36 posts categorized "Change" Feed

Your life is written by the choices you make: Thoughts provoked by Hamilton the Musical

Recently my daughter and I went to see Hamilton musical. When it first came out and took the nation by storm, I read the biography that reportedly inspired the production and I loved it. I was struck by a lot of things that struck me as relevant to our day and age.

Screen Shot 2020-02-13 at 10.21.56 AMSo many parallels between politics back then and politics today.  But something struck me in the production that I've been chewing over since I heard it.

Warning: If somehow you don't know the story there is a spoiler about to follow.

Aaron Burr is played by Jared Dixon (who in the opinions of my daughter and myself stole the show). At the end of the show Burr laments that despite whatever else he had done or would do in his life, he would be remembered for the killing of Hamilton. He sings something to the effect of, "Now, I'll just be the bad guy in your history books."

I've been chewing on that line. Because I think it can be true. There are things that we do that will forever color whatever legacy we leave to those who come behind.


I believe that no matter what has happened change is possible. I believe that you can overcome your past.

Is it just me or do those statements seem contradictory to you? At first blush, they do to me.

But, I think one of the keys to a healthy emotionally life is the ability to hold two thoughts in tension.  And these two thoughts may be held in the highest tension.

Because, some readers of this will either already have made or will make in the future an epic screw-up. They'll do something that will shadow whatever else they do.

Except to the people that know them, really know them after the screw-up. For those people, the legacy will change. The mistake will become a footnote.

Because change is possible. Mistakes can be forgiven and made right.

My daughter asked me what I thought about the musical and I told her that I loved it because I believe there are only two stories ever told; stories of brokenness and stories of redemption. Sometimes, both brokenness and redemption are weaved throughout the story.

To me, that is what makes Hamilton so profound. It tells the story of brokenness and redemption. It shows the messiness that is life.

So to you, my friend and reader I want to offer some encouragement. Your life may be messy. It may be full of regrets. It may be marred by a mistake on a grand scale.

But those things are not the totality of your story. They are not the whole of you. You can leave a legacy of whatever you want to leave.

That legacy will be determined by the decisions you make moving forward from today.

Your story will be told by the decisions you make. Maybe your story will be one of overcoming self-inflicted brokenness or maybe your story will be one of overcoming the pain inflicted by others.

Whatever the situation, you can write your way out by the life you choose to live moving forward.

A simple life-hack to be happier

I live in the North. And it's January. In the North in January, there isn't a lot of sunshine. And a lot of people feel that they are more depressed in the winter at least in part because of that reality.

You leave the house and it's dark.

You leave work and it's dark. IMG_6AEE441FE63F-1

It can feel like you shuttle from one place to another in the dark. It's depressing. And certainly, we have good science to suggest that is true. We have copious amounts of research to suggest that there is a direct link between lack of sunshine and increased depression rates.

So what do we do about it? Well, there is truly a simple hack that research suggest will help us to be happier and more content. As a side note, I believe that happiness can only be a bi-product of contentment.  Most research suggests that people have the same types of interactions throughout the day.  The optimist (happy person) and the  pessimist (less happy person) tend to have the same types of things happen to them throughout a day, week, month and year.

The optimist just has a brain that seeks out the positives over the negatives. I know this sounds overly simplistic, but the research is almost overwhelming. For a quick introduction to this idea, read Adam Grant's book, Originals.

What does this mean for us and happiness? Well, there is another guy named, Shawn Achor who tells us that we can train our brain. You can watch one of my favorite presentations by him here.

How do we train our brain? Force it to look for the positive things in your day. Force your brain to seek out things to be thankful for in a day.

Every. Day.

That's it. It's an incredibly simple hack that once developed can help you be more content and more happy. It can lower levels of depression and some studies even suggest it can help reduce levels of anxiety and depression. 

Take five minutes each night and write our three things that happened that day that you're thankful for from that day. Yes, you can do it the next day but most people who stick with the night time routine do it longer. Over time, your brain will start to look for the good in the day and this will have definitive impact on your outlook for the day.

Change your outlook on enough days, and eventually your will change your outlook on the world and your life.

The evil that is in the world will still be there. I'm a mental health counselor and I see the victims of that evil regularly.

The stupid that is in the world will still be there.

The hard that is in the world will still be there.

But and that but is so big it belongs on a Kardashian Instagram page, if we train out brain to see the positive and good things in the world we can transcend those others increasing our ability to impact our own circles.

How do we develop our feelings?

If I asked you how a person came to feelings, you would probably believe that the following steps are the process for how we go from an event to a feeling is something like this:

  1. Something happens
  2. I have a belief about what happened.
  3. I have an emotional reaction (a feeling or emotion) to what happened.

But there is an inherent problem in this idea. If this is actually the way that we get to an emotion, the only way we can change our emotions is to change what happened. This is problematic because often the things that happen in our life are often on our square and not on our circle. 

The process actually goes something more like this:

  1. Something happens.
  2. I have a belief about what happened.
  3. I have an emotional reaction to what I believe about what happened.   Foal-Bucolic-Horse-Prairie-Eat-Field-Flowers-3644868

In order to change our emotions, we have to change what we believe about what happened. The beauty of this is that we 100% control our beliefs because beliefs are a result of our thinking. For more on that, see my post regarding the circle and the square here.

So often we under value the impact our beliefs about a situation have on our feelings and emotions.  Albert Ellis is, of course, famous for his thoughts and writings on these types of issues.

Think of the young mother who is yelling at her children. If asked almost immediately after the event, she will tell you that she didn't mean to yell or that she feels terrible for yelling.
So why did she yell?

The answer is not because her children were being disrespectful.

The answer is actually (typically) what she believes their disrespect means about her life. When interviewed, most parents state things about what they think their child's behavior means about them. 

They're a bad parent, or at least other people will think that they are a bad parent is the most common thought.

They can't control their children (or other people...).

They're just frustrated because it shouldn't be this hard. But who determines how hard something should be?

So what does this mean for us? 

Well, the next time you're frustrated or angry about something, ask yourself what you believe about what is happening. Then ask yourself what you could change about what you believe. 

How might you help the parent in the above example change what they believe about what is happening?                                                                

Who are you? An excerpt from the book that I am working on.

Welcome to my return to blogging. I'm going to start with an excerpt from my next book. My intention is to have a post every week. I am not sure of which day that will be and there will be another day each week where I highlight a media post from either my YouTube channel or my Podcasts. It has been said that blogging is dead but I am uncertain how else word can be shared effectively with people across a wide spectrum of locations. Feel free to subscribe at the boScreen Shot 2019-09-05 at 2.02.55 PMttom of this webpage, which it reads subscribe.  See picture to the right.

Enjoy: (this post is approximately a 6 minute read)



My next book is about the story in our head and how it shapes our view of our world. Below is an excerpt.

Who are you?
Who are you? Take a few moments and compose your answer. What did you say? Did you talk about your job? Your children, your spouse? How much of it revolved around what you do? How much ran through your mind that you didn’t actually say or put down? Did you think something and then think you needed to add the words, “I try to be…” in front it? Did you think something and negate it because that’s what other people do?
Whenever I ask people this question, I can watch their face as they edit their response. Somewhere between their cognitive thoughts on the answer and their actual answer there is a roadblock that acts as a filter. It stops them from moving the answer out into space. They don’t speak it because there is a voice that tells them it’s false. This voice creates tension and the tension gives birth to fear.
The fear shuts it down.
And sometimes, perhaps most of the time, the fear gives birth to the negative narrative running just inside fence of our cognitive home. Then your answer becomes filled with all of the things you’re not. It begins to moan and scream about the things you can’t do, the things you tied and failed at doing. It might whisper about the things you want to do but assume you’re too poorly equipped to accomplish. It might flaunt your past as proof of your future failures. Suddenly, out of nowhere comes that time in the third grade where you did that thing and all those people laughed at you.
The pain becomes almost visceral. So you shut it all down and go with the safe answers about who you are. You just put the things out there with the least amount of risk. And the next time you ponder who are you, you have another chapter in the story to remind you of who you are not.
That’s the power of the story in your head. To actually live the life you want to live, to be fully alive you have to deal with that story and it is often a tempest that buffets you like a spring storm coming off the coast to swallow up towns and destroy homes.
The story creates meaning.
And what could have higher stakes than the meaning we attach to our own identity?
This is why so many people engage in false identity building destructive behaviors. Think about the bully for a moment? What are they really doing? Most of the time, they are trying to soothe the pain in their own soul by imitating others. The bully is trying to create a story in his head that says he’s safe or that he’s strong enough to keep himself safe. She might be trying to create a story that details how she has worth. None of these false flag attempts at story building justify the actions of a bully but they can give us insight.
No matter how you answer, the words are first filtered by the story in your head. Do a a little exercise for me, take out a sheet of paper and write the words, “I am…” now just start filling in all the things that pop into your mind. No matter what it is, just write it down. Write down the name your Uncle called you when you were eight. Write down the name that boy called you in college, when you refused to sleep with him. Write down that thing your drunk parent said that one night all those years ago. Write down all the terrible, horrible things your ex said to you before, during and after the divorce.
You’re a slut.
You’re just like your dad…
You’re such a judgmental asshole.
You’re a goody two shoes.
You’re useless.
You’re a failure
You’re a nerd.
You’re a jock.
You’re a loser.
You’re too fat.
You’re too skinny.
You’re just a girl.
You’re a stupid boy.
You’re too emotional.
The list usually goes on and on, especially when we talk about the negative things. In fact, about thirty years ago as a society we decided to try to combat this story by writing a fictional one on the hearts and minds of each student, child in our country. We did it from a good place. We figured if it was wrong when it came out of our mouth, it would be right enough that we would build a new story in our children’s heads. We’d create a new narrative that could filter the bad one out.
We made everyone winners. No one was left out. We tried to artificially improve self esteem by creating a fictional story that everyone can win. There’s a problem with that story; our hearts know it isn’t accurate. Our hearts now that there has to be a greater framework for our own story. We inherently know that we can’t be given a good story. We have to earn it.
We have to create it. We have to struggle with it. We have to craft it. And someone “giving” us a good story doesn’t actually do much to change the running narrative in our head.
The problem is that the voice in our head is often working to discount any and all of the positives running through our story. My daughter works for our company. She does an amazing job. She occasionally makes mistakes. She freely told me one time that she wonders how the other employees look at her. Do they discount her work because she’s the owner’s daughter. Do they look down on her because of her place in life.
The attack on our good story can be devastating.
Let me put it another way. Why do you wear the clothes you wear? Why do you choose to wear some and not others? How many of your clothing choices are because of what you hope they make you look like? Until you see a picture? Then your story gets loud and boisterous again.
It’s not to say that we don’t have good stories that run through our head. When I asked the “You are…” question from earlier in the chapter on facebook, I had people respond with postive answers. In person, when I drill down on the positive stories running through someone’s head, it usually starts with someone having told them the story.
In other words, the voice in our head that tells us the story usually takes the form of other people’s voice. Given the power the story in our head has, that should al least give us a moment or ten to pause and consider what voices we’re letting talk to us. It should cause us to stop and really consider what narrative we’re creating in other people’s minds.
Our story in our head creates the frame work that we use to see the whole world. It gives meaning to everything. Even down to colors. What color is your shirt? Why is it that color? Most of the time when I ask this question to people, they look at me like I’m a little off. They say something to the effect, “well, because that’s the color it was made at the factory.” To which, I almost always reply, “No, why is that shade blue?”
Eventually, they look at me and say, “Oh! Because we agree as a society that is what we call it.” Which is true. The answer just skips a step. We first interpret the shade that we see and story in our head tells us that society calls it blue and I want to fit into society so I’ll call it blue as well. You and I could decide to call it bajunga, and completely make up a word or we could choose to call blue, red and completely change the process.
Let’s take a look at made up words for a moment. How many made up words do you have for different things? I’ve lived in many different parts of the country. Where I grew up, some people would tell you something “was all…” What does that mean? To those people, it meant it was all gone. Now you might be laughing but I assure you that my art teacher was not laughing when I didn’t understand her and actually asked her why she didn’t just say the paint was all gone in seventh grade.
Everywhere I have lived there have been certain words that meant something specific for that area. We attach meaning to words and connotations to them that create even more meaning. This is important because our thoughts run through our brain words! I know that sounds like an almost “duh” statement, and I think almost everyone needs to step back and truly ponder the impact of that statement for a moment.
Our positive thoughts may grow healthy blocks of proper understanding and perspective. When words or truth (not fiction) are planted, the result can be beautiful and life giving. We have a beautiful garden and sculpture park in our town. There are places where you can walk into a tropical environment or you can walk through a dessert scene with plants and trees that probably wouldn’t do as well out in typical Michigan weather. It’s beautiful and amazing.
But imagine if they stopped working on it. Imagine if they stopped doing the things necessary to protect those plants and trees from the harsh Michigan winters. Imagine if they stopped working to remove the things that could create disease, infection and even death for those trees and plants. Imagine if they just allowed everyone to just lead the doors open (the dessert room can get quite hot). It would not be long until there would be real problems for all of the living things in those rooms. One room has beautiful butterflies and float and flitter her and there enthralling everyone in the room with their breath taking beauty. To get into that room, you have to stand in line and then walk through and entrance/exit room that has doors on two ends. You cannot exit without a thorough investigation from the staff to make sure that no wayward butterflies try to hitch a ride with you out into the beautiful Michigan spring.
Our negative thoughts, our false thoughts are like bugs of disease for our life. They threaten the story that could take place. They often threaten the positive stories that do take place. They create danger for us mentally, emotionally and even physically. How else does someone come to the place of suicide in their life but to be living with the bugs of a negative and false story in their head infecting every aspect of how they view themselves?
We need to employ the same type of scrutiny measures that our local garden and sculpture park have to protect the life of those plants and trees. It truly can be a matter of life and death. We need to examine the voices we allow to speak into our story. We need to evaluate them for credibility and health. We need to empower ourselves to take control of our own story and strive for the story we want in our lives.

We need new eyes to see all that is
Think about a white board for a moment. Most of our therapy rooms have at least one in them. I will often stand up and walk over to the board and I will draw a circle or a few geometric shapes. Then I’ll ask my client what they see. They quickly name all of the shapes on the board. They don’t mention seeing the white board. They don’t mention the wall. They don’t mention the awesome picture of a guy fishing. They only mention the shapes on the white board. Why? Do they not actually see it? Of course they see it. How else could they tell me about the shapes they see?
They filter all of those things about because the story in their mind tells them that those things are tangental to the point. They deem them not important. And to be fair, ninety-nine times out of one hundred, they would be correct. But this particular time they are wrong, because I want them to see the greater context of what is going. I want them to move beyond seeing it and actually evaluate it. I want them to consider how it fits into the greater context of the question. They need to expand their eyes. We have see the whole picture because the driving narrative in our head will direct everything. It will have multiple venues, and multiple sources of creation but it will direct the entire course of our lives.
Taking time to examine the things we filter out of our active thought processes regarding our lives indicates a proper view of self. It’s probably our best way to begin the process of changing the negative stories that are running the negative actions and reactions in our life. When left unchecked, these inputs will create a story that shapes the entirety of our life.
This is why we go back to destructive behaviors over and over again. Because the story in our head tells us that the behavior has a payoff. Perhaps, safety, perhaps familiarity, perhaps something else but there is always a payoff.


Forgiveness and Process: Who are you becoming?

It's been an interesting couple of weeks at my house.  It seems almost every area of our life is in some sort of transition. The start of the year has been somewhat hard.

So last Saturday, we decided on a whim to go to a local eatery for wings.

The food was good, the service was extremely slow. This lead to a continuing conversation about conflict, fear and life.

My wife commented that she sees so many people who become the things they most said they didn't want to become in life.

In other words, the person focused on not being their mom, will often become their mom.  My kids asked if I agreed with her and I told them that I did, without reservation.

They wanted to know why I thought this was so.  I told them that I thought focusing purely on what you don't want to become is not enough.

Invariably, you will become what you focus on. Change Process Illustrated

You need something more than what you don't want to become. You need to know what you want to become, and why you want to become it.
If you have pain from someone else (and invariably, almost all of us do), you need to process it.

Ignoring it. Glossing over it. Embellishing it. Worshiping it.  Getting comfort from it.

Anything other than processing it, will lead to becoming someone who transmits the same types of pain to others.

So, let's say a person focuses on not being their Dad and they choose behaviors that are the exact opposite of their Dad, but never forgive their Dad and process through the pain he caused them, that person will transmit that pain to those they love.

You need focus and forgiveness.

Without forgiveness, there will be little process. Without process, there will be little forgiveness.

You have to engage in both to truly experience change.

Forgiveness helps us deal with the past.
Process allows us to the focus on the future.
In focusing on the future, we shape our present. This is why we must examine what we are focusing on. If you don't focus on what you want to become (your future), you will become whatever you are focusing on.

Often, that is our past. Especially, when our past has unprocessed hurts.

So what about you? What hurts from your past have you not processed? Who do you need to forgive? What are you focusing on? Who do you want to become?

Goals: Why most don't work and how yours can

Ah, the new year.
That blessed time of year where many people set goals for the next year. The gym where I work out, will be filled with people who have set 2018 as they year where they finally get fit.
For two weeks or so, at least.
Every year, many people set goals and they typically fall to the wayside by the end of the month.
Well, for one thing, most people don't consider the cost of their goals when they make them. They make a goal that they are going to lose weight but fail to consider that they will need to give up their favorite high calorie, zero nutrition snack. 
They set a savings goal without thinking about how they will need to pass the sales rack at their favorite store without actually buying anything simply because it’s on sale. 
Secondly, we often set goals that are too vague. I was talking to an aspiring musician one day and I asked him one of my favorite questions, “You have 525,600 minutes to spend over the next 365 days. How will you spend them? What will be different about your life when those minutes are spent.”
He told me that he wanted his music to be “more polished.”  image from c1.staticflickr.com
That’s a start of a goal but it’s not actually a goal. 
What does that mean? 
I asked him how much time he was going to spend on polishing his music.
He had zero idea. I told him that I doubted he would actually change much about his music. 
If goals are actually going to create change, they have to be specific and measurable. 
 We often fail to understand the why of our goal. 
What are the specific actions we need to take in order to achieve them? If I want to write a book, how many hours a week am I going to dedicate to it? 
If I am going to set a savings goal, how much am I going to transfer into savings? 
If I am going to set a weight/healthy goal, how many calories should I consume? How much time should I spend exercising? 
Where can I learn what I need to learn in order to accomplish these actions? 
Why do you want to do what it is your doing? This is why I ask about how you will spend your minutes. The older I get, the more I am convinced that time is our most precious commodity. 
Often, we spend it as if we are not in control of how we spend it. As if it just magically disappears from our life. 
If you want next year to be different from last year, you must spend this present year differently.
Take some time and write down what you want to happen over the next year.
Now, write out what the emotional pay off is to those goals. I've written about this idea, here. For example, I had a friend that wanted to lose and keep off nearly 100lbs. I asked him about the payoff to his goals. He said, he wanted to be able to walk his daughter down the aisle and go hiking with his son. "Write it down!" I told him.
Change happens when we take the time to answer there key questions. What do you want? What are you willing to pay? What are you willing to risk?
Take time to explore your goals. What do you want (be specific). What are the necessary behaviors you'll need to achieve your goal? What  is the emotional payoffs to your goal? If you want to lose weight, why? If you want to save money, what do you want to feel when you save that money? If you want to sponsor a child in another country, what is the emotional reason? image from encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com
Lastly, we often fail to get back up when we fail. People who attempt change, who want to fight against the status quo of their lives will fail more than people who do not worry about changing. Failure is part of the process. If we are going to successfully change something, we will have to overcome that failure by getting back up and going at it again. Many times, we will need to reattempt change multiple times.  *Note. The squirrel has nothing to do with the post. I just thought it was cute.

If you want to start something new, you'll need to stop something old

I often meet people who tell me about their wishes.

Sometimes, they call these wishes goals and I call them wishes.

They want to do this thing they're talking about....

......build a business

    ......start a non-profit

        .......go back to school CreativeCost1

            .....write a novel

                ......get healthier

                    ....do something they are not currently doing.


When I ask them what is keeping them from doing the thing they want to be doing, I usually hear one of two things. Sometimes, I hear both.

"I don't have the time," they say with dour seriousness.

"I don't have the resources," gets expressed with equal chagrin.

I often push back and ask them how important their wish is to them. They often tell me that it's really important.  I will ask them how important again and they will express some agitation at me asking the same question a second time.

I often tell them that I find that question to be the most important because I believe that people do what they want to do when they want to do it.

I often find that people fail at starting something new because they are unwilling to say no to something that they are currently doing but find unsatisfying.

You want to have a family? Well, that's going to impact the amount of times you can hang out with your "bros".

You want to get healthier? Well, that's going to force you to change your eating, and sleep habits.

You want to have an intimate relationship? Well, that's going to force you to change how you draw your boundaries and deploy your personal amour.

No matter what you do, you'll have to stop doing something else. 

I have found it helpful to judge people's seriousness about an endeavor by making one seemingly weird suggestion.

When they suggest to me that they are under-resourced, I'll suggest they cut their cable or phone bill.

The reactions are almost comical.

It's as though by suggesting they cut out their cable that I am asking for a limb.

"But, if you're going to get where you want to go, you'll need to change something," I prod. "What do you want to change?"

"I can't. I'm stuck,"

To that I say, "Hogwash!"

The journey from where you are to where you want to be is going to be hard.  Everything in life worth having is hard.

Life is hard because it's supposed to be hard, because that is how we learn.

What about you? What do you want to do that you're not doing? What is keeping you from chasing that thing? Is is fear? What are you willing to pay to get it done? Think beyond terms of monetary payments here. Are you willing to pay engaging your fear? Are you willing to risk failure (maybe public)? Are you willing pay people telling you it won't work? Are you willing to lose sleep? Are you willing to delay gratification?

Here's another truth for another post but remember that today what you do is because you're choosing to do it. If you don't like the results you're getting, start making plans to make different choices.

Get back up and fight

Sometimes you get knocked down.

You're walking along, moving through life and something happens through no fault of your own and you get knocked down.

Your parents make a mistake that blows up your life.

Your lover cheats

Someone you trusted, causes you severe pain and it feels like your word is falling apart.

Sometimes you jump into trouble.

You purposely engage into that behavior that you know will tear your life apart.

You make the same mistake again, even though you know will get caught and the person you love will be hurt by your actions.

You completely blow up your own life.

Get up anyhow and fight. Fight for change. Change is possible. It will cost you. It will be painful. It will cost you.

It will force you to risk.

Change is never easy.

Change is possible.

Whether you've been knocked down or willingly jumped, please get up and fight.
Do whatever it takes.

Go make an appointment with a counselor.

Register at that school for those chances.

Call your loved one and apologize.

Offer an olive branch.

Just get up. Don't stay down. Don't be defined by your failure. It doesn't have to be the last chapter in the story. It doesn't even have to be the defining story.

It can just be a chapter.

Get up. Don't stay down. Borrow my belief in you, even if you don't believe yourself yet. Engage the change process. Belief will come.

Do Anti-Depressant Meds work?

One of the most common questions I get is "How do you feel about drugs?" My answer is almost always that I have complicated feelings about them. What I often tell clients is that they should do their own research. What I have below is an excerpt from a book that I think everyone who is remotely interested in this topic should read. It is controversial and will probably upset some of those who read it for one reason or another. But we have to engage this conversation deeply. We need to talk about the risks associated with this medicine and the benefits. Mostly, we need to look at our assumptions on a societal level about how we deal with problems.

What the published studies really indicate is that most of the improvement shown by depressed people when they take antidepressants is due to the placebo effect. Our finding that most of the effects of antidepressants could be explained as a placebo effect was only the first of a number of surprises that changed my views about antidepressants. Following up on this research, I learned that the published clinical trials we had analysed were not the only studies assessing the effectiveness of antidepressants. I discovered that approximately 40 per cent of the clinical trials conducted had been withheld from publication by the drug companies that had sponsored them. By and large, these were studies that had failed to show a significant benefit from taking the actual drug. When we analysed all of the data - those that had been published and those that had been suppressed - my colleagues and I were led to the inescapable conclusion that antidepressants are little more than active placebos, drugs with very little specific therapeutic benefit, but with serious side effects.

Kirsch, Irving (2010-01-26). The Emperor's New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth (pp. 3-4). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.