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When Self-Help is No Help

Although self-help principles and concepts can be enormously useful in helping you change your life for the better, I believe there are limits to how much you can achieve using self-help. Granted, you and you alone can do incredible things to improve your life. Nevertheless, you may find that depending solely on your own devices is not always the best path. Self-help can sometimes be wrought with built-in limits.

One limit in the area of mental health involves conditions like anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, and a host of other challenges. I shutter to think about the number of times I’ve heard and witnessed well-meaning self-help or personal development authors or speakers delve into areas where they lack the proper knowledge or training. I’m sure you’ve heard self-help “gurus” prescribe vacuous success quips and pollyannaish nonsense in situations where professional help would be the best answer.

I’ve had many clients over the years where it was clear to me that some of the issues they were dealing with were not in my wheelhouse or circle of competence. I’m not a doctor nor have I had any kind of medical training, yet clients have asked me about issues that run much deeper than finding your life’s purpose, changing your beliefs, setting goals that are attainable, reaching more financial success, or developing new strategies for your life and business. The list goes on and on, but what if medical guidance is necessary? What if your underlying chemistry is such that no amount of effort on your part is going to fix your problem? Let’s use depression as an example as it comes up frequently.

Depression comes in many forms but let’s just consider two broad categories: (1) situational depression, and (2) clinical depression. As the name states, situational depression is situation based. Something has happened in your life that is a short-term, stress-type issue. Maybe something bad has happened and you need to find a healthy way to process it. Perhaps you need to change the situation or just change the way you think about the situation. Self-help, or a bit of coaching, might be useful in this case. So far, so good.

However, what if your depressed mood doesn’t get better in a few days? What if the situation gets better but your depression continues? It’s possible that you’ve stepped into the world of clinical depression.

Here’s an except from Medical News Today:

“Clinical depression is more severe than situational depression. It is also known as major depression or major depressive disorder. It is severe enough to interfere with daily life.”

“It is classified as a mood disorder and it typically involves chemical imbalances in the brain.”

“Clinical depression can have genetic origins or it may develop as a response to painful or stressful experiences or events, such as a major loss. These major life events can trigger negative emotions such as anger, disappointment, or frustration.”

“Depression can change the way a person thinks and how the body works.”

“Alcohol and drug abuse are also linked to clinical depression.”

Since the lines between situational and clinical depression can get blurry, I can understand why people can be confused. However, I’ve learned that it’s always best to err on the side of caution. If you are experiencing depression and it’s been more than a few days, stop the self-help and go get some professional help. I’ve gone so far as to fire clients that didn’t want to seek professional help if I believed there was even the slightest possibility of clinical depression.

Perhaps I’m overly sensitive in this matter because I have a history of mental health issues in my family. My mother suffered from depression and anxiety. My father battled substance abuse. And I lost one of my brothers, Paul, on Thanksgiving Day in 2015 as a result of his mental health issues. His condition was so severe that he tried to take his life several times. He finally decided to declare himself DNR (“Do Not Resuscitate”) and then refused to take his medications and also refused to eat or drink. Death was more appealing to Paul than the pain of living. So this issue is very real to me.

My own DNA has provided me with more faulty wiring and circuitry than I’d ever care to admit. Have I experienced depression and anxiety to a high degree? Yes. Have I tried to fix it myself? Yes. Has it worked? No. I wouldn’t be writing this blog or doing anything else for that matter if it were not for the ongoing help and support of my amazing family and friends along with some incredible doctors.

Are you experiencing any issues that are out of the reach of the latest self-help book, or a new-to-the-scene motivational speaker, or an exciting life coach? If self-help or pop-psychology isn’t working, I’d say the sooner you get professional help the better. I’m still happy to work with you or help you in any way that I can, but remember that all improvement begins by telling yourself the truth. So how are you doing, and how are you feeling? No, really, how are you feeling? The healing starts with the truth.

No matter what problems you may be facing, there is help available. Maybe a great life coach is all you need to help you see yourself from the outside looking in. Just make sure you choose the right person for your situation. We are all too close to ourselves to really see ourselves as we really are. Shakespeare captured this idea best when he wrote:

“The eye sees not itself but by reflection or of some other means.”

So get the right person to give you both an outside look and an inside look if necessary. Make sure that, if you need a complete inside look, you get the right professional with the best medical training. New discoveries are being made everyday. Never lose sight of help that might be closer than you think with your family and friends. Tell your family and friends how you feel, and always remember to keep the faith. The help you need is available, and it’s within reach.

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Three Steps to Solve ANY Problem

Do you have a problem that you’d like to solve?

Here’s a simple three-step formula that never fails:

  1. Define the problem as precisely as possible.
  2. Visualize what the problem will look like when solved.
  3. Take daily steps toward your vision.

Perhaps that seems overly simplistic; however, I’ve never had anyone give me a better formula. The truth is that we are always either in a problem, we just got out of a problem, or we are heading straight toward a problem. Those are the only three options we are ever handed while traveling on this beautiful blue, island in space. This means that we’d better have a system or formula for dealing with problems or we are going to spend a great deal of our life in constant frustration.

When a problem confronts us, we are often caught off guard and begin to think that something totally unique has crossed our path. But that’s not the case. Our ancestors have been solving problems for thousands of years or we wouldn’t even be here. So our job is to solve the problems that face us so the next generation can stand firmly on our shoulders and keep the process moving forward.

So what is the biggest problem you are currently facing? Do you wonder if it can be solved? It can, but it might just take some laser beam focus and determination to get the job done. We know that problems are a constant in life and we also know how to solve problems by using this simple formula, so let’s dig in a bit deeper to see what kind of problem might be standing in our way.

The first thing I like to do when presented with a problem is see it as clearly as possible and also decide if it is a convergent problem or a divergent problem. In other words, is the problem one where a single, correct answer can be found or is it one where many possible solutions are available?

Convergent problems are solved when you converge on the correct answer. It’s like the solution to a math problem. Two plus two always equals four. That was the solution yesterday and today and it will certainly be the solution tomorrow. Convergent problems have systematic and logical answers that solve the problem every time.

Divergent problems, on the other hand, diverge or can go off in many directions. These kinds of problems have multiple solutions and require new, original, unique, or free-flowing solutions. Marriage is a great example of a divergent problem. What works today to keep a marriage vibrant and happy might not work tomorrow. And, more importantly, there are no singular answers that will work every time. Anyone who is in a successful marriage knows that it requires constant work.

So what about the problem you are currently facing, is there a single answer that will work if you discover it? Or do you need a range of options to choose from in order to whip the problem? Most problems facing us are divergent problems that require spontaneity and creativity.

I’ve spent my life working with entrepreneurs which is something that I thoroughly enjoy. I often point out to my clients that they are unique in the way they make a living and spend their days. While most people have a set schedule, prearranged relationships, and constraints on the amount of money they can make depending on their exact position or job, entrepreneurs have much more control. They get to choose their schedule and how they use their time. They get to choose the people they will do business with, and they also get to choose how much money they will make by virtue of the way they choose to run their business.

When you control your time, relationships, and money, your options in life are greatly expanded; however, you still have plenty of problems to solve and that includes a seemingly endless supply of divergent problems that require creative thinking.

Luckily, human beings are built for creative thinking. It’s literally in our DNA. We are designed to solve problems and solve them we do. Write down your currently problem and define it with as much clarity as possible. Look at it from every possible angle until you can see it in its entirely. Once you’ve done that, sit back and daydream about ways in which your problem could be solved. What would your problem look like if solved? See your life without your problem. What does that look like? What does it feel like?

It’s been said that whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve. If that’s true, then it’s true for you and your problem. So see the solution in your mind like an already accomplished fact. See yourself celebrating the fact that you’ve solved your problem. Now you’ve taken charge of the situation.

All you have to do now is begin moving every day toward that vision in your mind. All you have to do is one thing at a time in the order of its importance to you and the solution of your problem. If you keep at it for a sufficient amount of time, you’ll wake up one fine morning to the realization that your problem is solved. But don’t stop there. Now it’s time for another problem because you are a problem solver. That means you need a problem to solve because that’s what successful human beings do. So decide what your next breakthrough is going to be. It may involve some problems but you already know how to solve them, right? The secret is that simple three-step formula: (1) define your problem, (2) visualize a solution, and (3) take daily steps toward the solution. For good measure, add a bit of persistence and determination and you’ll defeat whatever problem stands in your way.

Life becomes infinitely more rewarding and exciting when you know how to play the game. So carefully choose your next move and remember to enjoy the journey!

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Finding Your Place

Years ago, I remember Earl Nightingale relating a story about finding your place in the scheme of things. It seems that a marine biologist was working to save a group of seals that got caught in a fishing net. He was able to save all of the seals with the exception of one who turned out to be pregnant. While the marine biologist was unable to save the mother, he was able to save the baby seal who he decided to take home to give special care. The baby seal not only survived but actually thrived. In fact, the seal became something of a family pet. The seal enjoyed being with the family and took a special liking to the man’s young daughter.

The seal learned to play with balls and rings along with numerous tricks that included singing (or barking and grunting as the case may be) when the young girl would play the piano. Over time, the girl and the seal became constant companions. But the marine biologist began talking with his daughter about the seal and the fact that it would soon be time to return him to his true home, the ocean. His daughter didn’t like that idea and tended not to think about it.

But eventually, the time had come to return the seal to the ocean. The father took his young daughter and the now fully grown seal on a boat ride back to the place where the seal had been found. The girl knew it was time for the seal to go home but she was very sad about what was about to happen and tears flowed down her young face. Surprisingly, the seal didn’t seem very excited about being out on the water and nuzzled up against the girl with what looked like tears forming.

When they reached the desired location, the man and his daughter worked to help the seal into the water but the seal didn’t want to go. He kept trying to back away from the ocean but the dad and his daughter kept working to get the seal into the water. Suddenly, they were able to get the seal in the water all the while listening to barking sounds of sadness from the seal. But then something interesting happened.

As soon as the seal hit the water, he was immediately transformed from an awkward and lumbering creature on the land, into a thing of pure beauty and grace in the water. The seal realized as soon as he hit the ocean that this was the place he was meant to be. This was home. And as the girl watched him dart about the boat with style and ease, she knew it as well. Even though she knew she would miss him, she knew that he was where he was meant to be.

I often think about this story when I think about finding our place in the scheme of things. It’s not always easy to find our way in life, and sometimes it’s downright scary. But have you ever noticed how many great things in life often come from a dive into the unknown? Have you ever noticed how things that seem really scary often turn out to be just fine, and you look back and ask yourself why you were so afraid?

The seal was afraid to get back into the ocean because he had somehow forgotten that it was his home. Upon hitting the water, though, he immediately experienced how his special gifts fit perfectly with this environment. He could move through the water as if by magic. I believe we can each have the same kind of experience if we’ll have the courage to uncover our special gifts even if it means jumping into the unknown and experiencing some uncertainty to explore who we are and what we are meant to do.

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Thought Distortions

One of the questions clients frequently ask me is what is the best way to change their thoughts. In other words, how do you get rid of thoughts you don’t want running through your mind. If you take the time to analyze your unwanted thoughts, you will often discover that they are based on distortions of reality. Getting rid of these “Thought Distortions” can take many forms. Over the years, I have used many methods but some of the ones I’ve found most effective are self-hypnosis, sleep programming, meditation, and even something I call Hypnology which you may find fun to investigate and experience for yourself. (http://www.Hypnology.com) All of these approaches involve two key components – i.e., relaxation and visualization.

The challenge, however, is that you first have to figure out what thoughts you need to eliminate. What follows is a list of “Thought Distortions” that you many find extremely helpful. It is related to what is known as Cognitive Therapy which was developed by the American psychiatrist Aaron Beck back in the 1960’s. Beck originally used Freudian Psychoanalysis with his patients but as a researcher and scientist at heart, he decided to put psychoanalysis to the test. He was both surprised and troubled to find that these methods were not working to produce the results he expected. So he started developing and testing other methods.

As you might imagine, Beck was not originally applauded for rocking the boat but as other colleagues began trying his methods, Beck was vindicated and found to be an important pioneer in the field of psychiatry.

The essence of what Beck discovered is that negative thoughts fall into three categories: negative ideas about self, negative ideas about the world, and negative thoughts about the future. For many people, these negative thoughts have become automatic over time so they no longer even question them. But when Beck began questioning patients about these thoughts and pointing out various inaccuracies or distortions, the patients could recognize their faulty thinking and choose new thoughts. As simple as it sounds, it was revolutionary at the time and it still remains a major part of psychiatry today. It is especially significant in the treatment of depression. I find it one of the best tools available to clarify your thinking about anything.

Read through the examples that follow and see if you can find any “Thought Distortions” in your own thinking. I think it is safe to say that we all have some, but we can eliminate them by recognizing the truth and beginning to ask better questions.

THE THREE MAIN CATEGORIES OF THOUGHT DISTORTIONS

All thought distortions have their basis in these three categories:

1. The Self — i.e., the self is worthless. (Personal)
2. The World/Environment — i.e., the world is unfair. (Pervasive)
3. The Future — i.e., the future is hopeless. (Permanent)

THOUGHT DISTORTION EXAMPLES

All-Or-Nothing Thinking
– Engaging in black-or-white thinking. Thinking in extremes, such as all good or all bad, with nothing in the middle.

Selective Abstraction
– Selecting one idea or fact from an event while ignoring other facts in order to support negative thinking.

Mind Reading
– Believing that we know the thoughts in another person’s mind.

Negative Prediction
– Believing that something bad is going to happen even though there is no evidence to support this prediction.

Catastrophizing
– Exaggerating the potential or real consequences of an event and becoming fearful of the consequences.

Overgeneralization
– An example of distorted thinking that occurs when individuals make a rule based on a few negative or isolated events and then apply it broadly.

Labeling
– Creating a negative view of oneself based on errors or mistakes that one has made. It is a type of overgeneralizing which affects one’s view of oneself.

Magnification
– A cognitive distortion in which an imperfection is exaggerated into something greater than it is.

Minimization
– Making a positive event much less important than it really is.

Personalization
– A cognitive distortion in which an individual takes an event and relates it to himself or herself when there is no relationship. An example would be, “Whenever I want to go skiing, there is no snow.” Wanting to go skiing does not cause a lack of snow.

THE BOTTOMLINE

It’s important to remember that a small change in your thinking today will eventually result in a very large change in your destination.

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How to Break an Unwanted Habit

Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard to break old habits? How about this question: How are our habits formed and what causes them to repeat themselves over and over again? While our knowledge is still woefully incomplete when it comes to the human brain, we know more today than at any other time in history.

Consider, for example, a part of our brain called the basal ganglia. While there is much we don’t know about this tiny little organ buried in our brain, we are starting to learn more about how this part of our brain functions relative to forming and executing habits. It has been consistently demonstrated that procedural learning and routine behaviors are run by this part of the brain.

We’ve learned that the basal ganglia operates to provide us with shortcuts to accomplish tasks so that we don’t have to start our thinking from scratch every time we perform an action or think through every little detail. Instead, this part of our brain remembers tasks to help us perform with less effort. So once you’ve done something a few times, the basal ganglia stores the actions which allows the execution to be automatic without you having to think about it.

The trouble lies in the fact that we forget about how a number of unwanted habits were formed in the first place. This can make it challenging to change habits unless we know how to rewire the various automatic programs that have become stored in the basal ganglia. Some researchers now call these programs “Habit Loops.” Again, the challenge is that these habit loops typically run without any conscious knowledge.

Yet if we breakdown how these habit loops are formed, we can alter them to create more desirable habits. Here is the essence of how a habit is formed:

1. A need, desire, or craving exists that you want to fulfill.

2. A trigger, stimuli, or cue initiates a specific habit program that has fulfilled this desire in the past.

3. A routine, set of actions, or behaviors is automatically performed in order to satisfy your craving as quickly as possible.

4. A reward or benefit is provided which serves to further strengthen the habit and keep the cycle spinning.

In essence, a loop program runs when it’s executed and continues to run as long as a reward is in place to keep it running. And since these habit loops serve deeply held needs or cravings of one kind or another, we can easily become trapped by habits unless we learn how to change them or establish new ones.

Remember Samuel Johnson’s famous quote: “The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.” While there is great truth is this quote, it shouldn’t discourage you from changing unwanted habits. The chains of a habit can be broken!

Indeed, a habit can be rewired. The question is how?

First of all, remind yourself that your habit has four parts as previously discussed including the craving, trigger, routine, and reward. This means you need to examine each element of a habit so you can begin the rewiring process. So ask yourself these four questions to uncover what’s driving your habit:

1. What desire, need, or craving am I trying to fulfill?

2. What triggers, stimuli, or cues remind me of my desire or need or craving?

3. What automatic routine, behavior, or set of actions am I performing without even thinking about it?

4. What reward am I experiencing from this habit?

Once you’ve answered those four questions, you are ready to attack the habit head on using the following four questions:

1. What is the best way to satisfy my desire, need, or craving?

2. What do I need to remember when the cue or trigger for the craving presents itself?

3. What new behavior, action, or routine would better serve me?

4. How can I reward myself at an even higher level than the old reward?

Consider the problem of overeating or eating the wrong things. It starts with the desire, need, or craving we all share for food. This craving is not going away because we have to eat to survive. The question is what program are you running to fulfill this need? When you are triggered by natural feelings of hunger, do you reach for a candy bar or an apple? You’ll get a reward from eating anything that you enjoy but the question is what have you trained yourself to enjoy, a candy bar or an apple? The difference between the two is huge.

Here’s another example, take the need for certainty that we all share. Without some predictability in our environment, it’s difficult to even function in life. But the question is how to fulfill your need for certainly? Are you fulfilling your need in a way that’s good for you, good for others, and serves the greater good?

Consider someone who desires certainty. The focus becomes one of trying to control things in the world that could take away control. It might look like this:

1. CRAVING = Certainty (You want to be in total control of your life.)

2. TRIGGER = Something from the environment looks like it will take away your control. (A stock market crash would dramatically change your net worth.)

3. ROUTINE = You sense some danger in the world which alerts you of the need to respond which might even include activating your “fight or flight response” if the danger seems serious enough. (You become tense and agitated by news that the economy and stock market are on the verge of collapse so you start thinking about changes you might need to make to your portfolio.)

4. REWARD = You feel a sense of relief if you can come up with a solution. (You develop a diversified portfolio that takes into consideration all of the things that can happen including inflation, deflation, prosperity, or crash. However, the fact of the matter is that you can’t control the stock market so even with an intelligent plan you become stuck in the loop of trying to solve something you can’t ultimately control. You can become so stuck that eventually this pattern leads you to depression, anxiety, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD. In fact, the OCD causes you to keep running this loop endlessly until a full-blown panic attack completely immobilizes you.)

So what’s the solution? You need a new habit loop or habit program.

Here’s an example of new code or programming you could install into your current habit loop:

1. CRAVING = Certainty

2. TRIGGER = Something from the environment looks like it will take away my control.

3. ROUTINE = You need to think clearly and rationally about the perceived problem and decide if it’s something you can control or influence. This involves adding a new “If-Then-Else Statement” in the code which goes something like this: “If I can control or influence the situation, then execute the solution. If I can’t control or influence the situation, then execute the else part of the program which means I need to relax and let it be.”

4. REWARD = You transform the energy of the “fight or flight response” with the corresponding hormones into positive energy for action or peaceful energy for relaxation.

After testing this new code for a few days or weeks, you’ll discover that it allows you to control the things that are in your power to control while accepting the things that are outside of your power to control. You then continue running this new code until it completely replaces the old habit loop so that your basal ganglia will now run the new habit for you automatically.

So think about the habit loops running in your life that perhaps need to be tweaked, altered, or completely rewritten.

If you’d like some help breaking an unwanted habit, consider signing up for a FREE coaching session to uncover your current program and then get the help you need to create some better code.

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The Importance of Humor

Have you ever thought about how important humor is to your life? In thinking about the subject for the past few days, I found myself reflecting on how critical humor really is in our lives.

I can’t imagine going through a day without laughter. In fact, when I think about those times in my life that were the most difficult, I find myself remembering how somber things seemed. There was little humor and not much laughter. Conversely, when I think about those times from the past when I was most alive, I immediately begin to recall experiences that made me laugh.

Certainly one of the best ways to ruin your life would be to take everything too seriously, especially yourself. Have you ever noticed how really successful people are able to laugh at themselves? I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone worthy of modeling who didn’t make humor an integral part of his or her life.

While much has been written over the years about how to be happy and successful, most people shy away from talking about how to be unhappy and unsuccessful. But, of course, studying contrasts can be very enlightening.

When it comes to being unhappy or miserable, I think I’ve learned a formula that never fails. See what you think. It’s simply this: Remove humor from your life. Don’t laugh. Don’t look for the humor in the experiences you go through on a daily basis. That’ll do the trick don’t you think? All you have to do to add unhappiness and misery to your life is to remove humor. That will undoubtedly help you find your way to total misery.

Luckily, the reverse is also true and I think we all know it deep down. So the question is: Why don’t we laugh more? Why don’t we look for ways to lighten up and find more levity and have more fun? I think like a lot of good things in life, we tend to forget what works and we need to be reminded of the simple truths.

Humor will make every part of your life better. It will help you through difficult times and it will help you make the good times even better. It will attract good people and good situations to you. You’ll become a magnet for positive experiences. And it’s well documented that daily laughter will make you healthier.

But, of course, there is a downside. You may start to lose some people in your life. People who don’t have a good sense of humor will probably start avoiding you. They’ll probably start to wonder if you’ve joined some kind of weird cult. And, of course, you’ll have to decide how to handle this. Should you try to change them or try to get them to laugh once and awhile? Sure. It might help. But don’t be surprised if they fail to see the humor and continue on with their sour way of looking at the world. Ultimately, we can’t change others, we can only change ourselves.

Besides, have you ever noticed how some people wouldn’t be happy if they weren’t miserable? There may actually be something humorous about that.