Every problem has a solution…maybe?


I choose to believe every problem has a solution. 

I’m not saying YOU should believe it. I’m not even saying it’s right. 

I’m saying that’s something I CHOOSE to believe, because it’s a belief that helps empower me day to day. It makes more options available to me. It helps manage my mood. 

Our beliefs can do that— they can impact everything from how hard we’re willing and able to work, to how long we’ll persist in something, to what resources we’re willing to access. 

Because I’ve chosen to believe that every problem has a solution, it means I’m often willing to try many approaches and access many resources before I even think about giving up. 

And when I do think about “giving up,” it’s rarely in terms of “this is hopeless, I’m just not going to try anymore.” It’s usually in terms of, “I’m not getting anywhere with my current energy level and tools; I’m going to beat a tactical retreat here, press the reset button, and maybe attack this from a different perspective later.” 

It may or may not be true that every problem has a solution— but that’s hardly the point. 

If I went into challenges thinking “look, there are just some problems without solutions,” my brain would be predisposed toward looking for proof that the problem in front of me was one of those unsolvable problems. 

My brain would be wired to overlook potential solutions, because our brains always want to confirm what they already believe. 

I know for a fact that my belief that every problem has a solution has led me to work harder to solve problems that I otherwise would have probably given up on. 

I also know that my belief that every problem has a solution has led me to access more and different resources than I would have otherwise in the quest to find solutions to particularly difficult problems. 

Whether it is objectively true that every problem has a solution isn’t the point. I can’t actually prove that every problem has a solution; nor can anyone else prove that there are problems that don’t have solutions. The best anyone can ever do is maybe prove that a particular problem doesn’t seem solvable with the resources we currently have available…which is very different from saying, “this problem can’t be solved.” 

Our beliefs are important because they frame the discussion and direct our focus. 

Do your beliefs work for you, or against you? 

Some people raise objections to this idea, because they point out that they just can’t arbitrarily change beliefs because some beliefs might happen to be more productive. 

My response to this is, then fake it. 

Act is if you believe something differently, just for a moment. Try it out. 

For example: if you don’t happen to believe every problem has a solution…what would it be like if you just PRETENDED you believed that for a minute? 

You don’t have to completely buy in. 

You just have to BEHAVE— for a minute— as if you do buy in. 

In this example, if you behaved AS IF you believe every problem has a solution…chances are you’d work longer and harder to solve certain problems you might otherwise have given up on. 

Where’s the downside to that? 

If you act AS IF certain things were true, even if you don’t believe them to be…you actually don’t lose much of anything. 

If you don’t truly believe you can stay sober, but you act AS IF you believe you can stay sober…what have you lost? Chances are this “fake” belief will only lead you to staying sober longer than you otherwise would. (People who don’t believe they can stay sober are, all too often, just waiting for the stressor or opportunity to use that’s going to lead them back down the rabbit hole.) 

If you don’t truly believe you can recover from PTSD, but you act AS IF you can recover from PTSD…what have you lost? You’ll go to therapy and do the therapy assignments. (People who don’t believe they can truly recover have little incentive to go to therapy or do the assignments…because why bother, if they don’t believe they can succeed?) 

It’s easier to play “act as if” with some believes than others, certainly. I’m not saying that every belief is easy or simple to just “try on.” 

But take a look at your worldview. Do you have beliefs that are disabling to your level of motivation? 

Try chucking them to the curb…just in theory. Just act as if. 

Try out a different set of lenses. 

See how the world looks. 

See what you’re willing to do. 

See what you might have missed. 

You have nothing to lose. 


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Don’t let others’ pessimism get under your skin.


A particularly difficult aspect of personal growth involves learning to deal constructively with other peoples’ reflexive pessimism. 

For some reason, whenever we get excited about or interested in something, there seems to be a reflex on the part of people in our lives to say, “that won’t work,” “that’s silly,” “you’re ill-suited to that,” or something similar. 

Their hearts may well be in the right place. They may be just trying to save us from having discouraging or frustrating or painful experiences. I don’t for a minute think that most of the people who immediately discourage us from pursuing something new are just trying to bring us down (though some are, I suppose). 

I think those people just don’t realize what a bummer it is to us when their very first instinct is to shoot down something we found interesting or exciting or intriguing…especially when it’s hard to find things interesting or exciting or intriguing in our lives. 

Some people are just not great at diplomatically holding their tongues. And, in fairness, this is probably something that afflicts all of us from time to time.

We’ve ALL been reflexively negative or pessimistic at times. It doesn’t make us— or the people in your life who are reflexively negative or pessimistic— bad or uncaring people. 

What it does mean, though, is that we have to develop the skill of keeping others’ opinions in perspective. 

We have to develop the tool of holding to our own vision, even when we’re getting negative feedback from the environment. 

We have to develop the ability to make our own value judgments about the advisability (or not!) of anything that might be on our radar screen…instead of being pressured to give up on ideas or projects simply because someone else might think they’re stupid or unrealistic. 

Developing and holding to our own vision and perspective is an integral part of self-esteem…and it’s a skillset that can be learned. 

Why is developing and holding to our own vision so important to self-esteem? 

Because, at its core, the concept of self-esteem is all about a feeling of personal agency (the conviction that you can get stuff done) and personal respect (the conviction that your self, your values, and your goals are worthy and important). 

It’s tough to feel personal agency if we’re constantly giving up on our ideas, plans, goals, or dreams just because someone else gave us static about them. 

It’s tough to feel self-respect when we’re constantly prioritizing someone else’s opinions or perceptions over our own. 

None of this means, by the way, that our own perspective is always right. Lord knows, we’re going to get impractical, not-so-advisable ideas and plans in our heads from time to time. I’m not at all saying that your “gut” feeling that something is right or a good idea is always correct. 

Nor am I saying that you should never seek or accept feedback, including (especially!) negative feedback from others. Seeking others’ perspectives is an important aspect of reality testing that we need to use if we’re going to create a realistic life plan for ourselves— for the simple reason that we don’t know everything and we can’t see everything clearly from our own, limited perspective. 

Others’ feedback and perception is, in fact, valuable. 

The problem arises when we become so reactive to others’ negative feedback that we give up on ideas or abandon goals or dreams just because they gave us some crap about it. 

Good ideas sometimes get crap. 

Bad ideas are sometimes greeted with enthusiasm from friends and contacts. 

The thing we need to keep in mind is: others’ perspectives are tools we can use to reality-test our ideas and plans…but they’re not the ONLY tools we can or should use. 

We also need to remember that others’ perspectives are derived not only from their unique viewpoints, but their own biases, experiences, and priorities…which may not echo or be congruent with our values, experiences, or priorities. 

After awhile, it becomes easy to abandon goals and plans if we immediately get flak from other people about them. No one likes being told their idea is a bad idea. No one likes being made to feel silly for being excited or enthusiastic for an idea that somebody else thinks is dumb. 

You can abandon ideas or plans if you want. 

But don’t abandon them simply because you got some reflexive negative feedback about them. 

Take that feedback into consideration…but then return to your own priorities, values, and goals. 

Make YOUR values system your guiding compass for making decisions…not your desire to please or look cool to others. 

Your self-esteem will thank you for it. 


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Let yourself have good days and bad days…AND strategies.


You’re going to have good days, and you’re going to have bad days. 

I know, I know. This seems obvious. So why even say it? 

Because bad days— or even bad moments— have a way of endangering peoples’ recovery efforts in a unique, and sometimes heartbreaking, way. 

Our brains are smart. Our brains, generally speaking, want to lead us away from pain and toward gratification. (Granted, sometimes they get their wires crossed and associate gratification with various types of pain, but the general principle still holds: all things being equal, our brains want to nudge us toward things we like, and away from things we don’t like.) 

The problem with our brains is NOT that they are not smart. The problem with our brains is that they can be reactive as hell. 

When pain occurs, our brains are NOT big on sitting around, processing it, analyzing it. 


This is the context our brains generally bring to moments of pain, despair, or hopelessness. 

This is also the context our brains bring to symptomatic or behavioral relapses. They want the pain to end and they want to maximize the odds the pain will never recur. 

In the process of getting out of pain and trying to ensure that pain will not recur, our brains leap to some…hasty conclusions. 

They like to propose permanent solutions to temporary problems. Temporary problems, such as having a bad moment or a bad day. 

They’re trying to protect us, God bless those brains of ours. In fact, they’ve been wired by eons of evolution to try to get us the hell away from pain in as quick and permanent manner as possible. 

Which is why we often need to take the time and trouble to recondition our brains to think— really think— when confronted with certain types of pain, to not be quite as reactive as they might otherwise be wired to be. 

A bad day doesn’t equal a bad life. 

A bad moment doesn’t equal a bad day. 

A relapse doesn’t equal “I will never recover and trying to recover is pointless.” 

How, then, can we keep our brains from being all “SCREW IT ALL AHHHH” when we have moments of pain or failure? 

The answer is both simple and yet not terribly easy: we have to plan for the 100%, absolutely certain eventuality that we are going to have a bad day, we’re going to experience pain, we’re going to at least partially relapse at some point; we need a strategy for what, exactly, we’re going to do when those bad moments happen; and we need to rehearse this strategy, again and again and again, until we start to develop confidence that it is a plan that can and will work when the time comes to employ it. 

Sounds easy, right? 

Not so much. 

We are not good at planning for failure. We like to plan for success. 

When we even THINK about planning for failure, our brains very often ask us, “Uh, if it’s a realistic possibility that we’ll fail, why are we even bothering to do any of this ‘recovery’ stuff at all?” 

(If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice this is EXACTLY the kind of thing our brain does, as described earlier in this blog post— when it gets even a WHIFF of pain, its very first impulse is to say “SCREW IT!”)

Planning for relapse or a bad moment or a bad day doesn’t have to be overly complicated— but it does need to be through and it does need to be realistic. It needs to involve coping skills you know you’ve developed, skills that very specifically draw your focus away from the pain or failure of the moment and place your focus in a more productive, less painful place. 

Then we need to rehearse it. 

We need to visualize ourselves successfully using our backup plan to get back on track from a momentary derailment of our recovery efforts. 

(Notice, again, your brain pushing back at that idea— “HE’S TELLING US TO VISUALIZE FAILURE?! WE ARE NOT OKAY WITH THAT!” I’m telling you, your brain’s inclination to push back against pain and failure is strong and well-conditioned.)

The good news is, mental conditioning works. 

The good news is, as you mentally rehearse yourself using your skills to dig out of a hole, the more likely you’ll be to be able to dig out of any hole you happen to fall into. 

The good news is, our brains can be made less reactive…but we need to be consistent and patient with them as we work on reconditioning them. 

But the good news about THAT is: you can, in fact, do this. 


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Guilt is a rope that wears thin.


Someone a lot smarter than me once observed that “guilt is a rope that wears thin.” 

She was referring to guilt as a means of control. As you may have noticed, there is a large subset of people who often make effortful attempts to control other people through guilt. 

“You SHOULD do this.” 

“If you were a decent person, you WOULD do this.” 

“What’s wrong with you that you’re wither UNWILLING or UNABLE to do this?” 

Guilt is often brandished as a weapon of behavioral control for one main reason: it very frequently works. 

We WANT to be good people. 

We WANT to be seen by others as good people. To be KNOWN as good people. 

There’s nothing wrong with wanting the approval of others, moral and otherwise. I prefer it when other people think I’m a good person, and it bothers me when people question whether I’m a good person. 

We are all susceptible to manipulation via guilt. It’s a very human vulnerability. 

But what happens when we become a psychological slave to guilt? 

What happens when we become so susceptible to manipulation via guilt, that our guilt becomes an overwhelming emotion that flattens us most of the day, every day? 

When we allow our lives and behavior to be controlled by guilt, as opposed to simply influenced by it, we begin to lose ourselves. Our self-esteem begins to crumble under the weight of judgments and demands that we didn’t choose. 

How can we keep guilt from stealing our emotional lives? 

There’s only one real way: by developing and reinforcing a moral code and ethical compass of our own, and learning to rely on it…even at the risk of disappointing (or even angering) others. 

What does it mean to develop our own moral code? 

It means thinking, deeply, about issues of right and wrong…from our own point of view. 

We can take into consideration the moral codes advocated by our religion or spiritual path. We can take into consideration cultural norms and values. We can take into consideration things we were taught and experiences we had as we grew up. 

But in the end, our moral code needs to be ours. It needs to be carefully thought through and chosen freely by us. 

This is harder than it might sound. 

We’re strongly conditioned to take on other peoples’ ideas of “goodness” and “morality.” (It’s this conditioning, actually, that holds society together— if humans didn’t experience at least a certain amount of this pressure, agreeing to things like common laws would be terribly problematic at best.) 

I’m not at all saying your moral code needs to be significantly different than the morality of the people around you, or society at large. 

I AM saying that, whatever your moral code and ethical compass end up entailing…they have to be thoughtfully considered and purposefully, consciously accepted by you. 

It is in this conscious, purposeful thinking through and acceptance of a moral code that you can free yourself from the emotional slavery of guilt-driven manipulation. 

Why? Because when you’ve thoughtfully, intentionally developed and accepted your own moral code, others’ attempts to guilt you for not accepting theirs fall on deaf ears. When others try to manipulate you, your legitimate response will be: “Thank you for your input, but I’ve already thought this issue through, and I am confident in my thoughts and feelings on the subject.” 

Understand: it will still be hard, at times, to bear the disappointment of other people. 

Other people, as a rule, don’t really like it when we develop the tools to not fall for their tactics of manipulation. 

Be prepared for their scorn. 

But also be open to the idea that by developing a clear, firm, stable sense of who you are and what you believe, you will be less and less impacted by their scorn. 

Guilt is a rope that does indeed wear thin. 

And as it turns out, you have the tools to snip it. 


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Focus on your focus.


Focus is everything. 

No, focus can’t change metaphysical reality. You can’t build a building just by imagining a building springing up before your eyes. 

You can’t lose weight by just imagining it. 

You can’t manifest a new car by visualization only, sorry to say. 

(Not that I’ve tried, or anything.) 

I don’t mean “focus is everything in that it actively creates outward reality. I mean focus is everything in that our focus almost exclusively creates and reinforces our emotional and psychological reality. 

What do I mean by “focus?” 

I mean the things we pay attention to. More specifically, I mean the patterns of things we pay attention to. 

I mean the premises and beliefs we accept as true, and the premises and beliefs we reject as unconditionally false. 

I mean everything we let past our “filters” into our brains for processing and action. 

The thing about our brains is, they are in fact super smart, but they are also constantly getting bombarded with information from our sensory organs. Our entire nervous systems are continually throwing things at our brains for possible processing and action. If our brains were to take into account EVERYTHING that gets thrown at them, we’d be paralyzed, because our brains would need basically an infinite amount of time to process everything and decide if it’s worth acting upon. 

So our brains take shortcuts. 

Our brains make decisions about what is worth focusing on, and what isn’t. (Psychologists call these shortcuts “heuristics” and “schemas.”)

The shortcuts our brains habitual make in deciding what sensory information is worth processing and acting upon— that is, our patterns of habitual focus— basically create our internal reality. 

We need to pay attention to our focus. 

We need to realize that we can actively influence our focus— bring our focus into alignment with our goals and values. 

We need to realize that we are ALWAYS getting a filtered version of reality…and we need to become aware of the way our habitual patterns of focus filter, and occasionally distort, reality. 

In fact, one of the most popular (and effective, according to the research) techniques of psychotherapy is cognitive behavioral therapy…the main premise of which is that people who experience emotional difficulties usually have distorted patterns of focus. The main work in CBT is in adjusting our focus so that we don’t unnecessarily perseverate on distorted, negative thoughts and beliefs. 

You don’t need to be in therapy in order to ask productive questions about your focus. 

All you need to do is to dial up your self-awareness. 

Most people have trouble accepting that they only get a filtered version of reality. Because they’ve been looking through the same “lens’ for so long, they tend to think that reality just is what it is, and they’re simply observing it. 

Not true. 

Reality is what it is, but we’re all focusing on it from particular vantage points. 

Our interpretations of events will vary wildly from person to person and culture to culture based upon our patterns of focus. 

Are your patterns of focus serving you? 

Are your patterns of focus consistent with who you want to be and the life and the world you’re trying to create? 

Are your patterns of focus consistent with the things you’re trying to feel? 

It’s not a matter of adjusting your beliefs and attitudes so that you’re somehow avoiding or evading reality. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: it’s about taking an objective look at how your habitual patterns of looking at things are interpreting the events of reality as they transpire. 

Just become open to the idea that your focus matters. 

Become open to the idea that there is more than one perspective on reality. 

Be open to the idea that you can change the way you think, feel, and behave by changing your focus…which is NOT the same as evading or avoiding reality. 

Pay attention to your attention. 

It might be easier than you think. 


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“Compromise” is not a dirty word. 

I know, I know. You’ve seen internet memes that say otherwise. In fact, I just saw one attributed to one of my favorite pop culture personalties, the late Steve Jobs. “Don’t compromise,” the internet picture quote direly warned. 

It’s a curious instruction, “don’t compromise.” Largely because not to compromise is to shut yourself off from a great deal of progress. 

Don’t get me wrong, I get the gist of the meme. What I understand it to be saying is that too often we under-prioritize our true values and over-prioritize the values of others. We let others pressure and bully us into doing things we don’t want to do or accepting standards that are not ours. I understand the “don’t compromise” quote to be a statement affirming your right to hold and fight for your own vision and standards. Fair enough. 

But it’s also important to understand that realistically making progress, let alone achieving success, in the real world involves a great deal of compromise. 

If we want to be fit, we’re going to need to compromise on our taste buds’ insistence that everything we eat tastes amazing. 

For that matter, if we want to be fit, we’re going to need to compromise on our bodies’ desire to sleep in instead of hitting the gym. 

If we want to be balanced and emotionally healthy, we’re going to need to compromise on the conditioned desire many of us have to beat ourselves up. 

If we’re going to succeed professionally, often we need to compromise on our preference to not work long hours or tolerate the absence of immediate recognition and gratification. 

Compromise is not the enemy.

Compromise is a tool. And like any tool, it needs to be employed intelligently, mindfully, and in the service of your goals and values. 

The truth is, we often have to compromise just as a fact of daily life. 

The reason for this isn’t any conspiracy against you, personally. It’s actually quite mundane. We live in a world of billions of people. Not everybody in that world can get exactly what they want, exactly when they want it— so we have to compromise with each other. 

Can you imagine a world in which everybody was committed to never compromising with anyone else? If everyone refused to meet anybody else halfway? 

In such a world, the only method of achieving anything would e coercion. Force would be the only way to get anything done. 

If I, as a therapist, took a “I don’t compromise” attitude into my work, I would never have to work to meet a patient where they happened to be at that moment. And as any successful therapist can tell you, a great deal of our work is in meeting the patient where they are just them— verbally, emotionally, motivationally. 

If teachers took a “don’t compromise” attitude into their work, they would be impervious to feedback from parents and students— and to the growth and innovation that adjusting to that feedback requires. 

Even Steve Jobs, to whom the “don’t compromise” quote in the meme, was attributed (slightly out of context, I assume— having read an awful lot about Steve Jobs, I somehow doubt he’d utter something as ridiculously black and white as that), compromised quite a bit in his business career. He had Apple working on the iPad before the iPhone, but they couldn’t get the user interface quite right, so he went ahead with the iPhone first— and Apple proceeded to revolutionize the way we interact with technology. Even the software centerpiece of Apple computers, the OSX operating system, was a compromise: it was designed for hardware his team at the neXt company had designed, but which turned out to be unaffordable in the marketplace. So Jobs scrapped the pricey hardware, kept the software, and it went on to become the operating system on which the best computers in the world run. 

Compromise is not a weakness…if it is done intelligently, mindfully, and in the service of one’s goals and values. 

Do not fall into black and white thinking about this issue. 

(If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I’m not a fan of thinking in black and white about any issues.)

The trick, as always, is to keep your eyes open and your focus on your goals and values. 

There are lots and lots of quotes that sound good— like “don’t compromise”— but which turn out to be terrible ideas if they’re adhered to blindly and inflexibly. 

Choose your tools wisely— and use the right tool for the right job. 

Don’t compromise about being flexible and mindful, in other words. 


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Choose your identity with care.


How you self-identify— the identity you assume and affirm and reinforce for yourself— matters. 

Our identity impacts our beliefs; our perceptions; our behaviors; and our motivation. 

Our identity will define what we are and aren’t willing to do to achieve our goals and values. For that matter, our identity will go a long way toward defining our goals and values. 

When you think about yourself, who and what do you consider most important? 

Are you a parent? A child? 

A warrior? A survivor? 

An alcoholic? An addict? 

An alcoholic or addict in recovery? 

Are you what you do for a living? 

Are you what you do for a hobby? A runner, a reenactor, an actor, a martial artist? 

The truth is, we all have many dimensions on which we could identify ourselves. We’re rarely just one thing. We have many different identities, of varying importance to us. 

We get to choose which of those identities define us more than the others. Which means we need to be fully cognizant of how the identities we choose to emphasize impact our day to day thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. 

For example, I’ve worked with many people who consider themselves “survivors” and “warriors.” They’ve chosen to take important aspects of their identity from the armor they’ve had to develop in order to survive traumatic life situations. 

Being a “survivor” or a “warrior” can be a powerful identity when the tasks in front of you are survival and combat. 

But what about those times when survival and combat aren’t the most important tasks in front of you? 

The truth is, as powerful as it can be to affirm and reinforce certain identities that have been useful to us on our journey, it’s also powerful and important be able to be flexible and shift our identities when it serves us. 

We may not want to take our self-identities of “warrior” and “survivor” into intimate relationships, such as romantic bonds or therapy relationships, for example. It’s no fun to feel like you’re going into combat with your relationship partner or therapist. 

Similarly, admitting one’s status as an alcoholic or addict can be powerful in a setting such as Twelve Step meeting or psychotherapy group. Affirming that everyone in the room has had similar experience and challenges can forge bonds between group members that are indescribable to anyone who has not felt such a bond. 

However, to indefinitely hold on to one’s identity as an alcoholic or addict in every situation can be counterproductive— especially when the opportunity to use comes along. There have been times when some people have figured it’s useless to even TRY not to use when it’s right there in front of them, because, hey, they’re an addict, and what addicts do is use. 

Identifying yourself with your profession can be powerful. Very few people would be reading these words right now if I didn’t identify myself strongly with my professional role as a psychologist. I’m proud of the credentials I’ve earned and I’m grateful for the things those credentials give me the opportunity to do. 

However, if I took my identity as a psychologist into my intimate relationships, I imagine I would drive my friends, lovers, and employees bananas. No one wants to feel as if every relationship in their life is a full on psychotherapy session. 

What I want you to remember is that identity has power. When we shift identity— for example, from “victim” to “survivor” we shift the entire universe of meanings we carry around in our heads and hearts. 

But what I also want you to appreciate is that identity can, and should, be flexible. We need to cultivate the skill of choosing what aspects of ourselves serve us best in certain settings— and be willing to shift between those aspects of ourselves as necessary. 

Only you get to define who you are and what you’re all about. 

Others will try— but you can, and should, deny them that privilege. 

Choose your identities wisely. And joyfully. And purposefully. 


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