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Blog Short #154: An Easy Strategy to Bypass Resistance and Get Stuff Done

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I have all kinds of little tricks to outwit my resistance to working on goals, especially researching and writing. So, I’m always looking for new things to try, and this week, I found one I want to pass on to you. You might already use it, but if not, you might like to try it.

I got it from Jon Acuff in his new book All It Takes is a Goal. I have to say I wasn’t thrilled about reading another book about goals because goals aren’t the problem for me, but doing the work consistently is. But I like Jon Acuff and have read all his books, so why not? And the book was great!

The strategy’s simple. I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks and am surprised at how well it works. So, let’s start with a description.

The “15-Minute Strategy”

Can you guess by the title what it is? Probably so.

In short, it’s using any 15-minute (or more) stretch of time that presents itself to you over the day.

For example, if you’re baking something in the oven, snatch 15 minutes while waiting for it to be done and do something productive. It could be writing, doing a couple of Yoga stretches, lifting a few weights, or reading a chapter in a book. It could be anything!

What about while sitting at the mechanic’s waiting for your oil to be changed?

Or hanging out after dinner before getting into your nightly routine.

Or waiting for a meeting to start.

Use just 15 minutes to do something that moves you toward your goals.

Most of us are pretty good at multi-tasking already and use those extra minutes to do other household chores, but likely, you also use them to check social media or watch YouTube.

By using short pockets of time like this to do something focused on one of your goals, you’ll move yourself closer to it.

Jon Acuff said he wrote his new book in fifteen-, thirty-, and sixty-minute segments. The whole thing! That’s rather amazing!

Why This Works

This strategy works because it doesn’t alert your resistance radar. When you know you’re only going to spend fifteen minutes on something, you don’t have much resistance to doing it. It’s so short you’ll barely notice the time, and even if the task is something you usually procrastinate on, you won’t mind working at it when you put limitations on the time you’ll spend doing it.

That’s the first reason it works. The second is that it gets you started. You don’t finish, but you begin. And starting almost always creates momentum. It gets you over that hump of dread and generates a little energy. You might say to yourself, “That wasn’t so bad. I don’t mind doing that again.” And likely you will because of the restrictions around the time.

What often happens is that once you’ve started, you don’t want to quit and spend more time on the task than you’d intended to. Even so, you don’t have to! It’s that escape door that makes this work.

A third reason it works is that even if you’re very busy, there are always those strange pockets of time when you’re waiting for something.  Waiting for a meeting to start or waiting for another person to arrive and or get ready to go. You might be sitting in your car waiting for someone you’re picking up, and you could listen to a podcast or a book on tape.

I’m not saying you should be busy every moment and not have downtime. Absolutely, you need downtime! We all do and should schedule it to be sure we get it.

But there is a certain amount of wasted or waiting time that you could use for goal-related tasks and feel better for it.

It Adds Up

Let’s do some calculations.

If you completed five 15-minute sessions weekly, that would amount to 75 minutes per week. If you did that for 52 weeks, that would add up to 3,900 minutes, which, when divided by 60, comes out to 65. That means you would have completed 65 hours of work just doing that small amount every week. If you double that, you have 130 hours.

That might not seem like all that much, but this is time you normally wouldn’t be aware of because you waste it. It’s time that can bring you closer to your goals and increase your momentum.

In the examples Jon Acuff provided in his book, some people used 20-minute segments and some 30. Still, many stuck to fifteen and did a fair amount of them as they found more and more opportunities every day they’d never noticed were available.

One woman finished her online degree by listening to audio from a video or her textbooks being read aloud while waiting in the car rider pickup line for her kids at school.

Another made use of microwave time to exercise.

And another used waiting time for Zoom meetings to start to work on small tasks.

These are great examples, and when you begin using this strategy, you find all kinds of little pockets of time to do your work and get better at scaling what things will fit nicely in these spaces. It’s fun to see what you can do!

What can you do in fifteen minutes?

I’ve already given you some ideas based on the examples, but here’s a longer list to provide you with more ideas. You can add your own to it.

  • Lift weights, do pushups, or run-in-place
  • Writing or editing of any kind – blog, article, book, journal
  • Compose an important email
  • Organize your to-do list
  • Enter data
  • Listen to a short podcast
  • Watch a school or job-related video
  • Read
  • Make an important phone call
  • Post work-related material on social media
  • Record a short lesson if you’re teaching or creating courses
  • Brainstorm ideas to solve a problem
  • Meditate
  • Review your expenses for the week
  • Fill in your calendar
  • Clean off your desk
  • Walk outside to clear your head
  • Work on any project you have going
  • Clean off your desktop
  • Organize your Dropbox
  • Schedule appointments
  • Conduct a short meeting
  • Study or practice a new skill
  • Update your resume
  • Work on a job application
  • Clean out your email box

This list is not exhaustive, and some of these activities might take longer than 15 minutes, but you could still start something and finish it later if that’s the case. You can do many of them successfully in fifteen minutes or stretch them out to within thirty minutes.

It doesn’t matter what you choose, but rather to make use of wasted time on something that will move you toward your goals and that you might resist doing if you think you need to do it for a long time.

You already know that it’s helpful to break big tasks down into smaller ones to reduce getting overwhelmed, but using small time segments breaks it all down even more.

Using time as a measure instead of task completion is immediately soothing because you see the beginning and end and can imagine getting through that quickly.

Time segments also help you get quite good at knowing exactly how much time various tasks will take or how much you can get done on a specific task in a particular time frame.

For example, I know generally how many words I can write in fifteen minutes. Having that kind of information at your fingertips makes you much more efficient.

That wraps it up for today.

Next week, we’ll return to something more psychologically oriented, but for today, I wanted to share my new find, and I hope you’ll try it and find it helpful.

Have a great week!

All my best,


Acuff, J. (2023). All It Takes Is a Goal: The 3-Step Plan to Ditch Regret and Tap Into Your Massive Potential. Baker Books.

Blog Short #153: How to Deal With Regret

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Everyone experiences regret even if they say they don’t. You might believe that everything you’ve experienced has gotten you to where you are today and that you wouldn’t have done anything differently, yet you’ve still experienced moments of regret along the way.

To have no regrets would mean having no conscience or being perfect and above making errors. We’ve all done something or not done something that we regret.

Regret is a teacher and keeps you on track. It’s valuable. It “clarifies” and “instructs, and when used correctly, can lift you (Pink, 2022).

Today, we’re going through Daniel Pink’s four “core regrets,” as outlined in his book The Power of Regret, along with a quick sketch of the strategies he offers to deal with them. (See note below).

Regret is Built into Our Cognitive Structure

We have regrets because of our ability to “dip back into the past, rewrite history, and imagine” what would have been better (Pink, 2022). By comparing where we are with where we could have been if only we’d acted differently, we can construct a future we could have had in our minds. Pink calls this “counterfactual thinking.”

He also points out that we blame ourselves 95% of the time for our regrets based on faulty decisions.

How Regrets Can Help Us

Pink points to three benefits you can take advantage of when you have a regret.

  1. Improve decisions. Regrets make you rethink your behavior and decisions. They slow you down and require more research and consideration about what you’re doing and the direction you’re taking. Although regret feels negative, the benefits are positive.
  2. Boost performance. When you have to think about alternative scenarios – what might have been – you widen your vision. You consider new ideas and possibilities. You stretch yourself, develop creative strategies and solutions, and forge new pathways. Your performance improves as a result.
  3. Deepen meaning. Comparing your “if onlys” to what could have been adds more poignancy to your experiences and supplies meaning. You can come up with silver linings, which Pink calls “at leasts.”

Regrets are broader than failures. They’re part of a process of being and doing and provide guidance along the way. They can come from either actions or inactions.

Pink categorizes them into “four core types.” You’ll recognize all of them.

The Four Core Regrets

1. Foundation Regrets

Foundation regrets are about “failure to be responsible, conscientious, or prudent.”

These regrets are about basic life stability: home, job, money, and health. Think of it as your personal infrastructure. When you overspend, indulge in unhealthy habits, procrastinate, or fail to fulfill your responsibilities, the foundation underneath you wobbles. And if you continue, it can develop cracks and fissures that make life unsafe or untenable.

Foundation regrets come from ignoring how current habits and behavior will negatively impact your future well-being.

2. Boldness Regrets

Boldness regrets are about the “opportunities you didn’t take.”

These are regrets of inaction. You didn’t take that trip to Europe, open that business, or ask that girl to go out. These are the regrets of what might have been if only you’d been brave enough to take the risk.

3. Moral Regrets

Moral regrets are about doing something that rubs up against your values and conscience.

This category is harder to define because of the variability of what people consider right or wrong. Much of what we agree upon comes from Judeo-Christian ethics outlined most succinctly by the Ten Commandments, but even there, interpretations vary.

Pink outlines five generally regretted actions which are:

  1. Causing harm
  2. Cheating
  3. Disloyalty
  4. Subversion
  5. Desecration

Moral regrets are about “doing the right thing.”

4. Connection Regrets

Connection regrets are about failure to attend to the people who give your life meaning and purpose.

These are partners, spouses, parents, children, siblings, friends, and colleagues. You have regrets either about a relationship that’s no longer intact or one that’s fractured and in danger of disintegration. Pink calls them “closed-door” or “open-door” relationships.

Connections regrets are the largest of the four categories.

The Strategies

Undo it.

This strategy asks the question, “What can I do to make amends or repair?” Several weeks ago, we covered how to apologize. Sincere apologies are a mainstay of this strategy.

You can apply this strategy to someone else or to yourself. When applied to you, you’re usually working on foundation issues – habits devoted to keeping up with things and taking care of yourself. When applied to someone else, it may be either a moral or connection regret.

At Least it.

At Leasts look for the upside of regret. Pink provides three questions to ask yourself to use this strategy:

  1. “How could the decision I now regret have turned out worse?”
  2. “What is one silver lining in this regret?”
  3. “How would I complete the following sentence? “At least . . .”

An example of an “at least” statement is: “I regret my first marriage, but at least I got my children, for which I am forever grateful.”


Studies have shown that telling someone else about regrets is relieving.

Regrets take an unspoken toll on you and lead to chronic rumination. They’re taxing emotionally and physically and can drain you of energy.

Even writing them out or speaking them into a recorder is helpful.

By doing any of these, you relive the situation, followed by feelings of relief. Plus, putting something into words or writing it forces you to crystallize and integrate your thoughts so you can see them objectively.

If you’re not comfortable telling someone, use writing or recording. Pink suggests writing for 15 minutes three consecutive days or talking into a voice recorder for 15 minutes three successive days.


Gaining some distance from the regret allows you to see it without beating yourself up. You “zoom out” and act as an observer detached from the situation. There are three ways to do this:

  1. Act as a “fly-on-the-wall,” and listen to yourself telling someone else what you regret.
  2. Go five or ten years out (or longer) and imagine how you would feel about the regret at that point.
  3. Use third-person words like “she, him, or they” when describing the regret rather than first-person words like “I, me, or my.” You could also refer to yourself as “you,” which gives you some distance.


Self-compassion is an alternative to self-criticism. It’s been studied extensively by psychologist Kristin Neff. Taking from her research, Pink describes it like this:

Rather than belittling or berating ourselves during moments of frustration and failure, we’re better off extending ourselves the same warmth and understanding we’d offer another person. Self-compassion begins by replacing searing judgment with basic kindness. It doesn’t ignore our screwups or neglect our weaknesses. It simply recognizes that “being imperfect, making mistakes, and encountering life difficulties is part of the shared human experience.” (Neff, 2007).

The biggest worry people have about self-compassion is that they think it’s permissive and complacent and encourages people to ignore their responsibility, but this isn’t accurate. It keeps us from ripping ourselves to shreds while also turning our attention toward making amends, finding solutions, and being responsible.

Beating ourselves up keeps us immobile because it entraps us in a circle of shame rather than allowing us to accept our mistake, neutralize it, and take action.

Anticipating Regrets

We’ve been talking about regrets for things that have already occurred. You can also use the information you’ve learned today to prevent regrets by taking action now.

You can change the way you treat people, decide to take calculated risks when opportunities arise, look at your daily behavior and habits related to foundation responsibilities, and value your relationships by showing more appreciation and gratitude for the people in your life who inspire you, provide meaning, and give you purpose.

And, if you like this subject, read Daniel Pink’s book! It provides a whole different way of looking at regrets. It’s therapeutic!

That’s all for today.

Have a great week!

All my best,


A quick note: Daniel Pink and associates conducted a survey in 2021 called the American Regret Project that polled 4,489 people about their regrets, which is cited throughout his book. The survey is ongoing today. You can take the survey ​here​.


Neff, K. (2011). Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. HarperCollins, Kindle Edition.

Neff, K. D., Kirkpatrick, K. L., &  Rude, S. S. (2007). Self-compassion and adaptive psychological functioning. Journal of Research in Personality 41(1), 139–54.

Pink, D. H. (2022).  The Power of Regret: How Looing Back Moves Us Forward. Riverhead Books.

Zeelenberg, M., & Pieters, R. (2007). A theory of regret regulation 1.0. Journal of Consumer Psychology 17(1),  3–18.

Zhang, J. W., & Chen, S. (2016). Self-compassion promotes personal improvement from regret experiences via acceptance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 42(2), 244–58. DOI: 10.1177/0146167215623271

Blog Short #152: The Compound Effects of Habits

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Have you had the experience of something sneaking up on you before you realized you were in trouble?

Maybe you’ve used your credit cards liberally but didn’t realize the balance was climbing.

Or you got in the habit of putting off tasks at work and instead spent hours on social media, ostensibly for breaks, but you did it so much that your work declined, and you were fired.

Or you ignored your partner without really noticing and spent most of your time with friends or on other pursuits, and then one day, your partner left you.

There’s a process underlying these experiences outside the apparent denial. It’s called compounding, and it’s dangerous, especially when applied negatively. The good news is that it’s awesome when used positively!

Let’s take a look at how you can make use of it.

What is Compounding?

Compounding is a process whereby something increases exponentially over time.

You know the word from banking. When you put money in a savings account, the interest is compounded so that each month, you get interest on the original amount you put in plus the interest you accrued the following month. Over time, you’re accumulating greater and greater interest each month because it “compounds.”

This same process holds true for habits or any repeated pattern of behavior or activity. Whatever you do regularly or habitually has compounding effects over time.

If you’re doing something positive like exercising daily, your fitness level will improve faster and faster as you stay with it.

But, if you spend most of your day sitting and never exercise, you’re doing damage physically and neurologically that you may not feel daily, but that will catch up with you at some point when you find yourself with health problems that are hard to turn around.

Compounding happens in all spheres of our lives automatically. You can’t control it, but you can take advantage of it if you’re aware of your actions and behavior.

Before we get to strategies, there’s one more thing to keep in mind, and that’s a specific effect of compounding.

Gradually and Suddenly

You’ve heard of success stories where people say they’ve labored for years to get to where they wanted to go, but when they arrived, it happened quickly and suddenly.

An example would be an author who writes multiple books with a slow build of followers, and then suddenly, he catches on, and people are clamoring for his books. He’s in demand for interviews, and money’s flowing in.

When you see this from the outside, you think he’s had instant success, but that’s not true. It took years of work to reach this place in his career. You only saw the explosive part.

Compounding is behind that kind of leap. There’s a tipping point where compounded effort multiplies on a larger scale and bumps you up suddenly. There’s an informative book about this phenomenon called “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell, which you might enjoy reading.

Daniel Pink refers to this process as “gradually and suddenly” in his book The Power of Regret. When the compounding reaches a particular point, the results appear like a “tornado.” If you’re using it for good, you’re happy and gratified, but if applied to harmful habits, you feel regret when the reality hits you.

In those cases, the results can be catastrophic because of the compounding effect. It’s as though the singular bad habit spreads throughout your life at greater and greater speed, similar to how a disease replicates. We’ve all just been through COVID, so we know what that’s like.

In terms of habits that compound, I like James Clear’s description best because it helps us get serious about what the effects could be. He says:

If you want to predict where you’ll end up in life, all you have to do is follow the curve of tiny gains or tiny losses, and see how your daily choices will compound ten or twenty years down the line. Time magnifies the margin between success and failure. It will multiply whatever you feed it. Good habits make time your ally. Bad habits make time your enemy.

Now, let’s look at how you can use compounding to your advantage.

Strategies and Process

1. Become aware.

The first step is to see where you are. This step is pivotal because everything else rests on it, so don’t leave it out. Take an inventory of your habits, especially those that affect your relationships, health, productivity/work, and finances. Add any other areas that you feel are essential to you.

Write out the most influential habits you have under each category. Include positives and negatives, and be honest to get an accurate picture.

This task might take some time, but it’s worth doing because habits are so automatic that you often don’t see how embedded they are in your daily life or how much they influence your behavior.

2. Imagine compounding effects.

Look over each habit and imagine possible effects five, ten, or twenty years out. This part is meaningful because it will make you look at the reality of what you could face in your future if you don’t make changes now.

For good habits, you can feel excited about the possible outcomes you’ll experience, which will help you stay on track and continue those habits. But for the bad ones, you need to make changes.

The purpose of this exercise is to get real about where you’re going and to prevent situations you can control now that you won’t be able to control later because you waited too long to take action.

3. Set up new habits.

Make a list of the habits that need changing and prioritize them. What needs to change first?

You can’t change everything at once and shouldn’t try. If you do it that way, you’ll fold and do nothing, so just start with one thing. You know this already, but we tend to start big and fall flat.

Habits take time to change and instill. Some strategies that help with that are as follows:

  1. Make small improvements. James Clear advises a “1% better every day” approach. Using that approach helps prevent falling off when you don’t succeed quickly or hit a lull, which you surely will. If you improve even slightly every day, you’ll eventually get those compound effects that will move you along swiftly.
  2. Make it visible. Write it, schedule it, put it on a bulletin board in the kitchen – make it so visible you can’t ignore it. I like big, bold signs in the house that I have to see because embedded habits are sneaky and stay just under your awareness radar. You need constant mental reminders to keep you steady.
  3. Track progress. You WILL FAIL if you don’t track your progress. Remember that habits are ingrained in the neuron paths in your brain and are automated. They have a power of their own. You have to combat that by keeping yourself tuned in to what’s happening, and tracking is the way to do that. Weekly, check in with yourself. Better yet, get an accountability partner, so you have to check in. Reviewing your progress, or lack of, weekly lets you know how you’re doing and will keep you going.

If you use these strategies and stick with them, you can overcome any bad habit and create a positive one in its place, especially since you know the effects will compound faster over time.

Good Habits

Good habits are easy to keep going for the most part, but keep an eye on them and make sure you don’t drop the ball. The hardest thing about dealing with good habits is waiting for results. If you’re working toward a goal, you can become impatient and give up when you don’t see progress.

Keep in mind that compounding works slowly at first and builds over time, so waiting is part of the process. Keep going, and eventually, you’ll feel the rewards.

That’s all for today!

Have a great week!

All my best,



Clear, J. (2018). Atomic Habits. Avery.
Gladwell, M. (2000). The Tipping Point. Little, Brown.
Pink, D. (2022). The Power of Regret. Riverhead Books.

Blog Short #151: How to Change Someone

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Who in your life do you want to change? Most of us have someone. Either it’s someone you love who, if only would use their talents, discipline themselves more, read that book, or take your fabulous advice, would be so much happier and successful. Or maybe you’re tied to someone who drags you down because they won’t give up their destructive behaviors or recognize the harm they’re causing.

How do you change someone? The answer is, you can’t. No one can change someone else. But, you can offer help, support, and inspiration that lead to change.

Today, we’ll go through how you can approach this.

1. Start with acceptance.

The first thing is to accept where that person is right now, which isn’t always easy. Here’s a way to look at it that will help you:

We know that we’re all equal in terms of our humanity and right to be, but where we differentiate is in our levels of maturity. Everyone is in their own stage of development and evolution, and recognizing this helps you appreciate and accept where someone is.

If you consider your current developmental track, you’ll recognize that some people are more evolved than you, and some are less evolved. Some people seem to be devolving and going backward. Others appear to be stationary and stuck.

A wise person accepts those differences without judgment. That doesn’t mean you ignore them or pretend not to see them, but you understand the reality of what is.

By doing that, you’ll give up your anxious push to coerce or manipulate them to make the changes you think should be made.

2. Define your intent/need.

Next, define why you’re concerned about this person.

  • How does it impact you?
  • Why do you want them to change?

If it’s someone you care about or love, you likely want to help them succeed, feel better, make progress, reach their potential, or whatever it may be. But you also want to feel less anxious, depressed, or worried about this person’s future and the mess they’re making right now.

That’s all normal. You can’t care about someone without having those feelings. The question is, what behaviors are you engaging in to minimize your anxiety?

Are you taking over someone’s responsibilities for them, criticizing and cajoling them, comparing them to others who are more developed or successful?

How are you handling those feelings?

If you’re doing anything I just mentioned, you’re not helping. You’re making it worse.

Get clear on what your motives are, what your feelings are, and how your behavior is impacting the situation. Once you’re clear on that, you can begin to help.

3. Become an ally.

If someone wants help or is open to receiving it, become their ally. You can’t help someone if you’re working against them. You need to collaborate.

Instead of diving in with advice, ask questions. Allow the person to talk and listen carefully. People who feel stuck generally like to be heard. They want to talk. They may want to outline their excuses, blame circumstances, voice self-recriminations, and list all the reasons why they “can’t.”

Counteracting any of these thoughts won’t help. But when you ask good questions, you help them see more clearly where they’re at and where they’re in denial.

Ask them to expand on what they say or ask how they’ve come to their conclusions or how they wish for things to be. Help them think and examine their thoughts and attitudes that keep them stuck without telling them where they’re wrong. Be curious rather than directive. Suspend judgment.

For example, if they say, “I can’t handle another thing,” you could ask, “What might another thing be, and what about that feels overwhelming?”

Your job is to help them begin to analyze their thoughts and dig a little. When that happens, they start taking some control of where they are, and that’s the first step to making some change. By posing curious questions, you’re subtly challenging their distorted beliefs. But you’re doing that as an ally and collaborator.

4. Inspire.

Lead by example. Relate experiences you’ve had that are similar and that you’ve struggled to overcome, with a focus on how you did that. Don’t do it in a monologue fashion, but when asked or when you think it could be helpful. The person you’re trying to help may think you’ve always had it together and haven’t ever been stuck the way they are. If you have experiences and stories that could help dispel those beliefs, it could be a source of inspiration and hope.

Be careful with this one. You only want to share what and how much you think is relevant to the person’s situation and struggle – no more.

You can also inspire someone by modeling the behavior that would be helpful. This is especially effective in relationships where you have lots of contact.

Research has shown that we take on the habits and characteristics of the people we spend the most time with. We’re imitators due to “mirror neurons” in the brain. (You can read about how these work here.) Simply being around someone with effective habits and attitudes can inspire us to make changes.

5. Set boundaries.

You can be the ally who listens, helps with the thinking process, and empathizes with feelings of being overwhelmed, but you must allow the person to do the work because if they don’t, it won’t help and won’t stick. They’ll feel more incompetent even when you’ve provided some immediate relief. They’ll slide right back down to where they were, only now with more self-recrimination because they’ve disappointed you or whoever was helping.

Your goal is to help increase the desire and need to change. It has to come from within, not from the outside. You might be able to point out some directions they can take, but the drive has to come from them.

They need to know their “why” and what they want and feel some urgency to make that happen. You can help support that process but not do it for them.

In some cases, you can help by spending more time with them and inviting them to work alongside you or participate in activities with you. For example, if your friend wants to lose weight but can’t seem to get off the couch or stop eating mounds of junk food, invite them to walk with you several times a week. This kind of support can be pivotal in helping someone make a change because it’s done without judgment or expectation, and it provides a jump-start.

What if their habits are too destructive?

In situations where the person you wish to change is involved in habits or behaviors that are dangerous, such as extensive substance abuse, emotional abuse, illegal activities, or self-harm, you need to set boundaries.

You might need to move away from this person, end a relationship, or, in the case of someone on the brink of violence toward self or others, get immediate help. You can’t help someone whose problems are of this magnitude alone.

A Thought to Remember

Keep in mind in all of your efforts that your role is to help someone want to help themselves by becoming inspired, talking through issues, and answering new questions to get clear on a direction to take. Feeling less isolated is also invaluable.

The other thought is that helping someone change requires patience and an understanding that regardless of what you offer, the ball’s always in their court. They have to do the work. True change can only come that way.

That’s all for today.

Have a great week, as always!

All my best,


Blog Short #150: Why You Gotta Get Your Sleep!

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Did you know that when you sleep at night, especially during deep sleep, your brain activates a system that rinses it out and removes toxic substances that build up and hamper your cognition and mood? It does. Literally. But only when you sleep.

This nightly cleaning crew is called the glymphatic system, and today, I’m going to explain what it is and how it works and offer some strategies you can use to keep it working optimally.

This subject is a little off the beaten path of most of my blogs, but it is related to your mental health. Here’s how:

When your glymphatic system can’t do its nightly job, accumulated brain trash interferes with the balance of neurotransmitters in your brain that are related to mood. In other words, sleep deprivation, especially over time, is a causative factor of chronic anxiety and depression.

It also reduces your ability to think and, on a long-term basis, contributes to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Let’s start with what the glymphatic system is and how it works.

The Definition and Description

Interestingly, knowledge of the glymphatic system, how it works, and what it does is relatively new. Maiken Medergaard and her colleagues discovered it during a landmark study conducted in 2012 at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Before the study, scientists knew that the body has a method of removing waste through the lymphatic system to keep our organs and bodily systems healthy and running smoothly. What they didn’t know was how the brain removes waste.

They found that the brain has its own plumbing system that piggybacks on blood vessels in the brain and, using the pulsating force of the blood vessels, pumps CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) through brain tissue, extracting toxins and washing it out like a dishwasher. It sends the waste back through the body, releasing it through the lymphatic system with all the other bodily waste.

The “glymphatic system” gets its name from the specific cells that manage it, which are called “glial cells.” This is what differentiates it from the body’s lymphatic system.

What exactly is brain trash?

Brain trash consists of toxic proteins such as beta amyloids, tau proteins, and Lewy bodies. You wouldn’t know what these are – I didn’t – but generally, they’re abnormally shaped or misfolded proteins that create neurodegeneration or cell death. Alzheimer’s is linked to a buildup of these proteins.

The glymphatic system goes into high gear removing those proteins when you sleep, and isn’t working much when you’re awake. Not only that, it works best during non-REM deep sleep.

If you’ve ever monitored your sleep at night with a Fitbit or other sleep-monitoring device, you know how much or how little deep sleep you’re getting. If you don’t sleep enough, you’re certainly not getting sufficient to facilitate the work of your glymphatic system, which means you’ve got trash hanging out in your brain, causing problems.

Imagine it like this:

You go for weeks without emptying the trash in your house. It begins to overflow all over the floor and into the carpet and infiltrates the air. Soon, you have hoards of bugs that are setting up colonies on their new feeding ground. Before you know it, germs are multiplying at a fast rate and making you sick.

When you don’t sleep enough, you have the same situation in your brain, which affects your energy, state of mind, mood, ability to think, capacity to handle stress, and who knows what else. There is such a thing as sleep-deprivation psychosis accompanied by full-on hallucinations. And over more extended periods, you run greater risks of developing neurogenerative diseases.

Here’s one more thing to keep in mind, and then we’ll move away from the negatives to some strategies you can use to offset these issues.

As you age, your glymphatic system doesn’t cleanse your brain as effectively, and you may have more buildup of protein waste that accumulates and causes trouble. But there is something you can do about that.

Let’s get to the strategies.

The Strategies


You know this already, but how well do you know it? Sleep means at least 7 hours and preferably more. Optimally, go to sleep before 11 PM and get up after 8 hours (at 7 AM). If you need to shift that around because of your work schedule, still opt for at least 7.5 hours. This is true even if you work night shifts.

Sleep in a cool room, preferably, and sleep on your right side for as much of the night as possible. These factors have been shown to help the glymphatic system work more optimally.

Avoid heavy meals or snacks before bed, and turn off your blue light screens long before bedtime.


Exercise is key to maintaining regular glymphatic activity as you age. This isn’t surprising because exercise also significantly affects the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. Just as exercise helps keep your mood steady, it assists the work of rinsing your brain nightly and keeping your mind working smoothly.

Exercise has been shown through multiple research studies to have a very significant impact on the prevention of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. That makes sense because it assists your glymphatic system in keeping your brain free of amyloid deposits that clog and destroy brain cells.

The best exercise for getting these results is aerobic exercise. It doesn’t have to be a lot or overly strenuous, but regularity is essential. Yoga is also good because of its calming effects and flexibility of the body, both of which aid sleep.


Some researchers recommend magnesium supplements or, if not, foods high in magnesium. For a list of those, click here.

If you decide to take a supplement, it’s a good idea to research first and make sure you’re not taking too much and are using a reputable brand. Magnesium L-Threonate is recommended for assisting with glymphatic activity, but I would check with your physician or a registered dietician before trying it.

Take your Omega-3s

You can get these from cold-water fish like Salmon, or if you’re eating a plant-based diet, you can take algae oil supplements. The DHA in omega-3s helps reduce beta-amyloid generation, thereby aiding the work of the glymphatic system. It also assists with speeding up the rinsing process.

Keep Your Immune System in Good Shape

Your glymphatic system works alongside your immune system. Sleep and exercise are essential for both systems, but don’t neglect your diet. In my 45+ years of providing psychotherapy, I’m always impressed by how many people don’t consider the impact of their diet on their mood, anxiety levels, and overall well-being.

Bad diet is like breathing bad air. If you breathe in smog, tar, and toxic gases all day, you’ll become ill. You’ll overtax your immune system, free radicals will run free (pun intended), and inflammation will revel in its expansion.

Bad food does the same, only you don’t notice it as much. You think you don’t feel well for other reasons and discount the impact of food. We all do it, so I’m not preaching. I’m just saying that it plays a very significant role in how you feel and experience your day to day. If you’ve been on a good, healthy, clean diet for some time, you know immediately the difference when you deviate just a little.

Be your body’s best friend and eat right while also getting enough sleep and exercising.

Exercise or Sleep?

If you have to choose between enough sleep and exercise, opt for sleep. Sleep must come first. You can work toward getting exercise into your routine when possible but don’t forego sleep. You need your nightly brainwashing. And if you have that, finding solutions for exercise or any other problem will be easier.

That’s all for today.

All my best,



Christensen, J., Yamakawa, G. R., Shultz, S. R.  Mychasiuk, R. (2021, March). Is the glymphatic system the missing link between sleep impairments and neurological disorders? Examining the implications and uncertainties. Progress in Neurobiology, Volume 198, 101917.

Cohen, S. (2023, Aug. 21). The glymphatic system – Your brain’s nighttime janitorial staff. Suzy Cohen.

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

Hablitz, L. M., & Nedergaard, M. (2021, Sept. 15). The glymphatic system: A novel component of fundamental neurobiology. Journal of Neuroscience, 41(37), 7690-7711.

Jessen, N. A., Munk, A. S., Lundgaard, .I &  Nedergaard, M. (2015, December). The glymphatic system: A beginner’s guide. Neurochemical Research,40(12), 2583-99.

Michaud, M. (2019, Feb. 27). Not all sleep is equal when it comes to cleaning the brain. University of Rochester Medical Center.

Reddy, O. C. & Van Der Werf, Y. D. (2020, November). The sleeping brain: Harnessing the power of the glymphatic system through lifestyle choices. Brain Sciences, 10(11), 868. DOI:10.3390/brainsci10110868

URMC Communications (2012, Aug. 15). Scientists discover previously unknown cleansing system in brain. University of Rochester Medical Center.

Blog Short #149: How to Apologize the Right Way

Photo by Evgeniia Primavera, Courtesy of Shutterstock

Saying you’re sorry for something you’ve done that caused a problem or pain for someone else is healing for both you and the other person.

It’s also humbling in a good way and reminds us we’re not perfect while highlighting empathy and genuine concern for how we affect each other.

Heartfelt apologies make us better people and foster good connections between us, which is good for our survival and helps us thrive.

Today, I’m going over the steps for making an effective apology that helps repair and move on from mistakes.

Quick note: We’re only referring to situations where you feel you’ve done something to apologize for.

Let’s dive in.

Four Main Components of an Apology

In general, most writers and researchers include the following elements/steps for effective apologies:

  1. Saying you’re sorry and expressing your remorse for what you did
  2. Taking responsibility for it
  3. Making amends or reparations
  4. Vowing that it won’t happen again

All of these are necessary elements, but I like the 6-step stratagem offered by Marjorie Ingall and Susan McCarthy in their book Sorry, Sorry, Sorry. It includes all those elements but spells them out a little more so it’s easier to remember. I’ll review them briefly, but if you want to know more, read the book. It’s excellent!

The 6-Step Strategy

Step 1: Say you’re sorry.

Say the actual words, “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.”

Saying things like “I regret that you were hurt” or “It wasn’t my intention to distress you” are vague and subtly questions whether you did anything wrong. Saying “I’m sorry” means you’re owning the mistake and taking responsibility for it.

Make it simple and direct, and use “I” statements. Avoid making “you” statements.

Step 2: Be specific about what you’re apologizing for.

Name what you did; the specific act or behavior that caused the harm and for which you’re sorry.

Let’s say you show up late for dinner at a restaurant, and your partner has to wait an extra 15 minutes. You rush in and say,

“I’m sorry you had to wait for me!”

That sounds okay, right? But it’s focusing on what happened to the other person instead of what you did. A better statement would be,

“I’m sorry I didn’t get myself here on time and left you waiting.”

The second statement is more powerful because it focuses on exactly what you did that you’re apologizing for. “You had to wait” is easier to say than “I made you have to wait,” but the difference is significant. By emphasizing your behavior, you’re taking responsibility.

Step 3: Show you understand the impact of what you did.

Now that you’ve made it clear you know what you did that’s upsetting to the other person, make sure you state the impact of it.

“I’m late and made you wait, and I’m sure it might have been uncomfortable sitting here alone. You probably felt unimportant or forgotten.”

Sometimes, it’s best to let them tell you how they feel and how they were impacted by what you did before apologizing. This is especially true when the incident is serious or has more significant consequences.

In those cases, invite them to tell you how they were affected and listen attentively. Mirror back what you hear with empathy and show your remorse.

However, make sure the attention stays on the person who was hurt. Don’t get so wrapped up in expressing your remorse that the conversation shifts more to your feelings, and the person offended ends up soothing you.

Step 4: Explain if necessary.

Sometimes, people want an explanation, and it helps to provide one.

For example, if you were late for dinner because you had a flat tire and had to change it before proceeding, that explanation would help soothe any ruffled feelings because it makes sense and couldn’t be helped.

The trick is to not use explanations as excuses. If instead of the flat tire, you were late because you didn’t start getting ready to leave the house soon enough, saying something like “I lost track of time” becomes an excuse and cancels out the apology. You’re saying, “I’m sorry but . . . .” which isn’t being sorry.

Give explanations when they’ll help, but always own up to your responsibility and don’t make excuses.

“I didn’t start getting ready soon enough, but that’s no excuse, and by doing that, I left you sitting here alone waiting for me. I’m very sorry I put you in that position.”

Step 5: Say why it won’t happen again.

Continuing our scenario, you could add to that last statement,

“It won’t happen again. I’ll add an extra 30 minutes to my schedule for getting ready because I know I tend to estimate on the light side. That way, I’ll always be ready on time.”

What changes are you making that will change the outcomes? Spell them out, and be sure you can follow through.

Step 6: Make amends.

What can you do to repair the damage?

Maybe promising not to repeat the behavior and holding up to that is enough. In other cases, it might be something more specific, like if you broke something, you could replace it. If you regularly lose your temper with your partner, you could schedule an appointment for counseling to work on anger issues. For our guy who was late to dinner, he could set up another dinner date and make it memorable (and show up on time.)

The most important thing to do is to change the behavior that caused the problem initially.

Saying you’re sorry is useless if you don’t do something to prevent it from happening again.

What’s the best method for apologizing?

There are many ways to do it: face-to-face, by text or email, or by writing a letter. The method will depend on:

  • The seriousness of the offense
  • The complexity of the issue and the need for a longer and more detailed apology
  • Your comfort with making the apology
  • How you think the other person might respond

If you aren’t good with words and need to review what you want to say before delivering it, you may prefer writing or emailing. A written letter can be very effective for a more heartfelt apology.

Email is helpful when you need emotional space to express your true feelings and thoughts.

A text is fine for something that isn’t serious but not for something with more extensive repercussions.

Face-to-face is best for intimate relationships but may be difficult when you think the offended person won’t be receptive to what you have to say.

Choose what you think will be most effective for the situation.

The Timing

Not all apologies should be made right away. For more serious infractions, or when the issue is complex, take the time to think it through before apologizing.

Get clear on what you think you did that you need to apologize for, and distinguish between your part and the other person’s part if the situation involved mistakes on both sides. By doing that, your apology will be more effective.

It also helps to allow the other person time to think over the situation before talking about it.

Avoid trapping the other person.

Don’t apologize in a space where the other person can’t walk away if they want to, like in a car while driving or in an enclosed area where you’re blocking the entryway.

Give people the space and option to move away.

Sometimes, people need time before responding or can’t accept your apology. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make it. You should because it’s the right thing to do, and you need to make amends. However, if it’s not accepted, you’ll at least know you did your best, and you can make peace with that. Or try again later.

That’s all for today.

Have a great week!

All my best,



Frantz, C. & Bennigson, C. (2005). Better late than early: The influence of timing on apology effectiveness. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 41. 201-207.

Ingall, M. & McCarthy, S. (2023). Sorry, Sorry, Sorry: The Case for Good Apologies. Gallery Books.

Scher, S. J. & Darley, J. M. (1997).  How effective are the things people say to apologize? Effects of the realization of the apology speech act. Faculty Research and Creative Activity. 26.

Schumann, K., & Dweck, C. S. (2014). Who accepts responsibility for their transgressions? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin40(12), 1598–1610.

Blog Short #148: How to Deal With People Who Like to Pick Fights

Photo by suteishi, Courtesy of iStockPhoto

There are many reasons someone might pick a fight, some serious and some not so serious. Either way, if you’re on the receiving end, it helps to have some clue about why it’s happening so you have a better feel for how to handle it.

Let’s start by listing why someone might pick a fight, and then I’ll give you some strategies.

Common Causes

Having a Bad Day

Most everyone has had this experience. You’re having a bad day or maybe in a mood and feeling irritable. You pick a fight, sometimes over nothing, to discharge your negative emotions.

You’ve heard the expression, “Misery loves company?” Picking a fight spreads the bad feelings around, although it doesn’t usually give you any real relief.

Built-up Anger Over Unresolved Problems

When you’ve had the same conversations over and over about an issue without resolving it, you build up anger and resentment. At some point, you get triggered by something else, and your anger comes to a head. You pick a fight out of the blue with the person involved in the issue.

In this case, you’re expressing frustration with an ongoing situation but not directly addressing it. By picking a fight, you project your anger into less significant situations and express it without tackling the real problem.

More Serious Causes

Can’t Contain Your Own Emotions

Some people literally can’t contain their emotions, especially negative ones. By “contain,” I mean feeling and holding them while working them through.

The discomfort of that process is too great, so the feelings boomerang back out as soon as they’re felt. You need to discharge them quickly, and the easiest way to do this is to make someone else feel them for you.

It’s like a game of hot potato – you feel something too hot to handle and quickly throw it to someone else.

This is an unconscious process and happens almost automatically. It’s different than just having a bad day. It’s a regular pattern of dealing with difficult emotions.

People who do this often have a history of painful experiences and unresolved issues that find their way into current relationships. They tend to pick fights everywhere – at home, work, with friends, etc.

Need to Create Distance

Another reason someone habitually picks fights is the need for emotional distance. We all occasionally need time alone, but we usually just ask for it. The person who uses fighting to get it is working on a deeper issue.

Here’s how it works:

You’re getting along great with your partner (or a friend or family member). You feel close and appreciative of the relationship. Suddenly, your partner inexplicably picks a fight, sometimes over nothing, and initiates a conflict that escalates and ends in a standoff. The standoff continues until they feel too much distance and pull you back in.

The whole pattern repeats often.

People who engage in this pattern regularly likely have early attachment issues. If the attachment style is insecure, the person isn’t comfortable with either closeness or distance and swings back and forth between them. As soon as they get too close, they feel anxious and threatened, so they create space. Yet when they feel the distance, they feel separation anxiety and move back in to close the gap.

This pattern is normal during specific developmental periods like toddlerhood and early adolescence but should resolve before adulthood. When it’s not, it becomes a personality characteristic that requires some treatment to overcome.

Define Oneself

The next reason people pick fights is to define themselves. These folks didn’t successfully develop a solid sense of self during childhood and adolescence, and as adults need to define and redefine who they are.

They do this by defining who they’re not. By disagreeing, picking fights, arguing, being a devil’s advocate, dismissing, or projecting, they’re creating boundaries  (like outlines) around themselves, which gives them a sense of who they are. Their “I” becomes “not like you.”

Narcissists do this more subtly with one-upping, disagreeing with everything you say, becoming aloof, being smug, or saying things that provoke you and make you angry, and then watching you calmly with a superior attitude. The message you get is,

“What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you control yourself? I’m calm. I’m in control. I’m more mature than you are.”

They’re defining themselves as better, but underneath all that bravado, they feel like nothing. They’ve created a pseudo-self to cover up the fact they don’t have a real sense of self.

Get Attention

The last reason is to get attention. If someone’s not getting the attention they need or want, starting a conflict will get it, even if it’s negative attention.

Children do this a lot. If they haven’t had enough time with their parents, or their parents seem emotionally inaccessible for too long, they do something provocative to get a rise and bring the attention back to them. In this case, they’ve projected their anger so the parent feels it and reacts. It’s not good attention, but it’s better than nothing.

Adults can use this same behavior when they need attention. Instead of discussing it with the person involved, they project it. They may begin picking at the other person by micro-managing, nagging, or being overtly hostile to get a rise. It does the job.

The Strategies

1. Provide space.

For the first scenario – having a bad day – allow some space. If you know the person well and they’re generally reasonable, you can make an empathetic comment or ask a question like,

“Are you really upset with me or maybe just having a bad day? Is there anything I can do to help?”

If you don’t think that will be well-received, give them space and time alone.

2. Go for the feeling.

Listen and focus on how the person feels. Say something like,

“I see you’re upset. Tell me what’s bothering you, and I’ll listen. ”

Use the four-part strategy we reviewed last week – Listen, Clarify, Verify, and Identify.

For the person who can’t contain their emotions, being able to share the feelings can help diffuse them, although not always. If you’re rebuffed, and they continue to bait you, they aren’t willing to confront their emotions.

3. Opt out.

Someone who needs to fight for any of the above reasons and won’t respond to empathetic concern is telling you there’s nothing you can do to improve things. In this case, opt out. Don’t respond.

Leave the area if you can or refuse to respond, and don’t feel guilty about it. For the person who needs distance, give it to them.

4. Set a boundary.

This one’s similar to opting out but not quite as extreme. You can say,

“I’m willing to hear what’s on your mind, but I’m not willing to fight. Let me know when you’re ready to do that.

A caveat here: Sometimes, you can participate in a heated disagreement with someone without leaving or backing out. That’s not, however, the case with people who make a habit of fighting. You have to consider the purpose. Is this person genuinely interested in working through a problem, or are they simply projecting their bad feelings into you to solve other issues they won’t deal with?

5. Try therapy.

If you’re unsure of exactly what’s going on, and your attempts to resolve it fail, see a therapist alone or with the person you’re having the problem with. Often a therapist can see things you don’t and help clarify what’s happening, which is very helpful.

With all of these strategies, your goal is to avoid being used or abused to deal with someone’s misplaced emotions, yet when possible, to help diffuse or redirect them.

That’s all for today.

Have a great week!

All my best,


Blog Short #147: Why You Shouldn’t Tell Someone to “Calm Down” When They’re Angry

Today’s blog subject comes from a meme I posted recently on Facebook that seemed to resonate with many people. The meme is pictured above.

How does that sit with you? Have you ever been told to calm down when you were angry or upset? I have, and I didn’t like it. Most people don’t.

There are reasons why this isn’t a good response, and today I’ll go over them along with a better way to deal with someone who’s emotionally heated up.

Let’s start with why it doesn’t work.

Why It’s the Wrong Response

When you tell someone who’s upset to “calm down,” you’re saying one or all of these three things, none of which will be well-received.

  1. Your feelings aren’t valid.
  2. You’re out of control.
  3. I don’t want to deal with you.

Those are not messages anyone wants to hear when they’re angry. They feel critical and dismissive. You feel like a child being chastised for bad behavior.

And if you have a history of not being heard, usually beginning in childhood, you’re triggered even more by that kind of response. You might get angrier, cry, or shut down entirely.

There’s a better way to respond.

What You Should Do Instead

When someone’s angry, they want to be validated, regardless of whether they’re right or wrong.

Think about a time you were upset or angry about something. What helped?

For most of us, it’s having someone listen and validate our feelings. Partly, that’s because below the anger are feelings of helplessness – helpless to get the other person to understand what you’re saying, powerless to stop someone from being mean or hurting you, or being unable to get something you need.

It’s not always easy to get to the helplessness. It might be hidden under other feelings like a desire for revenge, disbelief, exasperation, etc.

Why do people picket? Because they’ve been unsuccessful in being heard and taken seriously about an issue. They feel helpless to stop or change something that’s causing them pain.

With that as a backdrop, here’s a four-part strategy you can use the next time you’re dealing with someone who’s angry or upset about something.

1. Listen

Ask what’s bothering them. The simple act of doing that offers acceptance and validation of both the person and the feeling. You’re saying,

“If you’re that upset, you must have a good reason, and I’m interested in hearing what that is.”

That alone will begin to change and lower the emotional temperature because it puts a chink in the underlying feelings of helplessness.

For your part, you want to remain calm but curious. Approach the person with interest and delve into what they’re feeling and why they’re feeling it. Listen openly and let them roll the whole thing out without interrupting. Do this whether you agree with the content or not.

2. Clarify

Once they’ve said their piece, you can ask questions to clarify anything that isn’t clear or you don’t understand. Asking questions without judgment shows that you’re genuinely interested in understanding their point of view.

Don’t interrogate. Ask just enough to ensure you have the whole picture.

3. Verify

Repeat back what you’ve heard with empathy.

“So you’re upset because . . . ., and you’re feeling . . . . I can see how that might bother you. I might feel the same way in your position.”

Or if the reaction seems over the top or misplaced, simply repeat back what you think they’re feeling without judgment.

For example, if I were standing in line at the grocery checkout and the guy in front of me started ranting because the cashier wasn’t going fast enough, I would likely think the reaction was too big for the situation, especially if I’d noticed the checkout process was a tad slow, but not out of the ordinary. I may wonder if something else is bothering him to have such a big reaction or if maybe he tends to be easily angered.

In a case like that, I would just mirror back how he felt, not what I thought about how he felt. I might say,

“So you feel like your time isn’t valued, and you’ve got other things to do besides standing in the grocery line.”

That would likely get a punctuated “YES!”

In this case, I’m just mirroring the feelings I think he’s having without contradicting why or to what extent he’s reacting. And the result is he’ll likely feel validated and leave the store calmer.

If someone’s angry with me, I’d go through the same routine but be more specific in teasing out the emotions and reasons. I’d listen to what’s bothering them, focus on how and what they’re feeling, inquire what actions resulted in those feelings, and empathize with their point of view even if I disagreed.

Doing all that diffuses the anger and connects you. The person feels heard, making them more amenable to hearing what you have to say.

4. Identify

This last one is included in the first three, but it’s good to note it separately because it’s important.

Now that you’ve heard everything, what does this person want or need from you? Was it just to be heard and validated?

In most cases, that’s all they wanted. That’s true of the fellow shopper in the grocery store. He just wanted to be heard and understood.

Other times, especially when the anger’s personally directed, something more is needed. Maybe they want you to help solve a problem, or they need a commitment from you about something. Maybe they’re looking for an apology.

Back to our picketers – they want action taken to resolve the issue they’re upset about. The same might be true for a spouse who wants something specific from their partner or a parent who wants to see a change in their child’s behavior.

Identify what you think is being asked for, and if you’re not sure, ask directly. You might say,

“I can see why you’re upset about this situation. What do you want or need to resolve it?”

A question like that is conciliatory, especially if the anger is due to a problem you’re having with each other.

If that’s not the case and the situation has nothing to do with you, but you still feel like something is hanging in the air unsaid, you can say,

“Did you need me just to listen and allow you to vent some, or was there something else?”

Directness is almost always appreciated and makes things clear so that no one walks away with mixed feelings that linger and come up again later. This is particularly true in the case of relationship issues.

It’s Not Always That Easy

Dealing with anger using the process I’ve laid out usually helps, but it gets sticky when the angry person doesn’t know why they’re upset or projects their feelings onto the listener.

It still helps to go through the four steps, but it may not have the neat resolution I’ve suggested if there’s a lot of confusion in the first place. It depends on how emotionally savvy or intelligent the person you’re dealing with is.

People who are more challenging are those who:

  • Are chronically angry.
  • See themselves as victims, which colors their perceptions.
  • Haven’t learned and sometimes don’t want to learn how to express their feelings appropriately.
  • Use anger to create distance, define themselves, or manipulate.

Even so, the process above will highlight some of those tendencies so that you can work with them or, at the very least, avoid getting swept up by the other person’s emotions.

Next week I’ll address people who seem to need to argue and often pick fights or start conflicts.

That’s all for today.

Have a great week!

All my best,


Blog Short #146: 6 Types of Emotional Clutter that Debilitate You

Photo bymuratdeniz, Courtesy of iStock Photo

Everyone knows on some level that clutter isn’t good for you. Yet most people think of clutter as something material or physical. It’s the unused stuff you keep around your house that piles up and creates a messy environment. That is one type of clutter.

Another type is emotional clutter, which you likely don’t think about often or at all. We don’t associate the word “clutter” with emotional baggage, but it is and does act like clutter. It’s a type of debris that siphons off your energy and eats away at your resilience. Left for extended periods, it can lead to mood disturbances like depression or anxiety that build up, but you just live with it. You don’t recognize the toll it’s taking.

Today I’ll review six types of emotional clutter that can be debilitating and give you some ideas about how to begin clearing them out.

Think of it as emotional spring cleaning!

#1 Hanging On to Mistakes

Some mistakes are bigger than others. You might be able to let go of small mistakes or errors that don’t have significant repercussions. But mistakes that affect your life trajectory, or those that harm others and create remorse, are much harder to work through and let go of.

Constantly replaying them in your mind with what ifs long after the event’s occurred keeps them alive and prevents you from forgiving yourself and letting go.

Try this:

Pull them out one at a time and make peace with them. Focus on what you’ve done to repair or change your behavior, and if you haven’t changed your behavior, work on that now. You don’t have to forget, but you do have to forgive and allow yourself to move forward. Otherwise, there’s a constant emotional drip that erodes your well-being.

#2 Worrying About What Other People Think

If you’re someone who puts great emphasis on what other’s think about you, you aren’t free to relax into who you are and pursue your interests, talents, and personal assets. You’re too busy worrying about how you present yourself and how others will react to what you do. Someone else’s judgment becomes the yardstick by which you measure your worth.

Excessive concern about other people’s perceptions constricts and keeps you from your true self.

Try this:

Take some time to define your values, desires, assets, and goals. Decide what you truly want to pursue. Make friends with who you are. Let go of people who don’t appreciate you, and befriend people who do – just as you are.

#3 Lamenting That Life Isn’t as It Should Be

One of the keys to mental health and emotional stability is learning to field what comes your way.

We tend to move towards sameness and reliability. Of course! It’s easier and more comfortable for things to move in the direction you want with ease and to rely on what’s going to happen. There’s nothing wrong with liking that, but it’s not how life always is, and staying flexible and making the best of what you’ve got from where you are makes life better.

Try this:

Go ahead and create goals, make plans, and pursue what you like. But at the same time, remain flexible and ready to pivot when something doesn’t go the way thought it would. Your reaction is what you can control and use to your advantage. Keep in mind that sometimes moving in a new and unexpected direction works out to your benefit.

#4 Persistent Anger and Bitterness

Remaining angry and bitter about past experiences and even current situations is a waste of you. The amount of emotional energy you pour into ruminating about what isn’t going right or didn’t go right just holds you in idle and sometimes shoots you in reverse. It also pushes other people away and prevents you from experiencing closeness and love in your relationships.

Try this:

If you’re feeling the effects of trauma and can’t move past it, see a therapist and actively work on it. If something in the present is causing your distress, take thoughtful action to change it. You might need to do this in steps, but getting started will move you toward resolution instead of festering.

#5 Avoidance and Fear

Avoiding things, situations, or people you need to attend to feels like a persistent horsefly that buzzes around your head, then flies off and comes back again. Over and over. It’s an awful feeling.

Sometimes it’s just a list of things that need doing, like a house repair, work assignment, or appointment you need to make. These don’t feel as intense, yet they still hang over you and take up energy.

When the thing you’re avoiding is serious and has a greater impact on you, the emotional drain is significant and can wear you down. These are things like friends you’ve ignored for too long who may feel rejected or a difficult conversation you need to have. It could be checking into a nagging health problem you’re afraid might be serious or facing a bad habit like overspending that’s become painful.

This type of procrastination or outright avoidance creates an undertow of low to medium-voltage anxiety that floats just under the surface but taunts you regularly when it comes up for air. The drain is significant and can leave you tired, moody, and discontent.

Try this:

Make the list, and then start with the easiest thing. Do it and move on to the next. Keep going until you’ve checked it all off. With each item you accomplish, you’ll feel better and gain a little more momentum so that you won’t fall back when you get to the more challenging things.

#6 Relationship Woes

Relationships are messy – even good ones. And that’s because emotions are involved, and they can hurt us.

Emotional clutter that comes from relationship issues falls into three categories:

1. Toxicity

These are the relationships you feel trapped in, which are overall more negative than positive. They undercut your sense of self, break your trust, fill you with foreboding, give you much less than they take, and tear you down. Staying in a relationship like this drains and damages you. This goes for friends as well as partners.

Try this:

For a relationship to be viable and healthy, it has to offer both people more positives than negatives and room for growth. If that’s not the case, think it over or get some help, or if you know already, get out of it.

2. Blurred Responsibility

This is for the caretakers. You take over others’ responsibilities regularly and feel the burden of carrying them. It’s easy to do this in intimate relationships like with partners, your children (and especially children), and close family members.

The responsibilities get blurred because the boundaries are blurred. And the upshot is that you can feel emotionally overwhelmed by worry, overextension, and resentment all at the same time.

Try this:

Give those responsibilities back to the people to whom they belong! You can be a support but not do the actual work. You have to be able to let others learn their lessons, and that’s likely hard for you. But it’s better for you and for them. If you can’t do it on your own, seek help.

3. Difficult Relationships

These are relationships you want to stay in but need work. It might be a marriage in disarray, a parent-child issue, a conflict with a family member, or even a work situation. Your distress comes from not knowing what to do or how to fix things.

Try this:

Therapy is an obvious choice, but you can also research or read to get more information and find ideas you might want to try to improve things. For example, you could enroll in a couple’s course. Or maybe take a parenting class. Books are available for every kind of relationship issue, as are many blogs and articles. Get started so you don’t feel defeated or fall into despair.

Last Note

That’s my list, but there are other types of emotional clutter. If you want to read more on the subject, Google “emotional clutter,” and you’ll find more ideas that might be helpful.

That’s all for today.

Hope you have a great week!

All my best,


Blog Short #145: What to Say to Someone Who’s Grieving

Photo by Pheelings media, Courtesy of Shutterstock

When someone you know and care about is grieving due to a loss, it’s hard to know what to say or do. You feel for them, yet you might feel awkward when you first see them after the fact. You might feel the weight of trying to help and not knowing how.

That’s natural. You may think your response must match the weight of their grief, but the truth is it can’t, nor should it.

Today I’ll go over what to do and what not to do in these instances. If you’ve never been in this position, you will be at some point, and it might help to know what to do.

Let’s start with a couple of facts that will make it easier.

Two Important Truths to Remember

1. Everyone grieves differently.

No two people have the exact same experience of grief, even though there might be some commonalities. You don’t know, nor can you know, all of what the other person feels, even if you’ve experienced a similar loss. You may understand their grieving process more because of your experience, but you still don’t know everything they feel or how they’re experiencing it.

2. The length of a grief reaction is unique to the individual.

Some people take longer than others to find a place for their grief. There’s no time limit or expectation. It could be a year or five years, and some people never get over the loss.

By accepting these two truths, you’re in a much better place to respond. Now let’s look at both what to say and what not to say. We’ll start with what not to say.

What Not to Say

Some of these are common mistakes made out of anxiety to be helpful, but they aren’t. Don’t say anything remotely like these statements.

  • I know how you feel.
  • It’s been a year – time to put it behind you and move on.
  • Think of all the positive things about her.
  • You have such beautiful memories. Cherish them.
  • She’s in a better place now.
  • It was her time. God has a plan for her.
  • Be grateful you had her for as long as you did.
  • I felt the same way when my husband died, but I’m okay now. You will be too.
  • You don’t look well. How are you?

You probably cringed at some of those, especially if you’ve experienced a loss yourself.

There are particular things someone grieving doesn’t want to hear.

They don’t want anyone to:

  • Hurry up their grieving process.
  • Put a positive spin on things.
  • Comment on how ragged they look or how they look at all.
  • Jump in with their experiences.
  • Say you understand how they’re feeling.

None of those actions are appreciated and will leave the grieving person feeling more isolated.

What do you say?

You could say:

I’m so sorry for your loss and that you’re going through this. I don’t want to invade, but I’m here for you if you want to talk. I’ll listen.

When the grief is new, often, people are in shock. Some withdraw and don’t want to talk to anyone. Others need to talk a lot, and their conversation may run the gamut of sadness, anger, helplessness, fear, and defeat.

Those who want to talk appreciate someone who listens quietly without interjecting ideas or opinions, even if they’re meant to be helpful.

When someone experiences a significant loss, they don’t want to deal with other people’s anxiety about how to respond to them. They want time and, if possible, someone who can sit still and hear them.

To provide that, you need to feel comfortable with being unable to make things better. That’s not your goal. Your goal is simply to be there, and when asked to help in some way, do that. It’s also to give the other person space when they need it.

If they want advice or the benefit of your experience, they’ll ask for it.

Above all, don’t minimize, measure, or evaluate the person’s reactions. Let them be. Show acceptance with quiet attentiveness.

How else can I help?

Depending on the situation, there may be practical things you can do. I would caution you, however, not to overwhelm someone with something you think they might want. I’ve known situations where people brought so much food to the house that some had to be thrown out, not to mention the person felt invaded by so many people showing up on their doorstep.

Generally, sending flowers, cards or acknowledging the loss in a simple yet kind way is helpful.

Some of what you do will depend on how well you know the person, how close and familiar you are with each other, and the experiences you’ve shared previously in dealing with emotional issues.

For example, if your daughter lost her husband and you’re close to each other, she might want you to stay with her or come over and help with the house or kids. But if you’re an acquaintance or work buddy, you wouldn’t do something that familiar.

The idea is to offer help that won’t make the grieving person feel invaded or awkward.

Here’s a list of possibilities:

  • Take your loved one to necessary appointments
  • Help with insurance forms, funeral arrangements, or other immediate end-of-life needs
  • Drive the kids to activities or watch them when needed
  • Run errands
  • Prepare food and drop it off
  • Walk the dog or attend to pets
  • Do some household chores like laundry or cleaning up
  • If you’re very close, run interference with other people who are coming to the house
  • Take a walk together or take them out somewhere if they would like to get out of the house

Things to Watch Out For

Grieving and extended grieving sometimes develop into clinical depression. It’s normal to feel depressed, sad, and helpless when you lose someone. You might also feel immobilized or paralyzed for a time.

As I’ve mentioned, there’s no protocol on how someone “should” grieve. It’s unique to each person. However, it is crucial to note if someone becomes too depressed and needs some intervention.

Obvious signs of this are:

  • Neglecting self-care and personal hygiene
  • Inability to function in daily life
  • Withdrawal for extended periods
  • Excessive hopelessness
  • Talking about wanting to die or suicide
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Other signs of serious mental health issues like hallucinations

If you’re worried about someone, it’s good to encourage them to seek help and do what you can to aid them in getting an appointment with a therapist or psychiatrist. If you’re unsure what to do, speak to a mental health expert or physician for advice. Most cities have crisis lines where you can speak with someone immediately.

Other Things to Keep in Mind

Remember that your job is not to remove the grief. Be supportive but don’t take on the responsibility of the grief itself. That won’t be good for you or the other person.

Be present, don’t disappear, and if the grief becomes overwhelming, aid your loved one to get help.

Other Losses

This blog focuses on losing someone due to death, but people go through similar grieving processes when they lose a significant relationship or experience a catastrophic loss like losing their home.

My family lived in Miami during Hurricane Andrew, and they were traumatized for months afterward. The losses were horrific. My brothers remained and rebuilt their lives, but my sister left and rebuilt her life elsewhere because the damage was too great.

The point is that all the advice given here for grieving can also be used for those kinds of situations.

A Quick Note

Today’s blog subject was requested by a reader. If you have something you’d like me to address, email me about it.

That’s all for today!

Hope you have a great week!

All my best,