Don’t believe everything you feel.

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How you feel is not a reliable indicator of what you can do. 

We’re going to not feel capable of doing lots of things…that we totally can do. 

Our feelings are important— they contain information for us that shouldn’t be ignored— but they are not fail-safe guides to our capabilities. 

This is why it drives me UP A WALL when I see personal growth teachers instruct their students that their feelings are NEVER WRONG, or their intuition is ALWAYS ON POINT. 

That’s simply not the case. 

Our feelings are designed to raise flags for us. They set off alarms. They bring our attention to things out there in the world we need to pay attention to, or else we might experience negative consequences. 

But the fact that our feelings bring attention to some things doesn’t necessarily mean that our feelings have accurately gauged how dangerous or important those things are to us. 

Your feelings will sometimes tell you you can’t handle something. 

Your feelings will sometimes tell you something is beyond your capacity to do or handle. 

Your feelings will sometimes tell you that pain you are experiencing at one particular moment is unbearable— that if you don’t escape this pain, you’re going to somehow break. 

These feelings shouldn’t be ignored— but they should not be uncritically accepted as true, either. 

I just ran my fourth marathon. Around mile fifteen or so of any marathon, trust me, you’re going to have some intense feelings. 

You’re going to feel like you need to collapse. 

You’re going to feel like you need to throw up. 

You’re going to feel like signing up to run this stupid race may be the worst decision you’ve ever made. 

None of those things you feel at mile 15 of a marathon are true, mind you…but believe me, they will feel true— CONVINCINGLY true— at the moment. 

When I hit this point, I remember vividly, I was alone out there on the course. There weren’t any runners in my immediate vicinity; it was just me out there on the road, with the sun, the wind, my own thoughts, and my own footsteps. 

Remember: your feelings have a tendency to become outsized, to become exaggerated and dramatized, when you’re alone. 

Remember as well: your feelings will often point you toward the worst case scenario, rather than the most likely scenario. 

The reason for this is straightforward: our feelings are only interested in our survival. They want us staying the hell away from things that might end our existence— and they will always err on the side of caution in this project. 

Understand: this doesn’t mean your feelings are NEVER right. 

It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t pay attention to what your feelings or intuition say. 

But what it does mean is that you shouldn’t make your feelings your sole source of information or decision-making. 

Your gut instincts may well be superb. But they are still not designed to be the only way you evaluate what to do next. 

When you are in the midst of a project that will test your endurance— like a marathon— don’t believe everything you feel. 

This is true in recovery as well as in marathons. 

Your feelings are valuable. They are also drama queens. 

Don’t rely on them exclusively. 

Use your feelings in combination with your thinking, with your experience, with your spirituality, and with your training. 

That’s how you finish a race. 

 

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‘Thinking’ is not the enemy of ‘doing.’

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It may be true that some people get so caught up with thinking that they get paralyzed— they spend so much time and wattage thinking that they neglect the “doing” part of life. 

It’s true that we need to find some way to nudge ourselves out of analysis paralysis and to take action when action is what is needed. 

The solution to this problem, though, isn’t to “think less.”

It always kills me when I see a personal growth “expert” exhort their followers to “stop thinking” and “start doing.” 

Look around you. 

Look at our political leaders (on all sides of the spectrum— this is emphatically NOT a partisan political statement). 

Look at the mishmash of emotion-driven hot takes that comprises your social media feed. 

Do you REALLY think that what we need is “less thinking?”

As a therapist, I can tell you that 80% of my day— if not more— is spent helping people develop tools and skills so they WON’T act impulsively. 

Impulse-driven, emotion-fueled behaviors, driven by half-baked decision-making, ruin people’s lives. 

“Stop thinking and start doing” is terrible advice, usually offered by people who want you to buy something they’re selling— but who don’t want you to think too deeply about your decision to purchase their product or not, because, well, that makes their numbers go down. 

“Make decisions quickly, even if you have limited information” is also terrible advice. It’s advice usually thrown around by people who do not have the emotional management skills to sit with uncertainty for a period of time while they make an intelligent, strategically sound decision. 

The solution to analysis paralysis is not “less thinking” and “more doing.” 

Thinking and action are designed to complement and support each other. 

People who are stuck in their heads at the expense of getting out there and “doing” usually aren’t thinking too much. 

To the contrary, what’s usually happening is, they are anxious about what might happen when they start doing— which is a problem of DISTORTED thinking, not “too much” thinking. 

(If the personal growth “expert” I have in mind was ever a therapist, he’d know the difference.)

You can’t just tell an anxious person to quit thinking and do the thing. They’re not doing the thing for a reason— their entire bodies and brains are resisting their attempts to do the thing. 

What needs to happen is the development of specific skills and tools that will help the person manage what they’re feeling, so they can go out and do the thing. 

And guess what anxiety management requires MORE of, not LESS? 

That’s right: thinking. 

We need our thinking caps. 

We need our brain turned on so we can know how to talk to ourselves. 

We need our brain turned on so we can evaluate opportunities verses costs and risks. 

We need our brain turned on so we can formulate a reasonable plan for what happens if our risk DOESN’T pay off. 

If we buy into the “think less, do more” approach, we’re not going to have ANY of those tools at our disposal. We’ll be left in a position where we turned our brain off and acted impulsively— we made a quick decision based on limited information— and now we’re paying a price. 

I don’t want you to “quit thinking and start doing.” 

I want you to develop skills and tools so that your thinking supports intelligent, considered behavior choices. 

“Thinking” and “doing” are not mutually exclusive. They’re designed to work together. 

A lot of destruction has been wrought by people who haven’t taken the time to “think” before they “do.” 

Don’t be one of those people. 

 

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Making mistakes doesn’t make us “bad people. But we do have to own up to them.

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Owning up to our own less-than-ideal behavior does not have to mean condemning ourselves as terrible, incompetent or evil. 

We can acknowledge times when our behavior has fallen short of our own standards, or when our behavior has been harmful to someone else, or when our behavior wasn’t appropriate to the situation for whatever reason…without turning it into an opportunity to fundamentally  condemn ourselves as people. 

If we are to build healthy, realistic self-esteem, it is VITAL that we learn to make this distinction. 

The world is not as straightforward as, “good people do good, competent things; bad people do evil, incompetent things.” 

There are absolutely times when people whose hearts are in the right place do things that have negative, destructive consequences. 

Just like there are absolutely times when people most of us would consider “bad” have behaved in ways that, for whatever reason, happened to be exactly what the situation called for at the time— that is, when “bad” people have done “good” things. 

In our culture, we have this problem: we think we are our behavior, all the time, every time.

We fall into the trap of thinking that a person’s outward behavior is a concise, accurate summation of who that person is— how “good” or “bad” they are, how competent or incompetent they are. 

It’s just not that simple. 

People are complex. 

Behavior is what psychologists call “overdetermined”— that is, there are a lot of factors that go into why we say what we say and do what we do. 

We very much need to keep this in mind…especially when it comes to evaluating ourselves and our own behavior. 

Because there absolutely are times when we’ve dropped the ball. All of us. 

There absolutely are times when we’ve said the wrong thing at the wrong time. That’s happened to literally everybody. 

There absolutely are times when our behavior, no matter how well-intentioned, had negative consequences. It’s happened to everyone at some point in our lifetimes, and it will likely happen again. 

If we go around judging ourselves— our worth, our efficacy, our basic competence, our basic morality— based on those moments in our lives when we’ve said or done the objectively wrong thing, we’re going to form an impression of ourselves that is not only unnecessarily negative…it’s probably highly distorted. 

“Good” people, in my book, own their behavior— even when its consequences have been negative. 

But the only way we can learn to consistently own our behavior is if we get away from this idea that “good” behavior equals “good” people, and “bad” behavior equals “bad” people. 

If we hang on to that rigid mindset of good and bad…then what incentive does anybody have to own up to their own less-than-ideal behavior? 

They won’t do it. 

They’ll try to duck and dodge, deny and disown. 

They’ll try to hide their mistakes rather than living up to them and fixing them. 

We can’t create a world where the standard reaction to “bad” or ineffective behavior is to run away from it. 

But if we’re going to create a world where people feel safe and able to live up to their behavior, we need to embrace this idea that “good,” effective people can sometimes do “bad,” ineffective things. 

We ned to take the “sting” and stigma away from making mistakes. 

We need to acknowledge that people can change…if we give them the opportunity to. 

And we need to embrace the fact that, whatever happened in the past, we can’t change it by running away from it…we can only change it by acknowledging it, by acknowledging its real world effects (even the painful ones!), and moving forward with eyes wide open. 

 

 

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Of course we’re weak at times. So?

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We are all weak at times. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course not. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Some won’t quite fit with your learning style. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, as it turned out, I barely noticed. 

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

Ah ha! Key concept!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Think about that. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do not worry about finishing the race. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make it ten minutes if that gets too easy. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The better news is that they work. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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