life’s Terms

“My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it… but love it.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

The nature of being human is to be a thinking, feeling, animal. We continually assess nietzsche187awhat is going on in our world, both internally and externally. We receive information, derive a feeling, and decide what it means to us. The meaning that we connect to these experiences shapes the context of our lives. What we love, hate, feel good about, feel bad about, worry about and fear, are all determined by the meaning that we attach to the experiences we have. Ultimately, we all must realize that we do not have much control over most of these things. This realization usually happens in early adolescence and often results in years, if not a lifetime, of running from both real and imagined pain.

This isn’t anything new. Mankind has been experiencing it since Adam bit the apple. Religion and philosophy were developed by humans to resolve the existential angst of the human condition. All religions and philosophical traditions ultimately teach the practice of acceptance. Religions invariably encourage prayer, a turning over of this pain to a higher power, thus relieving the person of the pain of carrying it. Many philosophies encourage a detached acceptance in an “it is what it is” fashion. In both cases the pain remains, albeit to a lesser degree. The pain remains because it is something that we cannot ultimately embrace.

Acceptance is hard and, for most people, impossible. Letting go of control is one of the most frightening feelings a human can have. But what if you could find joy and fulfillment through letting go? Friedrich Nietzsche, the 19th century German philosopher put it this way:

“My formula for human greatness is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not in the future, not in the past, not for all eternity. Not only to endure what is necessary, still less to conceal it — all idealism is falseness in the face of necessity — , but to love it…” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Amor Fati! To love and embrace your fate. Not easily done, and Frederick Nietzsche epictetus-5hardly sounds like a fun guy. Nietzsche is best known as the, “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” guy. Look a little deeper, and much of what he says makes sense. Nietzsche, and the Stoic philosophers before him, took acceptance to its deepest possible levels. The Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, put it this way:

“Do not seek to have events happen as you want them but instead want them to happen and your life will go well.” – Epictetus

From modern philosopher Eckhart Tolle:

” The acceptance of the unacceptable is the greatest source of grace in this world.” – Eckhart Tolle

The nature of acceptance, and the concept of amor fati is to accept, receive, and ultimately embrace, all that life has to offer you, the good, bad, and ugly. It teaches us that contentment, fulfillment, and purpose can only come by embracing, and even welcoming, all that life has to offer us. This need not be a pessimistic outlook, rather it is designed to make us fully appreciate the beauty and joy available to us during our rather short lifetime.

Being fully open to everything that life has to teach us is clearly an acquired skill, not something we are born with as the avoidance of what is painful and uncomfortable is natural. It is also the reason for almost all human suffering. Ultimately, life is going to do what life does. Learning to let go and accept that we are not in control can be liberating. It can also give us more joy in more meaning with the things that are in our control. Can there be any other way to enjoy a fulfilling life?

“I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who makes things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love ooenhenceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse those who accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all in all and on the whole: some day I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Live life on life’s terms. There really is no other logical choice.

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

The Straight Dope On Dopamine

“Dopamine is released when you accomplish something you set out to accomplish, when you cross something off your to do list, when you hit the goal. Dopamine makes us achievement machines, but we have to know we are making progress.” – Simon Sinek

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter released in the brain that is responsible for a number of motivated-man-720x480functions that makes human life worth living. Some of its more important functions are movement, behavior, cognition, attention, mood, and learning. Its most well-known, and probably most appreciated function, is its motivation, reward, and pleasure creating abilities. To put it quite simply, no dopamine, no fun.

Dopamine is produced in the ventral tegmental area of the midbrain. It is produced there, but it’s production does not happen independently without our cooperation. Dopamine mediates the pleasure centers of our brain. It is released during pleasurable activities and compels us to seek out more of that activity. It determines what we find satisfying, stimulating, and rewarding. It determines what we seek out, pursue, and how we feel when we ultimately find it. It compels humans to engage in some of life’s basic functions such as the pursuit of food and sex, creates motivation to strive, is the chemical basis for competition, reward, and that feeling of pleasure we get from the attainment of a goal. It’s what Mick Jagger was looking for in 1965 when he couldn’t get no satisfaction. It is the chemical basis for our fascination with sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll.

All animals, including humans, have some control over this chemical compulsion that dopamine creates. Left unbridled, dopamine can create a lot of problems for humans that other animals don’t have to worry about. Dopamine is the chemical incentive for a lot of human vices. It is the chemical behind love, which is good, but too much of it can lead to lust, adultery, and rape. It can lead one to seek out a satisfying and nutritious meal, but an excess may lead to food addiction, binge eating, and poor health. It can lead us to engage in physical activity that gives us a feeling of well-being, such as hiking or moderate exercise, but too much can lead to a desire to use addictive substances such as cocaine and heroin in order to get the same feeling faster and more intensely. Proper regulation of dopamine creates a life of achievement, satisfaction, reward and fulfillment. Misuse dopamine and you could find yourself in jail or a slave to addiction.

Dopamine also plays a role in cognition and memory. It is often activated by vision, as we often desire that which we see. It can determine what we focus on and can be a factor in compulsions such as gambling, pornography, Internet addiction, and even that compulsive need to check our iPhones hundreds of times during the day. Those little iPhone checks that many of us find difficult to stop are actually little hits of dopamine that we get multiple times during the day. The reward center of our brain is stimulated and compulsion is the result.

How can we learn to control and harness the benefits of this neurochemical to improve quality of our life? Since dopamine is associated with seeking and receiving kinds of behaviors, there is a lot a person can do to get the rewards that dopamine can offer. Unfortunately, it is far easier to improve dopamine levels with destructive behaviors than it is with healthy behaviors. You don’t have to resort to sex, drugs, or even rock ‘n roll in order to increase your levels of dopamine.

Get your diet and nutrition in order. Of all the chemicals that make up dopamine, none is more important than the tyrosine.Tyrosine, one of the building blocks of dopamine, is found in almonds, avocados, beef, bananas, chicken, chocolate, coffee, eggs, green tea, watermelon, and yogurt.

Engage in some dopamine building behaviors. Here are some simple tweaks to your lifestyle that can increase your dopamine levels:

⦁    Write things down and check them off as you accomplish them. Remember, dopamine is associated with seeking and receiving. By writing down a daily to do list, writing out your workout plan, writing out long and short-term goals, and checking these off as you attain them, you are working with your brain chemistry to not only increase motivation, but also to increase the intensity of your reward.
⦁    Be creative. Art, writing, cooking, home improvement projects etc. are all good examples of ways to increase your dopamine. Start with things you know you can do well and gradually increase the difficulty. As you do so you will build confidence, motivation, and self-satisfaction.
⦁    Engage in a daily routine of exercise. Don’t do the same exercise every day, change things up. Occasionally test yourself. Go for a new max dead lift, try to increase your personal best for push-ups, walk a little farther, run a little faster. Start small with these exercise goals and seek out goals that you are reasonably sure, but not certain, that you can achieve.
⦁    Listen to inspiring music. Whatever kind of music motivates you to get up and do something is what you should listen to. Many people find that different genres of music are useful for different reasons. Music is uplifting and inspiring and can be used as a way to regulate dopamine. In the ancient world armies frequently marched into battle to the sounds of trumpets. NFL games are punctuated with uplifting music at opening kickoff and after touchdowns. There is a reason that this is both inspiring and rewarding. Find ways to use different kinds of music for different purposes.
⦁    Avoid behaviors that are addictive. Avoid alcohol to excess and refrain from stimulant abuse from drugs such as cocaine. “Recreational” drug use can be the beginning of a dopamine depleted brain that will engage in high risk and often self-destructive behavior in order to feel some type of reward. Keep in mind that almost anything done to excess can be addictive. Be careful of how much “screen time” you engage in. Too much time pursuing stupid things on the Internet, online viewing of pornography, or mindless video gaming can ruin a person’s desire for real knowledge, real intimacy, or real life. Better to engage in real reality than virtual reality.
calendar⦁    Get a streak going. Counting off the number of days that you do something, crossing it off a list or a calendar, can build dopamine levels. Just be sure to start with something small and attainable, something that you are reasonably sure you can stick with. Crossing it off is a visual reminder that reinforces goal attainment. That satisfaction you receive in doing so is that dopamine hit that you crave.
⦁    Meditate. Meditation quiets the mind and eliminates the natural human tendency to over think things. While it may seem counterintuitive to seek a state of stillness in order to increase dopamine, it’s really not. When one can find satisfaction and reward from merely being, increased dopamine is easily attainable. Meditation can fit and well with getting a streak going. Don’t set yourself up by failure by thinking you’re going to do it for hours every day, set aside 5 to 10 minutes for starters. It’s more important to meditate a little every day, even if it’s for a few minutes, than to do with hourly once or twice a week.

So, that’s the straight dope on dopamine. Learn to harness the joys of this brain chemicalgronk and improve the quality of your life. Enjoy the journey, and reap the rewards!

“If you’re bored with life, if you don’t get up every morning with a burning desire to do things, you don’t have enough goals.” – Lou Holtz

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

Back To School: Why It’s Not Just For Kids

“To everything there is a season, and a time and purpose for everything under heaven.”-Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

September is here, and with Labor Day, Summer is unofficially over. Autumn can’t be far behind. Autumn, here in New England where I live, is one of the most eventful times of the year. The leaves have already begun to change, and nature is slowly and subtly beginning to do what it always does. Cooler mornings, changing sounds, later sunrises and earlier sunsets. Everything is changing, including us humans.

I’ve always associated Fall with two significant things in my life-school and football. As a FBNew Englander, I am a fan of the Patriots and, as a former player, cold induced aches and pains bring back memories of every tackle that probably were not quite as vicious as I recollect. The rest of the country may not be able to relate to the Patriots, but all Americans can relate to the anticipation and excitement of the beginning of school. I’m more aware of this excitement than most people. Eighteen plus years as a student and thirty-three as a high school teacher have conditioned me to react to September like a Pavlovian dog. The season starts with the back-to-school sales on clothing, stationery supplies, and accessories that every kid needs for school. Remember that lunchbox you got before third grade started? Those must have items that “all the kids have?” Remember the anticipation of meeting your new teacher and the excitement of learning new subjects, being exposed to new challenges, and participating in new activities?

“Life itself is your teacher, and you are in a constant state of learning.”-Bruce Lee

Most of us had a love/hate affair with school. We would never admit that we liked being there, and eagerly looked forward to the day when we would complete it. For some it was high school, others college undergraduate, and postgraduate for others. Our desire to complete our formal education need not be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The reality is that all humans have a fundamental need to learn, take on new challenges, stretch their intellectual and physical limits, and continue to grow. Even people who try not to be challenged by life will eventually find it challenging. Life happens, with both the good and bad, and, whether we know it or not, we are in a constant state of learning. The human intellect makes us, by definition, lifelong learners. Life can be more meaningful, and less painful, if it is accepted and embraced as one, continuous, educational experience.

When was the last time you consciously sought out some new things to learn? What’s the old guy schoollast foreign language you tried to learn? Musical instrument? Sport or exercise routine? Formal class that you took? Book that you read? Are there any things that you “wish I learned or studied years ago?” How often do you use the words “too late” and “too old now?” Formal education would have been a better experience for all of us if we could choose the subjects we studied and the extracurricular events that we participated in. As adults, we all have these options. With the right attitude, we can continue to grow and thrive right up to the day that we die. Medical science has redefined what aging means. Each of us needs to discover our own personal definition.

There are hundreds of things you can do and get involved in that can mimic that September excitement that you felt as a kid. Here’s a few ideas:

⦁ Find some new activities. Are you really “too old” for yoga, tai chi, martial arts, Pilates, ballroom dancing, or the gym? A visit to any places where these activities are practiced will show you that the answer is probably not. Adults of all ages participate in these activities, some well into their senior years.
⦁ Take a class in some activity, topic, or academic subject that always been interested in. Most states have pretty vibrant vocational school systems that hava hands-on activities that are useful, interesting, and fun. In some states, community colleges offer free tuition to citizens over a certain age. Many major universities such as Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, record their classroom lectures and make them available to the public online for free. You “attend” all the class lectures for a semester online through video. No test taking, no pressure, just access to interesting information and intellectual stimulation available when you are.
⦁ Make some new friends. One of the more exciting aspect of returning to school was who the “new kids” were. Finding out where they were from, what they like to do, what their favorite music was, and why they talked differently, was all part of your developing a social awareness that people were different. If you’re someone who finds it difficult to make new friends, new activities will acquaint you with people that you can size up for a while as you participate. Eventually, some of these same people will become friends in the same manner that your teammates did during high school athletics. No pressure, common activities and mutual interests can form the cornerstone of lifelong friendships.
⦁ Consider counseling, psychotherapy, or self-help activities. These activities are all too often associated with having problems or being “crazy.” They’re not exclusively for those going through some difficulties. They can be incredibly beneficial for everyone, giving us self-awareness, personal insight, and allowing us to come to terms with a lots of baggage that we all needlessly carry through life. I often compare this to looking under the hood of a car. Many of us superficially travel through life never taking a look at what drives us, motivates us, or inspires us. Looking under the hood occasionally is a good idea with any vehicle, including you.
⦁ Explore what you believe for some of life’s ultimate questions. If you are a follower of an organized religion, don’t be afraid to question it. If you have no organized religion, then what do you believe? Having some healthy doubts about what you believe is what separates true faith from indoctrination. Being curious about these ultimate questions can make life more meaningful.

Whether you’re heading off to first grade, or heading into the autumn of your years, Back-to-SchoolSeptember can be the best season of your life. There’s no sense trying to fight it, embrace it, learn from it, and enjoy it. You just may find that this acceptance is what life is really about.

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” – Albert Camus

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

Cognitive Behavioral Strategies For Improving Your Willpower

willpower – (noun)
1. the ability to control oneself and determine one’s actions
2. firmness of will

Most humans living in first world nations are control freaks, whether they admit it or not. AntWe become used to things happening when we want. Much of what we do is automated and preplanned. We set timers, alarm clocks, have notices buzz on our iPhones, and frequently can find ways around hard work. In most instances, we have control and mastery over our environment. Unfortunately, the last frontier of control for 21st century man is our ability to motivate and control ourselves and our actions. It would appear that willpower is the last remaining frontier for modern man.
I’m sure all of us can relate to being determined to do something and then not following through. Exercise routines, diet, and simple acts of self-discipline and denial can become overwhelming when confronted by a lack of willpower. Willpower is the secret sauce that separates successful, happy, and fit people from the rest of the pack. Some people are blessed in that they have enough willpower to attain their goals without a lot of thought. Others, not so much. Lack of willpower is one of those “if only,” thought processes that keeps us from attaining a lot of the things that we would like to have, be, and do. Research indicates that if you’re in that 90% bracket of people who feel they don’t have enough willpower, then you can create it. Willpower, like any other human behavior, can be improved through a systematic study of the relation between mind and body. Like they used to say about the Six Million Dollar man, “We can rebuild him.”

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a perfect strategy for you to use to improve your willpower, or even create some if you have absolutely none. Nobody has absolutely none, but at times it sure can feel that way. CBT trains mind and body to act in a more rational, realistic way. Proper thinking and correct behaviors are the critical factors in most things that humans do, and utilizing willpower is no different. The way we think and feel will determine what we do. Building willpower is a product of correcting maladaptive and ingrained thought processes and then acting in ways that we are consciously and thoughtfully choosing.

Here are some mindbody strategies that will get you going in the right direction:
1. Get enough sleep. It’s absolutely impossible exert any willpower over any aspect of your life if you are fatigued. Many people erroneously think that having willpower means to be able to function while sleep deprived. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most people believe that they can get by with less than eight hours, but very few can. Nothing erodes drive and willpower more quickly than being tired. Willpower is analogous to a muscle, it only has so much energy and strength that it can exert. Being sleep deprived is probably the number one reason that people do not have enough willpower. While there will be some variation from person to person about how much sleep is the optimal amount, shoot for eight hours. Virtually no one should get less than 6.5 hours per night, and for most people over 8.5 to 9 hours is too much.. Vince Lombardi was right, fatigue does make cowards of us all.

2. Keep yourself in good physical condition. When the body is not fit and strong, it sends Weightlifting-02signals to the brain indicating weakness and this sets off thoughts that reinforce powerlessness. The “I can’t” thoughts start and willpower evaporates quickly. If a body is fit and strong, the opposite tends to occur. Your body is the vehicle that carries you through life and the brain is the engine that drives it. It doesn’t work well if your mind and body are not in sync. A combination of adequate physical and mental energy is key. If you have a daily regimen of exercise that challenges you physically, then you are used to sucking it up and doing what you have to do despite not feeling like it. Your exercise routine doesn’t have to be a killer, but it should be enough to push you physically and mentally. If you’re used to doing this with an exercise routine, this will carry over to having willpower in other areas of your life. Your routine can be simple, but it must be a challenge for you.

3. Do some kind of meditation practice. Meditation teaches the brain to focus on specific things and maintain focus. Willpower is nothing more than a type of focus that you maintain on a specific task. As little as five minutes a day has been proven to yield positive changes in as little as eight weeks. And, if you are someone who struggles with the idea of meditating, there’s good news, the worse you are at it, the better it is for building your willpower. Start by finding a comfortable place to sit, set a timer for five minutes and focus on your breathing. When you get distracted return to your breathing, and when you get discouraged remember that the more difficult this is for you, the better it is for your willpower.

4. Maintain a well-balanced diet and be more aware of good nutrition. Excess simple sugar, carbohydrates, and too much alcohol can erode your willpower very quickly. Low blood sugar is the silent assassin that kills willpower and is the cause of mood swings. Your diet should be a combination of plant-based nutrition and good, clean, proteins in the form of lean meats, fish, and chicken. Vegetables are, for most adults, an underutilized source of good nutrition. That Danish and coffee mid-morning, or that continental breakfast, can be a willpower killer. That heavy lunch has the potential to wipe out your willpower for the rest of the day. Beware of what you consume.

5. Breathe, breathe, breathe! Fresh air is the most important, and least considered, thing that you consume. Be aware of your breathing and the quality of the air around you. Even if you work in an enclosed building in the middle of a congested city, there’s probably some place you can go during the day to gulp down some better quality air. An oxygenated brain is going to make better decisions and be more able to stick to the tasks before you.

6. Give yourself daily willpower challenges. Force yourself to do something every day that you want to do but just don’t feel like. It might be that phone call, it might be cleaning that filthy bathtub, it might be that exercise routine that you’ve been thinking about starting. It can be anything. Just do it! Afterwards to give yourself a pat on the back and acknowledge that you did something you didn’t feel like doing. Rinse and repeat as often as possible.

7. Don’t over think things. Too much thinking and intellectualizing kills willpower. If you are prone to a lack of willpower or procrastination, your brain will find a reason why you don’t have to or should do something. Be aware of analysis paralysis. George Patton said that a decent plan executed today is much better a perfect plan executed a week from now. General Patton was a man who knew a little something about willpower.

8. Plan ahead. Having a plan for how you will cope with those “I don’t feel like it” thoughts that you know you are going to have is important. The strongest force in nature is the desire to return to the way things were. Willpower is no different. You have to elevate your baseline of willpower by having a strategic and well thought out plan of attack. Plan ahead for how you will change your self talk, body language, and behavior to push through these moments of weakness and doubt. Positive visualization, where you see yourself in your mind’s eye doing the difficult thing, prepares you to do the right thing when doubt and weakness sets in. Be ready for it.

9. Practice delayed gratification. Learn to do the difficult things first and the easier things later. By tackling difficult and challenging tasks first, you make everything else easier. If you maintain a daily “to do” list, tackle the harder things first. This sets you up in a positive way to get the rest of the list accomplished, and subtly reinforces a self image of a person with a lot of willpower. Self-help author Brian Tracy says if you’ve got 3 frogs to kiss, start with the ugliest ones. Good advice for someone trying to build some willpower.

Willpower is the combination of mind, body, and spirit. If you weren’t blessed with it at birth112164_Kelly_Gneiting_world_record_holder, build it yourself. Diligent practice of these nine steps is not time-consuming, but it will dramatically improve your life.

“You cannot be disciplined in great things and undisciplined in small things.” – George S. Patton

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

Seussology 101 : Life Lessons From Dr. Seuss

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, was an American author and illustrator who sold more than seuss600 million books from 1927 to 1980. If you were a child during any of that era, or beyond, it’s likely you are familiar with his work. You probably read some of his books as a child, or at least had them read to you. (What child hasn’t had Green Eggs and Ham read to them?) His books were a smorgasbord of humorous words and silly phrases, nonsensical characters, and subtle, yet definite, life lessons. A lot of these lessons are lost on the target audience children up to the age of 10. The reality of Dr. Seuss is that he was a brilliant scholar, Dartmouth and Oxford University educated, and a philosopher in his own right. Maybe it’s time some of us adults reviewed a little Seussology to see some of the lessons that we may have missed the first time around.

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” – Dr. Seuss, Happy Birthday to You!

I’ve been a practicing psychotherapist, coach, and educator for over 30 years. If I had a nickel for every person I’ve known in these capacities who was not content with themselves I would probably be the richest man on the planet. Almost everyone who has emotional issues is not content with who they are or where they are in their life. Quite frequently, their problem stems from a lack of self-esteem and an unrealistic, negative, self image. They have lost their sense of purpose and their self-esteem. In most cases, the lack of self-esteem has been lost because of some long standing view that they are somehow less than other people. They’ve lost that sense of uniqueness, that all of us innately have. Therapy, counseling, and the work that we have to do as client and counselor is to restore that sense of uniqueness that Dr. Seuss is referring to in this quote. His words, although simplistic, are undoubtedly true.

“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.” – Dr. Seuss

Many of the problems that people have that become the focus of attention in counseling or coaching are due to the fact that many of us overthink things. In the confines of our own minds, things can get murky and confusing. Phrases like “Yeah, but…” “what if,” “I can’t,” and similar negative projections prevent us from not only succeeding, but often not even attempting a lot of things that, if we took a rational, logical approach, we would have a fairly high chance of succeeding. When you get inside the logic of a negative thinker, it becomes pretty obvious that they are their own worst enemy, imagining horrific, embarrassing, and often devastating events that virtually never happen, or if they do they are nowhere near as bad in reality as they were in the imagination. Paralysis analysis kills more dreams than virtually anything else. The doctor is right, sometimes the answers are quite simple.

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…” – Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

Often people who come into counseling or coaching have forgotten that they, and they alone, control their own destiny. True, many of them have suffered some very negative events in their lives, usually not of their own making. The challenge is to get them back in control of their own lives. It is a process rather than an event, but the critical realization is that they need to get back in touch with their own personal power. Like Seuss says, we are the ones who ultimately decide where we go with our lives and we are the only ones who can change. Suggestions will be made, undoubtedly, but ultimately every person has their own walk of life. As Seuss says, you will decide where you will go. Too many people live their lives passively, waiting for the right opportunity, the perfect situation, the perfect partner, or the planets to line up and miraculously give them what they are seeking from life. The doctor’s argument here is that it doesn’t work that way. Life doesn’t have a remote, if you don’t like it get up and change it yourself.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”- Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

thingA negative consequence of the information age is the tendency of people to sit back, observe the events, complain about them, and do nothing. There is so much news and information that it becomes very difficult for individuals to decide what to care about, which causes to support, which political and social organizations to get behind, and to take action on issues of importance. These same people often have a tendency to complain about these very same issues, all the while doing nothing. Caring and involvement are one of the ways that a human being can get more deeply involved in their life. Involvement leads to connections, connections lead to being a part of something that is greater than yourself. A life of purpose and connection is bound to be a more fulfilling one. The doctor thinks we should get more involved. Think about the things that are important to you. What are some of the ways that you can get more deeply involved in causes, events, and activities that are important to you? Take the doctor’s advice.

“You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So… get on your way!” – Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

How do you typically start your day? What are your morning rituals? Do they set you up for success, or do they start with a negative thought and things only get worse from there? One of the most important times of the day is those first 30 minutes after you wake. Naturally, people have different preferred styles of getting into their morning. Some are fortunate, and are “morning people” who wake up easily ready to take on the day and anything that it may bring. Others are slowburners who need to warm up before taking on the challenge of the next 16 to 18 hours. Regardless of which one you are, your thinking and self talk are a critical component in how you take on that day and ultimately what kind of day you have. Seuss’s morning pep talk, or some similar positive self talk is one way to set yourself up for success. What you say to yourself about what’s going on in your world is important to the day’s outcome, creating feelings of self efficacy and mastery. Each day there is some kind of “mountain” waiting to be scaled. Seuss’s suggesting tackling it with a “can do” attitude. There’s no other way to climb a mountain. Get on your way!

Dr. Seuss’s words are worth revisiting, holding hidden gems of advice for us adults. His philosophy of life can make you smile and just may make your life richer.

“So be sure when you step, Step with care and great tact. And remember that life’s A Great Balancing Act. Andblance will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed) Kid, you’ll move mountains.” – Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

Are You Ready For Some Football? : Use The Season To Get Into Shape

“Are you ready for some football!”- Hank Williams Jr.

Football season has finally arrived and, if you’re like me, it’s one of the most exciting times of the year. Where I live, people have been talking about it, thinking about it, 2541872100000578-2935356-image-m-5_1422833305358making predictions, and looking forward to it ever since the Boston Red Sox fell out of the pennant race. Football is the perfect sport for the American male, a whirlwind of activity, followed by seven days preparation before the next contest. Most men, even if they never put on pads or helmet, like to think of themselves as football players at heart. Some are, some were, and many remain in that mindset throughout their entire life. As Al Bundy said, “I didn’t go into the military, but I played high school football.”

During football season there is a tendency of a lot of males to identify with the athletes, the activity, the statistics,- everything football. Many are involved in fantasy football, vicariously managing their own little NFL franchises with draft picks, trades, statistics, and a lot of study and research making the season far more interesting. With seven days between games there’s a lot of time and build up towards the next weekends contests. During that time most men are extremely busy with work, family, and other obligations, but usually find the time to research and read about what’s going on in the NFL. Unfortunately, too many men forget to exercise, take care of their physical being, and remain physically active. Maybe fantasy football would be a little more healthy if more of us identified with the athletes themselves, rather than the coaches and general managers. A little more attention to physical preparation for that Sunday might make our lives a lot more healthy and richer.

Whether or not you’re involved in fantasy football, it is important to consider how your physical activity levels are likely to change during the fall months. It gets a little more difficult to remain active in most parts of the United States. Days get shorter, if you have a family, your kids are starting school, and if you’re a good parent-which I’m sure you are-your kids suck up a lot of your time. Something has to go, and usually it’s your exercise routine. Yeah, you may squeeze in a day or two at the gym here and there but if you’re honest and keeping track of things you’ll probably find that you are exercising a lot less than you probably should. There is a reason that many American males will put on approximately 5 to 10 pounds between the beginning of football season in the week after Super Bowl Sunday.

If you’re a typical guy, football brings out something very primal in you. It is a contest between two groups of guys who believe, on some level, that they are entering into ya-tittle_display_image_original_originalbattle together. The sport is filled with many militaristic analogies and you have to sacrifice a little blood and pain if you going to participate. It has, as many of us former players know, a physical cost attached to it. Most of us former players take a somewhat perverse pride in the aches, pains, pops, and crackles that we accumulated during our playing days. We write it off as the cost of participating in something that we loved and that we believe made us better men because of it. Too often, however, these aches and pains prevent us from getting enough exercise and participating in activities that would make us healthier.

If you don’t have an exercise routine right now, football season is a good time to start one. Start with the light stretching routine that you did when you were a player, and begin walking. Walking is your safest bet, along with some simple calisthenics or weight training if you’ve been out of action for a while. Once you build some muscle and consistency and have proven to yourself that you ready to get back into the routine of a regular exercise regimen, then you can consider joining a commercial gym. Joining a gym before you have shown yourself the resolve to stick with a program is a setup for failure, as not following through sets of a cycle of “I can’t,” and of course, the excuses will follow. Prove to yourself first that you are ready for a comeback. As my high school coach, “Scooch” Giagiari used to say, “You can’t fool the guy in the mirror.”

If you are currently exercising pretty regularly, then continuing with your routine is, of course, great idea. You may want to structure your week to coincide with the rhythms of 080408_FootballPractice02_t_w600_h1200a football game week. Lighter exercise early in the week, some pretty solid workouts midweek, with some serious challenges at least one day per week. These are days when you will push yourself a little bit more than usual, “game day” if you will. These are days where you will push yourself for some kind of max effort in whatever constitutes the basis of your exercise regime. For example, if you are walking or running as your main type of exercise, then go father or a little faster on those days. If you are doing calisthenics or weight training, then trying to increase the weight or the reps on these “game days.” Recording them is a must, as the goal is progress and improvement.

If you are not familiar with the latest in exercise science, this format makes sense. Research indicates, and common sense dictates that you can go hard all the time. Your body will do better by cycling “heavy days” and “light days.” Following a game week format allows you to recuperate between those game days. Your game day can be any day of the week, but you may want to consider a Saturday or Sunday, as you are unlikely to be able to fit it into your busy weekday schedule. For example, squeezing in a light workout on Wednesday because you are busy at work feels less defeating. Feeling a little flat on Monday is to be expected, so you just get in some kind of a light workout to stay active, maybe a brisk walk during your lunch hour, or 20 minutes of light stretching before you get into the shower in the morning. Following a game week format allows you to cycle hard and easy workouts in a way that will keep your body fresh and more capable of recuperation, something that is very important to all of us as we age. It also makes you less injury prone and allows you to work around some of those old injuries that occurred from your playing days. Hammering away at hard workouts day after day will cause those injuries to flare up and is a surefire way to derail the best laid plans of a former player to get back into shape. For an ex-football player, the name of the game is working around those bumps and bruises, sort of like intelligently “playing through” an injury.

“Athletes adjust.”- Coach Edward Buckley

If you are slightly injured or feel “questionable” before some of your scheduled workouts, still try to do something. Remember being injured as a player and having the coach require you to attend practice to watch anyway? Think of it that way. If your upper body is sore or injured, work your lower body with walking, weights,or biking – anything you can do without re-injuring yourself. Just get something in for continuity and consistency. This will build resilience and the metal toughness, doing wonders for your attitude and wellness. Remember when you were told football builds character? Well your actions can prove it to the man in the mirror.

“Just do your job!” – Bill Belichick

Yeah, I know, you’re a busy guy and can come up with a million excuses for skipping a workout. I bet you find hours on the weekend to watch games and spend a fair amount164799.5936070 of time researching for your fantasy team, reviewing stats, and BSing with your buddies about this upcoming week’s games. Remember the Herschel Walker stories of 1000 push-up, 1000 sit-up workout routines while watching TV? A little want-to and gravity and you’re good to go. If you’re a gym goer, adjust. Do something wherever you are.

Commit to yourself that you’ll do this during the upcoming season. It’s a safer way to get into or maintain conditioning than haphazard or occasional workouts because of the hard and easy day style. And don’t forget:

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” – Vince Lombardi

Hope your team has a great season.

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

What Ben Franklin Can Teach Us About Character

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”- Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, a brilliant, once Benin a generation personality whose influence lasted well beyond their lifetime. Franklin was a scientist, author, political theorist, inventor, diplomat, politician, and was the chairman of the Constitutional Convention, which authored the Constitution of the United States. In addition to these accomplishments he was the inventor of the lightning rod, an improved wood-burning stove, bifocals, and was the first postmaster general of the United States and created one of the nations first, free public libraries. A list of his accomplishments could easily fill this entire page.

To many Americans who grew up in the age of television and mass advertising campaigns however, Franklin has become something of a cartoonish character, used by corporations to sell insurance, promote fraternal organizations and political causes, and sell a host of products that never existed during his day. His image has become so iconic that we often forget that he was a real person who had far more important things that he could have sold us on.

Born into a working class family in Boston in 1706, Franklin’s life represents the quintessential American rags to riches story. One of the most brilliant minds in American history, Franklin never graduated from high school, dropping out of Boston Latin Academy at age 15. A voracious reader, virtually everything he learned was self taught, and he seldom forgot anything he read. He was also one of the first American self help and personal development authors, beginning his writing career at the age of 15 while writing anonymously for his brother’s newspaper. He wrote anonymously because no one, not even his brother, would take seriously the ideas of a 15-year-old. It was during the years from age 15 to his mid-20s were Franklin did most of his work on his personal development and developed most of his ideas on self-help.

Realizing at age 20 that he came from humble origins, Franklin set out to develop his own writingpersonal character through what he called his “Thirteen Virtues,” by which he attempted to live the rest of his life. These 13 virtues are worth repeating and can form the foundation for anyone’s personal development. The fact that they came from a 20-year-old shows the innate brilliance of Benjamin Franklin. He listed these 13 virtues in his autobiography, aptly titled The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin:
1. “Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.”
2. “Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.”
3. “Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.”
4. “Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.”
5. “Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.”
6. “Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.”
7. “Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.”
8. “Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.”
9. “Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.”
10.”Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.”
11.”Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.”
12.”Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.”
13.”Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.”

Franklin did not try to work on all these virtues at once, he would choose one per week and work exclusively on that, “leaving all others to their ordinary chance.” To record progress, he carried a small notebook with the virtues and when he found himself in violation of a precept, he placed a small dot in a column next to it. Over time he found the number of dots diminishing next to each one as he became more automatic in his positive behaviors and attitudes.

Franklin quite often fell short on these virtues, like many great men he had some pretty notable flaws. He was a womanizer and fell short as a husband and father on many occasions. He fathered an out of wedlock son, William, that he acknowledged only after he was born, and spent three years in Europe away from his wife Deborah. Deborah died in 1774. Franklin, “too busy” at the time, did not return until the following year. While living in France, he indulged in fine wines and food, growing into the portly persona that most of us know as Ben Franklin. Franklin admitted his faults and explained it this way, “Tho’ I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavour, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it.”

It Franklin lived today, undoubtedly the media would have a field day with his personal life. The secondary lesson in this is that we do not necessarily need to be perfect in order to strive for perfection. We do need to be willing to face our flaws, fears and imperfections when trying to improve our character. We are going to fall short, that’s inevitable. The realization of this should not deter us from trying to better our character and lead a more virtuous life. Maybe that’s the reason why so many of us enjoy sensationalized media stories about politicians’ and celebrities’ moral failings. Perhaps savoring their failings and shortcomings is a distraction from facing our own.

We are often told to dare great things, dream big, and shoot for the stars. Maybe we Ben_Franklin_510should apply the same logic to our character. What’s to be afraid of? After all, are we really going to find out anything that we didn’t already know anyway? As Franklin said, honesty is the best policy.

“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.”- Benjamin Franklin

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

Hedonic Adaptation: Why Some People Will Never Be Happy

“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.”- Abraham Lincoln

“I just want to be happy…” How often have you heard someone utter these words or even RTEmagicC_samba_1_txdam130200_0f08e7.jpgsaid them yourself? The pursuit of happiness is so important that it is mentioned in the American Declaration of Independence and is considered to be one of the “inalienable rights” that all Americans have. Few people ever attain lasting happiness and even if they do it may be almost impossible to hold onto. What makes happiness so elusive and what can be done to increase our potential to attain it?

The pursuit of happiness is not just something that is unique to 21st century living. Man has been chasing happiness ever since Adam took a bite out of that apple. During the time of ancient Greece and Rome, philosophers and sages pondered the question of how one can gain a measure of happiness and hang on to it for as long as possible. The pursuit of happiness is also a major focus of contemporary life as well as of modern social science. It appears that third century Greek philosophers and modern-day researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are in agreement on why happiness can be as difficult to grasp and hold onto as water.

Stoicism is a school of philosophy that was founded in the third century BC by an Athenian sophist named Zeno of Citium. The philosophy taught that humans experience “destructive emotions” when their thinking and desires are not in harmony with reality or virtue. To the Stoics, virtue meant living a life where a person’s behavior was in harmony with natural principles such as justice, fairness, kindness, and other pro-social values and behaviors. One became out of sync with virtuous living when they behaved in a way contrary to those values or desired something that was out of line with nature and what was possible. They were also in agreement with the researchers at the University of Pennsylvania that some people, no matter what they possess, won’t ever be truly happy or will have difficulty maintaining the emotional state which we refer to as happiness.

The ancient Stoics taught a principle that they called hedonic adaptation which explainedelvis why some, no matter what they gain in life, will return to a basic level of happiness. According to the theory, no amount of money, fame, nor possessions will allow a person to maintain the elevated level of happiness which comes along with these conditions. Unmet desires and expectations rise along with the acquisition of these improvements, quite quickly resulting in the loss of joyful emotions and a return to their original state of happiness. We’ve all heard stories of lottery winners who blow through millions of dollars and return to their prior financial condition, pro athletes who lose everything from poor decision-making, and celebrities who self-destruct. People prone to these situations are victims of hedonic adaptation. Like I saw on the bumper sticker the other day, “Never Enough.”

Martin Seligman is an American psychologist and educator who has studied the pursuit of happiness over the course of the last 20 years. He and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania School of Positive Psychology have done extensive research and concur with the Stoic idea of hedonic adaptation. Seligman proposes that people have a set point for happiness which they carried into adulthood. The setpoint is influenced by genetics, childhood events, a person’s successes and failures, and how they interpret and process their life experiences. The setpoint becomes their baseline potential for happiness. Seligman argues that all of us have a setpoint for happiness, just as we do for bodyweight. Unlike the Stoics however, Seligman believes that there are ways that a person can elevate this setpoint for happiness to avoid the inevitability of hedonic adaptation.

Seligman, author of numerous books on the subject, teaches a five letter mnemonic, PERMA, that provides guidelines for the adjustment of our setpoint for happiness. Here are Seligman’s five elements to well-being:
⦁ Positive emotion — Can only be assessed subjectively. What emotional states make you feel happy?
⦁ Engagement — Like positive emotion, can only be measured through subjective means. It occurs in the presence of a flow state where time seems to stand still and you are fully involved and absorbed in a meaningful emotional experience.
⦁ Relationships — The presence of friends, family, intimacy, or social connection, sort of like the John Donne “no man is an island” idea.
⦁ Meaning — Belonging to and serving something bigger than one’s self. For many, spirituality, religion, and transcendent experiences serve this purpose.
⦁ Achievement — Accomplishment that is pursued even when it brings no positive emotion, no meaning, and nothing in the way of positive relationships. This is in line with what the Stoics would call living a virtuous life.

Seligman’s research found that people are most happy when their beliefs and action are congruent. Happiness is not just a state of mental well-being, actions and behaviors matter. Satisfaction with life is more likely to occur when people are engaged in activities that they find absorbing, meaningful, and significant, putting them into what positive psychology refers to as a “flow state.” While in this emotional state, people are truly absorbed, time seems to stand still, and people find themselves so in the moment that anxiety, worry, and fears, temporarily cease to exist. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/find-flow/ ) In addition, people possess what Seligman called “signature strengths,” positive behaviors and activities that are sources of pride and self-esteem. People that are happier find ways to use this strength more often.

People who are happy also are more grateful than most of us. They instinctively cultivate a daily attitude of gratitude which becomes a constant focus of attention. Anyone can be grateful for the big things that life sends our way, but people who are happiest are grateful for even the smallest things and they are grateful more often. No need to wait until the last Thursday in November to be thankful for what comes our way. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/attitude-gratitude/ )

Happier people also tend toward altruism, and are more other orientated. They tend to be less self absorbed and derive pleasure from engaging in positive behaviors for the benefit of other people. While we can’t always control what we receive, we can control what we give. This creates a feeling of happiness, coming from a state of empowerment and doing something that is in our control. Research indicates that positive action for others is the greatest way for anyone to develop a sense of self-esteem and a positive self image. This goes hand-in-hand with true happiness. ( See also http://mindbodycoach.org/groucho-marx-syndrome-and-how-to-build-real-self-esteem/ )

The happiest people tend to place less emphasis on material possessions. Although they may have a lot of possessions, they value relationships and positive actions far more than their material wealth. A minimalist lifestyle is by no means a necessity for a happy life, scroogerich122111what is necessary is prioritizing those material things that give us happiness. There are many examples of wealthy people who find happiness and self-worth from sharing what they have with others. Bill Gates is a prime example, having quietly given away more than $28 billion through a charitable foundation he created to improve global health. For every Ebenezer Scrooge they are is a contrasting philanthropist who understands where true happiness comes from. For us folks of average means, being content with what we have is a key component of happiness. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/george-carlin-michelangelo-accumulation-stuff/ )

The bottom line on happiness appears to be this: happiness is an internal state which we create ourselves. It’s not guaranteed or granted to anyone. The Declaration of Independence mentions the right to the pursuit of happiness, not the right to happiness. We have the right to pursue happiness, but happiness itself is not guaranteed. Ancient philosophers and modern researchers are in agreement that happiness is for each individual to define, pursue, and ultimately attain. Happiness lies within the journey, not the destination.

“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.”- Socrates

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

Not Knowing And The Art Of Deception

“The only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing.”-Socrates

One of the most important things that separates the human species from other types of socratesmammals is our incredibly powerful and adaptable intellect. As young children, we all had an insatiable curiosity to know everything. (If you are a parent, then you have suffered through the at first cute, then later obnoxious “Why?” stage that your children went through right after the “terrible twos,” where the word “why?” was asked a couple dozen times a day.) You started school and for a while it was the greatest thing that ever happened to you, as your teachers had no choice but to provide answers to some of those questions that you had. But, alas, somewhere around fifth grade things got competitive, you began to learn things that you had no interest in, you began to become aware of your peers and what they thought of you. By seventh and eighth grade you became very concerned about how you looked to others, wanting to fit in and maintain a kind of cool and aloof persona, completely unaware that all of them felt exactly the same way. You slowly and subtly began to exaggerate when speaking about your abilities and possessions. It is one of the ways that most of us try to feel better about ourselves. We weren’t trying to deceive anybody and the outcome of most of these white lies were not harmful. We just wanted others to feel good about us and, as a result, feel better about ourselves.

A 2002 study conducted by Robert Feldman of the University of Massachusetts found that, on the average, people tell two or three lies in a typical 10 minute conversation. Subsequent studies show 90% of four-year-olds intuitively grasp the concept. Most of the subjects in the U-Mass study were in denial of their lying until confronted with videotaped evidence. Monitor your conversations for the next 24 hours notice how frequently you also exaggerate, embellish, or come up with an answer when you simply don’t have one. Also notice the number of times when “I don’t know” would have been a more appropriate answer.

My first career was as a high school history teacher. Early on in my teaching career I got el2008summer_voglerteacher-wsome great advice from one of the many mentors that I had at that time. He told me that if a student asked a question that I didn’t know the answer to- and as a 22 year old, right out of the box teacher, this was the case more often than not- that I should answer with, “You know what, I don’t know the answer to that. I’ll find out and get back to you.” I proceeded to do this despite the fact that it went against my instincts and appeared to be counter intuitive. After all I was the teacher and wasn’t I supposed to have all the answers? I found, over time, that it was some of the best advice that a teacher, or anyone else for that matter, could follow. It never failed that the next day when I started class by answering that question for a student from the previous day that I had created an interested student who liked my history class and subject because I gave an honest answer and the student and I developed a shared interest in some obscure, sometimes irrelevant, point of curiosity.

Studies indicate that when people lie, they are usually lying about meaningless and insignificant things in an attempt to be more interesting, tell a better story, or come across as more likable. Research indicates that 86% of people lie to their parents, 75% to friends, 73% to siblings, and 69% to spouses. A study done in Great Britain show that 30% of respondents lied about having seen the classic movie The Godfather, and, if you are someone who is involved in online dating, be aware that 90% of people lie in their profiles.

Fortunately, most of the fibs alluded to thus far fall into the “white lie” category, harming no one and, in some cases, even making someone else feel better about themselves or even boosting the self-esteem of the fibber. Perhaps the most serious lies that people tell themselves are those that are never even spoken. People often engage in self deception on a variety of topics that they think they should be fully informed about and an expert in, feeling sheepishly stupid about asking others for help or advice or even admitting to themselves that “I don’t know.”

“I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”- Plato

Plato, Socrates and a host of other brilliant minds throughout history were considered to be thoughtful and deep thinkers because they took the time to ponder carefully over questions that were posed or presented to them. They took their time to think things through and were willing to admit when they didn’t know. Thomas Edison claims to have failed over 1000 times in the development of the light bulb, the Wright brothers, both high school dropouts, crashed two planes before their successful flight, and Albert Einstein struggled in a traditional classroom setting. The reality is that people believed to possess that intangible which we call genius struggle like the rest of us. One of the things that makes them different is they know enough to know that they don’t know and, like many things that need to change, acknowledging a behavior is the first step towards changing it.

All too often poor decision-making is a result of making a too quick decision rather than admitting that we are not aware of all we need to know to make that decision a good one. How many times have you said to yourself, “If I knew now what I knew then…”? Of course, we can not speed up the passage of time in the acquisition of knowledge, but we can perhaps slow things down a bit, admit that we don’t have the necessary information, and proceed from there. Think about how many decisions you feel pressured to make hastily because of some self imposed feeling of inadequacy or because you can’t admit to yourself that you just don’t know and don’t have all the answers. Slowing the decision-making process down and asking yourself some questions can lead you to make a better choice. Questions like:

 
⦁ Do I have all the information I need to make the best decision?
⦁ Is there someone or something that I should refer to for more clarity before deciding?
⦁ Have I done due diligence in as many areas as possible?

This entire process of self reflection may take a matter of moments or it may take a matter of days, depending on the kind of decision and the time frame that your answer requires. There will, however, come a time with many of life’s questions were you simply have to make a decision and stick with it. I’m not encouraging you to be a tire kicker, I am suggesting that all this probably could make better choices if we slowed the decision-making process down and admitted that we did not have all the answers. Once you have answered the questions satisfactorily, take that leap of faith, burn the boats, and take some action. Don’t look back or second-guess yourself. Very often a new choice or important decision takes some time to get used to and get comfortable with. If you’ve done your homework before you decided, then there is no reason to “woulda, coulda, or shoulda.” You made the best decision you could have with the information that you had at that time. People often surprise themselves when they push forward despite their reservations after a decision has been thoughtfully made.

But what about those white lies that many of us tell routinely? These kind of lies are essentially harmless, but it does make sense to know what our motivation is. The first step is noticing how frequently exaggerations, hyperbole, or embellishment enters into our conversations. Some questions to ask yourself are:
⦁ Who am I trying to impress with this white lie, the listener or me? If the answer is little-white-lies-we-tell-each-otheryourself, then take a good look at why you feel you are lacking in a certain area
⦁ Is there any harm to anyone else because of this white lie? If there is then the lie probably does not belong in your conversation regardless of its color.
⦁ Does this white lie make somebody else feel better about themselves, perhaps raising their self esteem? If it does, then it’s probably okay and maybe it’s even the right thing to do. It certainly is a good idea to agree with your buddy from work that you think his new girlfriend is gorgeous, or that your wife’s new hairstyle looks great, and of course that new dress doesn’t make her look fat. These are definitely times where, “I don’t know, but I’ll get back to you,” are not the best ways to win friends and influence people.

Knowing enough to know that you don’t know can be complicated, but can save you a lot of aggravation. Taking a little time before making significant decisions and recognizing when you exaggerate during conversations can make your life a little more stress free and even a little more interesting.

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” – Abraham Lincoln

John

P. S. If you found this article helpful, you may benefit from some personalized mindbody coaching. Contact me at http://mindbodycoach.org/contact-us/ if interested in online mindbody coaching. Please check out my Products page through the link at the top of this post.. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and social media. Email me with questions at john@mindbodycoach.org

Oval Office Blues: What Some Overcame To Be The President Of The United States

“Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”- Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Next year is an election year, candidates from both political parties are beginning to throw2016 their hats into the ring, subjecting themselves to incredible public scrutiny and, in some cases humiliation, for the chance at becoming the president of the United States. In previous generations, the electorate frequently voted for candidates that they knew little about, taking their chances they had made the right pick. For the 2016 election that will be impossible. The media will subject the candidates to the most intensive inspection this side of the Westminster Dog Show. You might ask yourself; Who would subject themselves to this? Why would someone do this to themselves? What kind of person would think they had the type of ability to handle such a daunting task? You might even believe that a person would have to have something wrong with them to even consider being the President of the United States. It seems that many historians and psychiatrists agree with you.

A 2006 article in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease conducted an in-depth study of the first 37 presidents of the United States. If you were absent that day, those are the presidents from George Washington to Richard Nixon. Material about each president was extracted from hundreds of sources and presented to experienced psychiatrists, each of which conducted an independent review of the correlation between behaviors, symptoms, and medical information and the source material to the DSM-IV criteria for mental disorders, a reference book which the psychiatric community uses to form a diagnosis and develop a course of treatment. This study concluded that eighteen (49%) of the Presidents met criteria suggesting a psychiatric disorder: depression (24%), anxiety (8%), bipolar disorder (8%), and alcohol abuse/dependence (8%) were the most common. In 10 instances (27%), a disorder was evident during presidential office, which in most cases probably impaired job performance.

The intention of this article is not to denigrate the character or mental capabilities of those that have held the Oval Office, it is rather the opposite. It takes incredible character, perseverance, persistence, and resilience to run for the presidency of the United States, let alone function in what is perhaps the most high pressure job on the planet. What makes the personalities of those that have become our chief executive different from the rest of us 9 to 5ers? While any job worth doing is going to present challenges, I have to think that those facing the President of the United States might be a little more daunting than what most of us struggle with. It also would seem that since so many presidents have struggled with emotional difficulties before and after obtaining the office that they just might be made out of sterner stuff than the rest of us.

Here’s some of the psychiatrists findings:

⦁ John Adams may have suffered from bipolar depression. Adams possessed incredible energy and was prone to long bouts isolative behavior and depression that he managed by walking as much as 6 miles per day. Hardly a fitness fanatic, his critics derisively referred to him as “His Rotundity” because of his overweight and portly appearance
⦁ Thomas Jefferson was virtually a social phobic. Much of what we know about Jefferson came from things that he wrote. He never gave a major speech as President of the United States, as he was incredibly shy in public and self-conscious about his rather high-pitched, almost effeminate voice. The words that we remember as coming from Thomas Jefferson, such as the Declaration of Independence, were those that were carefully penned as Jefferson worked in isolation.
⦁ James Madison exhibited behavior consistent with major depressive disorder. He struggled greatly with these emotions as he waged the very unpopular War of 1812.
⦁ John Quincy Adams struggled with depression as well as the challenge of being the son of one of our nation’s founding fathers, John Adams. A one term president, considered to be a failure at the time, he later became what most historians consider the most effective Secretary of State our nation ever had.
⦁ Franklin Pierce suffered from depression prior to taking office, suffered posttraumatic stress disorder from witnessing the death of his son who was killed after being struck by a train, and drank alcoholically during his one term in office.
⦁ Abraham Lincoln suffered from depression so severe that twice before he held office his friends had him on suicide watch, fearful that he would take his own life. His depression was so severe at times that it was accompanied by psychotic features.
⦁ Ulysses Grant suffered from social phobia, probably ADHD, and was an alcoholic. The successful periods of his life occurred during times when he had relative sobriety and was able to harness his potential.
⦁ James Garfield suffered from depression, possibly exacerbated by his service during the Civil War.
⦁ Rutherford B Hayes, like Garfield a Civil War veteran, suffered from episodes of depression consistent with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder.
⦁ Theodore Roosevelt showed signs of bipolar disorder. Of all the presidents analyzed, his trbehavior and lifestyle was the most obvious to diagnose. Prone to episodes of incredible and boundless energy, Roosevelt was also capable of plunging into weeks of deep and dark despair. Hypomanic at baseline, Roosevelt was able to parlay this disorder into one of the most charismatic leaders in the history of the Oval Office. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/teddy-roosevelt-personal-responsibility/ )
⦁ William Howard Taft suffered from sleep apnea to such a degree that he frequently fell asleep during staff meetings in mid conversation. Standing 5 foot 11 and weighing 350 pounds, he was prone to eating heavily while under stress, evidenced by his 80 pound weight loss in less than a year after he left the office.
⦁ Woodrow Wilson was prone to depression and suffered from generalized anxiety disorder. An academic, Wilson, much like Jefferson, found himself far more able to communicate in the written word than in speech.
⦁ Calvin Coolidge suffered from depressive symptoms, social phobia, and hypochondriasis. His tendency towards pithy comments and brief speeches is a well-known indicator of his social phobia. He engaged in a number of odd practices which he believed were good for his health, such as massaging handfuls of mayonnaise into his scalp daily.
⦁ Herbert Hoover, president when the Stock Market crashed in 1929 sparked the Great Depression, ironically showed signs of depression himself.
⦁ Dwight Eisenhower was diagnosed with depression by his personal physician in 1955 after a heart attack which he suffered while president. During that time is vice president, Richard Nixon, temporarily assume the office.
⦁ Lyndon Johnson suffered from bipolar disorder. Virtually all of the psychiatrists who participated in this study were in agreement that Johnson clearly had the diagnosis. Capable of incredible focus and energy, Johnson also could quite quickly slip into the depths of despair. His abrupt decision to not run for re-election in 1968 more than likely occurred at the beginning of a depressive episode.
⦁ Richard Nixon, if not an alcoholic, clearly drank problematically and alcoholically during the Watergate scandal which brought down his presidency. His all-night drinking episodes may have fueled the paranoid ideation that he displayed during the national outrage which questioned his integrity and character.
⦁ Bill Clinton, while not subject to the 2006 study, is thought by many mental health professionals to be someone who suffer from periods of hypomania that are consistent with a diagnosis of bipolar II. This may explain his boundless energy as well as some poor choices made in his personal life.
⦁ George W Bush, also not subject to the study, may have suffered from ADHD. This could explain his relative lack of success as a young man, his driving under the influence charges in his 20s, and occasional poor word selection when speaking in public. Rather than being ridiculed, he should be viewed as someone who overcame a lot of youthful indiscretions to become the president of the United States.

As Americans, we enjoy the privilege of criticizing and lampooning those that hold the highest political position the nation has. The 2006 Duke University cited above could be sarcastically viewed as an indictment of our electoral process and evidence of the American voting public’s being fooled by the electoral process. It is, however, more accurately a testament to the incredible resilience and resolve of the kind of person who overcomes incredible difficulties to attain and maintain lofty goals. Many of these presidents would not be electable today due to the overwhelming and microscopic scrutiny that current candidates go through on their way to the November elections. Would you vote for the formerly suicidal Abraham Lincoln, the manic Theodore Roosevelt, or for the frequently intoxicated Ulysses S Grant? Probably not. One can only imagine what the comedians of the modern era would have to say about the behavior of these great Americans.

The 2006 study did not come to any conclusions, they merely identified characteristics lincolnAmerican presidents had that indicated mental illness. Consider the character, resilience, and resolve of these men and what they overcame. Clearly these men were made out of stronger stuff than most of us. However you vote next year, whoever you decide to to support, consider these former presidents before you decide to to ridicule the opposition. The lives of these men are a reminder to all of us that, in many cases, the stigma and fears surrounding mental illness are quite often way overblown and exaggerated.

“When one side only of a story is heard and often repeated, the human mind becomes impressed with it insensibly.” – George Washington

John

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