Book Review-Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love

Hollywood makes it look easy, whether it’s jumping from a building to a rope ladder hanging from a helicopter or it’s building and sustaining a lifelong love – at least as much of the love as you can fit into a two-hour movie. Just because they make it look easy doesn’t mean it is. Having a high-quality and deeply intimate relationship takes work. That’s something that the Gottmans know about – not only personally but in their work as well. Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love is a roadmap for building and maintaining a lifetime of love.

At its heart, the book shows a way to prioritize each other and hold the eight conversations every couple should have at least once – if not on a regular basis.

Requiring Vulnerability

Identifying what keeps people together and what drives them apart is what John Gottman has been doing for decades. As I mentioned in my review of The Science of Trust, Gottman is distinguished by his capacity to predict divorce after a short few minutes of argument. His criteria for the way couples manage their conflicts are very predictive of how likely it is they’ll be able to stay together. So, when he says that vulnerability is required for a lifelong relationship, it’s worth perking up your ears.

To get to vulnerability, we’ve got to make two stops first. The first step is trust. I’ve written about trust and its relationship to vulnerability extensively. The most recent coverage is in Trust=>Vulnerability=> Intimacy, Revisited. The short version, for our context, is that trust is the belief that we can predict someone’s behavior enough that the chances of betrayal are low. When we predict that the other person will have our best interests at heart, we develop a perception of safety. This perception of safety allows us to become vulnerable. So, the stops on our way to vulnerability are trust and safety.

Requiring Effort

John Gottman calls the moments when you can make the choice to lean into your love or be selfish “sliding door” moments. In the response for a bid for affection, you have the choice to make to do what you want – or respond to the bid and pour into your relationship. Sliding door moments are the choice between what we want in the moment and the long-term health of the relationship. That isn’t to say that we should, or even could, make the decision for love every time. It’s always possible that we’re too tired, too sore, or too distracted. However, it’s the effort it takes to make these choices routinely that builds relationships up.

Making the decision to turn into your relationship isn’t always natural. It’s not the easiest choice. It’s a decision to put your relationship first, because you know that good relationships nurture and sustain you when things get difficult.

Whenever you’re putting effort into anything, there’s a background accounting happening. Is the effort I’m putting in worth the results I’m seeing? While we can defer seeing results, ultimately, the calculus that happens is deciding whether the results are worth the effort. (See Relationship Calculus for more.)

ualities and Characteristics

The Gottmans share six characteristics that seem to be found more often when successful couples are speaking of their marriage:

  • Fondness
  • Affection
  • Admiration
  • We-ness (vs. separateness)
  • Expansiveness (vs. withdraw)
  • Glorifying the struggle

I know plenty of couples whose marriages work for them but in which there is very little “we” and a lot of “I” space. They enjoy their time together, but that time is small and secondary to their individual lives. While it seems to work for them, it doesn’t work well for Terri and me – and the Gottmans seem to believe it’s not the best approach.

For the record, Terri and I get to work together, both literally and figuratively. Her desk is right next to mine. We speak together. We write together. We dream together. It seems like that is important.

Expansiveness is an interesting aspect – it’s “Yes, and…” It’s amplifying each other’s perspectives rather than negating them. It’s an attempt to build the other person up rather than tear them down. Our jobs are to help the other person become the best person they can be, and that means supporting them. (See my review of Group Genius for more on improvisation and “Yes, and…”)

Finally, I can say, personally, that Terri and I feel like we’re on a mission together. We’re struggling – to have a great marriage, to raise children, to build a business, to eliminate healthcare-associated infections. Through all of it, we’re in it together.

The Dates

The eight dates are:

  1. Lean on Me: Trust and Commitment
  2. Agree to Disagree: Addressing Conflict
  3. Let’s Get It On: Sex and Intimacy
  4. The Cost of Love: Work and Money
  5. Room to Grow: Family
  6. Play with Me: Fun and Adventure
  7. Something to Believe In: Growth and Spirituality
  8. A Lifetime of Love: Dreams

Each date is laid out with a guide to how to be successful. Everything from where you should be and what to bring are included in the guide to give you the best chances of success. There’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to successfully navigate the sometimes difficult conversations, but at least with the guide, you’ll handle some of the big things that trip people up and create barriers.

For Love of Money

While I have great respect for Gottman and agree with most of what he shares, there’s one area where I’ll disagree about the root cause. The research says that money is one of the top five reasons couples fight. I’ll agree that it shows up this way, it feels this way, and it may even be the content of the conversation. However, I believe that couples disagree about money because of a difference in values.

It’s not that they’re in a conflict about money. They both want more income for the family, less expenses, more play time, a more stable nest egg for rainy days or retirement, and so on. They’re quite aligned on all these things. Where they’re not aligned is in their values about each of these in relation to one another. Should we save more money or have more vacations? Should we take stressful jobs with higher salaries – or live simpler lives with a less stressful job?

Those are the real questions at the heart of the fights. The husband wants to buy a new car, because he thinks he deserves it. The wife is concerned about the kid’s college fund, or the fact that they can barely meet their current commitments, or whatever. Similarly, the husband may not understand the new dress that helps the wife feel more attractive.

So, while money is the surface level-issue that’s seen, in my experience, it’s rarely the root cause.

Conflict Apathy

I’ve developed conflict apathy. I don’t go looking for fights. However, I’m no longer afraid of them, either. I don’t worry that there will be hurt feelings or permanent damage. I speak my truth in love and expect that Terri will do the same. That’s not to say we don’t hurt each other – we do. However, we don’t run away from the conflicts because we’re afraid of getting hurt.

We walk through the conflicts, because the view on the other side is better. We walk through the conflicts, because we know if we’re willing to do that, we’ll stay on the same side and work together.

I don’t know if you can build what Terri and I have, but Eight Dates might be a good start.

Book Review-The Secret Lives of Adults: Your Seven Key Relationships – and how to make them work

Who are we really? Are we the person we are when we’re with friends? Or is it that we’re the person we are with family? Or perhaps we’re really expressing our true nature when we’re by ourselves. In The Secret Lives of Adults: Your Seven Key Relationships – and how to make them work, Allison Keating explores the different aspects of our identity.

Seven Relationships

Keating believes we have seven key relationships:

  1. Me, Myself, and I
  2. Mum (Mom) & Dad
  3. Siblings
  4. Romance
  5. Parenthood
  6. Friends
  7. Work

These relationships are how we express ourselves. Fundamental to this is an understanding of how to bring our whole selves to each of these relationships and how to fit these images of ourselves together. I’ve spoken a few times about the need for and power of an integrated self-image. (For just some examples, see Braving the Wilderness, Happiness, The Trauma of Everyday Life, Schools without Failure, Compelled to Control, and Beyond Boundaries.)

Being an Adult

Whatever image we see for ourselves, it should be an adult. Richo speaks in How to Be an Adult in Relationships about what it’s like for us to be the most authentic human that we can be. Keating takes a different approach: instead of focusing on the things we need to give ourselves and others, she seeks to help us better understand ourselves.

We’ve this unconscious assumption that adults must have life all figured out. After all, as a child, we thought our parents were all-knowing and really had it sorted. At least, we felt like this until we became teenagers and suddenly decided we knew more about life than they did – only to return to our beliefs that our parents knew everything when we hit our twenties.

The problem is that this is a false belief. Being an adult means you’re willing to confront the places you don’t have figured out, but few adults I know feel like they’ve got it all figured out. Instead, most of the folks I know, who are brave enough to be honest, know that we’re all struggling to do our best in a world that keeps changing. We hope that our awareness of the world continues to grow.

Relationships Today

As Sherry Turkle explains in Alone Together, we’ve got technology that connects us nearly every moment of every day, but at the same time we’re more alone than we have ever been. We have fewer confidants and fewer real friends, even as the number of our Facebook friends blossoms. Friends are an emotional buffer that allow us to weather the storms of life. Without them, we feel buffeted by the minor challenges of day-to-day life and poorly equipped for all that being an adult means.

Our friends today are less likely to know about the deep, emotional scars we carry with us since childhood and the embarrassment of our past. As a result, the friends we do have are poorly equipped to know when they need to step up and support us.

Reflection

The pace of progress continues to increase. We’re producing more food than ever before. We can meet our own needs with fewer hours of work than ever in the history of humanity, but we’re also working more hours and harder than even a few years ago. The competition bug has caught us. Social media has turned up the volume on the age-old problem of “keeping up with the Jones’.” We get caught on the hamster wheel of work and keeping up, and we barely realize we’re doing it.

Gone are the days “on Walden Pond,” where a deep thinker could sit and stare at the water and peer into their own souls. It’s easier for us to login and find out what someone else is thinking (or saying they’re thinking) than it is to connect with ourselves and what we truly think, feel, believe, and fear.

The tyranny of this is that it binds us to the hurts of our past. No one seems to know about the hurts. Not our friends. And, buried under layers of denial, not even us. We react to others based on events that we no longer remember.

Knowing and Not Knowing

A Johari window is a simple, two-by-two grid of knowing and not knowing both ourselves and others. It creates spaces where we know things about ourselves that others don’t know, things that both we and others know, what others know but we don’t, and, finally, things that neither others nor we know about ourselves. It seems that, instead of peering into the space where no one knows, we’re more interested in staring at the spot where others know things about us that we don’t know.

We’ve become obsessed with “what do they really think about me?” In an age of political correctness and ethical and moral weakness, we must wonder: is what someone telling me what they really feel? Too often the answer is no, and we know it. But we also know that getting to the real answer may not be possible because of the fears they carry inside of themselves. (See The Fearless Organization for more about fear and its impacts.)

Awareness

Sometimes, the knowledge that you gain about yourself addresses the limitation – and sometimes it doesn’t. Knowing you have the flu doesn’t stop you from having it. It can, however, inform what you do and how you change your behaviors so that you can get better. With the flu, you may choose to get more rest, but you’ll still have a few days before your body has a chance to recover.

On the other hand, knowing that you are sabotaging your success by a simple behavior, you can stop the behavior and get more success. The amount of action (or inaction) required is trivial compared to the challenge of awareness.

The journey to understand ourselves is filled with both kinds of awareness. There’s the kind that makes the problem evaporate – and the kind that exposes the long path that we have to recovery.

Attachment

Much of the hurt we experience and react to is said to come from our attachment style. John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth described the attachment styles as: secure, ambivalent, avoidant, and disorganized. (For more see Daring to Trust.) Of these, only secure attachment was considered to be non-afflictive. That is, people with secure attachment styles have fewer places of harm and are therefore supposed to be less reactive to environmental stressors.

In practical terms, your attachment style isn’t fixed. (See Mindset.) You can heal old wounds by recognizing them and working through them. In effect, we walk towards the pain that we felt, and we resolve it rather than ignoring it. Ignoring the pains we feel leaves us vulnerable to someone else triggering the emotional landmines that we’ve buried. (See Step, Step, Click for more.)

Unconscious Time Travel

It seems that our unconscious doesn’t notice the passing of time. This was hinted at in the movie A Beautiful Mind. (See Incognito for more context.) The point the movie made was that Nash’s friend and the little child that he saw never aged. They never changed as he aged. It’s almost like they were frozen in time. This is an interesting curiosity that could be relegated to a value for dream interpretation until you consider how we respond to hurts.

Our response to hurts is quick and automatic (see Thinking, Fast and Slow for more on how this happens). In that response is no sense of the time that has gone by – or even, to some extent, how the situation has changed. We’re still that frightened little boy or girl on the inside. It’s that frightened boy or girl that’s lashing out. Until and unless we can quiet the pain of that spot inside ourselves and learn to be okay, we’ll never be able to stop the outbursts. Whether we were injured ten minutes ago or ten years, we’ll still respond to similar situations – until we address the core.

Unlovable

Perhaps our greatest fear lies beneath the surface. The fear is that we’ll be or become unlovable. Some memory back before our brains were fully formed warns us that we’re dependent upon others. We hear every criticism as a hint that this fear of being unlovable may be true. Deep inside, we can’t stop the nagging feeling that we may be unlovable and therefore ultimately vulnerable again.

The nagging feeling can be pushed back. It can be kept from surfacing too frequently, though everyone seems to have it surface now and again.

Constructive Arguing

Some people are taught by their environment that they must always be agreeable. Perhaps their family system is predicated on the need for tranquility at all costs. Instead of having healthy disagreements and constructive arguments, hurt feelings are buried until the day that they boil over. Everyone else is surprised, half at the content of the explosion and half that the family member couldn’t keep it together.

In a system where conflict is bad – rather than constructive – it’s hard to make it ok. In other environments, healthy means sharing feelings without being hurtful and arguing about the perspectives and the values but not about the worthiness of the people. As we learn to be better adults, we learn that, to be ourselves, we must be willing to engage in constructive arguing – and we need to learn how to do that well. (Here, John Gottman’s The Science of Trust is great.)

The Cult of Easy

While the need for tranquility may be isolated to some families and some environments, it seems like there is the perspective that things should always be easy. We shouldn’t have to pour our hearts and souls into things, it should just come naturally, like the YouTube star who seems to effortlessly makes millions.

The truth is “Tenacity, hard work and persistence, especially in the face of adversity, are how you succeed.” As we learn to be adults, we learn that adulting isn’t easy. It’s not easy to face the fifth or fiftieth rejection – or the five-hundredth. It’s not easy to slave over something for years or decades in obscurity believing that something will turn any day now. However, it is how success is won, at least for most of us. (See Grit for more.)

Accepting Your Feelings and Frustrations

In the end, being an adult means accepting your feelings – good and bad. That includes the joy and the frustrations. You can’t side-step or ignore your feelings, because they will eventually come out whether you want them to or not.

Feelings are a part of The Secret Life of Adults – and just like the book, they’re worth discovering.

Relationship Calculus

No one wants to believe we’re making a value judgement with every relationship we’re in. It feels impersonal. It feels like, if the other person doesn’t measure up, we’ll cut them out of our lives. That in turn means they may choose to cut us out of their lives. It a yucky feeling that no one wants to feel. Despite this, there is a calculus that we’re unconsciously performing when we’re in relationships. We’re evaluating whether this relationship is something we want to continue or not.

Give and Get

The basic math behind relationships is a simple inequality. We are looking to get as much as – or more than – we give from the relationship. It sounds like this would make everyone selfish and only out for themselves and not others. However, there are two reasons why this isn’t the case. First, how we value our efforts and the things we get from others isn’t even. We can greatly value something someone else does for us that’s easy for them.

Second, what we get isn’t always from the other person. Sometimes what we get is a greater sense of being the kind of person we want to be. We do things for others not because we expect to get something back from them but because we get a sense of peace, power, or belonging that we find valuable.

With this as a foundation, we can explore how we view what we give and what we get.

Giving

With my background in technology and particularly Microsoft Office applications, I know things that I’m not even aware I know. I will routinely press a key or activate a feature in Microsoft Word that people around me have never seen. When I’m asked about it, I happily share the information, and they’re richer for it. The cost to me is trivial. It’s something I can give with a few seconds of time.

Sometimes what I can offer is more expensive. The chief cost of giving is the time it takes. Certainly, there are some things that have a material cost, but for most of us, those costs can be converted into the amount of time it would take us to earn that money. Ultimately, the time we invest in others, through time spent with them, doing things for them, giving things to them, etc., is just as important as if we had invested in material things.

Getting Externally

A friend comes over to help you diagnose a problem with the air conditioner. You know nothing about it but he’s an expert. It takes only minutes for him to find a problem with an inexpensive relay that he happens to have with him. An emergency call to a heating and cooling contractor would have been hundreds of dollars – and hours of waiting on them to arrive. Your friend spends a handful of minutes and a few dollars for the part. However, the value to you is substantially greater.

That’s the primary imbalance that allows relationships to function. Sometimes, you give a little, and they get a lot. Sometimes, they give a little, and you get a lot. Because of specialization and the reality that we each have unique skills that we can share the benefits of with others, we create the opportunity to get more than we give – from a perception point of view.

Getting Internally

There’s a certain sense of peace that you get when you know you’re able to help others, even when you know they’ll never be able to repay you. It’s a sort of karma. You believe more firmly that others will be there to help you in your time of need when you’re able to do that for others. So, paradoxically, when you’re giving to someone who may never be able to repay you, you’re getting internal validation that the world is becoming more like the world you want to see in life. You don’t need to receive anything externally, because you’re getting the value from giving. In effect, the relationship with the other parties is about having a better relationship with yourself.

Simulating Relationships

The entire idea of compassion and generosity doesn’t seem to make much sense. If Darwin’s survival of the fittest were operating, wouldn’t it make sense that the fittest would be looking out for themselves? As it turns out, no. Cooperation is a powerful tool for surviving and allowing one’s genes to propagate. Even self-sacrifice to the point of death can pass along genes through the relatives who, through your selfless act, are still alive.

Robert Axelrod performed a series of competitions for programs to make a rather simple decision about how generous or greedy that they’d be. The competition was setup with the prisoner’s dilemma. The short version is two criminals are captured. If they both stay loyal to each other, both will get three years. If one defects (offers evidence on the other), they’ll get one year and the other will get five years in jail. If they both defect, they both get five years of prison. In this configuration, an agent – program or person – should always defect, because it creates the best outcome for them personally when the other party’s behavior is unknown. However, that’s not what was the most effective for both in the simulations. Generosity and an attempt to get to the best outcomes for both sides won the competitions. In short, start with the assumption that the other side won’t defect and only defect to retaliate against the other party.

Evolution, it seems, may not work on survival of the fittest at an individual level. Rather, it may be that evolution works on survival of the fittest at a group level. This can explain generosity and a desire to be good to others – because doing so makes it more likely that your group will survive.

Trade Imbalance

While it’s possible to get more – either externally or internally – than you give, the reverse is also true. Consider the effort to put together a delicious and nutritious meal, and a family who doesn’t care. They’d be just fine with warmed Spaghetti-Os and hotdogs. Your gourmet meal is lost on them – just like the time spent preparing it. In trade imbalances like these, the best thing is to just stop doing the things that lead to the imbalance.

That’s sometimes easier said than done, as people still need to be fed, and you may not be okay yourself with making such a simple dinner. The result is a need to find a way to renegotiate what you’re doing – and why you’re doing it. You may decide that the gourmet dinners are for you and not them anyway.

Trust

Relationships are all built on trust – even if the trust is that the other person will always do what is in their personal best interests regardless of whether it’s in your best interests or not. Trust is the mechanism by which we evaluate our contributions to a relationship – we trust they’ll acknowledge the contributions – and the way we evaluate what we’ll get. We believe that the person will be there to help us out in our time of need.

Timing

Another consideration is our belief may be predicated on the expectation that, in the end, we’ll get more from the relationship than we put into it – but over what time scale? When you’re putting in extra effort to help a friend as they’re struggling with a death or a divorce, do you expect that you’ll receive as much as you’re giving? The answer’s probably no.

However, if you believe that the other person has already given you much more than you can ever repay – or you feel like they’ll be there when you need them – then the momentary imbalance in what you’re giving vs. what you’re getting may be completely appropriate.

Predicting the Return on Investment

These factors make up our assessment of the return on investment we’ll receive from a relationship – or the amount we feel we owe the other party for their previous support of us. The problem in the way we predict the return on investment in relationships exists in the biases we all have. We can fall into negative confirmation bias where we fail to see any value in the what the other person is doing in the relationship. We can similarly be in positive confirmation bias and be blissfully unaware of how the other person is taking advantage of us.

We can discount what the other person has done for us in the past. We can disbelieve they’ll help us in the future – or we can be sorely disappointed, when we trust someone else will come through for us, and they don’t.

There’s no perfect answer to whether a relationship is valuable or not – there’s only the awareness of some of the factors that are involved in the equation.

Book Review-Daring to Trust: Opening Ourselves to Real Love and Intimacy

Trust isn’t earned. Trust is given. Trust is us daring to be vulnerable so that we can enrich our lives and the lives of others. David Richo explores trust and its necessity in Daring to Trust: Opening Ourselves to Real Love and Intimacy. I’m familiar with Richo’s work through How to Be an Adult in Relationships – a book that I still heartily recommend. (Occasionally, the title gets me in trouble with folks, but it’s worth it if they read it.) He definitely has a deep understanding of human nature and what it takes to help us find our own path to healthy happiness.

I’ve also got a long history with trust. I just recently revisited an old post with Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy, Revisited. The original post and the revision tie together the work of numerous authors to explain how trust leads to safety, which leads to vulnerability and, ultimately, intimacy. Richo connects trust to intimacy and our need to be connected to one another, so I resonated with the points he was making about our need for trust and how it moves us forward.

Time to Trust

Richo says, “Trust happens in the present and connects past experience with future probability.” In one sentence, he explains how trust is a bridge across time. It’s how we gather up our past experiences and use them in the present to make a bet for a better future for ourselves and others. Trust is a decision to take a risk that someone will betray us, because, if they do not, the rewards are so much greater.

Our past experiences greatly influence our ability to trust ourselves and, ultimately, others.

Learning Trust

We learn to trust just like everything else in life. Our first teaching comes from our parents and their ability to provide for our needs. We arrive on the planet totally dependent upon our parents for their support. We need clothing to keep us warm, food to allow us to grow, grooming to keep us clean, and protection from the many evils that lurk behind every corner. It’s during these early formative times that we begin to develop a sense for how the universe operates. Through our parents’ actions, we extrapolate about how the world at large works.

If parents are attentive to our needs, we believe that the universe wants good things for us. If we’re neglected or abused, it becomes hard to trust in the goodness of the universe. Our focus will be on survival and how we must protect ourselves, since no one else seems to be willing – or able – to do it.

Mary Ainsworth observed the way parents and children interacted and came up with three basic attachment patterns. The patterns she observed are:

  • Secure – The child is comfortable whether with or away from their parents. As adults, they’re self-confident and appropriately independent.
  • Anxious-avoidant – These children need constant affirmation and support from those around them. As adults, they’re demanding of their partners and peers.
  • Anxious-ambivalent – As children, they’re compulsively independent. As adults, they may become victims.

Ainsworth discovered that parents who were attuned to their child’s needs – but not enmeshed with the child’s feelings – produced children whom she would describe as secure. Others have estimated that only 50-60% of adults are securely attached.

Trusting Ourselves

Some of us won the parental lottery. Our parents gave us a belief that the world was good and helpful. Our worldviews are shaped by opportunity, relative safety, and trust. This worldview often translates into our capacity to trust ourselves.

We see and celebrate our successes realizing that we can do anything we set our minds to. We’re not afraid of hard work, and we’ve seen many successes as a result. (See Peak and Mindset for more about the role of hard work.) The successes and our recognition of them creates an experience that leads us towards trusting ourselves.

Others aren’t as lucky. Their parents didn’t respond to them well, and they’ve developed a mistrust for the universe. The result is someone who is closed down. They don’t take risks, because they expect something bad will happen. And because they’ve taken few, if any, risks, it’s hard to find good things they’ve accomplished to celebrate. The net effect of this is a low degree of trust in oneself, because there is little or no experience to build that trust from.

The everyday slings and arrows that we must accept overwhelm the few things that could drive trust in ourselves. We forget a commitment. We fail on our New Year’s Resolution. All of that weighs on us and our ability to trust ourselves.

Trusting Others

It doesn’t take a specific betrayal to resist trusting others, though it certainly doesn’t help. Trusting others may be the hardest and most necessary thing that any human can do. Gone are the days when a person could stand alone. Those who think they’re independent now don’t know how to kill and prepare their own food, create electricity, build homes, purify water, or any of the thousands of things that we rely upon for our safe living. If we know how to do one or two of these things, that’s great. However, the reality of today’s modern living is that we don’t have any idea how to really survive on our own.

While our reliance on others is a matter of fact, our decision to trust others isn’t necessarily a forgone conclusion. We don’t have to trust others. We can decide that vaccines are evil and should be avoided. We don’t have to trust our doctor or the mountain of evidence that says vaccines have few harmful side effects and dramatically improve resistance to viruses by making our own immune system more capable of fighting it. This would, of course, be a bad decision, but we have the freedom to make it.

Love

Once, it may have been the only emotional force that showed us we were truly alive was fear. However, love has crept in as another way for our emotions to show us we’re alive. Certainly, when we’re in love, we often feel it with a mix of fear. In the initial stages, we are concerned the other person may not love us back. As love becomes more mature, we may fear we’ll lose our love for the other person, or they’ll lose their love for us.

From an evolutionary perspective, love coming after fear makes sense. We needed fear to allow us to avoid things that would be harmful to us. We discovered the first kind of love – infatuation or sexual love – to reproduce. The kind of love Richo’s talking about, a sustained commitment between a male and female, came later. It came, evolutionary biologists believe, when it became necessary for two parents to help with the rearing of children, as has certainly been the case for human development. Evolution taught us that we needed to have a commitment to one another to support our children.

When evolution needs something to happen for us to survive as a species, it has at its disposal powerful neurochemicals that can truly make us feel alive. Sometimes, that’s enough to commit to years of child-rearing – and sometimes it is not.

Performance-Based Love

When we speak of “love” in English, we have to detangle several different kinds of love. C.S. Lewis tries to do this in his book The Four Loves. Our global love for all is what the Greeks called agape. Our love of our brother was known as philos. Our sexual urges were known as eros. These are great, but none of them are really what we mean by the kind of committed love that Richo’s talking about.

Making things even more complicated is what some call “performance-based love,” which isn’t love at all. In fact, Richo acknowledges that our brain doesn’t even process it as love. Performance-based love says that I’ll love you as long as you’re performing. If I feel like you’re making me look better or enhancing my reputation, I’ll be “in love” with you. Of course, love is a choice, a decision, a commitment, so performance-based love isn’t love at all. (See Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness for more on love as a commitment.)

Reality

The Buddha said that everything is impermanent. It is a central tenet of Buddhism that nothing is permanent, and when we try to make it so, we increase our suffering. Too often, we seek to maintain things the way they are, to expect that trust will continue the same way it always has. This is a fiction. It’s a failure to accept the impermanence of anything in this life.

Our wishes and desires, no matter how convicted, do not make reality. We must accept reality for what it is rather than what we desire it to be. When we allow our desires to prevent us from seeing the truth of reality, we’re harming ourselves. We cannot exist in relationships with others when we’re trying to be in our own little bubble of our reality rather than the one which we all share.

The Erosion of Trust

The reality is that trust isn’t always broken in one betrayal. Sometimes, trust fades slowly because of misses and delays. Parents sometimes struggle with children. They ask them to do something and later “remind” the child only to have them insist they were getting ready to do it. In these times, children need to be taught that a delay in responding or doing what was committed to or expected will erode trust.

As adults, it’s very normal to struggle to meet our commitments at times. That’s why renegotiating our commitments is a critical part of every adult’s tool bag for developing and maintaining trust.

Hurts and Harms

An interesting point that Richo makes is that being hurt and being harmed are not the same thing. One person can hurt another without harming them. Richo explains that a surgeon’s cut may hurt, but it doesn’t – in the end analysis – often harm the person. The hurt is necessary to be able to heal.

Recovering after surgery often means painful physical therapy. It’s hurt that enables healing. Those who want to build muscle must accept the pain that accompanies the muscles being torn down so that they can be rebuilt stronger.

When we trust, we’re exercising our trust muscles. Occasionally, we’re going to be hurt by betrayal. However, we strengthen our ability to trust by exercising it with more people and in more ways.

We often confuse pain as a warning of something to be avoided. The truth is that pain is a signal. It can indicate that there’s something to be avoided, but in other cases, it can encourage you to pay attention.

Learning to Be Porous

Our sense of ourselves is somewhat of a mystery. We believe our edges extend to our clothes unless we pick up a tool, and then the tool becomes a part of our self-image. If we get into a car or airplane – particularly if the car or airplane is small – we begin to perceive the car or airplane as a part of ourselves. Because we believe we have control over it, we extend our sense of self to accommodate it.

So, in this way, our sense of self is variable. We can sometimes feel as if we’re larger or smaller. However, our sense can become variable – or, as Richo explains, “porous” – by adopting different beliefs about ourselves.

The problem with extending ourselves to our cars is that, when someone scrapes our car, dents our doors, or gets into an accident with us, we believe that we’ve been harmed. In truth, most of us have insurance, and these “assaults” on our car will not really impact us. However, if you’ve seen people leap out of their cars after a minor fender bender with tempers flaring, you’ve seen the “assault” become a personal affront.

If we’re willing to accept that most things that happen don’t threaten ourselves – and we’re not defined by titles or external things – then we no longer need to defend the trappings of our identity. We can let go of the things – and pick them back up when it’s safe to do so. In doing this, we’re more able to feel safe and to trust others. We don’t have to protect as many things.

When Not to Trust

Trust is, in general, a good thing. However, there are cases – such as in the case of continued abuse – where it’s not a good idea to trust. The problem when we continue to trust others, and those who we trust abuse us, is that we necessarily lose trust in ourselves. We lose trust in our ability to protect ourselves by entering into relationships and situations that are unsafe.

As we face continued abuse and we fail to take action, we no longer trust ourselves to take action. This spreads into every aspect of trusting ourselves and others. The good news is that there’s a relatively simple and direct act that can begin the process of restoring our trust in ourselves and in humanity: to separate from the abuse.

Treading carefully to avoid offending anyone, there are three accepted reasons for divorce: adultery, abuse, and abandonment. (See Divorce for more.) You can – and should – divorce yourself from anyone who routinely or habitually abuses you. At the same time, relationships and friendships are necessarily fraught with imperfection. Only you can decide whether the abuse is an accidental and isolated incident that will not happen again. In these cases, there’s a decision to be made about whether it’s worth it to trust again and make the relationship work – or whether it isn’t safe enough.

So, there are times when it’s appropriate to not trust. Another way to view it is there are times to trust yourself in knowing the other person cannot be trustworthy and therefore shouldn’t be trusted.

Everything Can be Mended or Ended

There’s a peace in knowing that every relationship can either be mended or ended. It provides some definition to the vagaries of human relationships. There are only two outcomes, and it’s up to you to decide which of the two outcomes is the right one – and you can change your mind later if the situation changes.

I know a man who cheated on his wife years ago. Her decision was to end the relationship – but not the marriage. He continues to behave faithfully and supports her and the children while living separately. There’s no guarantee that she’ll change her mind and decide the relationship can be mended, but he’s doing everything in his power to demonstrate that it’s possible.

The Wisdom of Open and Closed

There’s a definite wisdom to understanding what experiences and feedback we allow into ourselves. We need feedback from others to calibrate our understanding of the world and learn how we should adapt or change to better align with the world. At the same time, much of the feedback that we’ll receive from will be wrong. It may be well-intended, but it will be wrong.

What would have happened if Edison listened to the people who said he’d already failed 500 times and was no closer to creating a lightbulb? What if the Wright brothers had listened to the folks who said they’d never be able to accomplish heavier-than-air flight? Clearly, we’d be worse off as a society. The problem is that we never know which feedback is right and which we should ignore.

That’s why the wise are open to what’s happening around them, including their experiences and the feedback, without accepting the feedback that would stop their success.

Grounded in Reality

A key to trusting others is realizing that we need to remain as grounded in reality as possible. Imagination is a wonderful asset but can be harmful when our imagination crowds out reality. (See my review of Incognito and the discussion of John Nash.) Our imagination allows us to create what doesn’t yet exist, but we shouldn’t confuse what is possible with what is.

Our imagination allows us to imagine a space where we’re reaping the rewards of trust. In short, it shows us the rewards we can get when we’re willing to be daring – Daring to Trust.

Book Review-Trustology: The Art and Science of Leading High-Trust Teams

Why does trust matter anyway? Trust in our teams and our organizations can make the difference between poor performance and stellar performance. Trust is essential to creating and leading high-performance teams. Trustology: The Art and Science of Leading High-Trust Teams is here to help us create and lead high-trust teams.

The impact of trust shows up in every aspect of our lives. Amy Edmonson speaks of the need for psychological safety in The Fearless Organization. Psychological safety is a trust in the organization that it’s safe to speak up. According to Trust: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order, trust and how it’s focused shapes how everything works in societies. In our personal relationships, The Science of Trust explains its profound effect on our ability to remain connected. Our ability to build and maintain trust isn’t confined to just our work lives. Our ability to build and maintain trust impacts us at nearly every level.

Why Trust?

Trust is a gift that we give other people, and it’s risky. No one can earn our trust. There are no guarantees that our trust will be well placed. There’s always the risk that we will be betrayed and we’ll need to cope with the consequences. Leaving our soft underbelly open to attack has its risks, but it also has its rewards.

Life is exhausting. The need to constantly defend ourselves from other people and unknown threats can wear us down. When we create sanctuaries, we can recharge. In a sanctuary, we can take the time to recharge without being on the lookout for the next threat. Sanctuaries are places that we trust to protect us against the evils of the outside world. People can be sanctuaries, too. You can have trust in people that is so powerful that you know you’ll be recharged every time you’re with them.

You can build and lead teams that feel like a joy to be a part of instead of always worrying about who is going to stab you in the back.

How to Build Trust?

I had the honor of spending time with some people in some of the darkest times of their lives, whether they were fighting their way back from addiction or standing in the middle of the wreck that once was their marriage. What I learned from these great people is that trust is hard to repair. Once the bond of trust has been broken, it takes a courageous person to trust again. Just as I explained in my review of The Fearless Organization that organizations can’t create total psychological safety but should create as much safety as possible, so, too, did these struggling individuals need to create as much safety as possible for the people in their lives.

It was during this time that I wrote a simple post, Building Trust: Meet, Renegotiate, Make. It’s a simple approach of making small commitments – that the other people in our lives will accept – and then meeting them or renegotiating them before they’re due to be completed. No doubt the author of Trustology would struggle with this approach given his insistence that trust can’t be earned. However, the point is not that you earn trust – after all, you can’t earn a gift, and trust is a gift. The point is that you create the conditions of perceived safety that allow people to give you the gift of trust again.

Trustology offers another approach to building trust, which can work in the context of larger teams and people that you don’t know well. People tend to trust people who are interested in them. If they ask about your children, your hobbies, your pets, then you believe they have your best interests at heart. As a result, you’ll be more likely to trust them. Therefore, the recommendation is that you be interested in other people’s lives.

The Three-Legged Stool

Trustology conceptualizes trust as a three-legged stool that is built upon integrity, competence, and compassion. Here, I struggle, because I don’t believe that the legs are quite right, and I’m afraid the stool will fall over.

Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace indicates that there are three kinds of trust: contractual (based on expectations), communications (based on authentic communications), and competence (based on skills or talents). There is obvious overlap in competence. However, contractual trust only loosely aligns to integrity, and compassion and communications don’t align at all.

Integrity is a big word. Not in terms of letters but in terms of its psychological weight. The morality and predictability of integrity are both challenging. As Jonathan Haidt explains in The Righteous Mind, what is moral for one isn’t moral for another. The foundations of morality are the same, but the way that one person prioritizes those foundations may be different than the next person, and that creates a difference of opinion about what is and isn’t moral.

Reiss, in speaking of the sixteen behavioral motivators in Who Am I?, acknowledges the challenges of predicting behavior when motivators are in conflict. At the end of the day, trust is our prediction about how someone will behave. We believe that our mental model for them is accurate enough to predict what will happen. (See Sources of Power for more on mental models.)

As a result, I can’t agree that integrity is the right word here. While contractual isn’t perfect either. because it implies a level of formality that isn’t right, its more accurately constrains the prediction of someone else’s behavior to something more manageable.

Compassion is a desirable virtue and one that I agree is critical to life. The ability to see others suffering and a desire to alleviate it is, I think, essential to our survival as a species. (See The Evolution of Cooperation and Spiritual Evolution for more on compassion and its importance in our evolution.) However, I’m not convinced that this is an essential component of trust.

Communication trust is admittedly on shaky ground, as it seems like a special case of commitment. It seems like it’s just that you’re agreeing to communicate on intervals or in the case of a problem. However, there’s a subtlety here. You expect the person you trust will communicate that there is a problem without having to be explicit. We’re more willing to delegate and trust others when we know that, if there’s a problem, they’ll come back and tell us that there’s a problem.

Ultimately, I feel like Trustology’s stool may be a little wobbly.

Cause, Participate, Allow

When we teach conflict resolution, we explain that everyone can have the role of participant, mediator, or observer. Problems, Trustology explains, can also place you in different roles:

  • Cause – You’re creating the problem
  • Participate – You’re a part of the problem (but you didn’t create it)
  • Allow – You’re allowing the problem to happen

When it comes to trust, it doesn’t matter what role you play in a problem. As long as you allow it, you can’t be trusted to prevent it.

Our Differences

In Trustology the authors assert that we go through four levels of social awareness:

  • Sandbox: Everyone thinks like me.
  • Awkward: No one thinks like me.
  • Enlightened: I think differently than others.
  • Wisdom: We all think differently, and that is good.

Young children aren’t capable of believing that others think differently than them. (See Mindreading for more.) This may transition to a belief that no one thinks like me and can be the source of great consternation – particularly in the teenage years. Our awareness – and perception – of others’ thinking can change two more times, from acknowledging the difference of thought to recognizing the value of different thinking.

I still struggle with balancing the good with how I think differently than others. My post Straddling Multiple Worlds exposes what I believe we all struggle with as we seek to keep our identities integrated. After all, we are all a part of multiple worlds that approach problems and think differently. I can acknowledge the value in thinking differently and, at the same time, yearn to have others who think more like me that I can connect with.

Maybe there’s an answer hidden in the pages of Trustology that will allow us all to think a bit more like one another – just enough to drive that connection – while remaining open to new opportunities. However, you’ll never know unless you read Trustology and see for yourself.

Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy, Revisited

It was October of 2013 when I wrote the post Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy. While the post is an anchor post, there are a few things that deserve some clarification. (If you’ve not read it yet, now would be a good time, since the rest of this post builds on what is there.)

First, I failed to adequately express that trust leads to perceived safety that allows vulnerability. It was one of the places where I had the curse of knowledge (see The Art of Explanation for more). To be vulnerable, we need to feel safe. This is the primary concern that I have about Amy Edmonson’s work as described in The Fearless Organization. The premise is that you can make a psychologically safe organization, and therefore everyone will be courageous and bring their whole selves. There are so many external factors that influence your feeling of safety that I can’t accept this conclusion. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t make our organizations more psychologically safe. I am saying I think it’s not enough. I believe that Brown’s work on helping individuals to be more whole themselves is also required. (See I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t), The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and Braving the Wilderness for more.)

Second, though the post explains that trust isn’t a single thing and that trust and trustworthiness are often confused, it doesn’t go far enough to explain the nuances of trust. Trust: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order goes further in explaining how the focus of trust can both be shaped and itself shape entire societies.

Third, in my discussion of vulnerability, there was an underlying current of appropriate vulnerability. But I never clearly articulated that, when it comes to psychological vulnerability, there are some who’ve not earned the right to hear your story. Vulnerability needs to be earned through trust built on the backs of smaller disclosures. John Gottman in The Science of Trust explains that there are bids for attention, and these bids make a big difference. The way we make ourselves vulnerable to others is with small bids for them to build trust. They’re an opportunity for us to take an appropriate risk to see if the other person is worthy of trust.

The Relationship Between Trust and Vulnerability

It’s a catch-22. You must have trust to be vulnerable. You must be vulnerable to build trust. From a single, causal perspective, there’s no good solution. One requires the other. The trick is that it’s a systems thinking problem, not direct line causality. We’re taught to think in a single-iteration causal kind of way. We’re not taught to think about things that influence success. (See The Halo Effect for more.) We fail to realize that we don’t have positive control, we have degrees of influence on the outcome. Trust leads to more vulnerability and vulnerability leads to more trust – in the general sense.

Systems thinking gives us the second part of the solution for this conundrum. Systems are iterative. They keep going, and the outputs feed back into the inputs. The language of systems thinking is stocks and flows. We have a storehouse (stock) of trust that can cause us to be more vulnerable (a flow), and the outcome of that vulnerability – when it’s honored – is greater trust. If you want to learn more about systems thinking, see Thinking in Systems: A Primer. Though The Fifth Discipline popularized the idea of systems thinking, Thinking in Systems is more complete coverage.

Bringing these concepts together is Gary Klein’s work about the mental models that we use to make decisions – including decisions like whether we should be vulnerable or not. What Klein discovered was that people build mental models in their heads. They simulate situations and decide on courses of actions based on those simulations. (See Seeing What Others Don’t and Sources of Power for more.)

When we make the decision to be vulnerable, we make that decision based on the probability that our vulnerability, and therefore trust, will be rewarded or we will be betrayed. The more that our trust is rewarded with a correct prediction – and we’re not betrayed – the more our model will predict that trust is the right answer.

Building Trust with Ourselves

An important aspect of trust is how we trust ourselves. The degree to which we trust ourselves influences how much we trust others and the degree of safety that we feel and therefore how willing we are to be vulnerable. Everyone has some degree of mistrust of themselves. Some trust themselves more and some less, but everyone has some level of doubt.

Like any form of trust, trust is contextual. You may trust yourself to get to work on time, but you may not trust yourself to forgo the chocolate cake for dessert. Your trust – or lack of trust – for yourself will influence how you trust others. It’s often been observed that we get the most frustrated with others for the things that we ourselves struggle with. Our goal is to increase trust with ourselves so that we don’t burden our trust of others with our lack of trust for ourselves.

Commitments

The way to build trust is to create and meet – or renegotiate – commitments. This applies to our relationships with others and with ourselves. If we find that we’re not meeting our commitments to ourselves, we’ll begin to trust ourselves less. (See Building Trust: Make, Renegotiate, Meet for more.) It may seem odd to be making commitments to ourselves, but we do it all the time – we just don’t do it formally.

We say, “I’ll take the trash out in the morning” or “I’ll find time for me (self-care) tomorrow.” When we don’t do these things, we reduce our self-trust. It’s natural to have some degree of forgetfulness, and that’s why self-acceptance is important. (See How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more on acceptance.) However, you can’t put all the cards in the acceptance basket. We must find ways to improve our ability to meet our commitments to ourselves (and to others as well).

For probably a decade now, I’ve had a reminder on my phone to take out the trash Wednesday at 6:30 AM. Generally speaking, I know I’ll be awake, and I know the trashmen don’t come until at least 8AM. The result is that I don’t have to worry about meeting my commitment to take the trash out. In fact, I don’t even make this commitment to myself anymore. It doesn’t even come up, because I’ve got a system to support it.

I don’t have a reminder system to support my self-care. However, with exceptions for temporary situations, I generally make time for self-care. I’ll forgo it to support a sick child or if I need to help a friend. However, since I typically meet the commitments that I make to myself, I’ve got more than enough acceptance to believe that I’ll resume my self-care soon. Often, I’ll renegotiate to “I’ll find some time for me (self-care) next week.” Given the level of trust I already have, it’s easy enough to accept the renegotiation.

Bad Commitments

I’ve worked with some friends who have struggled with a self-trust that is very low. Many have come from the depths of addiction and have made so many commitments to themselves about what they’ll abstain from – and they find they cannot – so they relapse. The most challenging issue isn’t that others have lost their trust of a friend or loved one impacted by the relapse. The most challenging issue is the fact that they’ve lost trust in themselves. They’ve developed learned helplessness, or they’ve lost their sense of control (or hope). (See The Hope Circuit for more.)

The climb out of this spot is long and hard. Twelve-step programs start by admitting there is a problem, admitting that the person is not capable of saving themselves, and, more importantly, that someone can. (See Why and How 12-Step Groups Work for more.) The first two steps seem like they’re tearing down the person’s sense of hope – and, to some extent, that’s true. They’re there to ensure that the person is ready to address their addiction. The third step externalizes the hope that things will get better. This transfers the weight of correcting the situation externally and allows the addict to focus on being themselves. By believing that someone or something else can help you, you can regain the hope you’ve lost.

For an addict to claim that they’re not going to relapse, without support, is wishful thinking. At the point that they’ve identified themselves as an addict, they’ve already demonstrated it doesn’t work. When they make that commitment, they’re making one they’ll miss – and further erode their trust. That’s one reason why addicts make commitments for the day. “Today, I won’t drink” is a powerful commitment. It is more likely to work, because it’s not forever. Even when there is a relapse, the addict can retain some level of trust, effectively saying, “Of the 365 commitments I’ve made not to drink over the last year, I’ve only missed the commitment twice.”

Still some commitments are bad commitments to make. Commitments made from reason – like New Year’s Resolutions – that must be carried out by our emotions and willpower aren’t the best choices. You can frame this from the point of view that our willpower is an exhaustible resource, which frequently fails when we’re tired or hungry, or from the idea that our emotions are in control. (See Willpower for more on willpower and The Happiness Hypothesis for the fact that our emotions are in control). Either way, making commitments to yourself that you’re likely to not meet won’t help to build self-trust.

Commitments and Trust

To proceed through trust, vulnerability, and intimacy, we must first practice with ourselves. We must trust ourselves – and that means meeting our commitments to ourselves, whether they’re made explicitly or implicitly. We must learn to accept ourselves and recognize and accept our vulnerability, because we’re all vulnerable in one way or another. All of this is so that we can know ourselves more and more. (For more on knowing ourselves, see my thoughts on integrated self-image in Rising Strong, Schools without Failure, Compelled to Control, and Beyond Boundaries. Also, see my thoughts on stable core in How to Be Yourself, Dialogue, and Resilient.)

Ultimately, as social creatures, we yearn for connection to others. To connect with others, we need to first connect with ourselves. The path that we use to find our way to others is one that we must first travel alone.

Step, Step, Click

I have never been in a literal mine field, and I’m not anxious to explore the opportunity. However, like all humans, I feel like sometimes I’m wandering around a field of emotional landmines. I can’t predict what will set someone else off – or what I can do about it. The truth is that others have the same experience with me. A well-intended comment can set me off if it touches a landmine from my past.

Landmines of the Past

Landmines are leftovers from long-forgotten hurts. It’s the time that you got yelled at, belittled, or felt shame. Those things, while buried underneath the usual pleasantries, are there just waiting to be stepped on, so that they can be unleashed.

We can, sometimes, diffuse or partially diffuse these situations. I know, for instance, that I react very negatively to stonewalling. (See The Science of Trust for more on what stonewalling is.) I react when people suggest that others need to be on anti-depressants for the rest of their lives. (See Choice Theory for more of my views on this.) Both examples are despite a great deal of work and earnest attempts to mitigate the response.

I’ve addressed the obvious ways that these reactions surface. It’s not like I don’t know I’m sensitized to stonewalling. It’s that I don’t realize situations that will set off a reaction. Our children being coy about what they’re doing or who they’re going out with can set it off – though not so much anymore. It seems like every few months there’s a new dimension of hurt that I didn’t quite address.

Flags on the Landmines

The first step to preventing an explosion in yourself is to know clearly where the landmines are. Clearly, I’ve managed to locate a few of mine. I know, at least to some degree, what some of my landmines are. Discovering your emotional landmines isn’t easy, but it does require some honest assessment of your previous responses. The easiest way to find landmines is by looking at the craters that they create.

When was the last time you flew off the handle or lost control? Those are your clues for where the landmines may be. The more challenging step is trying to identify what in the situation set you off. We’ve all been told we’re stupid – but what about that situation was different? We’ve all been subjected to unrealistic expectations, but why did this circumstance cause you to blow your stack?

To find the exact location of the landmine – so we can mark it and be careful about avoiding it – we must move from the generic to the specific. We’ve got to find similar situations where we didn’t get triggered. The funny thing about emotional landmines is that they generally have a very narrow exposure pattern. It takes something very similar to the original hurt to set them off. If you feel like you’re getting triggered by many things, then perhaps you’re not dealing with one emotional landmine but several.

Waning Willpower

To find the key characteristics that triggered us and separate them from those that aren’t important, we have to recognize the distorting influence that our willpower can have. It’s quite possible that you were fuming underneath your breath because you were triggered by something, but at that particular moment, your willpower was high, and therefore your ability to control yourself was more than enough. While it’s great that you maintained your cool, it’s important to recognize that you won’t always have a high degree of willpower.

Willpower is an exhaustible – and replenishable – resource. You’ll naturally have more sometimes and less others. In our quest to find triggers, we can’t ignore that sometimes someone will step on an emotional landmine, and you’ll contain it with your willpower. Other times, even getting near the landmine will set it off, because you have precious little willpower left. (See Willpower for more.)

You can’t eliminate yourself and your level of willpower when trying to differentiate between the times when you were triggered and lost it and those where you did not. It’s entirely possible that the only difference was willpower – and you can’t always depend on willpower.

Disarming Landmines

The beautiful thing about identifying landmines specifically is that you can sometimes go back and work through the hurt that created the landmine in the first place. If you’re sensitive to stonewalling – like I am – you can work on revisiting the situations that created this sensitivity and recharacterizing them or seeking to better understand them.

Albert Bandura became famous with his work to desensitize patients of their phobias. (See Moral Disengagement for more of his work.) He’d take someone with a paralyzing fear and progressively move them through greater and greater degrees of safe exposure to the thing that they were afraid of. We can use the same approach with our emotional landmines. We find safe ways to explore the space that would historically set us off.

Safety

The difficult part is to understand how to be safe as we’re dealing with sensitive issues. Often, we find ourselves reliving parts of our lives where we were vulnerable, and people took advantage of us. We find ourselves temporarily trapped in our former selves. This can be a scary experience. However, the truth is that we know we’ll make it out of the situation – because we already have.

Safety, we find, is a perception. It’s not reality. We feel safe driving our cars and unsafe on an airplane, but statistically speaking, our car is a substantially riskier activity. As we’re dealing with landmines, we want to place ourselves in circumstances and surroundings that are most likely to create the perception of safety. It’s the safety that will allow us to get closer to the original fear or hurt that created the landmine, so we can remove it.

Other’s Landmines

While we may not be able to anticipate others’ landmines, we can create safety for them, so that they can have a greater chance of dealing with their landmines – and prevent us from getting caught up in it.

Book Review-An Appeal to the World: The Way to Peace in a Time of Division

I’m no stranger to the Dalai Lama’s writings and conversations. An Appeal to the World: The Way of Peace in a Time of Division didn’t fundamentally shift my understanding of his point of view. However, it did give me a chance to reflect on some of the positions that I’ve observed through his writings.

This is a short book. It is only 128 pages in its printed form. As a result, there isn’t much to say – nor many notes from me to pull from in writing this review. The good news is if you’re looking for a quick read to understand the Dalai Lama’s position on peace in general, this can be a place to start

Internal Peace

You cannot give what you do not have. It’s a simple axiom. It stands to reason, then, that if you want to give the world peace, then you have to have peace yourself. We’ll never convince our world to resolve its differences if we can’t resolve our differences with other people. We can’t hope to find forgiveness and acceptance if we’re not willing to practice it ourselves.

To create peace in the world, we need to first create peace in ourselves. We must learn to let go of anger and hate. We need to learn how to cultivate understanding, acceptance, and compassion.

The Path to Peace

Finding world peace has become a cliché that’s used in movies and pop culture to represent an unobtainable goal. On a personal level, many people believe that they’ve got a pathway to peace. They believe that they have figured out the one answer to inner peace.

In a sense, I’m sure they have. They’ve figured out their way to their inner peace. They’ve found the perfect recipe that leads them to calm. However, if you’ve ever been to a chili cookoff, you probably know there is more than one path to great food, and the same is the case with inner peace.

Just like there are some common ingredients in chili – no matter what the recipe – there are some common components in the cultivation of inner peace.

  • Patience – The patience to accept that not everything happens in the present moment.
  • Detachment – Recognizing the impermanence of life and how everything has a time – and how we don’t control outcomes, we only influence them.
  • Acceptance – Reality is what it is. People are who they are. We’re not going to directly change those facts, and to attempt to do so denies the fundamental reality of the world.
  • Empathy – Our ability to connect with others is hard-wired into us. When we “understand this about you,” we connect with others and align more fully to the way we are created.
  • Compassion – Compassion is a desire to alleviate the suffering of another, which, obviously, requires empathy. But it goes further and recognizes that we’ve become the dominant life form on the planet by helping each other.

The techniques that are used to include these ingredients together may be meditation or something else, but these components make up the core of any good path towards inner peace.

Our Better Selves

If the goal is greater world peace, and that comes through greater inner peace, then all that is left is how to cultivate that in everyone. The list above are a set of characteristics or states that lead to peace in each of us. However, what are the paths to these?

In most of the world – particularly the Western world – education is focused on the technical, logical, and rational endeavors of the mind. While we recognize that we’re an embodied cognition that includes both rational and emotional components, for the most part, we train and skill ourselves in only those things which we can touch and measure.

That’s why the Dalai Lama suggests that we need education of the heart.

Education of the heart

So, what is education of the heart? What is it that we’d teach? A list from the book appears below – with my descriptions:

  • Love – Most of the time, it appears that the intent is loving kindness, or the Greek word agape used for God’s love or universal love. Love comes naturally to humans, but in many people, it is snuffed out or reduced to embers that don’t resemble the burning fire that we start with.
  • Compassion – As mentioned above, this is the desire to alleviate someone else’s suffering. At times, the Dalai Lama has appeared to use the words love and compassion interchangeably.
  • Justice – What is right for everyone isn’t always easy to see. Learn to see another’s point of view and accept a need to find a solution for all.
  • Forgiveness – This is letting go of the hurt that someone has caused you; without allowing it to continue is essential to prevent the escalation of violence.
  • Carefulness – Here, I might use the word “mindfulness.” It’s simply paying attention to what you’re doing and caring how that would impact others.
  • Tolerance – Another word might be “acceptance.” Allowing other people to be who they are if they’re not harming you.
  • Peace – Not a singular thing but a set of things that result in an undisturbed mind.

You can’t test the results of education of the heart with a standardized test. You don’t ever arrive at completion, but perhaps if we can educate the heart, we can answer the Dalai Lama’s Appeal to the World.

Book Review-A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World

If you start a list of the people who are the most concerned with the welfare of everyone on our planet, names like Mother Theresa, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the Dalai Lama are certain to make the list. In A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World, we get a deeper look into what the world might be like if the Dalai Lama got what he believes is best for us.

Our Responsibility

The vision starts with our responsibility to our fellow humans and to the fragile planet on which we live. Historically, we might have been able to delude ourselves into the belief that we are not all connected to one another. We could believe that our actions didn’t impact others and theirs didn’t impact us. However, in the last century, we’ve conquered travel and communications and made remote destruction all the more possible. We’ve learned about our delicate ecosystems and how changes in one part of the planet have ripple effects everywhere else.

Despite the reality of our world today, we continue to believe that we’re the center of the universe. The sun and universe don’t just revolve around the Earth but around me personally – or so we think. The self-centered, ego-centric view isn’t new or unexpected, but it is harmful. Through self-reflection and developing compassion for our fellow man, we can break the bonds that have us all – to one degree or another – thinking first from ourselves and then to others.

In the Evolution of Cooperation, Robert Axelrod demonstrates how, historically, cooperation tended towards better results. A Force for Good speaks of the research of Kiley Hamlin. Children show an affinity for shapes that “helped” other shapes in a simple movie; even before their second year, they’ll show generosity.

So, while there’s a natural tendency towards self-centeredness, there is a counter-balancing force towards cooperation, collaboration, compassion, and even altruism.

Thinking About Feelings

One of my all-time favorite learnings is the idea that anger is disappointment directed. Why is this such a pivotal learning? It’s simple. Anger is a frightening emotion that many have been told isn’t safe or acceptable. (See How Emotions Are Made for some thoughts on the emotion itself.) However, converting anger to disappointment makes it safer. It’s safer to deal with disappointment than anger, because it’s not so burdened by the judgements that others layer upon it.

When teaching conflict resolution, the idea that anger is disappointment directed is always at the core, because it allows people to convert anger into something that they can process. They can assess who they’re disappointed in – whether that’s someone else or themselves. Further, they can evaluate whether the disappointment is realistic or not.

Basically, the transition here is the ability to think through a feeling to understand how it is formed. It’s not that any emotion is bad. It’s only that we gain the ability to contemplate our feelings when we have a framework for taking them apart and examining them.

We are encouraged to review our wisdom and our hidden assumptions; however, as a part of our path towards an integrated self-image (see Rising Strong part 1 and Beyond Boundaries for more on having an integrated self-image), I believe we should also consider examining our emotions to understand them – but not necessarily to change them. I mentioned in my review of The Book of Joy that it’s relatively easy to address perspectives, and this can lead to changing emotions.

Destructive Anger

In Destructive Emotions, there is a long discussion about the possibility of afflictive (destructive) compassion and non-afflictive (non-destructive) anger. The conversation includes the Dalai Lama saying that anger (translated from khongdro) is, by definition, afflictive. The example given is anger at someone who isn’t listening to you, yelling out to them to stop – because they’re about to harm themselves by walking off a cliff.

I think that here, I believe there are multiple things going on – as the discussion in the book says. I believe that there is a compassion to help the other person, which is good. I think there is then also an anger at yourself for being unable to stop the harm. Let me unpack that a bit. So, there’s a belief that your yelling out to them has the capacity to impact the outcome. You expect that it will. When you fail to be effective, you’re disappointed at your lack of efficacy and therefore angry – at yourself. This anger is then displaced to the other party, because your ego thinks it silly to be angry at yourself when you’re demonstrating compassion. Here, we get to anger through compassion – but not really. We get to anger through the gap between our expectations of our power to change others and the inability to accomplish that.

It is possible that the Dalai Lama is right that there is no anger that is non-afflictive; however, I do believe that sometimes it’s necessary to cause action and provide the energy necessary to make change happen.

Buddhism – Religion or Philosophy

In an interesting turn for the religious leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama seemed unconcerned as to whether others considered Buddhism a religion or a philosophy. “If,” he concluded, “you consider Buddha as a buddha, okay. But if you consider him a philosopher, a teacher, a social theorist, or a scientist—that’s okay too.” In The Book of Joy, the Dalai Lama commends on Gandhi’s response when asked if he was a Hindu: “Yes I am. I am also a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, and a Jew.” The book finishes with, “We were looking for human truth, and we would drink from the cup of wisdom from whatever source it came.”

For me, it’s easier to accept Buddha as a philosopher and a teacher. It’s easier to see him as someone who struggled through his thoughts to find a path that was better than those around him.

Compassion and Burnout

The Dalai Lama has some of the best conversations with folks. He gets to have conversations with leading scientists and luminaries who study our inner states through modern technology and time-honored meditative practices. A focus of his has been the development of compassion, both personally and for the entire world.

Compassion and burnout seem miles apart. Compassion is about a desire to alleviate the suffering of others, and burnout is the experience of having been consumed, to be depleted of resources. It intuitively makes no sense that a desire to help others – and, presumably, expend additional effort to reach that goal – could possibly insulate and protect someone from the effects of burnout. Despite this distance and lack of intuitive sense, it appears possible that the very contemplative development of compassion may have some role in protecting individuals from burnout.

Transparency and Trust

There is a degree of trust in the development of compassion. We trust that our fellow human beings are basically good, and that we have the capacity to help them. However, trust is contextual (See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy for more.) We trust some people more than others and some situations more than others. Trust takes a long time to develop – and can develop with different loci among different groups (see Trust: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order for more). One of the catalysts for the generation of trust is transparency.

Ironically, the development of trust is triggered by very little need for it. The more transparent your dealings with others, the less they need to trust you and the more, over time, their trust grows. Think about this from the point of view of compounding interest. If, in your first encounter, you consume only a small portion of the trust that someone is willing to grant you, that trust remains in their bank account for you accruing interest. The less trust you consume, the more is available – and over time, the buildup of trust can be quite large.

This may account for the positive effects seen for long term friends and acquaintances. (See The Deep Water of Affinity Groups for more on this.)

Positive Other, Positive You

An interesting pattern that was offered for dealing with conflict involves a confrontation between Mike Tyson – the boxer – and a philosophy chair. Told to stop by the philosophy chair, Tyson asked if he knew who he was. The response was to acknowledge Tyson’s preeminence in the world of boxing and to then indicate his high status as a philosophy chair. The interaction is interesting because of its ability to diffuse conflict.

I’d venture to say that, having acknowledged the status (and worth) of Tyson, he had little need to prove what was already known – a fight between Tyson and a philosophy chair isn’t a fight, it’s a beating. Instead, Tyson could be curious as to what would make a philosophy chair be willing to put himself in danger. Curiosity, then, could create the space for conversation.

Ten Thousand Year Death Rate

Would you say that we’re living in the most peaceful or most violent times? If you look back into the past and look at the death rate due to human-on-human violence, you find the rate to be somewhere between one in five to one in ten deaths about ten thousand years ago. Today, the death rate seems to be about one in one hundred forty people die by human-on-human violence. So, in the long arc of time, we’re hurting each other less – even if we’ve got better media now to recount all of the human-on-human violence. Even if we account for all the world wars and the conflicts across the world, we’re still better off today than we were ten thousand years ago.

If you reflect upon your life and the forces that you apply to the world around you, do you view them – in summary – as good or bad? Are you leaving the world better than you found it, or worse? If your trajectory isn’t what you want it to be, then perhaps it’s worth taking a look at the Dalai Lama’s vision for our world in A Force for Good.

Book Review-Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder

Sometimes a story of burnout is actually a story of resilience from burnout. Though Arianna Huffington describes her literal collapse and resulting injuries as a mixture of burnout and exhaustion, from the outside, it seems like just exhaustion, not burnout. That’s the opening context for the transformation that led Huffington to write Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder. The first two metrics are money (wealth) and power. They’re the temple guards of our society and have been with us for what seems like eternity.

What’s Wrong with Wealth and Power

Before getting to Huffington’s new metric, it’s important to acknowledge why it’s even needed in the first place. After all, wealth and power have faithfully served our society for years. The problem is the one that was popularized by Daniel Kahneman in his research in Thinking, Fast and Slow. One problem is that is there never enough wealth and power; the more you have of it, the less it makes you happier. A ten thousand dollar a year raise when you’re making twenty thousand is a big deal. When you’re making two million, ten thousand dollars doesn’t seem like much.

More than that, the pursuit of these two leads us away from caring about others. You’ve heard the saying, “It’s lonely at the top.” That’s not just because there aren’t many people vying for the top spot. In the process of climbing to the peak of wealth and power, you’ve had to let go of friends and colleagues who just can’t make it. To pursue the gods of wealth and power, you have to let go of relationships and people.

Status Report

If we were to build a balanced scorecard or dashboard for humanity, we might not like the numbers. Our quality of life is on the decline. 40 percent of American workers leave vacation days unused. We deprive ourselves of sleep to the detriment of our emotional intelligence, self-regard, assertiveness, sense of independence, empathy towards others, and more. Individuals rate themselves as more stressed out than ever before – a 10 to 30 percent increase from 1983 to 2009. It’s estimated that 60 to 90 percent of doctor visits are a result of stress-related conditions. Depression in children has increased fivefold from 1930 to 2010.

The list of statistics about how we’re killing ourselves through our fixation on our society and the trappings of our world goes on and on. Not just in Thrive but in other sources as well. Our gross domestic product may be going up, but our quality of life doesn’t seem to be. Something is getting in the way of our well-being.

Burnout as a Cause

I came to Thrive because of work Terri and I are doing to extinguish burnout. In a room of professionals, we ask, “How many of you feel like you’re in some degree of burnout right now?” Some hands shoot up, indicating the severity of their condition, and others slink sheepishly up next to the person’s head, expressing the shame they feel. In the end, somewhere around 20% of the room has raised their hand. When we ask the second question, “How many of you have ever been in some degree of burnout?” nearly every hand is raised. Burnout has become accepted as a thing that happens to you when you work.

Burnout occurs when you feel as if you’re no longer effective. The result is cynicism and exhaustion. However, exhaustion, like in Huffington’s case, isn’t always caused by burnout. Sometimes exhaustion is literally that your body can’t continue. Similarly, while burnout has been statistically linked to later depression, there are many causes of depression other than burnout.

So, while burnout is likely a factor in the decline of our wellbeing, it’s likely not the only cause.

Huffington’s Incident

It’s only fair that I share my disagreement about whether burnout was the cause of Huffington’s incident. She describes it as a mixture of exhaustion and burnout, where I’d say it was only exhaustion that drove the collapse. Burnout tends to cause you to feel exhausted before your body actually collapses. Burnout is like the thinking that the human body can’t run a four-minute mile, with the belief in place that no one could. Once the belief is removed, suddenly many people begin to run a four-minute mile. Burnout causes you to stop trying from exhaustion, not collapse.

Certainly, I’m on shaky ground to disagree with someone about their experience. However, I’d say that burnout was the specter that Huffington was avoiding. Burnout is feared and avoided – and, at least before this incident, quite successfully. In no way am I trying to minimize the result either the pain from the collapse or the benefit to the world of the renewed perspective on what’s important. I only am careful to develop and maintain clarity around what burnout is so that others can find their way out of it.

Burnout’s Cost

It’s tragic to go to school to be a doctor only to become one and realize that it’s not what you thought it was. A decade or two of a life is lost in the pursuit of a rainbow that seems to move every time you get close to it. If you view burnout as the gap between what you expect and what you believe you’re actually doing, it’s easy to see how physicians get burnt out. Most physicians become physicians to make a difference in the world, to help people be healthier. However, they spend too much time with paperwork. They encounter patients who won’t follow the instructions that will make them healthier.

The day-after-day appointments are monotonous. Physicians don’t see positive results, because the patients don’t come back to tell their doctor, “Thanks, I’m all better now.” The only feedback that physicians get is negative, when the patient says, “That didn’t help.” The systemic message being sent to physicians is that they’re not saving the world, and they’re not even making a difference.

The gap between their expectations of themselves – or maybe their aspirations – and reality are a hard load to bear, and too many are crushed under its weight. The result is hundreds of thousands of dollars in schooling and effort are thrown in the trash bin, as the physicians find another career that doesn’t involve their soul getting crushed every day. Society loses good physicians, and they spend the rest of their lives trying to get out of debt.

Self-Care

One of the largest gaps in our behaviors that lead to burnout is simple. It’s the absolute insistence on taking time for self-care. This isn’t just time for oneself to watch a TV show – though it can be. It’s about finding time for the activities that both physically and mentally prepare you to be stronger. Physically, it can be managing diet, proper hydration, or enough sleep. In fact, proper sleep can improve professional athletic performance – so it follows it should help the rest of us, too. Mentally, it can be meditation, yoga, or simply peacefully wandering through the woods. In our overcommitted world, we all too often refuse to protect our time and insist that the time we need for us is not a nice-to-have but a necessity.

This often comes from our awareness that we can survive without a little bit of self-care for a while. We know our own needs and our own capacities better than other people, so we can evaluate and say that we are capable of the sacrifice – however, we don’t know if someone else might be more capable, or if the value someone will get from our sacrifice will be worth it. The trap is that we often forget that we’re agreeing to make a short-term sacrifice, and we continue to sacrifice self-care for too long. Sometimes, the most positive thing we can do is take care of ourselves.

Positive Thinking

Positive thinking can help insulate us from the momentary hiccups in our lives. Barbara Fredrickson aptly focuses on this in her book Positivity, which describes not only the benefits of positive thinking but the ratio of positive to negative thoughts in terms of our wellbeing. These must be honest positive thoughts, not Pollyanna thoughts that aren’t the truth. However, when you can honestly say that you’re having three positive thoughts for every one negative thought, good things seem to follow in your life.

For most folks, it’s hard to consider the number of positive thoughts we’re having compared to the negative ones. It’s not something that’s easy to measure – unless you have someone willing to interrupt you randomly and ask you whether you’re thinking positively or negatively. Many professionals struggle to understand their feelings. Most of us grew up in homes where feelings weren’t talked about much or weren’t safe. We were told that we should bring our emotions to work. However, more and more we’re seeing that we need to remain integrated with both our thinking and our feeling

Having an Emotional Relationship with Ourselves

My favorite mental model of all time is the Rider-Elephant-Path model (see Switch and The Happiness Hypothesis for more). Fundamentally, it’s the same as Daniel Kahneman’s System 1 and System 2 thinking from Thinking, Fast and Slow. The model has our rationality as the rider sitting on top of a large emotional elephant – who is the real one in charge. This is powerful in its own right; however, there’s a subtlety about the relationship between our rationality and our emotions that is easy to miss. We don’t often think much about the relationship between our rational brain and our emotions.

When our rationality trusts “our gut,” there’s a respect for our emotions; similarly, when our emotions can be calmed easily by self-talk, our emotions respect our rationality. Another way to think of this is that our emotional parts trust the relationship with the rational parts and are willing to remain “comfortably uncomfortable.”

The more that we can create this trust, the more we move towards the opportunity to thrive in a whole and fulfilling way.

Leisure and Working Classes

Something’s upside down. The so called “leisure class,” those who have more money and resources, are working longer hours and taking less time for leisure than the so called “working class.” In the pursuit of money, power, and just stuff, the leisure class is literally killing themselves by working so hard. They’re filled with stress and turmoil that the working class doesn’t have.

The heart of this inversion is the lack of need by the “working class” to prove their power or status, and, as a result, they don’t stress over it. Certainly, there is a portion of this group of people who are living hand-to-mouth who have other stresses, but, by and large, the “working class” isn’t working as much, and they’re not staying in such constant stress.

Managing Stress

Stress is a useful biological technique that us humans have coopted for purposes it wasn’t designed for. Instead of the momentary stress of a lion in the plains of Africa, we have the constant looming of our businesses failing, failing to pay our mortgage, and that impending fight with our family. It would be difficult to overstate the potential negative impacts of stress in our lives. I’ve written a three-part summary of Robert Sapolsky’s book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers that covers the physical impacts, the psychological and neurological impacts, and the causes and cures. The shortest version is that it’s very bad. (Profound, eh?)

The trick to stress, however, isn’t the stress itself but how we manage the stressors. That is, how we manage our response. By choosing our response to the stressors that do have to happen to us so that they’re less impactful and by working on strategies to minimize the number of stressors in our lives, we can dramatically reduce the amount of felt stress that we have.

Because stress is our adaptation of an evolutionary trick that we’ve coopted, we can change the way that we view it – and eliminate (or reduce) the negative long-term impacts.

Learning Compassion

At the heart of learning to thrive is our ability to cultivate compassion for our fellow man. Compassion isn’t an emotion nor a fixed quantity. We have it in our capacity to enhance our compassion for others. It’s in this ability to enhance our compassion for others that we make it possible for us to truly thrive beyond the traditional measures of wealth and status. Don’t you want to learn how to Thrive?