child hurt

Hurtful, Hurt, Hurting

I was in a discussion recently where someone mistakenly assumed that I was still hurting because of some hurtful things that were done in the past. Interestingly, the person used the word “hurt” in their message. However, the context was the present tense, and hurt is mostly a past-tense verb. It’s about something that has happened and not something that is happening.

I realized that the difference between hurtful, hurt, and hurting were subtle but important distinctions that had helped me to heal. I wanted to share how I’ve had others do hurtful things to me, how I was hurt, and how I’m no longer hurting.

Hurtful Actions

If we were to be completely transparent, we’ve all done hurtful things to others. Whether we were vindictive, or we were simply inconsiderate of another person, we’ve all done hurtful things to others. My ex-wife chose my 40th birthday to file for divorce. (The same day that she threw a surprise birthday party for me.) I won’t ascribe intent; rather, I’ll assume that she just didn’t consider, or fully consider, the impact of this decision. Certainly there are less spectacular examples of how we have been angry and have harmed others. I’ve done it myself.

Hurtful things are hard because most of us recognize that this is not the person that we desire to be. (Unless your need for vengeance is very high – see Who Am I? and The Normal Personality for more on the desire for vengeance.) We recognize that we create the harm that we want to eliminate in the world through our own behaviors. We can acknowledge that sometimes we do vindictive things – or careless things – and simultaneously recognize that these don’t represent the person we want to be. Said differently, this isn’t what we want to see on our tombstone. We aspire to greater virtues.

It’s been said that hurting people hurt people. Often we lash out at others because we are ourselves hurting. (The Anatomy of Peace talks about the “boxes” we get in – our hurt – and how we hurt or disregard others when we’re in the box.) Learning to be less vindictive and more compassionate to others often starts with managing how we’ve been hurt.

Predicting Hurt

Strangely enough, there’s not a direct relationship between hurtful actions and someone being hurt. Certainly a large percentage of hurtful actions lead to someone else being hurt, but some hurtful actions don’t harm the other person. Sometimes people feel that their anger and resentment will harm another person, but Nelson Mandela said that, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Sometimes our efforts to be hurtful to others only hurt ourselves.

On the other hand, people are harmed even when the actions are the most loving and considerate. What one person attempts to express as their love or consideration may in fact be harmful to the other person, either because of misperception of the actor, or an undiscovered and covered wound of the recipient.

Despite all of the values and desires-based models for understanding other people, we still can’t accurately how they’ll respond to someone being hurtful – or helpful. Consider an adult whose parents taught them that to accept the help of others demonstrates that you’re weak, and that weak people are to be detested. So a well-meaning person holds the door open for this adult, and they are insulted. Certainly holding a door open for someone shouldn’t hurt them – but it can.

Perhaps more powerfully, there are situations where there is no malice and yet we are hurt. My dog died because of cancer and my brother was killed in an airplane accident. Neither of these hurts that I suffered were caused by someone else, but they were hurts that I felt none-the-less.

Responses to Hurt

People react differently to being hurt. Some people shut down and try to defend themselves from the world. (See Intimacy Anorexia for more on isolating the world from our true selves.) Some people get angry and lash out. Anger is disappointment directed, so they’re focusing their disappointment into a direction. (For more on anger being disappointment directed see Emotional Intelligence or Destructive Emotions.) Some people have become so comfortable with being hurt that they simply walk through it and immediately set on the path of healing.

Those who choose to respond to being hurt by shutting down are creating a pressure cooker. They’ve focused the energy of the hurt internally. The problem with pressure cookers is that there has to be a release valve – something to release the pressure if it gets too high that it becomes unsafe. Unfortunately, all too often pressure cooker folks don’t have a good way to blow off steam, and ultimately explode at the person who has hurt them or is hurting them. The resulting explosion can be productive but frequently is not, as the actual message about the hurt is lost in the response.

Turning the hurt inward isn’t all bad. When used with appropriate safety valves to blow off steam – like good friends or other mechanisms of self-care – it can be a powerful way of dealing with hurt. By capturing the energy from the hurt, it can be leveraged for change in our own lives. It can be removing a toxic, hurtful person from our lives or, more importantly, it can propel us towards self-improvement to make it harder for others to hurt us.

This, too, can be positive or negative. If we do self-improvement to minimize the hurt that others inflict us, that’s good. If we shut down and block other people out, that is bad. Humans are designed to be in relationship with others. As Emotional Intelligence mentioned, isolation is “as significant to mortality rates as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and lack of physical exercise.” We can internalize our hurt if we’re able to leverage the energy of the hurt to our betterment and strengthen our ability to connect more authentically with others.

Another approach to hurt is to act out. For some, this is anger and pounding fists on the desk. For others, it’s engaging in activities that release dopamine. (See The Rise of Superman for more on neurochemicals and their purposes.) The activities can be positive, life-giving activities like exercise, or they can be destructive, shame-cycle-inducing activities like compulsive shopping, alcohol, or drugs. These activities numb and hide the pain for a time, but ultimately fade and leave in their wake a toxic cloud of guilt and shame. (See Daring Greatly for more on the difference between guilt and shame.)

Acting out can also be an immediate call to make things better. It can be to immediately evacuate the situation and find a safer place to be. As a result, neither “bottling up” our hurt nor “acting out” our hurt is a best way to address our pain. We have to find our own path to healing that may include components of both – and hopefully avoids the toxic side effects that keeps us hurting.

The Meaning of Hurt

Hurt is a signal that damage is being done. Our muscles hurt after a workout because they’ve been torn apart. However, the pain from our muscles fades in time as the muscles heal themselves. For most of the experiences in our lives, being hurt doesn’t mean that we’ll permanently be in pain. It is simply a temporary signal for us to recognize what is happening.

We describe hunger pains and yet most of us in the US are far from starving. Our hunger pains aren’t “pains” as much as they are signals from our body that it believes there’s a need for more food. It’s our digestive system’s way of telling us that it has capacity to process more food and increase our energy levels.

All that we consider “hurt” aren’t necessarily pains. Some of the hurts that we experience are simply signals. Signals that we need to consider where we are – but not necessarily that we are irreparably harmed.

Recovering from Hurt

No matter who has hurt you, it’s you that are responsible for healing your hurts. It can be your parents, an ex-spouse, a friend, neighbor, or a stranger – no matter who it is, you’re responsible for your healing. No one else can do that for you. (See Bonds That Make Us Free and Changes that Heal for more on healing our own wounds, and Compelled to Control for what can happen if we don’t.)

When the pain is large it isn’t necessarily that we’re going to recover all at once. Recovery is a process. We can start to recover then pause – and come back later. There isn’t one path to recovering from hurt – but whatever path that you choose, it’s healthy to walk the path of recovery

Still Hurting

What happens when you fail to heal yourself – or the hurt is too new – is that you’re still hurting. The length of time that someone will continue to hurt is dependent upon several factors, including the magnitude of the hurt, the general health of the individual, and the efforts taken to resolve the hurt. In the death of another, it’s hard to heal. (See On Death and Dying for the grieving process, and High Orbit – Respecting Grieving for recovering from this kind of hurt.) Betrayals are also particularly difficult harms to overcome. For more on overcoming betrayals, see my post Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy.

These types of hurts are hardest to recover from because they leave scar tissue. In our human bodies, scar tissue is tissue that didn’t heal quite right. Sure we’re OK and we’re not hurting any longer, but that tissue is particularly sensitive to further damage. Whether it’s a knee that didn’t quite heal right, or a scar on our arms, it’s an unavoidable result of having been hurt.

When you lose someone close to you, you feel their loss at anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, and any special thing that you and they shared together. Some of those situations you learn to anticipate and brace yourself for the hurt that will wash over you. Sometimes you won’t see it coming, and you’ll feel the hurt again – but it will be a little less painful each time.

With betrayal it’s hard, because the voice of doubt that we all have in our heads is hard to silence. When I wonder if someone is upset with me and in the past they’ve lashed out at me, it’s harder to stop those thoughts and remind myself that that isn’t the way that they behave. Once trust has been broken, it’s no longer possible to say that this is something that they would never do – because they have, in fact, done it.

The tricky part of being in the spot where you’re still hurting is that if you rush the healing too much, you end up with more scar tissue – that you’ll deal with for years to come. If you linger too long in the hurting, you run the risk of becoming bitter and living in victimhood. Finding the right amount of time to allow the hurt is both personality-dependent and situational. There’s no one time that you should stop hurting and move the pain into the past.

However, the extremes are always bad. If you move past hurt by ignoring it – by stuffing it – you’re still hurting, you’re just not acknowledging the hurt and this causes more hurt to yourself as you’re betraying yourself. It tends to cause your emotions to lash out at you by creating illness or anxiety that’s impossible to locate. It turns out that the relationship between our rational rider and our emotional elephant is critical, even if we don’t want to acknowledge it. (See the Rider-Elephant-Path model in The Happiness Hypothesis for more.)


There are stories that we tell ourselves about our behaviors and the behaviors of others. These stories are natural but aren’t necessarily good for us. We tend to frame stories in terms of three actors:

  • Victim – This is the person who is harmed.
  • Villain – The person (or entity) that needlessly inflicted the harm.
  • Rescuer – The person who lifts the victim out of their despair.

Permanently assigning one of the roles to ourselves or others (i.e. type-casting) isn’t helpful for us. We need the ability to grow and change. (See Mindset about changing our mindset.) If we decide that we are permanently in the victim role because we’ve been hurt, we’ll be stuck.

Victimhood isn’t a bad place to visit from time to time, particularly as we’ve been victimized, but it’s an awful place to live. (See Boundaries, Beyond Boundaries, Daring Greatly, and Change or Die for more on victimhood.)

Everyone has been hurt and will be hurt again. The best thing to do is learn how to deal with it better.

House of Cards: Psychology and Psychotherapy Built on Myth

Book Review-House of Cards: Psychology and Psychotherapy Built on Myth

What would you do if you worked in a profession that ignored its own best practices? What if your industry claimed to be able to do things that they simply couldn’t do? How could you move a profession forward when you knew that most of your colleagues weren’t in the know? I’m not talking about one of my professions, software development, instead I’m talking about psychology and the spot that Robyn Dawes found himself in. (Most software developers haven’t bothered to pick up a single book on software development theory or practices.) Dawes’ response as a concerned professional and an educator was to focus on what he knew is right in his classrooms and to write a book about the problems with his industry – House of Cards: Psychology and Psychotherapy Built on Myth.

I’ve personally seen the good and the bad of psychology. I’ve reviewed The Heart and Soul of Change which focuses on what works in psychotherapy. I’ve also seen the dark side as I reviewed The Cult of Personality Testing and Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology.
I believe, as Dawes does, that there are ways to help people through psychology; but I also understand that the difference in efficacy between those who are substantially trained and have years of clinical experience compared those who are only minimally trained is trivial. In short, even though we have built a profession around psychology, it’s not a profession whose techniques drive performance forward – at least not yet.

Crystal Balls

The greatest challenges to psychology don’t come from therapy. They don’t come from how the profession helps people – though, as mentioned above, the efficacy differences are minimal. Where the greatest challenges come from is when psychology oversteps the bounds of what is known and what isn’t known. Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, “psychology experts” testify about the future behaviors of subjects. They state that they know how people will behave in the future even though the research proves this isn’t possible.

Perhaps they have the magical crystal ball that can see into the future, and they’re hiding their prize possession, cloaking it in the mysticism of psychology. In truth, there is no absolute predictor. Anyone that states that they know with certainty the future behavior of another person is a liar. They’re either lying to themselves and others or they’re just lying to others.

Though Dawes goes into length about the problems with the projective techniques that many psychologists use to make these predictions, I won’t reiterate the problems with projective tests – I’ve got rather complete coverage of these problems in The Cult of Personality Testing.

However, one thing that’s important is discussing the limits of identifying personality types. Even comprehensive systems of cataloging values and their relative importance, such as Reiss’ system covered in Who am I? and The Normal Personality, don’t have the predictive power. Paul Ekman explains in his work with micro expressions that you can identify the emotion but not the cause. (See Emotional Awareness for more on Paul Ekman’s work.)

In other words, even the best models for people – either based on values or on observable phenomena – aren’t able to predict behavior in the future. The reality is that we all have scars from our past. We have places of brokenness. No tool, conversation, or therapy can discover all of these wounds. We can’t even discover these wounds ourselves. We have to simply live life and confront our wounds as they surface. When the wound is triggered, the person will seek to relieve that pain – often unconsciously. However, stating what an alcoholic will do, whether they will take a drink or call a friend when they’re struggling is just a guess., It’s not a guess that anyone should take seriously.


Every state has been licensing psychologists since the 1970s. The fundamental idea being that the licensing procedure protects the public from charlatans and con men who would trick them out of their money and provide no value. The requirements are generally high: a doctorate degree and years working with a licensed provider. The model resembles the medical model in that there is a sort of residency (supervisory period) but that’s where the similarity ends. There’s scant evidence that the residency (supervisory period) is useful.

Instead of protecting the public and insisting that professionals behave in ways that are consistent with best practices, professionals are allowed to continue to utilize techniques which have been repeatedly disproven. The licensing process serves to create a barrier to entry, but it doesn’t serve as a way of ensuring a level of performance.

I was having a conversation with a psychologist friend some years ago, when I shared with him that I enjoyed being of help to others, and that I was lightly considering the idea of becoming a licensed psychologist. His advice: “Don’t do it.” When I probed on the issue, I realized that he didn’t feel like his peers did anything with the licensing process except make it difficult. This, he felt, was to protect their revenues. His suggestion was that I pursue “coaching”. Dawes points out that you can’t prevent people from providing assistance to others for a fee, so consulting and coaching are always an option.

Coaching, as it turns out, is a very viable alternative. In fact, another friend who was previously licensed marriage and family counselor but decided to let his license lapse has become a coach – because it’s easier. The only disadvantage to not being licensed? You can’t accept payments from third party payers, including insurance and the government. In most cases, this isn’t a kind of payment that psychologists want even though it can be lucrative.

To reform psychology, it seems like it may be necessary to change the licensing procedure from the ground up, to require that psychologists only use research-supported techniques, or tell their clients when they’re not. As it turns out, I’ve read the ethical guidelines from the American Psychological Association (APA). While their standards state these things, it appears that, in practice, their members and the licensed psychologists in each state are rarely held to these standards.

Licensing as a Minimum Bar

The key to licensing is the same key as to certifications with which I’ve had a lot of experience. A certification is most simply defined as “meets a standard.” The question that should be in everyone’s mind is, what standard are they meeting? In truth, standards for IT tests are based on a group of purported “experts” – some of which, I can assure you through my direct experience, are not – who create the desired skill set. The next step after the skills identification is question writing. When this is done, a beta testing period is created. During this beta period, candidates complete the test without receiving their scores immediately.

Psychometricians then process the data and eliminate questions that don’t meet standards for consistency – either because the supposed right answer doesn’t match the answers given by the most highly qualified candidates or the highly qualified candidates didn’t get it right often. Then the passing score – and thus the standard for the test – are set using psychometric methods designed to provide a reasonable pass/fail rate. Ultimately this process is designed to establish the minimum bar for what certified professionals must know.

The hidden challenge here is that it’s an average standard across all of the testing objectives. There may be certain areas where the candidate has zero skills. This is particularly common when testing scopes are set too broadly.

The reality of IT certification testing, which I’m familiar with, is that it’s far more predictive of the desired skills than the kinds of tests created for state licensure. That’s because of the much larger pool of candidates that can be drawn across the country than could possibly be pulled for the psychologists in a single state. After all requirements for taking a beta test would be the same high requirements of licensure.

While all certifications and licensing has some value, it’s unclear how one could determine what the minimum bar is that the licensure is measuring.

Learning and Experience

What do stock traders, politicians and psychologists have in common? The fact that getting good, reliable feedback about their solutions is very hard. This lack of good feedback creates an illusion of good practice where none exists. It creates the illusion that you’ve discovered a way to help folks solve a problem, when differences in performance in any of these categories is minimal and random.

The key problem with psychologists isn’t that they’re not good people. The key problem is that the dynamics of the environment make it hard for them to become better. By interrupting the feedback cycle that we all need in order to learn, they’re losing their ability to improve their practice. Because psychological services are unique, and monitoring would be required to have others improve their practice, and such monitoring is difficult and can interfere with the therapeutic effects, very little is done. (See The Heart and Soul of Change for the relative impact of patient-therapist alliance.)

The other barrier to learning (as discussed in Peak) is that there isn’t a clear set of standards as to what constitutes the principles of practice. With bad feedback cycles and a lack of clearly defined principles of practice, psychology is missing the requirements necessary to get better.

American Psychological Association

The APA is the functional equivalent of the American Bar Association (ABA) for lawyers. Lawyers are admitted to the bar in each state by demonstrating professional competency, and in order to practice in the state they must be a member. While states don’t necessarily require APA membership to be a licensed psychologist, in most states the ethical standards that are used are the standards of the APA.

The APA has a history of well-intended, visionary leaders who had the desire of making help available to everyone. This well-intentioned interests poured fuel on the self-help movement, as was discussed in Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology. Through the years, there have been leaders who have tried to elevate the practice of psychology through the power of the organization. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been enough attention to the transfer of knowledge from the researchers who are doing research about efficacy of treatments and the practitioners who are seeing patients.

A more challenging concern with the organization is that it seems unable (or unwilling) to ensure the standards of practice are being met.

Statistical Probability

Everyone needs to feel like they’re unique and different. That in some way they’re special. This is a part of our need for acceptance: the balance between being similar enough to be liked and different enough to be special. This desire to be special means that we’re often pushed into believing that the statistical norms don’t apply to us. At some level that’s true. Averaging people tends to eliminate their differences, which can be a bad thing when it leads to unexpected results (see The Black Swan.) However, from the other perspective it allows us to say what works for most people in most situations.

The value of using statistics to record probability is that it allows us to know what seems to work and what doesn’t seem to work in most cases. In short, it allows treatments to be identified as useful or not. Studies have proven that psychologists who rely upon the statistical probabilities of treatments, and who treat patients in the manner which is statistically most likely to succeed, do in fact get better outcomes.

Despite claims to the contrary by experienced psychologists, their predictive capabilities are limited by their imperfect and skewed experience with poor feedback, and as a result, their results with patients are poorer than if they trusted the statistics and went with them.

As a pilot, I’m trained to believe my instruments even when my feelings and beliefs are different. Obviously, I have to cross check instruments to make sure there is no error; however, I’ve learned to trust my instruments more than I’ve learned to trust myself. Most psychologists haven’t been taught this important lesson.

Alleviating Distress

Psychology is supposed to be about eliminating mental distress. However, the evidence points to greater distress today than there was in the past. In fact, according to Leading from the Emerging Future, suicide rates in the last 45 years are up 60%. Other statistics are equally concerning. If psychology is effective at reducing mental destress, at the very least we know that its current levels of efficacy aren’t sufficient.

We know from studies that there is some level of effect conveyed by psychological help, though the effect size still appears to be relatively limited. As House of Cards says “If treated, a cold will go away in seven days, whereas if left alone, it will last a week.” In other words, there seems to be little impact on treating a cold. Many of the psychological symptoms that people come in to seek help with have similar profiles.

The Necessity of Guilt

In Changes that Heal, Dr. Cloud asserts that guilt is a major barrier to growth. There I disagreed, and since then I’ve spoken about the difference between guilt and shame while discussing Brené Brown’s work. (See The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, and Rising Strong (Part 1 & Part 2) In short, shame is “I am bad”, and guilt is “I have done bad”.

Dawes makes a point that a society without guilt (as some people propose would be good) would be a society of psychopaths. If we didn’t have any guilt for our actions, how would we maintain the standards of society? If we felt no pangs of pain, because we didn’t feel guilty about the things that we’ve done or the people we’re harmed, we’d do only what is good for us – and would have the behavior of a psychopath.

The Psychology of Victimization

Dawes makes the point that much of what is done to convince people that they’ve been abused through intensive therapy trying to recover these memories (which can’t be recovered) only creates the perception that they were abused, whether that is truth or not. Further, he indicates that, once people believe they’ve been abused, they’ll behave as if they have been abused even if they never were.

The challenge with this is that the focus on the abuse is the victim component. This has the effect of immobilizing people and preventing them from taking action. I’ve discussed before how problematic victimhood is. (See Boundaries, Beyond Boundaries, Daring Greatly and Change or Die.)

Only Rational Thought Can Be Responsible

Perhaps the problem is that psychology hasn’t decided what it’s doing yet. I’ve stated that I love the Rider-Elephant-Path model to describe the relationship between emotional and rational components of our thinking. (See The Happiness Hypothesis and Switch for more on the model.) However, psychology hasn’t figured out how to address the periods when the elephant is in control. Whether it’s called irresistible impulses or temporary insanity, there are places where psychology hasn’t figured out what to do. Maybe you can get a clearer picture if you read House of Cards.

Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why

Book Review-Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why

Compared to the average joe I read a lot. Books that I read (all non-fiction) tend to fall into one of two broad categories. They’re either helping you understand a problem, or they’re providing a recipe – a set of questions, actions, and behaviors that you can do to get the results that you want. When I read (and reviewed) How Children Succeed a few years ago, it definitely fell into the former category. There were great points, however, there was very little guidance. Paul Tough followed up on that book with Helping Children Succeed, which tilts the scale much more into the direction of a how-to book without completely forgoing his sense of necessity about knowing why things work.

In my heart, I want to help everyone realize their dreams. I want to help every child become a happy, healthy, well-functioning adult. While I accept that I can’t help everyone be successful, I’m always on the lookout for ideas and materials that can help more people be successful. Helping Children Succeed is another tool in that toolbox – ideas and techniques that lead to more success.

Children and Poverty

Tough’s work is focused around younger children – effectively birth through elementary school grades – and how their situations impact them. He’s keenly aware of the impact that poverty has on children, both directly and indirectly. Understanding the societal changes that have occurred, such as the fact that over 50% of children in America were classified as living in homes with “low income” in 2013, is just a part of the broader tapestry of the changes that have made it more critical that we identify the barriers in children’s way and we teach them how to navigate those barriers. Robert Putnam, in his book Our Kids, carefully mapped out the differences in child rearing between affluent and non-affluent families, and concluded that the issue with poverty isn’t just the lack of financial resources, though that plays a part, but is instead about the time that parents have to spend with their children.

The answers that Tough found for compensating for these deficiencies are a set of programs that are designed to supplement or supplant the parental involvement if they don’t have the capacity to support the growth of their children. Just like Sesame Street was designed to help bridge the learning gap in the 70s between higher and lower income kids entering schools, the programs that Tough found are designed to reduce the gap in non-cognitive skills to help children succeed better. (See “G” is for Growing for more on Sesame Street’s goals, methods, and impacts.)

Non-cognitive skills are the kind of skills that others might call non-academic. They’re the grit or perseverance when obstacles come up. It’s the emotional intelligence to understand oneself and those around you. (See Emotional Intelligence
for more on emotional intelligence.)

The starting place for these programs was changing the environment in which the children lived.

What Determines Success in Life?

Before we dig into how to help children succeed, it’s necessary to pause and talk about what constitutes success in life. While this is a topic in itself, there are some tenets that we can subscribe to that will allow us to guide children to success.

First, it’s important to acknowledge that what’s important for one person (or child) isn’t important for another. (See Who am I? and The Normal Personality for more on classifying what’s important.) Certainly it would be a tragedy if we defined success solely as high-income. However, there’s a certain amount of income that allows you the freedom to enjoy life and to pursue other interests. Nearly every hobby requires some level of finances to support it. Every act of philanthropy is a gift of time or money or both, and therefore requires a stable base.

So, while success is often measured on earning potential, that isn’t because that’s the end game, but rather because it’s a predictive marker, and a way to ensure that some of the negative reinforcing loops that constrain people to poverty are eliminated with a moderate income.

Second, however we define it for someone, success should move society forward as a whole. That is, it should be helpful to their neighbors, their children, their community, and their world. It’s one thing to want to be a free spirit, but it’s another to live off of the toils and gifts of others.

Third, while most of us, myself included, want people to be happy, happiness is a difficult thing to quantify. There’s certainly a difference between hedonistic happiness (happiness for the moment) and value-based, or philanthropic-based happiness which is more enduring. (See Hardwiring Happiness, The Happiness Hypothesis and Stumbling on Happiness for more on the different kinds of happiness and how we struggle to know what will make us happy.)

Because it’s difficult to define the specific end goals for every person, and they themselves won’t always be able to define what their goals are or how to be happy, we have to put some stake in the ground. One thing that we can define as not-success in a general sense is academic achievement. Measurements like Intelligence Quotient (IQ), which predict academic achievement but don’t seem to correlate with success in life, won’t be helpful.

Success is the kinds of thoughts and behaviors that lead to a healthy self and a contribution to others, but that requires a healthy environment.

Behavior as a Function of Person and Environment

Kurt Lewin said that behavior (what people do) is a function of both the person (their core makeup) and their environment (what’s provided for them and expected from them.) What Kurt didn’t point out is that, over the long term, either of these factors will influence the other. In the context of our children, this means that the environments that we create are critical to shaping our children.

When we create loving environments, where it’s safe to try and fail to later succeed, we create in children a willingness to live out their curiosity. (See Rising Strong [Part 1] and Changes that Heal, and Creative Confidence to learn more about making it safe to fail and the importance.)

It turns out that the biggest influencer of personal development from an environment is stress. As Tough discussed in How Children Succeed, early and repeated stress can turn up the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and cause children’s “fight or flight” response to almost always be on – thus preventing rational thought. The result of frequent or high stress is to suppress the higher-order executive functions of the brain.

It’s these higher-order functions that allow children to develop persistence and grit, to delay gratification, and to develop the skills that are the most important to success in life. (See Willpower for more on delayed gratification.)

Environment as Relationships

So what do I mean when I say “environment”? Am I talking about plains vs. desert? Apartment vs. home? As it turns out, the answer is neither. Environment isn’t where you live, it’s the relationships that you have with other people. Are they responsive to you? Do you perceive them as safe? How do they nurture your development?

Certainly children in low-income situations have physical safety issues to be concerned with. I don’t want to minimize this or the negative impact that it has on their development; however, that is a factor that’s hard to address directly. How do you address the physical safety issues for every child? It’s easier to address the one-on-one relationships with adults that children have, and their ability to relate positively with those adults in their lives. Many of the programs that Tough discusses are focused on introducing relationships into the children’s lives that are positive and nurturing.

While these relationships are great, the interesting question is when the relationships need to occur in order to counteract the effects of the lack of positive experiences that children are getting.

Scaling Relationships

One of the challenges which Tough aptly points out is that, in our technologically-driven world, we have a tendency to try a bunch of things, and then take the one that is the most successful and scale it up. While this in theory is the right answer, when the programs are built upon the relationships that the program workers have with the program children, this can be difficult to do.

Scaling up programs that work aligns very well to the recommendations for marketing and sales and life in general. It just makes sense to take the small-scale pilots and use what works and shut down the rest. However, much of what works in these programs may be non-program specific effects. That is, the program may work not because of the specific approach or methodology being attempted, but rather due to things that are unique to the workers. In research terms, these are factors that aren’t considered as a part of the program for testing, but have a potentially large impact. This is why researchers replicate others’ studies. They are attempting to see if what the person thought were the active effects were enough to produce the results when tried in another environment.

Replicating research is one thing, but doing moderated scale-up of seemingly effective programs isn’t as easy – or successful – as it seems. Often, even very successful programs may not know exactly why they work. For instance, looking at the adult side of the world, take a look at the Delancey street program for individuals convicted of a crime. (Note that I’m being careful not to label them as criminals since the effects of labeling are particularly toxic.) The stories of the program told in the books Influencer and Change or Die are relatively different. Who knows what are the necessary, essential factors for making the program work? Maybe someone does, but getting to that answer is difficult for every program.

Shutting Down Fear of Failure

There’s one thing that’s certain. If you don’t try, you won’t fail. Then again, you won’t thrive either. The problem that gets set up in the minds of children (and adults) is that they can’t be punished for failure if they don’t try to do anything. The unspoken rule becomes, don’t do anything so that you’re not punished. However, this is a limiting mindset. (See Mindset for more on limiting beliefs.) It creates walls and barriers between people and what they can be.

Shutting down because of the fear of failure shows up everywhere in innovation and creativity. (See Creative Confidence for more on the impact of fear.) As we in the United States as a nation are relying more on our ability to innovate and create new and interesting solutions to challenges, the fuel that we need to use is creativity. That fuel is siphoned off by our fear. Flow, the highly productive state of engagement, specifically shuts down the inner critic, thereby enabling greater creativity and better problem solving. (See The Rise of Superman for more on flow and its ability to shut down the inner critic.)

High Expectations

Self-fulfilling prophecies can be good things when they’re high expectations. It turns out that children who have high – but obtainable – expectations set for them will rise to the occasion; where children who are perceived to be inferior won’t even do the level of work that they’ve already demonstrated that they’re comfortable doing. The impact of this is that you should set expectations with children as high as possible without destroying their belief (or hope) that they’re able to meet them.

Setting the right tension between the student’s skills and the challenge can get them into flow (See Flow, Finding Flow, and The Rise of Superman for more). Flow is the high performance mental state that can help them achieve their goals.

Dunbar and Groups of Fifteen

As I mentioned in my post High Orbit – Respecting Grieving, Robin Dunbar came into some folks’ consciousness through The Tipping Point, but most folks only know the idea of a maximum number of stable social relationships for humans is around 150. What is interesting as you dig in deeper are the rings of connection that Dunbar explained, including the circle of the “close fifteen”. These are the folks who you are close enough to that their loss will hurt substantially.

In terms of creating programs to help children succeed, this has an important implication. The implication is that the upper end bound to a “small group” is fifteen people. Recapping Dunbar’s work we have the inner five – these are the folks whose lives you’re entangled with. The next ring out is the close fifteen and beyond that the interesting 50.

In an attempt to develop close social relationships, you have a group with a maximum of about five – of which many of the slots are already taken – fifteen, or your relationship lands in the category of “interesting” – a relationship that you monitor and manage, but one which doesn’t have substantial swing in your relationships. If you want to create a group that has influence on someone – one that creates a tight bond – you’ve got to get the entire group (or most of it) to fit into that 15 slots of the close circle. That necessarily constrains small group sizes to less than fifteen.

Once the group size is set, the next trick is to keep the group together and keep it relatively stable. It’s this stability, structure, and familiarity that put the pieces together to allow the relationships to form.

Crowd Management

While serving in cub scouts, I learned a few things about crowd management. These crowd management skills, it turns out, are very effective at helping kids learn. My first lesson was presence. If you have a set of children who aren’t following instructions, listening or being respectful, go sit among them. I’ve never found anything as effective as sitting among a bunch of children who were previously not paying attention. The magic of this for me is you don’t have to say a word. The children just all start doing what they should be doing.

I also learned that setting clear expectations has immense power. By explaining clearly what the rules are and what the consequences are, the number of challenges that we had were substantially reduced. In any activity with young children, there’s both the defined boundaries – the things you talk about – as well as the undefined boundaries. We knew what things were critical to explain to everyone – and what things we could allow to evolve to the point where we needed to establish the boundary.

Most frequently, the thing we allowed to evolve was play. Boys sometimes do subtle escalations of their play to the point where it’s no longer “safe enough” for the leaders. There we had to help deescalate the play – or, depending upon the children, stop it all together. There are no clear expectations you can set for play. The boundaries aren’t clear enough to define in advance. You have to negotiate these boundaries.

Sometimes, it turns out, the best way to help children succeed is to manage the crowd better. When the guidelines are well-known, the number of times that you have to intervene is fewer, and you can focus on the educational tasks – or the development of non-cognitive skills.

Learning and Taking Risks

All learning involves risk-taking. All learning and growing is accepting someone else’s view of the world as valid. Learning is about changing who you are in small ways; and making changes to who you are and what you believe is an unsettling process. In order to learn, you’re necessarily taking these risks and sometimes it’s these risks that can freeze, paralyze, or immobilize children and adults alike.

When we experience a high degree of variability in responses, negative events associated with learning, or embarrassment that we believe something, this creates a barrier, or at least friction, to the learning process, whether that learning is cognitive or non-cognitive skills.

No matter the type of learning being encouraged (cognitive or non-cognitive), we must be mindful of the barriers that inhibit children’s growth and seek to fill in the gaps in their experience or patch over the rough spots so that they’re capable of learning.

Interesting and Challenging

Once you’ve removed the barriers from learning, it’s time to pull children through the process. This pull-through should be extrinsically motivated at first with the intent of transferring to intrinsic motivations. While this may sound easy, in practice it’s anything but. We’ve been conditioned to believe that education should be dull and boring. If we spit out the information, children will just accept it and regurgitate it for the test. However, as Tough points out, this may be the wrong approach.

James Hiebert notes that math classrooms in Japan follow a radically different script than they do in the United States. Instead of the teacher at the front of the classroom being the all-knowing oracle that spits out the right answer, teachers in Japan are more likely to behave as facilitators. They facilitate the classroom reaching the right solution to a problem. The teacher may crystalize an idea and create clarity around it, but it’s the students themselves that are learning.

There’s not a reliance on rote memorization or repetition. The reliance is on creating a deep understanding of the processes involved. We’ve “known” about Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives, and other frameworks that explain the need for us to create more understanding and mental models, but in most classrooms in America that doesn’t happen.

In many ways, the approaches we take to education continue to be challenged. For instance, in Schools Without Failure, Glasser points out the value of collaborative classroom discussions. His work was published in 1969. Similarly, Knowles et al.’s work on The Adult Learner hints at the need for children to learn differently than we currently teach them – while carefully avoiding directly stating the need for education to change. The first edition of this book was published in 1973.

As we’re creating programs that are designed to help children succeed, we need to acknowledge that learning, whether cognitive or non-cognitive, requires a set of skills that are different than we’ve come to expect. We have to pay attention to the interest and motivation of the children we’re teaching, and design activities (not lectures) that students can engage in at their own levels. Science fairs and their much maligned parental involvement are the kinds of project-based learning that children need to internalize a subject and to build the mental models that will serve them for their entire lives. (See Sources of Power for more on mental models.)

The best way that we have of Helping Children Succeed is to create activities that are hospitable to children of different levels, which allow and encourage them to challenge themselves. Engaging activities with an element of stretch drive children to more effort and thus build a virtuous cycle. Maybe you can start the cycle for yourself or the children you care the most about by reading Helping Children Succeed.

The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You're Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate

Book Review-The Dance of Connection

It was through reading Brené Brown’s work Rising Strong (See my posts Part 1 and Part 2) that I came across the reference to The Dance of Connection. The reference was to over-functioning and under-functioning in stressful situations. Having seen different strategies for dealing with stress in my family, I was intrigued as to what Harriet Lerner would have to say about this. What I found is more than I expected about how to connect with other people. Having recently read The Power of the Other, I was reminded about how connections are important and how we can have no connection, bad connections, pseudo-good connections, or true connections.

Right or in a Relationship

In my review of The Titleless Leader I mentioned that you can either be right or you can be in a relationship. This is at the heart of the “dance” of connection. That is, the dance is about being able to speak our true, authentic voice and at the same time to do it in a way that honors other people and allows us to stay in a relationship with them. When we hold on too tightly to our righteousness, we are unable to allow space for the other person. (See How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more about the need for allowing.)

Kids on a playground can be mortal enemies one moment and favorite friends the next, because they’re willing and able to let go of their righteousness in order to live in a relationship. This can be healthy or unhealthy depending upon the degree to which we’re bending. Cloud and Townsend spoke of the need for boundaries in Boundaries and Beyond Boundaries. There is a certain amount of give that we should have for others, and a certain limit to which we’re willing to bend. Getting clear on where this is can be very healthy.

The Screams of Silence

Connection happens through conversation and dialogue. (See Dialogue for more on what makes dialogue special.) As we try to connect with one another, we need these conversations to help bring us closer together – to form a connection. While most conversations can be positive, there are times when conversations may be difficult– which, admittedly, most of us would like to avoid if we could. (See Crucial Conversations for more about the hard conversations that people want to avoid.)

While there may be times that we want to avoid conversations, that doesn’t mean we should. John Gottman’s work makes it clear that, in intimate relationships, avoiding conversations isn’t a good thing. (See The Science of Trust for more on Gottman’s work regarding communication in couples.) Stonewalling – or preventing conversations — is one of the “four horsemen” of the relational apocalypse. Intimacy Anorexia calls upon the weapon of stonewalling as a way to prevent further communication and can rip a marriage apart.

The silence of one person in a relationship or in an attempted relationship, may yield screams on the part of the other party; in either case, the result of silence is a lack of connection.

The Gap Between Same and Different

One of the great challenges in America is the conflict between our rugged individualism and our innate nature as social creatures in need of connection. We believe that we’re “self-made” and “original”, and at the same time deny the love and support poured into us by others. (Even if it wasn’t enough.) We long for similarity and connection, and at the same time seek to be different, unique and original. In our quest for being different, we deny our need for connection, that anyone could possibly understand what we’re going through.

Whenever I can get honest in a group – whether it’s a church group, a recovery group, or a mastermind group – I find that the other folks in the group can identify with what I’m going through, what I’m feeling, and how I’m struggling. On the one hand, we are unique and different; however, on the other hand we’re all made up of the same elements. We’re a different organization of protons, neutrons, and electrons – or a different organization of atoms – but at our hearts we’re all made up of the same stuff. We all have fears. We all have dreams.

We connect to others through our similarities. We connect through common activities, interests, and beliefs. We need to set aside our belief that we don’t need anyone, that we can be “self-made,” or that we can survive by ourselves. If we want to be happy and fulfilled, we need to accept that we’ll need some other people. (See Spiritual Evolution for our need to be in relationships.)

Logic and Intellectualizing

I’m sometimes accused – rightly so – of not being in touch with my emotions enough. When I hear this, I think of the Rider-Elephant-Path model that Jonathan Haidt discussed in The Happiness Hypothesis. In the model, our rational rider sits on top of the emotional elephant, firmly entrenched in his mistaken belief of control. I think about this because, in my own experiences with horses, I know that there’s a point when the horse and the rider have such a relationship that the rider can lean down and effectively hug the horse to say thank you for the ride or for the companionship.

The visualization I have is that my rational rider is reaching down and patting the elephant on the side of the neck to say thank you. Occasionally I visualize the rider off the elephant resting a hand on the elephant’s massive upper leg. In both of these cases I’m visualizing the relationship between the rational, logical rider and the impassioned, emotional elephant.

There are times when my rational rider has to tell my elephant that it will be OK, and for the elephant to trust the results will be OK, even if the current circumstances feel very awkward or bad. The rider has to tell the elephant that the only way out is through. And, more importantly, the elephant has to trust that the rider is right. That’s the power of logic: to work with the feelings – to accept the emotion – and move through them.

This has a very different feel than intellectualizing (which I do as well). Intellectualizing denies our feelings. It’s whip that the rider uses to snap the elephant into submission – at least for a time. Men are typically better at compartmentalization than women. However, compartmentalization isn’t a skill to be lauded. It’s one that comes with very dangerous consequences if it’s used for too long. Our health and our relationships with others can both suffer if we lean too hard on compartmentalization and its larger cousin “stuffing”. (See I’ll Have Some Emotional Stuffing with That.)

Relationships are emotionally-laden constructs. Every relationship has some level of emotion attached. It’s foolish to believe that we can logic our way through emotions. However, it’s equally foolhardy to believe that we’re able be completely emotional without applying some level of logic.

Stepping in, Stepping Back

As we “dance” with our connections with others there are times when we need to step in. That is, we need to do our absolute best to create the best circumstances for a healthy relationship. This is particularly true of family situations where the other person “isn’t going anywhere.” We sweep our side of the street and clean up all our garbage. We approach the other person with as much respect and dignity as we can. While assuming the best possible posture doesn’t ensure that the other party will definitely give us the response we want, it is the part of the equation that we can control.

In this stepping-in process, we have to let go of our expectation that the other person will change. In truth, people rarely change substantially. Our goal can’t be for the other person to suddenly start responding in completely healthy ways; instead, our goal can only be that we’ll respond in healthy ways.

The opposite of stepping in is quite obviously stepping back. However, stepping back isn’t running away or leaving the relationship potential behind. Sometimes stepping back is giving the other person room to grow. If you’re never allowing them the space to behave in better ways and to grow, then – well, they won’t. There are times when it’s appropriate, and even necessary, to expect more of others than they can do today, and to create the additional space they need to grow.


In today’s society it’s obvious that, if a relationship isn’t something that’s physically safe, then it shouldn’t be pursued. It’s obvious that we need physical safety to be in a relationship lest it become abusive. However, the lines are much less clear when it comes to emotional and mental safety. We tolerate negative people. We accept insensitive comments. However, when we do this we don’t feel emotionally safe.

Safety is critical for our leaning and growing. (See the role of safety in Play.) Ultimately, we have to be safe to feel vulnerable so that we can build intimate relationships. (See my post on Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy for more.)

Anatomy of an Apology

When we’re in a disagreement, and when we’re faced with people we don’t trust, it’s very hard to apologize. Apologies, we believe, show our weakness, and we don’t want to expose our weak spots to our adversary. It’s a natural response, but it’s also one that isn’t based on our best thinking. It’s based on an earlier, dog-eat-dog world, when showing any kind of weakness might mean extinction of our genes.

The problem is that apologies are “a regretful acknowledgement of an offense or failure.” There’s no admission of weakness in an apology. There is only regret. The twist here is that too many people believe that a failure means that they are a failure. As a result, apologizing means they’re a failure. It means that they’re imperfect and weak. (See Find Your Courage for more on ascribed meaning to failure)

Apologizing falls into two categories. The first category are those things that are under our control or influence. That is, we have some responsibility for the outcome. This might take the form of “I’m sorry I forgot about your piano recital.” In this case we’re wholly responsible for our inaction.

The second category of apology is compassion or sorrow. It involves things outside of our control. It might take the form of “I’m sorry your dog died” (given that you weren’t personally involved in the death). This still takes the form of “I’m sorry”; however, the context is different. In this case, we’re not accepting responsibility for the situation.

Over the years, I’ve had people who have felt me as insincere, because I would apologize for things that I couldn’t control. They discounted my regret because they didn’t understand that there are two different kinds of apologies.

There are two very liberating thoughts here. First, that just because you failed, you aren’t a failure. Second, I can apologize even if I couldn’t have had a direct responsibility. When these two are put together, they form a powerful combination that helps me be less resistant to apologizing to others. This is the first step on the road to repairing a relationship with them.

Social Norms

In every Cheers episode, Norm Peterson (George Wendt) would walk into the bar and be greeted with everyone shouting “Norm!” in unison. That’s what I call a social norm. While begging apologies for the pun, it was the standard. When Norm walked into the bar everyone shouted Norm! Though it was a fictional TV show, I’d expect that in any bar where that actually happened, eventually people who didn’t know Norm would start to shout out his name as he entered. That’s because this was established as the social norm. It’s just what you did.

Imagine your confusion if you and your spouse walked into a bar in their home town and suddenly the assembled masses would should out his or her name. In your world, no one knows your name when you walk into a bar, much less calls it out when you enter the bar. Your spouse would be unfazed because it was the norm, while you’re sitting there trying to figure out if you’ve just slipped into the Twilight Zone, and Rod Serling is about to jump out from a dark corner and talk to you.

However, that is what relationships are – the blending of social norms. One family might watch TV during their once-per-week family dinner. The other family might ban all electronics and require attendance at nightly family dinner. Neither are right or wrong. They’re just different. There is so much of our experience that we simply take for granted. Take, for instance, a simple question. What side of the mall do you walk on?

Without being told or instructed, you’ll instinctively walk on the right side of the mall if you’re raised in any of the countries that drive cars on the right side of the road, and on the left if you were raised in a country that drives on the left. Certainly there’s no right or wrong to which side of the mall you walk on. However, if you make the wrong choice you’ll feel like you’re having to swim upstream.

The social norms within someone’s family of origin are unique to them and their family’s function. There’s nothing right or wrong with everyone planning on hunting or fishing after Thanksgiving dinner, unless you’ve grown up where you (like most) watch football after Thanksgiving dinner – or fall asleep pretending to watch football. These different expectations can be the source of frustration or potential amusement. More importantly, they can often come between people when not seen for what they are.

Defined by Dysfunction

Holding folks accountable – including oneself– is tricky business. On the one hand, you have to acknowledge the fact that you missed a goal or expectation; conversely, you have to acknowledge that it doesn’t define you. Someone who is struggling with an addiction through a 12 step program is encouraged to identify themselves as an addict. However, once you get past the introduction and the start of the program, these same addicts are encouraged to acknowledge the parts of their personalities which are positive and life-giving to others. It’s not that this excuses their behavior. Instead, it’s designed to create an integrated self-image that acknowledges that everyone has good and bad parts of their personality – even non-addicts. (See Part 1 of my review of Rising Strong for more.)

When you’re under the weight of feeling defined by a dysfunction, it’s hard to see your value – and therefore the reason why you should change. If you’re focused only on your dysfunction, it’s easy to lose hope. (See The Psychology of Hope for more on the importance of hope.) Being focused on dysfunction is focusing on the shame that you’re not good enough to conquer your dysfunction. (See Daring Greatly for more on the impact of shame.)

Balancing or Dancing?

One of the interesting messages embedded in the title of the book is the idea of “dancing”. Dancing is about being in a relationship with another person. It’s about managing the gap between you and being connected to the music.

Often when we’re speaking of multiple conflicting ideas or priorities or needs we talk about balance. The only thing I know about balance is that you never keep it. There are always forces that are trying to pull you from your balance and there’s constant work to keep in balance. When I speak of balance, I speak of it in general. It’s not so much the question about whether I’m in balance right this moment, but whether overall I’m maintaining a balance. You can’t measure one moment in time because you may be relaxing with family or at work slaving away. It’s only when you take a step back from it that you can see if the ratio of one to the other is appropriate.

I believe the metaphor of dance is a better one than balance, because it provides a perspective of the entire song –measuring across time, as well as the awareness that you’ll be at different places at different times. Sometimes you’ll be very close and other times relatively far away. It’s only in looking at the whole dance can you say how good – or bad – it was.

There are times when it’s appropriate to hold people’s feet to the fire and label them with their dysfunction. There are times when you need to allow grace for failings and to build them up in their understanding of their inherent and apparent worth. Relationships are a dance.

Solar powered

The Solar-Powered, Motion Detecting, Light-Emitting Mini-Barn

In suburbia nearly every yard, it seems, has a mini-barn. It’s the place where the lawn maintenance equipment is kept along with the other things that don’t quite fit in the house any longer. These last bastions of hope for sheltering your tools and other belongings stand against the elements. However, mini-barns by their nature generally have no electrical service. This generally isn’t a problem unless you need to get something at night or you need to jump the lawn mower battery.

Having a need for a random project that has a clear physical return, I decided to purchase a set of solar panels, a charger, some 12V lights, and a battery. As it turns out Harbor Freight has a relatively inexpensive kit that includes everything you need, except for the battery, for less than $200. It’s only a 45w kit so it doesn’t have a lot of power available, but it’s more than enough for the basics.

Solar Power

In my yard, there’s a relatively complete tree canopy. There isn’t a ton of sunlight that makes it down to where the mini-barn is but I did find a small patch of ground that the mini-barn could sit on that would have some sunlight most of the day. I know that I’m not generating a lot of power from that spot but, again, it’s enough.

The three panels in the kit I got are 15w a piece. A high performance panel can deliver 100w from a single panel but, again, that’s more than I need. So I’m using the panels that came in the kit for my power source.

Power Uses

Once you’ve collected some power, the question is what to do with it. The lighting for inside the mini-barn was a given, as was an inverter to allow me to plug in things that expect household 110V AC power instead of the 12V DC power that the solar panels create and the battery stores. However, there were two other uses which became interesting.


Most mini-barns have an odor somewhere between sweaty socks and underarms – mixed with gasoline. The collection of chemicals and gasoline-powered equipment generally makes the air inside the mini-barn just short of toxic. My solution to this problem was to add a set of fans to the mini-barn to pull air through once the temperature reached a certain point. Conventional computer fans are 12V, have a long duty cycle, and have a relatively low power consumption.

In deploying the fans to the mini-barn, the thinking was that if the temperature was high, then there would be sunlight on the panels, and running two fans to pull air through the mini-barn would be OK.

This mostly worked except for the days when it was so warm outside but cloudy. It turns out that the batteries would be depleted after a few days because I was consuming too much power with just the fans. Now I plug them in when I’m going to be working out there to clear the air and unplug them when I’m not going to be there. Eventually, I hope to find the time to finish the design of a cut-out/cut-in circuit that will effectively engage the fans only when there is excess energy that can’t be stored in the batteries – but that’s a project for another day.


Motion detector lights on your house are relatively standard these days. They are an effective way to provide lighting when you come home and to deter burglars from wandering on your property. Having security lights on your home can impact the perception of your security if not the actual security itself.

We have several of these lights on the house. The areas around the house can be lit up fairly well. However, in the back of the yard where the mini-barn sits, there’s no way to get the house security lights to reach. So I outfitted the mini-barn with motion detectors and LED lights so that, should an animal or a person end up in the back of the yard, the mini-barn will light up.

At some level this seems crazy (and it is), but in another way it’s great: when the dogs tear off into the back yard after some unknown creature, I know that I’ll automatically get light on the situation soon enough.


So if you want to put together something similar, what will it cost? Well, the solar panel kit was $200 as I mentioned. You can figure $100 for a battery. The inverter cost varies based on the wattage you want, but you can pick one up for under $50. The computer fans are roughly $10/ea – I used two of them. The motion detecting lights ended up being about $10/ea for the light, $10/ea for the motion detector, and $10/ea for the box and miscellaneous hardware. In truth, I’ve got less than $400 in my solar-panel-driven mini-barn electrical project. Certainly not cheap but also not expensive for what it is either.


I’ll Have Some Emotional Stuffing with That

Occasionally, I’m afflicted by the curse of knowledge and I’ll use a term without really defining it well. One of those words is – apparently – “stuffing”. That isn’t the kind of thing that goes in a pillow or even the kind of side at a turkey dinner. Stuffing is short for “emotional stuffing”, or denying our emotions. This is an attempt to explain what it is and why it’s bad. However, before I get there, it might be good to start with a helpful, related technique called “compartmentalization”.


Some call it focus. It’s the ability to block everything else out of your mind – for a time. It’s a natural reaction once you can get into the state of flow. (See The Rise of Superman for more on the changes the brain goes through in the state of flow and Flow and Finding Flow for more on the state.) Men are – appropriately – called out for their obliviousness. They’ll walk over the dead body in the living room as they make their way to the kitchen if they’re involved in something. Some women would say that they’ll overlook the filth of the house just because they don’t want to help clean it up. While this may be true of some men, the ability to focus and compartmentalize is a real function of the way men’s brains evolved.

Compartmentalization is simply the ability to keep things out of our mind for a while. I can remember finishing up an engagement in New York the day I found out my grandmother had died. This particular client wasn’t one I knew well. I was in to do some “surgical work”, where I’d know them for a few days then likely not talk to them again. It was just the afternoon of the last day and I was leaving at 4PM for the airport. Through a great deal of work, I was able to compartmentalize the death until I could process it later that evening when I returned home.

We see this in the movies when one character calls out to another that there will be time to mourn the dead later. When they say this, in effect, they are saying that there is a reality that they can’t fully process at that time. This is a useful and evolutionary necessity. Losing your friend Bob to a lion attack is impactful but at that moment survival depended upon being able to fight off the lion or run away. (This reminds me of a bad joke about how I don’t have to run faster than the bear. I just have to run faster than the person I’m with.)

The ability to focus allowed us to gather up all our resources to focus on one thing. We could use every ounce of our willpower to hunt and kill an animal so we had food. Conversely, women were conditioned to be ever-vigilant to threats to the family and themselves, and as a result got wiring towards not compartmentalizing things into neat little buckets.

Jeff and Shaunti Feldhahn speak of another analogy in their book For Men Only. It speaks of a women’s thought process like sitting in front of a computer with multiple windows, each vying for attention. They’re always popping up and interrupting about going to the dry cleaners, or planning the meal for tomorrow, or one of a hundred other things that are randomly competing for attention. Men, on the other hand, can be like the old DOS operating system where there is only one thing running – or like a modal dialog that captures the attention of the entire screen.

I tend to think of compartmentalization like pressing pause on an old VHS video cassette recorder (VCR). There would be lines of interference and then ultimately the VCR would shut down to protect from wearing through the tape. In the VCR, there’s a physical process where the head is literally rubbing against the tape when paused, and if it were left on too long the head would quite literally wear through the tape. In other words, compartmentalization is good when you need it, but isn’t something that is designed to be sustained forever.

Ripping Stuffing Apart

The problem with stuffing is that it relies upon the same evolutionarily useful tool of compartmentalization, but it presses (or stands on) the pause button. It’s taking compartmentalization and allowing it to happen for too long. It’s refusing to acknowledge the feeling exists, or it’s saying that the emotion isn’t important, or that I don’t have time to deal with it right now.

In the Rider-Elephant-Path model (See The Happiness Hypothesis), the rational rider only has control while he’s active – when attention wanes, the elephant does what he wants. That’s the easy part. However, what’s harder is the understanding that the rider is never in control. The rider has the illusion of control as long as the elephant allows it. When you deny the elephant what it needs – processing of the emotion – eventually it will stop listening to the rider. Eventually the relationship between the rider and the elephant will become so strained that there’s an all-out battle happening. We have the classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The schism that splits the person is going to come out somewhere.

All too often medical doctors are the ones that find it. There are strange and elusive auto-immune diseases that no one can pinpoint, or chronic pain without a defined cause. Sometimes it’s standard illnesses like the common cold at a rate that’s abnormally high. We believe that our brain and bodies aren’t linked, but the reality is that our bodies need the control functions of the brain. When the brain isn’t functioning right because it’s been asked to do something unnatural, like stuffing emotions, bad things happen to the body.

Safe Processing

One of the key reasons why people stuff their emotions is because they never feel safe enough to be vulnerable. (See my post Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy.) They never perceive that anyone would accept them, including their weaknesses and frailties. (See How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more on acceptance.) Whether this is true or the result of adverse childhood events (ACE) doesn’t matter; the reality is that the perceived safety is missing. (See How Children Succeed for more on ACE.)

On Death and Dying described an emotional framework for the changes that people go through as they learn that they are dying. What is remarkable about the work is the acknowledgement that people need the space to process through things on their own terms. There’s no specific timing for going through each phase. There’s no one way of grieving. There’s only the acceptance that the struggle exists and being willing to walk through it with folks.

Passing on the Stuffing

There are so many random, unexplainable things that happen when you’re not able to be true to yourself and process your feelings in a healthy way, that it’s hard to imagine that anyone would want to do emotional stuffing. That is, unless the idea of stuffing your emotions was passed down to you. Many of us have members of our family for whom emotions aren’t safe things. Because they’re not safe, they’ve passed along the idea of stuffing to us.

It’s time to take a pass on stuffing and find a way to process all of the emotions that life has to offer.

The Power of the Other: The Startling Effect Other People Have on You, from the Boardroom to the Bedroom and Beyond - and What to Do About It

Book Review-The Power of the Other

When I found out that Dr. Cloud was releasing a new book, The Power of the Other, I put it at the top of my reading stack. Why? Well, I’ve been a big fan of his work. Having read and reviewed Boundaries, and Changes that Heal, I appreciate Dr. Cloud’s ability to distill complex topics. His work here on explaining how we relate to others and how to generate better connections with others is no exception.

Connection is Core

In order to understand the framework that Dr. Cloud lays out, we have to accept that connection is essential for humans. We have to accept that we’ve been hard-wired through our DNA to need connection to others just as much as we need air, water, and food. Though connection is not as high a priority as air, it appears in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs right after safety. Spiritual Evolution introduced me to the study of baboons, whose offspring were more likely to succeed based on the social network of the mother. Others, like Brene Brown in her book Daring Greatly assert the same importance of connection.

Dr. Cloud relates that in his studies he hit an inflection point. As a student of psychology, he eagerly sought the tool, technique, framework, or approach that would help him alleviate the pain and suffering of his clients. His instructor informed him that the key factor in the efficacy of psychological assistance was simply the relationship between the therapist and the patient – something that The Heart and Soul of Change called “alliance”. How could it be, given all the great minds that had been trying to learn how to improve folks’ lives, that the answer was as simple as a relationship?

Dr. Cloud wondered whether his professor was saying, “my fraternity is basically a treatment center.” Um, yep. That’s the way we’re created. We want to find someone who will understand us and who will connect with us. Somewhere buried deep within our DNA is the bias toward staying connected so that we can protect and support each other.

Limits, The Mind, and The Invisible

Elephants at the circus are tied to a stake with a large rope or chain when they’re young. As they grow, the rope that they’re tied with gets smaller. That’s because the elephants have learned that the rope isn’t something they can move, so no matter how small the rope becomes, they won’t try to break it. This results in the elephant equivalent of “the Bannister effect”, where the limits are psychological and aren’t physical limits. (See The Rise of Superman for more on the Bannister effect.) Whether it’s a high-performance athletic trick or running a sub-four-minute mile, we sometimes psych ourselves out and create the false belief that we can’t do something personally – or as a human – that we really can.

All of us face limits in our life. Some of them are real, hard boundaries. They’re true limits to what we can and cannot do. However, more frequently, the limits that we have are the result of mental constructs and false limiting beliefs. (See Sources of Power for more on mental models/constructs and The Success Principles for more on limiting beliefs.) The relationship between our mind and our well-being is well accepted but not well understood. (See Change or Die and Thinking, Fast and Slow for more about how our mind and body interact.)

The difficulty in our understanding of this phenomenon may be due in part to our limited psychological knowledge. While psychology isn’t a new discipline, it hasn’t had the benefit of the scientific rigor that other areas of science have had. As a result, we may know quite a bit about the neurology of the brain, but relatively little about the psychology. Think of it this way: we understand the hardware of the brain but we don’t understand the software. (See Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology for more about the limits of our knowledge in psychology.)

The problem with psychology (and software) is that it’s invisible. We can typically only measure the effects, behaviors, and outcomes. While we can inspect software source code line-by-line, we can’t do the same with psychology. While we have potentially helpful models of viewing people, (See The Normal Personality and Personality Types: Using The Enneagram for Self-Discovery) we’ve also had more than a few unhelpful models. (See The Cult of Personality Testing.)

Self and Others

The self-help movement has been around since the publishing of The Power of Positive Thinking in 1952 – or since Benjamin Franklin depending upon your point of view. No matter where you believe it started, it’s become big business. It’s defined by the “self” term. That’s appropriate in that we’re only really in control of our own lives. We can’t truly change other people – they have to decide to change themselves. If you look at Everett Roger’s work in Diffusion of Innovations, we see that people change their knowledge through mass media, their attitudes through close relationships, and their behavior through personal choice. Ultimately, it all comes down to personal choice, what we do. It’s our self-agency. (See Change or Die for more on how infrequently people change, even under the pressure of overwhelming evidence.)

However, along the way we’ve lost our ability to see beyond the self. We’ve lost the ability to see that the formula for behavior includes what Kurt Lewin called “person and environment”. The environment is less about the physical trappings that surround us, and is more about the influence of other people. Consider the Holocaust, which was a tragedy, and the part that people played in it. (See Man’s Search for Meaning for more on the Holocaust and the psychology of it.) What’s more disturbing was Milgram’s research, that showed that most humans can be coerced into doing immoral and harmful things. (See Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) for more on this disturbing research.)

We have forgotten that, while we have to be ultimately responsible for who we are and the actions that we take, we equally must accept that the others around us influence our behavior very strongly. Malcom Gladwell made this point in his books The Tipping Point and Blink. We react to broken windows. We make snap decisions about the situation based on the context.

That’s what The Power of Other is all about. It’s about the environment that we find ourselves in as individuals, and how we can be attentive to our relationships to improve happiness.

Four Corners

If you accept that we’re here for connections, then there are four potential places you can find yourself in relative to connecting to others – something that Dr. Cloud calls the “four corners”. They are:

  1. Disconnected – This is the state of trying to be alone. We’ve basically concluded through adverse childhood events (ACE) that connections are bad, much like some people struggle with the life-giving need for food. (See How Children Succeed for more about ACE).
  2. Bad Connection – This is the state of being harmed. We’re connected, but the connection is life-draining rather than life-giving as it should be. This is like exposure to carbon monoxide, which prevents us from taking in life-giving oxygen.
  3. Pseudo-Good Connection – This is the state of being worshipped. While the relationship seems to build us up, it’s all positive and no (or little) reality. We all need others to reinforce reality since we have blind spots and only our own perspective. (See Incognito for more blind spots.) The Pseudo-Good connection means that someone will eventually yell that the emperor has no clothes.
  4. True Connection – This is the state of being real. Real connections are ultimately positive, but don’t avoid the negative when it’s necessary to help both of the parties grow. True connections are difficult because of the need for communication skills and internal integrity, but it’s the kind of connection that we’re all designed to make.

These are the places that we can be in relationship with others. The reality is that we’re not in a single relationship with others. We have multiple situations and those situations can result in different kinds of connections. At work we can be in a bad relationship (i.e. we need to change our job), while at home we’re in a fourth-corner, or true connection, relationship with our spouse. We can – and do – have places in our life where we’re not interested or able to connect.

In How to Be an Adult in Relationships, David Richo implores us to not get more than 25% of our nurturance from any one partner. He encourages us to seek out multiple connections so that we’re able to grow more fully through the true connections with others. Gary Keller, in The One Thing, tries to focus us in on the one thing that we can do in each area of our lives. In other words, we need multiple fourth-corner connections to become the person we’re capable of becoming.

Corner One: Disconnected

It’s easiest to think about the disconnected person as the hermit sitting in a cave or on some solitary ranch in Wyoming. However, the truth is that being disconnected has very little to do with the presence of other people. In today’s world, the remotest areas of the planet can be reached with emails, voice conversations, and even video chat. I routinely chat with my friend Paul Culmsee in Perth, Australia – just about as close to the opposite side of the planet as you can get from me. Disconnected is an internal state, not a representation of the physical world.

There are folks that have trouble connecting with others in a meaningful way. This is most painfully expressed in marriage relationships as what Doug Weiss calls Intimacy Anorexia. This illustrates the point that the problem is an inner condition and not an outer observable one. From the outside point of view, one could assume that a married person isn’t in Corner One (Disconnected), but Weiss’ work with clients indicates that this external perspective isn’t right.

I mentioned in my post High Orbit- Respecting Grieving that we’re flooded with Facebook friends that aren’t really friends at all. They’re people that we’re watching like voyeurs. While we’re wired for connection, we have a maximum number of ports, and that maximum number isn’t the thousands of Facebook friends that some have. Facebook, and other technologies, have actually made it much easier to appear to be connected, when in reality we’re quite disconnected on the inside. (See Alone Together for more.)

Corner Two: Bad Connection

Why would you be in a relationship that is bad for you? Well, there are two reasons. First, you don’t realize that it’s bad for you. Second, you are getting some good things from it, and you believe that you’re getting more from it than you’re losing.

It’s like drinking salt water from the ocean when you’re at sea. You know you need the water but don’t realize that you’re getting so much salt that it’s doing more harm than good. Or it’s like eating candy – and only candy – all day long. Your brain rewards you with dopamine because it recognizes the calorie content in the sugar. However, what your reward system doesn’t realize is that the vitamins, minerals, proteins, etc., are also all essential to your survival. You seek out the candy because of the sugar – but at the same time too much of it will create long-term problems.

Ultimately, Dr. Cloud’s previous work on Boundaries and his co-author John Townsend’s Beyond Boundaries is about removing these bad connections from your world – or causing the connections to heal and become good (Corner Four) connections. While I personally don’t have many bad connections left in my life (though there are always some), and my bad connections tend to not be of the extreme variety, I do come in contact with others who are in relationships which are bad for them. They’re relationships that I call “toxic”, because the longer the person is in them, the worse the person is.

Corner Three: Pseudo-Good Connection

We all need friends who are willing to pick us up and help us realize that things are going to be alright. Dr. Cloud describes a bad business decision where his mentor called him and told him that, “We’ve all been there.” This normalized the situation and lifted up Dr. Cloud into the brotherhood of humans who occasionally make mistakes. We absolutely need our relationships to try to build us up and to help us become the best people that we can be. However, sometimes building someone up means giving them hard feedback. This is precisely what the Pseudo-Good third-corner connection doesn’t do. They’re too afraid of damage to the relationship, the way the other person will feel, or are wrapped up in their own insecurities to the degree that they’re unwilling or unable to have the hard conversations.

Anyone who has had the privilege of the platform – that is, anyone who has done public speaking – has had to develop an approach to these sorts of would-be connections. It’s still strange to me that people have “groupies”, but I’ll admit to having a few myself. The challenge with making space for these relationships is recognizing that they’re relational candy. They’re nice occasionally but they can’t be my steady diet of relationships.

Corner Four: True Connection

Being in corner four connections – true connections – is hard work. It requires balancing grace and truth. It requires being forthright with your feelings, perspectives, and awareness, while tempering that with your love for the other person. Love in this context is more akin to the Buddhist belief of compassion or the Greek word agape than anything else. When you can do that, you can be right with your intent for the relationship and the other person, and provide them the feedback they need to grow. Just as importantly, they’ve got the strength of character to do the same for you.

For me, the prerequisite to be in a true connection is a stable core. I wrote about this in my post How to Be Yourself. It’s about knowing who you are and having a stable and integrated self-image which can survive the outside world. (You can find more about my thoughts for integrated self-images in Rising Strong Part 1, Schools Without Failure, Compelled to Control, and Beyond Boundaries.)

Corner four connections can powerfully propel you to becoming a greater person, but they’re very difficult to find.


How do you get corner four connections? It starts with trust. For me, trust is the path that leads to our ability to be vulnerable, and this leads to the opportunity to be intimate with one another. In my post Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy I lay out this path along with references for the various concepts.

Trust exists exclusively in corner four (true) connections. In corner one, you trust no one. In corner two, you can’t trust the person who is harming you. In corner three, you can’t trust that you’ll hear honest answers, and your connection can’t trust how you’ll respond if they’re honest and real. It’s only in corner four – where trust exists – that we can choose to be honest and caring to the level necessary to form truly intimate, and therefore powerful, relationships.

Bermuda Triangles

The Bermuda Triangle is where strange things happen. Ships disappear. Planes disappear. In general, there’s just a wackiness that can’t be explained. This same situation can occur when a relationship which is designed for two people expands to three people. Instead of people having hard, but life-giving corner four relationships, the triangle drains energy from all.

The triangle works like this. There’s a victim – let’s call him Victor. A victim feels like there is someone out to get them, to persecute him. Let’s called the persecutor Paul. (If you’re up on your Old Testament Saul would be better, but it’s not an alliteration.) So Victor, rather than talking to Paul, talks to Robbie the rescuer. The problem with this drama triangle is that Robbie isn’t even involved in whatever supposed affront that Victor (the victim) feels. Instead, he’s getting a one-sided view of the story and begins to think negatively of Paul (the persecutor) when Paul may have done nothing wrong.

This triangle creates drama and heartache where there is none to start with. It maligns Paul (the persecutor) unfairly. It may be that he was persecuting Victor (the victim), but it’s still not fair because Paul’s voice can’t be heard – he’s not a part of the conversation.

Triangles happen all the time, even when well-meaning people are involved. It starts out as seeking advice on how to handle a situation and turns into an opportunity to extract sympathy and rescuing. The net effect is the destruction of trust and the erosion of connections, so a hard line needs to be taken to prevent the triangles from forming. This means outlawing gossip and encouraging direct and candid conversations.

Growing to Connect

Ultimately, the power of others to influence our lives is driven by our ability to interact with them in positive, life-giving ways. That means first seeking out connections. You can’t have healthy relationships if you don’t have any relationships at all. Second, it means limiting the number of bad connections you make and/or limiting your interactions inside of those relationships. Third, it means moving past the mutual appreciation club to a point where you can candidly support and provide candid feedback. All of this takes growth on our part to be the kind of person that not only recognizes the qualities of ourselves but also the qualities of our relationships.

If we want to transform the power of others in our lives, we have to transform ourselves so that we can be the best connection possible for them as well as for ourselves. The irony is that, by working on ourselves, we’ll transform the power of others in our lives. If you want to have better relationships and a happier existence, it’s time to transform The Power of the Other.

Rest Assured: A Recovery Plan for Weary Souls

Book Review-Rest Assured: A Recovery Plan for Weary Souls

Sometimes my reading list is influenced by my friends and family. I read not so much because they tell me to read something or even that they suggest it. Instead I read things to be more connected with them. It’s true that my wife mentioned that I might like to read Rest Assured but it’s because it was helpful to her and she wanted to be able to have a conversation about it. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that she also has access to my private notes on the book so she doesn’t have to write as much for herself. We can thus lean on each other’s work to allow us to both learn more from it.

The Busyness Badge

In a world where every site, game, and interaction seems to want to give you a gold star or some sort of a badge for doing something, the one that most people seem to covet the most is the busyness badge. When I speak with my fellow speakers at a conference they speak of their burgeoning schedules and platinum status on airlines and with hotels. They seem simultaneously run down by the schedule and proud that they have it.

On a more personal level, if you read Christmas letters you find out all of the things that families of your friends have been doing. Each event which was previously chronicled on Facebook for others to envy is relived and amplified as a way of extracting admiration – or in some cases just to catch you up on what they’re doing. Catching up is certainly the feeling that you can get as you have to figure out where you left the story and what has changed.

In our own lives we want the busyness badge because it means that we’ve arrived. We’re productive. We matter. We make an impact. However, in all of this we fail to ask if what we’re busy with really matters. Does the trip to Africa matter – or does it matter how it’s given you a heart for the struggling people. Certainly we need experiences but at the same time we need the ability to process the results of these events and activities, an opportunity that we don’t often allow for ourselves.

Minding the Margins

One of the lessons from systems thinking is that efficiency and optimizations necessarily reduce resiliency. (See The Fifth Discipline and especially Thinking in Systems for more.) The extra performance you get comes from somewhere and that place is the set of checks and balances that keep the system running even when the variables change.

I also learned the lesson from flying. Planes are created with what is called dynamic stability. That is like sitting on the bottom of a rod extended from a ball. You’ll always default back to a center position. This is opposed to dynamic instability which is like trying to balance yourself on the top of a long rod attached to the top of a ball. Instead of being able to rest like you can on the bottom, on the top you have to be ever vigilant and constantly making adjustments to stay in balance.

On the bottom there is lots of room for margin. Your mind can wander. You can release control. On the top there’s no margin. You have to remain engaged at all times.

In our lives we sometimes create dynamic instability where we must be ever vigilant and never take a break – or at least think that we can never take a break. This is living a life without margins. It’s living a life where there’s no inherent stability. If we were to let go and relax for a while the whole thing seems like it will fall apart.

We weren’t designed to live like this. As we learned in How Children Succeed, our fight or flight system was never meant to be left in the on position. It was only supposed to be switched on for a while. Some of us live in a constant fight or flight mode never able to stop and relax.

Margin is the space between our load and our limits. It’s expressed by the slack or gap that we have between our load and our limits. There are times when each of us has been at our limit. The load we were carrying was all we could bare. However, this isn’t designed to be our normal state. We’re designed to need margin in our lives.

Subverting Slothfulness

Ever since sloth made its way to the list of seven deadly sins we’ve been avoiding the perception of being slothful. In the process we’ve confused the natural need for rest with a persistent state of slothfulness. Rest isn’t a reward, it’s a requirement.

When we rest we’re not necessarily lazy. Resting is recharging. It’s rebuilding our strength to face the next battle, to climb the next hill, and to take the next risk. In our culture the idea that you would take a “lazy day” seems sacrilegious – even on a vacation. Most of us take our work with us on vacation. Forty percent of Americans don’t even use all of the vacation time that they are given each year.

In our attempt to avoid being perceived as slothful, we’ve become overworked, overstressed, and overwhelmed.

Serving Others

I believe strongly that you cannot give what you don’t have. Despite this I see many people trying to give healing and support to others when they’re emotionally run down and when they have nothing left to offer. Instead of doing self-care they seek to care for others. My eldest daughter is a nurse and we hear stories all the time of her and her coworkers not taking a lunch break because they’re too busy or they’re too concerned that the other nurses can’t take care of their patients as well as they can.

We’ve come to believe that taking time for ourselves is a sin and that solitude is loneliness. Instead of recognizing the Sabbath we run like we’re fleeing a sabretooth tiger. We’ve learned – incorrectly – that it’s greedy and rude to take care of our own needs. Instead of investing a little time to get centered and ready to share our gifts with the world we try to share what we don’t have.

Consider the Dalai Lama. The gifts of compassion that he offers the world are life giving. However, as a Buddhist monk he makes substantial time each day for meditative prayer so that he has the inner fortitude to share with others. If the Dalai Lama still needs daily meditation and prayer – don’t we?

The Fault of Future Focused

I’m a future focused person (See The Time Paradox for more.) That means that I tend to live in the future. I look forward to a day when the struggle is less and that I’ve achieved my goals – whatever that means. This is good in that it allows me to plan for the future and keep positive that no matter how bad things are at the moment they’ll get better someday.

However, the negative to this perspective is that I’ll sometimes forget to recognize the blessings in my life today. I spend so much time living for tomorrow I forget to live in the here and now. Sometimes stopping to smell the roses is important – even for those trying to grow rose bushes.

Luxurious Leisure

It’s not that we get less time than other people. The Earth rotates at the same speed for you and me as those people who are highly productive and those who are recharged by their rest. However, the way that we spend our time is important. We can spend our time lounging in front of the next situation comedy (sitcom) from Hollywood or we can spend it talking with friends. What we spend our time on will depend how rested we feel.

As was mentioned in Alone Together, we’re wired for connection with other humans. When we spend our time connecting with others – when we’re just relaxing and enjoying their company – we become restored. When we spend our leisure time watching TV or playing video games we’re not getting the most benefit from our leisure. Without trying to turn our rest and relaxation into another opportunity for “productivity”, there are things that we can choose to do which will more thoroughly and quickly restore our souls.

While each of us enjoys a different kind of rest, a different kind of leisure, we can accidentally choose leisure time which isn’t rewarding or fulfilling – or we can choose to turn our rest into a competition. Play mentioned a Runner’s World Article which divided runners into four categories: the exerciser, the competitor, the enthusiast, and the socializer. Each one experienced running differently. The exerciser experienced the physical activity. The competitor experienced the power of competition. The enthusiast experiences the moment – the leisure. The socializers experience the connection. (See Who Am I? for 16 different motivational factors.) Experiencing the moment or the leisure and experiencing the connection with others will powerfully restore the runners. Those who are running for physical activity may be restored if their need for physical activity isn’t being met. Those who are, however, competing may not receive any rest from running at all.

Technology Tethered

I do a talk on converting an email culture into a SharePoint culture. In that talk I assess the level of addiction that we have with email. When I started giving the talk few people – maybe a third of the room – would admit to having an addiction with email and our phones. When I give the talk these days more than 80% of the hands go up when I asked if they’re addicted to email.

We’ve become too tethered to our technology and not tethered enough to each other. (See Alone Together
for more on this central concept.) We’ve become the dog tethered in the back yard to a stake. We never get to experience what it’s like to be inside each other’s houses – or lives. What we need for rest is to spend more time with each other connecting about things that matter and less time trying to follow Facebook. Rest Assured, if we do that we’ll find a way to slow down our crazy pace and feel more peace.

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Book Review-The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Reading Brown’s work in a non-sequential order makes me think of Star Wars with its episodes and prequels. In some ways it’s more like the movie Premonition which is a magnificent film and also magnificently hard to follow. The premise of the movie is that the star character is experiencing time out of order. Despite this, The Gifts of Imperfection filled in gaps in the story told by Browns subsequent works Daring Greatly and Rising Strong (Part 1 and Part 2 of my review).

The Gifts of Imperfection covers a variety of the same topics in Brown’s other works. I won’t readdress them here. Instead I’ll focus on some of the topics that aren’t in her other works.

Separately Together

One of the challenges that Terri and I’ve seen is that people are literally together but they’re not really connecting. Whether it’s the family out to dinner each with their phone firmly planted at the end of their noses banging out something to someone who is presumably not at the table or it’s the family sitting together in the hospital – it is tragic that we can be together but separate. (We started Kin-to-Kid Connection to help with this challenge.) This is the paradox of the world we live in.

We’re the most technologically connected society. We’ve got WiFi internet in our homes, coffee shops, churches, offices, and nearly everywhere that we might go. We’ve even got WiFi available on airplanes. Our cell phones have data access allowing us to connect with the Internet and the various messaging and social sites. Today we’re able to communicate on live video with our friends half a world away. From a technical aspect of communication perspective, the Pony Express is a distant memory along with any belief that we can’t communicate with anyone at any time.

Yet, we’re not able to connect with the people that are right in front of us. Instead of real friends we have Facebook friends. (See my post High Orbit – Respecting Grieving for more on the limits of Facebook friends.) Instead of conversation or dialogue we text each other – sitting at the same table. (See Dialogue for more on the art of thinking together.)

Hope is Not an Emotion

If you had asked me, I would have said that hope was an emotion – it’s a way that you feel. As I’ve spoken about hope that’s the context that I’ve held. (See Faith, Hope, and Love and The Heart and Soul of Change for two examples.) However, hope isn’t an emotion. It’s a cognitive process. C.R. Snyder a researcher at the University of Kansas believes that hope is: 1) The ability to set realistic goals, 2) ability to meet those goals – including through alternative routes, and 3) belief in ourselves. The good news here is that hope can be learned. (See Mindset for malleability of our mindset.)

I’ve ordered Snyder’s book but I think that he (and Brown) are speaking of a special kind of hope. It’s not hope that the world will be better tomorrow. It’s not hope that someone will get the job. It’s a variant of self-confidence that you can do what you set out to do.

Despite my disagreement with the specifics of Snyder’s work – the idea that you can instill and give rise to hope is important. Hope is sometimes the thing that carries people through serious losses (See On Death and Dying.) Hope may come easier to those who have a future focus (See The Time Paradox for more.)


In The Paradox of Choice we learned of Maximizers, Schwartz’s code word for perfectionists, and their struggle to be happy in life. This intersects with Brown’s world as it relates to shame. Though she says that shame is the birthplace of perfectionism, the opposite is more likely true. Where we feel shame we feel that we are bad – thus that we failed to measure up to a standard. When that standard is perfectionism shame will always exist.

Perfectionism is a liar. Perfectionism says that you can only be accepted when you are perfect. This challenges our fundamental need for connection. The idea that we are unlovable when we’re not perfect isn’t true as we learned in God Loves You.

Connection and Relationship

The idea of the human need for connection is a recurring topic in my research. Numerous articles talk about healthier living for folks in a marriage – and that those who are in relationships in general are happier and healthier. The Science of Trust discussed immigrant groups with better health when they had trusting communities and trusting family ties. It’s not just the quantity of these relationships. It’s the quality – so Facebook friends don’t count.

Spiritual Evolution shared that social bonds in Baboons improved the survival rate of their offspring. So even in our primate cousins we see that connections and relationships matter. If you want to be happy you want relationships. You need connections with other people. Connecting with others means loving them – a special kind of universal love.

Agape Love

The Greek word Agape is one of three Greek words translated to mean love in the English language. In Buddhism the word is compassion. Buried in this is the meaning that we are all connected to one another. Compassion is cultivated because we know that we are all one. We can’t survive without one another. The bubble that we call Earth is a delicate balance of one set of interconnected ecosystems.

This kind of global love is an irreducible need of all humans. We’re wired to need connection with one another because it was necessary for us to band together to form communities and care – so that we could survive.

Digging Deep

Brown shares the acronym DIG for considering our condition and living wholeheartedly. The letters stand for:

  • Deliberate – thoughts and behaviors
  • Inspired – making new and different choices
  • Going – take action

By taking these steps – by looking into ourselves and digging deep we can become more wholehearted and along the way better understand our defining boundaries.

Wholehearted Through Boundaries

If you were looking for a marker to find wholehearted people – to find the people who are really experiencing life what would you look for? It turns out looking for someone who is clear about their boundaries might be the best way to find wholehearted people. Though it seems paradoxical that the most open people might be people who are the most boundary conscious – it isn’t when you dig in. (See Boundaries and Beyond Boundaries for more about what boundaries are.)

Wholehearted people know themselves. They’re comfortable in their own skins. They know what they do well and they know what they don’t do well. They know what they want and what they don’t want. They know these things because they’ve looked deeply into themselves to really understand themselves. They know what they are willing to accept and those things that they’re not willing to accept.

Knowing these answers frees them up to be who they truly are all the time. They don’t have to lament over each decision. They can just respond as themselves. They’ve gotten out of the boxes that define them and as a result they’re no longer trapped by their boundaries though they may be defined by them. (See The Anatomy of Peace for more on boxes.)

Science and Religion

The great irony of our societies is that in science we’ve accepted that there’s a lot that we don’t know. We’ve learned time and time again that we were wrong or at least incomplete in our understanding of something. As a result science has become malleable to the idea of errors of thinking. Faith, on the other hand, insists in one true and correct answer without any acceptance that there might be other answers or that we might be incorrect.

It’s odd that faith has come to mean that we’re certain even when we have no evidence. Shouldn’t faith be bent according to what we learn to be true? The Dalai Lama commented that Buddhism must change to the truths discovered through science – that is what the Buddha said must happen. (See Emotional Awareness for more.)

Shut Up and Dance

One of my favorite songs over the last few months has been Shut Up and Dance by Walk the Moon on their Talking is Hard album. Part of the lyrics are “Oh don’t you dare look back Just keep your eyes on me I said you’re holding back She said shut up and dance with me.” For me the lyrics are a reminder to focus on where you are – not what other folks are thinking. To focus on the present in the moment and to no worry how others think you are. I was reminded of this as Brown speaks of a moment with her daughter where she focused exclusively on her – and not what the others around them might be thinking.

We’re all imperfect creatures. The trick is to recognize The Gift of [Our] Imperfection[s].

My Spiritual Journey

Book Review-My Spiritual Journey

While I’m firm in my faith as a Christian, I’m comfortable with my Buddhist brothers. I’m mindful of my Muslim friends. I say this knowing that in America there is still uneasy tension about the acts of a few Muslim extremists. In truth, I have a deep respect for anyone who has the capacity to live out their faith fully. It’s in this context that I read My Spiritual Journey which is a “self-portrait” of the Dalai Lama.

This isn’t the first time I’ve read about the Dalai Lama’s work. Having read both Emotional Awareness and listened to Destructive Emotions as an audio book, I was familiar with the Dalai Lama’s beliefs but in truth I had very little perspective on how he came to be so wise.


Tibet is an interesting place – at least in my mind. I imagine it as a place of untold beauty at the top of the world, with mountains, animals, and monasteries. It seems like my mental image isn’t too different than what it really is – except that nature may be less forgiving and harsher than the idealized version in my head. The plight of the Tibetan people is also less ideal than I would have imagined.

I can remember incidents where the Chinese government suppressed and put down revolts. Perhaps the most familiar to me was described simply as Tiananmen Square. This is a location where many events have happened over the years where protesters clashed with the Chinese government. While the details are disputed some of the videos that have surfaced from the incidents are hard to ignore.

So when the Dalai Lama describes the forceful nature with which China invaded Tibet and the subsequent massacres of Tibetan people through waves of trying to “gain control.” I have little doubt that the events actually happened. While falling short of saying that every claim that has been made is absolute truth, I’m comfortable in saying that there are clearly ways that China could have behaved better.

I’d love to some day visit Tibet and learn more about the culture and the ecology of the country (or province if you believe China’s claims to authority.)


Christianity doesn’t believe in reincarnation. We believe that you’ve got one life on Earth so you should make the most of the time that you’ve given. Not making the most of it from the point of view of hedonism and having the most fun. Rather, making the most of it to bring heaven to Earth. Equating it loosely to my poor understanding of Buddhism, Christians are supposedly bringing Nirvana to Earth for all people – though we clearly fall way short of this bar.

In Buddhism the belief of reincarnation is core to the beliefs. There are most lineages that can have only one living member at a time – and others like the Dalai Lama’s lineage where it’s possible (but rare) to have two instances of the same spirit living in two bodies at once.

The benefit of this belief system is that in reincarnation there’s an awareness that you need to take care of the Earth so that your next incarnation will be in a better spot – or to have the resources of mother nature. In this way the end goals – of making the world a better place – of Buddhism and Christianity seem aligned – though they approach the journey differently.

Human Needs

We all need to be loved. Humans have the longest child rearing of any animal – that is we’re more fragile for a longer time than any other animal. It’s necessary then for us to be cared for by others for a very long time. From a biological point of view humans need social connections to function. We need the love of our parents as well as the support of our communities. (See Our Kids for more on the impact to our children of parenting.)

The need for love surfaces everywhere in literature from the preoccupation in popular music to the need for healing in books like A Hunger for Healing, God Loves You, How Children Succeed, How to Be An Adult in Relationships, and Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness.


What the Buddhists refer to as compassion seems most closely related to the Greek word Agape. In its translation to English in the New Testament the word is one of three translated to love. The other words that translate to love are Eros – Erotic or romantic love and Philos – brotherly or familial love. Agape then is a universal form of love. In the New Testament translation it refers to God’s love. However, it is also used as an instruction for us to love one another. (John 13:34)

As the Dalai Lama is considered to be a reincarnation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion – so one could easily assume he’s an expert. He’s frequently described as having infinite compassion. However, what is compassion? The Dalai Lama has sometimes referred to compassion as human affection –thus love.

Here I struggle with the Dalai Lama’s perception as he sometimes describes compassion as a mixture of desire and attachment as in a parent’s compassion for a child. Here I believe that the Greek’s separation of philos for this sort of love is a better match. In this way we can separate universal compassion from compassion associated with families – or those whom you decide to treat as family. (See High Orbit – Respecting Grieving for more on how familial relationships differ.)

Barriers to Commitment

There are barriers to commitment – things which make it difficult to feel compassions for others. The Anatomy of Peace would call these boxes. Anger and hatred are described as the barriers to compassion.

One of my favorite learnings from Destructive Emotions was that anger is disappointment directed. This is such a simple and profound statement. I use it all the time to stop-time when I’m angry and ask what it is that I’m disappointed in. Is it the circumstances? The other people involved? Or am I disappointed in myself?

I do get angry. As I mentioned in my post The Inner Game of Dialogue it’s not that a master doesn’t get off center. It’s that they discover it sooner and recover faster. I’ve still got much to learn about accepting others as they are and releasing my anger sooner. (See How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more on acceptance.)

Hatred is a stronger and longer emotion. It’s a sustained anger – a sustained desire for vengeance or retribution. (See Who Am I? for more on vengeance as a motivator.) It’s hard to love something that you hate. It’s hard to show compassion when your heart is filled with hatred.

Compassion as Commitment

I described love as a decision in my review of Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness. Given my belief that love and compassion are the same thing, it’s no surprise that I believe compassion is a decision – or a commitment as well. The Dalai Lama describes compassion as a firm, thought-out commitment. That is, compassion isn’t a passing fancy or something that you do when the mood strikes but rather is a decision that you implement whether you “feel like it” or not.

It’s in this context that you can begin to see the commitment to compassion. A desire to live the life that you’re called to live.

Enemies as Teachers

I’m not a highly competitive person. In general, I prefer to not compete with others. I find my own path to doing things. However, there are times where there is little avoiding being in competition with other people. In these circumstances I find that I’m driven to be better in ways that I wouldn’t normally refine my work. I’m more frequently focused on innovation and individualism than I am on refining my ability.

Enemies – or people with whom you have conflict – can help us to improve even more than competition. Conflict is a step up – or a step above competition. In competition you’re competing but not necessarily conflicting with another person. The Bible says that “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17) – it finishes with “so one person sharpens another.” Our best teachers, those who help us to grow and become better are often those enemies who are matched to us and our unique strengths and weaknesses.

Happiness and Suffering

One of the basic aspirations of mankind is the pursuit of happiness. Though revolutionary when stated in the declaration of independence, we now accept that happiness is something that everyone strives for. We seek happiness and seek to avoid suffering. In fact, in Thinking, Fast and Slow we learned that we avoid loss (or suffering) more intensely than we seek out happiness.

Once we pass our ability to avoid suffering and move past the stress of everyday life we find that we need to figure out how to be living. That is how we move from striving to thriving. Thriving is happiness. We learned in Change or Die the intense impact our point of view can have on our health. We learned how much of our health care costs are really outcomes of behavioral issues.

Happiness is a frequent theme in reading and writing books as my reviews for Stumbling on Happiness, The Happiness Hypothesis, and Hardwiring Happiness can demonstrate.

Non-Violent Determination

In the end, the Dalai Lama’s message is simple. Compassion is a powerful non-violent force that isn’t impotent but rather needs determination and persistence to show its impact. Gandhi had a big impact with his non-violent protests. Hopefully the Tibetans will have the same opportunity for revolution. In the mean time learning a bit more about the Dalai Lama and the life of a simple Tibetan monk may just start you on your own [My] Spiritual Journey.