Posted on

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 medical help would be the best answer.

I’ve had clients over the years where it was clear to me the challenges they were facing ran 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. This is when self-help or life coaching may not be the right approach. Some problems require medical assistance, and  it’s important to recognize the difference and always err on the side of caution. 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. But again, 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 the right medical help.

I’m especially attuned to this topic because there is 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 challenges. His condition was so severe that he tried to take his own 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.

Are you experiencing any mental health challenges 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, the sooner you get medical help the better. 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.

Posted on

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!

Posted on

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.

Posted on

The Best New Year’s Resolution Ever

Do you make New Year’s Resolutions or do you consider them a waste of time?

A recent survey showed that 45% of Americans make New Year’s Resolutions while 73% give up on their resolutions before reaching them. The top four resolutions most people make in order of priority include weight loss and financial gain followed by exercise (to help with the weight loss) and getting a new job (to help with the financial gain).

After reading the survey, I decided to give this business of New Year’s Resolutions some thought to see if I could come up with something more interesting than the standard resolutions. I wanted to do something this year that would change my life starting on day one and return dividends everyday without fail. How about joining me in a different kind of New Year’s Resolution?

Here’s what I came up with:

FOCUS ON LIVING IN THE PRESENT MOMENT EVERY DAY!

Now that may not seem like the greatest New Year’s Resolution ever but I’m willing to argue that it is.

The most profound truth in life is that we only get to live in the present moment, but we usually miss it because we’re ruminating over things that happened in the past or we’re thinking about something that might happen in the future. And, of course, while we are caught in the grips of the past and the future, we miss the most important experience in life and the only moment we get which is the present moment. If this sounds a bit abstract or overly philosophical, stay with me for moment as we explore this idea.

Begin this new path by resolving to experience more of your life by reminding yourself every day to live in the present moment. It only takes a moment … or perhaps a “present moment”. If you join me with this resolution, I can promise you that it won’t be easy but it has the potential to be the most important idea you ever learn in life. After all, we often use the word “enlightened” or “awakened” to describe individuals who have achieved this goal. But let’s not set the bar that high for this year. How about living in the present moment for at least one moment every day? That’s doable, right? And what if after a bit of practice this concept starts to really take hold in your life? Is there anything more important than being present for your life?

Don’t allow this concept to get too airy-fairy with too much spiritual woo-woo. That’s entirely unnecessary. Experiencing the present moment involves learning to wake up to the life you have in each moment. It involves being fully alive in the only time you are alive which is now. It’s not that you won’t be alive in the next moment or next day or next week or so on but when those moments occur it will be as a present moment.

Think about it this way. Your life equals the experiences you have lived combined with the emotions and feelings you attach to those experiences — i.e., life is a mixture of thoughts, emotions, and sensations including all sensory perceptions. Yet at the core of this is your consciousness or that part of you that is the witness experiencing what’s happening. So the best way to live requires you to be conscious and awake in the moment where everything takes place. Again, you are the consciousness behind your thoughts, emotions, and sensory perceptions but you have to be awake to not miss them.

Consider the fact that most people completely miss their life. How many people have you heard say, “I don’t know where the day went?” (Or, “I don’t know where my life went?”) Haven’t you noticed how most people live in a dream-like state where they are just going through the motions without really focusing on what’s happening or what’s most important in each moment?

Being conscious in the present moment is at the core of the human experience and it’s the core of who you are. Everything you most want in life is contained in the present moment. Most people say that they want to be happy but they don’t know how to find it or experience it. Here’s a clue, happiness can only be found in the present moment. You can’t be happy in the past or in the future but only in the present moment. In fact, you can’t experience anything in any place other than the present moment. If you think about something pleasurable from the past or something pleasurable in the future, the experience you are having is still in the present moment. You are remembering something or projecting something in the present moment.

Try this. Focus your attention on your breathing and the fact that you are alive and aware. Now you’re in the moment. Now let’s add who you are to this moment. Do you know who you are? Unfortunately, most people are never taught who they are but it’s simply this.

You are the consciousness that experiences the present moment. You don’t have to believe anything because you can experience this right now. The essence of who you are is the conscious being or witness of the present moment. That’s it.

This may not make much sense right now but resolve to focus on the present moment in this fashion once a day and then see what happens. If you become bored, you can always go back to focusing on the past or the future which isn’t all bad, especially if you resolve to learn from the past and invest what you learn into a more exciting future. But if you miss the present moment, you’ve missed what’s most important. It’s where you are right now and it’s the place where everything happens. When the director says “ACTION”, that’s the present moment.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate this is with an old story about two fish having a conversation about how to develop a better awareness of the essence of life – i.e., consciously experiencing their life. As the story goes, the enlightened fish is trying to explain the essence of life to his fellow fish who can best be described as a seeker who wants to be more alive and enlightened. The enlightened fish finally uses the word “water” to try to explain the world in which the fish live. The seeker fish doesn’t understand. It’s not making sense. As the seeker fish becomes more and more frustrated and confused he finally says to his enlightened teacher, “I don’t get it. Where is this water of which you speak?”

Water for a fish is like the air we breathe. We don’t usually think about it or even recognize that it’s there yet it is essential to our life. Take away air and we lose our life. The same can be said for awareness or consciousness which most of us rarely even consider. But without our awareness and consciousness of the moment, we are missing life. It is our ability to bring our minds to the present moment that is at the center of the life experience.

Without being conscious or aware of the moment, you are in a dream-like state in the past or the future. It’s your awareness of everything that is happening in your life right now that is the essential you. It’s your aliveness. It’s who you are. Take a moment every day and experience it.

There are infinite things to grab your attention and distract you from who you are. Yet the aliveness that exists inside of you is better than any distraction you will ever experience.

Try entering into the present moment today. And then try it again tomorrow. You may discover it is the secret to finding yourself and living your best life.

If you’d like a few simple steps to help you enter the present moment, try these:

1. Focus on your breathing by noticing the movement of the air flowing in and out of your body.

2. Notice your thoughts but don’t resist them or react to them. Just notice them.

3. Notice your emotions but again don’t resist them. Just notice them.

4. Notice all of the sensory perceptions both inside your body as well as outside your body such as sounds, smells, motions, etc.

5. Think about a moment when you have looked through a window at something outside but suddenly realized that you could also see your reflection through the window looking back at you as if looking in a mirror. Notice what that moment felt like to be the one who is observing while also being the observer. Now decide if you are the observed or the observer.

Remember you can always go back to thinking about the past or projecting yourself into the future anytime you wish. But why not try the present moment and see what changes you notice, and determine if those changes allow you to become more conscious, awake, and alive.