Your quality of life matters. Full stop.

When we’re in pain, we want to get out of pain. 

We don’t want to ask a lot of questions, we don’t want to split hairs, we don’t want to appreciate nuance— we’re hurting, and we want to not hurt. 

And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to get out of pain. 

Of course there’s nothing wrong with wanting to get out of pain. Almost every living organism has that instinct. 

In our culture, though, we’re kind of embarrassed about it. 

We’re supposed to be “tough.” We’re supposed to be able to tolerate pain and push through it to achieve our goals and live our dreams, right?

Wanting to get out of pain is seen by some as “weak.” 

It seems there are entire industries built around shaming us for wanting to get out of pain. 

Our pain is often questioned. “Is it really that bad?” 

Our pain is sometimes doubted or disregarded. “Oh, you’re fine.” 

Some people seem to believe that when others express that they are in pain, they are “attention seeking” or somehow looking to shirk their responsibilities. 

“Are you REALLY so sick you can’t come in?” 

“Is this REALLY that big a deal that you’re THIS impacted by it?” 

Don’t get me wrong: there are situations where pushing through discomfort or pain is the thing to do. There are goals that can’t be reached without enduring a certain amount of pain. 

But because we choose, for whatever reason, to push through the pain, doesn’t mean the pain doesn’t exist, or that it doesn’t effect us. 

When we experience pain over the long term, and that pain seems inescapable and pervasive, we can develop a real sense of hopelessness. 

That hopelessness can be multiplied if the people in our lives who should, by rights, care that we’re in pain, don’t want to hear about it. 

In my experience, people rarely express that they’re in pain to cause “drama.” 

I think when most people are expressing that they are in discomfort or pain, they’re seeking support. Care. And, yes, attention— because it’s really hard to get your needs met if you’re hell bent on never calling attention to them. 

If we come to believe our pain doesn’t matter, it’s a short leap to the conclusion that WE don’t matter. 

That’s why we have to acknowledge our own pain. 

Even if we don’t like it, even if we disapprove of it, even if we have a voice in our heads telling us that we don’t have the “right” to express our pain or ask for support. 

Others may deny and disown our pain and our needs— but it’s really important that we don’t do that. 

Others may have abandoned us when we needed them— but it’s really important that we don’t abandon ourselves. 

Some of the people reading this know how frustrating it can be to keep trying and trying and TRYING to find mental health professionals who can help them, especially in light of how expensive and inconvenient many options for mental and behavioral health care are. 

I’ve had people tell me I’m their tenth (or twentieth!) therapist. 

Their previous options didn’t pan out, for various reasons— but they kept looking. 

That takes tremendous endurance— and it requires us to believe that our pain matters, and it’s worth it to keep trying to alleviate our pain. 

Our pain matters because we matter. Our quality of life, matters. 

Maybe you don’t believe that right now. It’s hard to keep believing it, when you’ve been beaten over the head with the opposite message for years. 

But it’s true. Both your pain, and your quality of life, matter. 

That’s what I think, anyway. 

Repeat as necessary. 

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There is no “pause” button on life OR anxiety.

To read about anxiety, you’d think that your life screeches to a halt until you can somehow contain or banish it. 

But anybody who’s had anxiety knows that’s not the truth. 

We know we’re expected to function WITH the anxiety, DESPITE the anxiety. 

The world doesn’t screech to a stop because we’re anxious. 

We’re still expected to get up, go to work, go to school, be parents, partners, people out in the world. 

Some people may express sympathy or empathy for our anxiety…but the world STILL doesn’t screech to a halt until we can deal with it. 

So we’re often dealing with our anxiety on the fly. 

Most people have to deal with our anxiety while doing other things. 

And we find ways to do it. Even when our anxiety feels like a hurricane inside our chest, we find ways to function— sometimes very sell, deceptively well— out in the world. 

This happens ALL the time. And not just with anxiety, either. 

People who are depressed, people who struggle with trauma, people who are addicted— we all very often find ways to be out and about and functional, more or less. 

Sometimes we’re so functional that other people underappreciate how much we’re struggling. 

How can you be so anxious, they’ll ask, if you’re able to function like this? 

Your anxiety must not be THAT bad, they figure. 

It must be just a matter of, you know, sucking it up and going about your day…right?

Some people have NO IDEA the kind of energy it takes to function at the same time we’re staving off anxiety. 

There’s a reason why there is a significant overlap between anxiety and chronic fatigue symptoms: because coping with anxiety is exhausting. 

And there is no pause button— either on our anxiety or on the world around us that expects us to go on functioning as if there’s nothing wrong. 

If you struggle with anxiety, you need to know you’re not alone. 

You also need to know that what is being asked of you— to be out in the world every day despite what you’re struggling with— is an objectively exhausting, intimidating task. 

You’re not weak or crazy. 

You’re being asked to do something that 100% of humans would find difficult to do. 

Learning to contain and work through our anxiety is a long term project. Nobody expects you to master it overnight. 

The skills and strategies you’ll learn to manage and reduce your anxiety WILL become second nature over time…but remembering them when it’s crunch time is going to be difficult, because anxiety by definition is a consuming, immersive thing. 

You WILL learn to talk yourself through anxiety and panic attacks. 

You WILL get to the roots of what fuels your anxiety every day. 

Anxiety IS something that we can understand and successfully push back against— but it takes time, patience, consistency, and self-compassion. 

For many people, that last one is the stumbling block. 

You’re not “broken’ if you’re anxious. Lots of people are anxious for lots of reasons. 

Even if you’ve struggled with anxiety for as long as you remember, there is hope for dialing it down. 

For now, just remember to cut yourself some slack. You have a lot on your plate, and nobody’s expecting you to manage it perfectly. 

I’m not, anyway. 

Breathe. 

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Why bother?

Why bother? 

Why bother developing coping skills? 

Why bother using them? 

If you’ve ever asked the questions— you’re not alone. 

When we’ve been beaten down, again and again and again, it’s normal to ask the question: why bother? 

Feeling despair doesn’t mean you’re a loser or being negative. It means you’re probably exhausted and sad. 

I don’t think people SHOULD learn and use coping skills “just because.” 

I’ve worked with a LOT of people who think their lives have to resolve around recovery simply because, well, it’s what you do when you’ve had certain life experiences, right? 

You go to therapy because you’re “supposed” to. Maybe you go into the hospital once or twice a year because that’s just “how it works.” 

(I even know therapists who expect their people to be hospitalized once or twice a year, mostly because, you know “that’s just how it works” for some people.) 

Nobody wants their lives to revolve around coping or just getting by. I don’t want your life to revolve around coping or just getting by. 

I want you to cope and get by so you can get back to what matters. 

Depression, anxiety, trauma, addiction— they all drag us away from what matters. From what we really want. 

We didn’t ask to be dragged away. For most of us, the circumstances that led to our pain were set into motion even before our birth. 

For many of us, part of what we struggle with is encoded in our genetics; other parts of our pain were embedded in our early environments; still other parts of our burden are but into our present environments and relationships. 

All of it drags us away from what we actually want. 

Actually, it’s more than that: depression, anxiety, addiction, trauma…they all drag us away from who we really are. 

What’s more, they often actually convince us we are someone we are not. 

Depression, anxiety, addiction, trauma, often try to convince us that they ARE our personalities. They pervade our experience such that it becomes difficult to imagine life WITHOUT them…and as a result, we actually feel conflicted about getting rid of them.

That’s a hell of a trick. 

You are not your struggles. You are not your painful feelings. You are not your impulses. 

There is a “you” separate from all of that. 

You are IMPACTED by all of those things…but the net effect of them is to pull you away from who you really are and what you’re really all about. 

There is zero question that managing our symptoms, our pain, our daily struggles, is time and energy consuming. 

It can very much FEEL like those struggles have essentially BECOME our life. 

But they’re not. 

Learning to manage those struggles is the pathway BACK to your life…or maybe TO your life for the first time. 

I want you to feel good. 

I want you to feel alive. 

I want you to feel interested. 

I want you to feel rested and energized. 

THAT’S why I think it’s worth bothering with coping tools and skills and strategies. 

THAT’S why I think this whole project matters. 

Not because overcoming your emotional and behavioral challenges will GIVE your life meaning…but because it will give you more and more opportunity to rediscover and create meaning that YOU choose for your life. 

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You don’t have to earn “worthiness.”

It always strikes me when I see someone try to reassure someone else of their worth by listing their positive qualities. 

I think we get it in our heads that if we feel worthless, it’s because our positive qualities have been overlooked or obscured. 

The problem I have with this is, it still buys into the idea that we ONLY have worth if we’re ABLE to list positive qualities. 

I just don’t believe that our worth derives from a checklist of positive qualities. 

Yes, it’s really nice to have our positive qualities acknowledged. 

Yes, it’s absolutely true that our positive qualities are often overlooked or minimized. 

But it’s not our positive qualities that GIVE us worth. 

A person who has 40 positive qualities doesn’t have more worth than someone who only has 39— and by the way, who is assessing and judging these “positive qualities,” anyway? 

What might be considered a positive quality to one person may not necessarily be a positive quality to another person…so does that mean someone’s worth actually fluctuates, based on who is tallying up the positive qualities? 

When we’re talking about an issue as fundamental as worth, I just don’t believe it’s in the eye of the beholder. 

I think human beings have inherent worth, that can’t be diminished when our subjective checklist of positive qualities diminishes for whatever reason. 

Over the course of our lives, we’re going to lose and gain certain capacities. 

Most of us are more capable as adults than we were as children, simply because we tend to be bigger, stronger, and our brains are more developed. 

Does that mean we’re more worthy as adults than we are as children? I don’t think so. 

Most people experience some form of diminished capabilities as we grow older. Often in adulthood we’re less physically fit than when we were teenagers. Often in older adulthood some of our senses, such as our eyesight, aren’t as acute as when we were younger adults. 

Does that mean we actually lose worth as we grow older? I don’t think so. 

At some points in our life we’re less capable because we’re struggling with something— depression or anxiety or a physical injury or illness. 

Does that make us less worthy when we’re suffering? 

No. We are not less worthy when we are suffering. 

In order to build realistic self-esteem, we need to START from the premise that we are worthy. 

No conditions. No exceptions. 

We are worthy of life, we are worthy of love, we are worthy of happiness. 

What MAKES us worthy, though? 

It doesn’t matter. 

Really. It doesn’t. 

We have to get out of this mindset that we are ONLY “worthy” of something if we have “earned” it. 

How does one “earn” the right to breathe? If we’re alive, we’re going to breathe. 

How does one “earn” the right to love? If we’re alive, we’re going to love. 

How does one “earn” the right to be loved? If we’re alive, we’re going to be loved…or, at the very least, we cannot STOP someone from loving us because we’re “not worthy” of it. 

(We might be able to stop them from expressing that love, but we don’t get a say in who somebody else loves or doesn’t love simply because of how we feel about ourselves.) 

Don’t get up in your head about whether you are “worthy.” 

Turning “worthiness” into a game of checking items off a list will lead you on a pointless quest to “prove” you are “worthy”…when the truth is, even if you “proved” you were “worthy” by some standard, there will always be other standards by which you’re “unworthy.” 

Just accept the premise that you are worthy. 

Give yourself the benefit of that doubt. 

And treat yourself like you are, in fact, worthy— of life, of self-respect, of self-love. 

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You ABSOLUTELY have self-discipline and motivation. Yes, YOU.

I think we hear the term “self discipline,” and immediately we think “punishment.” 

After all, “discipline” MEANS punishment, doesn’t it? To “discipline” a child is to punish a child, right? 

Not so much. 

“Discipline” actually means “to follow.” It’s based on the word “disciple,” or follower. 

If we’re disciplined in our diet, it means we’re following certain nutritional guidelines. 

If we’re disciplined in our time management, it means we’re following a schedule. 

If we’re disciplined in our speech, it means we’re following certain standards of what to say or not say. 

The concept of “discipline” get wrapped up in “punishment” for one reason: many people can’t think of ways to get other people to follow their instructions EXCEPT to threaten them with punishment.

Many of us are VERY disciplined in LOTS of ways…but we don’t recognize it, because we only associate “discipline” with “punishment.” 

I guarantee there are ways you are self-disciplined…and you didn’t have to be punished in order to acquire that self-discipline. 

The ways you are self-discipline may not be acknowledged or appreciated by the people around you…but that doesn’t mean you have no self-discipline. 

Often times, the people around us want to frame us NOT doing what THEY want us to do as evidence that we lack discipline or character…when the truth is, we just lack the inclination to do what THEY want us to do. 

I’ve seen kids who are absolute champions when they’re doing stuff they LOVE to do, get called “undisciplined” because they don’t get their homework done. 

I’ve seen adults who are EXPERTS on things they’re interested in, get called “undisciplined” because they’re underperforming at their work. 

There are LOTS of reasons why we might struggle with school or work…and I dare say “lack of discipline” isn’t even in the top ten. 

MOST people WANT to do well in their work. MOST kids WANT to do well at school. 

We HAVE self discipline. We HAVE motivation. I’ve worked with hundreds of people of many ages, and I’ve NEVER met someone who was WITHOUT discipline or motivation. 

I HAVE, however, met plenty of people who were trying to access their discipline or motivation in ways that almost guaranteed they wouldn’t be able to. 

It can be really discouraging when our brains don’t quite work like the people around us. 

When the ways we are motivated or the ways in which we have self-discipline don’t match up with what others in our lives think they “should” look like, we can end up feeling deficient, like unmotivated, undisciplined losers. 

I promise you: there is a code to accessing the self-discipline and motivation you already possess. It’s like a companion lock inside your head and heart. 

It may not be the same combination that works for the people around you…but it exists. 

You DON’T need a whole new brain to succeed at work or school. 

You DON’T need a personality transplant. 

You DON’T need to be more punished or held to a higher standards. 

What you DO need, at least for starters, is to get curious about what actually moves and motivates you, what keeps you on task…and, ideally, to have people around you who are also curious about this. 

It’s frustrating when others try to cram us into their box…and we don’t quite fit. 

We WANT to fit. But sometimes we just don’t. 

Don’t give up. 

Remember that it’s not YOU who is deficient. 

You just haven’t consciously figured out the combination to YOUR lock yet. 

You will. 

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When you’re addicted to the roller coaster.

Addiction and recovery can be a helpful way to think about a lot of destructive patterns in our lives. 

It doesn’t necessarily have to involve a substance or a behavior that is widely known to be addictive, like gambling or compulsive sex. 

There are simply some times when our desire, our seeming NEED, to feel a specific thing, overpowers our judgment. 

We may be aware that doing something will probably have negative consequences on our lives; but we just can’t seem to stop ourselves from doing the thing, because we so, so badly want to feel a certain way. 

That’s exactly how addicts feel about their substance or behavior of choice. 

In traditional addiction, the equation can be relatively straightforward. When I ingest a particular substance, it makes me feel a certain way— and that feeling is so incredible, so removed from my everyday experience, that I simply cannot imagine saying “no” to the opportunity to take that substance. 

Many of us have behavior patterns that might be a little more complex…but still fit that pattern. 

Some people find themselves getting involved in certain kinds of relationships with certain kinds of people, again and again. 

They may KNOW that this pattern is destructive. They may have experienced the consequences of that pattern in the past. 

But, when confronted with the prospect of NOT feeling the way they feel in the early stages of that pattern— the “high”— they simply cannot fathom giving it up. 

It’s like really liking a roller coaster. 

If we go on a roller coaster again and again and again, we are going to get sick and probably injured. 

Your stomach and neck aren’t going to tolerate you riding the roller coaster again and again and again. Your friends who came with you to the amusement park will probably get annoyed that you keep getting back on the roller coaster again and again and again— they want to go ride some of the other rides. 

But, you really, really like the roller coaster, at least that first part of the ride, where it goes up and up and up,…and then the intense adrenaline rush and dump when it plunges down, and goes up again, and the loop de loops…you love it. 

Even as you feel the letdown when the ride ends and you have to go back to the end of the line to wait your turn again, you do it anyway, because you just cannot imagine NOT singing up for that amazing first part of the ride again. 

Yeah, it might sound silly to think of having a “roller coaster addiction.” But the pattern you’re repeating checks almost every box when we think of addictive behavior. 

It’s compulsive. It’s self-perpetuating. Over time, it’s painful. 

And you do it even though you “KNOW” all these things. 

A lot of our behaviors, especially our relationship behaviors, are like that. 

Sometimes the only rational way to think about those patterns IS in terms of addiction and recovery. 

Every day, recovering addicts have to figure out how to live life while saying “no” to experiences that are so pleasurable they’re almost willing to trade their lives for them.

Every day, recovering addicts have to deal with the frustration of NOT having those experiences. 

Every day, recovering addicts have to figure out how to create lives worth living WITHOUT the most pleasurable experiences they’ve ever known, being a part of their lives. 

And they do. 

Which means there’s hope for EVERYONE who has an “addictive” pattern in their lives. 

Even you. 

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Accessing our inner fire.

How do we tap our inner resources? 

Everyone’s method is going to be a little different. What works for someone might not work for you, and vice versa. 

We ALL have reserves of really cool stuff inside us. Creativity, energy, focus, love. I really believe that. 

…but sometimes all that stuff gets buried— underneath exhaustion, pain, fear, regret. 

Over time, we can forget that all that cool stuff is inside of us— because all we can see is the huge, heavy pile of debris on top of it. 

We’re kind of like the planet Earth. 

The center of our planet is an unbelievably hot, explosive, molten core…but it’s surrounded by layers and layers and layers of, literally, every other substance on the planet. 

Most of us never think about the fact that we live on top of that firefly molten core, because all we ever experience are those outer layers. 

Every now and then we get reminded that all that fire and fury exists beneath us— when a volcano or a geyser erupts, or an earthquake happens…and we remember and marvel, for a minute. 

Then we forget again. 

Inside of you, YOU have explosive, volcanic forces. We all do. The core of who we are is white holt and molten and beautiful and powerful. 

But we’ve forgotten about it. 

To reach inside us and access the volcanic core of passion that exists in our heart of hearts is to remember who we really are, and what we’re really about. 

HOW we do that depends on how our brain is wired. 

My own brain responds well to visualization ritual, and narrative. 

I’ve found that the best way for me to access my inner reserves is to construct imagery inside my head that allows me to imagine literally going inside and being close to that fiery reserve. 

In my head I’ve constructed a structure— I call it a “Memory Palace”— that has halls and doors, that allow me to organize and access my internal resources in a way that makes sense to me. 

Without that imagery, I’d be stuck kind of feeling my way in the dark, wondering how on earth I’m supposed to even understand my interior world. 

I’ve worked with people who use imagery in combination with other modalities to access their internal resources— music, sound, rhythm, or movement. 

I can’t write a step by step guide for anyone without knowing what it’s like on the inside of their head. Everyone has their own unique way of experiencing both their inner and their outer world. 

All of which is to say: pay attention. 

There have been times when you’ve felt particularly close to the “real you”— to the reservoir of certainty and flow that exists at your core. 

What helped you feel that way? What brought you there? 

For most people, figuring out the “combination lock” to their inner resources is a matter of paying attention and being patient. 

As we recover from whatever we’re struggling with— depression, anxiety, trauma, addiction, whatever— we learn to tap more and more of those inner reserves. 

The fire within us, when we learn to tap into it, truly burns hotter than anything that could threaten us fro the outside. 

Depression, anxiety, trauma, and addiction don’t stand a chance against someone who has truly tapped into who they are and what makes them tick. 

That fire within you is there, quietly glowing and smoldering. It hasn’t gone out. 

And it’s going to save you. 

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Thawing your relationship with yourself.

Part of getting on our own side is dealing with ourselves in good faith. 

When we struggle, our self-esteem takes a hit. 

It doesn’t seem to really matter why we struggle— if our pain is old or new, if we can clearly identify where it comes from or not. 

It could be the pain of dealing with old wounds from childhood, abuse or other trauma. 

Or, it could be the pain of having to live and try to function with chronic depression or anxiety— or something else completely. 

Whatever it is, over time, as we’re forced to live with this pain day in and day out, a lot of people get down on themselves. 

We often tend to view ourselves as “less than.” 

We’re often acutely aware that we don’t experience the world or function in it like many other people. 

We even develop elaborate fantasies about how easy and pleasurable life must be for people who DON’T struggle with what we’re carrying. 

Over time, our wounded self-esteem just becomes kind of a baseline. We barely even acknowledge our poor self-image as abnormal anymore— it’s just, you know, how we feel, day in and day out. 

It’s not like we wake up one morning and DECIDE that we suck. 

It’s more like, we wake up one morning and don’t remember a time when we DIDN’T feel bad about ourselves. 

A lot of people reading this are nodding their heads— you know what I’m talking about. 

Over time, without our knowledge or consent, our self esteem just kind of erodes. And one of the things that happens when our self-esteem erodes is, we become cynical when we’re relating to ourselves. 

We don’t talk to ourselves kindly. We adopt kind of an eye-rolling impatience with ourselves. 

When our self-esteem has taken a beating, we tend to take ourselves less seriously. We often come to perceive our own perceptions and needs as unimportant or stupid. 

Consequently, when we try to respond to our own needs, we kind of half ass it. 

We may be aware, for example, that we NEED to rest…but we don’t go out of our way to get to bed at a reasonable hour. 

We may be aware that we NEED water…but we don’t go out of our way to drink it. 

We may be aware that we function much better when we take our meds…but we don’t go out of our way to make sure taking our meds is an un-skippable part of our routine. 

All of which is to say: when we feel bad about ourselves, we don’t conduct our relationship with ourselves in good faith. 

Changing how we feel about ourselves requires us to take ourselves seriously. 

It requires us to really respond to our perceptions and needs— not just give lip service to them. 

It requires us to consider ourselves important, EVEN WHEN we don’t feel important. 

It requires us to treat ourselves with respect, EVEN IF we don’t particularly respect ourselves at that moment. 

Dealing with ourselves in good faith often requires us to step outside our comfort zone. 

After all, when we’ve spent years beating the crap out of ourselves, we’re not going to particularly feel like turning around and dealing with ourselves in good faith, with respect and compassion and deference. 

But if we want to build a healthy relationship with ourselves, we truly do NEED to try a few things that won’t come natural to us at first. 

Dealing with ourselves in good faith needs to start somewhere. 

Go through the motions of liking and respecting and caring for yourself, even if you’re not feeling it at first. 

Your relationship with yourself WILL start to thaw as you slowly warm up to you. 

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Just try.

We’re not always going to be at our objective best. 

This seems obvious— so obvious that it’s not even worth mentioning. OF COURSE we’re not always going to be at our objective best. 

But, a lot of people seem to expect that, or even demand that, of themselves, all day, every day…and they can be vicious with themselves when they’re NOT at their best. 

Alternatively, some people kind of give upon being their best in ANY given situation, due to how horrible they feel— and since they can’t be at what they consider their “best,” they often just kind of give up on the situation at all. 

“Your best” is not a black and white thing. It’s not “be your best or be nothing.” 

The key is to search for being your situational best— for doing what you can with what you have in any given situation. 

The phrase “try your best” gets a bad rap. 

We’ve been told over and over again that “trying” is for losers…that, in the famous words of Yoda from “The Empire Strikes Back,” our options are “do, or do not…there is no try.” 

I have some kind of startling news for some people who love that quote…it’s kind of nonsense. 

How do you think you end up successfully “doing” something? 

That’s right— by trying. Often by trying unsuccessfully a few (or many!) times. 

“Trying” is not nothing. It doesn’t mean “doing a thing half assed.” 

The truth is, we’re often not yet equipped to do a thing. 

Maybe we’re not strong enough, or not experienced enough, or we don’t have the right kind of support to do the thing just then. 

But how do we GET stronger or GET more experienced? 

Yup— we try. 

When we try something, without necessarily knowing if we can do it or not, we’re shooting for our situational best. 

We can acknowledge that we might, in fact, fail— and that’s not, in fact, the end of the world. 

Failing at a thing is not failing as a person. No matter what your inner critic says. 

When you look at people who end up successfully doing things, what you very often find is that the people who end up “doing” are those who tried the most…and thus gained the most experience and made the most appropriate changes to their approach. 

All of this might sound obvious. But people don’t behave as if it’s obvious. 

Very often people resist trying something if they think they’re not going to be great at it. 

(In fact, there some personal growth “teachers” who stupidly advise people to not bother trying things they’ll “never be great at”…as if nobody has ever learned something or enriched their lives by engaging in an activity that they’re not masterful at.) 

As a rule, we tend to be VERY hard on ourselves for not being at our objective best. 

We tend to make excuses and give explanations for WHY we’re not at our objective best…when the truth is, NOBODY is at their objective best all of the time, even most of the time. 

Most of the things I write are pretty good. The things I write that are my objective best are few and far between…and if they are my objective best, that’s usually because I’ve put a lot of effort into writing and polishing them. 

Striving to be at your objective best all the time will burn you out…and it’s not necessary. 

Shoot for your situational best. 

Shoot for making the most of the energy, focus, and resources you have available in any given situation. 

Resist the urge to see situations as black and white, the opportunity to either “succeed” or “fail.” 

Success and failure are rarely so categorical. 

No matter what Master Yoda says. 

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How about…DON’T tell me to feel “calm.”

The world has very well developed ideas about what “should” make us feel calm. 

Dial up a guided relaxation video on YouTube, and there’s not a whole lot of variety: mellow voice over nature slides, spacey music, instructions to “just let go, let yourself relax, listen to my voice…”

All that can help…some people feel calm. 

But not everyone. 

I like to listen to guided relaxation videos while I’m in the gym, on the exercise bike. Which, I know, might sound a little paradoxical— but I like to get into a kind of altered state when I work out. 

(In fairness, I like to get into altered states in general, but that’s a different blog.) 

And I can’t express to you how annoying it is to have somebody with a voice they think is calming, trying to tell me to “let go” and “just relax completely.” 

First of all, “let go” is a loaded term for a lot of people. 

Many people have been told to “let go” of trauma or anger or pain…LONG before they’re ready to actually let go. 

Even “letting go” of muscle tension can be more complicated than we realize, when our muscles are tense because they’re gearing up to fight or flee. 

But then there’s the dumb suggestion to “just relax completely.” 

Talk about easier said than done. Relax “completely?” Are you sure? 

I assure you: if you’ve been unable to relax, let alone “completely,” it’s not because you haven’t had a person with a soothing voice and new age music tell you to “relax completely.” 

All of which is to say: my big complaint with those kinds of routines is that they’re so generic. 

They ignore all the many, many individual differences that exist between people in what make them feel calm. 

Everybody reading this has a different version of what “calm” looks and feels like. 

If I ask you to imagine a time you felt “calm,” you’re probably imagining a specific time and place in your life— a scene that nobody else could imagine, because they’re not you. 

And I would never suggest to someone that they “relax completely.” 

Our nervous system hears “relax completely,” and it’s almost always a signal to do the exact opposite— much like “don’t think of a pink elephant.” 

Human beings don’t “relax completely”— nor should we. 

What makes you feel calm is what makes YOU feel calm. YOU have the combination to that particular lock. That’s YOUR secret garden to open or close as you please. No one can push their way in. 

And I do not recommend you try to “relax completely.” 

What I might recommend is: when I say the word “calm,” pay attention to what springs to mind. 

Where and when would you be if you were to honestly say, “I’m calm right now?” 

Not where SHOULD you be. Where WOULD you be. 

Put yourself there, in your head. See it. Hear it. Smell it. 

Feel its textures. Just be there for a sec. 

Now, if I told you to relax just 1%, what would you notice? Where would that teeny, tiny bit of relaxation occur? Your toes? Your shoulders? Your neck? 

Don’t try to relax any of them “completely”— just one percent. You can stay 99% as tense as you are right now— just give me that 1% reduction. 

There ya go. Breathe into it. Feel the breath going into the space that was created by that 1% reduction in tension. 

See, everything we just did, YOU chose. 

YOU decided where your “calm” place was. YOU decided where that tiny reduction in tension would come from. 

For us to REALLY develop the skill of relaxing and focusing, WE need to feel in control of the process. 

It’s not hard. 

But it doesn’t happen by accident. 

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