Blog Short #126: What is Good Character and How to Cultivate It

Photo by marekuliasz, Courtesy of iStock Photo

Let’s start with a quote that will introduce today’s subject:

“Men of genius are admired, men of wealth are envied, men of power are feared: but only men of character are trusted.” ~ Alfred Adler

Having good character and seeing it as part of your identity broadcasts to others that you’re trustworthy and reliable and will honor each person’s worthiness by treating them with care and integrity.

Today I’m giving you a list of ten traits that comprise good character and showing you how you can cultivate them.

What exactly is “character”?

Character comprises the core values, beliefs, and moral principles upon which you live your life. It’s an internal identity structure that guides your interactions with others and your behavior in general.

You might define it as “doing the right thing,” even when no one else is looking. It’s a descriptor of who you are.

Here’s our list of ten traits that represent good character.

10 Good Character Traits

1. Integrity

Integrity means you have defined and internalized your core values and principles and live by them. People can count on you to behave in a consistent manner regardless of circumstances.

2. Honesty

You’re straightforward, trustworthy, and will say the same thing in multiple settings and to different people. Your self-presentation is authentic, consistent, and genuine. You’re faithful and loyal to those you love. You protect the privacy of intimate knowledge and guard the sanctity of your close relationships. Your approach to others is sincere and open.

3. Responsibility

You take responsibility for your circumstances, behavior, and actions. People can rely on you to live up to your obligations and commitments. You hold yourself accountable for what you’ve promised and how you act, and follow through with what you say you will do. You don’t blame others when things don’t go right, and you take action to amend and repair mistakes.

4. Compassion

You can empathize and treat others with kindness, consideration, and generosity. Your conscience is well-developed, and you do your best to bring no harm to anyone. You feel guilty when causing someone pain. And when someone needs help, you do your best to come to their aid and support. When others mistreat you, you extend forgiveness even if you must set necessary boundaries to preserve your values and principles. You freely give of yourself without expecting something in return.

5. Respectfulness

You treat everyone with respect and civility based on your belief in our common humanity and every person’s value and worth. You extend kindness and politeness in your interactions with others and preserve each person’s dignity despite their imperfections.

6. Self-Discipline

You maintain self-discipline in pursuing your goals, have a strong work ethic, honor commitments, and show up in your relationships. You can delay gratification, manage your emotions, and execute a well-thought-out plan.

7. Conscientiousness

You like to live up to your highest potential and do things well. Not only are you thoughtful, efficient, organized, dedicated, and diligent in your efforts, you align your activities with your core values to benefit all concerned, not just yourself. You want to do your best and do what’s right. You consistently work on self-improvement.

8. Humility

Although you recognize your worth and have confidence in your abilities, you also know that you’re a student of life and will never stop learning or growing. You’re humbled by the vastness of untapped knowledge and your place in humanity. You don’t see yourself as better than others, regardless of differences in stages of development.

9. Courageousness

You’re determined to face and overcome obstacles to reaching goals that fulfill your purpose and provide meaning, including confronting personal flaws and areas that need improvement. You have the courage to work through discomfort or pain when moving toward a goal.

10. Fairness

When deciding or choosing a course of action, you consider the impact on those involved. You weigh the fairness of any proposed action and are thoughtful and empathetic in your deliberations. You’re open to different opinions and ideas and can objectively view them before moving forward. You choose the option that will provide the most benefit for all while reflecting core values and principles.

How to Improve Your Character

You checked all those boxes, right?

I’m funning, but my guess is that we all probably score high on some of those traits and need work on others.

Wherever you think you are, here’s a 4-step plan to help you evaluate and make improvements.

Step 1: Identify your core values, beliefs, and principles.

Before you do that, let’s clarify what each of these means.

A belief is an assumption about the world or your existence. A value is a trait you believe is essential and serves as a guide to your behavior. A principle is a behavior that will express and fulfill your values.

For example, you may believe each person has a purpose. A corresponding value might be “self-discipline.” A related principle could be that daily, purposeful actions are necessary to reach goals.

Using those definitions, write out your major beliefs (assumptions) and your core values. Under each of those list behaviors that reflect that value. This may be a lengthy process and one you shouldn’t do in a sitting. Do it over weeks, but keep working at it. You might like doing it journal style and adding to it whenever a new realization hits you.

Step 2: Observe your behavior.

Systematically observe your daily behavior and see when you stray from your core values and principles. We all do that to some extent, but you can only catch it if you’re watching and keeping your mind open to see when you deviate. Something as simple as gossiping for a moment may not fit your core values. Although you mean no harm, there’s an element of injury both to you and the person you’re talking about.

Don’t do this exercise to criticize yourself but rather to evaluate where you need to make changes or tighten up.

Step 3: Make a plan to work on areas of struggle.

Pick one thing at a time and consistently work on it. In most cases, this requires changing habits – letting go of dysfunctional ones and replacing them with good ones. This is an ongoing effort.

In last week’s blog, I discussed how your brain automates your habits, thought patterns, behavior, etc. Because of that, you’ll need time, persistence, and patience. But the rewards are great! Use any strategies you think will help.

Step 4: Set up a regular review time to see how you’re doing.

If you don’t do this, you’re more likely to let go of your resolve. Momentum needs to be continuous, which will only happen if you refresh it regularly. A weekly review is best. I’ve added a character review to my already established weekly review of my goals. That way I won’t forget it.

Today’s Challenge

There are current social obstacles to building character that you should keep in mind as you work at it. We’ve moved from a Culture of Character to a Culture of Personality over the past several centuries (Sussman).

Whereas we used to be focused on values like “citizenship, duty, work, golden deeds, honor, reputation, and morals,” our current obsession with personalities has shifted our attention to public personas that are “magnetic, fascinating, stunning, attractive, glowing, dominant, forceful, and energetic,” (Cain). Personas have taken precedence over ethics and behavior.

Having a good personality is all well and good, but not at the expense of having good character. Ultimately your successes on every front will depend much more on character than personality.

Character is the foundation of your personality, so make it good!

That’s all for today!

I hope you have a great week!

All my best,



Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Crown Publishing Group.
Sussman, W. (2003). Culture as History: The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth CenturySmithsonian Books.

Blog Short #125: How Your Brain Can Help You Change Bad Habits

Most people think breaking a bad habit is hard, and it is, but where you get lost is in thinking that it depends entirely on willpower. Willpower is involved, but that’s only a part of it. Knowing how your brain works and how to make use of that is a critical part you may not know about.

Today I’ll take you through how this works and show you how to use your brain to help you transition from a bad habit to a good one.

The Brain’s Part in Habit Formation

Part 1: Automation

You likely know that the more you do something, your brain automates it for you so you can do it without thinking or applying direct concentration. It allows you to economize your mental energy so you can use it to focus on what needs your attention.

Driving is a perfect example. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of driving from one place to another and, upon getting there, realizing you weren’t noticeably aware of the journey. Your mind was on other things.

This happens because your brain has established neuron paths and connections that help you drive using your subconscious mind while your conscious thoughts can entertain something else. And the more you do something, the easier it is and the less attention it requires.

Part 2: Associations

That’s the first part. The second part is that you also build a network of associations. By stringing certain activities together, your neurons fire together and create a web of associations to make it all work more efficiently.

When you get into the car to drive, you put on your seatbelt, set your purse or briefcase in the passenger seat, turn on the radio, start the car, put it in gear, and go. Each activity is part of a string of related actions wired together, so you don’t have to think about them as you do them.

That’s how habits are formed and automated.

And, the more you repeat a series of actions or thoughts, the stronger the network and the more set the associations.

Part 3: Attachments

Now for the third part which has to do with attachments.

Driving is a routine habit, but there are other habits that involve strong emotional attachments. These habits are the ones that are more difficult to break.

Smoking, overeating, social media consumption, and picking the wrong partners are all habits that have strong emotional components. They come from your history, experiences, and memories stored in your brain but are not necessarily available to your conscious mind.

Again in these cases, your brain helps you maintain these habits by creating neuron paths and webs of connections that tie different experiences, emotions, and actions together.

Smoking is an excellent example of this. First, there’s a physiological component which is nicotine addiction. Then come the multitude of associations you create, like smoking after dinner, smoking with coffee in the morning, smoking to take a break, smoking when you’re upset, and so on. These associations are all represented in your brain and solidified the more you repeat them.

Let’s go deeper.

When you have experiences with strong emotional components, your subconscious brain logs these in as “important.” It grows deeper neurons paths with associations that set up triggers.

All of that happens without your conscious awareness.

Your conscious mind operates about 5%, and the other 90% represents subconscious and unconscious activity.

Your subconscious and unconscious are always working to make connections to help you survive and predict future events. This is even more so when emotions and attachments are involved.

Your mind and brain form a continuous feedback loop.

It’s an efficient system, but problems arise when you want to change automated systems. Your brain throws up roadblocks because it’s already set up working neuron paths, associations, and attachments.

It’s no wonder moving in a new direction is so hard.

How to Get Your Brain to Help You

When you want to eliminate a bad habit, especially one with a strong emotional hold on you, you can get your brain to help by facilitating some rewiring. Here’s a three-step process to use.

Step 1: Decide on an alternative habit.

If you want to lose weight, you could create a new eating plan, start an exercise program, and read up on nutrition; however, that entails creating several new habits that require a lot of willpower. It’s a setup to fail. Your brain’s going to balk.

Choose one thing that’s doable, feels easiest, and appeals the most. Maybe you walk 20 minutes daily, five days a week, to start. Or you reduce calories by 10%. Make it small and simple.

Step 2: Automate it.

Set up the schedule and do it. If you have a difficult time sticking with that, make it easier. Walk 10 minutes, or lift weights three times per week and do one set of three exercises. Get it down to what you need to succeed.

You have to get under your brain’s radar, so your resistance is as low as possible.

As you repeat it, a habit will form, your brain will set up the proper neuron paths, and if you do it the same way every time, it will set up associations to help automate it.

For example, I walk at least five days a week at five in the afternoon. I wear the same clothes and walking shoes, carry my phone with music downloaded, and wear air pods in my ears. I walk the same path most days and walk for at least 30 minutes. I’m so used to it that it feels weird if I don’t do it. My brain has created neuron paths and associations, and they’re set in my psyche.

Step 3: If you start and fall back, start up again.

This is the pivotal part. Your old habits will pull at you, and your brain will create resistance. You have to coax it by jumping back on the horse and trotting slowly forward until the new wiring is stronger than the old one.

If you remember this, you won’t chastise yourself for falling back. You’ll be patient with yourself and your brain as it gets everything set up and automated.

The need to work with your brain is behind the idea of improving just 1% daily, as James Clear has suggested in his book Atomic Habits. Big changes rarely work well, but small persistent changes work, and recognizing that you’ll have setbacks is a necessary part of that.

When you throw in the towel because you fell back on your resolution, you’re not giving your brain the time it needs to rewire.

Here’s what happens next.

Once you establish a new habit and it’s neurologically embedded, your desire for the old habit will dry up. The old neuron paths will become inactive.

Secondly, your brain will facilitate attachment to the new habit and want more of it.

For example, if your new habit is to eat a healthy diet, the longer you do it, the more you want healthy food. Then when you eat junk food, it doesn’t taste as good as you remembered and it feels terrible.

The lesson is that whatever you tell your brain you want, and you show that with repeated actions, it will accommodate you and want more of that. Not only will you lose the old habit, but you also won’t crave it anymore, and your brain will amplify that for you.

The moral of the story is – Make your brain your ally! It will help if you give it what it needs to create your desired habits.

That’s all for today!

Have a great week!!

All my best,


Blog Short #124: How to Handle Sensitivity to Criticism

Photo by ArtistGNDphotography, Courtesy of iStock Photos

Why is it so hard to take criticism? It may vary depending on your sensitivity, but even stoic people don’t particularly like to be criticized. If you’re highly sensitive, you can feel shattered by it.

It gets down to these three elements:

  1. How you perceive it
  2. How you internalize it
  3. How you react to it

Let’s review these and discuss how you can deal effectively with each part of the process. I’ll also tell you how not to do it.

How do you perceive it?

When someone says something to you either directly or indirectly that smacks of criticism, how does it go in? How do you experience it?

Think about this carefully for a moment. Go back to a situation where you felt criticized and slow it down. What were the thoughts and feelings you experienced when you heard the words?

Usually, our reactions are so fast that we don’t recognize all the emotions involved, at least not at first.

Here are some possible examples. Maybe you:

  • Feel overwhelmed, and your mind fogs momentarily. You can’t think, and your feelings are muddled and negatively tinged. It’s too much to take in.
  • Your body temperature goes up or down, and you feel queasy or unsettled.
  • You feel stung, surprised, and derailed temporarily.
  • You feel hurt, shamed, and angry all a the same time. You might tear up.

Generally, there’s a rush of emotional responses that blend together. The overall perception is of being attacked, and your emotional brain quickly formulates a fight-flight-or-freeze response.

How do you internalize it?

This is the pivotal part because how you let it land and take it in determines how you respond. Here are several possible scenarios.

Scenario #1: It’s an indictment of your whole person.

You aren’t hearing the criticism as something related to a specific behavior but are seeing it as a characterization of your whole self. It’s a full-on frontal attack. You narrow your sense of self down to the specific criticism and equate it with who you are.

Scenario #2: You wholeheartedly refuse it.

In this case, you don’t consider whether there’s any truth to it. You won’t let it get far enough in to look at it. You erect an impenetrable wall.

Scenario #3: You can’t get a grip on your thoughts or feelings and feel adrift.

You’re overwhelmed. It feels like you’re moving through sludge and can’t wrap your mind around what you hear. You’re paralyzed. You feel traumatized even if the weight and strength of the criticism don’t warrant such a big reaction.

How do you react?

Your reaction will depend on how you’ve perceived and internalized what you’ve heard. Back to our scenarios:

Scenarios 1 & 2:

You’re most likely to defend in the first two cases – whole-person indictment and impenetrable wall. Most of the time, it’s a verbal defense ranging from denial to counterattack, and often both. Your words might be strong and loud, or you refuse to talk or interact.

Your partner tells you you’re being stubborn and unreasonable, and you quickly retort:

“I am not! What about you? What about last week when I tried to get you to work on our finances, and you refused and accused me of overspending and being the problem? Who was being stubborn and unreasonable then? Huh?!”

Who hasn’t had conversations like that?

Scenario 3:

You’re feeling overwhelmed and can’t grasp what you hear or how you feel or think, so you freeze.

This type of reaction likely stems from your history. It’s linked to earlier experiences that felt damaging, painful, and traumatic. Criticism for you sets off an internal alarm.

You might have grown up in a household where parental anger was volatile and frightening, and any missteps on your part led to severe punishment or emotional upheaval. Or maybe it was used as a means of control and projection.

Any new criticism brings up the old fears and paralyzes you temporarily. You retreat internally until you can sort out what’s happening.

People with this type of history may also react as in the second case scenario – counterattacking vociferously and loudly while erecting a wall of defense.

What can you do?

1. Review your history.

Write out the specific types of criticism that trigger you and how you respond to them. The goal is to identify your reaction patterns and understand where they come from. If you have a good grip on this information, you can work on changing them.

2. Avoid wholesale labels.

Instead of labeling yourself (or being labeled by the other person) with personality characteristics – stubborn, defensive, selfish, infantile, judgmental, etc. – focus on the behavior in question. If someone’s labeling you, shift their attention to the behavior.

The easiest way to do that is to ask, “What leads you to think that? What have I done that leads to you say I’m stubborn?”

Always shift to behavior and away from wholesale personality characteristics.

Three of the worst ways to tell someone about something you don’t like are to label, diagnose, or scorn them with contempt. It’s hard to withstand that sort of attack without feeling defensive, angry, or retreating.

That brings us to the next thing.

3. Set boundaries on how someone criticizes you.

You can do it in the act by saying something like:

“I’m willing to hear what bothers you, but not if you continue to label me, attack, diagnose, or be contemptuous. Tell me the specific behavior you’re bothered by, but respectfully please.”

If that doesn’t go over well, step out of the conversation until the person is willing to approach you as requested.

4. Work on your self-perception.

This is important because regardless of how respectfully or gently someone delivers criticism, you’ll be more sensitive to hearing it if you struggle with feelings of worth or are already unhappy with your behavior and haven’t been able to get on top of it.

Humility’s hard to come by when you already feel insufficient and not good enough. The ultimate goal is to look at yourself honestly with a discriminating eye and see your strengths and weaknesses without attacking yourself.

Recognize patterns you need to work on, but don’t equate them with all of who you are. Ask yourself, “How can I improve on my weaknesses while making use of my strengths?”

The way you react to criticism from others will reflect how you respond to criticism of yourself.

If you’re in the habit of beating yourself up or excusing behaviors you shouldn’t, you won’t react well to outside criticism. Get used to seeing yourself, flaws and all, with care and love while striving to improve. Make sure to always keep your strengths in mind as you review what needs fixing. Perfectionism has no place in this process.

How do I do that?

Here are four ideas you can try:

  1. You can read if you like doing that. I’d suggest Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection as a good starting place. This book will help you embrace your flaws while feeling good about who you are.
  2. You can seek therapy which, by the way, isn’t just for people with serious problems. It can be a growth-enhancing process for anyone and helps you know yourself better.
  3. Practice taking in little criticisms and changing your reaction deliberately. Read this blog.
  4. Last, I’ve attached a quick-read PDF on How to Stop Being Defensive if you haven’t already seen or read it. You can download it here!

The good thing is, even if you’re highly sensitive to criticism, you can get good at handling it and making it work to your benefit.

That’s all for today.

I hope you have a great week!

All my best,


Blog Short #123: How to Ask for What You Want

Photo by fizkes, Courtesy of iStock Photo

Sometimes asking for what you want isn’t easy. It can get complicated. It depends on what it is, its importance, and who you’re asking.

Today we’re going to go over the factors that get in the way and how to handle them, along with some basic strategies you can use to make your requests stronger, more precise, and more likely to get a favorable response.

Let’s start with five psychological factors.

Five Things to Consider Before You Ask

1. Clarity

What exactly are you asking for?

You can’t successfully get a response if you don’t first know clearly what you want and why you want it.

There are two types of requests. Knowing about these will help you sort out what you want. They are:

  1. Acknowledgment
  2. Action

There’s a request in every communication, and that request is for acknowledgment. When talking to someone, you want some indication that they heard you. This is true whether you’re asking for something specific or just chatting.

If you walk into a room and say hello to someone, you expect some acknowledgment – either they say hello back, nod, or indicate they heard you speak.

There’s a request in your “hello.” If no one looks up, speaks, or indicates you’ve entered the room and spoken, you feel rejected and likely invisible. Your unspoken request for acknowledgment has been denied.

If you walk into the room and say hello, followed by a request for help to figure out a financial statement you’re working on, you’ve asked for both acknowledgment and action.

All this means is that when thinking about what you’re requesting, know how much of what you want is acknowledgment and how much is action. What specifically do you want? You need to be committed to that before you can ask. If you’re wishy-washy and aren’t committed to what you’re asking for, you’ll likely get a lukewarm or mixed response.

2. Believing

Do you believe you deserve what you’re asking for?

If you don’t, that will come across.

Have you had someone ask you something and then qualify it by saying, “You probably don’t have time for that,” or maybe “I shouldn’t ask,” or perhaps they avoid eye contact, fidget around, and look like they’re ready to dash for the door?

If you really think you shouldn’t ask, then don’t. But if that’s just another way of saying you don’t deserve what you’re asking for, you should think that through before asking.

It’s important to feel confident that you deserve what you’re asking for and not asking for too much. Your confidence will help to get a positive response or at least more conversation about what you need.

3. Cost

What’s it going to cost you?

If the request is simple, there may be no immediate cost.

If you ask your partner when he goes into the kitchen to bring you a soda on the way back to the living room, there’s no immediate cost. There is an expectation, however, that you’ll both do little things for each other like that when requested.

If you ask to be chosen to chair a committee working on a philanthropic project, the cost will be the time, work, and effort you’ll need to put in.

If you want your partner to agree to remodel your kitchen, the cost will be losing a place to cook and prepare meals for the time it takes to get the work done.

There’s always a cost. Know that before asking.

4. Expectations

Are your expectations too narrow?

Strangely, sometimes what you ask for, you get, but not in the way you imagined it. It comes from another source, much later, or as part of something better than your original request. You have to have some faith. And you may need to ask more than once.

5. Fear

What might you be afraid of?

Possibilities are fear of:

  • Rejection.
  • Getting what you want and it not living up to your expectations.
  • Having to pay the price for getting it.
  • Making a mistake and asking for the wrong thing.
  • Not getting it in the time you need it.

Consider all these and do your homework as best you can, but once you feel confident in your request, don’t let fear keep you from asking.

If you’ve carefully considered your true wants, the price of getting it, and your expectations, and you still want to go forward, then go. You can always make changes. Don’t get into an all-or-nothing mindset.

How to Ask

Now let’s go through strategies that will get you the best results.

1. Be clear and direct.

No matter the request, be direct. Spell it out and say exactly what you want, when you want it, and how you want it. Avoid hinting, and don’t leave anything dangling that confuses the other person about what you’re asking. By all means, don’t expect someone to read your mind, even if it’s your partner who knows you well. Make your requests as straightforward as possible. Directness builds trust.

2. Ask with confidence.

Be concise and avoid offering a defense for what you’re asking. Sometimes people get defensive when asking for something before anyone questions their request or desire. Obviously, if you ask for a raise at work, you’ll want to give a concise summary of why you deserve it, but even then, be careful to keep any hint of defensiveness out of it.

3. Be specific.

Global questions get poor responses. They’re fine for open discussions or philosophical debates, but you need to be specific to get something specific. Spell out any pertinent details.

4. Assess receptivity.

Consider who you’re asking and what you think the level of receptivity will be. What might they need to know, and will they be interested in helping? You may also know upfront what you could reciprocate that would feel like a win-win to everyone.

I’m not suggesting you manipulate, but rather be mindful of the person you’re asking and how they might receive your request. Above all, be respectful even if the answer is no.

5. Choose a good time.

As much as you can, select a good time to make your request.

For example:

  • Asking your partner to help you solve a messy problem before you both retire for the night is terrible timing.
  • Asking your boss for a raise when he’s preparing for an important talk is also poor timing.

Other considerations are don’t approach someone when they’re distracted, overly tired, or overwhelmed. For important requests, ask ahead when a good time would be to discuss your request.

When You Get a “No”

When you get turned down, take some time to regroup and ask yourself these questions:

  • What might I do instead? What are the alternatives?
  • Is there someone else I can ask or another source of help for what I need?
  • Should I let this go for now and wait and see what develops?
  • Might I ask again at a later time?
  • Are there some steps I can take on my own to work toward the goal I want to achieve?

There isn’t always an immediate solution. Sometimes you need to have faith that what you want (if it’s something that’s good for you), will come around in its own time. That doesn’t mean you give up. It means you keep yourself open to unexpected developments that push you in the right direction.

Sometimes taking small steps brings on those bigger payoffs.

Asking gets the ball rolling, even if it rolls in a different direction than you thought it would.

That’s all for today.

Have a great week!

All my best,


Blog Short #122: The Silent Treatment

Photo by PixelsEffect, Courtesy of iStock Photo

Have you ever given someone the “silent treatment?” Or been on the receiving end of it? I confess that I can say yes to both questions, and based on statistics, most of us can say the same.

According to a study done in 1997, 70% of US citizens admitted to having received the silent treatment from their partners, and slightly less admitted to using it (Faulker et al., 1997).

You might think it’s not a big deal, but the effects are painful and long-lasting depending on how much and for what purposes it’s used.

That’s what we’re focusing on today. I’ll start with a definition and description.

What is the “silent treatment”?

All the definitions have the same essential elements:

The “silent treatment” is the intentional refusal to communicate, interact, connect, or acknowledge someone who’s attempting to make contact with you.

The most common behaviors used when giving the silent treatment are:

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Not speaking except in monosyllables
  • Engaging in other activities as though you don’t exist
  • Being friendly and welcoming with other people in your presence
  • Walking behind or in front of you
  • Avoiding touching of any kind
  • Retreating to other rooms in the house if you’re home together
  • Opting out of regular activities such as eating together, watching TV, doing chores
  • Avoiding any attempt on your part to communicate about what’s happening (stonewalling)

The silent treatment can make you feel:

  • Invisible, unimportant, or scorned.
  • Like you need to walk on eggshells.
  • That you’re being punished.
  • In limbo because you have no idea when it will end.

It sounds awful, doesn’t it? It is, but there are some distinctions that can help you navigate it when it happens. It boils down to why someone withdraws and becomes silent. What’s the intended purpose? Some intentions are rather devastating, and some aren’t.

The Not So Bad – A Defensive Tactic

Overwhelm. If you’re in a situation or discussion that’s emotional, heated, confusing or all of the above, you could become overwhelmed to the point that you can’t make sense of what’s happening. You might shut down or become quiet in those cases because continued interaction will go nowhere or worsen things.

At those times, becoming silent isn’t an act of maliciousness or manipulation. It’s more an act of survival.

Anger. You feel triggered by something that leads to anger or rage. If you keep talking, things will get out of hand, so you retreat and avoid conversation and interaction until your anger subsides and you have a cool head.

Protect yourself from abuse. You sense that you’re treading into dangerous territory, so you become quiet to avoid being abused or hurt.

Avoidance of emotional issues. You aren’t recognizing or dealing with long-term emotional or psychological problems that push you to shut down, seek seclusion, and avoid contact.

In all of these cases, the purpose is to manage emotions – either your own or the other person’s.

The Bad – A Power Play

The harmful aspects of using silent treatment involve the intent to exercise power. By withdrawing, ignoring, disconnecting, and disdaining, silent treatment becomes a means of:

  1. Control
  2. Punishment
  3. Manipulation

This type of silent treatment leaves you feeling cut off and helpless. Worse, you don’t always know what set the other person off.

Kipling Williams, who has studied “ostracism,” found in his many interviews that people receiving silent treatment from their partners or parents often didn’t know what had caused it. Those who did know said that, in many cases, it was something relatively trivial and had no real negative consequences.

Sometimes the silent treatment went on for days and ended as if nothing had happened, and everyone returned to their everyday interactions.

For others, it ended when the targeted person apologized, usually without knowing what they were apologizing for.

In other cases, silent treatment was a clear act of manipulation to get someone to do something and ended when the victim consented.

The Effects

Some of the most notable effects of receiving the silent treatment are:

  • Self-doubt
  • Reduced self-esteem
  • Isolation and loneliness
  • Anxiety
  • Depression and sadness
  • Physiological distress (digestive problems, eating disturbances, migraines, lowered immunity, sexual dysfunction, sleep disturbances)

Research has shown that in addition to the above, one of the things that makes silent treatment so hard to deal with is its ambiguity.

You may not know why it’s happening, you don’t know when it will end, and you have no avenue to take action to move it along.

Many victims of long-term silent treatment said they preferred being beaten rather than ignored. At least that’s contact!

You’ve heard people say, “I’d rather you yell at me than get quiet and ignore me.”

The effects are powerful.

Being ostracized attacks our biological and psychological need for connection, acceptance, and love. Blatant disregard and rejection create significant emotional pain, especially when expressed silently. You feel ghosted, dismissed, diminished, and vulnerable all at the same time.

Research has shown that the area of the brain that’s activated during physical pain, the anterior cingulate cortex, is also activated when enduring social pain, especially ostracism (Eisenberger, N. & Lieberman, M., 2004).

One example given by Williams in his interviews was of a woman who felt intense pain in the left side of her chest during periods of enduring the silent treatment (Williams, 2002).

Excluding and ignoring people, such as giving them the cold shoulder or silent treatment, are used to punish or manipulate, and people may not realize the emotional or physical harm that is being done.

What to Do

1. Say you need space.

When you need to withdraw, say it. Let the other person know you need space and time to get your thoughts and emotional equilibrium back to normal. Let them know you’re not ignoring them on purpose, but need some time away.

2. Don’t use the silent treatment as a means of solving problems.

If you have an issue or problem with someone, approach it directly by talking about it. Withholding yourself isn’t a good management tool. It will make things worse and do permanent damage.

3. Set boundaries on unacceptable behavior.

Whether it’s your partner, parent, child, friend, or work colleague, let them know firmly that being given the silent treatment isn’t okay. Tell them how it makes you feel and how to approach you better. Don’t allow yourself to be controlled or manipulated by it.

4. Help reframe silent treatment as needed time.

If someone’s upset and needs time away from you yet doesn’t or can’t say it, say it for them. “It seems like you need time to get your thoughts and feelings together. I understand that. I’ll leave you to yourself until you say otherwise.”

5. Don’t let problems hang on indefinitely.

Many silent treatment episodes occur when you feel helpless to resolve something or are angry about something that’s happened repeatedly. Seek help if you can’t work out the issue on your own.

What if you’re in the habit of using the silent treatment?

If you know you use the silent treatment for any of the reasons described, replace it with some of the suggestions I’ve outlined above. If you can’t control it, seek therapy to help you work through the underlying issues that still impact your current behavior.

Seek therapy also if you’re in a pattern of avoiding contact with people in general and secluding yourself. We all have people we avoid and likely have good reasons for that, but avoidance across the board isn’t healthy.

Believe it or not, research has also revealed that once you get used to giving the silent treatment, it’s rather addictive (Williams, 2002). All the more reason to get some help to break the cycle.

That’s all for today.

Have a great week!

All my best,



Agarwal, S. & Prakash, N. (2022). Psychological costs and benefits of using silent treatment. Journal of Research in Humanities and Social Science 10(4), 49-54.

Eisenberger, N. I. (2012 Feb). The neural bases of social pain: Evidence for shared representations with physical pain. Psychosomatic Medicine, 74(2), 126-135.  DOI: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e3182464dd1

Eisenberger, N. I. & Lieberman, M. D. (2004 Jul). What rejection hurts: A common neural alarm system for physical and social pain. Trends in Cognitive Science, 8(7), 294-300.  DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2004.05.010

Faulkner, S., Williams, K., Sherman, B., & Williams, E. (1997, May). The “silent treatment”: Its incidence and impact. Paper presented at the 69th annual meeting of the Midwestern Psychological Association, Chicago.

Onoda, K., Okamoto, Y., Nakashima, K., Nittono, H., Yoshimura, S., Yamawaki, S., Yamaguchi, S., & Ura, M. (2010 Dec). Does low self-esteem enhance social pain? The relationship between trait self-esteem and anterior cingulate cortex activation induced by ostracism. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 5(4), 385-391. DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsq002

Schrodt, P. (2014 Jan). A meta-analytical review of the demand/withdraw pattern of interaction and its associations with individual, relational, and communicative outcomes. Communication Monographs 81(1). DOI:10.1080/03637751.2013.813632

Sommer, K. L., Williams, K. D., Ciarocco, N. J., & Baumeister, R. (2001 Dec). When silence speaks louder than words: Explorations into the intrapsychic and interpersonal consequences of social ostracism. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 23(4), 225-243. DOI:10.1207/S15324834BASP2304_1

Stritof, S. (2022 October 31). What couples should know about the silent treatment: How to know when silence is abusive. Very Well Mind.

Williams, K. D. (2002). Ostracism: The Power of Silence. The Guilford Press.

Blog Short # 121: How Positive Language Helps Regulate Your Emotions

Photo by Cn0ra, Courtesy of iStock Photo

Positive thinking is in vogue right now, and whether you buy into it or not, there is some scientific backup for why using positive language and thinking is beneficial.

Today I’m going to summarize what the studies tell us and offer some ideas of how you can use this information to your benefit to regulate your emotions and navigate adverse events when they arise.

A quick caveat: I don’t believe you should ever suppress negative emotions. Let them rise, and allow yourself time to feel them out. But then, use a mindful approach to help you decide how best to respond.

Okay, let’s start with how negative language affects your brain.

Your Brain’s Negative Radar

When you hear and focus on negative words and thoughts, there’s an increase in the activity in your amygdala, which is the part of the brain that sounds the alarm for danger. It’s like the red alert on a spaceship.

When this happens, there’s a release of stress-producing hormones (like cortisol) that interfere with the functions of your thinking brain (the neocortex), where executive tasks like logic, analysis, impulse control, language processing, and communication take place.

In more impressive language:

“The more you stay focused on negative words and thoughts, the more you can actually damage key structures (in your brain) that regulate your memory, feelings, and emotions (Newberg & Waldman, 2012).”

It’s important to note that not only are more stress chemicals released in your brain when focused on negative content, but they’re also released in the brains of anyone listening to you.

Negative Thinking is Self-Perpetuating

Negative thinking leads to more negative thinking. The more you’re exposed to it, either your own or someone else’s, the more negative thoughts you’ll have. It takes on a life of its own, partly because we have a natural negativity bias which, when fed, will run rampant, and partly because of how the brain works.

When you engage in repetitious thought trains, your brain accommodates you by creating neural pathways to make it easier. And the more you do it, the more these pathways strengthen and become resistant to change.

So even if you try to increase your positive thoughts, your brain still defaults to the negative when you’re not consciously controlling where your mind goes.

The danger is that you can find yourself chronically focusing on everything that’s wrong without realizing you’re doing it. Your perception narrows to the degree that you miss what’s going right.

What we focus on snowballs because our brains are getting the signal that that’s where we want to go and stay. Neuron paths are helpful, but not if the captain isn’t aware of where he’s steering the ship.

Fearful Words Lead to Fight-Flight-or-Freeze

Words that bring on a “fear response” have special power because of the amygdala’s sensitivity to perceived danger. “Fear” words set us on edge and stimulate fear-laden fantasies.

They send us into fight-flight-or-freeze mode. You start ruminating and worrying about what’s ahead. You devise worst-case scenarios and anxiously create strategies to counteract what you think might happen, all the time fearing you won’t be able to handle it.

We’re worry machines. And worry can either catapult you into frenetic, uninformed actions with negative consequences or immobilize you so you take no action.

The Power of Hostile Language

Like fear-based words, hostile language has its own particular category of destruction. Studies have shown hostile language to disrupt the activity of specific genes involved in producing neurochemicals that protect us from physiological stress.

Children consistently exposed to hostile language growing up may be more susceptible to anxiety and depression as adults and have less capacity to fend them off.

The Neurological Power of Positive Language

Now comes an important recognition:

Our brains respond to our fantasies ( thoughts, ruminations, and words) as though they’re real, regardless of whether they’re positive or negative. And the harder we focus in a direction, the more power it has over our emotional status.

You can use this to your advantage. If you tip your focus toward the positive through repetitive thinking and language, your brain will help you counteract a bias toward negativity. That doesn’t mean denying or suppressing natural negative responses to painful situations: it means using your brain’s power to extract what you need from them, work them through, and then let them go.

Here are some specific benefits of using positive language.

1. It produces calm and relieves stress.

If you focus on positive words or images, the emotional centers in your brain (amygdala) calm down.

A study conducted by Herbert Benson’s team discovered that the “repetition of personally meaningful words can actually turn on stress-reducing genes” (Dusek et al., 2008). They had participants go through a short series of breathing and relaxation exercises followed by 20 minutes of repeating a word or short phrase associated with feelings of serenity, peacefulness, or joy.

Within eight weeks, there was an alteration of stress-reducing genetic expression. This process is similar to Transcendental Meditation, also researched by Herbert Benson.

Most interesting is that recent studies have shown that meditative exercises like the one above will increase the thickness of your neocortex and shrink the size of your amygdala.

2. Moves you toward taking action.

When you focus on a positive or optimistic thought, you stimulate activity in the frontal lobe where there’s a connection between specific language centers and the motor cortex that moves you to act (Newberg, Waldon, 2012).

In other words, positive self-talk helps you break out of emotional paralysis and take action.

3. Changes how you perceive yourself and others.

Other brain changes in the parietal lobe affect your perceptions of yourself and others with whom you interact. A positive orientation will lead you to see the good in others and yourself. Conversely, a negative self-image and orientation will lead to criticism, doubt, wariness, and seeing the worst in others.

How You Can Use This Information

Don’t suppress negative emotions. Take a mindful approach and observe without acting on them. Let them come up, feel them, and then step back and view them from a distance.

Next, consider options for action that will use your emotions to propel you where you want to go. Sometimes the action is simply shifting your attention to something more productive. Other times it may be seeing the hidden benefits of a negative experience. You may have learned a valuable lesson or had to pivot in a new direction.

Watch your language, especially words that promote fear, hostility, anger, and discord. We’ve become a very emotive culture and sling the f-bomb like it’s a love tap, but words carry a pulse of energy that shoots out and is felt by the receiver as well as by you. Be mindful of what you’re radiating with your words.

Try any and preferably all of these ideas:

  • Do a gratitude journal daily.
  • Start a meditation practice and stick with it.
  • When you catch yourself ruminating or having a negative conversation in your head, stop yourself and ask if there’s some action you need to take or if you’re just complaining and need to refocus on something more productive.
  • Google “positive words” and start expanding your positive vocabulary. Just reading over such a list will put you in a better mood.
  • Monitor your consumption of negative media.

Last Thought

Positive and negative are two poles on the same continuum. You can’t have one without the other, but you can decide how to use them. Your brain will follow along with what you tell it. Just be sure you’re taking advantage of that power in your choice of words, thoughts, and actions.

That’s all for today.

Have a great week

All my best,



Dusek, J. A., Out, H. H., Wohlhueter, A. L., Bhasin, M, Zerbini, L. F., Joseph, M. G., Benson, H., & Libermann, T. A. (2008, July 2). Genomic counter-stress changes induced by the relaxation response. PLoS One, 3(7), e2576. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002576

Alia-Klein, N., Goldstein, R. Z., Tomasi, D., Zhang. L., Fagin-Jones, S., Telang, F., Wang, G. J., Fowler, J. S., & Volkow, N. D. (2007 Aug.). What is in a word? No versus yes differentially engage the lateral orbitofrontal cortex. Emotion 7(3), 649–59. DOI: 10.1037/1528-3542.7.3.649

Brummett B. H., Helms M. J., Dahlstrom W. G., & Siegler I. C. (2006 Dec). Prediction of all-cause mortality by the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory Optimism-Pessimism Scale scores: Study of a college sample during a 40-year follow-up period. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 81(12), 1541–44. DOI: 10.4065/81.12.1541

Fossati, P., Hevenor, S. J., Graham, S. J., Grady, C., Keightley, M. L., Craik, F., & Mayberg, H. (2003 Nov). In search of the emotional self: An fMRI study using positive and negative emotional words. American Journal of Psychiatry, 160(11), 1938–45. DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.160.11.1938

Jirak, D., Menz ,M. M., Buccino, G., Borghi, A. M., & Binkofski, F. (2010 Sep). Grasping language—A short story on embodiment. Consciousness and Cognition,19(3), 711–20. DOI: 10.1016/j.concog.2010.06.020

Newberg, A. & Waldman, M. R. (2012). Words Can Change Your Brain. Penguin Publishing Group.

Seligman M. E., Steen T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005 Jul-Aug) Positive psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410–21. DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.60.5.410

Blog Short #120: Do You Have Your Partner’s Back?

Photo by kitzcorner, Courtesy of iStock Photo

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog called  2 Things That Help Relationships Flourish. The two things were “expressing appreciation” and “showing interest.” Today I’ll continue with a third thing, and that’s “how to have your partner’s back.”

To get into this subject, let’s backtrack a little and talk about some universal needs we all have. It’ll make more sense to you if we start there.

What We All Need

Imagine the apocalypse happened, and you were the only person left on Earth.

Let’s assume everything is still the way it was, except that all the people and animals are gone. You have what you need to live.

Let’s say you even enjoyed the quiet and lack of conflict or worries for a moment.

Sooner or later, and likely sooner, you would feel the aloneness of the situation, and over time it would become excruciating.

There’s a reason for that. No matter how much you might like to be alone, we’re genetically wired for relationships and need other people. Even the hermit knows that others exist and that he’s not alone in the world.

We need each other for basic survival, but also for companionship, love, support, intellectual interchange, and conversation.

We need someone else to witness our lives and existence. It validates us. We want to be known, understood, and loved.

We can only get all of this from relationships, especially intimate relationships, whether they’re romantic, familial, or friendships.


When you engage in an intimate relationship, you make yourself vulnerable to the other person’s perceptions and feelings about you. It’s a leap of trust.

You want to know that person has your back and all that implies.

And there’s the question:

What exactly does that imply?

We take it for granted, and a lot of what people do with and to each other in intimate relationships does not have the other person’s back. Sometimes not even with any malintent, but yet we do things that aren’t in each other’s best interest.

So it helps to define what having the other person’s back means. Let’s do that now.

The Quick List

The quick list includes the obvious things we all know: Being honest, loyal, trustworthy, kind, considerate, responsible, dependable, and caring.

In more depth, having someone’s back means knowing them, accepting who they are, and helping pave the way for them to become more. That encompasses a lot! Much more than people think about, especially as we go through the day-to-day things we all have to attend to.

To truly have your partner’s back, you must take the time and energy to continually explore their thoughts, feelings, desires, quirks, ways of perceiving, habits, fears, and vulnerabilities, and do that without judgment.

That’s a big “lotta stuff!” But it’s what’s necessary for a relationship to survive and evolve.

Let me get a little more specific.

Go Deeper

Ask yourself these questions about this person:

  1. What’s most important to him?
  2. How does he respond to stress? What kind of stress? What stresses him out easily or the most?
  3. Identify her soft spots. What makes her feel the most vulnerable?
  4. Are there specific defenses she uses? What makes her the most defensive?
  5. If you were to do something that would make her feel loved, what would it be?
  6. How does he respond to criticism? How can he hear what you have to say?
  7. What about affirmations? What helps him?
  8. Do you know what his triggers are? Where they come from? How they manifest?
  9. Does she talk about how she feels, or does she withhold it? What would make her comfortable and allow her to say what’s on her mind?
  10. What do you admire about him? What can you say you genuinely appreciate?

And here’s a crucial question:

Are you trustworthy enough to have all this information? How will you use it?

All these questions aim to set aside your “shoulds” and help you openly investigate and accept who your partner is and what they need. That doesn’t mean not seeing their issues or problems, but it does mean trying your best to understand how they see the world, what they struggle with, and where they need help dealing with those things.

The clearer you become on that, and the more you approach your partner from that knowledge base, the more you have their back.

This understanding applies to any close relationship, not just romantic ones. It can apply to parents, children, siblings, best friends, or anyone with whom you’re close.

The Big Don’t: Don’t Break Confidentiality

It’s human nature to talk about our partners to others, especially when feeling exasperated, angry, or fed up. We do it even when there’s no problem just because we like to talk about people. Again that’s human nature.

But it doesn’t bode well for close relationships.

You’re breaching trust when you share intimate details of your relationship with someone outside of it, especially without your partner’s knowledge.

If you were seeing a therapist and talked about relationship problems or issues, that’s all right because it’s part of therapy and confidential. But if you call up your friend to complain about your spouse and reveal things you know would embarrass or hurt her if she knew, you don’t have her back.

This is a hard one because sometimes it helps to talk over a problem with a friend or family member. You have to weigh it and decide how much to divulge, the downsides, and whether the person you’re talking to can listen with an open mind and maintain confidentiality. If you’re not sure, imagine your partner’s reaction if they heard what you’re divulging. That will help you know what not to do.

In general, my advice is the less, the better. If there’s a real problem you need help with, then see a therapist.

Confidentiality is equally necessary for your children, especially your teen children.

I’ve seen many teens in therapy who express their anger and dismay at their mom’s exposing things that go on in their lives to other family members or friends. I recommend not doing that unless you have express permission or you’ve talked to them ahead of time about it. That goes for posting things on social media too.

The Big Do: Practice Emotional Check-Ins

Emotional check-ins are one of the most effective methods of maintaining a close connection.

It’s just what it sounds like:

You ask the other person daily how they’re feeling. It’s more than asking how your day’s going. That’s a good question, but be sure to find out the emotions underneath. It’s like taking an emotional pulse.

It works because even though we think a lot, we tend to evaluate our state of being in terms of how we feel. Of course, some people are uncomfortable with their feelings and don’t like these questions because they want to avoid their emotions, but ask anyway and be genuinely interested.

As someone tells you the “what” about their day, you can comment and say things like “That must have made you feel . . .” and fill in the blank. That way, you’re reaching in just a little and making contact.

It’s nice to know someone’s thinking about you and how you feel. It’s part of the need to be known, witnessed, and understood.


Today’s subject is one I could write another 3,000 words on easily, but this is supposed to be a “blog short,” yes? So I’ll stop here. I think you have enough to work with and remember you can use these strategies with different kinds of relationships to varying degrees depending on how close you are.

I’m interested in feedback, so please leave your comments below.

That’s all for today!

Have a great week!

All my best,


Blog Short #119: Sitting is Bad For Your Brain

Photo by Marilyn Nieves, Courtesy of iStock Photo

We’re a culture that sits a lot, and it’s hurting our brains. We work on computers at our desks, sit and scroll endlessly through our phones, and plop down on the couch at night to watch TV.

According to a study published by the CDC in 2018, about 25% of adults over 18 sit for more than 8 hours per day. Of those, 44% engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity each week, and about 11% sit for more than 8 hours a day and do little leisure-time physical activity. Only 3% sit for less than 4 hours per day and are physically active (Ussery et al., 2018).

Another article published by The Washington Post cited a study concluding that:

The average American adult spends about 6.5 hours sitting every day, and teens ages 12 to 19 spend 8 hours.

Today I’m summarizing some of the most alarming repercussions and the recommendations to counteract them. This subject is a little out of the realm of psychology, but body and mind are closely linked, so it’s good to pay attention to both.

Let’s start with the repercussions.

What happens when you sit most of the day?

1. You reduce blood flow to your brain.

Decreased blood flow to the brain is associated with decreased cognitive functioning and increased risk for neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

One study followed a small group of people who had day jobs where they sat much of the time. The volunteers came to the lab on three different occasions and sat for four hours. On the first day, they sat and only got up if they needed to use the restroom. The second day, they got up every 30 minutes and walked on a treadmill for 2 minutes. On the third day, they sat for two hours, got up, walked on the treadmill for 8 minutes, and sat for another two (Carter et al., 2018).

In all three situations, blood flow to the brain was reduced while sitting. However, it was restored to normal when walking on the treadmill. But the best results were for the second group, who exercised for two minutes every half hour.

A similar study used 8-hour segments instead of four but measured blood pressure and blood sugar spikes. They found that five minutes of walking every 30 minutes reduced blood sugar spikes by 60% and blood pressure by four to five points (Duran et al., 2023).

Why does walking help?

Because our leg muscles are the largest muscles in our body, and when we’re not working them, they’re not taking in fuel from the bloodstream and not releasing substances that break down fatty acids in our blood. This causes a slowing of our metabolism and increased blood sugar and cholesterol (Field, 2021).

“People with high blood sugar, regardless of whether they are technically diabetic, have a faster rate of cognitive decline than those with normal blood sugar.” (Gupta, 2021, p. 109).

So sitting all day most days puts us at risk for cognitive decline, cognitive disease, and diabetes.

2. Your risk for cardiovascular disease increases.

Many studies have examined the relationship between extended sitting and cardiovascular disease. The overall conclusion is that there’s a substantial correlation between the two, but there are differences about whether or not physical activity, exercise in particular, has a preventative effect. Most say yes, but others say you need to reduce sitting time regardless of how much you exercise (Henschel et al., 2020).

What is clear is that sitting for long periods is bad for your heart, and one study found that sitting while watching TV was particularly harmful.

3. Your memory’s impaired.

Now for memory.

Extended sitting has been linked to thinning of the brain’s medial temporal lobe. The MTL is the region of the brain associated with memory formation (Siddarth et al., 2018).

Our brains mature at around 25 years of age. However, memory starts to erode at age 24. Quite the paradox!

Most people don’t notice significant memory decline until their 50s and 60s, but a slow shift in the mid-20s continues to gain traction over the next few decades. Sitting and a sedentary lifestyle can hasten that decline.

4. Your susceptibility to depression increases.

A meta-analysis of 49 studies focusing on the effects of physical activity on depression concluded that people who were sedentary had a greater chance of becoming depressed as well as staying depressed (Schuch et al., 2018).

In almost all of the studies, regular exercise significantly reduced the incidence of depression and improved mood for those already depressed.

5. You reduce your capacity for learning.

I’ve already mentioned cognitive decline as a danger associated with extensive sitting and a sedentary lifestyle. Learning is a specific cognitive activity that can suffer as a result of sitting too much.

Learning requires:

  1. Increased production of neurons (brain cells),
  2. Increased connections between neurons (synapses),
  3. And protection for the lifespan of existing neurons.

BDNF, or Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, enables all three of these processes. BDNF is a protein that’s been described as “Miracle-Gro” for the brain (Ratey, 2008).

Here’s the important part:

BDNF is released by the brain when we move our bodies, as in aerobic exercise. When you exercise regularly, your BDNF acts to grow new neural networks to facilitate learning. When you sit most of the time, this process is hampered, and learning slows.

What to Do

Let’s go over the specific recommendations. From what we’ve uncovered so far, exercise is the primary recommendation. A second recommendation is to reduce sitting time.

  1. Get up and move every 30 minutes. If you sit for hours at a time, you should get up and exercise for at least three minutes every half hour. Exercise can be a quick walk, calisthenics, or anything to get your blood flow back up to speed.
  2. Stand more. Stand-up desks are increasingly showing up in offices as people try to reduce sitting time. A key consideration would be ergonomics if you’re typing on a computer, but often stand-up desks are adjustable. If you’re a heavy TV watcher, it’s good to get up during the commercials or at least stand.
  3. Do aerobic exercise. Options are walking, jogging, swimming, or playing a sport like tennis. The goal is to get your heartbeat up, take in more oxygen, and exercise your leg muscles to increase blood flow and regulate insulin.

Other significant benefits of regular aerobic exercise are:

  • An increase in BDNF to increase learning capacity
  • Increases in serotonin to stabilize mood and prevent depression
  • Increases in dopamine to promote focus, attention, drive, and impulse control
  • Raising your threshold for stress and reducing overall reactivity
  • Reducing anxiety

In addition to doing three minutes of exercise per half hour of sitting, you should aim to do at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week.

In this case, more is better. Walking works! You get more protection against cognitive decline and memory impairment with the more aerobic exercise you do.

Other General Recommendations

  • Use stairs when you can.
  • Park further away from the store when grocery shopping.
  • Monitor your daily steps with a step counter and shoot for 10,000.
  • Garden or do outside work more.
  • Walk on lunch breaks.
  • Do strength training.
  • Walk around while on the phone.

Do What You Can

We all know exercise is good for us, but time is a consideration. Do the best you can to incorporate any of these strategies, and as always, start slow and build until habits are in place.

An aside – I tried walking for three minutes in my house every half hour while writing this blog. It took some getting used to, but I did get some good effects.:) It cleared my mind and got the blood flowing. Let me know how it goes for you!

That’s all for today.

Have a great week!

All my best,



Carter, S. E., Draijer, R., Holder, S. M., Brown, L., Thijssen, D. H. J., & Hopkins, N. D. (2018, September 19). Regular walking breaks prevent the decline in cerebral blood flow associated with prolonged sitting.  Journal of Applied Physiology 125: 790-798.

Duran, A. T., Friel, C. P., Serafina, M. A., Ensari, I., Cheung, Y. K., & Dias, K. M. ( 2023, January 12). Breaking up prolonged sitting to improve cardiometabolic risk: Dose-response analysis of a randomized cross-over trial. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. DOI:10.1249/mss.0000000000003109

Field, B. (2021). How sitting harms your brain and overall health. Very Well Mind.

Gupta, S. (2021). Keep sharp: Build a better brain at any age. Simon & Schuster.

Henschel, B., Gorczyca, A. M., & Chomistek, A. K. (2020). Time spent sitting as an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine14(2), 204-215.

Hörder, H., Johansson, L., Guo, X., Grimby, G., Kern, S., Östling, S., & Skoog, I. (2018, April 10). Midlife cardiovascular fitness and dementia: A 44-year longitudinal population study in women. Neurology. 90(15): 1298-1305. DOI:

Loehngen, E. (2020, September 21). How sitting affects the brain and the mind. Walkolution.

Ratey, J. (2008). Spark: The revolutionary science of exercise and the brain. Little, Brown Spark.

Schuch, F. B., Vancampfort, D., Firth, J., Rosenbaum, S., Ward, P. B., Ph.D., Silva, E. S, Hallgren, M., Ponce De Leon, A., Dunn, A L., Deslandes. A. C., Fleck, M. P., Carvalho, A. F., & Brendon Stubbs, B. (2018, July). Physical activity and incident depression: A meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. American Journal of Psychiatry, 175(7), 632-648.

Searing, L. (2019, April 28). The big number: The average U.S. adult sits 6.5 hours a day. For teens, it’s even more. The Washington Post.

Siddarth, P., Burggren, A. C., Eyre, H. A., Small, G. W., & Merrill, D. A. (2018). Sedentary behavior associated with reduced medial temporal lobe thickness in middle-aged and older adults. PLOS ONE13(4), e0195549.

Ussery E.N., Fulton, J. E., Galuska, D. A., Katzmarzyk, P. T, & Carlson, S. A. (2018, November 20). Joint prevalence of sitting time and leisure-time physical activity among US adults, 2015-2016. Journal of the American Medical Association, 320 (19): 2036-2038. doi: 10.1001/jama.2018.17797

Blog Short #118 – How Emotions Can Lead You Astray (or Not!)

Photo by Kamonwan Wankaew, Courtesy of iStock Photo

It’s probably not news that your emotions can lead you astray. I think we all know that, but some of us put a lot more stock in our feelings than others. This can lead to something called “emotional reasoning,” which we’ll begin with today.

What is it?

“Emotional reasoning” is a cognitive distortion in which you base your conclusions on how you feel.

Despite being a good employee and excelling in your job performance, you feel like you’re not as talented as everyone else and conclude that this is true.

You’re plagued by feelings of guilt, even though there’s no evidence that you’ve done anything wrong. Even if others assure you otherwise, you still have visions that you’ll get in trouble for something.

Your friends frequently ask you to do things with them, but you feel like no one really likes you.

These are all negative examples. Here are some positive examples of using emotional reasoning.

You buy numerous tickets for the upcoming lotto because you’re absolutely convinced you’ll win it, even though the odds are heavily against you.

Someone you meet is attractive and charismatic, and you assume they’re perfect for you! You know very little about them.

You start a business and are so sure it will be successful that you go into great debt to get it off the ground without doing your homework to back up your predictions.

People who engage in emotional reasoning hang on to their conclusions, even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

That may sound extreme to you. It does to me too, but it raises the question, “Are feelings never to be trusted?”

What about gut feelings?

The term “gut feeling” comes from the science-based idea that our gut is like a second brain. The gut functions as an autonomous nervous system like the brain and communicates back and forth with the brain and other parts of the peripheral nervous system in the body.

You’ve heard people say, “I have a feeling in my gut that . . .” or “I’m feeling uneasy in my gut about . . .”

You may have experienced that yourself. I have on many occasions, and I think it’s a fairly common experience, especially for those tuned into their bodies.

There’s some validity to the experience of gut feelings. Sometimes they’re very helpful and lead you in the right direction. However, that’s not always true.

If you’re particularly anxious about something, you can have all the sensations of a gut feeling but what’s really happening is that you’re reacting to fear or anxiety that you’ve created in your mind without any foundation. This is emotional reasoning.

And then there’s intuition.

Where does that fit in? Merriam-Webster defines intuition as:

The power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference; immediate apprehension or cognition; quick and ready insight.

Intuition arises from unconscious or subconscious “pattern-matching,” in which the mind sifts through your long-term memory banks for similar situations, stored information, and past experiences.

It makes connections between all the pertinent information and formulates insights or feelings that pop up in your mind. Sometimes you feel this in your gut, and that’s partially where the term gut feeling comes from.

Here’s how Melody Wilding, who wrote an intriguing article about intuition, describes the process:

When we subconsciously spot patterns, the body starts firing neurochemicals in both the brain and gut. These “somatic markers” are what give us that instant sense that something is right … or that it’s off. Not only are these automatic processes faster than rational thought, but your intuition draws from decades of diverse qualitative experience (sights, sounds, interactions, etc.)

It’s not some kind of woo-woo but is a systematic cognitive process, even though we’re not aware of it as it happens.

However, as another author points out (Hooton, 2021), intuition can be wrong. She uses the example of meeting a new co-worker and not liking him at all, only to like him a lot three months later.

The difficulty is discerning when your feelings have validity and when you’re engaged in cognitive distortion.

So how do we know?

Conclusions made using emotional reasoning don’t appear to come from subconscious or unconscious pattern-matching based on previous experiences and information logged into our memory banks.

More accurately, they come from current issues we struggle with, often as an expression of anxiety when they’re negative or magical thinking when they’re positive. They’re like impulsive leaps over a pile of information we could use to challenge them but instead dismiss or deny.

Intuition and “gut feelings” are more likely to be valid.

Intuitive insights or gut feelings don’t generally arise from wishful thinking (positive emotional reasoning), anxiety, fear, or personal bashing (negative emotional reasoning). They can pop up as solutions to problems, inspirations, new insights, or cautionary feelings.

More importantly, they incorporate years of experience, knowledge, and information that’s packed away on your brain’s hard drive.

They usually appear unbidden and often when you’re quiet or in a mindful state. They aren’t driven by more primal emotions like fear, anxiety, aggression, or lust.

Yet, not all intuition is to be trusted.

Although intuitive thoughts and insights can be beneficial and sometimes even life-changing, there are times when they’re wrong. Just because they’re based on pattern-matching from our memory banks doesn’t mean our memory banks are accurate.

When we store memories, we prioritize those experiences that have the most impact on us, particularly the most emotional impact. This is why trauma has a front-row seat in long-term memory banks.

Even unconscious memories are often those that have the most emotional impact, even though we’re unaware of it.

On top of that, when we store a memory, we make it fit in with our previous memories. In other words, we may tweak it to support our current memory bank. And over time, as we store new memories, we re-work our older memories to fit in with our new ones.

When you understand how memory works, it makes you wonder exactly how accurate your memories are!

So if our intuition comes from putting together various pieces of information and patterns stored in our memory, how accurate is it? Apparently accurate enough that many intuitive thoughts come true or are proven valid – just not in every case.

The advice I found in reading through information about intuitive accuracy is this:

  1. Don’t use your intuition for situations where you have little experience or expertise. In other words, having a previous knowledge base lends to accurate intuitive insights.
  2. Intuitions are also unreliable for “low-probability” events, like being afraid your plane will crash if you get on it.
  3. Last, don’t apply the same insights across different environments. In other words, what seemed to work in one setting, might not apply in a similar situation in another environment – like a highly successful business that works in one city but flops in another.

The Bottom Line

Do your homework when you feel that something is true, whether negative or positive. Investigate and test it out before making decisions or arriving at conclusions. This process is essential when it comes to feelings. If you feel a certain way but all the evidence points in the other direction, then note the discrepancy and reconsider. Weigh the evidence!

Just because you feel it doesn’t make it true. But sometimes when you feel it, it’s very true.

That’s all for today.

Have a great week!

All my best,


Blog Short #117: 2 Things That Help Relationships Flourish

Photo by franckreporter, Courtesy of iStock Photo

Many things nurture relationships, but two stand out. These are appreciation and interest. Regardless of the type of relationship or level of intimacy, these two things, when done right, create ongoing positive regard, deepen connections, and maintain the desire to keep going.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to take our close relationships for granted over time. We have this built-in tendency, or maybe even an unconscious belief, that our relationships should grow and flourish in the background while other undertakings such as work, managing our homes, parenting, and social activities get our dedicated time and attention.

When we do pay attention, it’s often because something has gone wrong, and then we have a lot to say, most of which is negative.

Problem-solving is good and necessary for building a relationship, but nourishing it is just as important, if not more.

Today, I’d like to give you some strategies for showing appreciation and interest to help your relationships flourish and grow, especially your close ones.

1. Focus on behavior instead of personal characterizations.

When you verbalize appreciation for something, focus on the specific behavior. For example, I might say to my partner,

“I really appreciated the way you listened to me rant about my experience at the car dealer today,”

as opposed to

“You’re such a good listener.”

Why? Doesn’t telling someone they’re a good listener feel good to that person? It probably does. But it also sets a bar that has to be maintained. If you’re a “good listener,” you must live up to that title and always be a “good listener.”

Whereas if you helped someone because you listened intently and empathetically to them, you could draw your own conclusions about being a good listener without feeling like you now have a bar set you always need to reach.

It’s a subtle difference, but it keeps the appreciation from becoming a regular expectation. It’s easier for the person to repeat that behavior of their own accord.

2. Use this 3-pronged format when expressing verbal appreciation.

  1. Describe the behavior
  2. Described how it’s helped you
  3. Verbalize gratitude

Going to our example above, here’s a complete expression of it using this format:

“I really appreciated the way you listened to me rant about my experience at the car dealer today. I felt so taken advantage of and dismissed while talking to the mechanic, but you validated that I was sizing up the situation correctly, and I feel relieved. Your insights and empathy were helpful, and I know better what to do next time. Thank you!”

You can see the difference between a statement like this and a simple one like “Thanks for listening!” The first statement feels much more appreciative and leaves the other person feeling good about being able to assist because you’ve outlined what that assistance was.

3. Always acknowledge the other person with warmth and sincere pleasure when you see them.

This one seems like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to get complacent with partners or our kids or people we see all the time.

Your spouse comes home from work after you, and you’re already absorbed in evening activities. When he walks in the door, you keep doing what you’re doing and maybe give him a “Hi” or “Hello,” but your acknowledgment has no real emotional connection attached to it.

If you’re close and the relationship is in good shape, maybe you don’t feel it’s necessary. However, all relationships need consistent nurturing to thrive.

If you saw a friend in the grocery store, you would likely be much more demonstrative and happy to see them because you don’t see them all the time.

With partners and people you spend a lot of time and live with, make an effort to emotionally connect when you see each other. Look up, make eye contact, and show interest. Ask how they are and take a moment to give your full attention to their responses.

Warm acknowledgment is an expression of appreciation for both the person and the relationship.

If you find this difficult to do because the relationship is not doing well or is rocky, don’t ignore the problems, but try anyway because it can positively impact your ability to resolve the issues that need work.

4. Offer help when asked or needed.

Offering help willingly and cheerfully is a back-handed form of appreciation. It’s basically an expression of “I’ve got your back,” which means “I care. I’m there for you. I want to ease your way.” All of those intentions are felt when you help someone.

To successfully do this, several things are required:

  • Your attitude should be one of openness, willingness, patience, and calm.
  • There should be no strings attached to the help.
  • The motivation should be to provide relief and ease for the other person by helping them with what they need.
  • If, for some reason, you’re being asked too often and too much for something, then say what you can and can’t do and proceed with what you can do with the same attitude I’ve described.

You don’t want to be taken advantage of, but you also don’t want to withhold your help because you’re afraid of being taken advantage of.

Just be straight up and dive in with what you can do with a caring attitude.

5. Balance the scale on the good side.

Do your best to verbalize appreciation more than focusing on problems. Dealing with issues is totally necessary. You should never let that go because they snowball over time. But making sure you notice what’s going right, at least as much, will keep the relationship moving in a positive direction.

That doesn’t mean you should stay in a toxic relationship. That’s not what expressing appreciation is intended to encourage or support.

It works in relationships with a basic foundation to build from, and it can have some healing effects on a relationship that’s been neglected and distance has crept in, or negative feelings have taken up residence.

Try expressing more appreciation with sincerity and see what happens.

Keep these three things in mind.

When expressing appreciation of any kind, these three things are essential.

  1. Be authentic. Make sure that everything you say is true and something you value. Don’t come up with things that don’t mean something to you.
  2. Give appreciation fully and without any ulterior motive. Showing appreciation should not be part of a bartering system. You can reinforce behavior you value by commenting on it, but only if what you say is true and something you would say regardless of the situation. Being appreciative only to get something you want is manipulation. Doing it to enhance a relationship is not manipulation because you have real positive regard for the other person. It’s a fine line, but an important one.
  3. Don’t fake it. Saying something just to make someone feel better isn’t helpful. You might have good intentions, but people can usually tell when someone’s not genuine. Stick to what’s accurate and true.

One Last Great Thing

Verbalizing appreciation works in all kinds of relationships, whether intimate or casual. It also has a transformative effect on you. The more you do it, the better you feel and appreciate yourself.

That’s all for today!

Have a great week!

All my best,


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