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Blog Short #167: 6 Ways to Outfox Distractions

Photo by SeventyFour, Courtesy of iStock Photo

Distraction is a growing problem. Nothing new. It’s always been around, but with tech taking over our cultural landscape and online access to everything, we’re more distracted than ever.

How do you fight that when you need to focus and get things done?

Today, we’ll go over the most used and effective strategies so you can pick and choose which ones will work for you.

First, let’s get a quick understanding of what happens in your brain when you get distracted.

Two Things Instead of One

When something interrupts your focus involuntarily or because you’re attempting to do two things at once, your brain has to shift. This entails two tasks:

  1. Goal shifting: Deciding to turn your attention from one thing to another.
  2. Rule activation: Changing from the previous task’s rules to the rules for the new task.

Although these shifts happen in microseconds, they still require time and energy, slowing you down.

If you’re working on something on your computer and a Facebook notification comes up in the corner of your screen, you shift your attention and lose track of your focus on your work task. It then takes time to shift back.

If the interruption is longer or requires extended attention, the time lost in making the switch is only part of the problem.

According to a study conducted by ​Gloria Mark, Professor in the Department of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine,

It can take on average 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after a significant interruption.

Sometimes, you can’t avoid distractions, but by using some simple strategies, you can keep them in check. Here are six of them.

1. Set up the right environment.

There are two parts to this strategy, which James Clear outlines clearly in his book Atomic Habits. These are:

  1. Remove sources of possible friction.
  2. Prime your environment to make things easy.

Avoid friction.

To avoid friction, you must remove any obstacles that might interfere with your focus before starting your work.

  • Put your phone where you can’t see it and silence it.
  • Turn off notifications so nothing can hop up on your screen.
  • Let people know who typically might call you or drop by your office that you don’t want to be interrupted, and close your door.
  • Tell people you won’t access email for the next three (or how many you need) hours.

If you’re at home, you can do similar things. However, if being at home is a distraction because you notice all the house things that need doing, then go somewhere you won’t see them.

In short, remove anything and everything you think might be distracting so you won’t be tempted to deviate from your chosen task.

That’s the “removing friction” part.

Prime your environment.

Priming your environment means setting it up before you start to make your process as easy as possible.

  • Clean off your desk.
  • Have all your supplies readily accessible.
  • If you want coffee, have it ready.
  • Have your favorite pen, paper, computer screen, or whatever you need set up and available.

That will help you avoid getting up and down to get something, looking for something you need, or being uncomfortable and having to go get that pillow to put behind your back.

Get all of that ready upfront.

2. Table emotional issues.

If something’s bothering you and taking up emotional space in your head, write it down. You can do this in journal style or list style.

As you write it down, remind yourself of three things:

  1. You can’t resolve the problem right now.
  2. You will return to it later (you can specify a time) and work on it.
  3. You won’t lose track of it by turning your focus away from it right now and engaging fully in your work. You might even find that new solutions pop up more easily later by leaving it for now.

3. Time-block.

Time-blocking is a great way to focus your mind on any task because it counteracts your resistance.

When you decide to work with complete focus for a specific amount of time, you know the endpoint.

When you decide to complete a task, you don’t know the endpoint because you don’t know how long it will take you.

You might find yourself dreading the process, which often leads to procrastinating, allowing more interruptions, and not fully engaging.

Decide to work for 30 minutes (or any time you choose), and let yourself stop when the time ends. If you get fully engaged when your time’s up, you might take a break and dive into a second-time block. It works!

You can also set an artificial deadline for yourself within a time block. I’ve done this with writing. I decide to write a thousand words in 20 minutes, which helps me let go of my internal critic and write as fast as I can. I call this “ugly writing,” and it works!

4. Do your hardest tasks first.

The best and most famous treatise on this idea comes from Brian Tracy in his book Eat That Frog. If you’ve never read it, get it and do so. It’s short and easy to read and provides all the details on how and why doing your difficult tasks first works.

Four quick ideas about this are:

  1. Your willpower decreases over the day, so doing your hard work first thing is more likely to get it done.
  2. Instead of hanging over your head all day, doing that hard thing early in the day relieves you and frees up your emotional energy for other things.
  3. Doing hard things first consistently sets up a habit that reduces friction.
  4. You get an immediate sense of accomplishment that stays with you all day.

5. Plan the work week ahead.

There’s an art to this to make it work well. Try these things:

  • Set three goals to accomplish for the week ahead. You can set more if you like, but it’s best not to overdo it. Make them specific and measurable.
  • Calendar all the tasks you need to do in time slots to complete those goals.
  • Create each day’s to-do list the night before. It should sync with your calendar.

You don’t want to get up in the morning and ask yourself what you need to do that day. You should know already and be ready to dive in once your day begins.

Be sure to set aside a specific time each day to answer phone calls and emails, check social media, or create posts. That way, you know you’ll get to it, but without it interfering with your focused work.

I find it helpful to put everything on my calendar, including house chores, errand time, etc. That way, I don’t waste time figuring out what to do and when.

6. Build concentration with exercise, meditation, sleep, and a good diet.

Focusing is a muscle. You can improve it with practice and keeping your brain in good shape.

Meditation is a practice of focusing your mind. Doing it regularly naturally increases your ability to attend for greater and greater amounts of time. It also helps you harness your unruly desire to indulge in mindless activity. It’s an excellent antidote to chronic anxiety and stress.

Sleep? Need I say more? You must get at least 7 hours a night. Some people do fine with that, and others need 8. My sweet spot is 7 1/2. Know yours and make sure you get it. Your brain gets cluttered with “brain trash” over the day and needs deep sleep to wash it out. Read more about that here.

Exercise and a good diet, especially together, keep your brain sharp and your mood steady. They also enhance your overall energy. Exercise, in particular, is a great stress reliever. You don’t have to do much. Just make it regular.

Last Thing

Distractibility is less when you’re engaged in something you love that naturally interests you. You’ll be less inclined to let your attention shift under those circumstances.

Still, it’s good to be prepared. For more mundane tasks or those you don’t have an interest in, it’s paramount that you set yourself up ahead of time for success.

Hopefully, these strategies we’ve gone over today will help!

That’s all for today.

Have a great week!

All my best,



Buetti, S. & Lleras, A. (2016). Distractibility is a function of engagement, not task difficulty: Evidence from a new oculomotor capture paradigm. Journal of Experimental Psychology, General, 145(10), 1382-1405.

Clear, J. (2018). Atomic Habits. Avery.

Cherry, K. (2023). How Multitasking Affects Productivity and Brain Health. Very Well Mind.

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

Mark, G., Gonzalez, V. M., & Harris, J. (2005). No task left behind? Examining the nature of fragmented work. University of California, Irvine.

Pattison, K. (2008). Worker, Interrupted: The Cost of Task Switching. Fast Company.

Tracy, B. (2017). Eat That Frog! (3rd Ed.). Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Blog Short #166: Set Yourself Up for Next Year by Doing This

It’s that time of year again when you’re starting to formulate plans for the next twelve months. New Year’s is about a week away, which gives you some time to think about what you want to accomplish.

But, to do that successfully, it helps first to take an inventory of where you are right now because you can’t know where you want to go until you’re clear on where you’re starting from.

Here’s the process that’s helped me clarify my goals each year. Hopefully, you’ll find it helpful, too.

I’ll lay this out in steps, and I suggest that with each step, you write out answers to the questions I’m going to pose. Writing always crystallizes things.

Step 1: Identify your meaning.

We all know how to create to-do lists, but how often do you stand back and ask yourself what gives your life meaning? What’s your sense of purpose?

You may have multiple purposes, but there’s usually one singular overriding meaning or sense of purpose in your life that embraces the others and guides all you do or pursue.

If you’re unsure about this, it’s worth spending some time identifying it.

Do this exercise:

Write down every purpose or meaning (small or large) you have or align yourself with. Don’t narrow down yet. Keep writing until you’ve exhausted all the possibilities.

Once you have the list, begin narrowing it until you can identify and write out the overriding purpose or meaning you associate with your life in a sentence or two.

Too often, people don’t ask the question, “Why am I here?”

It’s an important question, and without trying to answer it, you move through life willy-nilly without having any control over its trajectory. By applying some real thought to this question, you’ll find direction and meaning that energizes and guides your actions.

Step 2: Review your current life status against your overall meaning and purpose.

Now that you’ve identified your life’s meaning and purpose, the next question is,

“Does my current life reflect what’s most important to me?”

Do your activities, relationships, involvements, behavior, goals, and endeavors align with what you’ve identified in the step above as your meaning and purpose?

You’ll likely have both yeses and nos to that question because we’re always a work in progress. So don’t lament that you aren’t working toward what gives you meaning in some areas, but look at it and see where you would like to make some changes.

These two questions will help you figure that out.

  1. What’s working against your purpose and meaning?
  2. What are the obstacles that are keeping you from moving toward what you find most important?

These can be big things like bad relationships or a job that sucks the life out of you, or little things like wasting time on social media every day.

Again, write out the answers to these questions thoughtfully and without censoring until you have clarity.

Use Categories to Organize Your Thoughts

If you’d like to get more specific about reviewing your current life and planning for next year, you might find it helpful to put things in categories so they’re easier to sift through.

Here are the areas I use to clarify where I’m at and if I’m on track with my overall meaning and purpose.

  • Self-Awareness
  • Responsibility
  • Empathy & Connection
  • Self-Discipline
  • Communication
  • Boundary-Setting
  • Physicality
  • Spirituality

Some people use other areas. These are from Tony Robbins.

  • Contribution & Spirituality
  • Finances
  • Career & Mission
  • Time
  • Relationships
  • Emotions & Meaning
  • Physical Body

There are others you can use that are easy to find if you just Google “7 areas of life.”

The ones I use focus more on habits and capacities that enable me to fulfill the meaning and purposes I’ve identified as most important.

The other schematics divide things into specific areas of your life, which you can examine to decide where you need the most change.

Either are helpful and will get you to where you need to go to evaluate the directions you want to take.

This step is the most time-consuming one, but it lays the groundwork for the next step if you take the time to do it thoroughly.

Step 3: Using the areas you’ve decided to examine, write out these two things under each category.

  1. What am I doing right now that’s aligned with my purpose and goals? In other words, what’s already going well, and what habits and strategies am I using that I want to keep?
  2. What needs improvement? What activities or trends are not aligned with my purpose or goals? What’s detracting from them?

You can move to the next step when you’re clear on this.

Step 4: Create new goals.

Now that you have a clearer sense of your purpose that provides meaning for you and have reviewed where you are right now in terms of living that purpose, you’re ready to make new goals.

Using the information you uncovered and wrote down, develop a list of goals you’d like to pursue.

Write them all down.

That doesn’t mean you’ll tackle them all right away. You won’t. But it’s good to have them defined.

The thing about goals is that they generally shift over time because circumstances change, or after you’ve completed one goal, you may decide the next one’s not necessary or not taking you in the right direction.

It doesn’t matter right now whether the goals are absolutely what you will pursue. But having goals helps you take action, so write them down.

Next, prune them.

Get down to several goals. As you do this, make sure that they’re:

  1. Specific
  2. Measurable
  3. Achievable
  4. Relevant
  5. Time-Bound

These are called SMART goals. I’ve referred to these in other articles because I like this handy guide for making goals. You can read more here.

Your overall task is to come up with a few very doable and concrete goals that fall within your criteria of importance and meaning and then set them up in time.

You need to break your goals into actions week to week. If you want to get a new job this year, write down every action step you need to take to make that happen and place it on your weekly calendar.

For instance, you might need to redo your resume, revise your LinkedIn profile, get more training in a new area or take courses, talk to a recruiter, and fill out applications. Break down your list into the smallest components or actions possible.

I personally don’t schedule out more than a month ahead and stick to no more than three action goals per week.

Do what works best for you, but make sure that you track your progress weekly. If you don’t do that, it’s easy to fall off and abandon all your good intentions. For information on how to do that, read this article.

Staying on Track

Using this process will certainly get you going, but as you know, the more challenging part is sustaining your effort ​once your motivation starts to wane.

I’ve mentioned weekly tracking, which you should do, but it also helps to repeat the above process at least twice a year and at least monthly measure your activities against your purpose. By doing that, you keep your big picture in mind, which helps drive your smaller actions and steadies your motivation.

Last, I have two suggestions:

  1. Read ​Atomic Habits by James Clear if you haven’t already.
  2. Consider an accountability partner.

Both will help you create the right system to stay on track.

That’s all for today!

Have a great week, and Happy New Year!

All my best,


Blog Short #165: How to Deal With a Troublemaker

Photo by Khosrork, Courtesy of iStock Photo

When you read that title, did someone come to mind? My guess is yes because there’s no shortage of troublemakers. Why is that? And how do you handle them?

That’s today’s subject.

Let’s start by describing the tools troublemakers use and why they do it. Knowing the tools helps you decide what your approach should be.

The Troublemaker’s Toolbox

Divide and Conquer

“Divide and conquer” is the most insidious of the tools because it happens under the radar before you recognize it’s happening. It occurs when someone pits people against each other to create discord.

Let’s use an office situation as an example.

The troublemaker spreads gossip and untruths from one person to the next until everyone’s upset, disgruntled, and pointing fingers at each other for things they think have been said about them. You go to a staff meeting, and the tension is palpable, but it’s all based on rumors or exaggerations of conversations taken out of context.

Troublemakers love a juicy piece of gossip they can spread, inflate, and use to manipulate or cause chaos.

The motive for dividing and conquering is usually to manipulate to get something. The troublemaker might be jealous of someone or something, want more attention, or use it to compete. An example might be seeking a promotion by making your competition look bad so you look better.

The Strategies:

1. Check information before reacting.

When something seems amiss, or you have an inkling that what you’re observing or hearing doesn’t add up, seek more information to get the whole picture. Check out the validity of what the troublemaker tells you. Dividing and conquering only works when information is hidden, exaggerated, and faulty.

2. Consider the motive.

Ask yourself what this person might have to gain by their behavior. What’s their motive? Who does it hurt?

3. Refuse to play.

If you suspect the motives are not good, refuse to play. Direct their complaints back to the people they’re complaining about, and don’t join in by listening. Move secrets out into the open. Divide and conquer can only work if everyone participates.

Spread Negativity

Another method of causing trouble is chronically complaining and spreading negativity within a group. In this case, the troublemaker is not necessarily pitting people against each other but coming up with reasons why nothing will work or is going well.

Someone has a good idea, and the troublemaker shuts it down. Then, another idea is offered, and the same occurs. And on it goes. Sooner or later, everyone’s irritable and feeling defeated.

Usually, this kind of troublemaking is more visible, so it’s easier to stop.

In families, however, it can create a lot of bickering and hurt feelings as the negativity spreads to everyone and becomes a feedback loop that intensifies the gloom. It’s a case of “yes but” and “misery loves company.”

The Strategies:

1. Call them out.

Make an observation about the behavior.

“I’m noticing that you’ve objected to every idea someone’s offered. Why is that?”

Sometimes, that will stop the deluge. When it doesn’t, you can say,

“You have the right to your opinions and input, but our purpose here is to find solutions, not just shut down suggestions. If you have something to offer that’s constructive, that would be helpful.”

You can word it however you like, but make it clear that chronic complaints or negative responses aren’t helpful.

2. Say how the behavior is affecting you.

Let the person know that the extent of complaining or negatively is distressing you and you’re uncomfortable with it. By doing that, you check it, and most people will stop or at least minimize it.

Under the Table Criticism

In this case, the troublemaker launches somewhat concealed criticisms that don’t match the delivery. They make minor objections with a smile.

The mother-in-law says to her daughter-in-law,

“Dear, don’t you think it would be best if kids had a bath before dinner?”or “Why don’t you put some garlic in your gravy, dear, to give it a little more flavor.”

These are critical shots taken at the other person but couched in flowery language. Sometimes, the criticisms are not so veiled. But either way, the motive is to make the other person feel inadequate and usually unappreciated. The underlying motive is often jealousy.

The Strategies:

You have two choices with this one.

1. Let it roll off you.

That works if you clearly understand these comments come from the other person’s issues and you don’t take them personally even though they’re directed at you. Sometimes, you can use humor to offset them.

2. Set a boundary.

Start by letting the person know they’re hurting you with these comments. That usually puts a stop to it. They’ll likely deny that that was their intent, but it will not matter if it halts the behavior.

If they tell you you’re being too sensitive, you can say,

“Whether you think I’m being sensitive or not, I don’t appreciate the comments and ask you to stop.”

You could also decide not to respond to the “sensitivity” characterization. You’ve already made it clear you don’t like the comments. You don’t need the last word. Sometimes, saying less is more effective.

Entitlement and Neediness

Being needy is not necessarily a tool to cause trouble, but it has the same effect. This person wants a lot of attention and demands it.

The methods used vary from being dramatic, demanding to have their way, needing extra favors and courtesies, being entitled, ignoring the rules, and rolling over other people’s desires and needs.

Being around someone who displays these behaviors is exhausting!

Think of that one family member who comes to visit and needs all kinds of extras. They’re oblivious to the work the host is doing and think nothing of asking for more.

They incite the kids to act out by ignoring rules the parents have set down and made clear.

They interrupt, take over conversations, and need special provisions.

The Strategies:

There’s only one to use in this case:

Set boundaries!

  • Be clear and direct about what’s okay and what’s not.
  • Set rules around behaviors you don’t like and stick to them.
  • Don’t give in to unnecessary demands.

You can do this while still being kind. But by all means, don’t give in. This person will push if there’s even the slightest opening to get what they want.

Not My Fault

“I’m not to blame” is the underlying premise in this case, and the tool the troublemaker uses is projection. These folks:

  • Create problems or messy situations and blame it on someone else.
  • Complain about or accuse other people of doing the very things they do.
  • Blame other people as the cause of their misbehavior.

Using projection to sidestep their poor behavior, these troublemakers stir other people up. They create conflict, mistrust, and anger.

The Strategies:

1. Set boundaries.

Again, you can try setting boundaries by calling out the behavior. If the person has a conscience, they may listen or stop using the same excuses and projections.

2. Don’t react.

Don’t take in the projections. If you don’t accept them, they lose their power.

The tricky thing about projection is that it isn’t always easy to see, and people who use it generally won’t acknowledge it. Often, they believe their projections, so you have no leverage to talk about them. But you don’t have to accept or defend against them.

3. Avoid the person.

Reduce time spent with this person, or avoid them altogether if possible.

Two Shortcuts

In all cases of troublemaking, keeping your reactivity in check will help. Troublemakers like to stir the pot. They thrive off conflict, negativity, and chaos. When you don’t participate, it deflates them and interrupts their process.

Secondly, always look to motive when you’re not sure what’s going on. That’ll help you determine how to proceed.

That’s all for today!

I wish you Happy Holidays!

All my best,


Blog Short #164: 5 Essential Elements to Make Quality Time Satisfying

Photo by Fly View Productions, Courtesy of iStock Photo

Do we need to set aside specific time slots for “quality time” with people we care about?

The answer is not necessarily. It can occur spontaneously in the course of everyday interactions as well as during scheduled time.

What’s more important is whether the time spent includes five essential elements that should all be present in every situation.

They are:

  1. Undivided attention
  2. Interest
  3. Connection
  4. Positive regard
  5. Presence

Let’s go over them.

1. Undivided Attention

In his book, The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman defines quality time as “expressing love and affection with your undivided attention.”

A key phrase here is “undivided attention.”

Quality time requires that you give your full attention to someone while interacting, whether during planned time together or just talking.

It means that you wholly engage and listen when someone communicates with you. This could occur in a five-minute conversation or for several hours together over a long dinner.

Your goal is to make the other person feel heard and understood.

Distractibility’s a big problem.

The whole notion of quality time has arisen in part because our culture has become highly distracted and addicted to multitasking.

Can you sit and watch an entire movie without doing something else?

Maybe you can, but more and more people find they can’t.

I find it hard to give my full attention to anything on one screen without picking up another screen to glance at something simultaneously. Especially that cell phone! What about you? I’m guessing many of you have the same experience.

Our growing distractibility has decreased “quality time” in our relationships.

For example, you talk to your partner while one or both of you is glancing at your phone or looking at the TV.

It’s also not unusual anymore for people to come to the dinner table with their phones or eat in front of the TV.

Go sit in a restaurant and look at the number of people chatting and glancing at their phones at the same time. Or worse, they’re not talking or looking at each other at all but have their faces glued to their phones.

If, for a whole week, you gave your full attention to your partner or your kids when they were talking to you (without a screen), you would significantly increase your quality time without needing to set aside a specific time slot or activity.

If you did that regularly, you’d find the other person wouldn’t pester you for more quality time because they’re getting it.

Now for the next element.

2. Interest

Not only do you need to give your undivided attention to the other person, but you must also show genuine interest.

Genuine interest means being curious, reflective, and wanting to understand what the other person thinks and feels as fully as possible. It requires active listening.

There are four steps involved:

  1. Listen quietly and attentively without interruption.
  2. Ask questions to clarify what’s been said, especially how the speaker feels.
  3. Reflect on what you’ve heard to ensure you understand it correctly.
  4. Respond thoughtfully and with empathy.

When you listen that way, the speaker will know you’re interested in understanding what they’re saying and what they need from you.

This kind of attentive listening will facilitate the third element.

3. Connection

When others feel understood and valued by you, which you’ve shown by giving your undivided attention and interest, they’ll also feel connected to you.

That type of connection and interchange is quality time, regardless of the circumstances of how it’s happening. It can be a quick interchange or a two-week vacation, but the time taken is of high quality if those elements are there during the interactions.

One other element has to be present for the connection to take place.

4. Positive Regard

In Gary Chapman’s definition, he uses the words “expressing love and affection.” He’s mainly referring to intimate relationships such as marriage, parent-child, or close family.

However, quality time can be spent or given to anyone you regard positively, which generally includes affection on some level. Certainly, intimate relationships are in this category.

Still, you may spend quality time with a colleague you might not profess an abiding love for, but maybe some affection, respect, or a strong liking.

The tone of the interaction is positive overall. This is a must.

Positive doesn’t mean that the conversation has to be about positive things, but that the regard for each other is positive.

You can be riveted on someone while arguing with them or attacking them. That’s undivided attention, but it’s not good attention.

Your attention must be accompanied by respect, positive regard, and, in most cases, affection. Both parties must feel a connection that exudes warmth and pleasure in being together.

This brings us to the last element.

5. Presence

Quality time means being present. Giving undivided attention implies that, but there’s more to it.

Being fully present requires you to be willing to suspend your attention to anything else for the time you’re involved. You need to make eye contact, face forward while talking, relax your body, and engage your mind as you follow the other person’s thoughts and emotions. It’s letting the other person feel your full attention, not just your intention to give it.

I’ve intimated that quality time happens when you’re face-to-face with someone. Is that necessary? I think it’s best.

You can have a quality conversation over the phone or by face-timing, but nothing supplants face-to-face presence.

Even when you can see or hear someone on screen, you lose something that can only be captured when you feel the other person through all of your senses.

Face-to-face contact increases empathy and connection. Even a short 10-minute interaction with full presence significantly impacts the connection.

So, when at all possible, be physically and emotionally present to ensure the interaction is of good quality.

With Covid, we’ve had to make alterations, but there’s been a cost.

Quality Time and Rituals

An effective way to get quality time in is to create rituals with people you care about. Rituals are repetitive, so you can count on them and anticipate them with pleasure because you know they’re coming. They also deepen intimacy.

You can have rituals with your partners, kids, friends, and family.

Here’s an example of my own:

Every Saturday night, my husband and I spend a few hours together chatting. We do this while sharing a drink and listening to classical music playing in the background. We sit facing each other and talk about anything and everything. It varies weekly but is always interesting, stimulating, and fun. We end with dinner.

It’s a ritual and one we both look forward to. More than that, we can count on it, so we might save things to talk about that we didn’t have time for during the week. Either way, this is true quality time that’s reliable and helps to maintain closeness.

If you spend that kind of quality time in addition to being fully attentive to each other in general, that makes for a flourishing relationship.

So, let’s summarize.

Quality time:

  • Can occur in everyday unplanned interactions.
  • Can also be scheduled.
  • Might involve specific activities, rituals, or time to be present together.
  • Includes positive regard and affection.
  • Is best accomplished in close physical proximity.
  • Creates a felt connection that adds to each person’s well-being.
  • Can involve just two people, several people, or a group.
  • Is the foundation of relationships that flourish and grow.

When done right, quality time sustains and feeds your relationships and keeps you connected to those you love. It’s worth the time it takes.

That’s all for today.

Have a great week, as always!

All my best,


Blog Short #163: 8 Things You Can Do to Keep Your Mood Steady During the Holidays

Photo by triocean, Courtesy of iStock Photo

Holidays are supposed to be times of warmth and joy and often are, but they can also bring on moodiness, depression, or sadness.

They clutter up your to-do lists, highlight losses and loneliness, and sometimes create family drama.

There are some things you can do to manage your moods during the holidays that will make them more enjoyable and help you deal with stressors as they arise.

Here’s a list of strategies you can use.

1. Keep a routine.

Any time you have time away from your job or your regular daily routine, you can feel at odds with yourself.

You might start ruminating about things you normally don’t think about, or you recall losses and linger on them.

Sometimes, you feel out of whack and mildly uncomfortable because you’re operating on a different schedule.

Although some people enjoy the change-up in their routine, more people feel adrift when the routine scatters about. You eat more and at different times, engage in other activities, and interact with people you might not usually see regularly.

If you like your routine and look forward to doing the same things at regular times every day, then the upset might knock you off kilter and make you moody.

If so, it’s good to establish a new routine just for the holidays so you know what you’ll be doing and when.

That can help restore your sense of control and make you feel better. Also, carve out a little time each day for yourself to be quiet and recuperate.

2. Reduce the workload.

Holidays are fun but a lot of work, especially if you’re heavily involved in the preparations. There’s gift buying, food prep, entertaining, kids home from school, decorating, and coordinating all of that so everyone’s happy. It’s a lot!

There are several ways you can reduce this stress:

Manage your expectations.

Reduce the number of masterpiece meals, decorate less, and buy more gifts online.

Be selective about the activities and events you choose to engage in. Don’t try to do everything. If you want lights outside, do a couple of single strands over some shrubs and forego the lights around the rim of your roof.

I’m not saying you should exclude things that are a tradition or that you love, but balance what you do with the time you have so that you can enjoy the holidays, not just be in charge of orchestrating them.

Secondly, delegate.

Let other family members help – a lot!

Let everyone join in the decorating. Make it fun! Listen to Christmas music while you do it.

Assign tasks and enjoy group projects. Get takeout for dinner, or have potlucks. Give everyone house duties.

Pick and choose special events.

Don’t do them all. Go to those community events you love. Let everyone vote on what they want to do, and then get it down to a manageable list.

Schedule things ahead so you know what’s on tap and when.

3. Take care of yourself.

Make sure you sleep enough, stay hydrated, eat well most days, and don’t indulge in too much alcohol.

Part of the holiday mindset is letting go and indulging in sweets, rich food, alcoholic beverages, staying up late, and entertaining.

It’s all fun, but there’s a cost. Your body keeps the score, and before you know it, you feel cranky and mildly depressed.

Once your body’s overwhelmed with too much of everything, you won’t be able to control your mood.

So be mindful and spread out your indulgences and keep them within control.

By the way, alcohol is a depressant. It also lowers blood sugar, dehydrates, and interrupts sleep.

4. Allow yourself to feel losses.

Holidays can bring up strong emotions. You might feel things more acutely, especially losses you’ve experienced. You miss people more deeply or sometimes pets you’ve loved and lost.

Allow yourself to experience the feelings of loss, which will help you cope with them.

It helps to talk them through with a close family member or friend. Journaling is also a good option.

One year, when I was particularly missing my Mom, I wrote an email to her even though I couldn’t send it, which was helpful.

5. Counter loneliness.

Loneliness can move in and invade your emotional space if you’re alone and don’t have people to be with during the holidays.

Accept invitations to have dinner with friends or join in their holiday celebrations.

You can also consider volunteering. You’ll feel needed and appreciated and have the added gratification of helping someone else.

Volunteering connects you socially, increases your empathy, expands your environment, and makes you feel a part of something. It provides meaning and gives you purpose.

If you’re okay with being alone, make your days enjoyable by doing things you like to do for yourself.

6. Stick to a budget.

There’s something about the holidays that loosens up your inhibitions and encourages you to toss caution aside.

Overspending is a testament to this mindset and has an ugly aftertaste when the holidays are over, and the credit card bills start coming in.

Make a budget upfront. As you do it, imagine how you’ll feel about your expenditures mid-January. Let that image settle in your mind so you take great care in deciding what you’ll allow yourself to spend.

Gifts don’t have to be expensive to be meaningful. Focus on the meaning and intent rather than the monetary value.

7. Keep the peace.

Holidays are family time, which sometimes creates opportunities for bickering, hurt feelings, opening old wounds, or colliding opinions – in other words, your very own version of the Griswold family from “Christmas Vacation.”

To keep the peace, try these things.

Plan ahead.

You know who doesn’t get along with who and what activities create squabbles. Decide how to avoid those situations and establish rules or policies to keep it to a low rumble.

Maybe you make a seating chart for dinner so people who tend to bicker don’t sit next to each other. Or you have people stay in AirBnB’s instead of all at your house.

Set rules.

My family doesn’t talk politics at the table during holiday get-togethers. That’s one of the rules. Another is no cell phones while eating.

What rules do you need to set up to keep everyone comfortable and the atmosphere conflict-free?

Set boundaries.

Rules are boundaries, but you may also need to set other boundaries, like:

  • Who comes over, and for how long?
  • Who stays the night, and who doesn’t?
  • What activities are okay for the kids, and what are not?
  • When is bedtime for everyone?
  • Who can be in the kitchen when you’re cooking, if anyone?

Boundaries are lifesavers, especially when they’re clear and spoken.

If you have a partner, you should decide together ahead of time what all the boundaries and rules are, along with how you intend to enforce them. That way, you can work as a team to make it run smoothly.

8. Monitor noise.

Noise can be overwhelming, especially for people more sensitive to it.

Keep it low enough to allow people to talk, be heard, and have a good time while keeping the atmosphere comfortable.

Media is a strong presence and has an impact on how everyone’s feeling. It’s a significant source of noise. Decide ahead:

  • What can be on TV and when?
  • What music can be played, when, where, and at what volume?
  • What kinds of media can the kids consume, and at what times?

You don’t have to be dictatorial, but you can ask that there be no phones during meals, when opening gifts, or at any other gathering times. It’s up to you!

That’s my list. The whole idea of holidays is to share happiness and love and enjoy being together. Hopefully, some of these ideas will help ensure you have those experiences.

That’s all for today.

Have a great week!

All my best,


Blog Short #162: The Pros and Cons of Sarcasm

Photo by Vasilisa_k, Courtesy of iStock Photo

Sarcasm permeates our culture and is a regular part of everyday conversations and interchanges. Comedy, in particular, uses sarcasm liberally.

I was reminded of this recently while watching an episode of Seinfeld and laughing at some of the sarcastic comments that are a regular part of Jerry’s responses to George, Elaine, and Kramer. It’s hilarious in that context, but sarcasm also has a dark side and can be deadly to our relationships with each other, especially intimate ones.

When is sarcasm okay to use, and under what circumstances, and when not?

Let’s start with a definition.

What is Sarcasm?

Here are three definitions:

“Sarcasm is a form of communication intended to convey the opposite of what is literally said” (Golden, 2022).

“Sarcasm is an indirect form of speech intentionally used to produce a particular dramatic effect on the listener” (McDonald, 1999).

“Sarcasm refers to the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really want to say, especially in order to insult someone, or to show irritation, or just to be funny” (Merriam-Webster).

So what can we take from these?

  1. Sarcasm is indirect and requires the receiver to decode it.
  2. It’s potent and has a dramatic effect.
  3. Someone can use it to insult, show irritation, or be amusing.

However you cut it, sarcasm likely has an emotional impact, and it’s not always a good one.

Let’s review the positive and negative aspects of sarcasm, and then I’ll give you some guidelines for considering when and if to use it.

The Positives

There are two emotions most associated with sarcasm: these are anger and humor. We’ll get to anger in the next section, but let’s start with humor, which is more often associated with the positive side of sarcasm.

1. Create Intimacy

When done without malice to tease affectionately or deliver inside jokes, sarcasm can create intimacy and bond us together. Good friends, romantic partners, close family members, and even work colleagues sometimes use sarcasm to build camaraderie. Inside jokes are especially common for people who feel closely connected.

2. Relieve Tension

A second positive effect is using sarcasm to relieve tension and stress during trying situations. A humorous, sarcastic remark delivered during a difficult time can ease anxiety and provide comic relief.

3. Increase Creativity

Third, sarcasm used in the workplace between people who trust each other has been shown by research to increase creativity. That’s because sarcasm requires more thinking outside the box. If you have to come up with creative word choices and phrases, it primes your brain to be open to more inventive solutions to problems.

4. Give a Backhanded Compliment

The last positive is that sometimes sarcasm is used to offer backhanded compliments. For example, if your friend who put on a dinner party frets that no one liked what she cooked, you could say, “Yeah, it looks like it was awful! There’s not a bite left! Everyone scarfed it down! Pretty sure they hated it!”

You would probably make everyone laugh, including the cook, but it has a little bite. Would it have been better to say, “It was great! Everyone obviously loved it because there’s not a morsel left. You did a great job, as usual!?” Which would feel better? Most likely, this second one.

The Negatives

Now for the negatives.

Sarcasm is damaging when used to criticize or deliver a passive-aggressive expression of frustration, annoyance, anger, envy, or contempt. In any of those circumstances, it can:

  • Create tension
  • Undermine trust
  • Divide and distance
  • Betray
  • Build resentment

When the person delivering sarcasm aims at the receiver’s vulnerable or soft spots, they risk hurting the other person, even if they shrug it off and laugh. This is especially true when the feeling behind the sarcastic remark smacks of hostility or anger. The aggression comes through.

It’s even worse when the person delivering the message denies their aggression by saying, “I was only kidding.” Now we’re moving into gaslighting.

The questions are:

  1. What’s the rationale for delivering a sarcastic remark if there’s the possibility that it could hurt the receiver or create confusion?
  2. Why not be direct about what’s bothering you without insulting or attacking someone?

Showing Contempt

Sarcasm used with aggression turns into contempt. You’re asserting your superiority over the other person. You might as well just come out and say, “I’m better than you!”

Research has shown contempt to be one of the most destructive devices in the breakup of marriages (John Gottman). It’s damaging to any relationship.

A Few More Considerations

Before we get to guidelines, there are a few more bits of information regarding gender differences in using sarcasm that are good to know.

Research has validated that men are more prone to using sarcasm than women. I would guess this is partly due to men’s upbringing to be more stoic and less directly expressive when verbalizing feelings. That has changed significantly over the last fifty years, yet it’s still a part of male socialization.

Engaging in sarcasm is a vehicle of male bonding to some degree, making it more acceptable. However, it still can have the same negative impact on men, although they may not show it or verbalize it. Women are less sarcastic overall but more so when talking to men than to other women.

Lastly, countries that value individualism, like the US and other Western cultures, use more sarcasm than countries that value collectivism. That doesn’t mean that aggression is different in those countries, but rather that it’s expressed through other mechanisms.

Now, let’s look at guidelines for use.

When and When Not to Use Sarcasm

Use sarcasm only when it’s appreciated equally by the giver and receiver.

Obviously, this means that before you make a sarcastic remark, ask yourself if the person you’re speaking to will find it as humorous as you do, if that’s your intent, or if they’ll appreciate the meaning behind it. If not, don’t do it.

Be extremely careful with using sarcasm to poke fun at someone’s soft spots or vulnerabilities.

It’s better to avoid doing this at all. Why take a chance?

Never use sarcasm when you’re angry, annoyed, frustrated, or feeling any hostile intent whatsoever.

Sarcasm can only make things worse and prevent you from resolving any issues that need attention. It will push the other person further away and build resentment. If you have a problem with someone, approach it directly. Say what you mean and consider the other person’s reactions, feelings, and possible responses before proceeding.

Avoid being contemptuous or disrespectful in any way, especially when using sarcasm.

Contempt is destructive. Verbalizing honest thoughts and feelings about an issue is fine, but doing it sideways with contempt will bring nothing but more destruction.

If you’re unsure, ask yourself:

“Might I hurt this person’s feelings by saying (whatever it is)?”

That will usually clear it up quickly for you.

Last Thing

It is fun sometimes to think up sarcastic remarks because it’s creative, and you can feel clever when you come up with a good one. I’ve done this many times myself. However, it’s not so brilliant when you truly consider how somebody will receive it and make them feel. Sometimes it’s just hurtful.

In dealing with couples in marriage counseling, I’ve noted that those who use a lot of sarcasm and, ultimately, contempt don’t last. The accrued negativity destroys the relationship over time.

The bottom line is to think hard before making a sarcastic remark to be sure you don’t hurt someone in the process.

That’s all for today.

Hope you have a great week!

All my best,



Blasko, D., Kazmerski, V. & Dawood, S. (2021). Saying what you don’t mean: A cross-cultural study of perceptions of sarcasm. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 75(2), 114-119. DOI:10.1037/cep0000258

Dauphin, P. V.  Sarcasm in relationships. University of Pennsylvania.

Golden, B. (2022, Feb. 17). Key facts about sarcasm that can improve your relationships. Psychology Today.

Lisitsa, E. The four horsemen: Criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. The Gottman Institute.

McDonald, S. (1999). Exploring the process of inference generation in sarcasm: A review of normal and clinical studies. Brain and Language 68(3), 486-506. DOI: 10.1006/brln.1999.2124

Pederson, N. (2018, Dec. 5). Sarcasm: A clever way to destroy marriages. Medium.

Rockwell, P. & Theriot, E. M. (2001). Culture, gender, and gender mix in encoders of sarcasm: A self-assessment analysis. Communication Research Reports, 18(1), 44-52. DOI:10.1080/08824090109384781

Blog Short #161: How to Train Your Mind to See Silver Linings

Photo by Leonsbox, Courtesy of iStock Photo

We’re approaching Thanksgiving, so I thought I would focus on something more fitting this week. The idea of “silver linings” popped up in my mind because I’ve been thinking about some of mine lately and being grateful for them.

I won’t go into those, but I have some ideas for you about the value of silver linings, how to train your mind to notice them, and how best to access them.

Let’s dive in.

Where Silver Linings Live

I’ll start with an idea I’ve always resisted yet admitted to be true because of the evidence, both personally and otherwise. It’s this:

People seem to learn more, gain more insight, and feel more compelled to change when they suffer.

That’s an awful thought, isn’t it? You might argue that’s not always the case, and it isn’t, but it is more often than not. Friction, interruptions, obstacles, loss, and disappointments bring things to your attention that might not otherwise surface. They force you to look at things differently and then work to resolve the issues that arise from them.

Sometimes, the outcome is very positive and lifts you to a better level or place, and sometimes, you’re left with regrets or sadness, and sometimes the longer-term effects of trauma.

Even so, you might eventually find silver linings – some small (or large) insight that provides more meaning, opens up opportunities, or gives you peace.

Better yet, you can tune your mind toward noticing silver linings when they’re there. Here are some strategies to help you do this.

Habits that Help You Notice Silver Linings

1. Cultivate gratitude.

Gratitude isn’t just something you feel when you appreciate an experience or someone’s kindness toward you. It’s a mindset, and you can cultivate it. By doing so, you notice all kinds of things going on around you that you’re grateful for and appreciate but usually fly under your radar.

We’re so busy and distracted that we often don’t notice small graces and gifts or take the time to appreciate them. By making a conscious, concerted effort to take notice, you can greatly increase your sense of gratitude, allowing you to see the world in a more balanced way.

Humans operate with a negativity bias, so we naturally throw our attention that way, which colors our perceptions. Practicing gratitude helps counteract that.

Keeping a gratitude journal is the best practice for creating an appreciative mindset. It doesn’t have to be anything time-consuming or elaborate. Simply write – digitally or by hand – at least three things you’re grateful for daily.

If possible, I’d suggest doing this first thing in the morning because it sets your outlook before diving into the day. I’ve done this daily for more than eleven years now. I write ten things every morning with coffee before I get going. I’m always amazed at how such a small thing can shift my mood. It works.

Making it a habit also attunes you to noticing positive happenings in your environment and primes your mind toward recognizing silver linings when they occur.

2. Watch the stories you tell yourself.

We’re storytellers and, as such, create an ongoing narrative of our experiences – past, present, and future. These narratives tell the stories of our lives but are biased because we formulate them through the lens of our emotions, thoughts, values, beliefs, and reactions. They’re based on our interpretations of our experiences and embellished to fit in with our personal views of reality.

Our stories have power! They affect how we see and perceive every aspect of our lives.

You might miss those silver linings if your interpretations consistently lean toward the negative. We tend to hang on to what’s familiar, even if it’s not good for us. Silver linings usually challenge that kind of familiarity.

To change that, you need to carefully watch those narratives and do your best to interpret them more equitably.

That doesn’t mean being a Pollyanna, but giving equal time to the positive aspects of things as much as you do the negative. It makes life much easier.

3. Be aware of your information consumption.

You must be aware of your consumption of negativity from the media, toxic people, and toxic situations. We’ve just been talking about stories you tell yourself, but these are the stories other people are telling that you take in.

Just as our personal stories get skewed by our biases, stories from other sources often contain faulty information yet impact how you see the world and yourself in it.

This is particularly true with the prominent place social media has taken in our daily lives and its focus on sensationalism. Between email, social media, and the news, we get an ear and eye full that can clog us up emotionally and leave us feeling dazed and helpless.

Then there’s the ongoing chatter and influence from toxic interactions and relationships.

All of this will obliterate your view of silver linings, gratitude, and any sense of peace. Make sure you choose who and what you listen to to avoid teetering on the edge of doom.

Five More Things

Here’s a quick list of five more things you can do:

  1. Cultivate mindful optimism.
  2. Practice compassion for yourself and others.
  3. Watch out for catastrophizing and what-ifs.
  4. Do small things that bring you joy.
  5. See obstacles as challenges and embrace working on them rather than resisting them.

How should you access silver linings?

That may seem like a strange question– you access them when they come to you, right? Not always.

When you’re struggling with something or reacting negatively to an experience, there are usually people around you who, in the name of helping, try to distract you from your suffering. They say things like “Look on the bright side,” or “At least you didn’t get fired,” or “You’ll feel better in no time.”

These kinds of comments are usually intended to help and soothe you, but more often than not, they invalidate your natural reactions to adverse events.

Silver linings are not meant to blot out your natural responses to hurtful experiences that cause you to suffer.

You must go through those emotions until you can digest them and decide what to do. Don’t rush them. Allowing yourself to feel something all the way through helps you find those silver linings when you’re ready.

If you incur a physical injury, you can’t hurry up the healing process. You might do some things that help, like physical therapy or medication, but you still have to go through the healing process. And as you do that, you might learn something that leads to a lifestyle change to help prevent the same injury again.

I’m not saying you can’t tell yourself to look on the bright side or notice the “at leasts.” Just make sure you’re not suppressing your emotions because that’ll come back to bite you.

Learning to be patient with overcoming obstacles is more important than getting over them. That patience is the open door to the silver linings and your insights about them.

You can prime yourself to see them using the exercises we went over, but don’t rush them by trying to suppress your natural reactions to things that cause you to suffer.

A Quick Summary

Here’s our three takeaways:

  1. Cultivate regular practices that balance out your positivity and negativity so that you’re open to silver linings.
  2. Be patient with experiences that cause upheaval, suffering, or create obstacles. Allow yourself to work through your thoughts and feelings about them over time.
  3. Let silver linings come to you naturally as you work through adverse situations. Don’t rush them.

That’s all for today.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

All my best,


Blog Short #160: A 3-Step Process for Resolving High-Stake Conflicts

When you have a conflict with someone, especially someone you’re close to or know well, emotions can run high, and talking things out isn’t always successful. These are the types of conversations that have the potential to escalate quickly and create a stubborn rift that’s hard to mend.

One of the things people often do that makes these situations even more challenging is expecting to resolve them in one conversation. That applies additional pressure and sets the scene for a negative outcome, hurt feelings, and words you can’t take back.

A better approach is to solve the issue over time using some carefully crafted steps, which is what we’re going over today.

Let’s start by reviewing the type of problems that are more likely to need this multi-step approach.

Issues That Flame the Fire

Problems that are challenging to resolve and potentially flame the fire quickly are as follows:

1. They have a backstory.

The problem has come up before, and likely more than several times, and attempts to resolve it have ended in a stalemate. Sometimes, you put it away for a while or decide to let it go, but the issue remains. Sooner or later, it surfaces again and builds until there’s another attempt to resolve it, but you fail.

2. The emotional stakes are high.

The issue is saturated with strong feelings so that when the disagreement goes unresolved, bad feelings linger, negatively affecting the relationship and building resentment.

Even if the issue goes underground for a while, the negative emotional repercussions affect how each person feels toward the other. Sometimes, those feelings get shoved into other areas of the relationship or show up as ongoing bickering over more minor things. If the pattern continues long-term, it can erode the relationship.

3. The challenge involves differences in style, temperament, or emphasis.

Sticky problems can arise because of differences in personality characteristics and approaches.

An example might be a person who’s at home with emotions and likes to express them versus someone who’s more reserved and approaches things from a place of rationality and logic. Or maybe someone who likes things organized and planned out versus someone who flies by the seat of his pants and is spontaneous.

In both cases, the approaches clash and can leave both people scratching their heads and frustrated.

What do you do?

Sometimes, you can talk something through in one sitting and be successful, but if the problem falls into any of the above categories, it’s best to work on it over several conversations.

Here’s a blueprint for how to do that.

The First Conversation

The first conversation’s purpose is to understand where each person is, what they want, and how they think and feel about the issue. It’s not about solving the problem.

The trick is to do this without getting into an argument or exacerbating negative feelings between each other. Following these steps will help.

  1. Make it a rule at the outset that each person will get to talk without interruption until they signal that they’ve finished.
  2. One person takes the lead and lays out their version of the issue, how it affects them, and what they need to feel resolved about it. While this person talks, the other person should listen with openness and ask questions to clarify but suspend evaluating or responding to what they’re hearing. The goal is only to fully understand how that person views the situation and what they want or need.
  3. Next, swap places and go through the same process for the other person.
  4. Now, see if together you can write a clear statement defining the issue and what each person needs to feel that it’s resolved.

It’s important to make sure you don’t slip into problem-solving during this step. Also, avoid making any judgments about each other’s point of view. Your only goal is to understand where each of you stand.

Now Take a Break

A break can be for a few hours, a day, several days, or more. If it’s a highly contentious problem, more time is better. During the break, do these two things:

1. Look at the situation through the other person’s lens.

Even if you disagree, you can still imagine the other person’s mental processes and how they’ve come to their conclusions based on what they think and feel about the issue.

This step is often the hardest because it’s rare that we take the time to try to see something we have a substantial stake in from the other person’s point of view.

However, doing so is necessary and aids in finding a solution.

2. Get clear on what you both want or need.

Write this out with specifics for each person. This is key to resolving the problem.

The Second Conversation

The second conversation aims to bridge the emotional gap between the two of you so that you feel like a team working toward a solution instead of opponents.

To do this, go through this exercise:

Each of you should review out loud what you think the other person needs or wants, along with what they think and how they feel about the situation.

Doing this creates empathy for each other and ensures you understand where each of you is coming from. If you haven’t already, you need to connect and get on the same side.

Take a Second Break

During this break, your assignment is to generate ideas to lead to a win-win. Both of you should do this individually.

Using the insights you’ve gained from looking through the other person’s lens and using what you know about them, what would they need to feel satisfied with the outcome?

Now, think about yourself; what will work for you while also accommodating the other person? What’s a win-win you can both be happy with?

These solutions may not come up quickly and might take several rounds of thinking and considering different options. Still, the exercise will help you move toward a resolution.

The Third Conversation

Now it’s time to problem-solve. You can begin laying out the ideas and strategies you’ve each generated on your own and see how they sit.

Negotiate something that works for both of you and feels like a win-win rather than a win-lose.

An Important Benefit

In addition to resolving a complex issue with a win-win, using this 3-step process will also help you preserve the relationship.

When you’re angry, helpless, or feeling attacked, you’re much more likely to unleash your emotions with damaging words. It’s not unusual for people to dish out ultimatums, make threats, or attack the other person when they’re furious or outraged.

If you can hang in during an argument without doing any of those things and maintain your regard for the other person, you might go ahead with it. Even so, there is value in dividing the conversation into the steps we’ve gone over and resolving it over time.

The mission is to not only solve the problem, but maintain respect and feel positive toward each other when you get to the end of the process. When you don’t, you have a lot more to repair when it’s all over than just the initial problem.

The more you engage in personal attacks, the less likely the relationships will remain intact.

So, next time you have a burning issue to work out with someone, try this approach and see if it helps. By the way, this process works at the office as well as at home.

That’s all for today.

Have a great week!

All my best,


Blog Short #159: Why Self-Awareness is Important and How to Boost It

Photo by Sean Anthony Eddy, Courtesy of iStock Photo

You hear about self-awareness and the importance of it all the time, and it is important. But it’s helpful to know why it’s of value and what you gain from making it a habit.

Today, I’ll give you a quick sketch of what it is, a little about the theory behind it, and how you can use it to increase your well-being.

What is Self-Awareness?

My favorite definition of self-awareness comes from ​Courtney E. Ackerman, MA​, who writes for Positive Psychology. She states:

Self-awareness is the ability to see yourself clearly and objectively through reflection and introspection.

The whole notion of self-awareness assumes that we’re more than our thoughts. We’re the observer and the one who experiences. In other words, we can stand outside ourselves and watch and evaluate what we’re thinking, feeling, and doing.

The Purpose of Self-Awareness

By being able to observe and evaluate yourself, you’re able to see if your thoughts, feelings, and behavior align with your standards and values.

This means that self-awareness lets you know when you’re not operating or acting according to what you believe is right and what you value.

When you see a discrepancy between those two, you can make corrections and change your behavior accordingly.

Self-awareness is an exceptional capacity we have that other animals don’t have. However, there are degrees of it, meaning some people are highly self-aware and take advantage of this ability, and some fall on the other end of the continuum and have little self-awareness. They cruise through each day, acting and reacting without observing or evaluating their behavior, thoughts, and emotions.

That can be very problematic because it means you have little control or insight into your life and how you live it.

Here’s a list of benefits that you get when you’re self-aware but miss out on when you’re not.

The Benefits

This list is not exhaustive, but it captures the most critical capacities we need to evolve and thrive as human beings. All of these are enhanced and made possible by being self-aware.

  • Develop and maintain your conscience
  • Be able to empathize with others
  • Learn from history and avoid making the same mistakes over and over
  • Monitor, direct, and control your behavior
  • Create, plan, and reach goals
  • Engage in and sustain healthy relationships
  • Understand social cues
  • Take proper care of your body and health
  • Manage your emotions and moods
  • Find meaning that sustains you
  • Make well-thought-out decisions
  • Work with groups collaboratively
  • Increase emotional intelligence

Now, let’s look at how you can increase your self-awareness.

Practices to Enhance Self-Awareness

1. Meditation

I put this at the top of the list because the very act of meditation is an exercise in self-awareness. Regardless of the type of meditation you do, you’ll be involved in the practice of watching yourself. You might be watching your breath or a repetitive mantra, observing your body sensations or other stimuli, or visualizing an image. You’ll be actively involved in becoming more self-aware.

People who meditate regularly eventually become more aligned with the one watching than the one experiencing, and the results are greater calm, peace, emotional stability, acceptance, and compassion.

2. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is both a type of meditation and an exercise that you can use at any time. It entails noticing your thoughts, feelings, or sensory sensations as they arise without reacting to them. You’re like a curious bystander watching from the sidelines. The reward is that you get some space to choose whether or not to respond and how to do so.

If you’re angry, you can step back and observe yourself having that feeling, which allows you to think about how you want to react. It’s a little like a director freezing a scene temporarily while filming a movie to think about where he wants it to go before continuing.

Mindfulness practices allow you to become the writer, director, and actor simultaneously.

3. Journaling

Journaling has long been used to process thoughts and feelings. It’s a method of getting more clarification and insight that you can use to make better decisions. When you put thoughts and feelings in writing, you crystalize them in a way that gives you a clearer picture of them.

If you’ve ever needed reading glasses, it works a little like that. When you read without them, the words are blurred and run together, but when you put them on or you hold the book far enough back so you can focus, everything is clear and concise. You know exactly what you’re looking at.

Journaling is a great and easy way to get that kind of mental clarity.

4. Listening

We talk a lot. We like to express ourselves. But listening is an indispensable method of becoming both self-aware and other-aware. When you listen, you learn and gain insight. By listening, I mean listening to:

  1. Someone else speak or to conversations that are going on around you
  2. Your own thoughts and body sensations
  3. Sounds in the environment you wouldn’t necessarily hear unless you purposefully tune in, like birds singing or a car whizzing down the road

To truly listen, you have to be quiet and attentive. You have to remove distractions like tech devices or screens of any kind. When you stop, get quiet, and listen, you hear things that typically fly under your radar. You gain insights and a broader perspective, so you have more information.

The more you listen to both your inner self and outer environment, the more you know. And knowledge is power.

5. Talking therapy

Therapy is, or should be, about increasing self-awareness and gaining insight into how you see the world, yourself, and others. Some therapies focus on particular problems, such as anxiety or depression, which is fine, but self-awareness is always a key part of the work.

Talking with someone you’re very close to and trust is also a good avenue for increasing your self-awareness. You get feedback and different perspectives, as well as validation.

All these activities are helpful, and you don’t have to do them all. Choose one and try it for a while to see what you learn about yourself that you didn’t know. It’s an ongoing process, and the more you do it, the more you know.

The Right Mindset

You can become too self-aware. That happens when you get perfectionistic in your pursuit of knowing every minuscule thought or feeling that pops up, or you become overly self-conscious. You’re watching yourself with a judging eye and likely not measuring up.

Self-awareness is valuable when used without judgment. That doesn’t mean without evaluation, but without assigning good/bad appraisals to yourself.

The idea is to watch anything that arises in your mind or that you feel and evaluate how it fits your values and standards. It’s a process of being curious and learning, not being obsessive.

As soon as you begin to censor or punish yourself, you lose that open awareness and close it down. Then, you might start repressing, suppressing, and denying what you don’t want to see. That’s the opposite of self-awareness.

This experience I’ve had might help a little.

When I first started meditating years ago, and even now, I was horrified at times by the thoughts that popped up in my mind during meditation. Meditation loosens your subconscious and knocks down the dam holding all that stuff back.

Over time, it became easier to watch the flood come and go without reacting while also gaining insight into myself.

That’s the whole point.

To become self-aware is to become more compassionate – with yourself and with others.

It’s hard to be a human being, isn’t it? Yes, but knowing yourself is far better than not knowing. Again, knowledge is power.

I’ll close on that note today.

Have a fabulous week!!!

All my best,


Blog Short #158: The Dangers of Gaslighting

Photo by MangoStar_Studio, Courtesy of iStock Photo

Gaslighting is, at best, upsetting and, at worst, damaging if you’re on the receiving end of it often or regularly. Under those circumstances, you can feel like you’re losing your mind because you can’t get a grip on reality.

Today, I’m taking you through the processes and tools a gaslighter uses, as well as the effects and some strategies you can use to deal with it.

We’ll begin with a definition.

What is Gaslighting?

It’s a type of emotional abuse that makes you question the validity of your thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and memories. Gaslighting challenges your sense of reality, leaving you confused and unsure of yourself. You might feel a bit crazy and frequently second-guess yourself.

In short, gaslighting is a tool used by someone who seeks to gain power and control.

It’s a type of manipulation, but it’s more insidious and damaging to its victims than mild manipulation. We’re all guilty of manipulation occasionally, but the gaslighter aims to consistently erode your confidence, sense of self, and relationships with others. It’s disorienting, isolating, and creates dependency.

The Gaslighter’s Methods


Lying is the primary tool used by someone who gaslights. Sometimes, it shows up as denial.

“I never said that. You make things up in your head!”

Or they might counterattack when you catch them in a lie.

“Why would I do that? Are you nuts? You always look for the worst in me.”

Even though you remember what transpired, their denial is so vehement that you question what you know and shy away from confrontation. They rewrite history, and in their version, they’re always the good guy.

They embellish, distort, and create alternative narratives that make your head swim.


Gaslighters use projection to shift blame for their infractions to avoid the consequences of their behavior.

Let’s say you’re distressed because they didn’t show up for an important appointment you scheduled at their request. They respond by twisting the facts so that you’re to blame. You didn’t remind them, or they told you they couldn’t come on that day, but you forgot.

Gaslighters are great at twisting facts into narratives where they’re the victim. Sometimes, the blame is blatant:

“If you didn’t treat me this way, I wouldn’t get so angry! You’re the reason I have a temper.”


The gaslighter plays down your feelings as exaggerated or misplaced.

“You’re being too sensitive.” Or “It’s not a big deal. Why do you always blow things out of proportion?”

They belittle and chastise you for not attending to their feelings, which are always more important than yours.


Gaslighters are pros at distracting away from issues to avoid dealing with them. You ask about something they did, and they change the subject abruptly, often by engaging you in an argument or sometimes the opposite – being overly sweet and concerned. Both approaches catch you off guard and shift your attention away from the subject.


This one’s less direct but can be very damaging.

While acting abusively to you in private, in public, gaslighters present themselves with charm and wit.

Behind your back, they talk about your problems:

You seem distraught lately, confused, unable to make decisions, depressed, and overly anxious. You’re having mental health problems and seem unable to function well.

They may go so far as to enlist others, like family members, to assist in validating the lies they’re telling.

You may feel confused, depressed, and anxious and have difficulty making decisions, but it’s because of the chronic emotional twisting you’re experiencing from chronic gaslighting.

Who gaslights?

Gaslighting occurs most often in close, intimate relationships. Romantic relationships are prominent arenas, but also close friends, family members, and even co-workers. Unfortunately, gaslighting is often a tool used in cases of child abuse.

Serial gaslighters often have Narcissistic, Borderline, or Sociopathic Personality Disorders.

Effects on the Victim

The effects are varied from person to person, but the following list covers the most prominent effects.

  • Doubting the validity of your feelings and perceptions
  • Questioning your judgment and view of what’s real
  • Feeling confused, isolated, and powerless
  • Lacking confidence and trust in yourself
  • Thinking you’re overly sensitive and reactive
  • Feeling inadequate
  • Apologizing often and profusely
  • Worrying that others are disappointed in you
  • Feeling mentally ill and pondering what’s wrong with you
  • Having difficulty making decisions
  • Experiencing increased mood disturbances and anxiety

Chronic gaslighting creates trauma that assaults your very sense of self and confidence.

How to Handle It

Let’s start with two strategies that counteract the gaslighter’s intent to confuse and isolate you.

1. Question their motivation.

When you think of all the behaviors we’ve just described that characterize gaslighting, the obvious question is, “What motivates them?”

If you ask yourself this question for each incident, you’ll always come up with the same answer: The gaslighter is seeking to hide from their negative behavior, self-image, or inadequacy, and the method used is to make you question yourself.

The gaslighter’s deceptive behavior is never motivated by concern for you. There’s no love, consideration, or caring behind it. They seek to hide, control, isolate, and make you feel dependent upon them.

If you see this, you’ll know that you can’t believe the lies, denials, and twists of reality they dish up because the motivation is to challenge your sanity. The intent is to undermine you and exert control.

2. Stay connected to the outside world.

Successful gaslighting requires that you become isolated. That way, there’s no input except from the gaslighter.

Do the opposite. Stay in touch with other people you trust, who know and love you, respect you, and will support you. These can be family members, friends, and professionals. Input from this circle of people helps validate what you see and know, and counteracts the effects of gaslighting on your perceptual abilities.

If you’re intimately involved with the gaslighter, the effects are more potent, so you need more outside support to counteract that.

3. A third strategy is to “opt out.”

Not all people who gaslight do it chronically or regularly. Any of us might occasionally use it without malintent in order to defend ourselves against something we don’t want to look at or own up to.

In those cases, it’s a defensive maneuver, but if we see we’re harming someone, eventually, our conscience takes over, and we recognize what we’re doing and stop it.

When gaslighting is chronic and used knowingly to deceive and control, you might decide to opt out of the relationship because you see no prospects for permanent change.

When you do that, the gaslighter may change their tune long enough to get you back and then return to their usual behavior.

4. Other strategies you can use are:

  1. Set boundaries and stick to them. Lay out your expectations and deal-breakers explicitly, and then follow up.
  2. Keep a journal that documents your experiences, along with texts, emails, or any written information you can use to remind yourself of what happened in various situations so that when your memory is challenged, you can verify your perceptions.
  3. In work situations, make sure your interactions with the gaslighter are all documented in writing.
  4. Seek therapy if you can’t sort out what’s happening.
  5. Keep up with your self-care like sleep, eating well, meditation, exercise, and any relaxation tools or activities you use.
  6. Also, it’s important to maintain your interests, work, goals, and social contacts. Isolation is your enemy in this circumstance.

Last Thing

Whether or not you find yourself involved with someone who fits the description of a gaslighter, it’s always important to note when someone’s dishonest and distorts reality consistently. A single out-of-character incident is something you can work with, but any chronic display of those behaviors is problematic and something to take note of.

That’s all for today!

As always, I hope you have a great week!

All my best,