Loss is loss is loss.


A loss doesn’t have to be earth-shattering to hurt.

A loss doesn’t have to wreck your life in order to require mourning.

The culture around us loves to judge the appropriateness of our feelings. We get all sorts of feedback every day on whether we’re being too emotional; whether we’re getting upset over something we “shouldn’t” be upset by; whether our emotional reactions are sufficiently “adult.”

The world loves to tell us we’re making too big a deal of something we’re feeling.

The thing is, the world doesn’t have to live inside our skin.

The culture out there doesn’t have to deal with it when we experience a loss that may not be of the magnitude it judges “acceptable” to mourn, but which leaves us sad and asks us to acknowledge it anyway.

I’ve said to before, I’ll say it again: other people don’t have to go to sleep inside our heads and hearts, and wake up with our heads and hearts. We do.

Sometimes we’re going to feel sadness over losses that other people think are “silly.”

Sometimes we’re going to feel pain over losses that other people feel aren’t big enough to qualify for “mourning.”

Whether other people want to offer us sympathy or support is up to them. Nobody is required to mourn our losses with us. Acknowledging and coping with our losses is an inside-out job, and nobody is asking anyone else to swoop in and do their mourning for them.

Let them go ahead and think it’s silly, in other words.

We can grieve for a person; we can grieve for a pet; we can grieve for an opportunity; we can even grieve for a time of life or a relationship.

“Grieving” doesn’t mean that our world stops. It means taking the time to feel what we’re feeling, to assess the meaning of losses in our life, and to adjust to our new, post-loss reality.

A lot of people get sucked into kind of an extreme, all-or-nothing model of loss and grieving. They get this idea in their heads that “grieving” necessarily implies the world stops, that one can’t do their job or interact with other people, that all of one’s energy gets focused exclusively on the grieving if a loss is big enough to require grieving.

No wonder some people set the bar so high for what kinds of losses are “okay” to grieve.

The truth is, most grieving actually happens on the down low.

Most grieving happens quietly, almost invisibly.

An awful lot of grieving happens almost exclusively in our heads and hearts, simply because the world has made it so radically “uncool” to acknowledge that loses hurt, no matter what the magnitude.

You need to know that you’re not alone in your need to acknowledge and grieve losses, no matter how big or small.

You need to know that it’s normal and human to experience pain and confusion when things go away.

You need to know that, whatever the culture thinks, you feel what you feel, and no amount of their judgment or scorn is going to change that.

You need to know that you have not only the right, but also the responsibility, to process your losses in a way that allows you to thrive and function on the other side of that loss.

What losses have you been pressured to “let go of” before you’re ready?

What grieving have you been pressured to rush because it’s not “okay” for you to be upset?

What emotional reactions have you been nudged into denying and disowning because emotions make someone ELSE in your life uncomfortable?

It’s really, really hard to build healthy, durable self-esteem when we’re denying and disowning our emotional lives. Especially if we’re doing so to please and appease someone else.

Do your grieving the way you need to do it. Be mindful of the fact that you may or may not receive the support and empathy of everyone around you— nor do you need it in order to successfully process your losses.

What you absolutely DO need, however, is your own unequivocal support and compassion toward your own emotional life.

Don’t wage a war on your emotions just because it’s what other people have done.

Be kind to yourself. Especially around losses.

Self-acceptance and compassion is a decision you can make— only and always.


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There…uh…may or may not be a reason for everything?


I don’t know if “everything happens for a reason.”

You hear that a lot in personal development circles. “Everything happens for a reason.”

You hear it a lot in religious circles. “God has a plan.”

Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not. From a metaphysical perspective, those questions are above my pay grade.

Even if we believe in God, I don’t know if we can say for sure “he has a plan.” I’ve worked with a lot of people in my career as a therapist, the experiences of whom make me wonder about any “plan” that involves as much pain, complexity, and confusion as this one supposedly being played out by a loving, forgiving God.

Understand, I’m not saying God DOESN’T have a plan, or that things DON’T happen for a reason. I’m just acknowledging that, with the perceptual limits we have slapped on us as human beings, it’s impossible for us to know such things. Which is why, I suppose, words like “faith” exist.

No. I don’t know about the metaphysical certainty or mechanics of any grand “plans” or “reasons.”

But I do know that we, as humans, have the opportunity to find meaning in our experience.

We have the opportunity to CREATE meaning out of our experience.

And the psychological research— which is more hands on and directly observable than questions of God’s plan or lack thereof— indicates that people who spend time meaningfully grappling with the question of what their experiences MEAN tend to be happier and more functional than those who neglect that question.

Does everything serve a purpose? Who knows. But we can MAKE everything that happens to us serve a purpose in our lives.

Put another way, we can try on the hypothesis that everything hat happens to us has something to teach us. It serves a purpose in that somehow, some way, everything that happens to us can help further our goals and fulfill our values.

It was once suggested to me that a belief adopted by many successful people is that everything happens for a reason, and that reason serves us.

Keep in mind, that’s just a belief— it may be true or not.

But its VALUE isn’t necessarily in whether it’s true. It’s VALUE— much like any belief— is in how it directs our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

The fact is, we don’t know if MOST of our beliefs, either positive or negative, are true.

We think we develop beliefs based on what we understand to be true or not, but the psychological research suggests that’s not actually the case most of the time.

Most of the time, we adopt beliefs not because they’re “true” as we understand them…but rather, we adopt beliefs because of the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors they make possible.

Important distinction, that.

If you adopted the belief that everything happens for a reason, and that reason actually SERVES you…how would you look at your daily experiences differently?

If you adopted the belief that everything happens for a reason, and that reason actually SERVES you…how would you look at experiences of “failure” differently?

If you adopted the belief that everything happens for a reason, and that reason actually SERVES you…how might that equip you to deal with challenges in a way that people who DON’T have that belief are NOT equipped?

It might be a powerful game changer.

Don’t get hung up on whether your beliefs are true. Especially beliefs that no one, at least in this lifetime, can prove or disprove— like “everything happens for a reason” or “God has a plan.”

Trust me, no matter how much you meditate and/or pray on those questions, you’re not going to get a clear, unambiguous answer. And you don’t need one.

Focus instead on what, inside you, those beliefs make possible and likely.

What thoughts do those beliefs make it easy to think?

What feelings do those beliefs make it easy to have?

What behaviors do those beliefs make it easy to do?

By choosing your beliefs— and not getting hung up on the metaphysics of it all— you can reshape the way you deal with everyday life in some powerful, surprising ways.


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Life skill: Putting up with the boneheads.


Sometimes the people around us are going to pull some real boneheaded moves.

They’re going to do things that we know, without a doubt, are wrong headed.

They’re going to say things that we know, with no question, are simply incorrect.

They’re going to think things that we find silly and feel things we find exaggerated.

And what’s more…there’s going to be nothing we can do about any of the above.

EVEN IF we know we’re right, and they’re wrong.

EVEN IF we know that their lives would definitely be made better if they just did what WE KNOW they should do.

EVEN IF they’ve done stuff EXACTLY like this before— against our advice, even— and produced a less than desirable result in the past.

The fact is, we simply cannot control what other people think, feel, and do…regardless of how right we might be and how wrong they might be.

It is not, in any way, shape, or form, even our JOB to try to control other people’s behavior.

Influence, yes— everybody’s always tying to influence everybody else’s behavior as a matter of course.

But control…it’s not our place to control anyone but us. (And even THAT is a dicey proposition sometimes.)

It is our job, however, to develop the emotional management tools we need in order to handle it when the people around us pull boneheaded maneuvers. When people discard good advice; when they ignore relevant examples; when they fail to heed the lessons of history.

Part of what makes an emotionally mature person, emotionally mature, is the fact that they have developed the skill of self-talk. They know when and how to talk themselves down when their impulse might be to scream at someone who is dong something boneheaded that they “should” clearly be able to avoid.

We manage our feelings by talking to ourselves.

We’re always talking to ourselves.

We may not always be fully aware of how we’re talking to ourselves, but our self-talk is always there, keeping up a constant commentary on everything around us. Making sense of the world; perceiving things; judging things; asking questions; answering questions. We are never without the conversation that happens in our head.

It sounds like a simple concept, self-talk. But it’s something that is very often ignored by most people, most of the time.

How do we handle it WHENEVER we have an impulse to try to step in when someone around is making a boneheaded move?

We have to talk ourselves down.

We have to give ourselves good, valid reasons to back off.

We have to acknowledge to ourselves that, yes, maybe it would be better if that other person would just take our OBVIOUSLY VERY GOOD advice…but we’re not that other person, and we can’t make that decision for them.

We have to talk ourselves through the feelings of anger and disappointment that are often evoked when the people around us are behaving in frustrating ways.

The difference between people who can handle it and people who fall apart when the people around them do dumb stuff is the quality of their self-talk.

Emotionally mature people learn to listen for and consciously use self-talk to their advantage.

Self-talk becomes the way they handle it when things don’t go their way— particularly when people don’t behave as they “should.”

People who don’t use self-talk particularly well…they tend to be at the mercy of the boneheaded behavior of the people around them.

They tend to be at the mercy of their own impulsivity.

Being at the mercy of boneheads and impulsivity is not a fun place to be.

So learn how to talk to yourself.

It won’t stop the people around you from pulling really boneheaded moves. But it will make it mostly their problem, and less yours.


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Being “right” is overrated.


You don’t have to be “right” all the time in order to live a fun, fulfilling life.

You don’t even have to be right MOST of the time.

You don’t need to have all the answers; you don’t need to know the “truth” on a spiritual or metaphysical level; and you certainly don’t need to follow just the right guru, regardless of what some gurus might want you to believe.

You can be wrong most of the time and still have an awesome life.

IF you’re open to course correcting.

IF you’re willing to acknowledge and admit when you’re wrong.

IF you have the courage to sometimes look a little silly.

IF you don’t have too much of your self-image wrapped up in being “right.”

So much of our time and energy is expended on worrying whether we’re right— either literally, or spiritually, or in principle, or morally, or practically.

Hours and hours and HOURS we waste, worrying about being “wrong.”

It’s no sin or crime to be wrong— despite what our upbringing might have taught us.

It is maladaptive as hell, however, to remain inflexible in wrongness once it’s realized.

Do you have any idea how many people persist in an error or a misperception or mistake JUST because they’ve spent so much time being wrong?

It’s called the “sunk cost fallacy.” People figure that they’ve made so much time and invested so much energy (and sometimes money) making a mistake, that they “should” see it through…even if they’ve realized that they’re on the wrong track.

For some people it’s a matter of pride. Their ego can’t sustain the blow it would take if they owned up to how wrong they’ve been.

For others it’s a social thing. They don’t want to deal with the prospect of ridicule from their friends or social circle if they admit to being wrong.

Look, everybody’s wrong sometimes. It’s part of life. It’s even a part of SCIENCE— in fact, being wrong is kind fo the part of science that makes science valuable as a way of arriving at knowledge.

If we were never wrong, we’d never have to do the work of reexamining our assumptions.

If we were never wrong, we’d never have to think deeply about our processes and needs.

If we were never wrong, we’d never need or find value in other peoples’ input— why would we want to hear what OTHER people have to say, if we were never wrong?


Don’t be afraid to be wrong— even very publicly.

Don’t be afraid to look silly— even among your friends.

Developing a sense of humor and a sense of perspective about being wrong and looking silly are among the most important emotional tools that emotionally mature people will develop.

Put another way: would YOU trust a leader, a mentor, a therapist, or a sponsor who simply couldn’t admit that they were ever wrong?

Why not?

Because when people can’t admit they’re wrong, it means they haven’t developed the emotional maturity and resilience required of leaders, mentors, therapists, or sponsors.

We can take the subjects with which we deal seriously without taking ourselves too seriously.

We can even take our lives, our values, and our goals seriously without taking ourselves too seriously.

Get out there and be wrong. Make mistakes. Generate some hilarious stories you can laugh about later.

But more importantly— get out there and develop the skill of not freaking out when you’re wrong. Develop the skill of not being in denial when you’re wrong. Develop the skill of pivoting, intentionally and self-compassionately, when you discover you’re wrong.

Don’t be that person who refuses, over and over again, to admit when things have gone awry.

Live in the real world with me— where we generate real results, because we’re not afraid to admit that we’re not perfect.

What a concept, no?


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Easier said than done.


At The Doyle Practice, we emphasize doing the next right thing.

We literally can’t go back and do the LAST right thing.

We can’t do anything over again.

We can’t leap until the future and do the right thing a week, or even an hour, from now.

What we CAN do, all we can do, is the very NEXT right thing.

Why is that so difficult sometimes?

Well, we have brains that like to play “what if.” Our brains are magnificent machines that, unlike the brains of many other animals, can imagine alternative futures and alternative pasts for ourselves. Our brains can imagine, as well as perceive and think.

Imagination is a powerful tool.

And just like any powerful tool, it can make our projects much easier…or it can really hurt us if we use it carelessly.

If you, like me, are a fan of the self-help, pop psychology, and personal growth literature, you’ve probably heard, countless times, “anything your mind can think, you can make happen.” This idea often accompanies material about the Law of Attraction, positive visualization, or mental programming.

I think there are great, interesting things to be said about each of those subjects. I think there is validity to the idea that the things we repeatedly rehearse and see in our minds’ eyes have a greater propensity to manifest in our lives.

I think the jury is out on whether this is a true metaphysical phenomenon or a relatively unremarkable trick of applied neuropsychology related to the placebo effect, but either way, using our imagination to envision positive outcomes and greater resourcefulness is very much a skill worth developing.

The thing is, however, it’s not nearly as simple as “whatever your mind can picture, can exist.”

Your mind can picture rewinding time…but that is never, ever going to happen to you.

Your mind can picture jumping forward in time…but that, too, is never, ever going to happen.

I know. We’ve been told for decades by science fiction novels and movies that time travel is absolutely possible. There have even been documentary movies about all the rich possibilities that manipulating the space/time continuum may offer once we finally master the physics and technology involved in such a feat. Even Einstein— we’re told— was a proponent of the idea that space and time were merely constructs that had no more validity than we assigned them in our own heads.

I’m not a physicist. I can’t speak to whether or when time travel will be available for us to take advantage of. (Though I have to be honest: if it’s anything like it’s portrayed in the movies, I’m emphatically NOT looking forward to that day.)

What I am is a psychologist whose job is to help people realistically build better lives in the real world. And I can tell you, with absolute certainty, that people lose hours, days, months, YEARS to the fantasy that the images in their heads— rewinding or fast forwarding time— can be anything but science fiction.

Because you can imagine it doesn’t mean you can do it.

Even if you really WANT to.

Even if it would be SO MUCH BETTER if you COULD do it.

You can’t.

Doing the next right thing seems mundane when compared to the fantasy time travel worlds we’re capable of constructing in our heads. Our imaginations can build these fairy tale fortresses in which we don’t have to deal with the pressures or the obligations of figuring out, let alone doing, the next right thing.

Those fortresses and fairy tales and fantasies are robbing you of your true wealth and opportunities. Those exist right here, right now— in the sometimes unexciting, sometimes unglamorous, sometimes painful, sometimes pedestrian moment.

Trust me, though: doing the next right thing, instead of fantasizing about the last right thing or the right thing two or ten steps down the line…that’s what separates those who come out ahead from those who remain stuck in second gear.

Humor me. Do the next right thing.

Then the next.

And the next.


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When “just calm down” doesn’t cut it.


There’s a reason why “just calm down” doesn’t quite cut it for most anxiety attacks.

I’m always mystified why anyone thinks “just calm down” is helpful advice. My thought about this has always been, “if it was that easy, don’t you think I would have calmed down already?”

It’s much like the advice often offered when people are procrastinating. “Just do it,” we’re told.

Really? Like that hasn’t occurred to us before?

“Just calm down” as a response to an anxiety attack is particularly problematic, for a very specific reason: anxiety attacks are fueled by a fair amount of energy. Taking a physical and emotional event that involves as much energy as an anxiety attack and asking us to just “turn it off” is like asking someone to slam on the brakes when they’re hurtling down the highway at a hundred fifty miles an hour.

An object in motion tends to stay in motion.

If you just slam on the brakes when a car is going that fast and expect to just stop, you’re going to be in for a surprise. It’s a good way to flip the car.

Your anxiety has energy. It has momentum to it. Anybody who has had an anxiety attack knows exactly what I’m talking about. The whole thing is just suffused with physical and emotional intensity.

You need to do something with that energy. You can’t just ignore it.

Anxiety attacks have multiple components, chief among them being what’s going on in our heads— what’s being seen by our mind’s eye— and the churning, driving intensity or momentum of the physiological response. Very often the former— the images, sounds, and associations happening in our heads— are what are driving the latter.

That said, once the physiological response has been started, we have to deal with the fact that it exists.

One effective way to deal with that energy is to channel it— by manipulating what’s happening in our heads.

Something that I emphasize to my patients, again and again, is that we all have movie screens in our heads. 24/7, we’re playing images and hearing sounds in the theater of our minds.

Sometimes we’re very aware of this, such as when we close our eyes to go to sleep at night.

Sometimes we’re not so aware of this, as when we’re focused on something actually in front of us in the day time. During these times, the movie screens in our heads become background noise— but they’re still operational.

When we have anxiety, one option we have is to take control of the movie screen in our mind, and change the channel.

(Okay, so maybe it’s more like a big TV screen. Think a surround sound theater, with state of the art audio and 3D technology. Either way— you have the option to change the channel.)

We can change the channel to a different set of images from those that are driving our anxiety— but we need to be conscious that we’re choosing new images that match the intensity and energy of the previous images.

Want to know why sometimes it doesn’t work to imagine, when we’re wound up, a peaceful waterfall or gentle breeze gently whispering through the leaves?

Because your body is already revved up from the previous images you had— it knows full well, from all the adrenaline and hyper-oxygenation coursing through it, that these images are incongruent with what it feels.

If you try to feed your body images that are dramatically different from what it was experiencing, energy-wise, your body’s going to know the difference.

It’ll waste no time in changing your channel BACK to the images from before, because those images are more congruent with what it’s experiencing.

Instead, try changing the channel in your head to something a little more energy-congruent with what you were experiencing.

I advised someone recently to switch the channel in his head from the images that were making him anxious, to the image of, say, him driving a race car, or him waterskiing.

Both of these were high-energy images that his brain could accept as energy-congruent with what he was experiencing— his brain didn’t balk at him switching to those channels.

Then, I had him imagine slowing the race car down; or imagining the boat towing him as a water-skier slowing down.

Those were imagines his body and brain could make sense of, images that spoke to his body and brain slowing down…without being the exact opposite of what he WAS experiencing.

It’s not the case that we ALWAYS have control over our internal movie screens.

But we have a lot more control than we think.

And if we exercise that control intelligently, that means we have a lot more control over our anxiety than we might think.

Keep this issue— energy congruence— in mind. We’re going to be talking about it a lot more on this blog.


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The juice and the squeeze.


Is the juice worth the squeeze?

You only have a limited amount of time, energy, and focus at your disposal in any one day. Once you expend those resources, you have to literally wait until they replenish.

You can do things to replenish them faster, of course. Rest helps. Recreation helps. There are a subset of experiences and behaviors that feed you rather than depleting you; seeking out these experiences and engaging in these behaviors will help you return to baseline faster than you otherwise would.

But what you’re expending your precious, finite resources on…is it worth it?

The people who get the precious, finite resource of your attention…do they deserve it?

The tasks that consume the precious, finite resource of your time…are they worth it? Do they add enough value to justify the time you invest in them?

The situations into which you pour the precious, finite resource of your energy…do those situations align with your values and wants?

Understand, we don’t always get to choose exactly where our resources go. It’d be lovely if we had COMPLETE control over how we’re to spend our time— but our bosses and jobs and other commitments might have something to say about that.

Likewise, we don’t have COMPLETE control over where our energy goes. Especially if you’re a parent, you know that whether you like it or not, a great deal of energy every day will be invested in the care and nurturing of your children. There isn’t much choice involved.

The thing is— because we don’t have COMPLETE control over where our resources go, doesn’t mean we have NO control over where they go.

We still have a great deal of flexibility and choice when it comes to where we invest our time, energy, and attention.

And the fact is, not every place where we typically invest those resources is a good investment.

How many times have we caught ourselves lavishing the precious, finite resource of our attention on a situation that will only make us sad or angry?

How many times have we caught ourselves wasting the precious, finite resources of our time on things that will only make us tired and listless…and which don’t produce a commensurate level of joy or fun to offset this “cost?”

I’m not one of those personal growth teachers who is going to tell you you should NEVER expend your resources on things that aren’t directly linked to your goals. Every scrap of research and experience we have suggests that recreation and diversion significantly enhance our ability to pursue goals effectively in the real world. “Workaholism,” as a lifestyle choice, isn’t chosen by very many successful people.

(You can trust me on the “workaholism doesn’t work” thing— I’ve tried it. Repeatedly. Just doesn’t work.)

It’s okay to expend your resources. Lavish all the time, energy, and attention on whatever you want.

But be smart about it.

If you’re going to go through the trouble of squeezing, the juice should be sweet and nutritious enough to make the squeeze worth it.

if you’re going to spend time on something, it should be something that enhances you. You’re not getting that time back; it’s a one time investment. In choosing what to spend your time on, you’re choosing to make a once-in-a-lifettime investment of hours and minutes and seconds.

It should be worth it.

If you’re going to expend attention on something, it should be something that makes you feel good, not bad. Motivated, not discouraged. Supported, not defeated.

If you’re going to spend energy on something, it should come with an upside. There’s nothing wrong with expending energy— but there should be a payoff down the road.

There’s a lot of juice in this world that’s not worth the squeeze.

Squeeze, by all means.

But taste test the juice along the way.


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