Of course we’re weak at times. So?


We are all weak at times. 

There’s no need to deny or sugar coat it. Of course we’re weak sometimes. 

I run marathons. I can tell you without any question, I’m weak after running 26 miles. 

I’m weak in my body, I’m weak in the mind, and I’m weak in the spirit at that point. 

There is absolutely no shame in weakness. We human beings are actually DESIGNED to be weak sometimes, and strong at other times. 

Our relative levels of strength and weakness at any given time do not have to do with our fundamental character. 

Rather, hey have to do with the level of training we’ve done, the amount and quality of rest we’ve had, and the amount and quality of nutrition we’ve fed our bodies and minds. 

Many, many people make the mistake of generalizing a moment or period of relative weakness to themselves as a person. 

Because they either felt weak or WERE weak at a particular point, they make the leap to labeling themselves as a “weak person” who cannot withstand the stresses of everyday life. 

This type of generalization is what cognitive therapists correctly call distorted thinking. 

It’s thinking that is unnecessarily black and white, and which leads to anxiety and depression…none of which is necessary, because these are the exact types of thoughts that do not hold up when we learn to scrutinize and reality test them. 

Let’s first do away with this myth that there’s something wrong about either being weak at times, or acknowledging our weakness when we are weak. 

Any bodybuilder can tell you that after they perform a tough lift, their muscles are weak, sometimes to the point of shaking. 

The reason for this isn’t because their muscles are inadequate. If you look at the physique of a serious bodybuilder, it’s obvious that their musculature is usually more than what any of us would consider “adequate.” 

Rather, the reason for their relative “weakness” after doing a tough lift is because they have temporarily exhausted the energy reserves in their muscle tissues. 

That’s all weakness is— a temporary exhaustion of energy. No more; no less. 

Do bodybuilders, or marathon runners, berate themselves because their muscles are depleted after competing in their respective events? 

Of course not. 

What they do is acknowledge that they’ve expended a great deal of energy over a certain amount of time, and that their comparative weakness at that moment is a completely natural consequence of that energy expenditure— and they get about the business of refueling. 

There is a lesson to be learned here about how we can think of emotional strength and weakness. 

If you’ve struggled with depression, anxiety, ADHD, PTSD, addiction, or any other emotional or behavioral difficulty, you likely know that feeling of “weakness.” 

And you likely also know how easy it is to blame yourself for that weakness, and to assume that this weakness is just part of your basic character. 

(For that matter, our culture is often very good at reinforcing the idea that mental and emotional weakness stems from a basic character flaw.)

What I’m suggesting is that you look at your relative “weakness” through a different lens than you may be used to.

I’m going to suggest that OF COURSE you’re weak— because living with depression, anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, or addiction is exhausting. 

Living with these conditions requires a MASSIVE energy outlay nearly every single day, just to function. 

That weakness you feel isn’t the result of some character flaw. It’s the result of having had to expend a lot of energy just to get up every morning and deal with your symptoms. 

The good news is, just like bodybuilders and marathon runners, we can learn to condition ourselves so that our moments of weakness and exhaustion don’t last as long and are not as debilitating. 

We can learn to train. We can learn to rest. We can learn to feed ourselves the right kinds of emotional and behavioral “nutrition” in order to expand our capacity to deal with our weakness. 

But we can only do that if we accept that we ARE weak at times…and there’s nothing wrong with it. 


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Don’t worry about variety. Focus on what works for YOU.


One of the most misunderstood aspects of recovery is that the name of the game isn’t to gather as many tools and skills as you possibly can into your playbook. 

The name of the game is to gather the handful of tools and skills that work for you, specifically. 

It’s true that exposing yourself to lots of different tools, skills, philosophies, systems and teachers will increase the probability you’ll uncover what will work for you specifically. As I wrote on the page the other day, getting curious and voracious in your search for tools is the most important mindset you can develop in this project of “recovery.” 

But realize that, of the dozens of tools you’ll expose yourself to in your search, many of them won’t be quite a right fit for you. 

Some won’t quite fit with your learning style. 

Some, you won’t be able to apply every day because of how your life and obligations are structured. 

Some will require too much attention for you to realistically commit to practicing them every day. 

Some won’t be stimulating enough to hold your interest. 

For a variety of reasons, you’re going to run across plenty of tools that just aren’t quite a fit for what you need in your life and recovery. 

In my experience, what will realistically happen is, as you journey deeper into recovery, you WILL run across a handful of tools and skills— likely from a variety of sources— that WILL work for you. 

It’s THESE tools and skills you have to commit to using— over, and over, and over again. 

I remember when I figured out the key to my own weight management. For years I’d struggled with urges and impulses to eat things that did not nourish me or support me in feeling or performing my best. I’d tried multiple diet approaches and supplements, but usually wound up abandoning new approaches to nutrition after a few days or weeks. And, as you might imagine, my weight fluctuated accordingly. 

I didn’t make substantive improvement in my ability to manage my weight and physical fitness until I realized that one of my big problems was, I was trying to inject too much variety into my diet. 

Each time I bought a new cookbook with dozens of recipes that adhered to new nutritional rules, I soon found myself overwhelmed with options— even within the confines of whatever new approach I was taking to my diet that week. 

What I ended up discovering was that most successful dieters don’t shoot for overwhelming variety in what they eat. They discover a handful of meals that play nicely with their metabolism, body type, and nutritional needs— and then, at least for awhile, they stick to those few “successful” meals…over, and over, and over again. 

When I discovered this, I initially rejected it. I thought that I would get bored eating the same meals over, and over, and over again. 

But, as it turned out, I barely noticed. 

As it turned out, eating a small rotation of meals that I knew “worked” for me took an overwhelming about of anxiety and uncertainty out of the process. 

Ah ha! Key concept!

Recovery tools work in much the same way. You do not need a ton of them. You need a few of them that actually WORK for you— and you need to return to them. Again, and again, and again. 

Trust me, there are many sources and teachers out there that promise you all sorts of nifty advantages if you use their system. We’re living in an age where information about how to change your thoughts and change your behavior is more abundant and available than ever before. 

These days you can find approaches to changing your life that range from behavioral psychology to quantum physics, and everything in between. 

I DO want you searching, getting curious, and being voracious about discovering what works for you. 

But when you find the tools that work for you…I want you leaving everything else on the side of the road as you focus on what actually WORKS. 

Not what “should” work, not what “might” work under the right circumstances, not what works for your family or coworkers or a celebrity. 

I want you to get so familiar with your reliable bag of tools and skills that you could teach advanced seminars on them. 

I want you getting so good at recovery that YOU could be your own therapist…because in the end, you actually are. 


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Five minutes in the morning; five minutes at night. That’s all I want.


Remember that the time we spend doing anything accumulates. It adds up— and pretty quickly, at that. 

I know, this sounds obvious. But a lot of times we forget it when we’re trying to change our habits. 

Something I very often remind my patients of, is the fact that if we spend five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the evening doing something— ten minutes a day, total— then, at the end of a week, we’ll have spent OVER AN HOUR doing that thing. 

Think about that. 

Five minutes of meditation in the morning, plus five minutes of meditation in the evening, equals OVER AN HOUR of meditation every single week. 

That’s the kind of time investment that can realistically change and train your brain. 

Now think about the fact that if you spend TEN minutes in meditation in the morning, and TEN minutes in the evening, you’ll have devoted OVER TWO HOURS every week to your meditation discipline. 

That’s some serious, brain-transforming time. No one can argue that anything you spend literally hours doing every week WON’T change your brain. 
But often times we don’t do the five or ten minutes in the morning, and five or ten minutes in the evening, because we become convinced that it doesn’t mater. 

After all, five minutes is so little time, how can it possibly change our brains? 

Through the process of accumulation, that’s how. It’s like anything that you do a little bit at a time— anything at which you chip, chip, chip away at, will eventually yield. 

That five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the evening doesn’t have to be meditation. It can be journaling; it can be goal setting and goal reviewing; it can be writing and repeating self-programming statements. It could even be something as simple as stretching or walking or reading or praying.

Even small chunks of time add up. Any big chunk of time you’ve ever devoted to anything is really just an accumulation of little chunks of time you spent doing that thing. 

Any hour of time you’ve spent doing anything is just a collection of sixty minutes doing that thing. 

Any minute you’ve ever spent doing anything is just an accumulation of sixty second periods of time doing that thing. 

Any period of sixty seconds is an accumulation of twelve five-second increments. That’s all. 

So often we get it in our heads that if we’re going to change our lives, we need to devote hours and hours to the project— and it exhausts us. It strikes us as a marathon that we are just not in any shape to run. It discourages us from even starting, because we don’t have confidence in our ability to finish the race. 

Do not worry about finishing the race. 

Just do five minutes of whatever you’re trying to get in the habit of doing. Morning and night. 

When you start doing this, your brain is probably going to push back at you. Your brain has all sorts of built in mechanisms that will try to thwart your ability and inclination to make dramatic changes in your life. 

Given its druthers, your brain would always prefer to maintain the status quo— there’s a reason why the status quo is, in fact, the status quo. It’s because your brain has determined the status quo to be the path of least resistance at the moment, and it would very much like to continue following the path of least resistance, thank you very much. 

Don’t get into an argument with your brain when it pushes back at you. Just tell your brain, look, don’t freak out, we’re just gong to do five minutes of this thing right now. You can let us do five minutes, can’t you? 

This is how we make realistic, long term change in our lives. 

Not by taking on ambitious projects that overwhelm and discourage and intimidate us. 

We do it by slowly redirecting our thoughts and behavior— consistently over time. 

Commit to trying this for a month. Five minutes in the morning, five minutes in the evening. 

Make it ten minutes if that gets too easy. 

Before you know it, months will have passed, and you will have invested HOURS of training time into your new habit regimen— and none of it will have been more difficult than patiently doing a thing five minutes at a time. 

Don’t put mental health on the “back burner,” even in a medical crisis.


If you happen to be working your way through a physical health crisis or struggle, please, please, please don’t neglect your mental health and emotional well being as part of the process. 

I know, I know. Battling a chronic or acute illness is a project that consumes an enormous amount of focus and energy, both physical and emotional. I wouldn’t suggest that when you’re waging a war against a disease or debilitating condition is the right time to finally buckle down and process those trauma memories or lick that depression problem. 

But the fact really is that when we are engaged in major efforts to heal and improve our physical health, that’s often when we most need to cultivate and support our own mental health. 

Why? Because those battles take their toll on our minds and hearts.

Managing our emotional lives requires that we engage specific tools and skills. It requires us to cultivate effective stress management strategies. It requires us to get good at monitoring our thoughts for distorted thoughts that will drag us down into depression or stoke our anxiety. 

It’s tempting, when we’re battling a physical ailment, to put those tools and skills that we might otherwise use to manage our emotional lives on the back burner. I had one person express to me that he felt he needed all of the energy and focus he had right then to fight his physical disease— so he was pressing “pause” on trying to manage his emotional life. 

Trust me when I tell you, that pushing “pause” on managing your emotional life will not free up the energy you think it will. 

In fact, in pushing “pause” on managing your emotional life, you’ll probably end up with even LESS energy and focus in order to fight your disease. 

The main reason for this is that depression, anxiety, PTSD symptoms, and addictive patterns create energy vortexes of their own. If left unchecked, they really will suck all the available energy and focus you have right on out of you. 

This is one of the main reasons why people who are depressed so often describe feeling exhausted. And anyone who has to cope with PTSD flashbacks or panic attacks can tell you that dealing with these symptoms is basically a full time job in itself. 

When our physical health is in danger, we can lose sight of how dramatic the connection is between how we feel and function physically, and how we think and what we feel emotionally. 

We can become so focused on the facts and hypotheses and tests and treatments involved in our somatic medical care, that we forget there is a whole universe inside our minds and hearts that needs to be tended to…and we are, by definition, the only ones who can really tend to them. 

The good news is, once you get into the groove of identifying and using effective tools, skills, and strategies to manage your moods and behavior, you don’t have to keep relearning them. As you continue using them, they become second nature. 

The better news is that they work. 

The even better news is that if you are managing your emotions, your thinking, and your behavior, your physical health is likely to improve as a result. 

Any medical doctor will tell you that bodies under stress have a hard time healing. 

Any medical doctor will tell you that patients who are depressed have a harder time following through with self-directed treatment options and a more difficult time objectively weighing appropriate treatment decisions with which they are faced. 

Any medical doctor will tell you that chronic anxiety is absolutely destructive to the body’s immune system, making it harder for medications and treatments to do their work. 

Not only is it important to manage your thinking, your emotions, and your behavior during times of intense medical treatment, but it’s also vital you keep using your tools and skills to manage your emotions in the aftermath of even successful medical treatment. 

There is a subset of people who come through successful treatment, and feel absolutely crazy because even though the treatment worked, they are suddenly (or still0 gobsmacked with anxiety and depression. 

For what it’s worth: from a psychological point of view, this isn’t that weird. Medical and health crises can be overwhelmingly stressful. It makes a lot of sense that even after a successful outcome, the cognitive and emotional aftereffects are still there to be dealt with— especially if they’ve been put on the “back burner” during treatment itself. 

Medical and health crises are high stress, high impact, potentially life-altering events. 

In order to cope with them effectively, you really need to keep developing and using your psychoemotional toolbox. 

As it turns out, putting your mental health on the “back burner” during a health crisis isn’t actually an option. 

“Positive”…compared to what?


I completely understand why some people, especially on the Internet, feel pressured to be “positive” in what they post and express. 

It’s absolutely true that many online communities put pressure on the people who engage with them to not post or express things that run counter to that community’s norms and standards. And, in online spaces devoted to self-improvement and personal development, those norms and standards sometimes amount to an edict to stay positive— or else be accused of being a “troll” who spews negativity and isn’t welcome in that space. 

I’ve even seen people express that “positivity culture,” especially online, can lead some people to feel broken or alienated when their reality doesn’t effortlessly match the “positive” expectations of their online community. 

I’ll never advise anyone to be “positive” at the expense of being authentic. Our reality is what it is. Some days we feel positive and optimistic; some days not so much. 

I don’t think it’s helpful for any community to pressure anyone to be positive just for the sake of being positive. 

That said: I also think that when we talk about the value of being “positive,” we need to keep a few things in perspective. First among these things is: “…compared to what?” 

It’s very easy, both on the Internet and in recovery-minded communities generally, to be instinctively negative. 

In communities where the common thread among people is the desire to improve their lives and relieve their pain, there is almost by definition a baseline of discomfort, distress, or struggle. One of the very reasons people seek out spaces and Internet pages devoted to healing and recovery is because they are probably in pain to begin with. 

Furthermore, the Internet makes expressing negativity— sometimes colorfully and at length— much easier and more socially acceptable than “real life” often does. If you take a look at the comments section of many web pages and videos, you can almost always see examples of this. 

Even though “positivity culture” definitely exists on the Internet, I still believe that “reflexive negativity” is the default mode of online communication. 

If we’re talking about whether it’s more useful to err on the side of positivity, as opposed to easy, instinctive negativity…I maintain that yes, it’s preferable to be positive. 

I don’t just mean it’s preferable to be positive because it’s easier to tolerate. There is a well-validated body of psychological research that discusses, at length, the benefits of an optimistic mindset when one is trying to do something difficult. 

Dr. Martin Seligman has made a whole career out of expanding the research on “learned optimism,” and therapists such as Bill O’Hanlon have emphatically shown the benefit of focusing on solutions in therapy as opposed to fixating on problems. 

It’s my own experience, as a therapist, that whether we habitually err on the side of expressing positive, optimistic, or hopeful content online, or whether we err on the side of expressing negative, pessimistic, or hopeless content— whatever we express will tend to be reinforced and work its way into our thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs. 

All of which is to say: I don’t think anyone should be pressured to be positive or punished for being negative. Authenticity is more important than either positivity or negativity, in the long run. 

But if your goal is to change how you think, feel, and behave, then I think it’s an enormously practical skill to develop to nurture and reinforce the positive aspects of your experience and the gains in your recovery— and one of the most effective ways to do that is to make those the focus of your internet posting. 

One of my least favorite things that happens online is when someone simply cannot come up with a positive or constructive comment on anything that is posted. 

Being sarcastic or dismissive when someone posts content is very easy. It takes virtually no imagination or constructive thought. 

And it’s very tempting, especially when we’re feeling negative or discouraged, to try to “share the wealth” of our negative mood by tearing someone down in online posts or comments. 

What I want to strongly communicate to everybody reading this blog is: what you talk about, write about, and otherwise focus on, WILL expand. 

The more thought and emotional energy you focus on being either positive OR negative, the more those thoughts, feelings, and attitudes will become practiced…and easier to reactivate in the brain. 

The more often you feel and express a similar thing— whether it is a thought, a belief, an idea, or an attitude— it becomes much, much easier to think, believe, and otherwise experience that thing in the future. 

What do you want to reinforce? 

What do you want to feel going forward? 

How do you want your online presence to make other people feel? 

You don’t have to like to yourself if you’re not feeling positive— but you don’t have to reinforce and expand negativity you’re feeling, either. 

Mindfulness: useful…except when it’s not.


Therapists lately have been all about “mindfulness.” 

Dialectical Behavior Therapy— one of the few successful treatment modalities for helping people with Borderline Personality Disorder lessen their self-harm behaviors— has made “mindfulness” a popular buzzword within the mental health community in the last twenty years. 

Look at the self-help section of any book store, and you’ll see “mindfulness” prescriptions for most maladies you can think of. There’s mindful eating; mindful anxiety reduction; mindfulness for those suffering depression. 

Mindfulness has become particularly fashionable in the trauma treatment community, possibly because it is almost the literal antithesis to dissociation. 

All “mindfulness” implies, in itself, is allowing yourself to be present in this very moment, without judgment, just experiencing what you’re experiencing. The upshot of mindfulness is supposed to be that, if you remove regret about the past or anxiety about the future, and just focus on what’s happening in the here and now, you can remove much of the extra emotional baggage that makes living so difficult, and bring you resourcefulness to doing whatever is on our plate, right here, right now, with less pressure and more potential enjoyment. 

Don’t get me wrong— I’m all for mindfulness when it’s the tool to use. 

Sometimes it totally is helpful and practical to live in the present moment. To remove expectations and  regret, and just experience can be a productive experience, if we’ve mostly been beating ourselves up about the past or fretting about the future. 

The thing is…sometimes mindfulness isn’t the tool to use. 

In fact, living too emphatically in the present moment can sometimes create more problems than it solves, particularly if the present moment is painful or overwhelming. 

Understand, I kind of come at this from a biased point of view. Most of the people that I work with are, at least initially, experiencing a great deal of pain, right here, right now. They’ve been through traumatic events that have for the moment crippled their ability to function, relate, and experience. For the moment they feel too depressed to breathe. For the moment they’re so anxious they feel like they’re jumping out of their skin with every passing second. 

Advocates of mindfulness would no doubt counsel such patients to approach their pain with an open, curious, non-judgmental attitude. Which, I think, is an elegant, measured way to approach pain, certainly. 

It’s also enormously impractical for many people who are suffering, and who simply don’t at the moment have the psychological bandwidth for openness, curiosity, and non-judgment. They’re in pain and they want to get out of pain. 

I don’t particularly want to tell a person in overwhelming pain to treat this moment like it’s the only reality. 

I want to focus them somewhere else. 

I want their focus to be on a past time when they felt at ease and confident. I want their focus to be on a future time when they’ve overcome their struggles, and they’re feeling good about the work they’ve done. I want their focus to be on an alternate universe in which it’s even POSSIBLE to not feel what they’re currently feeling. 

In short, I think what some people need is not necessarily “mindful” use of their senses to try to sink further into their experience of the current moment. Rather, I think what some people need is use of their imagination, to create a better moment that maybe used to exist or doesn’t yet exist— and, once the brain is heading in THAT direction, we can get about making a practical plan to bring those better moments into reality. 

When I talk about the use of imagination and creating “alternative universes” for us to escape into, I’m not talking about dissociation. 

Dissociation isn’t a use of imagination. 

When you dissociate, you’re still with the pain; you’ve just sent a different part of yourself out to experience the pain. That’s not a creative use of our brains; that’s cruelty to the part of yourself that has been shoved to the forefront to deal with the scary or painful situation. 

What I’m talking about is forming a hypothesis. 

I’m talking about hypothesizing a better moment— what that might look like, what that might feel like, what that might be like. 

When you give the brain something to shoot for, a picture to develop, it’s THEN that the brain starts planning and scheming to get from here to there. Not before. 

Thus if we just stay “mindfully” present in our current, painful moment— the brain isn’t going to get kicked into gear to problem solve or set goals. It’s not going to provide you with a cascade of motivating neurotransmitters and hormones. 

Again, hear me clearly: if mindfulness is a helpful tool for you at times, absolutely use it. I am not, in this blog, making the case that mindfulness is the “wrong” tool to use. If you benefit from a tool, use it. Use the hell out of it. 

I do want you to have on your radar screen, though, the mindfulness is only one tool— and, just like any tool, it’s not the right tool for any and every job, or for any and every patient. 

Don’t forget about your imagination. 

You are not your symptoms and struggles.


It’s super important, if we’re truly interested in recovery and change, that we don’t fetishize or overidentify with our diagnoses and symptoms. 

If you follow my work, you probably don’t struggle with this. I’m probably not speaking directly to anyone who is reading this right now— and I’m not, at all, looking to blame or shame anyone for how they relate to their symptoms. This isn’t an attack. 

There is a subset of people out there who make recovering from their depression, anxiety, PTSD, or addictions much harder than it needs to be— as if it’s not already hard enough— by relating their symptoms in an almost romantic, personalized way. 

It shows up in the way they communicate about their symptoms, and, eventually, the way they present themselves to the world at large. 

We probably all know someone like this— someone for whom mental illness, addiction, or behavioral struggles in their lives have become something other than conditions they are experiencing or trying to overcome. 

Their symptoms and struggles, for them, have seemed to become part of their personal identity. Part of their “brand.” 

One of the reasons this happens is because the world in general is now more aware than perhaps it’s ever been of the destructive consequences of shaming people who are struggling. For a long time— and much of the time still— negative stigmas existed around mental illness and behavioral struggles. 

Only in recent decades has the cultural tide began to shift, such that many people now recognize how harmful and cruel it is to blame and ostracize people who are struggling with their mental health and behavior patterns. 

In the process of reversing this harmful cultural tide, however, some people have rushed to the reverse position of shame and stigma— normalizing and celebrating mental illness and behavioral difficulties in such a way that some people can get confused as to whether experiencing symptoms and struggles are problematic at all, or rather just an expression of diversity the should be accepted and celebrated. 

Some people go even further than that. They fetishize and romanticize symptoms and struggles, to the point where their personal and public identities are wrapped up in their symptomatology. 

I don’t, at all, think mental illness or behavioral difficulties are things to be shamed. I do not believe mental health indicates moral or character failings. 

Further, I truly believe that everybody has to decide for themselves how to relate to all aspects of their health— I’m never going to tell someone they’re doing it “wrong” if they do what I’m describing here. You do you. 

That said, I do know that when someone has made their diagnosis or symptoms part of their personal “brand,” or interwoven their symptoms into their personality, it makes the process of treatment and recovery much, much harder. Because in asking people to give up their symptoms, I’m now asking them to give up part of who they are and how they relate to the world— not just a series of thought and behavior patterns that makes life difficult for them and obscures who they REALLY are. 

I very frequently write about how we are more than our symptoms and struggles. This is one of the reasons why: I want people to know, without a fraction of a doubt, that they are still worthwhile, interesting, entertaining, worthy of help, and worthy of support, even when their identity is not entwined with their diagnosis. 

I’ve worked with patients who were terrified to relinquish their symptoms, because they truly didn’t know who they would be without them. 

How would they relate to the world? What would they even talk about with people? 

I’ve also known patients whose social circle was largely comprised of people who shared similar diagnoses and symptoms. Some of these people have been worried that, to give up the “identity’ of a person with this symptom or diagnosis, they’d literally lose some friends and lose intimacy with other friends. 

I get it. 

These aren’t easily answerable questions. I’m not saying they are. 

What I am saying is this: to become attached to our symptoms, to become attached to our diagnoses, to make them our “calling card” to the world, is to entrench and enshrine those struggles and diagnoses. I’m telling you, as a therapist, it makes the process of finding new, workable ways of being in the world all that much more difficult. 

You don’t need your diagnosis or symptoms to be part of your brand, identity, or personality. 

You’re more than that. 

You have the ability to create a life that is based on more than your struggles. 

Which is why it’s so important that you give yourself the OPPORTUNITY to do so.