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Category: Self Help (page 1 of 1)

Change Doesn’t Work Like You Think

We have a huge tulip tree in our backyard, not far from where I journal each morning.  We’d planted it when we first bought the house, the kids were small and I could reach the top of the tree.

My oldest is going to college next year.

For months its leaves were lush and green and full of life; then one day when I looked up from my scribbling and sketching they were suddenly all brown.

I know this is not how it really happened.  I’m sure I just didn’t notice it, being busy as we all are.

A few weeks back it began dropping leaves. Just a few at first, then it seemed to pick up its pace until one morning, I could easily see the skeleton of its branches through the sparse hangers-on.

Everything that influences and conditions us in this modern world would have us believe that that is an anomaly. That one day the tree would be fully-leaved and the next, completely bare. That seasons change on a dime.

Life does not work that way. Change is constant. Change is gradual. That is life.

From our smartphones and screens we are led to believe that this is wrong. There must be a ‘hack’ for this. Things – you – must change quickly. You must keep up. Buy this, it’ll help. Believe this; it will be your guide.

Believing that change should occur that way brings perpetual money for them, and perpetual pain for you.

As is often the case in these tumultuous times, an obvious clear truth has become obfuscated for the sake of demanding your attention and inflating their profit: the quick fix is always a lie.

Nature does not work that way. Nature is in it for the long haul. Nature is wiser. When we try to change in an instant, we are going against nature.

So, of course, we fail.

And feel worse about ourselves. And thus continue to search out the promise of a speedy, effortless, and pre-packaged solution. This is the path of pain. It is important to remember that we choose our path not once, but constantly. Even after we set out with firm direction and purpose, we should – and inevitably do –  make continual incremental adjustments to our direction and speed. It is important to be mindful of this, for those changes will either be yours or those of circumstance.

Should you wish to walk the path of peace, look to nature. You are a part of it.

Had I been more mindful, I would have recognized that leaves on my tulip tree had slowly been changing from green to yellow for months.

Understanding the truth of that is comforting. I’ve been working toward my own goals for longer than I’d expected at the start; nothing of lasting value is instantaneous.

Gradual is a concept we all need to not only accept, but actively embrace.

“But”, you say, “What about Springtime? A whole treefull of new leaves pops up all overnight.”

True, they do seem to. But that is appearance, which should not be confused with reality. Sometimes the buds are just too small to notice.

The apparently sudden new growth of Spring is simply an outward manifestation of gradual changes happening on the inside.

When the tree appears dormant, it is not dead.

The leaves my tulip tree shed were not blown off by some sudden wind. They’d weathered strong storms in the summer while they were growing. But when that season was over, changes began inside the tree to call it to rest in preparation for new future growth.

The important change did not happen when I saw the brittle leaves fall; the important changes had already happened. What I noticed at the very end was simply an outward expression of this.

Change is constant. Change is gradual. Change is not always immediately apparent. Change is a long-term game.

That is the nature of Nature, of which we are all a part.

You do not always see the changes that are happening all around you, at all times, until they are ready.

But because you do not see them does not mean they are not there.

Once you realize the truth of that, you will discover that you’re doing okay, and actually making progress.

Once you embrace this, you are free to stop your frantic search.

The answers are not without, but within.

They are the ones from which all new growth eventually comes.

It is important to accept this.



Bird Logic; A Very Brief Meditation on Change

An old and much-loved Maple in our backyard came down in a storm the other night. It had been visibly ill for a few years but, when it went, didn’t just bend silently to the ground. Instead, it broke with a mighty crack as if defiant ’til the end of age and storm and illness.

They’re coming to remove it today. About three hours of work, they said. Life is like that sometimes; years of growth gone in a seeming instant.

That tree served us well. My kids climbed and swung on its branches. Birds nested and squirrels chased one another in its leafy arms. It sheltered our pond-fish from the osprey’s eye, and us from the sun.

I watched, just now, as a robin, fresh from its bath, preened itself on a now-low branch that used to stretch toward the sky.

The robin only perceived a Difference, not loss, in this great Change that I mourn. It did not stop for days, frozen in consideration.

Instead, it saw only new opportunity, accepted it, and, without hesitation, adapted.

I’m appreciative of the lesson.


Always Searching For Answers? Here’s a Very Short Poem That May Help.

We Get what we Ask for
Through Work, or Inaction

Depressed and Regretful
Or Full Satisfaction

So if You look at Self
And Don’t Like What You See

And Think ‘Whom Should I Blame?’
Only Me, Only Me

And if you’re looking Outward
For Answers, You’ll See

You Need only Turn Inward,
Only Me, Only Me

So Stop Now your Searching
For Elusive Key

To Door to Fulfillment?
Only Me, Only Me

And When you Exhaust All
Outside Options, You’ll See

That The Answer is Action.
By Whom?
Only Me.

In The Shell: The Power of The Individual, or There’s Always a Me in Team.

When I was in college, I rowed Men’s 8’s for the Crew team.  For the uninitiated, Men’s Eights is a physics experiment that involves stuffing 8 reasonably large men into a long, skinny, fragile rowing shell along with a small, very loud coxswain perched at the end just to see how fast we can get from point A to point B without killing ourselves.

When you row in a boat like this, everyone is in sync. With each stroke, as you pull pivot and push the massive oar in your hands, your tiny seat slides up and you temporarily occupy the space of the person ahead of you. On your return, you straighten your legs and are back to your starting position – which was, seconds before, occupied by the rower behind you.

It’s that tight.

As the boat thunders through the water, the force is tremendous. Scary even, and exhilarating because you are a piston in the engine generating that force. If someone stops for some reason, the results can be devastating. Crabbing – when the rower loses control of their oar and it gets trapped in the water – can lead to anything from broken ribs to broken boats.

Although synchronization is demanded in an environment like this, the Truth is when you’re in the race you must be incredibly focused on yourself first because, ultimately, that’s all that matters. And all that you can hope to control.

In the shell, it’s really not about Team. Fact is, as in Life, it never is. Not really.

It’s always about individual choice.

A Different Perspective: Team, Deconstructed.

If you think about it, any ‘Team’ is actually a group of individuals. In the case of Men’s Eights, the ‘team’s’ success or failure is really an aggregate byproduct of 8 simultaneous and ongoing personal choices. From that perspective, the eventual victory or loss is simply the tallied sum of all of those personal, in-the-moment decisions. Sure, that may give the appearance of synchronicity but, like the most solid object viewed at the atomic level, appearances can be deceiving.

In the shell, the reality is this: when you’re two-and-a-half miles in to a three-mile race, even the most elite athletes are in pain.  Your breath burns in your chest, everything aches, you’re gasping and pulling and trying to maintain focus on every little part of every little stroke, dropping the blade, pulling through, snapping the wrist to rotate the oar.  The coxswain’s voice becomes little more than a buzzing metronome. Again and again and again, pulling through each stroke. You want to stop, just for a moment. But you can’t. If you don’t focus on only what you can control, in an instant everything shatters.  You know this. Yet, still, again and again you’ll want to pause, just for a moment…just this once….

That’s where the battle is won or lost. Individually. Inside of each member of the team.  Inside of you.

Yes, there are benefits to working together; an economy of efficiency created by communally deciding to focus the efforts of a group on a common goal. Is Teamwork required? In the shell, absolutely. But is your value determined by your membership in the team? Absolutely not.

Ultimately, even in the most team-centric setting, success of failure is not about the team as entity; it is about a series of constant individual decisions that, when viewed from the outside, appear to be a synchronized group-think achievement.

If you’re looking to make a change in your life and feel stuck, consider this:

There is danger in always identifying as a part of the Team; if we allow our own sense of self to be determined by the success – or failure – of the Team (business, sports, society) with which we surround ourselves,  then we may become psychologically attached to the idea of the Team’s success as being a primary indicator of our own personal worth and potential.  What’s more, there is a false security in tying your identity The Team; the impact of  failure can be diluted if you can share it with others. But the same also applies to achievement.

Ultimately, a dependency on the Team – and that can be everything from our work situation to the comforts of community, family or even geography – can keep us from moving forward by ourselves. Of trying new things, and making the necessary changes to evolve our lives, our careers, and our relationships.

Corporate blasphemy?  Maybe but even – or, perhaps especially – in these tumultuous times, we need to remember that everything stems from the choice of the Individual: Your choice. In Every moment. Creates your Reality.

Once you embrace this concept, you realize that you – and only you – are the lynchpin of your own Life.  You are completely in charge of yourself, and your destiny regardless of circumstance or surroundings.  This requires responsibility.  And mindfulness. And also a realization that there is no greater force – no team or group or organization of any sort – that dictates your fate, good or bad.

The thing to remember is this: when YOU need a change and, finally, draw that line in the sand, that line is drawn individually, by YOU, not by consensus. When you recognize this, you are free to move forward into the scary and exciting unknown.

So Congratulations, you are in charge of your own success or failure. You are also in charge of how you feel.  That is true empowerment. And something that we all have in equal measure. And always have had, since birth, even if we’ve lost sight of that in the tumult of life, or been told otherwise by even the most well-meaning of people.

If by chance the larger  ‘team’  – be that family, society, government, or those other folks in your boat – happens to benefit from your personal choices, terrific. If not, too bad. But then, they too have the opportunity to make their own choices.

So when your legs are exhausted, your mind muddled, and your lungs on fire, choose. To push on. Or change. Or accept.

But don’t just sit there ‘for a moment’ and take stock…because moments become years.

Just know that win or lose, the responsibility – and opportunity – of your life lies solely with you.









Unhappy? You Don’t Need an Exit Strategy. You Need This.

If you’ve been deeply unhappy in your current situation long enough to recognize that band aids won’t work and you need a fundamental change, the last thing you should do is look for an exit strategy.

Yes, that sounds counterintuitive. When something hurts we try to get away from it, right?

Most of us remain in unnecessary pain for far too long. There are two reasons for this:  fear of change is the biggest, and the incredibly insidious quicksand of routine is probably the most potent. But when you finally stop complaining and actually accept that you’re done, and that it’s time, the natural next step is, of course, to focus on leaving the situation.  To put distance between yourself and the pain.

In the most primal sense, to run away.

But that doesn’t work, because it usually doesn’t happen.

The real question is: Why do we remain stuck? Because when you finally hit that point, or have that epiphany, where every fiber of your being screams ‘That’s it! I can’t take this endless inertia-loop of frustration/anguish/false hope/frustration for one more second!”, there is still one powerful thing that keeps us tethered right to that very spot that causes all the pain.

The Unknown.

Regardless of how evolved we proclaim ourselves to be, how refined and in control and not beholden to our physical urges or instincts we say we are, every single one of us – at the very center of our beings – remain biological creatures.  We have millions of years of experience burned into our basic wiring, and even today that indelible base-code translates into survival above all as a gateway to procreation and the continuation of the species.

So while we like to tell our Tesla-driving, iPhone-gripping, locally-sourced and well-scrubbed selves that we’ve evolved beyond the dirty primality of our mammalian past, when the organic fertilizer hits the fan and our survival circuits are activated, the lumbering club-dragging near-ape versions of ourselves are still running the show.  That other stuff?  That’s the privilege of safety and status and the thin veneer that falls away as soon as things get serious.

And  that primitive hard-wiring? That’s the very reason we can’t just ‘RUN!’ when faced with the suffocating pain of long-term unhappiness.

Actually, Grog Say Fire Good.

You see, back in the cave days, the unknown things creeping around in the dark just beyond that little circle of firelight were much more of a threat than a mere feeling of unhappiness.  The threat of the unknown was a real threat. An end-your-life sort of threat.  So you kept by the fire until dawn.

In today’s world that threat of the unknown is different, but equally potent. In this case “The Unknown” comes in the form of The Exit Strategy – that willful step into uncertainty to relieve a deep pain.  Unfortunately, stepping into The Unknown, even for the most necessary of reasons, could very well lead to the loss of other necessities, like your job, your spouse, or even your house.  In other words, The Unknown fast becomes the primary threat to our  source-code-level programming toward survival.

In addition, a willful decision to choose uncertainty could also result in the potential loss of social standing and public embarrassment, which probably accounts for more painful life-stasis than everything else combined. These possibilities are more than enough to override your “I’ve had it and need a change” declarations and consequent Exit Strategy.  The potential for new and greater pain snuffs your will.

In short, your great internal conversation boils down to something pretty simple, like this:  “I’m in terrible pain, but what if I leave? I could be worse off….”

Better the Devil you know, right?

So regardless of our heartfelt declaration of freedom in the moment,  we remain in the rut of hopelessness and pain by choosing, even through our inaction, the familiar and seemingly stable.  And in doing so – in now essentially consciously choosing the pain – we compound it, often through self-accusation.  We now have proof that we’re losers because we ourselves have chosen this, that life is a dark and terrible place and that perhaps we even deserve this pain, because we’re too weak to act.

Suddenly that rut gets even deeper.

And even when you’re pushed to the very edge, when negativity, cynicism, sadness – sometimes deep depression – becomes the lens through which you view even the best of things, still you stay. But not calmly. No, you are no longer resigned to your fate, just paralyzed.

You are now in a very difficult place, caught between the natural instinct to get away from that which is painful, and the ingrained code that says to remain where it is familiar and safe.  Both are survival instincts. Both are in some ways correct.  Both bring you pain.

So you drag your heels. “I’m gonna do that.  But not today.  I’m too busy. Today wasn’t too bad.”

But it is.  You’ve already established that.

And a week, a month, a year – even ten passes.

And you’re still there. In pain. So what do you do?

When salmon swim downstream, they’re happy, healthy and by all accounts having a great time.  When they head back upstream to mate, well, they exhaust themselves and die and feed a lot of bears along the way. Pushing against the current is not the natural order of things that are meant to continue and flourish; it exacts a toll. If you look around in life the things that last are at peace; they are the things that flow.

In order to get away from the perpetual pain and break the cycle of unhappiness, what you really need is an Entry Strategy.

What’s an Entry Strategy? Like the Exit Strategy, it’s a means of getting to someplace new. But unlike the Exit Strategy, the Entry Strategy is not driven by fear.  It is not running away, it is being pulled toward.

That’s a critical distinction. And a complete mental shift. Focusing on what you don’t want, which is inherent in the act of fleeing, or the Exit Strategy, is burdensome.  It drains energy, because even with the best of intentions, you’re focusing on something negative.

Don’t believe me? Think about what you don’t want right now.  Did your brow furrow?  Did you sink a little deeper in your chair, or feel tension in your body?

Now think about something you do want.  I’ll bet your forehead and jaw tension loosened.  You might have even smiled a little.

Here are some actual steps to get it done, or “How To Know What You Want in Only 14 Minutes!”.

Take a notebook, pick a page, draw a line down the middle, and write “Good” on one side, and “Bad” on the other. Every day at, say, 7 pm take no more than 2 minutes to take quick stock of the 24 hours since your last entry, and jot – don’t overthink – the good things and the bad things that happened.  The columns will not be equal.  Resist the urge to even them out.

Keep at it for a week.  A pattern will start to emerge. You’ll start to see not only what you don’t like, but also what you do.

Once you have a good handful of those things that were good, and consistently so, write a sentence that goes like this: “I like ____ and ____ and _____.  And I really like _____.”, and fill in the blanks. Yes, write it simply, like a child would.

Now you know what you like and what gives you joy. You are now armed with concrete knowledge; not a vague and fuzzy sense. It may not feel immediately doable but trust me, it is. It will also likely scare you – that’s good, because if it didn’t it would probably just be more of the same.

Now make actual good use of the internet to narrow down in a larger and more practical sense what kinds of activities or careers or places jibe with that simple declaration of what you like and what makes you happy. Doesn’t matter what it is.  Doesn’t matter if it makes practical sense. Oh, and I’d also recommend talking to a couple of people who do something similar to what you like.  Shoot them and email, or find some way to connect, respect their time, and just be honest and ask. People are inherently good, and most of us like to help.

Your next step is the hardest. And the Best.

You have to make those things a small part of your day, now.  Every Single Day. Just a little to start, but every day.

In my case, I’m a writer and that is indeed my happiest place, and the place that somehow gets pushed to the bottom of the list every day after my morning journaling.  Sure, writing is a big part of my ‘job’ as a copywriter and brand strategist, but it’s not always the kind of writing that fills my soul.

I too would love to leap, but I too have responsibilities, fears and a tendency to get stuck in routine. What I’ve realized is this: writing is not done in the head, but with the hands.  There’s something in engaging with the process that lights the fire and keeps me happy, hopeful and reasonably sane. The same thing will be true about whatever it is you find you like.

Action is always the antidote; thinking never is.

So every day, regardless of my schedule, I make myself sit down at the keyboard and get typing. That’s how this post was birthed, by the way.

It makes the worst of days better, and I’m building a body of “stuff that I like” which, eventually, will be all that I do. Doesn’t that sound nice? A goal that pulls me forward.

Final Thought: When you get in your car, you don’t just drive away from where you were, do you?

Of course not; you pick a destination.  That’s how you get there.

And now you have a destination. A place you want to get to. An Entry Strategy.

And it works every time.

Now stop reading, and get going.







“The Reminder” – A Quick Poem About Your Life

I Choose to be Fat
I Choose to be Thin
I Choose to Lose
I Choose to Win

I Choose to Sleep
I Choose to Wake
I Choose the Path
My Life Does Take

Yes, I Choose Sick
Or I Choose Health
The Same Applies
To Poor or Wealth

I Choose to Love
I Choose to Hate
I Choose How I
Desires Sate

I Choose my Life
I Choose my Death
I Choose More Years
Or Soon, Last Breath

I Choose Do Now,
Or Choose to Wait
In Doing So,
I Choose My Fate


Squirrel Wisdom: A Very Brief Meditation on Change

A squirrel came bounding toward me just now. I noticed him and he me, and he stopped.

For a brief moment we stared at each other, frozen. Then I saw him decide.

He spun and bolted off, disappearing into the bushes. I saw him re-emerge on the other side of our small pond. He made his fast, agile way through the plantings and rocks. I watched as he bounded, equally happy and energetic, across the bright sunny lawn toward whatever came next.

If he’d had an initial path in mind, some plan or intent, it ended when we met. Even though it is Autumn, and every moment of preparation now critical to his survival through the long Winter, he did not panic. He did not slink off sadly or bolt blindly in fear or even stop and ponder when his plan – his path – unexpectedly changed.

No, instead he just kept moving in a new and unexpected direction. And this kept him safe.