We are what we repeatedly do and think– no more, but no less.

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We are what we repeatedly do and what we repeatedly think. 

We literally create who we are based on the patterns that reinforce and allow to continue. 

This may seem obvious— but there seems to be an epidemic of people who think they are somehow something OTHER than what they repeatedly think and repeatedly do. 

They seem to think that they are nothing more than the sum of their past. 

Or they think they are nothing more than the sum of what others think about them. 

Or they think that they are destined to carry on, for ever and ever, the legacies of their family members. 

We get these ideas in our heads because we want our human existence here to mean something. Some people really like the idea that they are more than the sum of their patterns of thought and behavior; whereas other people are quite dismayed by that thought. 

I’m here to tell you that there is no need to complicate it— and there is no benefit to doing so. 

The fact that we are what we repeatedly do and what we repeatedly think means we are in the driver’s seat. 

It means that we can change who and what we are. 

It means we are not beholden to the past, to our family legacies, or to anyone else’s opinions or viewpoints. 

If we don’t like who we are or what we’ve become, there is one way out of it: change our patterns of thinking, and change our patterns of behavior. 

Unless and until we change what we do and what we think, we do not change who and what we are. 

What this means is, no label or diagnosis has control over you. 

No genetic predisposition has any control over you. 

No court ruling has control over your fundamental identity. 

All of these things can INFLUENCE who and what you are— but I would encourage you, strongly, to look deeper at this equation. 

How and why do these things influence who and what you are? 

The ONLY extent to which ANYTHING can influence who and what you are is by influencing what you DO and what you THINK on a REGULAR BASIS. 

You do not need to be held captive to your influences. 

Because you can (and will) be influenced does not mean that you do not control your choices. 

Because you can (and will) be influenced does not relieve you from responsibility for choosing who you are and what you’re all about. 

Think about the fact that anybody who wants to influence us— what do they want to influence, specifically? 

That’s right: your thoughts and behavior. 

Why? 

Because of exactly what I am saying: your regular thoughts and behavior are literally what defines you. 

Do you want to change your life? Start simple. 

Make a list of things that you regularly DO and regularly THINK. 

Look not at isolated thoughts and behaviors; look at PATTERNS. 

You’ll quickly come to find that when people refer to their “personality,” all they are really talking about are their predicable PATTERNS of thinking and behaving. 

The good news is: patterns can be interrupted. 

The better news is: patterns can be replaced by different patterns. 

Your current patterns didn’t evolve overnight; your new patterns won’t develop and solidify overnight. 

But if you’re capable of developing the patterns you already have— you’re capable of developing different patterns. 

Patterns you choose. 

Patterns that align with your goals and values. 

But first thing’s first: get real about accepting that we are what we repeatedly do and think. 

No more; but no less. 

Book Review: “The Power of Focusing: A Practical Guide to Emotional Self-Healing.”

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In “The Power of Focusing,” Anne Wesier Cornell wants to get us out of our analytical minds, away from our thoughts, and into our bodies. 

This book describes a technique of working with our emotions through the sensations we experience in our bodies. Cornell observes that, in personal development work, we often lead with our logical minds and emphasize what we’re thinking…at the expense of what we are feeling in our bodies. 

According to Cornell, learning to tune in to the “felt sense” of how our emotions are cropping up in our physical bodies— a process called “Focusing”— can help us get in touch with emotions, fears, instincts, wisdom, and programming that might otherwise remain inaccessible to our logical, analytical minds. 

Focusing isn’t hard to learn— but it can be challenging to practice. 

It entails doing an attentional body scan, focusing on the central structures of our bodies— our abdomen, throat, and chest— and asking, inwardly, what’s going on in there. 

In Focusing, we invite our body to yield information to us— we don’t aggressively seek it out or demand that our body give it up. 

We focus in on what we’re physically feeling in our body— tension, heaviness, lightness, uneasiness, sturdiness— and we go through a process of acknowledging it (“saying hello to it”), attempting to put words to it, and asking questions of it…all with an attitude of gentle, unconditional acceptance. 

The idea is, when we approach whatever we’re feeling in our bodies with curiosity and respect, not insisting it be anything other than what it is, we’ll have a better chance of it softening and telling us what it’s all about…and, if we take the trouble to listen, we might be surprised. 

Much of “The Power of Focusing” is spent on emphasizing the importance of acknowledging that we are not our feelings. There are PARTS of us that feel various things— but we can, and do, exist independently of whatever parts of us feel whatever ways. 

(This is a key concept in one of my areas of specialty treatment as a therapist, Dissociative Identity Disorder. Cornell’s technique here mirrors tactics found in Internal Family Systems theory, which also emphasizes empathic, supportive communication between “parts” of the self.) 

In Focusing in on what we’re feeling in our bodies, Cornell stresses that our job is to sit with our feelings, give them space to be what they are, acknowledge them, and invite them to tell us what we need to know. 

This is in contrast to how many well meaning patients— as well as therapists— go about conducting therapy— many go into therapy assuming that the idea is to grill ourselves about why we feel what we feel and do what we do, and/or to strong-arm ourselves into behaving differently. 

The best thing about this book is how straightforwardly Cornell lays out her technique, then goes on to discuss its practical applications (using just enough case studies, in contrast to similar books which devolve into anecdote after anecdote about how awesome the technique is). Cornell doesn’t attempt to overreach in her claims of what her technique can do; she acknowledges it as essentially a starting point or deepening tactic, which is exactly what it is. 

Students of psychology will note similarities in “Focusing” to both object relations theory and person-centered psychotherapy. Cornell emphasizes strongly that the key to personal development is forming a supportive, accepting relationship with one’s self first and foremost— and when one is using Focusing as a tool of self-knowledge, it’s almost impossible NOT to develop such a relationship. 

The only limitation that occurs to me about Cornell’s technique might be when readers assume that Focusing, in itself, is the end-all, be-all of personal development. To my mind, Focusing is best thought of as a tool, not a comprehensive theory of how healing happens. Just like any tool, it can be instrumental in healing…but there is more to emotional regulation and behavior change than supportively exploring one’s emotions through the body. 

That said, Cornell seems to go to pains not to oversell her technique. I’m appreciative of how readable and concise her book is, and how practical her focus is. 

“The Power of Focusing” is a useful introduction not only to listening to and honoring one’s self…but the very basis of self-esteem in general. 

We can– and must– choose who we become.

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We can choose who we become. 

Who we are, what we value, what we like, what we do…it doesn’t have to be left at the mercy of the things that have happened to us. 

It doesn’t need to be left at the mercy of our genetics. 

We can consciously, intentionally choose not only what our life is going to look like and include, but literally who we are. 

And what’s more: if we’re going to have high, healthy self-esteem, it’s vitally important that we do choose who we are. 

Consciously. Purposefully. Intentionally. 

Why is this so important? 

Because high, healthy self-esteem necessitates, above anything else, a sense of autonomy. 

In order to have and maintain healthy self-esteem, we need to proactively create our lives, rather than reactively live our lives. 

To just sit back and live our lives— to accept who we are and what we like and what we ARE like— is to accept a passive identity that, ultimately, can make us feel very vulnerable. 

If the very basics of who we are is left up to forces outside of our control…why should we believe that we can meaningfully control anything at all? 

Don’t get me wrong: the world will do its very best to convince you that you cannot choose who you are. 

The world will work VERY hard to make you believe that who you are and what you like is entirely out of your control— that you cannot fundamentally choose or change who you are. 

The reason the world will work so hard to help you think and believe these things is because it emphatically does NOT want you choosing who you are and how you behave. 

The world wants you to THINK you are at the mercy of powerful, mysterious forces outside of your control…because if you truly think and believe this, YOU are easier to control. 

Being passive makes you easier to sell stuff to. 

Being passive makes you easier to bully into voting for who they tell you to. 

Being passive makes you more predictable and controllable. 

Don’t make any of that easier for “them.” 

Why do we resist the idea that we can— and, indeed, must— choose who we are? 

Often, we resist it because it’s a tall order. It’s intimidating to face the prospect of choosing who we are, what we value, what we want, what our goals are. 

What if we get it wrong? 

What if we can’t live up to our own expectations? 

Fear keeps a lot of people from actively, aggressively pursuing and exploring who they are and what they want. 

Then there’s all that conditioning we got growing up. 

If you haven’t noticed there is a strong undercurrent of fatalism in our culture. 

Many, many people think that things like personality characteristics, character traits, and even the size and shape of our physical bodies are mostly, if not wholly, created by the interplay of genetics we didn’t choose and early life environments we didn’t choose. 

We’re saturated in this worldview as we grow up. 

Why wouldn’t we believe it? 

I’m here to tell you: you are not at the mercy of forces outside of yourself. 

I’m here to tell you: it’s not too late— never too late— to choose and create who you are. 

I’m here to tell you: you can choose who you are…and you must. 

Self-esteem can tolerate “no.”

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Healthy self-esteem can stand dissent. 

When we’re emotionally healthy, we can handle someone being wrong. 

We can tolerate it when someone disagrees with us. 

Why? Because someone disagreeing with us, or even being objectively wrong as we perceive it, doesn’t threaten what we know. 
When we have healthy self-esteem, we know reality exists, and we know we are committed to perceiving and understanding reality to the best of our ability; and we know that commitment is not dependent upon anyone else’s point of view. 

(Or anyone else’s opinion about OUR point of view.) 

Have you ever noticed how rattled people with low self-esteem become when someone disagrees with them? 

They get all uncomfortable. They lash out. They try to silence the dastardly dissenter. 

Why? Because people with low self-esteem have usually NOT made the commitment to perceive and understand reality to the best of their ability. 

Usually people with low self-esteem HAVE low self-esteem specifically BECAUSE they are basing their understanding of reality on somebody else’s ideas or approval. 

There is a strong connection between reality orientation and self-esteem. 

It’s not that people with high self-esteem always “know” or assume they are right about what reality entails. To the contrary, most people with high self-esteem are more open than most to the shocking idea that they may in fact be very WRONG about what the world is all about. 

But it doesn’t threaten who they are. 

Their sense of self and worth exist independent of whether they’re right. 

Their sense of self and worth exist independently of whether they’re smart. 

People who have low self-esteem don’t identify with that. 

They figure if they’re wrong, it must be because they’re terrible, incompetent, silly people; and if THAT’S true, then dear Lord, we can’t let anybody KNOW that, right? 

Observe how you react to people disagreeing with you. 

Observe how you react to the prospect of being mistaken. 

Now observe how the people around you react to disagreement or mistakes. 

Have you been sold a bill of goods about how your worth depends on being RIGHT? 

Have the people around you bought into the idea that to disagree with an opinion of theirs is to attack them as a person? 

You can tell a lot about a person’s self-esteem by how they respond to being criticized or corrected. 

High self-esteem tends to meet such instances with humor and curiosity. 

Low self-esteem tends to meet them with defensiveness and anger. 

The good news is, we can change how we react to people disagreeing with us and correcting us. 

We don’t have to stay in a defensive, low self-esteem position. 

The thing is, we need to be able to accept the idea that we are not our “rightness.” 

We are not our opinions. 

We are not even our performances, flawless or otherwise. 

We can cultivate our tolerance of being wrong, mistaken, silly, or even disagreed with…if we are patient and compassionate with ourselves. 

You know. If we do those things that cultivate high self-esteem. 

Book Review: “Self-Hypnosis: Easy Ways to Hypnotize Your Problems Away” by Bruce Goldberg

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This was a frustrating read. But then again, I kind of knew better than to embark upon it. 

Hypnosis is an area of passionate interest for me. One of the main reasons I got into psychology was that my deep interest in the self-help movement had led me to become particularly interested in hypnosis and other naturally altered states of consciousness. 

I’ve been voraciously reading books and articles on hypnosis for years, and I use hypnotic techniques every day in my clinical practice. 

I’m positive I probably came about this book in a bargain bin somewhere and scooped it up because it was cheap and relevant to my interests. 

In it, Dr. Goldberg— a dentist, who also has graduate training in counseling and form training in hypnosis— lays out his view of the fundamentals of hypnosis, and how learning the skill of hypnotizing yourself can be of practical use in your personal development efforts. 

I strongly agree with his basic thesis. Hypnosis is a natural phenomenon that is easily induced— it’s induced quite often by advertisements, politicians, religious leaders, and psychotherapists— and learning how to purposefully enter into trance states can absolutely positively impact our lives. 

For that matter, Dr. Goldberg goes on to make some important, accurate points. Hypnosis is, generally speaking, quite safe, as far as interventions go. 

He points out that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis— i.e., it’s very hard to hypnotize someone without their consent, and basically impossible to make them do something against their will. 

He touches upon the fact that hypnosis works mostly by teaching your brain to intentionally slow down its brainwave activity and enter into the “alpha state,” in which it is easier to learn and alter beliefs and thoughts. 

He points out that an important part of hypnosis is to distract the analytical, conscious mind, so it doesn’t rip apart the suggestions and programming you’re attempting to install in your unconscious mind. 

All fine and good. 

Beyond this, most of the book is comprised of self-hypnotic scripts that Dr. Goldberg offers as templates for you to record and use on yourself. His scripts are pretty standard, as far as hypnosis inductions go. There’s a lot of progressive relaxation— the systematic tensing and relaxing of muscles— and a lot of visualization of stairs and the like. 

Still good, for the most part. 

Then…come his suggestions. 

As Dr. Goldberg gets into the suggestions, or instructions, he suggests repeating after you’ve used the induction (relaxation and focusing) techniques, his book descends into…kind of silliness. 

It’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with the suggestions he offers, I suppose. In fact, they’re all pretty boilerplate. 

Which is kind of the problem. 

Any experienced hypnotherapist will tell you that the challenge with most hypnosis isn’t getting the person to relax, or coming up with clever, unique induction procedures. 

Rather, the challenge with most hypnosis is framing suggestions in such a way as they are not too directive, not too broad nor too specific, and— most importantly— that they don’t do more harm than good. 

This is where Dr. Goldberg’s methods kind of fall apart. 

The reason why you don’t want to be too directive in your hypnotic suggestions is pretty simple. Your brain doesn’t like commands. It just doesn’t.

This is especially true if you’re struggling with a habit of behavior (as, presumably, you are, if you’re attempting to use self-hypnosis as a tool). If you give your brain a command as direct as Dr. Goldman recommends, your brain is likely to respond with a curt, “No. Don’t tell me what to do.” 

Furthermore, one of the quickest ways to bring someone OUT of a state of hypnosis— i.e., to wake up their conscious mind and to invite it to tear apart what you’re doing— is to give the brain a particularly direct command. 

Even if your conscious mind has been lulled into complacency by a competent hypnotic induction, if you start giving it commands, like Dr. Goldberg recommends, your conscious mind is going to wake up in a hurry…and likely receive it as an act of self-protection to start ripping apart the overly directive “suggestions” your ham-handed hypnotist is trying to impart. 

Needless to say, this gets in the way of the whole thing working. 

So, part of my beef with this book is that I don’t think his scripts are, in the end, terribly effective, mostly because they’re so directive with the suggestions, too much do-this-don’t-do-that. 

(That’s another problem I have with his suggestions, by the way— “don’t do that” doesn’t work in hypnotic contexts. Neuropsychological research suggests the brain doesn’t process “don’t” or “no” or “not” particularly well— meaning a command such as “you don’t want to smoke” can easily become “you want to smoke” in your unconscious mind.) 

But the other problem I have with his methods is the age and past-life regressions. 

It’s not just that the research either hasn’t been done or hasn’t particularly supported the notion of age regression in hypnosis. To be honest, I’m not terribly familiar with what the science says about our ability to regress, age-wise, under hypnosis— though I’m highly skeptical of Dr. Goldberg’s claim that every single thing that has ever happened to us exists as a perfect recording in our unconscious minds. 

(In fact, I know for a fact that’s not how memory works— at least normal, non-posttrauamtic memory.) 

It’s more that when you induce a potentially dissociative state in yourself such as hypnosis, and then you start inviting yourself to become a version of you younger than you are…woof. This can be problematic, for a number of reasons. 

I’ll refrain here from going into a spiral about how trauma, traumatic memory, and dissociation all work, but it will suffice to say: if you have a traumatic past, I strongly recommend you do NOT use self-hypnotic techniques to “regress” yourself to a previous age and try to “process” any kind of trauma on your own. Please, please, PLEASE do this with the support and supervision of a trained professional. 

I’m serious. 

The other stuff— Dr. Goldberg’s latter chapters about exploring past and future lives through hypnosis, contacting your “higher self” through hypnosis, and/or literally growing younger or increasing your actual IQ through hypnosis— it will suffice to say, even as a strong proponent of and believer in the power of hypnotic techniques, I am highly skeptical about whether research exists to support these possibilities. 

Dr. Goldberg’s book is frustrating to me because he starts out with a good idea. It’s very good to learn how to naturally alter our state of consciousness. The more we can live and work and exist in the alpha state, the better. I am all for learning to relax and let our conscious minds mellow. I am all for using affirmations to program ourselves to feel better, think better, and behave better. 

It’s BECAUSE all of this is a good things that Dr. Goldberg’s overstatements, broad generalizations, overly directive suggestions, and metaphysical speculation make my kind of shake my head and sigh. 

Learn all you can about hypnosis and self-hypnosis, absolutely. 

But maybe learn it from a different book. 

Beware drama addiction.

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It is ENTIRELY possible to become addicted to drama. 

I know, I know. Everybody SAYS they hate drama. 

But the fact is, many people behave in ways that make it almost impossible for their lives to have less drama in them. 

This is especially true when people are recovering from addiction or trauma. 

One of the things that often happens when people start getting their lives under control is, their lives get kind of quieter. 

There are fewer crises to be managed. 

The crises that do happen, are resolved quicker and neater. 

People find they actually have the skills and tools they need to handle both the practicalities of managing their lives and the emotions that go along with their life situations. 

You’d think this would be a good thing, a relief, after years of hair-on-fire, one-crisis-after-another existence, right? You’d think that this is what success in overcoming addiction or stabilizing your life after trauma is SUPPOSED to look like, right? 

You’d think so, yes.

The thing is, though, when we’ve gotten used to our lives being dramatic or tragic operas of crisis management, a lot of the time our brains don’t quite know how to handle the lack of action. 

It’s not that anybody necessarily LIKES drama. But drama is what our brains have gotten used to. 

What’s more, drama carries with it spikes of adrenaline— that hormone that your sympathetic nervous system produces when it’s time to handle a crisis or perform under pressure. And regular shots of adrenaline, as it turns out…can be kind of addicting. 

When our nervous systems have gotten used to years and years and years of regular shots of adrenaline, to go to an existence where you’re NOT getting your adrenaline fix can be more difficult than you’d think. 

You may be relived that your life isn’t in chaos anymore. 

But your central nervous system may be craving its fix. 

Your brain may be even getting bored. It’s used to stimulation. That’s become its default setting. 

If we’re not realistic about this, your brain WILL attempt to solve that problem…by creating drama. 

Understand: this is not just you making poor choices. 

It’s not a matter of you waking up and saying, “Hmm…how can I make my life more complicated today?” 

It’s a matter of your brain having gotten used to a status quo…and now being nervous that the status quo is no more. 

Your brain may be suspicious of the lack of action and drama. 

Your mind may have associated lack of action and drama with something bad about to happen. 

When you go to see a scary movie, and everything gets all quiet, what happens to your body? 

That’s right: you get tense. Why? 

Because you know you’re seeing a horror movie…and you know in horror movies periods of calm and quiet are usually interrupted by jump scares and horrifying, starting images. 

If you’ve lived a live of chaos, trauma, and crisis, and now you’re in the phase of your life where you’ve recovered enough to establish some stability and calm…don’t be surprised to feel your anxiety level rising. 

That’s just your brain thinking you’re still in a horror movie, and waiting anxiously for that jump scare. 

The trick is, recognizing what’s happening to you…and not trying to relieve that feeling of anxiety by creating that jump scare yourself. 

Because your brain is bored is NOT a good reason to go out looking for drama. 

Again: few people consciously do this. It’s more of an impulsive, instinctive thing. 

Things will go smoothly for awhile, and then, out of nowhere, you find yourself weirdly, passively sabotaging your progress. 

You find yourself not taking your meds. Not working your steps. Not going to meetings. Not doing your therapy exercises. Not getting enough sleep. ‘

Not doing the things, in other words, that keep you healthy and stable. 

Notice when these things are happening. 

It’s not that you have to do everything perfectly. You can’t, and you won’t— and that’s neither the goal nor the expectation. 

Just stay on the lookout for your brain trying to sneak more drama or action into your life. 

And be prepared to just say no. 

 

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“Blame” versus “Responsibility.”

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Few concepts get more confused and mangled than those of “blame” and “responsibility.” 

Which is a bummer, because they’re very different, conceptually and practically. 

“Blame” isn’t a concept that I’ve ever gotten much mileage out of. When you’re in a mess, the question of “who got us into this mess” is often a more or less academic one. 

For the most part, I don’t CARE who got me into a mess if I’m in a mess. 

I’m more interested in how I’m going to get OUT of that mess. 

“Blame” almost never helps me with that question. For that matter, I dare say “blame” almost never helps anyone out of any mess they’re in. 

Most often, I see “blame” tossed around as a way of making someone feel better— or worse— about the mess that they’re in. But it’s almost never a useful tool of actually getting OUT of a mess. 

Only the concept of “responsibility” can do that. 

In fact, it’s hard to get OUT of a mess without engaging the concept of “responsibility.” 

What’ the difference between the two concepts? 

I don’t need to know, or care, who is to blame for a mess that I am intent on getting out of. 

But if I want out of that mess, I have to accept responsibility for getting out of it. 

It doesn’t mater, at that moment, who is to blame; and often, trying to assign blame is a distraction from accepting responsibility for getting out of a mess. 

It’s as if, if we’re not to blame for getting into a mess, we don’t have to assume responsibility for getting out of it. 

Not true. 

If you want something to change, you have to accept responsibility for the outcome you want…and to let go, at least for a little bit, of placing blame. 

There’s simply no other way. 

It may not be our fault that we’re addicted. Maybe tobacco companies and poor role models and peers and traumatic childhoods contributed to our addiction. There are surely many culprits to blame for having developed an addiction. 

But the only way out of addiction is to accept responsibility for ending it. 

It’s certainly not your fault if you were abused. When we are victimized, it is always and only the fault of the person behaving aggressively toward us. Nobody asks to be abused. The blame for abuse goes squarely on the perpetrator. 

But the only way out of living a life in response to trauma is to accept responsibility for living a different kind of life. 

It may not be our fault that we’re depressed. Brain chemistry, genetics, and circumstances may well have ganged up on us to produce the emotional and behavioral patterns that we call “depression.” 

But the only way out of depression is to accept responsibility for feeling and behaving in new ways. 

There are absolutely cases where we are definitively not to blame for the circumstances we found ourselves in. It is absolutely the case that we can, and do, get dealt crappy hands in life. 

It happens, and it’s not our fault. 

But blaming doesn’t change it. 

Only accepting responsibility for changing it opens the door to something new and different. 

“Responsibility” literally means “able to respond.” If we stay stuck in blame, rather than accepting responsibility, we are robbing ourselves of the opportunity to respond to a situation. 

It’s as if we’re waiting for someone else to bail us out. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m through waiting on anyone else to bail me out. 

I refuse to get caught up in blame. It’s a waste of time and energy— and I don’t have time or energy to spare. 

Neither do you. 

 

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