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Rational Detachment : The Art Of Getting Out Of Your Own Way

“Attachment is the great fabricator of illusions; reality can be obtained only by someone who is detached. ” – Simone Weil

Humans are thinking, reasoning, and reacting beings that navigate through life through a complex interaction of reality, internal dialogue, and situational interpretation. We have capemotional existence far more complicated than that of other living creatures. We remember, we interpret, and we reminisce. We live our lives with one foot in the past and one foot in the future, often misinterpreting and making poor decisions in the present moment because of something that happened before, or something that we think may happen in the future. We miss a lot of enjoyment and pleasure because we are not focused on what is happening in the present. Most of us believe that we are somewhat clairvoyant, relying on feelings more than facts, and, since we are human, we are often wrong.

Emotional attachments to people, places, things, and events often get in the way of our acting in our best interests. We bring all of our previous experiences and our emotions into every decision that we make. This is unavoidable. Part of the nature of being human is having an ability to interpret, plan, and evaluate. With many things that we do, we evaluate our performance in the moment with a kind of “how am I doing?” mindset. We tend to over analyze, overthink, and misinterpret a lot of critical and often life shaping events. Then, with the rational separation of time and emotional distance, we sometimes find ourselves looking back at those moments with some regret and pain. We find ourselves longing for “the good old days,” those lost opportunities, and turns in the road of life that we wish we had taken. Why were they not taken? Quite possibly, if you’re honest, your emotions got in the way. You didn’t see the bigger picture as you were unable to separate your rational mind from your emotional mind.

As a practicing psychotherapist for the last 20 years, I’ve seen countless people come to me to try to obtain clarity between their emotional and their rational interpretation of some life event. More often than not, they are more focused on their emotions and feelings than what is actually happening. As they begin to speak out loud about this internal conflict, they often get clarity about what is the best course of action to take, if in fact one exists. As a person explains a complicated situation to an unbiased and neutral human being, their rational mind kicks in. It has to, as conversation cannot reflect a person’s internal turmoil. This is why all of us feel better after “talking it out, getting it off my chest, or speaking our piece.” This is the essence of rational detachment.

“Hindsight is twenty-twenty.” – Anonymous

mirrorIf you have ever spoiled a child, enabled a significant other, played it safe with finances or a job, or hung in with a bad relationship, then you know what it’s like to let your emotions run your life. On some level you knew that you were making a mistake, but you were so focused on the moment and how you felt at the time that you made a poor choice. This is the reason that the old adage rings true: hindsight is 20/20. Too bad you couldn’t have seen it then. Most people chalk it up to an “I didn’t know then what I know now” rationalization and move on-and make similar mistakes over and over again. It doesn’t have to be this way.

There are two concepts when utilizing rational detachment:

The word rational is defined as having a sound mind possessing a capacity to reason and think logically. Naturally, most intelligent human beings are rational people. The problem is that, when emotionally stressed, emotion gets in the way, clouds judgment, and prevents us from seeing the bigger picture options that might be available to us. Our emotions do not give us permission to do what our rational minds would tell us, if they could. People often know at the time that what they’re doing is probably not the best thing, but somehow it seems to be the safest and least stressful path to choose. We seek to spoil that child, enable that family member, avoid confrontation, prevent an awkward moment, or not take that  risk. We will avoid some pain, for a while, but a bigger problem will more than likely result down the road. The avoidance of pain is one of the most motivating factors for any living thing, but especially human beings. While other creatures are motivated to avoid only physical pain, humans are motivated to avoid emotional, imagined, and potential future pain as well. These are factors that can impede a rational mind and create a lot of bad decisions.


Detachment is a state of being objective, almost to the point of aloofness. The goal of being detached in using the rational detachment strategy is not to be uncaring or cold, rather it is to be stone cold objective. Remember, it is the emotional interpretation of what is happening, could happen, or you believe will happen when confronted with a challenging situation. Detachment is the 20/20 hindsight experienced in the present moment. We all have this ability, we are just not aware of how to use it for our own benefit.

For example, you probably have friends that you’ve given advice to, and, the advice was probably pretty sound. You gave your best friend advice about that terrible relationship they were in, advised your child about that problem at school, and you have an ability to recognize enabling behaviors in others quite clearly. You may even be the kind of person that friends gravitate to when it comes to seeking sound advice, a second opinion, or some guidance for a difficult personal matter. You give sound advice to all of them, but find it very difficult when it comes to advising yourself. Why? Why can’t you give yourself the same sound advice that you give others? The answer: you are not detached from the emotional baggage that goes into making good choices. It’s your baggage, which makes it heavy enough to cloud your judgement.

Here are some ways to rationally detach from the emotions that cloud your better judgment:

Get the story out. Usually, the emotions exist inside your mind. Clarity can best be gained by looking at the situation from an outsider’s perspective by telling the story to someone else or by writing the story out on paper. The goal of this kind of activity is to make the situation someone else’s rather than your own. Remember, if this was someone else’s problem you probably have great answers and insights to share. It doesn’t have to be any different just because the problem is yours. It’s often helpful to change the names of the characters. Substitute someone else’s name from your own and of those involved in the problem. View your “story” in the third person. This is the best way to detach from the emotions that will get in the way.

Review the story by visualizing both the potential negative outcomes and the positive outcomes. Look for patterns with past behavior is similar situations. Most people tend to make the same kind of choices when it comes to relationships, parenting, finances, and career decisions. Look for ways that you are repeating patterns that you are not okay with any longer. Reformulate the potential outcomes over and over again, detaching from the emotions by viewing the situation in the third person perspective. Visualize this as if it was a movie. Write down some note so you can literally see your story from the outside point of view.

When I deal with clients who make the same mistakes over and over again, I’ll say to them, “You’ve seen this movie before… ” Usually, they will enthusiastically responded with, chimp“Yeah, I have!,” and we begin to look at how to change the script. The combination of writing out the story in the third person, or even verbalizing the story in the third person out loud can create motivation to take a different course of action. When combined with appropriate visualization, the results can be amazing. You’ve always known what to do. Practice rational detachment and give yourself permission to do it.

“Detachment doesn’t mean avoiding things and going to Himalayas. It means doing what is necessary without drowning in it.” – Sumit Singh


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

Depression Hates A Moving Target : 7 Ways To Avoid Being Struck

“If you are in a bad mood go for a walk. If you are still in a bad mood go for another walk.” – Hippocrates

Depression is often referred to as “the common cold of mental health issues.” Instances of clinical depression are increasing at the rate of 20% per year and it has a ripple effect dpressdacross all aspects of a person’s physical, as well as mental, well-being. It has been linked to obesity, heart disease, stroke, sleep disorders, and just about any other problem that a human can have. It is often accompanied by anxiety, a mental health issue that one third of Americans report dealing with on a regular basis. Despite the advances in medical treatment in the 21st century, depression and anxiety are increasing at a faster rate than any time in human history. It is more prominent in developed nations than in Third World countries, with one third of the population of the Western world meeting the criteria for major depressive disorder at least once during their lifetime. Many do not seek treatment, despite the fact that 60 to 80% of cases of anxiety and depression can be effectively treated with brief and structured forms of psychotherapy and medication. Researchers are beginning to realize that it is even more preventable than it is curable.

Depression is often accompanied by feelings of overwhelm, helplessness, hopelessness, and a feeling of being powerless. It is a mind-body experience where an individual’s total sense of being and self perception are profoundly impacted. Mind and body work together to not only create the depressive symptoms, but work in tandem to keep an individual in the depressed condition for as long as possible. Once a person becomes overwhelmed by depression, it has to be worked through at a rate that varies from person to person. Many do not seek treatment and suicide is now the second leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 15 and 34. From 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among American ages 35 to 64 increased nearly 30 percent. The largest increases were among men in their fifties, with rates rising nearly 50 percent, to 30 per 100,000. It appears that the more advanced our society becomes, the greater the instances of depression. Declining emotional wellness and depression related deaths are becoming the silent epidemic of 21st century life. Why? How is this possible that with all this knowledge, technology, and creature comforts?


The answer may well be it is because of all this technology and creature comfort. Mankind has lived a very different lifestyle since the latter part of the 20th century. Walking, for example, is no longer a method of transportation, it is a form of exercise. We have become anesthetized to events such as the beginning of life, death, terminal illness, and the procurement of food, as we have allowed other institutions and corporations to handle these difficult things for us. We don’t do a lot of our own chores anymore, in fact the activity of mowing your lawn one day a week is considered a big deal. We are less involved in the activities of life and are often spectators in activities that our ancestors had to do for themselves. We watch a genre of entertainment called “Reality TV,” in which we revel in the routine activities of other people. In short, we don’t move, we are less active, less involved, and have become spectators and observers of our own lives.

caneYour great grandparents were not immune to depression, in fact depression in their day was quite serious. Fewer people suffered from depression, but when they did it was far more debilitating and dangerous. The modern irony is that depression is more treatable and preventable than ever, yet a greater percentage of people are suffering from it at any time in human history. And, when depression hits, most look for a quick fix in the form of a medication from their primary care doctor, receiving temporary relief that is not a permanent solution.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”-Benjamin Franklin

So, what are some ways to prevent depression?

  1. MOVE! Modern man does not move anywhere near enough to enhanced physical or mental well-being. The modern solution to this is to drive in a vehicle to a gym, sit on machines or exercise bikes for less than 30 minutes of actual physical activity, and return home to a sedentary lifestyle.
  2. Use activity to prevent, cope with, and keep at bay symptoms of depression. When a person is depressed, the natural tendency is to become less active and withdraw into the internal world of thoughts rather than the external world of action. A person tells themselves stories, mostly negative, which soon take on a life of their own. These negative stories tell a person why they are feeling like they do, and the depressed feelings reaffirm a negative reality. For many, the negative reality created in their mind becomes their “truth,” shaping their view of the world and their very existence.
  3. Understand that human beings are evolutionarily programmed to be physical beings and that lack of movement and exercise in our daily lives are invitations for symptoms of depression. The more active the lifestyle, the less the tendency towards depression. An active lifestyle does not only mean formal exercise, but it can be things that you “have to do,” such as housework, laundry, mowing your lawn, working around your house or apartment, or preparing your own meals. These kinds of activities of daily living, when done yourself, create a sense of control, purpose, and efficacy that is hard to match with an exercise session with your personal trainer. By all means do that formal exercise, but don’t define your physicality merely by that.
  4. Have a eat, sleep, and movement, routines. Waking and sleeping at regular times gives your mind and body a sense of control and self-mastery, feelings that are inconsistent with the symptoms of depression.
  5. Have a movement practice that you engage in daily. It doesn’t have to be the same activity every day, but something needs to be done daily. Simple activities like walking your dog, stretching on the floor, making your bed, or cleaning the kitchen can be mindful and purposeful activities in the prevention of depression. Supplementing these simple things with formal movement practices such as yoga, martial arts, tai chi, or dance can keep you feeling more physically capable of movement. Depression hates a moving target and if you feel capable of motion you are a little ahead of the game.
  6. Become aware of your own, personal, depression patterns. We all have them, but we don’t always recognize them. Dwelling on thoughts that are depressing, negative people or situations, or even time of year or seasons, can trigger an episode of depression. Prevention, for all its hopefulness, cannot deter depression. It can make an episode of depression less debilitating and shorter in duration. I often remind my clients to “Get out of your head and into your body.” Movement can be grounding for those that are anxious and empowering to those who are slipping into depression.
  7. Don’t hesitate to seek professional help when needed. When needed, counseling should be your first choice, rather than seeing your primary care physician. Your PCP is going to talk to you for approximately 20 minutes-if you’re lucky-and is likely to prescribe a medication and nothing else. The medication will work in the short term, but depression will soon return as your lifestyle and coping skills have not improved. With serious depression the most effective treatment is a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy supplemented with medication if necessary. I’ve written a number of QuickStart Guides on cognitive behavioral therapy that are available for instant download on Amazon.com:https://www.amazon.com/John-Sannicandro/e/B00LRJF0W6/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1474195380&sr=1-1 CBT can be both curative and preventive. It should be a life skill for anyone who hopes to prevent depression.


Remember the connection between inertia, negative thinking, and depression. We all have a tendency when depressed to be less physically active and more engrossed in our own thinking. We spend more time in our heads recollecting what we think happened, should have happened, and might happen. These kind of thinking patterns and personalization make depression our fault, often accompanied by feelings such as “I am a bad person,” or “my life is worthless and not living.” Deeply negative feelings are nurtured from the sense of powerlessness that inactivity creates. While the negative story may not entirely go away, it just may be something that you can learn to cope with.

Depression is much like the Buddhist tale of the Second Arrow. Life is the first arrow. We contortionist-archeryall will feel it’s sting from time to time. The first principle of Buddhism is that life is painful, and this pain is unavoidable, no one gets out alive. We are all going to suffer and feel bad from time to time. Depression is analogies to being struck by life’s second arrow. We feel bad about feeling bad, allowing ourselves to be struck by that second arrow of depression. While we may be struck by that second arrow, it need not be fatal.

“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again.” – L.R. Knost

Remember to keep moving.


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

Mental Models : Be Careful What You Build

“A mental model is an explanation of someone’s thought process about how something works in the real world. It is a representation of the surrounding world, the relationships between its various parts and a person’s intuitive perception about his or her own acts and their consequences. Mental models can help shape behaviour and set an approach to solving problems (akin to a personal algorithm) and doing tasks.” – From Wikipedia

As a child growing up in the 1960s, that golden age before computers, videogames, and too much technology, one of the great joys I had was building models. Airplanes, boats, boy_modeling-370x263aircraft carriers, and cars were common models that boys of my age built. The boxes depicted colorful and exciting pictures of planes and boats of World War II and the hottest cars of the decade. My mother would buy me about one per month, and I spent the next week or so tediously putting it together. In those days the directions inside were usually pretty accurate, and it was simply a matter of laying out the parts, matching them to the directions, and following directions meticulously, one step at a time. Just be sure to use enough, but not too much, glue!

Today directions that come in a box to build an item are seldom accurate. They usually written to generally follow the product that you have purchased that was built by some person being overworked in a foreign factory. It’s pretty common that some of the parts will be missing and that the directions will be a rough approximation of how that item will look when done. I often find myself so frustrated that I give up, call one of my adult sons on the phone and have them come by and help me put it together. Hard to believe that I was once that kid that put together the USS Enterprise in 1966.

As adults, whether we realize it or not, we are still model builders – mental models. A mental model is a internal representation, an expectation, of how something is going to play out in our lives. For example, today is Sunday and most people are building a mental model of how they believe their Monday is going to go. At the beginning of each day, usually while doing some mundane and routine task like brushing your teeth, shaving, or putting on makeup, you are mentally building a model, a plan, of what you expect will happen that day. As you are building this model you are visualizing, feeling emotions-both positive and negative-and setting yourself up for either success or failure. The emotions that you have going into that day become the devils that hide in the details and can either set you up for success or failure in the next 8 to 12 hours.

Human beings are thinking and planning animals. This is our most useful survival daydreame1370487424948mechanism, something that sets us apart from all other creatures on the planet. The problem is that our thoughts are often programmable and our decisions and feelings often result from the mental models that we have previously built rather than the events that are happening right in front of us. We react in the moment not to the moment itself, but to the mental models that we built earlier that day, while going through our morning routine, or daydreaming while at a traffic light.

The mental models that we build, much like the directions in that great item you bought that was made in Taiwan, are close approximations and not entirely accurate. Realizing this is important or you may inadvertently set yourself up for failure by building a negative mental model. If the mental model you’ve built is a negative one, you will begin to follow those negative directions as soon as you feel uncomfortable. Automatic pilot will kick in, you’ll start putting the parts together in a way that doesn’t fit, become overly frustrated, lose valuable time building it, or giving up altogether. The mental model that you built prior to any event can either set you up for success or failure.

How does one build better mental models? As with all complicated models (remember that aircraft carrier?) directions that are as accurate as possible are necessary. It’s also helpful if you are flexible and maybe have a “Plan B” set of directions in mind. Here are some suggestions of how to build better directions for those mental models you build:

1. Make sure you have the tools needed. Maybe you have a presentation that you are doing at work or school. Are you prepared? Do you have the necessary facts, tools, and research? Lay these out in the same manner that you would if you were building a model airplane. Do they match the images that you are visualizing?

2. Use visualization to your advantage. Realize that, when you visualize, you are predetermining what you will do at a future time. Positive visualization is more likely to allow you to function the way you would like to when confronted in real time. The human mind cannot tell the difference between that which is real and that which is imagined. When you visualize yourself succeeding, performing well, and completing tasks as you wish, you are rehearsing success. Your mind cannot tell the difference. If you doubt this, think about what happens when you have a nightmare. You wake up with a racing heart, anxious, in a bed covered with sweat. Why? Your brain has convinced your body that something horrible has happened. When you visualize failure as you build your mental model, you are setting yourself up for failure when that moment of doubt arises. Visualize success when you put your directions together.

3. Use more than one sensory modality to design your directions. A “to do” list, diagram, or visual can help you plan more graphically in advance. Just remember to be flexible when the time comes.

4. Prepare for the emotions that are likely to get in the way. Emotions are the saboteurs of success. Fear, doubt, and negative self appraisal are likely to pop up as you go through your day. These thoughts are most likely to be incorrect, but you may believe them because they are yours. We all like to think that we have such self-awareness that our thoughts about ourselves are accurate. They are not. Be careful not to believe your thinking, particularly if it is negative and is about your performance. Thoughts are not facts and only sometimes do they reflect reality. Prepare for these emotions in advance, realize that they are likely to pop up, and act the way you planned when you wrote your directions.

5. Plan to relax. When putting your mental directions together, build in moments where you pause, take a breath, and slow down. A brief pause of 3 to 5 seconds may seem like an eternity while under stress, but it just may be enough time to allow you to follow those directions accurately.

6. Build mental models often. Chances are you are doing this anyway, whether you realize it or not. Consciously building mental models on a regular basis will improve these skills, build confidence, and lead to more successful outcomes. Success builds upon success,  and confidence grows from the positive reinforcement of a plan coming together as you imagined and hoped.

Whether we realize it or not, we are all model builders. Consciously building the modelshannibalsmith that you desire may take a little time and effort, but you are doing it anyway. You’re a grown up now – and you don’t have to plead with your mother to buy them.

” I love it when a plan comes together.” – Colonel Hannibal Smith


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 Are You Thinking? : How Thoughts Control Your Life

“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.” – Henry David Thoreau

Humans are thinking, planning, and pondering animals that have survived because of this APEincredibly unique ability that we have to forecast the future and analyze ourselves. We don’t do things instinctively as other creatures do, rather, we do them in a calculated and planned manner. As we do these things we frequently and often automatically assess how are doing, how we look, how we think others are viewing us, and the potential outcomes of the actions that we are taking. This powerful ability is what enables us to survive and thrive as individual humans and as a species. It is also one of the greatest obstacle to human contentment, happiness, and serenity.

Our ability to think is what separates us from lower animals. Because we do not have the physical capability to adapt to our environment quickly, we have to plan ahead for any challenge that comes from our environment. When man first developed, he did not have the luxury of technology such as weather reports, calendars, and even basic needs such like food supply and a roof over his head. Over time, the human brain became wired to think ahead and be aware of catastrophic events that might occur, enabling man to prepare in advance for things that could destroy him, his family, and his tribe.

Thousands of years later, human evolution has developed the most sophisticated and complicated machine ever created – the human mind. It is estimated that the average person has between 40,000 and 60,000 thoughts per day. These thoughts provide an ongoing, running commentary on everything that goes on externally and internally that crosses into a person’s field of awareness. It also assesses what might happen, did happen, and should happen. This incredible process creates a belief that we possess a unique, yet intangible, property that we call our mind. We also believe that this mind is our essence, our very being, and who we are. We are constantly evaluating, planning, and perseverating over these thousands of thoughts each day that both define us and our world.

Studies have shown that the quality of our thoughts tends to be repetitive and consistent. In other words, we tend to loop the same thought patterns through our minds over and over and over again and again. Approximately 95% of these thoughts are repeated every day! We are truly creatures of habit, even when it comes to our internal representation of the world and ourselves. We do this intuitively because we are still alive. The mind thinks that these thoughts are necessary and that they are protective. More interesting than the repetition of thought is that on average 80% of these thoughts are negative. These thoughts, which originally developed in order to protect us from natural disaster and catastrophic events, are the ones that sabotage goals, lower self-esteem, ruin relationships, and suck the joy out of life for modern man. Literally 80% of our waking thoughts have the potential to create doom and gloom.

MRI imaging has proven that negative thoughts have a more powerful and lasting impact on the brain then positive ones. They stimulate areas of the brain that create depression and anxiety. These emotions frequently result from thoughts that dwell on regrets from the past and doubts about the future. Positive thoughts create brain chemicals that set off an intense, yet brief, surge of positive emotions such as happiness, contentment, and excitement. Unfortunately, effects from these positive emotions are fleeting and must be replenished frequently.

Recent research in the field of Positive Psychology seem to indicate that some people have a higher capacity to hang on to these positive thoughts and experiences. We tend to view these people as optimists. Conversely, those that do not have capability to hang on to these positive experiences are our pessimists. Whether one is an optimist or a pessimist, both categories have the capability of choosing many of the 50,000 or so thoughts that run through their mind on a daily basis.

So how can one capture and contain these positive thoughts? Here are some ideas from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that work:

⦁ Notice and pay attention to your automatic thoughts. Most people discover that the lady-negative-thinkingmajority of every day thoughts are either useless or negative. The simple act of noticing a negative thought can be therapeutic in and of itself. It becomes virtually impossible to not change when you notice your own negativity. Probably the best way to notice the quality of your thoughts is to create a meditation practice. What you will find about the quality of your thoughts will be pretty amazing. Over a few days time you’ll notice patterns that consistently pop up.
⦁ Notice the patterns of self talk. Self talk is an internal, observing voice that provides a running commentary of virtually everything that you do. You’re probably aware that this voice has been with you ever since you’ve been able to think. The goal here is to become aware of how this voice impacts your beliefs about your ability to cope with the world, take risks, and attain goals. This inner voice, more than anything else, determines your level of functioning and relationship to the world.
⦁ Stay attuned to these thoughts as much as possible. Get comfortable with the being uncomfortable with your thinking. Most people will instinctively try to numb these thoughts with alcohol, drugs, food, or some other distracting activity. Keep in mind that you cannot change anything that you do not notice.
⦁ Question every negative thought that you have, asking yourself whether or not they are true, accurate, or even possible. Most negative thinkers can be pretty sarcastic and demanding of others who violate their sense of self. Question your own thinking in the same manner. Decide which thoughts are helpful and which thoughts are not. You’d never talk to somebody else the way you talk to yourself. Give yourself the same consideration you’d give to a loved one with your self talk.
⦁ Develop some lifestyle practices that minimize amount of thoughts that you have. A mindfulness practice is a great way to be fully present in a moment or activity. Use the search box of this blog for simple and easy ways to develop a regular practice.

Thoughts create our reality and our interpretation of reality determines our view of our life.Positive Becoming aware of the nature of our habitual thinking is the first step to deciding how we want our life to be. The ability to choose how we feel about our life is perhaps the most important way a human can adapt to the world.

“A man’s mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild; but whether cultivated or neglected, it must, and will, bring forth. If no useful seeds are put into it, then an abundance of useless weed seeds will fall therein, and will continue to produce their kind.” – James Allen, As a Man Thinketh

For some easy to understand help to change your negative thinking, refer to: http://mindbodycoach.org/products-2/


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

Embrace The Suck : Coping With Life’s Unsavory Moments

“Embrace the suck!”- Anonymous

We live in a very exciting time in human history. We have access to everything on the planet, or at least it seems that way. In developed nations, we have access to medical care that would have been science fiction as little as 50 years ago. Our phones have become our libraries, televisions, maps, calendars, calculators, and shopping malls. We have so much at our disposal that we feel we are enjoying a full and complete life. We talk about people “having it all,” but does anybody truly have all aspects of life in the 21st century?

Every once in a while something happens that in previous generations and times would have been a routine event. Some of these routine events would be absolutely disgusting to the typical 21st century resident of a developed nation. Just the other day there was a deerpicture on the Internet of a 14-year-old girl from Oklahoma who had shot a record-breaking, 16 point white tail buck deer on her father’s ranch. The picture was not on the Internet more than an hour when a protest movement from people who thought it was barbaric and disgusting began, and the whole story went viral within a few hours. While the 21st century has the luxury of being outraged, this would have been cause for celebration 150 years ago, meaning that a family would be able to consume meat as a source of protein throughout the upcoming winter. Ironically, many who were outraged and shared that image with their Facebook friends probably had a steak dinner that night, a fast food hamburger, or some type of animal based protein source themselves. What is it about actions like procuring your own meat that we find distasteful?

There are many things that modern man has the ability to pay someone else to do for baby-changingthem. Occasionally, an event passes your way that you have to deal with yourself. As a dad, you have to change your child’s diaper yourself, because your wife is not home. Or, you have to bandage up a gaping wound from a cut your child received on the playground and get her to the emergency room at the nearest hospital. Your toilet backs up, and your basement is filled with sewage. Your 13-year-old dog has been suffering for months and needs to be put down. If you’re honest with yourself, in most cases your immediate response is, “Who can I pay to do this for me?”

While life is inevitably going to throw a lot of things your way you have to deal with that are unsavory, disgusting, or even considered barbaric by modern standards, there are times when you can’t rely on someone else to do these things and the best course of action for you, family members, and love ones is to deal with it yourself. During times like this it is difficult for many of us because we have no personal frame of reference and no philosophical tradition, such as Buddhism or Stoicism for example, to draw strength from. When events like this happen the only course of action is to embrace the suck, meaning to literally embrace the difficulty facing you in the present, challenging, moment and do what needs to be done.

Earlier generations didn’t even have to think about this, they were conditioned by a lifetime of exposure to events that have become anesthetized by modern technology. When faced with this kind of a challenge, the critical element is not what we are doing at that moment, but how we think about and process those events. The expression, “embrace the suck,” is used frequently in the military in order to get soldiers to do things that most of us would be incapable of due to the way that we are acculturated in the modern world. The expression, three simple words, is consistent with Zen Buddhism, Stoicism, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Each of these points of view would argue that it is not the events themselves that are repugnant, but our interpretation of those events that are the critical component of how one handles them. Realistically, you have no right to be disgusted about the deer kill, unless you’re a vegetarian. You really haveyeller no right to be disgusted by that dirty diaper, unless you yourself have never filled one. And, I wonder if there would be as many dogs or pets in the developed world if we had to treat their medical needs ourselves and ultimately put them down at their end stage of life. (Remember being traumatized by the Disney film Old Yeller?)

Most of us don’t have the time, or maybe even the interest, to study philosophy or engage in cognitive behavioral therapy. We can, however, benefit from some simple strategies such as to remember to “embrace the suck” and just do what needs to be done at that time and in that situation. If we practice this philosophy regularly, such as on Monday morning when you don’t feel like going to work, or on weekends when you have a bunch of housework to do that you don’t feel like doing, or like making a difficult phone call that you’ve been putting off, then we build resilience that makes us more capable of dealing with bigger things in life when they come our way. Looking for times, places, and events when we literally have to “suck it up” and do what we have to do makes for a more resilient and hearty human being.

What would you have done if you lived in an earlier time in human history? Many people think that they never would’ve made it, that they would have rolled over and died of starvation because they were incapable of procuring their own food, slaughtering their own animals, and coping with horrific diseases. In reality, you probably would have been a lot more resilient than you would imagine, because you would be a product of the times and the challenges that you faced. Our capacity for resilience and mental toughness is largely determined by the environment in which we find ourselves. As a person living in a modern first world nation, one of life’s challenges is to build your own resilience by creating your own mental and physical challenges. Modern life just doesn’t give us enough of these naturally.

Remember this expression, “embrace the suck,” and use it often when there are things you must do that you don’t want to. Embracing these difficulties just might be the way that you embrace a more fulfilling life.

“Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.” – Seneca


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

Beyond Pills : Cognitive Behavioral Solutions For Insomnia

“The night is the hardest time to be alive and 4 AM knows all my secrets.”- Poppy Z. Brite

Insomnia is perhaps one of the most frustrating physical and mental experiences that a insomniahuman being can struggle with. It is estimated that as many as 30% of people struggle with it on a regular basis. The medical world defines it as a difficulty initiating sleep, difficulty maintaining sleep, waking up too early, and in some cases, non-restorative or poor quality of sleep. To meet the formal definition a person must meet the criteria at least three times per week for a duration of at least one month. Whether you meet the formal definition or not, I’m sure you’ve experienced it at some point in your life. Most do not seek out a formal medical intervention, opting for over-the-counter medications or simply gutting it out for a day or two until the symptoms pass.

Most people who suffer from insomnia will initially take some over-the-counter medication that contains diphenhydramine, an anti-histamine that has sedating qualities, is relatively safe and is highly effective. After a night or two however, its effects wear off and the frustrated insomniac turns to his primary care physician for a stronger pharmaceutical solution. The doctor, who does not have adequate time to do a full medical and psychiatric workup, will prescribed a stronger remedy such as a benzodiazepine or a sedative. These medications also work quite well and will work instantly, but they are not designed for long-term use as a sleep remedy. The individual then gets dependent on them and may suffer from daytime side effects such as drowsiness, poor concentration, and moodiness. In extreme cases, a person is more prone to falls, accidents, and difficulties driving motor vehicles. Long-term use of these medications can result in tolerance and dependence, characteristics of addiction and chemical dependence. Even natural remedies, such as melatonin and herbal teas, will lose their effectiveness over time.

Alcohol is often used as a self prescribed solution to insomnia. Use of alcohol alcfor sleep can actually become a cause of insomnia. Long-term use of alcohol causes a decrease in the quality of stage 3 and 4 sleep, the deepest and most restful sleep stages. It also suppresses the brain’s ability to produce REM sleep, the dream stage in which the brain is its most active and most creative. Alcohol, much like pharmaceuticals, works well initially, creating a tendency towards dependence. Over time, a person who relies on alcohol for sleep runs the risk of becoming dependent upon it, and, of course, some will combine this with pills, a prescription for disaster.

Over the past few years there have been numerous studies which have shown Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to be an effective, non-medical, alternative in the treatment of insomnia. A 2012 research study published in the medical journal BMC Family Practice proved CBT to be superior to medications in the treatment and management of insomnia. CBT strategies were compared to medications in the benzodiazepine, hypnotic, and sedative classes. CBT was proven to be equally effective in the short run. Over the long term, however, it was proven to be more effective, giving longer-lasting relief, while the pharmaceutical interventions lost their efficacy over time.

If you are someone who suffers from insomnia it is a good idea to get in touch with your primary care physician and consult with him or her about what steps you might take. If they suggests a sleep medication, then it’s probably a good idea to ask for some other, less invasive, solution. You may be referred to a sleep study, or a sleep specialist. In the meantime, there’s a lot you can do on your own utilizing cognitive behavioral therapy. Here are some CBT techniques have been shown to work:

Progressive muscle relaxation. Progressive muscle relaxation involves starting at one end of your body, either your head or your feet, and alternately tensing and relaxing those muscles. noticing the contrast of feelings between a tight muscle and a relaxed one. As you move up or down your body, tensing and relaxing, tensing and relaxing, your body becomes deeply relaxed and you will soon get a drifting kind of feeling conducive to sleep. This technique also works very well with people who experience muscle pain and lower levels of physical tension. Progressive muscle relaxation is best done flat on your back in bed while trying to sleep. If you suffer from low back pain, you may want to put a pillow underneath your knees to take the stress off your spine.
Meditation. If you meditate on a regular basis, then you know how to quiet your mind. Meditation before bed, or even better, while in bed, can help quiet your mind and prepare you for sleep. Meditation following progressive relaxation as mentioned above, is a great combination to prepare your mind and body for slumber.
Written exercises. Many people wake up at 2 AM, either replaying something from the writeprevious day or previewing something they have to do the next. Some brief writing before bed can help you put the previous day’s worries and concerns to rest, or set you up with a “to do” list for the next day. No need to worry or replay things in your mind because the invasive thoughts have been captured on paper. You can always refer to them the next day after you wake up from a sound sleep.
Stimulus control. This involves using your bedroom only for sleep, dressing, or sexual activity. You are conditioning yourself that going into the bedroom involves one of these three activities and nothing else. No computer, television, reading, or anything else takes place in the bedroom. You’ll learn to associate the bedroom with slumber, making sleeping easier.
Sleep hygiene. This involves making some needed lifestyle changes, eliminating or cutting down activities, behaviors, and the consumption of anything that has the ability to negatively impact your sleep. Cutting out caffeine after 3 PM, cutting down your consumption of alcohol, smoking, and eating too much before bedtime, all qualify as good hygiene. You also want to get into a routine of regular exercise, being sure not to exercise too close to bedtime.
Sleep environment improvement. This involves making your bedroom more conducive to sleep. Eliminating sources of light by window shades, unplugging computers, and shutting off televisions is all part of that. It has been shown that blue lights from iPads, computer screens, and smart phones contribute to insomnia, tricking the brain into thinking that it is daytime. You also want to have the temperature set in a way that is most comfortable for you. Generally speaking, the darker the room the better.
Paradoxical intention. This involves trying to stay awake rather than sleeping. The logic is that because you are forbidden to sleep, it becomes almost impossible not to. The secret to this strategy is that you are not allowed to worry about not sleeping. It has been proven in numerous studies that worrying about it actually makes sleep more difficult. The idea behind this strategy is to remain passively awake.
Biofeedback. No, you don’t need one of those machines with monitors and all those sticky things attached to your brain. Biofeedback simply is monitoring your body’s biological signs such as heart rate and breathing. You can simply use your heart rate or rate of respiration as a monitor. Slowing down your heart rate or your breathing is a great way to relax your body and allow sleep to do its thing. Using your breathing as a biofeedback device is a great skill to develop, as it allows you to relax to prepare for sleep, to handle stress, and to control your ability to do work and exercise. Breathing is always available as a biofeedback technique, and you could not stop it even if you wanted to. Learning to control your breathing can help you function better in virtually every area of your life, including sleep.

If you struggle with sleep on a regular basis, then cognitive behavioral therapy may need to be combined with medication initially. If you are an occasional victim of insomnia, then these lifestyle changes are certainly worth initiating. There are no negative side effects to any of these CBT skills and, whether you have insomnia or not, these are lifestyle changes that will be beneficial for you, in some cases bringing immediate, positive benefits. These sleepare not instant solutions, but are some changes to make as part of a comprehensive plan of physical and mental wellness.

“The best cure for insomnia is to get a lot of sleep.”- W.C. Fields




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

Controlling The Committee: Improving Your Self Talk For A More Fulfilling Life

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”- Albert Einstein

If you have ever experienced any level of anxiety, depression, or worry, then you areal probably aware of the role self talk plays in your perception of these emotions. All of us have voices in our heads that make running commentary as an almost constant stream of consciousness. The voices comment on what we should do, should have done, might do, or need to do next. Research indicates that the quality and content of this internal commentary plays a huge role in how we function in the world, the way we feel about ourselves, and our ability to navigate our day to day affairs. There also tends to be a consistent pattern to the content of most people’s self talk, with confident, successful people enjoying an ongoing positive pep talk while those who struggle are berated by a harsh and critical committee before, during, and after their every move.

Do you hear any of these from your committee?
“That was dumb.”
“I’m such a loser.”
“Life sucks.”
“I should have known.”
“There’s nothing I can do.”

If any of these sound familiar, then you may be one of those people who, unfortunately, has a committee running the show that does not have your best interest in mind, a negative team of bullies that cause you to experience self-doubt, hesitation, guilt, shame, and a lack of confidence. An unruly mob of nattering nabobs of negativity. Of course, you believe your committee, after all they have been running the show for some time and they are usually right, or at least it seems that way.

Where does this internal dialogue come from? As children growing up we all receive instructions from parents and teachers. Some of this stays with us for the rest of our lives and becomes part of our internal dialogue. Some of their instruction is helpful, creating morals and values. Some of the negative things we are told, however, can linger for years doing damage while after the initial damage was done. For example, that time your father told you you were stupid may continue to be the way that you still view yourself. That teacher or coach that told you you’d never amount to anything continues to tell you that today.That bully who teased you in middle school is still there and that boy who called you fatso freshmen year in high school is, after all these years, still doing damage to your psyche as part of your committee.

The first step in getting control of this unruly mob is to recognize the nature of your self talk. Spend a few days noticing what the committee tells you. What are they saying? What are you believing, how does this impact the way you feel about yourself, the choices you make, and the risks that you take with your life?

The second step is to begin to challenge your internal dialogue, learning to ask yourself micrphonesome questions that put these dysfunctional thoughts in perspective. A great question to ask yourself is, “Where’s the evidence?” Albert Ellis, one of the founders of cognitive behavioral therapy, used to tell his clients that they should question this negative self talk as if they were a prosecuting attorney in a court case. Really grill yourself on this. If you think that you are a failure, come up with a list of times in your life you have been successful as countering evidence. Zero in on words like always, never, seldom, and usually. Question these words in present evidence to the contrary. If need be, write these thoughts out or get a supportive friend, therapist, or coach to help you with it.

Another method that is very effective is to talk to yourself, about yourself, as if you were talking to a friend. I often tell my clients that, “You’d never talk to someone else as negatively as you would talk to yourself, would you?” Inevitably, they agree. Why would you inflict damage on yourself by negative self talk? Be supportive of the most important person in your life, YOU. Give yourself a supportive pep talk now and again. Initially, positive self talk will seem a little foolish and foreign to you. Don’t worry, do it anyway. It will soon become second nature.

Begin to think in shades of gray. For example, instead of viewing it as an event as all good, or all bad, think of it on a continuum of 0 to 100. That job interview wasn’t a total disaster, give yourself a score. For example, maybe it was in 85 on a scale of 0 to 100. That just might be good enough for you to obtain a job. By categorizing convention this way you are teaching yourself that everything is not “all good” or “all bad,” rather it is our thoughts that make them seem that way.

Get clear on what your words mean to you. For example, if you call yourself a “loser,” then define what a loser is. What do the words fat, stupid, dumb, and other self-deprecating words mean to you? You may find that these words don’t apply to you after all.

Try the survey method. Try polling a group of friends, or even acquaintances, and ask their opinion on some of the thoughts that you have. Of course, don’t use your name or make it personal unless you want to. You may find that some of your long held opinions may not necessarily be accurate, and maybe just that- your long-held opinions. You may find that your thinking patterns may be way out of mainstream thought.

Learn to blame something else or someone else occasionally. Yes, the cashier may, in fact, think you are ugly, but that’s not necessarily always the case. That sour look on his face may be because he just had a problem with previous customer, is having marital problems, or that just may be the way his face looks. The committee tells you that virtually everything is your fault. Realize that sometimes, and perhaps most of the time, these events in your world have absolutely nothing to do with you.

Learn to identify the role which your ego plays in your dysfunctional thinking. Most people think of ego as a self-centered and prideful part of a person’s personality. People who have a negative committee directing their lives also have an overdeveloped ego. The problem is, their ego is responsible for everything bad around them. Realize that you’re just not that special. You are nowhere near as bad as you think you are. You’re not worse than other people, you are average to above-average at minimum, and may just be a lot better than you realize. Face it, your ego makes you think you are worse than you actually are. Your ego is the chairman of that negative committee. Vote him out and elect a new one!

“Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”-William Shakespeare

Learning to identify and challenge your dysfunctional thinking patterns is a process, not an event. It does take time, but is not difficult to do. Cognitive behavioral therapy is designed to be a self study with carryover value almost immediately to many areas of your life. Give it an honest try and see if it gets the committee moving in the right direction.

If you found this article helpful, you may want to check out my e-books on Cognitive pointBehavioral Therapy for life improvement available here: http://mindbodycoach.org/products-2/ and also on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00LRJF0W6

“Cogito ergo sum. (I think, therefore I am.)” – René Descartes


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

Radical Acceptance: Facing Life On Life’s Terms

“Pain is not wrong. Reacting to pain as wrong initiates the trance of unworthiness. The moment we believe something is wrong, our world shrinks and we lose ourselves in the effort to combat the pain.” – Tara Brach

Most who embark on a life of self-improvement and personal development will run into the crossfit-wheelchair-hspuinevitable roadblock that is the first and most important principle of life:

“Life is painful.”- Buddhism’s First Noble Truth

No matter how hard we work on ourselves, how powerful our intentions are, what caring and loving things we do for others, life is inevitably going to give us something that we hadn’t bargained for that we are bound to find overwhelming. At those moments most people succumb to the inevitable “life sucks” mindset. Whatever the challenge is naturally creates a flood of negative thoughts and feelings. These feelings become engrained, depending on how intense the pain and suffering the life event evokes. Some people get more than their fair share of this type of pain, others not as much. It is, however, inevitable that everybody is going to have to cope with pain and suffering at different points of their lives. Illness, deaths, physical pain, the loss of jobs and relationships, and the declining capacity of the self due to aging are the suffering that all endure. The way that a person processes these events may hold the key to leading a happier and more fulfilling life.

It’s natural for humans to bond with others through difficult times. We visit the sick, attend funerals, and bring food to friends and family when they are suffering. It’s inevitable that someone is going to offer some kind of consolation, well intentioned, but definitely off the mark.”It’s for the best.” “You’ll get over it someday.” “This too shall pass.” (See also “Going Tribal” http://mindbodycoach.org/going-tribal/ )

Life’s pain is not always for the best and it’s not always distributed evenly. Some are consolationfortunate and get a bearable amount, others get more than can be reasonably carried by anyone. Anyone who has lost a child, suffered a life altering illness, or experienced post traumatic stress knows that it is not for the best. The pain will not, and in some cases should not, ever go away entirely. Life’s challenge is to accept what has happened. Radical Acceptance means to accept, not necessarily agree with or like, what has happened.

Radical Acceptance is a concept taught in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, borrowed from some basic teachings of Buddhism. The context in which the word radical is used is complete and total acceptance of a disturbing or painful event. Acceptance, not liking or agreement, but acceptance. Acknowledging this event as something that has happened and must be endured. Life has given you, for whatever reason, a bad deal. Radical Acceptance begins with that moment when you realize you have essentially two options:
1. Resist, deny, bargain, and argue with it, thereby making yourself miserable.
2. Accept what has happened as a reality. Not anything that you like or want to happen, but something that has, or is, indeed happening.

Radical Acceptance occurs when one stops fighting reality, and accepts it for what it is-reality. Trying to figure out whether or not you have any control over the situation is a critical component to acceptance. (See also “Acceptance And True Wisdom” http://mindbodycoach.org/acceptance-true-wisdom/ ) If there is something you could do to improve or better the situation, then obviously you need to pursue that. If not, it may be more healthy to realize that acceptance of this reality is the only logical way out of the pain and suffering that this event is bringing you.

Reality is very much like that cucumber which becomes a pickle. Once it becomes a pickle, it can never be a cucumber again. Accepting of this is the the most important factor in whether or not one continues to needlessly suffer through an incredibly painful event. With many disturbing life events, such as the death of a loved one, acceptance is the beginning of healing. Once one can accept the loss of a loved one, the next challenge is to find spiritual meaning and significance in the suffering that you are going through. Many use spirituality as a way to cope with pain in a very healthy way, making the loss something that, while never going away, brings meaning to themselves, others, and the memory of their loved one. The Susan B. Komen Walk for a Cure, the ALS challenge, and various other fundraisers are examples of healthy and spiritually meaningful ways that people engage in Radical Acceptance.

Having been a practicing psychotherapist for the past 18 years, I’ve noticed that there are two general ways that people respond to pain and tragedy. Some people are destroyed by, made bitter, and often are never the same. Some people come out of the transformative event seemingly even stronger, and often, despite never entirely letting go of the pain, seemingly finding life more meaningful on a much deeper level. Anyone in my position couldn’t help but ask the same question that I’ve often asked myself, what’s the difference in people who do come out the other side hurt and in pain, but a little bit better, and those that are utterly destroyed?

Those that emerge stronger intuitively process the events in a way that leads towards acceptance that it is a reality that they must deal with, changing it is out of their control, and somehow they are going to make the best of it. Yes, initially both types of people go through the same process of shock and denial, but one group breaks free of these paralyzing emotions, while the other gets stuck in an endless loop of pain and suffering. Both experience pain, but the group that processes a little bit more healthily is able to push through the suffering portion while learning to live with the pain. The pain never goes away for either group, those that come out the other side of the suffering are transformed by it and, in the process of letting it go, seemingly become stronger.

The basic principles on which Radical Acceptance are pretty hard-core. Radical Acceptance teaches us that when faced with painful problems, we have for choices that we must choose from:
1. Solve the problem
2. Change how you feel
3. Accept it
4. Stay miserable

Honest, blunt, but the hard-core reality is that these are the only options one has. Radicalvictory Acceptance teaches that, after the inevitable initial shock and denial, we must make a choice among these four possibilities. If you analyze painful events that you yourself have experienced, or those of others, you’ll come to the realization that these truly are the only choices that we have. Either be transformed, or destroyed.

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”- Haruki Murakami

Ultimately, a person comes to the realization that their life, although touched by pain and suffering, can still have meaning and be worthwhile and worth living. You don’t need to look to historical figures, celebrities, or fictional characters defined concrete examples of people who have practiced Radical Acceptance, and practice it well. All of us have people that we know personally, family, friends, and acquaintances, who have come out the other side of horrific pain and tragedy as better people. Learn from these examples and hope that, whatever you face in life, you will be able to do the same.

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
– Lao Tzu


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 Rocky And Bullwinkle Can Teach Us About Fear

” Eenie meenie chili beanie, the spirits are about to speak.”- Bullwinkle J. Moose

The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show was an American cartoon series which aired from 1959 to 1964. It was structured as a variety show, but it’s main feature was the adventures of rockBullRocket “Rocky” J. Squirrel and his best friend, Bullwinkle J. Moose who lived in the town of Frostbite Falls, Minnesota. Like most comedy duos, there was an intelligent one, played by Rocky and a dimwitted, but good-natured one, played by Bullwinkle. There were a variety of other segments, such as Fractured Fairy Tales, Peabody’s Improbable History, Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties, and Aesop and Son, but the highlight of each episode was a two-part episode featuring The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.

Rocky and Bullwinkle’s adversaries for most of these episodes were two Russian-like spies whose names were Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, spies for the nation of Pottsylvania. Pottsylvania was determined to destroy the United States by obtaining a secret rocket fuel called Upsidaisium, which could only be mined in Frostbite Falls, Minnesota. Each episode consisted of hijinks, silliness, and some very sophisticated Cold War humor which was lost on the minds of most of their young viewers. The series was the ultimate Cold War satire. Boris and Natasha were bumbling agents of a Soviet Union like nation and Rocky and the Bullwinkle were anthropomorphic James Bond like American heroes.

Boris and Natasha received their orders from an intermediary from the Pottsylvanian government named Fearless Leader, who relayed the information from the ultimate head 330px-Boris_natasha_fearlessof Pottsylvania, Mister Big. Mister Big was the power behind Fearless Leader, a now obvious parody of the doctrine of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. When Boris and Natasha or Fearless Leader spoke to Mister Big you never saw him. Instead you saw his shadow, a gigantic image projected through a spotlight on a wall. Mister Big was the ultimate threat, the ultimate fear, and the ultimate enemy. Mister Big was what Rocky, Bullwinkle, and the citizens of the United States ultimately had to fear. The enigmatic Mister Big was viewed in only two of the 156 episodes of the Rocky and Bullwinkle series. The irony was that Mister Big, the ultimate power, fear, and force to be reckoned with was the size of an insect, his presumably huge and looming presence was merely a shadow projected on a wall by a flashlight.

If you’ve been following my rant down memory lane thus far, thank you. There is a lesson to be learned from this about the nature of fear. As part of my day job, I conduct group therapy five mornings a week at a hospital program that I direct in Boston. I use the Rocky330px-Mr_Big_Himself and Bullwinkle Show to illustrate and put into context the nature of fear. Most of us have fears, we wouldn’t be human or mentally healthy if we didn’t. Fear however, is something that exists entirely in the human mind, an anticipation of something terrible that may happen in the future. When we spend too much time projecting negative outcomes of things that might happen, we are much like that flashlight projecting the image of Mister Big on that wall. Fear and negative expectations of the future are not only counterproductive, but they can be paralyzing and render us incapable of making logical and rational decisions.

When I have used this Rocky and Bullwinkle, Mister Big metaphor it never fails to grab the attention of the group. As soon as I mention this cartoon smiles begin to emerge on most of the faces, patients begin to display that ‘oh yeah, I remember that’ attitude and seem to hang on every word, wondering where I’m going with all this. When I make the analogy of our fears being like huge shadows that we ourselves cast I usually get the thrill that every therapist looks for, that ‘ah hah’ moment of insight that emerges in a client.

What the Mister Big metaphor can teach us is that we alone determine, based on our own internal projections, how big and bad our fears, negative self image, negative interpretation of events, and negative expectations of the future are. Understanding and an awareness of this are the keys to our managing our thoughts, feelings, and ultimately our own actions and behaviors. Negative thoughts are a natural part of being human. Let’s just not blow things out of proportion.

“You busy-bodies have busied your last body.”- Boris Badenov


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’s The Worst That Could Happen?: The Positive Benefits Of Pessimism

­”First ask yourself: What is the worst that can happen? Then prepare to accept it. Then proceed to improve on the worst.”- Dale Carnegie

What separates the human animal from the rest of the animal world is our unique ability to plan ahead, enabling us to foresee obstacles that could arise. This ability has protected our species, allowing us to survive and thrive virtually anywhere and everywhere on the worryplanet. Much has been written in the last 100 years on the power of positive thinking and positive visualization. Undoubtedly, there is tremendous benefits from positive thinking, but it’s not the panacea for all man’s problems and it has become one of the most misused of personal development tools. (See also http://mindbodycoach.org/secret/ ) Our ability to foresee negative possibilities and potential outcomes is hardwired into us as humans, serving us well for over 5 million years. Maybe there is a way to more effectively use this capability to improve our quality of life and increase our capacity for happiness.

Any thoughtful person will occasionally consider the potential negative outcomes of almost any action or behavior. The logical and obvious reason for this is to prevent these negative outcomes from occurring. For example, you have your car inspected periodically, in part because of the “what if something is not safe” logic. You may check your car door upon parking because of “what if somebody tries to steal it” logic. You watch your diet, exercise regularly, and see your primary care physician for annual checkups because “what if there’s something wrong with me” logic. These thought processes, although negative, are part of the logic system of living safely in the 21st century, a way that humans continue to use this hardwired skill in an age where sabertooth tigers do not exist, weather can be predicted accurately down to a period of a few hours, and many parts of the world suffer from health problems because of an over abundance of food. Despite these quality problems and creature comforts many of us still struggle with “what if” thinking and the negative visualization of dreadful and dire things that could go wrong.

Albert Ellis was an American psychologist and one of the founding fathers of cognitive behavioral therapies. In 1955 he developed a cognitive therapy which he called Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy which was largely based on the human mind’s capacity for rational thinking, Ellis’s own life experiences, and his interest in the ancient philosophy of Stoicism. Ellis used a Socratic method with his clients to good effect, asking them to question and consider all the possible outcomes of their thought processes and behaviors. Very often the question, “What’s the worst that can happen?” provided the necessary therapeutic grist for the mill to create positive change and improve a client’s potential for happiness.

This question leads one to automatically engage in a strategy that Ellis referred to as negative visualization, where a person briefly indulges themselves in a frightening fantasy of just how bad a situation or event might be. The premise of Ellis’s strategy is that the things that we worry about most virtually never happened, at least not to the degree and severity that we forecasted. And, if they do, we will find some way to survive. Some examples were provided in his book, How to Make Yourself Happy and Remarkably Less Disturbable. In it he discussed people’s fear of terminal illness, job losses, death of loved ones, and a wide variety of exceptionally bad human adversities that he had worked with in his therapeutic practice. In each case he would ask his clients “What’s the worst that RS_J_North-by-Northwestcould happen?,” and he would artfully explore just how the client could survive the imagined disaster. Ellis wrote, “You can accept the reality that we have no control over what we call “fate” and over the many accidents that may happen. If you frantically think that you have to control all the dangerous events, you greatly limit your freedom and your life. Thus, if you avoid “dangerous” airplane flights, you still may be killed in a car crash and limit how far you can travel. If you “safely” stay in your apartment, you still may get killed in a fire. No matter how you restrict yourself, you still may fall victim to some germ or other hazard. Tough! But you do not fully control your destiny.” By accepting the uncertainties of life, a person is able to let go of the futility of trying to control, in advance, that which is uncontrollable.

Negative visualization illustrates that we spend a disproportionate amount of our lives worrying about things that may never happen and, even if they do, they are things we cannot control anyway. Rather than being a depressing and negative exercise, negative visualization is meant to increase our appreciation of what we have, now, in the present moment. For example, as parents many of us take for granted time spent with our children. Work, golf, our own leisure activities, and “I’m too busy,” often keep us from spending time with our children in the day to day routine of their development. A negative visualization activity would be to imagine suddenly not having your child due to some tragic circumstance. The reality is that you would probably survive this loss, but your life would be filled with grief and regret at not having devoted more time and attention to your child. If visualizing your child’s death is too overwhelming, keep in mind that the 18 to 21 years of their childhood will be over in the blink of an eye. This activity, although initially pretty depressing, allows you to fully appreciate the gift that you have now, right in front of you, of sharing your child’s formative years. Negative visualization allows you to appreciate what you have.

It’s easy to get caught up in the negative aspects of these day-to-day routine events of your life.dad-wearing-gas-mask-while-changing-diaper Maybe your job is difficult and tedious. Imagine for a moment what it would be like if you suddenly lost your job. What would that feel like? What would you do? Imagine your husband, wife, or partner who you’ve been annoyed with lately, suddenly decided it’s over and walked out. What would that feel like? What regrets might you have? What can you focus on or work on right now to improve that relationship? Maybe you haven’t been taking care of your physical health, haven’t been exercising, and have been eating poorly. What would it be like for you if suddenly you couldn’t walk, exercise, or even move? That brief, yet depressing, thought may just be enough to allow you to appreciate the gift of your current health and prevent you from squandering what you have right now.

Negative visualization is certainly not for the faint of heart. It is a bold and brave strategy that takes advantage of the human tendency to, as Albert Ellis said “awfulize.” Negative visualization enables us to appreciate the present through the hindsight of the future. By fully appreciating the simple, routine, and mundane of life we can become more joyful in the present moment and avoid future regrets. Tapping into our natural tendency to ask “what if” and taking a fearless look at the answer to that question can be scary. The realization, however, that the awful event hasn’t taken place, at least not yet, can allow us to be more fully appreciative, grateful, and happy.

Life isn’t necessarily about being happy with the big things. It’s more about appreciating the everyday simplicity of the things that we could easily take for granted.

“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?.”- Joni Mitchell


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

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