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The limitless nature of life!

This Aaron Chang photograph of the Milky Way Galaxy reminds me of the limitless nature of life and the cosmos! It’s easy to become caught up in the day to day challenges of living and forget that we live on a rock spinning on its axis at thousands of miles per hour, hurling around the sun in a system that rotates around our galaxy which is interconnected with other galaxies trillions of light years away. Sometimes, dI coach people to look up at the sky every once in a while to remind oneself how truly amazing this whole experience is!

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Amazing personality traits

Sally Smith, the C.E.O of Buffalo Wild Wings, has overseen the growth of the business from 60 to over a 1,000 restaurants. She is slow to hire looking for the right fit both culturally and personality-wise. She prefers people who are curious and willing to do whatever it takes. So do I!

Curiosity is an amazing personality trait. In graduate school many years ago I was set up with a young woman still in college. At the time, I thought she was too young for me. When I met her I realized that her curiosity was so natural and amazing that her age seemed less relevant. We dated for several years and almost got married. Today, over twenty years later, we are still friends. In fact, I will see her this Christmas in San Diego. When we catch up every so often, she peppers me with questions in a good way, a naturally curious way!

Going the extra mile is another great personality trait. If you run a business, do you want someone who does just enough or someone who will get the job done no matter what? Like curiosity, going the extra mile is a trait that can be cultivated over time with practice. I love to teach kids to practice getting it right, not to be perfect, but to learn to go the distance. It’s a great way to live!

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Learning to communicate, have patience and discipline is the key to be more successful in life

I recently began working with a high school baseball pitcher with a big dream: he wants to work in the front office of a Major League Baseball team one day! I asked him if wanted to be a GM and he replied that was like asking him if he wanted to be the president of the United States one day! I smiled.

I asked him why he sought out a sports psychologist and he said that he was having trouble maintaining his focus and concentration on the mound for more than four innings. I looked at him and said that his dream was a nine inning dream and that I could teach him how to build mental toughness and stamina that would allow him to pitch even ten innings, a metaphor for unlimited possibility! He said he was on board. We began with a discussion about eliminating the drama and distraction in his life outside of baseball. By teaching him to communicate at a higher level too he would learn patience and discipline, a necessary step along the way. My argument is that everything we do off the field affects our performance on the field. The more we practice patience, discipline, present moment time and self-expression the more muscle we build everywhere! I even asked him to listen to his girlfriend more. He said that would be tough and I replied: “How bad do you want to successfully pitch nine innings?” He smiled!

What are you willing to learn, change or do differently to accomplish your dreams?

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Police tactics in the interrogation room

An article in the May issue of the Monitor on Psychology published by the APA (American Psychological Association) titled ‘Deception in the interrogation room’ informs us that police can use a variety of deceptive practices to coerce a suspect into a confession. For example, it is permissible to tell a criminal suspect that his confederate confessed when he had not and say that a suspects fingerprints were at the scene when there were none! There are some limits, however, like telling a suspect that his statements won’t be used against him but other forms of outright lying are permissible. As the authors write, “although most potential jurors view police tactics as coercive, they generally believe such tactics are necessary to elicit truthful confessions and unlikely to elicit false ones.” Very interesting!

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Good parenting skills

The feature article in the April 13, 2014 New York Times Sunday Review section entitled “Raising A Moral Child” by Adam Grant covers the fundamentals of good parenting that every person, not just parent, should know. Essentially, we need to be mindful of the difference between shame and guilt and make sure we are never shaming our children or others for that matter. Shame is the feeling that one is a bad person while guilt refers to one’s behavior being wrong. If we learn to praise good character and punish bad actions essentially we are on the right track. Children who are praised for good character show far more generosity and caring in research studies.

Generosity, the act of giving without strings attached, can be encouraged by parenting and discouraged as well though the actions of others not their words. Thus, if a parent acts generous and caring, children will copy this behavior and eventually internalize it. The opposite is true as well. Therefore, if you want to raise kind, generous, and moral children, then act that way yourself and be sure to punish actions not character.

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Mental health

Nicholas Kristof’s column in the Sunday Review section of The New York Times chronicles the travails of Mike Yurchison, an Iraq war veteran battling head injury and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). His girlfriend of three and a half years is struggling too, not sure if she can continue to hang in there with him considering all the challenges of dealing with a man shattered by war and mental illness. According to Mr. Yurchison, psychiatry has helped him become addicted to opiates and otherwise he has found these doctors “unhelpful.” This is too often the case. Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are killing themselves at alarming rates. Mike’s brother and close friend, both veterans, recently killed themselves. We also see periodic rampages at military bases such as Fort Hood where medication is often part of the picture.

The issues are complex and challenging and some doctors are fantastic. War is a terrible thing too. However, mental health treatment, especially for veterans, too often relies on medication that is far more harmful than most doctors care to admit. Anti-anxiety meds are addictive and other meds prescribed for anxiety and depression are often toxic to the body. Prescription medication is a multi-billion dollar business after all. I recently had a dinner with a psychiatric nurse who is now medicating her entire practice. This woman was anti-meds just a few years ago.

As a society, we need more intense involvement well beyond medication for those suffering from mental illness. This would involve both communities and professionals and is especially true for veterans. I share this perspective from years of experience as a licensed psychologist helping countless people with severe anxiety, PTSD and depression to eventually get off most or all medication. We can do better.

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The value of Communication

Adam Bryant interviews Jeff Lawson, the C.E.O of Twilio, a cloud communications company based in San Francisco in this week’s Corner Office section of the Sunday New York Times business section. An entrepreneur since age 12 when he started a video production business, Mr. Lawson discusses the value of communication and resolving conflict something his crew rarely did in his next enterprise, a dot.com company.

As both a psychologist and business coach , I teach communication at a very high level. My argument to business people is that whatever you learn and practice in your business life can be applied to your personal life and vice versa. Becoming proactive and engaged and learning to address issues head on instead of avoid them is absolutely important in every area of your life and will eventually help you become a much better parent too!

Communication skills, much like many other things in life, improve with patience, practice, and perseverance. If you want to become a better communicator, practice bringing things up. Over time, you will become more discerning and tactful. Remember: the more you practice, the better you get!

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Live authentically

The cover article for the Sports Sunday section of this weekend’s New York Times features excerpts from ‘Cycle of Lies’ Juliet Macur’s new book on Lance Armstrong. Reading this story reminds me of several conversations I had with a professional riding coach when I lived in New Mexico in 1997. It was obvious then that the culture of professional cycling was so corrupt that Lance had to be cheating. I used to share that belief with others well before it became obvious to the world. The challenge for all of us who try to live with high integrity is what to do when everyone around you is cheating? For a competitive cyclist to succeed then you simply had to cheat. If you didn’t, someone else would and that would put you at a significant disadvantage not just in terms of winning but around fame, fortune, and your ability to make a living at the sport you loved.

It seems that until we live in a world that is more evolved, we need regulatory bodies to make sure some athletes, businesspeople or citizens don’t have an unfair advantage over others. Of course, the cheaters often evolve faster than the overseers and the race to find better and more sophisticated ways to cheat such as undetectable drugs, computer viruses, fake currencies, and other scams continues. The good news is that the world seems to becoming more and more transparent, a positive byproduct of new technology. The challenge in our fast changing paced modern culture is to live authentically which sometimes means passing on questionable opportunities that others will agree too. Given Lance’s competitiveness, ruthless desire to win, and fundamental insecurity, his choices was obvious. What’s yours?

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A Prerequisite for Empathy

I have spent quite a lot of time with both the rich and the poor in my life. As a psychologist, especially in training, I worked in residential treatment centers and hospital settings with the homeless mentally ill and others of few means. I also worked with poor children at a Head Start program and taught in an inner city college environment. Being an identical twin to a Wall Street guy and having lived and worked in an affluent community for the past 17 years, I have a fair amount of exposure to the wealthy including many affluent friends and clients. In general, I agree with Mr. Goleman’s perspective that the wealthy and more powerful tend to “pay less attention to us than we do to them,” a prerequisite for empathy! Less empathy means less caring. I just read another article in the New York Times business section about the CEO of Bloomingdales who values empathy, caring, and listening a great deal. I loved reading about Mr. Gould and hope others in positions of power and authority will emulate him!

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A client in his late forties came to see me because he was having marital difficulties. On the surface it appeared that his wife is a demanding person who rarely appreciated him. His chief complaint was that she didn’t want to have consistent sex with him and that she wanted him to make more money.  As we got to the heart of the matter over time, he began to share how truly unsafe he felt in their marriage. In his perception, reaching out to her and expressing himself invited criticism in return.  He often felt punished and attacked. Instead of communicating, he gradually began to ignore her and avoid intimacy.  Does this sound familiar?

Being a huge believer in open, honest, and straight forward communication, I asked him to gradually express more and more of his truth no matter what.  In fact, I encouraged him to do so at work as well. From my perspective, work and personal are a continuum. Thus, when we learn to better express ourselves at home, it positively affects our relationships at work and vice versa.  Though a part of him wanted to take my coaching, a part of him resisted. “I’m not ready to tell the truth,” he said at one point. He feared being attacked and making his situation worse. He also feared that his wife would cut him off sexually.

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