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Blog Short #183: What’s the Most Important Thing You Can Do To Help Somone?

Photo by Daniel Balakov, Courtesy of iStock Photo

Today, I’m going to tell you a story about how I learned what’s most important when trying to help someone.

This story came to mind during a conversation I had this weekend with my husband, who is also a psychotherapist. We were talking about various cases and people we’ve worked with, especially people who have such horrendous histories and problems that they’re sometimes difficult to reach. We were wondering if there’s anything more we could have done.

Talking about this brought up an experience I had, which is the story I will tell you today. It pertains to that question, and I think it’ll have meaning for you as it did for me.

It All Began . . .

Early in my career, after finishing graduate school, I got my first job in a community mental health center in a small, rural town in North-Central Florida.

It was early in the 1980s when community mental health was a national initiative, and these centers were popping up all around the country. They offered full mental health services, including outpatient psychotherapy, inpatient crisis intervention, and medication management.

Each center had a complete staff, including social workers, counselors, psychologists, psychiatric nurses, and psychiatrists. I was one of many outpatient therapists in this particular center.

I worked mostly in “aftercare,” which involved managing services for people who had been hospitalized for psychiatric issues. One of my responsibilities was making home visits to clients after they were discharged from the hospital and sent home.

Many of the people I visited were significantly impaired – mostly schizophrenic – but were just out there living in trailers or homes without a lot of support. Some lived with relatives, but some spent a good amount of time alone. Others lived in adult foster homes.

These folks came into the mental health center once a month or more to see the psychiatrist and get their meds. Some saw therapists for outpatient counseling, too, but many of them didn’t have the support to be able to come in often, so I went to them.

As you can imagine, I have many memorable experiences, but this one stands out because it taught me something that has stayed with me since then and pertains to the conversation my husband and I had this weekend. Here’s the story.

The Story

I visited a woman weekly for about a year. She lived with her husband in a fairly impoverished trailer park. I’ll call her Mary, and she was in her late 40s.

At first, I would just sit with her as she didn’t want to talk. I was new at this and anxious because I wanted to help but wasn’t sure what I could do that would benefit her. I asked questions to try to connect and check on how she was doing, but she responded minimally and made little eye contact. Visits lasted 45 minutes to an hour and then I would leave but come back the next week.

Over time, she began talking a little more, and I listened and asked more questions, but mostly listened.

This one particular day, I went out, and the carpet in the trailer was sopping wet. I asked what had happened – was there a leak of some sort – and she just smiled.

So I looked at her inquiringly, and she chuckled, which was the first time that had ever happened. Her emotions were usually flat and out of reach.

I asked what she was chuckling about, and she said, “I got carried away with cleaning.” I held back laughing, but she knew I was tickled and started laughing unabashedly. Then she told me the story, which was that she’d stopped taking her medication without telling anyone and had begun thinking that germs and bugs were crawling everywhere.

So, while her husband was at work, she hosed down the house. She boiled pots and pots of water, poured some on her husband’s bed, and had other pots sitting in the closets to steam the bugs away in the walls. She walked me around the house to show me where she’d set up all the pots.

The more she talked, the more she laughed and made eye contact. She was totally lucid that day and knew she’d been delusional when all of this happened. She’d resumed her meds.

I was concerned about what had happened because of possible danger but also amused by how witty and amused she was as she told me about it, which made her laugh more.

The Turning Point

After that day, when I visited Mary, she always met me with a smile and talked easily with me. She looked forward to visits, and I was able to help her keep her medication appointments. I also listened intently to the stories of her life and the many painful experiences she had growing up. We created a bond and connection.

It was one of those experiences where, after weeks of sitting with someone who appears to be absent and unaware of you, they suddenly connect.

What I learned from that experience was that the most important thing I can do to help anyone is to be present, care, listen, and be kind – and to do that consistently. Everything else is extra.

All the psychology, insights, and strategies are helpful and necessary but are secondary to that connection.

Everyone needs to feel heard, understood, and valued first. Without that, the rest is meaningless.

Seeing Mary every week and showing interest by either listening or just sitting with her made her feel less isolated and cared for, enough that she trusted me to tell me what she’d done that day. She didn’t feel alone or ignored, or maybe even devalued, which can happen for people who are diagnosed as “crazy.”

I wasn’t there to fix her or make her psychosis go away but to be a witness to her life and value her as a person. I did help her stay on her meds and get some additional needed services, but the visits became something we both looked forward to.

I’ve never forgotten those visits with Mary and many others after her.

I’ve also remembered that regardless of all the knowledge I can accrue, being present and sharing in someone’s life, struggles, and feelings is the most valuable thing I can offer, and I think that any of us can offer.

Even in the worst situations, when someone feels unreachable, offering genuine kindness and a caring presence has a positive effect, whether visible or not. It’s a way of putting good into the world and honoring each other’s value. It’s the most important thing any of us can do.

What to Take Away

Here’s what I took away from this experience that has stayed with me that I want to impart to you:

  1. Kindness and genuine empathy are more important than any other achievement because they contribute to connection They bring out the best in us and ensure our continued survival as a species.
  2. Everyone needs someone to witness their life. One of the reasons people become psychotic in solitary confinement is because there’s no one to witness their existence and no one to connect with.
  3. Listening without fixing is one of the most potent activities you can engage in. There are times when you can help problem-solve, and that’s valuable, but practice listening without having any agenda other than understanding. If you do only that, you’re helping.
  4. Put something good into the world whether you get a response or not. Every drop of good has power.

That’s all for today!

Have a great week!

All my best,


Blog Short #182: Three Defense Mechanisms You Shouldn’t Use and One You Should

Photo by Dilok Klaisataporn, Courtesy of iStock Photo

Part of being self-aware and guarding your mental health is understanding defense mechanisms – specifically, why you use them and how they affect you.

Today, we’ll go through three defense mechanisms you should avoid and one that’s good for you. Let’s get right to it.

What Are Defense Mechanisms?

Defense mechanisms are behaviors and responses to situations that people use to:

  1. Avoid anxiety
  2. Maintain their self-image or self-esteem
  3. Sidestep painful feelings

In general, they’re strategies you use to avoid thinking about or dealing with something that makes you uncomfortable or threatens how you feel about yourself.

Depending on the source you’re citing, there are somewhere between 20 and 30 defense mechanisms. We’re discussing four today that are widely accepted by psychologists.

Knowing how and when you use these four will help you create better coping skills and improve your overall interactions with other people. A side benefit is that you’ll also be able to identify when someone else is using them in a way that negatively impacts you. Let’s start with denial.


Denial is widespread and has found its way into mainstream conversation. It’s not unusual to hear someone say something like, “He’s in denial” or “She’s living in la la land.”

Denial is an outright rejection of something’s existence. You block something you don’t want to acknowledge because it causes you anxiety, challenges your beliefs, or threatens you in some way.

Denial is a means of protecting yourself from what you think you can’t handle or cope with.

Sometimes, denial is a total rejection of the reality of something, and other times, it’s a way to minimize the effects of a situation.

For example, an alcoholic might completely deny that they have a drinking problem even in the face of evidence. Or they may not deny it but pass it off as not that serious because they can stop any time they want.

Some instances of denial are the outgrowth of repression, another defense mechanism.

Repression is an unconscious process whereby something that occurred or felt is completely repressed and out of conscious memory. It’s different in that there’s nothing to deny because there’s no recognition that something happened.

A story that always comes to mind when I think of repression is about an incident that happened to Stephen King. When he was four, he and a friend were playing near a railroad. He saw his friend run over by the train and killed, yet to this day, he has no memory of what he saw.

An experience like that is so traumatic that the mind represses what seems too horrible to acknowledge and feel.

Repression, along with suppression and denial, are attempts to avoid emotions that are painful. However, denial is a conscious act, whereas repression is unconscious.


Projection is also an attempt to deny something, but the dynamic is different. It’s a means of transferring something you don’t want to someone else.

A familiar example is a situation in which someone accuses you of behaving in a way that, in actuality, they behave. For instance, you’re late meeting up with your friend for the first time ever, and she tells you, “You’re always late to everything!” The truth is that she’s late to most everything and is known for that, not you.

Your friend denies to herself that she has a problem with punctuality and projects this unwanted issue onto you.

Think of it as a game of hot potato. When you dislike something about yourself and find it unacceptable, you throw it to someone else so you don’t have to feel the heat.

Projection is the source of many arguments because it distorts reality and feels like a personal attack that’s unwarranted.

Projection, like denial, is used to avoid dealing with the anxiety and pain that would come from recognizing something about yourself that threatens your self-esteem or self-image.


Splitting is a defense mechanism you’ve likely only heard of if you work in psychology. However, it is widely used and is the basis of all-or-nothing thinking.

Splitting is the practice of seeing things as only good or only bad.

It originates during the toddler years. The 2-year-old sees Mommy as all good when she meets his needs and allows him free rein to explore but as all bad when she tells him “no” or thwarts his desires and drives.

It’s cute at that age, although sometimes exasperating. But it’s not pretty when adults act similarly.

Splitting is the inability to see things in wholeness where both good and bad coexist, along with many shades of grey.

People who have difficulty with this developmental stage ping-pong between the extremes. They play them out in relationships and within themselves.

For example, when your partner is attentive, loving, and affectionate, he’s a good partner. But if he’s temporarily preoccupied and does something to disappoint you, you see only what you don’t like about him.

We all do this occasionally, but the person who consistently engages in splitting operates this way most of the time.

Splitting also applies to your self-image: you see yourself as all good when you’re performing well and all bad when you make mistakes—even just one. There’s no in-between. You can’t see yourself objectively as an evolving person with ups and downs and positive and negative characteristics.

Although this all-or-nothing approach is considered a cognitive distortion, splitting is more than that. It’s a developmental problem that has lingering effects from childhood into adulthood and affects most facets of functioning. It’s the basis of the us-versus-them mentality.

Now for a healthy defense mechanism.


Sublimation is channeling an unwanted and unacceptable impulse into an acceptable activity that provides an outlet for expression.

Here are some examples:

You compete in sports, which allows you to sublimate your aggressive drives into regulated, socially acceptable activity that satisfies those urges.

You have a heated argument with your partner, but instead of yelling and ranting and saying things you can’t take back, you go for a walk to cool off and regain some objectivity, thereby protecting the relationship from harm.

Sometimes, people use the trauma they’ve experienced to write novels and poems or pursue other artistic outlets that allow them to express their emotions and help move through them.

You had a chaotic day at work and are feeling anxious about your job, but once you’re home, you give the kitchen a good cleaning and get everything organized and in place, thereby relieving your anxiety for the night.

You get the idea. You channel the negative into the positive and provide yourself with emotional release and relief.

The only hitch is that sublimation is not a solution to issues that need resolution. Taking a walk to prevent a conversation from going south is a good strategy, but you still need to resolve the problem that started the argument. Your clean kitchen relieves you tonight, and you’ll sleep well, but the issues at work are still there, and you’ll need to attend to them tomorrow.

That’s all right. Sublimation is a wonderful stop-gap and coping mechanism that provides emotional space.

How to Use This Information

Knowing about defense mechanisms can help you develop better coping skills.

Today, you learned about denial, projection, and splitting, which are all defensive methods of avoiding reality. They allow you to skirt around issues and emotions you don’t want to face, but there’s a cost. There’s always a cost when you ignore reality because you’re operating in the dark.

The way to overcome negative defense mechanisms is to consistently watch and increase awareness of when you use them and substitute better coping skills, like sublimation.

  • Observe your behavior.
  • Question your assumptions.
  • Use journaling to review daily situations where you’ve used them and write what you could have done instead.

Letting go of defense mechanisms is an ongoing process and takes time and diligence. They’re habits that have taken a long time to form and will take time to undo, but the benefits are significant. You become happier with yourself and others, and you free up emotional energy to pursue your goals. It’s worth your time.

That’s all for today!

Have a great week!

All my best,


Blog Short #181: Are You Stuck in Your History?

Photo by elenaleonova, Courtesy of iStock Photo

Your past, especially those years growing up, has a significant impact on your present. That’s nothing new. The real question is: Is your history still driving your life right now? And, if so, is it a roadblock to your happiness?

That question is sort of angsty but worth pursuing. When someone enters into psychotherapy, that question is front and center.

You might not like that and think that it’s a moot point.

After all, isn’t therapy about blaming your parents for where you are and how you function?

Actually, it’s not. Parents are people and have issues they bring along when they become parents. If you have kids, you likely know that because nothing makes you more aware of your deficits than being a parent. However, your parents and the circumstances of your life growing up are influential factors in how you feel as an adult.

Even if you think you don’t need therapy – which is fine – you can still make use of the information I’m going to go over today to help you remove psychological obstacles that are in the way of your functioning and pursuit of happiness.

Let’s start with the primary goals of therapy.

Three Goals of Psychotherapy

When people start therapy, they usually have a specific concern they want to work on, which is always a good place to start. Yet, as therapy proceeds, there are three factors underlying any particular problem that need exploring. Here they are.

1. Identify and edit personal narratives.

When you wind your way through your early childhood and adolescence, you internalize narratives about who you are.

These narratives are created through your interactions with your parents, primarily during the early years, and expanded to include extended family, teachers, peers, and other adults with whom you interact, such as coaches, friends, friends’ parents, etc., as you move through adolescence. These narratives are composites of strong messages you got from all these sources.

The stronger and more repetitive the messages, the deeper they become internalized and ingrained in your psyche, and the more you identify with them.

For example, if you were the oldest child, you might have been expected to provide caretaking duties for your younger siblings and take on adult responsibilities early on. As an adult, you identify yourself as the person in charge and the caretaker whose primary purpose is managing, solving problems, and caretaking. Those repetitive messages, experiences, and expectations have shaped your identity.

Or, let’s say you grew up hearing the message, “You’ll never amount to much of anything.” If you heard it repeatedly from your parents and extended family, and eventually from your teachers in school as you underperformed, you internalized it and now consciously or subconsciously tell yourself the same thing. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that shows up in your adult behavior. Maybe you dropped out of college, can’t keep a job for long, and sabotage your relationships.

In both the above examples, the messages you received growing up, either directly or indirectly through expectations, discipline, criticism, experiences, and characterizations by your parents, are your narratives now. You repeat them regularly through self-talk, interactions with others, and behavioral patterns that reinforce them.

As an adult, these narratives are well ingrained and automated psychologically and neurologically.

Sorting out and identifying those narratives is the first primary goal of therapy because doing so provides a clear picture of where you are and what needs to change.

The narratives may be positive or negative, but identifying them helps you see where you’re constricted and what needs editing.

2. Identify, express, and regulate emotions.

A second goal of therapy is to widen your awareness of your emotions. You need to attend to how you feel in various situations and circumstances.

If you’ve learned to suppress emotions in your family of origin or because they’re painful and you wish to avoid them, the therapist will teach you how to label them with greater accuracy and understand and accept them.

You will then learn to see them through the lens of mindfulness, which provides some distance from them so you can improve your ability to express and regulate them productively and usefully.

3. Increase reality testing.

The last goal is to increase your ability to become aware of cognitive distortions and learn to question and analyze your thoughts and perceptions.

Your view of yourself and the world is colored by your interpretations of your experiences and the conclusions you draw from them.

No one sees from a 360-degree view. It’s inevitable to distort what you see to some degree.

To lessen that tendency, you need to get in the habit of questioning your thoughts and conclusions to reduce distortion as much as possible. By doing that, you come closer to pinpointing what’s of value, when and how to moderate your behavior, and you increase your self-awareness.

Do You Need Therapy?

Not necessarily. If you think you’re stuck and can’t work through the issues holding you back, then by all means, seek out therapy with someone who will walk you through the steps we’ve outlined above.

You can also work at all three of these goals yourself. Use these exercises to get started.

Identify the narratives.

This exercise is key. Most of us don’t think about creating narratives.

You might ruminate about how you were raised and feel victimized in some cases, and maybe you were. You might blame your parents or circumstances, but you may not have thought about specific narratives you’ve internalized about who you are.

Those narratives are always tinged with a value judgment – either negative or positive.

Start by listing as many of those narratives you can identify and get familiar with the messages you’re repeating to yourself now.

One of three things will happen as you do this:

  1. You’ll agree with and like the narrative and want to keep it.
  2. You’ll agree with and dislike the narrative and want to change it.
  3. You won’t agree with it and will want to discard or replace it.

This exercise will increase your self-awareness of the stories you tell yourself about who you are and make you question them. You get a good look at your self-talk.

People self-talk all day long and often don’t recognize how influential those messages are. It’s a constant feedback loop. You tell yourself something repeatedly, and then that message folds back in on you and influences your behavior to validate the message. It creates a cognitive bias.

Identify your emotions.

This step requires courage if you’ve become skilled at suppressing and avoiding your emotions, especially those that are painful. I’m always telling you that suppression doesn’t work because your emotions go underground and still exert power, which is true.

The more aware you are of your emotions, the more control you have, and the better you can regulate them.

That doesn’t mean you must act on your feelings every time they surface. Sometimes, you put them away until you have time to deal with them because your attention is required for something else at the moment. Sometimes, you release them.

Do this: Ask yourself, “How am I feeling right now?” as you go through your daily experiences.

Get good at labeling your emotions more accurately. If you don’t know how to do that, download the lists of positive and negative emotions I’ve attached at the bottom. It’s incredible how many there are; being more selective will help you pinpoint how you feel.

The second step is to watch your feelings as they surface, but reserve time to think about how to respond.

That’s an arduous task, but the more you do it, the more automatic it becomes and the better you regulate yourself. Try widening the space between feeling and responding more as you go.

Detect cognitive distortions.

You’ve already engaged in the first step of this activity when working with your narratives. I’ve also attached a handout describing the more common distortions people use to help you identify how you fare in this category. It includes exercises you can practice.

The Best Way to Proceed

You can do all three steps simultaneously, but it is good to be aware of each separately to help you focus on what you need to work on most.

The most important takeaway is that you can change anything about yourself by consistently using the strategies we’ve gone over today. You don’t need to be stuck with old narratives from your history that are keeping you entrapped.

That’s all for today!

Have a great week!

All my best,





Blog Short #180: How to Forgive Yourself Even When You Think You Shouldn’t

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When you make a mistake or do something to cause harm to someone, how do you get over it? How can you forgive yourself?

If the error is small and doesn’t have a significant impact or is something easily corrected, you might not have a problem. You say you’re sorry, make things right, and move on.

But when you’ve hurt someone or done something that has a greater impact with lasting effects, it becomes harder to forgive yourself.

This is especially true when:

  1. The person or persons to whom you caused distress or harm aren’t willing to forgive you.
  2. The thing you did is irreparable. You can’t take it back or make good on it.
  3. The situation is complex and can’t be easily repaired.
  4. You brought a lot of negative attention to yourself, which you worry will linger for a long time or cause permanent damage to your reputation.

In all of those cases, it may be harder to forgive yourself. Yet, you still need to live with what you did and move along in your life.

Today, we’ll discuss the “4 Rs of Self-Forgiveness” and how they can be applied when you’re having difficulty overcoming something you did.

1. Responsibility

The first thing you need to do is accept that you’ve made a mistake or done something that has caused distress or harm to someone. That might sound easy, and sometimes it is, but not always.

Depending on what you’ve done, you may find it hard to fully accept the gravity of it.

Your first impulse might be to explain it away, blame it on other circumstances or people, or deny parts or all of it.

On the other hand, you might do the opposite and heap tons of guilt on yourself. You might also take responsibility for things you’re not responsible for or didn’t do.

For example, if the situation involves several people who contributed to the problem, one person might try to take all the blame and let the others off the hook. In this case, some or all of the guilt is misplaced.

There are two things to get clear on in this first step:

  1. What exactly did you do? Admit it to yourself and make sure that it’s something you’re responsible for. Say it out loud to confirm for yourself the extent of your fault in the situation.
  2. Explore your feelings about what happened. What are you feeling, and what narrative are you developing to describe it?

Dealing with your emotions can be stressful in this phase. You might find it difficult to accept what you did and feel very guilty about it. But that’s normal, and that’s where remorse comes in.

2. Remorse

True acceptance means feeling guilt and remorse for what you’ve done.

This is tricky because there’s a difference between real guilt and shame.

Shame is an attack on the self. It’s you pointing a finger at yourself with any number of negative feelings, such as disdain, hatred, anger, scorn, and sometimes contempt.

Guilt, or remorse, focuses on the other person and how they’re feeling as a result of what you’ve done. You feel sorry for how they’ve been affected and want to make it right.

This step is challenging because you might spin several narratives in your mind about how unworthy you are. That’s a natural response, especially if you caused significant suffering. Those feelings can serve a purpose initially if they motivate you to make amends.

However, it isn’t okay to linger indefinitely on negative feelings about yourself. At some point, you need to release them. It’s also essential to keep your focus on the wounded person and do what you can to repair the situation.

3. Restoration.

This step is where you can actively do your best to repair the damage and make amends. This might be an apology or something more involved, like fixing something you damaged, paying someone’s medical bills you hurt, rebuilding trust, or whatever is called for.

The best way to decide what to do is to take your cues from the person or persons who were hurt. What do they need to make things right?

A good approach is to ask how you can make amends that will be most helpful and far-reaching.

Sometimes, the person or people you hurt aren’t willing to talk to you or allow you to make amends.

When that’s the case, it’s best to accept their wishes. It might help to write out an apology even if you don’t give it to anyone. Doing that helps you increase your empathy for the other person and clarify the situation for yourself. It provides an opportunity to sort through your feelings and crystalize your remorse.

It’s a good exercise, even when you can make amends.

A note here:

When you make amends, give someone time to resolve their feelings about what happened. Don’t repair the situation solely to gain forgiveness—do it regardless. At the same time, you don’t need to go overboard and respond to excessive expectations that aren’t warranted.

4. Renewal

In the renewal phase, you begin to make peace with what you’ve done, forgive yourself, approach yourself with compassion and respect, and let go.

An essential part of this process is clarifying what you’ve learned from the situation and what you will or will not do going forward to prevent a recurrence.

Truly making amends means not repeating the behavior. You can’t forgive yourself if you don’t learn from it and avoid doing the same thing again. Genuine remorse includes this step.

The good thing is that being clear on what you’ve learned helps you find a place for it and strengthens your resolve to make changes in the future. It also allows you to let go of continued self-recrimination that serves no purpose.

What if what I did was terrible and can’t be repaired?

It feels wrong to forgive yourself in a situation like this, but you must still work at it.

Part of making amends is living with mistakes, even serious ones.

When you can’t take back what you did, and the impact is significant, you won’t forget it. That’s to be expected. Self-forgiveness, especially in these cases, doesn’t mean that you ever lose your remorse for what happened, but it does mean that you understand that you can’t keep punishing yourself forever for it.

It’s humbling but in a good way. You recognize the frailty of being human and sometimes making bad decisions or behaving in ways you wish you hadn’t.

Self-forgiveness is a process of clarifying your values, becoming more self-aware, and increasing your capacity for empathy and compassion.

When you can move past that point between self-flagellation and self-forgiveness, you energize yourself to take on new behaviors or pursuits that are part of making amends.

That happens even when you can’t directly repair things. You might become kinder, more considerate, thoughtful, less impulsive, a better team player, or engage in new activities that help others. It can be a turning point in your life.

Generally, you get many chances to improve your behavior as future situations occur. These situations may not be exactly the same, but they involve similar values or circumstances so that you can make better choices the second time around.

These new opportunities are gifts, so take advantage of them and forgive yourself for past transgressions.

Make something better out of something regrettable – that’s the whole point.

Let’s end with one of my favorite quotes by Matt Haig from The Comfort Book:

Imagine forgiving yourself completely. The goals you didn’t reach. The mistakes you made. Instead of locking those flaws inside to define and repeat yourself, imagine letting your past float through your present and away like air through a window, freshening a room. Imagine that.

That’s all for today!

Have a great week!

All my best,


Blog Short #179: 9 Things I Wish I Knew When I Was Younger

Photo by MarioGuti, Courtesy of iStock Photo

I was listening to a podcast today by a successful entrepreneur and copywriting expert. She talked about starting her career in her 50s, and although she had some trepidation about doing that, she also found being older was an asset and gave her a leg up in her journey.

The podcast was an interview done by ​Amy Porterfield​, a very successful woman in her 40s who teaches people how to create successful online courses.

I bring all this up because I’m in my 70s and creating my first online course using Amy’s instructions and valuable knowledge.

As I listened to the podcast, I began thinking about the differences between being 40 and 70 and what I’ve learned in my 70s that I wish I had known in my 40s—and, better yet, in my 20s and 30s.

I’m going to share those ideas with you today. You can use them no matter how old you are or where you are in life right now.

1. Learning never stops unless you quit it.

I didn’t grow up with the internet, computers, or AI, and all the tech kids growing up today will take for granted because they’ve never been without it. Whether that’s good or bad, depending on your point of view, it is a divide that many older people resist.

However, if you keep an open mind and enjoy expanding your vision, you can continue learning and sharpen your brain in ways you never would have imagined.

Life is learning, so embrace it. I didn’t start writing until I was in my 50s, and over the last five years, I’ve greatly enjoyed learning some computer code, web design, graphic production, and course development. Right now, I’m delving into AI. I also read constantly and never tire of new ideas. I will continue to do that until I can no longer do it.

Learning enriches life and helps you evolve.

2. Experience and aging give you an upper edge.

If you see your life as an ongoing psychological, social, emotional, and intellectual process, you become wiser. Not only that, but less driven by ego-inspired emotions.

In my 20s, I mostly focused on trying to fit in, figuring out my identity, and looking toward a career. Those pursuits are all consuming at that age, as they need to be, but it’s very relieving not to have to put energy into becoming “someone” and instead just experiencing who you are without worrying what anyone else thinks about that. It leaves you open to using all you’ve learned to be a better person.

So, what’s the bottom line here?

Don’t try to be someone. You already are someone. Work at expressing your gifts rather than seeing them as something outside of you that you need obtain.

3. Everyone is insecure.

You might argue with that, but we all worry at some point about how we’re perceived, how we perform, and whether we fit in. It’s part of our DNA to think about those things.

As you get older, you recognize that even the most confident person has problems and insecurities. That helps you feel compassion for everyone, regardless of who or what they are.

You realize we’re all connected, and “what I do to you, I do to myself.”

That changes everything. It opens you up and helps you appreciate the kaleidoscope of variations and differences among us, including your own. You belong, as does everyone. Knowing that makes a difference in how you interact.

4. There is no “over the hill.”

I’ve never liked that phrase because it implies that, at a certain point, you should just stop trying and hang it up. Not so. That’s an attitude you can cop to, but it isn’t true.

Life is a series of ups and downs. You don’t go up in a straight line and then come down in a straight line.

If you make the most of what you have, you will evolve upwards, even though the path is wavy.

And, if we’re talking metaphysics, there’s always the possibility you have many lives. If that were true, then this one is just one episode.

Either way, life, as we know it, is a series of episodes, but when you tie them together and apply meaning to them, there’s fulfillment.

5. Relationships matter.

We’re social beings, and connection is a necessary part of our existence. It’s in our genes, and it’s important to embrace that.

When you think of all the things you contend with daily – your job, work, or career, homemaking, finances, and relationships – which is the most important?

For many, work takes precedence, and we put lots of energy into it. After all, you spend most of your waking hours working. You make goals, pursue them, track them, make new goals, change jobs, find new careers, get stuck in a job, and on and on and on.

Work is important, for sure, but not more important than relationships. Aging makes you very aware of that.

If you end up with a big bank account and no one to share it with, what’s the point?

Even if you like being alone, something is missing without close, intimate relationships. Make that a priority. Attend to them and nurture them.

6. Being is more important than doing.

Who you are, your character, your conscience, and how you treat people are by far more important than all your achievements and accomplishments.

What you do should express your character, and when that’s the case, you’re more successful because your actions align with what you value.

7. Being right isn’t so necessary.

When you find yourself in opposition to someone else’s point of view, it’s natural to want to plead your case and come out on top. That’s just part of having an ego, but the more secure you feel with yourself, the less ego gets in your way, and being right doesn’t matter so much. Being kind matters more.

You still hold to your values and beliefs, but don’t feel you must convince everyone else that you’re right. You might persist when you think there’s a danger involved to you or someone else, but for more minor things, you can be tolerant and not need to prove yourself in every conversation. It’s very relieving!

There’s a recognition that everyone’s moving along at their own pace, and you don’t need to push.

8. You are responsible for your emotions.

It took me a long time to get on board with this, but it’s true, and knowing it makes things easier in two critical ways.

  1. First, it helps to distinguish between someone stimulating a feeling in you by their behavior and the need to act on it. Things and people stimulate feelings in us all the time, but accepting and expressing them is on us. Knowing that helps you avoid suppressing your feelings while also allowing you to gain some space between feeling them and deciding how you want to respond. It’s so much easier than reacting to every little thing.
  2. The second is that it helps you decide when to set boundaries. If you’re involved with someone who consistently stimulates negative feelings or brings out the worst in you, it’s time to set limits, and sometimes permanently.

9. An “us and them” mentality is harmful.

“Us and them” denies the variations and many iterations of human life. It’s like looking through a prism, and instead of seeing all the colors as part of the variations of light dispersed through a single lens, you see each color as separate and fighting with the others for position.

When you appreciate those variations and differences, you can peacefully coexist and work together.

I sound like a “60s” flower child, I’m sure, but it’s not that simple. I’m not saying you should accept the unconscionable or immoral, but rather that we all have something to offer.

Accepting differences in temperament, talents, ideas, and gifts improves life. It’s a good thing we’re not all alike. We wouldn’t survive if that were the case.

A Final Note

Getting older and wiser means letting go of your ego and understanding that you don’t need to waste your time defining your territory. It’s relaxing into who you are and what you have to offer while being appreciative of everyone’s contributions.

That’s all for today!

Have a great week!

All my best,


Blog Short #178: 9 Ways to Improve Your Memory

Photo by DrAfter123, Courtesy of iStock Photo

Last week, you learned how memories are formed and how easy it is to distort and rewrite them as you retrieve them over time.

This week, I’ll show you how to improve and keep your memory sharp. Since we have a lot to cover, let’s dive right in!

1. Pay Attention

If you want to remember something, you must focus on it long enough to move it from your working memory to your long-term memory. Your working memory holds information for about 15 to 30 seconds, and then it’s gone unless you focus on it long enough to move it along to your hippocampus, where it consolidates into a long-term memory.

These four strategies will help you pay attention.

  1. Use all your senses. If you remember from last week, the first phase of memory formation is encoding. In this phase, your brain captures all the sensory input (visual, audio, etc.), and the emotions, thoughts, and meaning that make it memorable. By consciously taking in what you see, hear, smell, and feel, you’ll maximize your attention.
  2. Chunk it down. For mundane information, chunk it down. We do this all the time. Instead of the phone number 3528896721, you write it and see it as 352-889-6721. When you break information into chunks, you have less to remember. Each chunk becomes one piece of information. You can only hold 7 to 9 pieces of information in your working memory at one time.
  3. Repetition. Repeat what you want to remember out loud as many times as needed to cement it in your memory. I do this when I want to retrieve something in another room. As I walk toward the room, I repeat in my mind the thing I want to get because otherwise, I’ll start thinking about something else and totally forget what I came to do.
  4. Remove distractions. Distractions are the enemy of memory, and we have far too many of them. If you want to remember what you’re doing, put down your phone, close your computer, and stop multi-tasking.

2. Make It Meaningful

Paying attention is the first part, and making it meaningful is the second. They work together. Here are four strategies that will help you create meaning.

  1. Attach emotion to it. Your brain loves novelty, drama, surprise, and emotion. All of these stimulate the amygdala, which is the brain’s alarm system. It wakes you up and makes you take notice. When you feel something, it pulls in your attention, and you’re more likely to remember it. One way to aid this tendency is to label your emotions as you feel them.
  2. See it in space. When you go grocery shopping, especially if you do this often, you know the store layout. You know which aisles or areas have the specific items you usually buy. I create my grocery list based on that layout. I chunk the list by food groups and put them in the order I typically walk through the store. If I forget to bring my list, I can usually remember everything I need because as I walk my usual route, I can see the list in my mind. Seeing things in locations helps you remember.
  3. Use the context. You’re more likely to recall something if you’re in the same setting you were when you first thought about or experienced it. Maybe you had a conversation at the office and can’t recall all the details when you get home, but when you go back to the office the next day, you remember them. Returning to the original context stimulates your memory.
  4. Note future consequences. Considering the consequences of forgetting something before you let it go can help you remember it. As you tell your friend you’ll call her tomorrow, remind yourself that you’ll hurt her feelings if you don’t follow through. Imagine her being upset with you. That makes your promise more meaningful and memorable.

3. Rely On Your Virtual Assistant

Tech can be a serious distraction, but it can also be your friend when you use it right. It’s the perfect virtual assistant when you have too much to hold in your head.

Your smartphone has all kinds of mechanisms to remind you of things you need to remember. You can set alarms to go off at specific times, keep lists on your phone, and update them on the spot. There are tons of apps you can use for various tasks, record-keeping, or activity logs, and you’ve got a calendar at your fingertips.

Using tech devices to assist your memory will not hurt your ability to remember, so use them. Doing so creates more space in your mind for other things.

4. Create Mnemonics

Mnemonics are fun! They’re devices you create to remember something, and they usually take the form of acronyms, songs, rhymes, or abbreviations. If you’ve ever played the piano, you know the one for the musical notes represented on the treble clef: Every Good Boy Does Fine – EGBDF.

You can create your own. I’ve created some for my important passwords. Not only will you remember better, but creating mnemonics adds energy that makes things even more memorable.

5. Manage Stress

Stress is a significant problem for memory. When you’re stressed, your body releases cortisol, which has been shown to impair some memory processes. Chronic stress is especially detrimental to memory formation and retrieval. It destroys brain cells and interrupts memory processes in the hippocampus.

Here are three habits that can help.

  1. Keep yourself well-organized. When you’re organized, you know what’s happening and when. You’re operating on the front end instead of the reactive end. Use lists, your tech virtual assistant, a diary or journal, and planning as aids. It’s also good to keep your space and mind decluttered as much as possible.
  2. Be an essentialist. That means cutting out everything you don’t truly need or want to do. Less is better. Sometimes, you can lift your stress level just by cutting out two or three activities that are draining you and that you don’t have to do. Entertain only what’s most essential to your well-being or that you absolutely have to do.
  3. Meditate regularly. Meditation significantly improves cognitive functions, including concentration and focus, memory, creativity, reasoning, and learning. It also creates emotional space and reduces reactivity so you can handle stress more easily and effectively. Studies have shown that meditators have more activity in the left prefrontal cortex associated with feelings of joy and calm. The benefits outweigh the time you invest to do it.

6. Prime Your Body (Don’t ignore this one!)

Get enough sleep.

This one is more important than you think. Here are three major processes that occur during deep sleep related to your memory functions.

  1. Deep sleep aids your hippocampus in consolidating the information you’ve encoded while awake into long-term memory. This is partly why power naps can help memory. However, they don’t make up for the lack of a full night’s sleep. When you don’t get enough sleep, memory consolidation is impaired.
  2. Secondly, a lack of deep sleep impairs the functioning of your frontal cortex the next day, interfering with your ability to concentrate, be alert, and pay attention, all of which are necessary to encode new memories.
  3. Last, the “big rinse” that usually occurs only during deep sleep doesn’t have a chance to do its job. Each day, we accumulate amyloid plaque in our synapses (the connection between neurons). When you sleep, glial cells in your brain wash that plaque away. Think of it as your brain’s dishwasher. It’s removing the dirt, in this case, plaque. When you don’t get enough sleep, amyloid plaque remains in your synapses when you awaken and continue to accumulate. Not only does this interfere with memory making, but it can lead to serious cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

You need seven to nine hours of sleep nightly for good memory and health.

Exercise regularly.

Memory requires consistent growth of new neurons and protection of existing neurons. This process is facilitated by a neurological growth factor called BDNF (protein brain-derived neurotrophic factor). Dr. John Ratey refers to BDNF as “Miracle-Gro” for the brain because it both grows and protects neurons.

Here’s where we get to exercise. Physical activity – especially aerobic exercise – helps produce BDNF. The recommended amount of exercise is at least 150 minutes per week, and you can do it by walking if you like. More is better, but 150 minutes will suffice.

Keep a good diet.

A good diet is necessary for your health and also significantly impacts memory. The basic list of foods to eat includes leafy greens, fruits, whole grains, legumes, berries, nuts and seeds, salmon, and healthy fats such as olive oil. Foods to avoid are sugar (especially), processed foods, saturated fat, fried foods, too much salt, and red meat.

If you are vegetarian or vegan, it’s a good idea to take Omega-3 supplements made from algae oil. Omega-3 fats are necessary for good brain functioning and stable mood. You can also eat walnuts and flax seeds as an aid to Omega-3 production. I’ve been a vegan for some years and take algae oil supplements along with eating walnuts daily, which works fine.

Drink water.

Your brain is 73% water. When you’re dehydrated, even mildly, you run the risk of memory impairment and, over time, brain shrinkage. Water also serves as a shock absorber for the brain and spinal cord. So drink up! Especially when you need brain power for work or a boost in energy.

Try some coffee.

If you’re a coffee lover, rejoice! Caffeine in coffee sharpens your brain and has been shown to enhance memory and reduce the risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. That said, don’t overdo it, and don’t drink it late in the day, as it will interfere with sleep. Also, coffee loaded with sugar and heavy cream might cancel out those good effects.

7. Keep Learning

Memory is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. To build your memory muscle, you need to surprise your brain with things that are innovative, novel, and challenging in order to keep it sharp.

An excellent way to provide that stimulation is to learn something new. It can be new information, how to do something new, or solving a problem. Doing crossword puzzles is fun and exercises your brain, but doesn’t provide the challenge that doing something new does.

Three additional techniques to help you remember what you learn are as follows:

  1. Repeat and rehearse. If you read something, underline what you want to remember and make notes on the side if you like. Then, go back later and reread what you highlighted. For quick memory, repeat something mentally more than several times until you feel it stick.
  2. The Spacing Effect. Try recalling new information over time. You’re more likely to solidify your memory that way. Each time you recall a memory, you strengthen it. Students who space out study sessions over weeks remember what they learned longer than those who cram the night before an exam. Spaced-out repetitions are more effective.
  3. Self-Test. One of the most successful ways to learn and remember something is to test yourself on the information rather than just reread it. Try writing it out, teaching it to someone else, or simply self-testing.

8. Connect

Humans are social beings. We don’t do well with isolation. Even if you’re introverted and enjoy alone time, it’s essential to make connections with other people. A 2007 study found a strong correlation between having an active social life and slower memory decline. Social interactions stimulate your brain. Even ten minutes of conversing with someone can improve memory.

9. Keep a good mindset.

We’ll end with this last one. As you might imagine, what you think and believe about your memory impacts how well it functions. If you repeatedly talk about how your memory is declining, two things happen:

  1. You do less of the things we’ve listed here today that will keep your memory sharp and functioning well.
  2. You’ll remember less. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Lisa Genova:

Like people, your memory will function better if it has high self-esteem. Speak nicely to and of your memory, and it will remember more and forget less.

That’s all for today!

Have a great week!

All my best,



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Attuquayefio, T., Stevenson, R. J., Boakes, R. A., Oaten, M. J., Yeomans, M. R., Mahmut, M., & Francis, H. M. (2016). A high-fat high-sugar diet predicts poorer hippocampal-related memory and a reduced ability to suppress wanting under satiety. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition, 42(4), 415–428.

Bialystok, E., Craik F., & Freedman M. (2007). Bilingualism as a protection against the onset of symptoms of dementia. Neuropsychologia 45(2), 459-464.

Derbyshire, E. (2018). Brain Health across the Lifespan: A Systematic Review on the Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplements. Nutrients, 10(8), 1094.

Genova, L. (2021). Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting. Harmony.

Gupta, S. (2021). Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age. Simon & Schuster.

Kang, H., Voleti, B., Hajszan, T. et al. (2012). Decreased expression of synapse-related genes and loss of synapses in major depressive disorder. Nature Medicine 18, 1413–1417.

Nehlig A, (2016).  Effects of coffee/caffeine on brain health and disease: What should I tell my patients? Practical Neurology, 16(2), 89-95. DOI: 10.1136/practneurol-2015-001162

Rasch, B., & Born, J. (2013). About sleep’s role in memory. Physiological Reviews, 93(2), 681–766.

Ratey, J. J. (2008). Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. Little, Brown.

Ybarra, O., Burnstein, E., Winkielman, P., Keller, M. C., Manis, M., Chan, E., & Rodriguez, J. (2007). Mental exercising through simple socializing: Social interaction promotes general cognitive functioning. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(2), 248-259.

Zeidan, F., Johnson, S. K., Diamond, B. J., David, Z., & Goolkasian, P. (2010). Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training. Consciousness and Cognition19(2), 597-605.

Blog Short #177: Why Do You Remember Something Differently Than Someone Else?

Photo by milorad kravic, Courtesy of iStock Photo

Imagine you’re conversing with a good friend, or maybe your partner or family member, and talking about an event you both experienced. As you speak, your memories of what happened, what was said, and how it felt are different.

You remember some things the same way, but you each recall particular parts of the event differently. Maybe one of you recalls something the other doesn’t remember at all.

Why does this happen?

You probably have some ideas but don’t know how variable and distorted your memories can be. It’s rather impressive!

It’s all related to how memories are formed and retrieved over time and what they mean to you. Other factors are also involved, which we’ll go over today.

It helps to have this information because it will change how you look at past experiences. You’ll understand why your memories can be significantly different than someone else’s and how they can become distorted.

Let’s start with how memories are made.

The 4-Step Process of Memory Formation

Four steps must successfully occur to form a memory and make it stick: encoding, consolidation, storage, and retrieval.

All of these are facilitated by your hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with learning and memory. Let’s go through them briefly.

  1. Encoding is the identification and capturing of what’s happening. It includes recognizing all the sensory information, such as sight, sounds, and smells, as well as the emotions, meanings, and perceptions you assign to what’s happening. Your brain then translates all of this information into “neurological language.”
  2. In the consolidation phase, the hippocampus connects all the encoded neurological information into a “single pattern” of neural associations. In other words, a unique neurological network representing the memory is created and it’s a stable pattern.
  3. Storage occurs once the consolidation process is complete. The memory is maintained over time and stored in your brain, where it can be retrieved.
  4. Retrieval means what it says. You can now recall the memory by activating the neural pattern established during consolidation. And you can revisit it as often as you like.

That all sounds great, right? So what’s the problem?

The problem is that many opportunities exist for distortions to occur along the way. Let’s begin with how memories are stored.

Why Your Memories Might Not Be Accurate or Complete

If you’re like me, you imagine that your memories are stored in your brain in a single location, something like your hard drive on your computer. Or maybe like a huge file room with many files and file cabinets labeled by year.

That, however, is not how it works.

The neural pattern formed when you make a memory is distributed among the different parts of your brain that were involved in creating it (visual, hearing, smells, etc.).

To consolidate the memory, the hippocampus “repeatedly activates the parts of the brain to be remembered until those parts become a stable connected pattern of activity, essentially wired together” (Genova, 2021).

In other words, the memory is not in one place with all the other memories. It’s spread across the areas of the brain that were active and contributed to the memory when it was formed, such as the visual cortex, audio cortex, etc.

It’s a neural network of associations, and when you recall the memory, your brain activates the same associations and connections as a single unit.

Secondly, every time you recall a memory, you edit it based on your current state of mind, circumstances, new things you’ve learned, or values you’ve acquired or changed.

The new memory needs to fit in with your life as it is now, so there are revisions.

Most importantly, once you edit the memory, you replace the old memory with the revised version and can no longer access the original memory. It’s the same as editing a document on your computer and saving it. The old document is gone and replaced with the edited version.

Think of that game where someone whispers something in the ear of the person sitting next to them, then that person whispers it to the next person, and so on until you get around the circle. The final statement that the last person reveals is usually very different from the original statement.

Our memories probably don’t get that distorted, but we do change them with each revision, increasing the chances of distortion.

The Power of Attention

Other factors play a role. The most prominent is “paying attention.”

Not all things that happen become memories. Only those things you pay attention to have a chance of moving to the consolidation phase.

You start with what’s called “working memory.” Working memory is what you can hold in your mind for 15 to 30 seconds, after which time it’s gone unless you signal to the hippocampus that you want to save it in your long-term memory. You can hold only 7 to 9 things, plus or minus, at any time.

Paying attention is the prime mover that facilitates the shift from working memory to long-term memory. What you focus on or pay attention to sticks, and what you don’t goes away.

Have you ever gotten up from one room to go get something in another room, and when you got there, you couldn’t remember what you came for? You didn’t focus long enough on your original thought to keep it in memory, so when you arrived in the other room, it was gone.

This same thing happens when trying to recall more mundane things, such as what you need at the grocery store, that phone call you need to make, or anything that doesn’t have a little more energy to it. The brain likes novelty, surprises, and energy.


Another significant factor in memory-making is the impact of emotion.

Experiences that create strong emotions are more memorable because they stimulate the amygdala, the area of the brain involved in fight, flight, or freeze. Strong emotions get and maintain your attention. They’re sticky.

But here’s the catch: emotions also narrow what you remember. For example, let’s say you have an argument with your partner. What you each take away from that conversation will likely be different. You’ll both recall different parts of the conversation and maybe even different words in some circumstances.

What sticks in your mind is what was most emotionally impactful to you.

Omissions, revisions, and skewed evaluations are due to your emotions at the time. Additionally, every time you recall the conversation, you continue to edit as you try to validate your point of view in your mind.

Sometimes, people rewrite history and add information that wasn’t part of the original conversation. Have you had this experience? It makes things very messy!


Meaning is another very essential factor in memory formation.

When you experience something impactful, you apply meaning to it. To do that, you might draw from previous experiences, or maybe something someone else said or something you recently saw, like a movie or a book you read. Meaning is multi-faceted and open to a lot more interpretation than simply paying attention.

Meaning supplies some of the major differences you might have with someone else when recalling experiences or conversations. This goes for positive as well as negative experiences.

For example, you and your partner might fondly watch your daughter play softball while sitting in the stands at her school but remember parts of it differently because of other memories that are stimulated while watching.

You might reminisce about playing a sport when you were in school or feel the sunshine on your back and be reminded of playing outside with friends in your neighborhood. Your partner may remember his Dad coaching him loudly from the stands as he was playing third base and how that embarrassed him.

Memories can cue other memories that change your experience of the current situation. They supply more meaning, sometimes good and sometimes bad.

What does all this mean?

It means that it’s wise to recognize that your memories can be distorted or partially true, especially over time. Memories not recalled over long periods may fade away as the neural network holding them disbands from lack of use.

So, question them as you recall them. They aren’t videos of what happened. Sometimes, they’re more like impressionistic paintings.

However, you can do some things to improve your memory, which is the subject of next week’s blog. I think you’ll find it helpful.

That’s all for today!

Have a great week!

All my best,



Genova, L. (2021). The Science of Remembering and the Art of Forgetting. Harmony.
Gupta, S. (2021). Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age. Simon & Schuster.

Blog Short #176: Truly Confident People Are Humble

Photo by Ridofranz, Courtesy of iStock Photo

When you think about being confident, is humility part of the equation? Maybe so, but often not.

Confidence feels strong, assured, assertive, self-reliant, secure, capable, and bold. Humility is associated with modesty, meekness, quietness, unpretentiousness, and self-effacement. Some might see it as the opposite of confidence.

We don’t usually associate humility with confidence, but true confidence is informed by humility. Without humility, confidence teeters on the edge of narcissism.

So why would you want to think about this?

Because almost everyone would like to feel confident. There are benefits:

  1. Confident people are attractive and get a lot of social and professional mileage from their self-presentation. They’re admired, sought after, and more likely to succeed.
  2. Feeling confident also makes it easier to interact socially, perform well, and not worry so much about how others perceive you.

In other words, being confident helps you in most facets of your life.

Today, let’s look at how humility plays a role in being confident and what you can do to increase them both.

Confidence versus Narcissism

To understand how humility is a part of confidence, it would help to differentiate confidence from narcissism because they’re often interchanged and confused with each other.

Narcissistic people generally present themselves as very confident – sometimes ultra-confident – especially up front. They can be charismatic, engaging, and exude power.

The same can apply to someone who’s confident yet not narcissistic, but there’s a difference in how they see themselves and others.

A narcissistic person:

  • Sees himself as the center of the world. In other words, his approach to interactions and deeds is ego-centric.
  • He regards others as a means of acquiring admiration, attention, and validation of his superior worth.
  • He feels himself to be above the standard rules of behavior. He can do what he wants without censure because, after all, he knows more than anyone else.

A truly confident person minus the narcissism:

  • Sees himself as part of the world. He recognizes that he has a place with everyone else and feels a kinship with his fellow man. He belongs.
  • He regards others with empathy, respect, and worth. He doesn’t see others as a means to inflate and maintain his ego. Although he believes in his abilities and strengths, he also welcomes and appreciates the talents and assets of others.
  • He embraces behavioral practices that contribute to the good of others while also validating and affirming their contributions.

More to the point, a narcissist gains value for himself by setting himself above others, whereas a confident person values both himself and others as equals and knows that he can learn from people who know more than he does. He welcomes those opportunities. He has no need to one-up or assert superiority.

A confident person is a team player, whereas a narcissist stands apart and above.

Here’s where humility comes in.

Characteristics of Humility

Too often, people view humility as weak.

Picture a person who’s easily taken advantage of, won’t speak up, stoops over a little, stands in the back of the room, caves to other’s demands regularly, has low self-esteem, and is unsure of himself.

That’s an exaggerated characterization, but it captures most of the misperceptions people have about humility.

Being humble doesn’t mean having a low opinion of yourself. On the contrary, you affirm your personal assets but without arrogance.

Humility is a character strength, not a weakness.

Dr. Anna Katharina Schaffner cites the core characteristics of humility defined by researchers as follows:

  1. Accurate self-perception
  2. Modest self-portrayal
  3. Other-oriented relational stance

Being humble means that you seek to know yourself, warts and all. You accurately perceive and acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses without either pride or self-condemnation. You’re open to making mistakes, recognizing them, and improving upon them.

Secondly, you present yourself without boasting, gloating, or attention-seeking behavior. Humility, like confidence, means being comfortable in your own skin. You don’t have something to prove or a need to stand out. Your self-esteem is intact but not inflated.

Third, you value others. Your energy isn’t consumed by self-focus, but you extend yourself to others through empathy, affirmation, respect, kindness, and a willingness to work together. You appreciate the struggles of being human, which allows you to feel belonging and compassion.

Last, you operate with a growth mindset (Dweck). You take up challenges from a place of interest and curiosity rather than a need to prove yourself. Mistakes are welcome because they provide opportunities to learn and grow. You see yourself as a student of life that never graduates but continues to evolve.

Now, let’s put it all together.

How to Increase Your Confidence

To increase your confidence, you must gauge whether you need more humility, less narcissism, or both. Using the definitions above, you probably have some idea of where you are.

By the way, we all have some narcissism, so don’t be afraid to acknowledge that. It’s normal and part of ego development. You just want to be aware and keep it in check.

Focusing on increasing humility will help you do that if you think you need work in that area.

Here are some quick exercises you can do to help you work on creating healthy confidence.

1. Make a thorough list of your strengths and weaknesses.

These can be psychological, emotional, intellectual, or practical. If you don’t know where to start, use this list of character strengths and virtues Positive Psychology offers (download it here).

You don’t have to measure yourself precisely by each of these, but use them as a guide to think more specifically about yourself.

2. Evaluate your self-talk.

What messages do you regularly repeat to yourself about your worth, value, and performance? Are you overly critical? Do you beat yourself up when you make mistakes? Conversely, do you overinflate your values and see yourself as better or above others?

This exercise will help discern your level of self-esteem and the degree to which you use narcissism.

Something to keep in mind is that the flip side of narcissism is chronic self-condemnation. Both keep you from developing true confidence.

3. Next, evaluate how you see yourself in the world.

For example, you might have decided that human beings are horrible, and you want nothing to do with membership in that club. Or you feel you’re not as good as everyone else and never will be. Those are the extremes on the continuum. Where do you fit in?

Use these questions as a guide:

  • How do you relate to others? Are you kind, empathetic, and respectful? That doesn’t mean you spend time with toxic people, but how do you generally comport yourself?
  • Next, how do you feel when interacting with others? Are you comparing yourself or feeling inadequate? Maybe envious? Or are you unsure and uncomfortable? If you’re highly introverted, you may always feel uneasy with new people, but there’s a difference between that feeling and seeing yourself as less than or unworthy. Take some time to think this one out carefully.

4. Last, identify your mindset.

Do you operate with a growth mindset or a fixed mindset?

Are you open to learning new things or hearing new information, or do you think you know more than most people? Do you see mistakes as challenges that offer you growth or as reflections of your failures?

I’ve attached a description of these two mindsets based on Carol Dweck’s research. Look at the list for more details.

Last Note

If you go through these exercises, you’ll get a good idea of where your level of confidence lies and gain more self-awareness about other things, such as your inner voice, view of the world, emotional accessibility, etc.

It’s good to take an objective personal inventory occasionally to become more deliberate with your personal growth and well-being.

That’s all for today!

Have a great week!

All my best,


Blog Short #175: 10 Things You Can Do to Get Out of a Funk

Photo by Prostock-Studio, Courtesy of iStock Photo

Some days, you wake up and automatically know you’re in a funk. You know it before you open your eyes. You roll out of bed slowly, sit up, and sigh. It’s not going to be a good day.

Even after a huge cup of coffee, a hot shower, and a bite to eat, you still aren’t feeling it. Sigh . . . 😳

What to do?

This kind of mood is different than simply having the blahs. It’s got a very negative tinge to it. It’s not neutral. And, it’s uncomfortable and very persistent. You try to think your way out of it, but that doesn’t help. You just become more frustrated.

The good news is that you can do some things to help shift your mood.

1. Check your negative consumption for the day.

The first thing to do is reduce negative static that will only worsen your mood. For today, avoid watching the news, stay away from negative gossip or conversations at work, avoid chronic complainers, and put your negative thoughts away.

If you can’t do that last one successfully, allow yourself 15 minutes (no more than 30) to write down all your complaints and worries, then put them out of sight. Let go of them for the time being. You can return to them when you feel more positive and have the energy to tackle them.

2. Write a gratitude list.

In contrast to your complaint list, write at least three things you’re grateful for, and more if you can.

The more you turn your mind toward noticing what’s going right, the more things you’ll come up with. Doing this balances out your natural negativity bias, which we all have to some degree.

It’s not that you should ignore things that are going wrong, but you have to give at least equal time (if not more) to things that are going right, and by doing that, you’ll feel better. Not to mention, your overall perceptions will be closer to reality.

If you like this exercise, do it every day. Doing it first thing in the morning is best because it sets the tone for the rest of your day.

3. Tackle something you’ve been avoiding.

You know that thing (or things) that have been sitting on the edge of your mind, intruding on your peace and beckoning to be heard? That thing you’ve been putting off doing?

Do it, or at least do one if you have a list of them. Choose one you can complete today without much energy output and get it over with. Then rejoice that you finally got it done! If it’s on a list, cross it off with relish! That will help your mood immensely.

4. Do something for someone else.

Anything and everything counts. Smiling at people you encounter during the day counts. Acts of kindness, listening, and empathizing count. Doing some small thing to help counts. If you’re a parent, all those things you do in a day for your kids count or for your partner.

You likely don’t notice how many things you do or give yourself any credit for them. But they’re all important, and all make someone else’s way easier. They’re of value, as are you.

5. Breathe

At least three times today, do one round of square breathing.

Exhale slowly and fully to a count of four through your mouth. Inhale to a count of four through your nose. Hold it for a count of four, then exhale again through your mouth to a count of four.

Do it several times if you can.

An alternative is to sit quietly and watch your breath for five minutes (or more if you can). Don’t control your breathing; just watch your breath go in and out. When you notice that you’ve gone off into a thought train, qently bring your attention back to your breath without strain.

Both of these exercises will help you reset. These exercises are particularly effective when you find yourself ruminating or overthinking.

6. Watch your self-talk.

What are the stories or narratives you’re telling yourself today?

Types of narratives that will bring down your mood include:

  1. Negative characterizations of yourself. Outlining your faults, deficiencies, and inadequacies. Reviewing your failures with heavy censure. In short, telling yourself all the ways you’re unworthy.
  2. Reviewing all the things that are going wrong and feel impossible to correct. Likely, you’re inflating and exaggerating these situations.
  3. Listing all the things you can’t change, including people with whom you have close relationships.

Self-talk has significant power to influence your mood and impact your incentive (or lack thereof) to take actions that will improve your life.

Make self-talk your friend and partner. It should encourage, support, open channels for creative thinking, energize, and move you forward. It’s your life coach!

To make that happen, be mindful of the negative thought loops you engage in repetitively. When you notice one, stop, reset, and correct the distorted thought pattern you’re absorbed in.

7. List your accomplishments.

Review your accomplishments over the last week, last month, last six months. Write down everything you can think of that you’ve done successfully. When you finish, choose one thing you can do today.

If you’re tired and can’t access your creativity or emotions easily, do something that doesn’t require much of you. Clean out a drawer, mop a floor, make a grocery list, pop a load of clothes in the washer, cook something simple, or perform some office chore that requires minimal thinking or energy.

8. Read or watch something uplifting.

Read a book – fiction or nonfiction, whichever you prefer. You could also read an inspirational blog or article. Choose something that will leave you feeling good. Or you could watch a favorite movie or TV show that makes you laugh or feel inspired.

Whatever you decide, make sure it moves you in a positive direction, not a negative one.

9. Make a date with a friend to do something.

Reach out to someone – a friend, your partner, or a family member – and plan something together. Go out to lunch or dinner, meet for coffee, or go over for a visit.

Being around other people can distract you from your mood enough that it dissipates. It’s like getting a jump start.

10. Accept that it’s a “red light day.”

​Red light days​ are those days when, no matter what you try, you can’t get yourself going or shift your mood. These days feel regressive, and they are. But sometimes this happens because you need them. You’re tired, burned out, and out of sorts.

When this happens, you might be better off to give in. Do the minimum of what you must do, but otherwise, indulge in some self-care. Watch a movie you like, do crossword puzzles, take a hot bath, eat a healthy meal, or whatever you want to do that feels comforting (as long as it’s not also destructive). Exercise is always a good option – outside, if possible.

When you let yourself have a day like this, you’ll feel much better the next day and get back on track. You can’t go full speed all the time!

Last Note

Being in a funk is unavoidable. No one can have all good days. It’s not possible. But so-called bad days have value. Sometimes, the value is that they allow you to slow down and think about what you’re feeling and doing instead of moving along at lightning speed on your daily treadmill.

When they visit you, look for that value. It might be nothing more than taking some time to rest, but days like this can leave you feeling agitated. So, being deliberate about what you do with them can make a difference in what you learn from them.

That’s all for today!

Have a great week!

All my best,


Blog Short #174: How to Use Radical Acceptance

Photo by Liderina, Courtesy of iStock Photo

It’s natural to seek out peace, comfort, and pleasurable experiences. We welcome these things with open arms. They feel good! It’s also natural to repel pain and discomfort and resist the events and situations that bring on those feelings. They’re stressful!

The fact is, you will have both throughout your life. Sometimes, painful experiences feel like boulders coming at you; other times, they’re just small rocks or a little debris.

But regardless of the magnitude of problems coming your way, they will come. It’s the nature of life, and when you can accept and work with them, they provide opportunities to learn and evolve.

When you try to avoid them, they get bigger and come back at you with greater force. You’ve heard the phrase, “What you resist persists?” It’s a shortened form of the original quote from Carl Jung, which is,

What you resist not only persists, but will
grow in size.

That being the case, it’s in your best interest to develop methods of dealing with problems straight up rather than resisting them.

​Marsha Linehan​ developed a specific practice aimed at this issue as part of a therapeutic strategy called ​DBT​ (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.) This practice is “radical acceptance,” which we’re discussing today.

What It Is

Radical acceptance is the practice of fully accepting situations that come at you and are outside of your control.

That doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, but you accept them without judgment as they are. In other words, what’s happened has happened. “It is what it is.”

When you resist, you inflate the situation by piling on negative thoughts and feelings about it. If something is painful or stressful, you make it worse by entertaining thoughts like:

  • Why is this happening to me?
  • It’s not fair.
  • Things shouldn’t be this way.
  • I don’t believe this is happening.
  • It’s one awful thing after another.
  • I can’t deal with this.

There are many more variations of these thoughts and interpretations you can drag out and focus on indefinitely. But regardless of what you think, the situation is still there, and you still have to deal with it.

By accepting the situation as it is and recognizing that it’s not going away and you can’t bypass it, you’re free to figure out how you want to handle it. And because you’re not spending your energy resisting it, you have a better chance of resolving it and moving on.

Radical acceptance is a method of ​distress tolerance​. You’re building your capacity to handle stressful situations objectively and effectively.

What It’s Not

Radical acceptance isn’t about suppressing your emotions.

When something stressful happens, like the loss of a significant relationship or your job, you feel pain. Acceptance doesn’t mean pretending you don’t feel that pain, but rather, you accept that what’s happened is out of your control while allowing yourself to feel it.

Suppression of emotions, just like resistance, worsens things and keeps you stuck longer than necessary to recover or find solutions.

Radical acceptance also doesn’t mean ignoring feelings of grief that may take longer to process. It takes time, maybe a lot of time, but part of grieving is coming to terms with the reality of your loss.

Appropriate Situations for Using Radical Acceptance

Situations where radical acceptance is useful are:

  • Experiencing a loss of any kind – death of a loved one, ending a relationship, losing your home or job
  • Unexpected changes or events that cause distress
  • Feeling stuck or being unable to move on from an adverse event
  • Past trauma or abuse that’s impeding your current life
  • Rumination and overthinking problems without taking action to resolve them
  • Anger management
  • Dealing with avoidance

When Not to Use Radical Acceptance

Situations where radical acceptance is not helpful and can be detrimental are:

  • Abusive or dangerous relationships
  • Being taken advantage of, disrespected, or harassed
  • Needing to set a boundary or stand up for yourself
  • A bad workplace environment
  • An assault on your ethics or values

Radical acceptance doesn’t mean accepting harmful or abusive behavior. But it can mean seeing and acknowledging that such behaviors are occurring and need to be confronted.

How to Use Radical Acceptance

Dr. Linehan provides ten steps for using radical acceptance.

  1. Observe that you’re resisting the reality of the situation. You could examine what’s triggering you or notice your resistant thoughts, like, “Why is this happening to me?”
  2. Remind yourself that you can’t change the situation. It is as it is. Say it to yourself.
  3. Recognize that you have no control over what’s happened. There are causes for this situation, and you can’t go backward.
  4. Think about what you would do if you’d already accepted the situation, and then do those things as though you had accepted it. What are the behaviors you would engage in?
  5. Imagine how things would be if you had accepted what happened. What does that look like?
  6. Use any techniques that will help you accept the reality and apply them. Possibilities are breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, journaling, mindfulness, or meditation.
  7. Allow yourself to feel your emotions of sadness, anxiety, anger, or frustration without using them destructively.
  8. Notice reactions in your body as you let your emotions arise, such as shallow breathing, tension, or pain.
  9. Acknowledge that life can be worthwhile even when there is pain.
  10. Commit to practicing radical acceptance when you feel yourself resisting again.

Some of these steps may seem redundant, especially if the situation doesn’t involve grieving or a significant life change. However, they’re all helpful, and going through them is worthwhile.

Sometimes situations are less involved, yet you still resist them and waste time and emotional energy not accepting them.

Examples might be: Having a flat tire on the way to work, oversleeping and missing a meeting, driving behind a slow driver when you’re late for an appointment, dropping your breakfast on your kitchen floor and making a mess, etc.

All of these situations can bring on emotional resistance and make dealing with them much harder than it has to be.

It’s helpful to take that breath, accept what’s happened, let your emotions cool, and get your mind in a rational thinking mode so you can resolve the problem or let go of the situation if you can’t fix it.

Use the steps as you need to, depending on how great your resistance is and how life-changing or serious the situation will affect you. The goal is to avoid piling on additional pain that’s unnecessary and gets in your way.

The Paradox

The paradox of radical acceptance is that once you fully accept the reality of what’s happening, you’re freed up to use your resources to more readily solve the problem.

Acceptance reduces the emotional noise that’s distracting you from using your thinking and imagination to find solutions.

The second paradox is that the more you use radical acceptance, which is directly dealing with your distress, the more tolerant you are of stress in general.

As you practice radical acceptance and solve problems, you train your mind to bypass resistance so that with each new stressful occurrence, your negative reactions are shorter and easier to overcome.

You’re building your mental “anti-stress muscle.”

Try this approach with small things that aren’t too stressful for starters, and then move on to bigger things. Unless, of course, you like to dive in the deep end right away!

That’s all for today!

Have a great weekend.

All my best,