Droplet of water - staying calm during the pandemic

Overcoming Anxiety in The Time of Pandemic

Let’s begin by looking at what we mean by the word anxiety.

Anxiety is the emotional/physical response that occurs when our thoughts attach to fear. There are times when fearful thoughts serve us and are adaptive. Currently, these thoughts may help us maintain vigilance in keeping our distance from others and being hygienically scrupulous.

Yet there are thoughts that don’t serve us as they seek out fear. These are often thoughts that seek certainty and demand to know the future. The future is called the future because it obviously isn’t knowable. But if your thoughts demand to know what can’t be known, the result is anxiety.

Our thoughts wage war with uncertainty. And uncertainty always wins. The pandemic provokes an extreme of uncertainty. The more you need to know the future the more anxious you will feel. It’s that simple.

We cannot know when the coronavirus will retreat, whether there will there be a second wave or all the ways in which the virus might be transmitted. There is a limit to what we can currently know. The more your mind demands certainty, the greater the fear, distress and anxiety.


Reflect on what anxious thoughts you have based upon the unknown of the future?

Ask yourself right now:

“What is causing me distress and anxiety? Does it have something to do with my fear of uncertainty, of what could go wrong in the future?”

New thinking:

I’m ok right now in this moment. If I stay focused in the moment, this moment will unfold into the next moment and become the future that I’m so apprehensive about. Keep your thought in the present and release your need to know the future.
Create a healthy and resilient future by staying focused in the present.

Capture the fearful thought, see it and release it. Think of this like the concept of catch and release that people may employ when they fish.

Remember, reality is actually uncertain and the pandemic in particular presents extreme uncertainty. This is why anxiety is so ramped up. Paradoxically, we must accept uncertainty.

Accepting uncertainty allows you to remain present in the moment. Unless you or a loved one are in danger or ill in this moment, keep your thoughts in the present. When your thought wanders off fearfully to the future, it evokes anxiety.

As I explained in my TEDx talk, Breaking Free from Anxiety, training your mind to accept uncertainty and remain present in the moment frees you from distress.


See your fearful thought.
Say to yourself it’s just a thought.

I don’t need to become the thought.
Set your intention to keep your thoughts focused in the present.

Of course, there are many other challenges that may be causing anxiety. Financial concerns, loss of freedom, isolation, enduring conflicted relationship, and managing children in containment are just a few. We’ll be discussing these in upcoming articles and podcasts.

In the meantime, remember the pandemic will pass. As George Harrison sang, “All things must pass.

In these daunting times, emotional and psychological resilience are invaluable. To that end I’ve launched a pandemic support network from which I’ll be sharing articles, podcasts, videos and most importantly the launch of live Zoom conferences in which up to 1,000 people can participate. Please join us.

Subscribe to my mailing list, and keep your pulse on crucial coping strategies and tips through my articles, podcasts, videos, and support forum. You can grow stronger than ever through this pandemic as you turn crisis into opportunity.

Join Mel’s pandemic support network for articles, podcasts and live zoom conferences.

Mel Schwartz, Psychotherapist in Westport CT, podcast 024 staying psychologically resilient during the coronavirus pandemicListen To The Latest Podcast

The Possibility Podcast Episode 24
In this special episode, Paul Samuel Dolman, host of the What Matters Most podcast and the author of several memoirs and other works, joins Mel as they share approaches for staying healthy on all levels as the coronavirus (covid-19) crisis impacts all of humanity.

Mel shares his techniques for sustaining a vigilance of mind, through which we don’t succumb to fear. The coronavirus ushers in frightening new realities, yet underneath this crisis new opportunities emerge for our growth. Remember that opportunity is always the flip side of crisis.  Trying to ward off uncertainty only induces greater fear. Learning to remain present in the moment is within our power.

The challenges we face through isolation and sheltering in place no longer allow us the distractions to which we’ve  become acclimated. However, the challenges of this pandemic provide us the opportunity to develop deeper levels of connectedness with those we shelter with- and others, from a distance.

Thankfully, the internet allows us this connectivity. We seem now to really be all as one; separation appears truly a myth. The homeless person may ultimately impact the health of the billionaire. We must utilize this connectivity to deepen our sense of humanity, with compassion and empathy.

Staying Psychologically and Emotionally Resilient Through the Pandemic

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How to make better decisions during the COVID19 pandemic. Two faces looking outwards.

How to Make Better Decisions and Stay Safe Through the Pandemic

In the coming weeks and months we’ll be addressing many of the challenges you’ll likely be facing and new ways of thinking to overcome them. I welcome you to join me in this participatory, interactive experience. Please feel welcome to email me with your questions. I’ll also be announcing a live, participatory web conference in which we’ll pursue ongoing discussions and establish a virtual support forum for one another. Please contact me if you’d like to be added to this mailing list.

Acting sensibly-whether for others or for yourself-often requires embracing dissonance. Here’s what I mean by the word dissonance.

During life prior to the coronavirus pandemic, I can recall the tension I might feel when out to dinner, the waiter might ask, “What would you like for dessert?” The very description of the tasty sugary treat produced endorphins. I felt a visceral urgency to order that dessert.

But another thought might arise and do battle with my desire. That thought might be, “you’ll feel like crap later and regret this.” Or, “I know how unhealthy this will be.” Learning to hold the tension of this internal conflict helps us make better choices. Engaging the battle of competing choices allows us to become more complex and mindful. This ability separates us from the baser instincts of the animal kingdom.

Nowhere–and at no time­– is this tension more vital to our well-being and survival than in the midst of this pandemic. This realization crystalized for me as I was facilitating a virtual therapy session with a high school student just the other day.

Her behavior was reckless as she continued to party with friends, sharing joints as they got high. When I asked her if she was aware that her behavior exposed her, her friends, their parents and countless others to infection from the virus, she sheepishly agreed.

“So why do you do it,” I asked? Her reply was stunningly to the point. “Because I want to.” I discovered that she was simply blocking a dissonant reality, that her behavior could wreak terrible harm. I see this troubling behavior often, often among younger people, but common to all ages. Avoiding the tension of conflicting thoughts damages us as it reduces us to an ignorant simplicity.


If you’re considering breaking quarantine or not social distancing and you have a thought “I’ll be fine,” ask yourself how you came to that belief? If the issue isn’t with yourself but with your children or friends, ask them, “What makes you think you’ll be fine.” That is a belief not a fact. What makes you think your belief is true?

New thinking: “I’m having a thought that’s telling me I’ll be fine.” “Why do I believe that thought to be true?” Invite in the discordant thinking that sets up conflict.

Trust that you can resolve the struggle between opposing thoughts in a healthy way. The ability to invite in dissonance enables us to grow in our relationship with ourselves and with others, but for the moment let’s stay focused on its vital importance in this pandemic.

This may sound counterintuitive but we need to heighten our comfort with the tension around the choices we make. When we open to opposing thoughts, we buy a few extra moments to reflect on dearly important decisions. That space between your thoughts offers you both insight and illumination. Slow down and think as you break the spell of misleading thoughts.

In the nanosecond between your thoughts, you exist in a state of pure possibilities. Try to extend that moment and you can achieve wisdom. —The Possibility Principle

Mel Schwartz, Psychotherapist in Westport CT, podcast 024 staying psychologically resilient during the coronavirus pandemic

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The Possibility Podcast Episode 24

Staying Psychologically and Emotionally Resilient Through the Pandemic

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The domino impact - how your thoughts impact emotions during COVID19

Staying Resilient Through the Pandemic: Maintaining Vigilance of Mind

All of us­ are sharing something in common. Our lives feel in upheaval of as we plunge into the chaos of the unknown. I’d like to help you sustain your emotional and psychological resilience through this storm. And in some cases, we’ll even find new opportunities through this crisis. In these daunting times we can benefit from new ways of looking at things, developing new coping strategies and opening to an ongoing support system. That’s my offer to you.

In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be exploring many of the challenges you’ll be facing and new ways of thinking to overcome them. I welcome you to join me in this participatory, interactive experience. Please feel welcome to email me with your questions. I’ll also be announcing a regular web conference in which we’ll pursue ongoing discussions and establish a virtual support community for one another. Please contact me if you’d like to be added to this mailing list.

Undeniably this pandemic engulfs us with substantive reasons for fear. They run the gamut from illness, death, isolation, fear for loved ones, loss of income and on and on. Although these apprehensions are reality based, we need not fall victim to them. Anxiety and distress surface when our thoughts attach to fear.

As I wrote in my book The Possibility Principle:

The most important relationship you will ever have is not with your parents, not with your children, not with your spouse or partner. The relationship that will impact you far more than any other is with your thoughts. They are your constant companion. Your thoughts can be your greatest ally or your worst antagonist.

Try this exercise:

Try to notice your thoughts.  You can learn to see them as they clamor for your attention. These thoughts create the filter for your experiences and feelings. Thoughts are always coming at you. Ask yourself what thought you’re having right now in this moment. Don’t judge the thought, just witness it. If you do this exercise diligently and often, you’ll be developing an essentially important new muscle memory.

If you learn to see your thought, you don’t have to become your thought. That is what I call thinking.

Thought might be telling you: I could die from this. Ok, if you attach to this thought, if you become this thought, what’s the result? Fear, panic, anxiety. That makes things far worse.

New thinking: Say to yourself, I’m having a thought which is telling me I could die or get sick.

OK, that’s possible but if I attach to and become that thought, the outcome will be disastrous on an emotional, psychological and physical plane. What good does this possibly do for you? See this thought and choose to let it go.

New thinking: As far as I know I’m alright in this moment, so why not stay in this moment and maintain calm?

Another exercise:

When you notice fearful thoughts trying to grab your attention, place your forefinger vertically in front of your lips and say “shhhhh” to the thought. You can choose not to open the door to fearful thoughts. Be persistent and you will transcend fear.

Thoughts and feelings work in tandem. If you succumb to fearful thoughts, you will feel anxious.

Our fear of uncertainty lies at the root of anxiety. Now, more than ever, we cannot know the future. That is how reality operates. Don’t allow your thoughts to wander off into the dread of the future. Stay present in the moment, and do what you must to be safe. Safe in terms of social distancing, safe in terms of washing your hands, and safe in terms of developing a healthy vigilance of mind.

Remember, it’s natural to look at how the coronavirus has negatively impacted your life. Again, the consequences may be isolation, enduring conflicted relationships in constrained quarters, loss of freedom, boredom, financial loss, etc. If our thoughts focus on the loss, we’re screwed.

What we need to do is look at our circumstances through the framework of relativity.

I recently had a virtual therapy session with a high-school student complaining about the restrictions his parents were placing on his social activities. It felt like his life had come to a screeching halt. I took him through a thought experiment. I asked him to imagine his being a teenager 30 years ago. There were no cell phones, no FaceTime, no Netflix. He’d be completely cut off from deeper interaction and connection with friends. His opportunities for learning and entertainment through the internet non-existent. Just imagine that, I told him. Just picture yourself there. Now come back to where you are and feel some relief.

Imagine you were sitting in a prison cell with virtually none of the opportunities your life provides even under the circumstances of a pandemic. Or worse still in the end stage of a terminal illness. Does that make you feel better? It should.

Train your mind to zero in on what you can be grateful about. This will result in a healthier state of mind.

Keep your focus on the relative advantages you have even in today’s pandemic compared to how things might have been in the past. Once again, where your thoughts take you summon up your accompanying emotions. The only thing you can and should try to control in your life is your thinking. The pandemic can’t take that away from you.

Mel is currently offering his services to individuals, couples and families virtually by phone, FaceTime or zoom. 

Mel Schwartz, Psychotherapist in Westport CT, podcast 024 staying psychologically resilient during the coronavirus pandemic

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The Possibility Podcast Episode 24

Staying Psychologically and Emotionally Resilient Through the Pandemic

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Real Esteem

Self-worth, self-esteem.

What do they really mean?

Being rich, being popular,

Great grades, being followed,

Captain of the team

Still leave you hollow


It makes you wanna cry

U play the game, gain it all, and still you fail

Cause it ain’t from self,


If you chase what’s out there, not in here,

It isn’t genuine– it’s other esteem

Real self esteem

That’s the new meme

It means I don’t hide, I don’t disguise

No disguise, no masks, no faking, no armor on me to protect

No judge of me– not you–not me.


So, acting strong is weak

And being me is the tweak

Why should I fret what you think of me?

That my people is fake esteem

Real esteem means I’m cool with me

Hope you dig me but in case you don’t

I’m still chill to be me.

 The Possibility Podcast: Developing Authentic Self-Esteem

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The Three Pillars of Leadership

Authentic leaders are by definition singular individuals. They possess a unique array of qualities and skills that enable them to lead others. Yet, we shouldn’t assume that these attributes are unattainable or too challenging to learn. Leadership skills are uncommon simply because we’ve received little or no education in this subject. If mathematics wasn’t routinely taught in school, mastering math would also be a rare achievement. And so the same is true of leadership.

Culturally, we tend to focus on the external characteristics of leaders, how they present themselves, their intelligence, their style and effect. The path to sustainable and genuine leadership, however is the inner path. This is a pathway that can be learned and cultivated. I envision three pillars that platform authentic leadership. Learning these skills enables genuine leadership ability for corporations, organizations, associations and families. The first is emotional intelligence.

 Emotional Intelligence

Great leaders communicate with consummate effectiveness. This principle pillar of leadership is sourced through emotional intelligence and the ability to deeply connect with others. Our focus on cognitive intelligence, which devalues emotional intelligence, is stunningly incomplete. The thoughts, ideas, and information that we need to share with one another are typically pursued in a transactional manner. We exchange instructions, strategies, and concepts and believe they’ve been received and understood as we intended. This belief is grossly misinformed. We aren’t robots transacting with one another, but complex humans with unique personal narratives, feelings, and beliefs. The same words or phrase may mean differing things to different people. They might inspire some and leave others feeling ambivalent or worse. This leads to failed, ineffective communication.

Emotional intelligence requires both awareness of the other’s feelings and beliefs and a cognizance of your own stirrings. The subterranean realm of our private, personal existence has profound sway over the business of business. In my executive coaching practice, my clients don’t typically speak about factual or substantive issues they’re having with their bosses or colleagues. Instead, they present their troubled feelings, challenges, frustrations and miscommunications.

Authentic leaders connect on emotional levels with those around them. They tune in to their people. This type of attuning seeks to appreciate how the other person perceives matters, addressing what typically goes unspoken. Leaders seek a correspondence with those around them. Emotional connectivity betters the opportunity for coherent communication. This relatedness prospers when the quality of empathy is valued. Empathy, the ability to best appreciate what the other person is feeling and experiencing, allows truly informed communication to prevail.

Radical Emotional Transparency

The concept of radical transparency, a fundamental motif of Bridgewater’s Ray Dallio, proposes that all individuals should openly challenge one other’s positions for the goal of reaching the most credible truth. Although this endeavor has obvious merits, it doesn’t take in to account that we are not only thinking but feeling people. If we pretend that our values, personal history, emotions, relationships, and beliefs don’t spill over into the reasoned and rational discourse, we are sorely misinformed. Radical transparency must take in to account how our subjective beliefs and feelings filter and inform what we ultimately hear and how we respond.

Deeply effective communication seeks shared meaning. This is a collaborative type dialogue that checks in to assure that what we’ve just shared has been received in the way we intended. Leaders realize that what they intended to communicate may not have been received as planned. This checking in process is also respectful and sincere as it enables leaders to get closer to their team. For the musicians in an orchestra to be in musical concert with one another, the conductor must make certain they are all playing from the same score. The same holds true for all leaders.


The next pillar of leadership is authenticity. I use the term authentic leadership to evoke the qualities of truly special leaders. Should you have occasion to meet or witness such individuals you’ll notice that there’s an extra-ordinary quality to them. They shine by virtue of their authenticity, which is a very rarified quality. For example, the Dalai Lama exudes authenticity. You simply know that you’re in the company of an extra-ordinary person.

An authentic individual evokes an image of someone who has not been adulterated because of fear, concerns with self-worth, or worries about what others may think of him or her. Most people are concerned with what others think of them, or more to the point, what they think others think of them. These individuals may disguise, manipulate or hide their thoughts, feelings and beliefs due to their insecurity. This is what I call other-esteem, which is sadly common and absent the authentic self-esteem that unique leaders possess.

From the authentic self, we invest in and articulate that which we think and believe, free from the constraint of worries. The vast majority of people deflect or mitigate their communications and actions because they worry about how they will be seen. Being authentic allows you to be receptive to the feedback and opinions of others, you simply don’t betray your genuine self from fear. When our thoughts conspire in a tangled web of why we shouldn’t say or do something, we lose our authenticity.

Authenticity requires a genuine sharing of our inner self. Very often, our actions in a given moment are intended to avoid certain consequences. And so, we alter or suppress our communications and play it safe. These tendencies diminish our authenticity as they constrain our growth and self-esteem. Great leaders don’t fall prey to these concerns.

Authentic leaders learn from those around them as the separation between self and others falls away. The core sense of authentic self is always in an emergent process, never static. Freed from the constraint of worry about how you’re being perceived, you’re now free to tune into yourself, those around you and your ever -changing environment.

Embracing Uncertainty

The third pillar of authentic leadership requires a counterintuitive embracing of uncertainty. Our orientation toward predicting future events—a remnant of Newtonian determinism—has addicted us to seeking certainty and predictability and therefore avoiding uncertainty. From this paradigm we see ourselves as separate and detached from future events, which nullifies genuine leadership as we become spectators rather than leaders. This state of analytical bondage is contrary to leading. We can’t lead others by simply sitting back and calculating as if we were playing a chess match. Leaders must be informed by pertinent information but not suffocated by an avalanche of data.

Leadership requires embracing uncertainty to actualize new possibilities. The stewards of leadership participate in the reality-making process that welcomes rather than resist uncertainty. From this vantage, the fear of making mistakes retreats. What we call a mistake is but a snapshot frozen in time. But time doesn’t stand still. Authentic leaders don’t fret the consequences of their actions as much as they consider the consequences of their inactions.

Participatory Leadership

We need to take a deeper look at the concept of change and change process. The word change suggests that there are times when things are static and inert and times when they are not, hence the concept of change. Quantum physics suggests otherwise. It appears that reality is never static or unchanging. This is why I refer to it as the reality-making process. The old adage, “the only constant is change, needs to be revised to “everything perpetually flows.” Great leaders must relish the flow, dive in and truly lead. This requires seeing uncertainty as your ally, the realm from which new possibilities are created. This is participatory leadership as we participate in the unfolding of what we call the future. These three pillars of leadership create a formidable platform from which to lead others.

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Our Words Matter

I’ve been struck by how often our words fly by each other without any real sincerity to them. Have you noticed how punctuated and meaningless our exchanges have become? We appear to have normalized nonsensical exchanges, bereft of any genuine meaning. Real intention, real inquiry, real caring has slipped into the ether as we verbally transact with each other in a robotic way.


Do you really love me?

What was once a profound and significant sharing, “I love you,” has been shortened into, “Love ya.” Very often the person saying “love ya,” may in fact not really love the person they’re speaking with. It feels perfunctory and you can predict the moment of its utterance; at the conclusion of a conversation or the parting of ways. We have substituted saying “goodbye,” for “love ya.” And in doing so we’ve debased the loftiness of the word love.


By simply adding the word “I” back into the expression you commit to a deeply authentic and emotional sharing. If you really want to make this statement more profound, offer it at an unexpected moment, not when you’re parting company. Spontaneity speaks to sincerity, predictability is rote. On occasion I will receive a text from my son without any prompting in which he writes, “I love you dad.” That of course brings a smile to my face and warms my heart.

Our words matter. The words we choose convey our thoughts and feelings. Aside from non-verbal communication words are the heartbeat of our relationships. When we misuse our words or truncate our sentences to save time, we dishonor ourselves and our relationships. We have defaulted into the shortcut language of texting. When leaving a store or a restaurant I can anticipate hearing, “Have a good one.” Of course, that’s the same amount of words as “Have a good day.” No time saved there. But there’s something callous to my ear when my day has been subverted to the word “one.”


How are you?

Many times a day we may walk past an acquaintance and say, “Hi, how are you?” The other person smiles, says, “good and you?” And we likely respond similarly. Are we both always good? That’s a rhetorical question of course. A few years ago, I was taking a walk on my way for a cup of coffee. I encountered a parking attendant with whom I was familiar outside of a neighborhood restaurant I frequented. This gentleman and I had a number of engaging conversations in the past and so I asked the predictable, “How are you doing Jacques?” He smiled and said, “I can’t complain.” I smiled back and continued on my walk.

Moments later I had a thought. His answer might suggest two different things. Either Jacques has nothing to complain about or he literally couldn’t allow himself to complain, emphasis on the word, can’t. I wondered which was the case. In a few minutes, coffee now in hand, I reencountered him. I explained to him that I wasn’t sure if he meant all was well or that he was uncomfortable complaining. It took quite a while to break through his resistance until he finally said, “I don’t share my struggles because no one would be interested.”

Be true to yourself

I explained to Jacques that when I asked how he was, I did care and truly wanted to know. When we greet one another and inquire as to how we’re doing, without either party answering honestly, it becomes an exercise in inauthenticity. We act as uncaring strangers. We cut ourselves off from human interaction. And we suffer for that. We can do much better. Jacque’s belief that no one would care is of course false. I cared. It may be that many wouldn’t care, but why preclude those who might?

To be true to yourself, you need to be authentic. Without going into details, your answer might sound like, “I’ve had better days.” That opens the door to a genuine interaction. You never know what might evolve from that. But at the least, you’re being honest with yourself. It’s really important to be authentic no matter what you expect from another person.


This article was excerpted from Mel’s new book, The Possibility Principle: How Quantum Physics Can Improve the Way You Think, Live and Love.


Mel Schwartz LCSW MPhil is a psychotherapist, marriage counselor,TEDx speaker and corporate leadership and communications consultant. He is the author of The Possibility Principle: How Quantum Physics Can Improve the Way You Think, Live and Love.  Mel earned his graduate degree from Columbia University. Mel’s TEDx talk, Breaking Free From Anxiety receives over 50,000 views per month. 

The Possibility Podcast has just been launched. Listen in to get his insights into living to your fullest potential.

He has written over 100 articles read by more than 3 million people. One of the first practicing psychotherapists to to integrate the principles of quantum physics into a transformative therapeutic approach.Mel practices in Westport CT, Manhattan and globally by Skype.

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Becoming Your Authentic Self

What does it mean for someone to be truly authentic? And how many people do you know actually fit that description? Do you feel that you’re authentic? Let’s take a look at what this word truly suggests and just what blocks us from achieving authenticity.

Naturally, the word authenticity evokes an image of something pure or unadulterated. A letter of authenticity confirms that a certain object or work of art is not a counterfeit. The act of authenticating is a process of determining that something is indeed genuine, as it is purported to be. Experts receive training to authenticate precious objects, memorabilia, and documents, among other rare items. Yet we have no such method for ascertaining the authentic nature of people.

Short of being caught in a bold-faced lie or transgression, methods of determining an individual’s authenticity often go unexplored. One’s authentic nature is revealed in their ability to express and share what they think or feel in a relatively unadulterated form. Diplomacy, political correctness, false flattery, people pleasing, avoidance and silence may, in fact, be designed to mask the authentic, unfiltered self.

What does the dictionary have to say? Merriam-Webster defines authentic as a quality of being genuine and worthy of belief. Hence, a person who is completely trustworthy is deemed to be authentic. Yet to be genuine requires a certain transparency, whereby others can witness the unfiltered personality, without any masking.

Self-esteem or other-esteem?

Most of us are too concerned with what others think of us. As such, we may disguise or manipulate features of our personality to better assure that others aren’t judgmental or adversely reactive to us. If I worry about what others think of me, then I manipulate my personality and communication, either to seek approval or avoid disapproval. This masks my true or authentic self. Although this personality trait is commonplace, it is far removed from authenticity. This betrayal of our self is what I call other-esteem.

There appears to be an inverse correlation between one’s sensitivity to what others think of them and the ability to be authentic. Authenticity requires a genuine sharing of our inner self, irrespective of the consequences. Very often, our actions in a given moment are intended to avoid certain consequences. And so we alter or mitigate our communications or behavior to assure that those consequences won’t be negative or problematic. These tendencies diminish our authenticity and they constrain our growth and self-esteem. Being authentic requires a genuine sharing in the present moment. Ordinarily, though, our thoughts conspire in a tangle of excuses as to why we can’t do something. These are the consequences to which I was previously referring. This is the core of inauthenticity; our words or actions become disguised from their original intent since we choose to mask them. When this occurs, we literally subvert our genuine self.

We might think to ourselves, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a little white lie,” or, “I don’t want to hurt their feelings,” or, “They won’t really care about how I feel.” It’s actually much larger than that. The greater harm done may not be to the other but to our own self. When we alter our thoughts and feelings for the purpose of a safer communication, we limit our own development. It’s as if we suppress our authenticity in deference to a safe and non-challenging communication. This devolving from our more genuine self typically begins in childhood as we encounter any host of emotional challenges. If we experience abuse, disappointment, fear, or devaluation, we begin to alter our personality as we attempt to cope with these wounds. Although the coping mechanisms are adaptive at that time, over the course of a lifetime they become masks that distance us from a more actualized sense of self.

                                                                       Troubled relationships

Even more problematically, the opportunity for a more meaningful dialogue that might generate a better understanding between parties becomes blocked, as the truth never quite gets revealed. And so the relationship remains stuck. Two individuals who struggle with their own authenticity unconsciously conspire toward an inauthentic relationship. In fact, this is one of the largest impediments to successful relationships. Two individuals struggling with their own authenticity wouldn’t likely experience a thriving relationship. Very often, what we might refer to as a troubled relationship is, in fact, a manifestation of the challenges each individual face in their own personal evolution, but just further projected onto the external relationship.

I am not suggesting that we be callous or insensitive to others’ feelings. Learning how to communicate challenging matters in a delicate and compassionate manner opens the pathway to an evolving relationship. And a commitment to personal evolution honors authenticity. When we devote ourselves to such a path, we actually cast off the burden of fear and anxiety about what others may think of us and begin to honor our own authenticity.

An authentic person may be sensitive to what others think yet choose not to subordinate themselves to the opinions or judgments of others. This is a key source of genuine self-esteem. You might begin to think of the departure from being genuine as a self-betrayal. And self-betrayal is a terribly destructive action, after all. It has many faces. Being a people pleaser or avoiding confrontation betrays your own authenticity, as you submerge yourself in deference to others. Conversely, being controlling or acting out in anger distances you from being genuine. In these circumstances, you may be more comfortable wearing the mask of anger than revealing your vulnerability. Fear and insecurity are often at the core of anger. As an aside, when people communicate their vulnerable feelings, others actually tend to listen, and validation becomes a possibility. Angry people may be feared or avoided, but they are seldom validated.

Genuine self-esteem requires avoiding self-betrayal. You can’t be true to yourself and betray your authenticity at the same time. This is not to suggest that you shouldn’t act from compassion and generosity toward others, but you shouldn’t undermine yourself in the process.

It’s the exceptional individual who seeks authenticity. Much of the problem lies in the fact that being genuine is devalued in our culture, while success, achievement, and avoiding criticism are highly prized. Our prevailing cultural imperative does little to value authenticity. This goal appears nowhere in the curricula of our education. If our primary education provided coursework that taught us how to achieve emotional intelligence and the skill set of genuine communication, we might realign our priorities accordingly. The competitive spirit honors the winners, not the most sincere. And within that motif there is a belief that being authentic may impede success. Yet one need not preclude the other. If you untether yourself from insecurity and fear, you can set the stage for a self-empowered life. Freeing yourself from the tribulations of worrying about what others think of you emboldens you to be genuine.

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“Who am I?” Is the Wrong Question to Ask Yourself

Many of us ask ourselves the age-old question, “Who am I?“This question presumes there might be a plausible answer, as if our identity could- or should be- reduced to a fixed description. Individuals who ask this type of question are usually struggling around their core sense of self and grasping for a concrete answer. The paradox is that the more you seek to solidify who you think you are, the more fragile you feel and become. So, this question as to who I am is the wrong question to ask. We’d be far better served to contemplate, “How would I like to experience my life?” The former question focuses on a fixed state of being, while the latter one envisions participating in the flow of your life-your process of becoming.

There is great benefit to be derived when we shift from notions of a fixed, inert identity to one of an evolving sense of self. Rather than taking a frozen snapshot of yourself, try to embrace an unfolding sense of self that enables you to perpetually re-frame, re-craft and re-think yourself and your experiences. This process of becoming allows you to move beyond the confinement of your past experiences and usher change into your life. When you learn to do this, you can access new possibilities in your life. The process of becoming lies at the heart of the possibility principle. This principle, which I illuminate in my new book, The Possibility Principle, reveals how we can prosper and thrive by embracing uncertainty.

As we strive to know ourselves, in all of our complexity, we must also pay attention to the evolving and unfolding process of life itself. We should consider how our past and our interpretation of it -the meaning we choose to give to it-has informed our present. Rethinking your past and placing it in a new context permits you to craft a different present and future. That is what a healthy change process looks like.

Often, it’s a sense of turbulence or insecurity that has us inquire, “Who am I?” Imagine that you’ve been imprisoned for twenty years, incarcerated since the age of twenty. You literally had no adult life experience outside of the penitentiary and so your sense of self is extremely limited. You are about to be released from your confinement. The question, “Who am I?” would provoke a very fragile sense of self that might leave you ironically apprehensive about your impending freedom. Yet it’s unthinkable that you’d choose to remain behind bars until you could secure your future identity. You’d have little choice but to move forward into the uncertainty of what lies ahead and welcome your experience of becoming. This process of becoming requires that you get out of your own way so that you can embrace your natural unfolding.To accomplish this, we must welcome uncertainty. 

The embrace of uncertainty results in new possibilities. I have worked with people who have been mired in unhappy marriages, were unsuccessful in couples therapy, and yet chose to remain stuck due to their fear of who they would be as a divorced person. They might ask worriedly, “Who would I be?” The challenge they face is around their need for certainty. The irony is that they might default to their current certainty-unhappiness- rather than elect to experience the uncertainty around their process of becoming.

At the other end of the identity continuum are those who claim to know themselves so well. This group of individuals may also have a deep fragility around their sense of self. To know yourself so well leaves little room for growth. It speaks to a very defensive and fixed sense of self. Even more, it speaks to a protective mechanism that may guard against deeper reflection and change. If I’m dead certain that I know exactly who I am, then I must be a fixed entity, stuck in my state of being.

It’s wise to self-reflect and invite introspection, but doing so requires maintaining a delicate balance. Be cautious not to fall prey to overanalyzing. The goal is to maintain malleability as you engage in your reflection, as if you were a willow tree rather than a sturdy oak tree. The willow is flexible and survives the storm as it bends with the vicissitudes of its environs, whereas the rigid oak is more likely to crack.

When you maintain this flexibility during reflection, you’re more contemplative and forward-looking, allowing you to unfetter yourself from the imprint of your wounds. Try to envision how you’d like to experience your life and note the aspects of yourself that you’ll need to let go of. Then look at your core beliefs and recurring thoughts that keep reinforcing your confinement. Work with that dissonance as you release your past.

Embracing uncertainty enables us to join with the perpetual flow of the universe. The process of becoming feels forgiving. In the flow of becoming, you’re no longer rooted in the hardship of fear, insecurity or concerns about mistakes. Becoming is boundless and infinite, whereas being is structured and limiting. Quantum physics informs us that all of reality is perpetually flowing, a kind of reality-making process. Nothing is static or inert. All is in the flow of becoming. We can join in that ride once we shift our perspective and embrace the uncertain.

Mel Schwartz LCSW MPhil is a psychotherapist, marriage counselor,TEDx speaker and corporate leadership and communications consultant. He is the author of The Possibility Principle: How Quantum Physics Can Improve the Way You Think, Live and Love.  Mel earned his graduate degree from Columbia University. Mel’s TEDx talk, Breaking Free From Anxiety receives over 50,000 views per month. He has written over 100 articles read by more than 3 million people. One of the first practicing psychotherapists to to integrate the principles of quantum physics into a transformative therapeutic approach.

 Mel practices in Westport CT, Manhattan and globally by Skype


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Why New Year’s Resolutions Tend to Fail—And How to Make Them Succeed

At this time of  year  many of us make New Year’s resolutions that over time wither and fade as we try vainly to transform some aspect of our lives. What begins with a hopeful optimism descends in yet another unmet aspiration.

It’s always a curiosity to me how we seek change in the same way that produces the same failure. I imagine that if we conducted a survey six months after the New Year and asked people about the success of their resolutions, we’d find an abysmal rate of failure. Our struggle with change is resoundingly difficult and scant attention is devoted toward understanding why that’s so.

Change begins as a thought, underscored by a wish or even stronger, a desire. This may set in motion an even stronger feeling, an intention. Most people find themselves somewhere within this continuum. Clearly, where you fall within that range is important toward the eventual outcome, but nevertheless insufficient for an assurance of reaching your goal.

What typically prevents the success is the necessary commitment–the vaulting into action–that supports the transition. A number of years ago, on the occasion of my voicing a resolution —to get into shape and work out regularly—a dear friend asked me when I’d actually be doing that. I said, ” at least three times a week.” He responded with a ringing clarity, ” If it’s not in your calendar, day and time, you’re not committing to it.” He was quite right. The intention wasn’t enough. It was lacking willfulness. I came to appreciate that intention must be coupled with will. To change we must engage a willful intention.

It’s not uncommon to initiate the change, but over time we tend to retreat back into the old familiar zone and loosen our grip on the new progress. Sustaining change is often more difficult than initiating it. This is because we haven’t fully committed to the progress. We make a bit of change, breathe a sigh of relief and give ourselves a break. And the change evaporates.

Your willful intention, if grounded in conviction, can lead to what I call a defining moment. It’s an instant in which we become so invested in the change we desire, that we commit to a turning point in our lives. We are in fact changed as of that moment. This is a defining moment in which we come to see ourselves differently, act upon it, and become transformed.

The defining moment alters everything. It is the engine that drives the change. The introduction of this new catalyst alters how we think and how we operate. It introduces a new habit into our being and literally alters our bio-chemistry. Neuroscience is now clearly confirming that our thoughts do indeed alter our brain chemistry. Sustaining the new thinking and embracing it with conviction becomes achievable with a deeply rooted commitment. Anything short leaves us falling short.

Old habits die hard because old thought defends its territory. Thought and behavior are inextricably connected. This habitual pattern literally creates a groove of thought, feeling and behavior. And it here that we get stuck. In order to disrupt that habitual pattern, we must intervene with a significant force, the defining moment in which we embrace the change and nothing stands in the way. This requires embracing the disquiet of new behavior. We need to take the discomfort and make it our ally as we align with the new shift. A resolution isn’t enough; a turning point into new terrain is required accompanied by the energy to sustain it.

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Breaking Free From the Groove of Old Thought

Those of us old enough to remember vinyl records-notwithstanding their recent comeback-might recall that when there was a scratch on the album, the needle sometimes got stuck in the groove. The same music or lyric would keep repeating as the tone arm couldn’t navigate into the next groove.
Our thoughts have a similar habit as they keep repeating the same stories ad nauseam.  As they do so, they summon old memories and feelings and so we struggle to change.
Thought is automatic in that it presents itself without our noticing it. We become trapped in a rut of old thoughts. The first step in freeing yourself from this mental groove is in learning to see your thoughts. If we don’t notice our thoughts, we become indentured to them. We become the prisoner of what our thoughts tell us. Developing an awareness of your thoughts-what I call thinking-allows a deeper and more profound sense of wisdom to prevail. 
Seeing your thoughts is a matter of timing. With practice we can become more alert and see an individual thought operating. This process of becoming alert to our thoughts is like watching a slow-motion replay from a sports event: you can see the play unfolding slowly and clearly.
When we can learn to see our thought, we don’t have to become the thought. If I can’t see the thought, I won’t be having the thought, the thought will be having me.
Throughout your day, try to notice your thoughts. Imagine sitting in front of a large TV monitor and watching your thoughts transcribed on the screen. Don’t judge them, just see them. Just sit back and watch in a detached way and observe what you’re seeing.

As you develop the acuity to see your thoughts, you’ll be creating an important tool toward your mastery of thinking. You’re developing a powerful muscle memory-the ability to witness your thoughts.

Once you’ve developed your ability to notice your thoughts, you can begin to imagine an old thought as a visitor knocking at the door of your attention. You can hear the knock, but you can decide not to open the door. Our old thoughts come at us with tenacity. If you find a particular thought that just keeps coming at you, try the following technique:
When you notice the old thought clamoring for your attention, place you forefinger vertically in front of your lips and say, “shhhh” to the thought! Remember that you can choose not to open the door to it. The thought will continue to try to draw your attention, so be persistent. 
As you progress in your ability to witness your thoughts, you can look at the recurring themes and stories that they present to you. These are the core beliefs that you carry with you that write the script of your life. These recurring themes tend to limiting and often serve as self-fulfilling prophecies. It’s essential to notice how they attract your attention like a magnet. To break free of their pull you must first become aware of the tug of these old thoughts. Try tracking them back to their source, which are your fundamental beliefs about yourself.
Once you’ve progressed in your new ability to see your old thoughts operating, you’ll notice a space between the thoughts. This is the space where your possibilities lie, the space where you can manifest change in your life. In the instant before you become your next thought, everything is possible. This is the defining moment we seek.
This article is the first in a series and excerpted from The Possibility Principle.
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