What is a mistake?

Most people try to avoid making mistakes. In fact, many people experience considerable stress and anxiety around avoiding mistakes. We may labor and fret over this fear, which tends to block and paralyze us. Surprisingly, we don’t typically pause and consider exactly what we mean by this word–mistake.

Generally, a mistake is a decision, action or lack of action that we come to regret. We label this a mistake because it may cause us pain, struggle or loss. Most often, it takes us well out of our comfort zone and introduces uncertainty. We typically don’t care for the consequences that have befallen us and this is what we refer to as a mistake. The irony is that these occurrences we try to avoid are often exactly what we need to experience.
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Breakthrough or Breakdown?

Breakthrough or Breakdown?

With rare exceptions, we seem to struggle in our desire to breakthrough. Yet, exactly what are we trying to breakthrough? Typically, it’s about our desire to change or to become unstuck. The groove of old thinking, feeling and the rut of old behavior become deeply embedded. The older that we get the more anxious we may become that we won’t be able to break free from the entrenchment of the familiar zone.

Somewhere beyond the limitations of the familiar lies the new terrain that we imagine we’d like to experience. This desired place may be specific or general, but it holds the promise of something that we yearn for. This is the promised land of the breakthrough.
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Self-Esteem or Other Esteem?

self-esteemAfter some consideration and many years of practice as a therapist, I have come to believe that the term self-esteem appears to be a misnomer. The first half of the expression, “self,” would seem to imply that the esteem is derived from one’s self. Yet, if we look closer, we may find that very often that self-esteem is actually attained from outside of one’s self. For a student it might come from good grades, for a business person or employee, a promotion or a raise. For most individuals, praise or acknowledgement provide an increase in esteem.

Although all of the above are understandably positive, it is essential to note that they depend upon things external to one’s self. Since the esteem is externally derived from the outside, we can see how we might be inclined to alter our personality and behavior to achieve more of this reward. Admittedly being approved of or valued by others is a natural desire, but we must be cautious not to betray ourselves in order to achieve these results. If we don’t receive the desired outcome, or if it is suddenly removed, how do we then feel about ourselves? If a mediocre performance or lack of praise – or even criticism – diminishes how we feel about ourselves, it becomes evident that the esteem is indeed not from self; it is actually what I call other-esteem. Read more

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Doing the best you can

Doing the Best you Can

Is it always a good idea to do the best you can do? Moreover, can we ever be sure that it’s really our best? These questions came up recently in a therapy session and catalyzed my looking more deeply into the nature and implications of this common expression.

The man with whom I was working felt it essential that they were always doing their best. In his case, this inclined him to constantly measure himself, as to whether he had acted at this optimal level. He confessed that very often he was stuck in analyzing the past, debating whether his words or behavior were the very best choice. When he wasn’t stuck in that groove he was typically fretting over future decisions, concerned that they might not be the very best choice. The nature of his inner voice was highly self-critical, addicted to measuring his actions. Read more

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Beyond the mind-body connection

mind body connectionPeople who are holistically minded often refer to the mind-body connection. They are suggesting that they have discovered a conduit between our mental and physical being. Many react in surprise when I challenge this term and suggest that there’s no connection at all. Having never been accused of being a classical or reductionist thinker, my statement causes considerable consternation.

My position is as follows: The universe appears to be essentially inseparable whereby everything interpenetrates everything else. As odd as it may seem, it appears that all divisions and boundaries are simply matters of our thought’s construction. Bewildering and as counterintuitive as it sounds, nothing appears separate from anything else in the quantum world. Moreover, the same seems to apply in our everyday macro world. If we proceed from this underlying assumption of the emerging sciences, then the word connection loses its basis. If there’s no separation, there’s no need for connection. The way that we language things very much informs our reality. Therefore, I resist using the word connection as it misinforms me.

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The Gift of Confusion

confusionWe are encumbered by a cultural imperative to value clarity and to have the correct answer. The need to distance ourselves from confusion is mandated by the judgment that confusion, a close relative of uncertainty, is weak and to be shunned. Many people disguise their confusion, as they are embarrassed by it and may even feign certainty. Our educational system is founded upon a learning style that mediates toward certainty and evokes a discomfort with confusion. The confused student is offered after class help or advised to see a tutor. The confused worker may feel ashamed and hide their confusion in fear, limiting the opportunity to resolve their struggle to understand.

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Coming into Balance

I recently broke my foot, a fracture that occurred as I missed a step on my front porch. The break occurred on the outside part of my foot- the fifth metatarsal. My doctor provided some good news in that I wouldn’t need a cast and I proceeded to adjust to my broken foot. Or so I thought. In deference to the pain on the outer perimeter of my foot I shifted my weight toward my other side, compensating for the damage.

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From Being to Becoming

How we experience our lives is very much informed by how we see reality operating. The prevailing mindset of most, still believe in a fixed, static and material universe. From that vantage, we construct a reality comprised of objects and see ourselves as things as well, albeit human things. As such we are beings. Human beings, perhaps somewhat stuck in our identity of being. This mindscape sees change as the exception and at times as undesirable; undesired change is something to be controlled if not warded off, yet not surprisingly we become mired in failure in our own attempts to change. Predictability and determinism still reign sovereign.

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The Paradox of Expectations

Beginning a new year often brings forth a review of our expectations and I thought it might be a good idea to briefly examine this topic.  As with many concepts in our culture, we tend to fall well short of fully appreciating what these terms truly suggest and at times, the apparent contradictions that they may evoke. This is certainly the case with the word expectations. Are they to be valued and embraced or do they impede us and distort our life experiences? The answer depends on a host of things. One size doesn’t typically fit all and we need to look at how we employ the word expectations. From the perspective of some spiritual traditions we should be disinclined to attach to expectations as they may block our direct experience of life and impose a bondage of belief upon us. Traditional western values that inculcate and reward achievement honor high expectations, for they drive our culture and our economy.

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To excel or to have fun? That is the question.

I was recently having a conversation with a young man about his passion in certain sports. As we talked further it became very evident that he would only engage in activities in which he excelled. I inquired why that was so and he seemed taken aback by my question. It was nonsensical to him to play at a sport with which he wasn’t superlative. His protested, “what would be the point?” “To have fun,” was my quick retort. He stated that having fun at something he wasn’t good at would be an anomaly. How could he have fun if he were judging himself on his poor performance, he wondered? And perhaps more to the point, I wondered if he were truly having fun if he had to be so intent on the execution of his skills? His play became as challenging as taking a test at school. He had to be the best.

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