You’re wealthy. Yes, you.

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You’re wealthy.

Yes, you. Right here, right now: you’re rich.

That is, you have resources that other people covet.

Your time. Your attention. Your money. Your energy. 

Even if you’re cash-poor at the moment, it’s important to realize that money is not the only currency that is valuable in this world. Advertisers want your attention and your excitement almost as much as they want your money. 

Entire industries, such as marketing and politics, are designed around catching and holding your attention, as well as encouraging you to use your time and your energy to do specific things (such as buy products or vote for candidates). 

Even if you’re dead broke, the resources you DO have are in high demand. 

Which is why you need go guard them fiercely. 

Your resources are exhaustible. You only have so much energy, time, and attention to go around. 

They’re either going toward your goals and values…or they’re gong toward someone else’s. 

One of the end goals of personal development, as well as good therapy, is to get to the point where you’re putting your resources toward goals you choose and that you find meaningful…as opposed to letting your resources be yanked out of your control by others who may or may not have your goals and values in mind. 

How do you allot your resources in the course of a day? 

How much of your time, energy, and attention go toward things YOU choose and YOU find meaningful…as opposed to being coopted by people and organizations that are out to manipulate you into certain patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving? 

One of the most common sources of depression and anxiety is a feeling that we’re kind of spinning our wheels in the world— not directing our finite resources toward what WE find meaningful. 

This often crops up when people retire. They’ve spent their entire careers directing so many of their personal resources toward goals that have been defined and structured by their careers, careers they’ve chosen because they align with their values and goals…then, when they retire, they don’t have a ready vehicle for channeling their personal resources anymore. 

So they feel restless. They feel like they lack purpose. They feel that what they do in the course of the day doesn’t matter anymore…because their personal resources aren’t being invested in goals and values they care about anymore. 

Depression, anxiety…these are common consequences of peoples’ resources going to places where they shouldn’t, by rights, be going. 

Have you ever felt that the stuff you’re doing in the course of a day just isn’t right for you? 

Have you ever had the feeling that you’re not doing things that really matter? 

Have you ever felt that you’re essentially searching for things in which to invest your energy and focus that would really mean something to you? 

Those feelings are likely action signals that your personal resources are being inappropriately invested. 

Mind you, many of us aren’t taught when we’re young how to invest our resources well. 

In fact, when we’re growing up, many of us are taught that the only resource that means anything is money. If we don’t have money, this line of reasoning goes, we’re by definition poor or broke. 

The currencies of time and attention and energy are the REAL sources of wealth in this world. 

In fact, the only reason why money as a currency has ANY value is because people THINK it can buy them other peoples’ time, attention, and energy. 

Realize, without a doubt, how “wealthy” you truly are. 

Realize too that it’s on you to protect and invest your “wealth.” 

You’re a mental, emotional, and behavioral “millionaire,” without doubt. 

Don’t spend your wealth. 

Invest it…in things you care deeply about. Today. 

 

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“Here and now” vs. “there and then.”

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Your focus matters. 

I know, I know. I sound like a broken record. But it’s a point worth repeating: your focus matters. 

What we focus on determines what we feel. 

What we focus on determines what options we perceive to be available to us. 

What we focus on determines our goals and what we consider to be important milestones in our projects. 

And, perhaps most importantly: what we focus on determines what things mean to us. 

Nowhere is this more evident than in what we do with our focus during times of struggle and difficulty. 

During times of struggle and difficulty, we can focus right here, right now, in the moment— and, in fact, many people who advocate radical “mindfulness” tell us that’s exactly what we should do. Don’t focus on anything other than right here and right now. 

(I don’t always agree with the advocates for radical mindfulness…but we’ll come to that in a moment.)

If, during times of struggle and hardship, we focus only on the right here, right now…we’re likely to burn out and give up. 

After all, if all that truly exists is right here and right now, and right here, right now sucks…then why on earth should we labor on? 

During times of struggle and difficulty, however, we have other choices on where to place our focus. For example, I like to put my focus on how this current struggle is strengthening me and preparing me for something greater. 

A good illustration of this is running. At any given point in a run, your legs are probably going to hurt. Your lungs may sting. You may be tired and sweaty. A snapshot of a runner at any given point in a run might yield a picture of someone who is not having a great time, right then, right there. 

Enduring that only makes sense if that run is preparing you for something else. 

When I get tired or achey on a run, I shift my focus to how this run is conditioning me for longer, more interesting runs. 

I distract my brain from the momentary pain to the longer-term gain. 

It’s a simple skill— but it’s one that, once we get some practice with it, can transform even our most painful moments. 

By contrast, there are some times when the here-and-now, “mindful” focus is a more productive skill to employ. 

For example, there are situations when, in the long term or big picture, we’re going through a season of struggle. We might be broke; we might be mourning a loss; we might be in the midst of a project we didn’t choose or we don’t enjoy. There might be nothing, at this moment, that is on the horizon that we’re looking forward to or working toward. 

In these instances, it pays to narrow one’s focus to just what’s happening right here and now.

What are the here-and-now pleasures that can be taken from this present moment? 

A good cup of coffee? A beautiful sunrise? A good song on the radio? A pleasant fantasy? 

In his classic book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” psychiatrist Viktor Frankl discusses the many, many times he had to turn his attention from the big picture to the current moment in order to keep going. He was interred in a Nazi concentration camp, and to focus on the big picture meant to digest the fact that he was being victimized by horrific abuses of power and witnessing inhumane treatment on a scale never before imagined. 

But in order to keep his sanity, Dr. Frankl focused on returning his focus on the present moment. Even as a prisoner in a concentration camp, he was able to fin momentary sources of comfort and beauty which were able to buoy him to the next moment. 

Our focus very much matters. 

Among the most important skills we need to develop is knowing when to broaden our focus, and when to narrow it. 

We need to get good at knowing how to shift our mind’s eye so that WE are in control of our focus, instead of someone else. 

If we let other people control our focus, not only are we at their mercy when it comes to our thinking patterns and feeling states, but we risk losing sight of our values and goals…which are literally what make life worth living. 

Get good at controlling your focus. 

Accept it’s your responsibility to manage your focus. 

Accept that you CAN manage your focus. 

Determine that you WILL manage your focus. 

No matter what. 

 

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Your recovery is YOURS. No one else’s.

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Your mileage is going to very when it comes to how useful other peoples’ presence and feedback is to your goal-setting and self-improvement efforts. 

This might sound obvious— that is, your mileage is going to vary on pretty much ANY variable related to your goal-setting and self-improvement efforts, right? 

That’s what I think, anyway. But you’re going to run into lots and lots of sources in the therapy and self-improvement worlds that assume you conform to their mold of how people effectively set goals and change their habits. 

There is a subset of teachers and therapists who think the only way people effectively pursue their goals is to heavily involve other people. 

An example of this viewpoint is the 12-step recovery movement. People who strongly believe in the Twelve Steps tend to agree that the only way recovering addicts can stay honest and focused in their recovery is with the support and involvement of other recovering addicts. The Twelve Step approach views isolation as a strong contributing factor to the disease of addiction. 

It’s true that many recovering addicts— and many others who have been helped by groups and  external support systems in other types of recovery—often find the camaraderie and support of others to be enormously helpful in their healing journeys. For these individuals, isolation is a risk factor and attachment is a necessary healing factor. 

The thing is, not everybody gets the same boost to their recovery efforts by involving other people. 

An example of this phenomenon is people who have been harmed as a result of their membership in certain groups and subcultures. There is a subset of people who have been exposed to abusive, exploitative, or otherwise harmful behaviors in settings such as churches, schools, or social circles…and who felt unable to break free from these groups because these groups represented spiritual, academic, financial, or social lifelines for them. 

For people who have been harmed in group settings like this, the group cohesion that is so helpful to some recoverers can represent a trigger or a threat. Such people often need to do a certain amount of work on their own or in individual psychotherapy before they can involve anybody else in their recovery. They need to find their voice and reclaim their autonomy, independent of group dynamics, at least for awhile. 

My point isn’t that involving other people, groups, or organizations in your recovery is an objectively “good” or “bad” idea. 

My point is that you need to become curious and observant about what you, specifically, need in a recovery program. 

You also need to be prepared to set limits and boundaries with other people who may have their own strong ideas about how people get sick and how people heal. 

It doesn’t do you any good to conform perfectly to someone else’s vision of “recovery,” when that vision isn’t supportive of what you specifically need in your healing journey. 

How can you tell if involving other people is a good idea in your own recovery? 

How can you tell to what extent involving other people, and in what specific ways, might be helpful to you in your recovery? 

The most important thing YOU can do in this context is pay attention. 

Pay attention to how involving other people in your life, generally, has worked out for you. 

Pay attention to your thoughts, feelings, and reactions when you’re in group settings. 

Pay attention to the difference in your level of openness and comfort when you’re with small groups of people, larger groups of people, or with only a few other people. 

There are factors beyond our unique histories that may make group recover a better or not so great choice for our recovery. Factors such as learning styles, symptoms, diagnoses, and disabilities all come into play. 

The point is, don’t assume that you do or don’t have to heavily involve anyone else in your healing journey. 

Don’t assume that somebody else’s vision of recovery is what you, specifically, need in order to heal. 

Pay attention to the signals from your mind and your feelings, as well as the data from your past experiences, when choosing between treatment modalities. 

In the end, your recovery is YOURS. It needs to be designed by, driven by, and effective for YOU— nobody else. 

 

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The obstacles “out there” vs. the obstacles “in here.”

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Yes, we have obstacles “out there” to conquer. 

We have goals to achieve, we have habits to change, we have body transformations to make. 

There is no lack of mountains “out there” to climb. 

The thing is…most of what we’re talking about when we talk about overcoming obstacles or climbing mountains doesn’t actually have to do with anything “out there.” 

Most of what we need to overcome when we’re moving toward our goals is within us. 

It’s the lack of belief in what we can do that we need to overcome. 

It’s the lack of faith in what we can tolerate. 

It’s the lack of understanding of how our minds and behaviors work. 

Don’t get me wrong: if we’re going to conquer external obstacles, there’s plenty external work to do. I learned this while preparing to run marathons. 

(I’m still learning this, even as I prepare to run my fourth marathon in April.) 

Yes, there is conditioning to be done. There is stretching and strengthening to be done. There are things you need to physically do to prepare your body to run 26.2 miles at once. 

But the more important— and by far the harder— work in preparing to run a marathon, just like the harder work in conquering any external obstacle, has to do with conditioning the mind. 

It’s in getting yourself to belief you’re even capable of doing it. 

It’s in envisioning what you’re going to do if and when the task gets unplesant. 

It’s in talking back to your internal dialogue that tells you you can’t possibly do it— that internal dialogue that encourages you to look for reasons to quit instead of reasons to keep going. 

We can get ourselves ready to conquer external obstacles all day long…but all that work will be for naught if we don’t take seriously the work of overcoming the obstacles that exist in our minds and hearts. 

The thing is, most of us, in trying to overcome the external obstacles we’ve decided we want to conquer, get the equation backwards. We think that most of our preparation and conditioning needs to focus on the external, physical aspects of the challenge. 

We worry about what gear to purchase. 

We worry about what to wear. 

We worry about what to eat and what supplements to take. 

All of which are important, don’t get me wrong. You don’t want to be in the position of trying to overcome a serious physical obstacle while not having paid attention to the physical realities that go along with that task. 

But, again: all of those external, physical preparations are going to be for naught if we haven’t warmed up to the internal, psychological, emotional mountains that we have to climb. 

A big mistake many people make is assuming that if we prepare enough on the outside, somehow our internal landscape will shift such that we won’t have to worry about it. 

Again, using the example of marathon training: I know runners who put all sorts of faith in their training routine, figuring that even if they’re getting mentally psyched out by the race, if they’ve physically prepared to run 26.2 miles, their fitness and conditioning will carry them through. 

I’m here to tell you: your physical fitness and conditioning doesn’t mean anything if your mind doesn’t buy in. 

Your mind has the potential to negate almost every physical advantage you have. 

Your mind can make you feel tired when your muscles aren’t objectively all that fatigued. 

Your mind can invent sources of pain when there isn’t any physical dysfunction to be found. 

Your mind can convince you you’re literally about to die when there is no proximal threat to your life. 

Don’t get me wrong: absolutely prepare on the outside for the physical challenges you face. Prepare your body. Prepare your surroundings. Buy the gear you need. Follow the diet you need. Take the supplements that will be helpful. 

But don’t buy into the fallacy that any of it will overcome a mind full of unbelief. 

The old phrase, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” has always had it backwards. 

The truth is you’ll see it if and when you believe it…and not before. 

 

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A manageable way to think about “success.”

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What might “success” actually mean, anyway? 

Some people define it by the achievement of specific goals. A particular job; a particular salary; a particular relationship; a particular general life situation. 

Some people might define it by the absence of negative feelings or sensations, particularly if they’ve been struggling with negative feelings— anxiety, depression, PTSD— for a long time. “Success” for them might mean simply feeling better. 

I happen to think the essence of “success” is finding oneself in situations where one is increasingly free to choose what one is exposed to every day. 

Where one gets to choose who one interacts with every day— as opposed to being forced to interact with people one would prefer not to. 

Where one gets to choose wha tone looks at and listens to every day— as opposed to being forced to look at and listen to things one would prefer not to. 

Where one gets to choose what one does every day— as opposed to being forced to do things that one would prefer not to. 

Where one gets to choose, finally, what one thinks about and focuses on every day— as opposed to being forced to think about and focus on things that one might prefer not to. 

When it comes down to it, I struggle to define success as anything more or less than increasing amounts of freedom of choice. As best I can tell, other definitions of success seem to hinge upon being free to choose our surroundings, situations, and behavior…and other definitions of success tend to lose their meanings if one ISN’T free to choose one’s surroundings, situations, and behavior. 

If success is, essentially, increasing opportunity and freedom to choose…then it opens up an interesting, and in my view productive, way to look at our lives in a goal-directed way. 

Specifically: how much freedom do I have, right now, in order to think what I want, focus on what I want, look at and listen to what I want, and do what I want? 

The answer isn’t zero. 

For most of us, the answer is probably something less than we’d prefer…but it’s not zero. 

Of 100% of our time, energy, and focus, we have the freedom to dedicate SOME percentage of it to what we choose. 

That percentage might be in the single digits, but it’s not zero. 

If we acknowledge that— that we do have at least SOME freedom and flexibility in what we’re able to focus on and do— then the equation of success starts to look less like an overwhelming, perplexing conundrum…and it starts to look more like a math problem. 

Specifically: what can we do, on a day by day basis, to make that percentage of freedom we DO have go up by even a tiny bit? 

Our days, our weeks, our months, our years, our lives…how can we take that resource, that gift, of whatever time we have available…and make that “freedom percentage” tick up just a little, tiny bit? 

Day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year? 

It will only tick upward if we take responsibility for looking for ways to make it tick upward. 

The reason I present this definition of success, and this equation of how to go about achieving it, to you in this way is because I want to make the project seem less overwhelming. 

We don’t have to figure everything out. 

We don’t have to understand the universe. 

We don’t have to perfectly control our symptomatology. 

We don’t have to make a million dollars. 

All we have to do is figure out how to make that percentage number— the percent of our resources that we are free to direct— go up, little by little. 

We can figure out ways to do that. 

That’s a project that starts in small ways. 

That’s a project that develops in small ways. 

That’s a task we are up to. 

And if we’re up to that task…success— real, measurable success— is in our grasp. 

It’s all in how we think about it. 

 

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Sacrifices worth making.

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There is no question: mental health requires us to make sacrifices. That’s what many people consider the bad news. 

The good news, though, is this: most of the stuff we need to sacrifice in order to be emotionally healthy, to psychologically heal from trauma, depression, and anxiety, is stuff we don’t really need anyway. Not really. 

One of the most straightforward examples of this is addiction. 

In order to overcome addiction, we necessarily need to sacrifice the pleasurable feelings we get from our substance of choice. 

Most substances of addiction provide a temporary high. They activate our nervous systems in such a way that is pleasurable. That pleasurable high, however, is always temporary— hence our need to continue to use the substance, thus creating an addictive pattern. 

There is no way around the fact that in order to conquer our addiction, we need to figure out how to do without this temporary high, this momentary spike of pleasure. 

For non-addicts, this doesn’t sound like a big deal. You just do what you have to do, they figure. You can’t always get what you want, so you do without. Case closed. 

What non-addicts don’t realize, however, is that for addicts, the sources of pleasure and comfort in our lives tend to be few and far between. 

Those momentary moments of comfort and pleasure we get from our substance of choice? Those might be the main, or maybe even the only, sources of comfort or pleasure we get in our lives that day. 

Consequently, we get attached to those pleasurable moments. 

Giving them up is not an easy ask. 

What to some people seem like relatively small or simple sacrifices become, to an addict, quite significant sacrifices. 

We can, in fact, make those sacrifices for the sake of overcoming our addictions…but making those sacrifices requires the development of strategies and skills that help us deal with the loss of that pleasure and comfort. 

It may sound simple. But it’s not easy. 

Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. 

In order to be emotionally healthy in other respects requires sacrifice as well. 

For example, in order to guard against depression, we must often take responsibility for reality checking the distortions in our thinking. (The therapeutic technique of cognitive behavioral therapy is built around this.) 

As a rule, however, reality checking our thinking doesn’t come natural to most of us. 

It’s a hassle. It’s work. It requires us to push back against the natural flow of our internal dialogue.

Challenging the inertia of our internal dialogue requires a certain amount of sacrifice. We must sacrifice convenience and comfort for the sake of keeping ourselves on an even emotional keel. 

We can make the sacrifice, certainly…but again, there is a cost associated with it. 

At a certain point, most of us can’t hep but stop and wonder if all the sacrifices associated with behavioral and emotional health are worth it. 

Is “living healthfully” worth all the hassle, the inconvenience, the surrender of those moments of euphoria and comfort that come with using our drug of choice? 

Yes. Yes it is. 

IF you take the long term point of view. 

And taking the long-term point of view requires— yes, say it with me— making certain sacrifices. Namely, sacrificing the seductive allure of the short-term point of view. 

Thinking long-term requires a certain amount of maturity that is serious pain in the neck to cultivate. 

It’s easy to cater to the short-term. 

It’s more convenient to think short-term. After all, if we think short-term, all we have to cope with is the very near future. It’s less daunting than thinking long-term. It’s less anxiety-provoking. 

Giving up short-term thinking is a sacrifice. 

A sacrifice that is worth making, certainly…but no meaningful sacrifice comes easily. 

The good news about all of that? You can, in fact, do it. 

If you are reading these words, you have the basic tools to do everything I’m describing. 

If you made it this far in this blog, you have the intelligence and endurance to do it. 

I believe in you. 

Do you? 

 

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Letting your past go.

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So often, we’re so tempted to revisit the past…and we do so in ways that chip away at our ability to function in the present.

Our brains have the imaginative capacity to envision other times and other places, and very often we use that capability to revisit times and places that we’ve been and experienced. 

Sometimes, we do this to revisit pleasant or positively meaningful times and places from our past. We remember people, places, and things that make us feel good, and reconnect us to values goals that matter. 

Other times, however, we’re drawn back to people, places, and things that can only have a negative, demotivating, anxiety-producing impact. We use our imaginative capabilities to induce feelings of regret, sadness, and pain. 

It would seem to make sense to limit our exposure to these memories— memories that do little but make us feel terrible. But for some reason, we find ourselves going back there, again and again— and feeling those terrible feelings, again and again. 

For some people, it doesn’t even feel like a choice. It feels as if they are pulled back to bad feelings and moments in their lives quite involuntarily…and they fervently wish they could stop their brains from revisiting those times, places, and people. 

Why does our brain yank us back there, when we KNOW all that exists back there is pain? 

Why does our brain yank us back there, when we KNOW that the past has little or nothing to do with the present moment we’re trying to savor, or the future we’re trying to create? 

There are a variety of neuropsychological reasons why our brains tend to use the capacity to visualize and imagine in ways that cause us pain, but the good news is: we can, in fact, take charge of our focus and limit the extent to which our minds’ eye goes to the past. 

We can take control over what we see on the movie screens of our minds. 

If, that is, we are willing to give up the fantasy of somehow changing the past. 

If we admit that we can never have a better past. 

If we are ready, truly ready, to let the past go…which is often harder than it sounds. 

Why is it hard to let the past go? It is, after all, past. It’s not like we can change it, no matter how hard we try. 

Part of us knows that very well. We are not dumb or childish. We know that no matter how many times we replay the past, the ending will always be the same. The past is not a Choose Your Own Adventure book. 

But there’s another part of us— usually a younger part— that really thinks, really believes, that if we replay the past enough, maybe we can alter the details. It’s the same child-like part of us that watches, say, the movie “Titanic” with baited breath, hoping that maybe THIS time the characters make different decisions to avoid the ship’s inevitable fate. 

To truly accept that the past is the past— to truly accept that there is no changing the past, no matter how hard we want to or how hard we try— represents a loss. 

To radically accept the past is the past is to let ourselves in for some serious mourning. 

Accepting that the past is the past means we must grieve for the “us” we might have been, once upon a time, with different choices. 

To accept that the past is the past means mourning for the sense of possibility that we once had about what subsequent years may have held for us. 

To accept the past is the past means accepting that things might not have gone the way we would have preferred things go. 

To accept the past is the past means allowing ourselves to feel what we feel about it— sad, angry, amazed— while at the same time accepting that there is nothing to do about those feelings but to FEEL them. 

We have a really, really hard time FEELING feelings. We always want to DO something about those feelings. 

Accepting the past is the past doesn’t allow us the opportunity to DO anything about it. We have to see what we see, now what we know…and accept what IS. 

That’s a tall order, emotionally. 

Denial is a powerful human psychological defense. 

No wonder we have difficultly accepting the past…and no wonder our brains keep drawing us back to it. 

When your brain draws you back to the past…don’t panic. Let it draw you back…but keep enough presence of mind to remind yourself that what you are viewing isn’t live. It’s a recording. 

Let yourself feel what you need to feel. 

Let yourself cry. 

Let yourself be angry. 

And let yourself return to the present, knowing that it is the present and the future— not the past— the holds the key to your destiny. 

Letting the past go is not easy or simple.

But it’s worth it. 

 

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